My Mother on her 1st All Saints Day


Remembering my mother on her first All Saints’ Day

By HARRY ROQUE November 1, 2013 8:09pm
 
There’s solace in the Philippine tradition of commemorating our dearly departed on November 1. While we will all eventually head to the great beyond, our All Saints’ Day celebration is an assurance to all Filipinos that we will be remembered, at least once a year.

Prof. Harry L. Roque Jr.
Call it bizarre. Call it strange. But it is reassuring that, come what may, your loved ones will party at your graveside on that day.
This year’s Araw ng mga Patay is noteworthy for my family and me, because my mother only recently passed away. In fact, I will have not one, but two parties for her. The first is on her 40th day on the eve of November 1, the second is on All Saints Day, which we will celebrate together with all other Filipinos in cemeteries and columbaries all over the country.
I thought I could write sooner about my mother. When my first godchild Atty. Jason de Guzman passed away earlier this year, I managed to write a full-blown obituary about him in my blog, but when it was my mom’s turn to move on last September 21, all I could manage was an announcement on my blog and on my Facebook.
Mothers always have a special place in the hearts of their children. Hey, they carried us in their wombs for nine months and endured our eccentricities no matter what they may be. My mom was no different. She was my emotional punching bag when teenage puberty took its toll. She became a martyr when she bore six children, all of whom grew up to be highly opinionated – before practicing reproductive health control measures. She endured a challenging husband and particularly difficult in-laws. Yet, through it all, she lived life with a sense of humor and with a belief in the inherent goodness of mankind.
My mother, like me, was an educator. But, unlike me, she relied wholly on  teaching for her livelihood. Like me, she loved every minute of teaching students. Unlike me, she spent every minute of a 10-hour workday working.
She wrote some books but, to her, professional fulfillment meant teaching mathematics to those who would otherwise not learn it from any other teacher. While she taught most of her life at Universities such as the University of the Philippines and the University of Chicago, she spent her last few years as an educator working with those who would otherwise not have had secondary school certificates in the public libraries, both here and abroad.
Her absolute last teaching assignment was to tutor our kasambahays for their distance learning high-school degree course. She loved this the most, knowing that she was doing it for the most disadvantaged members of society.
Mom started as a conservative having served as a president of no less than the Temperance Union of the Philippines, but as she matured in years, she saw it as her Christian duty to engage in social advocacy. She was a union steward of a teachers union, a staunch defender of equal protection appearing in both racial and age discrimination cases, and, in her final cases, a full-time demonstrator who led mass actions against Joc-Joc Bolante in Chicago. And, while she was already confined to her wheel chair, she still went to the Senate to cheer Jun Lozada on when the latter was testifying in the Senate about NBN-ZTE.
She was a staunch PNoy supporter, but only because he was the son of Cory Aquino and her college buddy, Ninoy. She, like me, could not understand what happened to Pnoy, particularly on the issue of good government.
My mom was a personal fan of my work. Even in her wheel chair, she managed to watch me in the Supreme Court when I argued the case against Smartmatic and against the Visiting Forces Agreement. She did have problems with my stand against the VFA, since she was staunchly pro-American, owing to her experiences during World War 2. But she tolerated my tirades against the US on the grounds that her great-grandfather killed the highest ranking American military officer during the Philippine-American war.
Of all my advocacies, she felt most for my widows: the comfort women of Candaba, Pampanga, and the widows of the Maguindanao massacre.
I do miss my mother. While she and I lived in separate continents for most time of my life, I’m happy that she stayed in my household in her three final years in this planet. She was already ill but was always a source of strength. And while she was in a wheel chair, she made sure that her presence was felt by the entire household with her constant greetings and laughter in our receiving room whenever she was on her way to her own bedroom.Yes, just like any son, I thought mom would live forever but, like all other children, learned that only God lives forever.

Well, my mother is gone, but on the first of November, come what may, she, with all other parents are truly remembered in our islands.


Prof. H. Harry L. Roque, Jr. is an Associate Professor at the UP College of Law and the Chairperson of the Center For International Law. This piece originally appeared in his website on October 31. We are re-posting it here with his permission.

#30#

Musings on ‘Araw ng Patay’


Call me strange, but like Christmas, All Saints’ Day has been among my favorite holidays. In fact many of my fond childhood memories were at the North Cemetery where my Lola coerced all of us to visit on All Saints’ Day every year without fail during her lifetime. “Norte,” as we referred to the public cemetery, was never a touristic spot. It was not serene and relaxing even on ordinary days. It was insane and chaotic every first of November.

But there was something about the sight, smell, and presence of so many people in an old decrepit cemetery that I have always found appealing. Certainly, the picnic that came with the annual ritual was part of it. We have had an unwritten rule that the picnic fare must be special, probably because of the awareness that your neighbors in the cemetery may say something about you if you brought only everyday fare. So our fare always consisted of holiday food: kare-kare, crispy pata, and caldereta—with lots and lots of dessert.

Then, there was the customary contest of who among the siblings could come up with the biggest balls from the melted wax of candles. The trick is to ask other people in the cemetery, in the nicest manner, for their melted and wasted wax. Without being aware of it, the annual contest was actually very good training on personality development. It taught us how to be in the good graces of folks whom we barely know.

There too was the fellowship with those whom you only see once a year on All Saints’ Day. Truth to tell, as I grew up, the food and the wax ball contest became only secondary to the thrill of seeing your once-a-year neighbors. There was the usual “how have you been since last year” and the “who’s new in the cemetery”—referring to who have gone underground rather than aboveground in the past year.

Whatever way one looks at it, All Saints’ Day is a party for us Filipinos. It probably is the biggest party annually since it’s inevitably celebrated within the limited confines of cemeteries.

Still, beyond the fanfare, there is too the serious side of All Saints’ Day. I have to admit that during the years that I spent in foreign lands for studies, I found it strange that foreign cultures did not celebrate All Saints’ Day like we do. It took me a while to realize why this is strange from the Filipino point of view. For Westerners in particular, life consists of a beginning and an end. You are born, you live and then you die. Full stop. Certainly, our 500 years of contact with the West have been sufficient to ingrain in us a similar linear perspective of existence.

But it’s not quite the same with us Filipinos. All Saints’ Day is a testament to it. Yes, we do believe that death is an end. But because of our almost pagan version of Christianity, we do have the sense that death is also a beginning. We celebrate All Saints’ Day not only because we want to remember our loved ones who have gone on to the other world. We celebrate it also, in fact we throw an annual party for it, because we know that death is not just an end but a beginning as well. Why else would we be so jovial in the manner by which we celebrate the day for the dead? It must be because in our unique world view as Filipinos, we know that the death of our loved ones mark the start of a perpetual tomorrow.

Still, there is also a utilitarian value to the manner in which we celebrate November 1. Even if one were not as transcendental in his view of the annual event, there is still this obligation to stop and drop everything at least once a year and make that trek to the cemetery. This ensures that no one is forgotten even after he or she has died. It’s also an assurance to all those who are living that when we die, we too will not be forgotten.

Somehow, there’s solace in the thought that regardless of who we are and what we made of ourselves during our lifetime, those who will survive us will celebrate in our remembrance definitely at least once a year.

Happy Araw ng Patay to one and all!