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Reveille

A society of contradictions

After serving as the nation’s first commissioner of tourism (the position would later be elevated to Cabinet level), my father, Modesto Farolan, would be appointed ambassador to South Vietnam and Cambodia by President Diosdado Macapagal. It was in the foreign service where he spent the remaining years of his life, moving from Asia to Europe, and then back to Asia, with Jakarta as his final posting.

In his diplomatic career, I noticed that he had a small group of loyal and dedicated foreign service staff officers (FSSOs) who were often with him in difficult stations. Some would call them hardship posts. The more coveted assignments were those in the United States, Canada, and Europe, where one could enjoy the benefits of prosperous and economically advanced societies with the possibility of permanent residency in the future. Let me explain that the FSSOs are the equivalent of the senior noncommissioned officers in our armed forces. They are the workhorses of an embassy. If an ambassador has well-trained and hard-working FSSOs, he is relieved of the administrative chores that may sometimes be a burden to the chief of mission.

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One of the FSSOs who served under my father in South Vietnam, and later in Indonesia, was Teodoro “Teddy” Valencia from Ilocos Norte. Keep in mind that in the 1960s and early 1970s, these countries were hardship posts. South Vietnam was experiencing a revolving door change of government after the fall of President Ngo Dinh Diem with every senior general of the South Vietnamese armed forces bent on having his turn at the helm. In the case of Indonesia, everything — from toilet paper to soap to toothpaste — had to be brought in from Singapore. Teddy Valencia was part of my dad’s loyal group, serving as embassy finance or administrative officer in Saigon, and later, Jakarta. Only the cold weather of Switzerland made it impossible for him to join my father in Berne. He was a quiet, knowledgeable, and hard-working individual, and I knew that my father had full confidence in his work. As with many of our foreign service people, Teddy’s dream was for one of his sons to someday follow in his footsteps. He had his eye on the third child in the family, Thaddeus, who was nicknamed “Ted.” To his dismay and great disappointment, Ted opted to join the priesthood.

In 1979, Ted became the first Filipino priest to be ordained in Canada, joining the Congregation of Saint Basil, an Order founded by French diocesan priests in the 18th century. A week before his ordination, Ted called up his father in Jakarta, asking for his presence at the most important event of his life. After a silence that seemed almost like eternity, his father’s voice came on the line with a curt reply. He was too busy with his work. Ted understood.

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For many years, there was not much communication between father and son. For one thing, Ted spent most of his time as a missionary in the Americas, while his father was immersed in foreign service work. In 2001, Father Ted received an urgent call from the family. Teddy was in critical condition and wanted to talk to his son for the last time. Just before he passed away, he whispered to him, “I am so sorry I was not around for your ordination.”

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We are a deeply religious people, aware of our duties and obligations as members of the church, with a great devotion to the Blessed Mother and the Child Jesus. We put much weight on the views of the spiritual leaders and priests in our communities. We accord their opinions with as much, if not greater respect, than the views of other professionals. But ask Filipino couples what their ambition for their sons were. Most often the hopes were for them to become lawyers, doctors, engineers, or diplomats. Rarely would the priesthood be mentioned. In fact, if you bring up the matter, you might create some uneasiness or reluctance to discuss the subject. It is as though the work of the Lord was for the sons of other people. I have always considered this outlook as one of the great contradictions of our society.

Of course there are a number of exceptions. When I was customs commissioner, one of my district collectors was a wonderful man, Guillermo “Willy” Orbos. Willy’s ambition was to see all his sons become priests, and indeed, three of them entered the seminary. However, only one, the beloved Fr. Jerry Orbos, would make it to the House of the Lord.

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TAGS: Modesto Farolan, Ramon J. Farolan, Reveille, society of contradictions, Teodoro Valencia
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