By Juan L. Mercado
INQUIRER’S HEADLINE was concise: “Corky Trinidad, 69.” So was Associated Press’ report that followed. “Honolulu Star Bulletin’s award-winning editorial cartoonist, Corky Trinidad died Friday, after 40 years of poking fun at life and politics…
“Born in the Philippines, Trinidad was the first Asian editorial cartoonist to be syndicated in the U.S,” AP added. “He specialized in caricaturing and skewering politicians, most notably Ferdinand Marcos.”
Pancreatic cancer ended another story of how corrupt dictatorships drive the best and the brightest” of a country into nations that “allow them to breathe free.”
Francisco Trinidad, Jr. came from a family of journalists. His parents were broadcaster Francisco “Koko” Trinidad and columnist Lina Flor. An Ateneo graduate, he joined Philippines Herald, in 1961 as political cartoonist.
International recognition came quickly. Los Angeles Times-Washington Post Syndicate started publishing his cartoons. Corky created the comic strip: “Nguyen Charlie” during the Vietnam War. He joined the Star-Bulletin in 1969. His cartoons were picked up by diverse papers from New York Times to Politiken in Sweden, Buenos Aires’ Herald and Manila Chronicle.
“He left the Philippines because of harrassment by Ferdinand Marcos,” recalls Carl Zimmerman, former AP chief in Manila. Married to a Filipina, Zimmerman became Star Bulletin editorial writer “If Corky stayed ( until martial law) he’d have wound up in prison.
In early 70s, I wrote for Star Bulletin. When I passed by Honolulu, Corky picked me up for lunch with wife, Hana. He asked about the emerging dictatorship — and home. . “I know how men, in exile, feed on dreams,” Aeschylus wrote.
Zimmerman was visiting Press Foundation of Asia when military agents arresting journalists scooped me in. Waving the photocopied arrest warrant, with Juan Ponce Enrile’s signature, I said: “Here Carl”. “Are you a foreign journalist?,” the agitated colonel asked, snatching away the warrant. “You’re not to see this.”
Corky became the first of many journalists who’d seek refuge abroad. Australia opened doors for columnist-painter Alfredo Roces and Amando Doronila. Chinese Commercial News’ Rizal Yuyitung settled in Canada. Brother Quintin opted for San Francisco. Manila Times Eddie Monteclaro signed up with Chicago Tribune. I joined the UN.
Other exiles from the Marcos dictatorship included: Benigno and Corazon Aquino, Raul Manglapus, Eugenio Lopez, Jr, Sergio Osmena, Jr Herherson Alvarez, human rights lawyer Juan Quijano. Charito Planas slipped out the backdoor to Sabah, disguised as a nun.
Ambassador Eduardo Quintero exposed Marcos bribery of constitutional convention delegates. “Persecution drove Quintero to self-exile in the United States where, in December 1984, he died of heart attack at age 84,” Doronila adds. “He was vindicated by the Supreme Court in 1988, four years after his death.”
“By their exiles, you shall know them”. Look at what Marcos, Estrada and Macapagal-Arroyo tossed up.
Fabian Ver and Eduardo Cojunagco squeezed into escape helicopter bucket seats. ” Police officials Michael Rey Aquino and Cesar Mancao ran before they could be grilled about the mastermind in publicist Salvador “Bobby” Dacer. To dodge testifying on kickbacks, Estrada auditor Yolanda Ricaforte left no forwarding address. Neither did members of Erap’s “midnight cabinet:: Jaime Dichavez, Dante Tan & Co Agriculture undersecretary “Joc-joc” Bolante skipped town to dodge questions on the fertilizer scam.
Every day, Corky would draw a color cartoon for the front page and a black-and-white one for the editorial page. And for 40 years, he did that. Yet, he found time to teach cartooning at the University of Hawaii.
“Corky enchanted and infuriated more readers than anyone else in this newspaper’s history.”, said Mary Poole, Trinidad’s editor. “Politicians he skewered were first in line to acquire the original drawings. That included U.S. presidents visting Hawaii.
He kept an eye on twists of Philippine politics. In December 2007, he emailed me his cartoon on the Magdalo caper at the Penninsula Hotel. It depicts a handful of soldiers, perched on a mall stand, demanding: “Gloria Resign.” Heedless crowds walk by “What’s all that about?,” a woman asks. A man replies: “Edsa 52.”
Exiles often sink roots into the country that gave them liberty denied at home. America became the home of his choice, Corky said at one ceremony honoring him. . But he “did not take any of citizenship benefits for granted.”. He gave to his adopted country much of the talents that he brought from the Philippines.
Among other things, he trained a new generation of cartoonists. Cartoonist Jon J. Murakami, for example, met Corky as a fifth grade student. “Corky really became the face of the Star-Bulletin for many years,” said Zimmerman. “
The paper’s obit noted: “Trinidad’s philosophy for young cartoonists was as simple as it was elegant: Take a stand”
“Aside from following basic aims of informing, instructing and entertaining, the editorial cartoon, first and always, must make a statement,” Corky wrote. “It must BE a statement…. I have never seen a great cartoon that sat on a fence…And a few drawing skills help.”
Was America’s gain therefore our loss? Human lives are not a zero-sum game. A country of migrants, like the Philippines, must tell its sons and daughters: “Bloom wherever you are planted.”