Friday, May 08, 2020

JULIA SATORRE FROM CARCAR: A Gift of Service to our Family


A Gift of Service to our Family 

 Journalist Alex Tizon epically wrote about his family secret startlingly kept hidden for so long, the existence of a slave in their family. And strangely, not only while living in the Philippines but carried over to his family’s life in the US.

Altruistic service springs in many forms in the Philippines and it does not necessarily equate to or even remotely identical to indentured servitude.  A Filipino native keenly observant of things around him could even say that in the generations prior to the current one, selfless service or service beyond the call of duty or commerce had been quite common and almost typical in the country.

 It may have had its inauspicious beginnings in the dreadful need for survival of many poor Filipinos, especially those in remote barrios where penury was very prevalent.  But over time, it had evolved to something that could be considered casual and normal in Philippine society. It has had resident members of family households who were not necessarily blood relatives who rendered domestic services and showed loyalty beyond normal expectations to exact even from blood relatives.

 Yes, in quest for survival many adolescent or mature ladies and men from the remote provinces were sent to the cities to search employment as domestics, in reply to a cultural demand that required having domestics around the house.  And not necessarily limited to families with affluence and resources. It had simply carried over from past generations as a cultural construct to have domestics perform menial jobs around the house, even though there may have been ample number of family members to carry on such tasks.  This custom definitely is foreign in many other cultures, specifically Western cultures, where only families who are very rich and/or influential can afford and do engage such services.

 In the Philippine setting affordability was not the main consideration for needing and hiring domestics.  The arranged benefits were then so minimal that for intents and purposes many of them were performing services for simply free board and lodging.

 My personal experiences could be illustrative of this situation.  In the 70’s and we already had 4 young kids then, young domestics could be hired for 60 pesos a month.  They lived with us and slept where space was available, and typically having no private quarters for their exclusive use.  Of course, we fed them and provided minimal benefits like a weekly day off and maybe, provision of some basic medicine for fever, headaches, cuts, etc.  But beyond that, the monthly pay was all that was bargained for.  Others did bargain for more, like maybe being allowed to attend to some vocational courses.

 That was how it was then.  Families practiced it.  Many of these helpers stayed with the same families for years, until certain things change like deaths in their families, marriages, etc.  And thoughts about slavery or indentured employment that would result in any tinge of guilty conscience or moral outrage were not common.  One could surmise It was one contented, and maybe clueless, society, where probably an informal caste system was prevalent.  For truly given the observable circumstances it would now be easy to conclude that such existed during those times.

 Were they ever coerced into staying further or longer without their consent?  It would not be honest to say there were no such cases.  But by and large the relationship was congenial and consensual. Or phrased in a different vein, there could somehow had been some moral suasion at play in some relationships.

 Thus, I offer as example our own Julia Satorre of Carcar, Cebu, who had passed on many years ago.  While the arrangements may be similar in some respects with what Mr. Tizon described for his own particular case, we present in our case almost the opposite of his own.

 I do not know all the circumstances that first led to Julia moving to our extended family with my maternal grandmother as the initiator and for what reasons. But I can say in all honesty that I started knowing Julia when she was still living with my widowed grandmother in her house along Sikatuna St., in Cebu City. She had come from the town of Carcar, Cebu, and from which town my grandmother also had a score of relatives.   My grandmother having been widowed early, Julia had stood as her constant companion in the house during her solitary years. 

 As to exact arrangements, whether short term or long term?  There never was any formal discussion or agreement as far as we know, between her and my grandmother, or my mother, or my sibling who she also served.   Though there definitely were no regular monthly or otherwise stipends, that much we knew.  As a matter of fact, when Julia would go visit her family in Carcar on occasion, she returned home proudly loaded with local goodies, fruits and vegetables, live chickens and/or chicken tinola cooked in the incomparable way that they did in Carcar.  I recall that even on boat trips to Cagayan de Oro, she would pack that tinola so somehow it would survive the overnight trip.

 And we never really realized how far Julia got in her education when she started her stint with the family.  We did notice that she had difficulty writing her name, and more challenged in writing letters.  And she had not gone through any additional schooling during her entire time with the family.  And what’s more, we became Julia’s only family, never really able to create her own.

My grandmother went through years of being bed-ridden and Julia singlehandedly took care of her.  Fortunately, she could count on the help of some close and loving neighbors, who were not only related but very solicitous of our Lola’s welfare.  A doctor son-in-law of a niece always ministered to her.

 And on occasion I also stayed in the place because of certain business in Cebu, and Julia took care of me in the house.  I recall an unforgettable incident when I had to overstay my intended trip because I caught chicken-pox.  Julia did all the yeoman work of feeding me, cleaning the house, and more. Fortunately, during that time, my Lola had to be temporarily moved to the house of a relative nearby so she could convalesce from surgery and could be attended better there.  So I had the place for myself. And the better because chicken-pox is highly contagious.  So I had to spend an extra two-weeks nursing my dreary condition.  All due thanks to Julia, I survived and was soon back to my hometown.

 But many years later, we continued our relationships with her even after our grandmother had died, and a married sister had continued living in the old house where my grandmother stayed.  The house had really been owned by my mother, the land being her share of the estate that Lola divided among the siblings when she was still alive. And Julia continued on as a trusty and invaluable companion of that family. 

 I recall many years after our grandmother had passed and Julia herself was getting on in age, that the remaining family members, her 3 daughters, collectively decided that Julia should have a share of a real estate property left by the old lady. It was a two-hectare lot somewhere in Labangon, Cebu.  Anyway, even before anything was finalized, a homestead lot of 400 sq.m. was allotted to Julia.  And for her part and in another show of extreme generosity and charity, Julia had requested that instead of her, the property should be put in the name of one of her favored nephews.   Needless to say, she got her wish and the nephew and the family started living in that set-aside homestead lot.  Though it took a while to dispose of the lot, it eventually sold and the nephew and his family as far as we know continue to live in his allotted share.

 All of us 9 siblings went our separate ways except for one who stayed on in Cebu.  And over time we lost contact with Julia and on occasion would ask only about her condition.  Next we heard, Julia was having extreme difficulty in moving around, greatly bothered by painful varicose veins on her legs, which condition had started a long while back.  Then if my recall is right, during her last days, she had requested to go back to Carcar, where she continued to have relatives, and my understanding is that she died and got buried there. 

 I know all of us who had contacts with her over the years feel some searing emptiness and nagging remorse in the knowledge that we probably never really tried to fairly repay her countless years of self-less services.  And that collectively, in our honest estimation, the family did not do enough in return if only to show deep appreciation for the graces and selfless services that she had bestowed on the family. Services that were rendered unstintingly with nary a complaint or murmur, performed always with the willing love and care that loving mothers would expectedly give to their children.

 At this point in time, it would not be difficult for me, and the rest of the family,  to understand and realize that we could have planned and done some things that could have “ameliorated” the situation of Julia. Maybe in the area of financial rewards or benefits, though we are certain that if indeed Julia had real needs and had made them known or they came out of the open, my grandmother and mother would have unerringly obliged her even within their very limited capacities. 

 Especially when we became adults and grown smarter to how things ought to be, we could have collectively done something, even though there never was any situation to suspect that Julia was not happy, contented, or even felt coerced in her continued stay with the family.  In other words, there were no trigger incidents that could have alerted us to the need to do something to rectify whatever was wrong or lacking in the relationship. Her relationships with the adults in the family were always cordial like she was a blood relative, and all the kids always respectful to her as an elder, and not as an inferior.  

 We can only hope that God in His good time has given her the rewards she richly deserved.  And we are forever thankful to God for the grace of service bestowed on our family in the gracious person of Julia.

 In hindsight culled from observations made over the years, we find that her unique tribe is disappearing fast and inevitably.  For us, there will never any other person like Julia, even if we paid the whole world for her replacement.

As epilogue, a harkening thought emerges from the mist and draws the picture of a balmy and ideal Philippines having no need for angels or heroes like Julia.  Where everybody is happy, contented, and progressive. Where economic equality and/or parity are prerequisites taken for granted.  Where there are no debilitating hardships needing the rescue efforts of gifted individuals in possession of herculean virtues of generosity, altruism, loyalty, and selflessness.   In other words, where the foretaste of a paradise is already within grasp right here.
Would it be an interesting and inspiring place?



Friday, April 10, 2020

American Exceptionalism



Though we have heard it often enough, the term itself does not lend easily to definition.  Speakers from different eras have co-opted the term for their own agenda and purposes.  Commencing from a more localized comparison between the US and other Western civilizations in Europe, it has morphed loosely to encompass the entire world.

But historically, one is hard-pressed to find any credible basis to affirm the modern connotation of the term.  In at least one instance it is shown to be unrelated to what is claimed.  Some credit the old historian Alexis de Tocqueville for its initial reference.  Then Stalin supposedly coined the term.  In current context, US presidents like Kennedy and Reagan made use of such term.  Reagan even went further, citing the country as a “shining city on a hill”.

Whatever it definitively connotes in the current milieu, it still loosely means that Americans possess unique defining qualities that distinguish them from the rest of the world, making them in a manner of speaking, tower above the rest.  I suppose then it includes any and all qualities that make them stand out and become the envy of the rest.  Like as the sole world super power?  The biggest and richest economy?  The strongest and mightiest military?  The destination most of the immigrants of the world desire to move or relocate to?  Etc.

Why not?

Anyway, every time I hear mention of this unique quality as a defining eminence in American society, it has always been as an outsider in awe and wonder looking in.  Because every time I heard it expounded, it had always come out of the confident mouths of well-spoken and highly-placed white individuals in American society, whether in government and media.

So two things have always come into my mind.  How exactly is this exceptionalism manifested in everyday life?   And who are these people who exhibit such manifest destiny?   Many images race around in the mind.  Countenances of renowned scientists discovering new stuff, or pioneering ways of doing things.  Of superior world-class athletes in different fields of sports.  Of well-spoken politicians who can hold in mesmerizing awe the rapt attention of many.  Of many more exceptional individuals and ways in whatever fields of activity and endeavor  we may find in the rest of the world.

But what about lowly immigrants desiring to partake of the American dream?  Can they be part of the exceptionalism that is talked about.  Is it opened only to the upper echelons?  In the puny universes of the new immigrant minorities are there still definitive signs of glimmer and glint to suggest exceptionalism in what they are doing?

We sure wanted to find out for ourselves. This deep longing had formed as part of the lifeblood of my desire and the rest of my family to migrate to the US in the 80’s. And that we did.  And forty years later?

I and the wife are back in the old homeland, taking up where we left off and picking up our lives in the self-same way.  But all our kids and their families are still in the US.

The question we ask ourselves at times relates to the families left behind.  Are my kids and their families not only living the American dream, but more significantly are they practicing and partaking of the vaunted exceptionalism of the place?

I have no ready answer, except to trace what we had done and from there to search for if any, any snippet of wisdom that could reveal the answer for us.

First it starts with me.  For a quarter of century, I continued my role in the new environment as breadwinner of the family, but this time ably aided by the wife, who also had to work.   Quite exceptional I’d say, for both parents working while raising 4 under-age kids in a new and strange place and cobbled by very limited resources.  But that we had to endure for years on end almost singlehandedly, making sure all the kids got their basic education and fit enough to support themselves to a certain extent.  Which they all superbly cooperated with.

Like diligent worker bees, both I and the wife dug our laden heels and pressed our noses to the grind, making sure not to miss any day of work, and even signing up for extra work when the opportunities popped up. And surprise of surprises, our respective employers found all these exceptional!  Saying so not only in words, but also in the form of generous financial rewards.  Expressed, for example, this way.  I got extra vacation time for not missing any day of work, and for signing up for extra shifts. Such vacation time was commutative, that is, one could convert the hours to cash payments.

Many of our peers also found it exceptional that we were able to provide for our own housing within a few years of work, and relieved ourselves early from the burdens of being renters.  And what’s more, even provided additional housing so the kids could go to better schools.

And after years of hard work, in positions considered bread-and-butter though better than entry-level ones, we were able to provide ample retirement funds to survive in our remaining years.   In this day and age that would be considered quite exceptional even in the good ole’ US of A.

Inculcated with these same cherished values we had brought from the old homeland, it seemed no big surprise that our kids would also exhibit them in the self-same manner and at times even more intensely.  And these they did, and even at times in more stressful and hazardous situations, because of the nature of their employment.  Their longevity and progress in their endeavors could be rated as clear enough testimonies to some form of exceptionalism. And this had been exhibited by a segment of society that in practice needed more showing and proving its worth and value than the rest or majority of the native community.

So signs of American exceptionalism?  Sort of?  Because our natural affection as parents would incline us so, we reply in the affirmative.


True, that American exceptionalism could be equal opportunity but what is showing us in this present crisis is how vulnerable the country is with regard to the financial health of its citizenry.


This pandemic with the concomitant effect of drastic and unwelcomed business stoppages has shown how ill-prepared a good chunk of the citizenry had always been.  Many of those out of work could not survive the loss of payroll even for just a short time.  Typical families are missing the necessary financial back-up like savings or other forms of liquid assets to tide them over, without immediate government assistance.


This lack being attributable to the lifestyle attitude inculcated and developed through the years by monetary policies initiated by banks and government, and compliantly welcomed by the citizenry.  The borrow and spend attitude, rather than the save before you spend mantra so startlingly shown by a previous generation. And which past generation was responsible for the remarkable progress of the country.  The instant gratification paradigm has been developed to the detriment of the country.  Rather than actually being prosperous, it was sold to many that it would be sufficient to feel prosperous when one is able for example, to acquire assets on credit with very little or no personal estate offered in exchange.  So we had houses being owned missing any considerable DP or other attendant costs of acquisition.  But left the owners drowning in debt from it and other accoutrements of prosperous living like vehicle and credit card debt. Remember this ended in the housing bust and the sub-prime mess some years back.


All this has shown us that the exceptionalism shown by many new immigrants in hard work and thriftiness could help steer the country back to its roots of real prosperity and wealth.


Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Once upon a time … as a student


Reeling from a devastating loss in our much ballyhooed debut in student politics, it was indeed a very welcomed development to be selected as one of two representatives from Xavier University to a weekend seminar in fabled Tagaytay.  A grand event financed and sponsored by the dollar-rich US Embassy.  And in hindsight, one could consider that inauspicious event as consequential and providential in some respects. The year was 1965.

 Though not showing much strain and sorrow, we unexpectedly had just been handed a tragic blow, when our entire election slate from President to PRO came in a poor third in our very first, and luckily only, outing in campus politics.  And worse, we had such great prospects and expectations of winning.  But it was not to be.

 A quick airplane trip out of the scene of the carnage was an apt remedy prescription, except that the other party with me came in the person of the winner in our star-crossed contest, Max Paderanga.  But I soon shunted that thought aside, buoyed by cheery expectations of the event.  The Embassy had invited us for a weekend seminar with some specific agenda, about 50 student leaders from all over the country.  They came from prestigious schools all over the country, but we Ateneans were particularly anointed because of the greater number of participants in our ranks, coming from Ateneos from different parts of the country. 

 We were billeted in small groups at different nice hotels and lodging places in cool and foggy Tagaytay.  But the mass gatherings and functions were held in one particular venue, inside an imposing monastery and convent for nuns, the main building perched high on rolling topography within very expansive grounds.  And it had the commanding view of the famed volcano inside a lake.  The nuns not only provided the elaborate venue, but also catered to our gastronomic needs with very impressive menu, many items unfamiliar to provincial palates like ours.

 To summarize it was a coming together of a lot of important persons with their different roles.  Top and foremost was US Ambassador Edward Mattos who spoke in general about his country’s devotion and promise of assistance to the local student population with regard to its critical role in governance. And he also regaled us with his piano playing, completing a picture of a consummate diplomat representing a powerful nation.  The Philippines then had close ties with the US AID as integral partners in the myriad of development projects planned for the region.

 He also gathered with him some very notable Filipino student leaders like Raul Roco from Naga, who later on become senator, and a Jose Conrado “Jolly” Benitez, who also was appointed a favored cabinet member during the infamous Marcos administration.  The affair was also graced with the presence of an appealing lady student leader named Sonia Malazarte, who had earlier won the title as student of the year, coming from a Manila all-girls school. Roco and Malazarte eventually got married but this was supposedly their first encounter.

 We had the fortune also of having several representatives from the Israeli Embassy gracing the affair, and which country’s noteworthy doings were a major topic in the seminar, starting from the consul to a couple of attaches.  And rounding off the roster of participants, we had about 50 vocal student leaders, many bursting full with outsized egos.  Though in fairness, there were also many who sat at the opposite end, very quiet and introverted.

 It was I believe the first time that student leaders from all over the country were purposely gathered together to discuss topics then relevant to their times and circumstances.  And I have no recollections as to whether succeeding or similar gatherings were held during that time.

 When all was said and done, many of us came away from it with some notable memories.
Personally, I was amazed to learn that one of the nuns who by happenstance read the student roster recognized a name and had asked for me to see her.  She was a daughter of the late Chief Justice Mariano H. de Joya, who once had been assigned in CDO as provincial judge. He and his family were close to my father’s family.  And may even had shared the house of my grandparents for some time.  Thus, when my father spent time in Manila for his schooling, he also spent some time with the de Joya family, having been very close to one of the brothers of the nun, and I recall at a later time that his name was Boring.  It was a very blissful meeting and I had promised to relay this incident to my father who was in CDO.
 At the end of the seminar, we were each advised to write our impressions about the seminar, but more importantly, to write about the political conditions in the home country as seen by the younger generation.  Though I was not inclined to dismiss the parting instruction, writing about the subject just did not appeal to my interests then.  But I did submit an entry.

  Months later, I received from the Embassy a copy of a bound pamphlet with collated selected entries from different participants.  And was glad Xavier U did not disappoint because one of the selected entries was that of Max Paderanga, and I still recall he wrote about the “dog-eat-dog” climate developing in Philippine society.  A curt analysis of a nascent country in the mid-60’s trying to develop its sea legs.  Was Max prophetic with his observation?

 Another memorable event that transpired within that seminar and has stayed on in memory, was the segment about Israel and what it had done then.  The consul spoke seriously and determinedly about their kibbutz system and its initial successes.  He gave out books and pamphlets, which I still have in my possession to this day.  Talk about a determined country, though small and surrounded by eternal foes. And notice how it considers itself as part of Asia.


Thursday, March 19, 2020

The Coronavirus Pandemic Vs The Global Economy



The crucial fight for life is not centered between the disease and civilization.  For no doubt it is a shoo-in, and the outcome is assured.  History has shown civilization always wins.  History pages are replete with virulent diseases that threatened to wipe out humanity, and they have never been successful.

But on another front, the eventual outcome may not be that assured.  What about the fight against the global economy?


First an irony, the case of the managed and government-controlled economy on one hand, and on the other hand, the mostly free capitalistic economies of the rest of the world.  We know the threat originated from the former, but the devastation and havoc have spilled over to all economies.  We do not like to think the worst that there was malfeasance involved in the spread of the threat.  But it lingers in the mind.


The global economy froze for a few seconds, before it started plunging on its downward trends.  Then comes wholesale business stoppage and laying off of entire workforces.  Before long, the crunched numbers show the unprecedented collapse of gains slowly and painfully garnered through the years.   And nobody even knows what the end game will be.


Then some quick and calm reckoning appears on the fore.


While not much thoughtful studies were expended on the business closures, what escaped in the equation was whether those businesses could even restart once the bigger problems are resolved or mitigated. 


The answer could be short and straightforward, many of those businesses could never hope to reopen especially if stoppage is substantial or protracted enough.  These are the small business operations which account for the vast majorities in practically all economies.  They could never hope to be able to sustain such short-term losses.


And worse, because of what we have learned about the kind of capitalist model the entire world is now embroiled in.  Not the traditional concepts of capitalism studied in school but the one unwittingly exposed during the last global financial crisis that saw many big financial companies tumble into the dust of ignominy and oblivion.  Companies like too-big-to-fail Lehman Brothers.


In a simplified and uncomplicated way, what we learned is that most if not all economic activities are “securitized” and distributed to all parts of the globe via the financial intermediaries.  The case of the sub-prime loans was the most visible and catastrophic.  But was not the dilemma’s entirety.


What were “securitized” were not just familiar assets, but included even the profit expectations of all businesses, big and small.


The current strains the global economy is now laboring under may be too onerous for it to hold for long before it is projected to collapse.  There is no security blanket to speak about acting as the roof to protect, when the walls are the ones tumbling down.




Some references:






Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Turning the Tide: Man Against Humanity




In the midst of this global pestilence indiscriminately unleashed to all corners of the world, one that is wreaking so much unprecedented anxieties and deaths, do we still doubt the vaunted ferocity of man?


I have no abiding answer, except to imagine an applicable scenario that could apply here.

Man breaks into a pristine place blest by nature with bounty and beauty. It had hills and valleys, meandering waterways, flora and fauna of almost infinitely diverse variety, balmy and hospitable weather in many places. Etc. All perfect for all human living designed in convergence and congruence with nature.


Yet, nature being what it is did provide some cautionary caveats. There will be rains, tides, and fires, all sorts of tribulation and trial, to provide risks and anxiety for human living, but man is expected to adapt and learn to live side by side with them.


But man is never contented, nor is he a prudent and diligent steward of nature. He did what he could to degrade and “alter” nature’s provisions. To a point that nature has lost its equilibrium and became instead a hostile force to man. And thus freakish acts of nature have become the new normal.


Wars and pestilences. Flooding in places where man had chosen to live, harsh typhoons and torrential rains that damage altered topography obliterating humans in the process, deadly diseases in places where humans live in despicably congested conditions, etc.  Worse, diseases marked by the handiwork of humans brought into existence and released to raise havoc to humanity itself.


Given that, can we humans then lay blame on anybody else but ourselves? Like blaming nature for what is happening?  For the virulence and ferocity that has been unleashed.


Man must go back to the basics.  To the basic differences between nature and grace. To the basic purpose of human existence.  To the basic creed of God and personal responsibility.

Man then must turn inward rather than outward for this is where his salvation is heading.