Places and Faces

« Originally posted on: May 07, 2008, 09:48:44 AM »

by Rev. Fr. Rene F. Paglinawan, OAR

“You might want the kalumpang kiosk”, the caretaker told me as I entered Tala beach. The beach is at the other end of our street in Calatrava, in northern Negros, and I am almost a daily patron when I vacation with a sister at our ancestral house in the town. On a holiday break one allows one’s mind to wander freely, almost reverie-like, and make associations of places, names and faces.

Calumpang was the old name of Quiapo, supposedly for the calumpang trees that abounded there, but I never learned until now what the tree looked like. “From Calumpit to Calumpang” was the trip that the Talampas sisters took from their hometown in Bulacan to the Manila arrabal where they started what eventually would become today’s Congregation of Augustinian Recollect Sisters. “Tala” “lampas”, noted psychiatrist-historian Luciano Santiago parses their surname and waxes poetic suggesting they were destined to live “beyond the stars”.

The happy laughter of the children, about half a dozen boys and one small girl, reined in my imagination before it could fly off completely. Some of them recognized me from last summer’s cartwheeling contest. Finding myself then in the midst of aspiring breakdancers and gymnasts such as you find in any town beach, I organized an impromptu cartwheeling competition and then a swimming race, giving coin prizes to the best performers. When my sister brought the lunch, I knew I had to give something to eat to the children. You’d be surprised how little money is needed to feed almost twenty hungry mouths! After they had eaten their meager repast, a small delegation came to where I was. “Bossing”, the miniature spokesman said, “if you are going to run as candidate, we will vote for you”. My laughter surprised even me, a laughter that soon turned into a sobering thought. The owner of the beach was a candidate for the town mayoralty and the beach was his campaign headquarters. Little as they were, these children had already learned the lesson of patronage politics.

My mind went back to another episode involving children. I was in the San Sebastian College canteen sometime last February with some religious education teachers when, among the pupils who made “mano po”, there was a girl whose face was clearly in pain. When I asked her what was happening, she burst into tears, all the emotions now venting out. In her broken voice, she asked me to pray for their classmate Carla, who was sick of leukemia.

Fourth grader Carla Tan was a normal child and had no symptoms that, looking back, her mother could interpret as indications of a sickness that would way too soon prove fatal to her only daughter. She was a good pupil who loved to read, spending some of her allowance on books and a great deal of her time in the grade school library. She also loved to write. “About love triangles”, her best friend told me in a conspiratorial tone.

The sickness attacked swiftly and in a few days she was rushed to the ICU. Her mother was a picture of immense sadness when I saw her. I gathered the other visitors at the waiting room and prayed the commendation of the dying. With Carla’s aunt, I was able to get permission from the nurse to enter the restricted area and administer sacramental anointing to the child. I learned that Carla had earlier gone to confession with the hospital chaplain. She had asked everyone else to leave the room; when her mother said she wanted to stay, she said it was secret. She had learned her catechism well.

On February 14, Carla died. Death is always a sad reality, more so when it visits a child still about to bloom. But she went prepared: living the life of a normal child, giving care and affection to her siblings, especially her younger brother, being a diligent student, and, in confession, facing the truth about herself. On her coffin was the Valentine’s card she had earlier prepared for her mom: “Thank you, Mom, for working hard so we could go to a private school. Sorry if I have been naughty. I love you, Mom”.

February was a month in which truth was mentioned, proclaimed in streamers, written about, bandied around. Early in the month the ZTE scandal broke out in increasingly shocking doses with the revelations of Jun Lozada. So much has been written and spoken about it that today bringing the topic to the fore again would seem passé, nauseous even. But perhaps one technique of those who hate the truth is precisely to “information overload” so as to overwhelm the truth seeker, rendering him incapable of separating grain from chaff. A ferret ferrets out by not giving up.

Carla and Jun have both a very important lesson for us: We have to face the truth about ourselves. For Carla, its last act was her going to sacramental confession. Young as she was, she understood the importance of facing up to her human reality in preparation for the meeting with God. For Jun, it was admitting that he used to be part of the web of corruption and it is now making amends for his personal redemption, and, hopefully, for our redemption as a nation.

Looking at the great lengths our officials and authorities take so that truth would not be known, one could not escape the sad conclusion that our country is a long way off from redemption. That is a sad reality, but my hope is that Jun Lozada’s courageous stand inspires us all and sets into motion a wave that would be strong enough to carry the rest of our people into the shores of truth. Our accidental meeting with him at Saint Scholastica’s Retreat House on Easter Week, where the college faculty held their annual retreat and he was just finishing his Holy Week rest and reflection, must have been seen by some of us as providential. Some of us must have seen that encounter as part of the answer to our prayer, made at the start of the retreat, echoing Saint Augustine’s: “Lord, let me know myself, let me know You. Let me know myself as I am known by You”.

« Last Edit: May 07, 2008, 11:31:06 AM by Fr. Rene Paglinawan, OAR »