Liana Romulo is the daughter of the General’s youngest son, Bobby. When she’s not poring over her grandfather’s papers and trying to date old photographs, she is likely to be practicing Ashtanga yoga, hunting through bookstores, or recommending her favorite dishes to friends at Romulo Café. She lives in the Philippines but likes to wander the world, and has lived in Thailand, Belgium, and the United States. The pieces she writes for this site give her immense satisfaction, though she has also published half a dozen books for kids (available on Amazon and select bookstores worldwide).
CPR’s life traced an extraordinary pattern of starting out in a career, topping it, and then moving on to the next. The English professor became the university president; the soldier became a general; the cub reporter became a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist; and the diplomat became an ambassador, a foreign secretary, even “Mr. United Nations.”
So many accomplishments in one lifetime! No wonder his great-grandchildren are confused. I made the site for them. I created it, too, for future generations who might need some bolstering in order to own up to being Filipino, in the hopes that they will prove worthy custodians of a nation whose right to independence CPR so tirelessly pursued. It is also for second- and third-generation Filipinos living overseas who’d like to feel a connection to their roots.
Most of all, this site is for my irrepressible grandfather, whose wisdom, words, and wit do not belong in a cardboard box or even a dusty old archive. Although to me he was just Lolo—the gourmet who took me out for fancy dinners, the giver of dolls from every country, the eater of too much ice cream, the storyteller always interested in hearing about my horseback-riding adventures—I am ever mindful of the legacy he left behind, and I do find myself wholly wrapped up in his vision of a peaceful, borderless world. He described it as “the human family on a tiny planet” in his farewell address to the United Nations. Though not quite seventeen, even I could understand that.
I sat up in the gallery spellbound as he delivered his swan song before the Special Committee on the Charter of the United Nations. It was November 1983, and my brother and I were on Thanksgiving break from boarding school. We’d seen Lolo speak a million times before, but this speech was different. It was ominous, gloomy . . . filled with despair.
“I do not think the world has much time,” he said darkly. “I do not think it has much time to escape the momentum toward self-destruction upon which it seems set.” Weeping openly, he asked what it would take to “galvanize us into the necessary steps and actions to preserve the world against catastrophe.” My brother sat next to me, fidgeting uneasily in his seat.
A rousing ovation followed as dignitaries from all over the world—Africa, India, Europe, the USSR—got to their feet, visibly moved. They rushed to pay their respects, a line suddenly forming, snaking around the assembly hall. The ovation continued, unabated, until every last one of the delegates from 154 member nations had shaken his hand; and at the end of what seemed to me at least thirty minutes we gave him a final burst of applause.
This man, my grandfather, was the last surviving signatory of the United Nations Charter. Everywhere we went people knew him, people loved him, and people bowed down to him. But here at the final curtain he was not basking in the glory of his achievements, as one might have expected; rather, he was lamenting his failures and those of the United Nations. “Yes, I have regrets,” he said, his face streaked with tears. “I regret that during these years—1945 to 1983—not more progress has been made in living up to the necessities of a unitary globe.”
I felt sad for my poor old lolo, nearly eighty-six, whose simple wish was for everyone to live together in peace: “The human family on a tiny planet.” Broken down into such basic language, it seemed to me like a reachable goal, a very possible dream. Yet today I find myself, all grown up, surrounded by war and conflict. Twenty-six years later this dream still eludes us.
It is therefore in the spirit of building a kinder world populated by more compassionate people that I dedicate this online forum to my loving grandfather—to honor him, to bring to light his ideas . . . to propagate peace.
December 15, 2009