Farewell my friend, ‘Willie the Devil’

By Alex P. Vidal

“The long, dull, monotonous years of middle-aged prosperity or middle-aged adversity are excellent campaigning weather for the devil.” — C.S. LEWIS

I REGET that I failed to visit my friend, Willie Andrew Gonzalez Branum, who lived in Jaro, Iloilo City, when I went to the Philippines in 2012.

Now he’s gone.

Branum, 58, or “Willie the Devil”, succumbed to cardiac arrest on May 26 in the conclusion of his dialysis, according to our friend, Atty. Joseph Celis, National Police Commission (Napolcom) Western Visayas regional director.

Below was the last article I wrote where I mentioned “Willie the Devil in 2011:

MY friend, Willie Andrew G. Branum, a “devil” who once threatened to swallow whole every priest he would meet in the road on his way home, once showed to me a book he spotted while we were busy ransacking a box full of second hand books in the ground floor of SM City in Iloilo City.

The Will the Devil exclaimed, “Gotcha! At last, I found it.”

The book, American Caesar, was about the exploits of Gen. Douglas MacArthur by William Manchester.

Manchester paints a sympathetic but balanced portrait of MacArthur, praising the general for his military genius, administrative skill, and personal bravery, while criticizing his vanity, paranoia, and tendency toward insubordination.

As the title suggests, Manchester’s central thesis is that MacArthur was an analogue of Julius Caesar, a proposition he supports by noting their great intellect, brilliant strategic generalship, political ambition, magnanimity as conquerors, and shared tragic flaw of hubris.

“The problem is,” bemoaned Willie the Devil, “this book, as well as other classical books, are beyond the reach of ordinary people. Very expensive if to be bought directly from regular bookstores. It is supposed to be the obligation of the government to make all those great books accessible to everybody—even to members of the society’s hoi polloi.”

Willie the Devil further thundered: “If those idiots in government can enrich themselves by committing graft and corruption while in office, why can’t they do something to help alleviate ignorance in our country?”



The Devil had a casus belli or cause for war.

He pointed out that the root cause of poverty in the Philippines is “due to ignorance.”

When citizens are ignorant, their opportunities to advance their economic well-being are limited if not stymied. They can easily be subjugated and mesmerized.

And because of ignorance, they elect fellow ignoramuses such as comedians, action stars, basketball three-pointers, and other ridiculous showbiz characters into higher office–only to add insult to their injury and rob them of their dignity down to their last cents.

Also, both the Devil and yours truly agreed that “there seems to be a conspiracy between the oligarchs and religious authorities to deny people the chance to have access on classical books — books that will liberate the mind and open the floodgates of philosophical and scientific inquiries en route to searching for knowledge and truth.”



Important books about science, history, geometry, psychology, astronomy, environment, physics, religion, sociology, biography, medicine, and philosophy are gathering cobwebs and decaying in bookstores not because nobody could locate them, but because they are too expensive.

A low-income earner intending to read any of the books will have to prioritize first the food for his family and agonize that he can’t even begin reading the first chapter of those books.

History shows that the educated man–the intellectual–has given the best government and achieved the best results when given the opportunity.

Alexander the Great was an intellectual.

His teacher was Aristotle and he acquired all the learning of his day.

After talking with Diogenes in his tub at Corinth he remarked, “Were I not Alexander, I would wish to be Diogenes.”

Julius Caesar was a learned man. His Commentaries had not been excelled for two thousand years until another intellectual came along to make history and record it–Winston Churchill.



Marcus Aurelius was a great scholar and intellectual. He had a true conception of the universe and his idea of God would be acceptable to most people today above the second-year-high-school level.

Napoleon Bonaparte was a prodigious reader. It is recorded that in his headquarters in Waterloo, with the weight of the entire world on his shoulders, he had a mobile library of some 800 books–most of them on history, science, and philosophy.

Queen Elizabeth I, who ushered in the era of Britain’s glory, understood the value of education and learning.

Frederick the Great was a scholar. He kept Voltaire by his side and subsidized as many men of talent as his coffers would allow. England put emphasis on intellectuals, and elevated her educated men to positions of highest power–Burke, Disraeli, Gladstone, Balfour.



The victory of 600,000 Israelis against 12 million Arabs was won by a group of intellectuals who laid the foundation of the great nation.

George Washington’s greatness was due in no little measure to his tremendous respect for intellectuals. Benjamin Franklin, of course, stands out.

Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, bitter political enemies, had one thing in common. They were both learned men in history, political science, and philosophy.

It is interesting to read the titles of the books Franklin had in his library.

There was the Bible, Euclid, Shakespeare, Homer’s Iliad, Plutarch’s Lives.

A man could spend two lifetimes studying those five books.

(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo)