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Abe, Adrian, Blas and Jayvee

Attending the turnover of Emilio Aguilar Cruz’s paintings to the National Museum last Tuesday was for me a travel back in time to an era of Filipino men of letters that included Adrian Cristobal, Blas Ople and J.V. Cruz. They are all gone now and probably get together wherever they are to banter and exchange wits.

Emilio Aguilar Cruz, more known as Abe, was not only a painter. He was a also a journalist, diplomat and a quintessential man.  I cannot claim to have known him well. But in the brief years that I did, I wished I had met him earlier. His son, Larry, was also a former journalist but was a victim of his own success in the restaurant business  Alas, everyone knew him more as the owner of the successful LJC restaurant group.

Lorenzo de Jesus Cruz was the former deputy press secretary of Kit Tatad during the Marcos years. But that’s another story as Kit is the only one left of that elite circle of writers. Larry later on became  Director of the Bureau of National and Foreign Information under Secretary Tatad’s Department of Public Information where I served as press attaché to the Philippine Mission to the United Nations in New York.

Before Larry went into the restaurant business, he would invite close friends to his house in Las Piñas for a feast of Kapampangan food which his father relished. It was there that I first had a chance to get close to Abe. I had known him when he was editor-in-chief of the Daily Mirror, the sister publication of the Manila Times. As I was just starting out, though, I never had a chance to talk to this multi-faceted talented man who loved life and its simple pleasures.

After that, Abe would invite me to his townhouse in Eco Village in Makati which he used as his atelier. I thought I recognized one of his earlier works turned over to the National Museum as one he was working on during one of my visits.

Appointed by President Marcos as Philippine Ambassador to Paris- based-Unesco, Abe didn’t stay too long because he said the cold winter was not too kind to an old man’s bones. So, he returned to Manila to pick up on his painting although he did some watercolor and charcoal sketches of the city which is home to the French masters. He dropped by to see me once  in New York during one of his trips . He asked me to take him to one of the restaurants in New York’s Chinatown. He knew the name of the place but could not remember where in Chinatown’s warren of narrow streets it was located. So I took him along Mott Street where he spotted a small restaurant that he said looked familiar.

It was not the one he had been to many years ago but it was a pleasant discovery as the food was good.  After dinner, Abe asked if I was familiar with the Bronx. I was surprised as the Bronx was like a no man’s land for someone who lived in Manhattan or the nearly sylvan setting of nearby Long Island. I agreed to drive him to the Bronx where we looked up a woman Abe said was a friend and former model who had posed for him. I found the place which was a four-storey walkup apartment in a mixed neighborhood of Puerto Ricans and African Americans. Abe waited in the car with another friend as he could no longer climb the four flights of stairs.

When I knocked, the door was opened by a burly Latino man. Behind him was the frail figure of what looked like a Pinay who seemed scared.

“Si?” He asked in a gruff voice. I made a hasty retreat after what sounded in broken Spanish as “Sorry, wrong apartment.”

I told Abe I found the place but his friend had moved to another place, parts unknown.

Adrian Cristobal was one of those men who cannot suffer fools. He wrote some of President Marcos’ speeches as did Blas, Jayvee, Kit and sometimes Yen Makabenta. Some say Adrian was the ghost writer of FM’s books “Notes on the New Society” and “Revolution From the Center.”  Adrian , Blas Ople  J.V. Cruz and Kit Tatad were the President’s Men who provided Marcos with some of his most erudite thoughts without taking anything from FM’s own brilliant mind.

Witty and arrogant to a point, Adrian chose his friends and he could cut you with the sharpest of sarcasm without you knowing it, if he sensed you’re  pandering to get close to him. During the visits of former First Lady Imelda Marcos in New York for the UN General Assembly sessions, Adrian, Jayvee, Blas and Kit would sit at the lobby of the old Baltimore Hotel in Manhattan before proceeding to the UN on First Avenue. With us were Chitang Nakpil and other members of the Philippine delegation. I would just sit and listen, awed by this gathering of beautiful minds. It was like a Filipino version of the writers that huddled at the old Algonquin Hotel in New York, a group that included literary figures like Dorothy Parker and Alexander Woollcott.

Adrian once asked me to watch over his younger brother, Efren, who was then the labor attaché at the Philippine Consulate in New York.

“Please, cover his back. It’s my fault, sinuwapang ko ang utak sa aming familia,” he said in his self- deprecating sense of humor.

Ka Blas, as Ople was known to friends and colleagues, was labor secretary during the Marcos years. Proud of his Bulakeño heritage, he was elected senator in the post Marcos years and later appointed as Secretary of Foreign Affairs. Earlier, he was chairman of the bicameral Commission on Appointments when I went through the CA for my posting as Philippine ambassador to Hungary with concurrent jurisdiction over Poland, Bosnia-Herzogovina and the former republic of Yugoslavia.

A well-read man, his trips to New York were often spent looking for new books. He read both fiction and non-fiction books that dealt with government, politics and biographies of great men. When stuck in Manila’s traffic, he would read a book from at least three always lying on the back seat. He was a chain smoker and enjoyed a good drink.

Jose V. Cruz was the Philippine ambassador to the Court of St. James’s when I was press counselor at the Philippine Embassy in London. He wrote speeches for FM and Imelda Marcos and it was amazing at how fast and easy he made it looked. Gifted with good looks, he was a bon vivant with a pleasant sense of humor. Like Ople, Jayvee enjoyed a good drink. He was more than a boss to me as we became good friends during our four years together in London. I was one of the few JV allowed to visit him at St. Luke’s Hospital in Quezon City when he was waging a losing battle with cancer.

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