POSTSCRIPT / July 11, 2002 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Angara actually pushing Ople into GMA’s arms?

DISRUPTIVE CHANGE: The shadowy figures still questioning the extension of the term of Gen. Roy Cimatu, AFP chief of staff, are trying to create a problem where there is none. The President alone has the prerogative to appoint whoever she wants. She has spoken and that’s it. Everybody else must fall behind the Commander-in-Chief.

Cimatu rose to the top AFP post after serving with distinction as the chief of the Southern Command, the most difficult combat assignment considering its having to battle secessionists and terrorists infesting that part of the country. Under his command, the Southcom overran all rebel camps in its area, including the vaunted Camp Abubakar.

It is counterproductive to replace the AFP chief after only one month on the job considering that he already has several major programs ongoing. On security, aside from the Abu Sayyaf, he is also tackling the serious threat posed by the New People’s Army and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

A change of the AFP leadership at this time will be disruptive.

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LET KA BLAS BE: Sen. Blas F. Ople is right. If he wants to accept any Cabinet post, that is his own problem. His colleague Sen. Edgardo Angara cannot tell him not to accept any Malacanang offer, unless the two senators have a binding contract to the contrary.

Also, why should opposition leaders place on Ople, a mere member, the burden of keeping the opposition intact? The way some quarters assailed Ople, even calling him an opportunist, one would think he would be committing a heinous crime if he joined the Cabinet to cap his government career.

Opposition leaders and their barkers may not realize it, but by their unkind treatment of the venerable senator they may just be pushing him into the arms of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

The wounded and tired old warrior might just opt eventually not to join the Arroyo Cabinet but declare himself independent and therefore free to vote apart from the Angara camp that now regards itself as the new Senate majority.

In the summation of political forces before the opening of Congress on July 22, Ople’s vote may no longer be that crucial. By that time, two other opposition senators with financial and/or political problems that the Palace could solve may have crossed party lines.

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FLAVIER WALKS TALLEST: And here’s a story about another senator, Juan Flavier, who, in the eyes of many, walks tallest in the chamber. This item has been circulating in the Internet, and you may have read it already, but we cannot let is pass without our sharing it and the lessons that it offers.

At the recent Baguio City High School’s alumni homecoming, the golden jubilarians included Flavier and former Finance Secretary Edgardo Espiritu, and his childhood sweetheart Lydia Baskinas, who later became his wife.

Espiritu was the class historian and in his class prophecy in the Class 1952 annual, he predicted that class valedictorian Flavier would become a doctor, do his postgraduate studies in Johns Hopkins University in the US, become secretary of health and eventually senator.

In a little book “Coincidence or Miracle,” which contains inspiring stories written by various personalities about their own amazing experiences, as compiled by Flor Gozon Tarriela and Butch Jimenez, Flavier confessed being awed that Espiritu’s “prophesy” about him came true to the letter.

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GOD’S GRACE & NANAY’S FAITH: In that little book is Flavier’s own narrative about his struggle to become a doctor amid his family’s poverty. It holds valuable lessons for all of us in these trying times. Here it is:

“I was born to a destitute couple in the slums of Tondo. My parents were semi-literate, hardly able to write their names, but for some reason, were voracious readers in the vernacular. My father was a poorly paid mechanic in a factory while mother wrapped bath soap and earned a centavo for every few hundred pieces.

“Our house was a shack with run-down walls and rickety bamboo stairs and a roof made of rusty galvanized iron sheets anchored with big rocks and discarded tires. Fortunately the roof leaked only when it rained. Our only amenity at home was a small radio that was on full blast 24 hours a day.

“Years later, when I asked my father why I was so short, he replied, ‘We had nothing to feed you.’ I will never forget the day when my favorite elementary school teacher paid us a weekend visit. I gallantly invited her to lunch and she accepted my impulsive hospitality. I didn’t know that our family of eight was having one small paksiw na bangus (fish stew) for lunch!

“I almost choked with shame as we ate. (This is probably why, today, when we invite friends over, I instinctively ask for at least five viands to be served.)

“Every year we got our school clothes before classes began. I was fourth in a brood of six and received only tattered hand-me-downs. I don’t remember getting new shoes at all during grade school — only after I graduated from grade six. My favorite leather shoes I inherited from my older brother, but I had to walk carefully, because the soles, tied in place with a piece of wire, kept flapping open.

“In the midst of poverty, my mother never failed to celebrate our birthdays. Once she gave me a party with guinatan, pancit bihon and a birthday candle. In front of my friends and relatives, before I blew the candle, she reminded me to make a wish. I said, ‘God, thank you for this party. But next year, please God, put a cake under my candle.’

“My father lost his job after leading a strike at the factory, and a year later we were all on the verge of starvation. My parents were forced to relocate the family to the Balatoc gold mines in Benguet. In the mining community was a river: The affluent lived on one side; we lived on the other, in barracks-like housing, in squalor and deprivation.

“In Tondo, everyone had been so poor I never noticed the difference. In the mining area, there was a stark contrast; for the first time I knew the meaning of poverty in the midst of plenty. For my daily baon (packed lunch) to school, my mother alternated boiled camote (sweet potato) with pan de sal and shredded tuyo (dried fish).

“Whenever I complained, my father would glare at me and say, ‘Pretend you are eating kastanyas (chestnuts) when you bite into the camote. They taste the same. Think you are eating hamon (ham) when you eat your tuyo sandwich.’”

“During the Second World War the mines were devastated. Our family moved to Baguio City. My uneducated parents were obsessed with our education. They wanted us to attain what they never had. After high school, the moment of truth came: Could I go to college? Much earlier, I had secretly made up my mind to be a medical doctor.

“Two incidents had crystallized my decision: first, when I was a boy in the forests of the mining community, my best friend fell from a guava tree. His right arm became permanently deformed due to lack of medical help. In my young mind I resolved to become a doctor. That way, no friend of mine would have to suffer a deformed arm.

“A year later, my dear mother became seriously ill. Medical facilities were inadequate, and because she was the dependent of a mere laborer, she was practically unattended. Faced with her possible death, I made a vow: I would become a medical doctor, then my mother would always have the best medical care. Fortunately, she survived long enough — 84 years — to see my dream come true.

“The year I graduated from high school, I made my revelation to my mother: ’Nanay, I want to become a doctor,’ I blurted out, then waited for her stern reprimand. None came. Instead, she looked at me, smiled and replied with the most kindly tone, ‘With God’s help we shall manage the miracle.’ It was as though she had been preparing herself for that moment all her life.

“My uneducated mother had never engaged in business and had no capital to speak of, but she set up her own enterprise the best way she knew how: She sold second-hand clothing. She bought old clothes, washed, mended and ironed them, then sold each piece on installment. Every day except Sundays (which were reserved for God), Nanay walked the city from house to house, selling used clothes and collecting payments.

“Most of her income went to my expensive medical education. Not once, in the eight long years I spent at the University of the Philippines, did she fail to remit my monthly board and lodging expenses. Not once did she fail to send me my modest allowance or my tuition money. How she managed the finances is still a big mystery to me to this day.

“Who would have believed (Ed Espiritu’s) prophesy would come true to the letter? How explain it, except to say: Are not all these, by God’s grace and my mother’s great faith, the miracles of my life?”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of July 11, 2002)

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