I remember the bomb I saw in the mayor’s office when the police said the bomb that exploded at Limketkai Center was an 81mm mortar shell.
The date was August 10, 2007. Former mayor Constantino Jaraula invited our group, the Heritage Conservation Advocates, to a meeting in city hall. This came after a local and national paper published the report of quarrying in the Huluga archaeological site.
There were seven of us: the anthropologists Dr. Erlinda Burton and Dr. Antonio J. Montalvan II, Lourd Ostique of Museo de Oro, white-water rafting expert Geronimo Garcia, journalists Mike Baños and Cecilia Rodriguez, and a certain Clara Gonzales Elizaga.
The thing that stopped us in our tracks when we entered Jaraula’s office was a shining bomb on his table – a 60mm M49A2. It was surrounded by a rosary of bullets. Among the pile of official documents it stood proudly, commanding absolute attention. I thought a much bigger version of this device must have created the universe.
Someone asked what it was and Jaraula mumbled. In my estimates he spent only 10 seconds describing it as if he was evading the topic. I could not recall his words.
The bomb looked alive and I could imagine it was looking back at us. If it spoke I knew that would be the end of our conversation.
There were two stoneware pieces in the shape of a coconut and a pineapple to the left and right of Jaraula, and I learned Jaraula had asked The Stoneware Pottery in Bulua to make them, as symbols of Cagayan de Oro's rich environment. I figured these pieces should be on his table as a show of his creative bent, but they were relegated to the corners instead.
When we gave Jaraula pieces of paper showing pictures of Huluga artifacts, Jaraula’s table became even more crowded but he didn’t touch the bomb, didn’t move the bomb aside, didn’t say “Please Bomb go to your room. Daddy has visitors.”
When Jaraula drew a map to understand the location of the Huluga site, he reached across the table to show it to us. The sheet of paper floated above the bomb, and his hands carefully danced around the bomb but never touched it, like he didn’t want it to wake up.
Then an aide came to Jaraula, whispered in his ear, and handed him a phone.
I thought, oh, here we are, with two distinguished guests – Dr. Burton and Dr. Montalvan – described by Jaraula as ‘’the experts’’, and yet he allows himself to be interrupted.
Someone in the other end of the line must be very important. “O chip,” Jaraula smiled as he spoke on the phone, and then we couldn’t hear the rest of the conversation, though he was only about six feet away.
Those words were clear and came to me initially as pure sound, but my brain assembled a set of letters.
Chief? Who would be the chief of the chief executive of the city? I could think of only one, but I wanted to believe the caller was his wife, or the President of the Philippines. Jaraula didn’t ask, didn’t issue any instruction. He was listening most of the time, for about 30 seconds.
After the call, Jaraula immediately returned to the topic of our conversation. He promised to help us file a case to protect Huluga and even said he would tell the residents to leave the area.
Days later, the quarrying in Huluga continued. The destruction was so ugly most of us just couldn’t bear to go there anymore. Huluga was dead. All I wanted then was to nail Huluga in a coffin without a window -- just a nice picture on top of it.
Even now I wonder who put the bomb on the mayor’s table and why.