Friday, May 31, 2013

The Grinch who Stole the Noli me Tangere

The Grinch who Stole the Noli me Tangere

In my previous blog, I wrote about how the Mi Ultimo Adios original was stolen and retrieved from the Rizaliana thief. 

Review Act 1.  The three Rizal original documents were stolen on 8 Dec. 1961.  It appeared like an inside job.  On Feb 2nd, Friday, Anding Roces met with the thief “emissary” and by sheer personality, sleight of hand, and bravado, got the Mi Ultimo Adios without paying a single cent for ransom.

Review Act Two.  On Monday Feb 5, the El Filibusterismo negotiations at Luneta Grandstand ended at Barrio Fiesta restaurant, a few kilometers from the Bonifacio Monument at Balintawak, Caloocan City. The El Filibusterismo was returned intact in a box. No money passed hands, except an assurance from Roces saying, “Ako ang bahala sa iyo.”  (I’ll not leave you on a lurch.)

In this blog,  the third of a series, I continue with the last chapter of the greatest heist in the history of the three original works of Dr José Rizal.

Newspaper Headline, Feb. 8, 1962, Manila, Philippnes

Act Three, Scene 1.
In the previous incoming calls to Roces in his office, he noticed that he had two different phone pals. 

One was very articulate in English, very smooth and slick.  He had a tone of authority, suggesting to Roces that this thief is used to giving orders.

The second person seemed more retrospective. He kept saying, “Give me some more time to think,” when Roces asked a direct question.

Roces knew the third guy, the contact man, who in his view was just the lackey of the true masterminds. He also seemed to be the youngest among the three and was used to following orders. 

Feb. 9,  Friday, 1962.
That day, Roces cleared his telephone line and waited for the call that would inform him of the return of the Noli me tangere. The much-awaited phone rang at 11:45 am.  The meeting was set for the following day, same place and same time at the Luneta Grandstand.

He was instructed to wait for further instructions at 1:00 pm.

At exactly 1:05 pm. Roces heard the voice, belonging to the main culprit and mastermind. Anding Roces strained his ear and in the deep recesses of his brain he filed away in his cranium specific characteristics of the voice: the register was low and quavering at high pitch, the tone was demanding and sure, the semantic sentence structure is declarative and verbose, the voice timber and the quality of expression is punctuated by long drawn-out prefixes of “aaaah.” Roces said he'll be able to identify this criminal by his speech  and linguistic pattern.

Roces was instructed to bring a written affidavit containing the dictated text:

1.     That I recovered, retrieved and repossessed for and on behalf of the Republic of the Philippines the original manuscripts of Dr. José Rizal’s Mi Ultimo Adios, El Filibusterismo, and Noli me Tangere without having paid or given any consideration, by way of money or otherwise to the person or persons from whom I repossessed them;

2.     That these documents were given to me by this person or persons as a noble gesture and out of their voluntary will;

3.     That I will not file any criminal action in any court of justice against the person and persons, who to my knowledge and belief now, were in any way responsible for the loss of the aforementioned documents.

This mastermind thief used an arsenal of legal-ese terms.  Instead of "return" of the stolen documents, he repeatedly used "repossess." The main culprit must have had a long experience in writing letters or affidavits of authentication, revealing a top position in the José Rizal National Centennial Commission’s hierarchy.

Roces had an idea of who the Grinch who stole the Noli might be by noting phrases like  “for and on behalf,” “given any consideration,” “by way of money or otherwise,” “to my knowledge and belief,” "aforementioned" or “ in any way responsible.”

No ordinary thief talks this way.  He must have at least a professional law degree--another indicator for the police robbery department's suspect file.

Act Three, Scene 2.
As in the previous two instances--on Feb. 2nd (Friday), and 5h (Monday), Anding Roces and the thief met at Luneta’s Grandstand.

"If you don't mind, I'll call you Pare (short for Compadre.) I just don’t want to use the name of Rizal in vain,” said Roces approaching in a simple gait.   It was as if they were old friends, connected through Roces’ patronizing mood and  Pare’s criminal stance.

Pare looked haggard in his trubenized off-white short-sleeved shirt.  Roces was immaculate in his official government official embroidered jusi Barong Tagalog.

“Here’s the letter that you required,” Barong Tagalog pulled out a typed sheet of 8 by 14 inch size “A” legal size paper from his briefcase.

“Sign it right here,” Trubenized replied, briefly scanning through the letter and pointing to the bottom of the affidavit. Trubenized shirts  made of polyester was the stylish rave in the early '60's.

After folding the letter and pocketing it, Trubenized addressed Barong Tagalog:

Wala sanang onsehan.

Onsehan!  That’s the number eleven or Onse in the local dialect.   There are two straight lines that represent eleven.  If one rearranges these in the perpendicular it becomes a cross.  The slang message was “Don’t double cross us.”

“Was that an implicit threat?” Barong Tagalog asked sharply and angrily. “Don’t bully me."

The culprits originally asked for a million and a half pesos---went down to 100,000 last Thursday, then whittled down to 10,000.  Today the thieves settled for a piece of paper!  Roces whistled beneath his breath, "Pambihira! (Incredible!) This is the biggest bargain since the Indians sold Manhattan."

Act Three, Scene 3.
The thief told Sekretaryo to go to Baclaran, south of Manila in the direction of Parañaque, Rizal.  From there Roces was directed towards Jale Beach, a resort of some unsavory reputation frequented by couples.  In 1962  it was in a deserted stretch of the Manila bayshore. This district was also known as the “The Strip” where motel rooms are rented by the hour.

Roces said to himself, “This will be a long ride.” His brow was heavily beaded with perspiration as if he was wearing a hat-full of nails.  They entered the resort premises.  

It was 4:00 pm. The man who called himself “Rizal” got off the car and reconnotiered the beach cabañas or cabins.

When he reappeared, Roces braced himself with a handy jack steel bar.  The man was brandishing a gleaming steel-blade balisong, a sharp pen-knife smelted by the industrious and skillful men of Batangas, known for their blinded fighting spirit coupled with their fierce murderous knife thrust prowess.

However, Roces’ self-preserving reaction boded no evil among the protagonists, for under the arm of the thief was a package wrapped in shiny Manila paper tied securely with abaca twine. 

With a sharp penknife action the twine was cut, and like the wing span of a crane, the wrapping paper flapped open.  A crusty, crumbling, parched, yellowish manuscript revealed its soul peering through the page-filled distinct penmanship of Dr. José Rizal himself.  

It was the Noli me Tangere, now at last safely repossessed in Anding Roces’s possession! 

It took 62 days since it was stolen from its display case at the National Library on Dec. 8, 1961.

The thief asked for a handshake.  Roces was magnanimous in victory.

He saw “Rizal” get buried beneath a cabaña awning.  But before walking off,  the culprit revealed a particular moral conscience by asking that a message be delivered to President Macapagal:

Order the shut off of these houses of ill-repute,” the thief spitted out in disgust.

Without looking back, Roces stepped on the gas.

Anding Roces shows his wife, Irene Viola Roces, the recovered original Noli me Tangere, before it was deposited in the National Treasury vault.   Kislap Aliwan, Mar. 21, 1962, p 32.

Upon reading Roces’ effort to Save the Noli, I could not help but think of a time in Dec. 1886. 

Rizal was in Germany.  He finished writing the last chapters of the Noli in Wilhelmsfeld. Later in Leipzig, in order to save on printing costs, he edited out and cut off two chapters. Now ready for printing in Berlin he had run out of money and was living on a starvation allowance.  In a moment of deranged thought and severe depression, he thought of feeding the warming hearth fire with the Noli manuscript.  However, a “Savior of the Noli” appeared in the person of a “countryman,” the scion of a wealthy haciendero from San Miguel, Bulacan who dished out on Dec 4, 1886, the 300 pesos needed to print the Noli me Tangere.  

His name was Dr. Maximo Viola (my paternal grandmother Juliana Viola's brother.)

Viola helped Rizal in canvassing for the cheapest printing house in Berlin. Then Viola helped proofread each galley print delivered daily by the copy man. When the book was finally completed in March 1887, Rizal dedicated the first copy to Viola inscribing; “To Maximo Viola, the first one who read my book.  José Rizal."

Then he wrapped his pen around the galley proof pages and presented it to his friend.

Fast forward to Feb 9, 1962.  Roces was considered the “Modern Savior of the Noli,” for having retrieved the stolen Noli me Tangere from the thieves.

But wait…ladies and gentlemen, my blog followers, and loyal readers… there's something serendipitous about this whole drama. This is a  déjà vu moment, because…

....Drum Roll…
Another Viola came to the rescue of Rizal's Noli me Tangere.  The truth is, Alejandro Roces is a Viola by consanguinity. Anding Roces was married to my beauteous cousin, Irene Viola, a direct grand daughter of Dr. Maximo Viola.  

Sources, Collection of Lisa Viola.Newspaper coverage,
1962, Feb . 3, 5, 7,  8,  11, 12, 13, March 1, 21.
The Manila Times, The Daily Mirror, The Manila Chronicle,

The Evening News,  Kislap Aliwan Magazine, March 21, 1962.