TO FIGHT LIKE A GIRL

The phrase “like a girl” is often used to humiliate or insult someone. It is thrown around to connote that females are indeed the weaker sex; that women are supposed to be sweet and docile, innocent and delicate — and nothing more.

Before the National Women’s Month comes to an end, I am sharing with you this story of a wife and mother who, against all insurmountable odds, was able to pull through. She managed to face, struggle and triumph over many difficult situations and adversities that plagued her family. And when you’re done reading this, you will realize that you have absolutely no right to complain about inconsequential issues and petty grievances. You will also develop enormous respect and profound admiration for people like her — people who fight like a girl.

 

A woman, no matter how fearless or independent she would like herself and others to believe her to be, can only take so much adversity and pain, loss and betrayal, and death brushing near.

At one point, she falls.

She breaks.

She shatters.

She quits.

She admits defeat.

She dies inside.

There are women, though, who take beauty and strength and courage to a completely new level. Women who go out and grab the world by the lapels. Women who don’t allow themselves to be trampled on nor be bullied by life. Women who find their voices amid the noise and chaos, and use them to affect change. Women who fight tooth and nail to assert their place in the world. Women who claw their way out of an impossible situation. Women who make other women proud to be women.

This story is about one such woman.

Warrior Woman Silhouette
Photo credit: reverbnation.com

Marie was a young bride in 1993 when, just a year after their wedding, her husband, Carlos, decided to pack his bags to work in the Middle East. Finding a decent, well-paying job in the country to support a family was like trying to find a needle in a haystack, the young couple realized. Fortunately, behind the corporation that Carlos was able to work for was a large and generous employer. The pay was awesome, the benefits were excellent, the working conditions were humane and, most importantly, he was in the company of many other OFWs like him and he was entitled to a biannual vacation.

Their separation notwithstanding, life was good. Financially, they had more than enough that they could even afford to generously help Carlos’ family. But however substantial their support might be to his parents and siblings, it never seemed to be enough.

They wanted Carlos to leave his wife and to return to them.

That was the first thorn that Marie had to endure during their marriage — a thorn which left a pain that lingers up to this day, almost 24 years into their marriage. Yes, Carlos did not heed the persistent call of his family, but Marie still feels that he could and should have done more to fight for her and their relationship. As it is, she has never heard him defend her against their lies and accusations. Carlos’ continued silence kept feeding his family’s open dislike (sometimes even bordering on hate) towards Marie. It left her feeling that her husband does not love her enough.

Now, already with four kids (aged 20, 18, 14 and 10), Marie’s relationship with her in-laws has not shown an iota of improvement. The people who should have been her partners in raising her children while Carlos is away are sadly the same people who are making things harder for her family.

Like any other OFW family (Carlos has been working in Riyahd for 23 years now), Marie and Carlos’ family experienced — and still continues to experience — the adverse effects of long periods of separation.

The couple has, over the years, accumulated numerous issues that remain unsettled between them. (Marie does not want to burden her husband with unpleasant news or petty details that could affect his work. When he is home for vacation, she also avoids bringing up serious discussions as she wants his short stay to be as relaxing as possible.) Their kids have also grown up emotionally distant from their father.

When Carlos is around, the children do a lot of tiptoeing around him. The awkwardness and uneasy relationship between the father and his four kids is heartbreaking for Marie but she has no idea how to fix it. She knows that the love is there, but the familiarity and closeness that only develop through years of constant togetherness are unmistakably absent. Carlos has missed out not only on the uneventful day-to-day experiences but also on most of the milestones in their children’s lives. And now that their only son is struggling with his sexuality and is seeking the acceptance and assurance that only a father can provide, Marie doesn’t even know how to broach the subject to Carlos for fear that he wouldn’t understand.

As if those trials were not enough to test a woman’s strength, Marie was dealt with two consecutive tragedies recently, the direness of which could propel a lesser woman to give up completely.

In August of 2013, she learned that her husband had Stage 5 Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) and, thus, urgently needed a kidney transplant. While looking for a possible donor, he had to undergo a three-times-a-week dialysis.

Knowing that her husband’s critical condition required her presence and close attention, she left their children and flew to Riyahd. She stayed there for 5 months —- 5 months of worrying about the uncertainty of her husband’s health and about the children she left behind.

When they came back to the country in time for Carlos’ vacation, their days had been occupied mostly with her husband’s dialysis sessions and a battery of pre-transplant tests for both Carlos and his brother, who agreed to be the kidney donor. However, all those diagnostic tests and procedures, the approaching surgery itself, and the post-transplant maintenance medications all came with hefty price tags. They had to raise P2 million for the transplant alone!

Marie was unemployed at that time, but she and the children were able to raise around P800th by designing, printing and selling shirts to friends and relatives from both near and far. With that amount added to the grant they were able to secure from Philhealth, the proceeds from the sale of Carlos’ car in Riyahd, and the loan that his company generously approved, the kidney transplant happened in July 2014.

Barely three months after the surgery, Carlos had to go back to Riyadh — the transplant had left them knee-deep in debts. They also had to deal with the exorbitant cost of the anti-rejection drugs and, of course, the continuing education of their children.

Still reeling from that financially debilitating, life threatening, emotionally draining and spiritually trying tragedy, Marie was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2016.

Thanks largely to her friends and former schoolmates who readily extended a much-needed hand, Marie was able to undergo mastectomy three months after. The rest of the year saw her completing her chemotherapy, while the start of 2017 witnessed her contending with a series of radiation treatments.

Her fight is far from over, though.

Next month, she is scheduled to undergo various tests that will determine if all those procedures had been successful in ridding her body of the nasty cancer cells. Recently, she learned that her husband is now at the ICU in Riyahd due to a post-kidney transplant complication called Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT). He had to undergo dialysis due to fluid retention in the lungs. He also developed pneumonia caused by excessive exposure to sandstorms that continue to rage on in the Middle East. Marie is determined to fly there once she gets a clearance from her oncologist.

When asked how she is able to handle all those family crises, she has a simple yet deeply insightful response. “I accept my fate, I have complete trust in the Lord, and I welcome each day with a grateful heart and a positive disposition.”

Now, what are YOU whining about again? Get up and fight. Fight like a girl!

AN OPEN LETTER TO MY TATAY DIGONG

Dear Tatay  Digong,

Marami po akong naririnig na negative things na sinasabi nila laban sa iyo at, bilang isa sa iyong 103-milyong mga anak, nasasaktan ako. Sino po ba namang anak ang gugustuhing matawag ang kanyang ama na psychopath, sociopath, demagogue, misogynist, pathological liar, murderer at plunderer? Wala po siguro. Subalit, ngayon, halos buong mundo ang tumutuligsa sa iyo dahil sa inyong mga kilos at pananalita. At, sadly, pati ang pagtingin nila sa ating bansa at sa mga Pilipino ay apektado.

Dati po, kilala ang Pilipinas bilang “Asia’s bastion of Christianity.” When foreigners would describe us, lagi nilang sinasabi na ang mga Pinoy ay mabait, masayahin, matulungin, madasalin at magiliw sa mga panauhin. Ngayon, may reputasyon na tayo bilang bastos, bayolente at kriminal.

Tatay, tanggap ko po na sanay kayo sa “gutter language.” Hindi nyo po inilihim sa amin ‘yan kahit na noong panahon ng kampanya. Pero nangako po kayo sa amin na, once elected at bilang respeto sa iyong posisyon bilang Ama ng Bansa, you will become dignified. Ang sabi mo pa nga, “cussing will be a thing of the past.” So, ano po ang nangyari? Mula sa Pope, sa mga Presidente at Ambassadors ng iba’t-ibang nasyon, hanggang sa mga journalists, human rights advocates, mga kalaban sa politika at kaparian — lahat sila ay nakatikim ng iyong infamous na pagmumura. Hanggang ngayon, sa mga public appearances nyo, hindi pwedeng hindi ka magmura.

Tinitingala ka namin, Tatay, at itinuturing na aming role model. Sana po, mas maganda ang mga naririnig naming salita mula sa ‘yo. Isa pa po, cursing the other heads of state will foster animosity between their countries and ours. Bilang isang third-world country pa naman, alam nyo po na hindi natin kayang mag-survive without the help of our allies. Hinay-hinay lang po, Tatay.

Sabi din po nila, wala kayong “Palabra de Honor.” Mahilig daw po kayong magbitiw ng mga pangakong alam nyo namang imposible nyong matupad.

Nangako kayo that you will “solve our traffic woes in 100 days.” Tatay, walong buwan na po kayo sa Malacanang pero ang traffic sa EDSA, lumala pa. Pangako nyo rin that you will fight “patronage politics” pero pinayagan nyo ang paglilibing kay Macoy sa Libingan Ng Mga Bayani, ang pagpapalaya kay GMA, ang pagpapatakas kay Peter Lim, ang pangangamkam ng China sa pinag-aagawang bahagi ng West Philippine Sea, at ang pagtatalaga ng mga showbiz personalities sa gobyerno. Totoo po na lahat sila ay nakatulong sa iyong kampanya pero, sana po, huwag ma-compromise ang kapakanan ng bansa sa pagnanais nyong makabayad ng utang na loob sa kanila. Country above all else po dapat, hindi ba?

Galit po kayo sa corruption, at hinahangaan ko po kayo dahil diyan. Pinagbantaan nyo pa nga dati ang mga corrupt officials na ihahagis nyo sila mula sa helicopter in mid-air, di po ba? E bakit nasa gabinete nyo pa po si Justice Sec. Aguirre? Very obvious naman during the senate investigation na plano nyang mag-extort ng pera mula kina Jack Lam. Pumutok lang ang issue kaya naghugas-kamay na lang siya. Si Sen. Pacquiao, malaki po ang atraso nya sa BIR. At si Sen. Cayetano, saang kamay ng Diyos po kaya niya nakuha ang malaking pera that he donated for your campaign?

Itong si Sen. Trillanes po, he claims na may hawak siyang mga documents proving na nagkaroon ng around P2.2 billion in deposit transactions sa bank accounts nyo. Para po mapahiya at tuluyan nang manahimik si Trillanes, bakit hindi na lang po kayo pumirma at mag-issue sa mga banko nyo ng waiver ng bank secrecy? That would effectively put to rest all these corruption allegations against you, Tatay.

Just the other day, during the celebration of International Women’s Day, you vowed to uphold gender equality. Mapaninindigan nyo po ba talaga ‘yan, Tatay, o isa na naman ‘yan sa marami mong rhetorical statements? Alam naman nating lahat na lagi nyong ipinagmamalaki ang pagiging matinik nyo sa chicks, na kesyo kaya nyong pagsabay-sabayin ang ilang babae sa buhay nyo. Hindi po ba’t isa nga ‘yan sa mga dahilan kung bakit nag-file ng annulment of marriage ang dati nyong asawa?

During the campaign, napulaan kayo dahil sa insensitive nyong comment about the Australian missionary na ginang-rape at pinatay ng mga preso. Kumalat din ang mga pictures nyo na nagpapaupo kayo sa hita at nanghahalik ng mga female supporters nyo. Nang naging Pangulo naman kayo, isa sa mga unang naging kontrobersya laban sa inyo ay ang pagpito nyo sa isang female reporter during a press conference. Hayan tuloy, sa Hollywood tv show na “Madam Secretary,” pinalabas nilang bastos ang Presidente ng Pilipinas. Kahiya-hiya po tayo sa buong mundo. Pero hindi po natin sila masisisi. Depictment lang po iyun ng kung ano ang mga naisusulat at napapanood tungkol sa inyo.

You also seem intimidated by strong women, especially women who have the balls to stand up to you. Nariyan sina Sen. De Lima (na hindi kayo tinantanan for your alleged human rights violations mula noong kayo pa ang Mayor ng Davao), SC Chief Justice Sereno (na kinwestyun ang paglalabas mo sa publiko ng mga pangalan ng mga “narco-judges”), Ombudsman Carpio-Morales (na pinaghinalaan mong siyang nagbigay ng go-signal na isiwalat ang iyong di-umano’y multibillion-peso bank accounts noong panahon ng kampanya), VP Robredo (na walang-tigil sa pagpuna sa mga patayan under your War on Drugs) at UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard (na gustong imbistigahan ang spate of unlawful killings na nangyayari under your administration). Dahil parang hindi nyo alam how to deal with strong women like them, you resort to insult and threat. Tila, you want to humiliate them. You want to break them. You want to silence them. You want to control them.

FILIPPINE_-_0510_-_Presidente
Photo credit: mironline.ca

Tatay, sa palagay nyo po ba, kung buhay pa ngayon ang inyong ina ay ikatutuwa niya ang mga ginagawa nyo sa mga kabaro nya? O ang pagpayag nyong mailibing sa LNMB ang diktador na si Marcos? Malamang po, hindi. Alam naman po natin na matapang niyang nilabanan ang lahat ng uri ng pang-aabuso noong panahon ng Martial Law, di ba?

Siguro po, dahil sa pagtingala din sa inyo bilang kanilang ehemplo kaya may mga supporters kayo na nangharass online dati sa mga kabataang babae na nakilahok sa protest rally against the controversial Marcos burial. Tatay, ganyan kalaki ang inyong kapangyarihan at impluwensya sa amin. Kaya kung gusto nyong maging magalang kami, sana po, maging mabuting modelo ka sa amin.

During your speeches, lagi nyo rin pong sinasabi na alam nyo ang ginagawa nyo dahil kayo ay dating abogado. Pero sa bibig nyo na rin po nanggaling that, when you were a city prosecutor in Davao, you used to plant evidence to help the authorities when going after criminals. Tatay, hindi po ako abogado pero sigurado po ako na ang ganoong gawain ay labag sa batas. Alam ko rin po na may batas tayo laban sa bribery. So bakit hindi nyo po kinasuhan ang Mighty Corp na, ayon kay Mr. Salvador Panelo, ay sinubukan kayo dating suhulan? Katulad ng claim ni DA Sec. Manny Piñol na binigyan siya ng isang malaking agricultural company ng Rolex watch worth P450k, ng claim ni Justice Sec. Aguirre na sinuhulan diumano ni dating Sen. Jamby Madrigal at Binan Rep. Alonte ng P100 million ang mga convicted druglords to recant their testimonies against Sen. De Lima, at ng claim ni Sec. Andanar na binayaran daw ng $1,000 ang mga reporters who covered the presscon of self-confessed DDS leader Lascañas. Totoo po ba ang mga claims at allegations na ‘yun, o produkto lang lahat ng fake news?

Tatay, you are aware how sensitive the Filipinos are sa usapin ng Martial Law. Marami pa pong sugat ang hindi naghihilom mula sa madilim at mapanupil na mga taon ng pamumuno nina Marcos. Kaya, sana po, huwag mong gagamiting banta ang pagdi-declare mo ng Martial Law under any circumstance. Ginagawa mo kaming parang mga bata na tinatakot mo when we step out of line. Hindi po nakakatuwa ang ganun, Tatay.

Naniniwala po ako na matapang ka pero bahag daw po ang buntot mo kapag China na ang kaharap mo. During the campaign, ang sabi mo, magji-jet ski ka papuntang Spratly, itatanim mo ang bandila natin doon at hahamunin mo ang mga Intsik sa suntukan o barilan. Bakit po ganun? Ngayon na kinakamkam nila ang malaking bahagi ng West Philippine Sea, biglang wala kayong magagawa dahil superpower sila? Tatay, teritoryo at kasarinlan po natin ang pinag-uusapan at ipinaglalabanan dito; ang lupain na iiwanan natin sa ating mga anak at sa kanilang mga anak. Huwag nyo naman pong isuko nang ganung kadali lamang ito lalo pa nga’t based on the ruling na ipinalabas noong isang taon ng Arbitral Tribunal ng United Nations, naipanalo po natin ang ating arbitration case against China. Tayo po ang may exclusive sovereign rights sa West Philippine Sea!

Nang nagsalita kayo sa harap ng ating mga kababayan na nasa Myanmar, sinabi po ninyo that you are against same-sex marriage dahil ayon po sa inyo, aside from our Civil Code, Katoliko tayo. Kung saan po kamo tayo ipinwesto ng Diyos, dapat doon lang tayo. Seryoso ka ba sa statement mong ‘yun, Tatay, o nagbibiro ka lang? Dati po kasi, namumula ako sa ginagawa mong pagmumura at pambabatikos sa Simbahang Katolika. Tapos, ngayon, ang paniniwala ng Katolika ang gagamitin mong sandata laban sa apela ng mga members ng LGBT community? Isa pa po, ito ang linya nyo during the campaign, “Same sex marriage is good. Everyone deserves to be happy.” Ano po ang nangyari? Sinabi nyo lang ba yun dati to secure their votes? That is not so good, Tatay.

During that same speech, sinabi nyo rin po na safe na sa Pilipinas. Sa punto pong iyon, I’m sure na nagjo-joke lang kayo.

Let me remind you, Tatay, that under your War on Drugs, mahigit 7,000 na ang namamatay ayon sa official report ng PNP. May mga “suspected” drug offenders, may mga cases of mistaken identity, at may mga bystanders – either during legitimate police operations o by rogue police officers o vigilantes na masyadong siniseryoso ang call nyo to “slaughter them all.” Just today, I heard the news about a Chemical Engineering magna cum laude graduate from UP Los Banos na bigla na lang nawalang parang bula. Nag-aabang siya ng sasakyan at 4 am dahil first day of work nya sa kumpanyang inaplayan niya. Meron rin pong isang 20-year-old na lalaki ang dinukot ng mga naka-bonnet na assailants at isinakay sa isang van na walang plaka. Ang lalaking yun ay papunta lang sa drug store para bumili ng gamot dahil may sakit ang kanyang baby. Safe ba kanyo?

Alam nyo po, everytime na lumalabas ng bahay ang mga anak ko, kinakabahan at natatakot ako. Pero, bilang ina, ang kaya ko lang pong gawin ay ang pabaunan sila ng mga habilin: (1) Huwag makikipagtinginan sa mga pulis; (2) Lalayo sa mga naka-motorsiklo, lalo na kapag riding in tandem o nakasuot ng bonnet; (3) Kapag naka-witness sila ng krimen, tumakbo palayo; at (4) Kapag namamaga ang mata nila dahil sa magdamagang pagre-review, magsuot ng colored glasses. Mabuti na po ang nag-iingat, ‘di po ba? Baka mapagbintangan silang drug addict, bigla na lang itumba at takpan ng placard na nagsasabing, “Addict ako, huwag tularan.” Hindi ko po kakayanin kapag nangyari sa isa sa mga anak ko ang ganun.

Isa pa po sa mga naririnig ko is that you cannot tolerate criticism. Kaya nga po yata galit na galit kayo sa ipinadalang video message ni VP Leni sa UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs ay dahil isiniwalat nya ang mga totoong kaganapan sa bansa dahil sa inyong War on Drugs. Masyado kamong “atat” sa posisyon si VP. At part lang kamo ang lahat ng ‘yan (pati na rin ang Impeachment Complaint na inihain laban sa inyo) ng destabilization plot against your administration. Tatay, sa tingin ko po, hindi na kailangan ang ibang tao to destabilize your government. Kayo lang po — kasama ang inyong mga kaalyado na sina House Speaker Alvarez, Senate Pres. Pimentel, Justice Sec. Aguirre, PNP Chief Dela Rosa, Solicitor General Calida, Senators Pacquiao, Sotto, Gordon at Cayetano, mga appointees na sina Cesar Montano, Perfecto Yasay at Mocha Uson, at ang mga ka-DDS ko at mga bayarang trolls — ay sapat na to do the job effectively. Self-destructing nga raw po ang administrasyon nyo e.

Finally po, Tatay, nakikiusap ako sa inyo. Stop inciting emotional chaos. Temper your emotions lalo na kapag nasa harap kayo ng publiko. And don’t try to silence the opposition. Dapat nga po, you welcome dissent dahil ‘yun ang katunayan na buhay ang demokrasya sa ilalim ng iyong pamumuno.

‘Tay, I really hope and pray that you will soon start acting like the unifying and dignified President that you promised us you will be. The country deserves nothing less.

Nagmamalasakit,

Ang inyong anak

 

PS: Don’t forget to take your meds, Tatay. Nag-iiba ang timpla nyo kapag nakaka-miss kayo e.