Confessions of a fan girl
HEART AND MIND - Paulynn Sicam (The Philippine Star) - August 7, 2018 - 12:00am

I am a fan girl at heart. I am not beyond getting thrilled or reverential when meeting people I truly admire.

At the launch of Marites Vitug’s remarkable book, Rock Solid: How the Philippines Won Its Maritime Case Against China the other week,  I was in fan girl mode in the presence of real-life heroes, acting Chief Justice Antonio Carpio, Ambassador Albert del Rosario, Vice President Leni Robredo and outgoing Ombudsman Conchita Carpio Morales. 

ACJ Carpio has been the vocal champion of the Philippines’ case against China in the West Philippine Sea, inviting vitriol from the administration for his continuing advocacy even after it set aside our victory at The Hague in favor of “friendship” with China. He had just formally rejected his nomination as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court saying that since he voted against the Court’s Quo Waranto decision that rendered the CJ position vacant, he didn’t want to profit from something he disagreed with.  Such admirable ethical behavior is so rare these days, although I wished he could have set that aside for the sake of the nation. Then again, there is no guarantee that his brilliance and integrity would be of value to the powers that be.

Ambassador del Rosario, who tirelessly and courageously advocated pursuing the country’s legal right to our islands, rocks and shoals in the West Philippine Sea versus China before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, was a quiet but intense presence at the book launch. When he spoke, I was close to tears hearing him recount the heartache after winning on almost all counts, only to see the judgement set aside by the present government that has allowed the continued encroachment by China on our sovereignty.

In her keynote speech, VP Robredo was typically soft-spoken but firm, buoyed by her newly-claimed power as the leader of the opposition.

The book launch was a star-studded affair but I had my eyes on Conchita Carpio Morales, whom my friends and I asked, in fan girl manner, if we could have a photo taken with her. It was two days before her retirement as Ombudsman and she had just given a typically frank interview on television where she declared her unconcern (she used the word “dedma”) over the change in leadership at the House of Representatives but added deadpan that the legal cases against the new Speaker are still alive.  She was such a breath of fresh air, with none of the stuffiness of old bureaucrats, this fan girl wished she could be Ombudsman forever.

Marites Vitug’s book is fan girl material as well. It a well-crafted story that unfolds like a cliff-hanger with flashbacks and fast forwards, filled with fascinating detail about the workings of the bureaucracy, diplomacy, politics, military strategy and tactics, and the importance of geography. Even if we know how our case in The Hague ended and precisely because of its infuriating aftermath, the book is a must read for the majority of Filipinos who, the surveys tell us, insist on continuing the epic struggle for our sovereignty over the West Philippine Sea.

I am a fan girl at heart. I met my first celebrity at seven years old, when President Ramon Magsaysay visited my grandfather at his house in Sampaloc. There is a photograph somewhere of RM with the entire family and I have his signature on bond paper as a memento of my first brush with a famous person. I grew up around prominent people — senators, congressmen, Cabinet members, movie stars, stage and radio actors, bishops, priests, nuns, and educators, who comprised my Dad’s eclectic milieu.  I hung around when they came to the house and listened in awe to their shoptalk.  

Later, as a journalist, I encountered the rich, the famous the powerful up close, many of whom, I realized, needed me and what I could do for them, more than I needed them to meet my assignments. Some were really bad guys — but easy access to celebrities made me comfortable in the presence of power.

Still, I am not beyond getting thrilled or reverential when meeting people I truly admire, like Jimmy Carter, Vaclav Havel, Dr. Christiaan Barnard, Washington Sycip, even Danny Kaye and Peter, Paul and Mary.  Such encounters were fleeting — they would not remember me at all — but to this fan girl, the memory lingers many decades after we shook hands. 

I have had more intimate encounters with the venerable, awesome and heroic, the likes of Ninoy and Cory Aquino, Pepe Diokno, Jovito Salonga, Justice JBL Reyes, Lorenzo Tañada, Jaime Cardinal Sin, among others.  Through the years, as a journalist, human rights and peace worker, I developed wonderful friendships with people I once only admired from a distance such as Gilda Cordero Fernando, Lino Brocka, Paula Malay, Gasty Ortigas, Fr. Joaquin Bernas, Randy David, Ambassador Howard Dee, Fr. Catalino Arevalo, to name a few.

It is such friends who opened my eyes to a much bigger, more relevant world, far from celebrity and power — the reality of the invisible, voiceless and powerless in our midst.

Although I’ve retired from much of my advocacies, my fan girl days are not over.  Still on my bucket list, should I be so lucky, are Pope Francis, Barack Obama, the Dalai Lama, Paul McCartney, Joe America, and yes, the young and brilliant Leloy Claudio.

MARITES VITUG ROCK SOLID: HOW THE PHILIPPINES WON ITS MARITIME CASE AGAINST CHINA
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