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‘THE LAST FLICKER OF HOPE’ (Remembering John-John and Oggie’s battle with Muscular Dystrophy), by Malu E.Gacuma, August 16, 2017 (4:00 am)

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Carrying him was never a burden. Not to me nor my parents or older sisters. It was our way of life, as a family.

He was born normal on November 29,1969. It was thru a Caesarian operation due to his breech position in our mother’s womb. Being the youngest among the girls and three years older than him,  I became closest to John-john. We were ‘best of friends’, he being the youngest among us six children, namely Cecile , Grace, Oscar Jr. (Oggie), Maria Anita (or Nenette, who died at the age of 2 due to a freak fall accident) and the two of us.

He was christened ‘Jonathan‘, which Mommy named him after that American ‘fighting General’, Jonathan Wainwright, known as the ‘Hero of Bataan”, during World War II.

Then she nicknamed him ‘John-john‘ after the only son of the late U.S. President John F. Kennedy, whom our mother deeply admired.

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John-john took after our father’s dominant traits: fun-loving, talkative, bubbly and had that infectious zest for life1

Unfortunately, life did not respond to him in the same way. At age 6, he started manifesting Gowers’ Sign, a hallmark of those stricken with the genetically-transmitted muscle condition called Duchenne-Muscular Dystrophy (DMD). Simply put, while the patient’s bone structure continues to grow normally, the muscles slowly regress.In due time, this makes a DMD patient look like he is ‘ shrinking‘, from his neck down to his lower limbs.

Gowers’ Sign means the patient had to use his hands and arms ‘to walk around’ but in a squatting position, akin to ‘duck-walking’.

It was actually Oggie (who was born on January 20, 1963) who was first diagnosed by the University of Santo Tomas (UST) Hospital in Manila, in about 1970. According to my late mother, the UST doctor told her and Dad that “any male offspring to be born after Oggie would , most likely, suffer from the same condition.” John john then was barely 1 year old . The doctor also said DMD strikes “about 5 to 10 generations away”. For reasons still unknown to us until now, our family was caught among those generations.

 

 

 

 

My parents remained obstinate and pinned their hope on Divine intervention. Dad was a Dental Surgeon on private practice, while Mommy remained a housewife despite graduating from Dentistry. They knew human anatomy and about genetics. But my brothers’ medical condition was beyond hope. It is incurable.

 

 

 

While John-john was aged below 6 years old, my parents were holding on to their faith that the UST doctor’s prediction would be wrong. But one morning, in 1975, Mommy was in a window watching John-john playing at the front yard of our grandfather’s house in Fabrica. She suddenly saw him attempt to go up a nearby flight of stairs by propping his right leg with his right palm resting on his knee, as he pulled up his left leg to the next stair step.

This sight made my mother break down in tears. She  immediately told my father, who was in his dental laboratory at one end of the house. They embraced each other and cried, their  hope now completely extinguished. The sight confirmed that both of theirs sons have DMD. My father told me later on, at that moment, he felt so abandoned and looked up and cried out loud “Why,oh God? Why my sons?

 

 

 

 

 

 

From then on, my father turned to heavy drinking, and eventually became an acute alcoholic until his death in 2009. My mother became more reclusive, indulging her time only to home-making, abandoning any social life for good.

Never to give up easily, on that same year, my parents enrolled John-john as a Grade 1 student at the public school, Gil Lopez Elementary School , where I was in Grade 4. My parents hired a tricycle to take us to and from school. If the driver missed his task, I would walk home with John-john on my back. We would play along the way, he pretended to be a cowboy and I was his horse!

His limping became the butt of jokes and jeers from his schoolmates, calling him “Jonathan Pi-ang!” (‘Jonathan the Limp!”), but he shrugged this off and even befriended most of his persecutors, thanks to his outgoing trait from Dad!

Unlike Oggie who finished only Grade 1, John-john finished both Grade 1 and Grade 2 with ‘2nd Honors’. His happiest moment was being able to join the Cub Scouts. However, he was not allowed by his teachers to join the lengthy school parade down to barangay  Paraiso proper, considering the distance. Not to be deterred, he asked his buddies, including his best friend named Alparito, to make him ride on their backs  alternately, thus he was able to join without Dad and Mom knowing it! Smart boy he was!

 

 

 

During his  3rd and last Grade, his absences became more frequent due to his difficulty in walking. He had to be carried no longer to the school gate but down to his school desk. Still, he was awarded as ‘The Most Obedient’ by his adviser. When he frequently fell to the school grounds as his legs weakened every day , my parents finally decided : it was time for him to stay at home for good, just like Oggie.

My parents, specifically Mommy, took effort in tutoring my brothers. Reading is a family habit, thus being out-of-school never became a hindrance to the intellectual growth of my brothers. Both had ‘photographic memory’, and can quote details from any book or magazines they read in toto. They both loved to draw, using pen or pencil and usually would make ‘sound effects’ as they did,which we found amusing! Both often drew World War II battle scenes , between American and German soldiers. Or they would shift to cowboys versus Indians. As if it was symbolic of the battle they had to deal with in their daily lives. Some of their drawings were later on included by known artist and fellow Fabricanian, Nunelucio Alvarado, in one of his previous art exhibits. It was Nune’s personal tribute to the struggles of my brothers.

At home, Daddy designed two special wooden chairs for Oggie, who was no longer capable of walking or squatting since he was about 12 years old. One chair was for his daily use, the other was for his  call of nature, since he could no longer sit on a regular toilet bowl. They also had their own urinal to avoid their frequent visit to the john. I was tasked to empty it at every needed time, to my chagrin!

John-john at that time was still ‘duck-walking’. Since we were trained never to make them feel less-normal or unproductive, they also had their shares of household tasks  just like us, their sisters.

Oggie was tasked to shred vegetable leaves whenever Mommy cooked. He would also clean uncooked rice. He had a radio and chose what music programs to listen to, as the family’s ‘Disc Jockey’.

John-john was assigned to sweep and wipe the floor. He had his own soft broom, with the handle cut short for a more convenient grip. He would clean and fix his own toys and wipe the table after each meal.

I took turns with our older sisters,Cecile and Grace – on a ’round-robin’ schedule – in giving our brothers sponge bath every night. I was tasked to wash Oggie’s face and brush his teeth every morning,too. It was a must to use warm water when we gave them a bath also. This we did by using a slat bench where one of them had to lie down with face up. His head would protrude from one of the bench’s end, and rested on my knee so I could shampoo him. The same way with how my sisters did it. We had to make it a quick bath, not more than 10 minutes. and this is only once a week!

 

 

 

It was imperative for us not to expose both of them to anything that may cause them colds  or have a runny nose or cough. Pneumonia is the most dreaded thing for DMD patients.

Dad explained to us that, normally, there are three mechanisms to cough out phlegm. First, air is inhaled to expand the lungs. Second, the lungs squeeze the phlegm to ready it for expulsion through cough. Third, the expulsion or cough itself. Lungs are also muscles, as well as the tongue. Due to my brothers’ muscle regression, they are capable only of the first mechanism aforementioned.

But despite all our family’s  efforts, pneumonia still struck Oggie. Its complications led to  his cardiac arrest. He passed away at the age of 20 on February 9,1983 at the now defunct Foundation Hospital in Sagay City. As my older sister Grace witnessed, at past 9 pm,  she said Oggie died in Daddy’s arms. Before he breathed his last, Daddy, who was in tears,  called out to him repeatedly,“Noy, can you still hear me? Follow the light! Follow the light, Noy!” Oggie nodded twice,then his blank stare followed. His remains were interred at the family lot , where Nenette was buried also, at the Tinago Cemetery in our hometown.

 

 

 

His death left a deep void in our hearts. Losing Oggie made each of us more determined to do everything to make John-john live longer. This seemed to be an offshoot of the two brothers’ usual battle of wits when Oggie was still alive.

Since they both dreamed of becoming Army Generals, John-john often teased Oggie that ‘When I’ll grow up,I’ll be better than you, in the battlefield!” To this, Oggie would pretend scoffing and answered back,“No matter what you’ll do, you will have no choice but to accept my inheritance!” This would make us laugh, because ‘ inheritance‘  actually means Oggie’s special wooden chairs, radio, urinal and wooden bed! It was amazing how they can be armed with humor in their own battlefield!

When he reached 13 years old,  John–john was already on a wheelchair. Yes, he took over Oggie’s chairs and all, as they had foreseen. At this age, John-john also became more like Oggie: contemplative, most often quiet, at times melancholic and very sentimental. But he never lost his love for life!He even trained one of our pet dogs to howl each time he would trumpet the first few notes of a popular Tagalog love song titled ‘Dahil Sa Iyo‘, a feat enjoyed by guests,patients and friends alike!

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13-year-old John-john,with our pet dog Jimbo, at the balcony,1982.

We were not spared of the discrimination and taunts by those who are ignorant about DMD. Most believe it is contagious, judging by how my brother looked physiologically. Sad to say, even some relatives refuse to enter our premises because of him. One cousin even covered her nose whenever she passed by our door and did not allow her children to enter our end. Their ignorance led them blind, to the point of hypocrisy!

But my parents trained us to be who we are, and let John-john face them and look at them straight in the eye. Since I was still a Catholic (the family’s religion), whenever a church procession in honor of the mother of Jesus Christ or any saint was held, Mommy and I would join, or with my sisters (whenever they were on vacation) and we would bring John-john along in his wheelchair. When selected patients or Dad’s friends drop by the house, we would let him entertain them,too.

 

 

 

My parents also made sure he would always believe there was a Santa Claus. At least , it gave him something delightful to look forward to every year!  At 14, he believed that Santa Claus took a bite of the peanut butter sandwich and sipped from the glass of milk  that he asked me to prepare. We placed these on the window sill. He even told us he thought he heard something’ whoosh by’ above the house past midnight!  Dad would  feign surprise and assured him, “It must be Santa and his reindeers, indeed!” That was how naive my brother was! So innocent and pure was his mind!

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One of John-john’s last imprecise drawings.His last letter to Santa Claus.

He also had a penchant for calling us names and no one was spared!  A kind of loving gesture, actually! He never called me ‘Manang Malu’. Instead, he called me ‘Tiw’, from the local word ‘ mantiw’, which referred to an entity that is so skinny it can hide behind a beanpole, because I was exactly as thin!

When in  a good mood, he would often sing. Perhaps, croon would be the best word. He sang  from his heart, that voice of a man, and no longer a boy. I remember he loved crooning  Oggie’s favorite song ,’My Way’, and ‘Ol Man River’  both popularized by Frank Sinatra.

He loved jumpy, disco songs like  the hit songs ‘My Sharona’ by The Knack or simply happy tunes like Barry Manilow’s ‘Daybreak‘ or his favorite titled ‘Harmony‘ by Ray Coniff and The  Singers. Once I see him  tapping his fingers, wiggling his shoulders, I knew he wanted to dance. It was our unspoken language already. So , I would immediately carry him and we would dance to whatever tune that caught his attention! He was so happy, telling me  whether to turn left or right or turn around!  I would become his feet!

It was at that age when he stayed on his bed most hours of the day, since sitting too long hurt his back. His spine was already curved like a  crude letter ‘ S’,  his fingers half-curled to the center of his palms. He had to hold his pen by clipping between his right thumb and index finger , instead of the usual ring finger.  His drawings, which normally would be with precision such as detailed handgun or rifle, became rough and imprecise.

This would often cause him mood swings. Sometimes, while in the middle of his drawing session, he would slam the pen on the table , or  throw it on the floor. All these tantrums, he did without any word. He would ask me to carry him to his bed, where he would stay quietly for hours.When his mood lightened, he started drawing other images like cartoon characters, short letterings or anything simple. The  lengthy WWII scenario or cowboys versus Indians started fading away.

Until the day we feared most came, when he finally had to stop his passion for drawing. It was the same day he was no longer capable even to hold his own spoon and fork. He was 17.

He turned to either his radio listening to dramas and music programs or his Aiwa cassette recorder to listen to his cassette tapes. His preference has changed to ballads,instrumentals and classical music. His daily life became a routine day in and day out: waking up, being washed up,eating his meals, sitting  on his special chair watching out the window,listening to his radio or recorder, responding to the calls of nature, then back to his bed.

Since Cecile was based in Manila  and Grace was married, I was left alone to tend to him. We always spared Mommy  the task of carrying him due to his weight and the bulk of housework she did, much more  with the laundry. Since I was out-of-college that time, I spent the afternoons gardening, and would bring him along outside of the garden. He would watch the birds and butterflies, make images out of clouds. He loved nature and all its wonders, but looked forward to watching the sunset!

He also loved the full moon-lit evenings! Perhaps because he was already becoming an adult by heart, he was turning out to be a very romantic gentleman! While staring at the moon, he would ask me to play selected instrumental music to go by his mood or imagination. Usually it was the soundtrack from the movie “Somewhere In Time”, which became our household’s anthem!

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1983, John-john in a photo I took of him one morning ,at the front yard.

It was at this age also that he quietly fell in love with a very pretty and bubbly 16-year old family friend named Angelique. It was summer when they met. She would often drop by the house to borrow magazines or Tagalog comics, and chat with John-john. She became his first love, an experience he outdid Oggie who only idolized one woman in his earthly life: a Hollywood actress named Jaclyn Smith of the hit TV show, ‘Charlie’s Angels’.

It was having a deep affection for Angelique that we noticed a change in John-john. He started hoping to walk again. No, not hoping. He BELIEVED he would walk again, as he quipped, “..on that day appointed by God.”

In 1988, when Cecile and I started a media career with a non-rated Cadiz City-based radio station, DYAG, I had a music and dedication program titled ‘Disco & Greetings On-the-Air’ every 4-6pm while Cecile managed the Sales Department. It was a household crime not to play John-john’s requested love song titled ‘Always‘ by the Atlantic Starr (a No.1 song then) which he dedicated to Angelique who, along with her family, never discouraged John-john’s gestures of affection. Our family felt more endeared to them because they knew that she struck an inspiration in his heart. It was something we cannot give him and she did.That special inspiration. It was the will for him to live longer.

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Angelique’s token of friendship for John-john

One work day, on September of 1988, I suddenly felt a strong prompting to go home to Fabrica (about 13 kilometers to the north of Cadiz City). There was a typhoon, but I traversed through the muddy prawn farms under the rain, going to the main highway to get a ride. Along the way, I believed I heard John-john’s voice calling me twice “Manang Malu! Manang Malu!” with urgency.

Arriving home, there was no one. Lola Elisa (my paternal grandmother, who lived upstairs) was in a panic and told me that John-john was rushed to Foundation Hospital in Sagay City due to hard of breathing. I was so frantic,calling out to God to have mercy on my brother ! It might have been a miracle, because my brother survived his first bout with the onset of pneumonia despite being given by the Catholic priest his first Extreme Unction, a  Catholic sacrament for the dying. He returned home after two weeks.

At this juncture, my brother was like skin-and bones. The skin of his legs were darker, and with dark-colored scabs now surfacing. It was watery, so we had to wrap his legs with bandage all the time to keep him dry. The doctors said “his body was rejecting fluids”. All we could do was to manage it since it is beyond any medication.

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John-john, in Manila,1991

On August 1989, due to a very low pay and irregular release of salary, I decided to resign from DYAG and find a better-paying job in Bacolod City to help my father with his income. That time, Dad no longer worked as Foundation Hospital’s dentist, but had a private clinic but it was not enough. So, I worked harder than the rest, even slept for 8 months on top of DYWB’s Research table to save from any rental fee outside. My whole income went to Mommy for John-john’s needs. He was very,very happy when I bought him a sound system during my first 13th month pay! At least he could stop using Mommy’s de-mano sewing machine’s cover as his “boom box”  (as he called it when he used  to amplify his cassette recorder).

Despite an aunt’s offer to send me to college, I declined and pursued a broadcasting career with DYWB Bombo Radyo Bacolod as its Prime Anchorwoman/ Newscaster and Researcher. The pay was bigger. I was able to buy groceries and goodies for my brother! When my afternoon advice program titled ‘Kahapon Lamang’ rated No.1 (Over-all in the whole of Western Visayas) in a year’s time, my salary was doubled. I was so happy and broke the news to my family, I knew it can help my brother a lot. He had always been my inspiration, after all! Even my regular listeners knew about him and greeted him!

There was a time when Mommy got sick, I had to take the Ceres bus every single night,on its 12 midnight trip (which cost only 5 pesos!) to reach Fabrica in 2 hours, only to give John-John sponge bath and bandaged his legs. Then rushed back to Bacolod thru the 4am Ceres bus to make it to my 6 am newscast! This was a routine for about 2 weeks.

But one night, I came home and Mommy met me with a good news! All of John-john’s scabs were gone! In a finger’s snap… they’re gone! I checked on his legs, and it was true! I asked him how it happened. He said the night before just after I had left,the lights were off except for the overnight altar lamp near his bed. His legs felt prickly sensation, painful and itchy at the same time. Then he heard giggling under his bed. He called Mommy , in the next room but she was fast asleep.

The ‘creatures‘, John -john said were small and very cruel, making him beg in tears for them to stop pricking his legs. Then as in a dream, he told me in the dialect that he saw “a lady enter,and she seemed to be glowing, I can see her even if it was in semi-darkness. She had a small basin of warm water. She sprinkled this on those entities which disappeared. And she washed my legs gently. She wore something white.” My brother never lied. Whatever occurred, even the doctors could not explain how the scabs fell off in one sweep and his legs completely dried up overnight.What mattered was: he was healed. Thanks to that apparition!

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Nov.29,1992 – John-john  and me with Cecile and Grace (foreground, in white shirt),our nephews Jake and Louie ,family friend Joanne Posa , our cousins and some nurses.

In September 1990, due to the success of my rated programs, I was promoted by Bombo Radyo Phils. (BRP) CEO, Mr. Rogelio Florete, to the Malacanang Press Corps beat, to be based at BRP’s Makati News Bureau. Pooling in with Dad’s funds, I used a loan, my media benefit ( 50% discount on boat fares) and contributions from relatives and friends and left for Manila with John-john, Mom and Dad and Cecile. In Manila, my family stayed at my maternal grandparents’ house in Iriga Street, Sta. Mesa Heights, Quezon City. while I stayed in Makati at our staff house. Every free time and weekend, I went home to take care of my brother. Again, that December, I surprised him with a TV set with Betamax ( the forerunner of today’s DVD). He was teary-eyed and thanked me for giving him ‘a companion’. I learned that he loved watching the film titled “Fern Gully“. We knew his time was near.

It happened on May 1991. He was already being spoon-fed,and stayed on his bed most of his waking hours. Even sitting became painful for him. Then again the chest pains returned. He was rushed to San Juan de Dios Hospital in Roxas Boulevard, which was run by the Daughters of Charity , the same order that managed Foundation Hospital. My brother stayed in the said hospital for the next 8 months in a room at its second floor. He became its popular patient then. His doctor was Dr. Ang, a good friend of Cecile. He never charged any professional fee.

During these months, my brother received Extreme Unction for more than 6 more times from the Hospital Chaplain. But he always overcome death. His bed was half-raised so he can be half-seated, to avoid any possibility of choking. Pneumonia and its complications persisted. He was pale as a paper and thin as a skeleton. But his mind was always alert!

One afternoon, I was talking about him to some of my Malacanang Press Corps colleagues, and Miss Vangie Baga (now Mrs. Reyes) of the Philippine Daily Inquirer took interest on DMD and my brother’s courage against it. After getting a blessing from her Editor, she interviewed my brother on November 1992, just before his 23rd birthday.

John-john just survived another ‘Extreme Unction’ incident, As he described it to me, he “floated out of his body from his waist up, in a very gentle swaying manner” but as he told me, his mind resisted and this “seemed to put a weight that prevented me from floating”. But he wondered why, throughout each said ordeal, nobody can hear him calling out and saw him sleeping instead!

Vangie interviewed John-john on November 4 and her article was published in full Lifestyle page on his 23rd birthday,on Sunday, November 29. Vangie said it was their Editor’s idea to give him more inspiration that there are those who care for him and are inspired by him.He told me that he prayed so hard to endure all the pains, but for God to allow him to spend his last birthday with us, his family. He knew he could never reach the age of 24.

 

 

 

We celebrated his 23rd birthday with relatives, close family friends and with the medical staff, including the doctors. The room overflowed with well-wishers, we had to let him blow his birthday candles at the hallway.

That night, he couldn’t sleep and he confided to me, that he prayed profusely to Heavenly Father, to consider it as his last earthly prayer: “Please allow me to spend your Son’s birthday with my family. “ He meant December 25, Christmas Day, when our Savior Jesus Christ was born.

 

 

 

When December came, it was our turn as his family to have a glint of hope! The doctors were telling us all that John-john was showing signs of progress! Even his lungs were healing. But it was his heart that they kept an eye on. John-john himself always asked the window drapes to be spread wide open, so he could see the sun rise. Every day when he woke up and watched the sun rose, he seemed to hold on to his hope to still walk one day, on God’s appointed time.

He was not allowed to drink anything except water and Zest-O juice, which John-john only preferred the Guyabano flavor. He can also sit on his wheelchair, a respite from his long stay on the hospital bed.

On December 24 ,past 5 pm, I arrived in his room and found him with his eyes half-closed, staring at the door as I entered. When I greeted him, the first thing he asked me (in Ilonggo), was, ” Nakit-an mo siya? Nakit-an mo ang tawo, bag-o lang naguwa?” (“Did you just meet him? Did you see that man who just went out?”) I thought he was dreaming. Cecile was asleep on a cushioned bench beside his bed and later on, she said she was unaware of what went on.

John-john said while he was trying to sleep, a man entered his room. He described the apparition-“. He said “the man blessed the first two corners of the room” and blessed my brother. Then without opening his mouth, he talked to my brother (!) saying that “Be prepared. On December 26, at about this time, you will be fetched. Then he blessed the last two corners of the hospital room and went out of the door.” A minute or two later, I arrived and entered the room.

When Dad and Mom discussed this with the Hospital Chaplain, the latter said it was more similar to a saint named Peregrine, the patron saint of cancer patients. We were never aware there was such a saint! The Chaplain, a frequent visitor of John-john, confided to Mommy that his visits actually gave him more wisdom and inspiration just by talking to John-john, instead of the other way around. He called it his “most unforgettable spiritual experience”.

On Christmas Day, we did everything to make the celebration as joyous as we can for him . But John-john was seemingly detached. He would ask to sit on his chair always. I never left him, perhaps because I wanted that apparition to return and take back his word. In solitude, I was begging God incessantly to give half of my life to my brother that he may have a chance to walk, as he believed.

 

 

 

On December 26, past 5pm, I carried my brother to his chair and our family were all present, including my sister Grace. John-john was struggling with his breathing, and at near 6 pm, he complained that it was hot. So, I increased the A/C unit’s coldness to maximum. Then he asked me to give him Zest-O juice, as I was about to put the straw to his mouth, I noticed his perspiration. It was odd. Bead-like droplets surfacing from his skin, and he was not pale, but white! He suddenly blurted out, in a strained voice”Ba-bye! Ba-bye na sa inyo tanan! Malakat na ko!” (“Goodbye! Goodbye to you all” I must go!“) He was trying to be cheerful, but I saw he was scared!

Then he looked at me and said“Tiw, indi ko pagbuy-i! Indi ko pagbaya-i!” (“Tiw, don’t let go of me. Don’t leave me!”) It was if he was trying to draw strength from me. Just like when he used to before, on trying moments. And vice-versa.

His eyes were dilated, jet black, and his expression was like laughing but he was not. Mommy shouted for the doctors. who rushed in. Chaos ensued. I was in a panic, shouting for him not to go, not to leave!

The next minute, I found myself kneeling on top of the hospital bed, with John-john in my arms, as the doctors nurses,medical staff, Daddy and Mommy ,Cecile and Grace milled around us. Mommy, in tears, was calling out to John-john” Noy, you know what to do, we talked about it. Do it now, John! “

John-john obediently nodded, and started singing loud, mumbling actually, the Christian hymn titled “Onward, Christian Soldiers!” which Mommy helped him memorize when they were alone.

His tongue was retracting, making it difficult for him to speak. A doctor ordered a tracheotomy to help him breathe. Dad often told us, once we see this in a patient, it is a validation that a patient will eventually go. A white ribbed plastic tube was inserted in my brother’s mouth instead , his eyes continued to dilate, the retina occupying the whole space and his iris was five times larger. He was staring at the ceiling. At first glance, you would think he was like a drunk about to pass out, a similar scenario.

I heard one male doctor mentioned “Vital signs” and suddenly, John-john shouted ,while staring at the ceiling “Bot? Ikaw na,Bot? Ara ka,’Bot?”(“Bot, is that you? You’re there,’Bot?”) (I broke down, and felt like my chest would rip wide open! He was calling Bebot (the late Eriberto D. Gargar) my first boyfriend who died at the young age of 25 in August 20, 1987 after being robbed by several men in Leganes, Iloilo. Bebot used to carry John-john also when he visited me before, and how he loved my brother so much!

Eriberto 'Bebot' Delasa Gargar at about 17

The late Eriberto D. Gargar or Bebot  ( March 26, 1962-August 20,1987),my first boyfriend, whom John-john saw and called before he breathed his last.

Another male doctor shouted , “Open the door, open the windows, he is going now!” Mommy and my sisters started screaming. Dad was more composed, while in tears, he said in a very loud voice, “Goodbye,son! Goodbye,anak!” At that last word, Dad broke down,too.

I saw death face-to-face, for the first time as my brother breathed his last. At this split second of silence, we all saw a hair-thin like light emanating from his forehead and swiftly passed through the 20 watt- flourescent light above our heads. The light flickered. It all happened in a few seconds!

He was declared clinically dead at 6: 06 pm. December 26, 1992. Exactly as that apparition — the man in brown robe– told him. His remains were interred where Oggie and Nenette are.

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Leaving the house during John-john’s interment, Fabrica, January 1993

John-John had another dream, which he only revealed during his interview with the Inquirer. He mentioned that he hoped for a ‘trust foundation’ for other patients stricken with DMD, specifically those in poverty. As the Inquirer described it: “A foundation for muscular dystrophic patients, a foundation that will give them hope and that assure them that there is still life after MD.”

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First of 2 pages of the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Lifestyle section,featuring John-john’s life story. ( Nov. 29, 1992 ,Sunday issue)

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John-john at the age of 23.

Despite his ordeal for 17 years, my brother held on to his faith and still cared for those who shared his fate. The appointed day he waited for never came. It was destined not to. His last dream , for the sake of other DMD patients, was and will be his last flicker of hope that I will always carry like a burning torch in my heart.*

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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‘THERE MUST ALWAYS BE DECENCY, EVEN IN POVERTY’ by Malu E. Gacuma / July 20, 2017

Yesterday afternoon, my daughters made a gentleman cry.

He heads the Engineering Department at the Provincial Capitol. As my 2nd daughter, Christienne Marie  and I entered their office to sell snacks ( e.g.Oreo Float, Yema Cake and Choco Moist), I was surprised how all of the staff and this gentleman welcomed my daughter with so much warmth and fondness! They looked for my 2 other daughters, Chickie and Claudia,who were in school.

I am so moved that they still remember my children who sold lunch and snacks to them every day way back 2014, when they forcibly quit from school due to monetary constraint, a problem hounding us since their late father had absolutely abandoned us  in 1999.

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2014: At noontime ,Angel and Claudia, with Chickie taking photo, while they were resting at the Bacolod Lagoon after a tiring endeavor.

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December 2001,Manila : Me with my 3 girls then aged 6,4 and 3.

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2014.During their food-selling days as out-of-school youth. They would often rest at the Bacolod Lagoon,adjacent to Provincial Capitol, and take photos of themselves as their past time.



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2014: Coming home  at high noon after selling,haggard,tired but still those smiles were there.

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Angel doing her sideline,face-painting,in a birthday party.

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Chickie doing face-painting during Christmas Party.It was a sideline Angel found out and both of them earned from it

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Left without a choice, as their widowed mother, I opened their young minds that investing their time into selling and being productive will compensate for their lost days in school. It will teach them skills to survive without compromising the virtues and values taught to them. They were so obedient, enthusiastic, open-minded and determined.

They only sold to the employees of the Provincial Capitol, 5 days a week under any weather, with their baskets full of various menus we also cooked. Menus varied from ‘brunch’ to lunch to merienda e.g. Valenciana ( our best seller) , spaghetti, pancit bihon, ginataang monggo with langka, fried fish, chicken adobo, chicken curry, chicken with pineapple,  paksiw na bangus, fried bangus, eggplant torta, picadillo ( another best seller) , pochero, baguio beans and diced potatoes with pork giniling, sandwiches, burgers, banana cake, buko pie, even chicken Arroz Caldo with boiled egg.

We started our day at 2 am, sheer hard work!  We cooked until about 6 am and prepared everything by 8 am. At 9 am they were out to sell and usually came home at noontime, with empty baskets, so tired yet with happy faces! Oftentimes, they would bring extra food for street children they met at the Lagoon.

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2014-One of their selling days.Chickie sharing extra food for the homeless children at the Bacolod Lagoon, something they love to do until now

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2014: Claudia & Chickie, with Angel taking photo,  heading home after making good sales

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I gave them ‘commissions‘ for their daily income, which they saved and used as their fares and needs on Saturdays,when they studied for 10 months under Department of Education’s Alternative Learning System (ALS) program for their acceleration to college.

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2014: The children’s very first ‘commission’ after bringing home empty food baskets on their 1st selling day!They took photo of it for remembrance!

 

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2014: Some of the ‘brunch’ and snacks they sold



 

 

 

 

 

 

It was timely that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ( thru the Bacolod 1st Ward in Galo Street), where we are members, had a partnership that time with the Department of Education. My children were offered to be among the students and they went to  the Galo chapel classes under the tutelage of Mr. Leo Ceralbo, the assigned ALS teacher.

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2015: The children graduating from the Church’s ‘Perpetual Education Fund or PEF Program,which they took up on weekends, simultaneous with the DepEd-ALS program.

 

 

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July 4,2015:
After a few years and an add-on of more 10 months of sacrifice, they finally graduated from high school thru DepEd-ALS.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2015: Claudia as youth volunteer of Mormon Helping Hands during the ‘National Day of Service’ of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

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2014: The children as youth volunteers for  the Ecological Society of the Phils. (ESP) whose events I organized in Negros.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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June 2017: Chickie’s recognition from her employer for reaching her 3rd year as regular employee inspite of being a full time student.

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2015: Chickie as youth volunteer for Red Cross

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2017,1st sem: Chickie,an Agri-Business major,here deworming a goat

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2017,1st sem: Angel, as lead actress, here in a scene from their school film titled ‘Hereafter’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Learning how my children are faring at the University of Saint La Salle these days, and reaching their 3rd majoring year,the Engineering Head suddenly paused in our conversation, then his staff fell in silence.

He was in tears, saying he was so deeply touched by my children’s struggle. He could not contain himself. It was a blessed moment! As we ended our conversation, he gave us a handshake each, which I could feel the respect he wanted to extend.

It pierced through my heart – his sincerity and empathy was insurmountable! Same with the employees around.

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June 2015: My children wearing their University of Saint La Salle uniform for the first time.Here they posed for remembrance.

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2017: Claudia, as current News Editor of The Spectrum ,La Salle’s official media publication.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2017: My Facebook wall post congratulating Angel being granted a full scholarship as member of La Salle’s Maskara Theater Ensemble

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2016: Claudia as  Bacolod team leader/ reporter for Rappler.Here she was reporting about the elections

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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My Facebook wall post congratulating Chickie for her high grades, despite being a full time employee of Focus Direct call center  and having a 29-unit load in school

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2016 : My Facebook wall post congratulating Claudia for making it to the University of St. La Salle’s Dean’s List

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Manila,2016: Claudia as youth Climate Reality Leader,during Al Gore’s int’l leadership training

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The children with their respective sash for being chosen as “DeMolay Chapter Sweetheart” by Int’l Order of deMolay-SVAC.Chickie is the current ‘Sweetheart,2017’.

Of course, needless to say, he also bought the snacks we brought. This time, not out of sympathy but to celebrate the meeting we had with him.

Such will always be a very memorable day for me as a mother.After all the deprivation,humiliation sacrifices and discrimination I had to endure for them, these were all worth it.  It was a moment that made me understand what ‘Lord’s blessings’ truly mean.

This was the unspoken message I have proven from the tears of joy from a good-natured gentleman, who –as a parent himself– shared my views that there must always be decency, even in poverty.*

 

(NOTE:  Originally posted over my Facebook wall  at 7:51 pm, 20,2017 then published thru Negros Daily Bulletin, July 24-25,2017 issue ,page 5, ‘The Diarist: On Love and Life’ column)

(ADDENDUM: The good-natured  Engineering Head’s name is Engr. Erwin Mapa.)

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L-R Christienne Marie, Claudia and Chickie Gancayco

L-R: Christienne Marie (Angel), Christiana Claudia (Clay) and Christa Lou (Chickie) Gacuma Gancayco

 

 

 

‘JUST ONE MORE’ by Malu E. Gacuma , June 20, 2017

For what could be the hardest battle to win but that which we fight against our own selves? Yesterday, JUNE 20, I had celebrated my 3rd year (!)  of being nicotine-free and caffeine-free!


During those 26 years of enslavement, I was fully aware of the dangers of smoking cigarettes. In those days, the late 1980s, cigarette boxes did not display gruesome photos of  the harmful effects nicotine causes to the human body. Vapor cigarettes they call ‘e-cig’ were not in style then. I never patronized tar guards, too.  A lighter in my pocket was just as vital then as money in my purse.They had to be together all the time. I couldn’t last long in a house that had no ash tray and whose owner scowls at smokers.

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1993- At age 27,while vacationing in Fabrica,Sagay City at my late grandfather’s house where I grew up. Holding my pet puppy,Coo-coo, a silent witness to the two vices I had in my left hand.


How did I learn such vice? Environmental influence,definitely. It seemed everyone around me smoked.Then came the brokenhearted days, when tears were not enough. So,what could be the best of friend to have, in my solitude, but a pack of those sticks to burn so I could  puff my heartaches away? I always believed then that  next to a dog, it should be a cigarette, not a diamond, that should be man’s other  best friend. So, I never allowed being left without it.

When I started working as a broadcast journalist in 1989, it was when I started chain-smoking back-to-back with coffee-drinking. While immersed with work, I must be fully-equipped with the tools of both vices: a mug filled to the brim with creamed coffee, a lighter, an ash tray and my brand of cigarettes. Without them, I got restless. Very restless. Unknowingly, it was addiction setting in.

My habitual nicotine-and-caffeine routine  became the usual butt of jokes among my work colleagues. A naughty anchorman even called me ‘Robo-Cup’, an off-shoot term from the famous Robo-Cop film in those days.Eventually, I was often remembered as ‘someone who drank her coffee like water and whose fingers always held a lighted cigarette’.

The man I married also smoked, so it was more convenient for us  both ways. We seemed to be comfortable smelling like ash trays to each other.  I only stopped –not quit– smoking voluntarily during each of the three pregnancies I had. Thank Heavens the craving dropped to a nil whenever I was infanticipating and  it lasted until I gave birth. Then the cravings returned with vengeance.

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My late husband, when I met  him in 1993.

The more I was dragged to a quicksand when times became tough and I was struggling as a solo parent. The vices seemed like a moment of respite from each long and tiring day.


How did I quit? I must admit that I owe it to a spiritual conversion. Born a Catholic, I had later on converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. However, I never took the bread and water on Sundays considering my unworthiness.Then I started  having a deep,unwavering desire to enter the LDS Temple in Cebu City. Among its spiritual preparations is a vice-free lifestyle to give due respect to the body. It took me  years struggling to be just that, vice-free.

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March 2015: The Cebu Temple of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ( Thanks to my 2nd daughter, Christienne Marie G. Gancayco for this photo.)

I became an expert in trying to quit a hundred times before, and repeatedly failed. There was always a good reason to backslide: stress, bills,a good meal, skipped meals, a bad memory, a nostalgic moment,people I was with. Name it. It was called ‘alibi’, per se.

For the first step away from both vices, I ended up extremely dehydrated, with unexplainable permanent headaches and my vision started to get slightly impaired. I  had to be hospitalized  for a week, first in June then on December, in 2014 . It was on June 20 that year that I  resolved never to allow both vices to overcome me.

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June 25, 2014 -During my 5th day of hospitalization at Bacolod Doctors’ Hospital.


Nicotine and caffeine never did me anything good except giving me false adrenalin shots, a fake sense of relief and an insatiable craving for ‘just one more’. Just one more light.Just one more sip. In actuality, one more just kept going on. It was very deceiving! I had been fooled for so long! When talking about vices, ‘just one more’ actually meant ‘just one…then more.’


So, I vowed to start giving due respect to my body. To respect its  purpose. To take care of it. I persevered and went organic. I also avoided sweets. Noticeably, the very first thing that tasted so refreshing was WATER! (You see, I hardly drank water before because it usually killed my craving for cigarettes.) I started drinking water regularly especially after waking up and before sleeping (the Japanese way, as they said) . My perspiration reeked with the smell of cigarette. This lasted for about 2  months from quit time. My hair became brittle,too. Later on, my skin started becoming lighter and my hair regained its luster.

It was alarming that I had temporarily lost my voice. Whenever I spoke, it became a squeak! No modulation at all, just a thin voice escaping my throat!  I had to write most of the things I wanted to tell my children. It seemed whenever I wanted to speak, there was not enough air to breathe and my lungs felt like bursting. I knew I was ‘oxygen-deficient’ in some way, so I must let my burnt lungs heal fast! I must get out of the house and gasp more of the morning’s cool breeze! Water therapy  also helped a lot!

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PRUSSIAN SALAD : The very 1st heavy meal I took  (4 days since I checked out of the hospital  on June  26, 2014) Taken at Shakey’s  Pizza at Robinson’s Main,Bacolod City.



Each morning was  a test of discipline, to pursue  a routine of exercises as early as 5 am. The first 3 days were trying moments. I could hardly walk beyond 15 minutes and both knees wobbled. My lungs were grasping for air—not cigarette smoke anymore– and  I really wanted them to heal fast. In the succeeding days,the walking turned to half-jogging then to full-jogging. The next month, I was running for more than 30 minutes. Appetite increased. And wonders, I could carry a 5-gallon water-filled container with ease! Stamina was finally back!

 

 

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July 12,2014 – During one of my 5am jogging routine.


From a usual 90 lbs. frame, I bloated to 170 lbs after 6 months! To regulate this back to 130 lbs., I had to get attuned to the word ‘diet‘.

 

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2016 – Visiting our mangrove-planting area in Tuburan, E.B. Magalona, Negros Occ. Me at 170 lbs.

In-between, I kept myself busy day in and day out  by home-making, pursuing hobbies, writing on my journal,serving others (specifically the less-privileged children thru humanitarian projects I had organized), doing environmental  and Church activities, finding time to join my daughters’ invitations,then end the day by reading the Scriptures.

 

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Volunteering during a Church activity.

 

Being preoccupied with worthwhile tasks takes away the mind’s attention from  the immediate desire to give way  to the vices and redirect  the mind  to the task at hand instead .
Most importantly, the cravings just disappeared, for good. They died a natural death.That was how I believed it  and it worked! Until now.
From ‘Just one more’, the mindset finally boiled down to ‘No more’!
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(NOTE: The writer also runs a column titled ” The Diarist: On Love and Life” published over Negros Daily Bulletin.)

‘A ROLE NOT MINE ALONE’ (A Father’s Day Reflection) by Malu E. Gacuma , June 18, 2017

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As Father’s Day arrived a minute past midnight earlier today, my 3 girls greeted me “Ma, Happy Father’s Day!“, considering I have raised them single-handedly for 18 years now. They see me taking the role of both mother and father not only by provision but even with some physical tasks a father is expected to do, e.g. carpentry, carrying heavy things, staying up and sleepless to guard the house in times of danger , braving the worst of weathers and the threats of some chauvinistic men.

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Some of our countless roles  in life! (Thanks to my eldest daughter, Chickie, for this 2012 collage)

 

 

 

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December 2016- Doing the usual house painting task every Christmas (Thanks to my 2nd daughter, Angel, for this candid shot)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But the hardest father’s task to do is coping with the financial demands of raising the children for them to be educated, decent and God-fearing individuals. It is not done with ease but more with pains, sacrifices,self-deprivation and countless tests of faith and endurance.

How many times have I been humiliated for asking assistance from people when there was no last recourse at that moment? How many times have I been subjected to verbal bullying for not being able to cope with deadlines of paying our rent? How many times have I been insulted and debased for trying so hard to cope with the deadlines and demands of the schools? How many kilometers have I walked back and forth, literally, to save every cent that I may be able to go home—as a provider– with food for the table? Countless times. Despite all efforts, it seems like there is always not enough. It takes blind faith to keep going on.

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December 26,2001 in Quezon City : Our 2nd Christmas without their father. With my daughters, Chickie, Angel and Clay ( then aged  6, 4 and 3 yrs old, respectively).

As a once abandoned-then-widowed wife, I may have all the reasons to take pride that today, Father’s Day, I deserve my children’s greetings to validate that I have lived up to the manly role far more better than my husband.

However, that mindset is not what I am instilling to my daughters’ individual character. I always remind them that Father’s Day belongs solely to their late father, Christopher. Regardless of his shortcomings or absolute negligence as he battled his own self when he was alive, he now remains –even in memory– as their father, in essence. Nobody can or must take away that role from him. Not even I. My children got the point.

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For this, I will still, with the least respect due him and his memory, greet him today, “Happy Father’s Day, CTG, wherever you may be.”

And as Father’s Day will end tonight, I can sleep soundly. For a day well-defined and well-remembered. ❤

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HOW TO ‘KILL’ A GOSSIPER by Malu E. Gacuma, May 15, 2017 (9:36 p.m.)

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Philosopher and Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius forewarned us all about the different kinds of negative people we would meet in our daily lives.Of all such pitiful souls that he cited e.g. meddlers ,hypocrites, ingrates and the arrogant, I have known some and can deal with them by simply forgiving them and not minding their wayward streaks.

But the only kind I can never cope with nor understand is the GOSSIP-MONGERER who is ,most often than not, also a pathological liar!🤥
Gossiping , I believe, is a sign of insecurity,of low self-esteem, of cowardice, of malicious intent and lack of self-respect.

A gossiper’s only intention is to murder someone else’s character and reputation, then make this a footstool to raise his or her own ego. It is banging cymbals signifying nothing but an illusion.Or worse,perhaps delusion.😈

A gossip always travels faster than the speed of sound.Why? Because once a gossip is cast, it always seems so juicy to the next recipient that it mutates to a more monstrous appearance immediately,even long before the next gossiper opens his or her mouth!😶

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(Credits to owner/Norman Rockwell,artist)

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Reality dictates, that after the gossip dies down a natural death, the unrepentant gossiper remains cocooned in his or her make-believe world. 🙃

It takes strength of character , a firm resolve and a straightforward attitude to repel gossips. The buck must stop right with YOU! Once there’s an attempt to pass on a gossip to you, it helps not to tell someone else about it, right? Right.😷

However, it would be best once you stop the gossiper right on the tracks BY REFUSING TO LISTEN. You must, to prove that, unlike the gossiper, you have respect, both for your self and for others. Then come out of the situation guilt-free and able to withstand the temptation to lower your moral standard.😇

You have a right to say ‘No!’

That’s the simplest and most effective way to ‘kill’ a gossiper ! 😀

Now, pass it on! 🙂

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(‘Gossip in the Monastery,by Eduard von Grutzner, 1887)

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‘SHOTGUN MARRIAGE: A Myth Born Out of Some Men’s Alibi’ ( by Malu E.Gacuma, April 9,2017 Saturday @ 11:00 am)

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I remember having met a couple in Iloilo City before, in the mid-’90s, where the husband was dashing and handsome in his 40s,while the wife was the opposite in physiological terms, not to mention that she was more than 10 years his senior.

Not for anything but the woman showed a very possessive, nagging and inconsiderate attitude towards her good-natured husband. At one point of our meeting, this husband confided that he was only forced to marry his wife when, out of a drunken stupor, he bedded her and became the first man who did.She told her parents and this led to their ‘untimely’ marriage.I heard these lines too often.

Shotgun Marriage. That’s how our culture terms it. In this odd scenario, it is always believed that the woman ends up hugging victory! She got the man she wanted or she is obsessed with! Forget how.Just think she did,at all cost!

By those two words, one’s imagination would play up seeing a trembling man beside his grinning wife as they wed, and behind them is a father-in-law with a double-barrelled shotgun pointed at the guy! One false move and the unwilling groom wouldn’t make it to the door!

During my media days with DYWB Bombo Radyo Bacolod, in a program I had anchored (a 5-hour-program then called ‘Good Morning,Philippines’,) this topic had been raised. During the last 15-minute part of the program’s Interview portion, I struck the question “Nagapati bala kamo nga may Shotgun Marriage okon wala?  (“Do you believe that Shotgun Marriage exists or not?”) It was so amusing how the influx of calls came from men,all amenable and always with a regretful tone! “Ginpilit lang ako!” (“I was just forced into it!“)- the ruing gentlemen lamented on the phone.

Marriage is a choice and a major decision in anyone’s life. When confronted by a question whether he wants to get married or not, a sensible man needs to choose between two answers: yes or no.There  is no gray area compelling him to say ‘Yes,but..” .Remember, it is a choice. We all have freedom of choices.

For a man to profess that he was just forced into the marriage ,well, that’s the lamest alibi that can exist ! (Strike 1.)

Worst, their declaration is always preceded by another common alibi:” I was drunk and accidentally bedded her!” (Strike 2.)

Failure to make the right choice often leads to that need for an alibi, to justify the failure done ( whether wittingly or unwittingly).

Ergo, ‘shotgun marriage‘ was born out of collective alibi of men who refuse to admit they failed to make the right choice of their wives. It paints a picture of a woman as a scheming villainess who is out to build her coven with an unwilling husband as her first prey. It paints another picture of that unwilling husband as a submissive man bound for eternal martyrdom.( Let her be damned? Blessed he be? )

I always have high respect for the moral hierarchy of a man in a family structure that is brick-layed by a sacred and God-centered marriage. I’m talking about a man who is embodied with character values making him worthy to be vested with his ‘Pillar of the Home’ title.

It is the worst alibi of weak men who made a mistake, refused to accept that mistake and choose to live a lie for the rest of their lives, blaming it on their wives rather than repairing themselves.

Personally, I do not believe in ‘shotgun marriage’ or anything close to its definition.With all the aforementioned, I have all the sensible reasons NOT to believe.

Without any shotgun behind you, would you?

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Credits to photo owner

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“PORTRAIT OF A WOMAN AS A MOTHER”

by Malu E. Gacuma

May 11,2013 Saturday (10am)

(A tribute to my Mommy,  the late ANITA ESCAMOS GACUMA)

She was born in 1935 , in a family considered quite privileged during the pre-World War 2 days,  her father being a bemedalled national athlete and a  U.S. Army Major.

Thus, self-discipline was their daily rule as manifested in their household policies and regimen: all must be around the table on scheduled mealtimes, attendance to daily prayers had to be complied, all five siblings must be home on their given  curfew time, a daughter can go out on a date only with a chaperone, each daughter had an assigned chore that must be done before lunchtime, privacy and proprietorship of personal items must be respected including diaries and mails, every nook and corner of their house must be neat and organized before their Father comes home, and the list goes on.

It was a second household law for them to be resourceful and creative. To ask for something wanted ,not needed, meant to earn it and deserve it.Otherwise, she and her sisters had to make the most of what they had during those times when they were growing  up in  the economic remnants  of the 2nd World War.It was how they were trained to help their father who was always assigned elsewhere to serve our country thru the U.S Army.

At a tender age from 7  up to 9 years old, she learned to help her mother sell homemade “maruya” ( a banana delicacy) and ” tapioca“,among other food items by a railroad track in Fort Mckinley , Rizal ,where a train filled with soldiers and locals pass by everyday.What she earned, she would keep in her piggy bank,to use for her school needs  when War would be over.

Pre-War photo Escamos family.jpg

A pre-World War 2 photo of my late mother with her mother and sisters.(L-R) my mother , Anita,aged between 3-4 yrs.old; the late Teresita or `Tita Tesing’,Quezon City-based  Emerita or `Ninang` as we call her, and their eldest sister,now US-based Leonida or `Auntie Leonie`

She always told me and my own siblings about how Filipinos starved  and died of hunger and  of  diseases  and malnutrition  during Japanese Occupation  of our country in WW2.

While her three older sisters were among those  youth enlisted by the Japanese troops  to work under ‘forced labor’  in a nearby camp during  daytime , my  mother  was spared by her young age, and stayed at home with her youngest sister to help my grandmother.

They hardly cooked every  ‘small can of rice’ her older sisters earned each day. Instead, they kept it for the worst times, and for their Father’s homecoming. Their daily meals were vegetables and beans. Fruits, fish or meat were scarce. Their daily ration of U.S. corned beef,sausages, flour,butter and milk temporarily stopped at the height of the War.

This was, according to my  mother, how she learned to “ extend the life” of each meal to suffice for every family member . Her  eventual culinary expertise,including her impressive German pot Roast , potato salad  and meat dishes,  stemmed from such trying moments.

Their darkest times as a family  happened when her father was imprisoned  and tortured and among those 80,000 soldiers who were forced by the Japanese  to join the infamous Bataan Death March in 1942.

papang

My late maternal grandfather,U.S. Army   Major Juan ‘Johnnie’ Tambanillo EScamos

But her family’s  deeply-religious faith, with their resourcefulness  and ” a lot of common sense” , helped them survive. She told me how they never experienced looking shabby despite the poverty brought by the War.

On late nights,they painstakingly shredded her father’s old Army socks, and used the shreds as thread to sew and make their dresses from the yards of cloth that  a  love-struck , young and  good-natured Japanese officer kept giving her older and teenage  sister as a gift each time he visited their house. He left for Japan as their troops retreated, leaving a Japanese-English translation book to my Mommy as token of their friendship. My mother said it was the kind heart of that officer that prevented her from hating all Japanese.

I vividly remember her telling me, with a smile,how she –at age 9–loved to write and read despite the absence of any pencil, paper or books which the  Japanese troops confiscated from schools they had raided. My mother and her young friends used fresh “gabi” and  banana leaves and  sticks or twigs   for writing. They played games about their past lessons to keep these in their memory,at least until war would be over.

This was the experience that has drawn out  her artistic nature which she eventually formalized with a Fine Arts Major from  the University of Santo Tomas, alongside her AB Philosophy degree, which she both finished with Honors.

Students were forcibly made to learn Japanese subjects, including Nihonggo which my mother hated. She said she made sure to bite her tongue and refused to open her lips whenever they were made to sing a Japanese song.

She was too young to realize her own patriotism” burning in her soul,”as she said.

mommy reading

Mommy,then newly-married,in a stolen  shot taken by  Dad. (early 1960s,Fabrica)

Her suppressed nationalistic inclination was eventually expressed in her piano-playing and her passion to write.

She nurtured her  passion for reading (which became our  family habit,especially on lazy afternoons, or after dinner or before sleeping) and perhaps, a ‘certain degree of addiction’ to English crosswords. Never a day passed without her doing the crossword at any given time.

My grandfather escaped the Death March and made it back to his family. But my mother’s eldest brother, Uncle Eli , died from the  Japanese soldiers’ bullets buried on his chest, for covering his friend, another Filipino soldier-officer, who survived.

This was another bitter life experience that made my mother decide to be a doctor. She eventually finished her second degree, in Dentistry, at the University of the East, as a University  scholar and  was among the Top 3 in the  Dean’s List.

It was in U.E.  when she met my father, Dr.Oscar D. Gacuma, her first and only boyfriend whom she eventually married in 1958.She turned  her back on a promising profession as a Dentist and declined an offer from the International Red Cross abroad, to devote her time as a mother  and wife.

escamos clan 2

My mother (extreme right) and her sibings with their parents,U.S.Army Major Juan Tambanillo Escamos and Mrs.Elvira  Alonso Escamos.Her sisters were (L-R) Isabel, Emerita Teresita and Leonida.

In a home managed by her highly-conservative mother, she grew up accustomed to the so-called “old school of thought” where it was a household law to maintain modesty in words and actions ,whether in private or public.These were “household laws” handed down to my own generation and even to the next  (among my 3 girls now).

My mother gently reproached us, as kids, with the Elton Camp poem ,saying  “Elbows on the  table were a crime…and not permitted at any time.” This line evolved as we grew up to a simple reminder of “ Elbows off the table, please.”

As a mother, she had a keen eye on propriety, ethics, etiquettes and manners. It was not in a puritan or obliging manner.It was more of her own way of packaging self-respect and present it to the eye of society.

Manong Oggie and his yaya Puping

Yaya Puping with my late older brother. manong Oggie

She and my father also imposed the  use of English as ”mother tongue” in the household , not even our  then-unschooled nanny named, Puping, could escape! The imperfections in Puping’s grammar and her daily conversations with my Mom and Dad are now among favorite household anecdotes.

However, it was my mother who patiently taught Puping how to read and write, until our nanny finished a basic culinary crash-course that changed her life, when she finally had a family of her own, which Puping raised single-handedly thru  her small baking business in the latter years.

Memories about my mother will always lie deeply buried in my heart and mind. She will always remain a revered person, quiet and shy as she was.

To write about her silent achievements is a tribute to her not of words, but of love. Mommy and I  may had bonded, argued, cried, laughed,shared Crosswords, whispered secrets to each other and shared most chores and decisions in life , but her conservative Tagalog nature of not being physically expressive, unlike my Dad , made us feel subservient to her and got used to it.

Her hugs were rare but meaningful.To us children, it was like a Grand Prize for something good we did.She would always kiss us but  only on our foreheads. I grew up always having that arm’s-length feeling about wanting to embrace her everytime i wanted to, without the funny feeling of like stepping intrusively into someone’s sacred ground. I surmised it must be deep respect for her as a person that gave me that feeling.

mom.jpg

Mommy at about 42 yrs. old, 1977

As a budding teenager, I would not have learned how to deal with the growing pains hadn’t she  guided me with her letters and wise counsel, with never-ending emphasis on strength of character and reverence for God. One would never get tired of repeatedly reading her letters also because of her beautiful,disciplined handwriting that were, most often than  not, devoid of mistakes.

A man can only go as far as a woman would allow him’” Never make the first move if you like a man. A sincere man will always find a way to let you know once he likes you back.”…..“Never let the sun set on a quarrel”…. “A mother’s prayer is the sweetest music to God’s listening ears.”

These, i suppose, were her wisest counsel to me along the years. She loved to quote  poets, philosophers, icons and the Holy Bible in her advice.Before she passed away  last June of 2007, our last meeting was the culmination of all that I wanted to know and feel.She was seated on her wheelchair, which bound her for almost 2 years due to diabetes complications.

I was kneeling in front of her, cutting her toenails, when she suddenly embraced me so tight and with tears streaming down her face, she kept repeating how much she loved me and trusted me so much!

There we were,both crying as I vowed to her that I would live up to what she raised me for.

For the first time, I heard her ask for forgiveness,for her shortcomings as a mother and as a person and I asked her the same. She entrusted to me all that she valued, which I took as a gesture of the trust she professed. It was a beautiful moment  which I will always treasure beyond any biological connection I have with her.

Few days later,my mother fell into coma and passed away.Only her beautiful memory will now remain.

I love you so much,Mommy. I am always proud to be your daughter.