For those who don’t subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer, I am reprinting my blog entry entitled ‘Yes, It’s True!’ reworked and retitled “I will return to fight another day’ as it appeared on Sunday Inquirer Magazine last Feb. 25, 2006 It is a much longer version than the original and seems to ‘read’ differently. If you’ve read the shorter version, please bear with me.
I wasn’t going write about this until I was ready. I am ready now. Yes, it’s true. I am moving with my family to Australia.
I thought of migrating in 1998, a few months after Erap had won. Even if I did not vote for him, I was (in hindsight) naively hopeful that he would be a leader who would prove his detractors wrong. I was not just ready but hoping to be surprised. As it turned out, I was wrong. Instead, I found myself, with so many others, quite disgusted and disappointed with how things turned out. I saw little hope for the next six years.
How depressingly different the future seemed at that point compared to the optimism I felt in 1986 when I and my APO group mates, Danny Javier and Boboy Garrovillo, joined several million Filipinos in breaking the dictator’s repressive grip on our country. EDSA I was the glorious, euphoric culmination of years of struggle to win back our freedoms. It was the bold, victorious step we collectively took to redirect the country to the path to greatness.
We in the APO had done our humble part through our performances that somehow helped inspire fellow Filipinos to struggle for a different future. In the last months before EDSA I, the APO was banned from the controlled media, radio and TV, and prohibited from using government venues like Ultra, Folk Arts Theater and CCP.
It was par for the course but it only made us more committed to the movement to get Marcos out of Malacanang and our lives. I was more than ready to risk life, limb, career and future for a better Philippines. The events leading to EDSA I shaped my political convictions and the historic three days of the EDSA revolution told me that my idealism was not misplaced. It affirmed my belief that we Filipinos have what it takes to be great.
‘Magkakapit bisig libo-libong tao
Kay sarap pala maging Pilipino’…
Handog ng Pilipino sa mundo
Mapayapang paraang pagbabago
Katotohanan, kalayaan, katarungan
Ay kayang makamit na walang dahas
Basta’t magkaisa tayong lahat
Those words, which spontaneously came out of me as I wrote what became the EDSA anthem ‘Handog Ng Pilipino Sa Mundo’, captured both the greatness and unity that we are capable of when we set aside our differences.
Fast-forward to 2000. 1986 seemed so far away, like a half-forgotten dream. In place of the euphoria and optimism, I remember the feeling of being tossed in a sea of uncertainty and despair as we were fed by media with a daily diet of scandal after scandal that characterized Erap’s failed presidency and moral weakness. We had undoubtedly taken a wrong turn somewhere and we were headed for the abyss, which was just around the corner.
It was around then that I applied for migration to Australia. At the time, I felt it would be a good opportunity to sit out the Erap years and pursue something the family has always wanted to do — live abroad. I was in my late 40s and I was restless, wanting to try things I’ve never done before. My decision to move was and remains to be as much about personal growth as it was and is about the disappointment with how our leaders are running the country to the ground.
Before EDSA I, my family actually had green cards to live in the United States. But we surrendered these to the US Embassy in 1989 right after the deadliest coup staged by the military adventurists of the Reform the AFP Movement. After that close call for our democracy, my wife Lydia and I decided to make the statement that we were staying to defend the gains of our newly recovered freedoms from the military predators. We were staking our lives and that of our children to show our belief in and support for our new democracy. And to prove it, we closed the escape hatch.
I believed then as I do now that sometimes, one must do what one must, even if others think it’s crazy. The immigration officer was flabbergasted when I showed up at the US Embassy just two days after the coup ended to return our green cards. He could not fathom why we were doing this when so many Filipinos were willing to give anything for the chance to live in the US.
The way things stood in 2000, however, we felt it was the time to seriously consider the option to migrate. To our great delight, we were promptly approved for migration to Australia. We were given a five-year window to make the move but we wanted to leave right away. I was tired and had little enthusiasm for political involvement and causes.
It seemed that we had not learned anything from EDSA I. We had squandered our opportunities for genuine and lasting change. Almost every institution in our midst was faltering and failing its constituents and I felt deeply let down. Where after EDSA 1 I had the passion to engage and get involved, 15 years later, I was tired and even doubted whether doing so would change anything. It was Marshall Macluhan who said that the price for eternal vigilance was boredom. In my case, it was more a case of a flagging spirit, worn out in trying in my own way to get the country out of the inertia that it seems to be perennially stuck in. I was becoming too cynical. I needed a break.
But politics aside, leaving was understandably attractive for many other personal reasons. I was eagerly getting into new pursuits—teaching, writing books, photography, scuba, giving workshops. And I still wanted to do other things, like pursue further studies, or simply try a different milieu to wake up to and engage. In other words, I was looking for new challenges, new vistas to explore and conquer.
But EDSA Dos intervened and delayed our move. After EDSA II succeeded in evicting Estrada from Malacanang in January 2001, we had second thoughts about leaving. But, as things turned out, our hope for change was short-lived. Soon after President Arroyo took over the government, it was clear that we would still be in for hard times. There was the nightmare of EDSA Tres in late April, the relentless assault of the opposition on the newly installed President, and its blind ambition to return to power at any cost. And the scandals that have plagued the Arroyo administration almost since Day One, did not inspire confidence.
Still, our plan to leave would be delayed by more important and tragic events in the family. On the home front, my mother-in-law was found to have cancer and passed away in less than a year. Shortly after my mother-in-law died, Lydia, who took care of her mother until the end, was herself diagnosed with breast cancer, which forced us to put our move to emigrate on hold indefinitely. Lydia’s cancer came as a big shock to our family. We considered the option of her getting treatment in Australia, but we later agreed it would be best to get her treatment here amid the healing company of her friends and loved ones.
Fortunately, she showed positive signs of recovery but our euphoria was quickly dashed when her father was diagnosed with lung and bone cancer in January last year. We stayed by his side until his death in October.
With the demise of both Lydia’s parents and her continuing recovery, we decided that it was time to pick up our plan to move to Sydney, Australia.
Why Australia? I’ve always enjoyed visiting the place. As a parent, I always think about what my kids’ future will be and constantly worry about their safety. Australia seems like a good place for them to learn to be independent, in a society that is stable, equitable and relatively safe. For starters, the country is kind to immigrants: it provides free education, medical benefits, social services, etc. and is still a decent place to live.
If the kids find that they want to return later on to the Philippines, it will be their choice. But by moving, we are giving them the opportunity to live in another country and thus be able to make an informed decision.
As for Lydia and me, we are doing this while we are still (relatively) young enough, strong enough and crazy enough to start anew. Do we intend to live in Australia for the rest of our lives? No! We are too hopelessly Pinoy to uproot ourselves completely from this country and society. Our roots are here. Our friends are here and we have spent most of our lives here. We will be back.
Years ago, I explained to a foreigner why overseas Filipinos want to eventually return home. First World countries may have great infrastructure, material comfort and modernity, but these cannot compare with the way the homeland speaks to a Filipino’s heart. There may be potholes in the street where I live but they ‘speak’ to me in a way that a flawless highway in a developed foreign country cannot. I may be upset by the potholes, but the feeling is a familiar one, and it is easier to endure than alienation in a foreign land.
The things that upset me about the country ‘speak’ to me in that same familiar language. In fact, it is so familiar that my sense of humor can run circles around the very things I complain about. But that is precisely the problem: because these have become too familiar, I am no longer moved by them – at least not enough to be able to change things. Indeed, they have become ‘my’ potholes. Life in the Philippines may be hell at times, but it remains our home. Lydia and I are not even selling our house.
I have been asked if I am disgusted with the way things are here. Yes, absolutely, just like everyone else. Am I abandoning the Philippines? No. I am Filipino. One big issue that I grappled with was the possibility of having to give up my citizenship in the course of migrating. I could not picture NOT being a Filipino. I still can’t. But with the new law allowing dual citizenship in place, that has stopped being a concern. Regardless, I know from years of meeting many of our kababayans abroad that we Pinoys may leave this country and settle in other places but our Filipino-ness will never leave us. Being Filipino is, after all, in the heart.
It might be a good experience living in another society, even for just a while, and becoming a Global Filipino, like Rizal, Luna, Ninoy, and the OFWs I have met while performing with the APO in the US, Canada, Europe, the Middle East, New Zealand and Australia. I wish to share their experience of living abroad, in functional and orderly societies, and bringing back home lessons learned form the experience. I suspect that being a Global Pinoy can only be broadening.
I am thankful that my closest friends and partners in APO – Danny Javier, Boboy Garovillo, Betta and Butch Dans – have been very supportive, making my decision to emigrate easier. APO is truly a free society. We have always encouraged each other’s plans to grow in the directions we chose.
This is not the end of APO, however. Not by a long shot. Mick Jagger, in explaining the Stones’ longevity says that ‘good things last forever,’ I feel the same way about APO, especially after our newly affirmed realization (thanks to our concerts overseas) that generations of Filipinos have indeed grown up with our music. We will continue to tour abroad, and perform in Manila occasionally although admittedly, our appearances here will be more limited.
In the next few months, I look forward to pursuing my to-do list. After setting up house in Sydney, I would like to study, maybe pursue a masters’ degree, or try getting a job — something I have never done. Whatever lies in store for me in this new adventure, I am saying “yes”. There is something crazy, thrilling and exciting about it, almost like signing a blank check. One has to do crazy things every now and then.
I know my decision to leave has stirred some concern among some friends, but I have to do what I have to do. Call it a sabbatical. Or a Jungian call to adventure. Maybe it’s just me mid-lifing. But the fact is, there are parts of me wishing to find expression somewhere and in ways I have not tried. Political fatigue has made it easier for me to pursue my personal development. I will return to fight another day.
A wise person once pointed out, ‘We do not see the world as it is. We see it as we are’. Perhaps. When I come back, I shall have acquired fresh eyes and a revived spirit and hopefully, a better appreciation once more of the many blessings of life in the Philippines. I can once again jump into the fray and give my heart and soul to the day-to-day task of chipping away at the block of inertia that has characterized our society and brought us so many problems.
I am hopeful that I will want to join the effort once again to try and change things for the better in our country where Lydia and I intend to live the remaining years of our lives.