The Death of an Icon – Manila Bulletin


It’s been a turbulent week.

While we all say goodbye to the past year and happily welcome the new year, for us it was sad and gloomy with the death of literary icon F. Sionil-Jose.

It commemorates a message he gave to Vangie, cousin Jim’s sister, who writes for an international news outlet, to visit him. In hindsight, it was as if he knew it would be coming soon. In his own words, he even spelled it out, not to be mistaken, to tell Vangie, “I’m slipping away.”

It was Sunday December 5th at his home on Jersey Street. It never occurred to me how prophetic his words were. As quietly as he wished, he slipped out of this ephemeral world on January 6th, at a time when deadlines were being met and tomorrow’s paper put to bed.

Not because I’m related, but as a journalist I admire his literary skills and passion for writing. He knew all along that he was at a crossroads. Hours before closing his eyes permanently, Tito Frankie wrote a 13-line post on his FB about his brave heart, pouring out his feelings of insecurity and praying them – he and his brave heart endure the planned angioplasty, which should have taken place early on last 28.12.

“I hope that you will survive and I will do it so that I will be able to continue what I have been doing with so much energy that only you could give. Thank you, dear brave heart and dear God, for this most precious gift.” But the Almighty had other plans for him.

And as easy as he wanted it. Only two people — eldest son Tonet and his wife, Aunt Tita, his wife of 72 years and nearly three months — were in the chapel at Arlington Funeral Home while Father Robert Reyes said Holy Mass.

Following health protocol, Jim and I were outside in the parking lot listening via Zoom to the touching sermon of Father Robert, whom he described as a humble man whose writings have touched the hearts of many; who loves stories and keeps writing them because he believes in them.

The running priest told how for 40 years he evaded the invitation of Tito Frankie and Aunt Tita to visit their Jersey home. But through a twist of fate, Father Robert was installed as minister of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in Toro Hills and lunched at house 53 in Jersey on several occasions.

The most poignant part of this solemn ceremony was when Tonet adorned the white linen cloth with long-stemmed roses where he is laid to be taken for cremation.

Jim and I will certainly miss our conversations, both at Jersey House and in the quaint little bookshop on old Padre Faura Street, as he culled our opinions on burning issues, be it politics, military or economics. He laughed heartily at the juicy rumors about high-profile personalities.

We mourn his death. But as Japanese Ambassador to the Philippines Koshikawa Kazuhiko puts it: “His ‘brave heart’ of literary passion and devotion will serve as an inspiration to many. His presence will be greatly missed, but his outstanding contributions to Filipino literature will live on and remain a legacy.”

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