by Philip Nemenzo
You either love her or hate her, this Tonette Binsol who, at the age of 36, without warning nor foreboding, joined her Creator on July 10, 2007, leaving worthwhile projects and countless friends dumbstruck over her untimely demise.
Oh, how I hated her, and let me tell you why.
I hated her because of her boundless energy that would put the Energizer bunny to shame.
Ever since I heard about her more than five years ago as the founder of Tulong Pinoy Movement, for which she earned a place on the cover of Philippines Today (October 2002 issue), Tonette has been the indomitable force behind various charitable projects here and in the Philippines. These projects have benefited hundreds of disadvantaged folks, from the Aeta children of Zambales to the Leyte mudslide victims. Even the Japanese-Filipino children in Tokyo have gained much from her weekend bicultural school at Meguro Church.
I hated her because of her selflessness and genuine concern for others, which she reflected not just through words but through actions.
There was a time when she sold telephone cards to keep the Tulong Pinoy Movement afloat. She organized bingo socials and raffles to raise funds for various charities. She personally carried, fixed, and packed used computers for public school beneficiaries in the Philippines, aiming to narrow the technological divide that separates Filipino children from their Japanese counterparts, even in her own small way. Here in Japan, she organized free weekly computer classes for OFWs, believing that new skills can translate into a better life, esp. for domestic and blue collar workers.
I hated her for her vision and hopes for a better Philippines through community empowerment.
She is the spirit behind the Filipino International School in Japan. Although not yet established, she started the groundwork by organizing mothers and recruiting volunteers for the weekend school and for a day care facility during the week. While there has been a need for such school for decades, only she had the energy to take it off the ground. She is also the fuel behind the OFW Shien cooperative, whose planned livelihood projects intend to secure a better future for its members, who are also mostly OFWs.
I hated her for her talents and brains.
A former Japanese government scholar, she held BS and MS degrees in statistics from DLSU and UP Diliman, respectively. She was an elementary school salutatorian and a high school valedictorian. She was a tenured Assistant Manager at Mizuho Securities and a former mathematics professor in top universities in the Philippines. She was an IT expert, a web designer, a videographer, an artist and a scientist.
I hated her for her humility.
Despite all her blessings, she was modest and self-effacing. She did not hog the limelight for limelight’s sake. She held the microphone only to rally people behind her causes and to remind them to believe in their own strength, not to trumpet her own personal achievements. She would shudder over sincere compliments, even if she deserved them.
I hated her for her deep faith.
She was always at Meguro Church every Sunday, and I mean inside, praying and attending mass, not selling barbeque or gossiping at the gate. Her messages in various mailing lists and online forums often hint of a deep religiousness without sounding fanatical or self-righteous. Her avatar in Timog Forum is a crucifix, while others would use photos of themselves, their kids or even obscene cartoon characters.
Finally, I hated her the most because she believed in me, and in countless others like me.
Despite my overtly egocentric motives, she knew that I also have what it takes to be like her, to see beyond my own narrow self and to reach out to others, esp. to whom I can also be of help. We had a tussle once in Timog Forum (see the thread How ‘overstayers’ acquire legal status in Japan), and at one point, I wrote, “Selfish at personal ang motive ko. Hindi mo ba ma gets iyan?” To which she calmly replied, “Well, kapatid, kailangan ka ng Pilipinas. You could be a very good influence to many… from your youngest child to the oldest kin or friend within your reach.” Despite my belligerence and confrontational stance, she never ceased to call me “kapatid” and to remind me of what I can contribute to my own country.
Oh, this Tonette Binsol, either you love her or you hate her.
And I loved her because of these.*