Mandirigma: The joys of babying a book


THURSDAY the 14th was a very rain-drenched day as I set off from my Antipolo abode even before dawn. I had accepted an invitation to guest in Ado Paglinawan’s “Ang Maestro: The Unfinished Revolution,” aired over Radyo Pilipinas from 5 to 7 in the morning, purposely in order to be able to announce in the widely followed radio program the birth of my baby: Mandirigma.

The simile is quite apt. The joy that had seized me as early as the night before was not unlike that feeling I had while pacing the corridor of a Cainta hospital back and forth, anticipating the birth of my first child, Mauro 2nd on July 9, 1979. I had married late, and I was entering 40 when Maoie was born. Imagine how blissful it is for a man to be having a son after a long, long time. That’s just the bliss I got as I rushed in the rain to catch an early jeepney ride to Metro Manila that Thursday. After more than half a century of writing, there I was on the road to seeing my first book ever born for all the world to see: Mandirigma.

Mandirigma is no less a labor of love than my first-born—and than all the rest of my subsequent other-borns, Paulo, Maripaz and Ogie for sure. It is something you put in all the good meanings a father wants his kids to have. But this is too much literary stuff.

What the crowd at the Mandirigma book launch event was very excited about was the prospect already of the book turning into a movie. The idea was first broached to me by Gen. Francisco Gudani, Ret. AFP, at a dinner at the Thunder Bird resort in Binangonan, Rizal, a few months ago. And now as he was at the podium of the Dimalupig Hall of the AFPCOC (AFP Commissioned Officers Club) in Camp Aguinaldo, reminiscing on his many war exploits with PCSO General Manager Alexander F. Balutan, he reiterates the movie idea, which instantly got the audience titillated. They were thrown into fantasizing on a spectacle of Balutan earning the moniker “Mandirigma” in the fierce battles that he had to fight onward to the ultimate objective of capturing the MILF mother stronghold Camp Abubakar at the close of 2000. That got me deciding finally my own line of pleasing the folks there when the time came for my speech in the program—which was right after the Gudani goodie.

That got me munching though a bit at my pet peeve: proclaiming a glory that is my own. I rarely do that.

But I was before a crowd of mostly millennials who could not have known me from Adam, and so, much to my exquisite chagrin, I swallowed the supreme shame, proclaiming I was Mauro Gia Samonte, the film scriptwriter and director who launched to stardom such movie icons as Cesar Montano (Is he still the Tourism Board COO?), Cristina Gonzales, the sitting mayor of Tacloban City, Lani Mercado, variously mayor and congresswoman of Bacoor City, etc., etc. I had to bear that ignominy, if only to let the people know I was best qualified to do the movie “Mandirigma” if ever there was one, as General Gudani had proclaimed there would be twice already.

Showbiz stuff continued to figure in the contents of my performance at the affair. At the press briefing that followed, as far as the questions directed at me were concerned, movies again were the main milieu, particularly on who would portray General Balutan in the movie “Mandirigma.”

Somebody quipped, “Coco Martin!”

“Nahh,” I reacted, pouting, adding to myself, “Alex Balutan is a lot more masculine.”

I told the folks, again in the manner of “I, me, myself,” I have a history of successfully launching complete unknowns into successful movie stardom. I said I intended to go that way again in finding the right guy to play Balutan in “Mandirigma”: search for a guy who looks good and quite manly, not one for mere feeding into the lust of some international film festival’s gay jurors in exchange for assurance in winning awards for the film project come that festival’s competition proper.

And I wasn’t kidding when I declared that GM Balutan himself could do the part. He’s definitely good-looking and oozing with machismo fit to counterpoise the allure of even international beauty queens. He could not have attracted his Maria Angelina early on in the elementary grades for nothing. And Maria Angelina could not have forsaken, too, her lifetime (until then at least) avowal of a desire to be a nun for nothing as well.

GM Balutan laughed off the notion. I found no reason to explain that already I was toying with the idea of interplaying the reel and real Balutan in a film technique that has never been done before. For that alone, “Mandirigma”, the Movie, should be a milestone motion picture.

But back to my speech. After getting the audience interested in the movie aspect of the book, I sought to segue to my initially intended message, citing the words in the dedication page: “To the men and women of the Philippine Armed Forces who I wish would see the day when they no longer have to die in war just so all of us whom they love will live in joy and in peace.”

Everybody abruptly quieted down. I told them that was the food for thought I wished to leave to them on the occasion. When can the men and women in uniform “see the day when they no longer have to die in war just so we whom they love will live in joy and in peace?” That will only come about when there is no more need for war—no more need for Mandirigmas to rise in combats, bearing the brunt of battles in order to safeguard the peace, joy and contentment of their people.

This is what the book is all about: the saga of a man who rises to the fame of Mandirigma in order to end all Mandirigmas. As Gen. Alexander F. Balutan himself puts it: “A good general is one who solves a crisis. But a better general is one who prevents that crisis from happening. I choose to be the better general.”

These elaborations on the book dedication should have been my answer in the press briefing to the question: “What inspired you to do the book?”

What I answered was that it was inspired by Dr. Dante A. Ang, Chairman Emeritus of The Manila Times. But then, between ideas of “loving and living in joy and in peace” and DAA assigning the task of writing Mandirigma to me when there are a lot of others who can do the job as well, or even better, what is the difference?

Nothing at all really. I was just answering from the heart.

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