Commentary

It’s 2022—let your heart be light, but let it be right

It is about rebuilding ourselves and our country, indeed the world. The task cannot be solitary, or it becomes an unbearable burden

Matuod in Batangas gave the author and her friends a getaway in 2021, in the home of Nina Halley, its idyll broken only by the sound of quarrying in the morning. (Photo by Thelma San Juan)

As good as it gets now — a bottle of alcohol earns a spot in the place of worship. (Photo by Thelma San Juan)

“There’s no remaking reality,” she told him. “Just take it as it comes. Hold your ground and take it as it comes.”—Philip Roth, Everyman

2021 was the year, like 2020, when we never got to say proper goodbyes. Not that goodbyes are divided between proper and improper. But still, I mean, the abruptness of 2021 left us helpless and powerless. Many of us lost loved ones, friends, and acquaintances in the dead of night, quite literally. We were forced to greet the inevitable morning without them, to get used to the loss, even if it had come one after the other.

Simple memorial setting for PNoy at the Church of the Gesu at the Ateneo de Manila University in Quezon City. (Photo by Thelma San Juan)

“Wala na ang kaibigan natin,” I got a text at 7 in the morning. For a second, I wondered, which friend, even if I knew that the texter and I had only one common friend that we always talked about and had dinners with; I was in denial.

Later that Thursday morning, in the chapel of the mortuary, as they wheeled in PNoy in a coffin, there was no room for denial. It was a simple wood coffin, the Philippine flag draped on it in an unelaborate manner—without pomp or pomposity, just as his presidency had been.

Just that Tuesday night, asked how he was, he texted that he wasn’t feeling well, so he put off his dialysis that Monday, and apparently, Wednesday, too. He died early Thursday morning, of renal complications, unable to say goodbye to a country he had served competently, patriotically, and with decency and dignity. He gave governance his all, but he never got to hear a people’s #thankyoupnoy.

Dear Noy

How PNoy pushed and inspired his young staffmin

PNoy: In the final days, just a citizen and his music

Sr. Emma Vijandre, ICM, of St. Theresa’s College (STC), who was like a second mother to us, breathed her last after a video call to her family from her sickbed at the Queen of Peace convent in the STC campus. Her heart had been faltering for years until it finally stopped; this time, Sister Emma was unable to will it into the hyperactivity that marked her life. Sister Emma’s expansive and progressive life philosophy broke down barriers of religion, academic thinking, and disciplines. She learned from and embraced the universe. It was she who advised us repeatedly not only to live the moment, but also to live in the moment. She left behind a book of beautiful poems she wrote mainly when she joined a workshop in Australia on the beginning of the universe (yes, that New Age-ish, yet it was not). She also left behind, in the STC complex, a garden on the Story of the Universe.

In the end, only threads of text messages are left to prove that some people existed in our lives

Raymund Isaac was so excited about his crossing over to the digital platform when we chatted a few weeks before he left for Vegas. We chided and congratulated him for trending on Twitter for the movie Gameboys X Raymund Isaac, for which he did a poster photograph series. That was our first long talk in years, since he collaborated with us on so many milestone shoots for Metro magazine; neither he nor I knew that that call would be our last. Raymund died in a hospital in Las Vegas.

In the end, only threads of text messages are left to prove that they existed in our lives.

The nation mourned the passing of National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera who brought to generations of Filipinos the richness of our language and literature. TheDiarist.ph was fortunate to have among its writers those who knew Lumbera as a fellow artist and also as a friend, enough to essay the man’s greatness.

‘Sining, tapang, at talino’: The legacy of Bienvenido Lumbera

Bien Lumbera, our family’s mentor and nurturer

Our friend Bien Lumbera—beyond his rich legacy

2021 was the year the country lost many of its artists—they who displayed what was good, admirable, and lasting about the Filipino. Among them: Celia Diaz Laurel whose life was devoted to the arts even as she was wife, mother, and world peace advocate; Baby Barredo, whose theater artistry and grit kept Repertory Philippines through years of peace and upheaval; Heber Bartolome, whose music and life bannered the tumult of a people. These artists mentored and inspired generations, and even as the country’s elected officials dragged the country to the pits, these artists lifted us way above the muck.

A personal friend, Aurora Silayan Go, passed on after a long illness. If there was one who showed that a woman of style could also be a woman of substance, it was Aurora, and in an exhilarating way. She was on the country’s best dressed list, a fashion plate ahead of her time who stood out because of her unique individuality and unpredictable quirkiness. Beyond the looks, however, this summa cum laude graduate of sociology worked in her academic field, and in the NGO sector, focused on population control, building a Foundation for Adolescent Development that promoted sex education and mental health among teens. Briefly put, Aurora was a woman who cared about society and proved it in her social commitment.

These were just among the many loved ones lost in 2021. The rest we failed to mention nonetheless composed the wave of silent pain.

However, life goes on, as the famous BTS hit goes.

The pandemic proved a fact of life—we really can’t live in isolation; it’s not sustainable. ‘Like playing Russian roulette,’ a friend described the risk of living

The malls are crowded again. Traffic is back with a vengeance. People are dining out. Surprise—there’s even a queue for the coffee at the newly opened Omotesando at PowerPlant. Luxury stores are raking it in (one shopper can blow P1 million a day in one store, and that is not an isolated case). Family reunions resume. People must continue looking for ways to earn, since millions of jobs continue to be lost. Social media continues to bash the violators of health protocols—and rightly so, because it takes a village (figuratively) to stem this pandemic. K-drama bingeing continues to be our favorite escape route.

The pandemic proved a fact of life—we really can’t live in isolation; it’s not sustainable. Online meets are good stopgaps, but when the doors physically open, physically out the door we go. To live life. As we knew it, or so we wish. “Like playing Russian roulette,” a friend described the risk of living.

Alya Honasan, Annie Ringor, Nina Halley enjoy livestream BTS concert ‘Permission to Dance’ in Matuod.

My friends are at least trying to make the most of pandemic life. Our colleague, TheDiarist.ph copy editor and our co-journeywoman, Alya Honasan, will continue trying to save marine life, her sanity, and everyone’s mental health, not necessarily in that order, even as she keeps saying carpe diem. Another colleague, Lou Gonzales, vows to continue baking away, using her love of numbers and stats to achieve kitchen precision, no doubt. TheDiarist.ph’s GenZer, Alvin Alcantara, without doubt, will fearlessly try out new experiences and destinations, beyond Elyu and its surfers, and we seniors are satisfied to visit such places vicariously. My millennial son Luis Carlo San Juan, I hope, will continue to be my eyes and ears where the young are concerned (their music and art beat even my BTS mindset), through his You.com.ph. Nikko Dizon, even as she works for her political conviction, is planning the day she’ll be back in Seoul to watch a BTS concert in-person. Annie Ringor and her Bridges colleagues Toni Palenzuela and Alexei Villaraza didn’t miss a beat in this pandemic, but even cast a bigger net for their PR campaigns; fighting!

Jappy Gonzales at newly opened Omotesando at PowerPlant Rockwell

Marco Protacio—this guy is the hotel industry’s loss and the gain of the hospital/health care/beauty clinic industries; his is a good example of how a good set of people skills can facilitate and amplify the sharing of knowledge and experience. His YouPlus beauty clinic lends you a personal experience, thanks to his presence and that of Dr. Arnel Quiambao. Anna Sobrepena, in pink garb, will continue volunteerism for the marginalized sector. Fashion director Jackie Aquino is determined to give the fashion industry sector a voice in Congress. Randy Ortiz has something up his sleeve—beyond fashion; he’s going into homeware design. Pen Roque is whipping up more marketing campaigns. Mario Katigbak is excited about the first half of 2022, with his team led by Steph Chong; the pandemic will not deter the entry of more luxury brands in the Philippines, not limited to jewelry and watches. Jappy Gonzales will continue to disrupt the local retail scene through Univers and new brands, with his out-of-the-box thinking. His new Greenbelt 3 stores are drawing in clients you didn’t know existed in Metro Manila. Virgie Ramos continues to expand Swatch, with the opening of a store at Rockwell PowerPlant. SM Supermalls president Steven Tan is on track, transforming the mall into an immersive experience that meets the lifestyle and health needs of the pandemic.

Pre-Christmas dinner (with masks off and grouping only for this shot) of friends: from left, Steph Chong, Annie Ringor, Lia Bernardo, Anna Sobrepena, Toni Palenzuela, Joy Wassmer, Mario Katigbak

Before the Christmas rush, from left, friends Randy Ortiz, Trishan Cuaso, Marco Protacio, Jackie Aquino, Pen Roque

Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat is counting on “bubble tourism” throughout the country to revive travel and tourism

Dr. Vicki Belo and Dr. Hayden Kho, with daughter Scarlet, host simple holiday gettogether for Julia Barretto, Gerald Anderson, Jojie Dingcong and the author.

Budji+Royal Design Firm, coming straight from the success of the Philippine pavilion in the World Expo in Dubai, is proud that the pavilion is among the few that have been asked to continue into 2022. The firm is also building more residences, with Budji building his own in Tagaytay—significantly, where his home designing stint started, the iconic house-in-the-round of Raffy Zulueta. National Artist Alice Reyes and the dance artists of the Professional Dance Support Program will continue their training and workshops but are looking for a new home. Dr. Vicki Belo and Dr. Hayden Kho are still basking in the success of their new Belo Clinic in Pampanga, and are banking on the hope that beauty clinics will be running all year round, given the people’s need to look good as the world opens up. Talent manager Jojie Dingcong, interestingly, was busier in the pandemic year 2021, and says he will even be busier with more projects in 2022. Ben Chan’s Bench has remained undeterred since the pandemic started, and will continue to promote #lovelocal. His choices of brand ambassadors in 2022, from oppas to local celebrities, are much-awaited surprises. It was he, after all, who discovered the viability of using Korean stars in local brand marketing.

According to Joy Wassmer, Solaire will continue its special buffets in its specialty restaurants; as it is, the Italian buffet at Finestra and the Japanese buffet at Yakumi remain unmatched. Lia Bernardo has tapped into people’s wants—the desire to love oneself and to connect to others; her Raising Frequencies sessions are gaining ground. Grupo Emperador, according to Harold Geronimo, is breaking new ground this year, here and abroad. Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat is counting on “bubble tourism” throughout the country to revive travel and tourism.

“…the next day, the kind-hearted community in Siargao started to clear the debris to make the roads passable and rebuild their homes with sadness in their faces but still with smiles in their hearts…”

The end of 2021 was marked with great calamity as Typhoon Odette struck. Our friends Carlo Tanseco and Chun-chi Soler, who built their island resort in Siargao, wrote chilling posts in FB and IG about the day Odette ravaged Siargao:

This was just the beginning … little did we know how much stronger it would become… 10 times stronger or even more than that and then suddenly change directions to a direction we did not expect it would come from… from the front facing the sea, it then hit us from the side then the back… plywood we used to board up the facade facing the ocean flew apart… only a few remained… we had expected a storm surge and were ready to go to the third floor, but we were lucky that it did not happen in our area in Catangnan… and the third floor did not offer protection from the strength of the wind… we had to open all sliding doors while we fought to keep them in place as they were flying off their hinges… an idea now in hindsight was not so great because if the glass shattered, we would be cut up by the fragments…then the water carried by the wind came inside from the roof, from the sides, from everywhere… we locked ourselves up in the second floor bathroom which proved to be the safest place… we were lucky… others were not so lucky… we were lucky… luckier than most…

Muni-muni is still standing but we need to rebuild… we need to rebuild Siargao… we will…because of its community and what it represents…

The outpouring of love, prayers, well wishes is overwhelming… as overwhelming as the kind-hearted community in Siargao who the next day started to clear the debris to make the roads passable and rebuild their homes with sadness in their faces but still with smiles in their hearts…

People continue to raise funds for the Munimuni community in Siargao.

2022 will be about rebuilding ourselves and our country, indeed the world; picking up the pieces of our lives to reconstruct the whole, or what passes for a completed puzzle. We can no longer be choosers. The task cannot be solitary, or it becomes an unbearable burden.

The burden becomes bearable only if we have another shoulder to carry the weight, and still another.

How to make our heart light again. You ask yourself as you come to terms with the truth that those who died, you will not see again. But you have your thread of text messages with them, and losing that still, you have your memory. The soul has memory.

Let our heart be light. But also, let it be right. 2022 is an election year. We must choose who is right, competent, upright—and courageous for others, especially the marginalized. We must continue to right what is wrong, expose the deceit and cunning, do and fight for what is just, and what is progressive for the country. In short, we must stop playing dumb, even if we are.

In 2022, let our heart be light. But let it be right.

About author

Articles

After devoting more than 30 years to daily newspaper editing (as Lifestyle editor) and a decade to magazine publishing (as editorial director and general manager), she now wants to focus on writing—she hopes.

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