A Tribute to Ka Blas-A A +A
By Max Sangil
Tuesday, February 5, 2013
IT WAS in 1978 when I first met Blas F. Ople. He was the Labor secretary. His booming voice was so distinct that you cannot help but notice him. I was with a group of reporters who met him over lunch at then Café Valenzuela in Dau, Mabalacat. He was campaigning for an assembly seat in the Interim Batasan elections.
I sensed that he was so comfortable in the presence of newsmen, and called us by our first names. You will immediately feel the offered friendship.
Ka Blas, as he was called by almost everybody including then President Ferdinand Marcos, was a former newsman and worked as a deskman of the Daily Mirror. He loved to tell stories about newsmen phoning their stories, and one he kept repeating was when Lino Sanchez Sr. phoned a train accident. The late Lino Sanchez Sr. (father of Linus Jr.) said there were 12 who died in the mishap, when there were only nine because he wanted the story to land in the front page.
And when the desk checked with the local police the next morning, and the Philippine News Service made a follow-up story the next day, there were only initially nine dead; the other three were rushed to the hospital and only died in the morning.
"Sanchez killed more people than the HMB," said Ka Blas, followed by the patented Ople laughter. He always loved to tell stories even about his fellow cabinet members, and Teddy Quiazon, his close friend was his pet peeve.
The story many times told at the National Press Club was when Ka Blas had too many of his San Miguel beer and was so drunk that he went to Plaza Lawton and directed traffic. He was urinating in the middle of the road when it so happened that then Mayor Arsenio Lacson passed by. He ordered a patrol car to take Ka Blas home.
It was sometime in February 1979 when Marcos and the whole of his cabinet were in Clark Air Base for the hoisting of the Philippine Flag and the installation of the new commander of the Cabcom. We were covering the event when he spotted me.
He motioned to me to get near him, and asked where we can have beers. It was 10 o'clock in the morning. We went to the Officers Club together with the late Mabalacat Mayor Fred Halili and Trade Secretary Teddy Quiazon.
Our drinking started before lunch and lasted till 5:00 in the afternoon, and that was the first time the O'Club ran out of San Miguel beer. I lost count how many the two cabinet members consumed, but Ka Blas had more.
I became so close to Ka Blas that there was not a single occasion that I didn't miss whenever he visited Pampanga and nearby provinces. He would ask Larry Tolentino, an employee of the regional office of the Department of Labor, to relay his coming and that I meet him at the Cafe Valenzuela, branches of which were then located in Mabalacat and San Fernando.
Ka Blas's life story is really one for the books. Born February 3, 1927 in Hagonoy, Bulacan, he died in the Christmas season of December 14, 2003 while in the performance of his tasks as Foreign Affairs secretary. He was born poor to working class parents, wasn't able to finish his college studies, yet held high-ranking positions in government. He was Labor secretary for 19 years and wrote the Labor Code of our country. He was responsible for opening up the overseas labor markets.
In the heat of the EDSA uprising, it was Ka Blas, then in Washington DC in the United States, who prevailed upon President Marcos to leave the country. He was also one of the framers of the Constitution. He was possibly only the school dropout who became president of the International Labor Organization (ILO).
Ka Blas achieved so much in his lifetime, but he will be remembered by his friends not by those achievements but by his kindness, generosity and gentleness. It will take another lifetime for any country to produce a Blas F. Ople. He was one of a kind.
Published in the Sun.Star Pampanga newspaper on February 05, 2013.