Monday, July 26, 2010

The death of a man, the survival of a ‘fighting’ nation


The sad news have been long expected, but yesterday, in the early morning, it still came as a shocker. When I got to the usual coffee-shop in San Juan after an hour of jogging and brisk walking, somebody came up to me and gave me a painful jolt: "Raul Manglapus died at four o’clock this morning."

And so, the mighty orator and one of the last legendary "Men of Magsaysay," Raul S. Manglapus, is gone. He had slipped away, his body weight shrunken to half its size in a few terrible months. Ironically, the gentleman who have been characterized by his clipped, golden tongue his stentorian voice, and his "Arrneow" (Ateneo) accent, as the witty columnist Joe Guevara used to chortle and misspell it, succumed to throat cancer.

Raul had his ups and downs. He never got to be the President, as his admirers and schoolmates had once predicted. Perhaps, he was just too urbane, projecting "city boy" vibes, to attract the fealty of the masa. But in his idealism, in his decency (even when he stumbled on the unfortunate "sexist" joke which helped shatter his political career), he never wavered.

He served his country valiantly. During the war and enemy occupation, he was an intrepid underground fighter, one of Terry Adevoso’s redoubtable Hunter’s ROTC guerillas. He was caught, and endured torture in Fort Santiago at the hands of the cruel Japanese Kempetai, without betraying any of his comrades during the interrogation. Another hero was his Ateneo chum, Senator Manny Manahan, who also endured great privation, torture, and non-stop interrogation by the Japanese in the Old Bilibid prison. (As another of the Magsaysay "origs," Manny, together with then young journalist Ninoy Aquino, went up to the hills and "convinced" HMB rebel supremo, Luis Taruc, to come down and surrender).

Manglapus, Manahan, and the late Senator Francisco "Soc" Rodrigo – one of four prison-mates in the Fort Bonifacio maximum security camp (and until he died, the Ombudsman of THE STAR) – were the trio who represented the late Magsaysay’s crusade, and were laughingly dubbed the "Multo ni Magsaysay Movement." They formed along with another ex-Atenista, Vice-President Emmanuel "Manny" Pelaez, the Grand Alliance which helped boost Diosdado Macapagal to the Presidency.

Raul’s passing reminds us of the twilight of the titans, the political giants who once walked center stage, but have now been replaced by movie artistas, sport jocks, and assorted lightweights of charming countenance rather than brilliant intellect.

Manglapus, even though flawed, was a gallant patriot. "Politics," in the end, proved his undoing. Although he was a distinguished Senator and a high-profile Secretary of Foreign Affairs (fluent in languages and dialects, speaking Spanish with elegant Madrileno flair), his upward trajectory was stalled by—to invoke space technology – the fizzling out of his second-stage rocket.

I can only surmise that he faltered because politics as bloodsport, a struggle wagged more effectively by alley scalpers, and he—along with Manahan, Rodrigo, and Pelaez – lacked the killer instinct. They had been trained to be gentlemen, and weren’t proficient in No-Holds-Barred.

If you ask me, in retrospect, Raul might have been among "da greatest" if he had stuck to music. He had what can only be described as The Gift. Remember that old and touching melody, With a song in my heart? That song was in Manglapus’ heart.

He composed what remains the most stirring Ateneo hymn, the challenge by which the Blue Babble Battallion’s cheering squad always sent its basketball gladiators into combat. Blue Eagle, the King!

To Ramon Magsaysay, he also gave that matchless battle theme, Mambo Magsaysay which swept The Guy to victory over the incumbent President Elpidio Quirino (who was no pushover himself).

As the crowds stamped, dance-stepped, and jumped their joyous way to triumph at the polls, the nation thrilled to Raul’s overwhelming cadence and catchy words: "Mambo na, mambo na! Capped with "Our democracy will die, kung wala si Magsaysay!!"

And Monching Magsaysay jigged his broad-shouldered way into Malacanang.

* * *

Even as he approached his 80s, Raul Manglapus continued jazzing and jiving. His Executive Combo, composed of friends, top company executives, inventors, etc.,swung and swayed – even, to the last, accompanying former First Lady Ming Ramos’ piano.

Raul jazzed with Cambodia’s Prince Norodom Sihanouk, no mean clarinet player himself, and a watery tenor. He jived with Thailand’s musical monarch, who once had conducted his own jazz band, the revered King Bhumibol Adulyadej. I don’t recall whether he got a chance to engage in a "battle of the saxophones" or piano with America’s Bill Clinton, a wicked tenor-sax player in his own right.

And this is how we will remember Manglapus. With a song in his heart.

He was notoriously absent-minded, I have to say. One of the proposed padrinos at my wedding to Precious, eons ago, was the late President Magsaysay, who nagged me endlessly to recruit him. But he died in a blaze of flame on a Cebu mountaintop.

The other Ninong was supposed to be Raul. Unlike Monching, Manglapus had no excuse. He never showed up. He had completely forgotten the wedding date. But what the heck. In those days, weddings weren’t the mammoth and glittering society and politically-charged events (a cast of thousands) that they are today. Another of my cronies never even bothered to go the altar and pose with the other padrinos. The late Manila Mayor "Arsenic" Lacson went to the holy water font, made a hasty sign of the cross, then decamped, saying he had "already blessed our marriage." After all, he quipped later, the bride and the groom were the main event.

I can only say fondly: Not Adios, but Hasta la vista, Raul!

We used to have a strange greeting for each other (stolen from Shakespeare). We would meet and one of us would sing out: "What ho!"

Give Our Father in Heaven that jolly "What Ho," Ninong Raul. And one big Fabilioh!

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