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In memory of Amba

Amba was a good friend to journalists and a staunch advocate of fairness in journalism. His support for up-and-coming and seasoned painters was likewise worth remembering

It was Jan. 2017 or was that 2016? I was told it had been raining in Lucban, Quezon for the past three months without letup. It was so cold I remembered hoping for snow.

Inside the function halls of Batis Aramin, close to a thousand students, all campus editors and writers, arrived in droves and settled in their seats. It was the start of the South Luzon Regional Press Conference, and I, trying to calm myself down with a smoke, stood by the patio to catch my bearings.

In a few minutes, I would be delivering two lectures: One on Column writing, the other, Editorial. It had been a long and rather tedious journey for me as a writer, a little over thirty years, close to half of which was spent in the newsroom.

While I am no stranger to delivering lectures, the task oftentimes scares me as speaking engagements always do. I find solace in the isolation of writing, not in the presence of hundreds of eager-beavers.

Regardless of my fears, both lectures went smoothly. Raring to go and catch another smoke, I rushed outside as the students competed in the two categories.

Along the patio, I saw my fellow author and University of Santo Tomas assistant professor Joselito D. Delos Reyes chatting on the phone. His face seemed somewhat flustered—a mix of joy and distress, which led me to wonder what in God’s precious Earth was going on.

“Paps,” he said, “Just got a very important call. I was told just now that I’m up for a little promotion: As head of the Department of Literature and the Humanities. I don’t know what to feel. I know I can do it, but I know, too, it will siphon the little that is left of my time. It’s a huge responsibility.”

“Take it,” I said. “That’s great! Think nothing of the huge responsibility. I’m confident you can do it. Besides, if you’re heading UST’s Dept. of Literature, then perhaps you can help me fulfill a promise I gave a man I hold in very high esteem.”

The next two to three years saw Jowie and I arrange for what would later be a promise fulfilled. But before I get ahead of myself, here’s a little story.

Since the day I met my former boss, the late Amb. Antonio L. Cabangon Chua, one afternoon in 2008, I told myself here was a man I would watch closely. He was a hard worker and a wise one who pushed himself to the very brink of exhaustion.

We saw each other even during Sundays, when all the offices fell silent for the weekend.

The next 11 years with the Philippines Graphic magazine as its editor-in-chief saw me learning from the Ambassador all that I needed to learn to get the job done.

Amba with National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin

The one quality which stood out was his understanding of the artist’s mind. During the course of my stay, I learned about his friendships with writers and artists—National Artists for Literature Nick Joaquin and Amado V. Hernandez, also National Artist for Sculpture Napoleon Abueva.

More sterling names in the world of journalism and literature filled the pages of his publications: Jose “Pete” Lacaba and Marra PL Lanot, Gregorio Brillantes, National Artist for Literature F. Sionil Jose, Alfred “Krip” Yuson, Inday Espina-Varona, Chuchay Fernandez, Butch del Castillo, and a host of others.

Amba was a good friend to journalists and a staunch advocate of fairness in journalism. His support for up-and-coming and seasoned painters was likewise worth remembering.

Unknown to many, the ambassador wrote poetry in Filipino as a young man.

When Amba, as we fondly called him, passed away in March 2016, I promised my boss that I will do everything in my power to preserve his legacy as a patron of the literary and the visual arts.

More than anything, that was what he was in my eyes—the artist’s champion. I wouldn’t have had the chance to fulfill my own modest dreams of being an author had it not been for his vision of advancing the cause of literature and the arts. He was an extremely active participant, but one who was always under the radar.

The work Jowie and I had started that day in Lucban, Quezon reached its zenith on Feb. 27, 2019, Tuesday: The signing of a Memorandum of Agreement between the University of Santo Tomas and the ALC Group of Companies for the UST-Amb. Antonio L. Cabangon Chua Research Award for the Humanities.

ALC chairman D. Edgard A. Cabangon and UST Rector Rev. Fr. Herminio V. Dagohoy, OP

Gracing the occasion were ALC Group of Companies chairman D. Edgard A. Cabangon and Sharon Tan; UST Rector Rev. Fr. Herminio V. Dagohoy, OP; UST head of Public Affairs Prof. Giovanna V. Fontanilla, Head of the Dept. of Literature and the Humanities Asst. Prof. Joselito D. Delos Reyes, BusinessMirror and Philippines Graphic publisher T. Anthony C. Cabangon; Director of UST Research and Endowment Foundation, Inc. and Secretary General Rev. Fr. Jesus M. Miranda, Jr., OP; ALC Realty Corp. and ALC Industrial and Commercial Development Corp. president D. Edward A. Cabangon; Mr. Levine Lao, Mr. Paul A. Castillo, Prof. Augusto Antonio A. Aguila.

The UST-Amb. Antonio L. Cabangon Chua Research Award for the Humanities stands as a tribute to the legacy of our late chairman emeritus Amb. Antonio L. Cabangon Chua and the work of the university to advance the cause of literature, the arts and the humanities.

UST Rector Fr. Herminio Dagohoy sharing a light moment with ALC Group of Companies chairman D. Edgard A. Cabangon and BusinessMirror publisher T. Anthony C. Cabangon

“I know that our father is smiling right now because we are continuing his noble legacy of supporting and honoring our Filipino artists,” said the Ambassador’s son and new chairman of ALC Group of Companies D. Edgard A. Cabangon. He sat as the main signatory and representative of the Cabangon family at the event. “It is also opportune that we are having this program with UST because our father was also very close to the Church.”

His brothers, D. Edward A. Cabangon and my publisher T. Anthony C. Cabangon, also graced the occasion.

(L-R) UST head of Public Affairs Prof. Giovanna V. Fontanilla, Sharon Tan, ALC Group of Companies chairman D. Edgard A. Cabangon, Secretary General Rev. Fr. Jesus M. Miranda, Jr., OP, UST head of Department of Literature and the Humanities Asst. Prof. Joselito D. Delos Reyes and Levine Lao.

The Father Rector, Rev. Fr. Herminio V. Dagohoy, OP, signed the agreement on behalf of UST, while Rev. Fr. Jesus M. Miranda, Jr., OP. represented the UST REFI.

Gracing the occasion were ALC Group of Companies chairman D. Edgard A. Cabangon; UST Rector Rev. Fr. Herminio V. Dagohoy, OP; UST head of Public Affairs Prof. Giovanna V. Fontanilla, Head of the Dept. of Literature and the Humanities Asst. Prof. Joselito D. Delos Reyes, BusinessMirror and Philippines Graphic publisher T. Anthony C. Cabangon; Director of UST Research and Endowment Foundation, Inc. and Secretary General Rev. Fr. Jesus M. Miranda, Jr., OP; ALC Realty Corp. and ALC Industrial and Commercial Development Corp. president D. Edward A. Cabangon;  Sharon Tan; Philippines Graphic editor-in-chief Joel Pablo Salud; Levine Lao,  Paul A. Castillo, Prof. Augusto Antonio A. Aguila.

“Today, in this signing of the Memorandum of Agreement between the University of Santo Tomas and the ALC Group of Companies, we are not only supporting, but also celebrating the Humanities,” the Father Rector said. “This partnership will push forth the Arts’ noble mission.”

According to the agreement which begins on Academic Year 2019–2020, the UST-Amb. Antonio L. Cabangon Chua Research Award for the Humanities will annually have two recipient researchers. Their research subject must be one notable Thomasian artist, who has contributed to the rich landscape of Philippine culture.

Each of the chosen researchers will receive a total of P150,000.00 for the conduct of their work, which must be completed within one year. “Upon the completion of their research, they will have to present it as a public lecture in the University, preferably during the National Literature Month of April or the National Heritage Month of May.

“The full guidelines will soon be released by the lead unit for this program, the UST Department of Literature, chaired by Asst. Prof. Joselito Delos Reyes, PhD.”

I began this not only as a way of paying tribute to my former boss, but of showing my utmost gratitude to the man—Amb. Antonio L. Cabangon Chua, one I considered my second father—who played a major role in my life as a writer.

Amba, I have kept my promise as you have kept yours to me all through these years we worked together. Isa po itong pagpupugay sa inyong alaala at mga ginawa para sa ating mga alagad at miembro ng sining.

To my boss Edgard, who trusted me enough to agree to bankroll the research award for the Humanities, I will never be able to thank you enough. I will always and forever value our friendship.

To my good friend Jowie Delos Reyes, together with Fr. Jesus Miranda and Levine Lao, thank you for encouraging me not to lose hope.

To my publisher Anton, their brother Edward, and to the rest of the Cabangon family, maraming marami pong salamat sa tiwala at supporta. Tuloy po ang alaala ng inyong ama. G

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