ONE YEAR LATER Massage therapists at Roxas night market still afraid, but not quitting

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DAVAO CITY (MindNews / 03 Sept) —  A year after the September 2 bombing that left 15 persons dead and 69 others injured, the Roxas night market is throbbing back to life, an endless stream of visitors flocking to the food and ukay-ukay stalls.

But if that night of terror may have come to pass for most of its regular visitors, massage therapists still have to grapple with both fear and sorrow as they go to their spot at the night market, right where the bomb exploded at around 9:50 p.m. that Friday of September 2, 2016.

Seven of the 15 slain victims were massage therapists.

Survivors and relatives of the 2 Sept 2016 Roxas Night Market blast offer candles and flowers during the commemoration mass on Thursday (31 August 2017) in Davao City. The blast left 17 persons dead and dozens of others injured. MindaNews photo

“Antos na lang gyud mi, bisan naa sa among ang kahadlok” (We have to bear this even if we are afraid), said Gloria, 53, who requested not to disclose her last name.

Gloria said the trauma still lingers to this day but the lack of better opportunities has left her with no choice.

“Kapit na lang gyud sa patalim” (We hang on), she said, as she expressed her willingness to risk death to earn a living “tungod sa kawad-on (because of poverty).”

She said one of the 15 who died was fellow massage therapist Vicenta Asperin, 21, who was six months pregnant at that time..

Vicenta, sister of Gloria’s daughter-in-law, lapsed into a coma the night of the blast. She expired 10 days later.

Gloria said her five children, three of them married, did not want her to return to the night market for fear of another bombing.

She said there is a big difference between then and now. These days, she said, even as people flock to the night market and they are surrounded with security personnel, “naa gyud gihapon ang kabalaka sa amoa. Dili na gyud na mawala” (we continue to worry. That will not go away).

But Gloria said she would rather muster courage than be cowed by terrorists.

“Because of what happened, we should stand up and show them that we are not afraid,” she said in Cebuano.

“Second life”

Noemi Merioles, 37, another massage therapist, sat on a monobloc chair under a small tent beside a memorial marker adorned with bougainvillea plants in full bloom while waiting for clients on Friday night.

Merioles said she always prays to the heavens that she and her husband, Glen, 42, also a massage therapist, would go home safe each night.  She said praying has been her routine since they returned to the night market around December 2016. Glen was among the 69 injured.

The shrapnel pierced through her husband’s left arm, rendering him nearly unfit for work.

She is grateful that the shrapnel did not hit a bone or her husband’s arm would have been amputated.

Her younger sister, Ruth Merecido, was not as lucky. The 31-year old Ruth, the third among seven siblings and a mother of two, was among the 15 who didn’t make it.  Ruth, an overseas worker, had joined her at the night market while waiting for another opportunity overseas.

Ruth’s 11-year old daughter lives with her father in Manila while her 9-year old son lives in Davao City with his grandmother.

Livelihood, Medication, Education

During the commemoration on Thursday, Mayor Sara Duterte said the City Government has provided financial assistance worth P50,000 each to blast victims as start-up capital for livelihood while support for those who had been disabled or incapable to work “for life” will continue.

The city government also continues to foot the bill for those still needing medication.

The city government extends three kinds of assistance to the blast survivors: livelihood, continuing medication, and education.

Merioles recalled how she survived unscathed on the night of terror. She was seated just a few steps away from the point of explosion.

It was a close call and she is thankful for her “second life.” A friend of hers, a massage therapist who was seated in front, sustained a serious injury in the abdomen.

NIGHT MARKET BLAST.  The bomb explosion at the massage area of the Roxas night market on September 2, 2016 left 15 persons dead and 69 others injured. Ten persons were killed instantly , the rest expired in the hospitals. MindaNews file photo by Carolyn O. Arguillas

“Sa pwesto namo mismo nibuto. Nabungog mi dili kadungog dayon, unya kusog kay niuyog ang Roxas sa ako paminaw (It exploded right at our area. It was so loud it felt like the entire Roxas shook),” she said.

Despite the trauma, Merioles has continued working in the night market where she earns P70 for foot massage, P90 for back, P50 for either head or arms, and P250 for whole body.

The mother of two said she could not think of a job better than being a massage therapist.

Vigilance

Vigilance, according to her, is needed to thwart terror threats. Since last year’s bombing, they have been taking precautions like familiarizing themselves with each others’ belongings, most especially bags.

The bomb was left in a bag.

Truck driver Dennis Larida of Calinan  misses his wife, Melanie, 43, and only child Deniel Josh, 12.

The 46-year old Larida said his wife, and son went to the ukay-ukay (stalls selling used items) at the night market that night of September 2 because his wife wanted to buy a costume for their presentation in church and a pair of shoes for Josh. After shopping, the two went for a massage.

He vowed to continue serving God because he believes this is what his wife would have wanted him to do, to maintain a close relationship with God, and join the church choir.

Larida said he misses how his wife took care of him from “head to foot because she decided everything for me,” even the clothes he would wear, and misses how Josh relieves his stress when he comes home from work.  (Antonio L. Colina IV / MindaNews)

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