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.