Friday, July 15, 2011

Ulilang Apo

I’ve always wondered how it was to have a lolo. I didn’t know how it was to sit on a grandfather’s lap while he went on telling stories about the war or a certain struggle that they went through while growing up. I never had the opportunity to ride an old car or sniff at the vintage scent of a tobacco. I was never reprimanded (although my parents took care of this) or I was never called “lolo’s favorite grandchild.”

I was lolo-less.

Then how come I’m writing about my lolo as a hero, you ask? Well, based on the stories from my lola, aunts, uncles and older cousins, my lolo was truly a hero in every sense of the word. Maybe not to me personally but to my family and also to many Filipinos.

You see, my lolo was former senator and court of appeals justice Roseller T. Lim. Yes, his name might not ring a bell and it may not be the most familiar names in Philippine politics (there were still no television commercials back then) but reading his resume and hearing stories from people he had helped makes him the most famous man in my side of the world.

I still marvel at my lolo’s kindness every time I recall the story on how he first became a “public servant.” He was on his way home one afternoon when he heard someone writhing and moaning in pain as he was passing the wharf. He went to the man and asked him what was wrong. He found out that the man had his appendectomy stitches ruptured as he had just had the procedure two days ago but was forced by his employer to work already. My lolo quickly brought the man to the hospital and after this literally rolled up his sleeves and went back to the wharf and called the first-ever labor strike in Zamboanga (which eventually became the Mindanao Labor Foundation which is still existing until this day). He then went on to become one of the advocates for labor in his stint as representative of the city to Congress at only 34 years old. In a report my lolo made entitled “My 14 Years in Congress,” he proudly mentioned that he was the first ZamboangeƱo to ever serve for Congress for six years and also the first ZamboangeƱo to serve in Upper Chamber for eight years. Until now, I don’t think this feat has been duplicated. He was also the first Filipino with a Chinese family name to win a national post.

My lolo, together with 17 other congressmen, introduced the creation of the Social Security System providing employees protection and benefits like sick leave (that’s why I can write this article on a Tuesday. Thanks, Gramps!), minimum wage (that’s why I could afford to buy this computer), death benefits (I hope I won't be claiming this soon!) and retirement funds (see you sooner, I hope). He was even made chairman of the Blue Ribbon Committee when he was in the Senate and was a representative to the ILO in Geneva, Switzerland where he made significant strides toward the recognition of the Philippines in the international organization. He was also a Constitutional Convention delegate in 1971 and was one of the 49 delegates who did not sign the so-called Marcos Constitution of 1972.

I can go on and on about his achievements but knowing my lolo as being a humble man, I would not want to embarrass him through me. Or have I done that already?

Anyway, more than all the achievements I listed above, his influences on me and my life have been immeasurable. His being dubbed as “The Great Filibuster” has rubbed off on me as I can run my mouth talking about one topic for several hours (right, guys?). My lolo did it for 18-and-a-half hours to try and protect the Senate from being taken over by the minority party (Marcos) but was blind-sided by Marcos and we all knew what happened after this.

My lolo passed away when he was only 61 years old. He was working as a justice for the Court of Appeals. My siblings and I always wonder what would have happened if he lived a little longer. Me, I think, he would not have just been a great lolo but a great president as well. He was “Pro-Filipino” in every sense of the term and that quality is the only thing that matters when you’re president. It would be really cool to see him in TV commercials too (not riding a pedicab for sure). I wonder if he’d also pretend to be champion of the masses. Oh, yeah, he really was.

He is my hero because he has left us with a legacy that will be unmatched. He has left us with a good name. When we’re in Zamboanga, every time people there find out who we are, we are treated like royalty. This is testament to all the sacrifices and the hard work that my lolo had done when he was still alive. He was a person of service. A person of integrity. A person I never got to know personally but I believe he will live on through the stories of the people he was able to help. It will live on through the taxi driver who when he found out about my lolo’s funeral, rushed to the church and insisted that he be one of the pall bearers. It will live on through me. Through the vow that I will make that I will never do anything to taint the name that my lolo had worked hard to make (I really hope I’m not too late).

At first, I doubted I could have a hero whom I had never met in person. After recalling all the lessons that I learned from my parents through words and deeds that my lolo taught them, I think that it is better to have a hero whom is not physically with you. You can never question what they said because they’re not there with you. You just follow what they said and trust that he will guide you through what you’re going through. My lolo is my hero and he will always stay that way.

I am partly writing this because I do not feel that all the achievements of my Lolo had been given enough recognition by the government. But I am only one small voice (our weighing scale would disagree). What I can do is let my Lolo know that we are okay. We may not be the perfect family that I know my Lolo wanted us to be but we’re okay (can’t say the same thing for our country though). You have done your job well. For the country and for your family. Your lessons on being strict and also your humor will carry us through life.

To my lolo. You are my icon. You are my hero. Thank you.

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