Saturday, September 27, 2003


DISCUSSING " A FAREWELL TO ARMS", Prof. Edna Manlapaz, was at a loss for words in describing the predicament of the lovers in this great Hemingway novel. She said it was something like a famous song in the 70's. Our class was silent for a moment and then Kris Aquino blurted, "Ma'am, I think I know that.. You and me against the world." and then she sang the first part of the verse, "You and me against the world," in her characteristic semi-alto and semi-soprano voice. It was a classic Kris Aquino moment. My classmates managed to smile and Prof. Manlapaz obliged Kris with the affirmation, "Yes, Kris, that's right. That's the song."

Although I was majoring in Philosophy in the Ateneo then, I took electives in English Literature, such as the Modern Novel and Creative Writing, which accounts for my "a little more than casual acquaintance" with the Philippines's controversial celebrity icon who was an English major. Her mother was still President then and Kris walked around the campus with a pair of bodyguards in well-pressed barongs. She was an "A" student and many times I wondered how she could finish three-hour exams in one hour and got those high grades. I remember once in class she told Eric Torres, the quintessential Ateneo poet-in-residence, that she was a speed-reader and it was the reason why she could finish the semester's reading list in a week.

Yet, somehow she didn't have the skill to deal with her heart's passion -- something that she herself admitted. Already a movie star back then, Kris had an affair with a married young actor. In creative writing class, she submitted a poem about a woman caught in a rivalry for
the love of a man in love with another woman. We speculated about the identity of the man, but our teacher managed to treat the poem with the same academic detachment as with the others. Being the darling of the press, her love life was often the subject of many news and magazine features, including gossips. But the nation sort of felt a catharsis from the love bubbling out of the young lady. While attending law school, I learned from a cousin of hers the hush news that she got pregnant with an action star who was many years her senior and with whom she carried out a secret affair. From then on, Kris became the the Philippine icon of illicit love -- the kind that sought acceptance and understanding.

To everyone's surprise, Philippine society appeared to be ready to accept her moral transgressions. In spite of all her publicized affairs with married men, Kris made it big as an actress (even managing to get an award), TV hostess, and commercial model. Somehow, she mirrored the Filipinos' changing view on love and sex. Gone are the days when concubines and paramours were looked upon with hatred and contempt. Moral judgments appeared to be suspended or even re-calibrated. If there were villains in society, there were no other than those who deceived people's hearts for power and money. But for people truly in love, the Philippines says welcome. It is okay to love -- even for those who are legally and morally no longer permitted to love -- for as long as it is "true love " Yes -- Kris Aquino's candor and wit somehow affirmed the Filipino's often quoted cliche "true love conquers all."

THE OTHER DAY, AN OFFICEMATE KIDDED ME that my officemate was going to get married soon and asked if I could work on the marriage license. I replied in jest that yes I could do it in a day and I could make it a 'little defective" so that when the time comes she can easily squeeze out of it with an annulment. We laughed our hearts out. The joke is that nobody appears to be taking marriage seriously nowadays. Marriage, as a Philippine institution, is indeed in serious peril. With the speed that marriage is contracted and annulled through Family courts thanks (but really no thanks) to the 1987 Family Code, marriage is no longer the revered civil status that it once was. More and more people are getting their marriage annulled. In client meetings, I am often taken aback by people making comments about their ex-wives and ex-husbands. I do not have the exact figures but I am pretty sure that the 1987 Family Code allowed annulments of marriage actions to hit an all time high in the history of the Philippines.

With the legal, moral and religious duties that go with marriage, the perception that marriage should be permanent appears to be getting eroded. Indeed, how many times are we going to hear that comment, "why should people be made to suffer a loveless union?" But is marriage really that burdensome? As regards to legal duties, more often that not, married couples are governed by the property regime of absolute community, which means, everything is owned by the husband and wife together. Thus, neither one can execute a sale without the other having to sign his conformity. It is kind of difficult for couples to deal with this, especially when one is making a stake for having acquired the property solely on his efforts. There are people I know who cannot seem to buy the idea of having to share their salaries with their spouses. As far as moral duties are concerned, the issue occurs when one of the spouses go astray, as in become an alcoholic or a drug addict, and drags the other to a life of hell. The moral bonds of marriage would somehow compel the other spouse to help the other get out of the fix. But often the easiest solution is get an annulment on the ground of psychological incapacity. With respect to religion, my Theology teacher, Amy Tolosa Duremdes, managed to make it sink in my head that "marriage is a pathway to holiness." Thus, marriage is not the be all and end all of happiness. It is but a tool towards the pilgrimage to God from whom true happiness can be found. Unfortunately, it all sounds too good and hard for many Filipinos to understand. For what many Filipinos believe is the simple idea that marriage should always be a function of love. All these little obligations appear to be irrelevant when one is in love. Marry for love. But when love is gone, annul it. Otherwise, the legal, moral and religious duties of a married person will sink you in unhappiness forever.

PERHAPS THIS IS THE REASON WHY Filipinos are willing to forgive Kris Aquino for her affairs with married men. Recall that her major partners attempted to annul their previous marriages to fulfill a promise to bring Kris to the altar. And this effort to "go legit", as it were, appears to be the saving grace of these affairs. No longer is it necessary for Kris to blurt out her theme song, "You and me against the world." for the Filipinos are ready to accept illicit love for as long as it is true. They also encourage the annulment of marriage if it becomes an obstacle to love. For whatever it takes, illicit love should become legit. And Kris is the embodiment of illicit love that is pure and true that seeks nothing but acceptance and legitimacy. How could it be so wrong?

As I sit and type out these last few thoughts, I cannot help but feel squeamish about how this is all going to end for Philippine society. Just a month ago, a feature in Discovery channel talked about love and romance being a three-year cycle. It said that romance may actually be triggered by body chemicals that wear out in three years, just about the time that is needed to sire a kid or two. If indeed the view that marriage is a function of love is prevailing in this country, I can not help but imagine the huge number of children who will suffer the trauma of custody fights and the loneliness of single parents. The nuclear Filipino family is no longer going to be the simple father-mother-child trilogy, but will include a step-father, a step-mother and a step-child, whichever may be the case. And the Catholic Church will be increasingly bothered by a growing disbelief on one of its most sacred sacraments.

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