Friday, September 21, 2012


   This is me, promding-promdi (provincial, rustic) first-timer in New York! 

My first bite of the Big Apple, courtesy of my long lost nephew Charlie who took me on a "hop on-hop off" tour of the city on double-deck buses,
as their tour guides updated us on the city's finer as well as sleaze points. 

Tingala nang tingala. I could not help but always look up. Couldn't, shouldn't miss New York's eclectic architecture, a blend of vintage (a lot of them art deco style like the Empire State, Chrysler and Rockefeller Center buildings) and 21st century skyscrapers.

Our tour started right in front of the Empire State building, circling the entire Manhattan area, a two-and-a-half-mile-wide metropolis with its more than one million residents, ballooning to five million plus each day with its out of town workers and visitors.

New York's sidewalks literally crawl---a cadence all its own---with people of all colors, shapes, sizes, attires and footwear (love those fashionista stilletos, but argh!, so impractical in this motorized city) pounding its streets 24/7.
I seem to have finally caught Frank Sinatra's real groove about "this city that doesn't sleep."
Times Square is like no other! With its perennial lights, giant screens and billboards promoting the hottest celebrities, products, TV and Broadway productions.

I could have lined up for a Broadway show but the lines were just tooooo long-winded and we didn't have the time.(Translation: What, tickets for $115!?---that's cheapest, with the most expensive at $260. No way!)

Move over Christina Aguilera!
I was just thrilled (Mababaw ang kaligayahan ko! I'm easy to please)---my budget considering---to enter the portals of the Rockefeller Plaza where the "Today" show airs daily. At the NBC TV souvenir shop, Charlie shot me as "judge" of "The Voice," placing me in the same league as Christina Aguilera!

I would just have been too happy to purchase a little pasalubong (souvenirs), but Charlie came to the rescue, insisting I get more, including an NBC bird for my granddaughter Natalie.

Phew, Philippine peso in tact! I stopped converting $ to P from then on.

With long lost nephew Jojo
Lunch was with another long lost nephew Jojo in a Japanese restaurant. Saw him when he was just a lanky little boy. Now as hefty and tall as an American, he exuded Manhattan confidence--- having worked his way up to VP position in that swank Manhattan address.

It was exciting to see iconic structures "in person---" those which I marvelled at only in Hollywood movies like Godzilla, such as the Brooklyn bridge and flat iron building. Add to that list the new twin towers rising like the phoenix from the ashes of 9/11.

Reminds one of  Demi Lovato's line, "Go on and try to tear me down. I will be rising from the ground. Like a skyscraper! Like a skyscraper!"

Notwithstanding the 9/11 tragedy and its aftermath, New York maintans its glitter and appeal. We viewed her that night from Jersey City across the Hudson River with our hosts Ate Dory and Ate Genia.

It looked glorious with its bright lights, dominated by a sheer satiny white light shooting up to space from ground zero.

But I was pleasantly surprised to see the other face of New York. 

My gracious hosts, Charlie from Upstate New York,
and Ate Genia and Ate Dory (second from right
 and extreme right, respectively) from Jersey City
Charlie (Remember my recent blog---the doctor who accompanied Ninoy Aquino for his heart bypass operation in the US?), ever the perfect host, welcomed Ate Genia and me to his home in Upstate New York.

Dr. Carlos Dator mirrors the laid back, other-neighborly and more down to earth side of this side of New York seldom experienced by many.
Charlie came to these parts after his Ninoy episode, established his medical practice in Syracuse, then finally settled with his family in Oswego City, bordered by Lake Ontario to the north. 

Oswego felt and smelled iddylic and rustic, with its old low-rise buildings, small cafes and shops, acres and acres of agricultural lands, and folks greeting each other by name.  And mind you, an almost zero crime rate!

And this is New York!?
Says Charlie: "I used to tell my children (Cherub, Chucky and Mariel who have become chef, doctor and lawyer respectively. Strictly speaking, they're my grandkids a few times removed.), 'Behave!' because we'd know soon enough what happened."

Oswego is a tightly-knit community. Besides, many of the cityfolk are his patients and could telegraph information to him faster than an email could.
With Dr. Carlos Dator in the idyllic city of Oswego
(bordering Ontario river), Upstate New York

Like doctors of yore, Charlie prefers personalized care. He asks his patients to list their questions beforehand so that their concerns get clarified during consultations, which of course take longer than usual.

He even refuses and thinks it rude to input data into the computer while attending to a patient. This he does afterwards even if he sees 25 patients a day.  

Someone even pinch-hit for Charlie to make sure his visitors felt at home during our few-days stay in Oswego. His former work associate and mother-figure/confidante Joanne Geers treated us to lunch at a homey bistro. A charming and witty 75-er, she embodied the graciousness of one who valued family, relationships, selflessness, loyalty and faithfulness---the America I knew.   

And this is where again? New York. The other side.
I'd thought New York stood for fast, slick, dangerous, anxiety.
The Big Apple may be good for a few bites. But after the euphoria and the dizzying pace, heights, colors and rides, you'd want to just shake it all off. And go slow, raise your feet, and be assured, "All is well. I can sleep soundly tonight." 
"He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters" (Psalm 23:2). Yes, even in New York!    

Monday, September 10, 2012


Grandparenting: Happiness and Hard Work!
With foreword by Dr. Harold Sala
"Without you, I would not have relished this wonderful dessert called grandparenthood."
Those words are for my grandkids Paolo Joaquin, Charlize Nicole and Natalie Grace---to whom I dedicated my latest book, "Grandparenting: Happiness and Hard Work!" 

Why this book?

I had initially thought of focusing on the fun and joy part of grandparenting; but after brainstorming with the editorial and marketing experts of OMF---Yna Reyes, Lindy Hope and  Gladys Doronila, I needed to backtrack and open my eyes to the meatier aspects of grandparenting, Pinoy style, but still using the Scripture as the ultimate lens.

Let me quote from the book's introduction:

"Our lives as grandparents intertwine with our children and their children and our entire households; they draw from the lives of our ancestors and have influence forward for generations still to come.

"The legacy of our great grandparents and even the ones before them, affect our
Our first and second grandkids Joaqui and Charlize with their Mom Lucci,
Lolo Jack and Lola Yay 
lives in a major way today. Blessings — and unfortunately too, curses — run through generations. So this book is about relationships and the extent of God’s grace working in the lives of our loved ones."

That means God's grace operating in our lives in spite of situations like:
Grandparents solely caring for their OFW (overseas Filipino workers) children's kids. Single mothers. Special needs kids. Rebellious children and grandchildren. 
"But this book is mostly about hope and our need to depend on our God who still sits on the throne---mighty, awesome and still able to calm the storms of our lives. It’s all about His grace to heal, enable, strengthen and make things to work for the good of those who put their trust in Him.

"But I have not left out the joy part. Because that’s still the heart of grandparenting. Grandparenting by itself is a gift from God. It gives us additional sparkle and stamina especially in our waning years.

Natalie, third apo
"It brings back laughter and chuckles and silliness. Between you and your grandkid, it can be pure unadulterated joy. And that joy, which comes from God alone, strengthens us — enabling us to dance and sing with them just when we were thinking we were too tired to continue."

Get yourself, your parent, grandparent, or any upcoming grandparent a copy (have it as your Christmas gift too!) at the OMF Literature booth at the Manila International Book Fair (SMX, Mall of Asia, Sept. 12-16). Copies will soon be available in popular bookstores and all OMF and PCBS stores nationwide.
(This is my third book after "Sorry to Burst Your Bubble: Life Leadership Lessons from the Greatest Dreamer" by Newday Publishers, and "Going Up?" also by OMF.)

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


       Dr. Carlos Dator (left) with his colleagues
at St. Joseph Hospital in Syracuse
Picture this young doctor.

One morning, his superior asks, "Would you like to go to the US?"

"Of course, yes!" He eagerly replies.

"But you'll need to fly tonight!" His boss clarifies.

"What?! I don't even have a passport or a visa."

"Your passport, visa and ticket will be waiting for you at the airport. Just have your passport picture taken, go home and prepare for your departure."

Real? Yes, in the Philippines. This happened at the Philippine Heart Center. 

Dr. Carlos Dator, budding  cardiologist and one of the hospital's senior fellows, was informed early morning of  May 8, 1980, that he was to accompany then senator Ninoy Aquino, Jr., to the United States of America. Ninoy apparently suffered his second heart attack after seven years of detention, mostly in solitary confinement.

Ninoy was one of  then President Ferdinand Marcos' fiercest opponents. He was imprisoned with many more "dissidents" when martial rule was declared September 1972. 

Marcos considered Ninoy as one of the biggest threats to his hold on power even as his wife Imelda managed to strengthen her position as the most likely successor should this ailing president die.
Two reasons emerged as to why Ninoy could not have his operation in the Philippines: That the Aquinos didn't trust the doctors assigned to him; or that the doctors themselves didn't want to because of the possible backlash if the procedure failed.

The only option left was for Ninoy to be flown ASAP to the US.  

For Charlie---young doctor---this thorny situation was something he never aspired for. The assignment fell on his lap and he just had to do it as any committed physician would. 

He was never even given a chance to say goodbye to his parents in Quezon. All they got was a letter he asked his cousin Dondon to send through the BLTB bus headed for their town (Sampaloc).

Sans valid papers, he was barred entry from the airport until someone came with his passport, visa and ticket and introduced him to Ninoy and his family: Cory, 16 year old Noynoy, Ballsy, Pinky and Viel (Kris was then vacationing in Hong Kong). 

Ninoy exercising with heart surgeon Dr.
Rolando Solis after his operation
"From then on, inalalayan ko na sya (I propped him up)," says Charlie, "because he was very weak and frequently complained of chest pains."

He adds, "Cory was very kind but initially seemed to maintain her distance---maybe because she thought I was a Marcos person."

She and Ninoy were in the first class section while Charlie and the Aquino children sat in economy.

"Afterwards, Cory came and exchanged seats with me because Senator Aquino complained more of his chest pains."

"Kung me mangyari sa akin, ikaw na ang bahala sa pamilya ko (If something happens to me, please take care of my family)," the Senator said in the thick of their conversation.

Charlie was dumbfounded and didn't know how to react. They hardly even knew him. What if something really happened?

But from that time on, Charlie knew he was rubbing elbows with greatness---but a greatness which was willing to be vulnerable, to trust and let go.

"He was so down-to-earth, kind, insightful and thoughtful," he adds. Ninoy even regaled him with stories of his being a correspondent during the Korean war, his stint as a CIA agent once---showing off his special watch to prove it.

Hordes of reporters waited for the Aquinos on their arrival in San Francisco.

Charlie cautioned against entertaining any interviews because of Ninoy's worsening condition. Besides, Ninoy needed to rest for another flight the following day to Dallas, Texas. At Dallas' Baylor University Medical Center, Charlie endorsed Ninoy to Dr. Rolando Solis and promised to visit him after the operation. 

The next time young doctor and famous patient saw each other, Ninoy was already on his feet. Charlie had earlier visited his fiance---then working as a nurse in Texas--- then asked Ninoy to be one of their wedding sponsors.

"It would be an honor," he readily responded, then promised that since he could not be physically present, his mother Aurora would instead take his place.

Dr. Dator went back to the Philippines soon after, settled down with his new bride, but later made his home in the US---earning his fellowship in interventional cardiology at St. Joseph Hospital, Syracuse. 

"Did you ever have a chance to visit Cory (She would later return to the Philippines and become president after the Marcoses' escape from Malacanang---fueled by "people power" after Ninoy's assasination upon his return to the country in September 1983.) or current president Noynoy since then?" I ask.

"I intended to, whenever I visited the Philippines, but never got around to doing it," he says.  

Charlie with our childhood friend Ate Genia (right) and me, with Niagara Falls as backdrop
  But Charlie waited for Mrs. Aquino when he happened to be at the Philippine embassy after her well-applauded speech at the United Nations General Assembly on September 22, 1986.

"Uy, me bigote ka na!" She kidded, then they exchanged plesantries. Another tete-a-tete with greatness.

In both of these encounters, "greatness" didn't try to overpower or attempt to boast or make one feel suffocated or uncomfortable. Nor was there any sense of arrogance. 

No wonder many of our countrymen regard Ninoy Aquino and Cory Aquino as heroes. They were true to their cause but never lost their humanity and simplicity.

"For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted" (Matthew 23:12).

 (Charlie is my nephew from my mother's side of the family. I write this blog today from his home in Upstate New York where he continues his successful practice as a cardiologist. I'm on a one-week break from my apostolic [caring for apo or grandchild] mission to bond with relatives and friends, some of whom I never met, or saw last when I was yet a scrawny seven year old.)