Monday, July 26, 2010

Happy Warrior

Nelson Navarro (Manila Standard)

In the late 1970s, I was supposed to have been Raul Manglapus biographer. Our lonely struggle against the Marcos dictatorship deserved to be committed to paper. But the day Raul and I sat down for a tape interview, I began to see him less as a politician and more as a Filipino who had lived a very charmed life.

Just before I left on my recent vacation to Europe, I ran into Ben Maynigo, an old Washington –based friend of, the old student movement days, in one, of those coffeeshops in Greenbelt. As with all our meetings over the years. I would a ways inquire about his in-laws, The Manglapuses. Ben being married to Tina, the family’s only daughter.

" Dad’s not very well". he said. " " We expect him to go any moment now". The cruel particulars had a ring of finally, and this saddened me very much.

" Incidentally." Ben continued his sad account," whatever happened to your notes and interview with my father in-laws? Can you still dredge them up? I know it’s late, but he really needs to have a biography, something to his story."

Then I remembered that way back when, in the late 1970’s, I was supposed to have been Raul Manglapus biographer. The plans wee really vague. We didn’t even have a publisher in mind. But don Raul, as we fondly called him in those days, had quickly warmed to the idea that our lonely struggle again in the Marcos dictatorship deserved to be committed to paper. It was only incidentally that the personal history of the man at the helm of the exile movement in the U>S would have to be told.

But the very first day Raul and I sat for a tape interview. I began to see him less as a politician and more as a Filipino who had lived a very charmed life. At that point, I did not want to write a biography, which seemed presumptuous since I still hadn’t published a book, but the reminiscences of the in his own words.

And so I made the shuttle between Washington and New York for the interviews. Sometimes, we would meet in his residence out in Virginia, which was on the road to what was to become the mall-infested Tyson Corner area. Other times we would be holed up in the movement for a free Philippines office at the National Press Club Building in downtown Washington. As everybody knows, MFP was the original pro-democracy group Raul put together in the first days of martial law. When quite a lot of people thought he was crazy to think of challenging the Marcos regime even from the relative safety of the United States.

Conceived with all enthusiasm, this rather ambitious project was not to be. Somewhere along the way, Raul felt we should shelve it for some reason or another. Eventually, we were superseded by events like the "Great Escape" of Geny Lopez and Serge Osmena and of course, the "defection" of Ninoy Aquino who had at first come to the US for medical treatment and opted to fight Marcos from afar, After that, Ninoy assassination, the long march to the Edsa Revolution and rest is history.

Raul reclaimed his rightful place in the political firmament by getting elected again to the senate and then trading this high office to serve as Cory Aquino’s Foreign Affairs secretary. After that he went into semi-retirement as chairman of Petron and also chairman of ruling Lakas-NUCD Party during the Ramos administration.

From time to time, I would bump into Raul in hotel lobbies and on social occasions. We would have a little chitchat about the good old days and to get in touch today. I kick myself for foolishly believing that the man, indestructible as he seemed, would live forever and that I would have all the time in the world to ask him to continue the tapings where he had left off some 20 years ago.

What kind of man was Raul?

He was a gentleman of the first order. I recall one incident, not included in his reminiscences. Where he and former President Diosdado Macapagal had a rather awkward encounter in Washington.

Macapagal had come one day in 1979, an ex-president without staff excepts his loyal daughter Gloria who functioned as his secretary, lugging around documents and press releases in one huge and heavy bag that never left her side.

Apparently, the Macapagals had over looked giving prior notice to Raul and he felt somewhat slighted. Suddenly, father and daughter were in town and that very morning they were on their way from their hotel to the NPC Building. Sonny Alvarez, who was then working with Raul but who had once served as Macapagal’s private secretary, was caught right in the middle because it was out of the question for Raul to come down to meet his old political rival ( they clashed in the elections of 1965 and the Con - Con of 1971 ). Sonny had to rush to meet the ex-president and give him his due according to protocol.

Saying something about Raul being inexplicably detained upstairs. Sonny gently led the Macapagals up to Raul’s office, fearing a clash of titans. To our utter surprise, as soon as Dadong entered, Raul got up from hi chair, rushed to the door and warmly greeted hi visitor. Those of us in the room could only sigh with relief.

Moving quickly to the auditorium, Macapagal delivered an impassioned speech calling for America to help restore democracy and all that. During the question-and –answer period, he was asked, may taunted, about whether the opposition had even one candidate with enough brilliance and guts to take on the impregnable Marcos.

Unshaken, Macapagal shot back: " We have a number of very qualified men who could be better presidents than Marcos." Prudently excluding himself, he rattled off: Pepe Diokno, Gerry Roxas, Ninoy Aquino, saying nice things about each man. By this time those of us in the Filipino group could sense trouble brewing. Raul was breathing heavily. "And last but not least", Macapagal thundered with the kind of aplomb only politicos of the old school could muster, " there’s this young man who has been leading the movement in exile ". All indications wee that he was going to name Sonny Alvarez. Raul’s face had turned dark. " none other than Raul Manglapus."

Raul was ecstatic. It was much akin to the " And the winner is…" moment in the Miss Universe pageant. The two leaders fell on each others shoulders. Everybody was cheering. There were two great gentlemen in politics who could fight each other and still have fun, and never once lose what’s so badly missing this days, something that used to be called "cultura civil"-the courtesy of civil society.

Of Raul’s 15 years or so of exile, which more or less coincided with mine. All I can say was that the man behaved with utmost discretion and grace. It is the nature of exiles to eat each other up, but Raul always managed to stay above the fray.

The Manglapuses went for broke against Marcos. In 1981 when Marcos came for a state visit, some people made fun of the Manglapuses because they(nine of them, including kids and maids) were the only ones who turned out the Washington monument to protest against the dictator exile leaders were forever pitting Raul against Ninoy Aquino, but, in fairness, the men always tried to present a brave common front.

Personally, it was my privilege to somehow get glimpse of the other Raul before and outside politics. One little detail: when he was in grade school, this only child of an adoring rich mother moved into a mansion in San Juan which had belonged to another rich family whose spoiled son amounted to nothing. Although living in the style of Richie Rich, Raul followed a different path. He became Mr. Ateneo and developed a lifelong passion for politics and the common man. Over and above that, he was most devoted to his sweetheart Pacing and he just loved music.

No comments:

Post a Comment