June 24, 2024

It was on Feb. 16, 1997, and there we were at Loakan Airport upon request of Uncle Sam and then colonel now retired general Samuel Diciano. We were waiting for the arrival of then President Fidel V. Ramos who was to do the ceremonial tee-off at the 1st EMA Cup Golf Tournament at Camp John Hay.
It was before the sun rose – a cold mist blew amidst the windy weather and the steaming brewed coffee at the cafeteria operated by Joy Ruff Airport helped warm our trembling bodies.
When the Presidential chopper and its Air Force escorts were heard, everybody stood and proceeded to the ramp. And there he was the cigar-chomping “Tabako” alighting together with First Lady Amelita Ramos, Presidential Management Staff Chief Alexander Aguirre, Press Secretary Hector Villanueva, and Sen. Heherson Alvarez, among others. Rides were assigned the dignitaries and Sen. Alvarez, call me “Sonny” he said, got to ride with me. That was the start of a friendship that ended the other day when at 80, he succumbed to complications of the Covid-19.
Sonny was an Ilocano from Isabela, not a lawyer, but a product of the University of the Philippines; a delegate to the Constitutional Commission in 1971, and one of the few who opposed the late strongman Ferdinand Marcos. He refused to sign the Constitution because he claimed it was railroaded and that started his reputation of having been born to controversy, which he actually loved, being controversial that is.
When Martial Law was declared, he went underground then into exile in the U.S. and was appointed Department of Environment and Natural Resources secretary by former President Cory Aquino after the People Power Revolution.
He was friends with Baguio’s famous faith healer and former mayor Ramon “Jun” Labo. (How is he by the way?). He defended Jun when because of his wife, Yoko, allegations of a Yakuza connection were hurled on him but later on proven as intrigue. When Jun married (again?) Russian Liza, Sonny and ninong – me – were present with the limited guest at EDSA Shangri-La including Bernie, not the congressman, former First Lady Imelda Marcos, and Jun Labo’s lawyer Sal Panelo, yes, now presidential legal counsel.
At the Senate, he was a maverick, pro-commercial logging ban versus a total log ban and wrote the Comprehensive Agrarian Reform Program.
At the House of Representatives, he authored the impeachment case against Erap and the rest, as they say, was history. He had his share in fighting global warming and climate change. He waved through all these with what his Chief of Staff Butch A. Garcia VI describes as an undiminished passion of a patriot.
Every time he would visit Baguio usually by plane, he would “borrow” our vehicles and security people then SPO1 Rey Soria and SPO1 Jerry Fernandez, now retired as colonels, or, when not available, PO1 Dioney Fernandez, still an active investigator, to bring him around, usually from the Senate House to Tam-awan or to various meetings.
One time, after a long day, they brought him to the Senate House and after he went down the vehicle before going inside, he called the two and dug into his pocket. Of course the two expecting an envelope of thanks for pangkape swiftly jumped off and lo and behold, the Ilocano in him gave them one piece each of Stork candy. Nganga!
Next time we met over coffee, I told him of the stork and this story: “Three Ilocano congressmen went to a swimming resort in California. They ordered food and drinks while swimming but when the waiter presented the bill to them, they started pointing at each other in typical Ilocano style as to who will pay the same. Finally, the waiter in exasperation, told the three, “To arrive at a solution, I will ask all of you to go underwater in the pool for as long as you can. The first one who comes out will pay the bill.” The three agreed. Next morning, the headline in the local newspaper reads, “Three Ilocano congressmen die of drowning.” And he rolled over laughing over his own Ilocano ways.
Last March, he entered together with wife Cecil at the Manila Doctors Hospital asymptomatic, now he is gone but remembered. As his polyetos says, “Sonny Alvarez, walang kapares!” Sigh.