Juan S. P. Hidalgo Jr. (1936-2020)

It’s been a month since my Papa passed away. Thank you for your condolences and kind words. My family would like to share with you something we wrote about my Papa. We hope it will inspire you or at the least put a smile on your faces. Here it goes:

Last October 23rd we lost our dear Juan S. P. Hidalgo Jr. – Gayyem (friend) to his wife Namnama, Papa to his three daughters, Lolo to his six grandchildren, Johnny and Manong Johnny to many. Active for most of his 84 years, his age finally caught up with him. While we terribly miss him and feel that his brilliant light passed away too quickly, we cannot feel sad for long if we remember how he lived. Our Papa is one happy person and he spread his happiness around. It may be because he became who he wanted to be – a highly-accomplished writer, a beloved writing mentor, a family man, a painter, and a treasure hunter.

Born in 1936 to an entrepreneur and an English teacher, his early life was very comfortable. He spent his happy childhood in Rosales, Pangasinan – swimming in the Agno River, joining his grandfather down the farm, and after the war, frequenting the cinemas. Back home, he gathered his elders and cousins in the family yard and excitedly shared with them the films he just watched. At 10 years old, his family saw in him an excellent storyteller. And storytelling he did his whole life.

He spent his high school years in Manila, frequently moving houses to follow where his mother taught. At 15 years old, he entered the University of the Philippines in Diliman, first as a pre-med student, much to his protest, and later on as an English major. He joined the UP Vanguard, thinking of becoming a soldier like his Peralta relatives. While at the university, he studied the writings of British, European and American writers. He finished writing his first novel, written in English.

A series of unfortunate events in his family life, that left them from extremely rich to dirt poor, made him promise to himself to be the kindest person to his future wife, children and to others. Penniless and to make ends meet, he made money as a film extra in many films of LVN Pictures and other studios. He was very often in film sets and with his movie star looks, film students started interviewing him too. But becoming a famous actor was not his dream, for he just wanted to be a writer and a painter.

For about five years he worked as a warehouseman for the national power plant in Montalban. In the peace of the wilderness, where his neighbors were the nomadic Dumagats, he continued writing and started submitting his Iloco writings to Bannawag. After two published stories to his name, he was hired as a proofreader for the magazine. In magazine publishing he found his place, later on becoming a Literary Editor, Circulation Manager and Managing Editor. He wrote prolifically, for which he received recognition as an outstanding writer in Iloco. At Bannawag, he discovered his love for mentoring new writers. He coached them, even demanded that they find their own voice. Papa was during his whole life committed to GUMIL, an organization of Ilocano writers he founded in 1968. Up until when he was almost 80 and could hardly read anymore, for he suffered from an incurable eye condition, he was a writing mentor in the yearly Ilocano writers workshop. He always looked forward to inspiring new and struggling writers.

His happiest times included his years as part of the UP Campus Sunday Painting Group in the late 1970s. He went around UP Campus with his good friends Alejandrino G. Hufana and Zeus A. Salazar. Many painters joined them. It was quite a sight to see them with paintbrushes and sketch pads, painting along the UP Lagoon and various places around the campus.

Papa lived a very creative life. He never got materially rich – he never found any Yamashita treasure – yet his life was culturally rich. It was made even richer by his sense of curiosity, openness and deep spirituality. For him there is something interesting in everyone. He listened without prejudgments. If he cannot talk to people, he was just as happy to observe them from afar.

He was able to do much because he kept to simple values. Integrity being one. If you sacrifice your integrity – stole from someone or accepted a bribe – no matter how rich or powerful you become, you are still a nobody. Family is most important. Whatever recognition you receive, at the end of the day it is still your family that counts most. Kindness, openness, respect and curiosity about others are what drove him. These made life worthy for him and, hopefully, for the ones who were lucky enough to have known him.

Source: Bituen Hidalgo FB page