Jerry S. Tundag and the color of the Devil’s testicles

In 1996, a newbie reporter at The Freeman submitted a news article about then Cebu City Mayor Alvin Garcia’s comments on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What happened, as is often the case in press conferences, was that the mayor was asked about it after all the other more urgent issues pertinent to City Hall were already raised. Often, radio reporters just wanted a sound bite on the biggest issue of the day and the mayor’s comment was enough for a short world news report in the noontime newscast.

Kana si Alvin,” Sir Jerry S. Tundag told the reporter, “og pangutan-on na nimo unsay color sa itlog sa yawa, mutubag na. Pero dili pasabot balita na.” (If you ask Alvin the color of the Devil’s testicles, he’ll give you an answer. But that does not mean it’s news.)

Sir Jerry, JST to us in The Freeman where he served as section editor, editor-in-chief, and publisher, died of cancer Friday at the age of 70.

Sir Jerry and I often used to smoke together outside The Freeman newsroom, where I worked from 1995 to 1997. We’d talk about the day’s stories; Bob Dylan, The Beatles, and music in general; and the copy of reporters and columnists.

One time we were smoking while he waited to close the opinion pages. He lacked just one article from a columnist. This was a time before e-mail and when articles sent by fax had datelines acknowledging the network used to send them (via PLDT). He joked about how great it would be if the columnist couldn’t make the deadline – the person’s writing needed a bit of editing.

A cigarette stick or two later, however, the columnist emerged from the stairwell holding a printout of his column. He just came from an event, he explained to Sir Jerry, and had a hard time finding a fax machine. He decided to just drive to the office to personally hand in his column. After they were done talking and the columnist had left, Sir Jerry told me with a mischievous grin, “naka abot gyud da.” (Darn, he did make the deadline.)

He took a liking to some of my stories and would offer suggestions to improve them. He especially liked the “exposés” I did at Cebu City Hall. Sir Jerry took the effort and time to coach reporters and we were all the better for it.

Sir Jerry handled page 1 and would remind reporters whose stories landed on the front page to write these first. We’d joke that he just wanted to close the page early so he could go home. No, he told us, you work on the hardest and most important story first so that your mind is still fresh.

He once printed a quotation, I now forget the exact phrase and by whom, about how reporters should put the feet of the mayor to the fire. He posted it near the printer as a reminder that our job was to hold officials accountable. I tried recalling and searching for it some years back because I wanted to remind him about his exhortation to reporters as a response to one of his columns that I deeply disagreed with.

The last time I saw Sir Jerry was in a coffee shop in Ayala before he relocated to Leyte. We laughed about old times.

I did not know Sir Jerry got sick. I went over his Facebook page to see how his last months were and it was sad to watch him, looking frail and sickly, dictating his final column.

But the frailty could not hide the mischievous twinkle in his eyes although the vision was apparently gone from one. It was the twinkle I saw when he would recount his favorite joke about getting married. He would repeat this several times through the years and the punchline never lost its humor. He even wrote a column about it.

Sir Jerry said that as he was about to get married, his then wife-to-be told him not to be “ma-arte” or fussy after they got married and lived together. But the Waray for arte was “iyot,” which in Cebuano means to have sex, and so the wife-told-him that after their marriage, “waray na iyot iyot.” (No more iyot iyot).

The Jerry Tundag I remember is the one barely able to hold back laughter in mock seriousness and pretend shock to prepare for the punchline and then deliver it with a guffaw. “Unsay walay iyot iyot, mao ganing nagminyo ta!” (What do you mean no more iyot iyot, that’s precisely why we’re getting married!)

We’d laugh, put out our cigarettes, and return to our desks to write or edit stories.

Vaya con Dios, Sir Jerry. Pag iyot iyot diha!

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