baboo mondoñedo (1948-2015)
in the dying years of martial law jorge arago and i were working for environmentalist junie kalaw, writing and editing the journal Alternative Futures (1984-1986), when one day junie walked into the marietta apts. office with baboo and called us to a meeting.
no one introduced us, as though it was expected that we had already met. of course i “knew” her, the way i “knew” other famous alta sociedad fashion models who graced the covers and pages of the women’s magazines in the sixties. but we had never met, so at some point i introduced myself, and she smiled and nodded, “the famous one!” wala akong nasabi, except, haha.
i was “famous” only as astrologer and only to a very small circle of malate artists, mostly male. i wasn’t very popular with the girls — one who never asked for a reading said, bakit kailangan pa ng birthtime; another who asked for a reading said some days later, i was disappointed, you know, i think you’re overrated. LOL. so it was like baboo was teasing, giving me a sense that she had a measure of me, and i liked that.
next time we saw each other, she handed me a brown envelope containing her birthchart and that of ferdinand marcos. i still have them, and no, she didn’t ask for a reading ever. she just wanted me to have them, i guess, for my information. that’s how i learned she was a fellow virgo (like marcos), and we were classmates in a crash course on junie’s environmental advocacy, and the new age paradigm of wholeness, and the interconnectedness of all things.
it was the year after ninoy’s assassination, baboo was already based in baguio and, with laida, had been venturing higher up the cordillera that was balweg country and finding common cause with indigenous communities dreaming autonomy in a future without marcos.
in september ’84, after attending a baguio conference on filipino spirituality, junie and i went up to sagada with baboo and laida, padma and tootsy, and met up with butch perez. plans were made for a trek higher up the mountain, with subversive intentions of course. an adventure i passed on though, as i was sure i couldn’t keep up with baboo and ladia who were so at home in such dizzying heights. sagada was high enough for me.
at some point before we parted ways, they for the trek up, me and the kids back to baguio, baboo took me to a bar for a happy hour chat that turned out not too happy as we found ourselves talking about, and disconcerted by, a tangled web not of our making. we lost touch after that. i ran into her a few times — at a memorial mass, at a spirit of ’67 gig, at a wedding, at a PEN conference — but distance had set in. no chika, no catching up, no picking up where we left off.
it was impossible though not to hear what she was up to — that she was writing a column for a baguio paper, and poetry, and later a book of essays, and also painting and exhibiting; and that she was one of the artists who put up cafe by the ruins; and when the baguio earthquake struck while she was in manila, that she lost no time finding a way back home, past landslides and all other obstacles, already thinking soup kitchens and the logistics of getting relief goods to her beloved baguio. i thought it was kinda heroic, and so baboo.
in 2011, thanks to facebook, we were suddenly in touch again. laida had given her a copy of my book Revolutionary Routes, and she couldn’t put it down, her mother was from quezon, too. she liked it that my lola’s stories were also about food and its preparation from spanish times across the revolution to american times. in 2013 when katrina and i were raising funds to independently publish a last book on EDSA, she sent a generous check, a vote of confidence that touched me to the bones. after she had read the book she asked for a couple more, one inscribed for tootsy and senator sonny, the other for senator ed angara.
we didn’t get to pick up where we left off, but that’s okay. life goes on. last september, glossy mag Metro Society asked katrina to interview tootsy for a cover story on future first ladies (with shalani and heart). i thought it was karmic: our daughters were meant to meet. under their own steam. nothing, or almost nothing, to do with their mothers.
it’s all good, baboo. the web holds.