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On fighting back tears

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When  I wrote last time mentioning about President Aquino holding back tears during the SONA, I got several comments from  Facebook. One of them recalled how reputedly  hardy, and steely  Davao City Mayor Rody Duterte, unabashedly shed tears holding in his arms a young child who died,  an innocent victim during the rampage of penal colony escapees who shot it out with the authorities, using hostages as shields  attempting to breach the government cordon right in the PNP headquarters downtown. Many innocent lives — and all the hostage takers — died in that carnage. That was sometime in 1995.

BEING HUMAN —Yes, I too  fight back tears on occasions just like all of us do. Shedding tears or crying are perfectly human expressions of emotion  that at certain times are uncontrollable. And just like everyone else, we try and hide and allow a tear to fall without immediately reaching for that obiquitous handkerchief, or just dabbing   the side of our eyes  to prevent a welling. I enjoy watching public figures like movie stars do that with finesse.

“CRYING-EST” — I remember my late father, Martin, was the “crying-est” person I knew. He would cry even when angry. Once, he was crying  aloud  as he  whacked me with a broom  after a firecracker  I carelessly ignited,  exploded near my face. He would shed tears as he would breakup fights among  relatives or neighbors. At times, I could hear him cry when in an argument with my mother in the other room. “Mababaw ang luha” ( tears are shallow) was  a usual description of him. My mother Amparo however, was always in control of her emotions, as far as I can remember. I have never seen her cry or maybe I just missed those moments. In my case, I confess I am easy to tears like my father but I always try hard to fight them back, especially when in public.

LANDRING — The most notable “crying” politician I can recall was the late Dabawenyo Senator ALEJANDRO “Landring” ALMENDRAS  whose public speeches were never complete without shedding tears on stage.  And the crowd loved him for that. Then, there was one movie years ago I watched where I could hear some moviegoers just sobbing away and crying out loud during the movie.

PLANE CRASH — I had a few unforgettables of my own.   In 1998, when I was crisis manager during a plane crash in Mindanao, I could not help but publicly shed tears during a briefing session in a hotel in Cagayan de Oro with angry and noisy relatives of missing passengers. It was the third day after the plane crash but the remains( there were no intact bodies)  could not be brought down yet from the mountainside by helicopter and the relatives were already angry and shouting at us.  What I felt  was a mixture of anger, frustration, exhaustion mixed with grief. I stopped in the middle of my talk just allowing tears to flow when I started choking. The good part was that everyone noticed and they all stopped and stayed quiet. Somehow, they felt that we, who were helping, were one with them. Because of  that incident, our succeeding briefing sessions became orderly.

CALAMITOUS — Another unforgettable,  but it happened during  a private chat-interview  with Journalist CAROL ARGUILLAS after yet  another hostage-taking incident inside the Davao Penal Colony also in 1998 which I handled.  Allow me to briefly digress.   Recalling those times, 1998  was indeed a crisis year for me as PRESIDENT RAMOS’ point person for Mindanao. I served as his presidential assistant for Mindanao  towards the end of FVR’s term when  my friend, PAUL DOMINGUEZ suddenly relinquished the post. And on record time, I can go down in Mindanao’s history as the most “calamitous” official. In less than 12 months of incumbency, I had to handle a  plane crash, the penal colony hostaging, the Laminusa (Sulu) malaria outbreak, the mass food poisoning  of natives in Maguindanao who fed on “kayos” due to the drought,  the El Nino famine affecting more than one million in Central Mindanao, to name the bigger ones and a few conflict interventions on the sides.  So, it was no surprise when President Ramos called me one day by phone and  brought me in to join his lean delegation to make an”exit call” on US PRESIDENT BILL CLINTON in the White House by telling me: “Jess, leave Mindanao for a while. It may stop  more  calamities from coming!” (hahaha!)

HOSTAGE-TAKING —Back to journalist Carol and the prison hostage-taking incident. After about 3 days of futile negotiations for a peaceful end, an assault operations had to be launched resulting to the death ( some called it “neutralization”) of  8 prisoners-hostage takers and the safe recovery of DAPECOL employees, mostly ladies, except for the death of one hostage,  Mrs. CORDA who was caught in the crossfire in the close-quarter assault.  It ended  a crisis situation that could have  turned worse.   I kept my composure all throughout even in the hospital where the wounded were taken and in the morgue where I had to console the grieving.

CAROL’S ACCOUNT —When I emailed Carol my recollections of that event,  she gave a  more accurate account.  Here’s how Carol recalled those moments with her that she wrote and sent to me:

“It was just hours later, in your office ( after the assault) , I think the question was more on the criticisms re collateral damage, that you risked the lives of so many people (a difficult question to ask especially hours later). You were talking about the family of Mrs. Corda and your voice was breaking as you were narrating how you talked to them (I don’t recall now where you met them or if you went to their house?)… then you fell silent. When I looked up from my notes-taking, tears were welling in your eyes, and as they started falling, you turned around in your swivel chair and sobbed. I didn’t know what to do. I certainly did not expect to witness that very private moment of vulnerability/grief/pain.  I think I rushed to ask your secretary for a glass of water.

I remember the interview continued after you regained composure. “

Yes, although the operations was touted as “a success” I  realized that no operation could be that successful, if people died,  whether hostage-takers or the lone hostage.  I grieved for Mrs. CORDA who was helpful during the stand-off giving me secret notes and tips. The pent-up tension that built up for days just gave way.  I just literally  sobbed and turned my swivel chair towards the wall. Of course, Carol didn’t include that part in her one-page story at the PHILIPPINE  DAILY INQUIRER that came out later.

( She emailed me a postscript:.” ...you know how difficult it was not to write about your crying????? but it was just too private to be made public...)  I emailed back saying that I would not have minded if she did. .   

CAROL CRIED TOO  — I guess, others have their own teary stories to tell. CAROL, the veteran journalist, had this to say, recalling one episode when she joined me in a mercy mission to collect the dying at the height of a mass poisoning of villagers in some remote areas in Maguindanao. At that time, the 8- month drought caused by El Nino in 1998 forced residents to scavenge for root crops for food. Unfortunately, a cassava variety that grows in the wild called “ kayos” if not properly washed and cooked could be poisonous. I remembered my wife Beth was with me  in Cagayan de Oro enroute to Manila on a commercial flight when I got a call from President Ramos to immediately proceed to Maguindanao to attend to the emergency situation. Unable to leave Beth alone in CDO, I got her on board a Huey helicopter ( her first) and flew down south instead to the afflicted areas. Beth who was not used to crisis situations such as this one, managed to help and a welcome hand attending to the victims, mostly children. Carol, then writing for a Davao newspaper and the INQUIRER was somehow in one of those trips. Here is her own recollection:

“Remember, we helicoptered a baby boy from the”kayos” area to the hospital in Cotabato City but the boy died hours later. I called up the hospital when we returned to Davao from Cotabato that same day. I was told the boy died an hour or so earlier. Nihilak gyud ko. ( I really cried.)” . So there.

GO AHEAD, CRY — Yes, whether they are tears of joy, or of anger or frustration or grief or just plain letting go of emotions, go ahead and cry —  not in public if you can help it. But crying or shedding tears is good. And unless they are “crocodile tears” ( defined as insincere or fake or make-believe tears,) then go ahead and cry your heart out. It’s therapeutic! And nothing to be embarrassed about! I now suddenly remember the song that goes something like: “I cry a river over you!” Yes, go for it but  just be sure, you don’t get drowned in the process. (jessdureza@gmail.com) -30-

By Jess G. Dureza




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