Romblon history, when the time comes that it shall be written, will inevitably only have kind words for those who made that history possible.
Those who left an indelible impact on Romblon, those who made it happen, those who descended on the arena and fought for the province, and those who, lastly, made life for the Romblomanons a little better and sufferable, will have a first claim over that history—not because they wanted it, but because history finds its own way of according its own respect and regard for people who led extra-ordinary and meaningful lives.
These people are very few. One of them was Manong Jules Fortuna.
I knew him first before he knew me, sometime in 1999, when I ran across a column of his in the defunct Daily Globe. I knew him to be a Romblomanon because of his surname. It began with a letter “F”, to which the majority surnames of the Asi population of the province answers to.
I knew, from what he wrote, that he was—by living the dangerous life of a journalist—on to something.
That something was articulating the dreams and aspirations of a race—the Filipino race—which have been subdued—killed—by the rising and ebbing tide of tyranny: Marcos’s, for which Manong Jules, because he was a principled man, suffered. Sacrificed big.
No matter how one looked at it, ten years of incarceration is a huge deduction from the limited tenure each human being is allotted to on this earth. There must be a reckoning, a just amelioration, for such deduction by man from the life of another man firstly, because that life allotment is not made by us, and secondly, because no one can tell how much a man can do and could have done in those years that he was prevented from doing anything.
Such was the fate, or fortune, of Manong Jules. A lesser mortal could have demanded for an accounting for this egregious injustice. A weak-kneed soul would have thought of exacting vengeance and stored rancor in his heart for the authors of the perfidy against himself.
Not Manong Jules. Never in our serious conversations about politics, foreign affairs, books, and Romblon issues did he insinuate he was wounded. No, he never hinted at all about the injustice he suffered.
What occupied him during those times when we sat together for coffee at the Century Park hotel lobby were the burning issues of the day that were crying for resolution. He was, it seemed to me, on a race to recover the lost time deducted from his life. He earned his keep the old, traditional way: by working. Hard and driving.
We traveled together once to and from Odiongan, his hometown, and during the time, we wasted not a second in meaningless blabber. With Manong Jules, you always get quality minutes of intellectual discovery. The book I saw last in his hands was Thomas Friedman’s bestseller, “The World is Flat”. He spent money on books and foreign newspapers, in the same manner that he was generous to struggling friends in the media.
As a thinker and journalist, Manong Jules can slice through a conversation and insert a gem of wisdom, usually his take or view on a topic enriched by reading and distilled by years of experience in observing events and human nature, and of course, by regular interaction with the powers-that-be.
All the years, however, that he lived, he retained his wit and firm anchor on his Asi roots even as the people around him—the subjects of his writing, most of them politicians—were running like headless chickens and fumbling in stupidity.
It was I who named his gathering of friends in Odiongan the Libakan Forum, over which he regularly presided and steered to a happy conclusion. Everyone walks away from the forum sober at the thought that they have exercised their mental faculties not for trivialities, but for meaningful discourse. The Libakan Forum was a Kapihan sa Sulo, Odiongan-style, where coffee and sometimes, food, is free, but where ignorance has a price. Manong Jules certainly knew how to make people think.
When Awe Eranes of the Romblon Sun called up to inform me that Manong Jules has gone away, he was crying and wondered aloud what will happen now that Romblon journalists have lost a mentor and godfather.
I was thinking of another matter. I was mourning the loss of a Romblon icon in journalism whose voice has been heard and listened to around the country, whose company has been enjoyed by countless friends, and whose revolutionary struggle to re-arrange the order of things in a society drowning in collective apathy, guile and guilt will now be missed.
I was thinking about Romblon without Manong Jules, whose love for his native soil is equaled only by his love to see that soil cultivated and toiled on by Romblomanons enjoying the opportunities possible only in a democracy.
I was also thinking of Manong Jules’ good fortune to have lived in an era that recognized—was grateful for—his transition from a life of revolutionary activism to a life of battling society’s inequities through a more powerful weapon—the Word.
Manong Jules lived a full life regardless of his early death. That fullness he achieved when he chose to become what he became: a revolutionary, a thinker and a journalist who engaged the world when many others in his era opt to be co-opted and therefore, are in danger of losing their souls while still alive.
He is dead. Gone, gone, gone.
But his animating spirit lives. His story remains. His kindness continues to be affecting.
And his weapon, the chief implement he used in his battles, stays with us: “the unkillable word.”
Manong Jules, nag-aampo ako para sa kalmadang payadag nimo sa sunor nak kinabuhi. Pagkayangkag ka kalibutan sa imo paghalin. Magkinita ray kita.