Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Heroes for President (Love Stories as Election Campaign Ads)

As we approach the May elections, we expect more media noise coming from the hundreds of candidates in their TV, radio and print campaign ads. Good for business, in general, but not so much for our tranquility and our efforts to achieve moral recovery. As the Medicis of Florence loved to proclaim: “Money to get the power, power to keep the money.” A concise definition of politics, if we ever needed one.

There is the billionaire who spends millions to gain access to the highest position of the land. His many and certainly expensive TV ads alone are veritable movie-trailers showcasing his past, his accomplishments and his abilities. Then, there are the two cousins – scions of wealthy landowners and industrialists – who are paraded as young and dynamic leaders, eager to serve the people and to please them with their promises of, well, wanting to serve them. Both also have their own ads, obviously created by the best PR and copywriters around – crisp and clean visuals and catchy cinematography that would make many would-be movie-makers envious, if not for their quality then the financial windfall they would provide. Such things don’t come cheap, you know.

Marcos had his “Iginuhit ng Tadhana”, a love-story starring Luis Gonzalez and Gloria Romero, which introduced him and Imelda as the "saviors" of our country. At least, with a movie, one stands to gain back some of the investment. Perhaps, the “Apo” was much wiser than we thought he was. Putting up the CCP was in itself the crowning jewel of his regime as it showed the world how beautiful Filipino culture was and how generous a government can be to preserve or develop its culture. Some, of course, would say it was nothing but propaganda. For some, it was indeed a shot in the arms for our artists and, it follows, for our people.

Others would say it was nothing but business as usual. Money making more money for the rich while sparing some loose change for the service industries. Media and the film industry stand to gain from this recent surge in demand for political ads.

However, business and culture are much like food and flowers in a restaurant. You can eat the former but not the latter. Yet, this kind of thinking is exactly what keeps us from maturing as a people: We spend each day thinking about what to feed our families while we forget to feed our souls with the finer things in life. In fact, we continue to patronize cheap western music and Korean telenovelas and forget to appreciate our own excellent music and literature. Ironically, CCP’s cultural events are affordable only for the wealthy. Whereas pop or rock concerts get replayed often on the TV networks, not many of CCP’s shows get enough sponsors to air them. Thus, we remain an unaware and confused people, subject to exploitation by cunning people.

One of the latest attempts at mimicking Marcos’ use of film as campaign tool came in the form of a network’s soap-bio on the love-life of Ninoy and Cory Aquino. Aired on primetime last weekend, people were treated to an “infotainment” (drama-docu show, that is) which probably garnered a sizeable chunk of the viewing public. Considering the network’s open and self-serving endorsement of Noynoy’s bid for the presidency, it was an unabashed plug for his character and his legacy as the only son of what many recognize as modern heroes of our country.

And they are heroes, if we are to set up before ourselves high standards of courage, dedication and sacrifice -- the very same standards we use to declare our OFW’s as our modern heroes. What makes Ninoy and Cory exemplary is the vast influence they had within a particular period in our political history. Specifically, in relation to the Marcos regime. They served to set us free from two decades of darkness. We celebrate -- and will again celebrate next month -- that fact as the EDSA Revolution. For how can we forget the glorious unfolding of our nation’s destiny without mentioning the contributions of these two personalities?

Yes, we need to thank them and uphold them as cherished leaders of our nation for when the time came when we needed them, they answered the call. And yet, the present requires that we kiss the past struggles and glories goodbye and face the future still with an open embrace. Open to new opportunities and new ways of meeting fresh challenges. Let us keep Ninoy and Cory as symbols of freedom, among so many others from the past and in the present who lived and live to make democracy a reality.

Noynoy, as a symbol of one family’s struggles and triumphs as well as a budding icon of what our nation can become is indeed a welcome potential. He deserves to be heard and given the opportunity to prove himself. Or, perhaps, he has already been given that chance and that it is time to make the right and mature judgment on his ability to lead our nation.

Would Ninoy, the father, have made a good president? Perhaps. If the TV drama is to be believed, he would have kept his promise to be uncorrupted, as his son now also promises not to steal from the nation. Ninoy never became president and Noynoy just might become one. But let us consider their qualifications, to be more subjective.

Ninoy was a traditional politician before he became a reformer of some kind. A defender of the system before he became an activist. A conventional thinker before he became a pacifist-rebel with a just cause. A mainstream Catholic before he became a mystic of some sort. I hope the soap drama would ultimately showcase (Part 2 is still coming) these nuances in Ninoy’s transformation as it is crucial in determining if we all have understood what it takes to bring a nation back, close to its Eden-like condition (Rizal’s vision of our own ancient past).

The questions then that we must ask, if we are to make the right choices when the time comes to choose our leaders, are these: Did Cory truly embody the same visions that Ninoy had (as well as those of Rizal, other heroes and those of our own today) when she served as president? Did she fulfill the dreams of her husband not just to restore democracy but also good government and social justice? If so, will Noynoy be able to do the same? If not, why should we entrust to him the seat in Malacanang? Has he done what is necessary to prove that he really is the very person his own father would elect to fulfill his (Ninoy’s) own dreams for our country?

It doesn’t take to be a son or daughter of Ninoy to know his ideals, the same ideals that our previous heroes held and defended with their lives. We only need to be aware of our own capabilities and duties to be ready when called upon to serve in turn.

The true measure of Ninoy’s success as a political leader and as a belated visionary late in life should not be simplified as if it were a natural or conjugal succession with Cory’s becoming president. It is a dangerous assumption that leads people to think Noynoy would then be the next and normal heir to the mythical throne of EDSA. EDSA was a phase, just as the Philippine Revolution was. Did we have the best leaders during the Revolutionary Government? Did we achieve our aspirations under their watch? Will we do so now under the one we want to elect? Is Noynoy the genuine reformer, activist, visionary and thinker that we need in this critical time of our history? Can we honestly say that he is and not merely hope that he will be when he needs to be?

Beyond mentioning the political baggage that the Aquino-Cojuangco family carry into this presidential campaign, we must look at a person’s claim to his ability to lead our nation in relation to our long history of heroism and not just recent political realities. For many are the problems and the enemies that we must face. The same issues that beset our fathers under the Spanish and American Regimes remain today in the same forms, colors and odors: black, odious and rotten corruption and exploitation of our social, cultural, political and physical environment. The skin colors and the names may have changed, the addresses and the costumes may also have changed, but the rules of the game have remained the same.

The powerful and the moneyed still hold sway over our lives and still hold the reins over how we think, believe and move. The friars may be gone; but their descendants are still around preaching love and receiving blood money. The Ilustrados may have long been silent; but their heirs still sit in gilded chairs in mansions. The Guardia Civil may be only be a memory now; but their brood still lurk somewhere ready to pounce upon those who disturb the status quo.

Elections give us a chance to see ourselves where we really are: Back to Square One. Corruption is with us and will be with us when we lie with the worms in the grave. For now, we lead ourselves into thinking that real heroism comes merely to those born of heroes and not to those who live it and plod through its struggles and come out as totally transformed individuals.

Who among our candidates have gone through a transformation from inside out? Who exhibits in living form the life worthy of our admiration and emulation? This is what should guide us this campaign period.

Perhaps, what we need is not a new president but a new spirit of heroism within us all, one that makes us to walk and live as heroes ourselves and not just followers of heroes. Perhaps, what we need then are movies that help us to become heroes and not movies that lead us to worship others as heroes – whether fantastic or real heroes. We certainly cannot fly like Darna does; but we can be compassionate like Josephine Bracken who cared for the wounded during the Philippine-American War. We cannot be as strong as the Flavio, the mythical Panday; but we can be as strong of mind and of character as Rizal was when he led the way to our freedom as a nation.

Incidentally, I wrote a semi-historical script of the love-life of Jose and Josephine a few years ago. The story makes Rizal the president of the Philippines, a timely idea that may help us consider how he would have behaved as a political leader. Here is an idea: Why don’t we writers and film-makers come up with stories of real or fictional people who will exemplify the highest ideals for us and candidates to follow? So, instead of us watching people tell us how great they are, we can show them how great they should be, that is, great enough for us to vote for them. But I still have to hear of a wealthy candidate who will bankroll a film on the life of, say, Bonifacio or Mabini just so he or she can win an election. Now that – is a real dream!

(Photo above: Is it a butterfly or a shell? Images can be deceitful.)

Friday, January 08, 2010

Predictions Made Me by Emilio Sardan Ragay

A month before my 81st birthday (22 November) an old woman appeared in my dream telling me that I will win the mega lotto jackpot. When I awoke, I kept tossing in bed trying to decipher who she was. After hours of “flashbacking” I recalled that she was someone I met during my younger bygone years.

Here’s my story. After graduation, the UP Vanguards Batch ‘41 to which I belonged immediately underwent physical and medical tests for commissions as 3rd Lieutenants in the Philippine Army. While waiting for my commission and call-to-active-duty, I decided to visit my father who was with the PC Command in Naga City.

I lost no time in befriending the folks residing in Mabini Interior Street, where my father rented a house. In no time, I became a member of DALOLI (dance, love and live) Club, which was very much to my liking.

One social event the club member looked forward to was the baptism of the son of our neighbor. I was supposed to be one of six sponsors. Unfortunately, our plans to this social event went “pffft” . In between sobs, the child’s mother informed me that her son was seriously sick. I hurriedly visited her sick child and what I saw alarmed me. Expecting the worst, I gave the child a layman’s baptism. I dipped my forefinger in a cup of water and made the sign of the cross on his forehead while intoning the “I baptize you in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” ritual.

I felt momentarily relieved. An hour later, we rushed the child to the Cathedral to be baptized formally by a priest. The child who was cradled in my arms died right after his baptism. I was emotionally devastated by this sudden turn of events. The child’s grandmother confided to me during the wake that my godson would bring me good luck, saying, “He will save your life in a year’s time.” “Remember what I am telling you.”, she added.

Not long after, I gave away my civilian clothes and old uniforms. For the second time, the old woman admonished me not to give away my old clothes or else I would be begging for clothes myself. I hugged her and told her that would not likely happen. And again she told me, “Just remember what I am telling you.”

Before I left Naga City, my barkada in the DALOLI Club tendered me a despedida party. When the old woman saw me dancing and being lovey-dovey with a school teacher, she called me aside during music breaks and whispered, “Lieutenant, you will not be lucky with her. Besides”, she continued, “you will soon forget her when you leave our place. You will meet your future partner in life in an unusual situation.” I simply shrugged and thanked her for her advices and predictions.

By mid- August, I reported to GHQ of the Philippine Army, which was then located at the Mehan Gardens (behind the present site of the Manila City Hall). Together with several army officers, we boarded the interisland boat S.S. PANAY bound for our Visayan and Mindanao assignments.

We were inducted into the USAFFE on September 1st at Camp Guihulngan, Negros Oriental and immediately transferred to another camp in Negros Occidental where we attended a refresher course. After over a month of trainings, we were moved to a camp in Negros Oriental. By the end of November, we were transferred for the third time to our permanent camp, Camp O’Donnell in Capas, Tarlac. We were barely settled in the new camp when on December 8, war was declared with Japan. We were hurriedly dispatched to the Lingayen Gulf frontlines. We did not have to wait long. On the even of November 22, the Japanese forces landed in La Union. We were committed to meet the Japanese Forces in Damortis and Rosario in La Union. Without airplanes, tanks and big artillery, we were decisively repulsed. From Rosario, we retreated to Sison in Pangasinan where we were also battered. We retreated to Pozorrubio, another town, and again we were attacked while resting at night. We again retreated to Binalonan which was defended by an American anti-tank unit.

Without letup, the Japs attacked us on Christmas Even in Binalonan. We were overran and ordered to retreat. Bullets were flying in all directions. When I fell for the first time, I thought I was hit but I struggled to get up and ran in semi-darkness. I stumbled again and again and when I looked back after my third fall, I saw the enemy closing in on us. I froze and stayed put where I fell and played possum, hiding beneath a canopy of palay stalks.

When morning came, I found myself among dead comrades. Not far was a machine gun nest of the enemy which kept firing at the retreating soldiers. I prayed hard as I never did before. Then I remembered my dead godson and the prediction that he will save my life. So I prayed to him for my deliverance.

Before noon, the Japs burned the rice field where I was hiding. Although my whole body was numb all over, I tried to shift my position slowly. To add to my misery, red ants were having a field day biting me; but movement of a “dead soldier” was too risky to gamble. I prayed again. Suddenly, a strong gush of wind swept the direction of the fire and stopped its tracks.

By about four in the afternoon, I heard a Japanese command which I could not understand. But a little later, the revving sounds of their tanks and lorries indicated that they were moving to the next town, Urdaneta.

It was nearing dark and the thought of being with the dead another night gave me goose bumps. I decided to change my position slowly to prone. It took me about half an hour to unwind the numbness all over my body. I slowly crept toward a patch of sugar cane where I broke two stalks and chewed to fill my empty stomach.

I moved stealthily eastward to avoid the enemy. While walking, I heard a voice coming from a deep irrigation canal, “Sir, help me, I am a soldier. I was hit by sniper fire in Urdaneta.” Thereupon, I applied sulfanilamide on the wound on his left shoulder, put a gauge and sling around his shoulders and neck.

I was glad to have met him. Being an Ilocano, he could be useful as guide and interpreter in my attempt to rejoin my forces. Our plans to reach Rosales in Pangasinan was, however, frustrated by darkness. We arrived at Villasis town where we were met by civilian guards led by an ex-teacher who advised us not to cross Agno River as it was very deep and swift. He instead invited us to his house. There, he produced a plate of hard cold rice (bahaw) with a few mustard leaves garnished with bagoong. That meal was indeed most welcome and a luxury, after two days of forced hunger. With a full stomach, I soon fell asleep only to be awakened by the shouts of our host to escape the heavy bombardments coming from both sides of the Agno River. After several hours of running and walking in darkness, we reached the evacuation center in Unsad, a barrio of Villasis where our host’s family had evacuated.

Since it was our duty to report back to our lines, we decided to cross the river in several places, but each time we were pushed back by civilians who were also running away from the enemy. After three failed attempts to cross, we returned to the evacuation camp. On the advice of the ex-teacher, we discarded our uniforms to escape detection by spies. He was so kind to provide us with used clothes.

Later, I joined the guerilla organized by an American colonel who escaped Bataan through Mt. Pinatubo. Unfortunately, I was captured several months later. I was incarcerated at the Kim Pei Tai POW camp in Binalonan, where I was kicked, boxed, “jujitsued” and given the water-cure treatment. My sufferings at the POW camp was somewhat eased when a week later, then Governor Estrada of Pangasinan visited the camp. It so happened that his cousin was my Literature teacher in Dumaguete City. This information elated the governor who promised to help me with my release. He convinced that Japanese colonel that I was his relative. Thus, I was released with the condition that I give my gold-plated Waltham Premier watch. I had no choice so I handed over my watch to the Japanese colonel who in turn handed me P70.00 as payment. That was how I lost my P120.00 pre war watch. It was good bargain, though. The money not only freed me from prison but also helped me finance my church wedding and barrio reception. Yes, I met my wife at the evacuation center. What a coincidence – the third prediction of the old woman had come true.

The events that happened some 59 years ago seemed like a beautiful dream. Recalling those incidents and predictions is what keeps me ticking like an old alarm clock. To me, she was a seer par excellence.

By the way, I am still hoping that I will soon be a quickie millionaire via the PCSO mega lotto draw as prophesied a few months before Y2K. Will her fourth prediction, even if relayed to me only in a dream, come true? Given her 100% track record, I have no doubt this too will come to pass, but that will be another story.

(My father wrote this article seven years before he passed away. It remained unpublished and hidden in his old but still-sturdy army-issue trunk until my sister discovered it and had it posted on Facebook. His war-time exploits often regaled our visits, with this story being a favorite of mine and one that became more interesting and real with each telling. We all miss him, more so with this written version of how the failed defense of Luzon and the country (what Quezon and McArthur called War Plan Orange) brought him to Villasis, Pangasinan where he met my mother. One of these days, I hope to write the sequel to this story: how he rejoined the USAFFE years later and helped in retaking Baguio City from the Japanese forces. Btw, my nephews and nieces still look forward to harvesting that Mega Lotto prize their Grand-Papang failed to get.)