July 23, 2024

(Editors’ note: Cesar T. Carantes, the younger brother of the late Atty. Benedicto T. Carantes, is pitching in for this week in time for the latter’s first death anniversary.)

It has been over a year now since my manong Bennie passed away. His absence has changed our lives forever. No words can describe how much we still miss him. Nobody can fill the void he left behind. He is irreplaceable.

His passing was a big loss not only to us, his siblings, but also to his sons, Marc and Melpether, his associates in the legal profession, and his countless friends (and foes).

The helplessness is so frustrating that I can only say a little prayer for him as a gesture of gratitude for all his goodness and generosity to us when he was still alive.

The love, concern, and the memories manong Bennie shared has a special place in my heart.

Fare thee well my brother, thank you very much from the bottom of my heart. You were more than a brother to us. Goodbye for now, boss. You are now in God’s keeping.

I believe that he doesn’t deserve to die and ask myself why so soon? He is still very relevant in this world, particularly Baguio. His fellow Ibaloys need a leader like him to voice out their sentiments.

With manong Bennie gone, Ibaloys need to get out from their shell and be more vocal.

He no longer exists to defend the Ibaloys and the poor, to enjoy derbies, and to play with his granddaughter, Amanda Noele.

Mabuti at nariyan sina Joemol, Peter Fianza, and Poppo Cosalan, among other Ibaloy leaders. They are the great Ibaloys whom we hope for a better Baguio.

I recall the time when a cousin from our mother’s Ilocano side, Domingo Roy Masadao, who became a judge in Bulacan, suggested to manong Bennie to work in Manila for it is there where the money is, but my brother, being a new lawyer, begged off, saying he will defend the Igorots particularly those who are “suffering in silence”.

To him, Manila is just for derbies. I often went with him when his two sons were still in grade school. I relished in luxury every time we checked in in five-star hotels, ate at expensive restaurants, shopped in malls, and ogled at Manila girls. I will always remember those days the rest of my life.

If the pandemic did not happen, I believe manong Bennie would still be alive. He was an indirect victim of the pandemic. The virus halted his only excitement – cockfighting and his true personal happiness, Amanda Noele – his only grandchild.

He called her sweetheart; she called him “lolopop”. You could see the glee in manong Bennie’s smile and focus in his eyes while talking to her daily in his Ipad. The limitations at the height of the lockdowns bored manong and he caught the “blues” and unknowingly pneumonia caught him.

Today, his sweetheart is already three years old. She was an infant when the virus spread. She is getting inquisitive and often asks where his lolopop is and why she cannot talk to him anymore.

Melpether and wife, Pam, cannot answer for she is too young to understand.

Amanda and manong Bennie, who were both born on Dec. 25, never had the chance to celebrate their birthdays together because of the virus. His granddaughter sorely misses him and the Ibaloys still need him.

I believe his compassion for Ibaloys were in deference to my father who is of pure Ibaloy descent.

Being a noted lawyer with excellent public relations acumen, a respected columnist, and a cockpit mainstay, he made friends from all walks of life.

Had he lived longer, I would have seen the ecstatic look on his face when Melpether and Pam finally brought to his house the already walking Amanda Noele.

I rushed out to see her as tears welled and as I said to her, “You are nine months late, honey.”

It would have been a feast in New Lucban if manong were still alive to embrace and welcome his only grandchild in his arms.

Losing manong so soon and unexpectedly hurts, but it had elating moments.

During his interment, two rainbows appeared as the priest, who happens to be a loyal reader of my manong’s column, was blessing his body in his casket.

The rainbows somehow eased the pain and anger of losing manong Bennie. I told myself it was a sign of a heavenly life, or was it manang Minda meeting him in the firmament?
To me, the rainbows were a hint that manong Bennie is happier where is now, in heavenly bliss, together with the two women he loved the most – his Minda and our mom.

We will all miss his generosity with food as it is more than a habit for him to buy or order food more than we can consume. Ask fellow cockfighting aficionados, and they will tell you that he is generous with food.
If manong Bennie was considered larger than life by relatives and friends, it is because he is compassionate, understanding, and empathic especially to the poor, needy, and victims of injustices whom he defended for free.

When he was the chief prosecutor of Baguio, an Igorot officer told me about how a fellow Igorot who was incarcerated and went to manong to bail him out but the cash he had was short.

Manong Bennie shouldered the rest using his own money so the accused will be released to his family. The said officer who is a friend said “Naanos gayam ni manong mo. Kasla strict gamin diay itsura na.” Yes, he looks strict and imposing but he has a soft heart for those who are in need. The accused was from Kapangan, Benguet, where manong Bennie was born.

Manong Bennie is understanding and is easy to ask favor from him. As for me, I often asked favors from him. One time, I requested that he help me from my brushes with the law.

In one instance, the provincial commander told him, “Iyawid mon ni ading mo.” He refused and said, “Agbati pay ta dagasek no June.” “March tatta, apay nga no June?” the official asked.

Manong said, “Usto ta enrollment no June.” So to teach me a lesson, I stayed for three months in the Camp Dangwa stockade for marijuana possession. My manong wanted me to go back to school and disassociate my MJ connections.

Though I always seemed a wayward, he never gave up on me and encouraged me to go on with life until I had a to chance earn my keep decently. He never discouraged me and was always supportive of me – he was a brother in the real sense of the word.

I also believe that he was larger than life because aside from living a life well-lived being a remarkable lawyer and a revered columnist and political analyst, he made this world a better place to live in one way or the other with his compassion, understanding, and empathy.

He bought from roaming vendors even if he does need to, just so the vendor would have a sale to compensate for his long walks. He has empathy, like putting your feet in the vendor’s shoes.

He played a major role as well in the construction of the Baguio Justice Hall. If I am not mistaken, he requested this from then Senator Franklin Drilon who is his brod in the Sigma Rho fraternity of the University of the Philippines along with the late Senator Edgardo Angara.

Along with former Onjon ni Ivadoy president Jack Chiday, manong was also instrumental in acquiring the Ibaloy Heritage Garden at Burnham Park from the city government.

You are now in everlasting life, boss. We still miss you. God has reserved a special place in heaven for you. May your tribe thrive.