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By Ramon Dacawi
Friday, March 22, 2013
ONCE in a while - and sometimes often -, the news is found on the obituary pages of our weeklies, particularly the Baguio Midland Courier which has become the repository of announcements about final transitions in this journey to the grave called life. This is especially true for us who grew up when Baguio was one neighborhood, not 128 barangays. That was when you would skip Session Road when on a rush, lest you’d have to spend time to greet people you meet along our inclined main street. That was when almost everybody knew almost everybody.
Sometimes the announcement of someone’s passing on is as important as the headline for the week-end. Or the lack, of it, as the ageless country lead singer Mike Santos ecstatically told me one Sunday evening when I repaired to the folkhouse he was performing in but had since closed.
“Hapi ako ngayong gabi, pare,” he admitted. “Binasa ko yong Midland, page after page, at hindi ko nakita yong pangalan at mukha ko.”
Taking his drift, I offered to buy him a subscription until he’d see his name and face on a card of thanks.
Mike, missed by those in the folk and country music scene for his irrepressible sense of humor and talent which he shared through numerous concerts for the sick and needy, kicked the bucket in September four years back. We never got to see his name and photo inside an obit box. Still, his memory lives on, triggered by numerous recalls and retelling of the jokes and anecdotes he had shared in-between those concerts for a cause with Conrad Marzan, Mhia Tibunsay and the rest of the Foggy Mountain Band.
Noting my propensity for filling up this space with tributes to familiar names and faces who had gone to the great home on the range, folkhouse and newsroom in the sky, fellow journalist Mike Leonen once suggested (as a younger brother would) my changing this column’s title to something appropriately morbid. Mike, who once served as managing editor of Yes! Magazine in Seattle, gave up his professional career for the once-in-lifetime father’s opportunity of guiding and seeing his children grow up. It’s an opportunity many parents, including me, now deeply miss and regret.
Whatever, as the late fellow Baguio boy and feature write Freddie Mayo would say when emotions choke our words.
Three of the faces and names in last Sunday’s issue of the Midland Courier were personally familiar: Bandmaster and Dean Macario Fronda of the St. Louis University at 91; former student leader William “Billy” Hamada at 64 and lawyer Valentin Daoas at 56.
Dean Mac gave us one of the best marching bands around, one that internalized his ear for rhythm that blended the vibration of native gongs with regular percussion, brass and woodwinds to depict, in ascending and descending notes, these mountains through his composition “Tribute to the Cordilleras”.
“That’s why the piece ends with a peak,” the rhythm man once tried to explain with admirable patience. That was when, despite my ignorance in music, I tried to interview him for a feature article I swear I tried but failed to write - about him and his musical legacy, including that popular piece that is now the theme of “Panagbenga” Flower Festival.
Valentin was a familiar figure during those years of student activism, before the advent of the human rights campaign, when one could land in jail or decide to go to the mountains. Or disappear without an obit.
Val eventually found his brand of activism in the legal profession. So he went home to Sagada and, until he could, gave meaning and substance to being public defender of the poor and oppressed. He found a relative in my nephew Joseph, who finds joy tracing kin. Joseph, now a practising lawyer, would go home straight to Val’s home whenever he’s in Sagada.
Billy Hamada, perhaps the most sober among student leaders, was the student council president of St. Louis University when Manong Vic Laoyan was in such position at the University of Baguio and Felix Cabading was head of the student body of the Baguio Colleges Foundation, now University of the Cordilleras.
Perhaps the most handsome trio ever to serve simultaneously in such posts, they eventually found themselves sharing a table reserved and tagged for Baguio delegates at a conference of the National Union of Students of the Philippines in Manila.
Soon, the three got the attention of a fidgety waiter who was walking back and forth behind them, as if looking for something. Unable to contain himself, the restaurant employee asked them if they were really from Baguio, as announced by the table reservation sign.
“Marami bang Igorot do’n?,” the waiter pursued after Vic confirmed they were from up here. “Hindi ka pa ba nakakita ng Igorot?,” Vic countered. “Hindi pa nga e,” he answered.
“Nakakita ka na,” Vic told him. “Ako Igorot, tribung Ibaloy. Eto si Billy, Ibaloy din na may dugong Hapon. Eto naman si Felix, Igorot din na dugong Kalanguya. Di nakakita ka na nga tatlong Igorot.”
“Si sir naman, nagbibiro,” the waiter shot back. “Kung Igorot kayo, bakit ang guguapo n’yong tatlo? At napansin ko rin, bakit wala kayong buntot?”
When Manong Vic narrated this incident, I could almost see his hand ball into a fist, and Billy, as I said the most sober of the three, holding him back from landing a punch.
After martial law was declared, Billy was detained at Camp Dangwa for his contributions to student activism. Manong Vic and I eluded arrest, with the help of school administrators Fer and Reinaldo Bautista of UB. I was then at the Student Center, waiting for delegates from Dagupan, Laoag and other parts of Northern Luzon for the second day of a conference of the College Editors Guild of the Philippines.
Instead of the student writers, in came Dean of Student Affairs Ambrosio Delmendo and High School Principal Ernesto Alcantara. One after the other, they whispered to me martial law had been declared and that I better flee. Principal Alcantara asked me if I saw his son Nathan. I would learn later Nathan was then guiding fellow CEGP conference organizer Cesar Baronia up Quezon Hill to avoid the police checkpoint along Naguilian Road. Cesar, I learned, boarded a bus for Abra, then ended up in the hills where he rebelled for years. I heard he later came down, then launched a non-government organization before being elected as a town mayor.
Billy and I never talked about those days of campus activism, not even when we were both at the Midland Courier. His Dad Oseo was then preparing him to manage the business side of the Courier and the Baguio Printing. I was then working under his cousin Steve in putting out the paper.
Billy, who will be rested this Monday, joins Felix, who passed on years back while serving as provincial prosecutor of Benguet. Manong Vic, confined to a wheel chair after suffering two heart attacks, lost his wife, teacher Frances, last Christmas. What keeps Vic lucky, as he himself told me during Manang Frances’ wake, is that he never lost his sense of humor.
(e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for comments)
Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on March 23, 2013.