Mario Baluyot: Bosom buddy,
Upsilon sponsor and kumpare

He promised he would take me to The Last Bookstore.
It was his last promise

Mario M. Baluyot
Mario M. Baluyot

The author read these words at the Upsilon Sigma Phi fraternity’s final rites for former journalist Mario M. Baluyot on Oct. 24, 2020.

On behalf of Batch 1970 and my family, I would like to express our deepest condolences to the family of Mario Magallanes Baluyot, Batch ’69, especially to his son BJ and wife Michelle and their son Magic, his daughter Barbara and her son, and Norma and her husband.

Knowing Mario as an unassuming and humble Upsilonian, I am very sure he would not relish hearing the kind words and flattering accolades we are bestowing on him today. Pasensiya na, Mar, kung medyo matamis ang mga sasabihin ko, bagamat malugod kong tinanggap ang pagkakataong magbigay pugay sa iyo sa huling pagkakataon.

Most brods know I am closer to Batch ’69 than to my Batch ’70. This is partly true not because of my brother, Willie Fernandez, a member of Batch ’69, but because of Mario, my closest buddy even before we became Upsilonians.

Although my livelihood involves the rewriting and editing of words, words today do not come easy. Especially if they involve describing the loss of one’s bosom buddy, one’s college classmate, who became my sponsor in the Upsilon, and later my kumpare.

Mario Baluyot, who died of a massive heart attack on Oct. 3, 2020, was all these to me and much more.

In college at the then UP Institute of Mass Communication, we were not too serious about our studies. We were the youngest children in our respective families. At the height of the First Quarter Storm in 1971 when classes became irregular, Mario and I decided to drop out and find jobs.

Thus began our journalism careers. We both covered the police beat, he for Bulletin Today, now Manila Bulletin; I for Philippines Herald and later, Philippines Daily Express.

After writing our stories at the Manila Police Department on UN Avenue, we would walk to the Jai-Alai fronton to bet at the last game. Then we used to eat our dinner not at the classy Jai-Alai Keg Room but in what Mario called “typhoid center” in front of the fronton.

He always laughed at my squeamishness over the street food and relished eating what was before him without once getting sick.

Sometimes, we would still be caught out at dawn. We ventured to the seawall of Manila Bay, at the back of Quirino Grandstand where we would observe the city’s homeless denizens and illicit lovers.

Mario went on to cover the foreign affairs beat, a plum position, while I covered the education, health and labor beats. Our stomping ground was the Ermita area where we would go to the small bars and restaurants to enjoy the sights, sounds and tastes. We would part before or at midnight.

During the martial law years, we whiled away our after-work hours at the folkhouse My Father’s Moustache on Mabini Street. When curfew caught up with us, we stayed in the nearby pad of photographer Raul Uyenco, a classmate, until it was safe to go out again.

We managed to draft and finish our undergraduate theses and receive our bachelor’s degrees on the same year—1981.

Although we were earning almost the same basic wage back then, Mario was already gallant and quick to pay the bill—mababaw ang bulsa niya, ika nga.  He carried this trait all the way to the United States where he played generous host to me and my wife Babeth in 2008 and 2009.

He designated himself as our “taxi driver,” taking us around downtown Los Angeles—the museums, record stores, quaint restaurants, even a concert at Disney Hall. When we dropped by the hall’s souvenir shop, I looked at a prized collection of assorted overtures, symphonies, even movie themes conducted by Zubin Mehta but put the CDs back on the shelves when I realized they were beyond my budget. Mario sensitively picked up my paghihinayang, then later handed me the box of the CDs as a gift.

He invited us to join him for a long drive along the scenic Pacific Coast Highway with stops in California towns so we could enjoy what the Golden State had to offer. For our overnight stays in two different inns, Mario footed the bill.

While he drove his maroon Mazda sedan, we were able to catch up on each other’s lives. He was so focused on the driving and conversation that he didn’t notice that the fuel gauge was pointing to empty.

Gas ran out, but a Mexican gardener offered us free gas, and we reached San Francisco somehow.

Aside from sending me books and stamps, he would make it a point to mail me postcards with just my name, address and a postmarked stamp on them. Not even a single message on them. I knew they came from him because of the exotic places of origin like Havana, Cuba, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Indonesia and many more.

I have at least a dozen of these postcards, the most recent of which came from Bali and postmarked Dec. 19, 2019.

During our last visit to the States last year, Mario and I were not able to see each other, but he promised that he would take me to The Last Bookstore in downtown Los Angeles the next time I was in the city. It was his last promise and perhaps his son BJ will keep it for him.

Maraming salamat, Mario, sa mga alaala. Paalam, kaibigan. Sa muling pagkikita. #

Mario Baluyot and Rolly Fernandez at the centennial celebration of Upsilon Sigma Phi

Mario Baluyot (left) and Rolly Fernandez at the centennial celebration of Upsilon Sigma Phi in 2018

About author


Fernandez is a veteran journalist who has worked for various newspapers down the decades. He was Northern Luzon bureau chief of Inquirer until his retirement in December 2020.

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