It’s Christmas in our family. Our two older daughters have arrived from one of the world’s most livable cities for the holidays. They live and work abroad.
Our family of six—not counting four dogs—is whole again. We celebrate Christmas like it’s the only game in town, more so now, when my wife and I preside over an empty nest in non-Christmas months. Our two younger children stay near their workplaces on weekdays, coming home on Sundays for our Holy Mass together.
It’s bittersweet, when you see that your children can live their lives without your financial support. In fact, it’s the other way around. They have made our retirement their project, and are actually helping out in some expenses. The parents have become the children of their children, the leaders are now led, the led, leaders.
What better time than Christmastide to talk about family love and how it helps sew together the Philippine socio-economic fabric.
Allow me to reminisce a bit—because without the past, the present is meaningless:
It was the time of living dangerously—the eighties to the nineties—when our children were growing up and studying. The deepest trough of the economy in the last 50 years happened exactly at the point when we got married in 1982, and the trench continued wending its way on the same level when our daughters were born in successive years, ’83, ’84, ’85 and ‘91, and all through their schooling years.
As Imelda Marcos ordered $1,000 worth of fresh flowers daily for her Waldorf suite in New York in ’82 on the paltry salary of her husband, interest rates rose like a teenager’s hormones in senior prom. The economy took a dive in ’83 when Ninoy Aquino was shot in the airport upon arrival to try to reason with fraternity brother Ferdinand Marcos who had major health issues, as evidenced by a hospital-like room in Malacañang when people took over in ’86. The room came with a dialysis machine.
People took to the streets to demand his resignation from ’83 to ‘86, snap elections were called in ’86, Marcos won in the counting but the people would have none of it.
The troika of General Fidel Ramos, Defense Secretary Juan Ponce-Enrile and Colonel Gringo Honasan mutinied, Cardinal Sin called on the people to surround Camps Crame and Aguinaldo on EDSA (Epifanio de los Santos Avenue), that was Day One of the people power revolution on Feb. 22, 1986. General Tadiar rolled in with Philippine Marines fresh from fighting in Mindanao to quell the rebellion, he was ordered to fire on the crowd, but couldn’t because the crowd was thick—dispersal would necessitate thousands dead—that was Day Two. Helicopter gunships were ordered to rain hell fire on the mutineers and their swelling numbers, Colonel Hotchkiss couldn’t and instead joined the people to demand the resignation of the president, that was Day Three. On the same day, Ramos leaped for joy upon learning that the Marcos family had fled Malacañang, which was part of psy war—the Marcoses didn’t really leave—for the rebels to gain more numbers from the military. On Day Four, under cover of darkness, the retinue of the conjugal dictators holed up in the besieged political center of the country finally fled by a U.S. helicopter to Clark, then on a plane to Guam and finally another plane to Hawaii. I was an active participant of the unfolding drama, and when I left our home on sunrise of Day Two to join people power, I looked back at my sleeping family perhaps for a last look. Heaven and earth would conspire that the revolution would be bloodless, a miracle attributed to people power’s twin—prayer power.
The Cory administration braved political, media and military clutter, actually managed to rekindle the economy but was met with several coup attempts, the worst finding me sleeping as a staff member of the Office of the Press Secretary on the floor of the Guest House together with some members of the Cabinet some of whom were armed for a last fight—the Alamo. Good thing the U.S. ordered an F-4 Phantom jet fly-by, scaring Gringo Honasan’s Tora-Tora planes which almost bombed Malacañang to kingdom come.
It was an adrenaline-filled life for every Filipino, especially for this father with a darling wife and sweet-smelling babies in the house. After Cory, it was Ramos, the economy huffed and puffed but didn’t gain traction. Then it was Erap Estrada, who ruled from the comfort of his circle of friends with Johnny Walker Blue Label front and center, he was chased out of office by an irate people power marching like Sparta’s 300 from EDSA corner Ortigas to Malacañang on Jan. 20, 2001. Then Macapagal-Arroyo, the economist, same results and the Philippines was still the sick man of Asia.
In 1998, hobbled by an economy in the doldrums, add to that the Asian financial crisis, add to that my wife having had to quit her job in a multinational bank which had its mother computer ensconced in Hong Kong and could therefore operate the local office even in the face of a labor strike, we had to sell our home in ’98 to catch the deadline for tuition-fee payments for the four daughters.
My dutiful wife and I bit the bullet, said goodbye to home ownership so that our sweet daughters would not miss a year of schooling.
If you were to pan the camera to the rest of the country, other families would be encountering the same problem. At that time the middle-class disappeared from the face of the Philippines, families would migrate to North America and the OFW diaspora would commence.
I have two sisters. Both of them live abroad, as well as my widowed mother. They left the Philippines in the late eighties. My mother helped put our eldest daughter in college. When our eldest finished a computer-science degree, she and the second-born helped put our youngest in college. It was a game of human rope, leaving no one behind.
Those were the years when my wife and I knew that we were in a tunnel with no exit except backwards and forward. Backwards was out of the question, so we forged ahead, and the tunnel stretched on and on in total darkness. We just followed our conviction that our children should finish schooling in a world gone awry, with no one to help us except ourselves and our relatives.
So now we’re in Christmas 2015. Life is as good as it gets. It’s a far cry from the days of struggle. My insurance work has picked up, thanks to products that attract depositors who would otherwise keep their money in the bank for lower than one per cent interest, when our products can project upwards of five per cent for bond placements and triple that for equities of blue-chip companies listed in the local stock exchanges, also in balanced funds for lesser volatility. As to our daughters, each of them can stand on their own. Their successful careers have seen to that.
So, what’s a father with daughters like these to do? We go out to the finest restaurants, and do I pull out my wallet? (Oh, yes, but only to present my senior card.) We check out a condo unit, and do I talk to the sales rep? I drive a late-model car, and do I pay for monthly amortizations? I look like a million dollars, and do I have millions in the bank?
I’m the richest financial debacle in the world, chiefly because my daughters will not stop honoring us with their love. Although not successful in the truest sense, my wife and I are victorious because of family embrace, a family dedicated to the proposition that we will prevail as one no matter what happens. Period.
Valley to Mountain Top
I may have shared way too much, but if I don’t open our family closets, how can you, dear reader, measure the relative height and distance of our journey from valley to mountain top?
That’s why I’m thankful for JoeAm for opening his blog for me, where I can write of, by, and for love. Sometimes I wonder: am I the only happy and contented Filipino around? That’s a hyperbole of course. JoeAm, Irineo, Mary Grace, Juana, Lance, Chempo, Edgar, Gian, NHerrrera, Andrew, Bauwow, Karl, Caliphman, Josephivo, and other like-minded bloggers and commenters in the Society of Honor are fighting in the trenches for the same reason. But how come when I read comments and articles in news websites and social media, almost everything I read are about grumbling, name-calling, resentment, insults, fear, hatred, impatience, change the system, change the administration, put in all the expletives unfit for print, commit crime to solve crime, throw the baby out with the bathwater? Does anyone of those who hearken back to the “good days of martial law” know what they’re talking about? Those who complain about the “unaccomplished, underperforming, amateurish presidency” of the present dispensation, have they experienced the feeling of a lowly citizen who has had to scratch out an existence while the rulers party and spend government money for private gain and aggrandizement, like having 3,000 pairs of shoes?
It’s good that I can write like this while I still can. We’ll never know. Perhaps a charlatan will take over after President Aquino and throw the country in a tailspin again, make the country sick man of Asia once more. Are we a people for the sorrowful mysteries, are we capable of joy and glory, are gratitude and contentment Greek to us?
Were it not for God who understands, who loves unconditionally, who gives back a thousandfold of what he has taken away, I would have joined the millions of disillusioned inhabitants of the beloved country. I am eminently qualified. I have a store of pain. But no, I will persist. I will shout out. I will not give up. I will keep on loving, for love replenishes itself, it will not die, it will keep on giving, like a mother and father who will willingly enter the tunnel of no return to put their children in school, raise them well, feed them with good food and good values, put a roof over their heads, and when it’s their time to love unselfishly, their hearts would be full, so they can give back to the world in full measure. We will keep on loving.
Merry Christmas, every one!