Sunday, August 15, 2010


Our “cover” was a “salu-salo” for the Manila Mail, now entering its second decade and thus, the oldest, longest-running Filipino-American newspaper in the Metro DC region.

But the gathering was actually a surprise birthday party for the paper’s editor, Bert Alfaro, who turned a fabulous 81.

Twenty years ago, Bert banded together with lawyer Wari Azarcon and Balikbayan Box pioneer Jimmy Carino to establish the Manila Mail. The rest, like they say, is history.

“Mang Bert” was among the first people we met when we first arrived here on a green card some years ago. For newcomers, everyone is a stranger.

I remember a popular Japanese proverb that counsels, “When the character of a man is not clear to you, look at his friends”.

We quickly concluded Bert was alright. After all, he was my father’s friend.

It turned out he knew me much longer than I knew him. Bert and my father, Rey Sr. went back to the pre-Martial Law Manila Chronicle at the old Aduana.

We built many happy memories at the Manila Chronicle in Intramuros, where I and my brother used to run through its hallways, playing while waiting for my father to put the paper’s provincial page to bed. We probably first ran into Bert there.

Our “salu-salo” cum birthday party was hosted by the impeccably gracious pair of Oscar and Evelyn Bonoan.

They have a really beautiful love story but we’ll save that for another day.

They own and operate a small grocery specializing in Asian products along Lee Highway in Fairfax, Virginia. Not that they really need to work – both are retirees – Oca used to be an engineering contractor and Evelyn came from the World Bank.

Evelyn has found her 2nd wind in the kitchen. She writes a cooking column in the Manila Mail.

She’s taken to planting almost every conceivable herb in her front garden, including every Bicolano’s favorite – the “siling labuyo”.

Lito Katigbak, who’s settled in Northern Virginia with wife Minnie after years of crisscrossing the globe as a wire service correspondent, may have inadvertently thrown a dare on all the men at the dining table when he plucked one “sili” from the stem and chomped it down with one of Evelyn’ gastronomic delights.

It became a contest of who could eat the most peppers. Bill Branigin, himself a veteran journalist and currently Washington Post editor (who also happens to be Bing Branigin's "better half") was probably wise to stay away the "sili" contest.

Jon Melegrito and his wife Elvie arrived late because they watched two non-Filipino musicians perform Filipino kundimans in Maryland (we kind’a regret we didn’t do the same).

We told Jon he had some catching-up to do. Never to turn his back on a challenge, he plucked a bright red “sili”, put it in his mouth, took a swig at a Johnny Walker Blue and declared the pepper “hot”.

We all watched with awe and a bit of guilt because we forgot to tell him that he was supposed to cut the “sili” and mix it with the food – not eat the whole darn thing outright.

After stripping clean a second shrub of its hot fruit, we declared, with no objections, Jon the winner of our little dinner table contest.

We offered a toast to Bert on his birthday, and many good wishes for the Manila Mail.

Wari was among the founders of the Filipino American Republicans of Virginia (FARV). Jon worked his butt off, first for Hillary Clinton during the Democratic nomination race, and later for Barack Obama. It was inevitable at least some of the discussion would turn to politics and the November mid-term elections.

“Manila Mail is the only paper we can say conclusively where Filipinos from the left and the right, Republicans and Democrats, are on the same page,” Wari declared.

Wari and Jon write columns that share the opinion page of the Manila Mail.

We said our thanks and goodbyes and walked back into the night, elated that we needn’t look too far beyond the friendship to discover why some people and some things are really meant to last.

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