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Karl Gaspar, another bus driver’s son

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Last week, I attended a  “round-table chat”  ( except that  the tables were rectangular)  on culture and arts with some Davao editors which included event prime mover Amy Cabusao of the TIMES, Tony Ajero of EDGE, Stella Estremera of SUNSTAR, former editor Ed Fernandez and PPI executive director Ariel Sebellino. Resource persons from the arts and academe were also present.  There,  I met a long- time  friend,   a    high school classmate of  50 years ago,  Brother KARL GASPAR , CssR of the Redemptorist, now an anthropologist who has devoted his entire  life mostly in the service of  the underprivileged, the lumads, the victims of calamities, and the unfortunates.  We haven’t seen each other for a long time.   I knew him as “CARLITO”  from way back.  I jokingly told him his being called KARL sounded Marxist and could be the reason why during martial law, he was arrested by the military. He was an   “activist” then doing   pro-poor work  in the communities.   He was arrested  and became subject of an intense search of military camps by sympathizers  that  eventually gave rise to an organized effort of  civil society to help locate missing persons during martial law.       I was already a lawyer then and although I have not seen him personally then,   I recalled taking up his cause and  vouching for him while doing my “pro bono” legal work for human rights victims as a FLAG (Free Legal Aid Group) lawyer under the guidance of then   Sen. Jose “Pepe” Diokno. He was arrested on Palm Sunday and  released from detention on Easter Sunday — something that can also be a source of reflection for many.

DEAN OF SEMINARY —I learned from Journalist Gail Ilagan that Karl, a PH.D. in Anthropology from UP Diliman, just   got appointed recently  as dean of the St. Alphonso’s Theological Mission Institute, the seminary for Redemptorists. His religious inclinations even during high school and college days when we were together were evident. He was head of our Sodality Club at Ateneo and an “altar boy” like me. As an itinerant Redemptorist missionary, he spent time in Arakan Valley in North Cotabato with the lumads, doing advocacy work on “development agression”. His “street theatres” that he was good at, were platforms  of relevant social commentaries of current and contemporary issues of the day. He  has written books and publications, and somehow gets to publish one book every year.

I QUIT SCHOOL —While recalling our days together last week,  I got a big surprise  when    Karl remembered me as that  student  who  appeared    in  the first year high school class for the first time  long  after school opened. I almost forgot about that episode of my life. That prompted me to tell Karl the full story of how my parents,  living  in  barrio Guihing  in the south,   dreamt  that their 12-year old  eldest son who just graduated from elementary,    should go to the best high school thereabouts,   the Jesuit-run Ateneo in the city. (I was a  precocious pupil  as I was only 5 years old when I enrolled  with my mother Amparo as my Grade One teacher. There were no birth certificate requirements for enrollees at that time. All one had to do was to reach his ear with his hand across his head. Either my hand was long or that no one — except the teacher, my mother was looking. So there!)    Although the family  could hardly afford it, we  relied  on  a scholarship I earned after passing a qualifying test. So off I went to the big city  weaned from family and friends  for the first time. It was a mistake.     After a few weeks, I literally quit  school and returned  home,    unable to adjust to a strange place with non-familiar faces and car-riding classmates;    where fountain pen was required in class  —not the familiar  ballpen or  pencil I  was used to;       where a school uniform was  a daily must instead of ordinary t-shirt and  pants. When my mother visited me one weekend, I clung tightly  to her belt refusing to let her go without taking me home. A few days later,  my   angry  mother bodily  dragged me to the Holy Cross in Digos ( ran by the Canadian Brothers of the Sacred Heart)  in the next town. She dreaded the thought that her son was a  school “drop out”.     Luckily,  I was admitted by a stern school principal, Diosdado Ypil, as a late enrollee but only after   he learned that my mother was also a teacher like him. There, I felt at home among my “ co- provincianos” There Carlito a.k.a. Karl and I met.     That was where I felt I really belonged!  The rest is history.

PROUD DRIVERS  — Back to the round-table forum. After the   meeting, Journalist  CAROL ARGUILLAS posted our picture together at FACEBOOK describing Karl and me as  “ SONS OF BUS DRIVERS”.     Indeed,  my father Martin (“Ating” to friends)  was a passenger bus driver since I was young and so was KARL’s  father. I learned  that when they would gather  at the bus  terminal area with the other drivers around,  they would proudly  talk about their sons and boast to other bus drivers how their sons were doing well in school. Karl was our high school valedictorian.  After graduation,    we both went to Ateneo (finally, I was back) for college. We both worked our way through college while both our  fathers continued being drivers down south.    He later became a Redemptorist brother and I went on to law school.

“WHY STOP ME?” —  Years later,  I was already Davao congressman and my father    was still  driver of   the company shuttle bus of the sugar central located in our barangay.   During one of my hometown visits, I   politely  told  him    that it was time for him to rest and stop  driving and we the children ( 8 of us siblings)  could very well take care of his needs — including his steady supply of his favorite Red Horse beer (hoping this could convince him) .    His  quick reply, (in native Ilonggo) was:  “ My being driver made you what you are today, so why do you want me to stop,   now that you are a congressman?”    End of conversation.   Being with  his friends and neighbors  boarding his shuttle bus everyday must be a source of unending joy for him.      He  retired  later.   And yes, his regular pension maintained his  steady   supply of Red Horse beer up to the end. He passed 5 years ago at the age of 86. Last week, we reminisced more when we visited his grave during Father’s Day.

UNENDING STORY —As for KARL, I know he will  be back in Yolanda’s  Tacloban or elsewhere , where his apostolate  will bring him to tend to the poor and the unfortunate. His life’s  mission  as new dean of a seminary will bring more milestones.      For  sure, the story of the  sons of those two  bus drivers will  still be an unending and continuing story to tell. 30-

By Jess Dureza




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