by Alejandro R. Roces
I have known Larry Henares since our Grade School days in Ateneo, and up to now I still don’t know how I survived it. My first recollection of him is that of a boy wearing mameloko, a child’s suit with buttons attaching the shirt to the shorts, which to his embarrassment and to his classmates’ amusement, he was made to wear up to the first year of high school. During all that time he went free of charge into the best theater in town, the Ideal Theater, which my family owned.
We served together in the Cabinet of President Diosdado Macapagal, Larry as the Chairman of the National Economic Council and myself as Secretary of the Department of Education. In Cabinet meetings, Larry sat between the Press Secretary and the Secretary of Defense, between the pen and the sword, and representing money and the economy, he claimed to be mightier than both.
We were in our student days, both into engineering, I in University of Arizona, and Larry in the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. But eventually we both drifted into writing, both first in the venerable Manila Times, and much later I in Philippine Star and he in the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
He became the best investigative business writer the Philippines ever had, because he was an well-awarded industrialist, businessman and economist in his own right, and was a master in the analysis of financial statements and annual reports, and also because every bigshot in government and the private sector seemed to have been his friend, subordinate, associate or relative. His front page series on Meralco, PLDT, National Steel, even the Moonies and the Born-Again, made history and moved the nation to react decisively.
He is a writer unique in Philippine journalism, with a mastery of a wide range of subjects, from economics, science, art, culture, history, religion to politics — and he had the analytical mind to produce original insights and fresh perspectives that astound even as they inform, and a sense of humor that tickles and rubs raw our funnybones. He has a unique style that ranged across the acidic M.L. Mencken, the hilarious P.G. Wodehouse and Damon Runyon, the witty and sentimental Oscar Wilde, the master of surprises O. Henry, and the master of paradoxes G.K. Chesterton.
He has the knack of making fun of oligarchs of the ruling class and giving them nicknames that stick, such as Kulas Platypus, Small Dick, Lechon Drilon, Crocodile Dundeeng, the Villainous Convexity of a Face, and Alopecic Misogamic Gynander — and that earned him implacable enemies among the high and the mighty. And he became by far the most feared, and the most read columnist, according to all surveys, in the whole country.
“Who else around here have I not yet offended?” he would announce with roof-shaking laughter, and would introduce me as his best friend. “Correction, please,” I would answer, “I am your ONLY friend.”
Everyday we would walk before dawn, literally from the darkness into the light, in rhythm with the universe, around the periphery of Dasmariñas Village, and entertain each other. He would invariably ask me, “What was that joke you told me yesterday? What was the punchline?” and when I tell him he would write in his column that I keep repeating my corny jokes in a squeaky voice.
I once told him how I was circumcised in my youth, and there it was in his column as part of an interesting article on the history of health practices in the desert and the male rites of passage, with a remark that my thing looked like Buddy Gomez with a bowtie. Wearing a hairpiece, he would describe my balding head as “denuded from the Arctic Circle down to the Tropic of Cancer.”
I am convinced that Larry Henares has a low life expectancy, and when a carful of tough guys barred our way during one of our morning walks, I desperately distanced myself from Larry, shouting, “He is Larry Henares, not me!” And Larry answered, “No, I am not Larry Henares, I am Anding Roces.” I am now convinced that fraternizing with Larry, I too have a low life expectancy.
As a matter of fact, I have already prepared my gravestone: “Lord God, please do unto me / What I would do unto Thee / if I were the God of Moses / and You were Alejandro Roces.” But if Larry dies first, then relieved of being his only friend, I will donate to him the gravestone and substitute Hilarion Henares for Alejandro Roces. Our names rhyme, you know.
In the meantime, read this book, the second volume of his Make My Day series, a collection of his early writings circa 1986 in the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and laugh, and weep, and gnash your teeth, as I did in the lifetime I spent with Larry Henares.
The blame for Larry Henares must rest entirely on the doctor who circumcised him. The doctor should have preserved the prepuce and thrown Larry Henares away.
Alejandro R. Roces
Former Secretary of Education
And columnist, Philippine Star