this story originally appeared in the philippine daily inquirer on September 4, 1999.

I was not exactly surprised when my parents gave me a vacation in Bacolod as my graduation gift. For me it was just like going home, since Bacolod was my father’s hometown. I grew up with my maternal grandmother who lives with us in Manila. Being her eldest grandchild, I was said to be my lola’s pet. But this turned out to be more of a liability than an asset because my lola thought of me as my mama’s replacement in terms of services and financial support. She wanted me to grow up fast so I could pay her back for whatever care and time she spent on me. I found it so very confusing that my lola would nag me to work during summer vacation so I could give her some money while my parents were so concerned about my studies and well-being that I practically grew up in one exclusive school for girls.

My provincial sojourn was indeed a welcome breather. Tracing one’s roots and discovering family trees (and fruits) can be an interesting exercise. Meeting people for the first time and seeing images of yourself in them made you marvel at the power of genes and chromosomes! In an old, ancestral home where some cousins live, I was amused to see dated black and white photos. On further scrutiny, I realized that they were no ordinary photos. They were pictures of celebrities. What first caught my attention was a framed blow-up photo of the late Elvira Manahan. I asked how it found its way to a prominent place on the family’s display cabinet. I was told she was a sister of the lady of the house, Charito Palanca, the wife of the mayor of Victorias City. Going through the old photo albums, I saw faces that looked vaguely familiar. I was sure I had seen them before but I had some difficulty saying where. One was that of a young man who looked exactly like my father, although he was much bigger and he had a beard.

After jogging my memory, I realized he was TV director Johnny Manahan, Elvira’s son. There were many photos of my Papa’s siblings, cousins and other relatives. Several group photos taken during happy occasions in the ’60s, ’70s, ’80s and early ’90s of cheerful, youthful faces were carefully preserved. This pile of photos, covering nearly four decades, revealed the evolution of some of the people captured in them. One photo showed a shy, ordinary-looking, thin teenager with a withdrawn look in her eyes that was unlike those of others in the group. The awkward-looking girl has evolved into the confident exotic beauty and famous singer named Kuh Ledesma. What had all these discoveries got to do with me? Like an investigative reporter, I “interviewed” the more senior members of the family, including Lolo Victor, Papa’s father.

From these interviews, I learned that my grandmother on Papa’s side was Rosita Ledesma, a very gracious, charming and refined convent-bred lady who died at a young age. She was the younger sister of the late Elvira Manahan, Charito Palanca and Luis Ledesma, Kuh’s father. Kuh lived at Lolo Victor’s house in Bacolod City and my Papa and his siblings were her “family” for nearly five years while she was taking up nursing at the Colegio de San Agustin. These revelations made me better realize the complications of adult life. Although Papa would at times mention Kuh in passing, he did so only in the context of her being a celebrity, just like he talked about Elvira’s infectious laughter or commented on Johnny Manahan’s latest TV show. Never did he suggest that we were related to those big shots. Even during summer breaks when my two brothers, my little sister and I would talk half-seriously about auditioning for a TV show, Papa never mentioned having any relatives in show business. But I can still remember that Mama used to have her maternity check-ups at the clinic of Dr. Constantino Manahan at the Makati Medical Center free of charge. While other families proudly reveal their relationships with some well-known personalities at the slightest excuse, Papa consciously keeps it a secret. To him, there is nothing like achieving things through your own efforts and being recognized on your own merits. Anyway, he says, our relatives probably would not recognize or remember him. We just are not in their league, he explains. I still cannot fully understand his reasons.

Most people I know look for “connections” to get jobs or close some deals. Sometimes I feel that Papa is depriving us of the chance to make job-hunting a little easier. I even think that he is being sadistic about it. My “discoveries” in Bacolod could probably help me get a place in the overcrowded corporate world. But then by using them, I might be betraying my father’s principles and his sense of pride and self-respect. I believe people can have short memories when they choose to. I wonder if Papa has chosen to shorten his memory about his relatives or they were the ones who decided to forget him. I wish I could gather enough guts to introduce myself to these relatives of his. It would be good to find out what reception I would get. Then I can decide whether Papa is right in ignoring and practically forgetting his own kin. But then some questions arise in my mind: Would I need to bring my birth and baptismal certificate? Would I need to present a police or NBI clearance lest I be accused of being an impostor? On the other hand, I might prove Papa wrong. I might get a warm welcome and be recognized for what I am. I might even be considered a welcome addition to the clan, albeit a little lacking in refinement and “sosi” ways. I wonder how Papa would react if I get some positive results. Maybe I should pray harder for enlightenment and guidance and give this some serious thought. But I should be prepared for the consequences. Neither should I be overwhelmed by a positive reception nor be devastated by a rejection. If this article gets published, I suppose I will be able to find out. Maybe then I will better understand my father’s attitude or I can tell him he was wrong. 

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