HE called me “kuya” and I called him “bunso.” It was to show how intimate and close our friendship was. Last Thursday afternoon, bunso quietly passed away after suffering a cardiac arrest at the Manila Doctors Hospital.
Bunso was Fred de la Rosa, former publisher and editor of The Manila Times and a long time-media colleague of mine I called him bunso because I am older by seven years; He was 80 and would have been 81 on May 19.
We were together at the Christmas party of a common friend, public relations man Willie Fernandez, two months ago at his home in Ayala Alabang. Fred was in high spirits and showed no sign of illness.
I was shocked when I received a text message last Thursday afternoon from Manila Times publisher-editor Rene Bas that Fred was gone I felt a little guilty for not being able to visit him at the hospital, knowing that when I was undergoing hemo dialysis for a kidney ailment at the Heart Center in Quezon City, he took pains to visit me despite his physical handicaps. He was led to my bed by his wife, Jojo, because he was completely blind. He held out a hand and told me, “Fred, please hold my hand because I cannot see you.” Fred had undergone a series of eye operations for cataract but seemingly to no avail.
I first met Fred in 1971 when he was writing press releases for then Labor Secretary Blas Ople, who was running for a Senate seat and I was the news editor of the defunct Philippine News Service. He had asked me to help him with the sending of his news releases to the newspapers through the PNS teletype and I obliged him.
We became close friends when we found ourselves working together for Ople in the labor department, Fred as director of the National Manpower and Youth Council, now Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (Tesda), and I as the department’s press officer. Fred was later appointed as labor attache to Washington, D.C., enabling his family to establish residence in the United States. I was also appointed as labor attache to Indonesia.
When Ople was labor secretary, he formed a writing team to work on the speeches of then President Ferdinand Marcos as well as on articles and other information materials required by Malacanang. Ople was head of the team, assisted by Fred and other well-known writers like Adrian Cristobal and Rony V. Diaz
Fred and I were on the writing staff of Ople when he became a senator and later when he was appointed as foreign secretary by then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. When Fred became Manila Times editor-in-chief, he took me in as opinion editor in charge of editing columns and other articles.
Fred’s editorials were well written. He used simple words to suit his simple writing style. His columns were marked with a bit of humor or with a poetic touch, showing his literary bent.
Fred had written a complete biography of Ople but its printing in book form was held because he wanted first to pass the text around to Ople’s closest aides and friends for their comments.
Fred’s failing eyesight and weak physique forced him to retire from active journalism. He formed a media foursome that used to meet regularly to discuss top national issues. With Fred’s death, his three closest friends — Rene Bas, Lito Malinao and myself–said they will continue to get together if only for just sharing a meal at Max’s and recalling our times him.