The online news portal of TV5
We have been so neck-deep in the news and reflection about Dolphy to almost forget that when it finally happened, in the moment and minutes and nearly half an hour after Twitter came alive with his death, mainstream media literally did not want to run the news. More accurately, we could not.
Tweets would not cut it. The same netizens who decried the media's' "excessive" Dolphy Watch in his final days at the Makati Medical Center were the same insistent masses cajoling for confirmation of what they were already confirming with everything but official word from the Quizons. Which is what every suddenly tongue-tied media organization was waiting for – and dreading with everybody else.
Dolphy's death dominated the news before it was there, and when it finally came, it was not just professionalism and responsibility that held news at the gate; it was dread and doubt that for the mouthfuls we had already spouted, and for all the stories and videos we had banked, nobody was really ready to even begin to mount a full and faithful telling of what their first post-Dolphy headline could only feebly, sadly herald: The King is Dead.
Nothing else follows. There will not be any other Comedy King to Live Long in our hearts as Rodolfo Quizon Sr.
That is what the loss of true royalty should do. Leave us shell-shocked and at a loss for words. Or intimidated by the knowledge that all our testimonies combined will fail to thank and wail and sing enough.
True royalty redefines the word. It is no different from how "beauty" is defined not in a blinding instant, but when it is witnessed over a consistent, unwavering lifetime.
This has been a week for reflecting on both beauty and honor. Dolphy alone spurs introspection. But we not only lost a true King in the last few days, we now know. Filipinos also lost a queen.
Maita Gomez is not known to the entire breadth of Philippine society. Unlike Dolphy, Maita died suddenly and with relatively little media attention. But the truth is that a massive heart attack on Thursday took from Filipinos a genuine heroine worthy of Joan of Arc, if not a fairytale.
The story began in 1967. A fair maiden, officially the fairest of them all, could not quickly enough get out of the absurdity and pointlessness of a pageant she had won, to straighten and tie up her hair under cap and flee – not to hide but rather to return for a real fight with a powerful man who, for all his power, was easy to pick out, easy to define, and would be easy to forget once we figure out how to rid us of him. The opposite of someone royal, in other words.
Maita Gomez not only gave up her crown; for the rest of her life she disdained being called a "beauty queen," indeed, any other title or label. Anybody who made the mistake of greeting, congratulating, introducing her as a former Ms. Philippines-World got firmly but politely pulled aside for an impromptu discussion on what beauty really – or ought to – mean.
Maita, like Gabriela Silang, redefined the word. Any long-legged stereotype can mouth a ready answer – and this one would be correct – but it took Gomez to throw a cheap tiara in the face of a man with an iron fist, exchange her dress for fatigues, roll up her sleeves, take to the hills, rally the peasants, organize the masses, stay on the run and live to fight every day while (by the way) taking care of her own young princess - and take on all other clichés to live and prove this one true: Courage with purpose is what radiates beauty that strikes men dumb.
Maita could have spent her life living off her prettiness. Instead she became a tireless, formless, faceless advocate for social change. She was a co-founder of the women’s organization Gabriela. She was also once a trustee of Action for Economic Reforms, the advocacy group that has produced some of the best economic and political treatises on raging public issues. At the time of her death, she was co-chair of the Makabayan Coalition, which groups together party-list groups from the mainstream left. She remained active in campaigns for transparency in government, in advocating for economic and social reforms.
This was no beauty queen. Maita was a model.
Royalty is not about setting an example for royalty. True Kings and Queens define what it should mean to be commoners. Which is to say, as Dolphy and Maita did:
To be common should mean to be true and brave and compassionate. To be citizens should mean to be our own best and sincere rulers.
Whether he played a poor father, a gay parent, or a down-on-his-luck worker wide-eyed but alienated in America, Dolphy reminded Filipinos what it means to be rich, a man, and a Filipino. It is to be a hero to your own values – to your own “pride chicken,” as John Puruntong always said: that magical food that would never run out if only we are strong enough to never eat it, to never swallow it. Dolphy, our father, kept one whole "pride chicken" ever at the center of the table, flavored it with salt from the tears in his fluttering eyes, and whenever doubted, whenever down, whenever challenged or ridiculed or underestimated, he took one long whiff of that glorious, golden chicken, before stuffing his thankful mouth with steaming rice that the Good Lord provided, somehow, everyday, to reward his faith in his self and in his neighbors, and yes, in his own country. He finished every meal satisfied in his truth before ever touching that chicken. It remains intact, still fresh and steaming after so many decades, left for us to leave ours whole.
Maita, as much as she railed against the title, defines what it means to be a beauty queen. It is to know Gabriela Silang. To fight for women as well as to free men from their own cowardice, and to do both, no, not with force of weapons, but with intelligence, scientific discipline, and with the shaming power of example.
Above everything they epitomized, both Dolphy and Maita each carried the single most powerful weapon that could prove to be the Filipino people’s salvation. No, it is not arms. And no, even the Comedy King testified with his life that laughter is not the best medicine. For everything, and at every level, love is.
So have true and deserving Kings and Queens testified throughout history and all over the world. Love is what will shelter and heal families. Selfless love is what will bind this nation. Love is what will bring all of us home, around the table, to share stories of yet more love, and yet more courage, laughing at the exploits of this one king, and from time to time speaking with hushed awe at all that a beauty queen sacrificed and stood for.
Oh, the memories, lessons, and challenges they left us. We have such high heels, heavy, muddied boots, and big, white shoes to fill.
Roby Alampay is editor-in-chief of InterAksyon.com, the online news portal of TV5.