RECALLING MANG RAMONING, DR. RAMON C. SISON
By Jose Maria Sison
January 13, 2009
(Read at the funeral services for Dr. Ramon C. Sison by
his son Dr. Reuven F. Sison on behalf of his uncle Prof.
Jose Maria Sison.)
My parents always called my eldest brother, Dr. Ramon C.
Sison, “Ramoning” to show endearment.
We the younger siblings called him “Mang Ramoning”. Only
before strangers would we formally call him Ramon or Mang
He was supposed to be the informally adopted son of my
father's sister Dona Rosario S. de Pilar. But I recall that he
was often in our house at the town center of Cabugao or in
our evacuation house during the Japanese occupation. He
enjoyed having two homes and two sets of parents. Up to
the time that he finished his medical degree at the University
of the Philippines, he had the privilege of having two sources
of financial allowance.
My earliest pleasant recollection of him was that he could play
very well several musical instruments, including the piano, the
violin, guitar, the trumpet and harmonica. He would impress
everyone in our parlor or in family gatherings by playing one
instrument after another or a combination of two or three
instruments. We used to call him the one-man orchestra. He
was also well known for his drawings and carvings. He would
display these things on the table of our father.
My recollection of the unpleasant was when he caught me
taking a puff from my father's cigar and compelled me to take
more puffs until I became dizzy and threw up. Since then, I
had hated the smell of tobacco. I surmised in later years that
he was trying to teach me a lesson so that I would hate tobacco
and not smoke. The lesson was effective for a long while because
I started to smoke quite late, at the age of twenty nine. It is ironic
though that Mang Ramoning also became fond of smoking. We did
not know then that on our mother's side we had a predisposition
to lung cancer in our senior years.
Mang Ramoning was ten years older than me. For that reason, it
seemed like he was always running far ahead of me. I was still in
Cabugao when he was already in Manila for his high school at the
Ateneo de Manila. Then I caught up with him and with my other
elder siblings in Manila and we lived together under the care of
our eldest sister Corazon when I took my high school and early years
of university education. Then Mang Ramoning and three other
siblings would go to the US for graduate studies not on Fulbright
or Smith-Mundt but on the Serrano-Sison family scholarship. I recall
my parents arranging the dollar allocations for them in the 1950s.
I drew certain advantages from Mang Ramoning's having entered the
Ateneo de Manila ahead of me. Before I took the entrance examination,
he tutored me on how to handle the IQ test. He saw that being
valedictorian of the Cabugao elementary school I had no problem
with English grammar and arithmetic but he thought that I might be
confounded by the IQ test which was the main part of the entrance
examination. His tutoring was successful because I topped the
Next project of his was to straighten out my Cabugao accent in English.
He was not impressed that I had been the top declaimer of my class in
Cabugao. So he gave me pronunciation drills everyday for some two
weeks. When I failed to pronounce a word correctly, after three attempts,
he would thump the table.
He was delighted or amused when I was taking painting lessons seriously.
I made use of his books on figure drawing and still life. But when I tried
my hand at abstract painting, he scolded me for doing so without first
mastering the basics. He said that Picasso had to excel first in the academy
before venturing into abstract art. He never pressed me to take piano
lessons like the rest of our siblings. He knew that I had always run away
from the piano lessons when I was in grade school.
Mang Ramoning had the reputation of being very successful at courting
girls in his high school and college years. That is because he was handsome,
taking the best features from our parents. And he was highly intelligent.
But most important of all he played jazz and classical music and he could
draw portraits. With his music, he could win the heart not only of the
girl but the hearts of her parents. His portraiture of the girl was the most
irresistible. I think that Manang Charito can attest to that fact.
As far as academic studies were concerned, Mang Ramoning and I had a
mutual admiration for each other for normally getting into the honors' list
of the dean. But we also recognized each other's erratic side. We could
excel in many subjects but get mediocre marks in a few others. We also
liked to play truant or skip classes. While in high school I got into trouble
by exceeding 30 days of absence. While in medical school, Mang Ramoning
was threatened with dismissal for exceeding the allowable limit of absences.
At any rate, we never failed in any subject because we always availed of
the notes of classmates.
Our mutual admiration for each other for academic and professional
achievements became even more pronounced in the long run. I stood in
awe of him when he went through postdoctoral studies and cancer research
at the Georgetown Medical Center and the Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center
and became a diplomate in pathology. He was also proud of me when I
finished my Bachelor of Arts in English with honors. He took the trouble of
getting my pins and certificates from the US headquarters of the Phi Kappa
Phi and the Pi Gamma Mu honor societies.
During the times that Mang Ramoning visited the Philippines and The
Netherlands, he would narrate to me how he succeeded with his professional
practice in the Mid-West and earned enough to buy a house in Beverly Hills,
invest in a restaurant, a beach house in Malibu and other properties.
He became an official of the Kaiser hospital system. He was happy to have
been appointed by then Governor Jerry Brown to the California medical
board of examiners. He was also thrilled about being a doctors' doctor in
the US army medical corps and reaching the rank of full colonel.
But what seemed to be far more exciting to him than his medical
accomplishments was his becoming a Hollywood actor in a number of
major films. That is not surprising at all to me. He was fond of associating
with showbiz people even while he was in Manila. I recall Rosa Rosal and
other movie actors coming to our apartment in Manila to practice some
music with him. I recall that it was a sensation in the family and in our
hometown when he appeared in a Filipino film as a trumpeteer.
I think that Mang Ramoning was far more accomplished as a musician than
as a movie actor or as a stage actor. His playing of the piano and the violin
was of concert quality in jazz or in classical music. He associated and jammed
with the best Filipino musicians of his generation. He was a close friend of
the conductor and violinist Redentor Romero. As far as I know, he was never
a soloist in any classical concert but he was often part of a symphony orchestra,
usually playing a string instrument.
As a piano jazz player, he was superb in providing the intermission numbers in
community and professional gatherings. I remember vividly when during his
first visit to me in Utrecht we went to a piano bar to listen to a Filipino
pianist-singer who was billed by the management as the best from Asia.
He and the Filipino artist talked shop during the latter's break. Then Mang
Ramoning took over the piano and delighted the customers.
In the early 1990s, he and Mang Charito came to visit us in The Netherlands
on time for the Van Gogh centennial. While we looked at the Van Gogh
paintings, he gave a running interpretation of these. He told me that Van
Gogh rebelled against the fine portraiture of the rich merchants and that
there was an element of social criticism in making the poor potato eaters
look like dogs. He declared that upon retirement he would concentrate
on painting more than ever before. When he became the chief inspector
of all US military hospitals in Germany, he also visited me a number of times
I consider as his most important visits to me those he made in the early
1980s when I was imprisoned by the Marcos fascist dictatorship. On his
first visit, he told me about the good situation of my children abroad. His
visit also served to start breaching the solitary confinement I was in. Before
visiting me, he had a brief fruitless talk with Marcos arranged by a relative
who was a police general. This relative told Mang Ramoning that I actually
had no problem if I agreed to accept a government position. I responded
by saying that I would outlast and outlive Marcos.
The second time that Mang Ramoning visited me in prison was in 1982 on
the occasion of celebrating his silver wedding anniverary with Manang
Charito and the united front baptism of my son Jasm. Both events were
officiated by Cardinal Sin in the same morning. My mother had requested
Cardinal Sin. She had been acquainted with him since my arrest in 1977
upon the introduction of Archbishop Juan Sison who was a close friend
of Cardinal Sin.
After my release from prison, Mang Ramoning took the lead in the family
to accept and pursue the offer of the American Civil Liberties Union to
file a case against Ferdinand E. Marcos and others for human rights
violations, particularly for my torture and for the disappearance of Mang
Paquito. Together with other individual and class plaintiffs, we won the
case against Marcos in the US juudicial system. But unfortunately, the
Philippine government has prevented up to now the indemnification of
the victims of human rights violations and has misappropriated the money
from the Swiss bank accounts of Marcos.
After he retired from medical practice in 2001, Mang Ramoning gained
more time for painting, playing music, writing the history of Cabugao,
bringing his grandchildren to school and fetching them, dancing the
tango, writing a funny alternative history of this dance and cleaning his
swimming pool as a frequent form of physical exercise. Among his
paintings were those of the Cabugao church, the public primary
school, the old municipio, the ancestral mansion, our parents and
grandfather and my poem The Guerrilla Is Like a Poet.
Although he could play several musical instruments quite well, Mang
Ramoning did not sing. Only Johnny Carson could trust him in 1986 to
sing on TV in a parody of the dictator Marcos. Mang Ramoning was
probably amused when I sent to him the computer discs of my amateur
singing in 2004. I asked him to provide the piano accompaniment for
the songs that I sang without any accompanying musical instrument.
He complied. I also heard that he reproduced the CDs and distributed
the copies to relatives in California.
Mang Ramoning's history of Cabugao reads like the history of the
intermarrying principalia families of the Azcuetas, Sollers, Sisons and
Serranos because they have dominated the politics and economy of
Cabugao since Spanish colonial times. Nevertheless, the history
mentions other prominent natives of Cabugao and covers the most
significant events, including the battles of Diego Silang and Gabriela
Silang in the environs of the town, the Philipppine revolution against
Spanish colonialism, the war of resistance against US aggression and
the Japanese fascist occupation.
Finally, some people might be curious enough to ask whether I got
along well with Mang Ramoning and why. Definitely, I got along well
with him for several reasons. We loved each other as blood brothers.
I was proud of him as he was proud of me.We respected each other
as members of a family that values intellectual and professional
achievement. We also respected each other's ideas and views on
important Philippine and international issues. We often concurred
because he was open-minded and progressive even if he was not
a Marxist like me. He showed concern for my children and to Julie
and me when I was in prison and whenever I was in danger in the
Philippines and abroad. We are quite alike in having a sense of humor
and in enjoying whatever main or subsidiary work we do. ###