Sharing my life story

Notebook Jan 10, 2014 at 5:32 pm

Notebook_Jan-2014Being a baby boomer, I have always felt life is forever; that life just goes on; that the excitement of the life you became accustomed to, from the earth-shaking events of the Sixties when boomers like you were in high school, to the tumultuous Seventies when revolutions caught you in university campus, would never stop. True enough, the Eighties brought about the computers and the Internet, to the cell phones of the Nineties and the magical smart phones and tablets, the ever-present social media of the 2000’s. Everything is in a state of flux. Experiencing the unexpected is the new normal. (The downside is, Big Brother is really upon us, the NSA with its global reach.) Life goes on very fast and very furious.

Until boomers started talking about reunions, college and high school reunions. Boomers suddenly are reminded of their age. What 40th anniversary? 50th anniversary of our high school? That’s half a century!

That sounds more like a wake-up call. But really, we have talked of retirement for sometime, about applying for pension and old age security. And for some, maintenance drugs seem to have become a part of life. And phone calls and emails start to be more about ailments and medical lab tests.  But when your high school classmates start organizing a reunion after 50 years since graduation, that’s what I call a curtain call, an alarm bell ringing, a time to bow, to take heed of what you’ve done with your life. Certainly 50 years from high school is a lot of time.

So my classmates from the Far Eastern University Boys High School (circa 1964) decided to publish a yearbook of sorts. Or rather, a golden book that would serve as a souvenir program of our golden anniversary reunion in Manila. And that book will contain profiles or life stories written individually by each classmate. It’s like an epitaph on your grave, to be morbid about it. Only that this is not a one-sentence quote. This is a self-profile of about 400 words or longer as mine turned out to be. We wrote some suggested guideline questions that each may want to answer if he wishes. To cut this introduction short, the following is my version of a life story.
Born in Manila, March 1947.

Married to Milagros Astorga, with three children: Norman, Lawrence, Kalayaan; four grandchildren: Serena, Santiago, Domenic and Na’eema.

FEU Boys High; UP Diliman (and UP Extension), majored in economics but learned more about politics, history, social justice and social change. Thanks to some teachers and students who went beyond the textbooks and taught me about the world. Took journalism, statistics and accounting courses at Ryerson University and Seneca College (Toronto).

Occupation, pre-occupation: Publisher and editor of a community newspaper, The Philippine Reporter, a Toronto-based twice-a-month 25-year old print publication with an online edition ( Previously worked in Manila as a senior writer in a national weekly magazine and later as desk editor and editorial writer in a daily newspaper. Now eager to retire to concentrate on writing about people, country, social, political issues and historical events. President, Philippine Press Club of Ontario; President, Community Alliance for Social Justice which has campaigned for the recognition of foreign-trained professionals, advocated for caregiver rights and welfare, and non-racist policing.

Priceless: Hanging out with grandkids, chilling out with them in malls, parks, places; sharing views and biases on movies and books with retired wife; banter and hearty laughter.

Based in Toronto, Canada with wife and close to family and extended family.
Enjoy most: Reading, watching movies and documentaries about the whys and wherefores of the current human condition, the social forces, values and systems, the truths and myths of history; the human brain; the entrenched social structures that exist despite the pressures for them to give in to change; health and wellness. Writing from the heart with a critical mind. Listening to jazz and pop music.

Baptism of fire: My first foray into journalism turned out to be my baptism of fire, when the hard-hitting community newspaper we put up in 1969, the Dumaguete Times, which published stories about the exploitation of peasants in Negros Oriental, was forcibly closed down by the military after only five issues. The entire staff, including myself and my wife, were arrested on trumped-up charges and thrown in jail. The charges, however, were summarily dismissed for lack of evidence. We were released after a month and a half, thanks to the determined efforts of our lawyers and the strong campaign for press freedom launched by the National Press Club.

Greatest achievements: 1.)
Having published and edited for 25 years (from 1989) a newspaper that chronicled the struggles, challenges and triumphs, the foibles and follies of a country and its people, including its diaspora, specifically the Toronto Filipino community; and awarded for best editorial and design five times in 10 years by the National Ethnic Press and Media Council of Canada.  2.) Having participated personally in the historic struggle of the Filipino people against a violent and corrupt dictatorship. I was tortured and held in political prison for six and a half years from 1974 to 1981, under martial law and before that was an activist, writer and organizer, advocate for true democracy and national freedom. I gained a deeper understanding of humanity from the hundreds of political detainees in three military camps, from their sufferings, aspirations and strength of character, some cruelly tortured, deprived of dignity and some returned to the struggle and gave their lives for the cause. 3.) Lasting marriage (45 years) that is kept young with shared love, interests and concern for others; and a closely-knit family with values of caring and sharing regardless of faith and situations.

Regret: I wish I had returned home early to serve my country and people directly. Kids and grandkids would have grown up as Filipinos in the homeland imbibing Filipino culture and learning their people’s heroic history. To be separated from your roots is not a good thing.

High school gave me a taste of freedom of thought and expression that I would not give up later in life no matter what it cost me. I enjoyed the educational environment, the interaction with teachers and other students. The extra-curricular activities, the student paper, the dramatic plays, debate and oratorical contests, boy scout campings, and co-ed events with the Girls High students.

Ideal world: I prefer a world where there’s no immense and increasing income gap, no hunger, no human rights violations, no human trafficking and slavery, no torture, no political imprisonment, no racism and discrimination, no gender inequality, no disaster or greedy capitalism, no wars of occupation or proxy wars, no drones that kill unarmed civilians, no dishonest “journalists,” where man’s inhumanity to man doesn’t exist, where there’s true equal opportunity, etc. Utopian wish? If we move forward from this mess, no matter how slow, it will be humanity’s progress. Think John Lennon’s “Imagine” lyrics.

Bucket list: 1. Tour the historical and ancient sites of Asia, Africa, Latin America, Europe, U.S. and the Arab world. 2. Watch old films of James Dean, Marlon Brando, Robert de Niro, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson, Daniel Day-Lewis, Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet, Cate Blanchett, Marion Cotillard, and the major actors of the Philippines. 3. Shake the hands of Fidel Castro, Muhammad Ali, Ralph Nader, Pope Francis, David Suzuki, Noam Chomsky, Naomi Klein, Tony Bennet, Joan Baez and Astrud Gilberto, all fighters and survivors. 4. Write my memoirs, write other books and publish a coffee table book; interview some of the giants of political movements and literature. 5. Tell my life story to my grandkids.

IV-1 Class wish: Should regroup, after 50 years from graduation, strengthen the bonds forged from youth and find ways to give back as a group to society, home country and people. Meet more often to do this – once every six months initially.

FEU Boys High was an awesome learning environment. How could it have spawned achievers, trailblazers, legal minds, revolutionaries, entrepreneurs, disciplined professionals and extraordinary fun-loving guys from the awkwardness of punky puberty to the mastery of their own universe?

(Note: My long bucket list looks intimidating. Seems like I have no intention of kicking the bucket any time soon. Suggestion: If you have not, go rent and watch the movie “Bucket List” starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. It’s life-changing and heartwarming especially for people nearing their “expiry date.”)


By John Lennon

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people
Living for today…

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one