DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/26 June) — Last week, I attended a “round-table chat” (except that the tables were rectangular) on culture and arts with some Davao editors which included event prime mover Amy Cabusao of the TIMES, Tony Ajero of EDGE, Stella Estremera of SUNSTAR, former editor Ed Fernandez and PPI executive director Ariel Sebellino. Resource persons from the arts and academe were also present.
There, I met a long-time friend, a high school classmate of 50 years ago, Brother KARL GASPAR, CssR of the Redemptorist, now an anthropologist who has devoted his entire life mostly in the service of the underprivileged, the lumads, the victims of calamities, and the unfortunates. We haven’t seen each other for a long time. I knew him as “CARLITO” from way back. I jokingly told him his being called KARL sounded Marxist and could be the reason why during martial law, he was arrested by the military. He was an “activist” then doing pro-poor work in the communities. He was arrested and became subject of an intense search of military camps by sympathizers that eventually gave rise to an organized effort of civil society to help locate missing persons during martial law.
I was already a lawyer then and although I have not seen him personally then, I recalled taking up his cause and vouching for him while doing my “pro bono” legal work for human rights victims as a FLAG (Free Legal Aid Group) lawyer under the guidance of then Sen. Jose “Pepe” Diokno. He was arrested on Palm Sunday and released from detention on Easter Sunday — something that can also be a source of reflection for many.
DEAN OF SEMINARY — I learned from Journalist Gail Ilagan that Karl, a PH.D. in Anthropology from UP Diliman, just got appointed recently as dean of the St. Alphonso’s Theological Mission Institute, the seminary for Redemptorists. His religious inclinations even during high school and college days when we were together were evident. He was head of our Sodality Club at Ateneo and an “altar boy” like me. As an itinerant Redemptorist missionary, he spent time in Arakan Valley in North Cotabato with the lumads, doing advocacy work on “development agression”. His “street theatres” that he was good at were platforms of relevant social commentaries of current and contemporary issues of the day. He has written books and publications, and somehow gets to publish one book every year.
I QUIT SCHOOL —While recalling our days together last week, I got a big surprise when Karl remembered me as that student who appeared in the first year high school class for the first time long after school opened. I almost forgot about that episode of my life. That prompted me to tell Karl the full story of how my parents, living in barrio Guihing in the south, dreamt that their 12-year old eldest son who just graduated from elementary, should go to the best high school thereabouts, the Jesuit-run Ateneo in the city. (I was a precocious pupil as I was only five years old when I enrolled with my mother Amparo as my Grade One teacher. There were no birth certificate requirements for enrollees at that time. All one had to do was to reach his ear with his hand across his head. Either my hand was long or that no one — except the teacher, my mother was looking. So there!)
Although the family could hardly afford it, we relied on a scholarship I earned after passing a qualifying test. So off I went to the big city weaned from family and friends for the first time. It was a mistake. After a few weeks, I literally quit school and returned home, unable to adjust to a strange place with non-familiar faces and car-riding classmates; where fountain pen was required in class –not the familiar ballpen or pencil I was used to; where a school uniform was a daily must instead of ordinary t-shirt and pants. When my mother visited me one weekend, I clung tightly to her belt refusing to let her go without taking me home. A few days later, my angry mother bodily dragged me to the Holy Cross in Digos (run by the Canadian Brothers of the Sacred Heart) in the next town. She dreaded the thought that her son was a school “dropout”. Luckily, I was admitted by a stern school principal, Diosdado Ypil, as a late enrollee but only after he learned that my mother was also a teacher like him. There, I felt at home among my “co- provincianos”. There Carlito a.k.a. Karl and I met. That was where I felt I really belonged! The rest is history.
PROUD DRIVERS — Back to the round-table forum. After the meeting, Journalist CAROL ARGUILLAS posted our picture together at FACEBOOK describing Karl and me as “SONS OF BUS DRIVERS”. Indeed, my father Martin (“Ating” to friends) was a passenger bus driver since I was young and so was KARL’s father. I learned that when they would gather at the bus terminal area with the other drivers around, they would proudly talk about their sons and boast to other bus drivers how their sons were doing well in school. Karl was our high school valedictorian. After graduation, we both went to Ateneo (finally, I was back) for college. We both worked our way through college while both our fathers continued being drivers down south. He later became a Redemptorist brother and I went on to law school.
“WHY STOP ME?” — Years later, I was already Davao congressman and my father was still driver of the company shuttle bus of the sugar central located in our barangay. During one of my hometown visits, I politely told him that it was time for him to rest and stop driving and we the children (eight of us siblings) could very well take care of his needs — including his steady supply of his favorite Red Horse beer (hoping this could convince him) . His quick reply, (in native Ilonggo) was: “My being driver made you what you are today, so why do you want me to stop, now that you are a congressman?” End of conversation. Being with his friends and neighbors boarding his shuttle bus everyday must be a source of unending joy for him. He retired later. And yes, his regular pension maintained his steady supply of Red Horse beer up to the end. He passed away five years ago at the age of 86. Last week, we reminisced more when we visited his grave during Father’s Day.
UNENDING STORY —As for KARL, I know he will be back in Yolanda’s Tacloban or elsewhere, where his apostolate will bring him to tend to the poor and the unfortunate. His life’s mission as new dean of a seminary will bring more milestones. For sure, the story of the sons of those two bus drivers will still be an unending and continuing story to tell. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Jesus “Jess” G. Dureza was Presidential Assistant for Mindanao under former Presidents Ramos and Arroyo. He served in other capacities under the Arroyo administration, including the chairmanship of the peace panel in the negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. This piece is from his syndicated column, Advocacy MindaNOW. You may email him at firstname.lastname@example.org)