By: Alex P. Vidal
“Saying goodbye doesn’t mean anything. It’s the time we spent together that matters, not how we left it.” – Trey Parker
I DEVELOPED a friendship with Dr. Carmencita “Menchie” Robles, 61, when I was writing for the News Express from 1988 until 1992.
Aside from being one of the original sentinels of the famed Intercontinental Broadcasting Corporation (IBC) TV-12 based in Iloilo City, Ms. Menchie also taught in the West Visayas State University (WVSU) College of Mass Communications.
In the 1991 Palarong Pambansa hosted by the Iloilo Province, we worked together and shared data in the media center of the Iloilo Sports Complex.
There, we ensconced ourselves discussing about controversial 15-year-old La Union transgender athlete Nancy Navalta (who finally made headlines in 1993 Palarong Pambansa in Isabela).
Before Navalta rose to fame several years later, Ms. Menchie and I were already talking about her and her potential as a world-class runner.
In the finish line of the newly refurbished synthetic track oval where we waited for the sprinters, we noticed that Navalta was flat-chested and she had a mustache.
Ms. Menchie was enamored with Navalta, who routed her rivals in the women’s 100-meter and 200-meter dashes.
“She could be the next Lydia de Vega,” she mused.
It was finally in the 1994 Palarong Pambansa when people started calling Navalta the “next Lydia de Vegam” referring to the talented female sprinter who won gold in the 1982 and 1986 Asian Games.
Ms. Menchie monitored Navalta’s athletic career thereafter and we would exchange information about the controversial athlete’s dramatic rise to stardom.
Navalta’s 11.42 seconds in the 100-meter sprint in the next Palaro that earned her a spot in the Philippine delegation to the Atlanta Olympics was never given justice as she was denied her Olympic dream following the revelation of her test results by the Philippine Center for Sports Medicine that she had a condition called hermaphrodism.
Whenever there was a chance to meet and talk, we discussed only topics about sports and Nancy Navalta, about life in Iloilo media, among other interesting topics.
Ms. Robles would sometimes invite me as a resource speaker in her class.
We didn’t communicate for a long time until we met again in New York City on June 2018.
She was an official member of the delegation of the Iloilo City trade mission and investment forum.
“Is that Alex Vidal?” she asked the staff of Mrs. Gina Sarabia Espinosa, wife of then-mayor Jose “Joe III” Espinosa III, who was with Ms. Menchie in a midtown Manhattan flat.
Somebody responded “yes.”
I heard her voice; I was surprised to see her as I didn’t have any idea she was there. I kissed her and we hugged each other as friends.
During the Philippine Independence Day parade June 2, we were together again along with Panay News’ Herbert Vego and her former student, Regine Algecera, among other Ilonggos in the delegation.
That was our last meeting.
I learned yesterday from the Facebook post of Nereo Lujan, Ms. Menchie’s former student, that she has passed away after a long bout with a lingering illness at the Metro Iloilo Hospital.
Even though we are intellectually aware that we and our friends are not invincible, it doesn’t make it any easier when someone we like dies.
We will be forever changed by our friend’s presence in our lives and that is not a bad thing. Anytime that we suffer a loss, we are changed forever. Though it may not seem like it now, there will come a time that we will be grateful to have had this person in our life.
Rest in peace, Ms. Menchie. Jusqu’a ce que nous nous revoyions or ’till we meet again. You’re a brave and worthy human being.
(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo)