Yesternight was a Friday twilight which ardently welcomes couples and groups alike to park and stroll in one of the most historical parks in the country- the MacArthur Park in Palo, Leyte.
Trying to loosen our preoccupied week, my girlfriend and I joined other park-goers in poring over the undulating waves of Palo’s Red Beach. The waves are crowned with the reflection of the moon. A full moon.
Correspondingly, an equable zephyr of September complements a unified ‘love theme’ for park-goers.
Indistinctive chitchats girdle Gen. Douglas MacArthur and companion’s bronze statues. Some were having photo-ops. Children running here and there. Lovers bending head towards each other and occasionally hand-point the in-one-piece moon. Group chortles. Cigarette vendors. Peddlers. Beggars.
What caught my attention was a reverberating sound of a stringed instrument.
“Can you hear that,” I asked my girlfriend.
“A banduria?” she replied interrogatively.
“I think not. Sounds like an octavina,” I replied.
Hands held, we both stood up and decided to look for the resonating melody, its source. From a bench facing the Red Beach’s shoreline, we marched through several stair-steps toward the MacArthur statue and saw a squatting old man playing a stringed instrument.
He was wearing a cap, polo over blue shirt, and a pair of black pants.
He was playing a folk song.
After he played “Matod Nila” (a Visayan love song) we approached the old man and asked some questions to him. I didn’t realize until I got closer that both his hands were missing. What surprised me more is his ingenuity to be able to play his instrument – a drinking glass was capping the tip of his left hand; and a sort of belt attached around the tip of the right hand, with an extended rod that serves as a pick for cord strumming. Seeing it, we forgot and did not bother what the instrument was.
“Tony Mondiego.” His answer when we asked him his name.
He was 64 and hails from Kawayan, a 5th class municipality in the province of Biliran.
In our 20 minute conversation, I learned that he lost both his hands and eyesight sometime 37 years ago, from a dynamite-fishing accident. That he was a member of a String Band in their town. That he used to play a violin. That he fully regret why he went for an illegal fishing with his brother in law. That “Sige gyud kog hilak sa una” (I was crying hard before) when he learned that his sight will never be salveged. That his wife left him when he became disabled- forever.
He frankly told me that the reason why he came to Tacloban is to beg few pesos from park-goers. In return to the jangling coins, he would sing a song accompanied by his one-missing-string instrument. He stressed that it is not MacArthur who he serenades; it is the people who revives him from starvation- his true heroes.
Before leaving, I took a modest amount from my pocket and handed it to him. He thanked me for it. I asked a photo of him. He smiled. I asked a photo with him. He jovially agreed.
When we were about to leave, he again thanked us and said we were like heroes to him. I left a firm grip on his hands and I stared blankly to the statues in formation- MacArthur, Osmeňa, Romulo, and the Allied soldiers.
Before we left, my girlfriend and I gazed once more to the now shady Red Beach.
While walking away from the park, we could still hear him singing and the melody of his instrument was reverberating in the air.
I sighed, and wished, and said: I could be a hero more.
PS. While writing this, I realized that the Leyte Landing will be celebrated in less than a month.