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Thursday, November 8, 2012

Chapter 18 - Marble County

Chapter 18
Marble County

     'Welcome to Marble Country!’ emblazoned in the arc across greeted the eyes of    Taklin as he stepped out from the local airport. Boarding a service van, he proceeded to the seaport nearby. Immediately he stepped down, after getting his fare ticket, into the improvised miniature bamboo gangplank towards a motorized pump boat with outrigger that would ferry him from sleepy town of Sta. Monica   to busy Marble province.
            Before long after an hour travel,  Marble noted for its exquisite rich marble deposits was on his sight. Taking a deep bated breath, he relished his eyes to the familiar view to any new comer of the province as he disembarked from the pump boat : huge marble slabs piled up like mountains ready for shipment abroad and for delivery to supply domestic demand of the country from Cebu, the industrial zone in Visayas; Cagayan de Oro and Davao of Mindanao to Manila of Luzon. What another good material this part of the country Ernest Hemingway might  have find interesting sequel to his Movable Feast, the thought playing on Taklin’s mind as he started walking  around stopping  in many makeshift shanties  displaying marble collectibles for sale.  Various marble figurines from dancing swans, galloping horses, exquisite ash trays, colorful small birds’ wings outspread, imposing table bars to finely shaped pestle and mortar carved beautifully as souvenirs by local residents abound mostly by the sea- sides displayed for sale in rows of table.
            Unlike Baguio’s equally celebrated wood carvings specifically that unique item where man’s organ comes out into full attention as its wooden round cover is lifted, that  of Marble artist’s artwork is even bolder.  Example catch that ashtray with an erect phallus in different sizes and colors proudly springing from the base catching everybody’s eyes as you inventory various marble products on display.  Art for art’s sake but with eroticism. Well, it depends on how one exploits his creativity.  Marble artists seem to be not giving a damn or second thought  how buyers value  such erotic entrepreneurial artistry as they too  live each day and eat rice like any ordinary people, the young Catholic priest learning appreciating all the  more the unique artwork of the province and the true beautiful stories behind each masterpiece.
            Marble industry has been the major source of income among the people and steady source of revenue for the provincial government. The province happens to sit literally on top of marble. This the young newcomer  discovered when the table where he puts on his ordered cup of coffee was carved out and  crafted right from the bosom of the hill along the seacoast!
             It’s unfortunate though that business is dominated by big businessmen and in cahoots with Chinese whose lineage are from mainland China yet. What could the local people do, they remain as hapless as ever under their mercy and control. Not even minimum wage is implemented by these marble moguls to their workers. That is the irony of them all. For while Chinese in Taiwan are not allowed for instance to travel without paying their taxes or their  travel are frozen while  enjoying their short vacation in jail or are held in  airports; here in the country, they are not only  moving freely but also,  got the big bargain of their lives as corrupt officials in Bureau of Internal Revenue do the dirty work for them renewing or approving their business permit  after getting grease money depending on the amount agreed.
              “That graphic video footage showing appalling reality of various workers later documented majority are sitio residents in the area contacting tuberculosis because of daily contact with marble dust without wearing face masks and other safety nets probably  tells the real issue of the exploitation of  marble industry at the expense of its helpless workers,” Taklin would later realized.
            “For as long as you can see the sun, you could always find Chinese underneath,” Taklin recalls with glee a joke from a Chinese friend back in Kaohsiung.
            “They fill every nook and corner of the earth and in due time I bet as you would precisely guess, they would add more numbers maintaining their lofty status as  the world’s biggest population in the world,” he was told.
            No wonder that mandarin has remained the most widely spoken language in the world relegating English in the background, Taklin learned.
            “It pays you know heeding the bible’s pronouncement  ‘go out and multiply.’ It doesn’t only encourage us to work harder but also, enable us to help our economy grow.”
            “Control, he probably meant and implied,” the thought continue playing on his mind.
            “You see, family planning is erroneous. Big family is all what we want. Look at us in China we successfully chased away Chiang Kai- Shek and his men as well. But that was many decades ago before the communist adopted one child policy for every couple under the pain of killing the excess. We don’t need to geometrically increase our population; Mao Tse-tung had already driven away the nationalist forces on 1948 installing Communist Regime in the end.”
            Taklin wonders in the dark groping for answer whatever his good friend Chang Lein implied.
            “But no,” he rectified himself recalling relevant studies showing  no correlation between population growth and poverty. On the contrary, population is an asset for the government if they’re energy are harnessed and  redirected for the common good.
            “Witness Chairman Mao’s celebrated stance in a picture. Close fisted left arm raised and right hand similarly palm closed poking on the ground at his back. Know what he is saying?”
Without waiting for an answer, he went on exclaiming: “One million men attack, five million follow, ten million prepare and so forth. Now tell me how could then Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek not withdraw to then Formosa.”
            “No thanks for the Americans for the necessary lift, seeing them overwhelmed by millions and millions of Mao’s forces.” Taklin grins recalling the story.
Seeing different sizes of marble around reminds him one friend who debunks the country’s struggle of achieving better economic gains.
            “With all kinds of mineral deposits, scattered all throughout the country waiting to be tapped and exploited, how could the country not afford to give chase and probably scared to death already established economic giants like Japan, Taiwan and South Korea who twenty years ago many economists would say were thirty years behind the Philippines. Consider the mineral resources the new lexicon Webster’s dictionary would later recognized: gold, copper, chromites, silver, lead, zinc, manganese, iron ore, mercury, coal, salt, nickel, uranium, not to mention the rich oil deposits in Palawan which could supply the country’s need for twenty five straight years. “Exclude vital industries thriving everywhere from textiles, tobacco, hydroelectricity, footwear, cement, wood products, plastics, coconut oil refining, rubber goods, embroidery, pottery, hats, mats and all that.”
            “Look on the country’s capacity in exporting sugar, lumber, copra, minerals and metals, abaca, coconut oil; the list is long. With tuna, blue marlin, moon fish, mackerel and anchovies inhabiting our seas, who has the gut feeling to say that the country is poor. We must have gone nuts.” the thoughts coming out from his reading of the promise the country’s natural resources has.
             “In fact, even Golda Mier of Israel doubted that theirs’ is  the Promised Land spelled out in the bible. It’s the Philippines, not Israel chosen by God as the Promised Land! It’s an island literally flowing with milk and honey. Look at the fertility of your soil. It’s one of the best in the world unsurpassed by any countries,” he recalled the feisty iron lady telling the Filipinos on her last visit to  the country. No wonder why many people from Marble have been bragging that they are taking marble eggs for breakfast, marble chips and sandwich for snacks, toasted marble bread for lunch and exquisite tombstone for dinner when asked about the dominant industry in the province, Taklin  grins remembering the anecdote as his gaze caught the dominant historical landmark atop the mountain nearby.
            Overlooking the beautiful port rests St. Peter Observatory used in monitoring unpredictable weather. Incidentally, Sta. Monica finds itself safely tacked in typhoon belt area. Typhoon entering the country either through Pacific Ocean or China Sea routes always affects the province tearing down  thousands of coconut trees, uprooting several houses, destroying asphalted roads and concrete pavements sending galvanized irons flying in the air like Aladdin’s magic carpet. Frenzied and furious, the typhoon could transform an embankment into an extension of the  sea overnight drowning several persons in the process  caught in between as giant big waves tear down several portion of road networks. Romy would recall how people armed with nails and hammer would fix windows and doors each time angry winds would destroy and ripped them open.
            The observatory was once used as watch tower by the Spaniards against marauding moors during their colonization of the country after Magellan Christianized the country on 1521 until Spain ceded the country to the Americans for measly $20 million, a fact many historians and writers repudiated. Edilberto Tiempo for instance in his well-written fiction To Be Free dramatizes the lack of consensus from the masses when the deal was sealed in Paris the lion’s share going to the pockets of the negotiator of course as claimed by one respected columnist of a national daily. Thus ending the Spaniards four decades or roughly 377 settlements passing on the torch to Uncle Sam continuing the tradition of exploiting its right natural resources notwithstanding political, cultural and economic changes they introduced to the country. Walking towards the façade of the cathedral, he wonders what would have happened to the province with the relentless exploitation of marble goes on unabated.
            “I think it’s not far fetched idea that the province would soon be submerged under the sea, the time to scratch itself out from the world’s map!” he amused himself. Reminding of too many forest denuded in other provinces, giving an impending sign of the destruction of ozone layer, vanishing of endangered species and flash floods, he looks up and momentarily strike the air with his chin thrice and uttered: “When would Filipinos ever learn from their folly? Whatever happened to Juan de la Cruz that his memory is so short-lived?” he submitted his thoughts  with resignation.
             For the first time, it’s as if the whole world stopped revolving and galaxies stood still he imagining looking into the disfigured face of his father dead.
 “What a handiwork of evil this incident again,” the thought playing in his mind  as he is fast approaching his house.”

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