KALAMANSIG, Sultan Kudarat (MindaNews/24 April) – They won’t basically stand out in a crowd but they have “rock star” popularity, at least in the locality.
At this remote coastal municipality accessible through a long and winding mountainous road, a family has been living simple lives despite being so strangely different from the others across town.
If Snow White has seven dwarfs, this town has six – from the grandfather to daughters to grandsons.
From a distance, Magdaleno Alaban looks like a child, standing just over four feet tall. Closer, he’s an old man, jolly, white-haired, and loves to shed his shirt off while taking care of Poral Beach Resort at Barangay Sta. Maria.
He’s now 72. Of the eight children of a couple from Siquijor, Alaban was the only one who ceased to grow tall.
Magdaleno is known in the area as “Bakang,” which is the Cebuano word for bandy-legged or bowlegged.
Alaban walks similar to a duck or a penguin.
Recalling what his father told him when he asked him why he is bowlegged, Alaban said that his mother craved for ducks when she was pregnant with him.
“That’s why people here call me Bakang. If you ask people around here for Magdaleno Alaban, most likely they would not know who he is,” he told MindaNews outside their sari-sari (mom and pop) store that caters to beach goers.
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“I don’t feel bad about being called Bakang because that’s the truth. People should not be lying to you!” he added with a hearty laugh.
Upon tracing his ancestors, he found out that no one from his elders have the condition similar to him.
Alaban has made this town his home for at least three decades now. Upon arriving in Sultan Kudarat province, he worked at a logging company in the nearby town of Palimbang, where he met his late wife Anita.
He was 21 when they got married. Although Anita was not a dwarf, their height must not be too far apart at that time because she was only 13 then.
They were blessed with five children, two of whom inherited his traits. Rosemarie and Ruby are even shorter than he is. Both are married now.
Rosemarie has two children (Jerald Jay, 12, and John Paul, 8) and Ruby has one (Laurence, a toddler), all boys and all dwarfs, even though their fathers are of normal height.
“I don’t know why we are like this. Still there’s nothing to be ashamed of. This is God’s will,” said Alaban, admitting they haven’t consulted a medical expert to explain their condition.
Beating life’s adversities
Alaban said his condition did not prevent him to be productive. For him, it served as a challenge to overcome life’s adversities.
“Even though we are poor, I was able to send all my five children to college through sheer hard work,” Alaban said.
After resigning from the logging company in the 1970s, Alaban became a farmer and fisherman to support his family.
In the past several years, Alaban’s major sources of income have been the sari-sari store and his commission from the rental of cottages and rooms of the resort that was entrusted to their care.
He now lives with another woman, also not a dwarf, after his wife died in 2007.
Alaban’s five children are either married or are away working and are not dependent on him for support. He and his new partner still have no child since they began living together in 2008.
One of his two dwarf daughters, Ruby Anne and her family, share the same house with Alaban and his new partner. But the house has a division so that the young couple, whose son Laurence is also a dwarf, can live on their own. Ruby Anne’s husband has a normal height.
For Alaban, one just have to give his best efforts and work hard to achieve one’s goals. Disabilities or deformities should not serve as hindrance to have a better in life, he added.
Can do the same
Rosemarie, one of the dwarf daughters, apparently inherited not just his physical condition but also his attitude.
“If normal people can do it, I can do it, too,” she said in a separate interview.
Rosemarie, who is also living with a second partner after she ditched her drunkard husband, sells street snack foods at the poblacion area and earns a daily net income of at least P100.
Her live-in partner, who is 12 years younger, earns money by driving a traysikad to augment the family income.
“He treats my two kids from my previous marriage like his own,” said the 42-year-old Rosemarie. Like the case of her father, she and her new partner still have no children.
Rosemarie said her focus is to raise her two young children with the right values to overcome life’s challenges despite being poor.
“I teach them not to mind when other kids tease them about their appearance. As long as they do not hit you, do not take offense,” she said.
Rosemarie stressed she’s at peace with herself despite her appearance. “I’ve accepted who and what I am,” she said.
Her two young boys, meanwhile, seem just as happy and contented with being who they are, especially the youngest who portrays a mischievous innocence. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)