Monthly Archives: June, 2014

restorative justice, the shawshank redemption, and dr. raymund narag

Let me just share with you what I do professionally.

Well, I go to an office.  And in that office there are 17 other people reporting to work to earn a living for themselves just like me, with different attitudes, with different hangups that I need to deal with caution and live with in order to thrive aside from fulfilling my job.  Our office, by the way, is just one of the 17 offices inside a building that are all part of a single organizational structure tasked to coordinate with one another in accomplishing projects and requirements needed by our institution.  My work is from Monday to Friday.  And I love my job.

One of my responsibilities  in the office as a staffmember  is to document the fora and lectures that my division, the Advocacy division under the Human Rights Education and Research Office, is required to organize once or twice of every month that talk about the glaring issues and problems that are being faced by our society’s vulnerable sectors.

When I say vulnerable sectors I am referring to women, children, urban poor, rural poor, persons with disabilities, the indigenous people, the marginal fisherfolk and farmers, persons deprived of liberty, the elderly, etc.  I would listen very closely to the guest speaker (sometimes there are four resource speakers), jotting down to my notes important stuff that each speaker has mentioned.  To back me up, there is the help of technology such as the video and a digital voice recorder.  This will help me later to verify the information I noted down and get more important information.  After this, I will put this into writing, into a report.

Before, I type it in two formats– the verbatim report and the executive summary report.  Before, I would do a complete report of the proceedings where I would transcribe word per word the whole forum since I was still learning the ropes of human rights issues and terminologies, and laws and treaties that I find difficult to memorize because they are so many.  I am proud to say that my longest transcription reached 55 pages and it was about the topic on restorative justice. It is also my favorite topic of all the topics we’ve tapped on so far.

Now, for the sake of convenience since a forum or a workshop would sometimes last the whole day, I would just take out the highlights then put that in my documentation, with the help of the speaker’s PowerPoint presentation (if any), the video, the voice recording, and the Internet (for verification purposes).  It’s a job that nobody wants to do–especially the transcribing part–because it’s very tiring to do and would take a long time to finish but since it’s almost like writing, compiling all the facts in an organized and easy-to-read format, I enjoy doing it.  Thanks to my former colleague Ms. Jing Ragaza for giving me that training on preparing documentations.  She retired just last year.

Our director once said to our team unit that if there is someone who is more learned it is the documentor or documenter (I am quite used to the word “documentor” which is the wrong word than “documenter” which is the right term) because a documenter is the only one who listens 100% to a speaker.

I’ve shared earlier that my favorite topic is on restorative justice which is a new way of thinking about crime and an alternative solution to jail population congestion.  It’s a reality that there were inmates who were imprisoned for 18 years or more then died inside the jail only to be proven later that they were innocent.  And not all crimes should be subjected to jail time.  Imprisonment is not the solution to all the ills in our society.  I can relate to this because of the movie, the Shawshank Redemption, directed by Frank Darabont and is based on the novel by Stephen King.  The movie starring Tim Robbins and Morgan Freeman and other great actors opened my eyes about hard-to-accept realities.  That the life inside the jail is a microcosm of what is happening in a society as a whole.

In connection with this, just yesterday, we’ve organized another forum which talks about the prison culture.  And our speaker was Dr. Raymund Narag, a former detainee who was wrongly accused of murder.  Oh, and if there is another thing I love about my job it is meeting respectable and respectful people like him.  And learning from his great wealth of wisdom and experiences.

What follows is an article that he wrote years back when he just got out of jail.  He writes really well (I wish I could write just like him) and I’d like to share it with you.



I will graduate with honors. This April 20 and 21, 2002, the UP National College of Public Administration and Governance (NCPAG) and the University of the Philippines will confer upon me my bachelor’s degree Cum Laude. I will march tall and proud together with other graduates seven years younger than my batch.

I should have graduated April 27, 1995. Unfortunately, just three days before the commencement exercises, a warrant of arrest was issued against me. I was allegedly part of a youthful brawl that caused the death of a young promising man. Together with other 10 other accused, I voluntarily surrendered to police authorities and submitted myself to the courts. Instead of a diploma, I showed my parents the papers taking me away from their custody and placing me under detention. Instead of marching to the stage with the applause of friends and relatives, I dragged my feet to the prison cell. My parents figuratively died. My family uprooted.

I languished in jail for six years, nine months and four days. I endured the full length of a criminal prosecution, or more appropriately, persecution. I patiently waited for the day of freedom, counting the days, weeks, months, and years as they come one by one. I silently bore the humiliation of getting out of the cells with handcuffs. I chivalrously let go the love of my life when she asked a time out because she had been too pressured to defend our situation. I accepted my fate peacefully– knowing that there is a reason for everything.

And indeed I had a mission. My exposure to the jail situation opened my eyes to the realities of the world. Our jail bureau is the least prioritized of all government agencies. It is low budgeted, it lacks facilities, and it is undermanned. Two thousand inmates are cramped in a building that can accommodate only seven hundred.

The jail developed a culture and political structure of its own. In order to support its custodial force, the jail management recognized the role of inmate leaders in the maintenance of peace and order and for the implementation of reformatory programs. For the inmates to protect themselves from the abuses of some erring jail guards, they formed and affiliated themselves with gangs, only to be abused later on by their own leaders. Jail community is not so different from Philippine society, where interest groups vie for limited resources, each one trying to outdo the others. There is corruption by the powerful, there is neglect on those who are supposed to serve, the weak and the uneducated are put on the sidelines and too afraid to speak and apathy and cynicism engulf most members of the community. The jail is in a perpetual state of structural conflict.

Paradoxical as it may be, this pathetic situation gave me the opportunity to show and prove the world that I am innocent. With my Public Administration background, I became a “trustee” in the jail’s record section and helped in classifying and encoding of the inmate files. Together with other detainees, we came up with a Functional Literacy Class Program that taught literacy and numeracy to inmates who did not finish elementary or high school education. We organized a paralegal desk through the support of volunteer units like the University of the Philippines Ugnayan ng Pahinungód, Preso Foundation, and Caritas Manila in order to expedite the disposition of the cases of my fellow inmates. We came up with spiritual programs like the Kristo Okay Sa Amin (KOSA) and enjoined our fellows in prayer meetings and bible sharing. We had thrice a year sports tournaments and regular cultural presentations, producing groups like the “No Bail Band”, the famous all-inmate band which produced the “Hiram na Buhay” a hit anti-death penalty song. I treated my fellow inmates not as criminals to be condemned but as souls wanting to be helped. Eventually, I became the recognized leader of the inmates, after winning their trust and confidence, and became the Mini-City Mayor of the Kapit Bisig 2000 Incorporated, a SEC-registered organization of inmates. As a mayor, I professionalized the relationship of the inmate leaders and the jail management and placed mechanisms that curbed graft and corruption. I articulated clearly the needs and aspirations of my constituency by putting these demands in the right perspective and proper forum. I came up with a Peace and Order Council that facilitated the resolution of conflicts among the warring gangs and proposed long-term solutions. These were done by empowering the gang leaders, by continually appealing to their good sense, and by delegating to them the responsibility to maintain peace.

Still, this experience in conflict resolution yet put me in another endeavor—to help in the maintenance of peace in campuses, which are constantly disturbed because of fraternity violence. I gathered all inmates with fraternity-related cases and learned from our experiences. As a living testimony, I asked the court to allow me to share my experience to other fratmen out there, praying that they will heed the voice for peace.

I did all these with the passion of a man enlightened with a vision. I had no hatred and bitterness. I was also a victim here—but a victim who will use his wretchedness to make positive changes in the society. I shall not allow the idiocy of my situation turn me into a lowlife that I am not. I graduated with honors, remember, then, I shall be honorable. And I asked God, no, I claimed from God my freedom, vowing that my experience shall be shared to anyone who would care to listen, if He allows me to live in the wild free world.

And it came.

On February 28, 2002, the Regional Trial Court declared my innocence. Evidence established that I was not in the scene of the crime. I was not part of the fracas. Of course, I was wrongfully accused! I went home a free man because I had proven and shown that I was innocent. My parents figuratively lived again.

My acquittal in the criminal case was the basis for my college to push for the conferment of my honors in the University Council.   Now that I am cleared of any moral turpitude case, UP willingly obliged, after seven long years.

I am going to march with honors tall and proud. I am going to march in behalf of all the inmates inside the prison cells to say that there is light at the end of the tunnel, that in God’s time, all will be fine. I am going to accept my gold medal in behalf of all those wrongfully accused and convicted to say that they should maintain and show their innocence despite the wretchedness of the situation, for the truth and clear conscience will eventually prevail. I shall be in the company of the honorable in behalf of all those who had been victims of prejudice—those judged by the groups they were associated with, or by the color of their skins, or by their mere incarceration, in order to show that there is dignity in every experience if given the proper perspective. I shall receive my diploma in behalf of all the sons and daughters who want to make their family and friends proud, for truly, we do not live for our selves alone. I shall join the empowering occasion to challenge those who had been too weak to fight for their love in the face of difficulties and to egg them to be true to themselves for heaven could just be in the horizon.

I shall be onstage to appeal to all fraternity members out there: PLEASE LET US STOP THE CULTURE OF VIOLENCE for many dreams have been broken, families shattered and lives lost. We cannot allow another Dennis Venturina, Nino Calinao, Michael Icasiano, and Dan Deniel Reyes to die again. I know, for I know too well the difficulty of letting innocent men pay for their deaths.

Thus, I shall march to say thank you to all those who believed in me, in the pureness of my heart, when the world thought otherwise.

I shall march honorably and move on.

Raymund E. Narag
April 18, 2002


One Who Loves Truly Can Never Lose Entirely

Memories of love never pass.  They linger, guide, and influence long after the source of stimulation has faded.  There is nothing new in this.  Every person who has been moved by genuine love knows that it leaves enduring traces upon the human heart.  The effect of love endures, because love is spiritual in nature.  The man who cannot be stimulated to great heights of achievement by love, is hopeless–he is dead, though he may seem to live.

Go back into your yesterdays, at times, and bathe your mind in the beautiful memories of past love.  It will soften the influence of the present worries and annoyances.  It will give you a source of escape from the unpleasant realities of life, and maybe–who knows?–your mind will yield to you, during this temporary retreat into the world of fantasy, ideas, or plans which may change the entire financial or spiritual status of your life.

If you believe yourself unfortunate, because you have loved and lost, perish the thought.  One who has loved truly, can never lose entirely.  Love is whimsical and temperamental.  It comes when it pleases, and goes away without warning.  Accept and enjoy it while it remains, but spend no time worrying about its departure.  Worry will never bring it back.

Dismiss, also, the thought that love never comes but once.  Love may come and go, times without number, but there are no two love experiences which affect one in just the same way.  There may be, and there usually is, one love experience which leaves a deeper imprint on the heart than all the others, but all love experiences are beneficial, except to the person who becomes resentful and cynical when love makes its departure.

There should be no disappointment over love, and there would be none if people understood the difference between the emotions of love and sex.  The major difference is that love is spiritual, while sex is biological.  No experience, which touches the human heart with a spiritual force, can possibly be harmful, except through ignorance, or jealousy.

Love is, without question, life’s greatest experience.  It brings one into communion with Infinite Intelligence.  When mixed with the emotions of romance and sex, it may lead one far up the ladder of creative effort.  The emotions of love, sex and romance are sides of the eternal triangle of achievement-building genius.

Love is an emotion with many sides, shades, and colors.  But the most intense and burning of all kinds of love, is that experienced in the blending of the emotions of love and sex.  Marriages, not blessed with the eternal affinity of love properly balanced and proportioned with sex, cannot be happy ones–and seldom endure.  Love, alone, will not bring happiness in marriage, nor will sex alone.  When these two beautiful emotions are blended, marriage may bring about a state of mind closest to the spiritual that one may never know on this earthly plane.

When the emotion of romance is added to those of love and sex, the obstructions between the finite mind of man and the Infinite Intelligence are removed.  Then a genius has been born!

-Taken from the book “Think and Grow Rich” by Napoleon Hill



“Wherever You Go, There You Are”

This is the title of a super book by Jon Kabat-Zinn.  As the title suggests, wherever you go, you take yourself with you!  The significance of this statement is that it can teach you to stop constantly wishing you were somewhere else.  We tend to believe that if we were somewhere else–on vacation, with another partner, in  a different career, a different home, a different circumstance–somehow we would be happier and more content.  We wouldn’t!

The truth is, if you have destructive mental habits–if you get annoyed and bothered easily, if you feel angry and frustrated a great deal of the time, or if you’re constantly wishing things were different, these identical tendencies will follow you, wherever you go.  And the reverse is also true.  If you are a generally happy person who rarely gets annoyed and bothered, then you can move from place to place, from person to person, with very little negative impact.

Someone once asked me, “What are the people like in California?”  I asked him, “What are the people like in your home state?”  He replied, “Selfish and greedy.”  I told him that he would probably find the people in California to be selfish and greedy.

Something wonderful begins to happen with the simple realization that life, like an automobile, is driven from the inside out, not the other way around.  As you focus more on becoming more peaceful with where you are, rather than focusing where you would rather be, you begin to find peace right now, in the present.  Then, as you move around, try new things, and meet new people, you carry that sense of inner peace with you.  It’s absolutely true that “Wherever you go, there you are.”

Taken from the book “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff… and it’s all small stuff:  Simple ways to keep the little things from taking over your life” by Richard Carlson, Ph.D.



shakespeareTV isn’t bad. If not for TV, I wouldn’t have known the 1968 movie adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet” which as a little girl I very much appreciated and never forgotten. Perhaps because it’s hard not to forget the passion and the rebellion that the two young lovers have shown just to be together amidst the turbulent war between their families. And of course, their unforgettable suicide that remained embedded in my memory. And this is the only story I know that Shakespeare wrote.

Though I attempted to read one of his works (Merchant of Venice), I easily lost interest because of its English that is hard for me to understand. Since Shakespeare lived more than a hundred years ago, his language was so difficult to grasp I fear that my brain could explode anytime.

Then came this book that my younger brother brought home just recently called the “Illustrated Tales from Shakespeare, A Modern Adaptation from the Charles and Mary Lamb Classic.” It contains the works of Shakespeare, his plays that are transformed into short stories for children (which includes me!) using an easy-to-understand English.  And it was here that finally, I was able to read relaxingly and enjoyingly the story of “Merchant of Venice” which became one of my favorites.

Though there are endings that are tragic, I would like to give special mention to the story of “King Lear” which had a profound effect on me. Particularly when King Lear was betrayed and was thrown out of his kingdom by two of his daughters whom he thought were loyal to him because of their sweet words and promises.  And the third daughter whom he accused of being unloving was actually the one who truly cared for him and helped him.  I also like very much the story of Othello but this is also a story that bothered me.

Othello was a black man who fell in love with a white woman who later became his wife.  And though he was a great general and one with a good soul, when it comes to matters of the heart he was weak. Because out of jealousy, he managed to kill his loving wife whom he thought was fooling around.  But later on, he would discover that she was faithful to him all the time if only he did not listen to all the hearsay and succumb to his insecurities.  And with his wife killed by his own hands, Othello also killed himself.

“Romeo and Juliet” remains an interesting story to know about even in written form.  And again, despite its tragic ending, I believe that it is the most interesting love story ever written by Shakespeare.  Here are the other titles:

The Tempest
A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Much Ado About Nothing
As You Like It
All’s Well that End’s Well
The Taming of the Shrew
The Comedy of Errors
Measure for Measure
Twelfth Night
Hamlet, Prince of Denmark


maybe this time

Maybe_This_Time_2014Seven years ago, a closest guy friend broke Step’s heart. She moves on but the pain of first love has left her jaded. Now working as a marketing specialist in a firm managed and owned by a manipulative, credit-grabber lady boss, she will do whatever it takes to get the promotion that she deserves.

Opportunity came when her boss asked her to handle the PR and marketing tasks of her boyfriend’s business project. Not only that, she’s been asked to also train her boss’ boyfriend about proper etiquette and personality development for he is a man who grew up from the province. And if she fails in achieving what she (the boss) expects her to do, then she (Step) must say goodbye to promotion. And this she accepted as a challenge just to get that elusive higher post as a marketing executive. And what she sees as a road to promotion turns out to be a road that leads her to meet her first love once again, Tonio. The first love who abandoned her. The first love who is now the boyfriend of her boss.

Now, what would be your reaction if you were in Step’s shoes whose love for Tonio never left her? How would you handle this awkward situation? Would there be finally a closure between the two? Or maybe, a reconciliation?

Of course, this was just the beginning of the chaos that would test the true feelings of the people involved, including the boss’ true feelings for Tonio who turned out to be ashamed of her boyfriend’s humble background, a nobody who became a seaman who then became a caregiver to a rich but sick old man who died but left Tonio with a big inheritance. And this instantly changed Tonio’s life for the better. But despite this, he still fell short with her rich girlfriend’s expectations.

And the chaos that I’m telling you about that Step thought was a road to hell and another harrowing attack to her still wounded heart turned out to be a blessing in disguise. Fate gave them that chance to meet again and it was up to them if they would grab that “chance” to continue with what they’ve left of or just let it slip away.

But this is not just a love story between a male and a female.

The story of love that Step and Tonio felt for their respective families deserves some attention and credit, too! And it was the love for their families that they did what they have to do in the past that still haunt their present, with Tonio leaving for abroad to work as a seaman without telling Step about it on the day that they were supposed to meet, the day that Step was planning to give her sweet yes to her faithful suitor. And Step, who not just suffered the harrowing pain of being abandoned by a friend who promised her forever, she also suffered strong guilt for being responsible for his father’s misfortune of becoming an invalid after they got into a car accident when she was out there, drunk, coping miserably with her heartbreak. And this caused a strain in her relationship with her mom who blamed her for all the bad luck that their family was experiencing.

For Tonio, his leaving was something noble that he had to do for himself and his family who was deep in poverty. He had a beautiful goal for himself, for his family, and for Step. But this was unknown to Step. Because for her, she only saw Tonio as the man who just disappeared and betrayed her, heart and soul. And things got messy when her boss betrayed her by giving the promotion to somebody else. Not anymore willing to put up with all the bullshit of her boss, she quits her job. Then fate intervened. Then friends and Tonio came to the rescue. Then true feelings between Tonio and Step were so strong they couldn’t keep it anymore, and wanting to drop all their pretenses, they gave in and true feelings, as I said, began to show—even the hate, the humiliation and pain, and all the love that is still there.

Since the title of the movie was adapted from Michael Martin Murphy’s song “Maybe this time,” I know what the ending of the movie would be. And this movie starring Sarah Geronimo and Coco Martin is just as beautiful as the song.

sarah and coco

aim forward

aim forward

Why aren’t you married yet?

After hearing the same question over and over from friends and family — “Why aren’t you married yet?” — art director Suzanne Heintz got tired of it and set out to do something about it. She got herself a little family…of mannequins.

Over the course of 14 years and 10,000 miles of travel, she took her fake family everywhere and took all kinds of “family” pictures….

family pic1


family pic2


family pic3

family pic4










family pic6







family pic7


She’s underlining the fact that for many people, a family seems to be little better than a trophy or badge to prove that someone has succeeded at fulfilling society’s expectations of them. How many families look great in photographs but are actually empty inside? The point is not to condemn family life, but to refuse to accept that a good life is simply one that looks good to other people.

Note:  Thanks to Mr. Robert Alejandro for sharing this. 🙂


family pic5

that awkward moment

because I'm batman!

religions of the world

TAOISM:  Shit Happens
HINDUISM:  This Shit Happened Before
ISLAM:  If Shit Happens, Take A Hostage
BUDDHISM:  When Shit Happens, Is It Really Shit?
7th DAY ADVENTIST:  Shit Happens On Saturday
PROTESTANTISM:  Shit Won’t Happen If I Work Harder
CATHOLICISM:  If Shit Happens, I Deserve It
JEHOVA’S WITNESS:  Knock, Knock, ‘Shit Happens’
JUDAISM:  Why Does Shit Always Happen To Me?
HARE KRISHNA:  Shit Happens Rama Rama Ding Dong
T.V. EVANGELISM:  Send More Shit
RASTAFARIANISM:  Let’s Smoke This Shit

Source Unknown

Why I never gave up on our old dog

When I was around 4 years old, my parents entrusted me under the care of relatives, with my auntie Dalen and her family in Ilocos Sur. There, I met their dogs, Garit (the mother) and her son, Yabang.

Garit, with a dark brown colored fur with a little streaks of black was the thoughtful, caring one, the gentle one. The other dog, her son Yabang, had this predominantly white fur with a little streaks of black. Oh Yabang lived up to his name because he was very independent as a dog, a loner, and enjoyed exploring. I hardly touched him because he’s kind of elusive but I have one memory of him that to this day, I have never forgotten.

It was a lazy afternoon and I was attempting to take a nap with my fellow little cousin in this house of another auntie who was auntie Uring, my father’s other older sister, when, just as naturally since I hardly fall asleep in the afternoon, I decided I would just go out of the house for a while. Instead of going to the front door I chose the back door to have a view of the outside. Then I saw Yabang walking all by his lonesome and just as naturally, being his adventurous self, he tried to venture out of the fence that separated our territory from this house that had a wide and spacious grass in front of it—it was so wide that the house looked too far to reach.

So there goes Yabang, trying to crawl beneath that little gap between the soil and the wire fence and succeeded. Shortly after, I saw these big, tall dogs running towards him then as fast as the blink of an eye, I saw a brawl of dogs. Three against one. Big, tall dogs against this small height Yabang. These tall dogs even brought with them their little offsprings, maybe one or two of them, if I’m not mistaken. When Yabang was already weak and wounded, the ferocious dogs left him. I was thankful they didn’t kill him on the spot. Like I told you, Yabang was a very independent dog that despite his pitiful condition, he managed to lift himself up and crawl back beneath the fence, back to our territory.

Then the memory that I next remember was Yabang already limping, with one of his legs broken. He couldn’t anymore climb the stairs to seek shelter inside my auntie Dalen’s house. Then I remember my uncle Uping giving Yabang a bath and he looked so weak and shaking. I was so afraid of what would happen to him. Eventually (I don’t remember when this was if this was many months later or weeks later or what), I had to leave because my parents had to bring me back to Manila to start studying in elementary.  I wasn’t able to ask my auntie and uncle about Yabang.  Because I don’t ask questions then.

When I returned to Ilocos a few years later for a vacation, probably I was around 9 or 10, I never saw Yabang again. Shy to ask, I guessed Yabang must have died. Oh, but Garit was still alive and she had these new children and I met them already grown. The new dogs were Brownie and Sampaguita. The older one Brownie was just like her mom Garit. So gentle, so kind. Sampaguita was the mischievous one, the flirty one. She would jump or sometimes throw herself at me just to play with her.

When Brownie had babies and was probably not yet ready for the role of motherhood—I don’t know if mommy dogs get to experience post-partum depression after giving birth just like mommy humans—Garit would be the one to breastfeed her grandchildren. And when I found out about this when I took a peek below the bed where the babies are, I would get mad at Garit and shoo her away. Garit understood my action for she would just leave obediently. The puppies then I would put beside Brownie who was just nearby, sad as a dog and indifferent as a mother.

But like I told you, Brownie was a thoughtful, caring one. Because one time, when it was sleeping time already—oh we were sleeping on this banig and the house of my auntie Dalen was still a bahay kubo, a big bahay kubo that was nice and neat—Brownie entered the door which was slightly open and sat in front of me while I was lying. I remember her pulled back ears which as a child I knew already as a sign of friendliness. And her face, I remember it was the sweetest face I’ve seen from a dog, like she’s showing that she really liked me. And in return, I would pat her on the head or caress her fur.

In our own home, we never had pets because my mother didn’t want pets inside the house. That is why whenever I would tell a story to my siblings about my stay in Ilocos, I would often tell them about Garit, Yabang, Brownie, and Sampaguita, the dogs that kept me company and made me learn that dogs are not just animals. They can teach you something about goodness and loyalty.

So missing the company of dogs, I would just be contented playing with the ants. Or one time when my mother was brooming the dust and dirt away from our floor, and from every nook and cranny, and I saw these three baby rats with those gathered dirt, I stole one of those baby rats as my pet while the other two I let them die under the heat of the sun. Looking back, it was so cruel but those were babies of pesty rats. Or sometimes, whenever I would eat and would see this house lizard waiting for a rice to drop from my spoon, I would make the effort to put a pint-sized of rice near the lizard and he/she would eat it. But this was when I was still young and silly. Now that I’m old, I don’t think I can take care of a dog when I can’t even bring myself to wake up early in the morning.

That’s why when I read this article by Alya B. Honasan last month (which I kept and now posted here) about her dog, Larry, it really pulled my heartstrings then tears welled up in my eyes.


Why I never gave up on our old dog
by Alya B. Honasan
Philippine Daily Inquirer

When he first arrived, and for the first few years of his life, he was bright-eyed, cute and full of energy, just like any young creature. My niece named him after her favorite Ateneo basketball player.

By the time our family’s beloved black labrador retriever, Larry, passed away last May 16 of congestive heart failure, he was three months shy of 13 years old. By some counts, that’s 91 human years. He slept a lot, tired easily and was sometimes grumpy when pestered by his younger “sister,” 5-year-old Kikay.

He had cataracts in both eyes, worn-down teeth and white hair in his black fur. He was almost deaf; you could sneak up behind him and surprise him, and it would take several calls for him to hear you, laboriously lift his 75-lb frame, and come.

Still, even if it had admittedly gotten difficult to care for him in the last few weeks of his life—we were constantly monitoring his body temperature to avoid heatstroke—I wasn’t complaining. Neither were the house help, who backed me up when I couldn’t do the job by myself, especially when I was fighting cancer the last 11 months.

Our cook and our houseboy learned how to use a digital rectal thermometer on a dog. They had seen Larry grow old through the years, too. He was family.

Larry was the last of our family’s big dogs, a pack which had, at one time or another, included a rottweiler, a German Shepherd, a Belgian Malinois, a pit bull and three Dalmatians—all of them given to us. Still, I was peripherally involved only in their care.

After the other dogs from the pack passed away one by one from old age, it was Larry who remained, and I took over his care when he turned 7—the onset of old age for some large-breed dogs. I immediately had him neutered, started mixing fruit and vegetables in his diet, and added on to the vitamins. Still, within a couple of years, the health problems started.


Just like with humans, seniorhood is a different ball game for dogs, with the corresponding adjustments that have to be made. Sadly, this is something some dog owners don’t think about. In the West, older dogs are sometimes surrendered to shelters when owners can’t (or won’t) manage their care; if they’re not immediately adopted and the shelter isn’t a no-kill establishment, they are inevitably put to sleep.

In the Philippines, where shelters are not an option, some heartless people (especially irresponsible dog breeders) simply abandon dogs. Animal welfare groups like the Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) and Compassion and Responsibility for Animals (Cara) have too many horror stories of senior dogs tied to posts, left on unfamiliar roads, left behind when the owners move house, or even dumped in canals or trash bins.

PAWS gets regular calls from people insisting that their dogs be taken off their hands—“Mabuti na, kaysa iligaw pa ito (That’s better than us having to lead this dog astray).”

Think about that for a moment: intentionally leading your dog astray so he never finds his way back, and could die from the exposure, hunger and thirst. It takes a special kind of cruelty to do that.

Owning a dog is a lifetime commitment—the lifetime of the dog, which will never be as long as our own, anyway. Part of that pledge is accepting that, one day, our dog will get old, get sick and die, and it will be our obligation as his guardian to do the best we can.

“We were never meant to share all of your life, only to mark its passages,” Jon Katz wrote in “Going Home: Finding Peace When Pets Die,” in what he imagined a letter from a dog would read like. “We come and we go. We come when we are needed. We leave when it is time.”

A senior dog will be less hardy, more prone to illness and will have less energy. He will be less resistant to changes in temperature or in his environment, and may require different food. A senior dog will suffer in this heat, but his bones will also hurt in colder weather. Caring for him will need more time, attention and money.

“It’s the same as with people,” says Larry’s long-time vet, Dr. Siday Peñaranda of Vets in Practice. “They get lethargic, have a weaker immune system, have less appetite, engage in less activity and may not want to play as much with other dogs. Just as we watch over them when they’re very young, we have to do the same when they’re old.”

Larger breeds age faster than small dogs, she notes. “Expect that they will need more care talaga. Keep their weight down, and keep walking them, even if they can no longer handle vigorous play. If veterinary care is expensive, then you can just get a baseline test, for example, and then work on keeping them comfortable and giving them a good quality of life.”

The right thing

Please remember those pointers the next time you want to bring a cute puppy home, for yourself, or for your kid, who keeps asking for one. If you can’t see the animal in your or your child’s life for the next 12 years or so, then please do the right thing.

With Larry, there were constant skin problems, a bout with ehrlichia (the tick-borne doggie equivalent of dengue, which also causes their blood count to plummet), and a regular battle with ticks and fleas when the seasons changed. There were rickety joints, and a marked slowing down that forced us to adjust his walking schedule to early morning and late afternoon to spare him the heat.

There was a close call with heatstroke that landed him in the emergency room, when we thought his heart would stop when it was beating at a frighteningly fast rate. Naturally, this meant veterinarian’s bills that made me wince, and I did ask for generic, less expensive options for the medicine.

And then, as I had written about before, there was what I consider a clear case of “sagip,” when Larry saved me from a common side effect of chemotherapy. He was diagnosed with cardiomyopathy, a weakening of the heart muscle, and I knew deep in my own heart that he had absorbed the illness in my place. He had anywhere between three months and about a year left, I was told.

Larry lasted for seven more months, pumped with diuretics, supplements and an anti-hypertensive medicine.

The night before he died, he already seemed restless. After calming him down and checking his body temperature, I prayed for a good death when his time came—that it would be quick, that he would go on his own, at home and in familiar surroundings, and that I would be there to say goodbye.

Early the next morning—the day I was scheduled for a follow-up CT scan, three months after I had been cleared of cancer last February—I woke up to find Larry panting. His breathing became more labored when I cradled him in my arms. Our houseboy knew the drill, and was ready with a second electric fan, ice packs, more ice cubes and some calming oil.

But I already knew he was tired, and just wanted my permission. I think he even timed it so I wouldn’t miss my CT scan; I made it to the hospital later that morning, crying inside the machine.

Our old, faithful dog was ready to go. “It is my time to say goodbye,” Katz wrote, and I could imagine Larry saying the words to me. “… My spirit is fading, and I have been called home and away from you.” I whispered in his ear, just as I have released all the beloved dogs I have sent off on their final journeys: “It’s okay, baby. You can go now.”

And with one final heave of his massive chest, Larry’s ancient heart slowed down and eventually stopped. He flew straight to heaven, I know, where he is a puppy again, running around at the feet of God.

“And finally, I ask these things of you,” Katz concluded. “Remember me. Celebrate me. Grieve for me. And then, when you can, let me go, freely and in peace.”

I am still missing Larry; he would be the first to welcome me home whenever I pulled into the garage, and it hurts deeply to realize he’s not there anymore. Still, I know I can eventually let him go in peace because I never gave up on him—just as he never gave up on us, his humans.

why I never gave up on my old dogCALLED HOME.  The author’s 89-year-old mother Alice bids goodbye to the faithful family dog Larry before he is buried.