Jessica Zafra (The Philippine Star) - February 6, 2016 - 9:00am

Uro dela Cruz, who died on Thursday, was a brilliant fictionist, screenwriter, film and TV director, photographer and amateur anthropologist. He was 64. He had shelves full of awards, including seven Palancas, that he was grateful for but did not talk about. Crowing about his achievements embarrassed him — the important thing was the work, and even that he barely discussed. It became a running joke: ask him how many TV shows he was directing at the same time, and he would say, “None.” “You don’t direct Bubble Gang anymore?” we would press him. “That show practically directs itself,” he would shrug. After we had peeled away layers of semantic obfuscation, we would learn that in addition to the comedy show he helmed for two decades, he was directing two game shows and a sitcom starring Manny Pacquiao. No wonder it took him ages to reply to texts and phone calls.

All these accomplishments — the shows ranging from Battle of the Brains to Bubble Gang that defined pop culture and Pinoy humor (he wanted to set up a website called Wackipedia as an archive of jokes); the now-classic films he wrote, including Virgin Forest and Scorpio Nights; the amateur urban archeology that led to a trove of photos by Teodulo Protomartir; the novel Antyng-Antyng (Kwadrisentenyal), which remained unpublished until we kidnapped the manuscript and sent it to a publisher — these are sidebars to the life of Rosauro Quevedo Dela Cruz of Lucban, Quezon. What Uro really excelled at was being a human being. He was a devoted husband to Anna, who runs the household with military precision, whom he described as the most beautiful woman he’d ever met. He was a terrific father to Tata, Toto and Dodong, whom he deprived of any issues they can report to a psychiatrist later in life because they could talk about everything. He was a marvelous friend — kind, generous, deadpan funny, fiercely intelligent, a human Google of arcane knowledge, and he would be the first to point out that there are too many adjectives in this sentence. Uro was one of the finest people I’ve ever known. It’s all downhill from here.

I met Uro in the late 1990s through common friends in the movie industry and almost immediately began, with his permission, to rip off his ideas. The first was his Nutribun theory of population control, which I can’t really go into here. There were his theories of etymology: he argued that the Tagalog word “etching” was derived from Ecce Homo by Nietzsche. He planned to read the 50-plus volumes of The Philippine Islands by Blair and Robertson; for all I know, he did. As a storyteller he had the infuriating habit of going off into digressions that led to other digressions until everyone had forgotten what the original story was about. How do you cram all that information into a single story?

To hear him talk about it, his childhood in Lucban was something out of Cinema Paradiso (although he much preferred the Taviani Brothers). He and his brother Abbo (who made Misteryo Sa Tuwa) sold peanuts at the local cinema, which enabled them to watch movies over and over again. Moviegoers were advised to put their feet up against the seat in front, lest rats nibble on their toes. In the late Sixties he won a scholarship to study at the University of the Philippines. His generation was talking about revolution and abandoning university to back to the soil, but he never forgot the admonitions of the old farmers in Lucban. “Go to UP!” they told him. “Read books and do something. Don’t be like us. Get an education.” He told the story of how, one Christmas, he and Abbo were broke so he went into a used bookstore to cheer himself up. Tucked into a used book, he found a one-hundred dollar bill. The brothers Dela Cruz had an excellent noche buena.

When healthy lifestyles and organic farming became all the rage, colleagues from Manila would visit Lucban to go antiquing and buy fresh produce. One artistic lady had lunch at Uro’s mother’s house and enthused about the menu.“Wow, fresh fish and vegetables! This is so healthy!” “Hindi niya alam, yun din ang kakainin namin mamaya (Little does she know that we’re going to have the same menu again at dinner),” Uro thought.

I was already writing movie reviews when I started hanging out with him — inferior imitations of Pauline Kael. My weekend expeditions to the Quiapo “Cinematheque” with Uro and Butch Perez were my film education, so my inferior imitations became slightly better-informed. Our dealers of pirate DVDs also got a film education, so they set aside the artier titles for us. “Dibidi!” they would shout. “Visconti! Criterion Collection! Fritz Lang!” Uro introduced me to the work of Eric Rohmer, taught me to spot the homages in Tarantino movies, and traced the influence of Fellini in local cinema. One dealer decided to specialize in classic and arthouse films, and invited us up to her house so we could get first dibs on Preston Sturges and Jean-Luc Godard movies. (Listen, there were no downloads or Netflix then.) Uro believed that the development of local indie cinema springs directly from the availability of bootlegs.

Uro developed fatty liver from the medication he was taking for diabetes. Five years ago he was diagnosed with cirrhosis. No, he did not drink. I know this because he was something of a foodie — an unpretentious one — and if the meal came with wine, I drank all of it. Uro lived with the knowledge that his liver would fail eventually. He liked to say that when he became ill he would go to Paris, eat foie gras and drink wine until the end came. He didn’t go to Paris, Butch pointed out, because he didn’t want to. It was all a cinematic fantasy that could not match his true desire: to continue doing the work he loved, in the company of his family and his cats. (I like to think the cats were my idea.) Uro did exactly what he wanted to do. How many people can say that?

When we mourn the death of our friends, we’re really grieving for ourselves and the lives that we will now spend without them. I’m never going to listen to Uro’s interminable stories again, or laugh at him for hoarding old cameras (he claimed they were just “parts”), or roll my eyes when he mentions reductions or escargot, or smell that Hobbit pipeweed of his. I’m never going to watch The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King without recalling how he burst into tears at the sight of Edoras in Gondor, because it was as if his Tolkien-reading childhood imaginings had come to life. Butch pointed out that old friends remember things about you that you yourself have forgotten. So when they die, literally part of you is gone forever.

Conversely, those of us who were fortunate to have known Uro are not likely to forget him. Our memories are what makes us human. Uro lives.

* * *

Uro’s wake is at Santuario de San Jose at Greenhills. At 3 p.m. today the funeral will be held at Manila Memorial Park in Sucat.

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