The Papu I Remember

Community News & Features Jul 16, 2004 at 10:41 am

By Jess Lagman

ow long have I known Papu? Some 30 years but it seems it was only yesterday. And strangely, the month of July was significant to our friendship.

It was in July 1974 at the Development Academy of the Philippines (DAP) office in Makati when Vic Tirol introduced Papu to me as head of the Art Group. I could barely see his face when he shook my hands while blowing smoke from a half-finished cigarette. Later that day I was part of the group who previewed the “DAP Orientation” slide-tape presentation he and his crew just completed. It included slides on DAP’s 1st year anniversary celebration in Tagaytay. The last slide showed a picture of DAP staff sitting on the steps of the DAP building and Papu holding a red balloon.

When we moved to BF Condominium at Intramuros later that year I saw more of Papu’s nurturing and coaching side when I was asked to edit the DAP Magazine. I still recall how Santi Bose (RIP) did the cover on “Measuring the Quality of Life” using pointillism as a technique for the illustration. Boy Yñiguez provided the photos while Sam Santamaria did the layout. All through this effort Papu acted like an orchestra conductor. We were members of that orchestra and we loved what we were doing. How can I forget our jaunts to Chinatown for lunch or at the nearby Lutong Bahay? And the leisurely walks along the walls of Intramuros and Manila Cathedral?

We briefly parted ways in 1975 but reunited in January 1978 when Papu asked me to join his team at the Technology Resource Center (TRC). Our finished products were impressive – the annual report, brochures, the multi-vision “Pamayanang Pilipino” among others. Six months later the Ministry of Human Settlements (MHS) was born. I recall Papu being fetched at his Sikatuna home to do the logo of MHS and the 11 basic needs, and the panels for the exhibit depicting MHS’ philosophy of the True, the Good and the Beautiful. I saw Papu put aside his artist self when he and Boboy Yonzon, Sam Sta. Maria, and Manny Ongpauco toiled relentlessly to beat the July 2, 1978 deadline. The hectic pace didn’t bother him but the brewing politics was something he abhorred. A few months later, in an emergency staff meeting he called, his announcement surprised us all, “from now on take orders from Jess”. He later took me aside to share his story about Tita’s visit to Toronto and how life in Canada seemed to be simpler especially when one chooses to be apolitical.

Soon after, Papu joined Virgilio Almario’s Aklat Adarna project, happy as an artist again. Then sometime in June 1980 we bade him farewell at a despida party at the home of Cata de Jesus in Project 2 before he left for Toronto.

Papu kept in touch through letters to Boboy Yonzon the latter shared with us. I remember that one letter he wrote about making a big life’s decision when he and Tita bought their townhouse. He also mentioned how he joined a logo design contest, his work at Outdoor Canada magazine, and how he learned to drive a car.

In July 1987, a year after my wife and I lost our jobs at MHS, I found myself dialing his number while waiting for a rain-delayed Blue Jays’ game at the Exhibition Place to resume. I was told Papu and family were vacationing in New York City. A few weeks later he invited me to his Brimwood townhouse where he served me Tita’s sumptuous cheesecake. In the ensuing phone conversations Papu asked me if I had adjusted to an immigrant’s life and I said, “medyo” (somewhat) to which he replied with his characteristic sense of humour “buti ka pa, ako hindi pa” (you are better off, I haven’t).

In 1989 Papu asked me to join The Philippine Reporter which he helped establish. Those press works we did at his basement-turned-into-newspaper-office reminded me of the days we shared at DAP and TRC.

In July 1990 when Boboy Yonzon came to visit for the first time the duo traveled to Montreal and Quebec City. We hosted a dinner in our apartment after their trip and that’s when Papu told me that Upjohn Canada was looking for a part-time technical writer. Though it took me four more years to find a niche in the pharmaceutical industry, it was a portal he opened which liberated me from the backbreaking bindery work. Papu made that transition happen. It was a huge favour!

Was it in the summer of 1994 when we visited the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) to see the Barnes Exhibit, which included more than 80 paintings from the Barnes Foundation collection in Philadelphia? I can’t forget the smile on Papu’s face while viewing some of the masters’ (Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh, Picasso, Cézanne, Matisse, Manet, Gauguin, Seurat and Modigliani) paintings we used to see only in the art books. I saw him savour every minute we spent looking closely at the brush strokes, the texture and the colours of each masterpiece. At one point Papu gave me a few art lessons when he explained how painters of yore made thumbnail sketches of nature scenes when they’re out there, then enlarged them on big canvasses when they’re back in their studios.

In August 1997 when Boboy and Guia Yonzon were in Michigan, we drove to meet them. We spent the day catching-up while picnicking at a rest area along I-94 and strolling along the University of Michigan campus in Ann Arbor. Throughout the entire 10-hour drive Papu kept me alert as he regaled me with stories I had never heard before: how his lineage could be traced to France, how China managed its population boom through its overseas Chinese communities, how some DAP fellows in 1973 hatched the idea of exporting Pinoy manpower to the Middle East to help generate foreign exchange, about a fine arts professor who earned his PhD in arts from Harvard, Pinoy masters like Juan Luna, Hidalgo, Amorsolo and Fabian de la Rosa, contemporary artists like Malang, Manansala, Abueva, Yonzon, Caedo….and more.

I never saw or heard Papu talk that much since I had known him. We were on our feet for 22 hours when I dropped him off after dividing the snow crab legs given by Guia’s mom (RIP). The ever-generous Papu begged me to have the bigger share. As I drove off I could hear him mumbling “Masarap gawing torta ‘yan pero malaking trabaho kasi ako din ang magbabalat at magluluto ‘nyan” (That’s good for omelet but it’s too much work for me).

Papu treated my family as his own. He was like a big brother to me. My fingers are not enough to count the number of times to prove such…the traditional family Christmas luncheon-dinner at his home, the birthday bash for Mommy Choleng, when he showed up with his daughter Liana one day to counsel my youngest son James when he had learning challenges at school, his eagerness to be my eldest son John’s godfather during his confirmation, and most importantly, his opening the door for me to be where I am now.

We drove 14 hours to go camping at Rehoboth Beach in Delaware in July 1999. I remember his love of the outdoors, him as a good navigator, him pitching his own tent, his analysis why James was catching more fish than us, how he dared to ride the wave in Delaware Bay, and us combing the beach for mussels and quahogs after we failed to catch any blue crabs. On the way home, we visited Sam Santamaria in New Jersey. Papu viewed Sam’s paintings and offered to upload them into his website. That’s one bonding my family was fortunate enough to have had with Papu. We will cherish that experience forever. As my wife Tere aptly put it, Papu added a distinct flavour to this trip. He was not only there, he made the trip a unique experience.

When Papu left us on July 2, he made us feel he was leaving. At around 10:45 a.m., while Tere and I were listening to music, I noticed that his painting of the “Montalban boys swimming” a birthday gift from him and was hanging in the living room, appeared to have jumped off its hooks. I asked Tere how that could have happened but she couldn’t explain it, saying it was much too tight, too secure and too difficult to put up and therefore equally difficult to intentionally take down. She tried to fix it, even yanking me out of the sofa but gave up for the meantime as it meant needing to move the furniture. The next morning she got a call from Maripi that Papu was gone. I was stoic perhaps out of denial, but could not hold back when I saw and hugged Tita.

Papu, we will miss you so much. I wish you could be with me every time I visit an art gallery or camp out and commune with nature. But I have to accept the fact that you have joined our Creator. And I know that Santi Bose is waiting to welcome you. Together you two will paint your joint masterpiece in heaven. I love you Papu!

LEYNES, Papu – Suddenly on Friday, July 2, 2004 in his home, at the age of 58. Beloved husband of Teresa (nee Manasan). Loving father of Liana, Tristan, and Ro-berto; father-in-law of Slav, Kate and Shannon. Lolo of Roshan, Tekarah and Brianna. Dear brother of Maripi. Loving son of Soledad and the late Gregorio. Papu will be sadly missed by all who loved him.