Friday, October 19, 2018
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A time of sorrow

/ 05:05 AM August 13, 2018

In just the last two weeks, three of my close buddies called it a day and quietly left us. One was a classmate at the Philippine Military Academy, while the sporting world of golf introduced me to the others.

First to go was Renato Francisco, son of the longest-serving flag officer in command of the Philippine Navy, Cmdr. Jose S. Francisco. He was a member of Ateneo’s famous high school Class of 1955 led by former president Joseph Estrada. I met Rene at Hole No. 1 of the Philippine Navy golf course one Wednesday morning and immediately felt comfortable with him. It would be the start of many get-togethers with mutual friends.


Rene was great at organizing events, and one that will always be remembered was our pilgrimage to the Holy Land and visits to Italy and the Czech Republic in 2000. In Italy, he promised us a fantastic Chinese dinner at Siena, a Unesco World Heritage Site. So we walked on the cobblestone streets of the city under the rain, only to end up eating chicken feet instead of a lauriat that we thought was in store. But it was Rene’s smiling and optimistic demeanor that kept us in high spirits. He also brought our golfing group together for Christmas dinners. As another holiday season approaches, we shall miss him badly.

Antonio Lukban was the son of a former governor of Camarines Norte, Miguel Lukban, and a nephew of one of our greatest revolutionary heroes, Gen. Vicente Lukban, who headed the resistance on the island of Samar. It was in Balangiga, Samar, that Filipino fighters scored their greatest victory against US forces during the Philippine-American War. We remember Balangiga for its church bells. We must also recognize the town as the site of one of our few victories over a foreign invader.


We were 51 who graduated from the PMA in 1956. Tony Lukban finished No. 13. After flying training, he joined the Fifth Fighter Wing in Pampanga and, in 1959, he was one of four young pilots who carried out the final flight of the famed P-51 “Mustang” prior to decommissioning. The others were Lieutenants Venancio Alegrado, Romulo Querubin and Romeo David.

When Tony returned from the Royal Air Force Staff College in the United Kingdom, he related an experience that made such a great impression on him. He said that each time there was toasting to be done during any occasion, it would be to the sound of “cheers.” He suggested that, instead of just following the Western custom, why don’t we use the beautiful and meaningful native word “Mabuhay,” a word that covers everything good that we wish for a person or for our country.

I could sense his nationalistic feelings, his patriotism and
his love of country. Perhaps, this was part of the legacy of
Gen. Vicente Lukban. Today, in place of “cheers,” I raise my glass and say “Mabuhay!” and I remember Tony Lukban.

Jose Baltazar and I come from different backgrounds. He finished high school at Ateneo and graduated from Sophia University in Tokyo , with a degree in economics. An MBM from Ateneo would later follow. As earlier stated, I finished at the PMA and later took my MM at the Asian Institute of Management. Joe identified himself with the Philippine Coast Guard. I served with the Philippine Air Force.

Joe always had a glass of scotch on the rocks (Johnnie Walker Black Label); I held a glass of Coca-Cola (sugar-free) on the rocks. He smoked like a chimney pipe; after an early bout with cigarettes during the Japanese occupation, I gave up smoking when GI Joe returned to the Philippines in 1944 with his Chesterfields, Camels and Lucky Strikes. He taught me how to play blackjack (scientifically) and baccarat. I must have been a very poor student, as I kept losing while he kept winning.

It was golf that brought us together, and he invited me to join tournaments being organized by his golf group “Movers and Managers.” This was also the name of his own warehousing company, of which he was president and CEO. On one memorable outing, we headed for the Gold Coast of Australia, playing golf on four different courses for four consecutive days. It was a great experience, and only Joe could have pulled it off.

A few weeks before he passed away, I had dinner with Joe at his residence along with a couple of friends. He was unable to speak, and we had to decipher the sounds coming from his mouth to understand him. But you could see he was a fighter who, to the end, never gave up his zest for life. He was a friend who gave of himself, never expecting anything in return.


Surrounding the urn that contained Joe’s ashes were his great loves on this earth: a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black
Label, three decks of casino cards, and three golf balls. St. Peter would probably say, leave those behind, Joe, we have better
stuff here in heaven.

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TAGS: Antonio Lukban, Jose Baltazar, Ramon Farolan, Renato Francisco, Reveille
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