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Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Wordsmith and me

I still believe that more than all his works, his most enduring legacy to humanity are his daughters, one in fact I've met earlier on in the College of Medicine and eventually became friends with when we attended the Global Health Course in Finland last August. Yasmin works as a community doctor in a municipality nestled on an island off mainland Quezon. She has, they say, his temperament, no nonsense attitude, and unwavering honesty. They may be working in divergent fields, but they share the same passion and penchant for treading paths uncharted, as a service to Filipinos.


I received a text message from her a week ago, sharing with me the sad news of her father's passing. The message was succinct, in true Yasmin fashion. An oh-my-God escaped from me- knowing all too well how precious Yasmin’s family is to her. With her father’s passing, a Filipino literary giant enters the realm of legend.


One time, we were talking outside the kitchen of our dormitory in Finland. I was telling Yasmin- nagging her even- to write her life as a community physician. Too few stories have emerged detailing the experiences and lessons learned from community development work and public health. She quipped that I sounded like her father, who seemed to always ask her to write. I inquired about her father. She told me he’s also a teacher at the U.P. in the College of Arts and Letters. And then it dawned upon:

Yas, oh-my-God. Tatay mo si Rene Villanueva?!

And as she is wont to do, she replied, Oo. Kilala mo yung tatay ko?

HELLO?! Any kid of our generation should know, nay, pay homage to the-now late great Rene Villanueva. Among the innumerable offsprings of his ingenuity is the well-loved television program Batibot.

I rushed to our other Pinoy classmates in the course to tell them that Rene Villanueva is Yasmin’s father. I was met by blank stares. The name finally rang a bell when I told them that detail about Batibot…

Suffice it to say, I never looked at Yas the same way again. She is Rene Villanueva’s daughter. Whoa. I’m not worthy.


Yas was the one who greeted Johann and I as we entered the Fir Chapel of the Sanctuarium along Araneta Avenue. Yas, Johann, and I plus another MD friend of ours, Lester, went together to the Finnish course. On the table beside the door, surrounding a crucifix and his photo, were a copy of each of dozens and dozens of books he’s written through the years. From that alone, I knew this wake was going to be different.

Yas was talking to a writer- friend of her father, who turned out to be a physician as well. The warm, unassuming guy was Luis P. Gatmaitan, author of numerous children’s books, and, like Rene Villanueva, is a Palanca Hall of Famer himself. He shared with us fascinating quirks and tidbits about Yasmin’s father, many of which she gamely validated, but I still believe should remain private. Dr. Gatmaitan shared his own journey as a physician and published author. After hearing the details, and a lot of his encouraging words, one can’t help but feel empowered to pursue the same track. Paraphrasing him, it’s tantamount to sinning when the talents given a person are not shared and nurtured…


Rene Villanueva, I met at the last day of his wake. We arrived a little over an hour before he was to be cremated. But from the newspaper articles written about him, testimonial from colleagues, stories from friends, the body of work he’s left behind, and the quality family he raised, I know enough for me to say that he really is quite the human being.

His passion for his craft is unassailable. His blog even has an entry right up to the day he was in the hospital, pneumonia notwithstanding.

He was true to his mantra, the one that arguably led him to reach his stature- he just kept on writing.

Gaya ng sinabi ng isang nag-iwan ng mensahe sa iyong blog,
Nawa’y pormal tayong magkita
At magkakilala
Sa langit na nakatawa…

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