Sunday, November 3, 2013

My Friend Boy

I never had the opportunity to mourn the passing of a dear friend. His was a tragic death that happened two years ago; he was gunned down in the privacy of his own home. The lone assassin escaped into the darkness, etching sharp outlines of a cold-blooded murder. Gasping for breath, Boy was rushed to a local hospital in an effort to save his life. There his children gathered around him desperately trying to keep him out of the light, coaching him to breathe. He remained buoyantly responsive for a few minutes. But the worst is yet to come. Suddenly, it was time to go. And yet, in a matter of seconds Boy summoned enough strength to say his final words. Amid the excruciating pain educed by the multiple gunshot injuries, Boy audibly muttered “I love you” to his children. Then he diligently passed out. Consumatum est! Henceforth, my friend’s journey in the afterlife began.

In a strange twist of irony, both of us knew that his days were numbered but often chose to allay our fears so as not to spoil our once-in-a-lifetime coffee discussions. It was a big mistake to have never talked about those “threats” seriously. Either we had brushed it aside or had simply trivialized everything under the rag. But I mourned his death privately. And mourn him still to this day. What happened next was the last thing I had expected. The death of my friend had forcefully sapped out whatever idealistic ardor I once had for my hometown─ Isabela de Basilan. And so my political career abruptly ended before it even started rolling.

I would like to remember Nickarter “Boy” Gonzalo as the “writer” whose idealism represents the impression of the times we lived in. I have lots of stories to tell about Boy but decided to shorten it. You know, my friend Boy hates it when I write long and dense. And so in deference to his wish I will keep it simple and nice.

Boy was a lot older than me. Like my father, Boy was a highly respected elder in church and the whole of evangelical community. I came to know him personally through my older brother Ernani, then a budding seminarian. Boy frequented in our house almost every other day except Sundays. From what I recall, the two spent long hours together discussing about theology and books. Both displayed erudition and spoke English fluently and lengthily. I was then in my teens during their conclaves wandering around the house. It used to annoy me really, because his diurnal visits interrupted my television ritual in the living room. Their relationship however went into hiatus when my brother had a change of heart. He decided to leave the seminary for good and pursue his life in law.

Albeit not a journalist by profession, Boy was a prolific writer─ a fine wordsmith with a poisonous pen. His choice of words and the rhythm of his prose complement each other in a mordant legible scrawl that often illuminates the political malaise of our hometown. One after the other, Boy exposed in his essays unscrupulous practices of local politicians with much gusto. He minces no words the moment he fires his guns at rapacious politicos: Bato bato sa langit and tamaan bukol! Many people back home are unaware that Boy was a regular contributor for local dailies, but one thing that he was really proud of was his (under a pseudonym) extensive piece about Basilan Province which was printed in the Philippine Daily Inquirer many years ago.

It was in this field that we became close friends later. Early 2002, Boy singlehandedly organized a Christian writers group that would showcase local talents who are audacious enough to express their staid political and biblical views on many things. First to be invited to join the group was my older brother, a law student at that time. I pleaded Boy if I could join the group but he was quite unsure about my participation because it had something to do with writing. Once I even heard him say that he didn’t know that I was into writing too. Yes, Boy was right. I was not. At that time, I was still in the process of getting my life fixed, setting my academic record straight. I thought joining the group would be a big leap from sheer boredom and callousness to something more productive. Yet Boy remained somewhat indifferent with me for quite some time. I could not blame him. I was in fact a happy-go-lucky-guy. I hardly read books except guitar tablatures and other rock n roll stuff. But I guess my brother noticed something. I was changing. I’m not really sure how it started though. He then prodded Boy to consider me in the group on the condition that I would be submitting a write-up. I did. As things turned out, Boy eventually conceded after reading my article. “Mar de Gracia,” our very first publication, and ironically our last, came out late December of 2002. It was Boy, ever the philanthropist, who shouldered the expenses from printing to publication, to distribution and all. The journal received critical and positive reviews from the local evangelical community because of its unorthodox content.

Inspired by the initial success of the publication, the group flexed its muscles and channeled its energy on political reforms. In one of our meetings, Boy brought to our attention about a certain lawyer-councilman whose election in office was highly questionable and suspicious. Boy vehemently decried the political apathy of the public despite blatant violation of the law and the Constitution. Boy pleaded that we should do something about the situation, to which we all agreed in principle. Later on, after much discussion, our adherence to law and sense of patriotism prevailed. We then decided to support Boy’s advocacy all the way. Indeed like cowardice, courage can be infectious too. An overwhelming sense of hope must have filled Boy’s idealism when my brother, Atty. Ernani Diaz Bonoan, agreed to handle the case for free.

I was already in Manila when the triumvirate of Boy, Ernani and Marlon Espina (another bona fide member of the group) buckled down to business. Through the DILG, my brother submitted a legal brief citing constitutional rules and legal principles that would clearly show the illegality of the councilman’s assumption of office. The DILG concurred in toto with the legal arguments presented by my brother. At first, the arrogant Councilman remained adamant. He defended not only himself but also two of his colleagues who were in a similar position. In his privilege speech before the city council, he pompously declared that his seat was legally sanctioned by the Local Government Code. Believing perhaps that he might need to sound lawyerly in front of his colleagues, the goner even cited anachronistic Supreme Court decisions just to bone his case. He argued with so much flare that although not elected directly by the people, nonetheless the city mayor appointed him as a councilman representing marginalized sectors in the city. Unfortunately the die was cast. No one believed a word he said on that day. Of course, any law student taking up municipal corporations or laws on public officers would know that his arguments were a big joke. To make the story short, the city mayor immediately withdrew the appointments and ordered the culprits to voluntarily step down from office. It was a wise decision on his part because the legal ramifications alone could reach all the way to the top, clearly implicating him as the appointing authority responsible for the fiasco. Jettisoned by their padrino in the middle of a shipwreck, the culprits quickly jumped ship and renounced their positions. Obviously, the illusion that they were entitled to the same rank and privileges as city councillors soon came to an end.

Boy was definitely in high spirits as soon as the news reached him. It was a stunning team victory. Although I was not there, I could easily imagine Boy’s elation as he was talking to me on the phone breaking the news. Oh yes, he was really proud of our team. While credit goes to my brother for his legal acumen, everything else could not have been possible without Boy’s steering idealism and passion. It was indeed his finest hour, his quiet yet puissant legacy for his fellow Isabelenos.

Looking back, I think that single event changed Boy’s perspective on so many things, especially in politics. It must have dawned on him that political reforms in our hometown might not be a far-fetched dream after all. He vowed to continue the fight. He even dared to dream 'dreams' when everyone else were seemingly wide-awake doing nothing, Boy eventually took matters into his own hands. Twice, he lost the elections. It has been said that politics can bring out the best and the worst in people. True enough, politics brought out the best in Boy and the worse in the people of Isabela City. But Boy came out of the snake pit unscathed, alive and kicking.

Idealism rarely presents itself in paradoxical terms. A case in point is Boy Gonzalo. Surely, the undiluted purity of idealism is often equated with recklessness, naiveté or innocence─ with youth. But Boy could barely qualify as youth. He was way over the bracket. And yet he poignantly embraced the idealism of youth like romance in the moonlight, thrusting its warmth with the passion of a lover so to speak. I have been told a number of times that when a person grows older, plunging himself in the real world, youthful idealism slowly withers away with age. And in one fell swoop, this thing called “realism” takes over. For a time, I was inclined to accept this notion until my friend Boy came along. Years later after reflecting Boy’s life as a political activist and a writer, I’ve realized that Boy’s brand of “idealism” involved a great deal of conviction and hope influenced by the teachings of Christ. And so finally, I got the equation.

Nickarter “Boy” Gonzalo may have been silenced by an assassin’s bullet but certainly not his ideals ─ his steadfast belief that Isabela de Basilan will rise again; not economically, but by bringing back decency and respect in public office. To the end, my friend Boy was in his usual self chaffing at the leash, defying the status quo. Now that Boy has passed on to the Great Beyond, his essays will serve as his last will and testament ─or to put it bluntly─ his death wish to the people of Basilan.NB:

Here is a sample of Boy Gonzalo's essay: MAKING MORAL CHOICES DURING ELECTIONS