GREGORIO CENTENO JOSUE, 77, born on November 17, 1937, is the only brother, the younger one, of my mother. They are only two in the family and their birth is 8 years apart. Both were born in Ilocos Sur. Their father, Justiniano Josue was a sea farer, a naval officer recruited by the Americans before World War II. The mother, Pauline Centeno, with half Irish blood, on the other hand was an enterprising woman who virtually took care of her children in the absence of an OFW husband.
Gregorio is for me “Uncle Greg.” He was my tutor during my toddler years. He taught me fencing, reasoning and street fighting. He would indulge me to ride on the bike, perilous at that time, and compete with my playmates in the neighborhood. He had all the time in the world to take good care of me, not because he wanted it that way but because he wanted to use me as cover so that he would not be prodded to go to school. He hated the discipline in school. He would rather play basketball in the street or commute back to his childhood neighborhood in Caloocan to play ball with his peers—mostly scion of established families in the area.
I would oftentimes argue with him whenever he would goad me to study and prepare for school, “How come you are forcing me to study when you yourself do not want to go to school?”
“Listen to me young fellow,” Uncle Greg would intone, “even if I don’t go to school, my playmates are heir to the wealth of their parents. Once we are of age, my friends will just share to me their prosperity. Now, look at your playmates and tell me if they are children of well-to-do parents.”
“What if all of us are poor and fledging? What does that mean, Uncle?”
“That means that all of you will have to struggle. All the more you should study so that one day, you will be able to help them!” my Uncle would stress the point over and over until I will be convinced to pick up my pen and complete my school assignments.
Years passed by with no school work behind him, I would realize that his pontificating was right all along. He would be recruited by his well off friends in their respective business. True, his friends inherited the fortune of their parents and he would be enjoined to join their firms. Uncle Greg’s best friends were in the entertainment business (Premiere Production, the counter part of Hollywood’s MGM) and rightly so, he would become a staff and even a cameo actor once in a while. He would be given assigned tasks to see the country side to monitor revenues of films by the outfit. He never had any dull moment since then.
Uncle Greg settled and had a wonderful family. He would require me to spend my semestral breaks with them. I would be given assignments and taught further. He would enroll me to study driving. He would compel me to do art works in movie houses he managed. He would expose me to the underworld too where most of his friends would moon light once in a while. From there, I would pick up my lifetime vice of smoking. (I stopped smoking after reaching the age of 60.) Except for drinking, we shared the same dislike for alcohol.
We had great time with his friends more so in pulling one laughter after another. Their amusement comes from highlighting and branding themselves with nicknames with their looks. There was “Mata,”, “Ilong,” “Batok,”… My uncle’s nickname in his close circle of friends was “Tenga.” His large ears would be his defining difference from the rest.
Since his job was on Show business, our house would be visited by celebrities once in a while. Several thespians would appear at our doorstep. There was Ruben Rustia (a hall of famer, character actor), Eddie Fernandez (a prized actor known for his Lagalag series, until a twist of fate, when his star would dip and he would be imprisoned), Zaldy Zchornack , Ronald Remy, Roland Montes, Bayani Casimiro, Casmot, Popoy and a lot more.
Uncle Greg retired as administrator of a building owned by his friend, heir to an entertainment behemoth, Premeire Productions, during that time, at the age of 70.
From that time on, he would stay grounded at home entertaining friends, joining relatives in reunion parties and watching basketball all day long. It was a passion which never departed from his interest. It was likewise a sport which he never reneged even during the time when his mother was on death bed. It has been said that when Lola Pauline, already seconds away from departing, was asking for him, and hearing the summon, my uncle, who was one of the best point guards in his team could only mutter, “I will be home, just a few more points to win the game.”
He arrived just in time for his mother to utter, “Congratulations.” There was a smile on the face of Lola Pauline, thinking before she would pass away that her son will become an NBA player one day. Well, that day never came.
(January 16, 2015, Uncle Greg suffered a stroke and he was immediately taken to a nearby hospital at Novaliches, Quezon City. He was subsequently transferred to the Lung Center of the Phillippines on the recommendation of a friend from the same hospital. He was unconscious and never regained from his comatose condition. Two weeks later, he passed away. His family was saddened to recall a few months before when Uncle Greg was seeking for a priest for confession. His kids were adamant since it might hasten Uncle Greg’s health condition. They knew that he could still muster strength to recover from what ails him, after all, he is of the same age as that of Pope Francis. But Uncle Greg’s routine was sedate and he could barely move around. Besides, he would oftentimes be confined in the past for medical purposes and every time he would be hospitalised, he would come through healed and would immediately recover. It was almost a routine for the family. Not until that fateful day when a vein in his brain would create hematoma, a direct cause for his comatose status.
January 30, 2015 Uncle Greg departed. It was also the day when the Philippine President then declared a National Day for Mourning, a fitting coincidence.)
PROFESSOR CARLOS LEGASPI TESORO (born in Sta Ana, Manila on January 19, 1922 and raised in San Pedro, Laguna) gracefully passed away at home in his residence at 80 Naranhita St., Project 2, Quezon City in November 7, 2008 at the age of 86.
Professor Tesoro was a self-made man, an unico hijo, who grew up not from the attention of his parents but on the busy laps of his maternal aunts. His mother was a career educator who sacrificed family in favor of her mentoring profession in a number of educational institutions in various provincial capitols of Southern Luzon. His father, on the other hand, was an itinerant gun supplier and a part time vagabond for a while. As a result, my father grew up virtually mending for himself, working his way to school up until he completed his college education and more.
As a child, to satisfy grade school requirements, he must be enterprising. On intervals, he would ask a neighboring store for a cup of peanuts to hawk around. He would repack and peddle the fried beans on his way to school thus earning his upkeep and sustain school necessities. His secondary education was spent while acting as errand boy in the convent across their municipal building, which effort would later earn for him a sponsorship to enter the seminary en route to priesthood.
The parish priest in the convent was amazed at how easily my father could grasp language especially Vulgate Latin, a dead language, still used by the Church then in celebrating traditional High Mass. He was also a dutiful acolyte and a responsible church personnel. Because of his performance, he was eventually sent to San Jose Seminary in Puerto Princesa, Palawan. On his third year, looking more like saint in his seminarian habiliment, he was obliged to leave the confines of the seminary as part of the curriculum and given the mandatory exposure before he was to be ordained.
World War II however cut short his dalliance with spirituality and the threats of the invading Japanese forces in his town convinced him further to stay and consequently skipped seminary life. In the course of his community exposure, he would save his town mates instead. Heroism indeed depends on circumstances.
My father had a rare gift for languages. He learned Niponggo quickly that he used such linguistic skill in negotiating with the Station Commander of the Japanese Army in the area to spare his town mates from being arrested and most likely to be massacred on suspicion as enemies. Truckloads of suspects from his town of San Pedro, Laguna were spared from the horror of execution. He relished such accomplishment and his town mates ever grateful; and, because of the accolade, however fleeting it was, he was convinced to sideline his religious bent in favor of civilian education.
When the smoke of War vanished, every Juan, Pedro and Pilar went up the stage to claim honor for heroism. My father merely walked away with a thought that he merely did what was right and he never wished to be recognized for such an extraordinary feat. He would rather see smiling faces from those he saved rather than keep a cheap memento.
He sought employment at the Bureau of Post as labourer and later on, as bank teller and worked on odd jobs for his tertiary education at Letran College, a school adjacent his office. After graduating in college, he enrolled in the College of Law at the University of Santo Tomas (where he had Senator Juan Ponce Enrile and former Manila Mayor Antonio Villegas as his prominent classmates) and thereafter, took courses in languages. He was an administrative officer at the Bureau of Posts when he met his future wife, my mother, Salvacion. She was a staff secretary of a Division chief in Public Works whose office is situated in the main Bureau of Posts building in Lawton, Manila.
After a year of courting, father married mother and they bore two kids, a boy and a girl (I was the eldest). After office hours, he would shuttle to a newly established school across his office, the Philippine College of Criminology as one of its pioneer faculty members. His subject was Spanish, English and Rizal Course.
We call him Tatay. He is a confirmed hyper polyglot—-a gifted linguist who had a mastery over several major world languages, Spanish, English, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic (language of Jesus) ,Italian, Nihongo, Mandarin and several major dialects Tagalog, Ilocano, Pampango and a splatter of Visayan and Chavacano. He could have taken Mensa and would have passed it easily. His IQ is terribly higher than 185.
I never had a time with him though when I was a kid because he was always secluded in his study room poring over his books whenever at home. Such a sight intrigued me no end to spend my days later in reading stacks of books too without him even telling me to study or read or even write. I thought that reading was a pleasurable experience, and he was right. He struggled to provide everything for his family, from a well-furnished house (in Project 2, Quezon City and parcel of lots in Novaliches and Antipolo) to a regular education at exclusive schools for his children. We never knew hunger, penury and any hardships at all. Tatay was an inveterate pillar and a conscientious provider. The downside however was that I could barely see him or had any recollection that gave us bonding sessions. He was an academician through and through. And like his mother, his life was the school.
There was something that turns me off in his personality though; he was always by himself. He had no patience with foolishness and abhorred stupidity. He had a mercurial temper. He hated trash talk, silly conversations and trivialities; and he would rather be confined in the company of his books. That made him an easy picking for those with illicit activities. He could not determine who his friends and enemies were. Of course, his enemies were those who wanted to fool him. And fooled he became which merited a case for which his resources would reach rock bottom. He was swindled by his friends and his fortune suffered to keep himself free. After the courts had ruled his innocence, every saving he made for years went down the drain too.
The only time, precious as it was, I had the rare moment to stay with him was on his sickbed. This was when the treachery of environment, stress of work, of struggling for his family, pressures from his office, caused him a series of major surgeries. His body would be ravaged with tension related ailments. I would be there to take instructions from him on what agency or office to follow up his requests, his expense assistance and related medical and social concerns. Along with my mother, I would be their go-to guy, errand and fixer and facilitator. I cherished those moments except the sight of an ailing parent whom I have seen as indefatigable and one who never knew how to rest. For me, Tatay was Superman and Hero. On sick bed, he was, for me, just a figure relaxing before another bout was to commence. During those trying periods, I matured several times over.
Tatay never wanted to retire although at 65 he was compelled to bow out from government service; but he never folded up in school. He would be a regular college professor and language tutor on weekends up until his early 80s. Occasionally, he would be hired as corporate interpreter. He was also a tireless traveler. During holidays, he would be up and about visiting his children in their respective turfs. He would always find time to visit his town in Laguna and attend feast days in nearby towns where he had relatives.
At an advanced age of 85, he would also regale me, every time I would pay him a visit (so that he would not commute anymore just to surprise me in my prison office), with a keen sense of history, keener mind and sharp intelligence.
“Guard and protect our properties, those were products of a lifetime struggle I made for both of you and Doris. Guard it with your life and conscience,” a repeated chant, almost like a broken record, which Tatay would always implore every time he appeared at my doorstep. I would hear the same mantra whenever I would visit him at home.
Even for once, he never had any symptom of dementia or forgetfulness. He would never allow himself to be left out of the fad. He listened to the radio, to the commentaries and would read three major newspapers back to back everyday. Even in his 80s, he would always sport the latest trend in haircut among the youth. He had a complexion of a man only in his 40s and he was thankful to his parents for such genes on vanity. He never entertained death even for once. He knew that as survivor he can live forever.
For me, Tatay never left at all. He will always be a part of my consciousness, a part of living history.
“Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.”
As early as grade school, I have witnessed various forces radiating with power. Of course, there was my mother—who was in my estimation the alpha and omega of power, whose shadows could confer in my tender mind supernatural powers; then our school teachers and my beautiful classmates. As I entered the intermediate grades, there were other powerful elements manifesting from the woodwork of our school. The so called terror teachers and the bullies—the bulky, sun drenched, oftentimes armed out of school youth and their equally bulky counterparts among my schoolmates.
Luckily, I never experienced first-hand how it was to be bullied during my elementary years. On the contrary, I was even blest to interact and study with extraordinary boys and girls. The boys were pleasantly studious and well behaved, while the girls were very modest and scholarly. For me, my classmates were not only inspiring but lavish sources of power. By their sheer neatness and intelligence, they could get whatever they wished to get. And to think that we were in public school.
During the high school years, the field had been a bit rocky with pock marks. There were all kinds of forces operating in and out of school, in and out of the classroom even. And these forces had powers of varying concentrations. Some were physical and the rest, emotional. These were trying years when teen-agers could not ascertain where they could be classified. They looked matured but their psyche is still a notch older than a toddler. I was one of them. I thought I was strong enough to accept a brutal challenge from a heftier school mate, only to get horrified to feel the strength of his right hand. Good enough, I had a fairly swift footwork to evade the catastrophe. That day I pledged to stay in the gym for some work outs.
Projecting a muscled arm and bulging shoulders telegraph power. It is not only a means to attract the opposite sex but also impress the same gender. For a while, I was a hunk well except for my height. Then, out of the blues, the habit of reading has bitten me almost fatally. I could not sleep, eat, and interact in a day unless I have completed reading a book cover to cover. It was some kind of an obsession; a pathological defect says a book on behavior. I didn’t realize though that through reading, it would give me a philosophical understanding of how to get power and use it without even trying.
After graduating in college and a grueling scholastic period in post graduate, reading gave me a certain degree of power which initially I could not discern. It gave me a lot of ideas; it pushed me not only to learn more skills but nudged me always on the brink and edge of adventure. Reading eventually made me interested in several fields and disciplines. For some time, I was an artisan, scholar, craftsman, academician, physician, lawyer, musician, warrior and sage. Later in life, I would be transformed into a novelist, author and artist.
But the grandest and yet most trying episode I had on the application of power was my career in handling the most dangerous sector of our society—the insular prisoners, they whose maximum sentence is more than three years up to life imprisonment. In my tour of duty, diffidence aside, a mere sway of my hands could spell the future of a convict—whether he would land on his feet on the stage to get his diploma as a school graduate or land face down on the pavement thrown from the top floor of the inmate dormitory. I was on this situation at the age of 26 when I was appointed head of the Reception and Diagnostic Center of the National Penitentiary. It was a very authoritative position. I had full control on whether an inmate will live or die! And for 8 years, the prison facility with almost a thousand newly arrived convicts had been my turf, territory, kingdom, dominion.
Thereafter, I was promoted to the highest post in the appointive hierarchy of the organization as Penal Superintendent IV. I was sent to Davao Penal Colony, then with almost 3,500 inmates. Then to Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm, 3,000 inmates, next to San Ramon Penal Colony in Zamboanga del Sur with 800 prisoners and lastly at New Bilibid Prison complex with 25,000 prisoners. I was the personification of the State’s iron hand in dealing with prisoners. I was the epitome of national torment and virtually the main lever in the government’s foray towards hostage agony and management. I was more powerful than any local government monarch.
For some time power was my regular name and almost presumed to possess cruelty as my nickname. No. It never became that way though. I never handled power as a tool neither I played around with cruelty like a toy. During the course of my incumbency at the helm of total institutions, I was some kind of a big brother, an understanding buddy, a guidance counselor and a patient friend. But just the same, power, the raw and harsh kind still resided in my consciousness.
Power was there as guidepost in my instinct. And I showed it positively by pursuing college education for inmates, tolerating the growth of their creative talents in poetry, arts and entertainment, formulating programs for skills and talent development, conducting research and pioneering in the structural foundation of facilities like women’s correctional in Mindanao.
I could have used power as a matter of course in corrupting my environment, in depreciating humanity, in amassing abuses like ordinary bureaucrats or commonplace politicians.
I could have used power as means of revenge, reprisal and retaliation. For me, I could be brutally frank but not unkind.
I could have used power to demean, debase and destroy but I defer most of the time. There is wisdom in reflection. I had on my hand the machinery for everything devoted to debauchery but I ignored it completely.
Power meant for me embracing the goodness in man even if sometime past he was evil incarnate. Power is a means in my perspective to change not only the mind of a skeptic but introduce a heart to a callous person. I have seen bad men transformed into leaders in their respective community battling the demons of exploitation for his constituents. I was never wrong in treating offenders and accosting them back on the road to normalcy. And to think that almost all heroes and great men in history were imprisoned sometime in their lives.
It was a subdued period of almost 40 years in the prison service, well, 38 years to be exact.
I retired leaving behind power as it fulfilled and nourished hope and positive values in the prison community, classically perceived as domain of hopelessness and futility. I could stare in the heavens and heave a sigh of relief.
Now, without power and merely recalling how I expressed it in the past, I just could not help but smile and feel genuinely more powerful than when I was yielding it.
Well, that would be 2117. And if science would favor me to have a longer lifespan, I would be 163 by then. Of course, that is pure speculation. With so many dangers, threats and viruses that dominate the landscape of our environment, it would only be pure luck to have long life. Besides, there is no record in humanity that broke the record of that man, Jeanne Louise Calment from France who passed away at the age of 122 years and 164 days. That was the longest according to Guinness. Man’s lifespan averages 75 for men, 85 for women according to World Population Data. I would be happy to reach 90, that is if I still could properly determine my surroundings.
A hundred years from now however is only a short stretch unlike before. Time before was almost infinitesimal. Communication was barely nature based. Science was fledging behind religion and knowledge restricted only among the so called infidels. But now, man can easily determine time zones and could exactly compute and define with accuracy any period even in a thousand years. There is even an app to check how one would look like a century hence! One can send a message instantly from across the globe without spending a cent.
There is more excitement, more adventure, and more interesting things to do at this time. One can even predict the kind of technology man would possess in the future. The intensity of happiness and force of satisfaction is greater than those 100 years ago. Technology gave man the edge and the advantage to achieve a full life. Everything can be defined using virtual reality, as if there is nothing in restricted reality that cannot be attained.
Research is several folds an exercise where fun meets pleasures, where knowledge is at a click of a mouse and generating it is twice the speed of sound. The search for knowledge induces the seeker to gain more insights. Man becomes analytical and his evolution into a nerd is just a few advanced features in that gadget he is using. Modern man is exactly what he would be a hundred years from now. Even those we derisively refer to as tribal folks would project the same posture as our ordinary cellphone bearer today.
Relationships from personal to marital, from organizational to social would experience a break through as a result of technology. That piece of creativity pursued by Bill Gates and Steve Jobs in the 1990s has brought man’s penultimate future at his doorstep. From what they have started, universe has shrunk and man’s lifespan becomes unpredictable. At best, man’s consciousness has almost transgressed eternity.
In the museum of the past, a century from now, not only bones or fossils or great works of art or earthshaking inventions will be featured but profiles also of ordinary run of men, yes, including us and our loved ones. That is right. Our names, our expressions, even transgressions, will be preserved whether we like it or not. We are not only a part of history when the future arrives but a constant reference of its denizens.
That is what makes the future, the next hundred years an exciting period in the life of living things.
For a while, I would just settle in some kind of a corner where thoughts and sketches rule, coming as it were from ideas that predominate the times no matter how unrealistic it may seem. It’s the world of caricature.
…and this is where I conduct my regular cartoon activities which resulted in the following:
Effective January, 2017 I stopped smoking. It took me four months to determine if my decision to stop was permanent. And precisely because my cough has not ceased disturbing my concentration in arts and literature, even in my reading sessions and contemplation, I readily gave up smoking. And voila! my cough stopped too.
A copied caricature version of Charlie Chaplain, my Tatay’s favorite actor.
Commissioned artwork by Mike Marasigan, a topnotch journalist and media organizer.
HOLY COUPLE, Will and Joanie Feurstein, prison volunteers.
After retirement, I have to reinvent myself into someone I wished before to be—a craftsman.
Rodolfo Diamante, Executive Director, CBCP Episcopal Commission on Prisoners Welfare. He recently retired but was taken in as volunteer consultant of CBCP. His exposure in prison volunteer program extended further since the late 70s at the National Penitentiary.
Ely Cirujales, Letran alumnus,formerly an administrative staff of Letran Alumni Association, spent a great part of his career in the Middle East. After years as OFW, he retired as an accomplished administrator of a private firm and returned back to his home province in Albay, Bicol Region.
Romy Limarag, former Bucor Auditor—a commissioned artwork.
Daniel Bassig, a classmate in Letran College. After graduation, he applied and was employed as US Navy serviceman. Just like me, he is also a retiree but has chosen USA as his permanent residence.
Oscar Carreon, my elementary classmate, retired as a marketing man in a private firm and stayed with his family in Cainta, Rizal. He was raised in Molave, Project 3, Quezon City and eventually transferred to his present residence. He is one of my two active boy elementary classmate in Facebook.
My retirement home in Panabo City.
I also dabble in portrait sculpture. I could a subject in two hours only to discover that in USA, portrait busts are done through laser technology and in minutes! My interest waned.
Doc Celing. His biographical sketch is published under “Dr. Cecilio Penson” at http://www.philippineprisons.com
Jose Maria (Joel V) Villanueva, former DENR Asec during Cory Aquino administration, my former Peso-a-Year consultant when I was still active in the Prison service. He taught me the rudiments of using the computer in the mid 90s. His biographical sketch is published under “Joel Villanueva” at philippineprisons.com.
Christopher Woolcock, a renowned Australian artist who organized an Arts Workshop in New Bilibid Prison as part of his prison volunteer crusade. His toy horse is a standout among the rich sector of his town in Australia.
ABS is Anthony B. Sasin, presently Chairman of Anflocor,the mother firm that includes several companies like Tadeco and Damosa.
MJ Maranion, travel writer, gave my cyberspace work a domain of its own: philippineprisons.com.
Dr. Benevito Fontanilla is a medical officer of the Bureau of Corrections. He is also one of Metro Manila’s topnotch Anesthesiologist.
Well, he never did, at least that was how he wanted it to be. He wanted something theatrical, something dramatic but more realistic. He could die of drug overdose. That was the closest and sanest. Dying through accident as in being shot like John Lennon is too morbid or dying like George Harrison with malignant brain tumor is likewise horrifying. Dying like Jim Morrison or Jimmy Hendrix, the likes of Janis Joplin through drug overdose is most likely mainstream. The problem however is that Michael Jackson or MJ is never intro drugs, not the opiate kind but in a way through prescriptive ones as pain relievers. MJ’s routine practice for every song was too exhaustive unless one is an athlete. MJ was the vocal kind and less of the physical. If at all there was dance component in his repertoire, it was a fearful habit imposed on him by his cruel father during their practice session as a toddler and carried psychologically up to the present.
I am very familiar with the psychology of MJ not because I am a fan but we belonged under one generation. I virtually grew up listening to his music from the time he began his musical career up to the time he declared to fold up at the age of 50. His melody was all youthful and it would sound stale, if not funny if sung by a person more than half a century old. He failed to be a Peter Pan although he tried hard to be one, frolicking with children, constructing the Neverland on his vast ranch indicated such spirited fixation. But scandals broke making him a villain out rightly. He was charged for child molestation and media sensationalized everything from suspicion of his sexual state up to his gender preference. His estate and fortune, the main target actually of complaints, suffered and he easily gave up the luxury. He would rather be bankrupt than infamous.
His signature song “Give love on Christmas Day” was virtually a holiday anthem for the Christian world. The movie theme song “Ben” was of course my personal favorite, not because of the Rat in the film but because it was my nickname. MJ led all legendary musicians and singers to render “We are the World” and spearheaded the crusade through a song “Heal the World.” MJ transcended his genius from a mere musical wizard to a great global artist. At a time when songs were becoming stale and easily tuned, he introduced “Billie Jean” and then “Beat it.” Not long after, he led in reinventing songs through video clips in “Thriller.” MJ became the man of the hour, saving the music industry from crass commercialism and redundancy. He made music in its most intrinsic expression from pop, disco and MTV, to the most sophisticated medium; it was the apex of his virtuosity.
I strongly believe that MJ contrived a scenario where he will fade from the environment where he is its luminous denizen. As a child, he never knew what privacy is. He never knew the excitement of loneliness, of being ordinary, of being just a commonplace. He could just picture it through news and his travels. He may have dedicated some of his songs on love and simplicity but he was out of sync when it comes to these exposures. Retiring however means to be badgered and embarrassed at times respected but in some respects insulted. He has reached the top he might as well fade from it. As the saying goes “go down the stage while the audience is still clapping.” It is not a simple retirement that he needed; it must be something like dying, sort of something permanent since he had offered so much already. His later acts may only entitle him to devalue himself through intrigues and other inconsistencies of human follies.
After all, his box office records in the music industry could no longer be toppled down nor duplicated. He can die anytime. And that was what he conducted that “fateful” day of June 25, 2009. He was half a century old. From a safe distance, he could see how the world would respond to his “death.” Given his competence in theater and all its technical effects, he can project an illusion. Once he succeeded, he can reenter the world as an ordinary person, simplicity written everywhere he intends to proceed, no hassles, no troubles, no paparazzi. Even Google counts his age up to the present knowing that he is still alive although it recorded his death on a specific day.
Unlike ordinary people who retire and were treated as goners already, celebrity personalities like MJ must feign the ultimate drama if only to be on a grander stage to experience what life is all about, a possibility which Elvis Presley, Whitney Houston, John Lennon never underwent.
Thank you Michael Jackson for your songs. Most of them served as theme of my life and as I review what went on during those years in the past, the melody of your voice render color for each nostalgic episode my mind would flash.
And what a treat! Both of us are now retired and having a good time on the real world!
I was born in May, 1954 and I was informed that the top 1 at the billboard then was the song “Wanted” by Perry Como. I listened to the song on Youtube—wonders of technology really—but it gave me no recollection at all. We had no radio then most probably. My mother could have listened to the spill over music from across our house where a radio repair shop had its appliances always turned on. My mother loves music, she probably was thinking of a symphony while she was laboring on me, I don’t know. In 1955, Billy Hales and the Comets was number one in the billboard with their “Rock around the Clock”, followed by “Only You” by the Platters, “Love is a many splendored things” by the Aces and “Unchained Melody” by Abb Hibler. These were songs that achieved classic status that even at present, it is still hummed. As a matter of fact, a lot of them became theme songs in unforgettable films later.
My generation was lulled into sleep on these melodies.
The roaring 50s
In 1956, Elvis Presley was the iconic singer. His “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Don’t be Cruel” were occupying the first and second rank in the billboard, followed by the Platters’ “My Prayer” and Doris Day’s “Que Sera Sera.” I think at the age of two, I could perceive things around me. I could remember how mother would lullaby me and my sister to sleep by singing “Que Sera Sera.” My uncle Greg, my caretaker, from a distance was already my idea of how Elvis looked like at the time. My father was always out and virtually a denizen of his office. He was like the sound of the base guitar, one can easily ignore but without it, the sound is flat.
In 1957, Elvis was on top again with his “All Shook Up”, followed by Pat Boone’s “Love Letters in the Sand” and Debbie Reynolds “Tammy.” I am very familiar with these melodies because our household was vibrating with these tunes. Even today, I could sing the songs complete with their lyrics.
1958 was Everly Brothers’ period. Their “All I have to do is dream” and “Bird Dog” were on the top chart along with with Elvis’ “Don’t” and Dean Martin’s “Return to me.” It was the song “Volare” by Domenico Domugno however that took the number one post. Once these songs are played today, I could smell the familiar fumes, the cigarette smoke of my Uncle Greg. He was always there at my side whenever mother was in the marketplace. Some kind of nasal recall.
1959 was school year for me. I was 5 and enrolled in the Kindergarten. Our lessons were conducted through music and true enough; it was easier for the memory to absorb anything once given a tune and constantly sang. The Chipmunk’s song was always in the air. While these were altered voices to make it appear as if it was the vocals of rabbits, the novelty of it all lent its special flavor and acceptance. Could be that listeners wanted to hear other voices other than Elvis, Perry Como and the Platters; although their songs were just a slide away.
The flower peopled 60s
In 1960, I was the youngest in Grade 1 and the song “Bikini”, the itsy, bitsy yellow polka dot bikini thing by Brian Hyland and Chubby Checker’s “The Twist” were the craze. But of course the top song that year was Frankie Avalon’s “Why.” I could still experience goosebumps whenever this “Why” is sung. Check it out in Youtube and confirm. It was actually in formal schooling that I got a full appreciation of what music is all about.
From 1961 to 1966 were all primary and intermediate years and it was during this period that boy bands came into light. The sound bytes of Mat Monroe, Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and their ballad got buried quickly. The combo came into town with a bang. There was the fabulous four, The Beatles, then the Monkees, the Turtles, the Beach Boys, Gary Lewis and the Playboys, Happenings, Four Seasons, Dave Clark 5 and their songs virtually carried our spirits into another level of inspiration. We were all entertained not only with the best melodies but equally as well, the best lyrics one could think of. Suddenly our subject on poetry lost its luster. My generation was mesmerized with the songs “My Girl,” “Eleanor Rigby”, “Yesterday” by Beatles, “Don’t Worry Baby”, “Surfing”, “Papaom-mawmaw” by Beach Boys, “Diamond Ring”, “See you in September” and “Thousand Eyes” by Gary Lewis and the Playboys.
We could sing by heart the following: Wooly Bully, I can’t help myself (Sugar, sugar), I can’t get no (Satisfaction), Downtown, Help!, My Girl, Crying in the Chapel, Help me, Rhonda, This Diamond Ring, Hang on Sloopy, whoaaa the whole cabudle!
And a lot more! Truly the songs of the 60s were the most nostalgic and emotion laden. There was too much creativity in everything.
Onwards from 1967 to 1970, the metallic sounds and almost Mozart like sounds would grab the air lanes. Chicago, The Who, Cascades, Spiral Staircase, Santana, Ventures, Shadows were all there, and more, to regale us with their wizardly in base guitar, rhythm, drums, percussion and wind instrument. The most skillful musicians took over and the most literate composers bonded with them. This has become the symbolic sound of a new generation professing peace amidst a world engulfed in war and turmoil. Music virtually protected mankind from the deafening noise of bombs and explosives. Suddenly, the war mongers had been confronted by hippies and the people stared at each other, and for a while, the world was rendered without a pulse.
The rebellious 70s
The 1970s in the Philippines was, for the most part, shielded from foreign influence to include music. Before the decade opened, it was the sound of Fifth Dimension, Lettermen, Chicago, Carpenters, Santana…but it faded as a consequence of militant fear. It was the beginning of protests and demonstration. Finally, government ruled by fist, through martial law and music became, either rebellious or capricious. Filipino composers and singers took over. The OPM or Original Pilipino Music was born. Florante, Juan de la Cruz band, Apo Hiking Society, Rico Puno, Coritha, Sampaguita, VST and company, Boyfriends, Cinderella were all prominent in the air and they virtually accompanied a sober generation in search of social direction. While Martial Law made them strong and a bit disciplined, the excesses of those who implemented it created a monster called agitation among the youths. Some went abroad as in flight, others retreated to personal scholarship, a few went underground and others due to frustration got hook on opiate and got buried on the ground.
The liberated 80s
The 80’s was refreshingly different. There was the Commodores, the Village People, Michael Jackson, John Lennon, Paul Mcartney, Kenny Rogers, Madonna on the foreign side and there was Side A Band, Rivermaya, Ogie Alcacid, Jose Marie Chan, Sharon Cuneta, Nora Aunor among the top chart singers. Their combination of sounds made the Filipino more sophisticated and stylish. This was also the birth of singing talents. Local sounds have higher octave than their foreign counterparts hence their vocal superiority when competing here and abroad.
The emotional 90s
The 90s and year of 2000s were mostly rehash of past sounds, a return to nostalgia. This time around the local talents, the Regine Velasco, Jose Marie Chan, the River Maya bands, Eraserheads, but their promotion could not be pushed to the limits because of media payola concerns. Radio stations were not prone to play the songs unless paid for. That weakened the local music talent and corruption had been made a compelling issue to be addressed in the entertainment business. Aside from the fact that foreign and local talents, those who have made their mark, were already ageing, there were a few talents following through. Hence, people were just contented replaying retro music and retrofitting the melody into newer versions. Irregularities had permeated the fiber of music industry and left a sad mark.
The practical Y2ks
In 2015, after I retired from government service, the song “Happy” by Pharell Williams was a charm. I thought that I would never appreciate from my vantage point songs that pervade the air. Up to now, I still could not grasp the songs of Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, Justin Timberlake, One Direction, among others. A Bruno Mar’s “Uptown Girl” was a rehash and I came to respect his upbeat and better version. From there on, music, the old ones at that preoccupy my personal airwaves at home. Not that I am “racist” as far as selecting music is concerned but unlike before, music today is feeble and fast. Before I could mentally familiarize myself with the melody, another has taken place already.
The Latino and blues music of yesteryears is still my preference. At any given time, they are memory-friendly.
And I love her so.
Naty Berroya Caliguia must be in her late 80s already. She is the nearest maternal cousin of my father, also the closest. Her mind is still sharp and there is no ageing as far as her memory is concerned. She can still recall any minute incident in her life or that of her community. And why not? In her prime, she was once one of the smartest elementary teachers in the town of San Roque, San Pedro, Laguna.
My recollection of my auntie Naty has always been compelling. She was an angel during my juvenile years while I was spending precious moments of summer with my grandmother at my father’s hometown. And since my grandma was always out, Auntie Naty would find herself very generous in pouring attention to me. With my aunt around, I could feel a sense of importance and yes, in her eyes, and I could reckon it in my fledging thoughts, that I was a celebrity! She and her family would treat us that way, and always.
How I wish to see her up close and hug her even at this time when this nephew of her looks more like one of her senior citizen peer already. I just wanted to project to her how I deeply respect her for giving me a significant period to appreciate myself and in the process attain a certain degree of success in life. Without her coaxing, without her simple pampering, I would have been one of the inferior beings that have populated a sagging organization, assuming that I get employed in the process. She gave me that sense of superiority, poise for something great although at that time, I was merely an appendage of a famous parent.
She has been that indulging and cajoling elder person, always vigilant and fretful. She was not only a sympathetic sister to my father but a mother superior to me whenever I am on vacation in their province. She would empty her purse just so she could give me something valuable. Along with her aunt, Lola Pepay, they would backstop their enterprise just so I would have some cash in my pocket. At that time, it was my father who was more intrigued on the amount I had accumulated. At that time, I cared less about money and it went on even in my adulthood up to my senior years.
I have learned generosity from her. I have learned also the value of kindness, thoughtfulness and vigilance directly from how she attended to me and my father.
There is likewise the virtue of selflessness which I learned from her lap that I projected which I would attribute my ascension to a higher responsible position in any organization I would join. Indirectly, she had taught me leadership principles which John Maxwell has not determined yet during the 60s.
I will not wait until the fog of old age would visit her or me and dim her appreciation of her surroundings before I could share to her and to the world how grateful I am for the generous attention she poured on us. It is never wasted. As a matter of fact, I have perpetuated it in my arts and the genes I passed on the succeeding generation. I am sure that my children and their children would be like her—selfless, generous and kind too.
Nobody could recall that my father (Prof. Carlos Legaspi Tesoro) was a hero, greater even than those we read in our history books. He was unfortunately bumped off by his contemporaries but not in the deepest bin of history, at least not as long as my notes on history is concerned.
During World War II, there were numerous accounts of heroism. Soldiers fought mightily hard, statesmen fought using their position of influence, guerillas fought on the sidelines, martyrs fought with their faith, so on and so forth. All of them became heroes, were feted, recognized and even lionized for a while. They all went out of their way to keep enemies at bay and while some survived to live another day, others perished.
My father was not a soldier during World War II. He was not conscripted too in the guerilla movement. He was neither a martyr nor anyone pretending to fight the enemy. He was a lowly acolyte in a provincial church then. He was in charge of keeping the convent which at that time the Japanese Imperial Army held court.
He tried to learn the language of the occupant and sooner became conversant. In just a few months, my father could already discuss military science and philosophy in Nipponggo and could even write in Jap characters to the amazement of his foreign visitors. The occupant armed forces were impressed with the youthful chapel helper. In time, he became even a consultant for social affairs, explaining tradition and customs of the townsfolks.
One day, hundreds of local citizens (in San Pedro, Laguna) were huddled inside the church, all of them arrested as a matter of fact, and were about to be sentenced to the firing squad on suspicion that they were cooperating with the insurgents. It was then that my father appeared before the Japanese tribunal to appeal the case of the condemned. Eloquently delivered, my father championed the cause and innocence of the people. That very day, hundreds and truckloads of people saw freedom. If that is not heroism then I don’t know what it is.
These were the people who populated an entire town and whose descendants are now prosperously living. They may no longer remember what happened to their ancestors. They never knew that the courage of one man made an entire town a living proof of diplomacy. They merely inherited their elders’ industry and assets, their accumulated properties and trade. The descendants are no longer keen on their past because it was nearly traumatic and must be forgotten. But had my father merely kept his silence, the place could have been a ghost town by now and for a long time.
The invading army could have easily wiped out not only a town but an entire province. The armed invaders however never resorted to massacre anymore but had grown relatively attached to the community. They left after the war, brotherly and socially attached to the town as if it was their birth place. Thereafter, my father went back home and continued with his studies.
My father, during his internship in the enemy’s camp, taught the fierce invading army the value of peace and understanding through his acts of friendship and cooperation. He interceded in their requirements, organized their social interactions, and evaded trouble in every form. He was virtually a church in the absence of any religious superior. He showed faith to a fierce and battle ready alien armed forces.
My father knew peace more profoundly than those who professed power and supremacy. He had a greater appreciation of amity and harmony more than those who projected then to have an understanding of concord and unity. He exuded spirituality at a time when faith was hidden and tucked inside the armory. Yet his pronouncements were louder than bombs and explosives.
That day my father saved hundreds of people is to my estimation a fitting legacy to call as Father’s Day.
Retirement gives a person a new perspective of things to come. First, he has done away with or has graduated from his routine—getting up early, catching the morning traffic, hobnobbing with officemates, accomplishing monotonous paper works, rushing home and then splaying on the bed. He is now greeted with stress free surroundings and pampered with high cholesterol foods. No more politics and the good times that go with it. In my case, I virtually sit all day reading books in my library and if my eyes ache, I do some sketches. To a large extent, this is also a formula for physical disaster like high blood or cardiac arrest. Too much rest might build up fat on the heart and may even damage internal organs if it develops into diabetes.
And since I have no more pressure from work, smoking becomes irrelevant. I kicked away the habit as soon as I vowed out from employment. And this time around, I might move towards a vegan lifestyle. No more eggs, meats, chicken and even fish! It would be a pure vegetarian or plant-based diet for me. And why not? I am no longer physical whenever I move around unlike before when I must exert effort and embrace martial art as part of my official exposure in the prison community. Now, I only have books and tech gadgets to move around. I do not need foods rich in protein anymore. If at all I would maintain such mouth watering items, it might only poison my body since I would not be able to burn it. The same is true with other highly nutritious processed foods. I would only make my body a warehouse of toxicity.
I have seen people, mostly those within my age group, in various places I have been to, looking like a wreck because of failure to adapt. Man has survived and never for once become a candidate for extinction because of adaptation. In a simple way, I have to reckon this basic human formula too.
I have not experienced any pain yet from my joints and other parts of my body, except for occasional cramps. My complexion and posture are still youthful. But this could change in a few summers. The type of food ingested has something to do with one’s health, looks and physical condition. I do not intend to short cut how I should look a hundred years from now. I do not wish to encounter pain or anything that would surprise me later like high blood, diabetes, paralysis or dementia. As the saying goes, health is achieved through education and practice. I have read a lot of studies that point out to the fact that vegan diet is the way to a “heart attack less lifestyle.” It might as well be the key towards strengthening the brain against any age related ailments like Alzheimer too.
Now, how is that phase for a change where a person must have to undergo another routine if only to make a period worthy of passing through? For sure, that person would experience a reversal of character. It is akin to death. The neighborhood may be a little sentimental and would miss the person but sooner, say after a week, he is completely forgotten. But of course, it is not the end yet because the person can still yank out comments and share gossips. He can do it with less authority though. He was no longer the person he used to be. He has become ordinary, a regular guy, a commoner.
In my case, I stopped smoking like a mafia boss after four decades. I have become a figure of an old man by the sea. And eventually I stopped my love affair with processed culinary regimen and luxurious, high protein foods too, enjoyed by the rich and famous to become a vegetarian.
Truly, I would look very different through another phase and with another face.