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.