Man of all seasons, political bigwig and known loyalist and ally of former president Marcos, Roque Ablan Jr. will be marking two momentous occasions in his life.
The Ablan clan prepares a tribute and grand celebration to their beloved patriarch with family and friends from near and far, from the distant and recent past.
One of the longest serving legislators whose career spans nearly four decades, Ablan is also a lawyer. Many would remember Ablan for his helpful character, and his fierce loyalty to those he would pledge it to or to those who earned it. In the words of his grandson, Rbee Ablan: “My grandpa was known as a lion hearted, battle hardened political kingpin but he wept like a little boy as he accompanied the remains of his idol and closest friend, Ferdinand Marcos, coming home to Philippine soil. My grandpa’s image as a hard-core loyalist to a man portrayed as a dictator and tyrant has been cemented.” Quick to defend his grandpa from the harsh judgment of others, he adds the older Ablan is bigger than that.
In his teen years, he joined several Boy Scout world jamborees and that was how he first caught the travel bug and learned the importance of promoting camaraderie and goodwill among peoples of different nationalities and cultures.
Many people close to Ablan profess that long before there was the Department of Tourism, first there was Roque “Roquito” Ablan. His legendary roadshows and performances abroad dubbed Fiesta Filipina featured the A-List of Philippine talent and beauties. In the early ‘70s till the ‘80s, these shows have promoted and stamped the virtually unknown Philippines to countries in Europe, the Middle East and even the U.S.S.R.
Murray Hertz, publishing and editorial consultant of Expat Communications Inc., shares his anecdotes about the colorful man. “I first met Roquito in the early ’80s when I was still new to the Philippines. Roquito was one of the most unforgettable characters I had ever met. I visited him in his offices on Pasay Road. I was duly impressed to discover that he was a genuine ‘godfather,’ with people waiting in his office on a daily basis asking for favors. I was told that he always did his best to do those favors and he was much loved by all the people he helped.
He continues: “I saw photos in his office of his then famous polka dot airplane which I was told, he flew all over Southeast Asia for mysterious reasons unknown to me. Imagine, an airplane covered with polka dots? It was surreal, but super impressive. All I knew was that the mere mention of Roque Ablan’s name was enough to hear, “Wow! Do you know him?” in obvious awe of someone in such a celebrity status.”
But it was one gallant deed that Hertz could not forget about Ablan.
“Roquito did me a great favor when he discovered that I had been swindled out of a large amount of money by a notorious British nobleman living in Manila. I was getting nowhere asking various ‘influential contacts’ to help me recover my money. Roquito picked up the phone, called the guy, and in no uncertain terms told the guy to return my money. Within minutes, he arranged for payments to be made which included interest. The money was finally returned. No questions asked. They say that I was the only person to ever recover money from this infamous British nobleman who is alleged to have swindled tons of money from tons of people. Roquito is a man who can get things done. When he speaks, people listen. He is a genuine hero,” Hertz said.
Ablan was a working student in UP Law School. Legendary American war hero in the Pacific, Chick Parsons, was his mentor and asked him to serve as counsel of the then Luzon Stevedoring Company. He eventually put up his law firm, Ablan and Associates prior to devoting his time and services as a government official.
He first became a legislator in his 30s and as a member of Committee of National Defense, he visited the PHILCAG troops in Vietnam. He was a bonafide Special Forces officer and an avid paratrooper, receiving several awards and citations for Airborne wings.
“Today’s generation would know Roque Ablan as a long serving congressman and his legendary loyalty to President Ferdinand Marcos and relentless war against dangerous drugs. But few would know about his being tourism czar of Philippine tourism. He was president of the Philippine Travel and Tourism Authority (PTTA) and the first ever Filipino to become president of the Pacific Asia Tourism Authority (PATA),” Consul Annette adds.
The Grand Fiesta Filipina Reunion
The birthday celebration cum reunion is a most–anticipated event. Expected to fly in for the occasion is special guest, Karl Heinz Stockheim, one of the mentors of the Fiesta Filipina Ensemble and the Philippines long serving honorary consul in Dusseldorf.
Consul Annette says that his father gained the nickname “Alykabok” by jetsetting all over the world, promoting the beauty and wonders of the Philippines. Former TV personality Leila Benitez helped in forming Fiesta Filipina. She adds that her father even sent three colorful Philippine jeepneys to Europe, to draw more attention to the Philippines. The group toured extensively in the Middle East, Europe, and the former USSR. Without any expense on the government, Ablan was able to send Fiesta Filipina by getting airlines such as KLM, Air France, Lufthansa and Cathay Pacific to sponsor air travel and hotel chains Hilton, Intercontinental for their venue.
Ablan sent a team of Filipino celebrities, performers and artists including Misses Universe Gloria Diaz and Margie Moran, Ms. International Aurora Pijuan. Ms/ Pjilippines Ava Guibranza who modeled the divine creations of world renown couturier, Aureo Alonzo. Other prominent personalities who were part of the group were Maan Hontiveros, Nelaia Sancho, Emily Relucio Lopez and Menchu Menchaca.
One of the highlights of the celebration is the launch of the book titled “Casual Hero, World Traveller and All-Around Nice Guy”, a collection of stories from people that have touched his life and those he has touched. A tribute to their father, the title of the book, Consul Annette says during a telephone interview, is what is actually written on Ablan’s business card and aptly describes his father.
Joining Consul Ablan in organizing the event are Fiesta Filipina organizers Cynthia Adea-Heussaff, Ed Ponceja, Sandy Hontiveros, Judy Caldoza, Naty Teoseco and Christine Hipe.
Ablan never turns down an opportunity to help and be of assistance to those who seek his aid, whether he be an Ilocano or foreigner, prince or pauper. With a chuckle, he would say, “The impossible we do today. Miracles take a little longer.”
By AGNES M. ABRAU