Saturday, November 05, 2011

Chicken soup and kindness

IF you shared chicken stew with a person, would he spare your life?

One wonders if doubt ever assailed Lea, 15, during the 17 hours her father kept her hostage in their home in a mountainous village an hour’s walk from the Poblacion of Borbon, a northern town in Cebu.

In Davinci S. Maru’s riveting account in Sun.Star Cebu’s Nov. 4, 2011 issue, the family hostage drama that kept the Borbon police at a standoff from Nov. 2 afternoon till Nov. 3 morning ended with no life lost.

It’s difficult to write that tragedy was averted.

Several parallels can be drawn between this Borbon family (Sun.Star Cebu editors did not disclose names to protect the underaged children) and the Ponces of Talisay.

Last Oct. 16, suicide and murder claimed the lives of five members of the Ponce family, and that of their house helper.

Both families endured discord. The wives endured abuse, physical as well as emotional. Marital and family problems drove the husbands to consider suicide.

According to the Sun.Star Cebu report, Anthony, despondent about being estranged from his wife, drove away his children from their home in Borbon as he said he was going to kill himself.

Responding authorities later found that Anthony had tied his daughter’s arms and lashed himself to her. He had a gun.

What prevented the crisis from escalating? The police kept watch but were ordered by superiors to resume negotiations in the morning. At 7:30 a.m., Anthony fired his gun at the window but surrendered after receiving a promise that he would not be harmed.

More than the authorities’ handling of the crisis, the decision of the Borbon couple’s 15-year-old daughter to stay with her father may have defused the situation.

According to Sun.Star Cebu, Lea did not leave her father even though he was already drinking rum and carrying his revolver. She told Sun.Star Cebu that she did not believe he would kill her: “… they even had dinner together. They had chicken stew… Her father only asked her that she not leave the house. She said she cared for her father.”

In the Talisay tragedy, Emmanuel Ponce, who shot his wife, three children and their helper before killing himself, spared the youngest of his children, a 13-year-old daughter. According to reports, she was the sole member of the household who spoke to him.

The Filipino family, it has been said, is in a crisis. Commentaries have noted that Emmanuel was a former overseas worker. Yet, even families staying in the country face similar forces that pull them apart. A security guard, Anthony sometimes visited his wife in Cebu City, where she worked in a store.

Married for 18 years, the couple was estranged since their furniture-making venture failed. She said he had vices. He suspected her of having an affair.

If the family is endangered, how much more for its members? Encroached by various addictions, separation and other dislocations, the biological family, which used to be the stabilizing and nurturing core, will have to be replaced by modern proxies, families redefined and reconstituted.

For Embrelaince Ponce and Lea, the notion of family will have to include the authorities, which, by law and mandate, will provide psychiatric evaluation, counseling and rehabilitation.

Can institutions hand out resilience?

According to the Stockholm Resilience Centre, resilience is “the capacity to deal with change and (to) continue to develop.”
In the resilience theory, an environment shows resilience when it withstands climatic, political or economic shock, and rebuilds and renews itself.

Long after the reports have faded from memory, I retain two images: Lea sharing chicken soup with her father while the dark surrounds them; and Embrelaince Ponce feeding the family dogs on the first morning she returns to her home, where her family died.

In life, trust a few things, like chicken soup and kindness.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Nov. 6, 2011 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column

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