Dick Malay: A colorful life, from Mao, Misuari to Imelda

With irreverence and wit, he wrote about—and lived—some interesting times

Dick Malay with Heherson Alvarez and the Filipino delegation in the then 'Red China'

Dick in Hainan where first shipment came from (FB post)

“Dynasties have a new tack: Doubling, tripling siblings on the slate. The family that preys together, stays forever.”

Dapat tandaan ni JPE, the Senate is neither home for the aged nor olden achers.”

Mariosep, nagkaka-cramps ang chan ko pag maririnig ko nang umawit ‘tong caroler September pa lang.

“LIFE was so much simpler when Apple and Blackberry were just fruits, cookies were tasty biscuits and Samsung was just Delilah’s mate. And remember when Steve had one of the best jobs?”

These are just a few quips from the journalist and raconteur Ricardo “Dick” Malay whose colorful life is just as fascinating as his irreverent and hilarious language.

Scion of human rights champion Paula Carolina Malay and eminent journalist and former dean of the University of the Philippines Student Affairs Armando J. Malay, Dick passed away last March at age 79. He was inurned in the tranquil and lovely garden of Divine Word Columbary in Quezon City.

During the height of the student movement in the 1960s, Dick was one of the first Filipinos who visited the once isolated “Red China”. Reminiscing about the extraordinary experience, he wrote: “When an all-expenses-paid trip to China for 100 students was botched by the Marcos government in 1966, UP Student Council chairman Voltaire Garcia convened (Heherson) Sonny Alvarez and me to craft a realistic solution. He asked us to gather a complement of passport carrying travelers who could salvage the invitation of the All-China Youth Federation for their Filipino counterparts to witness the Cultural Revolution, then newly launched by Chairman Mao Zedong to suppress his revisionist rivals. We fittingly organized a group of ten thrilled and excited members, including a businessman and a newspaper reporter.”

Reaching Beijing, they found “a city gripped by ear splitting rallies, marches, songs and Mao’s portraits everywhere.” Their days were packed with interactions with Red Guards which culminated in a meeting with Vice Premier and Foreign Minister Chen Yi at the Great Hall of the People.

The group was unaware that a coup d ‘état against Sukarno was going on

Charito Ramirez, Dick’s wife, recalls that Dick was also part of a student group invited to Indonesia to attend a conference on dismantling US military bases in 1966. The group was unaware that a coup d ‘état against Sukarno was going on. Says Charito, “One day, Dick was taking a walk after dinner with his fellow delegates Heherson Alvarez and Nur Misuari (later to become the founder and leader of the Moro National Liberation Front) outside their hotel. Dick playfully picked up a frog from a fountain and placed it on Nur’s neck. Surprised, Nur gave out a loud cry. Suddenly, from the first-floor windows and balcony of the hotel came out soldiers with rifles and machine guns pointing at them. They were dumbfounded. They were advised to go and remain inside their hotel. Although Sukarno was still allowed to appear at the conference, Dick’s delegation realized that something grave was going on. The coup succeeded against Sukarno. The rest is history.”

Writing about the heyday of his student activism, Dick Malay reminisced: “In my book of memories, few can match the journey Sonny Alvarez navigated to give student activism its lustrous beginnings way back in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s when the country was turning a critical bend. He was a preternatural achiever who challenged and led the pioneer youth and student groups to take the peaceful route of rebellion against the ruling system backed by US colonial support.”

Alvarez, as a participant in the 1971 Constitutional Convention, refused to sign the Marcos regime-backed Constitution that gave extensions to the president’s term in office. He and his family fled to the US when Martial Law was declared. He returned after the Edsa People Power Revolution and held Cabinet positions as Secretary of Agrarian Reform and Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources. He also served as congressman of Isabela and as senator for two terms. He passed away in April 2020 due to complications from COVID-19.

Bobbie Malay with Dick’s eldest daughter, Tina

On Dick’s activism, Carolina “Bobbie” Malay shares that her entry into the movement when she came back from her studies in France in 1969 was due to her younger brother. It led her to meeting Satur Ocampo who would become her husband.

She says that unlike other families, her parents were supportive of Dick, the youngest child, becoming an activist. She adds, “Ang Mommy, kaagad naging enthusiastic Maoist. Ang Daddy, laging critical at skeptical bilang sagad-sa-butong journalist, ay pumapel na kontrabida noong una pero skin-deep lang.

(Mommy easily became an enthusiastic Maoist. Daddy who’s always critical and skeptical as a dyed-in-the-wool journalist, would play the antagonist at first, but that was only skin-deep.)

The author (center) with Charito and Lisa Malay at the inurnment ritual

Dick became a Manila Chronicle reporter doing the foreign affairs beat and then Malacañang before Martial Law. He was already married to Charito by then after meeting her at UP where she was taking up a course in English and literature while he was doing a course in journalism.  They were classmates in some subjects and their relationship continued after graduation. It was from Dick, she says, that she became interested in nationalistic and progressive organizations.

Had the Hongkong police been more assiduous in their search under baby diapers, they would have found an interesting letter

Charito recalls, “Word was given to us that after contacts were established between China and the Philippines, a delegation was to be sent to China primarily to procure logistical support. Dick and I were assigned to be a part of this delegation. Thus, in June 1971, with minimal preparation and on very little notice to family and friends, Dick and I, carrying our two babies and a letter to Mao Zedong, we arrived in China. Had the Hongkong police been more assiduous in their search under baby diapers, they would have found an interesting letter.”

The delegation became engaged in several ambitious projects meant to bring aid to the Philippine underground. The first one in 1972, called MV Karagatan, managed to land a few hundred arms off Isabela but failed largely because it was detected by the Army. The second in 1974, called MV Andrea also suffered a setback when it was shipwrecked in the South China Sea before even reaching the naval base in Sanya, Hainan. Adds Charito, “Doubts were expressed whether bringing aid across the Chinese sea was at all possible. But JoeMa and Mao shared one quality as leaders: they were both stubborn. Thus, a third one was planned. But this, too, even on the planning stage, failed.”

The death of Mao and the benevolent premier, Zhou Enlai, as well as the Commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces Chu Teh/Zhu De in 1976, the Year of the Dragon Fire, changed China significantly. That political upheaval coincided with the catastrophic earthquake in the coastal city of Tangshan east of Beijing which is considered as one of the worst earthquakes in modern history which killed an estimated 242,000 people. The death of Mao and the establishment of diplomatic relations between the Philippines and China the previous year marked the end of the delegation’s mission in Beijing.

The young couple Dick and Charito with Cristina and Lisa Malay

After 10 years of living in China, Dick and his family moved to Holland. Says Charito: “Things happened; we went through one crisis after another. Dick went back home to the Philippines while I remained with the children in Holland. Yet, somehow, we remained in contact, and I am proud to say, we remained in each other’s life in spite of everything.”

 After 18 years, Dick rejoined his old paper Manila Chronicle as desk editor and columnist while also teaching at the UP Institute of Mass Communication. One issue of his column Pilgrim’s Progress titled Portrait of a Punk in Congress earned him a libel suit from Rep. Peping Cojuangco. Chronicle provided him with the services of the Makalintal and Quiason law office, and Cojuangco eventually dropped the suit.

He also wrote about a request made by the patriarch of the Moro Independence Movement (MIM) for political and military support turned down by a wary Chinese government in 1971, “a move that illustrated Beijing’s layered approach toward the era’s revolutionary surge.”

He further wrote: “But left unsaid by Geng Biao (secretary of the International Liaison Department and central committee member of the Communist Party of China) was another reason for China’s reticence on the MIM proposal. With Chairman Mao Zedong at the helm, the People’s Republic actively fueled revolutionary struggles throughout the fifties and sixties, the notable exception being the pro-autonomy rebellions in certain countries. With its own Taiwan independence threat and ethnic-based uprisings in Tibet and Xinjiang, it  clearly wasn’t in Beijing’s interest to stoke the Moro separatist sentiment and cast doubt over its non-interventionist policy.”

Interestingly, Dick wrote for Inquirer on Sept. 1, 2018 an article titled Lunching with Imelda on a December day where he narrated how he was invited and how he finally agreed to meet up with the old Marcos First Lady in her Makati condo on Dec 28, 2011.

We know the sacrifices your family of nationalist intellectuals had made opposing my husband’s presidency

Dick wrote: “She talked compulsively as if the power she once wielded never left her, her English unassailable and occasionally switching to Taglish. I appreciated her straightforward way of declaring why she called for the meet-up. ‘As you know, Mr. Malay, we believe it’s time to reach across the aisle to our former critics—and your family is one of them. We know the sacrifices your family of nationalist intellectuals had made opposing my husband’s presidency; that we greatly appreciate. Can we now reach closure and unite for the sake of rebuilding our country?’”

Dick said that he politely lent his ear as she continued pitching her son’s presidential bid.  And he wrote, “She was never told that the enemies of her husband’s dictatorship are a stubborn breed ready to push back any attempt to restore the Marcos legacy.”

The article continued, “There were albums of photographs showing her with world leaders, mostly men, and there were gold ingots that were in reality certificates from the US government bearing the inscribed name of Ferdinand Marcos.”

“Lift it, she told me, pointing to the ingot. I did so, with some difficulty—it was a 2-kilo bar—as her eyes watched in amusement. ‘So Madame,’ I asked, ‘how much is the entire Marcos fortune worth?’ Her answer came without missing a beat: ‘Incalculable.’ And where are they? ‘All over the world, in the banks.’”

Dick wrote further, “A minute after tucking into my plate, she disclosed a little known tidbit about the Marcoses. ‘Did you know that we gifted Mao Zedong during our China visit and Ronald Reagan with our own money? That’s how rich we are, I’m telling you.’”

In the end, Dick wrote: “I was home sooner than I had thought with the traffic-free roads—figuring out whether those five hours spent with The Imeldific was the equivalent of a Gothic three winks in one’s unpredictable lifetime.”

Dick Malay passed away without seeing the Marcos scion catapulted into the highest power in the land. In that Imelda article four years ago, he was still wondering, “I’m still asking myself silly if fate had done me an uncanny number.”

Malay family attending the graduation of Tina at Gallaudet University, the only university in the world for the deaf and hard of hearing

About author


Alma Cruz Miclat is a freelance writer and retired business executive. She is the president of the Maningning Miclat Art Foundation, Inc., and author of deluxe books Soul Searchers and Dreamers: Artists’ Profiles and Soul Searchers and Dreamers, Volume II, and co-author with Mario I. Miclat, Maningning Miclat and Banaue Miclat of Beyond the Great Wall: A Family Journal, a grand winner in the National Book Award for biography/autobiography in 2007.

Sign up for our Newsletter

Sign up for’s Weekly Digest and get the best of, tailored for you.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.