WHEN we visited my lola the other night, she was repairing her wooden fan.
Lola was applying a bottle of glue to stick back the cloth that came loose from some of the wooden staves.
My cousin, glancing up from his laptop, offered to buy our grandmother a new fan.
Lola held up the repaired fan, now fully unfurled, and experimentally stirred the air with it.
If I forget this fan in church, it will still be good for the one who finds it, my grandmother mused aloud.
I looked down at the newspapers I was sifting. On the front page of the July 2, 2010 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) is a boxed story of Vice President Jejomar Binay on his first day at his rented office.
“His chair is too big; his office is a tad too small, too warm and too bare,” PDI’s Tarra Quismundo summarized Binay’s carping about the place he found too stark (“hubad na hubad”) and lacking of the “dignity commensurate to the occupant of the office.”
Complaining that he has no official residence or a permanent office, Binay is eyeing the Coconut Palace. In 1978, when then First Lady Imelda Marcos commissioned the mansion for Pope John Paul II, she said “Tahanang Pilipino (Filipino home)” will display different types of Philippine hardwood, coconut shell and a “specially engineered coco lumber” known as “Imelda Madera”.
When the pope came in 1981, he did not stay in the Coconut Palace, finding this strange in a country suffering from widespread poverty.
Today, the Coconut Palace is still grand enough to house dignitaries, serve as backdrop for society weddings, and apparently appease the injured feelings of the country’s 15th vice president.
During World War II, my grandmother, pregnant with my aunt, moved between two houses, one in Sibonga Poblacion and a mountain retreat to avoid Japanese soldiers. Even when the rain turned the mountain trails into red mush, my mother’s family was forced to evacuate frequently.
Unlike her younger brother, who loved to run up and down the trails, my mother, horrified to have red clay squelching between her toes, and an aunt, often driven to tears by hardship, rode the “balsa,” a wooden cart pulled by the carabao. My grandparents chose to walk during the entire journey. Lola was expecting to give birth any day.
Protocol affixes “The Honorable” to the vice president’s name for occupying the second highest executive position in our government. The 1987 Constitution puts the vice president as “first in the presidential line of succession. Upon the death, resignation, or removal by impeachment and subsequent conviction of the president, the vice president becomes the new president.”
In Binay’s words, he’s the “No. 2 man.”
During the war, my lolo was the only doctor for miles around. When he treated guerillas, the Japanese and their local puppets took umbrage. When he treated the “enemy,” the guerillas took issue. My lolo shrugged and said no one could tell him how to do his job: lessen pain, save lives.
Thus, it fell on Lola to smoothen the churning wake left by my lolo. Japanese officers frequented her table as they were drawn to the chorizo, tapa and other dried meats she hung from the rafters, visible from the windows. To keep the soldiers from eating everything they had, my grandmother showed them my mother and her younger brother, and mimed to them to leave something for her children.
Heavy with child, my grandmother was not scared the Japanese would harm her. She hid her sisters-in-law under dried banana trunks from soldiers. When she learned the Japanese interrogated Lolo, she sought them, armed only with her anger, her fear, and the unbearably swelling burden of my aunt, who still refused to leave that safe cocoon for a war-torn world.
In time, the “enemy” did not just eat in her kitchen and sleep in her veranda without guards or bayonets within reach. One officer cried in her presence, hugging my uncle in place of the child the war made him leave behind.
Many strangers, when they learn Lola is 91 years old, are overcome with awe. I am silenced by my grandmother remembering the tears of an enemy or repairing a fan anyone else would have thrown away.
Binay, too, reduces me to silence. Before June 30, the worst thing about Binay was that he is not Mar Roxas. Now, I think the worst is that Binay is Binay.
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*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s July 11, 2010 issue of “Matamata”