Mercado: My Early Years

AT THE Faculty of Philosophy and Letters (UST) my favorite journalism professor was Joe Bautista, Jr., editor in chief of The Manila Times. Joe was the doting grandfather of Sen. Loren Legarda.

He taught me two things that I will not forget. One is to call a spade a goddam shovel. The second is not to believe in what you hear; believe only half of what you see, and always doubt the truth. The last has given me troubles with the world and my employers.

I lost the rare chance as cub reporter for The Manila Times because of a girl. At a college frat ball this guy who was an important senior editor of the Times sequestered my girl and danced all the slow drag music with her. She indulged his fantasies at the dance convinced of his implied intent to help me join the Times as regular reporter.

Unable and frustrated after repeated requests for a date, the senior editor dropped my attempt to cub, not even for the graveyard shift of the country’s biggest newspaper.

Well, I was hired by a PR Agency run by Jose de Venecia. At the PCSO where I coordinated sales and promotions strategies in the morning, I was assigned to cover the sweepstake races at San Lazaro in most afternoons. My boss recalled me from the race track job, having learned of my betting habit.

I was shifted to a confidential assignment involving mystery client Harry Stonehill. Although I was familiar to the man, having delivered well sealed brown envelopes in his guarded suites at Magsaysay Bldg. on TM Kalaw St., he would not allow me ride the same elevator he was in.

Then my office assigned me to cover Senator Gil J. Puyat who was running for Vice President with reelectionist Pres. Carlos Garcia. I stayed most days at the Puyat & Sons head office on Rodriguez Arias near Malacanang. At nine, the aging patriarch and iconic industrialist Don Gonzalo Puyat is wheeled around for sunlight and fresh air.

Inside the Production Section a pretty girl about 22 of age goes around in an inspection, for quality control and or inventory of stocks. Decades later news stories identified the power lady as Doña Nena, she who shepherded the three members of Congress in the 4th district. She got married to Spain-educated lawyer Emigdio Bondoc of Macabebe.

Behind newspapering I loved politics. The 2nd congressional district was within our reach in the ‘60s as my candidate, the former Press Secretary Leo Parungao Jr. was beating incumbent Rep. Emilio Cortez in all counts. Cortez, the former legend of Huklandia, was a spent force and was expected to lose. He was ailing, with reports of saliva dribbling when he got infuriated by Parungao.

Suddenly some bad spirit struck President Dadong in Lubao. His clan and cabalen wanted Dadong to save his brother Angel ‘Star’ Macapagal from a wanton life spent in gambling houses and the bottle.

Pres. Dadong had him enter the congressional race, giving all the means to beat Parungao. Taunting the voters, his campaigners branded him Star Margarine for easy recall.

Parungao lost to Star, who was known to spend hours at the nightclubs and casinos at Roxas Blvd. Leo has since acquired a new passion. Newspapers reported he could summon his secret ‘dwende’ pals and consulted them along with strange creatures on matters of natural interest and the future of the nation.
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