By Ellen Tordesillas
Watching Tuesday evening the enthralling rendition of the "Impossible Dream" by Filipino sopranos Rachelle Gerodias, Joanna Ampil; Vietnamese tenor Duc Tuan with Honna Tesuji, a Japanese, conducting a specially assembled Symphony Orchestra composed of Filipino musicians during the Vietnam National Day celebration at the Sofitel Hotel, what came to my mind was one of Philippine democracy's martyr, Evelio Javier, whose widow, Precious Lotilla-Javier was laid to rest in Antique Wednesday.
"The Impossible Dream" was Evelio's favorite song.
The song is from the musical "Man from La Mancha", which was adapted from Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes' masterpiece "Don Quixote."
Precious' moving tribute to Evelio at the end of the latter's funeral mass in February 1986 (Evelio's assassination sparked the first People Power that ended the 20-year Marcos dictatorship), had references to the dreamer Don Quixote character.
She said, "Evelio used to say that if you tilt at windmills, they will either crush you to the grounds or either cast you among the stars. His enemies thought in killing him that they had crushed him to the ground, but I look around among you and I know that they have cast him among the stars."
Last week it was to Precious that we said goodbye. Her sons, Gideon and David, said she has been battling lung cancer (she doesn't smoke!) and she died in her sleep last Aug. 17 in her home in Los Angeles.
Antiquenos and people whose lives were touched by Evelio and Precious went to her two-day wake at the Christ the King church in Quezon City (she was buried beside Evelio in San Jose, Antique).
Former President Fidel Ramos was there. FVR said he had offered Precious the position of secretary of Social Services and Development at the start of his administration but she declined.
FVR always made sure that Precious was invited in his meetings with the Filipino community in all his L.A visits.
After FVR's November 1993 U.S. visit, I stayed behind in L.A to visit relatives and friends. I met up with Precious and she brought me to a book store. She got a big book on the history of wars for FVR.
Precious is one of the very few Filipinos in the U.S. I know that will not bring a visiting friend from the Philippines to an outlet store of designer items. Aside from book stores, her hospitality includes bringing friends to museums.
She brought me twice to the Getty museum and to the Griffith Observatory, where the classic James Dean movie "Rebel without a Cause" was shot. She even sent me a DVD of the 1955 movie later.
In this age of Facebook and Twitter, Precious is also the only person from whom I get Christmas cards by post mail.
I will not be getting Christmas cards by mail any more. I will miss Precious, her generous heart, her beautiful mind, her humility, her deep love for Antique.
In his eulogy for his aunt, former Energy Secretary Raphael Perpetuo Lotilla said he tried to make Precious "speak" by quoting or paraphrasing her.
Images of a True Lady for Others
By Raphael Perpetuo Lotilla
Thank you Gideon, David, Connie and Tito Bert, for entrusting me with the eulogy for Auntie Precious this morning.
Friends and family:
As a teacher, Precious Lotilla Javier would not have minded a teaching touch at the start: an explanation that eulogy comes from a Greek word "eulogia". Its definition that I like best is "good words". This phrase allows us to focus on a person's active life excelling in ways that are important to humanity. Its essential purpose is, therefore, for us the living to learn virtues from a life well lived.
Drawing up a eulogy for the woman we honor today is at once formidable and effortless. Easy, because the unending stream of tributes given by others is there to draw upon; difficult, because the richness of her life and the variety of roles she played in different lives defy capture in one quick sweep.
May I, therefore, instead contribute to her remembrance by sharing some images with you of this person I would say is one true person for others.
In the notes she shared, among the outstanding themes are the values of love and selflessness that she imbibed as a daughter. She could not come home to Antique when her parents passed away, but she was one with family from afar. She wrote:
—I remember the letters I got about my father's funeral. So many of the former students came. They all had stories to tell my brothers, sisters and those who were there. They all told the same story- my father's own idealism and impossible dream. It was not big time heroic idealism and dream. He, in his own humble and small way saw a need and he wanted to be of help. My father saw how poor parents in Sibalom were struggling to send their kids to San Jose, for a secondary education. Transportation and boarding expenses alone made the process unaffordable.—
Despite many difficulties, her father Vicente Lotilla ran the Sibalom branch of the Antique Academy after the San Jose branch was sold to the Mill Hill Fathers and became St. Anthony's College.
She went on:— My father paid much for his idealism but it was all worth it. He was happy doing what he had aspired to do in life. Students often did not have money to pay tuition. Ma-tanum or mang-ani anay to get some money. In-between planting and harvest seasons, our living room was always full of parents pleading for tuition payment extension. To pay his teachers, my father would sell his palay or mongo. Oftentimes, I wanted maybe a new dress or shoes but the priority was the teacher's salaries which he paid on installment basis. —
Of her beloved mother, she had this to say:
—Thank you so much for remembering Mama. She was so devoted to God and her family. The sacrifices she made and her devotion to her husband, her children and her home- I will always remember with pride and gratitude. And to think that she had no role model as her own mother died giving birth to her. Her maternal aunt took care of her, and when she was of school age her father made her an interna in a convent in Cebu City against the wishes of her aunt. Her aunt felt the convent was good for schooling but not an ideal place to raise a child 24/7. But my grandfather who was in the US Army turned over his 6 or 7 year old child to the Spanish nuns. He only took her out of Imaculada Concepcion when he retired from the military service and built a home in Iloilo. Each time I misbehaved when I was a child, Mama would always tell me how I took for granted a mother's love and care. She said the nuns pampered her but she was always lonely— longing for a mother.
As a mother, I had Mama as my role model- especially when the going would get tough: caring for sick children, times of financial need, home and resources management.—
The youngest of six children, 8 years younger than her next older sibling, Tito Bert who is with us, Auntie Precious was showered with love by her sisters and brothers, a supportive clan and numerous friends in Sibalom.
Love at an added dimension had its seeds early in her life. It was the summer of 1957, barely after she turned 12. The setting was hardly romantic, the old antique arrival/departure area in San Jose airport. Auntie Precious was with her parents to see off her elder sister Mercy to resume her college schooling in Manila. There, while waiting for the PAL plane's arrival, a solterito of around 15 years of age sat near her and kept staring at her—without saying a word. She became self-conscious and uncomfortable with the unsolicited attention and started to move around in the small airport building. But the teen-aged boy persistently kept following her. She had no clue on who he was except that he was travelling with the daughters of Manila-based Dr. Maring Quilino Flores. Probably a younger brother, she guessed. She also thought she heard the girls with him call him Virgilio. And that was her unforgettable earliest encounter with the young man she concluded was named Virgilio Flores.
She only learned his real name at a party in 1962, when they were first introduced. But they moved on with their lives. They were both in serious relationships with other people when they met again during a party of the same person who first introduced them. Nestor Lotilla Pechueco-Uy had a thanksgiving party at the U & I restaurant in San Jose in December 1964. By that time, the young man would not let go of her. It took him two years. She accepted him in December 1966. In 1968, she got married to the same man, her one and only love: Evelio Javier.
Some of you have said that, like her Mama, she would have preferred a quieter life than that of a politician's wife. But, regardless of her preferences, it was for love that she immersed herself in it and did her best as "First Lady" of Antique.
The election struggle of 1971 and the glory days of Camelot in Antique I shall leave for others more directly involved in them to retell.
In July of 1980, the entire family left for the US. As she narrated to Nestor Burgos of the Inquirer, Evelio wanted to carry on his fight for the restoration of democracy in the Philippines to the US. He wanted to join the opposition already there—Ninoy and Raul Manglapus—in bringing to the attention of US policy makers the true state of democracy in the Philippines.
"Evelio was able to qualify for admission and a full scholarship for a Master's Degree in Public Administration at Harvard's J.F. Kennedy School of Government. When we got there, Ninoy was a Visiting Fellow at the Harvard Center for International Affairs."
"Ninoy and Evelio often went to daily Mass at St. Paul's Church at the Harvard campus. They would also get together when Philippine opposition leaders would visit Boston. We lived near the campus and once in a while Evelio would take me with him to Ninoy's office at the Center for International Affairs."
"One night, I was so terrified by my dream. I saw Ninoy and Evelio shot one after the other as they went down the stairs of Harvard Memorial Hall. Harvard Memorial Hall was built to honor the memory of all Harvard students who fought in America's wars."
Her most trying days took place in February 1986 when those dreams spilled into reality, bringing grief and suffering to her and to her two young sons Gideon and David.
She shared another dream she had in those difficult days: "A few days after we buried Evelio, the night before the children and I were going back to the US, People Power started. When we arrived home in Los Angeles, I turned on the TV to watch what was going on in the Philippines. I was very tired and I fell asleep for a few seconds on the couch as I was watching the coverage of People Power. I dreamed that I was watching People Power unfold on TV. I saw jubilant people on the streets. I saw Evelio in a barong tagalog among the crowd. He was jumping up and down and waving his hands flashing his well-known election peace or "V" sign. I woke up right away. I felt sad the dream ended too soon."
A woman of enormous courage, over the years she found meaning in her grief and pain, and drew upon them to console others. This I see in a letter of condolence she sent to a well-loved friend in LA who lost a parent in Antique. The letter, in part, reads:
"I think of you and write you now with mixed emotions. The pain of loss, loneliness, and grief are not strangers to me. You were with a lot of friends and relatives in Antique—there was so much emotional support. You return home here in LA to an empty house—and your aloneness becomes intense. You remember your father and your mother the way they were; the way you all were…"
In those 30 years in Los Angeles, Gideon is right in saying that his Mom found a life for herself. And it was a life richly lived for others. The volume of cards she sent out each Christmas to family and friends, not counting those on birthdays and on special occasions, continues to astound me. I was asking David how many cards his Mom mailed each year-end, and they were at least hundreds; counting in emails, they were innumerable.
For those who are wondering what she mainly did in LA, you may wish to know that she worked as Medical Education Manager of the House Research Institute dedicated to improving the life of people with hearing loss and related disorders. The Institute proudly states "We share our knowledge with the scientific and medical communities as well as the general public through our education and outreach programs. House Clinic physicians volunteer their time to teach specialty courses in the Institute's professional education programs, attended by more than 25,000 doctors and research fellows since 1946." One of the Filipino doctors who trained at the Institute and went to her wake in Manila told me that she practically ran the program single-handedly and attended to everything from his admission and entry to the US to ensuring quality teaching in the course. He related that when Auntie Precious had to undergo treatment, the Institute had to adjust to her schedule. After retirement at age 66, she continued to work and was provided an assistant by the Institute.
She remained an educator, a teacher to the end. Our Bishop has just referred to the endless tributes given by her former students. As a teacher myself, I can only hope that the way my students would remember me would approximate how students of Auntie Precious recall her with fondness.
Towering above all else in the life of Auntie Precious was her unconditional love for her sons Gideon and David. She was at her happiest when they were physically around her, particularly when Connie and Andy the grandson joined them—even if, as she confessed, they were all pounding away at their laptops and ipads and communicating with the rest of the world.
President Ramos who was at the Manila wake the day before yesterday recalled that he offered her a position in his Cabinet. As I thought about it, I came to the conclusion that her acceptance was ruled out at a time when she was seeing her boys through school.
In a portion of her letter to console a beloved friend, I find a message for Gideon, Connie, and Andy, and for David and his future family: "Home is where the heart is…I pray for the eternal repose of your parents who are together now and for eternity. I pray that you will be given comfort and strength at all times. A part of your mother and your father lives in you and so they are always with you and with us …"
I look at my cousins and I see two fine lads without doubt—graduates of Ivy League schools, principally brought up by their Mom alone. Gideon and David, should you feel at times that your Mom was given extra affection by family and friends because she was a widow, and you because you were orphans, please see in it the nobility of the culture where your parents were rooted. Unlike in ancient feudal European and Jewish societies where widows and orphans were thrown to the margins of society, Antique showers them with great affection. Embrace the heritage that your Mom has left you, and that by your Dad. Please feel welcome to draw upon them as a source of strength for yourselves and your loved ones.
Auntie Precious will surely forgive me for these, my random thoughts scribbled in haste. I can only thank all of you for your patience, and request you to continue to celebrate the life of Precious Lotilla Javier—a Teacher in life; a Teacher beyond life.
Family and friends: may I request you to join me in tribute to this lady embodiment of a human being for others by giving her a warm applause.