we saw each other at mommy's house in san roque late saturday afternoon. she was showing off her new dentures while eating her ma-chang. whenever she visits zamboanga, she finds a way to buy ma-chang from that chinese store on nuñez street, the one fronting the lobregat house.
she, a cousin, and i chatted in my mom's lanai, whiling away time before she had to take th
e bus home to liloy. i don't remember anymore why but we talked about death. specifically, we talked about being ready to die or not. i said i was (in one of my frequent moments of delusions), and so did ate othel, my cousin. maita sheepishly but quite firmly said she wasn't, that the kids are too little.
She chose to board the aircon Rural Transit bus #921 instead of the non-aircon one. The bus left the terminal at around 7pm. My sister said that she could already see the rotunda welcoming people to the province of Zamboanga Sibugay when she heard what she thought was firecrackers. then she and the others in the bus realized it was gun fire. then when she felt the bus slowing down, she shouted to the driver to keep on driving, to bring the bus away from the gunfire. but the driver slowed down, and soon my sister and the other passengers found themselves on the floor, and my sister shouting for the lights to be turned off, which someone eventually did.
my sister recounted this to me hours later, while she was strapped to the gurney in the ambulance. for a seriously wounded patient, she was very talkative.
while they were on the floor, and there was no more gun fire, someone at the back of the bus noticed round six flash lights moving down the hillside to their left. apparently the ambush party coming down. my sister said she thought to herself that she'd rather be shot at the back while running rather than be a sitting duck inside the bus. so they ran out the bus towards a lighted house a few meters downhill. i think that it was only at around this time that she realized she was hit.
hit and bleeding, flashlight-wielding men coming down the hill towards them, my sister disembarked the bus along with the 35 other passengers, lugging her tote bag AND laptop bag, and ran away from the bus on the worst pair of shoes EVER. a made in korea pair with plastic straps, plastic soles, and plastic beads. it was my mom's and cobbled together for the sake of pretty, not for running away to save your life. i've worn this pair, in certainly less dire situations, and i wanted to chop it to pieces and walk barefoot.
but my sister, she ran, ran, ran downhill on it. and while wearing it, she managed to grab the rails of a passing truck, with it she somehow found a way to step on the truck's stepping board, to hammer on the truck's door, begging for help. TABANG. but the truck driver, he wouldn't listen. he sped on. my sister, stupid shoes, laptop, tote bag, wounds, fear and all, fell to the highway and almost got herself ran over for her efforts.
the running passengers slowed down the highway's late night traffic of big buses and big delivery trucks. she said at least three trucks passed, and some Rural Transit buses. Only one stopped to pick up two of her companions on #921. the others sped on, ignoring them.
my sister is thankful to the couple who sheltered them, as my sister anna said in her facebook, at great personal risk. the couple was a tausug husband and a bisaya wife. my sister and a number of others stayed there until the police/military/ambulance took them away.
oh the people we roused from sleep that night. the strafing took place at around 9.20pm. a few minutes after that, while i was just turning on the washing machine (and thinking what a horrible saturday night it was turning out to be, washing two heavy bed quilts. hah! little did i know how even more horrible it will become), my phone rang. i missed the first because of the noise of the washing machine and the noise of cartoon network characters. but i did not miss the second. the missed call was my manila-based sister anna and the second was my manila-based brother monching calling to tell me that something VERY BAD is happening to maita. then anna called to explain further.
after that it was just one phone call after another. when you know your sister is very badly hurt and is still in the situation that caused the hurt, you sort of go on auto pilot. and the cellphone becomes your remote control, a tool to help manage the situation taking place 90 kilometers away.
i called up sheila covarrubias, mayor lobregat's media officer, because (1) she thinks straight, (2) she has direct line to people who can help my sister.
she informed col baluyot of task force zamboanga and the mayor. task force zamboanga wasn't aware of the shooting incident until sheila called. they have an outpost there, apparently, but they did not get any reports about it yet. col baluyot asked for my sister's number thru sheila and my sister said later that she did get a call from him.
husband and i, cousin edoy and his othel wife were getting ready to go as close as we could to licomo, wherever, to try to retrieve maita. i get a frantic call from my brother that maita was already in pain, that she was crying, that she gave instructions that she should be brought to a zamboanga hospital and not to ipil.
so i called silvie, rep beng climaco's staff and my co-teacher, trying to find a way to get to the barangay captain licomo, to mobilize the barangay health workers there to attend to my sister's wounds. silvie explained later that she didn't answer because she was at that time putting her child to sleep. i did get to derick evangelista.
i got a phone call from rep beng and she patiently listened to my whining. God how i must have been very passive aggressive, whiny and demanding.
then i got a phone call from mayor lobregat from sheila's phone, telling me that he was going to licomo himself.
then my sister called to say that general jalandoni already mobilized the military to that area.
all this time, i have not talked directly to maita. fortunately, mike saavedra, who was most helpful that night, had given me the number of the mayor of tungawan, the first sibugay town after licomo. (actually, i think mike gave me the number of the entire elected government of zam sibugay, hehe. thanks so much mike. one of these days, makiki text mate ako kay gov ann hofer). i called the mayor, randy climaco, and lo and behold, he was at the time of my call, sitting beside maita! yoohoo! so i got to talk to maita, who was quite lucid. i did not waste time giving climaco's number to maita's husband either. so that entire night, we had a mayor as call center agent.
the day after the incident, i got a text from him asking how maita is. i don't know him but i was touched by that.
maita said that when the police/military/civilian authorities/media arrived in the area, they invariably looked for her by name "who is maita blanco here", "is there a dr ladeza here". my sister the celebrity.
we waited in curuan, right in front of the check point. there was a crazy policeman there who would suddenly sing at the top of his voice (de-sintunado pa). he said it was his way of keeping sleep at bay.
we decided to wait at curuan when a task force zamboanga vehicle zoomed past us. the night was dark, there are no streetlights there, and we four were by our lonesome in a solitary pick up capable of inflicting tetanus but not deflecting bullets. soon after the TF zambo passed us, the convoy of mayor lobregat passed, and then a few minutes more, an ambulance.
half an hour later, the ambulance came back, slowed down. one man alighted and said "sister ni dr. maita blanco?". that was my cue to get off the pick up and into the ambulance. my cousin othel followed.
and there was sister dear, strapped to the gurney. her first complaint? there goes my favorite pair of jeans....
she did an instant tailoring on left leg, cutting it off right above the knee. her knees by then were bandaged, but the blood was still seeping through, pooling under her legs. her nice gray blouse had holes on the left sleeve, and i could see bandages under that sleeve.
she was pale, but as i said, talkative.
she recounted everything. my cousin and i could barely talk. we were so cold and shocked to see her like that.
we stopped by the paragas hospital where dr agbulos got in to check on maita. they talked a few minutes and then we were on our way to doctor's hospital.
at doctor's hospital, we were joined again by mayor lobregat, who checked on maita. waiting for us there were maita's med school classmates. eventually, they decided to bring her to the OR for wound exploration. it was already past two at that time. who worked on her at the OR? an ortho, a surgeon, a general practicioner, and a pediatrician. they were joking around. they bugged the ortho, asking him why he came when he knew he was going to be useless, seeing as both hands were thickly bandaged, recovering from a carpal tunnel surgery. he said something about not wanting an opportunity to install urinary catheter on a classmate.
just today, my sister said that the surgeon said bullets and shrapnel were imbedded on maita's knee, thigh, and shoulder. only a few inches away from bones and nerves.