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Deadline: For Nilo Portes Aureus

The sad news came to me mid-morning of Wednesday, the day my anxiety peaks up because the afternoon (or early evening) of that day is the deadline for my column. A message from far-off Tokyo was asking, a Nilo Aureus has passed on. Is he your publisher?

That was my sister and I expressed to her my disbelief: Let me check. Who to call? Batchmate Joe Perez, he, who invited me to write for Bicol Mail many years ago. Yes, some three hours ago, he responded to me.

What happens to writers, to journalists, when their publisher passes on?

I do not consider myself a journalist, even as I had been writing for the national broadsheet - one was the Today Independent Daily News by Teddy Locsin, Jr., and, presently, the Business Mirror. In the first paper, I was asked to write lengthy feature articles on topics that ranged from social classes to food supplement, from beauty to notions of sexuality. I eventually would be invited to maintain a column about the good things in life. It was called “The Good Earth.” This taught me that if you look to and look for the bright side of life, you can see millions of these examples. There was no need for me to reinvent the Good and the Beautiful.

Presently, in Business Mirror, I have two columns: one is called “Reeling,” which deals with films and other mass media topics; the other is “Annotations,” a singular feature of the Op-ed page in that I am free to discuss anything on societies and cultures.

Given this, aren’t my hands not full enough? Why would I punish myself to have a third deadline each week, this when I accepted to write for Bicol Mail?

When we were in high school, in the absence of writers who were writing for the giant publications like Manila Times and the Philippines Free Press, the editor and writers of local papers were our idols. They were tough-talking, charming thugs in long-sleeves and ties, and, if you were lucky, wearing jackets, or what we ordinarily call “Americana.”

To be featured in any one of the local papers was an anointment: you became a local celebrity, whether you won an elocution contest or a giant lottery draw. These journalists were not just good with their pen, they were also witty, brimming with confidence and always with lots of chutzpah.

Then came an offer from Vox Bikol. I had the chance now to write purely on Bikol. When it folded up, Joe’s offer came my way. I was in Bicol Mail, finally, this venerable paper in my mind.

Few writers perhaps notice this but Manila-based papers tend to look at the economics and politics from the central. For the events happening in the peripheries, they become regional scenes. Every now and then, when major events transpired in the Bicol region, I took it upon myself to write about them, discussing the place and the occurrences as if I were always there, almost insisting that my perspective was the only valid one.

This outlook and opportunity changed overnight when I began developing a column that would articulate my own way of looking, always through the lens of a public anthropologist. I dubbed it FieldWork, the two words joined, each word identifiable by the capital letter at the beginning of the word.

It connotes a writer who is always writing of a location and a process in that location, also a sort of diarist who writes immersed in a specific place in the region. If ever, the writer is not present in the place he is talking about, it could mean he was there some months ago. Memories become his guide to writing.

My articles were grounded. They were ethnographies done out of my life out there or based on what people on the ground could recall.

I was writing about the region and each week, each Wednesday, was like a treasure hunt for a topic I could think about, and write about. There was a surplus of topics and I was hyperventilating each time I grappled with a list of possible topics.

I was becoming relevant. Locally. And this was of utmost importance to me.

Unless I was in transit, I would not miss an issue. There were so many things to talk about the region and there were so many sources, each week, each deadline kept me alive.

All this, I owe to this humble publisher named Nilo Aureus.

So, what happens when our publisher is gone? We continue to write. And that is an assurance of his legacy. And even if we stop, the varied themes explored, the topics discussed constantly and differently by the writers in Bicol Mail would have been archived in the collective consciousness of the region. And this we owe in no small measure to Nilo, self-effacing, genial, a true Bicolano.

This morning, when I learned of Nilo’s demise, I called up Rodolfo Reforsado, our deadline man. Mamundo an aldaw ta. Ano an deadline ta? Iyo ngani sir, namaaram na po sa kinaban si sir Nilo. Achan po sir press work me. All for you, Nilo. All for you, our Good Man.


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