Memories of ‘Sir’ | Inquirer Opinion
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Memories of ‘Sir’

RECENTLY, MY husband and daughter and I had lunch at a Chinese restaurant and one of the items on the menu was “fried pork intestines.” I ordered the dish at once, prompted by a memory fragment that brought me back almost 40 years ago.

I was then an incoming sophomore at the University of Sto. Tomas. I had just hurdled the exam and interview for new reporters of The Varsitarian, the student newspaper of that great institution. During the summer break, we were told to report to the offices of the “V” for a “briefing,” which turned out to be an excursion to Chinatown.

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One of the dishes ordered was “fried pork intestines,” although I didn’t know it at the time. Instead, Felix Bautista, our publications director, confided that it was “fried snake.” “Try it, it’s delicious,” he urged. I was torn between fascination with the “exotic” entrée and basic revulsion at the very idea of eating a snake. But not wanting to appear naïve or cowardly, I bravely took a piece of the “snake” and chewed on it, finding it surprisingly delicious.

I found out the truth a few minutes later, but by then I sensed I had passed some sort of test. I surmised that this was a time-honored ritual that “Sir,” as most everyone in the “V” called him, tested the mettle of new recruits.

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In the years I knew him, “Sir” would introduce us and challenge us, the group of young women he had recruited to serve with him in the “media office” of the Archdiocese of Manila, to several tests of character and gumption. Many of these would involve food, as he was fond of scouting around for new or unusual restaurants. Some involved drinking, particularly the great Margaritas that Msgr. Gene Velarde, then secretary of Jaime Cardinal Sin, would prepare in the kitchen of Villa San Miguel. Others involved tests of skill and ingenuity, courage and industry.

* * *

FELIX Bautista would become my teacher about a year after I joined the “V.” While he honed us on the basic skills of journalism and regaled us with the real-life challenges he faced as a reporter and then editor, his wife Lourdes, known to friends as Nena but to all of us as “Ma’m,” taught us literature and theology. I suspect that to “Ma’m” there was no demarcation between these two fields, and I remember her classes as being infused with both a love for words and fidelity to the faith.

But mostly, the Bautistas taught us by example. Even while we worked together in the Archdiocese’s media office, our workdays would be punctuated every now and then by any one of the many stories that “Sir” had on hand. Many of them had to do with the journalist’s lot, but even more had to do with being a human being, a parent, a humble and penitent child of God.

One of the stories I remember was his memory of a car accident that involved him and his family on the way to Baguio. Their car turned turtle, and they were all bathed in the pungent ingredients of the kettle of adobo in the back seat, but miraculously, none of them were seriously injured. “At the hospital, I turned to a friend who responded to my call for help and rejoiced about the ‘Bautista luck’,” he recalled. “My friend then turned on me and said sharply: ‘What Bautista luck? Get down on your knees now and thank God for sparing your family’s lives!’”

* * *

ON ANOTHER occasion, I happened to be standing next to him as we heard Mass where the choir was made up of deaf children. As the children “signed” the songs of the Mass, he turned to me and said, his eyes brimming with tears: “I just realized how selfish I have been. What kind of father am I, teasing my children when they blunder or commit a mistake, when they are such perfect human beings? I have not thanked God enough for making my children the way they are.”

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Oh, one thing I forgot to tell you about “Sir” and “Ma’m.” They had 12 children, all of them extraordinary in some way. Sometimes, when “Sir” got into one of his exultant, bragging moods, we his “Media Girls” would wonder if he was trying to put us down or show us up. But in time we came to realize that “Sir” was just being himself, a proud parent, and conceded that in many cases, his boastfulness was justified.

And in time, as we young women turned into brides and wives and mothers, we would ask either “Sir” or “Ma’m” to serve as a wedding sponsor. We could not have found better role models, or more patient counsellors as we brought to the office our stories of newlywed crises and marital blues.

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IT’S astonishing to realize that his extended family—not just “Ma’m,” his 12 children and their children, but including us his “Media Girls” and all his students—would be observing next month the 20th anniversary of “Sir’s” passing. He played such a big role in our lives, and in our family’s lives, and much like our parents, he and “Ma’m” have served as an inspiration and a scold as we have striven to live up to our responsibilities as spouses, parents, journalists and citizens. It still seems as if he is around, and I keep my ears cocked for any pithy advice from him.

And that is why I ordered the “fried pork intestines” when I saw the item on the menu. My daughter, who is herself embarking on a career in journalism, wanted to know why the dish held such meaning for me. When I told her about “Sir” Felix Bautista, she shrugged and said she also loved some of her old college professors, but she wouldn’t order a dish in their honor.

That’s why I consider myself lucky for having found a mentor such as him: a man of literally big appetites, who rubbed elbows with the high and mighty in his career as a journalist, but who chose to bow out of the race to teach generations of journalism students not just the basics of newsgathering, but the way to find meaning in a life well lived.

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TAGS: education, fried pork intestines, institution, journalism students, UST, values, Varsitarian
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