Gen. Roman Gavino, officer and gentleman | Inquirer Opinion
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Gen. Roman Gavino, officer and gentleman

FOR SEVERAL years, we were a regular foursome at the Camp General Emilio Aguinaldo Golf Course in Quezon City. I was the oldest in age and the most senior going by PMA class. The other three were Gen. Roman Q. Gavino Jr., Class 1958; Gen. Umberto A. Rodriguez, Class 1961; and Gen. Manuel A. Salimbangon, Class 1962. One was an airman, another an Army man, while two belonged to the Philippine National Police. Every now and then, we would be joined by a fifth, Commodore Vicente Buenaventura, Class 1957 of the Navy and by Gen. Carmelito Beltran, Class 1958.

General Gavino, better known as “Romy,” was the poste of our group. In the language of golfers, this meant a lot of things. The poste was the best player in the foursome. We derived our handicaps from him, often depending on his generosity or how well or how badly he was playing. Oftentimes, we ended up contributing to the “Gavino foundation,” aside from having to pay for fried camote slices dipped in butter and sugar, plus a can of soft drink; nothing more, nothing less. Anything outside this strictly observed menu had to be shouldered by the individual concerned. It was only on birthdays that some form of charity and benevolence was exercised by the celebrant to mark the great occasion.

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The beauty of the game of golf is that it does not recognize any form of seniority. While the academy has deeply ingrained in its graduates respect and deference for seniors, the game allows one to beat the s–t out of your upper class tormentors, while politely addressing them with a “Sir.” And so, often at the end of a game, Romy would smile and say, “Sir, you lost P200.”

But playing with Romy was not just a golfing experience. It could also be a wonderful and revealing journey into the past. As we all know, Romy was a pillar of the Armed Forces of the Philippines’ intelligence community and he knew most, if not all, of the secrets, official as well as personal, of many of our leaders, past and present. One might say he knew where all the skeletons were buried. Throughout his military career, he served his superiors with loyalty and dedication even if at times, disappointments came his way. His stint as the Armed Forces attaché in the Republic of Korea, also accredited to the United Nations Command, provided him with a wider and more sophisticated view of international affairs, in contrast to the often parochial outlook of many of our senior officials. His last assignment was at the National Intelligence Coordinating Agency, where he served as director general after the Edsa Revolution.

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Romy and I graduated from UP High in Diliman prior to our admission to the Philippine Military Academy. In both schools, I was ahead of him by two years. I got to know him best on the golf course as we exchanged notes on almost anything and everything under the sun. He had the swing of a champion and we tried to pick up a few pointers, watching him go through his motions. He tried to help us improve our game, but we could never match his expertise consistently. He was a perfectionist. He knew the rules of the game by heart and made sure his flight mates played strictly by the book. For him, summer rules meant hitting the ball “as is, where is.” There was to be no improvement of ball position prior to swing.

As a cadet, he was known for his abiding concern for classmates experiencing difficulties in academic work. Often he would spend much of his free time, tutoring those who were falling behind. He is credited with saving almost 10 to 20 percent of his batch mates, who would have been dismissed for academic deficiencies if not for his efforts. He himself would graduate No. 3 in Class 1958.

Some years ago, Romy suffered a stroke that would normally have meant the end of a golfing career. But through sheer personal discipline and determination, he picked himself up and went back to the golf course, playing one or two holes only until finally he was able to complete rounds of first 9, and then 18 holes. Many times as part of his therapy, he would play by himself in the absence of a regular group. Perhaps it was at this point that the four of us got together and started playing on a fairly regular basis.

Last year in the face of my own health issues, I decided to put on hold my golfing career, although I had high hopes that I could still rejoin our foursome at Camp Aguinaldo at some future time. A few days ago, I called up Romy to ask about teeth implants and he gave me some advice and suggestions, sounding cheerful as usual and asking when I would be swinging my clubs again. That was our last conversation.

The Armed Forces has lost one of its brilliant stars. I have lost a friend.

* * *

Political notes.

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“A picture is worth a thousand words.” Here are a few observations on the photo op that has appeared in several dailies showing Senators Grace Poe and Chiz Escudero calling on former president Fidel V. Ramos.

  • Poe and Escudero are obviously running as independents. Establishing their own political party just as FVR organized Lakas as the vehicle for his presidential campaign appears to be a strategic move on their part.
  • Not much came out by way of some announcement in the press release that accompanied the photo op, an indication that perhaps FVR is holding back on who his candidate will be in the coming elections. Perhaps he told Poe and Escudero that it is still too early in the game to publicly endorse any of the possible contenders, although the mere fact that he agreed to meet them in a highly visible manner could also mean that he is inclined to support their ambitions.
  • If we go by body language, it would appear that FVR is distancing himself from his two guests. Note how far apart the two parties are. One would expect that for a photo op involving such prominent political figures, there would be more warmth and congeniality.

* * *

Here’s the latest joke from the political merry-go-round:

Fan club members of Vilma Santos are referred to as “Vilmanians.”

Fan club members of Nora Aunor are known as “Noranians.”

What do we call Binay fan club members? “Binayarans.”

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