Back in 2004, I was lucky enough to be able to attend the necrological services for Nick Joaquin, the country’s very first National Artist for Literature and one of the writers whom I really admire.
It was a beautiful and somber service, with quite a few National Artists in attendance and paying their respects to their fallen companion. It was a bit heart wrenching to see how old and frail some of the National Artists were, especially when they had to go up the stage to pay tribute to Joaquin.
A couple of weeks ago, Alejandro Roces, another National Artist for Literature, succumbed to complications from pneumonia, and recently he was awarded the same necrological service given to other National Artists.
Perhaps because he was widely acknowledged as the best writer of humor in the country, the necrological service — while still very somber — had touches of humor and even a little bit of festivity to it.
Less than an hour into the proceedings, fellow National Artist F. Sionil Jose was already recalling to the gathered audience a humorous experience with Roces in China involving “ancient Chinese poetry” that turned out to be a restaurant menu. From there, everyone was treated to a few scenes from Roces’ zarzuela “Something to Crow About”, and I can honestly say that this is the first necrological service I’ve attended where a song about a man obsessed with his cock was a prominent part of the proceedings.
While things became a little more serious afterwards — there were noticeably lesser National Artists this time around, and they all looked even frailer than before — the service still ended on a high note, with the Bayanihan Dancers performing after the final eulogy was spoken.
Oddly enough, I found myself tearing up about the whole thing while Roces’ cremated remains were being taken out of the CCP Tanghalang Nicanor Abelardo. I’m not ashamed to admit that I’m not as familiar with Roces’ canon as I am with Joaquin’s, so I can’t say it was because of the death of a writer whose works I had a personal connection with. I don’t know why, but I just found it incredibly poignant watching the people file out of the theater while the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra played a medley of Philippine folk songs.