April 26, 2018, 7:28 pm
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Journalist, farmer, friend

When we went to Batangas for my Lolo Jake Macasaet’s wake, it was cool and windy, entirely pleasant, and someone fondly commented, “This is so Jake: mahangin.”

Even when he was alive, we would joke that Lolo was full of hot air because of his loud nature. But in truth his actions always spoke louder than his words, and his actions were those of a kind man, his character both as ferocious as a storm and as refreshing as a breeze. 

Those of us who knew Lolo enjoyed these seemingly contradictory qualities about him. He was brash and ebullient; crass and charming; undiplomatic and unpretentious. He was a force of personality, and I found that there are as many funny memories as there are profound ones that he left in his wake.

In the week after he passed away, I met many people who knew and loved my Lolo, and their stories about him had a theme to them: a tough guy with a soft heart. Pusong mamon, as my mother described in her eulogy. For as much as he was remembered as a hard line journalist, he was also remembered for his compassion. At the core of my Lolo, of Jake, was his interest in people, and that not only made him a respected journalist but a good man in the eyes of many. 

“Your Lolo was a good friend of mine,” I’d heard many times, from people he last saw decades years ago, to those precious friends who drew nearer to him after his stroke. His friendships ran so deep it crossed generations. The daughter of a good friend of his who passed away 30  years ago came to the wake because she said she had to see “Tito Jake.”  So many of his dear friends in the end were also the children of his friends, or the secretaries of his friends.  He was, indeed, very wealthy in relationships.

A friend of his said  Lolo had the ability to read a document upside down – unfortunately for whoever was sitting in front of him – which enabled him to get scoops on stories.  (This sounds almost mythical, and I loved hearing it so much because I would remember him sharing a newspaper with my Lola at the same time, at opposite sides of a table).

A former colleague of his told me he was also known not to prepare speeches beforehand; he had a talent for extemporaneous speech. Another friend of his told my parents, “Your father wrote a lot about me. Some were good. Some were really bad. But that’s what distinguishes him from the others. He has integrity. When you do something bad he’ll call you out. But he’s still your friend. 

One of his former editors, Minnie Advincula, recounted when Lolo  as her boss, would give her a rough talking-down that would cut anyone to ribbons but still expect her to eat lunch with him as a child is expected to show up to the dining table with her parents. 

It was humbling for me to listen to Ellen Tordesillas, one of the toughest people I know, speak warmly and highly of Lolo, when he practically forced her to accept his help because he just wanted the best medical advice for her. He’s the kind of person who would send you to his personal doctor, the ones he’d trust his family with.

This same softness was what led him to cockfighting. He never liked the sport before; it was his father, Genaro, who was into it. One day, a friend of Lolo Genaro gave him a rooster that he didn’t know how to take care of. Lolo took pity on the rooster, “naawa siya sa manok,” as it was recounted to me, and he asked someone to teach him how to take care of roosters.

More than the thrill of the fight, more than the gains, it was this that started Lolo’s career as a sabongero: his love for roosters. He was able to breed his own line of white roosters that won the 10-Cock International Derby in the early ‘90s. He and my father were a team in the sport way back when, under the entry name BJ (“Butch and Jake”) Greenwood. 

We still have some of his roosters in our farm in the province. My Lola has a beautifully manicured garden there, which one day was suddenly peppered with randomly placed lanzones trees. She said, resignedly, laughingly, “Oh, you know your Lolo.” 

I have many memories of him coming home from his long walks and labor around the farm in his battered white shirt, shorts and sometimes in his favorite leather jacket, the same one he wears to meet Presidents.

“Hey, folks!” he’d always greet us. He was always happy to be around people, to make kwento and hold court, to jest and laugh and banter. When he’d tire at night, he’d always tell everyone to go to sleep too, because he didn’t want to miss out.

When my brothers and I were playing cards with him one time and he was losing really bad, he said, “This is a disgrace! I am losing to this beginner, this lightweight, this bantam!” He’d said that all with a huge smile on his face, proud that his apo had gotten so good that he was losing to him.

But it wasn’t a secret that, for someone so fiercely intelligent, he was also so preposterously bad at cards and mah-jong, to the point that my parents would joke to him, “Pop, we need money, let’s play,” and to which he’d ready the tiles and reply, “Okay, but you need to work for it.”

He knew to laugh at himself, which is something I always liked about him.

The column of his that is reprinted here is one that is more personal and reflective in tone than usual. It was the month before he got his stroke in 2015. He called himself a journalist-farmer, which is unique and lovely; we should all live with more than one identifier, and Lolo always loved to farm, maybe more than he loved his craft. 

I would argue–at least from those of us who knew and loved him—that he would be more identified for his friendship and kindness, because for as much as he loved farming, he was a better journalist (sorry, Lolo), and, journalism was, at the end of the day, a job for him.

Case in point, and one of my favorite stories about him, which my father recounted during his wake, was when he was infamously dealing with a libel case with a gentleman that escalated to the point of threatened fisticuffs (amounting to nothing, thank God, hot air). Many years later, he saw the same gentleman eating alone in a restaurant. He told my dad, “I am going to go up to him.” My parents thought to leave it well enough alone; but my Lolo insisted.  

Lolo came up to the gentleman,  (re-)introduced himself,  and shook his hand as he greeted him warmly. My father remembered the gentleman’s face falling in shock at the respect and acknowledgment given between adversaries. My dad said, “You know your Lolo, from everything you’ve heard about him – he never had a mean bone in his body.”
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