eK! is electronic Kabalen (eksite.com), a web-exclusive Kapampangan journal of ideas

tec sanchez-tolosa
tec sanchez-tolosa JUST LIKE a surrogate mother, giving up the child that was never hers in the first place.

That was how I felt yesterday, when I realized that I just let go of one year's worth of writing work. I had been to the printer, perhaps for the last time in relation to this project, to give the final approval for the printing of the book. I affixed my signature on every page of the blueprinted manuscript, left them on the table, and gave my final and definite go. First to be approved was the main body—inside pages, the layout artist called them; then the cover, followed by the title page, copyright page and table of contents; and finally, the author's and scribe's notes.

I was promised a delivery next week, just in time for the scheduled launch.

Lest I confuse you with what has become this starting-from-the-middle habit of mine, let me walk you from the beginning of this story.

About a year ago, a fellow Kapampangan and Fernandino, Dr. Reynaldo B. Aquino, approached me and opened the topic of helping him write a book. He had nurtured, for some time, the desire to narrate his life and share his life lessons in a lasting piece of bound and written work. Having come from about sixteen years of public service, it was not an easy thing to do. Currently the president of the Philippine Health Insurance Corporation (PhilHealth), Dr. Aquino started as a civic leader in the Cabalen Jaycees and the Kiwanis Club of San Fernando, at and around the time he became a full-fledged surgeon. He then moved on to become vice-mayor and, later, mayor of his hometown of San Fernando, Pampanga and then representative of the province's third district. Timetables were always full, there was always some place he had to be, or people he had to meet with. Writing it in the middle of an elective term might lend undue political color to what was envisioned to be a memoir of sorts, a non-partisan recollecting and gathering of experiences that started way before he engaged in his political inclinations.

My role was to put into words that came together for a light, smooth flow, the story of his life—not only his career as a figure in the public eye, but as the human being that he is: a child of his parents, a boy in the marketplace, a teen finding his way through, and the man of his family and office that he had become. I was to be the scribe, to immortalize in writing his achievements, thoughts and reflections.

Scribes have been around for as long as history can remember. In fact, written historical accounts owe their existence to scribes who have recorded events, taken dictation and created records for royalty, cities and kingdoms. It is a blessing that in this age of technology, one has to just click away at the keyboard. I had not parked my proverbial pen, as thought by some who have not read my work recently; I had simply test-driven it on a new, widely-expanded and open, inviting freeway.

I had my apprehensions and concerns. How much of what I heard would I believe? Was I obliged to write down every single thing I picked up? How could it be written to sound like Dr. Aquino and not like me?

The Greek historian Herodotus of Halicarnassus, in his wise ways, had said in ancient times, "I am bound to tell what I am told, but not in every case to believe it." Even as scribe, I felt it was my right to ask questions, as pointblank and probing as they may be perceived. There was no other way I would do it. Many times, in the middle of his narration, I would cut in and ask whatever it was I needed to clarify. I had requested the kind doctor to answer everything I put to question, but to specify which private issues or comments he thought were best kept private. We were set on producing a memoir, not tabloid fodder; we wanted to share viewpoints, not the results of a fact-finding committee.

The trepidation notwithstanding, I was naturally excited. It was to be my second book and my first commissioned work.

Three years earlier, I had already launched my first book, on poetry: Ing Bie kung Delanan, Ing Bie kung Balikan (The Life I Lived, The Life Iíll Return To), I called it. With its thirty poems in Kapampangan, 29 of which were translated (the 30th being a trilingual buffet that, inspite of the mix, could be read and understood in context), I had hoped to present my share in preserving and honoring the Kapampangan language and heritage I am so fiercely proud of. Prior to its publication, there have been few books printed in the language and they came definitely far between. By showcasing the traditional and then experimenting with known English forms in Kapampangan (I had a villanelle and a sestina in there, as well as free verse) talking about the usual suspects—love, country and family, I aimed to bring to young readers' attention the beauty of the language they hardly know in present times. For older readers, I was certain they would connect with me—if the reaction of three esteemed poets of AGTACA (Aguman Talasulat Capampangan) was to be the basis. Pushing it further, when no one was looking, in some of the poems I created personas who talked in a way not evident in the old/traditional Kapampangan poems I had extensively reviewed: taking on introspective tones, cognizant of their sensuality, sexuality, brooding passions and personal torment. I half-expected na matampa ku gamat, similar to the ways of old, when we (supposedly prim and proper, well-educated females, especially) were reprimanded sternly about the things we were not supposed to say, feel or think about. No one did.

Whether no one dared, or no one cared, is entirely another avenue for discourse.

Who was it, among my Pinoypoets friends, who said that "ang bawat tula at bawat gawa ay parang anak, di mo maitakwil... may kanya-kanyang ganda, na kailangan mong makita?" The book being all mine, I was personally so protective of that collective piece of work.

Like a mother unto a child of her own.

This time it was different.

There was a story here, but it was not mine. Owing to some inability of the owner to "carry it to full term," the formed embryo of an idea had to be taken and nurtured by me. It was a thread of a story that had started to unravel, and it was incumbent upon me to keep it rolling until it was totally exposed. And so Dr. Aquino told me his tales and I listened, month in and month out, at some table in a restaurant or a café, over pasta dinners, Vietnamese noodles or mocha latte. His words went straight to a tape recorder that similarly rolled on, just as there were batteries to feed it. In most instances I tried to be true to his words and his tone; at times I had to substitute a term with another.

It may be easier when the narrator and the listener know each other. I think it is not a simple matter to open up to a stranger who asks you guide questions that range from the mundane (your favorite food, your favorite movie? ) to the dangerously delicate (who were the women you cared for? ) or the outrightly painful (tell me how you loved your mother and how you lost her). It is not easy for anyone, for a man particularly, to let his tears show when remembering becomes heavy on the heart. I have known Dr. Aquino since I was eighteen; we were neighbors in St. Dominic Subdivision in San Fernando, where my family lived for some time when my dad, Virgilio "Baby" Sanchez, was mayor of the town. Ours was an acquaintance that flitted from here and there, strengthened occasionally during casual encounters in social gatherings, renewed most recently in September 2006 when my dad perished in an accident in China during an export mission. Then-Congressman Aquino was one of the first persons who condoled and offered their assistance to our bereaved family.

With what he called the "common ingredients" between us—the same hometown, similar educational background as physicians, both having been exposed to the public life—he felt that I was as good as any man or woman to tackle the project with him.

In the writing of his memoir, I realized at the outset that the first-person perspective that we chose to adopt is highly limited. Its vision is narrow, but it lends the most credible, poignant stance for personal reflection. It offers the deepest understanding of what a person has undergone. Boiling down to objective—which was to share his life and narrate as much as possible of what he can remember, in order to inform, impart and possibly to inspire—I think we started on good footing and proceeded rather well. I advise the reader of the book to leave his perceptions at the doorstep, so to speak. While the person in the spotlight is a political figure, the resultant work is not a politician's profile. The book does not even give a glimpse of his resume; everything is rendered anting kwentu mu. I often say this: there is much to be learned and to think about, if only we see this (and each) individual for his tale and not his title.

And so this story which coursed through me, I now turn over to its rightful owner; though not my own, inevitably it contains something of me now. Moreover, it has taught me something: not only about my subject, but many other things about life in general. I find it unavoidable, that when a person studies another or listens to him, he learns something about himself or herself along the way. It is a basic feature of shared humanity, I think. If we set aside preconceived notions or opinions and learn to appreciate each human person for the story he has to tell, then we will find we all have something to give.


[About the author. Tec Sanchez-Tolosa, MD is a full-blooded Kapampangan and a mother of three. A member of Pinoypoets since 2006, she is the author of the Kapampangan poetry collection "Ing Bie Kung Delanan, Ing Bie Kung Balikan (2006)." Some of her poems have been published in emanilapoetry and the online poetry journal Makata. While enrolled in her M.A. Creative Writing program, she was included in the anthology Sleepless in Manila. Tec is also a seasoned medical writer, with printed works in health publications and major dailies. She worked briefly with the ABS-CBN Foundation as a scriptwriter/researcher in the early stages of Sine'skwela. Raised in Manila and educated in St. Theresa's College during her formative years, she is a product of the University of the Philippines-Diliman, where she graduated with a B.S. in Biology. She later became a Doctor of Medicine and trained in diseases of the skin, hair and nails. She is now a Philippine Dermatological Society (PDS) Board-certified Dermatology specialist with an active practice in San Fernando, Pampanga and Quezon City.]

-Posted: 11:13 AM 10/26/09 | More of this author on eK!
Nextnext