Barry R.

THE years have not been kind to Barry R., foreign correspondent to the Philippines since Martial Law and my seatmate at the Senate press office.

Barry, if his stories can be believed, was the first to predict that Japan would let the yen float in the 1970s, earning him curses from the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan who had been scooped and also lost a bet that he was wrong. He was also at Camp Aguinaldo when then Defense minister Juan Ponce Enrile withdrew support from Marcos and set the 1986 People Power Revolution in motion. Enrile, he says, had tipped him off at the lobby of a Manila hotel that something was up.

Photo by Andrew Taylor

Before that, he covered Fleet Street with Ian Fleming, whose best friend was friends with his best friend. They weren’t friends, but knew each other enough for friendly nods at the Falstaff and the King and Keys nearby. He also replaced “Freddy” Forsythe as Reuters correspondent at Whitehall. Forsythe presumably left to write this little book called The Day of the Jackal.

In between that and becoming a fixture at the Senate, he has written (and headed the Asia bureau) for Reuters, Newsweek, and the Economist.

Barry says he has known Senator Francis Escudero since he was a boy, has been on a first-name basis with former Presidents Fidel Ramos and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, and has been “closer than friends” with a government official who shall remain unnamed.

It is hard to tell, seeing him now, walking around with all his belongings in plastic bags, that he has seen and filed reports on more people, things, and events longer than I have been alive. He lost his house in a fire, he said, and has brought everything with him ever since.

He has also taken to eating beans and onions and similar, which he eats at his cubicle while reading online articles about ancient Greeks.

People have also not been kind to Barry R., foreign correspondent to the Philippines since Martial Law and, this month, the subject of a blind item in a local tabloid. Part of it is his being British, I suppose. Foreigners are, after all, fair game for jokes, and it is not like he has not helped this along with the typical sarcastic British humour that is easy to take at face value.

His choice of food, no doubt healthful and the cause of his living past his seventies, does not help either. The food he eats tends to smell, and it is the sort of smell that hits you like a punch in the nose. As the guy who sits next to him every day, I have learned to live with it, but this does not stop people from remarking “Nice food, Barry”, which, perhaps underestimating the elements of sarcasm in Filipino humor, he also takes at face value.

He has also adopted the people he rents a room from, taking on their problems with the police, with rabid dogs, and with general poverty. He takes leftover food from committee hearings and press lunches home for “his people”, slipping sandwiches and buns into his plastic bags while people are busy with briefings and conferences. And this is what put him in the blind item on a local tabloid, this incredibly odd, if noble, compulsion to bring cast offs from this place of power to feed those without any.

I will not lie. I find it odd too, and that I do makes me feel bad about myself especially since I pick his brain now and then on how to write a story, on the general history of the Senate of the Philippines, and on what Ian Fleming used to drink. (Gin is a very British drink,  he says, before launching into how British naval officers drank it while the sailors had rum.)

“I know more about the poor than maybe half of the people here,” he once told me, and maybe that–to people who are supposed to be the voice of the voiceless, proponents of social change, exponents of national development etc.–is the most offensive thing of all.

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