|circa 2010 Tondo, Manila, self portrait 103|
When I was a young lad, my cousin, Kuya Cris, would drag me along the streets of Tondo in Manila, introducing me to left and right huddles of guys in their drinking session under the streaming sun and often I would hear him say “Oh baka makita ninyo ‘to dyan naglalakad, walang tatalo diyan ha. Pinsan ko ‘yan!”
During then, I didn’t understand what he meant, even the occasional forced-drink of Tanduay and Gin from grimy glasses handed by some topless guy with sprawling tattoo marks, either on chest or in their bulging arms. But whenever I would snob the guys or would hesitate for the offered drink, Kuya Cris would nudge me and I knew I have to oblige.
Kuya Cris was a former drug addict. Every nook and canny, he told me, in Tondo, where crystal meth and drug sessions is to be found, he had a map of them in his mind. Because of that, he was and is still close to them bad boys. Drug pusher, addict, snatcher, hired killer, rapist – name it, he said, “I’ve been with all of them.” Some turned friends, others became enemies to watch out for.
Tondo is a familiar place since childhood. My lolo and lola, coming from Ilocos, lived there for a period of time. It’s the place where my mother and uncles were brought up. One of my uncles even became head of Tondo police station.
It is in this story that I remember what my Kuya Cris once told me. I was crying then because of some stupid reason, I was young by the way. It’s still fresh in my mind what he said that day and maybe, I'll never forget: “Lalaki ka at may dugo kang Tondo. Dapat matapang ka.”
To my surprise, it was the same line that was mentioned in the latest reprise of the movie featuring the late gang lord and modern day Robin Hood of Tondo – Asiong Salonga.
The story of Nicasio “Asiong” Salonga is not new to me. One of my uncles, my Tito Erning, is friend to Bong Salonga, son of the man himself Asiong Salonga. It is a curious tale, a story about a man who lived surrounded by guns, women, money and other gang lords while remaining popular to the brethren of Tondo; as if a savior, a Messiah that could alleviate poverty and ironically, even violence at its kingdom. The name Asiong Salonga created a mark in my young mind, and recently, I finally met him.
I am often amused by his story. Who wouldn’t? For someone whose serious child ambition is to become an assassin, who plays with toy guns with all the scathing sound of bullets firing angrily to an invisible nemesis, Asiong Salonga is a hero. A name that sends chills even to authorities, Totoy Golem, Toothpick, Erning, Zapanta – I’ve heard them all, and watching them in theater screen as the era of Tondo bloodbath and gangland violence passed by in front, suddenly I was a kid once more, reliving the former ambition of a macho feared image.
Allow me to digress a bit from my thesis statement, but the recent Asiong Salonga movie is really good. No, I wasn’t paid by anyone to say that. The photography employed is not just pleasing but tells so much about the story. Congratulations also to Manong Jesse Lasaten for delivering such awesome scoring to the music and Mr. Carlo Mendoza for the amazing cinematography.
So back to my storyline. I’ve lived with that warning. That having a blood of Tondo requires you to be brave, especially in the face of your enemies. Hide your weakness. Don’t cry. Suck it up. Avenge.
And then I became 18. And you all probably knew what happened. The gangster fell in love, and everything changes.
I lost the strut, the arrogance, the swag. I became a soft faggot. Someone who became understanding, someone who now bends his philosophies and pride to comply with some asshole, someone who acts to please the other one – I looked at myself and no more I could find the gangster. He died.
Maybe life really is ironic. Love killed him, now love will resurrect him. Maybe it’s time to sharpen the swords, pick up the bullets and let the roaring guns trumpet. I forgot that people may not have guns, but one mistake and you’ll have yourself killed by people around you. Worse, it’s the same people you trusted. Or the same people you gave your heart to.
Tell you what, literally, next year, I’ll be having my own gun. My uncle promised he’ll help me acquire the necessary license. He’s a former police official. Within our family compound, our house is the only one where guns are not kept. Most within our clan are police officers, that’s why; others just have them for protection. Uncle said it’s time for me to take the responsibility of acting as the head of house since my father is abroad working his ass out. Somehow, I’m flattered by this. Maybe finally, they’re seeing the man I’ve become. Finally.
A gun may not equate to courage, but sometimes it helps. I just want the old me back. I just want to live again with that mantra: “Pag may dugong Tondo, matapang.” I’m tired of getting hurt. I’m tired of crying. I’m tired of not fighting back. I don't know what this means, what will this declaration brings, but one thing is sure: I'm never going back to that softer me. Now I'm Désolé Boy - the gangster. Bang bang!
Nilusong ang kanal na sa pangalan niya’y
tumawag alang-alang sa iba tsaka muna
ang paawat sa mali na nagagawa na tila
nagiging tama ang tunay na may kailangan
ang siyang pinangtatamasa lahat sila’y takot
makakapaso ang iyong galit mga bakal na may
nagbabagang tinga papalit-palit sa hangin
na masangsang nakakapanghina ang nana at
hindi mo matanggal na para bang sima ng
pana na nakulawit subalit sa kabila ng
lahat ay ang halimuyak lamang ng iisang
bulaklak ang siyang tanging naghahatid
sa kaniya sa katinuan at hindi ipagpapalit na
kahit sino man.
-Hari ng Tondo by Gloc 9