Thursday, December 24, 2009

Thank God It's Christmas - But. . .

This is unfair! I was lost in my countdown for the Christmas holiday. To me there's nothing more important than to get myself actively involved in the Christmas traditions in our parish in preparation for Christmas. I used to wait in eagerness for the first dawn of the start of the 9-day religious preparations in church for Christmas, which is on December 16.

But. . . where did I go wrong?

December 15- The provincial government launched the first ever "Simbang Gabi" or evening mass, in front of the Capitol Building. It is primarily intended for the parishioners who couldn't attend the pre-dawn masses or "Misa de Gallo" at the Epiphany of our Lord Parish church. Since it was a first time experience, I attended the mass at 5:30 pm after our choir practice. My daughter Pot joined me later after office. The Christmas crafts displayed were awesome- the big Belen with the replica of the Holy Family, the giant Christmas tree, with very large Christmas decorations, the blinking Christmas lights all around, the giant lanterns, and the Christmas music rendered by the choir- they were all wonderful. The start of the festive Christmas celebration was a resounding success. It was well-attended.

By Christmas traditions in church, I mean the conduct of a 9-day novena in honor of the "Inkianak" (Birth of Jesus) which starts in December 16, followed by the Eucharistic celebration called "Misa de Gallo" or pre-dawn mass. This is sponsored by the Youth Ministry, because this day is The International Youth Day celebration. It is usually well-attended by the youth due to its pomposity.

December 16- Day 1- My count down starts. Woke up at around 2:30, braved the biting cold with Pot, attended the first day pre-dawn rosary and novena, participated in the "Misa de Gallo" or Eucharistic celebration, bought lots of the traditional food- hot puto(Filipino muffin), balut, bibingka (rice cake)- peddled in front of the church after mass, went home, ate breakfast, then continued sleep.

December 17- Day 2- Woke up with Pot at 3:00 am, arrived in church in time for the 3:15 rosary and novena. After mass, we searched for food stuff again for breakfast, and slept at home.

December 18- Day 3- Woke up late at almost 4:00 am, missed the rosary and novena, but arrived in time for the "Misa de Gallo", bought food, went home, ate breakfast, and slept.

December 19- Day 4- Up at 3:10, groggy from sleep, but caught up with the rosary and novena. After mass, the usual food search, breakfast, and bed.

December 20- Day 5- I was excited. Up at 2:00 am. Today was to be my special participation. In church, I joined the prayer group, led the praying of the rosary, at 3:15 am, read the novena prayer for the day, and joined my Jesus Mary Prayer Apostolate choir group. at 4:00 am for the Eucharistic celebration. The Christmas music, was more than any Christmas gift I could offer for the birth of Baby Jesus. I was euphoric, and very proud of myself for this long-awaited come-back. I had been inactive in the choir for so long because I was infected with shingles, a painful ailment that required me to rest for months.

At 5:30 after the mass, we ate our breakfast at the convent- free for parishioners who render their service in the "Misa de Gallo". Since this was Sunday, we waited for the regular Sunday mass at 6:30, in which our religious group is the regular choir. That meant I had to sacrifice my insulin injection at home at 6:00 am. Never mind, it was only for this day. I had sacrificed a lot for the weekly practice, I just couldn't leave the group now.

But. . . it was really unfair!

In the middle of the communion song, "O, Holy Night" (mine is the alto part), I felt a sudden prickly sensation in my left hand. I flexed my fingers, still singing. But the sensation was intimidating, crawling up my upper left hand. I stopped singing, massaged my left with my right hand. My immediate neighbor, Chat, noticed me, I whispered to her what happened and told her I had to rest. So she led me to my seat. I didn't want to stir attention because we were in the middle of the song so I let her rejoin the group. As she did, I clutched my left chest massaged it, bent forward once, twice, at least to induce blood circulation, just in case I fainted. Chat might not have left her eyes on me because, she was at my side again. Sister Mod saw us and joined us. She got her fan, yes, I needed air, but the the electric fan was way up our heads.

It was not one of those bouts of hypoglycemia I used to encounter, I wasn't sweating. I focused myself to stay conscious, "Don't panic, don't panic", I just kept that in mind until the mass ended. I was quite relieved, but I missed the last 2 final songs.

The other choir members were worried, to ease their anxieties, I told them I must have been tired, I needed only rest. That same day at 5:30 in the afternoon, was to be our choir schedule at the "Simbang Gabi" at the Capitol grounds. I promised I would join them and begged them to help me take my ride home. Earlier, after the first mass, "Misa de Gallo", I sent Pot home so she could take a little sleep before going to work. As soon as we reached the church door, I felt the sensation again, I begged those holding me on both sides to stop for a little while, but I hanged my head to my right on the shoulder of Chat.

When my consciousness returned, I was in a hospital bed with oxygen tube in my nostrils. My daughter arrived, alarmed, worried. I just smiled and said my thanks to all who brought me to the hospital. I cried. I was admitted in the hospital.

December 21- Day 6- I had a good night sleep at the hospital. My seemingly constricted breathing improved, I was snoring in my sleep for the last few weeks, according to Pot. I missed my "Misa de Gallo". I missed our second day of choir participation. My Christmas tradition activities and countdown were broken, for the first time in so many years. There I was, subjected to clinical procedures, BP and Sugar Level counts, blood test, for what? The hospital's ECG machine was being repaired. Before the results of my blood test were finished, I declared my checking out. The doctor approved but not until I conceded that I would have my ECG in another hospital and the results brought to him.

So Pot and I went to the nearest hospital where their ECG machine was working. The test result- non-specific, my heart is healthy, not very bad and not very good, too, borderline. I was advised to have another test- 2D Echo. I begged Pot for home, I felt I was well until I heard that test suggestion. I only needed a good rest. Everything would be fine. I could catch up with my Christmas tradition. We went home.

December 22- Day 8- Missed the rosary, novena, mass, and the 3rd choir schedule. When I woke up, my head was light, felt a little weak. Pot got my BP- 120/60. Today was our Barangay Basic Ecclesial Community (BEC) corporate mass and offering at the Capitol "Simbang Gabi" at 5:30. I missed that, too. I just sent the visiting members my offering envelop. I was bored. I checked my sites for my blog, Senior Debutante and HubPages.

December 23- Day 9- Pot and I planned to catch up for the last "Misa de Gallo". We missed that, too. I was up early, but I didn't stir her from sleep. She was too busy and tired at office these past days.

Our supposed Christmas holiday vacation to Manila was canceled. Kit was to come home today, December 24. For sure, we 3 will be attending the night mass at 8:00 pm. We will have the usual gathering with our neighbors and relatives. They couldn't wait for the New Year as was first planned. The Christmas Holiday can be held anywhere. The Christmas tradition lives on and on. Thank God, I'm still alive today to say, MERRY CHRISTMAS to one and all! HAPPY NEW YEAR, too.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Memoirs of the Christmases I Cherish and Miss Today

All my life, I never missed a single Christmas celebration, not since I was of age to know about Santa Claus and lanterns, Mama Mary, Papa Joseph, and Baby Jesus. I was never sick nor was I away from home at Christmas time. I almost missed one, when my youngest daughter, Kit, was two months old. On the eve of her baptism, a lingering pain in my tummy that I felt after normal delivery, worsened. The following day, at the height of the baptismal party at home, my husband rushed me to a hospital. Back home, nobody knew I was operated on before midnight. Blackened blood clots were found to have caused the pain in my appendix. The slow decay was spitting out poison into my bloodstream.

That was December 26, one day after Christmas. So you see? I never really missed that Christmas, I just missed the fun of my baby's baptism. I have always cherished my past Christmases with my loved ones. This time of the year, I would sit back and relax, lost in the happy recall of those days of fun, of family togetherness, of my humble beginnings.

My Christmases with Tatay (Father)

Tatay to me used to be the all-knowing, invincible man, with a disposition an inquisitive child like me, could lovingly admire and whose many surprises I enjoyed to the fullest. He was my Nanay's (Mother) joy when in times of peace, he was her friend-no-more when he pissed her with his playful antiques. I just wondered why Nanay would react the way she did at Tatay's playful jokes. I enjoyed those times tremendously, anyway.

I grew up in an environment where most of the neighborhood children seldom went to school. But my parents saw to it that all 9 of us, their children, went to school and received good
education. Their efforts paid off. My other siblings graduated valedictorians, salutatorians, with honors, where I had none. Well, I was not the dumb one, I might not have been as lucky as they were. But I used to be a teacher's pet, too. Well, I finally received one- in my post graduate studies. I graduated with academic excellence!

So, it was in school where I learned about the Santa Claus Tatay introduced to us-when I was not yet in school. Santa Claus, the white-bearded, pot-bellied, sleigh-riding old man from faraway land who gave us our Christmas gifts on Christmas eve, if we were good. So I used to try to be very good, at least for Santa to know. I learned about the story of the first Christmas in school, that Tatay was always ready to confirm and many stories about baby Jesus and His family and many things my peers didn't know about.

Perhaps, it was only in our house where a decent-looking Christmas tree stood quiet and stately even if its decors were made of cheap stuffs. The tree used to be a pine tree cuttings Tatay would bring home on his sturdy shoulders, courtesy of his janitor friends at his workplace in the Capitol building. As soon as he had it placed on a strong base, say an empty petroleum can, he would fish out from his pockets some colorful balloons. How we siblings enjoyed blowing the balloons to hang. We would decorate our treasured tree very artistically. I couldn't keep back smiling today over those balloons, because every time the wind blew, out puffed the balloons, to our dismay. Tatay, would buy the next day again.

I would save a few coins to buy Christmas balls , candies I hanged, which I would count from time to time, lest a naughty sibling might pick to eat. I bought some beautiful old Christmas cards in a Catholic school that sold such item to us children. My 1 peso would yield a big bunch of say, 20 pieces of cards, which I tied with thread and likewise hanged. When the wind blew, I would clap in gleeful wonder over the cards turning around and around. Imagine that? In the eyes of a child it was a perfect Christmas tree, and that which I believed would make dear old Santa stop to look for the socks I hanged.

We never bought any of those commercial lanterns. My Tatay and our elder brothers made home-made parols (Christmas lanterns) or lanterns from strips of bamboo, then covered with white or red or yellow Japanese paper. Inside each parol was a candle holder, to be lighted when night came. Oh so beautiful lanterns, in front of our windows. They were everybody's envy. The neighbors would come over just to watch the twinkling parols like stars in the night. Did anybody fear for possible risk of fire? Nobody did! Because Tatay and Nanay kept watch until it was time to sleep.

On Christmas eve, I used to tell myself not to sleep, in case Santa arrived, so I would be on a night watch to see him put the gifts in my socks. I really wanted him to put at least the things I wrote in my letter to him. Santa never seemed to know. But Tatay would say he was too busy to even look. Many children all over the world were also waiting for his coming. But I thanked him, for the candies, anyway.

We would be awakened from deep sleep by our parents to dine together at midnight over hot pancit with puto or sandwich with margarine and hot chocolate. What irked me though was Tatay's habit of making us wait until he was able to distribute a plateful of pancit-puto-sandwich to each of our neighbors. Rain or strong cold wind, didn't deter Tatay from giving out food. I never went out with him, as I was afraid of the dark.

The next day, December 25, we would have a festive meal of meat for lunch, steaming beef or pork stew, or sort of heavy dish complete with dessert, which we enjoyed with unexpected visitors, too. Tatay never seemed to have ran out of people to feed at Christmas time. I grew up into adulthood accepting that our house was a big mess hall for our neighbors, relatives or not. During special celebrations or even not so special ones, that called for preparing of food, Tatay saw to it that we, his children, would be giving food to the houses in the compound.

Christmases with Dad (My Husband)

When I got married, our paternal tradition during Christmases, was somehow internalized in me that I saw no great effort on my new family to follow the same. Like our dear Tatay, Dad, enjoyed the very same things we did. We introduced to my 2 daughters early in their lives about Santa and all that stuff. However, they were very clever, than I was, because they discovered early also that Santa was a hoax, and that Santa was actually Daddy, sneaking out when they fell asleep waiting for the "Ho ho ho ho ho!" and the clatter of reindeers' feet on our rooftop. Santa they said, wouldn't be bringing them candies they could very well buy in the old sari-sari stores nearby, they could have been strange candies, chocolates, and goodies they only saw in foreign magazines as Santa was a foreigner.

Since it was only Tatay and Nanay left alone in their house, (adjacent to ours), we would move in their house for the Christmas "noche buena". Food was much more aplenty then, than when I was young. Dad would teach the 2 girls how to bake cakes and would dress them up with florets, and icing, too. No one but Dad and I would go around to give food to our neighbors. I couldn't say "no". Just like me when I was young, my 2 daughters would reason out that they were afraid of the dark.

We didn't bother Tatay and Nanay to buy special gifts for each one of us during Christmas when we were young. To us, exchange gifts were better enjoyed in school. After all, they would buy us the gifts we exchanged in school anyway. We would keep away our received gifts to open on Christmas day. Not before, or else the magic would have weakened its effect on us, receivers, or so we thought.

But to my 2 daughters, gift-giving was a must. We would go to the big City (Manila) for the shopping. When they were young, we bought their necessities in school anyway, like a new pair of shoes, new school bag, and their favorite- which they would insist to buy themselves, were pocket books like the Nancy Drew Adventures type, What Are Friends For? etc. As they grew older, they didn't want their Dad and I to shop for them. This idea was introduced by their Auntie Nela, Auntie Lina, and Auntie Edna who gifted them, with gift cheques. As they went around the malls for their loot, Dad and I would just sit and wait until they were done. We would then evaluate their items which often were trinkets, a growing up wanted to have. And so, poor Dad would still chip in for new shoes, bags, dresses, they wanted after all.

Once in a while, Dad and I would force the girls to come along with us for the Rotary and Innerwheel Club Christmas Parties to which we were active members. Or to other clubs' Christmas Parties, we used to attend as active members before or just after December 24. I still remember today the last Christmas party we attended, in December 28, 1999. He was very happy even if he was already feeling a sort of malaise in his right side by the hips. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer, January 2.

Christmas was never meant to be sad for us. We would go around the big city, in a caravan with my other siblings and their children, to take a good view of the Christmas lights and lanterns that adorned Makati. We could stay for almost the whole night just watching the live Belen (Christmas manger depiction) in Greenhills and wherever we learned of good treats for children. We would go around sore in the throats with our "ohhhs" and "ahhhs" as we appreciated what we saw along the way. I really missed those happy days with Dad.

Today, I would bring myself first to great effort, before I could put up my own Christmas tree or decor at home. Not that I don't want to celebrate this special occasion, but I seem to have lost my festive mood as the season approaches. I often live alone at home, that perhaps, is the reason. I cherish these fond memories of my past Christmases and I really miss a single bit of the experience we had- until this day.

I just can't wean myself entirely from those memories, but my recent Christmases with my 2 daughters are more than enough to make me smile again. They are always looking for ways to make me enjoy not only the season but my life as a whole. We have each other to relive the moments. I have 2 wonderful daughters to share my thoughts with. This alone, makes life enjoyable and pleasant.

To Live Meaningfully, Die for Others (Ampatuan Massacre)

Sometimes we think that there are things we cannot do, especially when our lives are in danger. Unless someone who has a lot of courage and bravery acts on it, we will not realize that to live meaningfully, is to die for others. (Nicdao and Hilario, GMRC 6)

The aforesaid nugget of moral wisdom is lifted from a textbook, Good Manners and Right Conduct, intended for grade six pupils. It would have been very deep in meaning for the very young clientele to understand if there was no supporting story for it. Indeed there is one.

Robin Garcia: The Boy Who Died for Others

Young Robin was a student of the ill-fated Christian College of the Philippines in Cabanatuan City, Philippines. This entire building collapsed as a result of the killer earthquake of July 16, 1990. With one terrifying jolt, it went down without warning and with it were its occupants, students, teachers who were probably wrapping up for the day's lessons because it was 4:16 pm when it happened. The earthquake rocked the whole of Luzon. I experienced its deathly intensity and still fear its threat to life and property to this day.

Robin was trapped in the ruins like most of his schoolmates. He was slightly hurt. After a moment of shock, he mustered calm and sought his way out. He could have went home for safety, but he didn't. When he heard voices crying in pain and shouting for help, the boy didn't hesitate. He scampered back into the ruins, plunged into the maze of rubble and emerged with bodies of his classmates. He did so again and again and saved many lives. But on his last attempt, he stepped on a concrete slab that gave way. He went down with it, and was pinned down under. Rescuers who found him rushed him to a hospital, but his injuries were fatal, he didn't make it- he died.

The young boy is now enshrined in the hearts of the schoolmates he saved. This memorial by Nicdao, et al, will forever be etched in the hearts of Filipinos, young and old alike. His courageous action will be emulated by the young who will turn hopefully into brave adults.

Definitely, there were others like him in that disaster area who offered their lives for others to live. In fact, in our daily existence, there are heroes and heroins, known and unknown, whose courage and bravery touch our lives. Calamities, tragedies, accidents, natural and man-made disasters- create extraordinary people with exemplary characters we will always remember in this broken world.

Must people, especially the ones so young, really have to die, in order for the others to live? Then if the answer is yes, I would add here that we don't necessarily have to die, if we want to live a meaningful life for ourselves and the others. We just look around us, open our eyes wide for the opportunities for us to live a meaningful life.

One such rare opportunity to show one's courage to help others in order for one to live a meaningful life, is to get involved in the speedy solution to the Ampatuan "backhoe" massacre that happened last November 23 in Maguindanao, in southern Philippines. 57 innocent people were butchered and dumped by a government-owned backhoe in a mass grave by an alleged 161 militiamen who are private armies of a feared and powerful clan, the Ampatuans. The dastardly act was perpetrated by no less than the Datu Unsay town Mayor Andal Ampatuan, Jr. He shot at close range the dead and the dying to be sure they were indeed dead, as alleged by witnesses to the crime. The gory scene shocked the whole world.

The brutal crime committed by a private army of a warlord in one of the election hot spots in the country was proof of the barbaric impunity by which the perpetrators can kill and even try to hide the crime as if no law can be applied to prevent them from committing such brutal act in broad daylight. ( Kelly M. Delgado, Secretary General of Karapatan, a human rights group based in Davao, southern Philippines).

Genalyn Mangundadatu: The Housewife Who Died for Others- the Filipinos

Genalyn Mangundadatu, was a dutiful wife, endowed with exemplary courage and bravery- but she died a cruel death in the hands of her province-mates along with 56 others- innocent women, lawyers, journalists, and motorists who happened to be in the vicinity of the planned massacre. Yes, it was planned, so that her husband, Vice Mayor Esmail Mangundadatu, with honest belief that probably if it were some women he sent to file his certificate of candidacy for governor, and with that number of mediamen- all 30 of them, and two lawyers, no untoward incidents could happen, much less, killings. The filing was projected to be sensational because the powerful Ampatuans won juicy seats in government without contenders since 2001. They wedged such power and clout that no one was brave enough to run against them. And so, 30 journalists joined the six-vehicle convoy. They were flagged down at checkpoints intended to prevent them and were waylaid from the highway.

They didn't go unprepared. One of Mangundadatu's two slain sisters made a secret audio recording of the horrifying attack. He instructed her sister to turn it on as soon as they left. It was hidden in her socks when his wife and relatives went to the Commission on Elections office in the town of Shariff Aguak to file his COC. The device was recovered by the police. Genalyn was able to call her husband to tell him that they were flagged down, she was slapped.

Stories of the victims' families of their slain loved ones, trying to call for help are ripe in the news. Manila Bulletin reporter, Alejandro Reblando, tried to call but failed to gain attention from 2 high-rank military officials and police officers before the massacre. He dialed the mobile phone of ARRM police director Umpa. The phone was ringing but the call was left unanswered. They were butchered like animals, dumped in a mass grave along with the vehicles crashed by a government-owned backhoe, bearing the name of Ampatuan, Sr. When their bullet-riddled battered bodies were later found in the crime scene, 20 out of the 27 women were alleged to be raped before they were mercilessly killed.

The whole world is watching us. 18 days today, from the day of the massacre, justice for the victims, is yet to be served. The alleged perpetrators are rounded up, all right, but the investigation is in snail's pace process. As if the puzzle would be an unending question as to who are the perpetrators, the government investigators slowly unravel yet more heinous atrocities committed by the suspected planners and executors of the crime even as fearful people refuse to come out to serve as witnesses. They are afraid of retaliation and they lack confidence in the government's resolve to place the culprits in jail.

The "backhoe" massacre of 2009 where 57 people were killed, is incomparable to the latest discovery, the so-called "chainsaw" massacre of 2001 where around 250 people were chainsawed and buried alive when the Ampatuans began their rise to power. The alleged "killing fields" are still there. The whisperers are in tight security until this issue is dealt with. They fear for their own lives and for their families and relatives. According to these whistle blowers, they now feel safe with the imposition of martial law by President Gloria Arroyo in the strife-torn province of Maguindanao and are now willing to talk. The president herself was blamed for ignoring the incident- she is an ally of the Ampatuans, and the Ampatuans are her staunch supporters who deliver rich votes to her ruling coalition. Every Filipino voter will never forget the case of the "Hello, Garci" tape, where she used her power to influence votes in her favor.

Proclamation 1959, declaring martial law in the province of Maguindanao, for whatever the president intends it for, is receiving a lot of criticism. The leftists are accusing the rightists believed to be in collusion with the president who they accuse of having found a venue for a hidden agenda- to declare a failure of election, and to prolong her stay in office and power. It should be noted here that at the time that the massacre was making waves in the air, President Arroyo beamed on TV as she showed her certificate of candidacy for congresswoman in her hometown Pampanga, a first of its kind for a past president of the land to stoop so low as to seek lower position in government. The issue of immunity from crimes she and her family had allegedly committed while in office, is one reason, the other, to influence the House of representatives to give her overwhelming support in her pursuit of an illusive agendum- the Charter Change or "Cha-Cha".

Some high-ranking officials are now crying "foul" in almost every move of the president. Her declaration of Proclamation 1959 or martial law almost 2 weeks ago, is being condemned to be illegal, it has no constitutional basis since there is no rebellion nor a proof of attempts to overthrow government. If this is not revoked, she will have a precedent that will give her the power to declare martial law anywhere in the country without constitutional bases, she could stay in power, as long as she wants, too. The ghost of the 1972 martial law that ruled for 20 fearful years in this country still haunts the suspicious public. The joint session of the Senate and the House, that has started to convene as of yesterday, holds the key to said allegations, if true. But the plead for revoke is just secondary to the budget hearing the joint session will undertake. Let's just keep our fingers crossed.

The dead must now be writhing in pain in their spirit world, waiting for appropriate justice for them. Someone, or everyone who is tasked to probe the murder issue must have a lot of courage and bravery, to arrive at a swift and fair trial for the perpetrators and eventually for justice to be served for the peaceful repose of the victims' souls.

Yes, this is the best time for the president and her advisers to show the whole world that they are not sitting on the massacre issue and to deal with the Ampatuans in the strictest application of due process not with "kid gloves". This is everybody's chance to die in themselves, forget their personal motives, and come out honest and clean with their conscience. Likewise, all politicians with private armies must dismantle such. CVO's, militiamen, private citizens, and all who are possessing illegal firearms now know the bitter consequence of this situation that went awry. It's too late to blame the government now for allowing the Ampatuans to run private armies as part of government strategy to contain the Muslim separatist insurgency. If the news running these days are true, the powerful Ampatuans have made Maguindanao their own republic, and with their loyal private armies totalling to about 2,600 and with that cache of warfare materials still unaccounted for in still undisclosed arsenals, they can launch an attack on government facilities and military.

Ranking officials of the Catholic Bishop Conference of the Philippines are calling for the people's sobriety, a call for restraint on the part of the administrators of martial law, because biases for and against it can befuddle the issue. They must not abuse the power, it must not be prolonged, it must move for speedy dispensation of justice for the victims. We all can become heroes if we stay vigilant and calm. Courage, my fellow countrymen, means laying arms, to let law and legislation take its course.

You live by the gun, you die by the gun. Must someone have to die again ? How many Genalyn's must still die so that we, Filipinos, must live- in absolute peace and progress?

Video by jinanne on YouTube


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