“Saying goodbye doesn’t mean anything. It’s the time we spent together that matters, not how we left it.” –Trey Parker
I developed a friendship with Dr. Carmencita ‘Menchie’ Robles as a writer for the News Express from 1988 until 1992. Aside from being one of the original figures of the famed Intercontinental Broadcasting Corporation-12 based in Iloilo City, she also taught at the West Visayas State University-College of Mass Communications.
In 1991, when Iloilo hosted the Palarong Pambansa, we worked together and shared data at the Iloilo Sports Complex media center. I recall us delving into a discussion over 15-year-old transgender athlete Nancy Navalta; before Navalta rose to fame several years later, Robles and I were already talking about her and her potential as a world class runner. Waiting at the finish line, we noticed Navalta was flat-chested and had a mustache. Robles was enamored with Navalta, who routed her rivals in the women’s 100-meter and 200-meter dash events.
“She could be the next Lydia de Vega,” Robles mentioned, referring to the female sprinter who won gold in the 1982 and 1986 Asian Games.
By the time the 1994 Palarong Pambansa rolled around, people started calling Navalta “the next Lydia de Vega. Robles monitored Navalta’s career thereafter and we would exchange information about the controversial athlete’s dramatic rise to stardom.
Navalta’s 11.42 seconds in the 100-meter sprint at the following Palarong Pambansa earned her an opportunity to represent the Philippines at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta; however, she was later denied her Olympic dream after tests by the Philippine Center for Sports Medicine revealed she hermaphrodism, when an individual has both sexual organs.
Whenever there was a chance to talk, we discussed sports and Navalta, life in Iloilo media, among other topics. Robles would also invite me to serve as a resource speaker for her class. We didn’t communicate for a long time until we met again in New York City last year.
As an official member of the Iloilo City trade mission and investment forum delegation, she asked a staff member, “Is that Alex Vidal?” Somebody responded, “Yes.” I heard her voice and was surprised to see her as I had no idea she was there.
Our final meeting took place during last year’s Philippine Independence Day parade.
I recently learned from a Facebook post by Nereo Lujan, one of Robles’ former students, that she had passed away.
Even though we are aware that we and our friends are not invincible, it doesn’t make it any easier when someone we like dies. We are forever changed by our friends’ presence and that is not a bad thing—anytime we suffer loss, we are changed forever.
Though it may not seem like it now, there will come a time when we are grateful to have had this person in our life.
Rest in peace, Ms. Menchie.
Jusqu’a ce que nous nous revoyions or ’till we meet again. You were a brave and worthy human being.
Alex P. Vidal, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo./WDJ