Satur Apoyon, veteran newsman and Bisaya fiction writer, went missing from his home in Bangkal, Davao City on the morning of Thursday, May 19. His body was found five days later on Tuesday, May 24, floating off the coast of Governor Generoso, Davao Oriental. Between where he started and where he ended was a distance of 70 km traversing water, or 150 km by the circuitous route over land.
How he got from here to there remains a mystery. What we do know from newspaper reports and recollections:
He left his house that morning at 5AM for his daily constitutional; when he didn't return an hour later, his family texted friends and searched the neighborhood. A day of fruitless searching went by, and then another.
Rose Palacio, a former colleague of Satur's at the Philippine News Agency, claimed that she ran into him at Victoria Plaza on Thursday afternoon, but she did not know that he was missing at that time. She kidded the usually well-dressed Satur about his slippers before she boarded her taxi. "O, Satur, nganong gi-dala man nimo imong sala dinhi?" she said. "Okay, okay," he just answered with a vague smile.
That was the last anyone saw of Satur Apoyon alive.
* * *
Just who was Satur Apoyon, and why do I take such an interest in his passing? His obituary provides the salient facts and highlights:
"Satur Apoyon was born in Lincod, Maribojoc, Bohol, on December 24, 1935. He worked as correspondent for the Bohol Chronicle for a time, and in 1960, at age 25, he settled in Davao for good.
"He worked for a time with the Department of Social Welfare and Development. In 1980, he joined the Philippine News Agency where he became bureau chief. He retired in 2001.
"He put his hand to fiction early on, and he was active in several writers' groups. He helped fund Diwa sa Dagang Bisaya (DIDABI) in 1960, and he became the first president of the Davao Writers Guild. He represented Eastern Mindanao in the NCCA Committee on Literary Arts from 2001 to 2004.
"His body of work includes 65 short stories, four serialized novels, 57 poems, and countless articles, comics, and jokes. He received first prize in the Bathalad-Mindanao fiction contest in 2000. His collection of short stories, Ang Gakit ni Noebong ug Ubang mga Sugilanon was published by the NCCA and the Davao Writers Guild in 2008.
"For his contributions to Mindanao literature, he was awarded the Taboan Literary Award at the 3rd Taboan Philippine International Writers Festival held in Davao in February 2011."
* * *
That isn't the full story, however.
If I had not known Satur, I would have only taken a passing interest in the story. As like as not, I would have taken no more than a second glance at the strange circumstances.
But I do know Satur. Not very well, I admit, but we've had a word or two at many activities of the Davao Writers Guild.
I first met him at the launching of his book, Ang Gakit ni Noebong, back in 2008. I bought a copy because I had an inkling to write in Bisaya, and I thought it would help if I had a pattern for the grammar and the cadences. I lined up for the obligatory autograph, and I have the book still.
Satur himself I found dour, stern, and grumpy. He hardly looked up as he signed my copy. I chalked it up to his age and his artistic temper, and simply shrugged it off. Besides, I didn't think I'd meet him again.
My next encounter with Satur carried a lighter tone. We had just announced our first-ever Bisaya fiction writing contest in 2009. I was in charge of collecting entries. Not a day after our announcement, we received our first two submissions. They both came from Satur. We had to turn him down because--we had forgotten to tell him beforehand--he was supposed to be one of the judges of the contest.
As judge of the contest, Satur aptly fit the role of wizened sage and mentor. Long after the awards had been given, he was still in deep conference with the winners, dispensing advice on how to improve their stories. We made him judge again for the following year.
I got to know Satur a little better during our 2009 Davao Writers Workshop. He was guest panelist one day, and I offered to drive him home after the session. Dr. Tony Tan rode with us, and along the way, I listened to them reminisce about old times and old friends. I think the conversation must have turned to the Internet--Satur was quite active with email--because the following day, he sent me the first part of his glossary and spelling guide for writing in Bisaya to publish on our web site. This from a man well past 70.
So in sum, what I gather about Satur Apoyon in the brief time that I knew him: someone very dedicated to the craft of fiction, always on the lookout for publishing venues, with a writing work ethic well emulating.
Satur's Bisaya is deep, very deep, and I confess I have difficulty reading through his work. But what little I've managed to read displays lyricism and strong characterization, if a little too traditional in range and topic.
The tragedy of Satur as a writer is that he's so little known outside of the Bisaya fiction circles. As far as I know, Satur only ever wrote his short stories and poems in Bisaya, and that limited his audience and his reach. But that's a statement not so much about Satur as it is about the direction our culture is taking.
* * *
"More than anything else, we just wanted to know," his wife Aniceta said during his wake. "We wanted to know if he was dead or alive. It pained us most not knowing."
After five days of praying and searching through police stations, hospitals, and morgues, the family finally got word about Satur. A fisherman found his body caught in some fishing nets off Governor Generoso in Davao Oriental.
The local police identified Satur by the IDs and calling cards he had on him. They called his house and spoke with his daughter Aniza.
"I called up mother and told her to come home, that we had word from someone," Aniza said. "Only when we got together did I break the news."
She added: "It was my mom's birthday when we found out. In a way, it was like a gift from dad. Finally, we could rest easy. We really just wanted to know."
Satur's body had on the same clothes he wore on the day he disappeared. They fit the description Rose Palacio made when she last saw him at the mall.
On his side was a small wound, leading the police to suspect that foul play was involved in his death. His wife and daughter think otherwise: "They found his wallet in his pocket. It still had his dollar bills." The wound, they guess, may have come from a fence or the pens he got caught in.
The family couldn't go to Davao Oriental, so they sought help from Mayor Sara Duterte. The body arrived the following day, wrapped in plastic and tape. They cremated him the same day.
* * *
What did happen to Satur? His family suspects that he might have had an attack of Alzheimer's. Satur was diabetic, and his blood pressure would fluctuate wildly. Perhaps he woke up that early Thursday morning, already out of himself. Perhaps the dementia struck on his way to the street corner of his usual route. The brief encounter with his friend at Victoria Plaza, already so far from his house, and his manner of speech lends credence to the theory.
I wonder what did happen to Satur after Rose last saw him. Did he walk further down the highway, down to the beaches of Lanang? Did he catch a bus or a jeepney up north to Panabo? Or did he take a boat to Samal Island? How did he end up in the water? In his delirium, did he swim out to sea? Did he fall off the boat, or did he jump off a bridge? Did he drown that same day he disappeared, or did he travel much further down some coast?
We may never really know. Satur's death is, was, and will be a mystery. And yet, I can't help but envy such an end, thinking how apt it seems: that Satur, the devoted fictionist, should himself end up as a story--nay, several stories--that we will have to ponder on.