Cursum Perficio

This phrase which literally means “I completed the course” or “I finished the race”, was found etched in one bench marble in the mansion of Marilyn Monroe shortly after she was found dead of apparent drug overdose on August 5, 1962. She was 36.

Marilyn Monroe never grew old, and her portraits carried that enigmatic smile that was eternally engraved in our collective consciousness. As an actor and artist, she played the universal gamut of what we all are or what we fantasized to be. And whether in mock illusion, we are forever grateful.

When Marilyn died, Fernando Poe Jr. was himself blazing a blinding trail into our communal mind as a nonconformist in his now venerated black and white Lo’Waist Gang. He was the Malakas, the Bernardo Carpio, and the obscure Andres Bonifacio in all of us. While he was unschooled, he mastered his craft and kept himself well-informed. As always his character was pitted with the educated, the wealthy, and the all-knowing. He taught us what loyalty, patriotism, candor, integrity, and all other old-fashioned virtues are all about.  Like the proud indio, he was never slavish nor sycophantic. Alive, he was the anti-thesis of John Donne, an island unto himself. But in death, we all are impoverished. He was the quintessential underdog, and isn’t he the everyman in this godforsaken country? Each day we eke out a living, “Isang kahig. Isang tuka”, unmindful of the hardship for in the end like FPJ we shall overcome. He made fun of our own misfortune and together we laughed with him. “Dito sa Pitong Gatang sa tabi ng umpukan, may mga kasaysayan tayong di nalalaman; Ito ay hindi tsismis…walang labis, walang kulang!”

For 300 years we endured the oppression and the forced labour the Kastila imposed on us. We had Pepe Rizal whose incisive pen freed us from the label as ignoramuses, the Kastila for the most part made us believe. We had Gat Andres and Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo and the unknown insurrectos or guerilleros who together impressed upon the rest of the estrangeros, the Americanos and Hapon alike, that we can fire a gun and take a bullet.

Pepe, Andres, and Emilio were the amalgam that made up FPJ. As Ronwaldo Reyes, FPJ wrote classic scripts that depict the daily grind of a Filipino. When he sang Doon Lang and crooned like no other, “kung natapos ko ang aking pag-aaral, disin sana’y mayroon na akong dangal, na i-aalay sa ‘yo at ipagyayabang, sa panaginip lang ako may ipagdiriwang; yaman at katanyagan, sa akin ay wala; kakisigan ko ay tulad ng isang sumpa,” we were all enthralled because millions of us who failed are portrayed in that ballad sang in the flavour and contour of our own tongue. Dropping out from high school he went on to become an icon.

He quoted Nahum in one of his opus and declaimed in righteous indignation that the “Lord is good, a refuge on the day of distress; He takes care of those who have recourse to Him, when the flood rages; He makes an end of his opponents, and His enemies He pursues with darkness”.

That line fundamentally spined all of his storylines. A simple man, invariably with no impact or even an influence upon the community, pushed to the wall, humiliated, punished, ostriched himself into oblivion, but in the end emerged victorious. In practically all of his movies, he conquered death. As the man in horseback, he vanished into the horizon leaving us to our own devices.

How many movies did he make? Countless. Yet we lap them all up again and again and again not because we wanted to be entertained, but because once more we see the mirror of ourselves and self-flagellate. In all his movies, the system, he fought.

The system is personified as the crooked governor, or the conspiring chief of police, the shady congressman, the greedy landowner, and the holier-than-thou businessman. Like an impregnable brick wall, the system can’t be licked. The greater part of valour is to seek the level of comfort. Like his characters, he shied away from confrontation. He withstood the ridicule and the violence on himself. Like a pursued rat, he dug deeper unto himself and endured the contempt, derision, and amusement of his community. It is only when the system chewed up on his family or friends, and like the phoenix we saw the trademark transformation. And like a dam, all our pent-up passion burst in ecstatic relief.

That’s right. For the last 40 years, FPJ unfailingly gave us catharsis. Every so often, we are in the pits. Our economy is like the pigeon that comes out at the whim of the oppressive structure acting as a magician. It is when we had enough that FPJ comes to our rescue. With all our mouths agape, he lullabies us to sleep, “Kumusta ka, ikaw ay walang pinag-iba; Ganyan ka rin ng tayo ay huling magkita; Tandang-tanda ko pa noong ikaw’y papalayo; Minamasdan kita, hanggang wala ka na.” Have no fear he counselled, hope is never far afield.

Cursum Perficio. FPJ kept the faith, finished the race, and well embroidered his many characters in our peculiar mass memories. As Boots Anson Roa fittingly said, “Well done, FPJ! Bravo! Bravo!” One could still hear the echo of that thundering applause.

To millions, FPJ was a distant light, flickering in a boundless darkness. He was stingy in his smile, and we fault him for that, but in the end, he smiled his last smile.

Yes, FPJ is integrated into our psyche of resurrection, a good and abiding future that we truly own. His visage quickens us for four uninterrupted decades until he welds himself into our perception, our culture of survival, our lingo or manifestation of despair, and redemption.

FPJ is now in the heavens, where we finally have to look up to summon courage and hope that he generously didn’t bring along with him. Thus, amidst the gods celestial, “saan ka man naroroon sinta, pag-ibig ko’y wagas, sana’y manalig ka; asahan mong sa habang panahon, ala-ala kita, saan ka man naroroon!”

FPJ left us his legacy of courage and hope and abiding belief in ourselves. His life itself was his eternal gift to all of us. It was his living philosophy.

While he lost his penultimate and ultimate fights, his message is loud and clear. There is no substitute for tackling the bull by the horns. We can not procrastinate, we can not delay, and we can not waver, the limits notwithstanding. We have to move on.

And let him sing all right, “doon ay kaya kung ipunin, lahat ng bituin; doon ay kaya kung igapos ihip ng hangin; doon ay kaya kung ipagbawal buhos ng ulan, sa panaginip lang kita mahahagkan tuwina; DOON LANG!”

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