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Opinion

The secret

QWERTYMAN - JOSE DALISAY - The Philippine Star

"Lolo, Lolo, was martial law really bad? We took it up in class today!”

“Bad? Said who?”

“Our teacher, Ms. Landicho. She said that awful things happened back then that people have forgotten about.”

“How old is this – Ms. Landicho?”

“Oh, maybe in her 30s? She’s just about to be married – to Mr. Arnaldo, our Physics teacher! We’d been teasing her about it for months!”

“In her 30s? Then how would she know what the heck happened under martial law? She wasn’t even born then.”

“Were you around then, Lolo?”

“Of course I was. I’m 73 now, so 50 years ago I was a young man. I had just left my first job because my boss was a tyrant! So I moved to another bank and that’s where I met your Lola Auring, whom I would marry two years later. If I hadn’t made that move, you wouldn’t be here!”

“Was that the bank you now own?”

“The bank we own, hijo! That’s why I want you to go to Wharton after college. I’ll be there for your graduation, and then I’ll give you the keys to that Mercedes G you’ve always wanted…”

“Really, Lolo? But that’s at least 10 years away! Golly, a Mercedes G….”

“I remember, my first car was a used and beat-up Datsun Bluebird that your Lola Auring wouldn’t even step into until I got it fixed, because the door kept opening on her side, hahaha! I spent half-a-month’s salary just replacing that door. Oh, the things we went through….”

“Ms. Landicho said her lolo died under martial law….”

“So? So did a lot of people. People die all the time – of heart attacks, diabetes, even slipping in the bathroom can kill you, like my friend Pepito…”

“She said her lolo was arrested by the soldiers and then they tortured him and dumped his body under the mango trees in Cavite.”

“Well, he must have done something to deserve that. You go against the government, what do you expect? There was a war with the communists going on. War is ugly, wherever you go. Was that what your teacher said about martial law being bad? Did she also say how many crimes and strikes were averted, how clean, peaceful and orderly everything was, with people following the law?”

“She said her lolo did nothing wrong…”

“Of course she’d say that. Nobody’s lolo does anything wrong – right, hijo? Haha.”

“Yes, Lolo!”

“I did all the right things. I stayed out of trouble, focused on getting my life and my future together, on raising my family and raising my income. And then I went into business for myself, so nobody could boss me around. I showed everyone what I was capable of. I didn’t care about what everybody else was doing. You listen well, hijo. In this world, you take care of yourself first, and then your family next. If you can’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of your family.”

“You’ve always taken good care of us, Lolo. Papa always tells me, if not for you, I’d be taking the bus or the jeep to a public school…”

“Like I had to, at your age! We were poor as rats and sometimes I went to school with nothing but gas in my stomach. I made sure your Papa never went through that. That’s why I had to succeed.”

“Mama also says that if not for the President, you wouldn’t have succeeded. She says that you worked for people who worked for the President…”

“Is that what she said? I have to talk to your mother one of these days. There’s a lot that woman will never understand. There’s a lot that women will never understand. What you have to do to keep yourself and your family afloat. Instead of gratitude, you get questions, questions, questions…”

“What did you do for the President, Lolo? I want to know! Was it a big job, a secret mission, something nobody else could do?”

“Well, I guess you could say, all of the above! Remember, I was still a very young man. But I realized – and my bosses did, too – that I was very good with numbers. And secrets! They could trust me with their lives. But shhhhhh, don’t tell anyone!”

“Like what kind of secrets, Lolo?”

“If I told you, then it wouldn’t be a secret anymore, would it?”

“Awww, Lolo, I promise not to tell anyone! You can trust me – like they trusted you!”

“Well…. All right. Since it’s been a long time and since the President himself is gone, I suppose I can share a secret with you – but just one secret, OK? And this will remain a secret between the two of us – never tell your Mama or Papa.”

“OK! Cross my heart and hope to die! What’s the secret, Lolo?”

“I… took… care… of… the… President’s money. There was a lot of it. I had to collect it and send it safely abroad.”

“Why you? Did you carry it in a bag? Couldn’t the Air Force or the Navy do that?”

“Hahaha, it’s not that simple, hijo, a 747 wouldn’t have been enough to carry everything! He had to keep it abroad because – there were bad people here who were after it. So I was sent on secret missions to make sure everything was OK…. I went to Hong Kong, to the United States, to Switzerland. I loved Switzerland most of all – oh, to be in my 30s again and to watch the fountain at Lake Geneva at sunset. Le Jet d’Eau est tres beau!”

“So that’s where you learned French!”

“Juste un peu, mon garçon! If she were still here, I would have loved to take your Lola Auring there again. You must go to Geneva – after Wharton!”

“Lolo, Ms. Landicho said…she said the President stole a lot of money…”

“Wha – I pay so much for that school and they tell you this? Your teacher keeps saying things she knows nothing about! I was there! I saw no stealing! And let me tell you something – even if I did, presuming I did, it was none of my business. Making money was his business, keeping it safe was mine. That’s called compartmentalization. Remember that word – compartmentalization! You put everything in its box, just worry about the things you should worry about and you’ll be all right. Understood? Comprenez vous?”

“Yes, Lolo…. So I’ll put the lolo I know in one box and then my secret lolo in another box….”

“They’re one and the same person.”

“That, Lolo, will be my secret.”

*      *      *

Email me at [email protected] and visit my blog at www.penmanila.ph.

MARTIAL LAW

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