A barangay tanod man (barangay security officer) was looking important in his role as a traffic officer. He walked to the middle of the road and started to signal to motorists to stop in order for a funeral car to get through to the cemetery. It was 2 o’clock on a hot tropical afternoon. I was in the public cemetery of Bacolod to attend the funeral of Eric Christian (26) who was the youngest child of Ester and Rudy (also deceased) who occupy a special place in the annals of the PSHF.
I stayed at the entrance of the cemetery so that I could see everyone coming in. Another traffic man joined the barangay tanod to control the flow of traffic as more funeral cars kept coming in. By around three o’clock, I saw a funeral car named Holy Angels entering the cemetery and I saw Ester sitting at the front, together with a teenage girl, who was probably a granddaughter. I soon spotted Rhodora in the crowd that followed the funeral car, as well as her brother Stephen; I quietly slipped in. Someone behind me said hello; it was Evelyn Salvador who was a PSHF project. She and Ester became friends because they are both sidewalk vendors in the same street of downtown Bacolod.
Soon Eric's coffin was unloaded from the funeral car and several men came forward to carry it to the grave which happened to be at the northern edge of the cemetery. The path was narrow which allowed only two people at a time. Rhodora held my hand as we walked along the rubbly path to the grave, all the while telling me her memories of her brother.
A few minutes later we stopped on a narrow landing, just a few yards away from the bottom of a tier of graves, and Eric’s happened to be on the fifth level. A ladder was already in place. The coffin was once more opened and people squeezed into the narrow space to take a look at Eric for the last time. Ester started to weep and somebody from the crowd said: "Ester, don’t let your tears drop on the coffin.” It is a superstitious belief, that if tears fall on the coffin, the journey of the departed will be an arduous one. Meanwhile, Ester’s weeping had turned into sobs, and Rhodora was now sobbing too as were a few other women. Somebody got hold of Ester and of Rhodora just in case they fainted. Amidst the wailing and stomping of feet, the funeral company man silently waited nearby, quietly acknowledging the rituals and emotions of bereavement.
The sobbing lasted for about 15 minutes. When it died down, somebody closed the coffin and the men in the crowd readily helped to lift it up to the grave. As soon as it was set in place, a man climbed up the ladder, viewed Eric's coffin almost reverently then took off his sunglasses and laid them on top of the coffin; he must be a dear friend of Eric’s. A plastic bag containing some clothing was also passed up from below; it must be Eric’s set of clothing when he died. Somebody from the crowd said “Here’s a flower, throw it in.” Finally a youngish ’sepulturero’ (grave digger) went up and after checking that the coffin was positioned well, he started to lay down the bricks which were handed up to him from below by his companion, to seal the tomb.
We (Rhodora, her brother Dennis, Eric’s friends and I) stayed behind and watched the gravedigger do his work. Everything became quiet in the gravesite except for the rasping noise of gravel and cement made by the gravedigger as he closed up the tomb. Then Rhodora began talking again about his dead brother and her memories of him as a child. She recalled how Eric had held her hand when their father Rudy was buried in the same cemetery about 18 years ago. She talked about the last time she had seen Eric. She has a sidewalk kiosk in the downtown area where she sells snacks such as instant noodles and coffee, sweets and bread. That rainy night of January 25th, Eric had dropped by her kiosk to ask for food. He saw some bread and asked Rhodora if he could have it; she said yes, and he asked for some cigarettes too. Little did she know that it was going to be her last meeting with her brother.
That same night Eric went to Banago on the northwestern outskirts of Bacolod with his friends. They went to an internet café and played games. Later on, Eric went out (of the café) to buy cigarettes. Omar who was going to be his assailant, happened to be in the area and saw Eric come out. A fight ensued and Omar, who was carrying a knife, stabbed Eric several times. Eric ran away but went only so far before falling down in the road. A tricycle driver saw him lying in the road and took him to the provincial hospital but tragically he was dead on arrival.
Meanwhile Eric’s mother Ester was far away from Bacolod; she was in the rural town of Cauayan selling balloons as there was a fiesta. Late that night, she felt a sudden twitch in her heart and she wondered why. It was probably around that time that Eric was in his last moments. He had called her that day; he said that he wanted to go to Manila because there, his life might take a turn for the better. Ester had pondered on her son's words and began to think how she could raise money for his fare to Manila. Nothing had prepared her for the sight of her son’s lifeless body the following day after his brutal killing.
Ester makes a living from selling wallets, socks and sundry other items from a downtown stall. She makes just enough money to meet her daily needs. She is keen to seek justice for her son but she does not have the funds to take legal action. The PSHF will be happy to assist her.