MANILA, MAY 25, 2011 (STAR)
By Rosalinda Orosa - Alejandro R. Roces, National Artist for Literature and STAR columnist, passed away yesterday morning at the Makati Medical Center due to complications from pneumonia. He would have been 85 this July.

Roces served as education secretary under President Diosdado Macapagal. During his tenure he had suggested to Macapagal to move the celebration of Philippine Independence Day from July 4 to June 12, which has since been followed. It was also Education Secretary Roces who recovered the stolen original manuscripts of Rizal’s NoliMe Tangere and El Filibusterismo.

Another feather in Roces’ nationalistic cap was his having the aluminum steel pylon behind the Rizal monument at the Luneta removed, the pylon having made Rizal appear like a midget.

As education secretary, Roces served as “tourist guide” to visiting heads of state: German President Henrik Lubke, Mexican President Adolfo Lopez Mateos, Indonesian President Sukarno, Japanese Prime Minister Akihito, Dutch Princess Beatrix, et al. Being a fount of facts, folklore and fiction, and a “walking encyclopedia” of curious information about our country, Roces was an extraordinary guide.

Roces was a celebrated writer of prize-winning short stories on cockfighting, though he privately confessed he had never been to a cockpit! A few years ago, a zarzuela “Something to Crow About,” based on his short stories, was presented in some US cities with singular success under the initiative of eminent cultural personality Cecile Guidote Alvarez who incorporated Leonor Orosa Goquinco’s choreographed cockfight into the zarzuela. Gracious and generous in spirit, Roces had declared that Leonor encompassed more artistic disciplines than any other national artist.

Roces is particularly admired for his epic “Fiesta” coffeetable books which encapsulate national and regional fiestas throughout the country, rediscovering the rituals of the Moriones of Marinduque, the Tagbanuas of Palawan, the Negritos ad other tribes.

A first-rate raconteur noted for his wit and humor, Roces was a Manila Chronicle columnist during the pre-martial law days, the post-EDSA editor-columnist of Manila Times, and a STAR columnist until his demise.

He is survived by a daughter Lizzie, and Australia-based brother, the visual artist-writer Alfredo.

A formal program honoring Alejandro R. Roces as a National Artist in Literature will be held at the CCP main theater, after which he will be given a state burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. Details will be announced later.

Meanwhile, the Department of Education (DepEd) joined the country in mourning the demise of former secretary Roces, whom it proclaimed as one of the pillars of Philippine education.

“The Department of Education mourns the loss of one of the pillars of Philippine education,” DepEd said in a statement.

“Dr. Roces served as the father of DepEd for more than 3 years, from 1962 to 1965, pursuing a drive against sub-standard schools while highlighting the Filipino culture and promoting our national identity,” DepEd said.

“His great contribution to education will forever be treasured.” – with Rainier Allan Ronda

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved