‘I will return to fight another day’

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.

20 Years After

Guess who I wrote and answered back? Twice! Paolo Coelho! Yes, the writer of Alchemist, Veronica Decides To Die, Eleven Minutes, etc,, I found his website and wrote to him about 4 years ago commenting on a character whom I found so fascinating in his book Valkyries. He answered back within minutes. Anyway, 4 days ago I wrote him again just to leave a comment about how great his works are. The very next day, lo and behold! he answered me again.

‘Dear Jim,

My sincere thanks for your kind email.

Your thoughts about my work are important to me and I am grateful for your

May love be your guide in every moment of your life.

Paulo Coelho



What a thrill it is to communicate with a person of his stature. And it is quite a testimony to the man that he takes time to answer letters from his readers.

This is the season of EDSA and I am again being swamped by the media for reactions, guestings, comments, etc. More than a months ago, I taped the Inquirer TV Special on EDSA and it was shown on ABC 5 Monday night at 8:30. There will be another special this Sunday at 9PM on ABS-CBN and this one is interesting since new facts about the historical events will be disclosed for the first time. I am hosting this together with Bianca Gonzales. I have not seen it yet in its final form but I think it will be good.

Also, the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) interviewed 20 people for the 20th Anniversary of EDSA issue and I was chosen to be one of the interviewees. My comments on the podcast are making waves around certain circles since I seem to have come on too strong. One comment I made is, ‘We should have knocked off a few people’ when asked about what went wrong with EDSA. Another one was something I said metaphorically, and actually in jest which went, “ I want to take a break from being Filipino” to explain why I am migrating. But there is a grain of truth there and it is that it is so dispiriting and stressful to be assaulted by bad news and endless political bickering daily, not to mention the burden of living with the ‘inertia of unchange’ that we seem to be trapped in here in the Philippines. This coming weekend, a very extended version of my blog entry entitled ‘Yes it’s True” will be then cover story in the Sunday Inquirer.

I seem to be all over the place and it is not something I am easily comfortable with. I just did not realize that my leaving is causing a little stir among some circles. I did not mean to discourage anyone especially to those who are staying put in this country. As I said in my blog, my leaving is as much about personal growth as it is about my disappointment with the political situation. Allow me some room to grow. I’ve also always said I will be back to fight another day.

Allow me to post some thoughts about EDSA.

Every year, the whole question of whether EDSA was a good thing or other questions to that effect is posed by writers and socio-political commentators to us. EDSA to me was a great moment when we expressed the best in us, and it continues to be a source of inspiration to be a better Filipino. Sure, people may argue that in many ways, the situation had deteriorated after EDSA and I will agree. But to say it is a failure based on what transpired after is a bit off. To many who were there, it was a real moment of transformation, a time when we left our petty minds and selfish hearts and heeded the call of greatness that had beckoned. It was a magical, mystical experience that excited our imagination to consider that we as a people can become much more than what we thought we could be.

The politicians, the leaders of many of our institutions, and the rest of us bstrayed EDSA. EDSA showed us the way but we chose another. EDSA did not fail us. To say it did is like saying Jesus’ dying on the cross was a futile exercise because the world today is still ruled by bad people. EDSA is a shining beacon for us that affirms our inner goodness and reminds us of the power we have, to change for the better.

I have no regrets about having participated in it, and I would wholeheartedly do it again. But I would change a few things: this time, I would make sure I spoke in a louder voice and did more actions AFTER instead of leaving it all to the politicians. For a few examples, I would have worked hard to convince the government to negotiate the national debt to zero, push the justice agenda, jail a few people, and partner more with the people in pursuing the agenda of real change more than kowtowing to the military, the politicians, the trapos, the businessmen and the other so-called power centers. The people gave the new government the mandate to change society. In many ways, it ignored the people and embarked on a restoration project that put back in power the other side of the elite that Marcos spurned. Soon even the old cronies were back in power. Somewhere along the way we forgot that it was a revolution of the people, for the people, by the people.

Of course, I do recognize that I am being simplistic here, and that hindsight is indeed 20-20. In EDSA’s case, monday quarterbacking may not even be possible yet. I remember a comment by a French historian on his thoughts about the French Revolution which transpired three hundred years ago. He said, “We are still trying to determine what really happened.”

Twenty years may still be too short.

Do you recognize the singers? Some of them do elicit double takes, don’t they?

As a parting gift, I am reprinting the lyrics of a song that merely used me to express the spirit of what happened 20 years ago. If you wish to listen to it, I believe it is downloadable in Limewire. Otherwise, try this link.

Handog Ng Pilipino Sa Mundo

‘Di na ‘ko papayag mawala ka muli.
‘Di na ‘ko papayag na muling mabawi,
Ating kalayaan kay tagal natin mithi.
‘Di na papayagang mabawi muli.

Magkakapit-bisig libo-libong tao.
Kay sarap pala maging Pilipino.
Sama-sama iisa ang adhikain.
Kelan man ‘di na paalipin.

Handog ng Pilipino sa mundo,
Mapayapang paraang pagbabago.
Katotohanan, kalayaan, katarungan
Ay kayang makamit na walang dahas.
Basta’t magkaisa tayong lahat.

Magsamasama tayo ikaw at ako

Masdan ang nagaganap sa aming bayan.
Magkasama ng mahirap at mayaman.
Kapit-bisig madre, pari, at sundalo.
Naging Langit itong bahagi ng mundo.

Huwag muling payagang umiral ang dilim.
Tinig ng bawat tao’y bigyan ng pansin.
Magkakapatid lahat sa Panginoon.
Ito’y lagi nating tatandaan.

(repeat refrain two times)

‘cold’ facts and 1000 weekends!

Global Warning: The cold fact is it’s getting warm

It’s quite an unusual time for the Northern part of the world where I am now, Canada to be exact. It’s February and it is supposed to be the coldest time of the year and yet there is no snow to be seen in Calgary. There was little snow in Edmonton but not enough to really notice. Sure the river was slightly frozen but eople here say they are enjoying a very mild winter. I checked on weather.com a while ago and it looks like it will be mild the next few days. And even if I’m feeling quite cold (coming from the tropics), there will be no life threatening blizzards for Nanuk the Bear in Canada this year.

What is quite alarming is the story I picked up today on the BBC website. It says that the northern parts of the world are going through the warmest winter in a millennium! (Gulp). Are we really heading towards global warming? If it is true as Al Gore says that we are nearing the tipping point where the environment will be altered by man forever, then we may be seeing the last few decades of much of the Philippines’ existing geography. With sea waters set to rise by as much as 5 meters, it’s goodbye to Malabon, Manila, Pasay and a few hundred or even thousands of islands in the Philippines.

Years ago, global warming was just a hypothesis but now it’s becoming a reality..and fast! Wake up everyone, most especially George Bush.

‘it was 30 years ago’

We did a concert in Edmonton two nights ago at the Jubilee theater and it was a blast! Had a really great time with the virgin crowd who watched us for the very first time. The venue was a beautiful opera house, and the people were warm and so wanting to enjoy a good concert.

APO during rehearsals and doing the real thing!

On February 14, we will be having a Valentine’s Day show here in Calgary. The last time we were here was 31 years ago. Imagine that! A great portion of our audience was not even born yet. I can’t hekp but think of the Stones and although they are years older than we are, I feel a great kinship with them. APO’s cumulative age is 166–still lower than the Stones’ 270 something. But then there’s 5 of them. Nevertheless, that’s a lot of years and I am proud to say, a lot of experiences earned which somehow translates to a good time for us and for our audience. My bones may ache now and then from the cold, and I may wake up early everyday now like an old man, but I am a kid when I am doing a concert. We thank God that we are blest with such an activity that not only makes us happy but pays our bills! Maybe Mick Jagger is right. Good things do last forever!

Just Do It!

We are migrating soon, and lately, I have been having dreams that somehow are connected to Australia. My dreams are about packing, setting aside some stuff and throwing away some, driving on the other side of the road and that sort of thing. I guess it’s the way my mind is psyching itself up for the big move.

There are days when I feel quite depressed about migrating and question the wisdom of it, and the ‘folly’ of migrating leaves me with cold feet. At other times, I wake up and I am so excited about this new era in our family life that is about to unfold. It’s the yin pulling the yang and vice-versa. It’s the pair of opposites vying for my attention. Neale Donald Walsch in his book Conversations With God Book 1 says that anytime you experience your greatest love, you will also experience your greatest fear. I guess that explains my see-saw ride of emotions about leaving. My consolation is something I picked up from someone who was urging me to just do it. She told me that years from now, I will most likely regret more the things that I never did than the things I actually did.


Except for the Snow

I love Canada, especially the way it is so subdued and laid back. The people are nice and friendly. I had considered migrating here but decided against it largely because of the weather. I remember driving with a friend in Toronto one spring day years ago and I pointed out a nice mansion we passed and commented that I wanted a house just like it. Almost immediately, my friend retorted that I would hate shoveling snow in the winter just to get out in the morning, and shovel again just to get back home. Oo nga naman.

That’s why I took a look at Australia and chose it.

converting 1000 to eternity

Winter makes me think of ‘old people’. I may feel young but to some, being in one’s 50s may seem ancient. If you know someone, or have parents who are already in their 50s or more, consider this: the most realistic age they can still be around and in relatively good health (statistically speaking) is 75 years old. If they are 55, that leaves them with 20 years, or 1020 weeks left! That’s not a lot! Sure they can live longer but at 75, they will probably slow down considerably. For many it may even be earlier.

To you young people reading this blog who do not give a thought about spending time with your folks, think about the 1000 weekends and you will realize that every weekend you don’t see them is an opportunity missed.

How am I going to spend my last 1000 weeks? Hmm.. Not sure exactly though I do know that I’ve bumped into enough trees and boulders and stumbled on rocks and fallen on crevices in the past to know the lay of the land and navigate my way better. Right now, much of what I see before me are opportunities for growth, awareness, consciousness, love and bliss. Or at least I’m finding myself in this mindset and living there quite often.

Every day is a good day, as my zen teacher says!

Every moment is new and renewing, each moment a fresh ‘now’. Any of us can leave this earth any time. I know young people think they are invincible and death is just an intellectual concept, and so can be dismissive of the subject, as I was then. But look at the ULTRA tragedy or even the passing of Rico Yan a few years back. Gone just like THAT. But one doesn’t have to be morbid and dwell on it endlessly or be cowardly and avoid the topic. A truth I have awakened to is that every minute leading to the end has the potential to feel like the wonderfully blessed eternal. I’ve experienced it quite a few times and I’m spending the next 1000 weeks there. At least as much as I can! Believe it or not, I am ‘there’ right now (or is it ‘here’?) as I am writing this down! This day is a good day!