In My Own Words - Ron Centeno

a collection of thoughts and my own words

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"Remember the Aquinos"

Written by Ron Centeno

History would tell us that Texas was previously part of Mexico. With its huge size and a handful of inhabitants, the Mexican authorities invited the Americans to settle the area. Led by Stephen Austin, by 1830, more than 20,000 white Americans had been drawn to the fertile, cotton-growing plains, bringing with them some 2,000 slaves. In no time, they outnumbered the Mexicans in the territory, and in 1834, Austin asked the authorities in Mexico City to allow Texas to separate from Mexico as a prelude to statehood. In turn, Austin was arrested and jailed. By 1836, President Santa Anna of Mexico announced a unified constitution for all Mexican territories, including Texas.

Undeterred, the Americans in Texas decided to secede. With an army of 6,000, Santa Anna marched against what he viewed as the treasonous Texans. With a force of 3,000, Santa Anna reached San Antonio, held by 187 men under the command of Colonel W. B. Travis. The defenders took a defensive stand behind the walls of a mission called the Alamo. For ten days, this small band of Texans fought their way out to their very last breaths until overrun by the overwhelming forces of Santa Anna. The American defenders who survived the final onslaught were then executed. Their corpses were soaked in oil and then set on fire. Only three Americans came out of the Alamo alive; a soldier’s wife named Susanna Dickenson, her fifteenth-month-old baby, and Travis’s slave named Joe. They were freed by Santa Anna on foot to deliver the warning to Sam Houston, commander of the Texas army, that, they, too, would suffer the same fate if they continued to resist.

As if the massacre in Alamo were not enough, the forces of Santa Anna were all the more emboldened and duplicated their previous slaughter in the town of Goliad by setting hundreds of Texans ablaze.

En route to their third exploit against the defending Texans, Santa Anna and his forces found themselves in San Jacinto in April 1836. The overbearing and now self-assured Santa Anna, granted his troops a siesta. With “Remember the Alamo” as their rallying cry, the vastly outnumbered Texans swept into the lines and killed hundreds of Mexicans and led to the subsequent capture of Santa Anna. The battle was over in eighteen minutes.

Soon, the Texans ratified their constitution and Houston was made president of the republic. They then petitioned for annexation into the United States. On December 29,1845, the U. S. Congress approved the petition and President James K. Polk signed the “Joint Resolution for the Admission of the State of Texas into the Union.” Texas became the 28th state.

This brief history of “Remember the Alamo” must be a lesson learned not unique to the Americans but equally apt in the context of us Filipinos.

For over a hundred years now, Rizal, Bonifacio, Aguinaldo, to name a few, stood to their ground to confront the barrel of the guns so that their people that would come after them would experience liberty from the abusive conquestadores.

Fastforward, while the conquestadores have long been gone, our hard-earned liberty was taken into custody by no less than our very own, however, dictatorial Marcos regime. Benigno Aquino, like Rizal, he was fearless to serve time in jail, much less to suffer the same fate of dying from a bullet. Ninoy’s death became the spring board for democracy, however, when his wife thrown herself into the ring of politics where Marcos was the obvious heavyweight. But Marcos was nothing less than Santa Anna of Mexico who became self-assured and declared a snap election in 1986 to warrant his delusion of being a leader to his subservient people. When Marcos’s miscalculation became apparent, his last remaining option was to use the barrel of the guns. Met by the beads of rosary, however, his guns gone shy. Three years after her husband Ninoy Aquino kissed the ground in blood, Cory Aquino sealed her victory and restored liberty for all of us to enjoy.

Now that the two Aquinos are no longer with us, but in spirit, the question is what if liberty would again be denied to us? Who would stand to his or her ground when the barrel of a gun is aimed among us? When, God forbid, this has to come, “Remember the Aquinos”, to be our rallying cry as next to none.


The Day I Shook Cory's Hand

Written by Ron Centeno

During the early years of her presidency, I met Cory Aquino at Malacanang Palace through Fr. Catalino Arevalo, S. J. , the president’s spiritual adviser and a personal friend of mine. Yes, the same Fr. Arevalo as earlier mentioned by Kris Aquino during her Sunday’s one-on-one interview with Boy Abunda, as the Jesuit priest summoned by the Aquino family to say the Mass immediately after Cory passed away at 3:18 a.m. on Saturday.

Fr. Arevalo, asked me to do a charcoal portrait of the Shroud of Turin that would be displayed at the Malacanang chapel during one of those Holy Weeks when Mrs. Aquino was then the sitting president. “Are you sure you want me to do it?”, I asked him inquisitively. “I’ve seen some of your works and I’m sure you can very well do the same thing with this”, he said, as he showed me a small picture frame of the shroud atop his desk. Portraiting (if there is such a word) has never been my profession. I have never attended an art school, only a raw talent that must have been handed to me by my father, who analogously, never went to art school nor a professional artist, but equally equipped with a mere raw talent. (If you want to see a sample of my raw work on Barack Obama’s, pls. go to my Facebook account. Unfortunately, my charcoal portrait of the Shroud of Turin has been missing for years now). At any rate, I heeded Fr. Arevalo’s request with contrasting alacrity and jittery.

The painting was the size of the whole cartolina done in a charcoal board paper. For weeks, I labored on the portrait in the hope that it would befit its intended purpose during the holy celebration.

A week after, I went to see Fr. Arevalo at the Loyola House of Studies and brought him the charcoal painting framed with aluminum panel with matching glass cover. He was quite delighted. The next day, I received a call from Fr. Arevalo asking me to come with him to Malacanang on that Holy Friday for the Mass he was tasked to celebrate. I said yes even before he would have finished telling me. “Very well, then”, he said. “Please be here at 7:00 o’clock in the morning. The Mass starts at 9:00”, he added. “I sure will, father”, I said.

I had never been to Malacanang before and the thought of going inside the palace was an absolute dream I have long wished for. With Cory Aquino as the residing president is all the more preposterous, to say the least.

Fr. Arevalo and I reached Malacanang on time. As soon as we were ushered into the chapel, I was struck by the conspicuous location of the charcoal painting I did for that purpose. It was mounted on an easel in front of the altar directly facing Mrs. Aquino and her cabinet members along with their families. I was dumbfounded. It was then that I truly appreciated my God-given raw talent that would require no less than the devout president to make that possible.

After the Mass, Fr. Arevalo wasted no time in figuring out how he would introduce me to Mrs. Aquino who was graciously attending to all those present on that very Holy Friday. When the moment finally came, I was literally shaking when Mrs. Aquino offered her hand to shake mine. “I’m glad you’d able to come. You did a good job with the Shroud”, she said. I was tongue-tied. At that instance, her official photographer motioned me to stand next to the president with the Shroud being the backdrop. At the count of three, he snapped his camera for posterity.


State of Political Paranoia

Written by Ron Centeno

In the United States, when George W. Bush’s second term was drawing to a close, the American people never doubted that they would soon be electing a new set of leaders as provided for by the U. S. Constitution. Bush and his allies in Congress, including his predecessors, never entertained the idea of staying in office longer than what is allowed by law. Based upon this democratic transfer of power, the leading contenders, such as then presidential aspirants Barack Obama and John McCain, would have ample time to let their platform transcend into the consciousness of every American voter. In turn, the American public shall have the opportune time to weigh in their options and opinions as to which candidate is deserving of their sacred vote.

From the time of George Washington in 1789 to this date, American presidents could only serve a maximum of two terms, except, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was elected to office four times from the onset of the economic Depression in the early 1930s to the waning period of World War II in 1945. No matter how exceptional a U. S. president’s performance in office would be, the limit to his term in office is non-negotiable. No ifs, no buts.

In the Philippines, whose 1987 constitution is almost verbatim to that of the U. S. Constitution, Arroyo and her allies, deem for its change for obvious reason. We know that the difference between the two charters points to the fact that the American provides a maximum of two presidential terms with four years in each term, while the Philippines provides only one term of six years. Arroyo, despite being in office for nine years now, simply does not want to let go. Given her limit to stay in office as set forth by the charter, Arroyo’s last arsenal to extend her grip to power is to delimit it by changing it, hence, the Cha-cha.

When the U. S. Constitution was ratified in the late 1780s, despite its now 27 amendments, never in its lifetime was there any thought of changing it. The sanctity of this American document has been kept to this date based upon the notion that it is the foundation and source of the legal authority underlying the existence of the United States of America and the Federal Government. Interestingly, a fledgling democratic country such as the Philippines, has laid out numerous charters as far back as the presidency of Emilio Aguinaldo through the 1899 Constitution of the Republic of the Philippines to the 1935 Commonwealth Constitution under Manuel Quezon to Marcos’s 1973 Martial Law Constitution, and to the current democratic one under Corazon Aquino.

Similar to the U.S. Constitution, the current Philippine constitution is far from being perfect. The American founding fathers were acutely aware of its flaws, hence, the compromise was made in the form of amendments or the Bill of Rights that was vehemently sought for by no less than Thomas Jefferson. In the same manner, the Filipino delegates to the Constitutional Commission or Con-com who framed the 1987 Constitution hotly debated several issues leading to Lino Brocka’s walk-out of the Commission before its completion and two other delegates who would dissent from the final draft. Without doubt, blood, sweat, and tears, were poured out into such document that was hoped to finally sustain democratic governance for our future generation. So it seemed.

Such hope is now in peril, however. Given the predilection to power, those who are bent on changing the charter have one thing in mind, to extend the term of their very own “patron”, including theirs. It is no accident that such constitutional ambivalence and maneuvering in the Philippines has left its people into a constant state of political paranoia.


Not Just Yet, Mrs. Aquino

Written by Ron Centeno

The outpouring of well-wishes to Cory Aquino’s immediate recovery, albeit, continuously agonizing and consuming, is a clear manifestation of love and respect to a leader whose moral and political contribution to our country is immense.

History would tell us that her intransigent stance against the former dictator Ferdinand Marcos indubitably captured the imagination of those who value liberty to the fullest. Marcos, armed to his teeth and wrapped with all the imperious chutzpah, threw in his hat into the political ring against the unassuming housewife of the slain fiery oppositionist Ninoy Aquino. The fight was biblical in proportion. It was David against Goliath. In similar passion with that of the Old Testament’s tale, Cory, as David, emerged as a winner. However, defeat was never an option for Marcos, as Goliath. Massive cheating ensued to justify his hoax victory.

The unintended consequence, however, was telling. People sent themselves to streets in protest against the dictatorship. “Cory! Cory! became their deafening cry. In response, Marcos pulled his last trick. He sent his military troops to counter the defiant sea of humanity along EDSA. Unperturbed, people from all walks of life stood to their hallowed ground until the military defected to Cory’s side, ending the yellow revolution. The rest is history.

The Aquino administration was without hitches and critics. Early on, ‘kudetas’ came in succession. Some power-grabbers would often rise up to test Cory’s resilience and the will to govern. In one instance, she was accused of hiding under her bed in one of those uprising spates. Nevertheless, armed with, perhaps, beads of rosary, she was able to restore democracy into our fledgling republic.

In the hindsight, the Aquino administration was no more than a transitional government. Its monumental achievement, however, was to lay down the blueprint of a democratic rule for our future generation. Far from being abusive to power, she relinquished her presidency upon completion of her term as provided for by the constitution. Extension was never contemplated despite her enormous popularity and public clamor.

She was not an adroit politician that would rival Margaret Thatcher nor Indira Ghandi, but her revulsion to a limitless stay in power equates that of George Washington. Not surprisingly, when Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s allies, with her tacit approval, of course, proposed a constitutional amendment to accommodate their benefactor for an extended term, Cory, despite her slowly deteriorating condition, vehemently shows her opposition to the same. Her resounding call to wage war against the preoccupation of Arroyo’s accomplices in Congress is impossible to ignore.

Long live Cory Aquino!

Long live the Constitution!


The Truth Hurts

Written by Ron Centeno

I condemn in the strongest possible tone the impending arrest of Jun Lozada in connection with the 16 charges incredulously filed against him. The biggest irony in the Arroyo administration lies in the fact that those who have committed the most gruesome crimes in the past, (Do I need to mention their names?) are now freely basking under the sun, some of them have even surreptitiously begun campaigning for the incoming elections, while a decent man whose only fault, as far as in the eyes of those who want to obliterate his previous Senate testimony against them, is to tell the truth.

If in eventuality Lozada is put behind bar for cases, (which I assume have been deliberately put in place to warrant its potency), ranging from dishonesty, perjury to theft, then clearly the intent is short of piercing the cork into the mouth of those who bear the pieces of bad information against the keepers of power.

Needles to say, as a consolation to his endearing act of refusing to bend over the wishes of those whom he accuses of corruption in the NBN – ZTE scandal, Lozada’s arrest would equate the same fate in similar construct with those of Ninoy Aquino, Mandela, or Ghandi. Seemingly emboldened by the constant harassment in his person and those of his family, his concession to his forthcoming arrest is more of a sign of a war declaration in the court of law when he said, “I’ve reached the point where I’m preparing myself psychologically how to face them. I’ll ask them to bring me to trial. I’m challenging them to prove the charges against me, and I’ll stand by what I said.”

We can only hope, however, that the angels from heaven shall descend into Lozada’s camp when the court proceedings take place, because, even before the circus gets underway, a foregone conclusion has already been decided against his favor. It’s only a matter of time.

Until then, let us collectively muster our efforts to rally behind the cause of this man who had the chance to silence himself in exchange for comfort but opted not. It’s been a year now since Jun Lozada captured our hearts and minds while he was in tears before the illustrious men and women of the Senate during his testimony in that infamous deal where no less than the First Gentleman and the former Comelec Chairman Ben Abalos were linked to the scandal. Without question, his guts were truly epic. Instantly, a star was born.

But that was then. A year later, Lozada’s beaming star has long faded away, thanks to our short-term memory. And while the trumpets in heaven are no longer resounding for Lozada, the Arroyo’s “galamay” are now in the offensive to take matter into their tentacles. When this viciousness happens, we can only ignominiously watch from the sidelines while the man who risked every inch of himself is being devoured almost to his lonesome.

Echoing ex-President Cory Aquino’s prayer, we, too, should pray harder for Lozada. But prayer alone would be an empty weapon without “mobilizing people”, as Sr. Mary John Mananzan, co-chair of the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines (AMRSP), would like to happen. I have never prayed harder until today.

May God bless Jun Lozada and the entire Filipino people.