As I write, my whole clan is savoring every bit of fun it could squeeze out of the very rare time when most of its members could be in the same place at the same time. The “official” affair was at lunchtime, but as of dinnertime, most of us were still around; some dancing, some drinking, and the rest gathered around in motley groups trying to catch up on what’s new in each other’s lives. Tomorrow we are all going to bring the left over food to the beach and continue the party there in a symbolic clean-up ritual. (I actually intended to write about what I think we should focus on in the aftermath of that Supreme Court ruling, but I guess that has to wait until Wednesday).
When I was young, I never did understand what was so big about reunions. Thus, while the older members of the clan engaged in the seemingly endless shrieking and hugging and kissing that is the standard on these occasions, we kids would just run around without any care for whatever significance and meaning the occasions promised. But I guess maturity does change one’s perspective. Now that we are older, we seemed to have become our parents, people who have become experts at grabbing every opportunity to have a reunion and in turning every family occasion into one.
This time around, it was the wedding of my youngest brother Cyril. Ever the romantic, he had decided to get married the old-fashioned way, right in our hometown in Abuyog, Leyte. As expected, the family left no stone unturned to ensure that all members of the clan knew about the occasion. For the first time in a long while, my siblings and I, all seven of us—and the whole entourage of spouses and children—made it to our baby brother’s wedding. I have no idea how all of us have managed to fit in the ancestral house in the last three nights. My parents would have a seizure if anyone among us suggested staying at this town’s lodging house so no one brought it up. But we are managing even if the whole living room of our old rickety house resembles a refugee camp at bedtime.
Having lived in Metro Manila in the last 18 years, I have somehow imbibed the conveniences of life in the big city. When I was told that the family was expecting around 500 guests for the wedding (and they said this was a conservative estimate, pant, pant!), I actually balked and wondered how our family would be able to pull it off on our own without caterers and wedding coordinators and the like. There was a moment when I wanted to make a case for simply turning over the whole preparation to a restaurant or hotel so we could all just relax. But I realized I was in the province and there wasn’t a hotel or restaurant that could take on the job— at least for that number of people. Naturally, Mr. Management—that’s me, started to get into my usual office persona —a live wire who thrives on panic and stress while my parents and aunts and older relatives were the very picture of calm and serenity.
They told me repeatedly that I was being such a worrywart, that relatives would come and lend their support. And they did. In droves. I was amazed at how people began converging at our house the day before the wedding. The truly astonishing thing was that everyone seemed to know what role to perform. It was as if the whole thing was a military operation that operated with utmost precision. By midnight, there were at least 30 people—all relatives and friends —doing every single thing that needed to be done including slaughtering the poor animals, washing utensils, and even doing last-minute cut-and-paste work on the wedding giveaways (yes, even those things were not contracted out, to my utter amazement). And today, during the affair itself, more relatives and friends showed up to do their stint at the kitchen or at the banquet.
I have seen variations of these scenes in Philippine movies. But I have always thought that these scenes were simply the director’s romantic homage to a long-lost Philippine tradition. But I am obviously wrong. Bayanihan is alive and well in rural Philippines. Here in the province, people make things work because they take it upon themselves to make them work rather than toss the responsibility and the blame on to someone. I wish that those of us who think the Philippines is Metro Manila have the opportunity to once again see for ourselves how the rest of our fellow Filipinos, the ones who live in rural Philippines, actually make things work the bayanihan way.
Because a lot of people in my hometown know that I write an opinion column, conversations found their way to politics. It is true, many among them— including public school teachers and elected officials—are contemptuous of the way imperial Manila tries to dominate the political discussion. For a change, I listened. All right, I had to, because the ones I was talking with were either former teachers, older relatives, or were invited local executives. In short, people you try not to offend. You know how it is in these situations, you put on a fixed smile and try to nod your head repeatedly in the hope that doing so would cut the lecture down. But it also dawned on me that what I was getting was the real sentiments of people outside of Metro Manila. At the very least, this was good material for a column. So I listened more.
The general opinion I kept getting was that many of the things we do in Metro Manila are senseless rabble-rousing. I kept thinking “this is too simplistic” until I realized that as far as these people were concerned, making things work need not be as complicated as we try to make it. In the words of one public school teacher, “whatever happened to people simply giving each other the benefit of the doubt, in believing that no one has a monopoly of good intentions or brilliance?” I was stumped at that one because I realized that while the idea was simplistic, it nailed the problem right on the head.
Making things work in this country is possible if only we can find it in ourselves to put country, others, service, and selflessness ahead of pride, ego, vested self interest, and this “if you are not with me, you are not my friend” mentality. In rural Philippines, these translate into the time-honored Filipino values of malasakit, pakikipag-kapwa, pakikitungo, pagdamay, and tulong.
This trip home has been truly worthwhile not only for sentimental family reasons (I wanted to be a part of my brother’s special event) but also for the realization that outside of Metro Manila, real people power and real people’s initiative still take place. It is called bayanihan. We should rekindle this spirit once again.
In closing, I would like to wish my brother Cyril and his lovely wife Lilian a wonderful marriage. I hope you guys prove that despite these uncertain times, there is only one thing with the power to make things work—it is called love. Keep it alive.