Talk about giants among Cebuano poets and one eventually gets to Rene Estella Amper. As a writer, I got to know the man in a circuitous way. I joined The Quill, the student publication of Southwestern University, as a Chemical Engineering freshman. With me was Blanche, an amiable student who turned out to be Amper’s daughter.
But those were tumultuous times. Instead of concentrating on improving our craft, we got caught in the struggle for campus press freedom. I could not recall now whether Blanche was still with us when years later the school administration eased us out of The Quill. I quit college altogether and joined the bigger struggle outside the school campus.
The older Amper had made a name for himself then as a distinguished Cebuano poet writing in English. I heard stories about his stint in The Quill, that’s why I haven’t forgotten Blanche. When you are a young writer, there are works that catches your fancy, and writers that you end up idolizing. I read Amper’s published works and became a fan.
I didn’t get to meet Amper until I took journalism as a profession and ended up covering the Capitol beat. He had jumped from being a municipal health officer to being a mayor of Boljoon, the town of his birth. My admiration grew. In these materialistic times, it is not often that doctors like him would choose to practice in a rural setting.
By then, Amper had shifted to writing poems in Cebuano even as politics drew him away from his craft. He was mayor for three terms (nine years), then vice mayor until his death Wednesday. “He is a great loss to our town,” said SPO1 Roderick Roma of the Boljoon police, recalling how Amper, as a doctor, would treat rural folks for free.
I don’t know how far Amper would have gone as a poet had he concentrated on his writings. His collection of poems, “All Else is Grass” grabbed second prize in the Palanca Awards in 1989. This writing fellow of the famed Silliman University Summer Writer’s Workshop published two other collections, “12 Poems” and “Collected Poems.”
It is indeed a pity that this country’s literary lights grow old and pass away virtually unrecognized for their contribution to our culture. Thus, while to his children he was a good father, to rural folks he was a kind doctor and to Boljoon people he was a devoted public servant, Rene Estella Amper should aptly be, to Cebuanos, their pride.
–Candido O. Wenceslao (I wrote this for Sun.Star Cebu for January 26, 2007)