People I’ve known

HERE'S THE SCORE - Teodoro C. Benigno -
(First of a series)
Tempus fugit, time flies very fast indeed. And I figured the best way to stall it was simply to stay in place and recollect the interesting people I’ve met in a lifetime of journalism. Interesting? Yes, that’s it. It gives me the leeway to go far afield, avoid if I can value and moral judgments. I think this will and can be fun. I’ll cast a wide net and let’s look at the people wriggling or gamboling in that net. I’ll say a few words for each, and then we go on and on, feasting in a manner of speaking on each specimen. Hoo-hah!

There’ll be no order of importance or prominence, and I haven’t drawn up any. The reader will readily perceive I may favor this or that person, but that is a matter of personal or intuitive preference. The majority of those that wind up in the net will be celebrities or prominent people who have dug their niche in history, or just people I just happen to like or dislike.

Shall we begin? Alors, maestro, let’s have some moosic.

For a first, I made sure nobody would recognize him, Mareng Albano. He was my foxhole mate during the famous battle of Besang Pass, half a head shorter, Mareng was the comic livewire of our guerilla squad. He never stopped joking or fibbing, or telling the tallest of tales, and even in our foxholes we would roar with laughter. But Mareng too was the bravest we had, the spunkiest and he hated the Japs. The enemy got him one morning, a bullet that wedged itself just below his steel helmet. Mareng, I carried you out of that foxhole, blood spilling down your face, and handed you to the medics. I had promised to bring you to Manila, you and your family, because you wanted a fresh start in the big city. I sobbed brokenly as I kissed you goodbye, your blood smeared all over me. That was the first time I lost a buddy in war.

You were a bukto (river fish) and crab fisherman, one of the best. And some of the heartiest meals I ate as a guerilla were cooked by you.

After Mareng, let’s go to somebody prominent – Ninoy Aquino. We fought so many political battles together. More than anything else, Ninoy and I were intellectual buddies. It was sheer delight being with Ninoy as we tooled with our minds. Number one, he feared neither man nor beast. Number two, his head always brimmed with ideas and he brought them out with the rapid clatter of a machinegun. Number three, he loved danger, was never more happy than when he was in the presence of death. At one time in Boston, he conceived a scenario where Ferdinand Marcos could not escape being killed. Two bomb-loaded planes would criss-cross the Palace rooftop and unload sequentially. Tapos ang boksing!

Ah, but that was too easy and Ninoy didn’t like things easy. He loved to taunt, irritate, get the president’s dander. He loved the rapier instead of the broadsword, and he would lash out with imaginary strokes that drew blood from Marcos’ cheek, neck and ribs, then whip his foil over to president’s throat for a checkmate. And the president would quiver, pleading for mercy. Pare, Ninoy would tell me, paluluhurin ko siya.

Alongside Ninoy, I met Pepe Diokno for the first time. He was different. While Ninoy had five or more ideas banging around in his mind like bullets homing in on target, Diokno was more introspective. He relished the normal trajectory of thought, being the brilliant lawyer that he was and, and when he figured he had it, he was like Archimedes sighting his place in history, exclaiming this was the spot he sought "and from here I shall change the world." It was Pepe Diokno who set up JAJA (Justice for Aquino, Justice for All) and eventually it was he also who said "The Philippines has 48 million cowards, and one sonofabitch: meaning Marcos."

Ah sodeska!
Even at the time, Pepe Diokno had diagnosed Philippine society correctly. The fever of EDSA I had dissipated. And even Cory Aquino felt heartbroken after she saw the teeming, screaming, passionate pro-Ninoy throngs disappear. The dictator had reentrenched himself. "Pana-panahon lang pala iyan," Cory told me in retrospect. Yes, Ma’am, I suppose somebody will have to die soon, a big personality, for this burgh to come alive again.

Somehow, at this very juncture Clarissa Ocampo comes to mind. She was the unquestioned star of the Senate impeachment hearings when she unhesitatingly identified Joseph Estrada as Jose Velarde and opening a bank account with that name. Bang! Bang! Bang! After her testimony, Erap was a gone gosling. Clarissa, a bank executive, was one of those rare witnesses, who came in like St. Therese de Lisieux and left like St. Therese de Lisieux. She witnessed the signing with shocked, wide-open eyes since she sat just to the left of Estrada. She did not just see a vision on the road to Damascus. She sat beside the impostor himself, aghast each time Estrada signed Jose Velarde. How could he? It was just like witnessing the president disrobe to his underpants.

Clarissa was one of those unique creatures in white shimmering dress materializing from the mists of overhanging history, pretty, sedate, guileless, her face a crucifix, breathing incense, her every step a sacred footfall in the land of Goshen. I loved her the moment I saw her in the Senate courtroom.

Surprise, you’ll never guess the next. A woman again, or better still a mixture of gamin, a girl endeavoring to be a woman, and quite succeeding.

Judy Ann Santos? Ring a bell? Of course, she is one reason why floundering Filipino movies stay above the water. I saw her first in Isusumbong kita sa Tatay ko with Fernando Poe Jr. She was a smash. FPJ, a garage mechanic, scraped enough money to send her to college. There, she ran into bad company, who almost pulled her in with cantaritas, drugs and wild swimming pool parties.

Except that FPJ came to the rescue in the nick of time. His rataplan fists worked their usual magic and from thereon, father and daughter were unbeatable as Juday matured into a Hillary Swank. A brief foray into Judy Ann’s discovery she was just an adopted daughter of FPJ, tears of course and reproaches of course, as she returned to her real father, then back to FPJ. I don’t know, but I think that movie with FPJ swung Juday into movie big time, the girl in her the woman in her. I understand Judy Ann Santos is a role model, her behavior both as a movie icon and a private person impeccable. Juday, you have my vote. Don’t you ever get spoiled.

Who next?

There’s a little tug of memory which goes back more than half a century. Who remembers the name Jose A. Lansang? Hardly anybody. And yet Joe, as we all young and ambitious journalists at the time fondly called him, was then one of the outstanding editors in the Philippines alongside Jose Albano Pacis and Dave Boguslav. He left his brand on us, on me, because Joe was a walking encyclopedia of what Marxism was all about.

Those were the decades of the ’50s and ’60s, the start of the Cold War, when Western capitalism was on the defensive and communism a gleaming skyhawk. Even much of Great Britain was smitten with the great George Bernard Shaw a poster boy of the socialists and the Fabians Socialists dominated the British intelligentsia. Well, to make a long story short, we too became a Marxist spouting "dialectical materialism", "thesis," "anti’thesis" and "synthesis". Wow, little did we know at the time that Marxist theory would cave in and capitalism resurge, that in the intense competition for the production of goods, services and commodities, communism was a no-show.

Eventually, of course, we turned our backs on Karl Marx, Frederick Engels, and all the lesser gods of a doctrine that once enchanted us.

Yes, just recently our paths crossed again after about 60 years. No we didn’t see each other – not yet anyway – although we both agreed this would come to pass. She was as young as young could be when she was my English teacher at the Malate Catholic School. And pretty. And charming. I must credit then Aurea Carballo (now Aurea Gonzales) for having spotted me in her English classes. She encouraged my interest in poetry, in books. And what do you know, at her prodding, I often stood in front of the class to recite poetry (Walt Whitman was one of our favorites, also Henry Wadsworth Longfellow).

So you see, my dear readers, I started with literature. My earlier dreams were that I would set the literary world afire. And so when I transferred to the University of Sto. Tomas after graduation to study law, I grabbed the first opportunity to show my English prowess by competing in UST’s first short story contest. Frankie Sionil Jose, one of the student judges, handled my entry titled "Pier" and he said I was so good they couldn’t choose a second best and a third best.

Now a national artist and a Magsaysay awardee, Frankie repeatedly tells me I should have stayed in the literary world. I don’t quite agree. Being largely a political writer suits me just fine, I have a bigger oyster, and a choice ringside seat at the stage, where I see all kinds of people particularly fools troop across daily. That said, I am still besotted by literature, still feel the blood trickle out of the "divine wound" that is great literature.

Ah, we are now short of space for another personality in this series. But that is no problem. They will come, they will enliven this space for sometime, Hope you enjoyed this first one.

(To be continued)











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