Gus Saboy: Response to Eulogies

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N.B.: This is a tweaked version of my original response to eulogies during the funeral service for my father, Augustus “Gus” Ulat Saboy, on 07 June 2002 at the Kalinga Provincial Capitol. As I repost it today, 18 June 2020, I realize that the raw emotions that were infused into this speech have not actually dissipated with time. I still wish he had lived longer because he had so much to offer to his people, and because I had failed to fully show him how much he meant to me. I and my siblings will also be forever grateful to the former Governor of Kalinga, Atty. Macario Duguiang, for honoring Gus Saboy at the same building which, for me, is a reminder of Gus Saboy’s commitment to public service and his devotion to the Kalinga people. As far as I know, Atty. Duguiang and the former Governor Jocel Baac were the only top elected officials of Kalinga who had publicly acknowledged Gus Saboy’s contributions to the development of the province. –smsaboy

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AUGUSTUS ULAT SABOY’S PROFILE

It has always puzzled me that we often reserve our finest words for our loved ones only when they are already laid in a casket or slid into a tomb. I don’t know why we reserve the best flowers for graves that know only the smell of their own stench.

June 7, 2002 was a showcase of this very tendency. On that day, a stream of eulogies poured forth from friends and semi-friends in honor of my dad then lying in a white coffin at the main entrance to the Provincial Capitol of Kalinga. As I listened to the almost musical speeches – especially by some of those who did not wish to have anything to do with my dad in his last years on earth – I kept wishing he had heard all those fine words when his body was wracked with pain, when his bitter critics cast aspersions on him, or when he said to me in his April 1999 letter, “Sometimes, it would come to me that queer feeling of how [unpleasant?] life has treated me at this mellowed period of my life.”

For indeed, even in the twilight of his life, there were those who only used him, who knew him only when he could do something for them, and who casually dumped him when they could no longer make good use of his services. Their friendship was like that of leeches falling off the body after they had sucked from it all the blood they want. Or to change metaphor, they were folks who could only love a flower while its scent lingered, and who will always discard that flower once it begins to wither. No wonder they never had the time to listen to his groans as he lay in bed tortured by his arthritis and failing organs. I guess all that they will remember with a grin is that “Sabóy was that guy who always ran in an electoral race but never got to cross the finish line first,” or that “Sabóy was that decrepit fellow who was too ambitious that he forced himself to work at the Capitol despite being overaged.”

Gus Sabóy’s political career was marked by losses. And I had seen in his life that most people tend to flock to the shrine of victory, and shun the ruins of defeat. But, looking back, I couldn’t help thinking that upon those ruins he still stands a victor, because upon them he had continued to serve – even if that meant putting his family’s welfare at stake. He risked being branded as “two-faced” for apparently getting along with any politician who held power in the Capitol “so long as he could serve the Province.” He served although he was most of the time unappreciated; he served although at times all he got was the whip of odious fumes from government cars that drove past him while he limped along the roadside on his way to the Capitol. I remember the lamented Judge Milnar Lammawin aptly saying the night before my father’s burial, “He had a big heart for people – no wonder he died of an enlarged heart.”

A big heart for people. Oh yes, he always worked for the people. At those times when the entire family would be rudely awakened in the dead of night by ear-piercing honks of government cars calling for Sabóy to write something for Governor this or Mayor that, those were all for the people. When a traveling Macli-ing Dulag and his band or some other fellow Kalingas needed a place to rest for the night, the wooden, sagging floor of our G.I. Sheet-clad abode was always open for free lodging: our house was to be a public servant as well. When six or more iDananao tribesmen had to be entertained and fed toward the close of the day, it was all right for the Sabóy children to sleep with empty stomachs as long as our guests were filled first: all of us were, after all, servants of the people.

At that time, I didn’t quite feel the weight on my older siblings’ shoulders who were then old enough to recognize a father’s seeming neglect of his family in the name of public service. I didn’t feel any bitterness, for life seemed fun – especially that I was the kimmót (youngest child) and, therefore,the favorite child. Part of my privilege was getting tagged along by my dad to his electoral campaign sorties. Or making the couch of the Governor’s office my bed. Or getting to drink an extra Royal True Orange for every round of beer the Governor and his merry men tanked up during a late-night meeting.

Even one of the scariest moments in our family’s history turned out to be quite a fun experience for me: During one of those typical campaign seasons, our house was well-guarded by our Vanaw relatives a few of whom were lightly armed — some pistols, a couple of M67 hand grenades with a strip of masking tape around each one, a double-barrelled airgun, an M-16A1 with a rifle grenade, some small knives, bolos, and yeah you could probably throw in a couple of orange-painted axes too — all of which were actually laughable as I think of it now, because dozens of goons at the sprawling Puzon compound just across the street had all the guns we could ever dream of. So many were our enemies’ guns that they had punched holes through each section of the long, concrete wall that faced our house, enabling them to easily insert the barrels of their rifles so that when they had the opportunity, they could shoot my father the moment he walked out of our gate, or maybe just in case we made some kamikaze moves. So every time my father went out, all these young, intrepid iVanaw men would surround him as they walked. It was “open carry” in those days, so it was normal to see civilians brandishing their weapons all the time. Weapons were everywhere, so much so that on the eve of New Year’s Day, even before the clock had struck twelve, all sorts of guns would be fired like the world was at war. Apparently, those in a sector of our town called “Purok 5” had the most powerful guns, for the most thrilling, most voluminous cracks of rifles came from that direction. But to continue, one night, there was a commotion in the yard. Our volunteer bodyguards rushed to the house to get us out. They said Puzon’s men had moved and were about to attack us. So we ran to the compound behind ours, and on to the Concepcion family’s house where we hid for a few hours. Then later, some of our relatives came to lead us back home. It was either a false alarm, or a bluff. Or maybe the men on the other side of the wall intended to hit us that night all right, but their big boss called off the attack. Whatever, it was surely scary. But it was also thrilling for me: it was like in the movies!

It was when I got to college that I began to realize how much a politician’s family had to sacrifice to keep up with the demands of public service. I was disturbed when I was reminded that public service sometimes meant for my mother and my sisters sleeping beyond midnight washing pots and dishes and serving coffee while the men chatted the night away. I was shocked to learn that my mother had to sell some of her heirloom and parcels of her land in Bontoc just to pay off my father’s debts most of which he had incurred as a result of his political gambles. I was pained to learn of the derision my siblings had to bear for having a “loser” for a father. To this day, we still encounter a few Kalingas who would tell us, in a rather condescending way, “Nagdakkel ti tulong ti ili mi ken ni tatang mo idi election!” I just wish I could let them see what I saw as a child at the old capitol: Kalingas queueing, wanting to see my father in the governor’s office for job opportunities, scholarships, write ups, and, other favors.

It was not only his being a politician but also his being a journalist that made life hard for his family. Newsman Sabóy, or “Gus” as his fellow mediamen would often call him, was a man who lived up to the stereotype of a relatively famous but penniless newsman. Among the exploits that earned him a notch on that proverbial tree of journalistic fame in his time was his solo coverage of the first-ever “Overseas Goodwill Mission” of the Philippine Military Academy (PMA) cadets in 1969. I still have some of his yellowing “Taiwan Diary” manuscripts he had asked me to keep prior to the documents’ supposed publication in book form by a senator, a Class ’72 Peemayer.

Gus’ fame among his generation was, however, fated to be wed with relative poverty or, perhaps more appropriately, a lack of foresight for his family’s needs. For as a few of his fellow newsmen who had regularly gathered in the dear old Dainty Restaurant started applying for residential lots in Baguio back in the ‘60s, he never bothered to reserve even a one-square meter lot for his future family. Nothing shocking there, my mother once said, for even when they got married and had their first child, he seemed to be living a bachelor’s life spending much of his time and money (which he didn’t have much of anyway) in nosing for precious news or warming up political relations. He never had the privilege of building at least a decent house for himself and his family. I think it funny that our old, sagging house of wood and galvanized iron in Tabuk typified his material state and, in his last years, his physical state as well. Our old house had managed to withstand 30 years of battering from storms – except that, during one rainy season, it had intimated its desire to retire from service when it yielded a sheet of its roofing to a passing storm. I had a rare display of bravery when I climbed through the rectangular gap in the roof to nail an extra sheet of corrugated iron on it amidst terrible downpour and shrieking wind. That old house is now gone. The relatively large, new house planted where the old house was, was built entirely out of my mother’s retirement pay (my father never tasted a GSIS pension for he had a “broken government service record”). To the very end, Sabóy was not able to save money even for his coffin. My brother Cyril told me that my father worried about dying at the time because “pangngalaanmi ngay kano ti partienmi?” (where will we get money for the animals to be butchered during his wake). But had he witnessed the whole duration of his five-day wake, he would have wept for joy because many of the people whom he once served took it upon themselves to take care of his coffin, the carabaos, and the pigs.

But during the funeral ceremonies at the capitol, I couldn’t help harping on an old wound which, I believe, should never have left a scar on the consciousness of many of my fellow Kalingas and of my family. It had been said that in 1984, when my father ran against the dreaded Assemblyman David Puzon, he “won the election, but lost the proclamation.” And the reason, they surmised, was that Puzon paid him two million pesos in exchange for his withdrawal from the electoral protest he had filed before the COMELEC (the NAMFREL had him as the clear winner), accompanied by a few law students (I remember my dad saying that no full-fledged Kalinga lawyer at that time wanted to take the cudgels for him whatever and wherever it took; it was widely known too that one of our would-be witnesses who would have helped prove massive electoral fraud by Puzon was severely tortured before his body was dumped under the Pasunglao Bridge). They added that one proof of his betrayal of the Kalingas’ trust was a mansion he put up in Baguio City.

I had always wondered about that as a student: I longed for that mansion when we used to hop from one boardinghouse to another in Baguio and then in La Trinidad. I ached for that P2-M upon seeing my father and mother many times hunt for loose change in every pocket of their clothes hanging erratically in their small room “tapno adda pagplete.” I had wished for that P2-M every time I saw my father walking from the old Dainty Restaurant to Cabinet Hill (Baguio City) – in his cheap, old shoes rummaged from the wagwagan (bargain shop). My sister Faith (“Babbit“) who now lives in Canada and with whom I frequently chat online recently disclosed that over two decades ago, she attended a Kalinga Students Association (KASA) event at Teachers’ Camp. In attendance were some of her classmates at St. Williams Academy, a CICM high school that had produced some of the best minds of that generation. So after the affair, two gentlemen from her batch insisted to walk her home, since we then lived at nearby Cabinet Hill. Her friends were apparently expecting to see a mansion with a lovely garden and some swanky SUVs in the garage. You see, at least one of those gentlemen bought the lie that inlako ni Saboy ti botos na (Saboy sold his votes) and that we were having the good life in the summer capital of the Philippines. To their shock, our mansion was a two-room apartment with a living room, kitchen and bathroom we commonly shared with another family in the adjoining room. It was at the second floor of the Maguid family’s building where we had lived for many years. The first floor was a two-room rented out apartment and the third was the residence of our landlord, and had a small terrace where we would sometimes play guitar and/or chat with the rest of the renters most of whom were from Tabuk, Kalinga. The terrace overlooked our garden — a grassy, sunflower-studded vacant lot of around 500 square meters owned by whoever, then being squatted on at the fringes by whoever. That very same garden served as our camping ground when we had to live in tents during the July 1990 earthquake. As for our parking garage, it was a two-meter long pavement that led to the front door, with a few potted plants lining one side. It was the end of a big lie, at least to that gentleman.

That reminded me of one time in the mid-’80s when my mother sent me to buy some medicines at the largest pharmacy back then, some two blocks away. I don’t think we had much at the time, because I remember all I had with me were some coins of various denominations. As I counted off the coins on the counter to pay the meds, the pharmacist, also a fellow Igorot from Bontoc, grinned and said, “Ah, so daytoy gayam diay parti ti inbayad da ken ni tatang mo?” (Ah, so this is part of what they paid your dad?). I felt so humiliated that I just left everything and ran all the way home to my mom crying. “Apay nga agsangsangitka?” my mom said. “Ni kua (name) gamin…” And I told her what her kailyan said. Of course, my mom being the iFontok that she was, went to him right away and gave the poor fellow an earful, in the Bontok tongue.

So I told those present on that day at the Capitol that if they were to ask me, “Did he pocket the P2-M, and build the mansion?” I would reply, “Yes, he DID!” and gladly pinpoint to them where those earthly treasures lie – in the arid imagination of his bitter critics.

There was so much that my father wanted to do. We began planning for some writing projects, and we agreed that our first target was to finish his first book, the Cultural History of Kalinga or something for which he already had a go-signal from the National Center for Culture and the Arts (NCCA). He had wanted to finish his memoirs. Oh, he would write about his “bolo man” days during the war, or a boxing bout in Silliman where his early training as a radio broadcaster also began (and where he wept when his classmates got him a cake for his birthday — the very first time somebody greeted him a happy birthday), his days with Dulag and Ka Ambo, and even his escapades with his good, lamented friend Ben Andaya and other veteran Baguio-based newsmen living or dead. In hindsight, I belatedly realized how much he knew especially about the Kalingas’ indigenous knowledge systems and practices. He would forget about where his glasses were, but he could actually regale you with details about general and local history and lore, national and regional personalities, world geography, geopolitics, Cordilleran topography, scouting, counter-intelligence, and many other things. He had so much good stuff in his brain which he had not put into writing. So when he died, a whole library went down with him.

It was for these and other plans that he frantically wanted to live a little longer – if only it were possible. He had wanted a pacemaker so badly because he wanted to work again.” So desperate was he that a few days before his death, he scribbled letters to various people, including his friends in Baguio, begging that they help him bear the cost of his hospital bills. I remember telling him that it was not a good thing to do because I knew that some of those people he wrote to will only laugh at his pleas. So I threw those letters away. We didn’t quite understand that his complaints, groans and frantic writing were the death throes of a man desperately wanting to live just a little more.

The week before he died, I came home from Naga City due to an emergency call from home. Daddy, my sisters said, was getting weaker and had been calling for “Popoy” most of the day. So I went home expecting him to be on his deathbed, but was surprised – in fact, annoyed – that he was actually up and about, and, upon my arrival, was there by the door soaking his feet in warm, salty water as he waited for me. Still strong, I thought.

But one time during that week, he was writhing in pain and unable to pee. It was close to midnight, and there were no tricycles around. I had to walk him to a private hospital near the public market three blocks away. It took us forever to get there, but for reasons I couldn’t now remember, we were turned away, so we had to walk again past the public market towards the provincial hospital. When we stopped to rest at the police station, one kind police officer offered us a ride (I wish I could remember his name, but I was so distressed at the time to ever pay attention to insignias and nameplates). I cringe every time I remember what followed. There he was, a septuagenarian, bawling like a child as the catheter squiggled its way through his urethra and finally into his bladder. There was nothing I could do to ease his pain. I just remember telling myself repeatedly, you can’t end up like this. The next few days, he acted erratically. He would stare at the TV with the volume turned up quite louder than usual, moved about, scribble notes on some papers, sit outside and at times embrace the table with arms outstretched, groaning and breathing heavily. He kept saying he needed a pacemaker. But who among us at the time had the money to send him to a heart center? Sure, he could have survived and lived to write his books and more if he had access to the best medical facilities in the country. I would have taken him to Makati Med. But I was then just a lowly preacher for some small-time church and preaching training school with barely enough money to even buy a coffee maker. But then, in my insensitivity, I kept telling him that he was actually physically strong, that he just needed to work on his willpower.

So on that fateful Saturday, the day before he breathed his last, I bade him goodbye because I said my family in Bicol needed me. I don’t know but something told me that afternoon not to go; something was not right: he was flat on his back in bed, two broad black lines ringing his eyes, unusually silent as I spoke, and firmly gripping my hand for at least a minute (the first time I remember him doing so) as I turned to leave his room. All that should have been my cue. Even the death of a father and the guilt-feelings of his son who felt responsible for his father’s accidental death in the movie “Vertical Limit” I happened to watch that night in a bus bound for Manila should have served as a premonition of my father’s death, but I just didn’t get it. And I stepped out of the Philtranco bus along Magsaysay Road in Naga City at about 9:00 the next morning not knowing that at that very same hour, he was gasping for his last breath. That “Dean of Kalinga Journalists,” as some have called him, died as lonely and as pitiful as he was poor. And I will have to live the rest of my life with guilt, always feeling that last, firm grip of the old man and ever envying Death for taking my father’s last embrace.

Today, even while I sometimes find myself shaking my head at how he seemed to have served  the people more than he did his family, something always reminds me that even though he was not saintly in everything that he thought or said or did, he did try to be the good husband to my mother and a responsible father to his children.

I remember, he used to take the whole family to a weekend picnic by the Chico River or at my mother’s farm or to drive most of us to places in the Cordillera some summers either in our once reliable Willy’s jeep or an old Ford Fierra. And yes, he did spend some time teaching me and my siblings how to use the typewriter, taking good care that we memorized its  backspace and marrel keys, and other parts. Also, he taught me how to make a bow and arrow from bamboo, fire a caliber .38, shoot birds and cans with a double-barreled airgun, carry a Carbine and an Armalite, loop a “Gangster Long Tie,” shoot with a zoom-lensed SLR camera, dress chicken, cook rice (my mom was a better farmer than a cook, while my father was a better cook than a farmer), declaim or orate. He taught me how to write, wanting me to be a journalist like he was. And books! We had a small family library, but he had such a taste for great books that at times when we visited friends, we would discover in their houses some of our books with the rather pretentious “SABOY FAMILY LIBRARY” stamped on them! All those books are gone now, but what I learned from them continue to influence me to this day.

He taught me something about grace amidst suffering too, for even while he was tortured by personal woes he held a deep hope for better things to come. For when he wrote, “Sometimes it would come to me that queer feeling of how [unpleasant?] life has treated me at this mellowed period of my life,” he also added: “But God is there. He must have a purpose for this.” Although I had become devangelized some years after his death, I still admire the fact that he had retained a positive outlook despite his suffering.

I will not forget as well that he showed how a penniless fellow can be wealthy, for his riches lay in his legacy that would influence generations in Kalinga: he put up the first — albeit short-lived — newspaper in Kalinga in the ’70s; he batted for the establishment of a Radyo ng Bayan in the province; he initiated the establishment of the Balbalasang-Balbalan National Park (BBNP) to keep away the CELLOPHIL and some mining companies from ravaging the flora and fauna of western Kalinga; he initiated the formation of the Kalinga-Apayao Provincial Government Employees Association (KAPGEA) which had benefited hundreds of families (although he rejected the offer to have for himself a residential lot at the sprawling land behind the capitol because he originally envisioned it as a regional hub of government offices and not as a private housing area); he initiated the gathering of 500 Kalinga leaders in the first Kalinga Bodong Congress which helped reduce the bloodshed during the anti-Chico River Dam struggle (his other related brainchild was the codification of the pagta or the laws of the bodong); he was the man behind the establishment of two separate barangays, in the City of Tabuk, Bulanao Norte and Bulanao Central; he was also the man behind the recognition of Lubuagan, Kalinga as the one-time seat of the Aguinaldo Republic (he also wrote the “Aguinaldo March” that was sung during the unveiling of the marker); he was the only Cordilleran journalist who covered the first overseas mission of the Philippine Military Academy in Taiwan; he was an important figure in the now-defunct Cordillera Executive Board and the Cordillera Bodong Assembly, countless resolutions, editorials and other articles he wrote in the name of another; he tutored budding journalists, researchers, and political leaders; and much more.

A tribal leader like him needed a son to succeed him (shades of androcentrism, I know, but it was the prevailing idea at the time) so there were those who expected me to fill in his shoes in the arena of politics, indigenous knowledge systems, and journalism. My father galvanized that expectation when he told many of his friends prior to his death that I am taking his place. I disappointed his friends though and offered no apologies. I told them, in a rather clichéd way, there is only one Augustus U. Sabóy: his shoes were meant only for his feet, his working gloves were suited only for his gnarled hands, his brain could fit only into his skull. I declared that he was and will be the best that my family can offer to the whirlpool of politics, and we did not wish to allow another to be sucked into it.

This was the reason why even in college I shunned – to my detriment – most activities of youth organizations I was a member of, and why after college I disappointed my parents by going to Bible School instead of attending Law School for I took it very seriously when my mother said the moment I became a lawyer, there was no way but to eventually retrace my father’s political footsteps. By extension, fearing that by writing I would be redrawing for myself his journalistic footsteps with the same seeming neglect of my future family’s needs, I became a reluctant writer – again, to my detriment. Now, however, I think I have begun to get encouraged to continue using the pen he had helped me to acquire, to write the words he had goaded me to form, and to pursue the vision in life he had taught me to unveil.

I did promise my father’s friends that I would strive to live up to the expectation of a Sabóy whom my father described in the following manner in a handwritten letter on a faded yellow sheet of paper:

“…although the name SABÓY is synonymous to WORLDLY POOR Clan, the name somehow is a byword in relative HONESTY in public and private dealings, known for SERVICE as their keystone in life and work and above all, GOD-FEARING” (sic, emph. his).

God-fearing. I guess this was another reason why I gave five full years to “The Ministry,” thinking that I could serve God fully only in this state. My parents objected to such a decision, for as I said they were expecting me to take up Law or finish an M.A. degree. A few years after that, my father would again write me to say:

“…I believe that most of my genes are in you. When you were four years old, before the burning of our boarding house at Bulanao, I, as your father, gave you my parental BLESSINGS like Jacob of old — I remember, you and I were alone and while I was coddling you in may arms and you fell into a slumber, I told God to give you whatever good things he has given me as a father… I prayed also to God, asking that THOSE BAD THINGS THAT I DID IN MY LIFE be kept away from you and that you will be spared from their heavy and costly burdens. Even my childhood ambition to become a ‘priest’ in the Anglican Church be also passed on to you… Parenthetically, and as my prayer could have met its answer, you preached one evening at the Baguio Church of Christ on a subject which appeared to be a ‘decision at the crossroads’ — the Two Ways. And right there and then I felt that you were going your God-appointed way: Preaching… After realizing your decision I prayed to God, as often as I could, to thank HIM for your choice because I know also that it was in accordance with His will. And, you have the ball now. Take care of it. God is watching you, and with Mama we will always ask for God’s continued blessings to be poured upon you.” (emph. his)

Later though, after a combined five-year full-time preaching and a 10-year struggle between secular and religious work, I realized that spending my life in an often money/numbers-driven and highly sectarian work was not what I am meant for. And from a rabid Fundamentalist, I became a Freethinker.

Finally, as I look back to the life of Gus Sabóy, I could see a man who survived with the sweat of his face and did not live off the blood of his prey. As my sister Faith would tell me, we could still go back to Kalinga and be proud that our father — despite the false accusations cast against him which some uninformed (or just plain nasty) people still believe in or bandy about — was a public servant who did not embezzle public funds, a politician whose integrity remained intact at death. Whenever we go home, we still see some familiar people flaunting their wealth as if they had worked hard for it when in fact they simply used their government positions to enrich themselves. Funny, some folks find it really easy to brag about things they have actually stolen from the people. But who cares how you got rich — what matters is people look up to you because you have all the money in the world, right?

But I digress. Yet again.

Gus Saboy’s life is a fitting illustration of one of his favorite poems (and one of mine, too), Longfellow’s “A Psalm of Life.”

Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream ! —
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.

Life is real !   Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal ;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way ;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.

Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.

In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle !
Be a hero in the strife !

Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant !
Let the dead Past bury its dead !
Act,— act in the living Present !
Heart within, and God o’erhead !

Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time ;

Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.

Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate ;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.

I have no doubt that he left his footprints on this shore of time. But as can be expected, those footprints will eventually be washed away by the rising and falling tides of ignorance, apathy and envy. Even then, I will always be honored that he left his footprints in my heart – and in the hearts of his few genuine friends. There are a few family friends who had made my father’s last few years bearable, among whom are Fr. Fred Pangsiw, The Rev. Ptr. Luis Ao-as, Monica Wangdali-Oras, Romy Tangbawan, and Paterno Balansi. Manong Fred, the ever-amiable pangat from the Majukayong tribe, had visited and chatted with my dad whenever he could. Now a Provincial Board Member, I am sure he is giving the term politician a positive connotation. “Uncle” Ao-as, a pangat from the Basao tribe had always been there for my dad and his lovely family will always be a part of us. A former chairman of the Kalinga Religious Sector Association (KARSA), he has lived the life of a peacemaker and an anti-corruption advocate. Both Father Pangsiw, an orthodox Anglican, and Pastor Ao-as, a Lutheran clergyman, are for me the embodiments of indigenized theology and ecumenism, something my father had always been open to. Manang Monica is an Igorot businesswoman who has always considered Gus Saboy as a mentor and a tatang (father). She gave my father the last opportunity to put up a weekly newspaper in Tabuk when she became the publisher for The North Luzon Times which my dad edited but which unfortunately had to close shop after a few months. She also risked ridicule even among her relatives when she donated a full-grown cow to be butchered for my father’s wake. Manong Romy had never forgotten Gus Saboy’s lessons on journalism and public service. Now an editor of a newspaper in the Middle East and a generous benefactor to the Saint Paul’s Mission High School in Balbalasang, he had always made my father proud. Manong Paterno was like my father’s younger brother of sorts. They often travelled together, chatting for countless hours. As head of the Philippine News Agency in Tabuk then, manong Pat worked with my dad and would often seek advice from the old man. I never saw him again after he and his family emigrated to America shortly after my father’s burial, but I am glad that his younger brother Edison and I have continued their friendship. My family will always be grateful to these and a few other wonderful people whose friendship didn’t waver even in the most testing times, some of whom even risked their reputation for simply associating with a much-maligned man like my father.

In the last stanza of his song, “Balbalasang,” Gus Saboy penned:

Balbalasang to you –

All earthly laurels go;

But heav’nward bound we, to

That Grand Rendezvous.

So, when we reach the Border,

And cross the Great Saltan River;

Balbalasang, there’s you —

Forever with you!

I imagine that when he crossed Death’s river, he had really wanted to turn back. So to borrow from Emily Dickinson, “because [ he] could not stop for death, death kindly stopped for [him].” And he must have cast a wistful glance behind him as he reluctantly planted his quill on our side of the river before taking the boat.

I shall never see him again. This life is all there is, I now know. But I’m picking up that quill and I shall pass it on before the Boatman takes me away as well.

Comments

  1. sandra chungJanuary 26, 2008 at 2:32 AMI had heard of your late father when I was young but I seem to know him more after visiting this site.
    He’s a true pioneer and like most pioneers so much had to be sacrificed. He’ll be remembered for generations.
    His “The Banaos:A Backgrounder” is the only article about our origin and identity I could find.ReplyDelete
  2. scott saboyJanuary 26, 2008 at 3:49 AMhi sandra, thanks for visiting my blog. it was hard for me to understand why a lot had to be sacrificed in the name of public service. now that i have learned a bit more about life, i came to see dad’s life from a better vantage point. i will try to update the AUS files sometime soon after i shall have found time to sift through his yellowing documents. ingatz!ReplyDelete
  3. yajudeFebruary 25, 2008 at 8:56 AMGrabe, naiyak ako! I just saw this, though I favorited your blog site. In fact, I emailed your link to our kailyans whom I’m constantly having communication with. I’ll print this article so I’ll send it home to Papa. I actually told him about you, about your blog, during my recent vacation at home for the fiesta. Regards daw po.. He (Alfred Dannang) was a good friend to your father. Namiss ko tuloy sila. I’m just grateful for having such parents like them. Also, I could relate well to your experience you mentioned during your college days.. He is in heaven, smiling and so proud of you!ReplyDelete
  4. scott saboyFebruary 27, 2008 at 5:31 AMthanks for the affirmation, sunud. pursuing a career in writing is quite a tough task, but it’s a joy to honor my father’s name with the pen he helped me to acquire. i hope to be able to hone my writing skills enough so i can be a better servant to our people. i remember “uncle” alfred well, and i know dad’s heart had a special place for your dad. i got a lot of writing projects in mind but it seems like there’s just so many other things to do and too little time to finish them..ReplyDelete
  5. mary ann foy-os apopotMarch 28, 2008 at 3:58 AMSo touched by your article..Talking about PUBLIC SERVICE reminds me of my father (John Foy-os, Sr.). He was a catechist in Sadanga during your father’s time. I remember him doing public service 24 hrs a day, 7 days a week. I remember sick people knocking at our doors in the middle of the night to seek medical help for medicine or to be given injections. Our house was also for public service. Our house in Sadanga was also rotten wood & rusty galvanized iron & yet it SERVED as a TRANSIENT house, hotel, medical clinic as well as a hospital & restaurant for free. When folks from the barrios had no place to stay during the night, they were referred to our house & are expected to be fed & be provided for a place to sleep over night. When folks in the barrio got sick,they come to our house to be treated & stay there til they got better. When there were tourists visiting our town ,they were referred to our father to entertain them,provide accommodation & feed them while they are in town..

    My father had been a public servant as a Preacher, Healer (although he had no formal schooling in the health care field).

    Your father was indeed a TRUE MAN OF SERVICE, a MAN OF HONESTY, a MAN OF JUSTICE. He ran in politics & may have lost the race (per # of votes or on proclamation), but he emerged still as a WINNER as he showed in his TRUE PUBLIC SERVICE. He is a person who WALKS & TALKS…

    WORDLY POOR: Riches comes in many forms. Your father may be materially poor but he is very WEALTHY in many other forms. Indeed, he is a very WEALTHY man. His wealth continuously having COMPOUND INTEREST in the lives of many people he touched & served.

    I did stay in Bulanao for several summer vacations during my college yrs, so am familiar with those political names mentioned in your article. Am also a frequent listener of the RADYO NG bAYAN.

    The book that your father did not finish was meant for YOU to finish…Looking forward to reading the finish book when it’s done…

    Your father is very happy to know that you are continuing his works…Reading several of your articles, you are very PASSIONATE of your writing.. Keep up the good works!!ReplyDelete
  6. Marco PuzonOctober 26, 2008 at 5:32 AMDear Scott,

    I am the youngest son of the man you have described as “dreaded” – former Assemblyman David M. Puzon, who, like your father, is now dead. He was killed in 1986, as you may have already known.

    I am not writing to defend the memories of my father. After I read your article, old questions have come back. Questions that I have not asked myself in more than two decades. During the 1984 campaign, I was a high school student – all I cared for was not to flunk my math subjects.

    I hated politics then as much as I hate it now. For me, the world of politics that my father lived in was the source of pain and longingness for a father – as I never saw him that often. Reading your blog, I could not help, Scott, but to be envious of the memories you have of your father and the time you spent together. Your father indeed must have been a jewel of a Kalinga.

    I had only been to Kalinga once or twice then, but in 2007, I had visited Balbalasang on a mission as an NGO worker. I asked myself, have the Kalinga ever forgiven my father or my half-brother Rolando for whatever they may have done during their time? They’re both dead now, anyway, and all we have are memories of their names – good or bad, kind or dreaded.

    I have no quarrels to revive or pains to harbor about how people look at my father or his legacy in what was then Kalinga-Apayao. That was his life, and I have my own.

    But my surname does have a “dreaded” legacy, one perhaps that I cannot erase from the collective memory of Kalingas.

    There is a purpose why, after all these years, I have come across your blog. And I am thankful that I did.

    I hope to have helped you close that old wound. I would not know how or when our paths would cross. But as you have said: God is there.

    If we our paths cross, I offer my hand – not as the son of the man who had caused your family pain – but a kimmet like you.

    I wish you and your family peace.

    Marco PuzonReplyDelete
  7. scott saboyNovember 1, 2008 at 2:06 AMManong Marco,

    Thanks for writing. You don’t know how much your post meant to me and my siblings. I read it with mixed emotions and it took me a while to put my thoughts together in response to it as bittersweet memories of those tension-filled and quite traumatic days overwhelmed me once more. It is really vexing that no matter how hard we try to wave away the spectre of the past it always has a way of coming back to haunt us and shake our confidence in our maturity.

    Why the stigma seared into the names of our forebears should be passed on to us their descendants (who, if given the choice, would have steered clear of it) is something that vexes the spirit too. But I can sense that although it must have been difficult for you to have borne the baggage you were fated to carry, you must have carried it through with grace.

    They say that after my speech at the Capitol on the day of my father’s burial the issue about my dad’s integrity among the Kalingas was finally laid to rest. I’d like to believe that. And I’d like to believe, too, that although there’s always this emotional tug from the past, I and my family have moved on with our lives quite well since then.

    I believe as you do that our being introduced to each other through this blog is Providential and I sure hope to meet you in person some time.

    Again, thank you so much for getting in touch!

    Ading Popoy {@@}ReplyDelete

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