Tuesday, November 25, 2003

The Quiet Force in Autumn

BOSTON - The autumn leaves of varying hues of gold, brown and yellow are glorious even as they cling to the trees before falling to the ground with the coming onset of winter.

I stare at the leaves on the trees outside my mother’s hospital window as I anxiously wait for my mother to break out of the coma that she has been in since she suffered an aneurysm in her brain two weeks ago.

I have known my mom all of my life. I cannot recall a time when she wasn’t around for me or for my seven other brothers and sisters.

I remember her as the quiet force in my life. Even when she was disappointed in my choices, she never scolded me or lectured me for them. She just helped see me through them.

My mother was quite unhappy when I became an activist against Marcos just as I was graduating from high school. She had such great hopes that I would someday be a senator and perhaps even president of the country. But then what mother doesn’t harbor such lofty ambitions for their children?

I remember her patiently waiting for me late into the night when I would come home after attending rallies and demonstrations in the First Quarter Storm events of 1970. She would just pray that I would eventually come to my senses.

I never did.

But it was my quiet patient mom who figured in the event that totally changed my life.

It was January of 1971. My father’s close friend, then Congressman Francisco Reyes, phoned my mom because he couldn’t reach my dad who was in London on a business trip.

He told my mom that he was with President Marcos in Malacanang the night before when they were watching a TV round table discussion where I fiercely criticized Marcos for his corruption and venality. The congressman told my mom that Marcos said that he would get me for what I said about him.

My mother was beside herself with shock, fear and trepidation. How could she prevent this? She knew that just telling me to stop what I was doing just wasn’t going to work. She had to find another way.

What my mom did was to obtain a passport and plane tickets for me and to then inform me that my father had suffered a stroke in London and that we had to go there right away to be with him. As the eldest son, it was my obligation to accompany her, she said. So before I knew it, we were off to London to be with
my dad.

When I arrived at London’s Heathrow Airport, my dad - all hale and healthy - was there waiting for us. It was a clever ruse and it worked. At first I was quite upset at their deception but I understood their reasons.

My mother told me about what Congressman Reyes had said and of their fears that I would be “salvaged” (kidnapped and killed) like so many other activists I knew.

We talked about my taking some time away from the Philippines.

“Wait until the situation cools off”, they said. They suggested that I go to San Francisco and continue my studies there. When it was safe for me to return - when Marcos’ term ends in 1972 - I could return, they assured me.

I eventually came around and accepted their suggestion. I went to San Francisco and continued my studies at USF. Our deal was that I would return to the Philippines when I completed my studies.

But I couldn’t return because Marcos’ term of office didn’t end in 1972. He declared martial law and continued on in power until he was overthrown in 1986.

During the dreaded years of the Marcos Dictatorship, so many of my activist friends were killed or imprisoned and I would likely have joined them too if I had remained in the Philippines.

When I decided to go to law school in 1976, my mom was ecstatic. She said she always knew I would be a lawyer someday. She was there at my graduation in 1980 and she was there when I opened my law office in 1981.

She was there when I ran for public office in 1990, campaigning for me and handing out flyers in the streets and taking to her mahjong mates to support me and contribute part of their “tong” to my campaign. She was there when I became president of the San Francisco Community College Board in 1998.

When I went to Manila last January and appeared in a TV confrontation with Senator Panfilo Lacson, my mom’s old fears came back. She had heard that Lacson was an officer of the notorious MISG (Metrocom Internal Security Group) of Col. Rolando Abadilla and that he was a torturer and killer under Marcos.

“Be careful of Lacson, anak” she would warn me just as she did 33 years before and I would just smile as I did then. Perhaps I’ll listen to her and come to my senses one day.

But my mom won’t be around to see that day. She never broke out of her coma.

On November 23, my mother, Teofila “Pel” Elepano Rodis, passed away.

(My mother will be buried on Monday, December 1, at the Holy Cross Cemetery in Colma after a mass at St. Stephen’s Church in San Francisco following a viewing at Duggan’s in Daly City on Sunday, November 30).