Goodbye ‘Manong’ Jess

by DANTON REMOTO ©, Ateneo Press

(Editor’s Note: This eulogy was read by Allan Ilagan at the necrological services and memorial mass on June 8, 2005 at the FEU University Chapel, and was later published by the Philippine Star, Lifestyle, the Arts and Culture, Monday June 13, 2005. Jess Q. Cruz was a fellow writer and columnist of Danton Remoto at the Philippine Star.)

Like many writers, I first met Jesus Q. Cruz through his writings. His M.A. thesis at the Ateneo in the early 1960s was called “Cloudburst and Other Stories.” His teacher and adviser was the poet Emmanuel Torres. Along with the creative-writing thesis of Gilda Cordero-Fernando, it was the only thesis allowed during that time — a compilation of the graduate students’ stories. No critical introduction was needed, no footnotes were necessary. It was as if the stories themselves could stand on their own.

And well they could. After college, I began reading the short stories of Jess Cruz in Focus Philippines, edited by the peerless Kerima Polotan. They won prizes in the magazine’s annual literary contest, and when I became director of the Ateneo’s Office of Research and Publications, I said I wanted to publish his stories. So I called him up the English Department of the Far Eastern University and set up an appointment to meet him.

One hot afternoon, I went to the university Belt and looked him up. I was directed to his room, where he was teaching. And there he was, teaching the history of 19th century writing with neither Cliff Notes nor manila paper filled with secondary texts. Everything came from his head. His words the students caught and pinned down on paper. Like his writing, his teaching was filled with passion.

After his class I introduced myself and called him “Mr. Cruz.” He said I should call him “Jess,” but I insisted on calling him “Manong Jess.”His manuscript was easy to publish because there was nothing to correct. Jess Q. Cruz wrote elegant English, his stories were classically constructed, he was a publisher’s dream. He was one of the very few writers who never gave me a headache. He never complained, he never spoke ill of anybody, he never frowned. And when he smiled, his eyes vanished and that shock of white hair turned into a halo. He not only wrote a book, he even designed its cover! We decided to launch his book at FEU. During the launch, Manong Jess told me, “Watch me, watch me perform!”

Aha! I thought, my gentle author also has a wicked streak. Very good. And so he proceeded to read a thank-you list written on long, white paper that fell like a scroll. It was a mock-heroic performance, like somebody thanking the stars and the universe during the Oscars. And when he was finished, he let the scroll of paper fall to the ground, like a torn wing.

We would have dinners afterward, to talk about the marketing of his book, to discuss writing and the arts. These were publisher’s dinners, to be paid for by the office. But since Manong Jess always insisted on paying, I would stand, meet the waiter midway, grab the bill, and pay. Manong Jess said, “As long as you are in Manila, you are in my territory and I will pay.” But since I have faster legs, I always stood up and ran for the bill.

His book of stories sold out, and two years ago, he asked me to find a publisher for his theater and music reviews. I told him times were tough, and commercial publishers only came out with books of recipes and books on sex. But I promised to find a publisher for his reviews, and it is a promise I intend to keep. I think those concise, erudite reviews need to see the light of day again. I also want to have his book of stories reprinted. Perhaps the FEU can reprint it, since Jess Cruz is one of our most memorable writers. Krip Yuson texted me and said that he always teaches the stories of Manong Jess to his Creative Writing classes at the Ateneo.

And this is how we as writers will be remembered. Our words will never turn to ashes, will never be blown away by the wind. ©



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