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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Chapters 13 - The Couple


Chapter 13
The Couple
           
         The heat of the sun takes its toll severely from Mang Tonio de la Rosa, Taklin’s father. Sweating profusely glistening like silvery dewdrops gliding through his face and drenching his white shirt spotted with dirt all over, he decided to call it a day. From his appearance, he looks dog-tired furrowing his farm in preparation for planting season next week. His hair turning into gray are still strong and intact covering his small head. Wrinkles are evident when he speaks. His strong devotion to farming allowed his mustache to grow long covering his thin lips. His beard covering his neck untrimmed more than a year dangling from his swell-chiseled face makes him Moses’ double of the Old Testament. He would have them probably cut or trimmed when he would enter back into politics. His broad shoulder sinewy and strong legs make him a good candidate for any movie. Deep inside however, Mang Tonio is also very tender and gentle and above all, a well disciplined man himself.
              There are only three things in life one must observe and practice if you would like to succeed. Discipline, discipline and another discipline, his advice to his children. No wonder they are making the best of their lives whether in school or in social, civic and church activities. Such qualities did not escape Manang Elsa three years his junior who because of Mang Tonio’s implacable courtship ended in a whirlwind romance. It was said that beauty is in the eyes of the beholder and true to Mang Tonio he never allow the chance slipped by or other suitors might have owned the love of his life.
              Thus far, thirty years and still counting of happy married life, Manang Elsa still glows and with complete set of teeth still intact could smile ala Mona Lisa making the tender Mang Tonio as close  ever to her. The couple is blessed with five children: Angela, Rona, Ramon, Taklin and Bernabe. Angela and Rona are still working their College degrees. The eldest would be graduating from University of the Philippines and once she hurdles Nursing exam intends to seek greener pasture in Middle East, Europe, USA and just anywhere else where salaries offered are one of the juiciest, she learned from friends. Working she said in the country is fine. But not when you consider the very low salary pay offered by the government which is not even enough to sustain family of four. Rona is taking up Biology at Santo Tomas University, one of the oldest University in the world established by the Dominicans in early 16th century, in preparation later for Medicine. Taklin joined Driarco entering Minor Seminary after Secondary education. Not sure what steps to take while there in the Seminary. Bernabe is still undecided what course to take. Political science then Law, he would sometimes tell his friend. Of all the siblings, Bernabe seems to follow his father’s footsteps in politics as public official.
              The police uniform before Mang Tonio’s retirement simply catches Taklin’s interest  in awe and amazement. “I’ll continue wearing that when my time comes,” he seems to tell as if there’s no other career for him than to follow his footsteps. More than that however is the respect he had with his father. The moral ascendancy shown by his father is such that he’s always respected by people emboldened him to enter PMA but not until when God has smitten his interest becoming another alter Christos.
              Manang Elsa was actually a secondary school teacher, a thankless profession in the country. She decided to stay put in teaching profession amidst promising offer to work abroad doing any menial job like any overseas job seekers. Many of her co-teachers went to Hongkong, Brunei and Middle East as domestic helpers. She has been receiving letter from them luring her to try her luck just like theirs in foreign countries. But she promptly replied each letter explaining her irrevocable ‘No!’ She will never will, she promised. It’s not only a disgrace to teaching profession but also a smear campaign against the government’s inability of upgrading the noble teaching profession. She would rather die joining hunger strike than leaving teaching profession dear to her. For Manang Elsa, teaching profession is not that hopeless.

              “We are not heroes. But we could make heroes from our students!” she would bragged about the possibility.
              “Some other time maybe after teaching is elevated to greater heights higher pay included,” she would tell her co-teachers.
              She’s been anticipating that the government through the House of the Senate and Congress would upgrade their salary pay from P1,800.00 to P15,000.00.
              “It’s just a question of political will you know from the government to do its job,” she used to say Cecil, her co-teacher close to her.
              “And why not from P40,000.00 to P50,000.00 the way Chief of Offices are receiving,” she would jokingly speak her mind considering the sky-rocketing prices of different commodities.
              “If the government was able to upgrade non-teaching positions to higher salary pay which are relatively white-collar type of job and risky professions like the military and the police each year providing handsome benefits like automatic promotion to one higher notch in rank, why could they not do it with the teaching profession when it is considered almost the dirtiest and thankless job of all.”
              It’s indeed unfortunate that the government has remained callous to the teaching profession’s inherent right for better and higher salary pay. And no wonder that DECS has remained the milking cow of graft and corrupt public officials in fact making the Department perennial member of that most corrupt government agency in the country. Manang Elsa has been teaching high school students for the past thirty long years. She’s looking forward that teachers would stage mass action if need be, hunger strike, to bring their cause closer to the Secretary. But she feels that this is better said than done as the teachers loyalty to Ministry of Education Culture and Sports like an innocent sacrificial lamb is surprisingly legendary. For instance, you could see them serving during elections, entertaining guests from Manila and similar activities on the other hand, same faces could be seen moonlighting selling different items from simple foodstuffs to Tupperware, insurance to appliances and similar extra underground economy. It’s funny but Manang Elsa has seen their drawers filled with candies, peanut butters and other foodstuffs of their teachers. Social scientist would call such strategy as coping mechanism practiced by survivors or they would starve and die their natural death too. Those who don’t have the initiative too lazy doing these extra-curricular activities fall prey to usurers and money market shops charging six percent interest rates a month but surprisingly approved by government financial institution like Central Bank.
Worst, teachers who destroyed their credit line becoming victims of  five-six syndrome perpetuated by Bangladesh nationals and other opportunist abounding everywhere. This evil scheme implies that you have to pay six pesos for every five pesos borrowed daily or to the tune of 120% usurious interest daily depending on the deal forged between the usurer and innocent businessman. Some collect the amount, weekly or monthly depending on the deal mutually agreed upon but always at the expense of teachers. Result from this abominable situation, concerned teachers would not care anymore receiving their salaries. What would they get anyway after all deductions are made. Just  simple pay slip and maybe with few remaining coins inside. But despite this hardship, you could still hear familiar joke prospective groom to always prioritize teacher as possible wife to enjoy an assurance of instant loan right after wedding.
              President Marcos in one of his general orders promised to increase salaries of armed troops. There was no mention incidentally or inadvertently of teachers. If she could only swallow her contempt and summon enough guts, nerve or courage whatever,  she might have probably wrote the President about her predicament. But who is she to give unsolicited advice to the President. What’s the assurance that her letter would not be shelved  in a cabinet allowing there to gather dust? These sentiments prompted her just to remain silent.
              “It’s not the proper time yet to do it,” she would say.
 Who knows she might be included in the hit list depriving her family of the writ of habeas corpus. Should that happen she’s only good as additional fertilizer for the country.
              Too bad indeed for her and all teachers throughout the country. But what could they do, these teachers are also human beings who eat rice daily in this rice-eating banana republic, she said in defense to the sorry plight of her comrades in the teaching profession.
. . . . . . . . . . .

              It’s lunchtime. Manang Elsa finished preparing the table for the family. The meal includes linaing na gabi, fried catfish Mang Tonio brought home from the farm and sinigang na mudfish. They’re perfect and healthy organic combination menu she being an experienced chef of native foods.
              His fishpond abound with fresh water fishes and how could he buys salt water fishes in the market when he has all these fresh fishes and delicious yet. Add organic vegetables  all there  in farm and you have practically all the gift of nature right at your doorstep free for daily kitchen use. Eyes were closed as Mang Tonio led in saying the grace save for Taklin whose consciousness was dulled by the latest event making him uneasy as if he is among those to be apprehended.
               “Guess why  kids  we have all this sumptuous preparation today? -  it’s Father’s Day today!”
              Great applause ensued as kids kissed and reached out their father’s hands for their blessing.
              “But more than that I’m happy that one of you will be entering Seminary,” Mang Tonio revealed.
              “Cheers for the future Bishop,” Bernabe echoed as they all raise their glass and bottoms up, collectively drink the wine  in one stroke.
              “But let’s have the floor yet to the Celebrant,” Taklin instructed.
               “Where’s Ramon and Victoria? Are they not eating with us?” Mang Tonio worried knowing that there were empty chairs around.
              “They would be right back.” I was still cooking earlier when they called  informing me that they could not be on time but nonetheless would be catching up eating their lunch with us. They have very special commitments I suppose this hour.”
              “In this ungodly hour!”
              “I regret Ramon and Vicky did not inform their whereabouts. Oh never mind. Anyway, I already set aside their share. They would be around in due time I suppose Tony,” the wife assured the family.
              For the first time, Nong Tonio almost has  goosebump and  nosebleed popping  out when  he was surprisingly given spiritual bouquet to the tune of “I’ll Be There” sang by Taklin, Angela and Bernabe capping  the Father’s Day simple rite of the day.
              Ramon and Rona just arrived on time with flowers and cakes with the icing “Happy Father’s Day to a Great Dad on earth!” and jammed singing Michael Jackson’s “I’ll Be There.”
              “No thanks for the song.  While I like the music and its lyrics, it’s not a good way  promoting any movie of broken family because of philandering husband and martyred wife,” he broke the ice catching the rest of the family off guard  relating to the reality of marriage among Filipino families in the country.
              “Well I’m sorry as I might have hit the nerve of a simple Filipino family. But thanks and God forbid, we didn’t. We’re stronger than ever,” he roared holding captive his own family as listeners.
              Maybe he was   just  too romantic  can’t help himself but  relate his message of  a typical Filipino family, still intact despite enormous economic difficulty and adversity.
              “No marriage is made in heaven by the way. So guys when your time comes, make sure you do it here and live like no other never mind  how they are doing it there in Hollywood.”
“Look the guys up there promoting family in movies, they are all diametrically opposing  the cause they portray being direct  contrast role models having been certified philanderers in real life. The producer of the  religious song “All in the Family” did too great favor having that great crooner with resonant voice interpreting giving justice to the song unfortunately singing wrong message because of familiar  identity crisis.”
              “The list is long down the line  from the cute heart throbs to complicated family man sending home all sorts of  entertainment mixing up with the message if at all there is any. But none save the handsome benefits derived from such antics   capitalizing on the gullibility of  their listeners for nothing except purely entertaining pleasure.”
               The credulous public just enjoyed them anyway. As convicted actor implored the viewing public from the mess screwing up his sexy kitten: hate the sin but please not the sinner.
              “Yes sir no problem as it takes two to tango. We are  also descendant of Hercules  strong libido safely tucked under our belt. But do note as well   that temptation is never considered  a sin unless you give way to it. How could you avoid and abhor sinning if there are no takers.  Ok  no further moralizing here as man’s sin no matter how great is practically peanuts compare to the love of God. That’s why we have seven sacraments to bail us out from our infirmities.”
                “That’s the problem we have in the world of make-believe. They are dragging the issue to far higher proportion until they practically explained it away. But no way unless you are naive yourself just playing around  your marital vow.  Their  credibility simply smacks off right on their faces the substance of the point swiftly slipping away the general viewing public.”
“Certainly so because fatherhood is not an entertainment reason why many marriage ended battered on the rocks. Neither it is temporary state of being. It is  a vocation instituted by God Himself as one of the sacraments you and your wife   permanently tied  as one nobody could put asunder  As vocation it is meant to  be lived and  pursued at all cost. Hence, the importance of strengthening the marital bond or fall into the trap of third option – divorce - concocted in Congress and Senate by lawmakers to no avail who don’t mind at all the underlying real issue.   Understandably so because majority are  all mostly  party to it. Many marriage are broken sending children roaming around the city as street children and vagabonds precisely because of very loose marital bond.  Result of broken vow, a priest would qualify the alarming increasing numbers of street children in one homily for the kids at Mother Teresa Street children Foundation.”
              Those who can afford  avoiding  onerous court proceedings simply did it away through legal separation. That’s what happened to many  celebrities, marrying one after the other Hollywood style just like changing clothes as many as one pleases. The rest turned to back to Islam to legalize their second marriage. Head going nuts, this is it a short cut convenience to cover up loose marital bond,”  columnist  Ramon Tulfo of  National Daily would account.
              “The less mortal ones on the other hand who can’t afford the prohibitive separation cost just  settle the issue through  amicable arrangement tacitly agreeing on terms and conditions stipulated in a contract. No sweat specially if both party have been living their new respective family. The bottom line is the children either left out or suffering collateral damage.”
              “Fatherhood is definitely no mean feat. You either go for it or not at all contract marriage.  But you would become a philosopher if you  don’t marry. Why not then be a real  father when you could than none at all. You can for as long as you’re holding on the identity as father wherever you maybe no matter what  the cost. Stand by it in other words.”
              All faces of the family were as usual glued to the celebrant of the day.
              “That  I believed the reason why hell broke loose last Sunday when fathers themselves uncontrollably shed their tears as their wives and ordinary church goers holding on their bated breath in the pew witnessing real drama unfolding right in front of them  But I suppose they were more tears of joy having survived this far to their calling.,” Manang Eliza gathered the thoughts on her mind.
“To those who fall short, just go on. Actually,  I have not seen the face of my own father ever since I saw light in this world. He  was mercilessly murdered by his bosom friend when I was barely innocent two years old because of  an altercation. Nine bullets only felled his body. What could I do? I will meet him anyway comes the final encounter up there when my sunset is due,”   a bombshell he let go catching engrossed family off guard.
              “I’m sorry for the unsolicited revelation. But sometimes life is so harsh that you don’t know it coming that way. Enjoy life of course while it last but never lost sight of the real enjoyment awaiting us there when all finally is done we would be all one with Him up there forever.”
              “Amen,  amen and amen,” Manang Elsa proudly intoned.
              It was the best ending, Nong Tonio thought gauging from the silence of his family.
               “It’s good to be candid to clear doubts  that way lending  credence on the importance of the credibility of every communicator in handling and delivering the topic.”
              As reality check, he was delighted reading the message of Rona returning the compliment where he stands as a model father? The answer was in acronym. It reads: A model father is: F-aithful husband, A-ffectionate man,T-ruthful person, H-umble leader, E-xcellent worker and R-esponsible provider. Blessed Father’s Day! Psalm 155:15, the apt parting shot. 
              “Well, where do I stand? Barely earning passing grade  getting three scores out of five. Not that bad specially with humility counted  never mind excelling in work  and good provider,” he quipped.
               Working in as many passion he has maybe   was not enough.
              “Sorry and no way messing up government’s money. That’s corruption.,” he cleared the issue giving benefits of doubt to those who are thinking otherwise.  But he is happy however that he is still making it through thick and thin despite harsh realities of life.
              “God is definitely good. He’s always there opening windows after closing each door indicating that sometimes somewhere out there  grass is far greener than in any other pasture.  That for as long as you holding  on to your sanity and identity as real father.”
              “Cheers to all fathers –real or make-believe, branded or pirated but most specially the real ones, the toughies with gung-ho personality protecting the vow they covenanted with the Lord when they said “I do!”   to their wives in not so distant past,“ the  appropriate clincher drawing laughter from the rest of the group.

. . . . . . .  . . . . .

              “So you’re dead serious to enter St. John’s Theological Seminary like your best friend Driarco,” the father addressed Taklin busy eating.
              “The Pastoral Council Officers briefed me earlier about this development in the convent. So be it son.”
              Taklin nodded approvingly.
               Manang Elsa continues eating too and quiet elated over the development of Taklin. For sure, it’s a big blessing on the part of the family offering one son for the service of the nation. But it is still premature to conclude. Man chooses but God disposes, she remembers. That Taklin decided to enter the seminary by his own volition in itself is a positive factor and there is great possibility he becoming an ordained priest, a son of God inebriated her.
              “Unless of course, if God has other things in store for his son. That she would not bar, let alone condemn. Many are called but few are chosen,“ she again remembers.
              “Yes, I already prepared myself save of course for my allowance…”
              “We’re taking charge of that as I already told Fr. Lefuve on this. Besides your Auntie Helen  in California would surely be helping you. She would be elated I believe if she would hear you entering the seminary. Remember her regrets when Randy, her eldest son, withdrawn from St. John after nine long years stay  inside. You’ve got heavy responsibility on your shoulder kid just to let you know,” Manang Elsa reminded.
              “Twenty to thirty dollars a month I think from her pocket is just peanuts,” Mang Tonio answered.
              Mang Tonio himself felt elated too over this development being a religious person himself. At least a son would take over where he left off from his past involvement in the parish as Pastoral Council President on to as Charter Grand Knight of Knights of Columbus. Not one so far among his roots have similar inkling as far as he could remember. And here his son treading that difficult path towards Calvary where few men survived. Somehow, this delighted him.
              “It’s better to have one entering seminary, never mind falling on the way,” he remembered Fr. Lefuve telling him about Taklin.
              “God after all still does miracle. Taklin’s persistence to become one is part of that miracle,” Mang Tonio believed.
              “Good luck Taklin de la Rosa, we’re with you always for as long as you want us for help. But this I could only ask for one thing. It’s your own decision to become one. And if you do, please be good one. Never allow yourself to be an additional questionable man in a cloth sowing  confusion among the people,” the happy father told his son after tapping Taklin’s shoulder driving home his message.
              “Thanks. Should you make it. Kindly have your first mass celebrated for the family. Promise?  Is that a deal,” Mang Tonio challenged Taklin.
              “With God’s help I will. Okay, your deal is accepted,” Taklin said acknowledging the good cheer of his parents happiness written al over their faces as seen grinning  widely their spirit soaring to the sky filled with pride and bliss.
              That has been few years passed before  shifting  to other course taking military science at PMA, a course maybe borne out from frustrations of solving various crimes him coming of age to provide necessary lift solving ruthless crimes in his municipality.
              “Way to go given all those atrocities happening in once very peaceful province,” he told.

. . . . . . . . . . . .

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