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Of mothers and heritage

There is a photo, taken at the height of the post-Aquino assassination protest actions in 1984, that shows a woman defiantly waving a protest flag in front of police troops bombarding her with streams of water from fire hoses.

The woman was Louise G. Orendain and she was then 64 years old, a retired journalist who never retired from her duties as a concerned citizen and her personal mission to right the wrongs of the world.

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Her daughter Joan, no pushover herself, recalls a mother who was so busy pursuing her journalistic calling that she had no time to cook or look after her brood. So it fell on Joan, the eldest daughter, to look after things on the domestic front. Other such mother-daughter pairings might have resulted in resentment and remorse. But Joan remembers being so entranced by her mother’s strong personality that she ended up being a writer and PR practitioner herself.

When Louise turned 88, her children threw her a grand celebration. And when her turn came to greet her family and friends, she went up to the mic, burst into a shimmering smile, told them how much she enjoyed the occasion, then collapsed in a heap.

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They rushed her to the hospital emergency room, but they knew she was gone, at least physically. “She died and lived in the best possible way,” Joan now says, recalling a mother who pursued her passions and lived as fully as she wanted, showing her daughters an example of how to live without compromise.

There are mothers and there are daughters, and there’s no template on what sort of relationship makes for a perfect pairing. But it’s true that our mothers will always be with us, in our memories and in our DNA. And sometimes, when we yell at our children, cook a favorite dish, or choose a particular scent, our mothers suddenly surface, reflected back in our own selves.

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Talking about another mother, in my mother’s hometown of Alaminos, Pangasinan, concerned citizens are bringing a petition to Mayor Arthur Celeste regarding his plan, supported by the city council, to build a “legislative building and sociocivic center” in the town plaza in front of the church.

While stressing that they have no objections to the construction of the building, necessary because the Alaminos City Hall is becoming much too cramped, the petitioners say the building can very well be constructed in any other property in the city, in particular an empty lot just beside City Hall.

Some critics of the plan say that if Mayor Celeste persists in putting up the building in the plaza, it would destroy the symmetry of the town plan that has been in place, as in most other old towns in the country, since Spanish times. What’s more, construction in the plaza—named after Marcelo Ochave, a long-serving former mayor—would necessitate cutting down ancient acacia trees that have stood like sentinels since at least before World War II.

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“We believe that Plaza Ochave should remain open and accessible to the public,” the petitioners say in their letter to the mayor. The plaza, they add, is an historical feature of the town “that should be cared for by different generations.”

The National Historical Commission of the Philippines, the petitioners say, has informed them that public plazas are for public use and should remain accessible to the enjoyment of all.

The NHCP has intervened in other and similar cases involving the plans of local governments to build in previously open public plazas. The town plazas, said the Commission, dates back to the 16th century when by royal Spanish decree every town had a free, open, public plaza in the center of town, accessible to all. “The plaza was so crucial to the life of the town that the Spanish colonial government stipulated the shape and size of the plaza and the structures that could be built around it,” the NHCP declared.

In a position paper written regarding the case of a similar plan of the local government of San Jose, Batangas, the Commission said the proposed municipal building “will shatter the beauty of the plaza and deny residents and citizens … access to free, open space—a right that they, and future generations, have a right to enjoy.”

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One wonders why Mayor Celeste and the city council of Alaminos are hell-bent on pursuing the construction of the office building on Plaza Ochave, even if it means destroying the historical symmetry of the town layout that has been a feature of Philippine towns for over five centuries. Admittedly, in many towns, heedless officials and indifferent citizens have allowed the centuries-old town template to be ruined by commerce, uncontrolled development, or greed.

But when and while there is still time to prevent such a misfortune, then people of goodwill and concerned government officials—the NHCP, the Department of Interior and Local Government, and the Department of Tourism, for starters—should bring their voices and power to bear on the matter.

The people of Alaminos should consider themselves fortunate that they are living in a town that still carries vestiges of the past—even if these are fast-disappearing. Much of the change, it is true, is being done in the well-meaning but misguided zeal of those who want to pursue development, tourism and “progress” regardless of the cost to heritage and “roots.”

Last Friday, I opened my column by quoting an advertising guru on how planning the future without considering the past is akin to “planting cut flowers.”

Without roots, without heritage, without gratitude to the past, we will be a lost people, wondering who we are and what makes us proud to be ourselves.

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TAGS: Louise G. Orendain, post-Aquino assassination
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