Historical tidbits

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By Godofredo M. Roperos

Politics also

Thursday, April 3, 2014


DURING the past couple of days, I received some questions from curious and interested friends and readers about the memoir-like four-part column I wrote. Most of them, however, dealt on Apo Pidiong or former president Elpidio Quirino.

Generally, I was asked why I could say that Quirino was humane and a good man even if most of our columnists and media people thought he was corrupt and bad.

That, in a way, sort of opened a long-closed door of memories that I never quite had the gumption to touch or talk about before, even when I had the opportunity then to do so.

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When I wrote a series of historical articles in Cebuano many years back as literary editor of Liwayway Publications’ vernacular weekly, Bisaya (then owned by the Roceses, now by the Manila Bulletin) in the late 1950s, I did not tackle the issues about Apo Pidiong. The episodes, I thought, might stir sensitive political nerves.

But the situation has changed now. What I learned as a young man in those days could be tidbits of our history that might somehow be useful to historians in the present time.

In any case, I recall the then retired Elpidio Quirino, fondly called Apo Pidiong by close kin, who lived in a well-appointed home in Novaliches that overlooked the plains near the La Mesa dam and UP Diliman. It was there where I reported for work in 1953.

The private secretary of the former president was Fred Mangahas and he was living then inside the UP campus. He was the one who recruited me to help him research for more materials of a projected biography.

My workplace was a basement library which had, along with a small writing table, a barber’s chair where Apo Pidiong had his hair cut by a visiting Ilocano barber. That barber did the Apo’s hair while I read the old dailies.

It was on one of these visits that the barber sort of told the former president about an old neighbor in Pasig who was also a barber. He claimed to have been Apo Pidiong’s elementary school classmate.

That aroused the former president’s interest. He asked the barber if he could invite the neighbor to come the following Tuesday for a visit. The barber promised to do so, and he did. When he came, the Apo and his old barber-classmate embraced.

I sat there by the adjoining small writing table watching and could hardly keep a tear. It was a touching scene: the old barber that the years had kept lean and gnarled and a former president whom majority of media people condemned of having his presidency and the nation enmeshed in graft and corruption.

At that moment, the landscape of age and the dark night of graft was a lifetime apart.

During lunch, when his daughter, Mrs. Vicky Gonzales, was not visiting, I was asked to eat with him. And he would talk about more tidbits of history.

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on April 04, 2014.

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