ON THE morning of March 8, I woke up to the sad news of veteran actor Bernardo Bernardo’s passing. He was 73 years old.

“Sir Bernie” or “BB,” as he’s fondly called, succumbed to pancreatic cancer. He revealed his deteriorating health condition earlier this year on a Facebook post, where he implored his “irogs” (friends and followers) to pray for him.

While majority of Sir Bernie’s fans knew him as Steve Carpio in “Home Along Da Riles” and Manay Sharon in “Manila By Night,” among many other memorable roles he had portrayed on TV and the movies, I apparently did not. As a matter of fact, unfortunately, I never saw him until the end of my junior year at UST.

I first met him last April at the Blaylock Hall of the Benavides Building (UST High School). It was during “Banyuhay 2017: Brushes with Words and Chords,” a project of the UST Center for Creative Writing and Literary Studies for National Literature Month. I was one of the performers and he was the stage director.

As if late for a doctor’s appointment, I remembered scurrying toward the place for rehearsals with Sir Bernie, whom I was about to see for the very first time.

Yet my late arrival was no big deal for Sir Bernie, who was already at the podium briefing some UST administrators, professors and musicians for minutes. Being the only undergraduate performer there, I sat at the front row and quietly apologized. Surprisingly, he greeted me with a banter about being the only “baby” there. Everybody laughed at his jest. I took it as a sign of the gaiety of his personality, his zest for life.

A comedian by profession, Sir Bernie was intermittently cracking jokes as he gave pieces of advice for us performers. Not even the Fine Arts Dean Christie Que and the erstwhile UST Publishing House deputy director Ma. Ailil Alvarez were left “unscathed” by his wisecracks.

Sir Bernie painstakingly coached me for my performance of Alejandro Abadilla’s “Ako Ang
Daigdig.” He’d tend to have a “one-on-one” session with me in the corner of the room, asking me to show him my rendition first before giving his constructive criticisms. Then, he’d advise me the more suitable pacing, cadence, facial expression, and gesticulations. Of course, he would still joke in-between.

After practicing me a few more times, Sir Bernie would finally let me have my “entrance” toward the podium and “perform” in front of everybody, whom he’d also approached individually throughout the session. Yet his instructions didn’t serve as rigid laws; he still gave us the liberty for us to do our interpretation.

During the performance day itself, Sir Bernie was bidding everyone at the backstage good luck and was even congratulating us in advance. Surely enough, his charisma, encouragement, and expertise since the beginning paved way for the success of Banyuhay 2017.

Since then, Sir Bernie has changed my notion of dramatic performances. He has also changed my outlook on life, especially since we met for coffee somewhere in Taguig a few weeks after the event.

I came across Sir Bernie differently: an easygoing mentor, a humble leader, an empathetic friend, and a very kindhearted person altogether, who would influence me a lot later on as a Literature major and Varsitarian staffer.

I’ve never forgotten the wisdom Sir Bernie imparted. A juvenile like me who wishes to make a big break, just like him, he said, must be “foolish” and “brave enough” in making opportunities (instead of taking, he clarified) for myself. Yet, I must “be necessarily empathic” and “not become abrasive” to others.

He also shared his plight about being burned out at the industry, becoming a “hollow shell” in the process. As he warned, the “business” involved fleeting relationships, in which there were “no permanent friends and no permanent enemies, only permanent interests.”

For Sir Bernie, certain people at work seemingly forget being humane especially toward their colleagues; they become power-hungry and -blinded with what they do, for their personal gain and to the best of their interests. I knew a lot of such accounts in college, and his caveat about arrogant ambition has become a moral lesson for my keepsake.

On the last few moments of our coffee conversation, Sir Bernie disclosed his writing project to me. It was a book of memoirs which he provisionally titled “Acting With Legends (Myth Pa Po Ako).” However, I’m not sure if it would still see the light of day.

There’s a particular verse on the Abadilla poem that I performed, which I think resonated with Sir Bernie: “ako / ang walang maliw na ako / ang walang kamatayang ako / ang tula ng daigdig” (my imperfect translation: “i / the immortal i / the undying i / the poem of the earth”). The memories that Steve Carpio, Manay Sharon, among others, left for his “irogs,” from his shows to his jokes, are immortal and undying.

More importantly, by the same token, Sir Bernie has become immortal and undying for me: someone who has stayed with and in me since beyond Blaylock Hall.


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