Remembering Joedax and company-A A +A
By Ramon Dacawi
Wednesday, October 31, 2012
WE, lesser mortals, can only borrow Douglas McArthur’s lament to explain why we couldn’t go home to say a prayer or two before the graves of our loved ones in this week of remembrance for the departed The famous army general explained that “the deepening shadows of life cast doubt on my ability to say again, ‘I shall return’”.
My pro bono doctors’ advice against stress provided alibi against my boarding the bus to remote Hungduan, Ifugao. That’s where my parents, both unschooled laborers, and my youngest brother, woodcarver Manuel, were buried. To make up, I resolved to make the rounds before or after the Nov. 1 crowd at the Baguio cemetery where some of those who had touched my life rest.
It would take time, as their tombs are scattered. They were my superiors, in age and experience, mostly Baguio journalists who had reported to the Great Editor in the sky: Sid Chammag of the Manila Bulletin; my editor Steve Hamada and his wife Lulay (nee Abellera) near where his dad, the venerable Sinai Hamada, founder of the Baguio Midland Courier, inside the circle lies with his wife Geralda (nee Macli-ing); editor Jose “Peppot” Ilagan of the defunct Gold Ore and his mother, public school teacher Colasita (nee Lambinicio) just outside the circle; dzHB newscaster, Sunstar Baguio editor and secretary-to-the-mayor Willy Cacdac at the memorial park below, near human rights lawyer and occasional writer Art Galace and my teacher Emmett Brown Asuncion. It will take me time locating the tombs of Rufino Candelario, my father’s immediate superior at the Pacdal Forest Nursery, and those of his wife and children Romeo and Leon, who were my early teachers.
My rounds would end up at the plot where my elder brothers Joe and Danilo rest with Janet, Manong Danny’s special daughter. The plot is a choice one, situated behind the wall just after you enter the first gate of the overcrowded patchwork of graves, right behind where a mausoleum was recently built. It’s a curiosity, as it’s quite spacious, purchased and reserved by Joe, our eldest brother who was known for his lack of material acquisitiveness, a trait he shared with many of the journalists of his generation.
I learned of Joe’s plot reservation when Manong Danilo died of aplastic anemia. Manong Danny kicked the bucket a few months after my buddy, Peewee Agustin, drove him to the Army training camp in Tanay, Rizal, so he could see his only son, Ronald, get recognized as a cadet, on his way to fulfilling his dream as a military officer.
First night of the wake for him, I learned why Manong Joe reserved the plot. He passed on before dawn of July 30 last year, a year and a half after he began a grim battle against cancer. The ailment was diagnosed a month after he retired September, 2009 as personnel officer of city hall.
During visits to his room at the Pines City Hospital, I noticed Manong Joe’s gift of humor and repartee that marked his student leadership days coming back. He reminded me of Peppot, his friend and fellow journalist at the defunct Focus weekly under former city councilors Des Bautista and G. Bert Floresca. From his own hospital bed, Peppot would lighten up visitors with his wit and spontaneity, so that those who came to comfort him ended up being the comforted.
It takes courage – and love – to put up a front to lighten the impact of one’s passing on –on family and those who one knew. Manang Corazon, Manong Joe’s widow, asked their four children where their dad would be laid to rest. At the risk of being intrusive, I reminded them there’s more than space at the plot he had reserved and where we buried their uncle Danilo.
Gently, Manang Azon revealed my brother Joe had reserved the plot for his younger brother Ramon. She explained he was concerned that I’d go ahead of him because of my incessant gulping and puffing, habits I never learned to give up years after our pro bono family physician, Dr. Julie Camdas-Cabato, diagnosed me as a sugar magnate without a hacienda.
At the wake, city councilor Peter Fianza confirmed my brother’s original intention for buying and reserving the plot. Peter, forever gentle, forever a true friend, told me Joe had worried my drinking and smoking would eventually do me in.
Despite his reputation for bluntness, my brother had kept me from his intention for the purchase of the patch. He knew quite well, too, that warning me of the dire consequences of my lifestyle would trigger another argument between siblings that we both took time to learn not to inflict on each other. That’s why he asked others to tell me to slow down on vice.
My eyes welled after Noel Padilla, my nephew Joris’ brother-in-law, came to fetch me for the hospital at three o’clock in the morning. Still, I fought back tears even when I saw my nieces Jennifer and Joann moaning over their dad’s remains covered by white hospital sheets. At the morgue, I put up a front of calm in quiet conversations with the doctors who had propped up his fight against the big C.
My reaction to my pre-need gift was one of ambivalence. Yet when the mist cleared, it was clear my brother fitted novelist Richard Paul Evans’ reflection about some people we meet along this journey to the grave called life: Those with softest hearts sometimes build the hardest shells.”
As former city councilor Edilberto Tenefrancia noted at the necrological rites, Joe was not really a popular figure at city hall, what with his uncompromising adherence to civil service rules as if he were serving in Singapore. Dr. Rhey Bautista, the educator who honed Joe in academic leadership at the then Baguio Tech, described him as “Mr. Clean”.
Sorry, but Joe’s work ethic and ethics are meant not meant for this Third World. That’s what I told a friend and job seeker who asked me to lobby for him before the personnel officer. “Tell him to apply on his own, as rating of applicants is based on merits, not on endorsements,” Joe told me in the presence of the applicant. And that was it.
We had our differences. For years, he’d walk to and from work, something I was only too tired of doing since way back in high school. Often, I’d be aboard a taxi and pass him by, reining in the impish thought of offering him a lift or fare. He was task-oriented as I’m now and then a petty country club manager. I finished college in five years, stalled for a year by the parliament of the streets and recovery from alcohol-induced jaundice. He got his bachelor of arts degree after 15 years also marked by student activism that the University of Baguio nurtured and his early love for print and broadcast journalism. I inherited his shoeshine box and then rented out ponies at the Wright Park while he and Willy Cacdac elevated themselves as caddies at the Baguio Country Club. He played football and competed in sipa in the Inter-scholastics while I only covered sports events.
Joe, Willy, Manny Salenga and George Jularbal lost their jobs at radio station DZHB and RMN-IBC when martial rule was declared. Still, Joe’s story on the declaration made the headline of the Baguio Midland Courier, which military authorities curiously forgot to shut down earlier, as they did all the other media outfits.
In 1980, Joe yielded to me his news editor post at the Courier, with the blessings of Steve Hamada, who succeeded his dad Sinai as editor-in-chief. Steve tried to climb Mt. Sinai, but people still asked him how he was related to the venerable Sinai, the Igorot lawyer, short story writer, Philippine Collegian editor and founder of the Courier. In the same token, people would now and then ask if I was, in a way, related to Joe.
“Tell them Sinai is the father of Steve, while I’ll announce Jose is the brother of Ramon, not the other way around,” I advised Steve. (E-mail:firstname.lastname@example.org for comments).
Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on November 01, 2012.