JORGE!

By Pablo A. Tariman From his Catanduanes Tribune column, “Islander in the City” WE CAME from two different schools in the island but somehow our paths would cross one way or the other. Way back in the island, we had common “relatives” which means the persons he would address as “Tia” and Tio” are also the same persons we address as such regardless of actual consanguinity. Thus, the relatives he addressed as Tio Maning (Fiscal Manuel Magistrado) and Tia Glor (the late wife) are also close to us. Back in the 60s, I recall Jorge as a resident of San Pablo near the town hall and we would often walk together in the town plaza and at random gave each other a slice of our plans for the future. The last time we were in the town plaza, I was recovering from not making it in an audition for radio announcers in the local station based in what islanders referred to as the White House. We lost touch in college. I guess he was determined to become a lawyer and I was determined to become a writer. Well of sort. He was always the stable one and I was always in between coming and going. I was a “prolific short story writer” in college, only to realize later literature couldn’t support a family. I turned to journalism and specialized on the performing arts after I realized covering government affairs and crime is an invitation to libel cases. Covering the performing arts, I became an impresario by instinct. By then, Jorge was holding several important positions in the government as Postmaster General to PAGCOR president and CEO and many others. When our paths crossed again in the birthday of his congressman-brother, I knew he had made it. Offering to take me home after the party along with another writer from another publication, I said no need. I could take a cab from a familiar route to my humble abode in Pasig. It was providential that we had the same friends in that exclusive subdivision I frequent whenever there was some instant “reunion.” He would see me walk from the subdivision gate to our common friend’s house and always offering a quick ride. “Thank you for rescuing me,” I would tell him in jest followed with, “How did you know I had no taxi money?” In time, we found ourselves watching the same concerts in Manila and admiring the same circle of artists. He soon realized I had remained poor for remaining a “writer” and for presenting all those well-received concerts in Manila and in the island. Jorge would become a much sought-after commencement speaker in the island while I figure in journalism lectures in Metro Manila. Later, I made my own modest debut as commencement speaker in a private school in the suburbs of Manila. At this stage of our lives now, we found ourselves as doting grandfathers and unstoppable in endlessly posting pictures of our grandchildren in FB. What did I like about this friend from way back in the island? For one, he has remained the modest and humble islander who loves to recall the low tides in San Pablo and how he would join others looking for edible delicacies from the sea. Even as a former top corporate figure in Manila, he loves the sight of fresh fish being hawked in the streets of Virac and in the town wet market. One time, he actually bought a lot in the town wet market to be brought to the big city only to be waylaid by a cancelled flight. Yes, I like it that he can look back at his past and admit in public the struggles he had to go through as a student. He told a graduating class in the island thus: “I remember the time when all of us (four brothers and a sister) were in college. We barely had enough for daily allowance, for books and many other things a student needed. That is why my parents could not afford to get sick because they have to work every day. I remember my father getting sick one day and over the objections of his doctor, left the hospital to look for money for our baon and transportation allowance.” (In the same manner, Congressman Cesar Sarmiento unabashedly cried when his Aunt Gloria Magistrado passed away. It was to her that he’d ran to for his graduation ring when he graduated at San Beda College.) The once and future Jorge I would see in old pictures of him as a “varsity” player in high school basketball team. In one of my last concerts in the island, he would come to my rescue knowing I had nothing to pay for the truck and laborers that would bring the grand piano from the hospital to the concert venue. He personally came to the concert venue only to see me re-arranging the chairs while my artists rehearse. He could see that I could not even afford a production assistant. As I see Jorge address the concert audiences that night, I remember the townmate who would walk with me in the town plaza in the 60s and the same town mate who would give me a ride while walking to the house of our common friend in Forbes Park many years later. I can see he never really left the island, preferring to keep the timeless virtues and the innate brand of values the family still holds dear. (Jorge V. Sarmiento is the guest speaker in the first Catanduanes Youth Convergence convention hosted by the youth arm of Kusog Bikolandia on September 29, 2018 at the Catanduanes State University.)