Since losing his son last February 12, Crisanto Selarta of Dasmarinas, Cavite had received at least two text messages, their unknown senders claiming to have seen Christian, 13, in some places.
Each time, he would go, but not find his son.
On September 9, he would receive yet another message of such kind.
The sender identified himself as Gerald Galang, brother of Valenzuela City councilor Kim Galang. Gerald said he had taken Christian under his care and arranged a meeting with Selarta at a mall in Quezon City where he would bring Christian.
So on September 10, the agreed-on date, Selarta, who is a construction worker, took a half day off from work to meet with Gerald.
But instead of getting off the bus at Quezon City, he went all the way to Valenzuela City. It had slipped off his mind that he was supposed to meet Gerald in a mall.
Selarta found himself in the Valenzuela City Justice Hall, which houses the regional trial courts and field offices of national agencies. He asked around for the two Galangs, and was told by a city government employee that Gerald is a former Sangguniang Kabataan (SK) chairperson while his elder sister Kimberly is an incumbent city councilor. He was shown the way to Councilor Galang’s office at the city hall, which was a stone’s throw away from the Justice Hall.
At Councilor Galang’s office, members of the staff told him that he was already the third person to have come in the last two weeks hoping to be reunited with their lost kin. All of them had received text messages from someone named Gerald Galang.
The councilor has younger brother named Gerald Galang, the former SK chairperson at Barangay Marulas, but he was not the one who sent those text messages, staff members said.
The message Selarta had received was a hoax.
Search takes dad everywhere
Valenzuela City was just one of the numerous places Selarta and wife Rose had taken by their search for Christian. They had been to every city and municipality in Cavite and nearby Metro Manila, led on by any news about sightings of his son they could get wind of. Along the way, they would hand people or post on walls photocopies of his missing son’s picture.
Often, it was Selarta who took the road. During a search, a car hit him, wounding him on his face. The driver offered to take him to the hospital, but he declined, preferring to continue with his search to being confined in a hospital.
Christian is the second of Selarta and Rose’s children. The last time they saw Christian, an out-of-school youth, he was playing with neighbourhood children in the street. He has an intellectual disability, unable to speak coherently except when saying simple words and phrases.
Kid caught on video
Selarta was then instructed by Councilor Galang’s staff to go to the local social welfare office in the same building, where he could leave information about Christian.
Already past five in the afternoon, almost everyone at the social welfare office had gone out, except for a few. Selarta plied a social worker with a photocopy of Christian’s picture.
Violeta Hidalgo, the social worker, recognized the boy’s large head and mole on his left jaw.
A few weeks ago, Hidalgo recorded a video of the children at Bahay Kalinga – the city government’s halfway house for street children, abused women, and abandoned elderly – doing their morning aerobics on the shelter’s grounds.
Hidalgo screened the video on her computer for Selarta to see. Among the 30 or so jumping and limb-stretching children was gaunt boy with a large head, in a red shirt and black pants, flailing his stick arms to the beat of the music.
The social welfare office sent a driver to Bahay Kalinga that afternoon.
In the morning of February 13, Hidalgo took a call from a city hall security guard who had found a lost boy in front of the police headquarters, one of the buildings in the city hall complex.
The boy had disheveled hair, his clothes tattered. His hands and bare feet were covered with soot. He apparently had a developmental disorder and was inarticulate. “Michael”, as Hidalgo named the boy, was taken to the Bahay Kalinga.
Michael was a well-behaved boy, not one to pick fights, said Bernardino Bautista, head of Bahay Kalinga. He kept to himself most of the time, but got excited during meal time. He would hold his hand out to anyone with food.
On the afternoon of September 10, seven months since he was taken in, he was fetched by a staff member of the social welfare office to see someone claiming to be his father at the city hall.
When Michael walked into the social welfare office, Selarta rushed to him, embraced his son.
The real Gerald
Meanwhile, Gerald Galang, Councilor Galang’s younger brother, has denied sending those bogus text messages.
In a phone interview, Galang said that for a year now, he has been inconvenienced by the text messages in question. He has been summoned to the Valenzuela City Police Station to meet a family who were expecting to see a lost member. A fastfood restaurant made a delivery at his home in Barangay Marulas, on orders of a customer who identified himself over the phone as Gerald Galang.
He has been out of politics for a year now, said Galang, who is a college student at the De La Salle University, Manila, so it is his sister Kimberly who bears the brunt of the text messages’ negative effects.
Galang said he is happy that Selarta and his son have been reunited, but he is is appealing to whoever is sending those messages to stop. He has also filed a police blotter about the false messages.
Since coming home, a calmer kid
Last September 28, Selarta and Christian, along with Rose, went back to the city hall. They had been invited to a luncheon held to celebrate the 22nd National Family Week. Valenzuela City is this year’s host.
At the Fameal Day, as the luncheon was named, local government officials, businesspeople, members of socio-civic organization and churches sat down to Filipino fiesta staples with clients of Bahay Kalinga and Bahay Pag-asa, another city government-run halfway house, for children in conflict with the law waiting for the court’s decision on their cases.
“Dati bugnutin siya, madaling magalit (He used to have a short temper, easily angered),” said Rose of his son, to a city hall employee at the Fameal Day. “Ngayon naging kalamado siya, saka malambing (Since he came home from Bahay Kalinga, he has become calmer and more affectionate).”
After the meal, Selarta was asked to recount over the microphone the story of his search for his son.
An arm wrapped around Christian beside him, Selarta said, “Malaki po ang utang na loob ko sa bayan na ito (I owe this city a lot).