Tenacity and courage

The following is my column at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today, October 11, 2006.

Sigaw ng Bayan is still at it and I must say I admire the tenacity of the people behind the movement. The truth is, despite their claim that they have overwhelming support and that their cause is just and correct, there is hardly a stampede today to defend them against the onslaught of vociferous criticism. Although the tough sailing at the Supreme Court is not conclusive of how the judges would vote on the issue, it does seem that many of those who used to be vocal about their support for the movement have already started to distance themselves.

Of course, this can change drastically if the Supreme Court renders the initiative as valid.

Such is the nature of politics. There are no permanent enemies or friends, only permanent interests. Thus, when you are hot, you are everyone’s best friend. But when your cause becomes unpopular, you are dropped like a hot potato. When your cause is in limbo, people stay at the sidelines and wait for more concrete indications before taking a stand.

I have refused to join the so-called and much-vaunted Great Debate precisely because I knew it was going to end up at the Supreme Court who is in a better position to decide on it. But I have always felt that Sigaw Ng Bayan fell into this trap of mistaking widespread indifference for support; that just because people were not openly attacking the initiative, people were for it.

This is the problem when people settle for hollow victories such as winning by default. Whatever victory is achieved is fleeting and fragile.

I think that the current debate on Charter Change still misses out on a number of larger issues that may seem peripheral, but are actually germane. I do not think that the whole debate should be about which system of government the country should adopt. Systems and structures do not make good government—people do. And quite frankly, both sides of the debate still have to come up with a clear solution to the problem of how we can all kick all these traditional politicians and corrupt dynasties from hogging public office elections after elections.

* * *
Someone once said that the families that we are born to are special because they are our own flesh and blood; but that the families that we elect to become part of our lives are probably more special because they are freely chosen and represent the heart’s true desires.

As I write, someone very, very dear to me—my good friend, mentor, boss and second mother—is at the intensive care unit of the Makati Medical Center. She has been in and out of hospitals for many years now. Although we continue to hope for the best, we know that it is only a matter of time now. I do not know what God’s plans are, but I fervently pray that it does not include more pain. She has suffered more than enough in the last five years and while I know that she has a steely determination and a strong heart, there is only so much that her body can take. So dear God, please spare her the pain.

I know I am dripping hurt and pain here and I apologize if there are readers out there who feel uncomfortable at my unabashed wearing of my heart on my sleeve. Writing about this was something I wished I never had to do, but I guess the fact that I am actually writing about it means I am now ready to let go.

Celia Jessica Villarosa has been a steady presence in my life in the last 18 years. She was a former boss. I met her in 1988 at a Toastmasters Club meeting barely a month since I moved to Manila from Leyte. She was then helping set up a local airline. She offered me a job on the spot, which I accepted. That partnership would last more than 10 years as we moved together from one company to another. Eight years ago, we parted ways as I chose to stay put in a group of companies while she went off to join a succession of companies—PCIBank, Lucent Technologies, ABN-Amro, Alcatel, and finally, Rizal Commercial Banking Center. However, our bond became even stronger as the superior-subordinate relationship ended and we made a transition to being friends and colleagues.

Celia was diagnosed with cancer five years ago. She valiantly fought the battle and I truly admired her courage and her tenacity. She had numerous cycles of chemotherapy, radiation, gene therapy; even tried alternative cures. All throughout, or at least until three months ago, she did all that while holding down full-time jobs as human resource director of certain companies.

I am still trying to figure out why someone like her would have cancer. This is a person who was so health conscious—she worked out every day, ran regularly, did not smoke, did not drink, practiced meditation, etc. Her only vice, as far as I know, was clothes; not jewelry, not shoes, not bags. Just clothes. And, oh, ballroom dancing, which when you come to think about it, was also a form of exercise. She ate wisely and was mostly into fruits and vegetables. She had a good temperament and rarely got angry. And yet she got cancer.

I know many people who smoke like their bodies need to be cigarette-cured, who drink like their systems are fueled by alcohol, and essentially make life difficult for everyone else in this planet and yet they live up to a century (or seem like it). It’s just so unfair.
In situations like these, I often end up making rationalizations that will not earn me points in logical deduction. Somehow, these thoughts bring comfort no matter how minimal, fleeting, and bordering on escapism: She needs to rest already (true, she has been working non-stop for 30 years), that she has done her life’s work (probably, although who am I do say that?—but her only daughter is done with school and already working), there is a reason for everything (her condition is a warning and reminder to all of us that life, even at its longest, is still truly short). Whatever.

Celia has made a major difference in my life and those of other colleagues who had this selfless woman as their mentor. She literally shaped my career, taught me the ropes, mentored me. Even at the height of the controversy over that open letter, she took time out from her hectic treatment schedule to seek me out for lunch to discuss how I was coping with the attention.

I do not know if Celia will still be able to read this while she is in this world, but this is my way of telling the world that we are all better off today because of people like her. Thank you my dear friend. I am already missing you.


Taga-Iyam said…
Bong, I am affected by your email today....not because I agree neither it is because I disagree....I am just feeling melancholy, homesick.....I truly do not know why.......I do not think I am sad, but, I have this feeling of wanting to cry....I think, must just be homesick because, in 2 months Christmas is here again!

Following up with what is happening back home, I hope that the SC will say....give the country more time to educate the people with our basic constitution.....di kailangan nang bansa ang bagong constitution para magkaroon nang bagong form of government.Ang US has stayed with their original constitution....they are just amending those that are needed to meet the present need....we do not have to change the form of government.....because, the government is not the problem....ang mga taong nagpapatakbo nang gobierno ang dapat magbago. Hanggang ang mga taong nasa gobierno ay may kanya-kanyang selfish ambition, di tayo makakaahon.....until the politicians learn to compromise and be open minded....wala sa kanila ang magpapatalo.....until they stop using the poor and the innocent ones to their advantage, wala ding pagbabago kahit ilang beses pa silang magpalit nang form of government.....

I hope SIGAW nang BAYAN will go out there and educate our people first of our present form so that they have the understanding of how beneficial democratic form of government is...... educate the people of what a parliamentary form is and how it can be beneficial for the country....dinadali dali naman nila at pinagsasabay-sabay....Ask even some congressmen and see if they even understand what it is....basta ang concern nila...puede ba akong yumaman dito.....Sad!

I know how it is to lose someone who have made a difference in your life....it is sad....but...be grateful, you were given a chance that she was part of your life and I am almost certain, she too is very grateful that you made a difference in her life. GOD knows best....and HIS time is always the right time....HE does not get tired giving us HIS continuous blessings!
vic said…
A little while ago, I had a good talk with my doctor, after telling me my sugar level needs to be monitored, why after following all his advise and regiment it’s still a problem and he just smiled and give his succinct and on the spot answer, “you’re getting old”, and as we grow older our bodies break down. Cancer cells are already in our system. They could turn malignant in a hurry with our help, but there are so many chemicals, mostly man-made that were already unleashed in our environment, some or a lot of them are cancer causing, and even daily stress can activate the cancer cells in our bodies. I lost a dear cousin in Montreal, few years ago, who I think will be the last in the world to be a victim of the disease, because of her very active and healthy lifestyle, and at relatively young stage of her very happy family life. It was devastating, not only for her family , but also to my cousins and us. Also at work, one of my lady friends, was diagnosed with one, and given by her doctors a six-weeks to go, but have enough courage to visit us all and give everyone of us a warm and teary hugs, but six months after, she’s still under extensive therapy and may have beaten the disease, but she was a heavy smoker, and will not listen to me that quitting could help. I smoked for 25 years (started at maybe 14) and quit cold turkey in 98 and not touched one since then. I can sympathies with you and her family and hope your friend will be spared of any more pain, because I know everyone of us have been touched by this disease.
bernardocarpio said…
If we want change let's change the composition of the government as a whole not the president alone. End the reign of political dynasties, political families and remnants of Marcos, Aquino, Ramos & Erap administration as well. To all critics and opposition don't oversimplify the problem of our society, Gloria is not a be all end all panacea broaden the scope of your advocacy to the people mentioned above maybe then you will see the support that you've been clamoring for. If not, then you're all like dogs that is trying to bite his own tail with your futile arguments and pontifications in all the forums & blogs.
BongA said…
thank you taga-iyam, i appreciate your comments. i've been feeling really down lately so I haven't been able to update my blog. I agree with you, we need to go beyond cosmetic changes.



Thanks! Yeah, certain things become personal when it hits closer to home.



Well said!

siu said…
I have this feeling that we are in for a surprise... and utter disappointment, with how the High Court would rule on this one. Seeing how the Arroyo administration superciliously supports people's intitiative and factoring in the current composition of the SC - we might as well brace for a new kind of government in the near future. I am not probably giving the SC credit more than it deserves... but then again... never mind. I do hope I'm wrong, bong.

With regards to political dynasties, we already have a constitutional provision for that, sadly,it is still inoperable as it needs an enabling law. It is practically a throw-away provision, since our "honorable" congressmen would never legislate it... i mean - them legislating death of their own political career?

By the way, hope your'e alright. Its good to visit your blog again.

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