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Health And Family

My mom, my hero: June Keithley in her daughter’s eyes

Avic Caparas - Philstar.com

My own experience of the EDSA People Power Revolution is still clear to me. I was 19 years old, a college freshman at the time. I lived with my family in Malolos, Bulacan, about 5 kilometers away from the fated Radio Veritas 846 kHz transmitter station. The station was attacked in the early morning of February 23, 1986; pro-Marcos soldiers came to the building and, using metal pipes, wood slabs, and axes, destroyed the facilities to get Radio Veritas off the air.

My mother woke us three siblings to say that Enrile and Ramos were leading a rebel group against Marcos. It was a serious thing for my parents as both were government employees. I could hear bombs or gunshots, but I was not sure if they were coming from the Radio Veritas assault or from the radio.

Recalling these moments makes me admire more those people who were there; people who went marching bravely in Ortigas and Santolan along EDSA. They went not knowing what their turning up unarmed would lead to. They went with flowers, extra lights, and a great love for peace… not to mention pots, pans, knives, tomatoes, salted eggs, and rice to feed the people who have gone without heeding the grumble in their tummies. They came from all sectors and had their own diverse backgrounds. They were workers and businessmen, religious and laity, men and women, single and married.

What they all had in common was the fact that they heeded the call from the one voice the military failed to muffle in their act of staunching the flames of rebellion--June Keithley, broadcaster of Radio Veritas, had switched stations already. Using the theme music of the old Radio Veritas to help listeners identify her political allegiance, she resumed her broadcasting from DzRJ, in Sta. Mesa, Manila, and, together with Fr. James B. Reuter, SJ, renamed it Radyo Bandido so that the military would not be able to trace them.

Women like June Keithley are really admirable. Her role in the EDSA Revolution proves that it only takes one voice to unite people, as her daughter, Gabriela Castro, points out in an interview we did for Mom on Top, my radio program on Mom’s Radio. I met Gabs in 2013, when she became my student in Human Resource Management, a subject I teach at the University of Asia and the Pacific. It was the same year her mother passed away….

As a public figure, June Keithley to me was an image of a strong woman, not only for her contributions in our history, but also because of her outspoken personality and her inner strength. Some glimpses of her that I could not forget include the time she made a documentary about the Marian apparition in Medjugorje, and of course, that striking photo of her in the hospital as she held hands with the dying Angelo Castro. Knowing Gabs made me wonder how this heroine was in the eyes of her children. I wanted to ask: Is it really possible to be very visible and busy in public life and yet keep one’s commitments to family intact? Fortunately, I discovered an exemplary figure, heroic mom in ordinary ways, in the eyes of her daughter.

Here, I share some strong points from my conversation with Gabriela Keithley Castro, whom I interviewed on the eve of this year’s EDSA Revolution anniversary.

Gabs, you were born years after the EDSA Revolution. Somehow, you know of it only by third party. Did your mom talk to you about what happened?

She told me that she was working with two young boys. How it all started was that she wanted to tell the people that there was something going on with the government and she didn’t like it and she thought that it was time already for them to know about what’s going on. That’s when she decided, “You know what, we don’t need to screen—we don’t need to get approval or disapproval anymore!”—because you know they needed approval for media. So she was assisted by two boys and told them we can put this on air.

Do you see your mom as a hero?

Growing up, I had the perception that a hero is somebody who has to save someone. A damsel in distress to be saved because she can’t do it on her own. But seeing it now, I want to redefine a hero. I think a hero is somebody who can be a change agent. You don’t have to be in some sort of danger or deathly situation. Because I think everybody can be a hero in some sort of sense. Let’s say an old man is on the street and some woman gives him a hundred pesos for food. I think, to him, she would be his hero for letting him survive another day…

Do you consider her a hero in your own family?

She was a hero in the sense that she changed how we perceived other people, how we perceived each other. Because most of the time you take your loved ones for granted, more often than people you haven’t really met. She really instilled her value for family. Because no matter how many times you argue, at the end of the day, you’re still family. Most of the time, you get hurt a lot more when it’s someone you really love. Being forgiving: at the end of the day, they are your family, and they are the ones who will live throughout your life.

Can you say your mom was nationalistic?

Nationalism is to like your hometown. You identify yourself with a certain group of people, because you share the same language, values, culture. Nationalism put in a very extreme sense can be very aggressive. It’s me thinking that “My nation is better than yours.” But patriotism is about loving your country, like “In any case, I would be ready to defend it, but I won’t say that it is better than yours.”

So, was your mom patriotic?

I think so. She was half-blood American. But she loved the Philippines. She loved being a Filipino. She also grew up here. She had an American dad who was strict with her, didn’t allow her to go out to have fun with her friends. In school, she knew there was something that the world needed. As a goal-driven person, she was patriotic a lot for the Philippines.

Did you see yourself as a normal growing kid before or did you think that you differed from others because you have a mom like her?

I think in the face of the other kids that I was with, yes, I was normal. But let’s say for my teachers, professors who knew about it, although it was not explicitly said, I just felt there was a lot more expectation of me, like “I expect her to do really well in her studies, to be as outspoken as she was.” So, most of the time, I get shocked reactions when they find out I’m the opposite of my mom. I’m not offended by it. It’s just the truth.

Did you open up to your mom about that kind of reaction that you see in people?

Yes, but for her, she was like “Oh really? Then you should try to be like me!” but I am like, “Um, Ma, no. I like how I am!”

Was the public viewing you made you uncomfortable?

Yes, so I was more of shy, the deeper I got into my own shell. So, for her, “You should be proud that your mom is like this!" “But Ma! I am proud! It’s just that I don’t like--can I be proud of you but like from afar? I don’t like the attention... I would just rather stay home.

What moments or situations most remind you about your mom?

Well, now I live in a condominium right? That was the condominium that my mom and I stayed at when I wanted to live alone first during college. She lived there with me the whole time until we had to go back home for my dad. So, for me, I remember her every time I cook, because now I sort of forgot what she taught me (laughs)! But as I’m trying to experiment, I remember how. For me, if something goes wrong, it hits me hard, but for her, if something goes wrong, she is jolly; she is happy that she made a mistake! It’s very funny! But let’s say we bonded also over her favorite hobbies, like watching movies, watching TV series while eating chips and dip.

Were there some places or things that made you think of your mom?

Growing up, I knew she loved watching movies in Rockwell. But it was so far! I never quite understood why we, from QC, would go to Rockwell just to watch a movie, when there's Trinoma, there's SM North…. I think it’s the vibe that it gives off, like it is quiet, everything is bright, there's not that many people going around, so it was more of a bonding venue for the family. So, after the movie, we would eat, and she had her favorite restaurant, CPK (California Pizza Kitchen). There is a branch in Greenhills, and that’s where we would go... she liked to hop from mall to mall.

What of your mom's legacy would you wish people to remember?

I think, it’s easier to say what they should remember of her is her selflessness and her love of country, because you don't have to follow her in the specific things that she did, but you can follow her in that mindset of hers.

But I think the one lesson from my mom was that, there will be those who will disagree. Even if what you’re changing—even if it’s something most people would agree on—there will still be that little ounce of those who would challenge you.

Even if that’s the case, you shouldn’t stop what you’re doing. Just believe. If you believe in what you’re doing, you can do it. The success is not having many people believing in you. There’s always going to be some people who won’t follow you. So, stick to what you think is right.

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The complete radio broadcast of the interview will be aired in my program, Mom on Top: Empowered Moms, in Mom’s Radio on March 7 to 11 in Cebu DYAP 88.3 FM, Bacolod DYCP 90.3 FM, and Davao DXSS 97.9 FM.

Dr. Avic Caparas is an Associate Professor at the University of Asia and the Pacific, Ortigas Business Center, Pasig City. For comments, questions, or feedback, you may email her at victoria.caparas@uap.asia.

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