Berong was his name
Berong was his name. He had a patrician nose, eyes that have that faraway look, and a built that was stocky yet capable of stealth. He used to be a boxer or so he claimed during his Ilocano youth. Berong Ople, that was his complete name. No relation by blood to us Oples of Bulacan. He was my fatherâ€™s driver when Blas F. Ople was Minister of Labor. And like his boss, Mang Berong, as we fondly called him, was a legend of his time. All the bonafide members of the Ople Club (mostly made up of people who worked previously with my dad during his labor days) know these tales by heart, and I thought that with my fatherâ€™s second death anniversary coming up, it is time that I share these stories with you.
So fasten you seatbelts and listen to the legendary tales of Mang Berong.
An Intercon Anecdote
My father was one of the original members of Hotel Intercontinentalâ€™s 365 Club. At that time, hotel paging system for drivers were a big thing and door men would speak into a big microphone like they were just about to make a major announcement. After his usual afternoon coffee fix, my father stepped out of the hotel lobby and was immediately approached by the alert doorman. â€œSir, what is the name of your driver?,â€ he asked. â€œBerongâ€, was my fatherâ€™s curt reply. â€œDriver Berong, Driver Berong, please come over,â€ the doormanâ€™s voice boomed.
After a few minutes, Berong came running, huffing and puffing, from the carpark area to the hotel driveway where my father stood. â€œSir, you called?,â€ he asked. He had left the car behind and came over â€“ which was exactly what the doorman had asked. Of course, after realizing his folly, Mang Berong had to go back and get the car to pick my father up.
The backseat of my fatherâ€™s car was always filled with books. Labor Secretary Ople was known to pick up a book and read while riding in his car.
One glorious morning, my father had a meeting to go to at a friendâ€™s house in Urdaneta Village of Makati. He entered his car, and told Berong to proceed to Urdaneta. As his wont, the Secretary then picked up a book and started to read while the motor was running. After a long spell, my father looked up and was surprised to see a tollgate looming ahead. â€œWhere are we, Berong?,â€ he asked. â€œWe are on our way to Pangasinan, Sir.â€ Peering into the rear view mirror, Berong noted my fatherâ€™s puzzled look. â€œSir, didnâ€™t you say Urdaneta?â€
It took some time but my father did make it to his meeting at Urdaneta Village in Makati, not Pangasinan.
Cemetery, not the Park
A colleague of my father died and ever the thoughtful friend, he decided to go to the burial. Secretary Opleâ€™s secretary gave clear instructions to Mang Berong that the boss was to be brought to Himlayang Pilipino.
The Secretary missed the burial completely. It was completely not his fault. Instead of Himlayang Pilipino, Mang Berong had brought him to Nayong Pilipino.
The One with the Salagubang
It is said that there is a child within us. In Mang Berongâ€™s case, the child in him often was in command.
In an out-of-town trip, Mang Berong caught a native beetle or â€œsalagubangâ€, placed the hapless creature in a plastic bag, which he gripped tightly with his hand. When Secretary Ople entered the car, Mang Berong forgot about his little pet and proceeded to drive.
While on the road, the beetle decided to escape. He flew this way and that, unmindful of the other occupant who was busy reading a book. Mang Berong drove with one hand while trying to catch the flying beetle with the other. It must have been a spectacle for the other cars on the road, seeing the Secretaryâ€™s driver trying to catch what seemed to be an invisible insect, in the very style of a stereotyped mental patient.
Facing the Sea
As a Cabinet Secretary, my father had meetings all over the place. One day, it was an afternoon meeting at Sulo Hotel in Quezon City. â€œBerong, we are going to Sulo,â€ my dad said. â€œYes, sir!,â€ Berong replied. And off they went.
Curious that what should have been a quick trip turned out to be longer than expected, Secretary Ople decided to look up from the newspaper he was reading. Right in front of him was a pier. Mang Berong took his boss to the North Harbor. The car was on idle while the driver was figuring out which ship his boss should board.
Exasperated, my father asked him why they were parked in front of a pier. Berong replied, â€œSir, didnâ€™t you say you were going to Sulu?â€ My father was an infinitely patient man. He sighed and gave his driver a new set of instructions. While another boss would have rolled up his newspaper and hit his driver on the head with it, my father merely resumed reading it.
There are more Berong tales than this space can hold. When my father died on December 14, 2002, I thought of all his relatives and friends who would be in heaven to meet him. Mang Berong was among the first to come to mind.
I only hope that when my father requested Mang Berong to lead him to San Pedro, they didnâ€™t end up in Laguna. (Reprinted from Panorama Magazine)