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.