I have only two memories of publisher and journalist Max Soliven. The first one is when he interviewed my dad in a smoke filled cafe in Tokyo in 1980 and the other one when he spoke at a meeting of high school student leaders. I was a boy in 1980 and I do not recall exactly what the interview was about but I suppose it had to do with how long Ferdinand Marcos could hold on to power. I do not recall what was my dad's response. But since my father was still in active service as a general officer, he trusted Max with his opinions.
Max knew my dad. They were both "saluyots" a.k.a. Ilocanos. Saluyot is a vegetable that is eaten in quantities in the Ilocos and a major ingredient of "pinakbet". I learned to eat saluyot from my dad. Max called Ilocanos saluyots, since these veggies do not require much to thrive, are cheap, nutritious, can live in marginal environments, in short resilient as the Ilocano. No amount of persecution could put the Ilocano down. The Ilocano survives always.
Ferdinand Marcos almost killed press freedom when he placed the country under martial rule in 1972. If not for people like Max, freedom would have been dead. For criticising the regime, Max was punished by fellow saluyot, Ferdinand Marcos.
His 1984 talk to high school student leaders focused on what it means to tell the truth in journalism. in which one may have to put life on the line. It was a rather impassioned speech and because he was dapper in a black suit, Max impressed us all. He was impassioned since he saw that these boys and girls were the ones to bring down the Marcos regime.
And in February 1986, he was proven right. By then I was no longer a boy but a young man. And later when I get a hold of the "Star" in a newly restored democratic milieu, the first thing I read is Max's column. I found his analysis of world and national events quite eye opening, but what I found funny is his use of expressions my dad and uncle saluyots also used "sanamagan", "susmariosep", "salambit" etc.
In the 1990s his opinions reflected the his formative years as a journalist in the cold war. By then he sounded quite archaic but he correctly analyzed what will come out of Putin's Russia. His Star column is also part cold war travel literature. I hope that Mrs Preciosa Soliven would publish Max writings as a book. This would give a picture of what the world was, when my dad was a young soldier.
Max died in the same city where he interviewed my father. The journalist and the general knew Japan quite well and saw it rebuilt from the ashes of the war. But what both lamented is that the Philippines has lost its opportunities for greatness. In the end, Max was still writing as a sort of Dylan Thomas rage against the dying of the light. His last column on Shinzo Abe, Japan's new prime minister is a mind opener.
I wonder how it feels to die in a foreign land which you knew well and regret that your homeland could have been like it?