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Jan 3 2011

By Gloria Gachitorena-Goloy

THE PHONED-IN request for a feature for the Varsitarian’s 80th anniversary coffee-table book came in the afternoon of the 17th last December.

Initially, I hedged: Gosh, that would be a 60-year looking back! I had not been doing much writing lately and I was not about to submit to one more hassle with deadline anxieties, now that I was done with a near-lifetime battle with the journalist’s numbers-terrorizer.

But the caller bargained with time concessions. 10 days, she was suggesting. You could turn in your piece on January 7.

The number stirred an ambivalence, pushing me to a tentative, uneasy commitment. Was it urging me to revisit the past for an uneasy providential coming to terms with an unresolved what-might-have-been?

O sige, I finally said, January 7.

* * *

1948-1949

This was the year I was the Varsitarian literary editor, my second stint with the staff. There were two others serving as assistant literary editors, both male. He was one of them.

But I hardly ran into him, conflicting class schedules, heavy duty at the UST press, bonding with my own coterie of girl-classmates. Even in this big little college we fondly called (then) Philets, it was a wonder out paths rarely crossed. Until…

December 27. At the UP Padre Faura annual lantern parade to which a UP friend had invited me. There was a dance going on at the roof deck of one of the buildings. But my friend was not the dancing type. We talked. (What a waste of good music!)

Suddenly, he was standing before me, asking for a dance. Why was he there? I guess it’s one of life’s imponderables. But I took his proffered hand and I didn’t regret doing so.

The courtship was brief. For by school year’s end, he was to leave for the United States to pursue post-graduate studies at the Columbia University. He had previously brought me to meet his family and friends at his birthday party in January 7.

We kept up a correspondence across the miles. He wrote letters, sent greeting cards, books, music pieces, photographs of himself with Columbia schoolmates. He closed his letters with “As always”.

But that was not how things were meant to be for long. On my end, the mail was becoming irregular. Until it petered out.

After more than a year, I had married someone else.

* * *

1969

She had been standing before my desk, wordlessly watching while I worked on the magazine layout spread out on my desk. I was sorting out the photographs I had taken of the Miss Universe Beauty Pageant at Miami Beach, Florida which I had covered at the Manila Times correspondent-chaperone of Gloria Diaz for the Binibining Pilipinas franchise holder. The previous week, my firsthand coverage of that historic event – rushed within a 2-hour deadline – had been on the newspaper’s front page the day after our arrival from the US.

Yes, I asked, looking up from the pile of photographs spread out on the table.

I’m supposed to interview you, Ma’am, she said, fingering one of the pictures to be used for the STM 3-part series I had yet to write. I was assigned to write a report for our college paper.

What about, I asked, looking down again on the layout littered with galley proofs, photos, blue pencil, paper clips…

About the first ever Philippine triumph in the Miss Universe pageant, my visitor replied. But I have instructions not to focus on the pageant winner. Our publications director had told me to single out the chaperone. An inside story on this, uh, journalistic first by a former Thomasian/Varsitarian alumna. She deserves that much credit, he said.

And who is your publication director, I asked, without looking up.

The Varsitarian publications director, ma’am. And the girl spoke his name.

I never got around to reading that Varsitarian interview by its star reporter, Jennie Ilustre, by the way…

* * *

1970

The invitation was for an early afternoon session with the candidates for the Varsitarian editor-in-chief post for the coming year.

He would be there with the incumbent Fr. Rector and the V’s founding father, Mr. Jose Villa Panganiban.

We read the aspirants’ written work. We asked questions and then we graded them. My choice was a certain Antonio Lopez. But he didn’t get the majority vote. He was very disappointed. My parting words to him were: You didn’t make it here, but you’ll make it on the national scene. Mark my word, I said. Years later he was to rise to become an influential journalist in business circles.

Meanwhile at the merienda following the judging session, I was introduced to some guests who had come around to toast the new V ed. One of them was his wife. Her name: Sari Palanca.

* * *

1987

The call was from Teresita Añover-Rodriguez. Come around to my home, she said. There’s a package for you. You’ll have to pick it up yourself.

Teresita had been one of my closest college friends. We kept in touch after graduation. Phone calls, greeting cards at Christmas, Easter, birthdays, invitations to writers’ gathering arranged by the US embassy where she worled in the publications division.

I didn’t stay too long at the apartment. Besides I was curious about the package, especially after Teresita said, You’ll have to open it when you get home, in a rather mischievous tone.

When I tore the wrappings off, a small ivory handcrafted image nearly fell off. It was a figure of Blesses Lorenzo Ruiz. It came with a pamphlet containing an account of his life and martyrdom written by him as well as the country’s efforts through the then ambassador to the Vatican Antonio C. Delgado, as chronicled in his brief summary.

The pamphlet was one of several memorabilia marking Lorenzo’s beatification during rites here in Manila presided by Pope John Paul II. When I opened the pamphlet to the frontispiece, I read his dedication to me in his familiar scrawl and his signature. A hint of tears misted my eyes, remembering seeing him on television annotating the sanctification rites direct from the Vatican, that year, 1987.

This was the V’s publication director who had earlier been stripped of his position for having allowed the publication in the magazine a “risqué” photo of French cancan girls. But he had bounced back from that personal crisis, as the beautification and sanctification milestones verified. Yet, when devotees pray for San Lorenzo Ruiz’s intercession, when they sing the saint’s official hymn composed by Dom Benildus Maramba, the lyrics of which were written by this Varsitarian director, I wonder if the country realizes how much it owes to his dogged pursuit of the national quest.

* * *

1988

The day’s newspapers carried an account of how he had been rendered comatose by an aneurysm attack. I went to see him at the Cardinal Santos Hospital. But like other visitors, I could only get a glimpse of his figure through the window of the ICU room. But I got to meet his wife Sari and I said I was sorry about what had happened to him and that I knew how she felt because my own only sister was also comatose and I could not find the courage to finally end her misery.

But Sari later made the difficult decision and before long, he was lying in state at the Mt. Carmel Church on Broadway street where a throng of friends, colleagues, priests, admirers, the country’s officialdom had crowded the huge place to listen to the glowing eulogies.

A couple of months later, my own sister passed away after I also came to terms with the difficult decision to release her.

At her wake, one evening, a messenger came around with a big basket of pastries. When I inquired about the sender, the messenger stepped aside to give way to Sari, dressed in her widow’s weeds. We embraced. We sobbed in each other’s arms. She communicated quietly – everything that had to be said through all the years of angst and hope, and deep sisterhood.

My V story had come full circle, at last. V

Gloria Garchitorena-Goloy was born in 1927 in Manila, Gloria Garchitorena-Goloy finished Litt. B in Journalism, cum laude, at the University of Santo Tomas Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, serving as associate editor of the Varsitarian from 1949-1950.