The day the sky fell
Jessie Baylon built his house in the shadow of a small hill in Lower Bayanihan, Barangay Commonwealth, Quezon City. He left his home at 6 in the morning of Aug 7, 2012. His daughter Jennelyn left for work a few minutes later. His wife Cecilia was awake, ironing the family’s laundry.
At 7:30 am, just after Jennelyn left the small concrete house where 6 of her siblings slept, the hill fell on Jessie Baylon’s home. Eight of his family were found dead, 5 children, 3 grandchildren. All of them were under 24. His wife was found alive, but died in the hospital later that night.
Jessie Baylon went to Manila in pursuit of a dream. He wanted to be a driver. He knew it was the most he could achieve. His family was poor. His parents were uneducated. He was uneducated. Jessie wanted more, and a driver, he said, made more money than the average laborer.
He started as a houseboy in a family home. His bosses saw his dedication, asked him what he wanted in life, and offered him a chance at driving school. He took it, and did well.
He met his wife in Manila. She was not as beautiful as others, he said, but she was kind, and sweet, and it was enough for Jessie. They hoped for two children, and ended up with 7.
Family planning, he explained with a shrug. Sometimes the rhythm method does not work.
Fifteen years ago, Jessie Baylon bought the rights to a small plot of land in Barangay Commonwealth. The rights were informal, as the land was government property, but Jessie was satisfied. There were no rent or amortizations, and the house was near his place of work.
When a small landslide occurred within the first 5 years of his stay, Jessie did not mind. The landslide had ripped a slab off the hill over his home and cracked his concrete walls, but he was safe.
Geologists came to warn residents -- they said it was a danger zone, they said the next storm would bring down the hill. The government offered relocation. Jessie refused. The property was in Montalban, too far from the children’s schools and from the home of the family he serviced as a driver.
Now there is only Jennelyn, the daughter who would have died if she stayed home a few minutes longer, and Jessie Jr, “Jepjep,” who is in the hospital with minor injuries.
Jepjep’s was the first voice Jessie heard when he called out to his family the day the hill fell. The father dug out the son, and now he is the last of Jessie’s boys. Jessie says Jepjep said sorry when he woke, sorry because he is the eldest and did nothing that day, because he was asleep and woke up buried in mud.
Jessie has not been home since the 7th of August. He wears clothes borrowed from neighbors and donated by his employers. He hands out bottles of iced tea at his family’s wake, even if he does not know how to bury his family.
There are paper plates of spaghetti left over his wife’s white coffin, there are no tables in the tiny room inside the basketball court where 8 coffins are crammed in rows. Eight, because the ninth body, a month-old infant -- Jessie’s daughter Jessica -- was crammed into the same coffin as the mother.
The 3 -- Jessie, Jepjep and Jennelyn -- are homeless, and wait to bury their family.
Jessie’s neighbor Pol is sawing through posts outside his home. He was awake that morning inside his house when he heard a roar, took 3 steps and looked out his window. There were cries for help, from a mother and daughter who lived beside the Baylons. Their faces were visible, their legs were trapped under planks. Where the Baylons should have been there was quiet.
Pol is grateful he built a second cement wall outside his home, or the landslide would have knocked his home and family down as well. He scrabbled through the mud for Jethro, his own godson, but the boy was gone.
Pol is willing to move his family to Montalban, after the landslide, he will take the risk. He will find work anywhere, he only hopes the plot of land will not be as small as he was told.
Pol’s son Jophel, in his 20s, now picks through the mud. He finds photos of the Baylon children. Here is Jessica, he says, she had always been a beautiful girl. Here is Cecilia at the christening, maybe the baby was Jepjep. These are Jethro’s medals. This is Jezelle’s notebook. He will hold on to them, for Jessie.
This is a story about a man who dreamed of better, and lost the little he had to a falling sky. His name is Jessie Baylon, widower, father of two. - Rappler.com/With reporting by Aiah Fernandez. Video by Geloy Concepcion, Patricia Evangelista, Carlo Gabuco, John Javellana, Adrian Portugal, and Charles Aaron Salazar. Writing and editing by Patricia Evangelista. Score On the Passing of Time by Kevin MacLeod.
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