by Sheila S. Coronel
Different species populate the planet of journalism, but Alecks Pabico was one of a kind. There was no one else like him. To begin with, he studied architecture. He also looked and dressed more like a member of a reggae band than as a journalist. He had long, curly Bob Marley hair and mostly wore tie-dyed T-shirts and Birkenstocks. At UP, he was editor of the Collegian and although he was probably not the only Collegian editor who ever had long hair, he was probably the only one whose face Imelda Marcos held with both her hands before she kissed it.
There’s a story there, as there always was with Alecks. We were doing a special issue of our magazine for the 20th anniversary of People Power and we wanted to interview 20 Filipinos who were from that era. Alecks and I agreed to do Imelda. So we took a taxi to her apartment in Makati. On the way there, the taxi was hit by one of those speeding Edsa buses. We were not hurt but the taxi was a mess and the driver was livid. We were also late for our interview. Alecks and I had the same instinct: we paid off the driver and rushed to Makati. Still shaken from the accident, we waited for Imelda in her baroque living room. She came out to meet us in a flowing caftan, the light was behind her and it looked like floating toward us. She was totally taken by Alecks, who was, in turn, mesmerized by her.
Alecks was an activist while at UP and held strong political views yet he had such an open mind and such a store of compassion in his being that he always connected with people and tried to understand them the way they understood themselves. Although he made strong conclusions in his writing, in person Alecks was so mild and so gentle and had such an uncanny sense of humor that I think those he was interviewing — and certainly those he worked with — ended up feeling somewhat protective of him. No one could be farther from the stereotype of the tough, uncaring, macho journalist.
In the 12 years he and I were both in PCIJ, Alecks and I spent a lot of time together. We had countless sleepless nights working on i magazine with artist Nonoy Marcelo, who kept vampire hours — he only worked after sunset, by which time Alecks and I had already done a full day’s work. Nonoy often came to our office with an alalay, who slept — and snored loudly — on the office couch while we worked. It was the only place to nap and so when he got tired, Nonoy joined his assistant and dozed off on the couch as well. Alecks and I could only look at them snoring together. It was so sweet.
Alecks did everything for PCIJ: he laid out the magazine (Nonoy designed it but he never learned to design on a computer), set up the Web site and later the blog from scratch, assisted in the training courses we organized. On top of that, he also wrote stories. He carved out a niche reporting on technology and the way it changed people’s lives. He was also partial to stories that had to do with the environment and with how public policy was affecting ordinary people. Alecks felt so much for his stories that after interviewing animal rights activists, he decided he would become a vegetarian. Once again, he defied the mold. How many vegetarian Rastafarians do you know?
In the late-1990s, PCIJ wanted to publish Rosa Henson’s story of her life as a comfort woman but we had no money for it. Alecks volunteered to lay out the book gratis. We used sales from previous books to bankroll the printing and since then Comfort Woman has been one of our bestsellers. Lola Rosa was the other one totally taken by Alecks. Like Imelda, she used to cradle his face in her hands, too.
Alecks was in his 20s when he joined PCIJ. He got married and had kids during the time he was there. He was like family to us — we got to know his wife Mira and his two kids, Marlee and Kaya. Alecks poured his heart and soul into his work with PCIJ. He cared deeply about the organization. He made his job to ensure we kept up with the 21st Century.
The last time I saw Alecks was when I was in Manila last August. By then he had resigned from PCIJ because of his illness. We talked about the next thing he wanted to do. We talked about moving on from the place we both loved and life post-PCIJ. We talked about how change and renewal were the laws of nature.
I found Alecks at peace with himself and eager to take on new challenges. I was hopeful he would live. I felt his fire was burning still and was not going to be extinguished soon. I was wrong. Maybe, as ex-PCIJ staffer Dani Molintas, who was with us at that lunch told me, it was just his spirit shining through.
Tonight as I write this, alone in my apartment in New York, I could almost see Alecks smile. I will miss him terribly. He was like a brother to me. But yes, even when the flame of his life had burnt out, his spirit still shines through. And so tonight, I imagine him somewhere in heaven, cracking jokes with Nonoy Marcelo and the two of them making Lola Rosa laugh so hard that she, like me, has tears in her eyes.