I practically lived in the vicinity of Quiapo Church for twenty-two years. I made Plaza Miranda my home for at least ten years, from the time I was five years old until fifteen. I lived those precious growing-up years with my friend Junie, the one who should be standing up now before you instead of me. Junie and I went through the grind, eking out a living from the sale of recovered scraps as well as from alms, from the kindness of others. Before us, his father himself scavenged to survive for twenty years in that same place, two years of which under the bridge near Sta. Cruz—over there (pointing northeastward), just over two kilometers away from here. It was a habitat shared with flies, ants, and spiders.
Many times, I heard the priests in Quiapo and in Sta. Cruz say that God is good, that he did not leave anyone hungry, etc.
I did not believe them. For how could I believe them if all around me there was hunger?
But you know as a kid, even in our wretched conditions, Junie and I had time to play with spiders… and you know how creepy spiders are, how they scare people away and get whacked in return. We made pets out of them. There was a time I spent a couple of hours just watching one of my pets build its web, and I could not believe how beautiful a spider’s web is if we only allow it to complete its work, instead of pitting them against each other until one or both of them die from exhaustion or injuries just like we did when we were kids, or when we drive them away with brooms or sticks because we think they are unsightly and fit to be condemned for blighting our surroundings.
God’s work in our lives is like that of a spider’s web. We can only appreciate its beauty if we allow him to complete his work with our cooperation. In this context my life story can never be dissociated with that of Junie.
Yago—Junie’s father—was left for dead when he was eight. Nobody knew how he survived the next five years of his life. What we know is that he managed to keep not only both his body and soul together, but he also kept his sanity while experiencing the lowest ebb of his life. In fact, he managed, in the end, to raise a family from which a generational leader like Junie emerged.
And I think the dramatic part of Junie’s story evolved the way it did because of Nardong Sablay. The latter was the one who left the eight-year-old Yago on the sidewalk of a busy street in Caloocan, alone and without any resource to help himself survive. Of course, Nardong Sablay acted on the orders of his lady boss, and should be blameless. But he made it a point to make life harder for Yago than it already was for the kid.
When Junie started to attract a following as chair of Sangguniang Kabataan, then as member of Barangay Council, you can imagine Nardong’s horror (who remained as one of the trusted hands in Mr. Ty’s Tondo household) when Joey (who by the way is now a colonel in the military), brought him to his parents’ house in Tondo. On learning from Joey that Junie was Yago’s (a.k.a. Golek) son, Nardong Sablay (who was already sixty years old at the time), asked Junie, with Joey’s permission, to hire him as an all-around errand boy.
'I wanted to mend the irreparable damage I inflicted on his father,’ Nardong Sablay pleaded. Joey acceded because he knew his own mother was also blameworthy for what happened to Yago.
The point I am trying to say is that there is always hope for redemption, regardless of how compromised one is, if only we allow God to complete his work for us. Who would have thought that it would take two generations—from Yago to Junie and myself—for us to see the beauty of a completed masterpiece, like a spider’s web, which started, in the case of Nardong Sablay, in betrayal that was driven by envy and hate, but ended in redemption and reconciliation, or in the case of Gidaben, who had to risk his own life by sharing us his story, or in the case of wayward cops, whose reformation both surprises and inspires us.
You would think that Nardong Sablay, after his role in dumping Junie’s father, would be worthy of condemnation in the way we swat spiders away from our homes. But he redeemed himself by asking to be part of Junie's household; in the end, he even tried to heroically save Junie’s life on that tragic night that we got ambushed in the campaign trail.
Also, let me share with you something which I don’t think I have ever mentioned in public speeches before. As a kid, I followed the ants. I watched how they scavenge for crumbs, and how they bring their food to their colonies which I found to be hosted by trunks of trees or damaged concrete buildings. One time there was flood that either submerged or carried heaps of things away—push carts, scraps, trash, merchandise goods, construction debris, and even cars. There I saw the ants floating above the water. Whole colonies wrapped themselves up as one like a ball. Floodwaters rushed toward the river, and the floating colony passed by the shed where myself and two or three of my friends, soaking wet, were waiting for the rain to stop.
The ants looked like they were tied to each other through their limbs. The ants showed their commitment to each other, helping themselves to create air space that enabled the colony to float. Each one helped the other survive the flood that swept them from their homes.
From the spiders that taught me to wait for the completion of God’s creation, to the ants that taught me how one depended on the other to survive, I come here today with the message to suggest that there is beauty in an ugly world, that there is love for one another even if it seems envy and hate everywhere are pulling us down.
Spiders can help change our views as individual persons. Ants can help us transform our views as a community.
I remember the first time I experienced the Traslación. Maybe I was six or seven years old. I saw this boy, maybe even younger than myself, who was crying because he lost her mother. Then somebody told him to just stay where he was because his mother would look for him in the last place where the two of them stayed together. That good little deed of assuring him was a miracle; he stopped crying and, sure enough, his mother found her way back to him.
The message of ‘just staying where you are’ has not left me as I grew older. Staying where you are, to me, means keeping the faith. As we struggle, God will come back to us, in the person of somebody who we might not even know. In instances that I cannot count, I also experienced the Black Nazarene’s miracles in my life. The miracles came in the form of food when I was dying of hunger, and of mothers—I had at least five of them—who found their way back to me.
Staying where you are means keeping alive the hope that life will turn for the better for as long as we put in the effort to make a living, with determination and dedication. It means doing little good deeds for our neighbor. It means helping to put the smile back in those who need our help. To be of service to others is the last place—'the communion of saints,’ as we hear the preachers explain in their homilies and as we pray the Apostles’ Creed—where we need to stay together. That is where God, I suppose, will come back to us. Cardinal Calaveria has reminded us of how the Holy Eucharist works for us. It is an assurance that God will keep coming back to us, fulfilling his promise that he will not leave us alone.
The Traslación is an occasion for the recollection of how our lives have experienced the outpouring of love from our brothers and sisters. The Black Nazarene performs his miracles through them. He heals the sick through our doctors and other medical professionals. He wipes the tears away from our eyes through our mothers. He brings laughter in our lives through our friends. And he keeps us humble through our enemies.
It is just fitting that we strip ourselves of our sandals or shoes because we are walking on holy ground. This ground is holy because it supports our bond with God and his creation. Our bare feet feeling the earth symbolize the acceptance of our responsibility for each other, including those generations that will come after us. We need to spare the ground of our trash. We do not need to step on somebody else’s shoulder just to be able to touch the Nazarene.