Do you know that today, April 7, the second day of the Holy Week is also the 31st anniversary of the first Batasang Pambansa elections? Yes, in 1978 Ninoy Aquino ran as assemblyman and headed the Laban Party while he was under detention. Directly pitted against him was Imelda Marcos who was the standard bearer of the Kilusang Bagong Lipunan (KBL). I also remember Kris Aquino, still a cute be-spectacled little girl standing on a stool campaigning for her father. She won the hearts of many. On the eve of the elections, many people (including me) spontaneously came out to the streets and joined the noise barrage to express their support for Laban. Even those inside their homes were flashing the "L" sign and were also making all sorts of noises. It was more than a New Year revelry in the streets of Manila. Yet on election day, Imelda and the entire KBL team won by a landslide while Ninoy and all the Laban candidates lost! There was no mention at all of the noise barrage in the newspapers.
Aside from this political event, today is significant to me personally because it is also the 31st anniversary of my mother’s death. That of my brother is four days from now on April 11. (By the way, by coincidence, both of my parents’ deaths coincide with major political events. My father died on Sept 21 and was buried on Sept 23, when the declaration of martial law was announced).
April 7, 1978 was a tragic date for our family. The day before, I called up my brother in Daet to inform him that our elder brother had his third operation on his prostate cancer. Hence, the next day, after voting, six members of the family proceeded to Manila on board an owner-type jeep driven by my brother. Others in the vehicle were nanay, two sisters, a brother-in-law, and a cousin.
Past 5 pm, I got a message that I had a long distance call at home in Sta. Cruz, Manila (there were no cell phones yet at that time). I was inside the polling precinct at that time since I was a Laban poll watcher. When I wouldn’t budge from my place of assignment, I was informed that it was my brod-in-law on the phone, calling from Lucena City. The group met an accident – the jeep fell in a ravine at the “Eme” – Quezon National Park.
Past 7 pm, together with another brother who was also in Manila to visit our cancer-stricken brother, we boarded a bus for Lucena. My mother was already at the morgue of the Lucena Medical City. Except for a slight bruise on the forehead, her face was clean. The fatal injury was at the back of her head. The others were in the hospital rooms. My brother, who drove the jeep, could hardly open his eyes, I could only see the white part of his eyes but not the eyeballs. But he could speak. He told me it was an accident and asked me to have my mother embalmed (itong pwedeng maghaloy daa) because they would join the funeral as soon as they got well. He had broken ribs and hip bone because he held on to the steering wheel as the jeep turned turtle several times. My sister and cousin suffered injuries on the neck and chest. Fortunately, my other sister did not have any major injury except for bruises (nabugbog lang), while my brod-in-law suffered minor injury but could talk and move around on a wheel chair.
As if it were planned, my brod’s wife, a doctor who had already migrated to the US arrived that week for a vacation when the accident occurred. She arranged for an ambulance to bring my brother to the De Los Santos Hospital in Quezon City. My sister and her husband, and my cousin were brought to UERM in Sta. Mesa, while my other sister was taken to the Cam Norte Provincial Hospital. (My brother who had cancer and whom they intended to visit was confined at the then GSIS General Hospital, now East Avenue Hospital). So we had patients in several hospitals at the same time.
I was left in Lucena with my other brother to settle the bill and get the necessary permits to transport my mother’s body. I also had her embalmed in Lucena as it was already nearing afternoon and I was afraid the body would start to decompose. The funeral car came late in the afternoon. It was already getting dark when we started our long and slow trip. We had to stop twice in the middle of nowhere to change tires. It was past midnight when we reached Daet.
The wake was held at my brother’s residence inside the provincial hospital compound. Relatives and friends came. Deaths are an opportunity for reunions. They bring together relatives who have not seen each other for a long, long time. In my case, since I started working in Manila in 1973 until that incident in 1978, I have gone home for a vacation only twice and only for two days each time. Honestly, with apologies to our class, I guess I don’t have much fond memories of the place but I won’t dwell on that.
On the fourth day, after three nights of wake, we received the news that my brother died in the hospital while preparing to undergo an operation. He was 35 years old at that time and had three kids. My mother was 71.
My sister-in-law made the arrangements to transport his body to Daet. On the fifth night, there were already two coffins in the wake. My mother and brother were buried at the same time, on the same plot in the Daet public cemetery where my father’s body also lie.
After the burial, I had to go back to Manila to check on the other patients at the UERM and at the GSIS Hospital. My brother who had cancer already knew about the tragedy. My sister-in-law waited for a few days for him to recover from the operation before informing him. She had to do it because he was already wondering and was feeling bad that no other member of the family was visiting him.
I did not immediately inform my sister about my brother’s death when I visited her at the UERM. (She only knew that nanay was dead). She had a cast on her neck and chest, and she also had a heart condition. It would be bad if she gets too emotionally disturbed, which we expected especially since it was my brod who sent her to college. It was not only my sister though who owed him a lot. The whole family did because my brod was the one who helped my father support us, ever since he started working. He had to quit schooling after his third year of engineering in order to work. It was us, his three younger siblings who got to finish college.
I had to go back to Daet after visiting the patients to attend to many other things, among them was the pa-siyam. On the first night after the burial, and for the next eight nights, relatives and friends gathered to pray for the dead. There is food – handaan - on the last day. That is part of our culture. We pay a “paradasal” to lead the prayers. Halawig ang dasal. According to the paradasal, dai daa pwedeng one prayer lang for the two dead persons. Dapat, duwang dasal daa. So after finishing one set, there is a re-play. I do not know why it is not acceptable to god to mention both names in one set of prayer. (Alang-alang sa pagpapakasakit ni Hesus…. Kaawaan at patawarin ang kaluluwa ni ______ at ni ________). So, two sets of prayer, doble din ang bayad.
There are many “pamahiin” involving the dead. When news about my brother’s death came, immediately some relatives checked on my mother’s coffin. They had it opened because dai palan daa pinatud itong rosaryong kapot ni nanay. (Kung pinatud kaya, would my brother not have died?). On the day of the funeral, while assigning those who would carry the caskets, older relatives told us, bawal daa kaming three brothers na mag-alsa nin kabaong. When my uncle (the only surviving sibling of my mother, he is more than 80 years old now) learned about this, he got angry. “Huring serbisyo mi na daa ito, dai mi pa gigibuhon!” I cannot recall now, whom among the elders we obeyed.
Going back to the significance of 1978 to our family, it was really a tragic year for us. My brother was diagnosed to have prostate cancer and unexpectedly, we lost our mother and brother, even ahead of him. (My brother who had cancer, died three years later in 1981). My grief was not really for them – na “hirak man sinda”. Even then, I knew that it was God’s will and it was best for them because they were re-united with our creator. The grief was for those who were left behind. It must have been very difficult for my sister-in-law. I salute her for successfully raising their children (all three of them are now in New Jersey, two of whom are already married). It is unfortunate that our family did not have the means to help her.
I also realized how difficult it is when the family has not prepared for the passing away of loved ones, not only emotionally, but financially.
I’ll hear mass after work this afternoon in memory of my loving mother who devoted her whole life taking care of us.