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Conrado De Quiros: Rara Avis

  •   7 min reads
Conrado De Quiros: Rara Avis
Derivative art by Vincent R. Pozon based on Inquirer photo

It’s never easy to lose a friend or family to the inevitable (to be light about it, many are said to be just waiting at pre-departure… Oh, we will each have our turn, no doubt about that). But losing a friend like the much-admired columnist and gadfly Conrado de Quiros perhaps demands a different kind of grief as well as relief. He had been deteriorating after his stroke some years ago, and we felt he needed the eternal rest that awaits us all. Here are a few selected tributes. But we end with his own words. (Joey Salgado)

He spoke for our anger

Conrado de Quiros put into words what the people felt, and eloquently, powerfully.

When Nora Aunor was not honored with a National Artist distinction, he demanded that others show strong support, "I’m surprised that the other National Artists have not threatened as well to refuse to accept their trophies unless the iniquity is rectified. The exclusion from their ranks of someone who stands head and shoulders with them diminishes them."

No words were more quoted during the campaign to impeach Chief Justice Renato Corona than de Quiros's.

"If Corona is acquitted... we might as well resign ourselves to being the lepers of Asia. We might as well resign ourselves to being pathetic, abject and lame-duck, we deserve to be the toilet-bowl cleaners of the world."

Upon learning that Ateneo took the side of the Catholic Bishops Conference against their teachers - the side of religious control, he wrote, "If you want to fill your kids' minds with the light of learning, send them to UP and the other schools. Don't send them to Ateneo."

He seethed as the nation seethed when the Supreme Court appeared biased: "Arroyo’s judges should not be doing any judging, they should be standing on the dock awaiting judgment.  They should not be doing law, they should be doing time.... Arroyo’s justices have no business being there. They are not trotting out arguments, they are trotting out paid advertisements".

When Roman Catholic bishops opposed the passage of the Reproductive Health bill, de Quiros had withering words: "You saw the devastated, the ravaged, the nasalanta, who are mainly the poor, the destitute, the down-and-out... and you want to add more to their ranks because people are our asset and more people means more asset? You saw the forcibly exiled, the flung out, the evacuated, who are mainly the dispossessed, the deprived, the children with the haunted and haunting eyes, and you want to multiply them a hundredfold, thereby making them even more dispossessed, deprived, and staring at the world with vacant eyes?"

When Gloria Macapagal Arroyo attempted to skip town, in wheelchair and neck brace, he roared: "The contraption adorning her head, a pathetic effort to draw sympathy from an unsympathetic public, merely reminds me of another face hewed out of stone on a hill in Agoo. That is the bust of Ferdinand Marcos, ravaged by time and weather, the furrows forming along the cheeks looking like tears of blood trickling down his face. Both had reigns that rained tears of blood upon the land, both looked at the height of their power as though nothing could touch them, not the machinations of man, not the hand of heaven. Both looked at the depth of their mendacity as though they would go on forever. Look at them now."

The absence of his words since 2014 is palpable, missed by a country that needs them. They would have soared, pushed heavy doors open, made the seats of power tremble and unsteady. They would have prodded others to be as brave, to have words as rapier-like, as cutting. I speak for many: Conrado de Quiros's powerful voice is missed. And will be missed. (Vincent R. Pozon)

Friend. Comrade in arts and letters.

Bottomless resource of conversation at the beer table and many an enjoyable inuman, articulator of our thoughts, Conrad at last said goodbye last November 6, 2023 (that’s one day after my own birthday). Tender and appreciative towards the arts, unforgiving and confrontational towards public officials who abuse their positions, he was the last of the perceptive, perspicacious, and crusading columnists who used their journalism and intellectual prowess to the greatest public advantage. He never lacked words of appreciation and encouragement for artists and their work, writing generous reviews or never failing to mention them in his columns, but he could not countenance the rapacious public official or the furtive and skulking small-time thief. That was our friend Conrado de Quiros. He was a rare bird. Requiescat in pace. We will miss you and your columns, dear Conrad de Quiros. So long and Godspeed. (Marne Kilates)

“My own hometown is Naga City.”

I have many things in common with Conrad de Quiros, who died Monday, November 6, at age 72. We would find ourselves, unintentionally, in the same media establishments, Philippine media landscape small as it has always been.

We both wrote for the Daily Globe edited by Teddy Boy Locsin, where his column, Here’s the Rub, started in 1987.

When he moved his column to the Philippine Daily Inquirer in 1991, I was writing an arts column called Culture Beat in the Manila Chronicle.

Before Martial Law, I contributed to the Asia-Philippines Leader, where he was in the editorial department with Pete Lacaba and Nick Joaquin.

I found out he also worked with Kit Tatad’s Department of Public Information, where I found myself after losing my job with Graphic magazine upon the declaration of martial law.

But since 1991, when he started writing for the Inquirer, I was drawn to his regular columns, only to discover that he considered himself a Bicolano from Naga City, where I briefly worked with the media office of the National Irrigation Administration.

He wrote in his column once: “My own hometown is Naga City, though I was born in Manila. It is where I spent my boyhood and adolescence and learned my first language, which is Bicol. It is where I go to charge my psychic batteries. I barely know anybody there anymore from childhood, but the place itself holds a raging volcano of memories for me, which sends electrical surges through my soul. Hometowns give you a sense of bearing in a world—especially so this country—seemingly drifting in space, bound for nowhere.”

Then I discovered we have common friends in Naga City (Jun Ragragio) and Albay (Marne Kilates and Mike Molina). It was just a matter of time before I found myself in watering holes frequented by Kilates and Molina in the company of De Quiros. (Pablo Tariman)

via facebook

‘Raising Hell’

More than four decades ago, when I was the editor of our college journal, the Flame, I had a column titled 'Raising Hell'. As a young journalism student, I realized that its the vocation, as well as the task of journalists, not only to write the truth, but to 'raise hell', to disrupt the indifference and apathy brought about by the hopelessness and cynicism of our political and economic systems. Our youthful ardor reached climax in the EDSA People Power uprising, in that “one brief shining moment.” Unfortunately since then, this zeal has slowly been overwhelmed and eroded by skepticism and despair.

Until I discovered and began reading Conrad de Quiros. 

I began to rediscover an enthusiasm to spread the truth and “raise hell”. He epitomized, as never before, that vision of a crusading journalist, eloquent in his craft and uncompromising in his moral convictions. I am saddened by his passing, but I think he inspires a new generation of youth warriors who, like him, are brave enough to spread the truth and 'raise hell'. (Ronald Llamas)

Karina Bolasco’s tribute seems to sum it all up.

His Words Would Outlast Our Grief

We were lucky in our first year of Anvil Publishing. That was 1990 and Conrad was one of our first authors. People were clipping his columns and putting them on photo albums as if they were precious family photos. So imagine our delight when JoAnn Maglipon brought it to us collected as essays in one book. His every word was a slingshot, a sword, an armalite, when put all together could be a nuclear bomb. Flowers from the Rubble was the very first book. Followed later by Dance of the Dunces and the last, in 2007, was Tongues on Fire. He went on to write the fiercely truthful Dead Aim. His columns influenced, and some say, even reconfigured our national political life. Without question, Conrad’s writing shows how language opens paths, and digs the trenches to justice and truth. 

It is tragic that we didn’t have him in the nation’s time of turbulence. The lost years, as JoAnn refers to his long absence till it became definite and categorical. Working with Conrad was one of the highlights of my publishing career. 

We have grief, but we also have his words. Their anima, the rhythm, the elegance, the sting, the marksmanship. We will not even need time to show which would really matter— his words will outlast our grief. Goodbye, Conrad. (Karina Bolasco)

In Conrad’s own words:

‘Writer ka lang pala’
By Conrado de Quiros
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 00:20:00 06/17/2009

I remember an experience I once had with the Bureau of Internal Revenue. This was way back during Cory’s time when I was still paying my taxes. I am not paying my taxes now—not since 2005, when the “Hello, Garci” tape came to light. I was paying my taxes then, but for one reason or another failed to do so one particular year. Being a dutiful citizen, and having no problems recognizing Cory as a perfectly legitimate president, I resolved to rectify it.

I went to the BIR, waited a couple of hours for my turn, and finally got to talk with an appraiser, or whatever they call the people there that deal with these things. He took the documents I handed over to him solemnly, flexing his hands like a doctor about to perform a delicate operation. His solemnity vanished in an instant as he scanned my documents, and dismay overran his face like the hordes of Atilla. He suppressed an expletive and groaned, “Writer ka lang pala!” (You’re just a writer!)

Courtesy of 'Isang Tasang Kape'

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