Friday, March 10, 2006

Mang Domeng

I only met Mang Domeng once—it was Joan Bondoc who introduced me to him, mischievously, as “a future daughter-in-law.” (That never came to pass, of course—but that’s another blog entry. :P)

He was working for Diario Filipino at the time. He struck me as a deeply reflective person; someone who took all that life gave him, mulled it over, and used it in his life’s work. I was particularly moved that--for one so accomplished and admired--he remained quiet and unassuming.

I only recently learned that he had passed away three years ago. (I was in Istanbul for a conference at the time he died.) I was never fortunate enough to have known him well, but the piece by Al Mendoza below provides a glimpse into his kindness, and gives me a fuller picture of his humanity.

Posted: 7:54 AM (Manila Time) Nov. 09, 2003
Inquirer News Service – from the “Spectator” column by Al Mendoza

IT IS in wakes that dear friends unseen for years resurface. It happened again during the "Parangal Kay Domeng" last week at Funeraria Oro in Sampaloc district, Manila. Friends I haven't seen for ages, they were there: poets Roger Mangahas, Jesus Manuel Santiago, Fidel Rillo and Vet Vitug, poet-fictionist-novelist-essayist-professor Domingo Landicho, fictionist-novelist-professor Lilia Quindoza-Santiago, poet-fictionist-professor Roger Ordonez, fictionist-novelist Jose Rey Munsayac, fictionist Ompong Desuasido, painter Danny Dalena, Ramon Magsaysay awardee for literature Bien Lumbera, poet-essayist Tala Isla, fictionist Levy Balgos dela Cruz, poet-fictionist-professor Bayani Abadilla and national artist for literature Rio Alma.

Also present was Dr. Dante Guevarra, vice president for administration of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines where Domeng had taught from 1971 till the day he died on Oct. 31. With Ave Perez Jacob, whose flame-laden tongue matches only the razor-sharp prose in his fiction and novels, was the night's master of ceremonies that also saw Recah Trinidad, the poet masquerading as Inquirer sports columnist, deliver a poignant piece in defense of "the heroes of the written word" such as Domeng.

Elegies and eulogies enveloped the evening on behalf of the man who lived his life literally for the working class -- using only but his pen. His fiction, essays and novels all championed the cause of the toiling masses.

A little favor, please, but I just need to burden you with more about my association with Domeng; he was more than a brother to me. Today being a Sunday anyways, let's be forgiving?

Domeng is Dominador B. Mirasol. He was called invariably as DB, Domeng, Ka Domeng and -- courtesy of Ave Perez Jacob -- Mang Domeng. "I called him Mang Domeng as both a sign of affection and respect," said Ave.

I called him Domeng. But before that, I called him Sir. Domeng was my literature teacher in college.

The first day of our class, I made sure I'd shake his hand after his lecture.

"Sir, I feel very lucky to have you as my teacher," I said to him.

"Thank you," he said. "Do you write?"

"Yes, sir, I write." "Good," Domeng said. "Do that for the rest of your life."

We ended up drinking in that seamy bar at the kanto (corner) of Lepanto and Recto. Raising his first glass, Domeng said to me: "From now on, don't call me 'Sir'. Just call me 'Domeng."' I was stunned. Meekly, I replied: "I guess I can't do that, Sir." Domeng said: "You need to. Otherwise, there's no point drinking with you. I can't drink with people who are not my co-equal."

At first, I found it difficult to call him Domeng. He was not only my "Sir", he was also my idol. Only on our 11th, 12th bottle maybe of San Miguel beer, did I have the nerve to call him Domeng.

"Now you are learning," he said upon hearing me calling him Domeng. "Life is like that -- a never-ending process of learning."

I would soon find myself going to his house in Moonwalk on weekends; we'd drink beer till midnight, discussing what seemed like life's mere trivialities but were, on closer scrutiny later in life, actually all gems waiting to be woven into priceless mattresses of literature.

Domeng, whose sport was walking because "I hate owning a car," was the first of the literary giants in Tagalog/Filipino literature that I had come in contact with. Before we met, my literature had been done mainly in English, the reason being that I grew up in Pangasinan province. As in high school, I also became the literary editor of our college organ and, quite understandably, my section was mainly littered, at first, with poems, essays and fiction all written in English.

It was Domeng who opened my eyes to the beauty of Tagalog literature -- and Tagalog writing. It was also through Domeng that I have come to meet in the flesh the established writers in Filipino of our time, among them the eminent Edgardo M. Reyes, Efren Abueg and the late Rogelio Sicat (he did the introduction of my first book that was published in 1993). They scored the first major breakthrough in Tagalog fiction with their book, "Agos sa Disyerto," the bible of Filipino literature buffs. Not for long, they all became first-name basis to me. They called me their "baby."

When my first short story in Filipino won first prize in a school-wide competition (Sol Juvida was second, and Rogelio Nicolas third), it was Domeng who was the happiest, for he didn't know I joined the contest. "Let's have it published in the Asia-Philippines Leader," Domeng said to me. He accompanied me to Intramuros. It was there that I first met Pete Lacaba, the poet-essayist-scriptwriter nonpareil, who was the magazine's executive editor; Pete and I would become buddies in no time. The short story came out and, was I glad it became one of the magazine's best seven stories for the year, with Ave Perez Jacob's "Ang Pagdating ni Elias Plaridel" winning top honors as did Fanny Garcia's "Sandaang Damit."

Even in death, there is art. The gathering of literary luminaries at Oro on Nov. 3 did not only prove that Domeng was a literary hotshot. He was, more importantly, bigger than art.

How can I be his co-equal?


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