Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Touch of class

Touch of class

Updated 11:52pm (Mla time) Dec 27, 2004
By Conrado de Quiros
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A10 of the December 28, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

OVER THE PAST couple of weeks, since Fernando Poe Jr. died, I've heard and read a lot of stories about Da King's generosity, a generosity matched only by a ferocious desire to remain anonymous in the face of it. He apparently forbade his fellow actors, whom he was with when he did the things he did, from talking about it. He specifically forbade his publicists from writing about it or making it known in any way. A proscription that extended even to when he ran for president. He refused to make his acts of giving known, though his publicists were naturally dying to broadcast them.

I don't know how much of the stories is true, but if only a tenth of it is so, then the man truly deserves to be sorely missed. He has shown decency over and above the call of duty. Which strikes a monumental contrast with the way we do things today.

His death seems to have released his friends from their vow of silence. NiƱo Muhlach was the one who suggested that FPJ might have suffered from stroke from exhausting himself while helping to prepare the goods to be given out to the storm victims of Quezon. Apparently, he had been thinking aloud to friends how the residents of Quezon were going to get by. What a time for the storms to have happened, he was heard to have said, which was just before Christmas. This was supposed to be the happiest time in this country. So he had done his bit, even lending a personal touch to the relief work by doing part of the physical work himself.

But as was his wont, he had given strict orders for it not to be talked about. He would have visited Quezon, Muhlach said, except that he feared it would be given a political spin. He didn't like that, he wasn't like that.

I might have thought this was an exaggeration if I had not caught that report by Aladdin Bacolodan in the news. Bacolodan had gone to the place where FPJ spent his last moments on earth, the studio where he gasped his last while hosting a party. In a corner of the studio was a huge pile of goods that FPJ had been collecting, which reportedly cost him a pretty penny and which he meant to distribute to the typhoon victims. None of the goods carried a label, least of all FPJ's name, on them. The cartons were unmarked completely. Based on his interviews with people close to FPJ, Bacolodan reported that FPJ was like that: he refused to advertise himself when he gave.

A friend of mine, a musician personally testified to the simplicity of the man. In the 1970s, he recounted, FPJ bought a recording studio from Jose Mari Gonzalez to bail him out of dire straits, but didn't quite know what to do with it. So he got musicians to run the place, my friend among them. On occasion, he said, FPJ would drop by at night, beer in hand, and say, "Erap (he called everybody erap), pwede ba kong umistambay dito? [Do you mind if I hang around?]" Of course he didn't mind, my friend recalled laughing, it was his place. FPJ, my friend said, would look over his shoulders -- my friend would be making arrangements and preparing accompaniments to songs in a musical variety show -- which made him a little nervous. After a couple of hours, FPJ would shake his head and say, "That is all very complicated to me, you guys are geniuses." Then he would take his leave, "Mauna na ko, erap," and sneak out quietly.

The beer was something he had in common with Nick Joaquin. He was at least speaking out of conviction when he made that ad for San Miguel.

There are scores of stories like that, other people, high and low, but mainly low, swearing he was a good man. There were fellow actors he rescued from their quandaries, stuntmen whose hospital bills he paid for, and complete strangers, among them dwellers of slum areas, whom he visited regularly and gave to. All the waiters who knew him testify to the abundance of tips he gave, often borrowing money when he ran out of it after closing a bar down.

It's a blast of fresh air in a stale room. It's not just an Old World quirkiness or quaintness, it's an absolute blessing in a world given to egotism and self-advertisement. I remember only a few weeks ago seeing the host of one of those TV programs purporting to help the needy (I will not name her in deference to Christmas) descending on a hovel in a slum in Metro Manila with gifts. She wore a black T-shirt that had her name emblazoned on it, in case we forgot it, which is not that easy given her sheer ubiquity on TV and radio. A camera with blazing lights trailed after her while she spoke in unctuous tones, making sure no one overlooked her mission of charity there. If this country had snow, she would probably have rented a sleigh.

There ought to be a code of ethics for programs like this. Rosa Rosal did things a lot more subtly.

I remember as well Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's campaign ads -- they were campaign ads, paid for by our money through the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office -- showing her braving the floods, distributing relief goods and wearing a pained expression while beholding the swath of destruction left by a storm. Well, people who are genuinely assailed by the spectacle of horror do not make it a point to have themselves photographed in that state. They grieve silently, flailed by conscience and not framed by the camera. And they go on to do everything in their power to help the desperate-anonymously. There is no giving where the giver does not disappear in the act of giving. The other kind is just PR.

I don't know if FPJ would have made a good president. I do know that he would have given this boorish nation some lessons in good manners and right conduct. I do know he would have given this jaded nation a reason to believe the exalted shall be humbled and the humble exalted.

I do know he would have given our much-cheapened lives a touch of class.


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