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Leo S. Reyes: A class act till he breathed his last

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“NAGSOSONA si kalawit (Death stalks),” the straight-talking Zip Roxas texted back when informed that Leo Saddul Reyes has died.

Reyes was no stranger to Roxas, who as a tough news desk chief at the Philippines News Agency in the mid-1970’s helped turn Leo from a green campus editor to a sports writer of the first water.

At the time of his demise from lung cancer at dawn on Nov. 29, ex-scribe Leo was on leave as Regional Trial Court judge in his native Cagayan. He was 60 when he joined the Great Arbiter beyond the clouds.

While his colleagues were not looking, Reyes hung up his sports writing hat and turned to the law. After hurdling the Bar exams, he returned to his hometown of Tuguegarao, where he rose from state prosecutor to presiding RTC magistrate.

“Bare Eye” columnist Recah Trinidad once described Leo “the tousled lion of our gin-fueled summers.” Recah remembered Reyes as a driven wire service guy prowling the beat relentlessly to get the story first.

“Leo was friendly and generous to a fault,” said sports columnist Al Mendoza. “I bet you that as a lawyer, he tackled cases pro bono most of the time.”

Recah and I last saw Leo in December 2010 during a lively Mandaluyong reunion with a common friend from way back, Inquirer columnist Ramon Tulfo.

Leo flayed the establishment for the still lamentable state of Philippine sports, a good 30 years after he left the scene.

“I am still coaxing the stars to give us our first Olympic gold medal,” he said. It was a wish he would carry to his grave.

Leo belonged to a family of lawyers. But the rigors of law school almost got the better of him. He thought of quitting midway into his first year.

My friend since childhood, Nueva Ecija provincial prosecutor Floro Florendo and Leo’s classmate at University of the East School of Law, said Reyes missed the action of sports journalism so much he wanted to bail out.

“But Leo was true to his word,” said Floro. “He did not renege on a vow he made to me and two other guys to stick it out till the end.”

“He had a passion for sports and a devotion to the law,” said daughter Luz Victoria, also a lawyer.

Luz Victoria told me that against the advice of doctors, his father, while on a medical furlough, sometimes traveled the 108 kilometers between Tuguegarao and Sanchez Mira to help clear the backlog in his court.

“He was a class act till he breathed his last.”

* * *

Coverage of the Fil-Am Golf championship in Baguio appears sporadic, notices Fidel Dacquel Jr., a consultant at construction giant EEI Corporation where golf is part of the corporate culture.

The Fil-Am, originally conceived to preserve amity between the Philippines and the United States, attracts golfers from all over.

The Baguio Country Club and Camp John Hay are fully booked during the tournament. But organizers are not thinking of the chance to market the Philippines as a sports tourism destination.

Sadly, the Fil-Am’s media message is lacking and missing the point.


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