The year 2017 marked the passing of three men who influenced my character the most. One after the other, in the same year, they went, almost like telling me I’m on my own now.
While I had not really been in touch with them in recent years, their departure left a void, but also a rush of memories on how they had separately molded the person I am today—personally, professionally and spiritually.
On the occasion of All Souls’ Day, I am moved to pay tribute to them.
Ramon Tusi (Aug. 20 1949-Aug. 22, 2017). Mon was my taekwondo instructor. He turned me, then a wayward teenager, into a serious athlete in a sport totally unfamiliar until then.
The lessons I learned, the virtues I acquired in those years of competitive taekwondo, helped me through the toughest times of life and made many experiences better than if I had not been trained in hardships.
Mon’s teaching style was all his own. He spotted an individual’s strengths and exploited them. He was among the most prolific instructors in terms of sending players to the national team.
A heavyweight in his fighting days, Mon stood almost six feet with a heavy frame enough to intimidate anyone he met on the street.
But every member of the huge taekwondo community knew him as a gentle, quiet guy. If it’s true that a man’s heart is measured by the size of his fist, Mon sure had a large one.
I was a mid-level taekwondo practitioner when I stopped showing up at the gym. Once I went with a friend just to watch them practice, and Mon asked why I had stopped. I told him plainly I couldn’t afford the monthly fee with my meager allowance.
He firmly told me to show up at the next practice, and wouldn’t take no for an answer. From that point on, I pursued taekwondo as coach Mon Tusi’s scholar.
In turn I trained hard to prove to him his generosity would not go to waste.
He was by no means rich. In the early ’80s, there were few taekwondo practitioners, and it was his full-time job. He occupied a tiny room below the Las Piñas taekwondo gym in Barangay Talon.
All he had was his old Honda 350 motorcycle which he sometimes let me bring home and return at the next practice.
As far as I knew then, he did not have relatives in Manila. I always identify Mon with the character in Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Boxer.” A lonely existence, I thought.
Before long, I was taking my black-belt promotion test, and then it was time to part with my mentor. Mon sent me to the elite group of black belts being trained by Korean chief instructor Hong Sung Chon. I was soon training with the national team.
Taekwondo gave me much more than skill in martial arts. It made me develop a competitive attitude, taught me perseverance, patience, hard work, magnanimity, humility.
Quite literally, I learned how to roll with the punches (kicks, actually), and to get back on my feet whenever I fell. And to continue to fight even when it seemed I couldn’t go on anymore.
Rosauro Acosta (Aug. 18, 1941-Aug. 4, 2017). My first real job was as a reporter in the Philippine Daily Inquirer. I joined in April 1986, just weeks after the Edsa People Power Revolution, which also made Inquirer the country’s no. 1 newspaper.
As was the practice among cub reporters, I was given a “baptism of fire” in the police beat. Those were exciting days for an adventurous young writer.
My first big break came when Roy, then the news editor, assigned me to cover the defense and military establishment, the most exciting beat in the time of coup attempts against the government of Corazon Aquino.
It was during those days that Roy closely monitored my copy, sometimes making me sit next to him to watch him totally rewrite my report and show me how it was done.
Up until then I thought I knew how to write. But there were also times he praised me in front of other editors.
When no one wanted to take on the Malacañang beat, I had the audacity to ask Roy to give it to me. He threw the question to the news desk and, hearing no objections, granted my wish.
Roy fine-tuned my newswriting abilities and gave me the breaks.
My wife thinks that a letter I wrote to her angry father, when he was against my marrying her at age 25, was what convinced him to finally approve. Once we were married, my father-in-law made me write his speeches, and gifted me with shirts and ties.
I was able to parlay my writing abilities into a fruitful career in marketing communications and public relations, and when I embarked on publishing.
Professional differences with Roy led to my departure from PDI, but the conflict was just that—professional. My respect and admiration for him never waned and, in 1991, I asked him to be a godfather at my wedding.
I saw very little of Roy after that. When I met his wife Carmelita for the first time at his wake, I was surprised that she remembered that particular wedding 26 years ago. She said it meant so much to Roy that he cut short a previously planned US trip and went home ahead of her.
I was also surprised to hear that Roy studied in the seminary and knew the faith very well. It gave me great peace when I learned from Carmelita that Roy had become prayerful again in his later years.
Fr. Jose Cremades (March 17, 1931-May 7, 2017). Life was never the same after I met Father Joe in 2005. No words will be enough to describe the positive changes that came out of those weekly encounters I had with him, the profound joy and peace I discovered which stayed with me even through the rough times that came later.
Everything was actually going well at the time. I had a good life—my family, my business. But Father Joe raised the bar and challenged me to aspire for a much higher goal.
An Opus Dei priest, Father Joe patiently taught me lay spirituality and how to seek holiness in the middle of the world, following the teachings of St. Josemaria Escriva.
To my astonishment, I learned that I could love and serve God by doing my professional work well and offering it every single day as prayer.
That I could be certain of fulfilling God’s will for me by loving my wife and children and putting their needs ahead of mine.
That holiness was not exclusive to priests and nuns, but was in fact a calling for everyone, including me, within our own personal circumstances.
I learned to pray and live my faith in the very ordinary events of my life, how to be happy and grateful. Most important, I learned the value of human suffering, that the apparent misfortunes in our life can be sanctified and offered as prayer.
When a series of major trials did come, instead of breaking into pieces, I was prepared and came out not unscathed, but more resilient, even grateful.
The struggles that I experienced as an athlete prepared me for trials that came later. The spiritual outlook I acquired not only saved me from turning bitter when things turned bad, it made me see the positive side of all those experiences.
How well God takes care of our needs through the people he sends us. While he allowed me to grow up without a father, he sent three men to take care of my physical, intellectual, and spiritual well-being—Mon, Roy and Father Joe, in that order.
But they’re all gone now.–CONTRIBUTED
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