Again, for Steve

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By Ramon Dacawi

Benchwarmer

Friday, April 25, 2014


(Lent passed before I recalled that Steve Hamada passed on during the Holy Week in April, 2004. The memory trigger was the passing on last Sunday evening of another mentor, former Benguet Gov. Jaime Paul Buli-e Panganiban, a contemporary and buddy of my late brother Joe when they were studying at Baguio Tech, now the University of Baguio. This review of a piece done after Steve moved on helps one remember and cherish.):

MIDWAY into our seasons in the sun, Steve Macli-ing Hamada, my editor for over a decade, and I paused from beating deadlines and sobered up to the inevitable. We talked about how each of us would want to go, something many people don’t want to speak about. We ended up with a pact:

Whoever stayed longer on this mortal plane would neither deliver a eulogy nor write an obituary for the other.

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That deal was never brought up again. Not until Lent in April, 2004, when Steve suddenly reported to the Supreme Editor. As news of his passing on spread, some colleagues in media began asking me for an obit. It was understandable, as Steve and I worked together for more than a decade bedding the Baguio Midland Courier and the now-defunct Baguio-Cordillera Post.

But I was out of my bearings, confused and groping to make sense of the sudden transition. I sought Domcie Cimatu, Steve’s schoolmate in UP-Baguio.

He, too, was agonizing, also trying to restore his own moorings, and only agreed to do the obit after I confessed about my pact with Steve.

Immediately, I made a mess of myself with booze at the picnic grove of the Burnham Park that serves as base for the annual “Lucky Summer Visitors” tourism come-one project of the Baguio Correspondents and Broadcasters Club.

Steve understandably didn’t tell his wife, Lulay, and daughter, Luanne, about our pact of silence. Given the morbid thought it would evoke and the hurt it would inflict on those dearest to us, I, too, didn’t reveal it to my wife and kids (Beng and Boogie), or to anyone until Domcie.

On the second night of the wake on a Maundy Thursday, Lulay saw me without a jacket. She immediately took out Steve’s favorite and had me wear it against the evening cold. She asked Lu-an, the toddler I saw grow up into a comely young lady, if she remembered me.

“Of course, he’s the uncle who fell from our root while trying to gather guavas,” Lu-an answered.

Lulay asked if I could say something after the funeral mass, before Steve was to be laid to rest beside his father, the venerable Sinai Carino Hamada, at the Baguio public cemetery. The Baguio boy that he was, and is to us, Steve, I tried to presume, would understand why I had to accede. After all, funerals are also for the living, for those who mourn, and a word or two of remembrance won’t hurt but help them cope. After all, |Steve, with whom I shared secrets of the soul, relished narrating how he tried, and failed, to follow the code of silence in a spiritual retreat he underwent in childhood.
“After two days of silence, I went to the priest-in-charge and confessed I had to utter even just a word,” he recalled with a chuckle.

After all, the worst (or best) punishment you can mete out to the media is to make them silent. They speak out the truth, even beyond the regular broadcast or printed page. Here in Baguio, we speak our pieces late into the evenings, not in unison but often at the same time, especially so when alcohol begins to sharpen the brain and loosen the tongue, or the other way around.

During those sprees, Peppot Ilagan, who went a year ahead of Steve, would enthrall us no end with his ideas. For one, he insisted we form ourselves as the S.O.B (Sons of Baguio). When we objected, he added an N, to read NSOB. It drew more protests as it sounded more like “Nuisance” than New Sons”. Steve would nudge me and whisper, “I told you so, Peppot was born holding a microphone”.

We sometimes spoke our piece with lips frothing, through the protest bullhorn in college. Willy Cacdac, my brother Joe and the rest who preceded us to the parliament of the streets, provided the live radio broadcast of those rallies and marches that they helped hatch. For coverage of student activism, they lost their jobs when martial rule was declared, later forcing them to join the establishment, in the same rut I’ve been for some 40 years now.

Steve came home from a promising but highly competitive career with IBM advertising to help live out the four guideposts of community journalism that his illustrious father established – fair fearless, friendly and free. He inherited a staff in Oswald Alvaro and my brother Joe, later taking in Abe Belena, who was armed with an honest-to-goodness diploma in journalism from the University of Sto. Tomas.

Steve took me into the Courier in 1980, a cub reporter expected to earn his wings. He saw through my burden of having to fit Joe’s shoe and guided me on, despite his putting up a front of being tough and stern, as editors are known to be, even if they’re as human as anybody else.

Later, I sensed he was in a more unenviable position. In the words of younger-generation newsman Franklin Cimatu, Steve struggled to climb Mount Sinai, whom he venerated.

“When people ask if you’re the brother of Joe, you can say it’s now the other way around, that Joe is the brother of Ramon,” he would rib me. I’d take the drift and retort, “and the lawyer Sinai is the father of Steve Hamada…,” but he’d cut me down with an “Osyang mo” or “Holy molly,” and we’d break into hearty laughter.

We discussed and argued a lot, before, during and after press work. Curiously, I can’t remember any of those things we argued about.
In 1985, Steve, with nary a striping knife or table, much less a printing machine, started on his own and launched the Baguio-Cordillera Post, another weekly. He took me in, to the Hamada home in Camp y where we labored within the limited givens. We had his mother, Gerry, his wife Lulay, his sister Briggs and even nieces Dooly and Tanya as our cooks. I also had him as my driver aboard his brother Lionel’s 4/x4 pick-up.

The Post folded up after more than five years, but not after serving as the training ground for Rene Acantilado, Norris Falguera and other younger journalists molded by Steve. Steve later wrote a column for the Sun-Star Baguio Daily, He served Baguio in other capacities, among them being a director of the water district. Together with Peppot, Willy Cacdac and Gerry Evangelista, he ran for the city council. The four newsmen lost. (e-mail: mondaxbench@yahoo.com for comments.)

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on April 26, 2014.

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