Portrait of a writer as Ilocano:A tribute to Sozimo Ma. Pablico (1938-2009)

(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.

Author: Herdy La. Yumul

A hesitant academic pimp, writer

109 thoughts on “Portrait of a writer as Ilocano:A tribute to Sozimo Ma. Pablico (1938-2009)”

  1. Hello, I’m writing this in place of my aunt since her comment wasn’t accepted. Hopefully this will go through:

    “Just wanted to express my condolences to the family.”

    1. Thank you. Haven’t met him but I also feel the loss. My dearest Tita Lita, hope this gets fixed soon. Please hold on, thanks. tc po. Thank you for the kind note you posted at the Ilocos Times website.

  2. Farewell to one of my few believers during my University days.. I’ll always remember SMAP as a very friendly head of the Communications and Media Relations of MMSU and a critique to my thesis writing..

    I’m sending all the good thought to his breaved family.. Indeed, he has a life well-lived, well-loved, and well-ended!!

    Dios ti agngina SMAP!!

    1. During the necro service for SMAP held in San Fernando City, people came forth and spoke about how the man touched their lives, how opportunities were opened for them because of his writings, and how they gained a father-brother-friend because SMAP embraced them tightly.

      Thank you, Leonel, for your sharing.

  3. one thing i admired about him is that he’s straightforward.. he’s intimidating, but the moment he called you by name, is the same moment that you’ve just earned a friend in him..

    i’m glad i still had the chance to work with him though indirectly at the Philippine Rice Research Institute Central Experiment Station..

  4. noel…next time i come to virginia i will bring you out to lunch..your pick.but wait…. i think you are always out to lunch anyways.thanks hon…another drama in my life!!!!

  5. condolence sa family ni smap.magaling na guro.he was my instuctor wayback 1995 1st sem sa sociology.very strict siya pero saludo ako sa galing nya.i could still remember when we went to his office to get our classcard pila kami tapos kakanta muna ang bawat isa sa amin bago irelease ung classcard namin……Dios ti agngina mestro kdagiti adal ken sursuro nga inted mo.Dios ti kumuyog.

  6. see how i responded to my nephew noel? this is how my relationship is with all of them.i joke with them but they respect me and i respect them.and i respect you as an individual and my adopted “nephew”.

  7. speaking of nieces and nephews whatever happened to sachi?did she go to UP and pursued her studies there? this would make a good article;SACHI 9 OR 10 YEARS LATER.he he

    1. Yes, she graduated from there a few years ago, and she also teaches in MMSU now. She is writing her master’s thesis, and has plans of going to med school.

  8. awesome.my niece is an rn passed her boards and nclex and she went to med school will be taking the medical boards in august and will have her residency in ust for anesthesiology. i wish i have her intelligence because i would have liked to be a doctor too

  9. being a writer must be hard.you must come up and think of so many topics and titles and then develop what you have.it must just come naturally to you .i am glad i am not a writer.even in your qt your mind and your brain must always be working. the whys ,the whats, the whos and the wherefores. i applaud you. when will you write a book?

    1. Thank you, tita. Writing is not only stressful, it can be potentially lonely and dangerous, too. I don’t see any reason why you should not be a writer. You write a lot here, even more than I do sometimes. The book? I hope soon.

  10. the ones i write here just comes to me i do not have to go dig it wherever.someday i might just write one.. and the title will be “MY BLOGGING EXPERIENCE” THE ASTIG,THE YOSI AND THE LAKLAKS…

    1. Brilliant idea for a book title! Thank you, tita. Please write a book, I’ll help edit for free, and I’ll buy the first copy. 🙂

  11. that is why when i vacation to the philippines i make time to go see relatives and talk with people as if this is the last time i see them and tell them i love them because i will be feeling so guilty when i hear they passed away and not have talked with them .these times are so precious to me.

  12. my friend cholo no matter how busy his schedule is (he is doing a solo exhibition) in san nicolas in the damili festival from may15 -22 i was the first one he showed his exhibition ad etc. ..had to make the time to ym me and greet me happy mothers day he was out with his friends and had to use his friends computer just so he can do that..a good down to earth kid who cares…

    1. Good luck to cholo on his exhibit. Hope I can find time to go see it, but did not even have the chance to go to Paoay until the exhibit there folded up.

  13. it is so sad that going to a place there is a one day affair because of the traffic 10 minutes to the grocery stores here is 3-4 hours there.while in manila i visited only the chinese stores in binondo, mall of asia and sms..and to a hotel restaurant near british council in ortigas ave where my niece works.she gives exams there. oh i love the stores in binondo i bought buddhas and a frog which i heard is also a good luck because it leaps to a new beginning!!!i think i will start collecting frogs now too.

    1. I bought a new scooter, my first. A Yamaha Mio Soul. It was my first time to ride a motorcycle, and it was bliss. I learned how to drive instantly.

  14. speaking of cholo he told me he use to work as a pr at izem in batac.you mentioned to me about izem before?

  15. awesome..now you can do more gallivanting.please go check out cholos exhibition and let me know how it is..

  16. i am so afraid to ride those.i bought my dad years ago and everyday i pray to GOD for his safety.my husband and my son would like to have one but i disapprove of them buying because i have seen so many injuries and accidents .please be careful specially there where people are so disrespectful and no common courtesy.i would like to meet you next year you know!!!

    1. THANK YOU, tita. Yes, I will be extra careful. I fret at the thought of my gray matter being splattered on the pavement…

  17. Herdy, why don’t you have a driver’s license yet? Di mo pa kailangan? Kumuha ka na..it’s always useful.

    1. I was so enamored with my bicycle that I never thought of getting a driver’s license. Now, I should… less I confine my mio inside MMSU. 🙂

  18. i will be waiting.someone still owes me pictures when they were tabatsoy and fr.ericson was lanky.

  19. i do not care big or small sized scooter i think it is still dangerous.there is nothing between you and the pavement .and there are so many crazy drivers out there. please, please wear a helmet. as a nurse i had seen so many accidents.

    1. I don’t have any helmet yet, but yes, I should be wearing one. But not inside MMSU because I will be the only one wearing a helmet there. Well, I saw one wearing a helmet inside the campus once, and it felt weird.

  20. 5 years ago was the last time my dad ride his scooter.he was then 90 years old.i think he went to baay and my sister said he had an accident.”i was adjusting the mirror”so when i came home that year i asked him not to ride it anymore because “as you grow older dad you do not have the coordination you use to have when you were younger”and he was still climbing our salamagi tree.OMG 90 years old.so that year i had the tamarind tree cut down..

    1. Your dad is sure adventurous, tita, and I totally understand your being protective. Me? I’d strike a balance between adventure and caution.

  21. now it will be a toss up of my book title 1).my blogging experience 2) the astig and dedma 3)the yosi and the laklaks.. which one will it be?

  22. and oh so stubborn..i think that is where i got my stubborness ..and yes i would rather be weird wearing a helmet than your gray matters splattered over the pavement…

  23. this weekend i am going with my husband to his gun club.it is an outdoor place where you can shoot on targets like running deers and skeets i think i am getting good at it..i got most of my shots in the bullseye last time we shoot..i just pretend that the target is one person i do not like and i did good.but then again my rifle is one with scope on it.

  24. how are you liking your mio?is it still confined at MMSU or are you riding it back and forth to laoag? did you get a helmet yet?

    1. My mio soul made MMSU much smaller to me. The hundreds-of-hectares-wide campus now seems like my playground. The mio brought me home last Friday. Then yesterday, I traveled to Piddig and spent the night in a friend’s house. We also visited Solsona and Sarrat. I ‘ve been spending hours on the road… without a helmet, because I don’t have one yet. Awww, I should go buy one. I don’t want to expire before my next bday, which is very soon. But I don’t have a budget for it yet.

  25. i know you are turning 31 on june 5…am i invited? please don’t expire yet i still have to meet you..lol

  26. PLEASE BE CAREFUL ALWAYS. otherwise you will not be able to taste my katsudon and i want someone to go with when i visit places over there.

    1. You’re only 57 tita? The first time you posted a comment you said you were in your 60s.

  27. herdy ..40 and 27 is 67..now i know i’m not the only one not good in math..i will be 67 in october.

  28. hmmm..40 years difference what can one achieve and accomplish for that amount of time? well i am married for 38 and i think i accomplished a lot with my career,family here and family in the philippines and i am happy and contented.

  29. thank you also for sharing yours .your talent is a blessing and you are sharing it with lots of people and students. i for one is also learning .we disagree in our views at times but there is always R-E-S-P-E-C–T which is very important.

  30. yesterday one of my cousins in batac dropped me some notes in my facebook and some of it was in ilocano .i was reading it to Baby our youngest in virginia because she understand the lingos and she was laughing at me because the notes have so many “wuh” and i said what the heck is “wuh “i.e. “manang agananad ka nga kanayon wuh” i think i was saying it so funny sounding and she was just laughing and laughing and said” sister the way you said your” wuhs” is sooo funny.

  31. sometimes there is no logics in some of the words people come up with. in other words such stupid and does not make sense.i.e astig,yosi,dedma.

    1. Those words are part of pop culture, and most of them are identified with an era. Other such word were originally used by a subculture, e.g., gays, but have been adopted by the mainstream populace.

  32. i would liketo start a roast on our friend herdys 27th… everyone is free to join in…mine is just recently..when i told him we had 40 years age difference he thinks 40 and 27 is 57….hehehe

  33. like i said i really don’t get it but you will always be there to translate things for me sir herdy huh.

  34. Count me in, tita lita. HAPPY BEERDAY, SIR!!!! Sana ay mabusog mo kami….I-dhl mo na lang ang handa…

  35. i would like to be a fly in the wall so i can hear the “wuh “if you say it with feelings..hehehe

    1. I don’t really say “WUH” though as I am a native of Laoag and so i say a straight “wen”.

  36. 24 hours met laeng ta DHL…isu nga alisto laeng ah… nway, ana ngarud tay handam? Kitak pics yo kada Ianree iddi ashel week…very nice.

    1. hahaha… nangankam lang ruar manang. Mandik kayat ti agluto-luto ita a tawen ta adu unay a kuti-kuti ket madida nukwa makapag-enjoy dagitoy pamilyakon kunak. Nagadu pay ukwa a mainnawan, hehe.

      Ngem nagluto gayam met lang ti pansit ni Mommy ken jay super specialty na a kare-kare.

  37. that is so nice of you. i love kare kare but i do not know how to make it. i might be going back to virginia in july or august so i will let my sister cook some for me.next week we were supposed to meet in new york.my sisters want me to meet them there but my husband did not want me to.”.i am not letting you go to new york by yourself specially in chinatown.”new york has the highest crime rate.when i say no there is a good reason for it. i said “no problem”i don’t feel like going anyways.

  38. ha..ha..korek ka jan..makassasadot ti aginnaw..ngem wen ah, dapat adda pansit..di nawawala iyan..ammom met tay kunadan nga “long-life”…..

  39. awww.. you are so thoughtful to think of the comfort of your family. you are a ok in my book.(sometimes)

  40. i know.i am adventurous and sometimes i defy safety. by the way how are you liking your scooter?you still owe me pictures.and also the sleep technique you were supposed to share with me..i think you procrastinate sir herdy.this is one pet peeve of mine.i would rather you not say something you will do but months and months later i don’t see it happen. i like surprises in oppose to waiting and hoping.

  41. it is perfectly alright.it is too demanding of me to have you dig … but then again if you say something please follow on it? IT’S NOT FUNNY SIR HERDY!!!

  42. OMG! i was just randomly searching names of my former teachers and results for SMP (RIP) took me here! Dr. Pablico was my instructor in Sociology at the CAS and I only have good memories of him… oh, man! He was a very, very good teacher!!!

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