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Number One Fan


Author: issabacsa Total hits: 5324 User hits: 24 Date: 05-15-2014

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  THE FLUORESCENT LIGHT on a white ceiling flashed before me when I opened my eyes. I tried to get up and looked around. With the sliding dividers that separate each bed, I assumed I was inside an Emergency Room.

  A nurse approached me and smiled.

  “Good evening,” she greeted. “How do you feel?”

  “Where am I?” I asked.

  “Makati Medical Center,” she said. “You were unconscious when the police brought you here. You’ve been sleeping for hours.”

  “How about David Lim?” I asked.

  “David Lim is in the ICU and still unstable.”

  I looked at her but couldn’t utter a word.

  “By the way, your grandfather called,” the nurse continued. “He instructed me to tell you that they had cremated your sister's remains.”

  I nodded in acknowledgment. My grandfather might have taken the initiative to take over my responsibilities on Joyce. He might have instructed some of his loyal assistants to do these things for me.



  TWO DAYS AFTER THE HOSTAGE TAKING, my grandfather sent his servants to assist me. I woke up early that morning as I have a scheduled flight to Marawi City. They assisted me in my bath and in dressing. Wherever I went, a retinue led by a governess trailed not far behind me.

  My royal rank prevented me to get rid of this kind of slavery. Tradition and obligation required me to don my royal clothes. A malong, a tubular piece of cloth, draped over an abirta, a blouse of velvet made with a V-neck and three quarter length sleeves. Gold buttons decorated it. I also wore rings, bracelets and earrings of gold. They wrapped my head with a turban-like kombong made of colored muslin over which thin, film of lace draped. As I looked at myself in the mirror, I noticed that I had Muslim features. My forehead, nose, and chin definitely came from my mother’s Muslim line.



  I ARRIVED at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 2. There, I met Saad, my grandfather’s loyal assistant.

  Saad stood short at five feet three inches. In his mid-fifties, his gray hair started to show. He bowed in front of me when I arrived.

  “Good morning, my princess,” he greeted me.

  “Hello, Saad. How are you?” I greeted him back.

  “I’m doing fine, my princess,” he replied as he stood up straight. “I’m glad to see you again.”

  I smiled as he took my hand and led me to the plane. Every Muslim that I passed by would bow down as we walked. Everybody bowed down again until I sat on my seat. I have been out of touch with this tradition for years since my mother’s pregnancy with Joyce.

  The republican government prohibited the granting of titles of nobility to Filipino citizens. The state does not recognize the sultanate system. Yet, the Philippine Constitution includes a state policy to protect the rich cultural heritage of indigenous people, including the Muslims. The sultanate system in Lanao continues despite its non-recognition and disregard by the Philippine government. Ironic, isn’t it?

  The plane took off at exactly 5:55 a.m. I took that opportunity to catch sleep on the plane. We arrived at Cagayan de Oro City at 7:30 a.m. Then a car brought me to my grandfather’s hometown in Marawi City. His Royal Highness Sultan Ahmed Jamal Pagayawan, the crowned Sultan of Lanao del Sur, invited me to attend his 85th birthday celebration.

  The car stopped at the plaza facing the Lake Lanao where the celebration took place. I could hear the music playing and people had gathered already.

  Saad went out of the car and opened the door for me. I went out of the car and someone had already prepared an umbrella to shield me from the sunlight.

  “Ladies and gentlemen, we acknowledge the presence of Princess Regina Aliya JemahPagayawan; daughter of the late Princess Raya Sitti Pagayawan; and granddaughter of His Royal Highness Sultan Ahmed Jamal Pagayawan.”

  People clapped and cheered as I walked up the stage. I saw my grandfather seated at the center, proud and regal as any royalty could be. I went straight to him, knelt and bowed in front of him. I closed my eyes as tears started to fall. I longed for him after all these years. Then I felt his hands on my shoulders and motioned me to stand up.

  “Stand up, my Princess,” he said.

  So I stood up and looked at him teary eyed.

  “Thank you for accepting my invitation,” he said.

  “I should be the one thanking you, Lolo,” I said. “I thought I would never see you again.”

  He pulled me closer to him and gave me a hug. We locked in each other’s embrace as I have heard cheers from the crowd. They did not see that we shed tears of joy.



  THE KALILANG, although a rare event nowadays, usually lasts a day. It would be difficult to match the color, excitement, and variety of activities. It started with a procession of dignitaries, members of the royalty, and their retinue, dressed in their finest traditional clothes. Parasol bearers held sequined and bejeweled umbrellas that displayed the royalty’s respective ranks.

  Different performances followed. The main highlight of the festivities ushered when the Samolayan – the highest form of Islamic décor – entered Lake Lanao. The float depicts a colorful grand banca decorated with lavish royal banners – making it a real sight to behold.

  An evening of instrumental music featured the beating of kagandang drums. It also included performances on the kulintang, a set of brass gongs set out in xylophone fashion. There were ceremonial dances, too. The highlight was the kambaoika, a sort of contest among singers, chanters, and poets. They recite improvised poetic compositions that capped the festivities of the Kalilang.



  AFTER THE CELEBRATION, my grandfather took me to his house. I remember the time I spent on this house as a child. The retinue of servants that followed me, the pampering I received, and the food they served me from time to time. For a brief moment in my life, I experienced being a real princess.

  I was about five or six years old then. We used to walk around the village together, telling stories while walking. A retinue of servants followed us wherever we went.

  We used to play checkers and chess together. He said that I have to master these games because it was like ruling a kingdom.

  “When can I be a princess, Lolo?” I asked as I took my turn on chess.

  “Someday, soon,” he answered as he thought of his next move.

  Then he moved the queen diagonally to the left and landed on h1.

  “Check,” he said.

  I picked up the rook to move, but I decided to move the king instead. My grandfather slapped my hand.

  “Touch move!” he said.

  “When can I ever win against you?” I whined.

  He laughed and scrubbed the top of my head with his hand.

  “Why are you smiling?” I heard my grandfather say that made me return to reality.

  “Nothing,” I said. “I remembered the days when we used to play chess.”

  My grandfather led me to the room I remembered belonged to my mother. As we entered the room, I saw framed pictures and articles of me hanging on the walls.

  “Have you thought that I have forgotten you?” he asked. “Not a single moment.”

  “Then why…”

  “As the sultan, I should set an example to the people,” he interrupted. “Your mother created a stir and scandal. I should punish her according to our tradition. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love you. In my heart, you will always be my little princess.”

  “These,” he pointed out the frames that hang on the wall, “remind me of you. I kept them here because you are Raya’s daughter. When I have learned that you graduated in college and became a news reporter, I was proud of you. I always watch the news just to see you. Look at you, you’re famous.”

  My heart and lips smiled. I never thought that I would hear those words from my grandfather.

  “That hostage taking was tragic,” my grandfather continued. “That politician even used you to influence me on the peace talks.”

  I heard him sigh. I knew that would be another story.

  Right after our hostage, my grandfather immediately called Malacañang to have the talks grinding. Government had planned the peace talks before. It had not pushed through because of some differences between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF). There have been more than twenty rounds of negotiations since 2003.

  During the hostage taking, the media called my grandfather and asked about the peace talks between the government and the Bangsamoro. According to him, the Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) failed to come up with the expectations of previous administrations and the Muslims. Some Muslims felt dissociated by the system and continued to express their grievances through the barrel of a gun.

  Both parties hoped that this agreement would create a new political entity. It deserves a name that symbolizes and honors the struggles of our forebears in Mindanao.

  “Lolo, have you forgiven my father?” I asked.

  He bowed his head and then looked at me.

  “There’s nothing that could be done to have Raya back,” he said. “Your mother chose that path that led her to Death’s door. I have understood Benjamin’s actions. I admired him. I know he is a good man. I have forgiven him. When you return to Manila, please tell him that.”









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