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The Runner-up

(A Dramatic Speech)

Thrice that I tried, thrice that I failed. That in a nutshell is the story of my attempts to represent our school in the annual extemporaneous speech competition. Had I won first place in the contest I should have been the school’s bet for that event. But as usual, I ended up the runner-up and my friend Athena the winner. She really is an excellent orator. Whatever I can do, she can do better. It is what it is. That’s it. Perhaps next year, I’ll just try declamation so I wouldn’t compete with her anymore.

“I was just lucky Christian!” That was Athena trying to console me after the contest.

“It has nothing to do with luck. You’re really a good speaker.” You deserve to win. Good luck with the speech competition.”

After saying “thank you,” Athena embraced me. Well, that’s my consolation prize, I got a hug from my friend.

Then the day of the competition came. I went to the school hosting the cultural contests to watch the different events. As soon as I reached the campus of the host school, my phone rang. It was Mrs. Simon, our school principal. She asked me to see her immediately so we could talk. Sensing the urgency in her voice, I headed hurriedly to the library of that school where she said she would wait for me.

“Christian… Athena is in the hospital now, she had an accident on her way here. She wouldn’t make it to the contest. Having won second place in our elimination you ought to substitute for her. You will be our contestant for the extemporaneous speech. The officers of the event allowed it.”

I was dumbfounded…speechless! She talked fast as if not wanting to give me the opportunity to say no. That’s vintage Mrs. Simon… direct to the point, firm, and wouldn’t take NO for an answer. No ifs, no buts. I didn’t know what to say then. I was worried about the fact that I’m joining a competition on so short a notice…but I was more worried about Athena.

“The contest starts in less than two hours. Do this not for yourself, not even for the school. Do this for your friend Athena. PLEASE!” Mrs. Simon implored.

I accepted the challenge and started preparing mentally. It’s good that I was familiar with the criteria for judging and the theme was the same one we used for our school competition. The only problem was the specific topic.

When Ms. Cruz, Athena’s coach arrived, we had a discussion about the contest rules and the possible specific topics the judges might give.

Then finally, the contest started. And as if having only less than two hours to prepare is not challenging enough, I even picked no. 1 in the drawing of lots making me the first contestant.

In a room adjacent to the contest venue, I was handed a piece of paper containing the specific topic written in a question form.

“What can you do to make the Philippines a better nation?”

“Oh my God!” I exclaimed. That’s not one of the possible questions I practiced with Ms. Cruz.

I had three minutes to prepare my speech…three minutes to think of how can I make my country better. Are the judges kidding me? They are giving me just a few minutes to solve the problems that bedeviled this nation for God knows how long.

Look! How many presidents took turns in running the show in Malacañang? How many years did each of them have to make this nation great? Did they succeed? NOOO!!! And here are the judges asking me to perform a miracle… make the Philippines a great nation… and I only have what… 3 minutes!!! Those presidents even had the help of the honorable senators and congressmen and here I am…just an ordinary boy… by my lonesome! What can I do?

Wait…wait…! Calm down Christian….calm down…this is just a contest…take the competition seriously and not the question…it’s only a question…it’s hypothetical. Don’t take it personally! Take a deep breath. Come on! Inhale….exhale…

I want to stop the hands of time. Every movement of the minute hand is like a knife slicing my mind, shredding to pieces my composure.

Until the last few seconds, nothing came to my mind. Then Ms. Cruz came telling me it’s time. I closed my eyes and whispered, “Dear Lord, please help me.”

Deliberately that I walked slowly towards the next room. Then I passed by one student standing on the hallway his head swaying to the music he’s playing on his cell phone. I know the song. It’s Michael Jackson’s “Man In The Mirror.” Then that part of the song I heard as I passed by the student was like electricity that lightened a bulb in my head.

That was one of my “aha moments.” God heard my plea.

“I am but a young man. Still struggling to get an education. I don’t have much to give… no brilliant ideas to share… to make the Philippines a better nation. I don’t have the power, the money, the influence to make any meaningful contributions to our society. But there is one thing I can do that might just be what this nation needs. In one of his songs, the king of Pop, the late Michael Jackson, said that if I want to make this world a better place, I have to take a look at myself then make a change. That exactly is what I intend to do. I cannot change the system of our government. I cannot change your ways of thinking and of doing things. I cannot change you…but I can change myself. I have the power to transform me. I can change my attitude in life. I can change my perspectives. I can be the best me. If only each of us can change for the better, the Philippines might be a better nation.”

That I supposed was the best part of my 3-minute speech. I did not stay in the contest venue after I delivered my impromptu speech. I went out and proceeded immediately to the hospital where Athena was confined. I was happy to see her sustaining just minor injuries.

While in the hospital, I got a call from Mrs. Simon informing me of the results of the contest. Guess what! NO! I did not win 1st place. I was again a runner-up. At least, along with the winner, I will represent the district in the provincial competition.

Anyway, winning the contest was not the great news I wanted to have that day… it was knowing that my friend Athena is okay after the accident.

The Eulogy

(A Dramatic Monologue)

I promised not to cry. That is if I could help it. But should the people notice tears cascade from my eyes…should they hear my voice crack…should I suddenly break into tears… I know they will excuse me.  I know they understand. I know that they share the grief that I and the rest of my family feel.

Now I must tell them what I need to say…

We are all grieving for in that casket lies the body of a husband, father, friend and leader. Lifeless that he is now but he remains alive in our hearts and in our minds.

Should you ask me  to extol the qualities of that man as a husband, father and friend I could tell a thousand reasons why he is so beloved. But how is he as a leader? Ask me not for I am his son, what do you expect me to say. So, be the judge.

I dare you speak in this gathering now. Tell me. Divulge in this assembly. Has he done anything that tarnished the supposedly good image of a public servant? Has he accepted any bribe from anyone of you? Have you received five hundred pesos or a thousand from him so you would write his name in the ballot? Don’t be silent. Tell me that my father lied when the night before he died he assured us that never has he committed any act that will ruin the good name of our family.

I have to admit that there were many times when I was young that I begrudged his being a leader. Why? Him wanting to serve you took away a lot of quality time from us. I’m sorry. I was selfish. I did not like to share my father’s love and attention.

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I begrudged the fact that the families of my father’s fellow public servants have gone from rags to riches…instant millionaires. Their houses became bigger while we remained in the old house that my mother inherited from her parents. They have new cars while my father kept driving his old owner-type jeep. Their children graduated from prestigious universities while I had to endure the rigors of being a scholar and a working student in our state university. How I almost hated my father when he refused the offer of the university president that I become a scholar without taking any examination. He said that just like everybody else I have to go through the process. It’s a scholarship. I must have it only if I deserve it.

One time when my family faced a severe financial crisis, I confronted my father and said, “I heard about that bidding for that road project. Why don’t you just accept a commission from one of the bidders so our problem will be solved. Just once dad!” The only response I got from him was a slap in the face. I would have gotten more had my mother not intervened.

Then from being the head of this town your urged him to lead the whole province. He accepted the challenge. Then he rocked the boat. What he did in our town he promised to do to the province…rid it of illegal gambling, drugs and corruption…stop the quarrying being done in the mountains and rivers…bring our province back to the map of significance.

The latest surveys show him leading by a mile. His opponents got very nervous.

Then a week ago, while talking to some supporters, a visitor came to our house, a man accompanied by a slew of bodyguards. One of them was carrying a large travelling bag. He wanted us to just call him Mr. Chua. The supporters of my father went out when the talk started. I stayed. I was requested to open the travelling bag and there I saw bundles of crispy thousand bills.

“Withdraw from the race and you’ll have all of these. There’s another travelling bag in my van, if that is not enough. Refuse it and you know what will happen.” Mr. Chua said.

My father looked at me. He stood and approached Mr. Chua then slapped him. “How dare you bribe me in my house and in front of my son.”

As Mr. Chua wiped the blood from his lips he said, “You made your choice.”

The visitors left with their money.

The following day, while delivering a talk in a meeting… what I considered inevitable… what I feared was certain to happen… came to past. My father met his tragic end. A hail of bullet reportedly from two gunmen killed him.

Now we are grieving. Crying. Lost. A flock left by a shepherd.  You asked me if I could continue my father’s fight. I told you that my father asked me never to follow in his footsteps.

But for the first time in my life that I will go against my father’s desire. Forgive me father…but I feel obliged to continue what you started. They killed you but the flame of change which you kindled will not be extinguished by the bullet they sprayed on you. Your blood spilled is not a water  doused on that flame but a gasoline that will keep it burning.

My father will not bring to his grave the reforms he sought. His visions for a better life for all of us in this province will not die with him.

What Grandma Taught

grandma(A Dramatic Monologue)

“Have you packed your things? It’s summertime and beginning tomorrow you’ll be staying with your grandma for a couple of months again.” That was my mother.

Oh my, it’s another summer devoid of excitement. For sure, I’l be like a bird again caged in our ancestral house in the province with my authoritarian grandma. In the military, soldiers obey first before complaining, with my grandma, ahhh, obey always…never complain. It’s back to the dark ages… no cellphone…no internet…but a lot of household chores and garden works.

A few minutes later, my father arrived from work. He went straight to the masters’ bedroom. I sensed trouble. Normally, upon arriving, he would lovingly buzz my mom’s cheek and demand from me the tightest of embrace.

“Mom, what’s the matter? I inquired. My mom shrugged her shoulders off and retorted, “I really don’t know. He’s probably tired. Come, let’s talk to him.”

My dad was lying on bed still on his business attire. He was blankly staring at the ceiling. My mom sat on the right side of the bed while I sat on the left. It took sometime before mom was able to convince dad to talk. What he said left both me and my mom dumbfounded. Dad told us that their company declared bankruptcy and he’s unemployed. Even at my young age I comprehended the implications of what he said.

When Mom regained composure she said, “Well, life has to go on. Find another job. In the meantime, our savings will get us through. “ My dad sat beside my mom. He embraced her and told her how sorry he was for not telling her that he used our savings to buy some stocks in the company, just like what the other employees did, hoping that it would save their company. But to no avail. My mom got mad, pushed my dad back and said, “How could you do that? Why didn’t you tell me? What will happen to us now?

Heated exchange of words ensued. My parents lost control, I could see my family slowly being torn apart right before my eyes. But that can’t be. I must do something. “Mom, dad, enough please. “ That was the first  time I shouted at my parents. I was sorry but I had no choice. They stopped and stared at me. I just found myself taking their hand and asking them to hold each other’s hands as well. Then I told them that we will kneel together to pray. Hesitatingly they heeded my request. I led the  prayer.

“Dear God, we’ve got a big problem. My father lost his job, but we still have each other. We lost our money, we may also lose this house eventually and all the comforts we are accustomed to. But I don’t care, what is important oh God is that I still have my dad, I still have my mom, and all of us are alive and healthy, and most of all we still have you. I believe so firmly what my grandma told me about you God, that You love us and that you will never abandon us, that in times of difficulties you would never fail us. This we pray humbly in the sweetest name of your Son Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.”

Silence engulfed the room after that. Then  mom and dad tightly embraced me. They both apologized to me. After a while, I left the room. I felt they must talk things over.

I finally realized the wisdom in the things grandma did to me. Even if there were maids in our ancestral house, she would asked me to help in cleaning the house and the yard, she taught me to perform household chores. She taught me to responsibly spend money and live modestly. If ever my parents decide to let go our maids, well, I am ready. If I need to live a simple life until my father finds another job, no problem at all. My grandma taught me well.

I remember how grandma strictly enforced upon me to pray upon waking up in the morning, before sleeping at night, before meals and just about anytime. She kept telling me that praying is so important in life because everything else may fail, but never God’s love.

Funny, but I just got exited at the prospect of spending another summer with my grandma.  I can’t wait to see her.

 

 

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