Friday, January 6, 2017

The first time I saw Monica Feria

These remembrances were read last night at the memorial for journalist Monica S. Feria at the rock garden of the Church of the Risen Lord, University of the Philippines, Diliman, Quezon City. Monica died at age 62 on Dec 30 last year. Her ashes will be brought to Cabangan, Zambales, today where these will be buried.

The first time I met Monica formally was at our employer's office, Philippine Daily Express in Port Area, Manila, in 1976. I was a new reporter assigned to the Life and Leisure section. Newspaper people in those days were mainly made up of men, the unfriendly sort whose noses were close to the grindstone. Monica went out of her way to welcome me to the team.

What bound us, apart from the Express, was we were both working students at the UP Institute of Mass Communication. She enjoyed a celebrity status there because of this and because her byline appeared with some frequency on the front page.

But she wasn't a total stranger to me. She was friends first with my older cousin, Allyn Lolarga Valdellon, a broadcast communication major. Binilin ako ni Allyn kay Monica since Express was to become the first of my many journalism jobs.

In the newspaper then, we only enjoyed one day off. Mine fell on a Thursday so it would allow me to attend classes. Saturdays and Sundays were slow news days. Nonetheless, I reported for duty to close advance Leisure pages for the Monday and Tuesday issues.

One early Saturday afternoon when the slots of the all-male news desk were unoccupied, Monica sashayed by my cubicle wearing a pair of batik wraparound pants. Then her pants, held together by a fragile string and the tiniest of safety pins, fell, revealing to me her white-as-snow panty. I half hugged her from behind and helped put on her pants back with one eye cast on the rest of the newsroom.

Monica gasped, "Mabuti ikaw lang ang nakakita, Babeth!"

I suspect that the boys in the newsroom, from the copy boy to the editor in chief, were half in love in Monica. In love but not in the leery or lustful sense, more of what William Butler Yeats wrote in his poem "When You Are Old and Grey": "How many loved your moments of glad grace / And loved your beauty with love false or true / But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you / And loved the sorrows of your changing face."

Monica and Gigi on the Bob Feleo bed at the launching of the book The First Eye

I'm grateful to Monica for agreeing to read aloud my poems at the launching of my first book, The First Eye, on Oct. 15, 1990, traditionally observed as World Poetry Day, when she was big with child. She shared, along with our actor friends Dodo Crisol, may he also rest in peace, and Gigi Dueñas, a big four-poster bed, handcrafted by Bob Feleo. Monica surprised everyone gathered at Hiraya Gallery with her passionate reading of some erotica despite a belly so huge she seemed ready to pop anytime.

Monica was also my editor when I contributed to the now defunct Mirror Magazine. I was encoding and composing at the same time my profile of then senatorial candidate Haydee Yorac in one of her office's computer terminals. Monica understood the "messiness" of the writing process. By 9 p.m., which was late, I still wasn't ready with my copy. She said she needed to go home to her daughter Jasmin and her family. Not once did she lean over my shoulders to check on the progress of my work. There was that trust between professionals that yes, I would be able to deliver.

Because she didn't apply full-blown pressure on me, I was more relaxed and reached my story's end, appending a hashtag after the last period.

One last memory of Monica: In February 1997, we attended a meeting of women cultural workers called by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts. After about an hour or so of grim and determined brainstorming about arts-related projects that would benefit women (there was a budget that ran into millions), Monica raised her hand from where she was seated and said, "Bakit hindi na lang natin paghati-hatian yung pera? Happy pa tayo!"

Of course, that was said in jest and Monica meant to lighten the mood.

Ngayong gabi, paghati-hatian natin ang kalungkutan sa pagpanaw ng mahal nating Monica sa pamamamagitan ng pag-alaala natin at pagtanggap na bumalik na siya sa Dakilang Kaliwanagan sa langit. Maging happy tayo.

Monica believed in and worked for the liberation of Filipino women, of the Filipino people. Let up rejoice that she is now liberated from the world of pain and suffering, from the dailiness of deadlines.

Thank you and good night.

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