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En Garde, Grim Reaper

(Article published in the Jan 4,2012 issue of Manila Standard Today) 

The loudest noise I could make last New Year’s eve, I directed at the Grim Reaper.  Not because at age past retirement, I had, in fact, began to see, as Douglas McArthur termed it, the “deepening shadows of life”.  But rather, because the Grim Reaper, for the year 2011, had been doing his thing too conspicuously and too often in my limited circle of friends and associates.

Upon returning on December 27 from Singapore, where I spent Xmas (the letter “X”, I use not for what it really is, namely the first letter of the greek word for Christ, but as the algebraic symbol for the unknown; “unknown” because in the Singapore that I have seen, Christ hardly known; the word  “spent” I deliberately chose, because in Singapore, at least on Orchard and on Scots roads, spending is what almost everybody does), I was met by the sad news that  Jose R. Perez had the day before left for the other world.

Jose R. Perez  was “Baby Perez” to anybody who was anybody in banking in the last thirty years.  Long is the line of people who have dealt with him personally and longer still of those whom he had helped, directly and indirectly.  I was one of the latter and the last time, among many that he came in a major way to my assistance was when we put together APPRISE, the association of Philippine private remittance enterprises.


As one who had oversight, among other businesses, of the international remittance operations of PCI Bank for many years, Baby was fully aware of how limited the reach was of the local banks in the community of Filipino overseas workers. Banks, understandably, are willing to set up offices (either through branches or some other form of official presence) only in locales were the volume of remittance transactions was big enough to justify the set-up and maintenance of the operations involved.   Since OFWs are genetically engineered to send money back home at various times and in various amounts, many who worked in missionary areas do not have access to the foreign branches or correspondents of local banks and thus have to rely, if not on friends and extended families going home, on non-bank remittance companies.

These non-bank remittance companies themselves have to deal with banks in bringing in the money sent by their customers.  But because they are widely spread and, on a per area basis, of inconsequential volume, they were prey to the local bank’s predatory pricing.  Baby Perez triggered the non-bank remittance companies’ coming together; that gave them clout, bargaining power with the local banks, and, at the very least representation with the government authorities, particularly the police authorities, for their various needs.  APPRISE achieved recognition from the relevant regulators.  The first set of officers were inducted into office by BSP Governor Say Tetangco; the organization is a regular invitee to industry consultations and briefings by the Anti-Money Laundering Council, the Bureau of Internal Revenue, and the Securities and Exchange Commission.  All those were due to the low-profile but high impact interventions of Baby Perez whom the Grim Reaper visited on the 26th.  

About three months earlier, the Grim Reaper took my law office partner, Owen Carsi Cruz.  Owen was a sui generis, a most practical problem solver.  He was a tough warrior like most of my former students at the Ateneo Law School.  He searched far and wide and through untrodden routes to find the cure for his ailment, giving the Grim Reaper a run for his money.  His last e-mail to his friends, sent early September, a day before he finally succumb to cancer is an act of defiance against him: “In God’s time, the pieces of the puzzle will come together and life will emerge as God planned it out to be...from the onset, from that moment forward, Allelulia! Allelulia!”

Before Owen, the Grim Reaper got to an even younger partner, Adrian Hernandez.  His father Eduardo, a distinguished lawyer in his own right, named him after his (Eduardo’s) own father, the General Adriano Hernandez of Iloilo City.  The General was a half-Spanish and half-Indio who, in the hills of Dingle, Iloilo led the Cry of Lincud on 28 October 1898 against Spain.  This third-generation Hernandez, like Owen, also suffered and died from cancer.  He was gallant to the very end.

The last time I saw him, in his room at St. Luke’s at the Fort, long before it had gained the notoriety of being the refuge of scoundrel government officials, Adrian spoke of the pain he was enduring.  But, instead of being bitter or resentful, Adrian was a picture of courage.  “What I am trying to tell myself, sir, is that I must learn how to accept.  Accept the will of God for me.  Accept.  Accept.  Accept.”  I knew he was struggling to hide the pain he was bearing; all I could say, was “Go to sleep, now.  You need to rest.”  Rest he did on April 15 of last year.

Among my colleagues in the trust industry, the Grim Reaper got Lauro J. Jocson, just when he was working on his third book which was intended to cover his years with the Prudential Bank where he retired, in December 2005, with the rank of Senior Vice President and Trust Officer.  He was an icon of the trust industry.  He was part and parcel of its history as it transformed itself from an activity limited to the administration of apartments for lease to a segment of the investment sector, standing toe to toe with the country’s best fund managers and head and shoulders above them, adhering both to the ancient prudent man rule as well as the modern tenets of portfolio investing.  To his wife, Ernestina, Larry wrote, “The glitter of gold does not impress me/ It hangs from your neck for people to see/ Nor does the Rolex on your wrist, I know/ which matches the pearl that/ your fingers does show./ The “magna” they gave/ with your college degree/ Will fade away, you soon will see/ So, what is it that I saw in you?/ Your smile and your love/ To me, they’re true.”  The Grim Reaper, obvious no respecter of love nor writing, cut down Larry on August 28.

My staff, too, was not spared by the Grim Reaper.  He took the newly born child of one; snatched another’s even from her womb, separated the father of another from his rustic brood, and, severed the wedded bliss of another. 

Hence, for 2012, I say, “That’s enough, Grim Reaper.  Your sickle I shall battle with my camagong arnis stick.  Go away and stay away.”