Loving Julius Fortuna. He redefined himself, taught us moderation

MANILA - ASIDE FROM Neal Cruz, did anybody else notice that Julius Fortuna forgave his enemies? Pag-puti ng uwak, pag-itim ng tagak. A Filipino sarcasm I translate thus: Wait till crows turn white and herons turn black. That will be the day.
Image courtesy of
Impossible! Julius was from the Left. How could Julius Fortuna have forgiven his enemies when he was a UP product, if not graduate? If you are a product of the University of the Philippines, you must be outspoken, fearless, highly theoretical, stubborn, intelligent, unforgiving. In UP, you learn to confront the enemy, not forgive him. I’m from UP; having overstayed 2 semesters more, I should know more. Been there, done that. (I know someone who famously forgave his enemies, but he was from the Ateneo: Jose Rizal, National Hero of the Philippines.)
Ridiculous! After all, Julius Fortuna had been a member of the national council of the radical Kabataang Makabayan (Young Nationalists) and Secretary General of the Movement for a Democratic Philippines, which coordinated and organized ‘the massive demonstrations now collectively known as the First Quarter Storm of 1970,’ and had gone underground in August 1971 when he learned he was ‘in the order of battle of the military’ according to ANN (author not named, 24 June 2009, businessmirror.com.ph). ‘Can Ethiopians change their skin, or leopards their spots?’ (Jeremiah 13: 23 NRSV).
Aboveground, out in another battlefield, Julius Fortuna died on 23 June from a massive heart attack, dead on arrival at the Capitol Medical Center in Quezon City. He was 61 going on 62 (30 July), a native of Odiongan, Romblon. He left his wife Sabina, son Amilkar and daughter Jillian (philstar.com). Among other things, he had been writing a regular column ‘East and West’ at the Manila Times (manilatimes.net) and hosting the news forum Kapihan sa Sulo (Hotel) in Quezon City. He was also Vice President of Samahang Plaridel. By the time he died, Julius had long turned from Radicalism to Moderation and, from all indications, he had loved this new role. He had redefined himself. An Ethiopian can change his skin; a leopard can change his spots. ‘Be transformed by the renewing of your mind’ (Romans 12: 2 NRSV).
We too have to redefine ourselves. Thank you, Julius Fortuna, for showing us that we can redefine ourselves, that we can renew our mind.
He had other lessons for other people. Ducky Paredes thanks Julius ‘for having been a friend’ (duckyparedes.com):
I will miss Julius Fortuna. We had plans – about looking up old friends when we had the time and so on. What I learned from Julius was the importance of not letting go of old friends and acquaintances. Julius cared about just anyone that he met in this life. Now that he is gone, I can only add: Thank you, Julius Fortuna, for having been a friend.
Fernando Gagelonia writes of Julius Fortuna and ‘his calm demeanor, his depth of knowledge of Philippine and world affairs, his commitment to freedom’ (24 June 2009, midfield.wordpress.com).
Samahang Plaridel (Plaridel Society), where he was an officer, writes of him (26 June 2009, philippinereporter.com):
Regarded as a commentator of high repute, he wrote on a variety of raging nationalist, geo-political and diplomatic issues affecting the Philippines, the peace talks with the National Democratic Front (NDF), the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) and the internal squabbles in Malacañang, the Senate and the Lower House.
Known far and wide for his insights into the events of the day and the political possibilities in the future, Fortuna also became an officer of the National Press Club of the Philippines for several years and assisted other organizations of journalists in pursuing welfare issues.
Jonathan De La Cruz says ‘he was selfless to a fault’ and writes of him (28 June 2009, tribune.net.ph):
Julius Fortuna, beloved son of Odiongan, Romblon, a friend and mentor to thousands, a brother to a whole generation of Filipinos and a dear friend to a growing circle of katotos (close friends), is gone. Pareng Jules to his closest pals or Komisar to friends and foes alike, he is now resting in the bosom of the Lord. He will be truly missed.
Paul M Gutierrez writes (30 June 2009, journal.com.ph) that ‘he was never quick in judging people and was always there for valuable advice.’
Nicon Fameronag (30 June 2009, manilatimes.net) mourns ‘the loss of a Romblon icon in journalism whose voice has been heard and listened to around the country’ and reports that Awe Eranes of the Romblon Sun mourns the loss of ‘a mentor and godfather.’ He writes:
I was also thinking of Manong Jules’ good fortune to have lived in an era that recognized – was grateful for – his transition from a life of revolutionary activism to a life of battling society’s iniquities through a more powerful weapon – the Word.
Manong Jules lived a full life regardless of his early death. That fullness he achieved when he chose to become what he became: a revolutionary, a thinker and a journalist who engaged the world when many others in his era opt to be co-opted and, therefore, are in danger of losing their souls while still alive.
That’s all news to me. I forgive them all for their ardent views on Julius and Odiongan, whether they are from Romblon or not; I am glad I am not from Romblon and I have never visited that island, so I can write about Julius from a distance.
I never even heard (or don’t remember hearing) of Julius Fortuna until my good friend Jerry Quibilan began attaching to his emails columns of Julius, the first one sent to me 14 September 2008; it was Julius’ column dated 06 November 2007, ‘No ouster for GMA and JdV.’ He was right. In that same column, Julius said Jerry Quibilan had predicted that General Alexander Yano would become the next Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. He too was right.
Still and all, the most poignant of all the tributes to Julius Fortuna was written by Neal Cruz, another journalist I also don’t know from Adam; this is what he said (29 June 2009, opinion.inquirer.net):
During those eight years (under Martial Law), he was tortured repeatedly by the military, but Julius gritted his teeth and bore the pain patiently and silently without ratting on his colleagues.¶ Years later, after he was released, he bore no grudge, no ill-will, no hatred, no anger and no desire for revenge against his torturers. On the contrary, when he became a journalist, he helped many military officers, colonels and generals who could have been among his jailers and torturers. Often, Julius would arrange interviews for journalists over lunch or dinner with news sources who were military officers. Such was the forgiving nature of Julius.
I was awestruck when I read that last line. Forgive your enemies? That’s not a difficult act to follow – it’s just not practical, not doable at all. It’s so much easier to just say, ‘Lord, I love my family, my friends. I love my neighbors. It’s those other people I hate. They have made my life miserable.’
And so, learning from Julius Fortuna, I challenge those in high (and low) places in any church or group to achieve the unachievable, to love the unlovable. Faith is not enough. The Bible is all theory until you put it into practice.
‘Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive’ (Colossians 3: 13 NRSV). Even those who cling to the Bible as the only source of wisdom know that there is more where that came from; here is Matthew 5: 43-48 NRSV:
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
I like to call Jesus Christ a sadist because, of all commandments he gave, it was this impossible one: Love your enemies! How many Catholic – and Protestant – preachers can do that, have done that? It’s so much easier to damn your enemies, to blame those whom you hate, to point your fingers at those who are corrupt (a few people) and never point at those who corrupt them (countless other people).
Oh, of course, I’ve heard this refrain many times: ‘I can forgive, but I cannot forget.’ I don’t think the Good Lord will forgive and forget you for behaving like that!
It’s impossible until we try. Thank you, Julius Fortuna, for showing us Christians how to be obedient to God’s Law of Love.
From the news, I learn that professors of the University of the Philippines support the Reproductive Health Bill being considered in Congress (Domini Torrevillas, 27 June 2009, cited in tucp.org.ph). Do they know and subscribe only to the theory of Thomas Malthus that the growth of population will always overtake the growing of food? I thought UP professors were more intelligent than that.
The Malthusian theory has long been debunked (see also my ‘The Yankee Dawdle,’ 04 February 2007, americanchronicle.com). Thank you, Julius Fortuna, for showing us UP graduates the need to stop running naked and to sit down, to listen, to know more, and to protest less.
Julius Fortuna was an intellectual model, in part because he read and absorbed. Nicon tells us (as cited):
With Manong Jules, you always get quality minutes of intellectual discovery. The book I saw last in his hands was Thomas Friedman’s bestseller, The World Is Flat. He spent money on books and foreign newspapers, in the same manner that he was generous to struggling friends in the media. ¶ As a thinker and journalist, Manong Jules can slice through a conversation and insert a gem of wisdom, usually his take or view on a topic enriched by reading and distilled by years of experience in observing events and human nature, and of course, by regular interaction with the powers-that-be. ¶ All the years, however, he retained his wit and firm anchor on his Asi (Romblon) roots.
‘The world is flat’ means globalization is here and it’s an irresistible beast – you might as well tame it to your advantage. You have to think outside the beast.
And when I read more about Jules from other sources, I learned more. Here’s part of a long and fervent tribute from Fel Maragay (27 June 2009, manilastandardtoday.com):
He became a columnist for the People’s Journal and the Manila Times, creating a reputation for himself for his sharp and in-depth analysis of every unfolding significant national event.
He wasn’t a run-of-the-mill journalist. His mind was sharp, his reading was wide, his grasp therefore had length, breadth and depth. Still from Fel Maragay (as cited):
Jules’ versatility as a media man was used to the full when he explored another field, that of hosting and moderating media fora like the Kapihan sa Manila (Hotel) and Ciudad Fernandina. But it was his brainchild, the Kapihan sa Sulo (Hotel) every Saturday morning where he excelled as a forum moderator. He had the natural ability to shoot straightforward and intelligent questions that make the guests and resource persons think deeply and come out with sensible, enlightening and newsworthy answers. … Truth to tell, Jules is one of the few media practitioners who have mastered the art of interviewing newsmakers. This explains why the Kapihan sa Sulo has become the premier coffee shop press forum in the country, and that is no exaggeration.
I can imagine that to be a good host and moderator at the same time, you have to know the subject at heart, so you can moderate the exchanges and ask provocative questions, because you may have to; and you have to know Robert’s Rules of Order, so you can mediate any dispute, because you always have to.
Jules will be remembered as a crafty journalist who showed the way in raising the standards of his chosen profession, a generous person with a soft heart for distressed colleagues and who never lost his humility and virtues while he rubbed elbows with the powerful and mighty and reaped the fruits of his labors.
I asked Fel Maragay by email for more on Julius on his being a model moderator, and in today’s (05 July) email he writes, and I shall quote it in full (in italics) because it is a comprehensive lesson in moderation courtesy of the Man from Romblon:
Journalist Julius Fortuna might not have been another Ric Puno Jr, the virtuoso television talk show host. But as a moderator of media fora, he was a class on his own. ¶ In the last few years before his untimely death on June 23, I witnessed how skilled he was in his role as Moderator of the Newsmakers Forum at the Sulo Hotel in Quezon City every Saturday. ¶ He always had the right questions to ask of the forum guests and resource persons. He was equipped with this talent because of his intellectual caliber, his organized mind and his firm grasp of unfolding events or burning issues.
It’s easy to see that as a moderator you have to be better-informed. Even then, when you ask the right question at the right time, you may or may not know the right answer. You just try to stir up more life into the discussion, or steer someone away from a dead end, or a dangerous one.
Whether the resource person was a Senator, a Cabinet member, a military general, a spokesman of a political party, a top executive of an ill-starred inter-island ship, a survivor of a disaster, a leader of exploited farmers or a promising sportsman, Julius knew how to make them talk spontaneously and squeeze the juiciest and accurate information from them.
I never had the privilege of attending any of the Kapihan sa Sulo sessions, but I can imagine it all in my mind. I have been conducting interviews myself for a book I’m writing. Actually, what I do is not a proper interview – I ask the first question that comes to mind, or take the cue from the first things I see or hear. And so my interview usually lasts 4 hours – imagine that! That’s not an interview, that’s a conversation. I want the fellow relaxed so he can talk spontaneously and so that I can ‘squeeze the juiciest and accurate information’ from him. I have to be an interested listener, an active asker of questions. I even get to the point where I get some excellent, unexpected answers to some questions I didn’t anticipate I would ask! You have to be alert all the time.
Although we never bothered to ask him about his secret for steering a fruitful discussion, we had the impression that he always saw to it that he had enough background information about his guest or guests for the day and about the topic at hand. But oftentimes, he need not exert so much effort in getting the information he needed because most of these things were already stored in his brain. That is the advantage of being a voracious reader, a walking encyclopedia and a journalist who had a nose for news that Julius was known to be.
I’m a voracious reader myself, and for all of those 34 years of writing, while listening to someone, I have developed a feel for something new or improved or different. When I’m interviewing, I listen more than I ask questions. If you listen, it puts the other fellow at ease. Everybody loves a listener.
I believe the best moderating is not unlike the best interviewing – it doesn’t show. The other fellow doesn’t feel being moderated; it doesn’t look like he’s being interviewed. If you don’t know the answer, you ask the question. Even if you think you know, you should still ask – you can be wrong, or he may have some other things in mind that no one has ever thought of, and it may turn out to be a gem.
When a resource person tackled the hot issue of the day, Julius had the uncanny ability to raise a series of questions to make us understand its implications and significance from a wider perspective or from the viewpoint of national interest.
If you cannot escape the confines of your group’s ideology, if you cannot think outside the box, you cannot be a superb moderator. Sometimes you have to think without thinking of a box at all.
He would throw difficult, provocative and intriguing questions without sounding offensive or inquisitorial. When a person gets nervous, he loses his concentration. But Julius knew how to put the resource person at ease and in command of his thoughts. He would make the guest feel that he was doing great in his response and explanation. But that was only when the guest was saying sensible things. He also made it a point not to interrupt the guest when it was the latter’s turn to speak. That is a common fault of many a talk show or forum moderator that turns off the guest.
This is the point where you really need to know much more than the other fellow. If you want to ask intelligent questions, there is no substitute for knowledge beforehand. I can imagine Julius Fortuna thinking holistically, that is, thinking of the parts while thinking that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. With what he already knew, I can imagine he would be thinking vertically (as Tony Buzan with his mind map would) and thinking horizontally (as Edward de Bono with his lateral thinking technique would). I can also imagine the constant temptation to show off what he knew. The best moderator has the widest open mind, and Julius Fortuna must have been the best. I wish I had met him.
The task of the host-moderator is to break the ice, build up interest in the subject and keep the discussion flowing smoothly. He should know when to pause and let the panel of moderators and the audience have their turn to raise questions. That is a basic rule that Julius knew by heart and faithfully observed. In the same manner, he never hesitated to rule out any kibitzer asking nonsensical questions even it meant causing him embarrassment. Otherwise precious time would just be wasted and the forum would be taken for a ride by pseudo or hao-shiao newsmen.
That is to say, whoever the Kapihan guests were, they had met their match in Julius Fortuna, Moderator to the Max. Thank you, Julius Fortuna, for teaching us mortals the Virtue of Moderation.
Finally, I’m intrigued with the note that his friends Ding Gagelonia and Richard Rivera had cajoled him into blogging. So he uploaded on 12 January 2009 to his blog ‘East West Online’ (eastwestonline.blogspot.com) a post of 119 words in all, the first 2 sentences being:
It is my pleasure to join the new force in the field of information known as the blogging community. I must confess that I am not that familiar with computers and blogs, hence, I am glad to be inducted into this group, courtesy of my friends Ding Gagelonia and Richard Rivera.
He never followed up that small note in his blog. Julius Fortuna had met his match.

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