WHEN SEN. Edgardo J. Angara hosted a dinner to mark my retirement from the National Historical Commission where I served for 13 years (nine years as chair), I thought it would be a simple gathering of friends who would break bread and talk of old times. A day before the event, I was informed the dress code was “formal,” and only then did I realize that it was a major undertaking with speeches, musical numbers, and a tear-jerker of an audio-visual presentation. It was too late to back out, so I consoled myself with the thought that while all the speeches would be superlative and largely undeserved, it was better to get a preview of your own necrological service and actually hear all the good words while you are alive rather than when you are lying cold in a flag-draped box.
What I did not expect, though, was that my father would speak. He has never done so; I often had to deliver the father’s speech during the weddings of my sisters. This time he asked my sister to pitch in and read his speech, which I want to share with my readers. My father is a closet writer. A pity because as National Artist Virgilio Almario remarked that night, “he should be writing a column, he writes much better than you do!” Dad shared the following:
“Ambeth talks history—about Rizal, Bonifacio, and other historical figures of the past—but never talked about himself. So this is a welcome opportunity to bare publicly a few tidbits of his own 50-year life similar to the things he used to inflict on his subjects.
“1. Ambeth is a man in a hurry. He did not wait for the regulatory nine-month pregnancy and came out via C-section nine weeks too early. He looked and weighed like a small kitten, black as sin.
“2. How a premature boy matured into a man-sized hulk can be attributed to a solicitous mother who ordered air-flown growth hormones from Europe. This was so painful that Ambeth mercifully cancelled the last three injections, otherwise he would have grown up like Yao Ming, the Chinese basketball star.
“3. This talkative historian was born and christened Felipe Lamberto but he is now a.k.a (also known as): Ambeth, Ambrosio, Philam, Pangetita, and in some circles, D.O.M Ignacio, probably after Ignatius of Loyola.
“4. He spent a year at UP Integrated School, did primary, secondary and tertiary levels at the Ateneo where he did not graduate. He had to enroll at De La Salle and cross register at UP to get his BA and MA degrees in Philippine Studies. For the UAAP games he doesn’t cheer for the Blue Eagles or the Green Archers but secretly roots for the hapless Maroons.
“5. As a child he had manual mobility problems, so a yaya had to accompany him to school to copy his assignments. While slow in writing, to compensate he took speed-reading courses under Maritess Calderon.
“6. Ambeth did not want to be another poor engineer like his father. His mother wanted him to be a doctor but not the kind that PUP bestowed on him. In an effort to save the souls of his errant parents, he even tried to become a priest.
“7. Except for letters that start with ‘Dearest mommy,’ writers are ‘born not paid.’ As an Inquirer columnist and book author, I admit that he gets paid peanuts. For his role as chairman of the NHCP and the NCCA, he never got paid.
“8. At the Ateneo he would have been part of the varsity swim team until they found out he grew polyps in his nose, for which he has been under the knife six times. This is probably the reason why Ambeth has a nose for useless historical tidbits.
“9. As a tone-deaf father, I believe he is quite good at the electric organ. He used this well in the Benedictine abbey. Why he decided not to take the final vows, we will never know. It is time to ask him now.
“10. The very first book he authored was not about Rizal or some other heroes, but it was about the paintings of his idol and mentor, Emilio Aguilar Cruz. One day he probably can, if he finds the time, write a new book on the 19th century Filipino painter Juan Luna, or even Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo.
“11. Even before his stint in the NCCA he was known to National Artists: Napoleon Abueva, Virgilio Almario, Lamberto and Daisy Avellana, Bencab, Leonor Orosa Goquingco, Nick Joaquin, F. Sionil Jose, Bienvenido Lumbera, Atang de la Rama, Anding Roces, IP Santos, and even the widow of Guillermo E. Tolentino.
“12. Aside from English, Tagalog and Kapampangan, he can read and write Spanish, French (self-taught), German (courtesy of a six-month fellowship in Germany) and a smattering of Latin, from the abbey. Next most probably Japanese and Chinese.
“13. A third of his voluminous library is in Kyoto University in Japan, another third in Holy Angel University in Pampanga, the remainder in his 16th floor condo unit that is about to collapse due to sheer weight.
“14. They say that ‘he who knows does, and those who don’t teach or lecture.’ Currently, Ambeth teaches at the Ateneo and UP (in the past he had taught at San Beda, De La Salle and even Far Eastern University). In the next few years he is considering offers to teach in Tokyo, Madrid and Mexico.
“15. The last item is reserved for his love life, but like P-Noy he does not want people to interfere and he insisted I stop here and I bow in agreement.”
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