Milestones and turning points: Joys of the game of living


When I turned 50 in 2003, I celebrated my having been able to trim my weight down and achieve a nearly ideal body-mass index. This week, I marked a milestone birthday that gives me a good reason to reflect on significant life lessons learned along the way.

My mama Lydia framed birthday photos of my first 10 years. She brought me to the Holy Nazarene Shrine in Quiapo for morning mass.  Then we walked over to Brown’s studio on Dasmariñas street for picture-taking. Filed in some photo albums are pictures of my grade school and high school graduation plus year-end recognition programs where she and Daddy Herminio pinned some medals. Those albums must have snapshots, too, of our family’s Christmas season reunions.

My reverie into yesteryears has made me realize that most of life’s turning points happened during the 70s and 80s.

In June 1969, I became a freshman student at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City, with student number 69-01807. This is not an insignificant detail. Whenever I get to meet someone who is introduced or known to be a fellow UP alumnus, asking about the student number is a surefire way of igniting an animated conversation.

The onset of the First Quarter Storm of 1970 is etched deeply into my psyche. It marked an abrupt end to my carefree teenage days that turned into days of activist ferment. Elected first as college councilor, then as university councilor in the UP Student Council, I participated in teach-ins in classrooms and dormitories, as well as in protest marches that ended up in Plaza Miranda or at the US embassy on Roxas Boulevard.

In 1971, there were actions to demand action to improve the facilities of the Philippine General Hospital that was also the training school for UP medical students. Then came the bombing of the Liberal Party rally in Plaza Miranda that was followed by the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus and the arrest and detention of many activist leaders. On Sept. 23, 1972, I was arrested and detained in Camp Crame for the next 47 days under the martial law decree.

I finished my bachelor’s course as a political science major in October 1973. In March 1974, I was employed as a personnel supervisor to oversee the editing and publication of an employee communication magazine for a leading commercial bank. Decades later, I was appointed as Communications Secretary (more commonly known as Press Secretary) by President Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III and years later, as Manila Bulletin publisher. My first job was in the same field as the capstone jobs of my professional career in government and in the business sector. In retrospect, it was also my first job in the bank that enabled me to obtain an MBA degree from the Asian Institute of Management (AIM).

In June 1988, AIM hired me as an Associate Professor. Thus began a 28-year stint in the academe that also enabled me to serve in government while on sabbatical or work leave. My first job in government was serving as undersecretary at the Department of Agrarian Reform in the last quarter of 1989 under then Secretary Miriam Defensor Santiago. She asked me to serve with her after I introduced her as a speaker at the national conference of the People Management Association of the Philippines (PMAP and interacted with her in a development management program at the AIM. I served as PMAP President in 1988 representing my previous employer before I opted to join the academe.

From the foregoing, one would glean a confluence of series of seemingly separate events that later on formed a chain of significant milestones in my professional career. Edwin Markham’s words come to the fore: “There is a destiny which makes us brothers; none goes his way alone. All that we send into the lives of others comes back into our own.”

But it is Samuel Ullman’s poem on Youth that I wish to use as a marker for my milestone birthday celebration this year:

“Youth is not a time of life; it is a state of mind. It is a matter of the will, a quality of the imagination, vigor of the emotions; it is the freshness of the deep spring of life. Youth means a temperamental predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease.”
“Whether 60 or 16, there is in every human being’s heart the lure of wonders, the unfailing childlike appetite for what’s next and the joy of the game of living. In the center of your heart and my heart there is a wireless station. So long as it receives messages of beauty, hope, cheer, courage and power from men and from the Infinite, you are young.”