Thursday, August 16, 2007

Pete Roa - a dear colleague, fast friend - 67

MANILA, Philippines — My good friend, Pete Roa, passed away Thursday in Quezon City. His wife, actress Boots Anson said Pete has been suffering from cancer of the stomach, but the death was triggered by pneumonia and cardiac arrest.

I first met Pete while ABS-CBN was laying the groundwork for a new TV show.

I first learned of the planned new TV show when I was called by Eugenio Lopez Jr. to join a short meeting at his office. He sounded excited, but I had no clue as to what kind of program it would be. For one thing, I held the switcher-director button the last time at Channel 13 in 1963. And the meeting with Geny was in 1970. I was not sure I could do it. Do I still know how to direct a TV show? I was awed by the rapid strides of the electronicmedia technology and somehow there was a lot to catch up on.

When I got to the ABS-CBN office of Geny, I sawsome familiar faces. One was E lvira Ledesma Manahan whom I last saw during the early days of the Japanese Occupation in 1942 when she appeared as the Virgin Mary in Narciso Pimentel Jr.’s Holy Week stage presentation “Martir sa Golgota” (Passion Play of Our Lord Jesus Christ). Elvira was a radiant young Visayan teenager who belonged to a group named VSAC composed of pretty girls, very much sought after for their striking beauty.

I also saw Pete Roa whose path crossed mine back in 1962 when I was producing shows at Channel 13. The lady who used to appear in fashion shows in my channel was showcased in a new program by another channel (Channel 5) known as “Dance-o-Rama.” The girl, Baby O’Brien, only daughter of actress Paraluman, and Pete emceed the new noontime show. It was when Baby left the show that Boots Anson joined and met Pete. As the cliché goes, the rest is history.

Back to our meeting at Geny’s office, he soon announced the show’s name “Two for the Road.” Geny said it was Pete who specifically called for me to direct this late night show, definitely a Philippine TV network’s first.

It seemed that Elvira Manahan (married to the nationally known obstetrician Dr. Constantino Manahan who managed the Makati Medical Center) had insomnia and could not sleep until early morning. So Geny got the idea of featuring Elvira to appear as the co-host in the late-night show five nights a week. Co-hosting the show was a dynamic quick-witted and fine mannered announcer named Joey Lardizabal. The format of the show was to get interesting guests from all fields, both international and national, to beinterviewed by Elvira and Joey. The show ran for a couple of years with great success.

Tragedy struck when in the course of the program Joey was diagnosed with throat cancer and it was terminal. Everyone was shocked. Except Joey himself. A devout Catholic and a courageous one, he said that he would undergo the usual treatment but while he still could – continue with the show as co-host. The cancer was kept secret from anyone save a handful of individuals, me included. In time, even Joey’s eye was already being affected by the disease that he had to wear an eye patch. But, wonder of wonders and with much credit to Joey’s bravery, he even joked about it and carried on with the show. Then, after almost a year since discovery of the disease, Joey went into a coma and died.

What to do. At the time our friend, Eddie Mercado, was going great guns as emcee of beauty contests both localand international and we approached him to take over. No hesitation, The next week’s show when Joey was bedridden already, Eddie took over and did terrifically.

However, as is the case with viewership behavior, the interests began to waver after a while. And “Two for the Road” was no exception. So, it was pulled out for a respite. Then after a year, it came back in a new format – a weekly show featuring Nestor Torre as co-host of Elvira. It no longer had the personality of a late night talk show.

Pete and I went a long way in terms of relationships went far even before the show.

First was that Pete took up a radio course towards a bachelor’s degree at the Far Eastern University. The department was headed by my mother, Sarah K. Joaquin, who had the distinction of heading the first radio department in the country that offered B.A. degree in Radio Broadcasting. In fact, the department was instrumental in pursuing a weekly program, FEU on the Air, produced by students and aired through DZBB which was then owned and managed by an ex-American GI, Bob Stewart.

Among Pete’s fellow radio grads included Eddie Ilarde, Frankie Evangelista, and Ray Pedroche who all did very well in the world of radio and television.

Pete Roa was not only a man who did what he believed in – sometimes a bit controversial for his own good, but after he suffered the stroke he strengthened his own philosophy which could be summed up thus: I might as well make the mo
st of what I can enjoy under this condition and pray for the blessings of the Almighty.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

A Wedding Anniversary...48 years

We first met in a classroom back in the late fifties. The school was called Far Eastern University. A remarkable feature of Manila in the late Fifties was the complete positive aura that prevaded the entire City, nay, country.

Stage presentations - both professionals and amateur, schools downtown stage shows, and even visiting classical performers - yes, including Shakepeare groups based in America and Europe treated Manila
aficionados with excellent shows. Even Hollywood movies were mostly musicals and little violence, nor gangster flicks.

She was a young 16 year old, slender, and somewhat resltess. I was teaching Speech I (subtitled Remedial English for Filipino college students). I had several sections to handle each day - and at the time with seven other fellow instuctors, we had our hands full for we had to serve all the institutes.

Thanks to our department Head, she won her battle with the school authorities to require all FEU students to pass at least one semester of Speech I prior to graduation.

Then, it happened.

While I was carefully handling the oral drills of the class, I spotted her at the very last row of a class of 25 students, busy doing something. I tried to continue but was unavoidably distracted that I had to stop my lecture completly.

"Mendoza" I gently called the student's attention. She was startled, stopped abruptly and looked up followed by an ambarrassed smile. That was the first element that attracted me...her beautiful youthful teenage smile."May I see you after class?" I suggested and then continued with my lecture.

Shortly after the bell ending our period, with the room emptied except for this young lady and me, I approached slowly and saw a half tied gym shoe on one foot and the other still unshod.

"Sir, I am sorry, see...I have to get ready or be late for my gym class after this one."

"Oh, you have to change shoes in my class to make your gym schedule in the next period?" I asked amused.

She then continued on with putting both shoes on while explaining that time was of the essence since the gym was across the wide campus and if she did not change shoes then, she would be late for that class following mine.

I soon realized her predicament and gave her a broad smile, and she did smile back. And she was out in a flash. I discovered later that her name was
Concepcion Mendoza, 16 years old and a niece of the school's founder.

Two years passed when one day as I was about to cash my monthly check I spotted a familiar face, well made up but in a demure manner. She was smiling at me. Yes, indeed, it was Ms. Mendoza, now employed in the Treasury Department of the university. That smile was there, more radiant.

After our hellos and once my check was cashed...I invited her for coffee...and as the saying goes ...the rest is history.

Forty Eight years have passed. Five children. Three grandsons. Now residing in Northern California, we find ourselves into our 48th year of marriage as solemnized in the Roman Catholic Faith and officiated by a dear friend, fellow artist, and director par excellence Rev. Fr. James B. Reuter, S.J.

Over the decades Fr. Reuter was to officiate in three more weddings in our family - that of our eldest son Bobby's and Marijean's, our second child Cristina's and Jowin's, and the most recent one in Jay's and Jenny's.

Admirable, might not come close to describing the man but Fr. Reuter with his "walker" and special sandals to cushion his sore feet was at San Agustin Church - Intramuros - one hour earlier than 7 am ready to bless our son's marriage to Jenny Blas.

During the ceremony with obvious difficulty, the dear father solemnized the wedding as if he had not been suffering from the aches and pains of an 88 year old arthritic Jesuit priest.

Today, as we receive wonderful greetings from our children and others who cherish our friendship with them, from across the globe, I gaze at my former student Concepcion Mendoza, now better known as Chita and ask her, "What can you say to this 48 year union?"

She smiles and looks away and says in a steady voice, "I would do it again if I had to..."