MANILA, December 18, 2003 (STAR) By Jess Diaz - Senators paid their last respects yesterday to a dead colleague, former Senate president Blas Ople, recalling their fondest memories of him.

Speaking in necrological services for Ople at the Senate, former senator Ernesto Herrera said his late colleague would rather have his friends "remember him for his verbal fireworks, even for his once highly joyful and vocal drunkenness, not here, stuck in a box."

He said the former Senate head and labor and foreign affairs secretary was a "man with an enormous capacity for joy."

"Pick your favorite quotation of Ka Blas and remember him that way," he said.

Herrera was a friend of Ople for many years since they first met in the labor movement.

"I met Ka Blas long before we shared this session hall together as senators, before we had those what they called ‘Batman and Robin’ meetings with the Senate media that used to last well past midnight," he said.

He said Ople liked to attend wakes.

"It did not seem to matter if the person who died was a close friend or just a mere acquaintance. He went to all of them because, as he said, he knew eventually he would get to star in one, and he’d like people to pay him the same courtesy," he added.

Herrera’s last message to his dear friend: "Blas, I wish I could say, ‘Let’s have coffee’ one more time. I love you, and I’ll miss you. Hanggang sa muling pagkikita."

Another former Senate colleague, Francisco Tatad, said he first met Ople when he joined the Marcos Cabinet as press secretary in 1969.

"I was then a young man of 29, with very little experience in journalism and zero experience in politics. Under Marcos’ overpowering shadow, which would prevent a new generation of leaders from coming up, most of the Cabinet tended to be reserved. But Ka Blas (who was then labor secretary) was exceptionally expressive," he said.

In Cabinet meetings that Marcos presided, Tatad recalled Ople dropping the names of Adam Smith, Gunnar Myrdal, John Kenneth Galbraith, Andre Malraux, Simone de Beauvoir and Jean Paul Sarte.

"He would quote laws and theories, and freely employ polysyllabic words and compound complex sentences to argue his case. Contrary to the revisionist propaganda, Marcos encouraged those debates. And Ka Blas always took center stage," he said.

Tatad said unknown to many, Ople was a deeply religious man, an aspect of his life that was less public.

"Ka Blas lived a completely public life. But he also lived and nourished his own interior life. Never did he try to banish God from the public square, as others do or have. He prayed, and did not mind being occasionally seen in prayer," he said.

He added that Ople often visited holy shrines during trips abroad.

Sen. Aquilino Pimentel Jr. described his former Senate boss as a "certified workaholic" who died working.

"We, his colleagues in the Senate, know that Ka Blas would be around every session day when he was in Manila, rain or shine, and whether or not he was feeling good or ill," he said.

He said at the Department of Foreign Affairs, personnel can attest to the fact that Ople "would be at his office practically every day despite bouts of severe coughing that would wrack his body often as he pored over state papers that needed his attention or when he received official visitors."

Reported by: Sol Jose Vanzi

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