Remembering Paulo (Kristo)

This piece was read at a tribute for Paulo in 2008.

Thank you for the privilege of sharing some thoughts about Paulo. While preparing my contribution to his tribute, I was not sure if I should talk about my personal reminiscences of Paulo, for fear of this piece becoming about me rather than about him, or for fear of trivialising his memory by focusing on the everyday experiences of our shared activist days. I decided to talk about the personal and the everyday nonetheless because these remind me of how meaningful Paulo is to my own life; these little things add a unique dimension to Paulo's memory, so that he lives on in my heart as the real, interesting, and unique friend and comrade that he was, aside from being the much-loved and much-missed leader and hero that he is to us all.

Among other things, I remember Paulo because: We were both Bosconians; I was a year ahead of him and while we did not meet in high school, we shared fond and not-so-fond memories of our years at Don Bosco Mandaluyong. I continue to have links with Don Bosco, mainly through an egroup of former schoolmates. When I remember Don Bosco, I remember Enriquez, my fellow Bosconian, Class of 1977.

We both went to UP Diliman. He built on the technical training we both had in high school by studying Engineering while I would not. We met up anyway, as activists organising students and eventually non-academic workers and community residents too. We hung out at Vinzon's, and at the Second Floor of AS, even if we weren't supposed to. We also hung out at White House, Ricarte, and other campus communities. I also continue to have links with UP Diliman, through family and friends, and through groups like Tibak. When I am there, or whenever LU is mentioned, I particularly remember Kristo, my fellow activist and a superior community organiser.

We both stayed in UG houses. We all liked singing and playing activist songs, but were careful not to do so at these houses so as not to give any signs that we were activists to keep the houses safe from surveillance and raids. So we sang and played popular and “legal” songs instead. At one UG house somewhere near Welcome Rotonda, Paulo often played and sang Plastic Jesus and Running on Empty (among many other pieces). It was then and there that Paulo introduced me to Jackson Browne, and reminded me that not all American rock stars and rock songs are instruments of American imperialism. When I hear Jackson Browne, I hear Paulo.

Another UG House was on the bank of a polluted creek near West Avenue. It would be cold late at night and early morning there. And smelly too, plus we had mosquitoes. We would learn the finer points of using the malong there. Paulo would demonstrate how you had to get into a malong, wrapped head-to-foot (like a human lumpia), to keep warm, to keep out the stink of the imburnal/creek, and to keep mosquitoes away. We would also, discretely, talk about how a malong protects against groping hands, a practice that allegedly happened at live-in trainings and some UG houses of the day ... but I won't go into more detail. So, malongs will always remind me of Paulo.

We were deployed by the movement out of LU at the same time, around 1983. Our last unit meeting together was in Baguio. It was a long and painful discussion; many of us disagreed with the decisions of the higher organs and there were heated debates. Paulo, as always, was calm and cool. He was always calm and cool; I had never seen him overtly angry. After the session where the old unit was dissolved, Paulo, Larry, and I left the meeting, headed for Manila and new assignments. We had some time before the next Pantranco bus so we found a quiet place along Session Road, above Pancake House I think, and had beers – Gold Eagle, as nothing else was available. We were sad, and anxious about the future. Paulo was still calm and cool (even if he had to drink Gold Eagle). We were good soldiers, but he was perhaps the better one at that time, determined to get on with the job with minimum fuss and acrimony. I think of cool Baguio, I remember Paulo.

I don't drink much anymore, but when I do, it is not Gold Eagle that I drink, but I remember Paulo whenever I do drink some beer. And when I think of, or get together with Larry and friends and comrades of mine and Paulo's, we remember him, and we talk of him, and talk of how we can find him for his family's sake and for our own sake too. We did not spend very many years together, but they were memorable years. When I think of those years, and I think of those years constantly, I remember friends and comrades of those days, and I remember Paulo especially.

I had wanted to write a song for this occasion, but it was not easy: I have not completed a song since 1992. I started one for Paulo for this tribute but did not complete it. That is a shame because Paulo loved music, he loved playing guitar, and singing; a song for him would've been a good tribute. I will continue trying to complete a song; I will try to make the first one I complete, the first since 1992, to be one for him.

Bong Ramilo Darwin, Australia 25 July 2008