The heart knows best | Inquirer Opinion
High Blood

The heart knows best

At 93, I can hardly see, but I remember a line from Saint-Exupery’s “The Little Prince”: “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly.” And I’m comforted.

In May, I vacationed at a seaside resort in Marinduque owned by my niece and nephew-in-law Ivy and Yong Nieva. There I met Cherrie Atilano, the founding farmer of Agrea Philippines, an agrisocial enterprise that promotes sustainable agriculture livelihood and community ecotourism programs for farmers, fishers and their families. Hers is an interesting story. She started working with farmers at the age of 12, teaching them sustainable farming learned from a book, and graduated magna cum laude with a degree in agriculture (major in horticulture).


When she was working with Gawad Kalinga, at 23, she was given a Fulbright scholarship to study in the United States. She asked for time to consider the offer but eventually turned it down. The embassy official couldn’t believe her decision; he said it’s every student’s dream to get that scholarship.

When I asked her why, she answered: “I was working with farmers and their children. Some of them were even hired killers. I converted them. I taught them scientific farming and took care of their children. I didn’t have the heart to leave them. Also, if I left the country, I might be lured by the American way of life and never come back. It was too risky.”


Today, at 30, she has become a world figure in the field of agriculture and youth ministry. She was invited by Pope Francis to the Vatican and has spoken at the United Nations. She has given lectures to our Asian neighbors and received numerous awards, the latest being the Go Negosyo Award for one of the Ten Inspiring Filipina Entrepreneurs for 2017.

Would all these accomplishments and accolades have come, if she had not followed her heart?

My grandnephew Franco Villaroman is 23. Three years ago, his father Bobby died at 42, leaving him, his siblings and his mother Fran (36) without a family breadwinner. He considered himself the padre de familia.

In 2015, he graduated from Ateneo de Manila University with a degree in business administration. His mother wanted to treat him to a trip to Hong Kong but he declined, saying he wanted to work immediately so that he could help his family.

He got a job at Unilever as distributor development executive in July 2015, and did so well that in a short span of time he was promoted to his present post as supervisor for Selecta in Central Luzon, National Capital Region and Rizal. He was given the Customer Development Rookie Award for 2016.

Recently, a big foreign company was pirating him, offering him a salary thrice what he’s getting now. He would be in charge of sales for Northern Luzon, based in Tuguegarao, Cagayan. He declined, and told his mother, “Mom, I cannot leave you. I have to take care of you and my siblings.”

After all, money is only a commodity; it comes and goes. But a family’s love is essential to a person’s happiness.


A couple of months ago, my son Pet and his family went to Vancouver where he stood as sponsor at the wedding of his nephew, also his godson at baptism. When the family returned, I asked his daughter Tricia how the wedding was. Her answer: “Bittersweet.”

I can understand. The bride and the groom went steady for many, many years—an on-and-off relationship. In fact, both of them were concentrating on their careers. In fact, they broke up when they found out she had stage 4 breast cancer and given a few years to live. But he decided to marry her, all practical considerations notwithstanding.

After hearing the story, I told Pet: “He truly loves her, and he wants to make her last few years happy.”

As we always hope, love won the day.

When my balikbayan brother Ramon Syquia, his wife Inday and children Maricar and Monchu came to Manila last month, we all went to Vigan to go back to our family roots.

On a tour of the Syquia Mansion Museum, guide Ferdie Parada pointed to a portrait, saying: He is the founder of the prominent Syquia clan. Born in Amoy, China, he came to the Philippines and settled in Vigan. He fell in love with Petronila Encarnacion, who wanted a Catholic ceremony. Forthwith, he was baptized Vicente Romero Syquia. They were married the following day.

Then the guide related the popular story of how Vigan was “liberated” during World War II: A Japanese Army officer did not obey his superior’s order to bomb the city because of his love for a native lass.

Yesterday, I had lunch with my friend Pipang Quema de los Reyes and her daughter Becky, from Vigan. Wanting to know more details about the story of how Vigan was “liberated,” I asked Becky what she knew about it.

When the Japanese Army officer got his order to bomb Vigan, he went to the parish priest and begged him to take care of his wife and two children. (Her name was Adela Tolentino, Pipang interjected.) “How can I take care of them if you bomb Vigan?” Listening to the priest, he and his troops left the city and went to Baguio instead.

A man’s love for his family was the salvation of Vigan.

Truly, “it is only with the heart that one can see rightly.”

Lourdes Syquia Bautista ([email protected]) is a retired professor of the University of Santo Tomas, a widow with 12 children, 27 grandchildren and 21 great grandchildren.

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