July 15, 2024

(Editors’ note: Baguio girl Nette Cariño Espinosa, who now resides overseas with her family, is pitching in this tribute to her uncle, the late Atty. Benedicto T. Carantes.)

The late Baguio City Chief Prosecutor Benedicto T. Carantes and I are twice related.
He is my cousin through the Carantes-Cariño clan, and technically my uncle on the auntie Ninay Torralba-Ruby Tan bloodline. Either way, he was and will always be uncle Benny to me.
My Carantes uncles have always been larger than life, constantly at the ready for their relations, when needed. I always thought they would be around for like, forever.
One of my earliest memories of uncle Benny was when I was around Grade 4. It was dismissal time in Maryknoll and he and auntie Marichu were picking up my cousins Paul and Ferdie Maglaque. I ran over to say hello when uncle Benny said, “Go get your bag. You ride na with us.”
I replied, “No na uncle, dad will pick me up.” Uncle Benny and auntie Marichu both laughed and said, “Your papa is already in New Lucban!”
Seeing my hesitance, uncle Benny took my hand and we walked to the teacher-in-charge of overseeing dismissal that day, and it was Mrs. Dulawan. He said to her “I am taking Annette. Her papa is in my house,” and that was that. I gathered my things and we went off to New Lucban.
True enough, my parents and siblings were already there. It was a party. None of them even batted an eyelash when I walked in with uncle Benny, everyone just laughed. I wondered then, what if I didn’t see uncle Benny, I’d still be waiting to be fetched, what were my parents thinking?
Today, such an occurrence might warrant reporting it to Child Protection Services, but back then, in small town Baguio, everyone knew I was Benny Carantes’s niece, and it probably just slipped my dad’s mind to pick me up, no worries.
I remember in the late ‘90s, Lawrence and I (we were only dating then) were HHWWSS (holding hands while walking sa Session, hahahahaha), uncle Benny was hanging outside Dainty Resto and he spotted us. I immediately let go of Lawrence’s hand.
Uncle Benny smiled that mischievous smirk of his and said, “Amu ni mamam dayta? (Does your mother know about him?)” I shook my head and did the finger-to-lip quiet sign, and introduced Lawrence, who, of all days, was wearing his fraternity (the rival of uncle Benny’s own fraternity) tee shirt. Uncle Benny sarcastically said, “What’s that fraternity?” and we all laughed.
All’s well, as uncle Benny and Lawrence soon got along and at one point, Lawrence even accompanied uncle Benny and Melpether to University of the Philippines Diliman to iron out some issues. That drive to and from UP Diliman was one filled with never-ending laughter as uncle Benny cracked jokes about everything. It was inevitable that uncle Benny would be one of the godfathers at our wedding.
Right after we got married, we left Baguio. Lawrence thought Baguio was too restrictive (Read: Everyone knows what their neighbors are doing).
I was already Manila-based when my mother was turning 75. My sister, Heli, tasked me to coordinate a surprise lunch for mom (in Baguio). I was instructed to invite some of mom’s nearest and dearest. It was a given that our Carantes relatives would be invited. Lawrence could not make the trip to Baguio, so only my son Thor and I went to Baguio that weekend.
At the lunch, upon seeing that Lawrence was not around, uncle Benny asked “Ayan na dayta lakay mu? (Where is that husband of yours?)” I said, “He has work, uncle.” Uncle Benny joked, “You tell me if he’s working on someone else, ta siyak ti bahala (I’ll take care of it/him).” I knew he was half serious.
We visited Baguio at least twice a year and each time we would always make time to meet uncle Benny and auntie Minda for coffee. When we eventually moved out of the country, auntie Minda often sent text messages saying that she and uncle Benny were wondering how we were doing.
Our visits to Baguio had become few and far between, but in the event that I run into uncle Benny or auntie Minda, they would always ask the same question, “Is Lawrence treating you right?” Contact with that Carantes couple waned when auntie Minda fell ill, but she still occasionally sent me what I call “feel good texts.”
I was not in the Philippines when auntie Minda passed away. I knew uncle Benny was heartbroken as he often told me, “Ay, your auntie Minda keeps me grounded.” I sent him a long text message offering words of comfort. That was all I could do.
I last saw uncle Benny at April’s party in 2019. When I arrived, he said, “You go and eat na, then come out and have a shot.” It was a lunch party, so I begged off the drinks, yes, you read that right. As per usual, uncle Benny asked me, “Where’s that Lawrence?” I responded, “He’s working uncle. He couldn’t come home for the wake (my brother Dan had just been cremated).” Uncle Benny again posed the question, “Is he treating you right?” I answered, “Of course naman uncle. Nu saan ket nabayag akun nagawid ah (If not I would have come home a long time ago).”
Uncles Benny and Victor were always one of the first to arrive in our house when there was a death in the family. In 1985, I remember arriving home from Baguio General Hospital where my father just passed away and uncle Benny was already there, waiting.
Uncle Victor did the same for my brother, Matt, and again, uncle Benny was a first mourner when my other manong, Dan, died.
I was heartbroken when April messaged me that uncle Benny had passed on only a few weeks after another Carantes uncle, Manny, had died. I was terribly sad. I would have wanted to have been first at his house, just as he often was at ours, during the hard times. I mustered the strength to arrange for mass cards (my niece Tam did the nitty gritty for me) and whatnots to be delivered to both wakes.
April was kind enough to video-con me during uncle Benny’s viewing, so I could at least say goodbye. I cried when I saw my dear uncle in his coffin, but one thing about uncle Benny was he still looked very handsome. It was like he was just sleeping.
When my father, Andy Cariño, died in 1985, uncle Benny wrote him a lengthy tribute in his column, and I never would have thought that the day would come when I would have to do the same for him. I have always looked up at my Carantes uncles, thinking they were invincible; I thought they would outlive us all.
Rest now, uncle B. You’re with auntie Minda na.