If there was anything that has not been fully mentioned about the late Cecile C. Afable (1917-2012), the so-called grand dame of Baguio City, her manner of aging and dying beautifully is among those things.
I will not pretend to be a close friend of Madame Cecile to know her beauty secrets and her daily routine. Let us just say I am writing this piece as an observer from a distance. Afterall, Ms. Afable was, and remains to be, a public figure and there is no need for her to appear really close to get to know her.
There were just about ten occasions when I got to brush elbows with Ms. Afable in my limited exposure with the Baguio-based media. I am not even sure if she remembered, but to me those were among important occasions.
At a news conference the Benguet Electric Cooperative (Beneco) sponsored, Baket Cecile purposely attended to get a ring-side view of the general manager. It turned out closer to a face-off than a press conference when she refused to give the microphone to the moderator. She had a lot to tell, rather than ask, the GM, who called her "Auntie Cecile," as most of her acquaintances would call her.
She was holding a pack of snack items from a famous fast-food chain as she threw her questions. Immediately she left the room, leaving her share of the snacks on the chair where she was seated next to me.
In another instance, I was covering city hall then and three regal ladies appeared before the city council to listen to deliberations on the now infamous Jadewell Parking lot. I knew then that those were the feisty threesome, who called themselves Baguio's Three Witches, because the councilors appeared cautious in their words as the discussions went on. There is reason to be cautious because besides Ms. Afable's In and Out of Baguio, there was Ms. Gene de Guia's Baguio ko, Mahal Ko and then Ms. Leonora San Agustin's equally hard-hitting column in Baguio Midland Courier, which Afable edited up to her last breath, to exaggerate a point.
She was always well-dressed, head-turning most of the time, with her black or red fishnet worn with the shortest of miniskirts for then 90-year old Afable.
Was it twice that she hosted light snacks for our small team? One was after she appeared alone in a forum and my companion and I had to take her home in a cab. We obliged to her invitation and we had tea and biscuits and heaps of roasted peanuts. The other was when we came from the Benguet capitol with her.
She said she roasted the nuts herself when we liked the crunch. Manang Panyang, her house companion for more than 40 years, was murmuring in protest at a hearing distance. We did not leave without more nut in our pockets.
We responded to her invitation to a dinner in her house one rainy evening in 2005, to fulfill a promise that we would pay her another visit. It turned out that there was a big party. Even the Bishop was present and many journalists were also in attendance. She kept repeating her invitation for us to use the place as a venue for media activities.
That party was to become one of the warmest of parties I had in Baguio City, where guests just sat there, only standing to refill the dinner plates, soup bowls and wine glasses. There was unlimited gabi, boiled saba and kamote downed with pinikpikan soup.
One time, she was already seated with then Pres. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo when the president noticed us in another table and we joined their little talk at dinner. She was telling the president of how Baguio City used to be a quiet peaceful city with little protests. The president appreared interested at the dew-watered strawberries of Mount Kabuyao in Tuba and not before long, the conversation shifted to GMA's economic programs then that we forgot about dinner.
I did not have much encounters with the Grand Dame but in the 1990's, I remember organizing a forum on the then proposed construction of the San Roque Multi-purpose Dam, where she spoke strongly against damming the mighty Agno River anew. We heard that Ms. Afable rode a horse some four decades before the San Roque Project to inspect a dam site in Tabu, Dalupirip. After that horse-riding expedition, she led Ibaloi leaders to lobby against the dam construction.
Benguet political leaders in Benguet responded to the invitation of Itogon folks when they heard that Ms. Afable was in the panel of discussants. She was then in her 80's and her example inspired the Ibalois to resist the new dam proposal.
The last was in early May. She was quite frail then but still in her regal appearance. The topic was press freedom and she spoke her thoughts out.
News faltered on her condition before she finally went. Not that she was indecisive but maybe because she actually decided to fight the inevitable. I find that dying beautifully. It kept me stuck on the Internet to find out what was the real score. I kept vigil for nights and I did not weep. I know she also deserves some eternal rest.
Fare well Lady Cecile. You tried to make things more beautiful for us. # Lyn V. Ramo