A treasure trove of memories
(The Philippine Star) - October 22, 2016 - 12:00am

HEART & MIND Paulynn P. Sicam

I arrived in Oxnard north of LA last week to find my sister in the midst of spring-cleaning. She’s been throwing out a lot of old long forgotten stuff, donating to Rescue Mission and putting away useless things like a big bag of orphaned socks for recycling. A lot of precious items have been unearthed such as hand puppets crafted by her daughter in high school, vintage family photos, presents never delivered, and lots of letters, including many I wrote to her from Manila when we lived in interesting times.

These were long missives, typewritten or written by hand, the kind that no longer exist in this Internet age. My letters were intense, the narration raw, the first draft of my reportage that contained details of our lives then that I have long forgotten. I wrote about the thrill of covering the Metro Manila International Film Festival where I shook hands with Hollywood celebrities and watched my fill of movies, watching 17 in 10 days. And I told them about an exclusive interview I had with President Marcos arranged by Imee, which should have been my claim to fame, but it was martial law and it was more of a chore than a privilege having to interview the aging dictator.

I wrote about the encounter on July 5, 1982: “He is very old. Is he ill? I’m no doctor but his skin looked like parchment and there were red blotches all over his face. The fingers were like pale lumpiang shanghai. The mind was sharp, though his conversation rambled. And he could be very charming, if he wasn’t so ugly...”

On Feb. 4, 1983, I wrote about another interesting development. “Last week, 29 women journalists and (our brother) Ducky, lodged a petition with the Supreme Court to stop the National Intelligence Board from inviting women writers to interrogations (eight women went through the ordeal). We felt that the interrogations, which they called dialogues, were intimidating and a gross violation of freedom of the press, a kind of pre-censorship. Well, last Tuesday, the case was heard by the Supreme Court. What do you know, the defense came up with a memo (obviously ante-dated) showing that the army chief of staff Gen. Fabian Ver had already dismantled the Commission that had conducted such dialogues, making our petition moot. Anyway, the case was heard by a very sympathetic court and the government promised that there would be no more invitations. And that, should we be invited, we can choose to ignore it. However, we are not satisfied. There is no guarantee that Ver will not create another commission to further harass the press. So, we are amending our petition to include Gen. Ver and Sec. Enrile among the people we are charging to make sure nothing like this ever happens again.”

At the end of that letter, I wrote about a conversation with my daughters Monica (then 11) and Glory (then seven) about libel. We talked about the need to report the truth and how some people for various reasons are afraid of it. “Now Glory keeps asking if a person we’re talking about is for or against the truth. Politicized at age seven!”

Then on Aug. 24, 1983, three days after Ninoy was murdered by soldiers at the airport, I wrote my sisters about my brush with history in the making: “I have been to Times Street three times since Sunday night. Monday, we had a bull session with Butch (Aquino) and Lupita (Aquino-Kasiwahara) on what to do, what activities to plan during the wake. We decided to hold a slow procession from Ninoy’s house on Times Street to Santo Domingo Church. It will certainly disrupt traffic. But we should not worry about that. In fact, if you ask me, we ought to be more disruptive. All of a sudden, the non-violence that Ninoy preached doesn’t seem to make sense. All I can think of is a life for a life...The theme that we chose during that historic meeting was ‘Hindi Ka Nag-Iisa,”  our message to Ninoy that he was not alone in sacrificing his life for the country, and to our neighbors and friends who may be afraid to show their anger and dissatisfaction because they just might be alone in doing so. It is our way of spreading comfort to the troubled, and uniting all those who are fearful and oppressed.”

I inquired from my sisters about their openness to taking my daughters in their care in California in light of the worsening political situation at home. Amid all the talk of instability, my daughters were getting nightmares and falling ill. I, too, was somatizing: “The other night, at the Aquino house, in the face of history in the making, I was getting hot and cold flushes and I felt like throwing up. So this is how I react to history.”

A few months later, I was offered a journalism fellowship to Stanford University where I could bring the entire family. At the end of the one-year fellowship in 1985, when we discussed the possibility of seeking asylum in the US, the children were adamant about returning home to the Philippines. We have a country to liberate, they said, sounding more like patriots than their parents.

Interspersed with politics, my letters shared detailed family updates, recipes, orders, and financial transactions, as well as secrets that sisters share. It seemed that even then — rather, especially then, my life and that of my children, were wrapped around the political realities of the day. And it has never quite changed for me as the nation lunges from one crisis after the next.

But with the forgotten art of letter writing, the telling has never again been as personal or as rich.

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