An utter nightmare. Up to this day, I still can’t believe 11 people perished in a bus bombing on the afternoon of December 9, 2014. It all happened in the blink of an eye right in front of Central Mindanao University’s main gate.  What’s worse, one of the victims was my dear friend. 

The Bombing

Mariel Achacoso (Marah) is a classmate of mine since elementary and someone I was really close with during the end of years of high school. No one will ever forget her demeanor– a jolly, optimistic and hardworking girl who had a dream of becoming a CPA Lawyer.

We had a couple conversations right before the tragedy. She even was the one who convinced me to transfer schools from Cagayan De Oro City to our province just so we get to see each other often and talk about our lives. At that point, I can say there were no premonitions…just her living the usual student life.

I remember the 9th of December. It was my cousin’s birthday and my grandmother’s death anniversary. It was a Tuesday and students were usually busy at school. As for Marah, nobody thought she would miss her family so dearly that she decided to go home right at the beginning of the weekdays (CMU is around 40 km from our hometown and she stays at a boarding house inside the campus). Was it Death’s part of an orchestrated plan? I don’t know.

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She rode the bus all of us will never forget–RTMI 2640. One story of a survivor narrated that time seemed to have slowed down. Just a few seconds after the vehicle moved, an improvised bomb exploded inside a congested bus. The blast was so strong that it shook the university’s ground. In an instant, all that was left was devastation and casualties. As for Marah and the other 11 victims, dead-on-the-spot.

The News

I heard about the bombing in the afternoon, but it was only late at night that I received texts from my high school classmates about Marah’s death. I was already fast asleep by then. I had a dream or so I say nightmare. In my dream, all the people were scrambling as darkness engulfed the city. I could not move until I felt a strong poke on my feet that jolted me awake. Then my phone’s notification sound popped so many times. It was already late in the night and so I wondered. And since you usually open the latest message, the first thing I read was something like ‘Guys, it’s confirmed, Marah’s DOA’. I didn’t know what the acronym was (Dead-on-arrival). I read the buried messages. That’s where I learned she was part of the victims.

My body numbed and I was shaking. I prayed it was just a dream. No tears dropped from my eyes because I was still in utter shock. And so early the next day, we all rushed to the funeral home, and I saw her lying flat on the platform, already cleaned up but bruised still visible all over her body.

What hurt the most was seeing her family members mourn her untimely death. She was a precious daughter and sibling. She did not deserve this kind of death.

The press was everywhere. The whole province was still rattled by the news and anxious about everyone’s safety after false messages of plotted bombs still circulated through texts. Still, Marah’s death did not sink inside of me until I saw her inside the casket —her face captured a millisecond of shock and pain.

Her dream board was displayed at the wake. Her fervent desire to become a CPA lawyer and help her parents is displayed on her handmade board. The pain of losing a dear friend was intense. I went home and wrote a poem to channel my emotions. I just kept writing. Not minding the grammar or the structure.

Seeking Justice

CMU Never Forgets. Photo by: Fiat Mihi Secundum Verbum 

We heard about another bus bombing I think around a month before. There were no casualties, but the authorities did not heed the first warning until a full-blown bomb blasted on the 9th of December.

While the authorities pinpointed several suspects and terrorist groups, up to this day, no one has been convicted of the crime. Every year, the university lights candles to commemorate the hideous tragedy. Like Marah, the other innocent victims had their own dreams cut short by other people’s evil schemes.

I often visit her grave and talk about life just like we always do when she’s still alive. For her, time and dreams stopped on that day. For us, her memories live forever. And while justice is still being sought, one ultimate comfort is that God’s justice is right and definite.

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