Wednesday November 29, 2006
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A Tribute to Max
/ Max / The Premio Zobel Book
SUNDRY STROKES By Rosalinda L. Orosa
The Philippine Star 11/29/2006

Maximo V. Soliven – Max to everyone – was made of granite and steel. To the public, he appeared indomitable, invincible, indefatigable and invulnerable, for which reason his sudden death was terribly unsettling, having drastically contradicted his seeming durability.

A few months ago, he was afflicted with double pneumonia; in past years, he had undergone major surgery more than once. Although he rallied each time, he drove himself so relentlessly, no one could keep up with his pace. To begin with, there were his kilometric columns – solid, substantial columns – evincing a fantastic grasp of world affairs, past and present, and a thorough conversance with European, American and Oriental history. (He once taught history at his alma mater, Ateneo U.) His readers were politicians, government officials, diplomats, academicians, students of history and political science, businessmen, and virtually every literate person. As a columnist, he wielded such tremendous influence, ranking government officials and diplomats courted his favour. One of the first things a newly-arrived diplomat usually did was to pay Max a courtesy call.

Once, an ambassador got on the wrong side of Max by asking him at a formal dinner-concert in a five-star hotel "Who invited you?" The rude, incredibly undiplomatic question so infuriated Max, he immediately stomped out in a huff, along with friends who, having found the query equally offensive, left likewise. (Actually, Max had been invited by the hotel GM.) After that unfortunate incident, Max wrote three successive and as usual, kilometric – columns denouncing the diplomat and his country. To prove Max’s clout, the diplomat had to leave for another post shortly thereafter.

Then, there were the countless speaking engagements. Max having been too generous with his time to say "No" to whoever was requesting him to address this or that organization. And Max himself belonged to innumerable organizations. Ultimately, his constant wearying travels sapped his flagging energy.

Max’s innate charm endeared him to the great and near great with whom he rubbed elbows. To his colleagues, he was warm and effusive. Each time he saw me, he would compliment me enthusiastically on my latest column. I saw Max for the last time at the dinner Anthony Trillo hosted at the Shangri-La; here Max told me: "Baby, that review of yours was terrific," adding, "Gee whiz!" (The review was on Albert Tiu’s piano concert). It was Max’s heart-warming way of signifying interest in what I did, and as I was leaving, he announced to his table companions, including Jose "Pepe" Rodriguez, "Baby is my Spanish mentor." Max was referring to the time he had won the Isabel la Catolica award in 2000. He had sent me his speech in English, asking me to translate it into Spanish, which I did only too willingly. Since then, Max would announce to all and sundry, "Baby is my Spanish mentor." In gratitude, hectic as his schedule always was, he graciously attended the ceremonies at which I received the same award.

The friendship between Max and my family was such that at a Soroptimist conference in Baguio where Max was guest speaker, he interrupted his talk by saying, "I see Helen out there." My sister, Helen O. del Rosario, was then seated at the farthest end of the room!

The friendship goes back to the time of my oldest brother, the late banker Sixto Jr. A private joke between them led to their calling each other "Herr Max" and "Herr Ting". Max was especially grateful to Sixto for having helped finance Sunburst and Manila, the magazines Max published after his detention in Fort Bonifacio where he had shared a cell with Ninoy. Many of Max’s friends had deserted him during those bleak days, and Max specially remembered those who helped him get back on his feet.

What a great pity Max is no longer with us! Intriguing as well as turbulent times lie ahead, and Max’s counsel would weigh heavily, one way or another. In one final instance, he worried about the safety of the Center that would house the ASEAN delegates, hoping the roof would not cave in and fall on their heads. As a final tribute to Max, his warning should be seriously considered.

My profound condolence to Precious, Max’s widow, their children, Max’s brother Willie and sister Ethel.

Max’s father, the distinguished Congressman Don Benito Soliven, died shortly after the Death March, leaving his widow to support their many children. She did single-handedly, seeing each through college and a successful career. She was a valiant woman and Max was of her mold.
* * *
Several books have been published recently, among them 81 Years of the Premio Zobel which was launched last Nov. 22 at the Ayala Museum. A legacy of Philippine Literature in Spanish, the book is by Prof. Lourdes Castrillo Brillantes, the Premio Zobel Awardee of 1998, and a member of the Academia Filipina de la Lengua Española. 81 Years of the Premio Zobel is a publication of Georgina Padilla y Zobel, granddaughter of Don Enrique Zobel de Ayala, founder of the Premio, with the support of the Spanish Program for Cultural Cooperation. Included in the book are brief biographies of the awardees and excerpts from their winning works.

With 81 years behind it, the Premio Zobel is the Philippines’ oldest literary award. Don Enrique established the Premio to preserve and revivify Spanish in the country, and to promote the best Filipino writings in Spanish.

Over the last eight decades, this most prestigious award has been bestowed on eminent writers and intellectuals: Gomez Windham, the invincible balagtasan duo Bernabe and Balmori, Leon Ma. Guerrero, Antonio Abad, Guerrero-Barranco, Zaragoza, Laygo. Many other ardent Hispanistas and honorable politicians contributed to its success. The jury would be composed of such prominent personalities as Claro Mayo Recto, the brothers Mariano and Jesus Cuenco, the jurist Arsenio Dizon, Jaime de Veyra, Jorge Bacobo, Rafael Palma and Carlos P. Romulo. The Premio Zobel in its apogee was a literary and social event acclaimed by media and attended by the Ilustrados. The Premio Zobel has come to symbolize the enduring presence of Spanish heritage in the Philippines.

The Premio Zobel has endured, thanks to the efforts of Doña Gloria, daughter of the founder, and her husband Don Ricardo Padilla y Satrustegui, both active academicos who took charge of the Premio until their demise. In the last years, Doña Georgina and Don Alejandro Padilla Zobel de Ayala, granddaughter and grandson of the founder Don Enrique Zobel de Ayala have maintained the Premio to this date.

Don Enrique Zobel de Ayala, descendant of one of the oldest families in the Philippines, founded the Premio on July 25, 1920. Don Enrique, patron of the arts, was a founding member of the Academia Filipina de la Lengua Española, an affiliate of the Real Academia de la Lengua Española (Royal Academy of Spanish Letters) in Spain.
* * *
Doña Georgina Padilla y Zobel begs indulgence for the late delivery of many invitations to the book launch. The launch had been postponed three times because it would have coincided with three different and equally important events.

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