A SOJOURNER’S VIEW: A view from the corridors of power 

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews / 28 May) — At first I wanted to write a Review of Atty. Jesus Dureza’s autobiography – WALKED WITH THE PRESIDENTS, published by the University of Mindanao (UM) in Davao City, which will be formally launched on Saturday, May 28 at 4 PM at the UM, Matina campus.

However, I just received a complimentary copy two days ago and I wanted this piece to come out a day before the book launching. However, I would have been one of the fastest readers in the world to read through the 478 pages of this book in just two days” and then write a solid review. It proved to be a daunting task and I would not have given this book its due if I rushed through writing a book review.

Besides I am somehow implicated in this publication and therefore I could not distance myself through an objective assessment of this autobiography.  I couldn’t help but respond personally to this book. Besides I am one of those who wrote a blurb fully endorsing to prospective readers to make sure to get a copy. Thus, I thought I would just write how I responded when I got hold of a copy and immediately scanned through its pages.

Jess Dureza’s “Walked with Presidents.”

Today Atty. Jesus G. Dureza is one of the few Mindanawons who have a high national profile who would be quite known in a number of circles – politics, media, business and peace advocacy work. Through the past half-century, he has excelled as a lawyer, journalist, politician, public servant, businessman and peace negotiator. With this book, he has now also become an author.

But for those of us who knew him since the 1960s – almost seven decades ago – he would always be Jess. We were both gawky and gangly promdi kids when our paths crossed. I have known Jess since the cusp between childhood and adolescence as we both enrolled at what was then the Holy Cross Academy (HCA), Boys Department in Digos, Davao del Sur (it was just a small town then; HCA has since been renamed Cor Jesu College) after finishing elementary school in our respective public elementary schools.

I would always remember the first time I caught sight of Jess. As his autobiography would indicate, his parents wanted him to have the best quality high school education and enrolled him at Ateneo de Davao. But only a few weeks later, owing to his persistence that he would rather be studying close to home, his parents had no choice but transfer him to where we had begun classes already as the latest first year batch. Naturally his entrance into our classroom would have given him a special status and we all noticed his arrival.

(Three years later, there was a repeat of this incident when a newcomer arrived late in our classroom through similar circumstances: he was first at the Ateneo de Davao but his parents transferred him to HCA and thus began that schoolyear a few weeks after classes began. He, too, graduated with our batch in 1963. Many decades later he would rise to the apex of political governance in this Republic).

Since first year high school until we graduated, Jess was the distinguished writer of our batch. If an essay or short story was to be read in our English class under Bro. Conrad Transchemontagne SC, it would be his piece that would be read before his classmates. If there were writing contests, he would win the top prizes. And naturally when the Brothers decided to publish our school paper, The Crusader, Jess was appointed Editor-in-Chief.

This would be repeated when we were in our final year at the Ateneo de Davao when he got appointed as Editor-in-Chief of Atenews, the college paper. However, from high school to college Jess manifested his range of talents and showed that he could take on leadership roles.

He was into music (he played the trumpet in the school bands), elocution and writing contests, debating clubs and even theatre. A known campus figure heading a number of student organizations, he also served in the student government as well as in Marian devotional practices.  There was no question then that early on, he showed the capacity to excel in whatever career he would choose. 

Thus, our coming of age stories would be intertwined with the youth of the land who came out of age in what was then the exciting years of the 1960s that would turn turbulent in the 1970s. Many of us are named in this book comprising the thousands of characters that inhabited Jess’ world and I can imagine my classmates would be pleased to be associated with Jess. 

Our paths after college may have diverged and each one of us had to make our own choices – in some cases in contradistinction from one another especially in terms of political-ideological options – but friendships forged in our youthful days would always remain intact. And lucky are we if our paths continue to cross in the years that unfold through the passage of time and we could recall the happy memories of the years when we were young and innocent and life was full of promise!  Our high school and college reunions through the years did provide such occasions and we were always happy to bump into Jess.

Of course this book is not just a nostalgic remembrance of things past that can turn mushy and would only be of interest to those mentioned in this book. Neither is it just a boring chronicle of one’s life complete with well documented facts of the who, where and when. Jess explores the whys and hows related to important events – both at the national and Mindanao levels — which are often more interesting. And since he has the authority to claim that he was an insider with a ringside view of contemporary historical events as they unfolded in real time, the reader is provided a rare glimpse into the workings of those in the corridors of power.

The book’s title includes the words – “An Autobiography.” If autobiography means that which is produced when one person writes about her/his entire life from birth to publication, then Walked with the Presidents qualifies as one. In the publication world today, autobiographies are not as common as memoirs or those books written by authors who only cover part of their lives (involving either a specific event or a set of specific dates).  The terms are sometimes used interchangeably, and there is a lot of overlap between the two. 

From my own readings during the period of the pandemic, there are a lot more memoirs than autobiographies. The most recent popular ones are those of Barack Obama (The Promised Land) and Michelle Obama (Becoming). Two memoirs were recently published by Mindanawon authors, namely Maria Yap Morales’ Ascending the Fourth Mountain and Leila Rispens-Noel’s Beyond the Bansalan Skies.  

The memoir that is a must-read for literature lovers is Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ Living to Tell the Tale(a thick book at 472 pages detailing the author’s journey into his magic realism world). Other engrossing memoirs are those of Paul Monette’s Becoming a Man (winner of National Book Award), J. R. Moehringer’s The Tender Bar (named Best Book by a number of publications), and Carlos Eire’s Waiting for Snow in Havana: Confessions of a Cuban Boy.

In his Introduction, Ronnie V. Amorado, the book’s Editor explains that there are eight important types of biography, and posits that Jess’ book is easily described by all eight (from narrative-historical to an interpretive one). As an autobiography, he names Jess’ book as an epistolary defined as “unexplored qualitative research methods coming from illustrative biography; it uses letters, diaries, confessions, articles, journals, poems, newspaper clippings, and blogs to narrate biographical stories.”

True enough when the reader goes through the pages of this book, one can read newspaper clippings, speeches of Jess in Congress, photos (many with historical value but also those of family portraits) and his musings.  This explains the thousands of names that appear on the book’s pages. These are no ordinary names of the hoi polloi and the common tao. 

Jess walked with the high and mighty! At the international stage, he walked with the likes of the Popes and heads of State (from Khaddafy to Trump), through the six Presidents he served in one capacity or another (from the Aquino mother to the son), their Cabinet members,  both key players in the GRP (Government of the Republic of the Philippines) peace negotiations with the NDF-CPP-NPA (National Democratic Front – Communist  Party of the Philippines – New Peoples Army) and the MILF-MNLF (Moro Islamic Liberation Front-Moro National Liberation Front) and heads of international and national non-governmental organizations. 

Having served in various government posts from being Congressman to Presidential Assistant for Mindanao to Secretary of the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, to being the President’s Legal Counsel, being head of the Mindanao Development Authority, Jess has seen it all at various levels of governance. Earlier as a journalist he was an outsider looking in, covering what was being decided from within often struggling to seek the truth while pressed with time. As a government bureaucrat, he was there during closed door meetings but now has to face media. In the process, he got both positive and negative coverage.

The book chronicles the successes and setbacks, the accomplishments and struggles, the highs and lows of government service. There is honesty in the manner he acknowledges some pitfalls (e.g. that prayer during a Cabinet meeting with GMA). What adds pathos to some of the book’s sections was how he needed to balance the pressure of work (meaning being away from the family)  and his wish to be a good husband  to his family (especially when his wife had health issues). 

There is a lot more that can be said about this book. But it is best the reader finds a copy and reads it. And decide how she/he would react of what is on page 1, Jess’s assertion why he wrote this book:  “I decided finally not to run for senator anymore, and ended up doing an autobiography. Let this book immortalize may story, that even if I wither and die, it shall live on forever. May this magnum opusresonate with the generations who have gone and education the generations to come!

[MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Redemptorist Brother Karl Gaspar is a professor at St. Alphonsus Theological and Mission Institute (SATMI) in Davao City and until recently, a professor of Anthropology at the Ateneo de Davao University. Gaspar is author of several books, including “Manobo Dreams in Arakan: A People’s Struggle to Keep Their Homeland,” which won the National Book Award for social science category in 2012, “Desperately Seeking God’s Saving Action: Yolanda Survivors’ Hope Beyond Heartbreaking Lamentations,” and his latest, “Handumanan (Remembrance): Digging for the Indigenous Wellspring.”. He writes two columns for MindaNews, one in English (A Sojourner’s Views) and the other in Binisaya (Panaw-Lantaw). Gaspar is a Datu Bago 2018 awardee, the highest honor the Davao City government bestows on its constituents.]