ON GLOBAL FILIPINOS: In memory of my dear friend Nelson Navarro

‘Raconteur par excellence, world traveler, unparalleled writer.’

By Loida Nicolas Lewis

“The pen is mightier than the sword.”

Never is that maxim more true than in the life of our dear friend Nelson Navarro.

We were all shocked upon hearing that Nelson passed away a few weeks ago! I am glad that his younger brother Genghis is here with us today.

Nelson was just here in New York for a few days last Spring and stayed with his good friends Michael Dadap and Dr. Yeou-Cheng Ma.

During our lunch at my apartment, he regaled us with stories  about everything and anything under the sun. That was Nelson, who saw the world in a unique way and expressed it in words beyond compare.

Let us thank his fraternity Alpha Phi Beta led by Lord Chancellors Alenn Nidea, Carlos Esguerra, and Christian Bautista for honoring him today with this beautiful Memorial Service. Let us also applaud the beautiful musical numbers presented by Aida Gamboa, Marc Tagle, Dr. Gloria Shih, Michael and Yeou-Cheng, especially “Huling Pagsamo,” Nelson’s favorite Kundiman.

I first met Nelson at the University of the Philippines in 1965 when news came out that a young, impish looking sophomore, who was an Economics major from far-off Bukidnon, had won the Editor in Chief position at the Philippine Collegian, our equivalent of The New York Times, a newspaper that is erudite, liberal, and trustworthy.

Although he belonged to the Alpha Phi Beta Fraternity and I was associated with the other fraternity in the UP College of Law, we had an arms-length regard and respect for each other.

It was in New York that we developed a close friendship. In February 1972, my sister Mely Nicolas became the publisher of an underground newspaper in Manila that would be critical, in a witty, tongue-in-cheek sort of way, of President Ferdinand Marcos’s administration. Gerry Gil and Jimmy Ong, the masterminds, initially were deciding whether to call it “Ferdie’s Organ” or “Imelda’s Monthly.” Since nobody in their group was named Ferdinand, they settled on “Imelda’s Monthly” because Mely’s baptismal name was Imelda.

Members of UP’s Alpha Phi Beta Fraternity organized a memorial tribute for Brod Nelson.

Nelson Navarro was in New York as a graduate student at Columbia University at that time.

I decided to print the U.S. edition of “Imelda’s Monthly” because it was poking fun at the mighty Marcos administration. It was Nelson Navarro who christened our newspaper “Ningas-Cogon,” because often, Filipinos’s enthusiasm for an advocacy peters out into nothing, like brush fire. It would also be a caution for ourselves not to be a brush fire. Naturally, Nelson became the editor of “Ningas-Cogon.” His editorials skewered President Marcos and First Lady Imelda Marcos.

A few months later, on September 21, 1972, Marcos declared Martial Law. He shut down every newspaper, radio, and television station in the Philippines. “Ningas-Cogon” became the anti-martial law newsmagazine on the East Coast. Together with Philippine News, published by the late Alex Esclamado on the West Coast, we were the only Filipino American news media that dared to criticize the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos and his regime.

Nelson’s editorials became more pointed, sarcastic, and caustic so much so that all of us on the editorial board, including the writer of the social Tsismis column,  Angie Cruz, were blacklisted by the government. We could not go home to our Mother Country.

But that did not deter Nelson Navarro. Every month, from 1972 to 1978, he fired bombs and torpedoed on the shenanigans and violence perpetuated by the Marcos Regime through his mighty pen.

In 1978, although my husband Reginald F. Lewis was willing to continue to finance “Ningas-Cogon,” which paid a stipend to Nelson Navarro, I had to stop publishing “Ningas-Cogon.” By then, Nelson had found a regular job with a Trenton, New Jersey daily newspaper. Also, at that time, I had won my discrimination case against the Immigration and Naturalization Service. I had to work full time.

But that did not end our friendship. Nelson continued his journalistic work here, but I knew that his heart pined for our Inang Bayan, the Philippines.  Especially when his mother died in Manila and he could not be there to bid her goodbye.

In 1986 after the People Power Revolution in EDSA ended Martial Law, Nelson took the first plane out of New York to return to our Native Land. His pen gave him the means to express his unique, iconoclastic views about the political, economic, cultural and social situations in the Philippines. Through his column, his TV shows, his books and his biographies, he became a household name. As a professional writer, Nelson always knew what he was doing.

I can see him now with that same impish look that he had when I first saw him in the University of the Philippines.

Nelson Navarro – raconteur par excellence, world traveler, unparalleled writer, author of books and of musical scores, but most of all, a faithful friend. We will always love you and admire your courage to tell it like you see it.

Nelson, I will not say “Good-bye” but when my time comes, “Till we meet again.”

The author delivered this eulogy on October 4 during a memorial service for Nelson Navarro organized by the Alpha Phi Beta Fraternity at the Philippine Consulate in New York.

© The FilAm 2019

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