(Sosimo Ma. Pablico, agriculture columnist of The Ilocos Times, passed away last April 22 at age 70. Survived by his wife Barbie and son Paul Ethelbert, his remains lie in state in San Fernando, La Union.)
I FIRST knew about SMAP (read as ismap, by which he was fondly called) when I was doing research as a graduate student in Sociology. I came across an article he wrote about Ilocano rituals and practices for the dead, which was published in a national daily. Short but instructive, his article was of great help to my study.
When I applied for a teaching post in MMSU, I was excited to meet the man, to tell him how much he has inspired me as a writer and social researcher. Thrilled I was to be assigned to the Social Sciences Department of the College of Arts and Sciences where he belonged, only to find out that he had retired a few years earlier. I had to be content with looking at his face in a group picture (which proudly adorns a wall in our office) with other “pillars” of the department.
Later on, SMAP and I would cross paths, albeit only in the pages of The Ilocos Times where I write an opinion column, and where he was the agriculture columnist. Having no agricultural background, I must admit that I could not fully understand most of his articles. Behind the technical jargon, however, I could sense his intense desire to uplift the life of farmers, and to promote efficient and sustainable farming methods and strategies. In his writings, I felt the energy of a man many decades younger his age.As fate would have it, I was recently appointed to be a part of the state university’s Communication and Media Relations office, which SMAP once headed. He still visits the office once in a while, I was told. My ardor to meet the man doubled after I heard stories of how good a boss, how brilliant a writer, and how endearing a person he was.
From what I gathered, the uninitiated may find him a little intimidating, but the respect and admiration he has gained in the many professional circles he was a part of, both inside and outside MMSU, attest to his genius in human relations.
The hope of finally meeting him one day was high. That same hope was broken last Wednesday when , amidst a background of heavy rains and thunderbolts, news of SMAP’s demise came, bringing with it feelings of grief, disbelief, and great loss among members of the university community.
In a rare occasion last November, SMAP wrote about himself, sharing something very sentimental to him: family and his humble beginnings. Entitled “Remembering Departed Love Ones”, the article was published in the Ilocos Times in time for All Soul’s Day. It provides insights on his inspiring ascent from an out-of-school youth to the well-esteemed professor and journalist we know.
Let us now hear from the master himself.
“I come from a farm family wherein everybody was trained to become a farmer. During our free time, my younger brother and I had to be in my father’s small farm to help in our own small ways. During the sugar milling season, we had to go directly to the farm after classes on Friday to help in removing the trashes from the canes and in carrying them to the nearby wooden mill.
“I was a small boy then, thin but not emaciated, and had great difficulty carrying more than five canes to the mill. My grandfathers from both my father’s and mother’s sides always chided my physical weakness saying, “How will you be able to fend for yourself and your family when you grow old?”
“That question kept nagging me even in my sleep and so I tried hard to study, as I knew then already that farming is not for me. If I were as strong as my brother, probably I would have ended just like him without a high school diploma, only to become a farmer.
“My father, a daily waged laborer in the Bureau of Forestry and a weekend farmer, tried hard to mold my aspirations to become a forester, even as I dreamed of becoming a writer. In high school, I already started to write short stories for Bannawag, the Iluko magazine, but without the necessary training, I got rejection slips except one which was given an honorable mention in the page for young writers.
“My father discouraged me a lot, saying writers do not get rich. He cited the life of Carlos Bulosan who always asked money for breakfast from Carlos P. Romulo and died a pauper in the United States. As I look back every time, I come to understand why my father wanted me to be a forester. He wanted to get one over his superiors who were “synthetic foresters and forest rangers,” as they did not study in the UP College of Forestry.
“I took the first entrance at the UP College of Forestry, also the first in the UP System, and passed it. But I thought that with my physical build up I would never become a forester, as one of the professors told us our daily laboratory was the highest peak of Mt. Makiling. I went home to ask my father to allow me to enroll at the UP College of Agriculture. Instead of giving the go-signal, he got back the money he gave me, saying he was going to return it to the money lender and I wait until the following year.
“In almost two years of being out of school, I learned to do odd jobs in addition to the usual farm chores. In the process, I also learned to drink and carry a gun to be accepted by my peers who were also out of school like me. At about the end of the second year, I had a drinking bout with my friends who were studying in Los Baños and Manila, starting at 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. They brought me home very drunk.
“One early morning I overheard my mother asking my father about his plans for me. I heard her very clearly saying, “Your son is getting wayward and if you don’t send him to school, he may eventually end up as one of your greatest regrets.” To cut the story short, he sent me to the UP College of Agriculture on condition I majored in soil science. My brother-in-law, the husband of a cousin, was then the provincial soil technologist and head of the Provincial Soils Laboratory. My father probably thought that with a major in soils it would be easier for me to land a job after graduation.
“My monthly allowance of P20 hardly came on time, forcing me to work as a student assistant with a salary of P0.30 an hour for a maximum of 100 hours a month. It came to a point that my mother and aunt wanted to bring me home, as they said they could no longer send me any money. But I persisted. At that time, I had already changed my major field of specialization from soil science to agricultural communication (what is now development communication). A friend shared his allowance with me for a summer and a semester.
“With mentoring from Zac B. Sarian, my feature stories (I gave up my aspiration to be a literary man) started to appear in the Bannawag, Graphics and Nation magazines. Later, my feature story on Vo Tong Xuan, a Rockefeller scholar from Vietnam who later received the Ramon Magsaysay Award, got published in the Page for the Young at Heart of the Manila Bulletin. Like my stories in the Bannawag, I was paid P30 for that story. My first wife, then my girlfriend, served as my inspiration, as she told me I would make a good writer. The late Dr. Juan F. Jamias also became my mentor, both in journalism and social research. The late Dr. Francis Byrnes of the International Rice Research Institute got me into a rice production specialist course at IRRI, but he did not say I was to become a roving rice reporter in Asia.
“Years later, my father accepted he was mistaken. My mother reportedly always told her friends about me, most especially when I went to Germany and the United Kingdom for advance studies.
“These thoughts and many more keep coming back whenever I write my feature stories and columns. Despite poverty, I was able to make it somehow. I wish my parents are still alive to see the awards bestowed on me. Somewhere they are probably watching me all the time.”
One is tempted to say that SMAP’s death is a great loss to journalism, education, and agriculture. But I could only surmise that he would be unhappy with such melodramatic remark.
It’s more apt to say that the seeds he had sown in the hearts of people—both those he worked closely with and the fans like me whom he never met—will continue to germinate, grow, and bear fruit.