Sunday, March 7, 2010


I write this note with a mixed feeling of joy and sadness. Joy, because on this month, more specifically, March 4, 1977, my family (wife Tina, daughter Tanya, Manang Preding) and I, arrived in the United States to start a new life. This was after escaping from the Marcos dictatorship, traveling days and nights by boat, and living in an island in Sabah, Malaysia for several months, and eventually paroled into the United States as UN-recognized political refugees. Joy, also because on this month, we celebrate the birthdays of those who brought joy to our lives; first of my daughters Traci (March 9th) and Tanya (March 21st); and secondly, of their first cousins, Bri (March 3rd), Kana (March 8th), Hochi (March 11th) and Eugene (March 23rd). This is also the month when Tanya got married to Tim (March 31st).

Sad, because also on this month, in fact, on March 4, 2009, my loving sister, Manang Perla, died. Ironically, while among all of us in our immediate family, she was one who successfully avoided the dreadful genetic heart disease, she eventually succumbed to lung cancer. Manang Perla, who never smoked, approached life with calm, humor and positive attitude, She was loving to and dearly loved by, her family, relatives, friends, town mates and colleagues. Her significant achievements as a wife, mother, sister, relative, professional and community leader are forever enshrined in our hearts. The tribute, eulogies, and news articles during her funeral attested to this fact.

Manang Perla’s life intertwined with mine for as long as I could remember. As a young boy, she relied on me and my friends to reserve seats in church during simbang gabi (evening or early morning masses). She was touched when I offered her my earnings, five pesos (P5) as an altar boy at the cemetery during All Saints’ Day blessings, after overhearing her conversation with our mother re college expenses. As soon as she became a nurse, she always made sure that I was always a notch above the others. In high school, I was one of the first to wear “banlon” t-shirts and “converse” basketball shoes which came from her. As an AFS scholar in Huntington Beach, CA., I was given $14/mo. allowance but she used to send me $20 intermittently to augment it, hence-an edge over the other scholars.

In San Beda College where students like Ambrosio Padilla, Jr., Antonio Raquiza, Jr., Ramon Bagatzing, Jr. , Carlos Fernandez (son of Sen. Estanislao Fernandez) were enrolled, she managed to level the playing field for me. She used to send me an allowance of $20 a month which in the ‘60s was a lot. This was in addition to what I was getting from my parents who also rewarded me by giving me the equivalent tuition fees for maintaining my full scholarship. Under those conditions, I was able to compete and even ran and won the presidency of the San Beda Supreme Student Council with some of the above-mentioned sons of rich and famous politicians running under my ticket. During graduation, San Beda awarded me the ABBOTT’S AWARD, the highest award for academic excellence and outstanding leadership to go with the Magna Cum Laude honors. Manang Perla provided me inspiration and stability in my academic pursuits. Even in courting Tina who is now my wife, she used to buy jewelry for her. When I got married, she and my other sister, Manang Nelly, contributed dollar amounts sufficient for us to host an impressive wedding reception at the Eugenio Lopez, Jr. residence in Forbes Park, Makati, Philippines.

She also played a role in our transition to facing the challenges of living the American way. In our first visit to her San Diego home, she took us shopping for new winter clothes, went on leave and drove us to Disneyland, San Diego Zoo, Sea World, Las Vegas and other places. She also managed to counsel us on how to face the up’s and down’s of living in the United States. I understand that she was as helpful to other relatives who newly arrived.

My family and I were lucky to have settled in the United States partly because of our access to my sister, Manang Perla. While we lived in the East Coast, we were always in touch. Because of her, San Diego was always our favorite vacation city. In fact, she even organized a family trip from California to attend Traci's Yale Graduation. She indeed moved not just our hearts and minds but her community as well.

“What we are is gift given to us by God. What we become is our gift to God.”

PERLA MAYNIGO TORRES. From the Pearly Towers of this material world to the Pearly Gates of heaven, you were a great gift to us by God; and for what you became, you were as great a gift to God.


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