PERSONAL ESSAY: Goodbye, Bangkaw

(Eulogy in honor of Ramon “Sonny” Garcia ’65, delivered by Gari M. Tiongco ’62, Davao City, June 11, 2014)

I grieve when a friend dies, I grieve with much pain when a close friend dies, but when he dies senselessly, I hurt more than pain as I grieve. I am devastated, my heart throbs in sorrow and each beat is agony, a cruel anguish, and an aching torment. I am engulfed with sorrow and suffering that I need to free myself from this emotional commotion.  This gripped me as I read again and again the message of Fellow Ted Garcia about his father’s passing.

I know that this was a small price to pay for grief, grief for a departed friend. But I got to get hold of myself as I told my body to separate from my soul in this metaphysical turmoil.

Thus in my then contemplative mood, in the silence of my prayer, a prayer without words and without sounds, which only my heart can speak, peace and acceptance reigned in my soul. I then felt the heavenly bliss of Sonny, almost as if he was looking down on me and cheering me up as he was wont to do.

My mind turned back the pages of my memory when we were still gangling kids. I am going to talk about Sonny in the early years, the years when not many of you have known him, since Davaoenos know him too well now.

I have known Sonny since grade school but he was three years my junior and so our acquaintance was superficial. Close to fifty years ago, I recruited him to the Upsilon and that was when my close friendship with him began. I cannot remember whom I talked to, whether it was Jake Marquez or Sonny, but for the price of one, I got two.  Today, it still baffles me no end wondering which of the two was the better deal.  I think it was Sonny, but then again I may be mistaken.

Physical initiations were not unlawful then, and being an officer of the frat, I advised neophytes: “Guys, they will break your spirit, they will demolish your pride as they start the physical initiations. You will all start afresh together; nobody is too smart, too proud, too powerful, and too bright. Pare-pareho kayong lahat. Don’t hold back tears for you will unnecessarily prolong your physical agony.”

At one time at Bobby Carpio’s place, someone whispered to me that Sonny was in a room and that I better check on him. I rushed to the room and saw Sonny helpless, and battered. I grabbed him from the fellows and dragged his limp body out of the room. He was delirious and somewhat hallucinating. I saw disaster in his eyes and immediately asked for smelling salts and some water. I had a good mind to rush him to the hospital, but he recovered in time. He had gotten one too many for he refused to buckle down. I warned him to let go of tears or else I would punch him myself.

I closely guarded him during the next wave. He endured more pain and stretched his tolerance beyond his frail limits, but as I was about to grab him again, tears flowed down but he was not crying. His eyes spoke to me with passion, almost as if they were saying, “you guys can harm me but you will never break me.” He was unbent, he was made of sterner stuff, and, indeed, he could not be broken. I knew at that moment then that we had a treasure in our midst. He barely could stand up but the message was clear — he would walk the extra mile for his pride and dignity. Little did he know that he taught me a lesson in life, rather than the other way around. Even stretching the limits of human endurance is a reward by itself, a real test of strength of character. Between me and my shadow, I silently envied his “yabang.”

The friendship between Jake and Sonny was extraordinary, so honest and so sincere that they were the source of envy of almost every one. They treated me like an older brother, and in turn I kept watch over them. They were roommates at the Ipil dormitory, and on numerous occasions, particularly when they received their monthly allowances, they would play black jack and poker against each other (mano-mano) up to the wee hours of the morning, and only until the loser was wiped clean. When they woke up the next day, the loser borrowed all he lost from the winner. Such was the clean, unadulterated camaraderie they enjoyed.

I belatedly learned that they were men of the world, wise to the worldly ways than I was. They learned the ropes faster, and they matured earlier than I did. The havens of entertainment were their playground, and the world was their oyster. I lagged behind them, and I do not know whether this was a bane or a boon.

Early on, in our young professional lives, Sonny worked in Cebu and whenever I was there, he played host. Entertaining guests was his second nature. It certainly helped that he himself loved and lived life to the fullest and even extending the limits of pleasurable living, then again extending boundaries. I gladly discovered then that the best place to be in this world was not anywhere else, but anywhere where Sonny was. Amazing, but he would easily carve a paradise for you and more importantly, he puts you at ease especially when you sense his satisfaction in giving you a good time. He seemed to get his own reward in making his friends happy.

Later on, as he returned to Davao and success followed him, he became our natural leader of the Davao alumni chapter. He needed no formal election and thus the leadership just fell into his hands. He was our anchor, no, more than this; he was the heart and soul of the chapter. He conceptualized and organized the much awaited and attended Bangkaw sa Mindanaw. It is with no exaggeration that some brods missed attending some of our mother chapter’s affairs but not Bangkaw. Some from foreign shores came just to attend Bangkaw, not only to partake of the fabled hospitality of the Davaoenos, but also to bond with the principal character of the event: the vibrant, flamboyant, colorful, exuberant, and irrepressible Sonny Garcia.

After I received Ted’s sad news, I received this agonizing follow up from Jake:

“Brod Gari -when do you plan to go to Davao? Is Chitong coming with you? You are our 2 closest senior brods and we would like to ask our Tatang or you to handle the FNR if no resident IF is present. Ted identified his dad’s remains this morning in Sulop and they are now motoring back to the city. His body will be autopsied in Cosmo Davao after which the remains will be cremated. I will regularly update you.”

Cc: Tong (paki broadcast text kabatz)
Sent from my iPhone

I immediately checked with Chitong and without hesitation he agreed. My quick reply to Jake: Chitong will preside and I will deliver the eulogy.

(Jake, for a price of one I will give you two.)

That night as I tossed in bed, it dawned on me that Bangkaw, the colorful sturdy spear of a Mindanao warrior, was Sonny Garcia himself: Colorful, cannot be broken, strong and sturdy, a reliable weapon, a loyal friend. We may have lost the Bangkaw, and a chapter in our lives is forever closed, but these last lines from a sonnet of Shakespeare, give me strength and inspiration when we bid the Bangkaw our farewell —

“ So long as men can breathe, or eyes can see, So long lives this and this gives life to thee. “

Bangkaw, you may be gone, but you have not left.

For now, goodnight.

(Atty. Gari M. Tiongco granted MindaNews permission to reprint this eulogy)