Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Money, Politics, Death and 'Simple Jesse'

When I ran for a Barangay Councilman position two years ago, after a short contract at UC, I expected a lot of criticisms – that I was ‘too young’, ‘too inexperienced’…just another restless kid armed with inapplicable idealism to the ‘real’ world. “Just who is this young guy who opted for an elective office? ‘Why not work abroad?’ ‘Why not join big corporations?”  There are a lot of questions, and why would I not, if everything is about money. But then, it is never all about money. The death of our heroes, or even our very own Sec. Jesse Robredo shows that it’s not all about the money. It will not always be the money.

When my father died about a year ago, I was suddenly confronted with a big challenge. Certainly, I’m not a brat anymore; I am already an adult and I have a degree haven’t I? My friend, Howard, made it to the top of the class and yet he did it with working his ass off to pay his tuition fees, so why can’t I do it too? There should not be a problem, “my dad already left me a tool to live”, I told myself. Then, it hit me; I did really need the money. I needed money to finish my law school, to continue my Masters, to help in the house, to sustain my personal allowance, to maintain my damn car which is still being paid through a salary deduction in the first place. I now face the inevitable, without the help of someone, no one to call and ask for a little extra money, no more, “Pa, agdawatak man ti pangnayon ti kastoy”.  In short, I am really my own man now… I choked, admittedly,  but then surprisingly after, I  can only grin.

I am not that scared because I have a plan.

They often say that, “Education is one of the things that they can’t take away from you” , and indeed, it is true. Equipped with my teaching license and some significant experience, I returned to teaching with a growing college in La Trinidad. It is near my home, my workplace, and my graduate school. I am starting to learn how to save some money by cutting my choice of travel. This is logical since I do have an alternative and I have to finish at least three degrees more. However, what complicates it is the position that I am still holding;  although the law provides that local elective public officers (legislative in nature like sanggunians) can engage in other profession provided that it doesn’t interfere with its sessions and meetings, there are still a lot of times in which I have to literally split myself to the demands of two professions. Fortunately, I was able to manage it. What I detest however, is when some persons decided to use 'these'  as ammunitions to their political mudslinging against my poor self.

What I mean is; when my father died, I have to face this war by myself – a newbie against a legion of old timers who felt that I am in the wrong place. Ordinances I forwarded were junked into the piles of 'unstudied' documents in the municipal committee on laws without any action because I guess, they think that I’m just a kid ( and for what he really is; the councilor who heads the Committee on Laws is a piece of sh*t) . Although some were approved, the unapproved solid waste management ordinance of Pico, or even the Boarding House ordinance lay there unattended by councilors contribute to our waste problems and municipal offenses. Resolutions are ignored by higher offices. Example, the road repairs and drainage at the Bayabas road we personally made to both the provincial representative and governor lay there untouched, although it is obviously a priority project. I’ve exhausted the powers and responsibilities we can utilize for goals like these, but sadly…I can only do so much, especially with my current schedule. I’m not making an excuse, but it does sound that I am and I hate it. These situations are just to give you a glimpse of my life. .

Why am I suddenly writing this? Is it to lift some guilt that I feel from a few of my absences in the community because I have to attend to my students? Is it because I felt that I have not done so much? Is it to criticize the game of politics? I don’t know. Nope, on the second thought,  I want to outline how money shaped my decisions. In this case, I refused to quit school hence I have to teach, which may prejudice my other job BUT not for a long time. I believe that when all of these extra baggage are done, I’ll be more qualified to take on tasks which are heavier than what I am presently holding. These are simply prerequisites to becoming the real men which are expected of us. Hopefully, when this time comes, we have already rid ourselves of the self-indulgent vices we frequent, like overgrowing the toys we had in our childhood.

Or I guess, I just dream of following the Robredo Legacy. How could a man have lived more than how he died? As a co-cabinet member said “Nakakahiya kung hindi ganito ung burol natin…”. Our mayors would only dream of the awesomeness of ‘Simple Jesse’. What if people only attend your funeral because of the free biscuit and coffee, the ‘chismis’ and the simple noise? Perhaps that would be the real tragedy. Now, if anything good can come out of this heartbreak, it would be his legacy to current and would-be public servants. Sec. Robredo Legacy is not a ‘trapo’, he does not own mansions (have you seen his unfinished house?), he does not employ bodyguards, he detested putting names on government projects, he is not used to putting his face on tarpaulins just to indirectly launch a campaign ( I know a councilor who has the habit of always putting his not so handsome face in tarpaulins on almost every occasion). Further, he knows his priorities; where money and luxury matters and where it is not - he died in his way NOT to a trip to a casino or another sin city, but a trip to attend to her daughter and family. Money is not always everything.

So how do I relate my topic about money on Robredo’s legacy? It makes the difference. When he took the post as Secretary of DILG which has control over LGUs, he introduced policies and measures which will avoid red tape, corruption, and delay of service. His goals are intended to fair and responsive governance…without the ‘money-making stop-overs’ in the government bureaucracy. He introduced a lifestyle of slippers and bicycles, far from the Porsche and Fortuners of many politicians, hence, the name ‘Simple Jesse’. All of the good things I must say will not render this blog sufficient. I decided that he is my hero.

When my father was dying, he gave me an advice which I plan to hold on until I die. ‘Okay en dayta nga biag; teacher ken public service tapos asideg pay ti balay ken ilim, mayaten dayta’ he told me in a convincing tone. What he meant that time is that I be contented, if not happy...for there is joy in simplicity and in living in a community where your existence is valued.

Certainly, not everything is all about the money.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Remembering my Father

A week from now will mark the first year since my father lost his battle against cancer. It was an afternoon of tears and heartbreak – I can still remember my two siblings holding his arms, my mom watching us as she was being comforted by friends and relatives – and we can only cry on the sight of him, weakened…dying. I remember his pale yellow skin as he shivered even with some heavy blankets, and the memories of our childhood as he carried us in his mighty shoulders flashed in my mind clearly.  I remember how I rebelled against him as a confused teen, and arguing with him endlessly to claim that I am smarter than him. I was an arrogant fool, and the time to show him how sorry I am had ran out. For the hundredth time, I asked myself if I  did something that made him happy, something that made my existence worthwhile for him. Sadly, I can only concede that most of the time, I was a pain in the neck. Regrets can pierce your heart so deep, especially in the face of loss, of death.

My father belongs to the traditional ‘Mt. Province family’ discipline although he was half Ibaloi. It can mean that he belongs to the school of warriors where the head of the family cannot really express emotions of connection. You can distinguish this by observing the ‘lambingan’ culture of the people from the lowlands, and comparing it to the family setting of the highlands. For most of us, hugging and kissing our family members becomes an awkward sight at a certain point of maturity, even though we actually love and care for them – most cannot even verbalize what they feel to their love ones. Such upbringing had put an invisible barrier in expression and communication in our family, but that afternoon was different. We told him that we love him, that, we will always do. We want him to understand that he will always be special and important to us. We assert forgiveness for any indiscretion, misunderstandings, from him, and from us, and even with grief…we told him that we will be okay. As he nodded in understanding, he gasped for his last breath – to say goodbye to this world – we gathered around him; his family, and his friends, then... he was gone.

I heard from many people that we can only realize the value of a person when that person is already gone. Indeed, it is true, and many times I cursed myself for not giving him more of my time when he was in his death bed. I was a selfish asshole, and I truly regret it – if only there is a rewind, a time machine of some sort, I could’ve changed things for him. Since his death, I’ve always dreamed of him, and no matter how logical I want myself to appear, I want to believe that he is visiting me, even in sleep.

This event in my life changed everything; my views, my ideologies, my tendencies. I don’t have a father to run to anymore. No dad who saves me from the bullies as a fat kid. No dad to bail me out on difficult situations. No dad to save me from trouble. No dad to give me a different perspective. No dad whom I can turn to for advice. I will be on my own from now on…and it is hard.

My father gave his last breath because we promised that we will be fine in this life. Hence, it will be wrong to give up because we weren’t raised as losers who give up. My father succumbed to the fight because he knew that we can manage to continue living – that, something will live on…that it is okay to die already.

I have seen his struggle with cancer; how he stayed awake for nights because of the pain, how he deliberately took more painkillers just for relief, how he became frail, how he lost his strength…how he died. Dying at 50 is almost unacceptable, especially when things have started to get better for the family. He could’ve been more, he could’ve done more.

It’s easy to say that; ‘life is short’, that ‘there is no permanence in this world’, that ‘everything is temporary’. However, it is hard not to be attached to the beautiful existences in this world. How can I not long for my father again? How can I not wish for that simple joy of his rare approval no matter how imperfect our relationship was? How can I not wish to see my father again?

I miss my dad…

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Blues of June (Fiction)

It was in the rainy evening of June. He parked his car beside the gasoline station not too far away from the bar where he consumed his fifth beer. He turned the engine off but decided to keep the stereo on – he needed the DJ’s voice, at least the rare hit on good jokes to kill the boredom. After damaging his car in five identical occasions, he had learned to always give himself a few minutes to sober up before going home. The rain and that non-cooperating shield-wiper convinced him all the more that he needed every ounce of alertness to survive the road. At least, just for that night.

The DJ started to dedicate a love song; somehow, she was already finished with her last caller. “Another Chicago song”, he thought on the few opening notes he recognized from high school. He was not aware that he was smiling on the thought of it. Those memories of his high school life had succeeded in tempting him into playing with them again – it was already almost twenty years ago. He saw flashbacks of his few friends, his teachers, some events, and of course, the memorable people with it. They were good memories – the recurring image of his awkward self with a guitar, his club activities, his classmates, his stressed teachers…and of course, Myra.

 That thought of her almost drained the alcohol inside of him. He needed another drink, but he decided against it – it was still Tuesday, and he has yet to complete three designs for a client. At 33, he was a junior architect for ECO-house designs, a young company which specializes in ‘green-designing’. He was not sure if there is a bright future with it, but he was contented – he will own his little home after twelve years of salary deductions, and perhaps start saving for his old Pajero’s replacement. He remembered that his boss will have his chemotherapy next month, and the thought of a possible retirement that will advance his career made him feel guilty – ‘a man’s loss, will always be another man’s gain’. He sighed - again, the stress of it made him thought that high school will always be one of the best parts of his life.

The song switched to another ballad after another love quote from DJ Hillary Johnson - the best Side A classic, and he smiled. Old songs, bring back old memories indeed. He was ready to sing along with it.

“There are times, when I just want to look at your face, with the stars in the night…there are times, when I just want to feel your embrace, in the cold night…I just can’t believe that you are mine now…You were just a dream that I once know..I never thought I would -” he paused to check his phone, and continued,  “ …anything in this world, you’re all I need to be with forevermore..”

Slowly, he deliberately relived the memories of the first woman he truly loved. Myra was his classmate in high school, although she was first stricken by her endearing laugh in his first year. She was his team mate in scrabble, where he intentionally delayed their games just to spend more time with her. From there, a certain kind of friendship blossomed – he started a routine of visiting her in her mother’s clothing-store for years. She was the first girl whom he had truly loved. Too bad, Myra only considered him as a friend. Friend-zoned, you can say. She was the first girl to have given him the drowning feeling of hurt, of pain.

This event in his life changed him. His fear of the same kind of rejection forced him to reinvent himself; changing his awkward appearance with the cooperative stage of puberty and maturity, and developing an image that was easily acceptable for his new friends.  Eventually, he became the playboy he abhorred in highschool. A disguise he made to project desirability, or perhaps for Myra to notice him.

They met again in college and they dated. He guessed that somehow, his transformation helped. As young hearts then were easily swayed with doubts, they did not become an official couple until after they graduated from college. It was easy and difficult at the same time. Easy, because they have known each other since highschool. Difficult, because both are convinced that they are entitled to new things in their lives. More difficult for him because Myra was his first love, actually his only love.

Eventually, Myra went abroad leaving him the promise that if they are meant to be together, then they will always end up in each other’s arms – yes, that overly-used quote again. For a couple of years he submerged himself with work. It is the only way to make him forget that he actually misses someone. It did not take any longer for him to receive the news that she is already back in the country.

It was unbelievable for him when they spent many days together again. He thought of proposing to her after he will earn some money, perhaps in a year or two. Yes, he actually thought of marriage – she will be 26 or 27 when that will happen, which is perfect for her expectations. It was that easy for him to imagine, until Myra told him about ‘it’. She told him of what happened to her and her friend, or lover, abroad. And after the rush of tears, the words "I'm sorry, I don't love you anymore" sunk him deeper into the void.

He remembered that moment well, and he felt the pang again – he never truly moved on. “Why? .... Why?” Is it loneliness from being away? He did not really ask. “You promised…” is all he can mumble. Funny, how he expected too much. “I know,  I didn’t have a choice…” Choice? He pondered on what it really meant that day. It was not something that is not forgiven overnight, not after the feeling of betrayal, not after broken promises.

But, It was about three thousand nights since then, and they never talked again– not after he banned her name on his Facebook account, or after Myra went back to her work abroad. There were many nights like this, when he ponders on what could have been if he had forgiven her that time. However, that wasn’t the first time she did that – there was highschool, there was college, and even when they’re already working. He was just scared on what he will feel if she will hurt him again. It is not easy to let go of things - memorable things, beautiful things - but he worries on what will happen to his world. He cannot afford another heartbreak, especially from her, that is why he decided to let her go. He concluded, actually convinced himself, that some things are not really meant to be.

Just like his failures and inabilities, his desperation and loneliness...just like the rain which will always be there to drench him, he will always be haunted by the memories which he, ironically, holds dear.

He can't move on.

There were many nights like this, especially in June.