An altered life - conclusion

published 8 February 2012, MST, page A5

Last week I talked about the unfortunate incident of mercury exposure among students in a Paranaque school – it will be six years to the day next Thursday – and the events leading to the lawsuit filed by one of the victims against said school and the teacher who unwittingly changed his life forever.

Today I will focus on how 20-year-old John Seth Cerillo is trying to get by despite the fact that nothing is ever the same for him.

Entering the Cerillos’ house in a Las Pinas City village, one would see various photographs of Seth – once a hyperactive boy who dreamed of becoming an engineer. It shows in the pictures: the impish grin, the slightly haughty look that says: “I am young. I can be anything I want to be. I am invincible.”

But invincible Seth is not. Over the years he has developed a combination of diseases – neuropathy, Parkinsonism, permanent damage to the immune system because of his exposure to the toxic element. In fact, he has stopped going to school altogether. Sure, in the beginning, he tried despite his constraints. He finished high school through the Alternative Learning System. He enrolled in engineering school but then shifted to a course in entrepreneurship.

Lately, however, his tremors have been getting worse and he is easily exposed to infection. Indeed the only place that is safe for him is his house, the only windows he could explore are television and the Internet.

But he is 20. (The incident happened when he was a 14-year-old high school freshman). His teenage years have come and gone. How has he spent them?

“Sometimes my friends come over. But they are all in college now and lead different, separate lives,” he muses. Does his condition mean he cannot go out on gimmicks at all? “Not really,” Seth says. “I can’t go out when it’s too hot or too cold.”

And how about a girlfriend? “I had a relationship with somebody sometime back, but it fizzled out. I really cannot assume any responsibilities given my condition.”

Juliette’s attachment to and sense of responsibility for her son is understandable. She and Seth’s father have been separated for as long as Seth has been alive. He helps with the expenses, but when it comes to caring for Seth, it is really just her. In fact, her life revolves around her son whom she bore when she was in her early 20s. “I used to be so desperate we even started seeing an albularyo (quack doctor) just hoping that Seth’s life would be back to how it was.”

Juliette has vowed to be with her son for as long as she can. But any mother would worry: How will he provide for himself later on, sustain his treatments, and even dream of marrying and raising a family? What will happen to him when she grows old and becomes sickly herself?

What makes it tough is that things were not always this way. Indeed the Cerillos’ world has changed – through no fault of their own. They are fighting to cope, anyway, taking each day as it comes.


It has been said that when Rep. Ignacio Arroyo was alive, he was only as notable as the scrapes out of which he tried to get his brother, the former gentleman. Now he is hogging headlines, not because of any remarkable event that coincided with his death in London on January 26 but because of the sleazy talk that attends the presence of two grieving women in his life.

A clich̩, really. The stuff of movies and teleseryes Рthe man lies in state while the women turn up, one after the other. And the people who show up to pay their respects end up giggling and gossiping about the colorful lives of everyone involved.

What a tragedy. A person should be remembered for the totality of the life he lived, not for the few silly decisions he made.

I can only speculate on the motives of the moneyed lot, but one thing is clear: This could have been prevented had there been a divorce law in the Philippines. That way, no alpha widow will be screaming “Ako Legal Wife!” A couple can marry, but when they have irreparable problems, and when they have tried everything to work them out to no avail, they can agree to divorce. Each will then be free to seek other partners. Everything is clear—no overlaps, no having-your-cake-and-eating-it-too (an affliction common to Filipino men), no gray areas, and certainly no awkward moments in the wake or during the funeral, which are supposed to be somber.

But as opposition to the proposals for divorce have shown, this country is not yet ready to challenge its long-held belief that the FORM of the family necessarily determines its SUBSTANCE. It is either we are ignorant, trapped by religion and culture, or hypocritical, which is infinitely worse.