On turning 90

Tomorrow, Friday, Sept. 15, I will be 90 years old. I count myself blessed at having reached this ripe age.

This is the age when most of my friends, classmates and associates have already died. If not, they are either bedridden or wheelchair-bound. I feel I am now at the pre-departure area, just awaiting my final boarding call for my flight to the Great Beyond!

As a teenager, I went through four years of the Japanese Occupation. My two older brothers were officers of the guerrilla forces.

After the Liberation in 1946, I was accepted as a scholar at Ateneo de Manila at the Padre Faura ruins. I obtained my Bachelor of Arts, with honors.

After graduation, I went to Cotabato City to volunteer with the OMI missionaries in producing their publication. I went with the late Rudy Tupas, editor in chief of The Guidon during our time.

That is how my journey as a journalist began. I consider this a calling more than a profession. Being a journalist does not make one a multi-millionaire, but one with a mission in life —to make a difference, no matter how small. An Ateneo education makes one a “man for others.”

My two-year stint with The Mindanao Cross—we called it the little newspaper with the big cause—was a learning experience for me. I covered all beats in a provincial publication: The jails, the police, and on to the Office of the Governor.

One summer, I met the love of my life, Trinidad Kapunan Capistrano, an 18-year-old student from the Philippine Women’s University. She was on vacation. It was a brief encounter since she had to be back in school, but she was able to tell me that she would be transferring to the University of the Philippines.

When I returned to Manila, I got an offer to teach English, history and literature at Ateneo High School in Loyola Heights. It was a good opportunity for me to meet, once again, the love of my life who by then had already transferred to UP.

I looked for her and by some stroke of luck found her. I always had lunch with my co-teachers at the South Dorm cafeteria where I had the opportunity to meet that angel in high heels. I saw her going to Mass every morning.

That began our courtship. It was not easy—I was the poorest among her suitors. Others came in flashy cars and with a driver. I only had an old jeep which my mother had bought for me out of my own savings. When I was in Mindanao, I sent her P150 every month out of my P250 salary.

I proposed to that young woman when I took her dancing on her birthday. It was at the Skyroom of the old Jai-Alai building along Taft Avenue. The songs— Love Letters, Mona Lisa, Autumn leaves and Stranger in Paradise played by the 21-member Serafin Payawal Orchestra.

She accepted!

Earlier, I had already passed the Bar. We were wed in Cotabato City where we first met.

This year we marked our 63rd wedding anniversary. I am often asked how we lasted this long, and I have the same answer every time. See, I must have the last word always – “Yes, Darling.” I believe you should never argue with a woman; you will never win.

We have four children and all are doing well. We live with our only daughter who took us in because we could not live by ourselves in a high-rise condominium in Makati.

Last year, Dante Arevalo Ang, chairman emeritus of The Manila Times, told me I should have my memoirs published since I am now about the oldest living, active journalist.

I must admit I never learned to use the computer or to text. I still pound away on my old Olympia typewriter.

I have been a writer for almost seven decades. I have covered no less than 10 presidents since the time of President Elpidio Quirino. I can say I have walked the corridors of power, witnessed history in the making, and seen the best and the worst of the people in power.

This is why after agonizing over Dante’s offer, and weighing the fact that I would need no less than P2 million to publish a book, I eventually agreed. I sought permission, of course, from Philip Romualdez, my chairman, and Rollie Estabillo, my publisher.

The book is almost finished, thanks to writer Lea Beltran and editor Dean Francis Alfar. Hopefully it will be published and marketed in November.

At 90 years old, I believe life is a journey and I am just passing through. I will continue to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. I will keep on pounding on my typewriter until I write 30.

I am comforted by one of my prayers, The Serenity Prayer, which goes:

GOD, grant me the serenity

to accept the things

I cannot change, 

Courage to change the

things I can, and the 

wisdom to know the difference. 

Living one day at a time;

Enjoying one moment at a time;

Accepting hardship as the pathway to peace. 

Taking, as He did, this

sinful world as it is, 

not as I would have it. 

Trusting that He will make all things right if 

I surrender to His Will; 

That I may be reasonably happy

in this life, and supremely

happy with Him forever in the next. Amen.

* * *

I have mixed feelings about turning 90 tomorrow. I am joyful because God has given me the blessing of a long life, and sad because of the deaths of three people close to us.

The first death was that of Alphonso Medina, a UP professor and a good friend. My condolences to his wife, Belen.

The second death was that of Mila Barlaan, who was like family to us. She was always there in times of need; she always attended our anniversaries.

Marita Salcedo—the widow of the columnist Louie Beltran—was my secretary when I was president of the Business Writers Association of the Philippines in the 50s and 60s. She and Louie stayed with us when they got married in their teens.

Our deepest condolences.

Topics: On turning 90
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