OPEN DOOR FOR JAMES BALAO

As a 12-year old high school student in the 1980's, I was sent to a leadership training sponsored by the Cordillera Schools Group. Among the training facilitators was James Balao. My mentor, Ms Zosima Yamoyam, told me about the young facilitators - intelligent young people who finished college and chose to serve the people instead of finding lucrative employment. I was so impressed with the work they were doing, as told me by Mrs. Yamoyam. I wanted to be like James and the other young facilitators (Lita Jane Killip and Jill Carino). Ms Yamoyam, through all my years in high school, guided me and did everything to mold me in their form.

James Balao continued to serve the masses. He courageously used his education for social transformation. He did not let up even when he knew that he was under enemy surveillance.

On September 17, 2008, James Balao disappeared. Up to this time, he has not been found.

I opened my mail yesterday morning and read the latest update from the Cordillera Peoples Alliance on Balao's disappearance. The CPA published in its website a letter from his father, Mr. Arthur Balao. In the letter, he is appealing to his son's captors to release James immediately that he may continue his mission of serving the masses, and take care of his bedridden mother afflicted with Alzheimer's disease. The letter broke my heart into several tiny pieces that I was moved to write the poem "Open Door."

OPEN DOOR (for James Balao)


I keep looking toward an open door

One night I saw your vivid silhouette
I gingerly reached for it as it crystallized
into a figment of my constant imagination
Must you know about the muffled cries
That punctuate the serenity of night
Or the darkness of promise set against
The backdrop of daylight?
Your sick mother sits in her wheelchair
Oblivious to your disappearance
She keeps asking you to scratch her back

Sometimes, hope looms large
In the prayers of the multitude-
The peasants, students, lawyers,
Teachers, workers, friends
Searching every corner for you
But the torrent of angry typhoons
Dissolves hope so tenuous in its tears

Yesterday, the sun was shining bright
Your friends came. We brewed rice wine
In your grandfather’s prized Ming jar
Our ancestors drank tapuy to celebrate
The old rice is very red, almost violet-
the ones from Kalinga you always liked
We looked at your old photos, writings
Remembered your words, your passions
Your love for truth, justice, equity, honor

Alas, I woke up this morning
To the sound of strong rain hammering on the roof
Droplets of rain are wetting our creaking floor
From the hole you did not patch last month
You missed that or planned to patch it later?
I sit by the window hoping the rain peters out
And sunshine crawls its way inside your room
The radio just announced that six miners
Trapped inside tunnels gave up the ghost
But ten conquered death, shaming the typhoon

A lot of work still needs to be done
My son, the door you left without a word is open
It will remain open until you return.
x-----------------------------x

Elton Jun Veloria, a senior Mass Comm student of St. Louis University translated "Open Door" into Tagalog, a language I am not proficient at in the literary sense. It took him less than 15 minutes to work, punching the keys of my laptop on my antique table. Here is the translation:

Isang Pintuang Bukas

(Alay kay James Balao)


Ako’y laging nakatitig sa isang bukas na pintuan

Isang gabing mapanglaw naaninag ko ang hugis ng ‘yong anino

Maingat ko ‘tong inabot habang ito’y tuluyang umukit sa kawalan,

Ng aking nilikhang patuloy-tuloy na imahinasyon

Kailangan mong malaman ang piniping iyak

Na gumambala sa katahimikan ng gabi,

O di kaya’y ng dilim ng pangakong binitiwan

Laban sa paligid ng liwanag ng araw

Nakaupong naghihintay, ang ‘yong inang binalot ng karamdaman,

Walang muwang sa iyong pagkawala

Hiling nyang kamutin mo ang kanyang likod

Minsan, pag-asa’y mistulang naaaninag nang buong linaw

Sa panalangin ng marami-

Mga magsasaka, mag-aaral, manananggol,

Mga guro, manggagawa, kaibigan

Hinahalughog lahat ng sulok para sa’yo

Ngunit ang poot ng rumaragasang unos

Ang siyang lumulusaw ng pag-asa sa maselang yaring luha

Kahapon lamang, ang Haring Araw ay masidhing sumisikat

Ang ‘yong mga kaibiga’y dumating. Aming hinanda ang tapuy

Sa mamahaling banga ng ‘yong lolo

Mga ninuno nati’y uminom ng tapuy at nagdiwang

Ang lumang kanin ay mapula, muntikang magkulay lila

Yaong galling sa Kalinga, ang .yung laging ninanais

Minasdan namin ang mga litrato mo at inakdang likha

At nagunita ang ‘yong mga salita at mga pagnanais

Ang pag-ibig mo sa katotohanan, hustisya,

pagkakapantay pantay at karangalan

Ako’y biglang nagising kaninang umaga

Sa tinig ng malakas ng ulang bumabayo sa bubong

Ang mga patak ng ulan ay bumasa sa kumakaluskos na sahig

Mula sa butas na iyong tinapalan sa lumipas na buwan

Ikaw ba’y pumalya o binalak mo itong gawin sa susunod na pagkakataon?

Ito ba ay sa may bintana kalakip ang pag-asang titila ang ulan

At ang sinag ng araw ay gagapang sa loob ng ‘yong silid?

Isiniwalat sa radio na anim na minero ang nakulong sa lagusan

at sinuko ang multo

Ngunit sampu ang sumakop sa kamatayan at pinahiya ang bagyo


Marami pang dapat gawin hinggil sa paghihikahos ng masa

Aking anak, ang pintuang iniwan mo nang walang anumang salita ay bukas

Ito’y mananatiling bukas hanggang sa ika’y magbalik

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