by Cesar Torres
Many years ago, I once wrote: “Everyone needs a hometown whether to love or to hate”. Now after being away from Villa, this line seems to be constantly reverberating over and over again. Sometimes I feel that it has been transformed – it is now coursing through my veins. At times it becomes a soft, caressing, and teasing breeze, whispering at the edge of my consciousness: “To love or to hate, to love or to hate, to love or to hate…” For indeed, there is never a moment when I do not think of Villa, when I do not daydream of Villa.
Every now and then, the contours of the beloved town would leap into my mind – of Mangarit, of Tayud, of Hawod, of Rawis, of Quindot and Puro or of the outlying places I have been to – Lam-awan, Inasudlan, Himyangan, Guintarcan, Bangkil, Plaridel, Sta. Rosa, Inarumbacan, San Andres, San Roque, Igot, Buaya and Sabang. I recall faces of friends and acquaintances of years back, some of them are no longer with us, while we shared our hopes and desires or were engaged in a fiery debate that somehow always ended up in chorus of laughter or a crescendo of harmonious and beautifully blending voices wafting into the blue skies or rising to the heavens on a starry night accompanied by the strumming of a guitar.
I would remember the magical beauty of Villa especially on moonlight nights in May when the sea is akin to a shimmering glass and the silhouettes of Lamingao, Mahayag, Pangpang, Rawis, Pacao and the surrounding areas of Maqueda Bay are bathed in the soft rays of a full moon and the sea is alive with the darting and jumping diamond images of its denizens. I would hear the pealing of the church bells summoning the faithful to a day of worship or the praying of the Angelus and at the same time signaling the children to end their play for the day and run home to the waiting and loving arms of their mothers and fathers accompanied by a gentle chiding. I would recall the gentle breeze of December nights at Christmastime when the young carolers would gleefully fleet from one house to another hoping for a “Pamasko”; or when the night is late, of the huddle of men and women whose voices would break the stillness of the night singing the haunting “Panarit” and startling the dogs who would erupt into a barking chorus of their own.
In our youthful days when the sun was about to set, we would watch thousands upon thousands of birds flying across the skies of Villa to roost for the night in Puró and the adjacent islands. They came from the virgin tropical forest of Villa and Samar when they were havens and sanctuaries of a teeming wildlife.
The sea was a veritable fountain of plenty. Fish, shellfish, “bahong”, and other edible products of the sea were abundant. I can remember the time when the Omnipotent must have favored us with His special grace. There was so much crabs that the when the moon was shinning, they would rise to the surface of the sea to be scooped and netted by Villahanons. There were days and months when hundreds of “bangrus” would be sold in the Mercado, when “sarad” was so cheap and plentiful that you could have a “sumsuman” by just asking. In the midst of this simplicity and contentment, expectations would heighten during the month of August. The fattened pig would be eyed more frequently these days. New shoes, dresses and shirts would be cajoled from reluctant parents. Korioso, decana, torta and all sorts of goodies are being prepared in anticipation of the advent of the town’s annual homage to its Patroness, Sta. Rosa de Lima .
I long for the lilting and haunting tunes of the “Diana” played by old friends composing the remnants of the once-famous “La Playa” orchestra while parading at daybreak around the town to herald the dawning of the “Kaadlawan” of the fiesta. No matter how befuddled our minds may be – after all the previous night was the “Bispera” and was spent in merrymaking in the company of friends, relatives and guests – we never fail to awaken from our brief sleep on the joyous strains of the “Diana” which creeps into our semi-conscious minds.
Flung by destiny into distant shores, I am now in a place across the Pacific Ocean. In Los Angeles and San Francisco, Fate would occasionally provide me with the singular privilege of standing in front of a podium to present or acknowledge the presence of delegates representing various towns of Samar and other places in the Philippines. When the Villahanon delegation is presented, I would invariably go into an inspired narration of the only town in the Philippines with two names, one the formal of “Villareal” and the other, a nickname, the more tender, and more endearing of “Villa… Perlas han Maqueda”, of the town in Samar which had produced the most numbers of priests, including Msgr. Lesmes Ricalde, Auxiliary Bishop of the Diocese of Palo, or the world famous martyr to the cause of the downtrodden and the oppressed and of Christendom itself, Fr. Rudy Romano.
As a percentage of total town population, Villa’s number of college graduates at one time was the highest in the entire province of Samar. The town has given birth to top ranking administrators in the national, regional and provincial governments. Its passion for education has developed a pool of competent educators untainted by corruption. Long before other towns in Samar and the Philippines had thought of non-governmental organizations, Villa had already the Omawas Foundation organized in the service of the less fortunate Villahanons. Two of its pillars, Jose and Nitnit Dalwatan, gave their lives in the pursuit of its vision.
Moreover, Villa, again at one time, may have been the only town in the entire island of Samar with a newsletter, “Budyong han Villa”, its untimely demise notwithstanding. Its civic and religious organizations have involved themselves in town projects, in cleaning its seashores – probably the first in the history of the entire island of Samar, admirably undertaken by a disappearing group, calling themselves “The Potentials” – in the establishment of a Museum, in the erection of a “Stairway to Heaven” of the Knights of Columbus and in the beautification of the church surroundings, a project of the Daughters of Mary Immaculate. In Metro Manila, a group of forward-looking Villahanons have banded together to flesh out the resounding and mournful call of Pope Paul VI to help the poorest of the poor, a call which was transmitted to Christendom in his earth-shaking encyclical, “Populorum Progressio”. The town’s literary tradition has produced some local writers and well known dramatists. The burning issues of Philippine society and the imperatives of economic and social justice have given birth to Villa’s fearless idealists who have consecrated their lives for the liberation of the poor from conditions of extreme poverty and exploitation.
And in places far from its shores, its sons, and daughters are recognized leaders in Filipino communities in North America and Europe.
“To love or to hate” … This is the moral dilemma of mankind, the tension pulling man in opposite directions. It symbolizes the dualism immanent in the universe, of pride and humility, of graciousness and vanity, of purity and corruption, of beauty and ugliness, of forgiveness and unyielding hatred.
The pearly luster of Villa is sometimes dimmed by the dirty stains of discord oozing out from the corrupted morality of extreme self-righteousness. With greater humility, understanding and compassion – in the tradition of the Sta. Rosa – Villa can become more vibrant and a model community. Giving our best and cooperating with others in civic endeavors will not diminish the greatness and nobility of our delusions. Rather, it can enhance our self-esteem and moral stature. A sense of history, compassion for the less fortunate, a concern for the welfare of future generations, and an understanding that our lives are finite, that devoting our waking hours to a flaming hatred of others is psychotic — these and others more should constitute the irreducible minimum qualities of those aspiring for community leadership.
We realize that our humanity is fraught with the intrinsic pitfalls of our weaknesses. But this should not paralyze us to inaction. In the words of Desiderata:
“As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;
and listen to others,
even to the dull and the ignorant;
they too have their story.
… [T]he world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.”
We have to cast away our despair for Villa and our sense of helplessness. Fear and apathy exemplified by the constant refrain of “Waray kita mahihimo”, “What can we do?” should not rule our lives. We have to hope. We have to act without malice, without calculating the benefit that we can derive from our initiative. Otherwise, the alternative is horrifying for our succeeding generations.
After all, to quote the Ecclesiastes:
“There is a reason for every season under
A time to be born, and a time to die.
A time to weep, and a time to laugh,
A time to love, and a time to hate,
A time of war, and a time of peace.”
These immortal lines are as timeless as the stars. Harkening to them can make Villa scintillate like the Northern Star making it the beaconlight for other towns and communities. Inspired by the Sta. Rosa, as in days of yore, we can vanquish the phantoms and goblins of greed, malice, and incompetence, of pride arising from insecurity and our stone-cold hearts. Then we can shout with greater fervor:
“Maupay nga Patron ha aton ngatanan!”
But I hear a mournful crying in the wind…