ADVOCACY MINDANAO: On fighting back tears

BY JESS G. DUREZA

WHEN I wrote last time mentioning about President Benigno Aquino III holding back tears during his State of the Nation Address (SONA), I got several comments from Facebook.

One of them recalled how reputedly hardy and steely Davao City mayor Rody Duterte unabashedly shed tears while 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 as they attempted to breach the government cordon right in the Philippine National Police 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 ubiquitous 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. He 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 break up 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” 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. I could hear some moviegoers just sobbing away and crying out loud.

PLANE CRASH

I had a few unforgettables of my own. In 1998, when I was the 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 City 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 helicopters 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 incident 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 Fidel 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 Niño 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.

He told me: “Jess, leave Mindanao for a while. It may stop more calamities from coming!” (Ha-ha-ha!)

HOSTAGE-TAKING

Back to journalist Carol and the prison hostage-taking incident. After about three days of futile negotiations for a peaceful end, an assault operation had to be launched resulting to the death (some called it “neutralization”) of eight 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:

“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 note-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 operation was touted 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 standoff, 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.

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 I would not have minded if she did.

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./PN