Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Proudly promdi

(I am still in Leyte and the internet connection in my hometown is so primitive - it is almost as if it runs on manual labor, like someone at the back of the cafe is furiously pedalling at some cotraption to make this thing run. That's the excuse for the late post of my column yesterday. And the failure to update this blog. Will be back soon. I promise. What follows is my column at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today yesterday, October 30, 2006).

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.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well your comments are precise=south leyte is really friendly- i have a house down the coast in Hinunangan and offshore on San Pedro island (aka Cabugan Grande/Pong Gamay)=i think the coast road should be completed soon down to Silago and us beyond.
You may be surprised to know I am british -there are quite a few of us foreigners tucked away here with our lovely asawas'.We live and currently work in Hongkong but flights are so cheap we go home often =for pics of San Pedro go here
Oliver+Vilma
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/SanPedroIsland/

Anonymous said...

I should have added Alan Robles, who I know, once wrote a very amusing article in his paper about our retirement homes
oliver

noelle said...

hey!~ it's me, noelle,(your mano noel's daughter)...the wedding was fun..a family reunion indeed..

maria concepcion maico said...

hi uncle bong! this is icon, the eldest daughter of your mano noel. i believe you have met me at the wedding. my sister and i were not supposed to come with papa and mama, but when papa told us that you were coming, we excitedly agreed to come. honsestly uncle, meeting you was such an honor. i always read your blog and i am so proud of having an uncle who does not only possess a great deal of just and intellectually stimulating opinion/s, but also inspires filipinos in a way where pen is always mightier than the sword. by the way, i am a junior nursing student at southwestern university here in cebu, and i am the managing editor of the official publication of the college of nursing, at the same time the ed-in-chief of the philippine student nurses' association-cebu chapter (soon be visayas chapter)official newsletter. writing (and reading)has always been my favorite pastime and reading articles and posts from a relative of your wit stirs me up. you are one of the persons i look up to.

siu said...

It's good to be back home, once in a while, noh? Duol ra diay ta Bong,kay taga Baybay man pud ko. I know some Austeros there. My younger brother also got married the other month and I could very well relate to the experience you just had. Anyways, congrats to your bro. Wa ka nisayaw ug kuracha? He he.

Taga-Iyam said...

I was hoping you would be back from Leyte by now......seguro nandiyan ka pa rin.....at any rate, I could just picture the fun you must be having with relatives....lalo pa at nandiyan kayo sa probinsiya.....I grew up in Quezon, left for Manila when I went to UP in 1960......left the Philippines in 1968 for the US and have been here since then.....but...the province is the one that makes me go back there....sa probinsiya kasi I feel welcomed and valued....kahit na ilan na lang ang kakilala kong natitira doon.....masaya pa rin sa akin ang doon umuwi, matulog at maglayas.....!

Please get back soon....I am wanting to share so many things about the latest happenings in the country.

Next week ay election na namin dito sa aming state ( Colorado ) , but, unlike PI election....our politicians here not out to get the opponents bring down the state's economy with their negative campaign.....There are some initiatives and amendments to the state constitution that are being proposed....but, again....the people are given the pros and cons so they can decide....