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Sunday, March 3, 2024

Bliss or bore

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“Through the bliss or bore, the saddest element is to note the deterioration of our once beautifully livable country into what could soon be a basket case”

To celebrate the end of ghost month two weeks ago, a Chinoy friend tendered dinner for some Filipino-Chinese current and former government officials who fully or partly trace their ancestors from the Middle Kingdom.

One of the invitees, a high official in the current administration, asked me what I was doing these days, and when I responded by saying “happily retired,” he said: “Ang lakas mo pa, ah.”

Indeed I thank the good Lord for having given me relatively good health compared to classmates who have either passed away too soon or have aged considerably.

Maybe it’s the genes, especially from my maternal side, although my grandfather and an uncle’s life were cut short by Japanese atrocities during the “liberation” of Luzon.

I was a young entrepreneur in the martial law years, after graduating from college, and, interspersed through those years, I dabbled in part-time teaching just to keep my brains fed with reading and interaction.

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Then, after some travels around the world, I decided to see if I would prefer living in the US of A, but that was where my chance meeting with then exile Ninoy Aquino changed the course of my life.

He encouraged me to go back to the country and help organize the political opposition to the authoritarian regime of our president’s father.

And I did, with then assemblyman and former senator Salvador “Doy” Laurel, whom Ninoy described to me as his best friend, “more than a brother to me.”

Thus did we organize the United Nationalist Democratic Organization or UNIDO.

I had been postmaster-general when the postal service was yet a bureau under the Ministry of Transportation and Communications, later a department, then much later divided into two departments: the DoTr and DICT.

Then I was appointed by President Erap as his Philippine Tourism Authority general manager with the pay grade of an undersecretary, and, days later, he wanted me to serve concurrently as Presidential Adviser for Political Affairs, from which I drew no emoluments to avoid double compensation.

Interspersed through the appointive positions, I was a consultant to Vice President Laurel, Senator Orly Mercado, Senate President Marcelo B. Fernan, Rep. Hernando B. Perez, Rep. Ronaldo B. Zamora, and Senator Panfilo M. Lacson.

I also wrote columns for the Tribune of the late Ninez Cacho Olivarez, Malaya and Abante of the late Jake Macasaet, and of course, this paper.

In President PNoy’s time, I was administrator of the National Food Authority until I decided to make a run for a congressional seat in the mid-term elections of 2013, but a heart angioplasty sidelined me and I had to forego the campaign upon my family’s insistence.

When President Duterte won in 2016, he asked me what position I preferred, and I replied that I wanted to be in a less active post, opting to be Chairman of the Manila Economic and Cultural Office in Taipei, our de facto embassy in Taiwan.

I stayed there until the middle of 2021, when I resigned to take active participation in yet another presidential campaign.

So how do I spend my retirement or semi-retirement these days?

To begin with, and to make myself au courant on events in the country and region, I write twice for this esteemed paper.

I have kept a close circle of lunch and dinner friends. On Wednesdays, it is a group of mostly former government officials and businessmen-friends, meeting over lunch and discussing political and economic issues.

On Thursdays, over another sumptuous lunch, I join a group formed since the fall of Erap, and still going strong 22 years after, halted only during the lockdown years.

It is composed of current and former government officials along with big businessmen and corporate executives, where again the discussions range from the mundane to the sublime.

In both groups, the members are of different political stripes, from yellow to red to blue and green, with no one I believe to have supported the recent pinks.

The businessmen have survived every government from Marcos Sr. to Marcos Jr. because of their acumen and sharp instincts.

Twice a month, to keep myself feeling younger, because the Wednesday and Thursday groups are made up of almost completely senior citizens, I join a small group of younger men in their 40s and 50s, where I am the only person possessed of a senior citizen discount card.

Two were former journalists who served in government as well, three are successful entrepreneurs, one a champion sportsman, and occasionally we invite another friend or two.

Once a month, I join former high officials of the Duterte administration over dinner and premium wines provided by a member who is a certified vin connoisseur.

This way, the boredom of retirement is assuaged by good company and good banter.

But of course, bliss is provided by six grandchildren whose ages range between an eight-month- old infant, all the way to a young man of 18, two of whom visit with their parents from a foreign country each year.

From time to time, I am able to travel, by land or air to the provinces, and, in my latest such trip, I sat with Mayor Benjie Magalong of Baguio City, where I had an interesting conversation with a friend I have long admired.

At times, I sit with a tycoon or two from the Forbes list, with whom I get incisive first- hand information about the state of our economy.

And along with family or friends, I am able to travel abroad, where a sense of frustration greets me at the NAIA, from departure to arrival, although the state of Terminal One is much improved, thanks to the innovative efforts of an acting manager who was deposed unfairly by the Ombudsman.

I shun NAIA Terminal Three which is almost always in a state of pure bedlam.

The sense of frustration deepens when you compare the state of our benighted land with neighboring countries. Never mind Japan or Europe or even Singapore, which have left us eons of years away.

My grand-uncles used to talk about a Taiwan that was comparably so poor in the 50s and 60s, but look at where they are now, sans a bounty of natural resources the Philippines has been gifted with, and wasted away.

At the ASEAN, we used to talk about the founding fathers: Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and our country. Even Indonesia with twice and a half our population has pulled away.

I have been to Thailand and Malaysia in the early 80s, and, boy, how their economies have left us eating the dust.

We used to refer to the laggards as the VLMC, meaning Vietnam, Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia.

Now our ASEAN brothers have relegated us to PLMC, because Vietnam is surging ahead, with an economic and investment momentum that will bring tears to our eyes.

Through the bliss or bore, the saddest element is to note the deterioration of our once beautifully livable country into what could soon be a basket case, where the same problems haunt us and where the increasing mass of poor people exist in wretched poverty against the excessive greed of the few who lord it over us all.

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