EuroFilipino Journal Jan-March 2007
My father's long-sleeves
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by Perry Ostrea

It is called boxing day here in U.K. and the events that transpired more than ten years ago are still fresh in my memory. I remember waking up early and rousing my brother from his slumber so we could depart early for our hometown and taking with us father’s long sleeve he asked us to bring. I was singing ‘Joy to the World’ on arrival at the doorstep with some look of reproof from my aunt on that morning of Dec’94. Having slept and watched over our house in San Fernando (about 45 minutes away) with my brother the previous night and returning to our hometown the following morning, I did not know that something terrible had happened after we left for San Fernando. They did not break the news to me until some time later, as I had gone out to see a friend, leaving my brother behind. It was only some time upon returning back to my aunt’s (my mum’s sister) house and with them insistong I go to my uncle (my father’s brother) that I sensed a dreadful thing had happened.

I did not want to go and I recall my brother confessing calmly that ‘Father is gone’, fatally shot the previous night and succumbing to his wounds that same evening. The day before- that was Christmas day, father was only speaking to us to take with us on our return his long sleeve in San Fernando for their reunion. I thought it was normal to have a reunion since it was the yuletide season and New Year was fast approaching… I did not know that that Christmas day would be the last time I would see him alive and that it would turn out to be a different reunion…

As with our customs and beliefs we had to bury father’s remains before New Year. After internment we had to wash ourselves in the river with burnt rice stalks on coconut shell poured on our heads and allow the river currents to take father’s clothes, including his long-sleeves, downstream. We also had to eat boiled but unripe bananas afterwards and smoke our bodies with the burning banana peels.

I found myself huddled in father’s bahay kubo (nipa hut) on New Year’s eve refusing to join in the revelry. Staying in the bahay kubo brought back memories because this is where he used to spend his time when he retired and had it planted and surrounded with fruit trees.

A serious man and a strict disciplinarian, father also taught us to fear God and to be honest especially with money but most of all he taught me to love history and fear the horrors of war. Having lived through the war he would recount the yonder days of the Japanese occupation [I wish that if a time machine had been invented I would already have hitched on it to save my father and correct the worst mistakes I have made in my lifetime and re-write the dark pages of history].

~oOo~

The season reminds of how the Philippines and America awoke to a new day when the Japanese fleet attacked Pearl Harbour on December 8, 1941, when our forefathers had to spend a different Christmas and New Year to fight as guerrillas. In his Christmas eve address to the American people in 1941, Roosevelt asks ‘how can we light our tree, how can we give our gifts...in a world at war, a world of fighting, and suffering and death…how can we put the world aside to rejoice in the birth of Christ?’

Indeed, how can we celebrate Christmas day and even New Years day with gladness in our hearts when South Korea and the Pacific is under threat of Nuclear attack, when we are living in a sham peace, when the spectre of a nuclear holocaust a thousand times more devastating than the atomic bomb is looming everyday around the world. The words of Albert Einstein is apocalyptic ‘I know not what weapons will be used in World War 3 but I know that sticks and stones will be used in World War 4’. We have seen the devastation caused by the atomic bomb to the population of Hiroshima and it serves as a grim reminder of what war can do for humanity. I stumbled upon this thought-provoking poem against war written by Martin Niemoller, a German anti-Nazi activist:

"First they came for the Jews. But I didn’t speak up because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for the communists. But I didn’t speak up because I was not a communist.

Then they came for the trade unionists. But I didn’t speak up because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Catholics. But I didn’t speak up because I was a Protestant.

Then they came for me. And by that time no one was left to speak up."

The Nazis had set out to annihilate an entire race with their hatred of the Jews bringing it to a fateful conclusion when more than 60 years ago in answer to the ‘Nazi Solution to the Jewish Question,’ more than 6 million Jews were sent to their deaths by mass extermination in what is now called as the Holocaust. I pray that the this dark page of history will not get resurrected and rear its diabolic head again. I hope and call to mind the fervent speech of civil rights leader Martin Luther King in 1963… ‘I have a dream that the brotherhood of man will become a reality… when all of God’s children, black men and white men, Catholics and Protestants, Jews and Gentiles will be able to join hands and sing "free at last, free at last"….’.I say amen to the fulfilment of this dream—when this vision becomes a reality, when this dawn has arrived …when we will be free at last of our greed and bigotry, when we have risen above our prejudice for our fellowmen. When our troops and our Muslim brothers in Mindanao, the NPA’s and world leaders have embraced and decided to make lasting peace their New Year’s resolution can we truly celebrate Christmas with all of its meanings and call this year a truly New Year.

While the birth of Christ, the Prince of Peace has been told and re-told many times, I am nonetheless glad to tell a parallel story I’ve read some years ago. A Hindu man was said to be walking one day in a field when he saw an anthill. A man was plowing that field and the Hindu man saw that it was heading directly towards the anthill. Being a Hindu he considers all creatures sacred even snakes and insects and he wanted to warn the ants of their imminent destruction. But how, he can shout but can the ants hear? He can write in the soil but can the ants read? Then he understood, that for them to understand him and warn them of their destruction he must first become an ant. We were the ants and in His humility He chose to be born not in a grandiose palace but in a lowly manger and in His love for us He became man.

~oOo~

Kudos and more power to the performers of Pater Noster, a seafarers’story and play written by Ramon Tenoso and presented by Philippine Theatre U.K. which was shown last Nov 10-12 at Theatro Technis. It was truly an insight into the lonely life of a seaman, my brother being a seaman himself (I had an overnight stay in their ship catching squid when it was moored in Bataan some years ago but this was just one of their activities when not watching films). Some of the scenes were poignant especially the last part when the wife of Captain Zamora (played by our editor, Gene Alcantara), died. [On the subject of death I have asked myself where the dead go and was skeptical about ‘reincarnation’ until I have watched ‘The Boy Who Lived Before’ featured on a BBC documenaty. I looked up and found several books in Waterstones whose author/s hold excellent journalistic/medical backgrounds who have done research and corroboration on children’s testimonies recalling past lives in India and Lebanon. Although their findings were not easy to dismiss as fantasy I still need evidence for a Filipino that was reincarnated. Indeed, we are just passers by here on earth and like actors on a stage have different roles to play but the love we give and how much we have loved is all that matters and all that is cherished when we cross that river were our ancestors have gone before us…]

Do we see a future Philippine Bollywood here? We can only hope so…I have faith that noble things sprout as a seed …As a kid I remember going to the plaza during our town fiesta to watch the zarzuela and playing the part of a shepherd in kindergarten to enact what took place more than 2000 years ago in Bethlehem.

I wish that you had a blessed Christmas and will enjoy a prosperous year this 2007 and "on earth peace, goodwill towards men" Luke 2:14… I also want to impart this text I received on New Year’s day - ‘always remember for 2007…life is short so 4giv quickly, laugh & luv uncontrollably & never regret anything that made u smile’.

Erratum: in the last issue of Euro Filipino Journal….the Cry of Balintawak took place on August 1896 and preceded the Death of Dr. Jose Rizal who took the ultimate sacrifice for our dignity and the cause of our freedom 110 years ago on December 30,1896. The Noli Me Tangere was published in Berlin in March 1887.