NOTEBOOK: Bobi Valenzuela, friend and mentor

Community Opinion & Analysis Dec 17, 2008 at 11:33 am

It’s a sad day for me and for our batch ‘64 classmates who knew Bobi Valenzuela and were good friends with him even as he belonged to the batch ‘62 of FEU Boys High.

He was my mentor in my first foray into student journalism in ‘62 (and journalism for that matter) when I was sophomore and Bobi was in senior class. He was managing editor of the High School Advocate. After taking the “exams” to be included in the staff, I got my first assignment from Bobi — the story about the awards for the high school essay writing contests.

I didn’t know how to interview people or how to research then. I came up with a story that the essay contest winners would receive medals in the award ceremonies. I don’t know where I got that. Maybe I heard people talking about medals in the faculty room or in the lobby. But I wrote the story and it was published. It turned out I was wrong. Only certificates would be given to the winners.

Bobi called me for a private talk to give me my first lesson ever in journalism — be sure about your facts and double check your info.

But he was my mentor in many other fields. At the UP Extension (now called UP Manila) Bobi and I used to have discussions on the stairs of the building where students used to hang out. We discussed literature, poetry, philosophy and the arts. Bobi, the student, had a strong interest then in the visual arts, particularly oil paintings. We didn’t know then that he was going to be the curator of Hiraya Art Gallery, just a block away on the same Padre Faura St., for decades (70s to 90s). He would later on hob-nob with budding and accomplished avant garde Filipino artists who now dominate the field of Philippine oil paintings.

Bobi and Mandy Manaloto, put up the cafe/folkhouse/bar called “Little Prince,” in 1970 which other than becoming the hang out of student leaders in the University Belt, also became the refuge of student demonstrators being chased by the Metrocom and the Manila Police.

Bobi, before Little Prince, lived in Europe and immersed in the arts, I suppose, because shortly after that he was hired to run Hiraya Art Gallery.

Bobi was most of all a friend. Despite the fact that we lost contact with each other throughout the dark years of martial law, he would be among the first people I would see after my release from political detention. And he was as warm as ever and too happy to see me again.

The last time I saw him was in 1984 when I visited Manila. He was still with Hiraya and we enjoyed reminiscing the old days while having pizza at Shakeys across Hilton Hotel on Mabini and Padre Faura. In 2004, I talked to the Hiraya proprietess and she told me Bobi had a heart attack or something and he was in the hospital. That was a day before I was about to leave Manila for Toronto and I failed to see him in the hospital.

I had hoped to see Bobi again in Manila but didn’t have the chance to. Today, Friday, Dec. 12, 1:15 a.m. (Manila time), he passed away. Rene Ruivivar forwarded Mandy’s email about Bobi’s death. It really is a sad day for me as Bobi’s friend and protege in many ways. May his soul rest in peace forever.

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Starting on page 10 of this issue is a story by Marlou Tiro who interviewed 10 Filipinos and Filipino Canadians about their “Pasko sa Canada”.

You will notice, aside from the usual concern with shopping and the economic crisis, some interviewees noted the difference between Christmas in Canada and in the Philippines “more fun and real”)

Said one: “In the Philippines, you tend to have that special warm feeling. You can visit anybody to greet them… Here in Canada, you need to be invited. You cannot just walk in to anybody’s house and have a meal…”

Said another: “In the Philippines… even with no money.. masaya kasi kapiling mo and pamilya mo (‘happy because you’re with your family’.) Here in Canada, malungkot ang Pasko kasi wala sa piling ko ang mga anak ko. Meron ka ngang pera pero nag-iisa ka naman. (‘Christmas is sad because I’m not with my children. You have money, yes, but you are alone.’)

These comments reflect the social circumstances under which many Filipinos live in Canada. According to Statistics Canada studies, around 20 per cent of Filipino immigrants arrived in Canada through the Live-In Caregive Program and another 45 per cent, under the family reunification program.

This means that at any one time roughly 65 per cent of Filipinos in Canada are separated from their immediate families.

As a result, their integration into Canadian life and society could be much harder. Factor in the emotional difficulties of their children and spouses who are left in the Philippines, and you have escalating social costs in both the sending and receiving countries caused by Canadian immigration policies.

Will some political and community leaders in Canada work to change this policy of separating families? If that is changed, it could give hundreds of thousands of Filipinos in Canada a really happy and meaningful Christmas every year.