Friday, December 28, 2007

Remembering Adrian Cristobal (Feb. 20, 1932 –Dec. 22, 2007)

I was attending an international conference in New York in mid-November when I first got Adrian’s text message, saying he was checking into the Makati Medical Center. He gave no details. I texted back to say I was out of the country, but expressed confidence it was nothing serious, and that he should be back on his feet by the time I got back.

I got back last part of November. He was still in hospital, so I tried to see him at once. Unfortunately, it was the 29th of November when the Manila Peninsula standoff made Makati inhospitable. I finally got to see him the next Thursday, before coming to Myther Bunag’s Thursday Club in Malate where we had tried to lunch regularly every week for years with friends.

He lay stretched in bed, with all the tube attachments that proclaimed his delicate condition. But surrounded by his loved ones, his wife Teching, his daughter Stella, his son Che, and a sprinkling of grandchildren, he was calm, clear-headed and sharp, with no hint of the irony that charged his prose and his social and literary conversation.

He welcomed me with a bright, warm smile, called me “my friend, my brother,” as I came to his bedside and touched his hand. Teching filled me in on his ailments---his lung cancer was on stage 4, his liver was going, but he couldn’t get any chemo treatment because of his kidneys, for which he was getting dialysis three times a week; he needed food for nourishment and strength, but his diabetes restricted his diet.

Adrian showed more concern for friends who, he heard, had checked in at the hospital. Larry Cruz, who had undergone an operation, and Max Edralin, who had some minor complaint. He was glad to hear they had both gone home. Although his doctors were obviously trying to limit the flow of visitors, Adrian was so happy to see his old writer-friends. He spoke of Frankie Sionil Jose, Elmer Ordonez, Virgilio Almario and others visiting, and asking him to join, if he could, the 50th anniversary of the Philippine Chapter of PEN (Poets, Essayists and Novelists) International that weekend.

He asked about my book (in progress) and smiled when I said it should be done by Spring and that he should be able to critique it before it goes to the publishers. I tried to perk him up (distract him really) with some small talk about Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera having been made into a big film. I assumed he had read the book, having had to deliver the Cervantes lecture on Marquez at the Instituto de Cervantes first week of September. In that lecture, which he called a talk, he focused on the magical realism of One Hundred Years of Solitude, which Pablo Neruda, Latin America’s greatest poet of the last century, has described as “the greatest revelation in the Spanish language since Don Quixote of Cervantes.”

Adrian obviously enjoyed that lecture. Using Marquez’s words in his 1982 Nobel Prize address, Adrian reaffirmed his conviction as a writer, and reestablished his position among his peers. Where Marquez spoke of “a new and sweeping utopia of life, where one will not be able to decide for others how to die, where love will prove true and happiness possible, and where the races condemned to one hundred years of solitude will have, at last and forever, a second opportunity on earth,” Adrian spoke of “our lust for life, our sublime sense of beauty (which) will now and forever resist the beast of terror within us.”

The smile never left his face. But he obviously saw through my silly attempt to distract him from more essential things. He was beyond small talk now; he had an important thing to say, and he said it with the joy and triumph of someone who had found something he had long been looking for. “I have discovered religion,” he finally said, and asked Teching to show me a small book on miracles, which a friend had gifted him. He asked me what I thought of it, so I leafed through it and told him it’s highly inspirational. I then gave him another small book, Friends of God by St. Josemaria Escriva, which was a bit more doctrinal.

After about an hour, I left. He had already dozed off, and Teching and Stella had begun talking about asking the doctors when they could bring him home. At the Thursday Club everyone was anxious to hear about Adrian. Two weeks later, Larry Cruz hosted lunch at his Abe restaurant at Trinoma for some of Adrian’s old friends. Johnny Gatbonton, Ronnie Diaz, Fred de la Rosa, Rene Bas, Yen Makabenta, Blas Ople’s daughter Toots, Larry and I had a grand time recalling the past; we drank a warm and hearty toast to our absent friend.

On the morning of Saturday, 22 of December, after receiving the last sacraments, Adrian passed away. It was a beautiful death: he died in the state of grace, fully reconciled to Christ, after living his life to the full.

I first met Adrian Cristobal in 1969, after I entered the Marcos Cabinet at age 29. He was one of the original bright boys of Ferdinand Marcos, working with Labor Secretary Blas Ople’s writing group at Medis building in Intramuros. This was known as the Medis Group. It included some of the finest craftsmen around (Ronnie Diaz, Fred de la Rosa, Bernardo Ople, Larry Cruz, Rene Bas, Florentino Dauz, Yen Makabenta, Malang). Adrian seemed to occupy a space all his own. Dauz, poet, painter and friend of happy memory, loved to call him “Cristo” or “Maestro.”

It was a time when one could still breathe intellectual excellence in the air, and to win recognition an aspiring young man must venture into the public square dominated by men of political substance--- Marcos, Diosdado Macapagal, Arturo Tolentino, Lorenzo Tanada, Cipriano Primicias, Gil Puyat, Jose Diokno, Francisco “Soc” Rodrigo, Lorenzo Sumulong, Benigno Aquino, Jr., Gerardo Roxas, Jose B. Laurel, Jr.. Vicente Peralta, among others; men of moral rectitude and literary acclaim---Horacio de la Costa, S. J., Salvador P. Lopez, Leon Ma. Guerrero, Carlos P. Romulo, Narciso Reyes, I. P. Soliongco, Quijano de Manila, Pura Santillan Castrence, Emilio Aguilar Cruz, Teodoro Locsin, Kerima Polotan Tuvera, Carmen Guerrero Nakpil, Alejandro Roces, Renato Constantino, J. V. Cruz, among others.

By then Adrian had already made his name as author of I, Sulayman, The Trial of Andres Bonifacio, The Largest Crocodile in the World, some award-winning editorials on the killing of some negritos by some American soldiers on the American base in Clark and Subic, and a spate of satirical columns which not all his readers read as satire. As member of the Medis group, he was one of the intellectuals burrowed inside the Marcos camp.

Marcos had just been reelected President of the Philippines, the first and only President to have been so reelected in the nation’s history. The most important business of the day then was to prepare the President’s inaugural address. Several drafts had landed at the President’s desk; Marcos had gone over all the drafts, and ended picking out two from which he crafted his final text. One was Adrian’s, the other was mine. This marked our first close intellectual contact.

For the whole length of Marcos I, the Medis Group had been in charge of the President’s speeches. After the President’s reelection, the responsibility shifted to my office. I had to organize a writing staff with Yen Makabenta as principal workhorse, and we performed the job for the entire ten years of my Cabinet life. Adrian was not part of this team. But whether as chairman of the Social Security Commission or as head of the Presidential Center for Advanced Studies he flooded the President with memos and position papers, much of which went into his public statements.

Everyone admired Adrian’s political sophistication and intellectual reach, but I felt they were not being given enough space. I felt he could do so much more, so I introduced to the President the idea of putting down his political ideas in a book, and asking Adrian to collaborate. Marcos was delighted with the proposal and put Adrian in charge of the project. The result was Marcos’s Today’s Revolution: Democracy, and Notes on the New Society, which made many Asian leaders look to Marcos as a serious political thinker.

Upon the proclamation of martial law in 1972, Marcos created the Department of Public Information. He made me its head, in addition to my being press secretary, presidential spokesman, (and presidential speechwriter, a position nobody talks about.) Larry Cruz was my assistant Press Secretary but I had no Department Undersecretary and no Deputy Presidential Spokesman either. My workload did not allow me to get sick or go out of town even on weekends. But at one time, I needed to go to India to make a statement on martial law at an important Asian conference. As I could not go without someone acting as presidential spokesman and information chief in my place, I asked the President to ask Adrian to fill in. It was not the best favor one expected from a friend, but Adrian gamely accepted, and endured the ordeal for a week. We had a good laugh later when I learned that he had to have his blood pressure checked, after a week-long honeymoon with the Malacanang press.

Adrian lived his life to the full as a public intellectual. The public will remember and judge him as such. He did not suffer fools gladly, he gave no false comfort to his friends, but neither did he shrink nor shake before powerful adversaries. He took risks where others simply sat on the fence, but he drew a line between signature and service. However, history is always written and often rewritten by the victors; so for sometime yet he will be assessed according to how the living victors look at the Marcos years.

He will be judged not by those who are morally or intellectually equipped to render judgment, but by those who are in power and are in a position to judge because they claim to have fought or opposed Marcos, even though they may never have been more virtuous than he. The more honest observer, however, will have no difficulty conceding the courage of his conviction when it was not the easiest or most popular thing to show such courage even among those who now proclaim it to the skies.

The entire world paradigm shifted after the Berlin Wall came down and the Soviet empire collapsed in 1989. But it was an altogether different world in 1972. At that time, the communist rebellion made martial law unquestionably necessary, and the 1935 Constitution made it possible. It took men of courage and intellectual rectitude to accept the risk of becoming part of that extraordinary solution to that extraordinary problem. Adrian was one of those.

That martial law chilled many journalists and men of letters, there was no doubt. That abuses were committed by all sorts of people in the name of martial law, there also was no doubt. But a violent storm was raging across the entire Southeast Asian region, not just the country, and it was the task of men like Adrian, and ours, too, to find little crevices on the rock surface where kindred spirits could seek refuge while the storm blew. Adrian made PCAS a home for many writers whose politics was certain to attract the attention of the military, just as I made the DPI, its Bureau of National and Foreign Information, Bureau of Mass Media Standards, and Bureau of Broadcast a sanctuary for non-conformists who had lost their media outlets and had nowhere else to go.

If, as suggested by some Adrian had kept a journal through the years, there should be some entries on how he helped argue for the early lifting of censorship, the reopening of the media and the release of newspapermen from political detention. He was first and last a writer who believed that freedom is indivisible, and that only by insisting on everyone’s freedom does one become truly free.

Although he tried to affect a stern autocratic appearance in public, Adrian had a heart of marshmallow, when it concerned his artist friends. One such friend was Jose Garcia Villa. Villa, now dead, had been living in New York as a famous Greenwich village poet, supported by a sinecure at the Philippine Mission to the United Nations. He had come to Manila at the e First Lady’s invitation, along with other international artists like the Russian poet Yvgeni Yevtushenko.

Upon Adrian’s advice, Villa had come to me to course his request to the President for an upgrade in his appointment. I promptly forwarded this to the President. Several days later, Villa was at Malacanang to attend a dinner in honor of Yevtushenko. He was at his acerbic best. “How could you think of honoring a Russian poet when you have not even honored your own?” he said to me. Then a young protégé of Villa’s went up to Yevtushenko to ask him, “who are you?” As Marcos walked into the reception hall, Villa came up to him and said, “if the government had been a little more intelligent, you would have made me Ambassador a long time ago.” Whereupon, the President said to me, “Kits, you will take care of this.”

This instantly quieted Villa. But I knew what that statement, and the body language meant. Afterward, I would get a daily call from Jose---that’s how Adrian and I called him—and all I could say was that I was waiting for final word from the President. Exasperated, Villa finally dealt me the ultimate blow: “I once called you an angel of a man, I was wrong. In a few years, you will be like Carlos P. Romulo.” Romulo was the Foreign Secretary then, and Villa’s opinion of him was undeservedly low.

I did not know how to pacify Villa. Adrian had to do it, while making sure Villa kept his post, despite his misbehavior at the Palace.

No comments: