Saturday, March 21, 2015

A father’s letter

With emotions still running high over the massacre of 44 Special Action Force (SAF) commandos in Mamasapano, Maguindanao, I am sharing with you a letter sent by Yolanda V. Marquina of Novaliches, Quezon City, who described herself as “a senior citizen, a government retiree.”
The letter includes a magazine clipping from 1951 that she said she kept “because I find it so touching.”
“In the midst of our collective grief over the death of those SAF 44 heroes, I would like to share the letter with the grieving families, especially the kids who have been rendered fatherless in our quest for peace,” Mrs. Marquina wrote.
The clipping is yellowed, taped where the folds have been torn. At the back of the page where the handwritten letter was reproduced are photos of Susan Roces and Barbara Perez on a radio show, both of them so young they’re unrecognizable. It’s from Songs and Stars, which looks like a magazine. I googled the publication but couldn’t find any entry. The article bears the byline of Art Galindez, but I’m not sure if he’s the writer or he merely reproduced the letter in his regular space.
Here’s the letter, verbatim, dated Dec. 24, 1951, with the head, “A father’s letter to his unborn son…” and supposedly written in a foxhole in Korea:
Dear Son,
Opinion ( Article MRec ), pagematch: 1, sectionmatch: 1
By the time you’re old enough to read this… I will have been gone a long time. I know it was rather rude of me to leave without waiting for you but as your mother will explain… the choice was not mine. Pressing business awaits me somewhere else and I must go.
I would have given anything in the world to have been around when you came; to have held you in my arms and felt the incomparable pleasure of having known you, my son. No price would have been too great to pay for the pleasure of holding you out to the world and shouting my joy from the rooftops. As you grow older you will come to understand that there are many pleasures denied ordinary men. But always… when a certain pleasure is denied a man… another, infinitely better, is granted him. In my case, my grief over not having known you is more than amply paid for by the knowledge that I am helping in my own way, other men, make this world… a better place to grow up in for you and little boys like you.
What can I say? What can I leave you… to let you know that I love you? That I loved you as only a father could love a son? Nothing more than you have now. A good life ahead… a good, clean land to live in… and a chance to show what you’ve got. Yes my son, nothing much more than what is needed to make you worthy of all that.
And this I require of you, young fellow. Live like a man so you need never fear that you won’t die like one. When they ask you to stand up and be counted… by God, stand up and give your fullest measure. Have no fear. They can only push you so much. Then you will have to start pushing back! Always be fair. To a fault if necessary! Then you will never have to fear unfairness itself. Remember a man is only as strong as the stuff from which he is made.
Love your mother. She’s among the best. She was all I had before you and I couldn’t have asked for more. I had a head start in that respect, as you can see. I had the whole world to begin with. Never do anything that will make her cry. She has had more than her share.
And lastly… do me proud, young man. Live so I won’t have to say, “I’m his father.” Because I’d very much rather say “He’s my son.”
*     *      *
It would be a shame to keep a clipping that has been kept for more than six decades by someone else, so I’m sending it back to Mrs. Marquina.
On another issue, I noticed that like many other members of our older generation, Mrs. Marquina’s English is impeccable and her penmanship is beautiful, from what I can glean from her signature.
A regular writer, 94-year-old Consuelo Dancel Sison, who is still active in the campaign to revive Intramuros, has the same mastery of English and flowing penmanship. Reading her snail mail is always a delight, even when she’s expressing frustration over the lack of progress in her cause.
They must have had better teachers in English and writing in those days. Longhand is becoming a lost art in this digital age.
Regaining our edge in English proficiency is among the recommendations of the Joint Foreign Chambers of the Philippines in the Arangkada Philippines Forum, which recently released its fourth annual assessment report.
The two specific recommendations on improving English competency, however, are among those that the government has not acted on (“not ongoing”) since the Arangkada project was launched in 2010.
Arangkada proposed a “vigorous public campaign” to stress the importance of English competency for the workforce, and encourage broadcast media to use more English in their programs. Also proposed was recognition for high schools and tertiary schools and students who score well on English tests.
The foreign chambers are not opposed to mother tongue instruction at the start of grade school but they are recommending intensified English instruction from Grade 4. “Mastery of English enables access to global knowledge and wider economic opportunities,” the Arangkada report pointed out.
To meet its manpower needs, the business process outsourcing industry has stepped in with a 100-hour or two-week crash course called AdEPT (Advanced English Proficiency Training) for university students interested in working in BPOs.
Even better would be improved English competency training from the formative years, when humans are said to have the best capacity for absorbing a foreign language. Perhaps the government can tap senior citizens to assist our pool of English teachers.
Our elders have poignant stories to tell and valuable knowledge to share, if given the chance.
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