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STRONGMAN GONE

A tribute to Uncle Andres Acop Cosalan. Lessons and gifts which were articulated, others you figured out your own

Above all Uncle Andy weaved a patchwork relationship into the mystery of my ancestry
Above all Uncle Andy weaved a patchwork relationship into the mystery of my ancestry

One of the games to enjoy was racing each other on who is first to take the call, each time the phone rang. That morning call is remembered quite vividly because the voice that came through was uttered in a full tone, distinctly audible and authoritative. "Tell your daddy that your Grandfather Dennis passed this morning. This is your uncle Andy." It was way back in 1974 as a grade school student, that I felt a bit of fright to have heard such a voice.

At that time, Uncle Andy was representative of the 7th Congress for the legislative district of Benguet. He took up a long political career from 1965 to 1984, with a chunk of it into KBL, and solely in a legislative function (Uncle Andy was an elected Mayor of Acop before becoming Representative. Error called to my attention by Professor Linda Bestre). Uncle Andy spoke exquisitely well, which compensated for the small figure of a handsome man, always dressed in a professional polished style in coordinated colours, even into his late years.

So the first lesson-TAKE CHARGE. Don't stand a chance or wade indecisive, you take charge. Of course, it was way afterwards in my adult life that I realised that call meant much more than just simple notification. This inferred him as protégé and confidant of my grandfather Dennis Molintas Sr in a mentoring relationship that deepened nearly as a "favourite son." Uncle Andy possessed innate leadership qualities and intelligence, was prepared to take responsibility, and apparently disciplined. Since he was also the godparent of my parents, his involvement with the family muddled between political and personal affairs. That call also explained the tribe social structure that might not always be visible, strength in kinship and the shared self.

In 1982 Grandmother Kalmen (Carmen), who was living in the States with Aunt Lou, wrote me a note to take up work with the office of Uncle Andy. At that time he was Assemblyman at the Interim Batasang Pambansa, and I was a college freshman in Manila. Uncle Andy was in the height of his political career, busy without end from an early morning hour until late night. It was amazing, all these people and dozens of issues one right after the other did not seem to tire him. Beneath the expression on his face there was a certain levelheaded composure, even when he would turn a high strung or draw back into legal paperwork.

Uncle Andy tasked me to liaise and research on pending bills, and when his schedules got all cramped, he had me sit through committee hearings on his behalf. And that for me was "wow". I was sixteen and glorified to be given the opportunity to listen to the ideas of the finest minds in the country, if not highly influential leaders across provinces. But then each time I reported to Uncle Andy, he would easily throw another question for me to fetch another answer, again and again and again. Until such time the drudgery taught me perseverance, depth, thoroughness, foresight and insight.

So the second lesson-MASTERY, NOTHING LESS. Any initiative no matter how simple or loosely placed, or awkwardly lengthy like a Government procedure, when you choose to take it up, it must be completed with the highest level of proficiency. All the more, if by chance you are overrated, than be quick to learn and fill in those shoes.

As much as I could arrive before the rest, it was to enjoy a hot hearty homemade breakfast meal. Mealtime in the Cosalan residence was one of my favourite tasks. Early one morning, there was an old man who travelled all the way from the high grounds, waiting up for Uncle Andy. The man came for assistance, to claim the remains of his daughter killed by a bus in a hit and run incident, along one of the major highways. Frank Teotioen had to attend to the more pressing matters, so it had to be me to accompany and represent this elderly man who spoke little else but Ibaloy, and yet barely said a word. Although the thought was horrifying, we managed our way into the inner areas of the city to a morgue which held the woman's remains, unclothed. Immediately he sent me off, insistent in gesture that I find a beautiful dress for his daughter to wear while he opted to stay behind alone in the room. When I returned he was standing beside the body speaking aloud to his daughter, in a way like ba'diw, but not exactly. The elderly would lean close into my face to repeatedly say what was needed, with a look of frustration, until I would stutter in the dialect that I understood. Really at the end of the task I felt completely worn and feeling the man's pain too. Uncle Andy never discussed that assignment as though he knew exactly what transpired, or that he knew I wished not to speak about such cumbersome duty.

The third lesson-THE POWER OF GESTURE. Gesture has a significant power to capture and express the heart and soul of a person. Gesture can gain compliance if you are aware of the degree of its influence, and in which case requires empathy. Empathy stems from the tacit ability to grasp the unspoken or recognise emotions that are being experienced by another, and not yourself. It is a very constructive skill in real life scenarios.

After the first work hour each of us staff was usually dispatched with assignments, sometimes I was left behind and if manong Ronnie or David were home, we would chat. Otherwise I would listen to the stories of Aunt Soling while busying ourselves in the kitchen. I enjoyed the occasional ride to IBP from the home office at Mother Ignacia, wherein Uncle Andy and I would openly debate opinions and sentiments, and laugh at ourselves. The truth is we were very different persons. He liked cars, I liked horses. He liked eloquent and sophisticated, I liked bare, simple and spontaneous. He questioned my interest in science and the concept of precision; I questioned politics and the idea of captivating irrational human behaviour for the sake of moral hegemony, or narrow group interest. He explained the importance of conformity while I reasoned with motivations of creativity. There were dozens of discussion over social issues, such as the availability of clean water in every household, Halsema highway or the hard issue on tribal land. But there were times that Uncle Andy remained totally silent in deep thought throughout the ride. I felt compelled like a little girl to sit still and be quiet.

There the fourth lesson-RESPECT DIFFERENCES. Giving a person his own space sounds like such a basic, simple concept. But this was harder to do as I aged and developed intolerance and inhibitions for sheer self preservation. But when it happens, you realise the fun in the company of others even without having to think alike.

Before the close of the semester Uncle Andy asked me to attend the opening session of the Interim Batasang Pambansa, with specific instructions to "wear something becoming." As a teenager I loved rugged jeans nothing else, but my eagerness had me comply. So it was with Uncle Andy and Aunt Soling that I had the privilege of being at the last IBP opening session of the Marcos Regime Sixth Regular Session of IBP-It was very grand. There was a dramatic sense of nationalism with the beating of the national anthem, and to be in the same room with Senator Carlos Romulo and Ramon Mitra Sr just to witness one of the last speeches of Head of State Marcos in his last term of the Fourth Republic 1981-1986.

A fifth lesson-EMBRACE THE MOMENT AND BE IT There is no certainty for anyone, so when in privilege moments that might be far undeserving of you, just be it. Recognise the fact you fall short but be thankful for it.

Campaigning reelection was a wonderful experience in the warmth of huge clan, in the year after. Back then, if there was any resentment across the tribe it was barely made felt that it seemed like we all belonged to one homogenous unexplained origin. The excitement set in at the very start, and stretched into the kaput of monitoring posters on walls or fund raising arguments. Uncle Andy was everywhere but nowhere in sight. It was overwhelming but nevertheless fun to mingle with different clans and adult groups. For me, it was also an eye opener to move around unfamiliar mountain areas or to even see the overcrowded mining camps. On the night of Election Day, I reached Baguio on a Pantranco bus to find everybody drunk. Judge Letty Morales broke the bad news. However being a part of the campaign made me a fraction of Uncle Andy's only defeat that I had to visit him right up. The next I recall was being there in the study of Uncle Andy drinking coffee and seeking strength after the confusion of a political exercise. The exhaustion worn on his face did not stop him from smiling and even to cajole or joke over these activities as a simple fact of life.

A sixth lesson-REFLECT ON A HUMBLING EXPERIENCE. A truly humbling experience places things in perspective for one to grasp deeper wisdom. In the category of a political exercise, once you stop being personal about the defeat, there is nothing but positivity in your mind.

In a few years I lost my father, he and manang Donatela were very insistent for me to complete the college coursework. I returned to school and at last I graduated. Uncle Andy permitted me to use his house "as though it was mine" and Aunt Soling prepared some food for us to celebrate. Good thing my sister Denise bought booze because mother and Derek went off with Tita Lani Amurao. Those students who came from the different provinces and had nowhere to roam afterwards, tagged along.

Getting over school did not stop Uncle Andy from a stern ragging about profession. Every visit I took for the next few years, he would reiterate the consequences of not taking the board exam. At times he would go to the extreme by jokingly saying; "Do not take after your father!".

The seventh lesson-VALUE EDUCATION Education gives people critical skills and capabilities to qualify better income bands. But more importantly, education shapes an interesting aspirating nation.

Uncle Andy moved into private legal practice and I moved up into mothering three daughters. Through the years we did a bit of catching up during campaign periods of his eldest son, Representative Ronnie Cosalan. The same as before he took the time to explain the differences of party convictions or the truth behind political mayhem. Uncle Andy never failed to participate in every campaign period of the region, because politics was in his vein.

The eighth lesson-CONTINUITY IN SUCCESSION. No matter how good you build your leadership, the reasons for having a succession in place are essential for continuity. Apart from which, we all bear duty to cast the leadership of the next generation.

All this time I thought I had escaped the scolding of Uncle Andy because he never reprimanded on my work. Until my very last visit with Tamiya and Zeal, we talked without end until late afternoon on disputed land, retirement, religion, courtship, Grandfather's chase after war collaborators, Daddy's runaway stint from PMA and the slight between our family political leaders. When I was about to leave, he snaps a ragging: you are such a romantic and score high in stupidity, you better come see me this time before choosing who to live with. We both laughed heartily and I gave Uncle Andy a huge hug.

Life has given me many of the finest mentors. With these lessons from Uncle Andy, I received the gifts of confidence, decisive, mastery, humility, compassion and humour. Above all Uncle Andy weaved a patchwork relationship into the mystery of my ancestry.



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