I remember with great fondness one of the countless editorials Roger Ordoñez penned for Pinoy Weekly. It was entitled “Punyeta ang lahat”—this was way before that Heneral Luna cuss word became a craze. The editorial was about ex-president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s failed drive to lift term limits and restrictions on foreign ownership through constitutional amendments: “Sa kamay ng uring mapagsamantala’t naghahari-harian sa lipunan, punyeta ang lahat makapanatili lamang silang naglulublob sa kapangyarihan at sa nakakabaliw na mga grasya’t gloryang kakambal nito sa isang kaayusang panlipunang ilusyon pa rin ang tunay na hustisya sosyal.”
Another memorable editorial of his was entitled, “Dasal ang Solusyon, Anak ng Galunggong”—this time tackling religion, which, along with US imperialism and local bureaucrat capitalists, was among his favorite targets of attack.
If I were to describe Ka Roger’s writing style in two words, it would be elegant and irreverent. If I were to describe his convictions—always weightier than style—it would be nothing less than nationalist and proletarian, among the last of his generation who wielded the Filipino language he so mastered with such fierceness, honor, and uncompromising integrity. When he wrote, it was always from the point-of-view of the oppressed, distinctly faithful to the history of colonialism and class struggle in the Philippines. When he wrote, the picture of everyday reality and the voice of an enlightened people was always surprisingly clear: “Gaya na lamang ng pagmumumog, pagsesepilyo, at paghihilamos kung umaga ang anumang eskandalo at katiwaliang nangyayari sa iba’t ibang ahensiya ng gobyerno. Sa anumang anggulong sisipatin, mahirap mapasubaliang matagal nang bulok na bulok ang pambansang burukrasya at sapat nang ikasuka at ipaghimagsik ng mulat at mararangal na mamamayan.”
But the seriousness of his written words do not in any way match the lightness of his demeanor. I remember that editorial sessions with him always felt more like drinking sessions, although he was the only one drinking the bottle of Hennessy XO he sometimes brought along and drank in the middle of the day, speaking and laughing through puffs of smoke. Among his favorite topics were his days as a reporter prowling the Customs beat (where he claimed to learn how to read in reverse documents that sit on officials’ desks), his yearning for the kind of journalism that is “elevated” to literature (what can you expect from a literary writer, after all), and of course, his constant frustration with the misuse—or more precisely, the “bastardization”—of the Filipino language. Every chance he got, he would emphasize the difference of “ng” from “nang,” explain why it was absolutely crucial to insert the vowel “i” in between consonants (e.g. ekonomiya instead of ekonomya), and how “bumulusok” means a downward and not an upward trajectory of motion.
Ever since Pinoy Weekly was established, it has always been clear to me that writing in Filipino is a political act–an act of commitment to the development of our national language, an act of reaching out and uniting with the masses in earnest, an act of decolonizing and shaping the culture of a people that deserves all of the nation’s riches, including that of its own language. And so it was always a source of comfort and inspiration for me that there remains writers like Ka Roger, who until his last days on earth would rain fire and brimstone upon those who through either arrogance or ignorance further marginalize or degrade Filipino, the language of the indios, ang wika ng masa at bayang Pilipino.
Huling beses kaming nagkita ni Ka Roger sa isang event ng PinoyMedia Center sa PUP, mga dalawang taon na ang nakakaraan. Mas mapayat siya, sa wari ko’y mas maputla. Pero hindi nagbago ang kanyang masiglang disposisyon, ang kanyang tawa na para sa akin ay mula sa balon ng walang hanggang pagkabata. Mahilig niyang sabihin noon, “Youth is wasted on the young.” Sa palagay ko, hindi naman siya kailanman tumanda, kung ang ibig sabihin lamang ng pagtanda ay ang paghupa ng positibong enerhiyang ibibinigay sa kapwa at sa bayan.
Sayang lamang at hindi na tayo nagkitang muli. Tila napakabilis at napakabigla ng iyong paglisan. Pero kung tutuusin, bagay na bagay sa iyong personalidad ang paraan ng iyong paglisan sa mundo–walang mahaba at madramang pamamaalam. Ang huling alaala ng mga tao sa iyo ay kung paano ka dapat alalahanin–matalas ang pag-iisip, umaangkop sa bagong teknolohiya, mapagkasama, at higit sa lahat, buhay na buhay ang diwang makabayan at palaban.
Tiyak na maaalala kita, tuwing inaalipusta ni Teddy Boy Locsin ang wikang Filipino, tuwing mali ang paggamit ni Noli de Casto sa salitang bumulusok, tuwing naghahanap ako ng maiilap na mga pangungusap para isalarawan ang papatinding pagdarahop at paglaban ng mga mamamayan. Para sa akin, isa kang ganap na Artista ng Bayan, at Pambansang Alagad ng Sining: wala ka mang hiniling na burges na gantimpala o pagkilala, nawa’y tanggapin mo ang taus-pusong pagmamahal at pagpupugay na ito ng mga erehe, mga rebelde, ng maliliit, ng mayorya, ng masang anakpawis na umuukit sa kasaysayan ng Pilipinas at ng mundo. Mabuhay ka!