Thursday, December 31, 2015

A Platform for 2016 Presidential Candidates

Source: BusinessWorld

by Mila D. Aguilar

There is such a dearth of depth among 2016 presidential candidates that I feel obliged to advance a platform, whether they like it or not.

One candidate so thrives on logical fallacies of the ad misericordiam and evasion variety that I have dismissed her from my list of choices, no matter my being told that a friend of mine, a renowned economist and columnist, has been crafting one for her. I wonder why it’s taken so long; is it because she can’t grasp it?

Another candidate loves violence so dearly, his followers closed to anything other than gunning after criminals as their one and only program (only after “peace and order” can we start talking about the economy, they simplistically declare), that I can’t even get the need for a platform past their heads.

And a third candidate is so corrupt, such a lover of the politics of patronage, that he would rob the coffers of the nation blind just so he could let the masses eat cake — and himself and his family, the prime beef of Batangas.

Would any one of the three ever be able to grasp the need for a platform?

Would the fourth and fifth candidates, the last of whom will definitely not win, appreciate the platform I personally think will drive the country forward in the next six, and not only six, but twenty years?

I have no idea, but I can at least try.

Vs Corruption

I start with the assumption that the fight against corruption is the first order of the day, and that the Daang Matuwid of the Aquino administration is basically correct, and has to be carried forward.

Of course, the opposition will howl that it was all a show, but theirs is the burden to prove their contentions. As far as I can see, they have not, and a fair number of high officials known far and wide for their seedy affairs are already in jail.

Why is it important for whoever wins to carry this program forward? Because, as Proverbs 14:34 says, “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people.”

Righteousness and corruption are exact opposites.  Corruption is sin, and sin is corruption. Sin is conscious detachment from God — His love, His mercy and His provision. 

When one is corrupt, one looks for ways to get to one’s goal of wealth, fame, power or position by oneself, without trust in God’s love, mercy and provision.

Righteousness is having so much faith and trust in God that one asks Him all the time for the things one needs, for the things one aspires to. 

And gets them — God’s pure, untrammelled way.

That is why righteousness was a bedrock of the Bangon Pilipinas platform, which I helped craft. That the campaign of Noynoy in 2010 was able to simplify and popularize it as Daang Matuwid is a tribute to the brains behind it, whosever those were.

Juan Pusong 

The battle against corruption, however, hasn’t ended. Corruption is present not only in the highest rungs of government but up to the very bottom of the poorest of the poor.

I have been studying this phenomenon more than two decades, and call it the Juan Pusong Syndrome. It is the tendency of every Filipino to get by through tricksterism. In Tagalog it is called pang-iisa, panloloko, panggagantso — pagiging mapamaraan.

It is the tendency to get around rules, scramble after goodies, toady up to the rich with the express purpose of currying favours from them — without God, without regard for law and order, and sometimes without regard for one’s neighbours.

Now you know what I mean. Now you know why you can’t assign corruption only to the top rungs of government.

The phenomenon is so prevalent that if we were to rely on a Strongman to dish out warnings every Christmas that criminals will not hear a Christmas message from him ever again, our Strongman would end up becoming a genocidal president worse than Hitler, wiping out almost 100 million from the face of the earth.

So how to solve the problem?

Economics, Education, Social Justice and Welfare.

I.   ECONOMICS: The Foundation

Why do the majority of Filipinos resort to tricksterism? Why is the Juan Pusong Syndrome so prevalent among us?

The simple answer is: Because we have this seemingly insurmountable feeling that we are Have Nots. And so, we have to scramble. Some would call that our Poverty Mentality.

The Poverty Mentality persists — even when we have actually built houses good enough to live in.

How do we battle the poverty mentality that leads to tricksterism and corruption?

Do we do it by begging for foreign investments so that we can create “jobs, jobs, jobs”?

No. That only worsens the people’s poverty mentality, making them dependent on largesse while forcing them to become slaves to foreign whims, and the whole nation in thrall to foreign monopoly capital — as well as the politicians who invite it.

But that is exactly what the slogan “Walang Maiiwan” means, even if now slightly and temporarily tweaked to “Walang Iwanan” because of the particular candidate’s present needs. “Walang Maiiwan” is an expression of patronage politics — Tangkilikin niyo lang ako, walang maiiwan sa inyo.

That is exactly what a dealer in cakes would do, no matter how much he declares his patriotism and nationalism (which, by the way, he hasn’t lately, perhaps for purposes of getting the CIA off-track).

That is exactly what a Strongman will end up with, ignorant of the economy as he is.

Will the neoliberal do the same? If he is smart, he will include major foreign investments in his program, but NOT as a linchpin of the economy. The real linchpin of his economic platform should be the only program that can remove the dependence of the masses from patronage politics AND ensure a corruption-free climate forever:

1.  Push ENTREPRENEURSHIP: The Linchpin

A real entrepreneurship program would target the development of a number of entrepreneurs equal to the number of OFWs, earning more or less the same amount per month.

If there are still 10 million OFWs, then we should have 10 million entrepreneurs in the land.

If these OFWs are earning, on the average, P50,000 a month, then our local entrepreneurs should be earning at least P50,000 a month.

Why these targets? Because the current OFW count supports ⅓ of the population. If they are matched by as many entrepreneurs, then another ⅓ of the population are afforded support.

The more entrepreneurs, the more jobs. The more jobs, the more wealth. The more wealth, the less corruption.

We can start entrepreneurial training on families of government employees, which count almost two million including casuals. They alone have an effective family reach of 10 million. Just 10 percent of these becoming entrepreneurs is already a big boost to our economy and a big anti-corruption factor.

Foreign investments won’t be able to match the number of jobs created by local entrepreneurs, nor the sense of independence and confidence that entrepreneurship can build.

Is the current administration already doing this? Yes, but lamely. An entrepreneurial movement IS building up — spontaneously — but not enough of it is spurred by government efforts. If government efforts were really thorough, we would already have 10 million entrepreneurs today who create and manufacture products, and not only buy and sell goods. Today, we have millions of salespeople, but not millions of businesspeople.

This is because the entrepreneurial thrust of the government does not only have no target numbers; it also has a flimsy base. So far, the base it counts on is tourism, which is seasonal and limited.

What would constitute a more massive base for entrepreneurship?

2.  Require Organic and Natural Agriculture

Filipinos love eating. There are 100 million Filipinos. What could be a better day-to-day market than the Philippines? And how do you feed such a large population?

Through agriculture, naturally.

But the agriculture on which we will grow entrepreneurship should be organic and natural, because that is what will differentiate it from the world.

Never mind that the Monsanto/Syngenta lobby at Los Baños and IRRI is strong and powerful and one Upsilonian brod of an LP senatorial candidate is peddling dangerous chemical pesticides. 

If the current and future administration were really honest in its concern for the health and welfare of Filipinos, it would champion organic and natural agriculture even with the limited budget it has allotted to the DA.

 We already have a number of prime examples of entrepreneurship based on agriculture. Negros Occidental’s Muscovado is doing fine. So fine that many are aping it. We have a lot of virgin coconut oil brands. Human Nature is proliferating all over. We even have cough medicines and liniments made from local leaves. But we need many more of these, and in much bigger quantities.

The government has to make a movement out of organic and natural agriculture, one officially built into its platform, one declared to the consumer public and the world market.

Everybody, including military families, should be taught organic and natural urban as well as rural farming, both as a means of subsistence and as a business.

Those who are inclined to business (target: 10M) should be taught basic product creation and processing, packaging, management, accounting and marketing.

Can the government start thinking in terms of movements, instead of bureaucracies? Yes it can, given the right president.

3.  Build Up Infrastructure and Software Manufacturing

 Pushing the above to completion means easing governmental red tape and building the roads, bridges, air, sea and land transport necessary to bring products from one region to another. All these the present administration has put in place, and can be improved upon further.

But what would further support it on the business side is a robust Internet infrastructure. What is this program to spread the Internet into towns with a paltry 250 kbps speed? That is grindingly and shamefully slow. A key aspect of a presidential platform should be the targeting of Internet access at international standards, now a minimum of 10 mbps.

This is crucial if we want enterprises in the Philippines to grow. With marketing and transactions done through the Internet, all businesses will fall into place.

Beyond agriculture and infrastructure, a worthy presidential platform would also be aware of the benefits of encouraging software manufacture in the Philippines as another leg of its entrepreneurial program. This means putting up Silicon Valley-type areas in all provinces on top of the ubiquitous call centres that are, while giving jobs, also unproductive for the country in the long run.

We CAN become a world centre of software manufacture, especially entrepreneurial software manufacture, if we want to. Hardware is difficult to achieve because it requires manufacturing processes that we are not yet used to, but software is so easy, even children can do it. It just takes a little vision to see the benefits of software manufacture for the country.

4.  Plan Cheap Natural and Sustainable Sources of Energy & Transport

We cannot encourage entrepreneurship, nor even foreign investments, without lowering the cost of electricity. Aside from puncturing the current albatrosses that balloon such costs, we have to think in the long-term. 

A circumspect, smart presidency would use all the R&D at its command to plan a wide range of cheap natural and sustainable sources of energy all over the land — a combination of wind, solar, water, fungal, bacterial, and whatever new discovery there is that is appropriate to every region.

A systematic nationwide plan for cheap and sustainable transportation should also be crafted.

5.  Launch Mining R&D

It is no secret that the Philippines is a treasure of minerals for the technological age. We are a constant target of Big Mining, which is why the Mining Act of 1995 was signed into law.

But Big Mining does wonders only for the bursting pockets of foreign and local speculators and wreaks havoc on the environment.

We know what it has done to the Lumads as well as to military brigades used to protect Big Mining interests.

Yet mining can become a rich source of income for the national coffers, properly handled.

That is why it is time to launch genuine R&D into mining processes that are humane, environmentally-friendly, and community-profitable.

A presidency that targets a robust economy will immediately launch mining R&D before allowing Big Mining to encroach on the land, and in mid-term be able to teach organized Lumad communities to harvest their mines in an environmentally-friendly way, without gouging out mountains.

WITH THESE FIVE PILLARS on which to build our economic foundation, what can stop us from becoming an Asian tiger?

But to ensure that the five pillars can withstand shock, we have to build our educational system into them.

II.   EDUCATION: The Economy’s Steel Bars & Cement

No matter how far left or right I may be, objectivity demands that I credit the present administration for giving highest budgetary priority to education and health, a decades-old demand come true. Any president who takes over must work on that basis — needless to say, WITHOUT corruption.

But all instruments of education must be geared toward the primary thrust of government, which is Entrepreneurship, Negosyo ng Masa, based principally on Organic & Natural Agriculture, using a speedy Internet for marketing and efficient transportation for delivery, on Software developed locally for the global market, with plenty of R&D involved especially in terms of Mining.

To achieve these for the long-term, over a twenty-year program, the DepEd, CHED and other governmental agencies must:

1.  Build Entrepreneurially-Geared Public Education

Entrepreneurs start young, like politicians do. Or, for that matter, actors, singers, beauty queens, and boxers, our sorry fields of choice for the moment.

If we want to develop 10 million steady entrepreneurs in the first six years, another 10 million in the next six years, and the growth of small-scale to medium-scale and medium-scale to large-scale in the third, we must have a systematic program in place.

It can start with Grade 1. Science can be geared towards the making of products — little toys made with tiny hands. Math can be geared towards buying and selling those products. Language can be geared towards communicating the value of the products made, or lack of them.

And simple, fun applications can be made on classroom computers, collectively.

In rural public schools, the vegetable gardens children grow can become a source of commerce, as well as kitchen product manufacture — jams, jellies, capsules.

As the children grow up, their subjects grow with them. Physics, algebra, geometry and trigonometry lay the foundation for more complex products. Don’t let the Strongman abolish them for the simple task of accounting, which junior high students will already be experts in if they started Grade 1 in an entrepreneurially-based curriculum.

The Department of Education need not set up separate subjects for Entrepreneurship. They are a waste of time, energy and resources. They will never result in the development of 10 million entrepreneurs.

Instead, it should:

2.  Restore History and Geography in Public Schools

Marcos wiped out the three separate 45-minute subjects of History, Geography and Social Sciences in 1972, replacing them with only one subject, Sibika. This has made four generations of students, now going on its fifth, ahistorical ignoramuses of the lowest order.

The DECS/DepEd through the decades has exacerbated this condition by reducing the role of history in the curriculum regressively, until it became mixed up with music, practical arts and what not in a mere 30 minutes.

The intent is obvious. They want to turn us into ahistorical ignoramuses, the better to oppress and exploit us, of course.

A sensitive presidency would restore history and geography in our public schools for the simple reason that a historically-attuned and geographically-aware studentry make the best, most innovative, most grounded, and wealthiest entrepreneurs — entrepreneurs who know themselves well because they know their country and its place in the world.

An insensitive presidency would not see the point at all.

3.  Push Organic & Natural Agriculture in State Colleges & Universities

Let us leave chemical agriculture to foreign-funded IRRI, and make our agricultural state colleges and universities research on: a) the best commercial plants to grow in every region and province, b) the most effective organic fertilisers and pesticides for these and c) alternative, cheap and locally-built machinery needed to farm large tracts of land organically and naturally.

UP Los Baños already has a core of professors doing these, despite pressure from IRRI-inclined PhDs. Encourage them to spread their expertise to agricultural state colleges and universities.

And force the Department of Agriculture to use the technologies already invented in these schools, instead of the GMOs and chemicals palmed off to them by foreign companies!

4.  Establish Software Development Schools

Computer schools should be forbidden from passing off courses on how to use Word, Excel and Powerpoint as “Computer Education.”

They should be made, instead, to teach real software development, the mastery of various computer languages used in businesses, and the manufacture of useful programs for commerce and consumers.

A visionary president would program the establishment of software development colleges alongside public K-12 schools within Silicon Valley-type industrial estates all over the country. These would serve as centres of innovation and invention of products that can be sold not only within the nation and abroad.

It may take 20 years before we see the fruits of such efforts, but we have to start. Now na!

5.  Push Innovative, Relevant R&D in U.P. and State Universities 

It is time to put the knowledge stocked by the University of the Philippines and state universities to good use  towards the advancement of the economy.

Whatever happened to U.P.-DOST’s metro rail project? It’s languishing on its rails like a blue-and-white elephant.

Is our premier university at all capable of turning out products that can improve, towards greenness and sustainability, our sources of energy, our means of transportation, our Internet, our mining?

A president who acts like a leader can harness the minds in our universities to contribute to the national economy through innovation and invention, provided his own mind is clear as to how to steer the country in the next six years.

THE PILLARS of EDUCATION rise from the foundation to the ceiling. We wrap around them the protective walls of social justice, and top those with the roof of social welfare.

Without social justice and welfare, we would not have a house at all, just a useless basketball court built for purposes of commission.


The current administration has put a lot of effort on its 4Ps and assigned a big budget to Health, which is commendable, but has not assigned enough funds for the all-important justice system. The next administration should immediately address this concern.

1.  Oil the Wheels of Justice

To its credit, the PNoy administration suggested a very able Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, one who knows the value of an Internet-based administration of justice.

But this year, the budget it assigned to the Supreme Court was not enough to fulfil a program that could hasten the wheels of justice in the country.

A presidency sensitive to the lack of social justice today should program bigger funds in the next few years to complete computerisation of all court records, increase the salaries of court personnel, increase the number of local judges, public prosecutors, as well as public defense lawyers, and secure the databases of the courts into a transparent national system that anyone can readily examine but not be able to tamper with.

If this isn’t addressed in the next few years, any attempt at building an entrepreneurial base will amount to nothing, because the people at the bottom rung of the ladder will still feel that they have been had.

They have to be able to easily and speedily, without much expense, resort to the courts for their major grievances.

2.  Institutionalize Military/Police Training in HR, Lumad Rights, Entrepreneurship 

It is good that the administration has allocated a significant uncorrupted amount to building up our national defense and police system.

Now, we expect our government to formally, systematically train our military and police men and women in the civilized ways of human and Lumad rights.

Our generals and colonels must learn to refuse demands of Big Mining to muzzle our Lumadnon. They must learn to protect Lumadnon rather than organize paramilitary forces against them.

Military and police families can and must be trained in entrepreneurship — from production, processing, packaging, accounting, managing the enterprise to marketing — so that they can augment the family income without resorting to corruption, and prepare for any contingency as well.

Once trained in entrepreneurship, military and police, which already number more than a million including reservists, and exercise a direct family influence over at least five million, can become a formidable force in creating wealth not only for themselves but for the nation.

3.  Integrate Entrepreneurship into 4Ps and TESDA

The systematic and corruption-free implementation of 4Ps all over the Philippines has resulted in subsidies for more than four million grade and high schoolers. Studies have shown that giving the poor money while requiring them to look after their own welfare inspires them to move forward, rather than making them dependents forever.

In this sense, 4Ps is good.

4Ps has also progressed beyond educational subsidies to livelihood training for 4Ps parents.

This too is commendable.

But it is not enough.

It is not enough to train parents in welding and beauty culture because we have been doing that since Independence Day, without denting the economy.

It is time to level up our training of the 8M parents in 4Ps. We must also train them in entrepreneurship — from production, processing, packaging, accounting, managing the enterprise to marketing. 

Even if only 10 percent of these finally put up enterprises, we shall already have met our target of 10 million, together with all other sectors reached.

The same must be said of TESDA. It must not only train workers for industries abroad, it must also train its welders, mechanics, plumbers, carpenters, computer technicians on how to set up their own enterprises.

4.  Incorporate Light Machinery Manufacture into TESDA Training

Instead of just training a host of welders, mechanics and computer technicians, it is about time for TESDA to train more of our workers in the manufacture of light machinery for our fledgling enterprises and farms.

There is no lack of expertise in this area. In Mindanao, there already exists an NGO called Metalworkers Industries Association of the Philippines, or MIAP, which has been producing just such machineries for decades. We can be sure there are many more of such all over the land.

The existence of readily available light, portable, and compact machines is entirely necessary if our barbecue vendors are to progress beyond the grills in front of their houses, farmers beyond their carabaos, and jam makers beyond their homey kitchens. It can jumpstart our entrepreneurial economy by leaps and bounds.

5.  Highlight Native Cures in DOH Health Programs

Testimonies abound regarding the thousands saved by Tawa-Tawa and Papaya Leaf Juice from dengue.

But these testimonies spread only by word of mouth and social media, not through any official DOH endorsement.

Thousands of other native cures exist for such diseases as tuberculosis, arthritis and even cancer.

Indeed, these are advocated in public rural health clinics by trained midwives and volunteers, which is good.

Are we as a nation capable of mass-producing these native cures in commercial terms for our urban populace? We already have Pito-Pito and Tawa-Tawa teas as well as a few other products marketed by the enterprising. Is it possible for the DOH and DTI, using the huge budget allotted for health, to spur more of such?

Surely we can afford to knick powerful foreign Pharma with a president determined to advance our economy?

NOW FOR THE LAST QUESTION: Will any of the candidates be bold and perspicacious enough to adopt this platform?

Thursday, February 05, 2015


(isang maikling kwento)

ni Mila D. Aguilar

Pasensiya na, Orly. Dangan kasi ipinamalita mo sa madlangbayan na crush mo ako mula Grade 1.

E ang ayaw ko pa naman sa lahat yung matingnan nang may malisya. Yung mga tukso ni Freddie, na wari bagay naghihintay na matulad ako sa mga makasalanan sa mundo.

Hindi sa nagmamalinis ako, Orly. Alam ng Diyos ang dungis ko. Kaya lang, sa lahat ng utos ng Diyos, dalawa ang pinakaiiwasan ko. Una, yung pumatay ng tao. Pangalawa, yung mangulimbat ng pag-aari ng nag-aari, ng asawa ng may asawa. 

Lahat na siguro ng utos ng Diyos, nilabag ko na, Orly, huwag lang yon. Siguro, ayaw ko lang makasakit ng kapwa. Alam mo yon? 

Pero hindi ibig sabihin na hindi ako nagkasala kailanman, Orly. Ang dami ko pa ring kasalanan sa Diyos at sa kapwa, malamang marami na akong nasaktan nang wala sa isip ko, at siguro isa ka na ron.

O sige, magkatapatan tayo. Isa lang ang utos ng Diyos sa mga dahilan kung bakit hindi bumukas ang loob ko sa iyo.

Dangan kasi…. Dangan kasi….

Paano ko ba sasabihin. Kasi, alam mo, unang una na maliit ka, di ba? Grade 1 pa lang tayo maliit ka na. Hindi naman sa nagmamalaki akong matangkad ako, pero mula’t mula pa mas matangkad naman ako sa iyo, di ba?

E kung sabagay hindi naman yon ang dahilan kung bakit hindi ako puede maging malapit sa iyo, ano. Kung hindi mo nga lang pinagdikdikan na crush mo ako.

Kaya lang, Orly, at dito sasabihin ko na talaga ha. Yung ano, nitong huling dalawang dekada kasi na ibinunyag mo yon, ewan ko ba, naging gusgusin ka. Tumaba ka sa baywang, para ka nang binaliktad na turumpo. Nawalan ka pa ng mga ngipin. Ang amoy mo, amoy pawis ng kalye. Para kang palaboy.

Sa totoo lang, nainsulto ako sa mga tukso ni Freddie kasi parang gustong ipagdikdikan na puede akong magka-affair hindi lang sa taong may asawa, kundi sa taong palaboy na, bungi pa.

Hayan, nasabi ko na, kaya puede mo na akong kundenahin sa puntong ito.

Kaya lang, kailangan ko nang sabihin, Orly, dahil ang laki talaga ng pagsisisi ko na hindi kita napakitaan man lang ng kaunting pagmamahal.

Dahil sa totoo lang, Orly, minahal naman talaga kita bilang kapatid, at gusto ko sana talagang magpakita sa iyo ng pagkalinga kahit kaunti man lang.

Kaya lang, hayun. Sa tuwing tatawag ka, ang unang maririnig mo sa akin ay “OW, ANO?” sabay singhal, na para bagang lalaki ang kausap mo sa kabilang linya. E kasi baka bigla mo akong ligawan, yun ang ikinatatakot ko sa lahat. Ang sama ko pa namang mambasted.

Makailang beses kitang tinanong kung kumusta na ang asawa mo, di ba? Ilang beses ka namang nagpahiwatig na kundi man kayo hiwalay, hindi ganon kakinis ang pagsasamahan ninyo. Kaya nga nailang ako sa iyo e, kasi hindi ko mawari kung ano ba talaga ang totoo at ano ba talaga ang buhay mo’t tumanda kang palaboy. Kuwento pa nina Cris, Alex at Ipe, kung saan-saan ka nakakarating nitong mga huling taon, mula Naga hanggang Nueva Ecija, at natutulog pa sa kung anu-anong bodega.

Saka lang bumukas ang isip ko nang papunta na kami ni Becky ryan. Ang sabi niya na halos magngilid ang luha, elementary ka pa lang daw ay doon ka na naninirahan sa boarding house ng pinsan mong si Teddy, at naging para kang utusan ng mga boarder roon, pariya’t parito sa kung ano man ang ipagawa nila.

Ganun ba kayo kadukha? Isip-isip ko. Kumirot ang puso ko roon. Kawawa ka naman.

Pero ang una ko pang naisip, hindi yung pagkapobre mo, kundi yung pagkahiwalay mo sa magulang nang maaga pa.

Alam mo kasi Orly, naranasan kong mahiwalay sa magulang e. Pero 16 na ako noon, at nangyari lang yon dahil takot na takot ang nanay kong matanda na mamatay silang mag-asawa habang bata pa ako. Kaya ipinagdorm nila ako ng isang taon, kahit na ang bahay namin ay isang kilometro lang ang layo mula sa unibersidad.

Kahit na naintindihan ko pa ang pakay ng mga magulang ko, naguluhan ako sa areglong yon, Orly. Ang baba ng mga grado ko nung taong yon. At nagkaroon na agad ako ng boypren nung sumunod. 

Napagtanto ko na mahirap talagang mawalay ang bata sa magulang, kahit pa man may magandang dahilan ito. Nagkakaroon ng epekto sa bata kahit papano. Hindi magandang epekto.

Kaya yun na nga, dun lang kita nasimulang maintindihan.

Mantakin mo, 65 na ako at ikaw nama’y — 66 ba o 67? Basta hindi magkalayo ang ating edad.

Yun ang buong nasa isip ko habang nagda-drayb papuntang Araneta, kahit na lulan na namin si Elmer at Diana. 

Tapos, nung nasa Araneta na, may isa pang tumambad sa isip ko. Nasaan ang Arlington? Tanong ko kay Elmer.

Hindi kasi ako sigurado kung yung Arlington ay yung nasa isip ko, o yun ba yung Paz.

Pero nalampasan namin ang Paz, na nasa kanan banda at pagkatapos na pagkatapos ng — ano ba yung mosoleong iyon? Hindi ko na matandaan.

Ang tanong ko sa tatlong kaklaseng kasama sa sasakyan, yun ba yung may magagandang mga parang bahay, yung Arlington?

Hindi ko kasi maimagine na nasa Arlington ka, Orly, sa totoo lang, sa mga magagandang gusaling parang bahay.

Kasi ang alam ko, mga mayayaman lang ang nandoon.

Pero yun na nga ang malaking pangalan na tumambad sa amin — Arlington. At grasya ng Diyos, nakapagparking ako sa labas, kahit punong-puno na ng mga kotse ang lugar!

Ang akala ko, nasa mga bahay ka nga. Kasi yun pa lang ang napupuntahan ko roon. Pero nagtanong si Elmer sa reception, at ang sabi ay doon ka sa building, sa second floor. Ah, isip-isip ko, mas akma.

Pero malaki pala ang kwarto mo sa second floor, at may hiwalay na kumedor pa, na malaki rin at may sariling CR. Ang mga upuan, parang yung sa simbahan, pero may mga komportableng kutson na nakadikit. Siguro kasya ang 50 katao roon. Malaki, kung tutuusin.

Unang bumati sa amin ang anak mong lalaki, na pangalawa ko nang beses nakita, ang una ay sa isang class mini-reunion yata, at ang huli ay bilang alalay mo sa ating Golden Anniversary Dinner-Dance apat na araw pa lang ang nakakaraan. Hindi ko naalala na may nasabi ka pala sa akin noon na nag-adopt ka ng babae, na nakilala ko rin at last noon.

Pero ang pinakamalaking revelation sa akin ay ang iyong asawa, na normal naman pala. 

Ang unang tanong ko sa kanya, bakit hindi ka napakilala ni Orly sa amin noon pa? 

Ang sagot niya, “Ako hindi niyo kilala, pero ako kilala ko kayong lahat sa pangalan. Panay ang kwento ni Orly tungkol sa inyo, isa-isa niya kayong kinukwento. E ako naman, sabi ko sa kanya, e hindi ko naman kilala ang mga yon, panay ang kwento mo. Ang sagot nya sa akin, balang araw makikilala mo rin sila.”

At eto na nga, Orly, nagkakila-kilala rin kami. Hay naku, joker ka talaga.

Tapos nagdatingan na ang mga kaklase. Marami ang nagmamahal sa iyo, Orly. Hindi nagkasya sa lugar, kaya nagdala pa ng extrang mga plastic na upuan at ihinilera sa labas.

Nagdatingan din ang mga kapatid mo at iba pang kamag-anak. Puro pala lalaki ang mga kapatid mo? At ikaw ang panganay? Ngayon lang namin nalaman yon.

Nung tiningnan ka namin ng mga kaklase, buong-buong ang mukha mo, panatag na panatag, puno ang mga pisngi, medyo nakangiti pa, di tulad ng pagpunta mo sa simbahan noong ating thanksgiving mass nung Martes na hirap na hirap. At yung suot mo yung dilaw na kamisadentro nung ating Dinner-Dance sumunod na araw, may kurbata pa. Alam kong masaya ka noon, pero hindi ko maialis sa isip kong pasa-pasa na ang mga daliri’t kamay mo sa dialysis. Disenteng-disente na ang itsura mo, Orly, parang hindi naghirap.

At nung inilabas ng anak mo yung naka-kuadrong picture mo para ilagay sa easel, namangha ako. Ang guapo mo roon, maganda ang ayos ng puting buhok. Parang tao, Orly!

Yung mga kapatid mo rin at mga asawa nila, sabay na ang iba mo pang mga kamag-anak, mukhang may mga sinabi naman.

Natanong ko tuloy ang anak mo kung saan ba talaga kayo nakatira, sa Las Piñas ba o sa Project 3, dahil ang nakalista sa directory natin ay yung una, pero ang binigay sa akin ng iyong adopted nung hinanap ko ang mapagpapadalhan ng donasyon mula sa kaklase natin abroad ay yung huli. 

At ang sagot niya ay may bahay kayo sa Las Piñas, at nag-board sa Project 3 ang adopted niyo para malapit sa eskwela at trabaho, tapos sinamahan ng iyong asawa para mabantayan. 

Tapos ikaw raw ang nagpatayo ng bahay sa Las Piñas, Orly! Mantakin mo yan. Hindi ka naman pala palaboy.

Ang pagkaalam ko customs broker ka dati pero nitong mga huling taon kung anu-ano na ang kinukwento mo sa akin na ginagawa mo, tulad ng pag-aareglo ng mga shows kung saan-saan, kaya hindi ko alam kung ano ang paniniwalaan. Ay ewan. Siguro nga. Ang sabi ng anak mo tumutulong ka raw sa pag-aayos ng mga papeles ng iba’t ibang mga tao sa customs nitong huli. Hayan mapapaniwalaan ko. Pero siguro nga in-between nakakahagilap ka rin ng ibang matatrabaho. Pareho lang siguro tayo.

Yung dalawa mo namang anak mukhang nagtatrabaho na sa call center. At ang asawa mo pala, Orly, ay empleyado sa gubyerno! Napakaistable ng pamilya mo, Orly.

May apo ka pang maliit sa anak mong lalake na napaka-cute, takbo nang takbo sa malaking kwarto tulad mo nung maliliit pa tayo! Yun daw ang paborito mo, sabi ng iyong asawa.

Mabuti na lang nakapaghanda ng mala-misang programa si Sr. Aida, kaya nagkaroon tuloy ng mga sharing tungkol sa iyo.

Nung una, nagkakahiyaan pa ang mga kaklase, pero kalaunan lumabas din ang mga katatawanan sa buhay mo.

Naikwento ko kasi yung gustong sharing ni Vic para sa iyo. Sinulat niya ito sa Facebook mula Melbourne pa, kaya obligado akong banggitin. Sabi niya, magkasama raw kayo sa camping ng Cub Scouts minsan. May dala kang isang lata ng Libby’s Corned Beef, at siya naman ay may dalawang lata ng Ligo Sardines. Ikaw daw ang nagmungkahing mag-swap kayo — 2 sardinas niya sa isang corned beef mo. Sumang-ayon siya. Pero nung nakain niyo na raw at lahat ang swap niyo, sabi ka nang sabi sa kanya na naisahan ka niya, at lugi ka! Mukhang nag-enjoy ka sa ganong pagkalugi.

Tapos minsan daw sa parehong camping, kiniliti mo yung puwet ng isang kabayo kaya sinipa ka! Naku, Orly, sana hindi yon ang nakaapekto ng kalusugan mo nitong mga huling taon.

Ang kwento naman ni Rene, ang unang pagkakilala niya sa iyo ay nuong kumuha kayo ng test — hindi malinaw, pero wari ko para sa hayskul yon. Magkatabi raw kayo. Pareho raw kayong maliit noon, pero ikaw mas malaki pa ng kaunti kaysa sa kanya. Ang unang tingin niya sa iyo, parang bully at medyo mayabang yata, kasi panay ang bati mo sa lahat ng dumaan. Yung naman pala, sa kalaunan ay nakilala ka rin niya bilang isang mabait at matulungin na kaibigan.

Si Rory naman tumindig para magsabing pinaiyak mo raw siya nuong Grade 3, kasi hinila mo yung buhok niyang mahaba pa noon. Actually dalawa kayong lalaking nasa likod niya kaya hindi siya sigurado kung sino sa inyo, pero pinangungunahan ko na't naikwento mo na rin yata yon minsan at inamin na ikaw yon. Yung teacher daw na lalaki, si Mr. Castillo ba yon, ay hindi raw malaman ang gagawin kaya nagpunit na lang ng panyo sa pagitan ng kanyang matitibay na ngipin!

At heto pa, Orly, ngayon ko lang narinig ito! Si Alice pumunta sa harap para magkwento na nawawalan daw siya lagi noon ng baong bread na may palamang cheese at butter. Sarap, di ba? Misterio raw yon ng apat na dekada! Tapos nitong huling mga taon noong umuuwi na siya sa Pilipinas mula sa States, ikaw na mismo ang nagbunyag sa kanya na ikaw pala ang kumukuha. Hahaha!

Ay, Orly, pati ang mga lalaking kaklase na malalaki nagkwento rin at last. Ang gawain mo raw sampu ng iba pang maliliit, na mukhang ikaw rin ang pasimuno, pinag-aaway-away sila at ginagawan ng kung anu-anong practical joke. E ang seryoso pa naman ng mga yan!

Hindi ko mapigil humagikhik, kahit dapat solemno ang programa. Dangan kasi!

Pero yun yata ang nagpalapit ng loob mo sa amin, at amin sa iyo -- yung iyong walang hanggang kapilyuhan.

Lumapit nga ang hipag mo pagkatapos ng mga kwentuhan at sinabing hindi nila akalaing ganun ka, Orly! Dahil sa kanila raw ikaw ang panganay, at bilang panganay ay seryoso. Iba ka sa mga kaklase mo, Orly. Duda ko kami ang tunay mong pamilya.

Kaya abut-abot na lang ang iyak ng iyong anak nung ikwento niya ang paghahanda mo para sa 50th ng klase. Grabe. Alam naman naming 20 porsiyento na lang ng kidney mo ang gumagana, na nagsimula malamang sa matagal mo nang hindi inaalagaang diabetes at high blood. Kaya siguro nung tumanda ka ay nagmukha kang turumpong baliktad, malapad sa ibaba. Gayumpaman, mahal ka ng lahat, Orly.

Ayaw mong magpapigil. Humiling ka raw sa anak mong samahan ka sa Alabang, kung saan naroon ang suki mong barbero, pero hindi siya nakarating sa Quezon City, kung saan mukhang namalagi ka na nung nagsimula ang iyong dialysis. Pero nagpagupit ka pa rin sa Alabang. Mag-isa. Mula pa Quezon City. Kasi gusto mo talagang makarating sa reunion na disente ang itsura.

Sa UP Chapel, tawag ka nang tawag kay Linda W mula alas-10 ng umaga habang nasa daan pa kami galing Tagaytay. E alas-12 pa ang misa. Mabuti na lang nakarating kami ng 11:30.

Iyak ka nang iyak sa isang kaklase nung makita mo. Nung naalarma ang kausap mo't tinanong kung okay ka lang, ang sagot mo, iniiyak mo yung hindi mga nakarating.

Tinulungan ka pa ng babaeng kaklase sa pagsuot ng gold T-shirt natin para sa okasyon dahil hindi mo na kayang isuot.

Tapos, abut-abot ang pasasalamat mo sa mga kaklase nung hinatid ka nila sa Project 3, lulan ng coaster na nakatakda namang maghatid sa lahat.

At sa huling okasyon, yung Dinner-Dance nga nung Miyerkules, apat na araw pa lang ang nakararaan, sumayaw ka pa sa gilid sa tuwa, kain ka nang kain, at tawa ka nang tawa.

Ang sabi ng anak mo sa gitna ng mga hikbi, para bang hinintay mo lang ang okasyon na yon bago bumigay. Kasi pagkatapos noon, sumakit na raw ang ulo mo. Sa sakit, ipinupukpok mo pa raw sa pader. Ayaw mo nang kumain. Tapos, biglang tumigil na lang ang puso mo alas-3 ng umaga ng Linggo sa ospital na pinagdalhan sa iyo, 30 minutos pagkatapos magsiuwian ang iyong mag-anak dahil sabi ng doctor okay ka na.

Pero hindi ka okay, Orly. Alam ko yon, dahil ramdam kong paalis ka na nuong dumalo ka sa reunion. Nangingitim na ang mga bisig mo, Orly, marami ka nang pasa sa kamay.

Gusto ko ngang kausapin ka tungkol kay Hesus nung gabi ng ating Dinner-Dance, pero nakalimutan ko dahil sa saya. Sorry talaga, Orly. Sorry talaga, Jesus.

Siguro may agam-agam pa rin ako tungkol sa iyo noon. Kasi sabi nga ni Cris, nitong mga nagdaang taon, nabanggit mong bukas ka sa pag-aattend ng Bible study ko, pero sa isang dahilan lang — dahil crush mo ako. Haay, Orly. Sana nga lang natuto ako, sa pagtanda ko, na hindi matakot sa crush-crush na yan.

Sorry talaga, Orly.