Dulaang Sibol launches book in the time of corona

September 15, 2020
Raymond Alikpala

ALALAHANIN: OUR MEMORIES OF DULAANG SIBOL was a project initiated by Dr. Jojo Mendoza in 2006 to mark Dulaang Sibol’s 50th anniversary. With Kix Samson, he was able to solicit more than 30 essays from such notables as Paul Dumol, Noel Trinidad, Dr. Fernando Hofileña, and Fr. Manoling Francisco, SJ. However, the logistics proved daunting, and it was not published. Another effort to revive the project in 2017 sputtered to a halt later that year. But in late 2019, with Mr. Pagsi then 92 years old, a decision was made to finally produce it in time for Mr. Pagsi’s 93rd birthday on June 12, 2020. Erick Lirios and Bong Alikpala finalised the manuscript, and Ali Figueroa designed the book, enriching the volume with dozens of photos. The book would make a perfect birthday gift, and Sibol alumni were planning a big bash when Covid-19 happened.
Top: An obviously delighted Mr. Pagsi; bottom right: some of the Sibolistas who got their copies at the book launch/drive thru

Fortunately this time, the bulk of the work was completed before Metro Manila was placed under Enhanced Community Quarantine. ECQ delayed publication, but the book came out a few days after Mr. Pagsi’s birthday on June 12th. He received a copy of the book on July 8th, and his obvious delight and grateful appreciation made all the effort worth it. But there was another hurdle to clear- selling the book to our principal audience of Sibolistas and friends. Our first print run is modest, so we wanted to make sure that Sibolistas would be able to get their copies before everyone else. But it was not enough to sell the book online. We had to have a book launch!

How does one launch a new book amidst a pandemic?

The answer was, with the same dedication, imagination, persistence and luck needed to mount a Sibol theatrical production. While we did not have Mr. Pagsi directing this one, it was the Sibolistas’ love for their teacher, mentor, and “second father” that inspired everyone to come together and put on a show. In a pandemic where face masks and social distancing are mandatory, the old concept of a book launch with a live audience and the author signing books was not possible, and even illegal. But we had a captive audience that was more generous and more willing to cooperate with the unusual demands of ordering, paying for, and picking up books during a pandemic. We started accepting advance orders and payments on August 2, and the response of Sibolistas was quick, robust, and (happily) manageable. Many communicated their enthusiasm by ordering multiple copies. 

Fast-forward to Saturday, August 22, 2020. The original date was supposedly August 15th, but Metro Manila was once more placed under MECQ for two weeks, and our launch venue, the Ateneo de Manila Grade School, was unavailable until after the MECQ declaration was lifted. Thanks to University administration and the Loyola Heights campus security detachment, our team was allowed exclusive use of Ateneo Gate 1 and the Grade School driveway for the book launch, following the protocol for the contactless pickup of materials for Grade School students. Vehicles registered in advance would be allowed to enter Gate 1, go inside the driveway, pick up their copies of the book, then immediately exit the campus.

Simultaneous with the physical launch and pick-up of books was an online program. We asked notable Sibol alumni to perform musical numbers as well as one comedy skit, and we also requested short video greetings from those who contributed essays. Four select authors read excerpts from their essays. Gabby Malvar and Ali Figueroa sifted all these into videos and other materials for the show. Most important, we asked Mr. Pagsi for a video greeting because we were sure everyone wanted to see how he was doing. Putting an online show together was not easy, but luckily for us, we had the expertise of the Jesuit Communications team behind Radio Katipunan to assist us, and our thanks goes to Justin Pontino in particular.

But the show needed an emcee to engage the audience, and I was tasked to be it. Knowing my limitations, I pulled in someone more capable: professional theatre actress Missy Maramara, who had her start in Sibol. We cobbled a script together, and without the benefit of a technical rehearsal, started broadcasting live at 2pm of August 22nd. It was a beautiful day. The sun was out, and Ateneo campus security was wonderfully helpful and cooperative. Grade School Headmaster Fr. Salty de la Rama SJ allowed us to set up our table on the driveway outside the Heritage Room, while Dr. Von Totanes of Rizal Library went to Gate 1 to check on those arriving to pick up their books. There were multiple cameras— one with Von at Gate 1, another with me at the Grade School, another with Missy from her home, with Ali directing everything from his home and remotely managing the equipment and files located at JesCom on campus with Justin. Managing the actual pick-up operation was Gejo Jimenez, assisted by my family members John Curameng, Emil Bargabino, and Crispin Escame. We were allowed a maximum of ten people on site, but we managed with only six because the Grade School guards were the unsung VIPs who allowed everything to move smoothly.

The launch program started with a prayer by Fr. Manoling Francisco SJ, and blessings poured out the rest of the afternoon. The vehicles were announced by Von at Gate 1, and they arrived in an orderly fashion, one at a time, and our team welcomed each one. The online program was not quite as smooth, and there were technical gaffes. But it was a live event, and these things were expected, and added to the excitement and charm of what was probably the first Book Launch/Drive-through Pick-up/Online Launch Program event in the world. Missy proved herself a real trooper and star, managing the messy proceedings and still making them shine. Sibolista Gene Tamesis, watching from Jakarta, would later compare the coverage to the Oscars, adding that he “really got quite emotional.”

It was an emotional experience for many Sibolistas. Listening to guitar virtuosos Gelo Favis, Gerry Duran, Jing Olaguer, Jonny Salvador, and Igo Gonzales once again; hearing the unforgettable voices of Jimmy Hofileña, Paola Deles, Lionel Valdellon and Cholo Mallillin; and laughing with the one and only Mhel Garrido evoked powerful memories of our halcyon Sibol days. We also heard greetings from Sibolistas far and wide—Ozzie Purugganan in New York, Mike Reyes in Anchorage, Rod Tanchanco in Delaware, Hap-py Xavier in Munich, Dave Ycasiano in Toronto. Professor Paul Dumol himself sent in a greeting for Mr. Pagsi. Perhaps most poignantly of all, cancer-stricken Ariosto Reyes Jr. (Nonong to family and friends) sent a short clip of himself from Florida reading from his essay, then bursting into song, an early little-known version of “Alalahanin.” Nonong would be reunited with Our Father the day after the book launch.

Sibolistas and friends have written to tell us how much the event has meant to them, a happy moment in this pandemic, and how they cherish reading the essays and recalling their memories of Dulaang Sibol. We, the organisers, are deeply grateful for the privilege of putting together the show and bringing happiness to our friends, fellow Sibolistas, and our beloved Mr. Pagsi. We send out our deepest appreciation to everyone who helped us with the book launch, all those we mentioned here and those whom I may have forgotten. On a personal note, I wish to thank my Sibol kuyas, Tito Lopez and Manolo Ocampo, whose steady stewardship of the project has made everything possible.

A public launch of the book is scheduled on Radyo Katipunan on Saturday, September 19, 2020 at 10am. The launch may be viewed at youtu.be/kVdk3HpmVHYALALAHANIN: OUR MEMORIES OF DULAANG SIBOL is now available on Ateneo de Manila University Press stores on Shopee and Lazada. The book costs 800 pesos each. Net proceeds will go to Mr. Pagsi’s dream project, the Sibol Hesus School Foundation, which provides supplementary education to prepare public school students for high school, and grants high school scholarships for carefully selected students.