GABBY Malagar was already a veteran in sportswriting when I first got into the business in 1997 for the Freeman. I was 18 and was assigned to the PBA and football beats. He was in 41 and covered everything Cebu basketball. We would talk, sometimes when we got to hang out in the old Freeman’s newsroom lounge slash smoking area, while taking turns looking outside the small circular window.
Late 1997 was a great time to be a Cebu sportswriter; the city was hosting the revived Philippine National Games, two new papers were about to be put up and a league that was set to rival the PBA was about to start. He asked me one time if I thought of leaving.
I told him that between juggling time as a correspondent and as a sophomore BS-ECE student at the University of San Carlos, I wouldn’t even know what I would be doing in a week’s time. He said that I should consider it and that he was considering putting his name to head one of the new paper’s sports section.
Late that year, I left but not for a new outfit. He stayed. When we met a few years later one of the first things I asked him was whether he’d finally learned to use a word processor.
“Dugay na,” he said but went on to share his many mishaps with the technology. “Haskang buanga, may pa ang typewriter, dili mo crash.”
Since we were assigned to different beats, we’d meet rarely but it was only when he retired from the Freeman that we got to meet and talk more often.
Family and loyalty. Gabmals epitomized that. He’d beam with pride every time he’d share stories about his son and I finally got him to cover a football match because of another family member, a nephew.
Since he helped while I was a newbie writer, I made sure to return the favor in his new career as a correspondent for a national daily, making sure he get invited to football events and other events that he could write for his new paper.
“Mas maayo pa mubalibad ka sa akong atubangan, kaysa libakon ko nimo,” he’d say. He was loyal like that.
It was in one of our post-coverage talks, when he shared yet again a funny anecdote in Cebu basketball that seems only he can recall that I broached the topic of him writing a book. He dismissed it readily, saying “Who am I to write that.”
But I managed to convinced him to consider it and even promised that I’d write the introduction. We agreed to talk about it further, over coffee, not over beer. That was last year. We never got to talk about it again. I got busy with work and being a father and he got busy, I later learned, fighting his own war.
After learning of his latest hospital stay, a few colleagues and I planned of visiting him at his home on Sept. 10, but sadly, a few days before that we learned that Gabmals has passed away. That friendly visit to a friend, would now become a time to pay our final respects.
The Cebu sportswriting scene has lost a pillar. Our last chat was about a football match that I was hoping he could write. That was after I asked if he was OK and he said he was hoping to write again.
Rest well, Gabmals. You will be missed. I hope you can finally write the book about Cebu basketball up there.