Monday, July 30, 2007

Coming Home

Jojo, our eldest brother, left the Philippines for the United States in 1986. There he got married, had children and settled down.

Since then he has been able to return to the country only twice. The first one was in 1992 when he first brought his family here for a short visit. The second homecoming was a sad one and took place in 1996 when he and his wife had to rush here attend Papa's funeral.

Today he and his family, after an absence of almost eleven years, will be in Lianga. It will be their first visit here since our father passed away over a decade ago and Mama and the rest of our family are frantic with the preparations for the event.

I have often wondered how it would feel to be in his shoes when he finally sets foot again in this town.

To come back, after more than a decade of absence, to a place you once had called your home. To see again the familiar sights, once so vivid in your mind, and smell, hear and touch once more the lingering and hauntingly familiar scents, sounds and textures of an old life. To come face to face with the faces of the past and rekindle old memories of the things that were.

What does one feel?

Would there be pure and simple exhilaration made more meaningfully joyous by the sense of getting in touch again with one's roots and the origins of one's existence? The satisfaction of returning or coming back to where one's life began, a pilgrimage of remembrance of sorts?

Or would there be a sense of angst there? Of celebration tinged by the vaguely somber colors and memories of things that remained uncompleted, unfinished business and matters that have to be done or undone.

It has been said that returning home after a long absence is like gazing at yourself full length on a magic mirror. In it you see yourself not as you are today but the blurry image of the person you once were.

But the image is still only a reflection of your present self and a pseudo reality distorted by the doubts, fears and anxieties of the person you are today. You only see what you expect to see and what you see is often only half true.

One returns home not only to try to recapture the memories of the past but, more importantly, to understand the present by confronting the incertitudes we have left behind. It is not just about getting in touch again with one's roots but more of determining and understanding how we have come to be what we are by coming to grips with the events and circumstances that have shaped us into what we have become.

So a journey home from places far away is always a voyage of discovery, understanding and acceptance. It is also a pilgrimage of sorts, the kind a religious man makes at least once but often many times in his life to sacred places and shrines.

For to do it properly one's life comes to a full circle every time and what is incomplete in his life becomes more whole again. Each time.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Street Talk

One of the things I often see in Lianga are groups of people, often all male but sometimes females included as well, sitting on plastic chairs or lawn furniture while occupying portions of the town streets and alleyways. This is a rather common sight in the early part of the morning and the late afternoon until the early evening.

In the middle of this impromptu gatherings is almost often a small table with food, beer or liquor bottles. But all that is often merely an accompaniment to the main dish or raison d'ĂȘtre for these informal gatherings. For these are venues and occasions for talk, laughter and bombast. And plenty of them too.

These gatherings come together simply from force of habit or simply by a spontaneous meeting of the minds. One or two or all simply generously contribute and provide the food and drinks and suddenly the party is on. The momentum gathers and the informal grouping catches fire and simply feeds on itself. It can last for hours and may end up only late at night or even the next morning and with all the participants stumbling home thoroughly besotted not only by copious amounts of alcohol but also by all the loud talk and claptrap.

I have joined many of these gatherings myself and I am always amazed at the variety of topics that come under discussion. Major political and social issues are, of course, perennial favorites but almost anything under the sun can come under scrutiny. And the talk, as time passes and the amount of alcohol available decreases, always becomes more spirited and inspired.

There is debate, ingenious and skilled repartee and argumentation that would rise to great heights and rival that of the floor of any legislature or courtroom in the world. The problem is nobody takes note of them and recalling what happened the day after while nursing a painful hangover can be a task impossible in itself.

Surprisingly, inspite of the alcoholic haze, very few of the heated debates end up in fist fights and actual physical confrontation. Ruffled feelings are quickly addressed to by cooler heads and, in most cases, such minor irritations are easily forgotten and the good times continues unabated until everyone finally gives up and goes home.

These street corner meetings are an indelible aspect of life and culture in Lianga. There are those, however, who decry them as manifestations of truancy and indolence. They say these groupings prejudice the public welfare because they unduly disturb the peace, create scandal and generally promote drunkenness and licentiousness.

That may be true but it is also clear that these gatherings will continue to be a phenomenon in this town. Not only because the people of the town are a stubborn lot but simply because they are fun and a way for the idle and, therefore, the voiceless, to let off steam and let themselves be heard.

These are, in one sense, the parliaments of the streets and the real voice of the masses. And the one fun thing I always like about them is that, after all the long and winded discussions, there is always a clear solution to each of the myriad of problems facing man in this world.

The problem is always remembering what the solutions were the next day.

Friday, July 13, 2007

New Face

During the last May 14 national and local elections, a couple of new faces made successful, first time forays into the field of politics in Lianga. One of then is Jun Lala, the scion of one of Lianga's more prominent political families.

Jun's older brother is a former municipal vice-mayor while a maternal uncle as well as a first cousin had served as governors of the province of Surigao del Sur. The father is also a high ranking official in the Department of Public Works and Highways. A distinguished lineage indeed.

His entry into local politics comes at a time when Lianga is at a nadir, its economy at an all time low, its peace and order situation unstable and its social and political development at a standstill. It goes without saying that a neophyte politician like him would have to prove himself immediately while still trying to learn the ropes of his new career.

That Jun topped the elections for seats in the municipal council came as no surprise to many political observers here. He had the requisite logistics, the prominent family name and he had the backing of the national political party in power. He also had the gregarious, affable and engaging personality that thrives well in the handshaking, backslapping world of politics.

In the difficult task wooing of votes and the projection of a public image of competence, integrity and trustworthiness, he has had little trouble and the results of the last election have proven that he has been a skilled political campaigner and someone who has been effective in gaining the local townspeople's trust and confidence.

The euphoria of the elections has since faded away and the time has come, however, for him with the other new municipal councilors to pull up their sleeves, get down to work and face the hard challenges of helping the municipal government put its financial and economic house in order, address the town's peace and order problems and plant Lianga back on the path of progress and prosperity.

There is also the urgent need to rebuild trust in the municipal government which has over the years been perceived to be rife with graft and corruption and largely indifferent to the sad state of the town. This may prove to be a task next to impossible to achieve in the short term and may be accomplished only in the long haul and at great political risk and with the greatest diligence and fortitude on the part of the up and coming political leaders like Jun.

As to the fact whether the young leaders like Jun Lala are what Lianga needs in the municipal council today remains to be seen. For he has still to prove himself worthy of the mandate given to him.

What is clear is that the people of Lianga did largely vote for young and untried personalities like him because they represented change and the infusion of new blood and hopefully a new vitality and hope into the tired politics of the town. And for the nth time over the decades and countless elections, the people of Lianga may soon again be wondering and asking the same question they have been asking themselves over and over again. Have they made the right choices this time?

Let's hope the answer this time is a resounding yes.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Remembering Papa

This morning as I walked over to Mama's room to close the jalousies in an open window, a picture of Papa perched on the top of a low, glass-topped set of shelves caught my glance. It was taken more than a decade ago at one of the countless wedding receptions he attended either as a guest or as a principal sponsor.

My father always had an innate aversion to attending formal parties and gatherings. For he was a private person who detested all forms of ritualized socializing and who preferred the informal give and take of casual chats and joshing with close friends, relatives and acquaintances.

But his standing in the community as a physician insured that he would be invited to formal gatherings and he would attended them as a matter of duty. But he never was comfortable while mixing with people he barely knew. On some pretext he would quietly slip away and then all the other guests would suddenly notice his absence and start looking for him.

He had a special reluctance to standing in as a sponsor at wedding ceremonies. He hated dressing up formally and was always ill at ease in formal dress. He then would lamely joke that he did not like being a principal sponsor at weddings because most of those nuptials he was a formal witness to ended badly, a fact my mother would laughingly agree with.

That his own marriage was happy and successful never came as a surprise to him. He told me once that a successful marriage was built on trust and mutual respect as well as genuine love. You have to work at making your marriage work, he said, and being faithful and true to your mate can be difficult but doable if you put prioritize the relationship above all else.

Me: "Were you ever tempted to cheat on your wife?"
Papa: "The temptation is always there but if you keep your head straight and your priorities in proper perspective then you can easily resist such things."
Me: "How?"
Papa: "Think of the years you have invested in your marriage and your family. Think of how one small, careless act can destroy all the trust and respect you have gained from your loved ones. Reflect well and then resisting temptation is easier if you think of the consequences of what you are about to do."

In the picture, Papa may be smiling a bit and posing for the camera but I knew what he was thinking and where he would rather be. Out of the party, out of the barong and in his casual, daily wear and focusing his attention on both his work and his family.

Simple but satisfying pleasures for a basically simple but towering giant of a man.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

A Brief Taste Of Paradise

It began with nagging doubts and unanswered questions. And the heart questioning the logical mind if the decision to go was the right and best thing to do.

It has been said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. But in this case, there is the sudden yet clear realization that the journey actually began months ago and the initial steps had already been taken, albeit unknowingly. What is left is the leap of faith, the trusting jump into the abyss where the fear of the unknown is thrust aside by the implicit faith in an unquestioning and enfolding love.

That the leap into the unknown was an act of trust and blind faith cannot be questioned. But the rewards have been spectacular and worth all the anxious waiting and the uncertainties in the mind. Truly those who love truly and honestly are blessed, for in the loving is bliss and comfort, a sense of coming home to the familiar hearth where the fire of contentment burns brightly amidst a doubting and skeptical world.

Perhaps there is a benevolent and guiding spirit that protects and nurtures the magical yet gossamer threads that link human hearts. Perhaps it is this same spirit, sometimes fickle but never arbitrary or malicious, that ordains in those rare occasions when everything must come together to create that magic moment when love comes to full bloom.

In this instance, the magic did come and, as expected, it was something truly beautiful to behold.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007


Being on vacation can be such a blast but it also means that I have been unable to add new posts to this blog for almost a week now.

That is something I intend to remedy as soon as I get back to Lianga. I hate to admit it but I do miss blogging and I hate letting a week go by without updating this blog.

So if there are those who have been expecting a new post the past few days, please accept my humble apologies.

I may like blogging but there are other things more important or just as important to do in life. And this short break I am taking is exactly that.

See all of you in a couple of days.