On October 24, I received news that one of my most respected colleagues in the newswire profession has passed — silently and unknown to many of those he worked with back in the day — at his hometown in Digos, Davao del Sur on December 9, 2016.
In another month, his wife Anita and his family will commemorate his first death anniversary as they celebrate the life of Joe Gecole.
The news of his death struck a chord in me.
Well spent were the few moments I had with Joe – who was then one of the most reliable and hard-working technicians of the Philippines News Agency (PNA), while I then manned the PNA’s Cotabato Bureau.
All these encounters and exchanges with Joe, as rare as they might have been, were classic.
(Please note that the word Philippines in the then PNA is used, as opposed to the Philippine News Agency under the present Malacanang-based Presidential Communications Operations Office, which is being accused of having bungled on its news and information service and is being said to be a purveyor of “fake news.”)
Seriously, why do I even have to explain this?
Back to Joe Gecole.
Throwback 1: I first met Joe in the early 1980s, in one of those times when PNA bureau chiefs were summoned to Manila for a meeting.
In a collared white shirt stained with oil, Joe had just returned from tinkering with a 5-level baudot coded rugged M-15 telex receiving machine.
The sturdy equipment, perhaps one of those earlier donated by China’s Xinhua News Agency to the PNA, was supposedly built to operate continuously for a relatively long time.
But it conked out and needed Joe’s expertise on radio communications.
He worked on it and made the machine running again.
Asked about his stained shirt, Joe simply replied in the Visayan vernacular: “Got to do what I’ve got to do.”
Without batting an eyelash, Joe left me with a nugget of wisdom when he said: “Butch, we are all destined to do and accomplish. Whatever the task is, let’s give it our best shot, no matter how or what we look like afterwards.”
Through stubbles from long nights of repairing M-15 muxes, oil stains and greased palms, Joe made sure that the PNA’s equipment network is running and making national, provincial and foreign news subscribers satisfied.
If he were alive today, Joe would have referred to the telex machines as his virtual friends and PNA’s “intelligent bots” circa BC (Before Computers).
Throwback 2: A few years after (still BC), Joe visited us in Cotabato City, in southern Philippines.
Joe was assigned to consolidate the communications network of PNA bureaus in Davao, then headed by the late Satur Apoyon; Zamboanga, then under Felino Santos; Cagayan de Oro, steered by Cris Diaz; and General Santos, piloted by the late Dom Bentulan; and Cotabato, which would serve as Mindanao’s centre of operations.
Those days might have boosted him up, with the opportunity of a well-deserved visit to his family in Digos, Davao del Sur, a three-hour trip by bus from Cotabato City.
He was up and about, sprightly and meticulous as he always was, as he worked to install and reconfigure PNA Mindanao’s communication lines.
Observing him closely were technicians of RCPI, a private communication carrier from which the PNA rented an office and equipment.
During a break over coffee and sandwiches, Joe briefed me on what was going on.
He spared me of technical jargon as he talked about how the network would work and hold for PNA Mindanao and between us and the PNA Central Desk in Manila.
After the short talk, he showed me what simplicity and pragmatism were when he said: “If the lines are giving you problems, call your nearest friendly RCPI technician.” He smiled and went his merry way.
The PNA Mindanao reconfiguration, however, had to be soon scrapped, as the age of AD (After Digital) set in.
Throwback 3: It was at the height of Severe Tropical Storm Sybil (Philippine weather code: Mameng), that left at least 108 dead and US$38.5 million in damages that late September in 1995.
But it was a night date earlier agreed between distinguished Filipino journalist, the late Jose Pavia, Joe Gecole and me.
Knowing the persistence, work attitude and guts of the two Joes, that meeting would stand, no matter what.
So there we were, at the flooded office of Mabuhay, JoePav’s provincial newspaper outfit, at the row of basement offices lining the side of the majestic National Press Club building in Intramuros.
Having braved the strong winds and heavy downpour, we have also withstood the floods, heavy traffic and the power blackout the storm triggered.
We were wet and anxious as we buckled down to work.
Armed with a computer (it was AD already) powered by a small generator, JoePav asked me to write a news story about the typhoon.
While the story glared icily from the monitor, JoePav then tasked JoeGec to download the story to a link in Los Angeles, the United States.
We had to move fast, fearful not so much of the storm but of running out of generator gas.
After Los Angeles journalist, the late Teddy Cecilio, advised that he got the story and that the link was smooth, JoePav heaved a sigh of relief and looked at JoeGec.
His was the hardest job of all, getting us electronically connected to basically anywhere in the world.
JoeGec smiled back, made a splash at the pool of water around us, and said: “We did it!”
The humility he showed by giving credit to all for the job well done was something I would always remember.
By the way, that was the genesis of the Mabuhay News Service (MNS), which served clients and subscribers locally and abroad until March 1996, from a well-equipped office in Ortigas, Pasig City.
The service did not die here, JoePav later told us as we received our pink slips and last pay. The MNS financier, the Garcias of Cebu, had better intentions for what JoePav, JoeGec and I did that stormy night.
Sir Joe Gecole … a good friend whose zest for life was as simple as he was … whose smile and laughter was as contagious as his serious thoughts … whose self-confidence was as amazing as his talent for communications technology … it was an honour to have been with your company … till we meet and interconnect again. No adieus, only great memories to live by.
In a predominantly Christian nation like the Philippines, it has become a tradition for the people to honour their faithful departed with individual or family visits, whence they offer flowers and prayers, at well-cleaned and groomed graves during November 1 (All Saints Day) and November 2 (All Souls Day).
Filipinos, locally and abroad, who are impaired by health, limited by time and deterred by distance to do so usually light up candles and say a prayer or two for dead relatives and friends.
More than ever, it has become holy days when each person takes time to reflect on the mortality of humankind, that everything is temporary in this world, that death is inevitable and that every passage is a celebration.
As I’ve said: No adieus, only great memories to live by. #####