The recent death of veteran journalist Melo Acuna coincided with the anniversary of the disappearance of  the  “Lola”  comfort woman statue two years ago, an issue close to his heart.

“It’s sad wife and I got to be part of 12,067 new cases” the message posted by Melo Acuna on his wall on August 24, 2021.

A day later, he asked prayers that his oxygen level increase to 99 otherwise he will be brought to the ICU.

Sadly,  Melo passed away three days later, August 27, 2021,  at 2:30 am. at the age of 64.

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Some friends captured Melo’s character in their postings of love and respect to an iconic figure recognized for his long and distinguished media career.

Melo touched so many lives with his generous heart, sparking so many great conversations with his soothing voice and endearing humility, and being an inimitable pillar of civil, passionate, and enlightening dialogues in the country.

Born in Alabat, Quezon on Feb. 8, 1957, Melo is known as a big man with a booming swabe voice that was always radio-ready. And he was always prepared to help colleagues, from connecting sources to sharing his playlists of golden memories on the radio.

His passing “left a void in the press field” as he was a “great loss to the Fourth Estate.”

Melo was one of the instrumental persons behind Flowers-for-Lolas, an alliance supporting the campaign on the issue of comfort women and other victims of sexual violence and slavery during World War II.

He organized several media events for the  2-meter-high “Lola” statue installed along Roxas Boulevard,  an unnamed woman wearing a traditional Filipino dress, blindfolded, with hands clutched to her chest.

The LOLA statue represents Filipino women’s dignity and stands as “a reminder that wars of aggression must always be opposed, and that sexual slavery and violence should never happen again to any woman, anywhere at any time.”

Even if it is a reminder of a painful past, the  “Lola” statue honors the memory, courage, and resilience of these Filipino women.

Four months after its installation in December 2017, Melo monitored through his facebook the events that led to the dismantling of the statue under cover of darkness on April 27, 2018, by the DPWH,  allegedly for a drainage improvement project, but seen as submission to protests from Japan.

Issues of historical revisionism and the government’s submission to Japanese policy were raised by concerned groups led by the Flowers-for-Lolas as they condemned the removal of the statue. President Duterte earlier remarked the state would not want to “antagonize” other countries.

Tulay Foundation again commissioned Roces  to make the necessary repair, thus “Lola ” was placed under his  custody for safekeeping  until the Flowers-for-Lolas finds her “home.”

And her new home should have been the  Redemptorist Church in  Baclaran.

However, despite several follow-ups on the formal turn-over of the LOLA  statue back to Tulay for its reinstallation initially on August 18 then August 25, 2019, Roces failed to do so.

Until Roces told Tulay that the Lola statue was taken by unidentified men from his art studio in Cainta, Rizal.

That day was one of my last face-to-face encounters with Melo.

Despite the lockdown, Melo continued hosting the “Tapatan sa Aristocrat” and the “Wednesday Roundtable at Lido” media forums through online platforms.

I told him that I was his “dakilang kaladkarin”  as the impromptu resource person on several issues like seafarers, comfort women, activism, politics, Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), environment, among others.

He would usually call me the night before his event inviting me to be present although my name was already included in his poster.

Melo also often asked my help when he needs to form a panel for maritime issues especially those affecting the seafarers and during the annual National Seafarers Day.

One of his recent online media forums on the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States touched upon the bases agreement.

I gave a historical perspective on the VFA by narrating my experience with the campaign during the 1990s against the renewal of the US military bases treaty.

As the photographer of the Philippine Collegian, I covered several mass actions involving UP students, including the historic Lakbayan on March 1991, a three-day 96-kilometer march from the UP Diliman campus to the Clark Airbase in Pampanga.

I was even one of his guests last August 16, 2021, in Tapatan sa Aristocrat  on the proposed  Department  of Overseas Filipinos, as I described myself in our chat  as “manggugulo  lang.” A week later, he was gone.

Social media is buzzing continuously and is choking with COVID stories.

It is more saddening if the  COVID  death statistics include a close friend like Melo Acuna.

Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email info@sapalovelez.com, or call 09175025808 or 09088665786.

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