January 24, 2018, 9:30 am
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YESTERDAY, January 7, began on a cheerful note: I was up and about by 4:30 a.m. preparing for a three-hour drive to Calatagan, Batangas as part of an annual “pilgrimage” to greet Enrique J. Zobel (or EZ as he was called) a “happy birthday.”

I had the special privilege of working as EZ’s executive assistant from 1988 after Rene Cayetano, my first boss when he was Assemblyman at the Marcos Batasan Pambansa, “endorsed” me to the businessman who was looking for an EA.

RLC, as we in turn called Cayetano (the elder!), had lost in his bid to be a member of the new House of Representatives for the Muntinlupa-Pateros-Taguig district to Dante Tinga. Since he now had to dissolve his legislative office, he suggested I accompany him to see Zobel. Long and short the introduction and endorsement worked, so I moved from one mentor to the next.

It was maybe in the 2000 when EZ started planning his “Botanical” garden within his private estate in Calatagan which he wanted to be his final resting place. By that time I had moved on to Coca-Cola but I would still visit and when me and my friends were in the estate we would join EZ as he talked to an elderly lady whom we dubbed “Lola Lapida” as to where certain tombstones were to be situated - his son Santiago’s, his father Jacobo’s and his mother Angela’s. Of course their location was to be determined by the location of his own tombstone.

One of those days after everything was said and done he quipped to me that all of the planning for a memorial park would be useless if life ended with one’s last breath. How would I know if people visit me or remember me, he asked? What if there’s no afterlife?

Let’s make a deal, I said. Whoever among us goes first will come back to pull the leg of the survivor. He agreed but his private secretary Evelyn Chotangco begged off from the arrangement. I further added that if I were to survive him I promised to visit either on the day of his birth or the day of his death or on both days if I could.

That’s why I was preparing to go to Calatagan yesterday morning since EZ was born on the 7th of January 1927.

Because the travel time was early, I asked Ronald Montano (who used to drive me at Coke) if he could drive for me so I could sleep along the way. He agreed - but sleep I didn’t do. Instead I watched as the scenery changed from highly developed urban to the relaxing images of mountains and hills and valleys as you traveled from Tagaytay downwards towards Tuy and Balayan, Batangas. In between glances at the rural scenery I would check my phone and there came the first wet blanket.

I saw an announcement that Prof. Mario G. Lopez of AIM had finally succumbed to his lingering illness.

Mayo, as he is fondly called, amazed me with the way he publicly journaled his struggle against his disease. It was good days and bad days in a never ending cycle, with moments of joy when he would reunite with classmates and students while being surrounded by his family.

As Christmas approached though, his tenor changed, with frequent expressions of being “ready to meet my Maker” being posted on his wall. I guess he knew; I guess most of us will know. And after being allowed to celebrate Christmas and New Year, his journey ended.

Mayo is the older brother or Kuya of two UP Elementary/childhood friends - the late Gaia who was my older brother’s batch mate, and Christopher who was mine. Somehow this made the loss a little more personal.

And then a second blow: I saw the announcement again on Facebook that our very own Malaya publisher, passed away early yesterday morning also. This too was personal; Sir Jake always had a kind and encouraging word for me every time I would see him visit the offices of my boss Manny Zamora. His voice booming he would crack a joke or pose a question or make a remark in his trademark wit. After Joe Burgos, Malaya’s moving spirit was Jake Macasaet, and now he was gone too. And I wasn’t even able to say thank you as much as I should have!

Thoughts of the three men alternated in my mind as I bade goodbye to EZ. I also bade goodbye to Ando who was one of EZ’s all around helpers who traveled with him and helped him into and out of his wheelchair and all and who, 15 years ago almost died if not for the mitral valve operation done in Makati Med that EZ paid for. Ando was there, too, at the gravesite, with a son, and they lit a candle in thanks. Like me, he, too, had been privileged to know and work for a man many only knew from headlines but whom we knew up close and personal and who was not as much a boss but a friend.

Three men coming from very different backgrounds and callings now somehow linked together by a date. Loved by many, all three of them: but as I mentioned to Sir Jake’s son Allen what was more important was that they commanded the respect of just as many if not more.

EZ, Mayo and Jake - loved by many. Great mentors and bosses. Valued friends. We whose lives you have touched thank you and salute you and use our memories of you as a means of accepting that Transition is a reality of life.
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