I was at the Edsa Shrine twice this month. I only go there for patriotic reasons, and this time not only for the annual commemoration of the People Power Revolution of 1986, but also for sixth year of former Sen. Leila de Lima’s unjust detention.
Indeed, it seems we would have more than enough reasons to visit there more regularly if we heeded Father Jerome’s words.
Fr. Jerome Secillano, rector of the shrine, reminded us at Mass on Edsa Day, Feb. 25, that the shrine is a place for bringing our grievances as a people against immoral acts committed by the government. Bishop Teodoro Bacani, who gave the homily, agreed: “Ang Edsa ay hindi lamang isang alaala, kundi isang pananawagan din”—not just a memory, but a call-out, which makes the shrine a place not only for remembrance, but also for reminding the officialdom that power resides “in the people, for the people, (and is meant to be exercised) by the people under God.”
Edsa provided history’s supreme occasion for all that: It ended 14 years of martial law and booted a murdering, plundering dictator out of power without one drop of blood spilled.
As it happens, the shrine also has a deep personal and private meaning for me, of which I’m reminded every time I set foot in it. I thought the setting just perfect. It was around Lent, and Dad had his own patriotic connection to the shrine. He was spokesperson for Laban during the snap elections, for which Ninoy Aquino’s widow, Cory, was drafted to take on Ferdinand Marcos. He was in her core group, along with the Lorenzo Tañada, cousin and namesake Joaquin Pardo “Chino” Roces (only distinguished from him by that nickname and middle name), and Teofisto Guingona Jr. I had made a special appointment for Fr. Soc Villegas to hear Dad’s confession, face-to-face. For the miracle to happen certain things had to be in place.
In September 2007, my mom had died unexpectedly, in her sleep, thus somewhat un-complicating Dad’s life. She was his first and legal wife. It also happened to be Father Soc’s last year as rector of the shrine, and that’s where my dear friend Susie Go (now gone) went daily for Mass. She lived in the village just across. Her dedication to the shrine and her friendship with Father Soc gave me direct access to him. I started seeing him and his mother at informal and intimate gatherings at Susie’s for her home-cooked special Chinese Amoy lumpia and lugaw.
Dad’s last confession must have been when he was still at student at the Ateneo. One can never underestimate the influence of the Jesuits. I remember so well the day Dad, who went on to become congressman for nearly 20 straight years, until martial law cut his fifth term short, surprised me with a strange apology.
State of grace
“If not for your lolo and the Ateneo, we’d have been so rich. He then led me outside our gate where a Mercedes car had just arrived. “Go see the car we could have had, before I send it back.”
Dad was certainly no saint, having loved too much and too many. He strayed more often than not, and yet he had his own professional and ethical code and his faith. He had no doubt, for instance, that he would die in the state of grace after having done more than one novena—nine First Fridays and nine First Saturdays—in his days at the Ateneo. Indeed, in the end, God would indulge him as he himself indulged God.
I don’t know what possessed me, but I naively thought I had to prepare Father Soc, to lessen the impact on his innocent ears, for the extent of Dad’s transgressions. But Father Soc, stopped me: “I’d like to hear it from him, if you don’t mind, Chit.” I went to Dad and warned him, “Dad, tell him everything, ha? Don’t hold back.” He gave me an impish smile.
I sat outside the confession room, and started recalling one of our last exchanges. “Kiddo, I’ve reached the point when I can’t sin anymore even if I wanted to,” he told me. If anyone could understand this man, it would be his God, I thought. I made myself as comfortable as possible, prepared to wait a long time, but all too soon he was out.
“What happened? How fast naman!” He was close to giggling. “I thought I better leave out some things and cut it short. He was enjoying my confession too much.”
When I went to thank and say goodbye to Father Soc, he must have noticed my puzzled look, and assured me, “Everything’s fine. He’ll be okay.”
I suspect Father Soc had just given him general absolution. His effort to come to confession, I guess, was good enough. Indeed, he started going to communion before I myself felt I could.
He would have a stroke in 2009 from which he would never recover, at about the same time Father Soc left the shrine to become archbishop of Lingayen.