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The watcher of lahar

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HE WAS the perfect go-to guy,–gofer, in a sense–to the late Levy P. Laus when lahar was unabatedly slushing  from the slopes of the Pinatubo volcano  close to the gates of the then capital town of San Fernando.

He was Laus’s senior at Don Bosco, maybe by a couple of years, which is one of the few things he shared with his close friend and kumpadre.  For one, he didn’t even buy the brand of cars that Laus sold in his several dealerships.

At times, he would go up, unannounced, to Laus’ office along Jose Abad Santos Avenue, and bragged to the latter that he had just bought a new car.  And what did he know. It’s not any of the brands Laus carried in his stores.  He would try to rib him while playfully rolling a stick of cigarette in his mouth. Laus would just play along, knowing his leg was just being pulled as usual, and would ask one of his secretaries to bring his friend coffee or something.  He wouldn’t stay long; he was just there to get on his skin, if he succeeded.

When Laus founded the Save San Fernando Movement following the lahar crisis that seriously threatened the capital town, Engr. Marni  Castro became one of the so-called “Men in Green” who took on the man-size job of protecting San Fernando from the destructive onslaught of lahar that already had buried much of the neighboring town of Bacolor.

Castro, however, was more than Laus’s trouble shooting engineer. He was also the Save’s spokesman, sometimes, political adviser and critic.  And he loved his various roles. He was a secret admirer of Laus’s business and corporate success , his leadership ability and his political and social skills. He didn’t say it directly but what was more nuanced about it.

On one occasion, when the lahar crisis was over,  Castro casually told Laus that if the latter’s head were auction off, he would be the last person  to bid for it because it was already overused at his young age. In later years, Laus himself double down on Castro’s . impression , that he had already accomplished twice as much  or more of any man much older than he was would have.

As the Save’s ‘resident engineer’, Castro was at the beck and call of Laus, any time of the day or night, whenever and wherever lahar flow would threaten San Fernando. He was known to go as far as where his 4×4 vehicle would bring him  to monitor the troubled spot and report on the spot to Laus.   The next day, he would be at the newly established DWRW radio station to give his audience his blow-by-blow latest and make his own analysis and projection.  He wasn’t always on the money but his early warning and hands-on assessment served well  the Fernandinos  and others on the path of lahar.

When the FVR megadike was being constructed,  the Save acquired a device called density meter essentially to determine how thick and solid the materials being concretized in the structure were. This was critical to ensuring the dike’s integrity. Castro was assigned  the job of measuring it met the  standard by using the device. That meant he was bound to be at loggerheads  every now and then with local politicians and their endorsed contractors. Apparently, he did a good  job at both. (Disclosure: he seemed to get along well with  then Gov. Lito Lapid and Congressman Oscar Rodriguez who were still trying to feel each other as political combatants.

Castro did not only gave his talent and time to the anti-lahar cause, which was then an existential issue , given the earlier suggestions that the province, or its people, may have to be relocated elsewhere.  He also lent some of his equipment in his motor pool somewhere in Barangay Sindalan whenever an  emergency occured.   He was already a name in the construction industry before the Pinatubo eruption.

When San Fernando became safe from lahar, Laus gave Castro another important problem to address: the flooding in  San Fernando, particularly in the city proper and the city business district in Barangay Dolores. He attended to the new assignment with his usual enthusiasm —   armed with the skill  of an engineer, the swagger of a politician but the mere power of a responsible citizen carried away by his erstwhile  role as one who helped stop lahar on its destructive track.

Later on, he was cited as one of the ‘unsung heroes’ during the lahar crisis in a ceremonial event held at the Laus Group Event Centre.   Somehow, it made up for a disappointing  loss in the 2010  elections when he ran for councilor, even with his political nom de guerre  as “Citizen Marni” and “Mr. Megadike”.   He came to his own, but not enough of his own  remembered   how much he gave himself to save the then capital town from lahar, and to spare the new capital citom flooding.

I ran into him before the pandemic on the day Laus perished in a chopper crash. We met by the door leading to Laus’s office. He looked at  me with sad eyes, didn’t say a word, looked away and then took his slow steps down the stairways, and he was gone.

I saw him again more than a month ago at  Dencio’s where he was having lunch, and facing him was Board Member Rosve Henson, who had announced his mayoral candidacy for the city earlier. He didn’t seem like he had  any health issue.

Last Monday, former Mayor Rey Aquino told me of his passing away. So sudden, it seemed like time stood still for a while for a friend, who told me once  that he always considered  me as a brother after saying he was a bit hurt by a strong editorial in a local paper I once managed.

I was told he was buried not too far from where his good friend was laid to rest. Even in death, they seem inseparable.

 

 

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