OF TREES AND FORESTS
Last week, the nation paid tribute to two great Filipinos, separated by more than eighty years, who dedicated themselves to the highest level of excellence and to serving the nation.
June 19 was the 160th birth anniversary of Jose Rizal, an intellectual, a scholar, and one who used his brilliant mind to fight oppression and help the country achieve independence.
June 15 was the birthday of a close friend of mine, Miriam Defensor Santiago, an intellectual, a scholar and a public servant who used her brilliant mind and wit to fight oppression and corruption. She would have been 76 this year, and knowing her, feistier and more ferocious in fighting for the welfare of the Filipinos especially as we wage a battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.
Rizal and Miriam are two of the many great Filipinos whose legacies we continue to honor even after their deaths.
Legacy is a word that becomes bigger and heavier when you advance in age. Whether you are an ordinary person thinking about what legacy you will leave to your children or a public personality pondering what footprint you will leave not just to your family but to your country. Mortality forces us to face an uncomfortable question — how will I be remembered?
In the case of Rizal, he was very clear about how he wanted to be remembered. In a note he hurriedly scribbled while incarcerated in Fort Santiago, he made known his wish—“Bury me in the ground, place a stone and a cross over it. My name, the date of my birth and of my death. Nothing more. If you later wish to surround my grave with a fence, you may do so. No anniversaries.” Of course, we ignored all the wishes of the national hero.
Miriam, on the other hand, in one of her usual funny quotes said: “When I die I don’t want RIP initials on my tombstone. Ang gusto ko ISR. I Shall Return.” I think in many ways, Miriam has returned and is still with us.
When I read many of the tributes to her after her death in 2016, from ordinary folks to famous personalities, I am comforted by the thought that her ideas, her deeds, her legacy will continue to “haunt” us for a long time.
Legacies are not about monuments, statues, or busts. Truly lasting legacies are inscribed in the hearts and minds of others. It is not about building or any other structures named after you. It is about stories that will be passed down by your friends and families when they gather to remember you.
In my life, and at this age, I have attended my share of funerals and what I really like is when friends gather together and share stories about the person who passed. I am sure you, my dear readers, have experienced this too. You attend a funeral of a college friend and it becomes a mini-reunion where you swap stories about the dearly departed. I guess it is our attempt to forget the sadness and replace it with joy. Or it may be our attempt to make sure that while our friend has left us, the memories shall remain.
I have many stories about Miriam.
And, I have heard a lot of stories from those who loved and cared for her.
My conversations with Miriam were priceless — part banter (or repartee, as she would call it) part informative sessions.
I miss her laughter which strikes fear in the hearts of her enemies but elicit fondness and love in the hearts of those who genuinely know her.
What many people who simply knew her through the television and newspaper did not know is that while Miriam was a brilliant speaker, she was also an excellent listener. She would thoughtfully listen to me talk about business, politics and the mundane before she would dish out her advice.
I am proud Miriam Defensor Santiago became part of my life not just professionally but personally.
The nation is prouder to have had a public servant so brilliant and brave.
Maligayang kaarawan, kaibigan.