Mario Taguiwalo, or Tito Noy as I called him, was born in Bacolod in 1951. The only son in a family of six daughters, he was very much loved and adored by his parents and sisters. A precocious child, he was accepted into the first batch of the Philippine Science High School (PSHS) at the age of 13 and promptly left Bacolod to study in Manila. As a student, the undoubtedly gifted Mario Taguiwalo was editor of the Science Scholar and co-authored the lyrics to the PSHS hymn.
In the same year that Tito Noy graduated from high school, Ferdinand Marcos was fraudulently reelected to a second term as president of the Philippines. At this time an increasing number of student protests and uprisings were being mounted against Marcos. In college, Tito Noy joined student activists, participating in student demonstrations and rallies. By this time his sister Judy, my Tita Duday, was already heavily involved in the anti-Marcos resistance at UP Diliman. It was in this way that the two siblings independently became a part of the civil resistance campaign, pursuing shared ideals while also developing their own nationalist identities.
In 1972 Marcos seized dictatorial power and declared martial law. By then many of the sisters in the family had already relocated to the United States and Canada. Tita Duday and Tito Noy remained in the Philippines fighting the regime. During martial law, Tito Noy was arrested and spent several months in prison in Negros. After his release, he enrolled in La Salle to finish his bachelor’s degree then earned a master’s degree in Economics from UP Diliman.
The fate of his sister, Tita Duday, on the other hand, was not so mild. During martial law she was forced to go underground and was arrested, only to spend many years confined—and tortured—in Marcos’ camps. Despite all of her suffering, she auspiciously gave birth to a daughter, my cousin, June. Tito Noy, by that time the only sibling left in the Philippines, made regular visits to his sister and niece in prison.
As the daughter of the youngest sister in the Taguiwalo family, I was born in the United States, far away from the political turmoil of my parents’ native country. Growing up, however, I would see my relatives and I would learn their stories. I would learn how Tito Noy and Tita Duday had been part of the revolution to oust Marcos, how they had been imprisoned during martial law; and why, despite being considered the brightest in the family, they were the only siblings who chose to stay in the Philippines.
I would also learn of Tito Noy’s success as a political and intellectual leader. After Marcos fled and Cory Aquino became president, he was appointed to her administration. A close advisor and speech writer for President Cory, Tito Noy became an influential and visionary reformer. “You know, your Tito Noy was undersecretary (at the Department of Health) in the Philippines. And he’s not even a doctor!” my mother would exclaim.
As I grew older I became more familiar with Tito Noy himself. He wasn’t just my crazy uncle, making jokes and dancing like a lunatic at my grandmother’s birthday. He was incredibly bright. He had a brilliant humor and an analytic mind. And he was curious. When I was a student at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), pursuing my PhD in Economics, he would inquire about my studies and my area of research. At times we would converse about the Philippine health care system—an issue he was deeply passionate about.
Tito Noy was an idealist. One day in the summer of 2008, amid the heavy Manila heat and humidity, my brother and I explored Intramuros with our relatives. Walking through the beautiful front gate of Fort Santiago, we approached the museum in honor of José Rizal. Oh, how Tito Noy’s and Tita Duday’s faces lit up as they told his story! Part of the Filipino educated class during the Spanish colonial period, Rizal was the most notable of the ilustrados. These intellectuals called for reform-equality in economic and political representation under the Spanish rule. Although Rizal and the ilustrados were not originally pushing for Philippine independence, it was the writings of Rizal, his imprisonment, and eventual execution which sparked the Philippine Revolution. Tito Noy radiated with pride in his national hero as we departed Rizal’s prison cell in Fort Santiago.
Not just a liberal intellectual leader, Tito Noy was a colorful and forceful writer—he wrote articles on health care and education reform, on governance, and on ending corruption. A powerful communicator, he discussed and delivered speeches on these topics. He directed a progressive think tank and consulted for the World Bank, USAID, and countless other Philippine and international agencies. Incredibly, Tito Noy was also an actor; he even co-wrote movies such as “Oro, Plata, Mata.”
Economist, reformer, writer, consultant, political leader, actor, public intellectual, and so on. In the words of a recent obituary, “Mario Taguiwalo was a Renaissance Man.” Indeed.
Despite all his success and good humor, Tito Noy had a very private and emotionally difficult family life. He had three sons with his wife Beaulah Pedregosa. The first was Mark. A sweet, handsome son, Mark sadly passed away last year from heart failure. The second son, Freddie, is an opera-singing, cartoon-loving, character. He insists that everyone call him Homer—in homage to the major Greek epic poet, not, as he will relentlessly deny, to the popular father figure in the Simpsons. Finally, the third son, Mike, a vibrant, creative artist, tragically died at the youthful age of 18 of a heart condition. Outliving two of his three sons and delivering their eulogies—this was the private family life of Mario Taguiwalo, and the life that we, as family, painfully saw him experience.
Tito Noy passed away due to colon cancer on April 22, 2012. Despite the vast geographic distance between us, I am strongly affected by his death. I felt oddly close to my Tito Noy, and I now wonder why this is so.
I suspect that I hold on to this romantic notion that I’m still a Filipino. That my father is from Luzon and that my mother is from the Visayas. That my grandmother still lives in a small house in Bacolod. That my aunt and uncle suffered as political detainees in a revolution to overthrow a repressive dictatorial regime. And that the struggles of their country are still my own. I’ll never forget that while I happened to be the lucky baby born in the safe arms of the United States, my same-age cousin was born to her mother in the confines of Camp Crame.
And although I’m American, I’m still proud of the country my parents come from and of my relatives who chose to remain there. I am proud of my uncle. Tito Noy, or Mario Taguiwalo to others, was an inspiration not only in what he accomplished as an individual, but also in his devotion to the Philippines and improving the lives of its people. A multi-talented, idealistic, public intellectual, he was in my mind a modern-day ilustrado.
Jennifer La’O, Ph.D., 28, is an assistant professor of Economics at the University of Chicago.
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