WHEN June came and I learned that DAA’s birth anniversary would fall on the 27th of the month, I was seized with the obsession to do a video presentation on his life. For the man who had done so much in plucking me out of the doldrums of a writing career, I could do no less by way of gifting him on his special day.
That the day is not known to many is indicated by these words from DAA the afternoon I went to his office to discuss the idea of the audio-visual presentation.
“Mao,” he said, “outside of the family, you are the only one who knows it is my birthday, this is my life.”
The feeling that gripped me was instantaneous, overwhelming. But being given to so much stoicism in matters of emotional display, I could only manage to show a smile of appreciation. I wonder if that smile conveyed to DAA how deeply I felt privileged by his statement.
Dr. Dante A. Ang, chairman emeritus of the country’s oldest surviving newspaper, an ace journalist whose most recent feat was a scoop of the entire international press with his exposé of a blueprint for the ouster of President Duterte reportedly submitted to the US State Department by ex-US ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg; a revered government servant whose job was to look after the welfare of overseas Filipinos in the Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo administration, as chairman of the Commission on Overseas Filipinos; and most recently, an addition to the country’s roster of venerable diplomats with his appointment as special envoy for international public relations—for all that and definitely more, only one man outside the family knows the day he was born and the difficult life he had gone through. And that one man happens to be me. Boy, oh, boy.
Most self-made of them all
The feeling was marvelous. It went on to overwhelm me in the ensuing gestation period for the AVP such that I visualized him in a stream of photographs animating the screen—starting with Pope Francis, followed by Brazilian President Michel Temer, US Congress Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, United States President Donald Trump, Philippine President Rodrigo Roa Duterte . . . narrated as personages in a season of septuagenarians scintillating the world scene. And for the finale, Dr. Dante A. Ang is dubbed the most self-made of them all.
The narration serves to make the stream of photographs segue to the life story of the obscure boy from Las Piñas, who was born to a poor lavandera, grew up in abject poverty, owned just a pair of clothes and went to elementary school without shoes but bakya, and then slaved, in a manner of speaking, in church and convent duties in order to support himself through four years of study in a convent high school. Graduation from secondary school saw the boy Dante taking on various jobs, first as laborer in road construction projects of the Department of Public Works and Highways, then as alilang-kanin (servant without salary) in exchange for a chance to act in movies, onward to acting in “Kahapon Lamang,” the toast radio drama of Chronicle Broadcasting Network (CBN) with Eddie Ilarde at the helm, and finally mastery of broadcast media sales, making him truly big in the field.
It is not widely known that “Eat Bulaga,” the longest running television show in the country, would not have gone the way it is today had it not been for DAA. The show was having a real hard time getting access to Channel 9 so that its producer, Romy Jalosjos, solicited DAA’s intercession with Channel 9’s top honcho, Roberto Benedicto, for the needed airtime. DAA did intercede, and from then on, “Eat Bulaga” was never the same again.
The AVP concept proceeds to show DAA finding himself pursuing a career in journalism, getting his journalism degree, then publishing a tabloid, Kabayan, in the vernacular, and Money of Asia, a business paper in English. Once he acquired The Manila Times, he became a strong pillar of the country’s Fourth Estate, capturing the intellectual readership and turning the paper, in the perception of experts, into being the best in opinion writing.
DAA is then quoted in his unequivocal statement: “Give me two years, The Manila Times will be the best in everything.”
Cozy little paradise
The Ang Family Hot Spring Resort is one of countless swimming and picnic spots at the foot of Mt. Makiling in Pansol, Laguna. From outside its high, austere walls, one does not get a glimpse of what’s inside the resort compound, and when one drives through the simple iron gate into the car park, the impression is that this is nothing really extraordinary, which one surely had expected. But once you walk into the resort proper, which is separated from the parking area by a low-lying wall, you marvel at the abrupt change of vista, from the austerity of the exterior to the picturesque amalgam of rustic landscape characterizing the pool and the spa below it and the quiet elegance of the 10-room resort house occupying the entire half of the main resort area. At the end of the semi-heart-shaped pool rises a man-made waterfall from where cascades the vivifying warm spring water that visitors to the resort seek. Accentuating both pool and resort house is rich foliage consisting of a century-old balete, high-rising palm trees and flowering vines, completing the idyll of a cozy little paradise.
In a sense, the resort illustrates the person of the man who built it. From outside, DAA is a very simple man. He goes to office in gamin clothes, speaks the lingua franca, hobnobs with lowly employees, and yet with his achievements he typifies a class of homo sapiens that has reached the pinnacle of social uplift. One room on the ground floor of the resort house serves as the repository of DAA’s mementos: photographs of lowly beginnings, diplomas and certificates, medals of honor, awards and citations—testaments to a man’s rise from obscurity to fame.
I thought I had done the script for accentuating just this outstanding element when the girl in charge of devising the program for the birthday celebration of DAA reminded me that the affair at the Newport Performing Arts Theater of the Resorts World Manila only had two hours for the entire proceedings, meaning the most time that my AVP would get was 20 minutes. Impossible to fit in all the ingredients of my concocted video presentation which boasts high-end computer graphics, art illustrations, topped by live reenactments of the high points in the life of the poor boy who became rich.
It would cost a fortune to do the project as I had conceived it, and DAA was not the kind who would splurge for his own glorification. At the last moment, he struck out all preconceived scenes, retaining only the opening which featured the Ang Family Hot Spring Resort. Everything else would be impromptu by all the participants, consisting of people that he felt had mattered in his life: Armando “Bong” Felicidel, his Man Friday; Nenita Arevalo Ang, his sister; daughters Monica and Joanna; long-time associate Jun Yuseco; son Michael, daughter-in-law Jazzie (nee Tapang), granddaughters Jo and Amanda Ang; Kumadre Julie Tapang and friend Vicky Espina; convent school classmates Eddie Asbon, Demetrio Fajardo, Zorro Leonardo, and Vegel Tionquiao; and boyhood playmates Lita Aldana and Leonor Barte; and The Manila Times president and CEO Dante “Klink” Ang II. Lending support to the undertaking were DAA’s granddaughter Michele Ang and Jennifer Jones, The Manila Times project manager.
“Freewheeling tayo,” said DAA.
As guests in tonight’s celebration at Resorts World Manila who will get to watch the AVP, will recount, the result is simply amazing. Not only does DAA deliver a most moving soliloquy on his life’s beginning and struggle, he also provides, if unintentionally, the genuine framework into which to fit in with precision the performances of the other partakers.
His own testimony
DAA begins with the statement: “Yung sinasabi nilang success, hanggang ngayon hindi ko pa rin maramdaman.” Then he segues to a poignant recollection of that period in his life when his family was so poor they lived in a shack with a roof full of holes so that whenever it rained at night, each family member had to seek a nook in which to crouch, and remain seated there all night, unable to lie down and sleep, for there was no space at all to stretch out in which there was no leak.
Similar reminiscences by DAA’s schoolmates at the convent school plug long gaps in his boyhood not testified to by photographs.
DAA had told me during that first discussion, “I could not even buy shoes to wear. How much less could I have any pictures of me taken in that period?” DAA has no qualms about disclosing that all through his elementary and secondary schooling, he never owned a pair of shoes. He wore bakya.
That somebody who never wore shoes in his boyhood has gone that high up the social rung speaks a lot of the kind of grit he had, to overcome his lowly beginnings. And yet DAA does not speak of it that way at all.
Toward the end of the presentation, DAA declares: “Kahit kailan ay hindi ko hinangad na maging milyunaryo. Basta ang aspiration ko lang ay maging happy ako. Magkaroon ako ng sense of fulfillment. Ang problema, nagkaroon din ako ng material fulfillment. But bonus ko yun. Bonus ko na lang yun. At the end of the day, I am successful because I feel I am fulfilled. At nakakatulong ako kahit papaano.”
The audio-visual presentation is replete with testimonials from people who have been beneficiaries of DAA’s goodness of heart: Bong, his devoted all-around Man Friday, who swears to serve DAA to the last of his breath; his sister Nene who looks up to him as a father; his classmates at the convent school who in one way or another received some blessing or other from DAA; his children who have all done well through his exquisite guidance, strict but benevolent parenting.
A wealth of human touches promises to cap DAA’s 75th birth anniversary celebration.
Oh, yes, in the first place, if I may add, I would not be here writing this piece had not DAA wagered his entire reputation on me.