The song of Zamboanga
ZAMBOANGA CITY, Philippines - They heard the gunfire in the morning. They thought the fighting would die down. When it didn't, they ran, out of the house on Lustre St. in Sta. Catalina, relatives and neighbors running with them.
When the men with red patches on their arms stopped Jeorge Ando and asked if he was Christian or Muslim, he knew he should have said Muslim. He didn't. He was afraid they would ask him to pray. He knew then they were going to be held hostage.
He was held, with his girlfirend of 11 years Michelle Candido and their 2-year-old son Eithan. For 6 days, Michelle held her son as the fighting levelled the coastal villages of Zamboanga City. Sometimes, she and Jeorge were forced into the street to stand as human shields for the MNLF. Sometimes there was quiet, sometimes the bullets fell like rain.
On the fifth day, they heard MNLF commander Habier Malik call for a ceasefire. Two hours, for safe passage with the rebels and hostages out of the town. They were happy, cried with joy, until the gunfire began again, even before the two hours were over.
The MNLF were surprised, says Michelle. They called the hostages together, made them form a circle around the rebels. Run, they said.
So they did, as bombs dropped and mortars exploded and tanks made their heavy way into the besieged town. Jeorge and Michelle broke away, crawled into a sewer with their son, water up to their chins. There was a shot. Both lost consciousness when what they thought was shrapnel ripped through the cement. When it was over, there was blood on Eithan's forehead.
They ran, both of them, back to the MNLF for safety.
That night they cleaned the blood from his face with a diaper. He sang for them, a baby on his mother's arms with his eyes closed from crusted blood. They were were no longer afraid, because they knew Eithan would live.
The next day, Jeorge asked Malik if his wife and child could be released for the hospital. Malik gave his permission. Jeorge stayed behind.
Eithan died in the hospital the next day. The doctors found a bullet lodged in his head.
Jeorge escaped. He wanted to see his son, and found out his singing baby was dead.
It was Michelle who taught Eithan the words to Zamboanga Hermosa. Every child of Zamboanga learns it, as she learned it herself.
Zamboanga hermosa, preciosa perlita, orgullo de Mindanao. Beautiful Zamboanga, precious pearl, pride of Mindanao.
Soon, says the government, this war will end. Across the city classes have reopened. The mortars have stopped falling. The rebels are surrendering in the dozens. Soon the song of Zamboanga will be sung again, less one small boy's voice.
Video directed and edited by Paolo Villaluna, written and produced by Patricia Evangelista, with cinematography by Raymund Amonoy and research by Joseph Suarez. For offers of assistance to the family, please email email@example.com