People I’ve met

HERE'S THE SCORE - Teodoro C. Benigno -
(Third of a series)
The late Angel Baking rings no big bell today in intellectual and academic circles. But in the ’50s, his was probably the greatest mind that came out of academe. He was a simple man given to simple tastes. His bland, open face with a bulging forehead hid the sharpest, keenest mind in the intellectual community. Angel was given to books which he devoured with uncommon intensity, as though they were slid to him by a cunning, conniving Prometheus. His memory was phenomenal, encyclopedic. He was a mathematical wizard.

There was no arrogance about him. He argued with the Lavas, the twin titans at the time of the Communist Party, never raised his voice, and his spoken language, even on math, was simplicity itself. It was a delight watching him and Jose Lava trading intellectual discourse, for Peping Lava himself never liked high-falluting language. Angel’s mind of course was Marxist, but a Marxism devoid of fancy rhetoric with the word dialectical not far behind.

Why do I remember him?

Maybe it’s because the Left today, the communist, socialist, Trotskyist, speak and bark with many tongues and they have no Angel Baking to clear the air of leftist jargon and jingoism. Angel was ahead of his time. He forecast America receding from the Pacific and China "will be our new bosses." Japan will eventually decline, he said. When in jail, even the great nationalist Claro Recto visited him.

What really happened? The communist and socialist movements had the advantage of great and imaginative leadership. They fought bravely under the intrepid leadership of the Lavas, Luis Taruc, the Abad Santoses, and yet they became a cropper. The truth is the American behemoth, not readily visible, ruled the Philippines. Then as now they still call the shots in our country. And if they leave, they will be replaced by China.

Ah, when the subject of sports hovers into view, it’s always the good old days. Who indeed can take the place of Carlos (Caloy) Loyzaga, the Big Difference, just 6’3, but who dominated Philippine basketball like nobody else? And Gabriel Flash Elorde who continues to radiate despite the dramatic exploits of Manny Pacquiao. Elorde as the "good boy" of boxing. Pacquiao can’t rid his image as the bad boy.

And in golf, we had Larry Montes, in track Pedro Yatar and Rafael de Leon and in racing Dodjie Laurel, in swimming the Von Giese sisters and Teofilo Yldefonso, in baseball Mariano Saberon, in tennis Felicisimo Ampon, the Mighty Mite. Nobody was as wicked and cunning as Lauro (The Fox) Mumar who could bait anybody, including a tank, into fouling him. Once, he got into trouble and I had to extricate him so he could still join the legendary basketball team which placed third in the World Cage Championship in Brazil. That was probably the most powerful quintet we ever assembled.

Oh yes, we can’t forget the NCAA. Who can?

That was the circus, the carnival, a national fiesta, combined into one. When the NCAA pitched tent, this burgh turned goofy. Families fought each other bitterly depending on whether they cheered for La Salle, Ateneo, San Beda, Mapua or Letran, and fist-fights were common especially after the games. Fathers forgot they were fathers graduated from Catholic schools and bawled out rowdy language you only hear in public market and the piers. It was not uncommon for mothers to charge out of their fancy boxes and chase players they didn’t like.

Even at the Rizal Memorial Stadium, chairs and tempers flew and prominent men known for their sobriety, some even members of the Cabinet, behaved like drunken longshoremen. I myself created a tempest when as sports editor of the Philippines Herald, I called for a sportswriters boycott of the games when we could get into the stadium only through an opening just as big as a manhole. Brother Bernardine of La Salle, when the boycott worked and the games couldn’t get one line in the sports pages, bawled to all and sundry that I was a communist, the dirtiest word at the time.

Only the Sixties brought the NCAA of my time to an end. The rivalries are still there, La Salle and Ateneo remain at daggers drawn. But it’s not the same. They talk to each other today, they switch schools, sometimes there are double loyalties, but the old visceral, blood-pounding anger isn’t there anymore. Times changes and so do the Ateneans and the La Sallites.

And now we go to another domain – that of comedy. The good old days were definitely better. It had a richer front-line exposure, and richer reserves. Who can forget Togo and Pugo, they with the bald pates, and the paper weaponry to whack each other on the head. Togo got the bigger laughs, because he was outsized and had a funny face the Japanese soldiers couldn’t resist even when he was satirizing them with wrist watches enfolding both arms. But Pugo was the better comedian with lines that sizzled with gadawful wit and drollery. Both were detained by the Japanese kempetai but released almost posthaste. How do you confine two cuckoos who didn’t even know they were being confined.

Besides Togo and Pugo, you had the inimitable Gregorio Ticman, Tugak and Pugak, who were not bad imitations, Billy Surot Vizcarra, Lopito and Patsy (if I remember right), and even at the time there was already Dolphy, still green at the gills, playing kitchen cook at one time. Already, we had Dely Atayatayan, close to being an accomplished comedian. Oh yes, we had an embarrass de choix of top comedians. The only one left is Dolphy and he has already exhausted his repertoire.

We had Bert Tawa Marcelo, but he died prematurely. The others were forgettable. The fact they didn’t last means they failed to brand their own stamp. This is surprising and regrettable because these days are tailor-made for native humor. GMA for instance can be lampooned in a thousand ways, so can Joe de Venecia, so can our pompous and corrupt generals. Or have Filipinos lost their sense of humor? They are now afraid?

Why so? During the martial law years, when bayonets bristled from every bush, the Filipino was at his inventive, creative and humorous best. One look at the members of GMA’s cabinet, especially the women, and you’ve got material for making the town laugh for weeks.

When I am asked, as I am often asked, who, as a journalist, were the three most interesting, most unforgettable, most colorful Filipinos I have ever met, I do not hesitate to answer: Ferdinand Marcos, Imelda Marcos and Ninoy Aquino. Why? They were all driven. They were all motivated. Each thought, particularly MaCoy and Imelda, they would change the course of Philippine history.

Already, Marcos had the edge. He proved he could turn the country the way he pleased – a prodigious feat – by declaring martial rule. Only one man could do that at the time – and he was the man. He figured, with the support of the military, he could make a puppet of every Filipino overnight, and he succeeded. Not a single Filipino protested in the streets. Not a single Filipino openly raised a fist of condemnation. The few that did, like Ninoy Aquino, landed in solitary cells in Fort Bonifacio.

As a demonstration of political will, that has never been matched. Marcos knew the Filipino, knew him well, knew he had a limitless respect and awe for authority. He became the Philippines’ first dictator by destroying the democracy he once extolled. He pampered his generals, particularly Fabian Ver, and this is what Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo is doing exactly today. History repeating itself?

But Marcos remained in power long. He never took his cocoon off as an Ilocano. He remained a simple man, ate simple Ilocano meals, never mingled with the aristocracy of Makati. He hated their way of life, their addiction to good living and luxury, their lavish parties. From his Ilocano eyrie, he would wield limitless power because he and he alone knew the mind of the Filipino.

Imelda was different. she would dazzle, she would entrance, she would overpower with her charm and beauty. She created her own power base, chose her own people and vassals. She had the Blue Ladies. She started work on the reclaimed portion of Roxas Boulevard. This would be a resplendent city inside the Metropolis and she also had plans to construct an Olympic City to hold the Olympiads within 12 years. Her ambitions knew no bounds.











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