The General’s Littlest Unit

My Uncle Rolly had been a general of the Philippine Army.  He had been retired now and just celebrated his 71st birthday.  After all these years, now it had been his turn to treat us to an eat-all-you can lunch at Kamay Kainan at Market Market, Taguig.  It is just fitting, I suppose, because Uncle Rolly isn’t just grateful for his 71 years and a life well lived, but more importantly, Uncle Rolly is happy to see his littlest unit, a tiny force to reckon with in his septuagenarian years.

Let me explain a little bit.  You see, Uncle Rolly had been away most of the time.  He had been assigned to the war-torn Mindanao for the bigger part of our growing up years.  His brood of three and my dear Auntie Baby had to endure his absence and the thought that his life had always been  in danger.  But like any soldier’s family, my cousins and my aunt had to leave fate to the hands of the Almighty and pray that they get to see the family patriarch up to his old age.  And that had been a prayer granted.

Well, if many generals and other soldiers had been caught in many legal dilemmas, not my Uncle Rolly.  If the others had to hire security guards to protect them because of an anomaly or a misdeed in the service, not my Uncle Rolly.  He walks around his subdivision anytime he wants to.  The neighbors had come to know him as the general and had given their respect to a person who they know as someone who had served and defended them with his life.  And what has Uncle Rolly got to show after a lifetime of protecting the Filipino… well, a tiny bungalow that had seen better days, a wife who had reared his children well, a corporate analyst for a son, a consul for a daughter and a major in the army for the youngest in the family.  If there is a virtue well instilled in all three, it must be patriotism.  The hope that this country may yet see the light of better tomorrow has never wavered.  In fact, Uncle Rolly may not be sleeping in the rough ridden barracks any longer, neither is he commanding a force in the battlegrounds any more… but he continues to accomplish his duty as a citizen of this land in the best way he can.

Uncle Rolly readily comes to aid when his children calls, whether it is just from home or from some other distant foreign land where duty beckons.  After a lifetime of artillery and strategy, life becomes complete with the growing family.  The littlest unit is composed of Audrey Claire, 6, a preschooler with a knack for mathematics and the arts, RD, 3, a charmer with a passion for fourwheelers and transformers, and Julia, also 3, yet already a stickler for taste and elegance.

Uncle Rolly watches his grandchildren from a distance.  He spoils them with some cheap plastic toy just so their craving for something new and intriguing could be sated. And he gently lulls them  to quiet when they stumble and sustain wounds.  He speaks comforting words and the three toddlers look up to him in understanding.  They go back to their happy play in no time.  And Uncle Rolly’s battle is won.

Life is truly a war.  In the beginning, we train and prepare for what might be.  That is what Uncle Rolly did.  But any war could not have been won without a happy closing.  Uncle Rolly is writing that script well and good.  His littlest unit is real force to reckon with.


The Philippines received a back-to-back visit from two typhoons from the Pacific.  The onslaught of typhoon Ondoy came like a thief in the night on a supposedly ordinary Saturday morning of September 26.  Many Filipinos had risen up for the weekend schedules and had literally left their home premises for their unavoidable appointments.  My Tish had showered for  her piano lesson.  My Jean had been unusually quick for her date with a resort company in  Makati.  I was to drive the two.  But I was apprehensive.  The rain was a bit heavy compared to the Signal No. 1 hoisted by the weather bureau.   I checked on the news on the radio again.  The typhoon was coursing our path at 55 kph.  I drive faster than that.  So no problem.  But I was wary about the sound.  It was nothing like I’ve heard before.  So I decided, as a mother, to be tougher than my two girls and declared I am not driving in that heavy rain.  Fortunately, the two heeded, but with a strong stance, too.  Should my decision prove detrimental to their studies, there is no one to blame but me.  Okay, I mused quietly.  When is a mother ever to be blamed? Always! I stood my ground.  No way am I going to counter that angry waterfall.  I wouldn’t have a chance in a flash flood, would I?

And so I was diminished to washing the dishes when Jean yelled “Ma, there is water under the dining table!  Where did it come from?”  True enough, the water was accumulating fast.  I got my old towels to sip the water.  It was a futile task.  Tish came in and started dust panning the water into a pail.  Jean must have carried a hundred pails outside and the water seems to have no plan of stopping.  Jean ordered Tish and me to get out and buy a waterproof sealant. We obliged!  And out into the downpour we marveled at how the waters obscured the jeepney tires.  I wondered at how different the current was from the ones I am used to.  But we had our sealant and home we turned about.

The 65 peso sealant was useless.  There was more water now than before.  The strength was giving way.  So I said I was going to call my Auntie Bay to find out how her kitchen ceiling fared with the downpour.  Her kitchen roof had seen better days.  Alas, the phone line was dead!  First the electric power was cut off.  Now the landline.  The cellphone signals are not functioning much.  So I took my ever reliable battery-operated Sony Walkman and tuned in to the news. GOSH!  The nearby villages are already underwater 12 feet high!  What?  That is two people already, one on top of the other!  I got scared.  A text came in.  My nephew is stranded at McDonald’s.  Braise yourself. I whispered to an angel to send the message to my nephew.  It’s going to be a long evening.

But by nightfall, the SOS had gone with the cries and the pleas and the rescuing that never came.  The deluge was set.  But perhaps God wanted only to rub the elbows because He made the sun shine gloomily the Sunday morning after.  I rushed to the homes of my relatives and found them alive and busy salvaging what is left of their belongings.  Bought them hot pan de sal to cover the hunger that left them cold and shivering… Our family’s state of calamity is better than most.

And just when everyone is trying to assess the sanity of the damage, houses and cars in the entirety of the metropolis all wrecked and beaten, not to mention the lives that had been lost, and the mountains of garbage that graced every nook and canny of the cities… a super typhoon threatens to enter again the Philippine area of responsibility.  It was moving technically at 195 kph, 5 kph short of being a super typhoon intensity, but I begged the Blessed Mother to blanket us with Her blue mantle.  And if possible, shoo the typhoon away from Metro Manila because that would mean death beyond compare.

I believe the Blessed Mother heard my call.  But She couldn’t stop Her Son from giving us the lashing.  So typhoon Pepeng struck like crazy over Northern Luzon.  The farmer and fisher folks would have won the fight against that killer typhoon had it not lingered ten days… A typhoon does not hover longer than three days.  This one overstayed and lambasted every soul.

The crops, the livestock, the infrastructure, the people… all were damaged goods.  How can one make sense of the calamity that broke the nation.  Yet for those spared came the heroes.  Everyone, in his big or small way, aided the victims through massive rescue and relief operations.  One actress and a hairdresser cooked lugao with poached egg.  A socialite and tv hostess delivered relief packages.  A photo of an actor came out on television and he was submerged in deep waters helping people with their lives.

I allowed some tears to drop.  Who would not cry?  I could always fight for human rights as in EDSA 86. But God, please spare us from any deluge.