June 20, 2024

I think it was his “pinabili lang ng suka” schtick which got us.

We were having a staff meeting in the old Abanao office when we first saw him.

He was just a boy with a Batangueño accent thick as sinaing na tulingan.

We thought he was selling something.

The new market, which moved westward, was teeming with Batangueño and Ilocano vendors.

He handed his application paper, handwritten in his nifty handwriting.

Sinai received it.

“Editor of Mountain Breeze. Hmmm,” our editor said.

This was the school organ of La Trinidad Agricultural High School.

“So, you are Primitivo Mijares? What should we call you?” Sinai asked.

“Tibong,” he said.

He was still going to be 18 in November. This was Monday, Sept. 5, 1949.

“So, you’re born in Santo Tomas, Batangas,” he said.

Tibo used (SLN) instead of (RIP) or + after his parents’ names so Sinai had to ask. Later that day, he would be informed that SLN means Sa Langit Nawa.

But Tibong now held court. He said both his parents died at the end of the War.

He went home too late to see their house razed to the ground. He embraced his mother, bleeding from bayonet wounds. His father lay dead beside her.

An uneasy quiet came into the office because, after all, Sinai and Cecile were Hamadas.

Tibong said their main business was making vinegar for the town. Tibong, being the oldest, would bring their horse cart to town.

SNAPSHOT IN TIMEFilipino activist Primitivo Mijares is interviewed while testifying at an immigration hearing in 1976 for two Filipina maids threatened with deportation. Mijares spoke of the lack of due process under the Marcos regime and his belief that the maids would be persecuted upon their return to the Philippines for abandoning their jobs with the Philippines Council General in Seattle. Himself an asylum seeker from the regime he critized, Mijares was forcibly returned to his homeland the following year where he then disappeared. He is widely believed to have been murdered by Marcos supporters. (q.v. IE, April 1976) — Photo by Elaine Ko. 1976 International Examiner)

During the war, his father became a gunsmith, hammering out paltiks for the resistance.

Tibong continued their vinegar-selling after burying his parents. On his way to town, a Japanese officer told him that they needed to get his horse and the other horses in town for their operations. He realized they were retreating from the Allied Forces in Manila.

“I need to bring the horse to town to deliver vinegar, then I bring him back to you,” Tibong told the officer.

On his way to town, the 12-year-old boy was shouting to his townmates to hide their horses.

“So, you’re the Paul Revere of Sto. Tomas,” said Eduardo Masferre, the assistant editor.

“How good was your vinegar,” I asked Tibong.

“Your face will crumple like paper,” he answered.

“You should have brought a jug,” I said.

After the war, the Mijareses were distributed to their relatives. The girls were taken in by their uncle in Sabah, Malaysia while the two boys were taken to La Trinidad, Benguet where another uncle was an agriculturist.

So, that was the “pinabili ng suka episode” that we often bring back during our press nights.

The thought came to my mind in those drunken nights that maybe Tibong concocted the Maharlika battle exploits of President Ferdinand Marcos, Sr. filling in the gaps of that wondrous lie.

Maybe because of his story but mostly because of his audacity, Tibong was hired as staff of the Baguio Midland Courier.

The editor-in-chief was Sinai Hamada, who had been up there since the start.

Before Midland, Sinai was a fictionist and an exceptional one at that. Members of the UP Writer’s Club were nonplussed at this mountain boy writing so prodigiously. And then he surprised them more by leaving the field of literature and starting a newspaper instead.

The assistant editor was the Spanish mestizo from Sagada (Mountain Province), who would soon become a famous photographer of the Cordillera people. How ironic that we didn’t publish his valuable photos only because we couldn’t.

The rare times we published a photo then, we would have to make it linotype-ready for a month.

The paper was only four pages long. Nothing much was happening in the city at the time. The violent stories were still within the pagan villages, but the editor advised us not to use them anymore.

The trauma of the war was waning. But the “war hysteria” over Korea was welling up.

The universities were starting to be built in the city. Sometimes we set up a section for them monthly.

But most of the stories were about associations being created, golf tournaments being set up, drivers being blood-typed, and teachers being hired.

Most of the work was still in the setting up of the plates, lining up the headlines character by character and placing “etaoin shrdlu” to warn the strippers that there was a typo.

Sometimes some “stop-the-press” stories come out like bandits stealing P3,000 worth of clothes in an Indian bazaar along Session Road.

In the Oct. 12, 1949 issue of the Midland Courier, boxed news was brought out in the center of the front page like a rectangular wound. “Apology. Owing to the sudden, unexpected, and unexplained desertion of his duties as news editor, the Baguio Midland Courier failed to come out with its regular issue last Sunday, October 9. We are sorry for what happened and hereby apologize to our friends and readers. The present number, therefore, is the delayed issue of last Sunday .”

Laurence L. Wilson, known as L.L. Wilson among the Midland readers, replaced Ben Rillera. Tibong was promoted to helping in the society column, “In and Out of Baguio,” by “Cecile” which was mostly snooping on the remaining Caucasians in the city.

L. L.Wilson was a folklorist, anthropologist, and journalist, so his notes were compiled for his weekly column.

Cecile Afable’s was the other regular column. The rest of the columns were published when the columnists made it on time.

The editor made it a policy that all the local news stories be made anonymous. And, of course, Sinai would edit them until they all sounded like Sinai wrote them all.

His brother, Oseo, turned out to be an astute business manager and soon enough, Midland had six pages.

Tibong was tasked with compiling and summarizing the major foreign news stories given by the United States Information Service and boxed them under “Brief Notes of the Week Over The World Fronts.

And then finally on July 2, 1950, with the headline “Fr. Carlu Dies Aged 75,” Tibong finally saw his name in the staff box. L.L.Wilson became contributing editor and there it was: Primitivo Mijares….News Editor.”

I remembered Tibong looking at page 2 so long that he almost burned a hole on the top left side, then started running around like a dog out of the cage.

I knew instinctively that he would soon be leaving us unless Sinai started publishing his byline in the stories.

He started sending stories to the Manila Chronicle and by August, I think, he left the city to join the Chronicle as a staff member.

His rise was, as they say, was meteoric.

At night, he studied Law and became a lawyer in 1960. Later, he would join Manila Mayor Arsenio Lacson. Soon he would join an upstart congressman named Ferdinand Marcos.

“We cannot contain his ambition,” Sinai told us.

“Baguio is too small for him.”

Marcos would soon become the President and Tibong would become his ear and mouthpiece.

During Martial Law, Tibong became the editor of the Daily Express. He had the whole Philippines under his hands.

One time when he came up to Baguio with Marcos, he visited Midland.

“My short stint here was the most important,” he said.

Tibong still hasn’t lost his baby fats. His round glasses were held by his cherubic cheeks.

We didn’t know if we believed him then. He also started telling Manila people that he was the youngest editor of Midland.

“Was there a time you went AWOL like Ben?” Cecile asked her brother.

“And told Tibong to become an editor on your deathbed?”

We lost touch with him and whenever Sinai asked, “Where the hell is Tibong? It still was a joke to us: “Pinabili ng suka ni Marcos.”

But in February 1974, we got a different punchline.

“He defected,” Oseo said. “I heard he is writing a book against Marcos.”

Tibong became a fugitive and we were on the hunt for that book, which was said to have been named “Conjugal Dictatorship.”

“What did that boy rat about us,” Sinai said.

“Our drunken evenings?” Cecile suggested.

Soon, Sinai’s “Where the hell is Tibong?” was met in silence and concern.

By 1977, nothing was heard of him.

“Maybe he did spend his most important stint with us,” Sinai said over sake.

“Maybe he did,” Oseo said. “Our vinegar seller.”

“Our vinegar hero,” Cecile corrected her brother. 

(Editors’ note: Primitivo Mijares, author of “Conjugal Dictatorship”, the most important anti-Marcos book, said that he became the youngest editor of Baguio Midland Courier in 1950. The author has decided to investigate this and with lacking records except for actual copies of Midland from 1949 to 1951, he decided to write a short story about Tibong’s short stay in Midland Courier).