A Filipino of Faith
By Max V. Soliven
The Philippine Star
December 19, 2005
We keep on paying lip service to the catchword, “Faith in the Filipino.” In this Christmas season of hope – and also sadness – this faith and confidence in ourselves too often falls short of being justified.
However, here’s one story which I must tell.
This incident took place last Thursday in the late afternoon. I was rushing home in my car, an X-5, from my last meeting in Makati – already far behind schedule, since my next appointment, after a change of clothes, was in Malacañang. My vehicle broke down in the mounting rush-hour traffic on the Paseo de Roxas, not far from the corner of Buendia. There I was, frantically trying to hail a cab in vain while the avenue was crawled alongside, almost gridlocked. My desperation must have been all over my face. I had fruitlessly attempted calling my Stargate office on Ayala Avenue, then my associates and friends nearby. I needed a car badly to rescue me from the corner where I had been stranded. But nobody could be contacted.
Then a white Chevrolet Ventura pulled up to the curb. The young man at the wheel leaned over, his window rolled down, and asked: “Can I help you, sir?”
I blurted out, “Yes – my car over there broke down. I must get home in a hurry! Can you bring me somewhere where I can find a taxicab?”
The fellow smiled and said: “Hop in, Sir I will drive you home.”
I scrambled aboard, thankful to the kind stranger, and God – and for my good fortune. In retrospect, I wonder why it had never occurred to me he might be an armed hold-up man. I guess it was the disarming nature of his smile, his earnest approach. Yet how could anyone be so generous as to stop in the middle of traffic, then offer a total stranger a ride all the way to his home? He hadn’t even asked how far away I lived; he’d made the offer without hesitation.
When we were underway, I asked to shake his hand and asked for his name, “My name is Alex,” he simply said. “I’m Max,” I replied, then fished in my pocket and offered him my card. He peered at it, then exclaimed: “Wow. It’s an honor! I read you every day!”
“Now. Alex, you owe me your card in return.” I said.
Stopped at a light, he took out his wallet, got one and politely handed it to me. It read: Alexander L. Lacson, above which was his firm’s title: “Malcolm Law”, underneath that, “A Professional Partnership.” By golly, I had been rescued by a lawyer.
There you are. Somehow, when faith in the Filipino wavers, a Filipino comes along to restore your faith. Restore it? So surprise you with his kindness and generosity. This is an experience – and a shining gesture – I’ll never forget.
I finally told Alex I was headed for Greenhills. He grinned. “By coincidence, since I’m taking you there, my destination happens to lie not far away – I’m headed for Wack-Wack subdivision to give a talk at a Christmas party.”
“Why?” I exclaimed. “In addition to being a lawyer, are you also a preacher?”
He smiled even more merrily and explained that he had written a little book. It was on the car seat beside him, and I picked it up. It was entitled: “12 Little Things Every Filipino Can Do to Help Our Country.”
Alex had his little volume (108 pages) published earlier this year by the Alay Pinoy Publishing House in Quezon City, and it had sold out in its first printing within three weeks. The second and third printings were about to sell out, too.
No, he wasn’t selling it through any bookshop, the biggest book shop (unnamed here) wanted too big a portion of its possible earnings, but I told them I wanted the proceeds to go to a scholarship foundation for the needy.”
So, Lacson has been selling his book out of his office and out of his home.
The dedication of the slim tome reveals his sincerity. It says: “To my Creator, who has blessed me with so much, and to my Country, which yearns for love from its people.”
As we drove up EDSA, Alex said: “I read your mother’s book, ‘A Woman So Valiant,’ too – and I loved it!”
Can you beat that?
My mama had written that book of hers in longhand, on yellow pad paper not long before she died at the age of 81 on October 16, 1990 – and belatedly, we had published it last year. Astoundingly, it had been a runaway bestseller, without publicity, and had sold out in the National Bookstores.
My sister, Mrs. Mercy S. David messaged me when she arrived from New York that the Japanese were now planning to transcribe the autobiography into Japanese and publish it in Tokyo, as a chronicle of what happened to a Filipino family in the war years (and during Japanese military occupation). The proposed Japanese title, “A Valiant Mother and Her Nine Children.”
But that’s another story, far removed from today’s inspiring tale about Alex Lacson’s Christian spirit and generosity. One thing Alex said demonstrated he had really read Mom’s book. He remarked that the thing he vividly remembered in Mama’s memoirs was that, in spite of our poverty, she had determined: “I don’t want my children to feel poor.” Thus, one of us or two of us in turn had been taken by her, on her meager earnings as a seamstress, to eat at a good restaurant. The “classy” restaurant of the time, Alex recalled from its mention in mama’s book, was The Aristocrat. How lives intersect in this spinning world.
To get to the end of the “rescue” saga, Alex Lacson drove me to my home in Greenhills, and I noticed he never broke a traffic rule. I was tempted, in my selfish agitation to get home and get my tuxedo for the State dinner in the Palace, then dash over to Malacañang, to cut corners, such as push into the opposite lane when stuck not far from the Buchanan Gate, in order to sneak into the Gate. But Lacson calmly awaited his turn in traffic . Obey the law and obey the rules were obviously the bedrock of his “12 Things” credo.
In any event, getting to Malacañang in the end was only the bonus. Meeting someone like Alex Lacson was the real miracle .
Alexander Ledesma Lacson, it turned out, modest as he was in bearing, was a graduate of the University of the Philippines College of Law, 1996, and took up graduate studies at the Harvard Law School in Cambridge, Mass. (Good old Harvard Yard, by gosh). His wife, Pia Peña – it turned out even more amazingly – is the daughter of an old friend, Teddy Peña from Palawan! She, too, is a lawyer – U.P. 1993 – a legal counsel for Citibank. They established a foundation together to help underprivileged children through school, and are now subsidizing 27 young scholars in different public schools in Alex’s native Negros Occidental.
The reason Alex had been headed for Wack-Wack was the fact that the officers and employees of a company named Resins Inc., after buying 1,000 copies of his book had invited him to give the “homily” at their Christmas party. This was not a small group – the company had 600 employees, waiting for his “word” that night.
Alex, it struck me from our conversation, is an eloquent and devout Catholic. He believes God must have destined our people for some great role – why, in all history, he reasoned, were we Filipinos the “only Christian nation in Asia?” One thing is certain: He and his wife Pia practice their Christianity – and live it.
Four years ago, he and his wife had a serious discussion about migrating to the US or Canada because the Philippines, as a country appeared hopeless since things only got worse year after year. They wanted to know if their children (they have three, one boy and two girls) would be better off staying in our country or abroad in the next 20 years.
Pia and Alex had asked themselves the question: “Is there hope for the Philippines to progress in the next 20 years?”
They reasoned: If the answer is Yes, then they would stay. If it was No, they would leave and relocate abroad while they were still young and energetic. There were long discussions. One day, the realization, Alex recalls, struck them: the answer to that question was in themselves. The country would improve, Pia and Alex finally understood, if they and every other Filipino did something about it. Leaving the Philippines was not the solution. As Lacson put it in his book: “The answer is in us as a people; that hope is in us as a people.”
When I read the book afterwards, I discovered that many important people had endorsed it.
But these encomiums are not needed. Alex laughed when I quipped that he must be one of the wealthy Lacsons from Negros Occidental, like my classmates and schoolmates in the Ateneo. He cheerfully, and proudly, said that he was “a poor Lacson.” His mother, he pointed out, had been a public school teacher in Cabangcalan.
No, he’s not poor – his richness are in his friends, and in the heart.
Here are, in outline, his 12 commandments:
1. Follow traffic rules. Follow the law.
2. Whenever you buy or pay for anything, always ask for an official receipt.
3. Don’t buy smuggled goods. Buy local. Buy Filipino. (Or, if you read the book, he suggests: 50-50).
4. When you talk to others, especially foreigners speak positively about us and our country.
5. Respect your traffic officer, policeman and soldier.
6. Do not litter. Dispose your garbage properly. Segregate. Recycle. Conserve.
7. Support your church.
8. During elections, do your solemn duty.
9. Pay your employees well.
10. Pay your taxes.
11. Adopt a scholar or a poor child.
12. Be a good parent. Teach your kids to follow the law and love our country.
These are the 12 things every Filipino can do to help our country. At first blush, they seem simple. When you study them more closely, they are difficult to do. But all of us, together can do them.