The next selections are from
his column in the Philippines Herald.
This column appeared thrice
weekly, from February to June 1972. Some of the events he wrote about then
seem remote today - the antics of the Constitutional Convention,
the Vietnam war, some of his betes noires - Imelda Marcos,
Kit Tatad - are still very much around. Some essays have a
somber, even poignant, tone; most reflect the impish glee with which Gerry
punctured the more mindless pronouncements of high officialdom.
The columns written in the Standard weekly magazine from 1992 to 1994 seem fresher and less dated than those of the Herald 20 years earlier. This is due in part to the fact that when "Methinks" comments on the current scene, that scene is obviously more recent; in part it is because Gerry felt freer to write columns about matters somewhat farther removed from the day's headlines, which were adequately covered in his editorials. The editorials, more serious and weighty, were marvels of construction, clarity, and phrasing. The columns had all of the latter, plus a bit more whimsy and wordplay.
In between Gerry's Herald columns and his Standard columns in this book are his letters to the editor, written in the mid-eighties, when the Philippine press had begun to show signs of life again, after the tameness and insipidity induced by martial law.
He was teaching at the time at UP, Ateneo, and the Asian Institute of Journalism, and was not employed by any newspaper. I imagine he wanted to test the waters. So he fired off letter after letter to Veritas, Malaya, Mr. & Ms. Special Edition, the Daily Inquirer, and so on.
Danny Gil has analyzed the computer disks and determined that Gerry wrote over 300 letters from November 1984 to May 1986 when he accepted an editing job in Hong Kong. But he didn't just compose letters; he created personas for their authors. Gerry wrote under 42 different pseudonyms. Some he used just once or twice; others 20 times or more. In Danny's analysis some writers had personalities as distinct as their signatures.
Alice Moranas and Jordan 0. Dy were at UP in the fifties. Belinda Mojica was an Ortanez student who wrote poor and bombastic English. Benjamin Lozada was a stickler for journalistic ethics. Carlota Salvador was a public high school teacher. Donald Villablanca used to live in Honolulu. J. Pedrosa Ramas was scholarly and Wilson G. Abaya was sportsminded. Quirino Torres was a lecturer in computer science, quite philosophical. Peria Gosingco was playful. And Rosemarie Abundo defended Jolly Benitez. (Some of Gerry's friends will recognize certain pseudonyms, like Franklin Tan and Delano Drilon, as inspired by their own names. Benjy Lozare taught at UP Mass Comm. Salvador Carlota was Gerry's dormmate and Juan Pedroza Ramos was UPSCA president in 1960. Margie Gosingco Holmes was Gerry's student and Romy Abundo was a colleague at the Press Foundation. Hernando J. Abaya, it will be recalled, sued Gerry for libel.)
The comic potential inherent in this elaborate setup is not always realized. The majority of Gerry's letters went unpublished. Those that were sometimes suffer, from the perspective of a decade later, from topicality and being dated, and from the kind of enforced brevity that a letter writer must impose upon himself. The editorial writer or columnist has a certain space to fill up, but can pretty much choose his topic. The letter writer competes with others of his ilk for a few column inches of space, dares not write about matters too distant from the current scene for fear of not being usable, and has to make his point as quickly as possible, without the depth and amplification afforded to the columnist or editorialist.
Still a good number of Gerry's letters - some brash and flippant, some pensive and philosophical, some indignant, some mocking - are, like the rest of his output, delightful reading. And if the whole setup was in part joke and elaborate hoax, Rosemarie Abundo was the punchline.
Gerry's letters heaped scorn on many targets: the Marcoses, Jaime Laya, Larry Henares, Blas Ople, BAYAN, and GABRIELA - but his favorite whipping boy was Jose Conrado Benitez of the Ministry of Human Settlements. Jolly's and Gerry's friendship went back a long way; they were schoolmates at Stanford, and Gerry was godfather to Jolly's son Albee. But Gerry always held the view that the Benitez clan - not just Jolly - was a pretentious and elitist lot, and that to protect their privileged status they had kowtowed to power too much. As early as 1972, Gerry's Herald column had ridiculed Jolly's aunt, Senator Helena Benitez; 13 years later the letters of Alice Moranas, Karla V. Castillo, Quirino Torres, Carlos Alfaro, and Carlota Salvador resumed the barrage.
But Gerry gave the Benitezes a defender: Rosemarie Abundo, who hailed the statistics of housing starts under the Ministry of Human Settlements as Jolly's "solid record of achievement," and demanded to know why Helen, of all the Marcos supporters now professing support for President Aquino, was being singled out as a balimbing.
Then Gerry, writing as Eric Ferrer, triumphantly exposed Ms. Abundo. She was unknown at her given address, which was not a residence but a business establishment. False name, false address? But Rosemarie insisted on the last word. She confessed to the fraud, but explained her use of a pseudonym: "Much as I may value Dr. Benitez's reputation, I do not value it highly enough to besmirch my own!" (Her letter was not published, but it survives in Gerry's computer files.)
The bulk of the selections in this book are Manila Standard editorials, written while Gerry was associate editor from late 1989 to mid-1995. This period was the longest that Gerry stayed with a newspaper, and since he wrote the editorials virtually every day, it coincided with his largest body of work. As with everything else, I've been selective, and chosen about ten percent of the total for republication.
I think it best not to approach the entire collection as a record of Gerry Gil's weightiest pronouncements, or as a mirror of his times. I've left out too much; where I had to choose, due to space limitations, between a judgment on some issue of national import, and something that stood a better chance of remaining fresh and readable over time, I consistently opted for the latter. In his valedictory piece for the Herald, Gerry spelled out a limited objective:
JIMMY S. ONG