My brother Eddie was born on May 6, 1940, 15 months after my own birth. Having been born close to one another, we grew up together and experienced our childhood in close companionship. Together with our eldest brother Joe (born in 1937), we experienced as children the challenges the whole Philippine society faced during the Japanese occupation from 1941 to 1945. I remember that we used to play war games, with the Japanese as our enemies and with each one of us representing one of the allies. My brother Joe was the American soldier, Eddie acted as the British soldier and ironically, I chose to play the role of a Russian soldier. We had not foreseen that Eddie should have sided with the Russians since he decided to be a Marxist during his student days at the University of the Philippines.
Together with the whole Malvar clan (my grandfather was General Miguel Malvar, the last Filipino general to surrender to the American forces during the Philippine-American War), the three of us were old enough to realize what it meant to be hunted down by the Japanese soldiers as they were facing defeat in the hands of the American forces at the end of their occupation of the Philippines. They were after the Malvars because my uncles were among the leading political leaders of the province of Batangas before and during the Japanese occupation. Thanks to a providential warning from a townsmate in Sto. Tomas, Batangas, the members of our clan were able to make a timely escape from a group of Japanese soldiers who had intended to annihilate us.
Our escape took us to the deepest recesses of the mountain of Makiling where we stayed for some months until the end of the Japanese occupation. Early in his childhood, Eddie had experienced what it meant to survive in the mountains. Little did we know that Eddie would be undergoing similar hardships when, as a leftist rebel during the Marcos dictatorship, he would visit members of the New People’s Army (NPA) who also hid in the mountains of Batangas, Quezon, and Central Luzon.
After the Japanese were defeated by the American forces, my father was assigned by the Department of Health to the town of Calapan, Mindoro Oriental. The three of us eldest boys (we had four other siblings, one more boy and three girls) started our schooling at the Holy Infant Academy, a Catholic school run by the nuns of the Holy Spirit. I remember that Eddie and I received our first Holy Communion together.
From then on, our schooling was always in the hands of some religious order or another. From Calapan, our family moved to Dumaguete, Negros Oriental, where my father became the provincial health director. There all of us (including our youngest sister) studied at St. Paul’s College, run by the Sisters of St. Paul. St. Paul’s College (now University) was the first St. Paul’s school that was started in 1901 by some French nuns who had come from Vietnam. Then in 1951, Eddie and I enrolled at De La Salle College while my brother Joe studied at Letran College. Being in the same school, Eddie and I continued to be very close to each another.
Throughout grade school and high school, Eddie manifested a deep piety, being very prayerful, not only because of the influence of the various religious schools where we studied but also because of the examples of our parents, especially my mother who was a devout Catholic. Eddie would willingly join the family Rosary and had his own private prayers. At one time in his youth, my brother Joe remembers that Eddie even wanted to be a missionary to spread the Gospel of Christ. He would approach the Sacraments regularly, without being a “santo-santito.” He was not especially studious but managed to get reasonably good grades. I don’t remember him being an avid reader of books in his youth. He was especially interested in body building. He had an attractive physique and known as the handsome fellow in the campus, being referred to as a “mestizo.” Very early on, he showed his concern for the downtrodden. Some of his classmates told me that he would always come to the rescue of any one who would be victimized by the class bully. That is how he used his physical strength for good.
He graduated from high school in 1956. He decided to enrol in the Engineering School of De La Salle College. Soon he realized that his heart was not in the course he took. During his two years studying engineering, he spent more time going to parties, visiting girls, and having a good time — together with our Kuya Joe. He especially liked to go dancing and he got to be known as a good singer. He was such a happy-go-lucky guy during that period of his life, that I would have never imagined he would one day become an intense ideologue spouting Marxist epithets against the evils of capitalism, feudalism, and imperialism. In 1959, our ways parted when I left for the US to pursue my doctoral studies in economics at Harvard. I was away for five years, the very same period when Eddie changed personality when he decided to stop his engineering studies at De La Salle and transfer to the University of the Philippines to take up a course on English and Comparative Literature. The period 1959 to 1964 saw him radicalized by what he read and heard from some his left-leaning professors at the state university.
When I look back at that period of our parallel lives, I can only trust in the providence of God. When I told the Christian Brothers of La Salle who were my professors that I was going to Harvard, they tried to dissuade me because they were afraid that I would lose my faith in “that godless institution called Harvard.” Harvard was known, at least to some, for being a secularist university that nurtured free thinkers, agnostics, and even atheists, despite the fact that it started in 1636 as a Divinity School, a seminary for Protestant ministers.
In contrast, the University of the Philippines in the late 1950s still benefited from a community of professors who were devout Catholics. These were doctrinally and spiritually guided by the famous Jesuit priest, Father John Delaney, SJ, and his colleagues in the Society of Jesus. A good number of these professors were in the Department of English and Comparative Literature where Eddie took his major subjects. It turned out, however, that by some twist of fate, Eddie fell more under the influence of the leftist professors in political science and history who indoctrinated him in the teachings of Marx and Lenin.
I could have easily gone the same way because there were enough free thinkers and atheists in the Harvard faculty. By the providence of God, I was guided doctrinally and spiritually by the chaplain of the Harvard Catholic Club who happened to be a priest of the Personal Prelature of Opus Dei. The rest is history. It was in Harvard that I found my calling. Unfortunately for Eddie, it was at UP that he lost his Catholic faith, although as I will explain later, he never lost his innate goodness as a human being.
As I later learned from him, it was in UP that he became a voracious reader of all sorts of books, especially in philosophy. From where I stand, his fatal mistake was not to exercise the virtue of prudence by asking sound advice about what books to read. I am reminded of a very colorful analogy given by St. Josemaria Escriva, founder of Opus Dei, when he was instructing a group of parents and teachers about the need for always seeking advice before deciding to read books that touch on doctrinal matters of the faith. He said that one who just takes up any interesting-looking book to read without seeking advice is like a fellow who enters a drug store and starts swallowing pills of all sorts of shapes and colors without getting a doctor’s prescription. In no time at all, that imprudent person would be dead.
If I could turn back the hands of time, I would have followed closely the types of books that Eddie read during this critical and impressionable period of his life and given him as much advice as I could about what authors are doctrinally dangerous or at least suggest the good books that could be the antidote to the erroneous ones. I am writing these lines for the good of today’s centennials and millennials so that they follow the advice of St. Josemaria: Always seek advice from your spiritual directors or advisers before reading books that touch on matters of faith and morals. Your very soul is at stake.
(To be continued)