Friday, February 19, 2010


Reunion (Manila, Feb 3-15, 2010)
February 20, 2010

I'd been thinking about it for a while, since my oldest brother, Jesse turned 70 and our family breached a new decade. Raffy, the youngest of us ten siblings, was already in his fifties. No doubt about it, our family was aging. In recent years, my brothers - Gabby and Jim and Babsy -- decided to stop dyeing their hair, revealing to the entire world the reality that in the clan, we have naturally premature grey hair, something we have lived with since our thirties. Today, only Lory and I are the hold-outs who continue to conceal the grey. My excuse is, my daughter Gogi won't allow me to look so old. Lory says she has to consult her daughter Cristina, if she should or shouldn't let the grey out.

The point is, we had to accept the fact that were getting old. So, early last year, after Ducky celebrated his 70th birthday with another wild but incomplete family party, I wrote a serious letter to my siblings asking them to consider a reunion in the near future. It is time, I told them, to get together. We are now as old or even older than our parents were when we thought they were old. And wouldn't it be nice for the ten of us to be together, complete, in one place before time took its toll and started taking us one by one?

The response was immediate. Yes, let's do it, everyone said. We set it for February 2010, which was when the US contingent of Babsy, Tictac and Aping, and Jim, who resides in Australia, said would be convenient. There was some hemming and hawing from Aping who, protesting the violence and corruption in the country,which he read about in the Internet everyday from his home in Florida, said he was not inclined to risk his and his wife's safety by coming home to the Philippines. Although he kept his options open, in the end, Aping really couldn't come home after his beloved Mary suffered a series of small strokes and needed his undivided attention. Our double first cousins Lita and Ginger said they would join us from Switzerland.

In October, we began to talk about what we would do for the reunion. We knew we would have a big fat Misa-Paredes party with lots of singing, ribbing, corny jokes and family stories. Gabby offered an overnight trip to the beach, and Ducky readily said he'd take care of the bus to take us there. We also talked about visiting Mom and Dad's niche at the Immaculate Conception church in our old neighborhood in Cubao, and the Bantayog memorial where Mom's name is enshrined on a granite wall, along with other heroes of martial law -- nuns, priests, businessmen, politicians, activists and NPA members who fought the Marcos dictatorship.

What else could we do to fill two weeks of our siblings' visit? We needn't have worried. From February 3 to 15, 2010, our days and nights were filled with the camaraderie of the nine siblings who made it and Lita (Ginger didn't make it), our spouses and children, who genuinely like each other. From the first day we were together, first in Jim's house where Babsy and Ivan stayed, and then in Lory's guest condo on C. Salvador where Tiki and Doug were billeted, the laughter was loud and contagious, the singing intoxicating. The jokes were alternately hilarious and excretable. The stories we told and retold were predictable but precious; the ribbing was endless. Jesse danced the ballet, and Raffy did his patented version of Tom Jones' Delilah. We were off to a good start. And the love was truly palpable.

It is amazing how small mistakes we made as children -- like Gabby reaching the top of the steep stairs of our house on Sta. Mesa and sighing 'I are tired', or Jim trying to speak Spanish and saying 'Que te pasa biscuit' to ask that a plate of biscuits be passed to him at table -- are never forgotten. What is even more amazing is that such merciless ribbing about those mistakes, which used to draw annoyance, tears and even anger when we were kids, is now taken so good-naturedly,if not grace.

At the big fat Misa-Paredes party on Feb 6, Lory wrote a number of such gems on placards and held them up for us to identify in a game called, 'Who said this?'. It brought the house down and it started our rollicking ride through the past which included singing the many songs we grew up with; stories about Dad and Mom; our uncles, aunts and cousins; about Inay and Tolindoy; Camacho and Johnny Paa, to name a few; memories of our childhood in Laura, C. de Jesus, Sta Mesa and Boston; and those wonderful weekends in Muntinglupa and summers in Bislig. Ilocano phrases we used to hear from Inay, thrown in by Cris and Sally Bermont with the right gutteral intonation, brought floods of laughter and more stories...

Lory even planned a surprise by importing Anit and Ibyang from Banggued and
asking Sally Mendiola and Aling Pitang's daughter Divina to come to the party. And Jesse came with his own surprise -- Doy's daughter Nancy, whom he brought in from Batangas to join us. I truly missed Inay and Nuna, and my Bobet, who had cooked many wonderful meals for family gatherings in my home. They were probably there too, in spirit. There were copious tears and lots of pictures and videos taken of what turned out to be the grandest reunion our family has ever had.

What a party it was. We were so tightly bound in the same time warp that a few notes strummed by Jim on the guitar or played by Joey on the piano had us singing the same song, in harmony, and even dancing around the table. I didn't want the evening to end. But as it turned out, that was only the beginning on what would be the most joyous two weeks of our lives.

The visit to our parents' grave and to Bantayog were sober, even tearful. But it brought home the realization that we are what we are because we were born of such exceptional parents who loved each other and each of their children, not to mention their country, deeply. They also loved life, laughter and music, which are their priceless legacies to us and our children.

To be sure, we siblings have not always been this close. We've had our share of fights, misunderstandings and pikonan. Our family has had our heartaches. In fact, we've been through the wringer, having to deal with losses, break-ups, separations and long-drawn out tampuhans. But here we are -- in our fifties, sixties and seventies -- whole and complete. We do not always agree on everything -- don't get us started on politics -- but we are a stronger, more loving unit today than when we were kids. Thank you, Dad and Mom, for making us a family, then and until now.

On Tuesday morning, Feb 9, a large bus hired by Ducky came for us for our trip to Gabby and Marianne's beach house in Nasugbu, Batangas. It was a siblings and spouses only affair, but Gabby's son John and daughter Michelle were 'required' to attend. In that fabulous Mediterranean setting, we dined on the patio under beach umbrellas, swam in a pool under ancient trees, had wine and cheese by the ocean at sunset, and sang to our hearts' content every chance we had. Couples doubled up in the bedrooms but Lory and I, who were both partner-less, slept on an inflatable mattress on the porch, al fresco, under a black sky ablaze with stars and planets.

It was difficult to think of wanting to be anywhere else with any other group of people. Here, in the company of my brothers and sisters, I felt our parents' warm embrace, a very large group hug. They were surely there with us in Gabby's paradise. And with God in his heaven, all was right with my world.

There were small quiet lunches and dinners among some of us, and biscoti baking lessons for Patring and Gogi from Babsy. Gogi and I took Tiki and Doug on a ferry ride down what Tiki called "her Pasig River" and toured Fort Santiago on foot. And, Tiki, Doug, Lory, Greg, Lita, and Gina went to watch the APO show. And Babsy and managed to have mini-reunions with old friends and classmates. We all needed the downtime. I, for one, would have burst from the fun of the company.

In the weekend, Babsy and Ivan left for Eugene and Snoogie returned to Medina. After watching Jim perform with the APO on Saturday night, Gina went back to Davao and Lita flew home to Switzerland. On Monday evening, Tiki and Doug flew to Hawaii en route to San Diego. The party was over.

My nest felt empty, but my heart was full. I couldn't complain. Besides,I needed to catch up on my sleep.

The reunion exceeded all my expectations. There are so many memories, old and new, to process, keep, share and write about. The photos and videos are on CDs, and on Facebook and Multiply. But mostly, they are safely tucked in my heart, which is a better place than my mind, which could go any time.

I don't know when we can pull off another reunion like this. Next time, I hope Aping and Mary can join us. (Maybe by then, Lory and I would have gotten the courage to let our hair grow grey.) But, for sure, this reunion, incomplete as we were, has been the most joyous and love-filled we've ever had.

Why I must write

February 20, 2010
5 AM

I have lost my voice. My writing voice. I have lost my words. I can't seem to find the right words to say what is in my heart and mind. I blame this on my editing work. I am so bent on working on the words of others, I have lost my own capacity to put my own words together and articulate my thoughts. Do I even have original thoughts anymore? And do they really matter?

I envy my colleagues who continue to write. When Neni told me that Friday is her writing day, I thought, what a luxury that would be to have a day set aside only to write. I told myself that I am so busy, I don't have the time for such a non-productive (meaning, non-earning) endeavor. But I am, of course, lying to myself. I simply don't have the discipline, the stick-to-it-iveness, that is needed to be a writer. I have found every excuse not to continue writing: Columnists are a dime a dozen. There's too much opinion out there, too much noise that I don't want to add to. No one is interested anymore. Besides, as a member of the government peace panel, I must keep my opinions to myself.

You know what? It's hogwash. I can think of many other reasons not to go back to writing, but I know I'm being a cop-out.

What am I really afraid of? I have to figure that out. I used to do most of my thinking on paper. By writing out my thoughts, I reached certain conclusions. When I wrote, I didn't really know where a paragraph , much less an entire piece, would take me. Writing was part of my thinking, my analytical process. Now that I have stopped writing, have I also stopped thinking deeply about things? I believe so. I have been merely skimming the surface of issues, content with quick fixes, smart-alecky allusions, re-cycled analyses, stolen insights and unbelievable rationalizations. In afraid I've been faking it for a while now, counting on the residual admiration of people I impressed in the past and who carry a nostalgia for my writing, to still be accepted as a 'journalist on leave'. Someday, I tell those who ask me why I no longer write, I will return to the printed page.

This is both a wish and an aspiration that seems to be more and more difficult to achieve, as I fall deeper into editing the work of others. But I must go back. I must re-gain my voice, find my words, re-claim my space -- or wilt on the vine. I must leave my comfort zone -- which has allowed me to earn more than if I merely wrote opinion -- and forge ahead out there, to my original comfort zone where I was unafraid to be poor and to spill my guts out.

Making ends is meet is important. So is peace-making. So far, I have been able to earn enough by keeping silent and pursuing peace. But I realize I don't have to keep silent to achieve peace. In fact, the path to peace is through dialogue, exposure, transparency, openness. Peace cannot be achieved by keeping mum on the important issues. True peace can be reached when these issues have been thoroughly discussed and consensus reached on the next steps. And that is what writing does -- bring up the issues, put some light to them and hopefully, achieve some clarity so that the right decisions are reached. Writing can be peacemaking.

Lord, let me be that instrument of your peace through my writing. Where there is darkness, let me bring light. Through my words, my thoughts, my actions. Or should that read, through Your words, Your thoughts, Your actions -- through me. Make me the instrument that I was before I began to fear poverty and hunger, to need the comfort of a regular paycheck, and to rationalize these needs as a reason to keep my silence when all hell has been breaking loose in my beloved country.

I must write again, or perish.