The irony of old age | Inquirer Opinion
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The irony of old age

Having breached my 60s and salad days, and, “like an island surrounded by death,” I find that my ultimate goal now is to be remembered beyond my lifetime. As the Jewish saying goes, “The only dead are those who have been forgotten.”

How will I achieve such worldly immortality? I started to ponder deeply, with a fixation on my accumulated readings of 40 years. And out of the blue, the three options of an anonymous writer cropped up: 1) write a book, 2) father a son, and 3) plant a tree.


Great writers like Ernest Hemingway, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Nick Joaquin, to mention a few, perpetuated themselves through their books, which have been integrated into the elite libraries of intellectuals. Their reputations are indelibly etched in the consciousness of the living.

But option No. 1 is a no-no. I have only contributed to the Letters to the Editor section of this paper, which mercilessly mangled my literary output, making it difficult to recognize my pieces.


Considering that my spouse and I did not beget a direct heir—probably one of us is unproductive—option No. 2 is irrelevant. Unfortunately, I had not tested my virility for fear of woman’s wrath.

So this leaves me option No. 3. I have planted several centenarian trees—notably hamurawon, narra and acacia—in our farms dominated by coconut and banana trees, and so I am no longer disturbed by Emerson’s remark, “By the time one gets into his/her seventies, his/her continued existence is a mere miracle.”

* * *

I retired from my job as municipal assessor in July 2009, after 23 years of untainted, exemplary and nonlitigation services.

Late in 2008 when I began to update my assessment records for retirement purposes, I was terrified when the Government Service Insurance System informed me of my supposed dismal record in premium remittance for several years. I suspected that our treasurer could be the culprit of this misdemeanor.

With sputtering rage I confronted the finance officer, who, with equal vehemence, denied culpability, and promptly showed me the office records. True enough, after patiently scanning the records, I found all the premium receipts of the GSIS.

I breathed a sigh of relief, presuming it was the only stumbling block. But no. An Alfred Hitchcock suspense surfaced: I was a supposed beneficiary of an approved housing loan which was allegedly used in the construction of my residence in Meycauayan, Bulacan.


After submitting an affidavit to the contrary and a certification from our treasurer, I was freed of that obligation and the processing of my retirement papers sailed smoothly.

Had the municipal building been razed or devastated by a supertyphoon, I would not have received a penny for my retirement.

* * *

The late 1960s brought social and political militancy to its peak.

I desisted from joining a militant organization while pursuing my business accountancy course in Cebu City, but my younger sibling did, graduating to become an expert in street protests and demonstrations (while still a student in Cebu). So, on the eve of the imposition of martial law in September 1972, he was arrested (like in the movie “Minority Report,” it was a precrime process). And after a two-month detention in Camp Crame he was released. But he returned to the hills where he remains up to this day, carrying millions of pesos on his head. I am praying for his surrender.

Under a cloud of suspicion of being a core member of the KM (Kabataang Makabayan), I was arrested on the eve of our town fiesta in Guiuan, Eastern Samar, on Oct. 1, 1972. My arresting officer, CSC Francisco Rivas, brought me and another suspect, Felias Ogario, to Camp Asidillo in Borongan, Eastern Samar, 110 kilometers north of Guiuan. We were 26 detainees in all, with the Red Cross underwriting our finances: P2 per detainee per day.

(My arresting officer and I became intimate friends many years later, when I was the municipal assessor and he was the chief of police.)

We were not strictly guarded. The camp commander, Lt. Col. Cerilo Bueno, was respectful of our human rights, and accorded us the privilege of enjoying our favorite sports.

I was released in the last week of November 1972, after verification and the nonappearance of my name in the order of battle at Camp Osmeña, Cebu. But I continued to be a martial law victim: I was ordered to report to Camp Asidillo every Monday for three months, and finally at a Constabulary camp in Guiuan for another three months.

* * *

Had my wife and I not evacuated before the onslaught of Supertyphoon “Yolanda,” we would have been reunited with our ancestors at an early date. Our five-decades-old, termite-infested residence built of light materials broke into fragments and pieces of our personal property were scooped up by the howler. Our house is still in such a condition, having been bluntly bypassed by rehabilitation-obsessed NGOs.

As in the frantic last days in Saigon in April 1975, there was massive evacuation. Guiuan Airport, the third widest in the Philippines, was the base of operations. Almost every hour, C-130s from different countries were full to capacity, ferrying domestic evacuees to Manila and Cebu.

Considering that flash floods reached 14 feet in Tacloban City and surged from the Pacific Ocean, first hitting Guiuan, we were thought to have been wiped out. Our relatives, particularly in Manila, wept profusely and were eager to come asap. Guiuan, thank God, had only 103 victims.

Thus, I love old age. It has wisdom and experience. But the irony is that it has no hopes, dreams and visions.

Quoting Chancellor Konrad Adenauer: “God, I haven’t asked you to make me young again. All I want is to go on getting old.”


Francisco C. Cabanatan, 71, was a municipal assessor in Mercedes, Eastern Samar.

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TAGS: acacia, aging, centenarian trees, Eastern Samar, Guiuan, hamurawon, martial law, narra, Old Age, retirement, Senior, supertyphoon ‘yolanda’, tree-planting
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