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Sunday Lifestyle

That day is dawning

FROM MY HEART - Barbara Gonzalez Ventura - The Philippine Star
That day is dawning

It must have been 1972, around 50 years ago. I must have been turning 28. Yes, I was still young and stupid. We had just moved into a beautiful home in an expensive subdivision. He was not my husband, really. Both of us had been married before and had met at my cousin’s wedding abroad. I was there alone because my parents lived abroad then. I was visiting them and coincidentally was invited to the wedding. He was there alone because his wife could not travel and he was one of the sponsors.

The after-dinner wedding party was small. Maybe we were around 10 people who enjoyed each other’s company. We went out dancing afterwards. Someone said, “Why don’t we go to Macau tomorrow?” Everyone agreed.

He picked me up to meet the others. I don’t remember what time it was. We went to the hydrofoil that would take us to Macau. We waited at a scruffy screened restaurant for the rest. We ordered coffee and talked. Then, he was one of the undersecretaries of Finance.

“Why?” I asked, knowing that he was a private — not political — citizen who had worked for a bank. He was the boss of my cousin who had just gotten married. “Are you for the Marcoses?”

“No,” he said. “My brother... I see myself as cosmetic, like lipstick. I think they hired me because I make them look good.”

If there was a moment when he amazed me and took hold of my heart, it was then. For me it meant he was not a political animal. He was just lipstick. He did not take politics seriously.

Last night I watched My Father’s Violin on Netflix. There’s a couple there. The man is a concert violinist. In the beginning you don’t know that his wife was once an outstanding pianist. She just seems pretty and nice. The film unrolls until she tells him, “You amazed me.” But what’s horrible about being amazed is we are blinded. We don’t notice the ugly egotistical side of anyone we admire.

She brought me back to the lipstick moment. It played back details of my life long gone. I remembered the first brick that built my knowledge, my resentment of martial law and the Marcoses. It brought me back to the moment when everything really began.

I think it was a Saturday. Early enough in our relationship for him to have stayed home on a Saturday to be with his son and me. I think it was close to noon when our phone rang and his close friend, a lawyer, now famous — no, now infamous in certain quarters — called. I could not hear what the lawyer said, but I was near my man. He laughed and said something like, “Kung ang pera tumatawa, tanggapin mo. Huwag kang magalala. Tumatawa iyan eh di tanggapin mo.” (That money is laughing, accept it. Don’t worry, if it’s laughing, it’s worth accepting.)

“That was my friend, the lawyer,” he told me. Now when I look back I see that I was in a state of shock. It was the first real hint of kickbacks. The lawyer was being offered a kickback. My man called it laughing money and told his lawyer to accept it. What is the initial reaction of a person with morals to a statement like that? For me, it was denial. No, he doesn’t take kickbacks, I told myself. He did not mean that. He wasn’t serious, I told myself. I genuinely did shut my eyes to the truth.

Also I was 28, responsible for all my children, and my man was supporting us in style. It would take six more years for me to see that corruption permeated our household. He had about five attaché cases. If I got angry and wanted to shop I would just open one and would find more than enough shopping money in envelopes. I would take and he wouldn’t miss anything. That had become his lifestyle. With the passage of time and his success with the First Lady and through her the President, they —and life — got progressively worse.

We began to have serious fights. In 1977 he cut me off without a cent. During our last fight he wanted me to quit my job. I refused. I said I would work forever because I needed the money. “One day I might want to buy you,” I said. “I will not bargain because you have proven you’re worth the money.” He found that statement very insulting.

I, on the other hand, had no regrets. Since then our lives have been simple and truthful. We are honest people at last. Please don’t believe what the Marcoses say about their lives then. Their money laughed loudly and heartily. They took from the Philippines everything they could until the day when they had to stop.

One day they will suffer for it. Perhaps that day is dawning.

MONEY

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