'Anak ng kuwago!' Nonoy Marcelo's gone
by Joan Orendain / Inquirer News Service


Source of mirth

THE CARTOONIST from whose pen sprang Tisoy, Plain Folks and Ikabod, and who coined such originals in street Pinoy as "ermat" (mother) and "jeproks" (meaning from the housing projects, and in today's parlance "jologs") is gone from this tired earth.

Nonoy Marcelo was 63 (although someone who would know said he was perfect for that Beatles classic "Will you still need me/will you still feed me/when I'm 64?"). He would have reacted to his own death thus: "Anak ng kuwago!"

The man born Severino Santos Marcelo -- "Yikes!" can you just hear him saying? -- was perpetually grappling with a problem that was vexing for him but was invariably a source of mirth for his friends.

His buddies would rush to the then Daily Mirror to see what the latest crisis was about after hearing unintelligible sounds emanating from him over the phone. And the life-and-death situation would turn out to be this: The cartoonist was stuck for a fresh idea.

Imagine him sitting on a three-legged wooden stool at the drawing board, decked out in skin-tight black leather pants and black leather jacket. But this supposedly sexy Hell's Angels look would be all for naught because a half-gnawed chicken leg would be sticking out of his right pants' pocket and his left hand would be clutching a pen poised in mid-air.

Alejandro (Anding) Roces was the model for Tisoy, Bibsy Carballo for Maribubut, and this writer (50 pounds ago) for Aling Otik. The poet Florentino Dauz was the pipsqueak Caligula, and Gemmo was Gemma Cruz, who had then just won the Miss International crown.

Pure adventure

When in exile in the United States, Nonoy begat the mestizo Americano Rajah Mozart, and Aling Otik, by then having metamorphosed into one of the Madama's Metro Manila Aides, suddenly had a grandson. But Quincy, whom she called Kinse, was black and had a frizz in a way that only Nonoy's ultra-fertile imagination could have created.

What a time we had.

Baon money expended on cigarettes, Nonoy and the future Caligula, Aling Otik and one or two others would forage for food, more often than not in Funeraria Paz on Azcarraga, today's Claro M. Recto.

In the 1960s food in funeral parlors was to be found only at very wealthy Chinese wakes. Nonoy's instructions were to walk in together, head straight for the bier, pray in earnest for our host -- for one strange reason or another, always male -- then head to the back pew where flowed largesse for the hungry.

Sometimes there was a pack of cigarettes apiece for us on the way out, with no one the wiser for having fed scavengers.

Such was Nonoy's genius that he treated life as pure adventure, and in the end, as art.

Authority on history

If you told him you were from Malabon on such-and-such street, the small-town boy in him would say "Oh, beside Aling Liling na mangkukulot (who curled hair)?"

He himself lived on Marcelo Street, named after his father, a World War II hero. Ermat was Rita, an English teacher at the Far Eastern University.

It was at FEU and the school paper The Advocate where Nonoy got his grounding as a cartoonist.

The lady-love editors for whom he drew and composed layout were Sheila Coronel and the "I" magazine of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, and Eugenia Apostol and the Pinoy Times tabloid, which exposed Joseph Estrada's homes and paramours, but folded in December last year.

Nonoy joined the reincarnated Manila Times recently, painting the Sunday magazine covers, and writing and editing that paper's four-page Monday pullout section, Pytyk.

Well-read and an authority on Philippine history, he it was who revealed to friends the art of letras y figuras decades ago, before it came to Filipino consciousness.


That Nonoy ended up owning a Bliss condominium in Diliman, Quezon City, came as a pleasant surprise to all who knew him.

The trouble with him was that he had the habit of being overly generous, leaving nothing much for himself. From the Los Indios Bravos nights where all were treated to food and drink when he had the wherewithal, to the Tisoy television series with Bert "Tawa" Marcelo as Eutiquio, to those days when he earned hefty sums from putting together a series of comic books, "Da Real Macoy" about Ferdinand Marcos, many partook of his good fortune.

Never quite living down what he perceived to be opprobrium for the Macoy propaganda, when people who knew where his heart lay simply said, "Well, that's Nonoy for you," he went anti-Marcos with a vengeance.

His highest accolade -- the Cultural Center of the Philippines' Centennial Honors for the Arts Award in 1999 -- vindicated him.

It read: "Marcelo's works merge political issues with popular forms in drawing a commentary on Filipino society, especially during a period of heightened state oppression.

"Because his cartoons represent the temper of the times, chronicling the national experience especially under the dictatorship, the Parangal Sentenyal sa Sining at Kultura is hereby conferred on this 2nd day of February 1999 on Nonoy Santos Marcelo."


Nonoy was married to Mila Mercado, with whom he had three children.

The eldest child, Dario, was present when the father passed on at 10 a.m. Tuesday at the Chinese General Hospital.

It was a life lived to the fullest, and Nonoy suffered from complications of diabetes and heart, liver and prostate problems.

His remains are lying in state at the Funeraria Floresco on 219 General Luna St. in his native Malabon. Cremation is scheduled on Friday at the Eternal Gardens.