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They got it wrong

(Article published in the Jan  10, 2007 issue of Manila Standard Today)

I am sorry, fathers, but I have to say you got it wrong twice.  With good intentions, no doubt, but wrong nevertheless

The first instance was at about 10:15 in the evening of 30 November 2006, National Heroes Day, at the Sanctuario De San Antonio in Forbes Park, Makati City.  Bishop Freddie Escaler, S.J. presided over and delivered the homily of the funeral mass for Bangko Sentral Governor Rafael B. Buenaventura who had died at about seven hours earlier, shortly after the clock struck what the Good Book calls the ninth hour.

The second was in the evening of the Feast of the Immaculate Conception.  Fr. Catalino Arevalo, S.J, said the last of the Novena Masses at the Manila Golf Club and likewise delivered the homily.

In both their homilies, the two Jesuits, probably with no more than what they had superficially heard about his personal life, likened Paeng to the lost son in what used to be known as the parable of the prodigal son.  That son left his father’s house after receiving his share, set off in a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.  In the end, however, he saw the folly of his option, and went back repentant to his father.  Their edifying message was to say that Paeng in the end died in the bosom of Abraham.

 Unfortunately, the simile does not completely jibe with my experience, and so, I could not but, as we do in the seniors’ orals, respond with “Distinguo.”










Concedo tha Paeng was in the Father’s embrace when he died.  The last time I saw him alive was about three weeks before he died.  All by himself, he was seated at the back row of the chapel at Punta Fuego, lingering a bit after the anticipated Mass celebrated by the Parish Priest of Nasugbu.  His head showed the ravage of chemotheraphy but his face was as serene as the amihan gently blowing through the branches of the trees to his right. Like a true Atenean at that time of life, finding solace in the practices of one’s youth, he was fingering with the thumb and forefinger of his right hand what seemed to be the beads of the Rosary.

But, that he was at some point far away from the house, nego.  Certainly not on the basis of what I had personally seen and heard.  When Paeng was about to be appointed Governor of the Sentral Bank, he, on the advice of his predecessor, Gov. Gabriel Singson, that he needed someone to go over the legal aspects of his job, asked me to be his personal lawyer.  To my question of what I had to do, he told me, “just make sure I am not legally blind-sided.”

That resulted in many hours of my staying just a couple of steps behind him, figuratively as well as literally, usually to the right.  From that vantage point, I could not but see how so very often and easily his right hand reached for his hip pocket.

The milestones in Paeng’s career are familiar to most by now: Citibank, PCIBank, and BSP. And so are his professional achievements.  But not too many know that Paeng had a driver at Citibank whose children he helped put through school with a monthly allowance that continued even after Paeng left Citi.  After the kids finished school, the driver suffered a stroke.  And so, the monthly allowance from Paeng continued.

A former colleague of Paeng at Citi went into a private business with her husband.  The venture was initially profitable but soon met financial reversals.  The business collapsed and the kids were in danger of having to stop their schooling.  The couple ran to Paeng. He made sure the kids graduated from college and in addition assisted the husband get a lucrative consultancy.  

A senior officer of PCIB who was in the redundancy end of the merger with Equitable Bank met a personal tragedy.  His daughter had a car accident that broke her bones and marred her face.  In the beginning, the culprit agreed to pay for her hospital bills, but later, he reneged on his promise.  The former PCIB officer’s family was by then no longer covered by the bank’s insurance.  Paeng lent him the money needed to pay the hospital but insisted that he get paid back only after the culprit has shown up and made good his word.

A Filipina is now working in the US, with her family living in a house she is paying for in installments with earnings as a certified nurse.  She was a former nurse at PCIB and it was Paeng who lent her the money that paid for her kid’s education here, financed her expenses to take the review and licensure examinations, the family’s airplane tickets, and seed money to help them settle down in their new country. 

An agency messenger at PCIB, this man was brought by Paeng with him to BSP.  He was soon hired as a regular employee and was able to continue his studies as an evening student and is set to graduate this March, if he has not yet graduated last year.  That man’s children also go to school on Paeng’s allowance.

This is not to say that everyone whom Paeng has helped has somehow been worthy.  Two years into helping the nephew of one of his loyal colleagues into college, Paeng found out that the fellow has not been attending classes, had been submitting fake receipts for his tuition, and devoting his allowances to non-scholarly pursuits.  Another took a personal loan from Paeng for the improvement of her family home, never to show up again even after her finances had improved.  Many, I know, have taken advantage of Paeng, but that is a story that must wait some other day.

On this the 40th day of mourning, my mind as I write (09 January 2007) keeps coming back to those moments at Sanctuario de San Antonio close to the morning of December 1.  The Funeral Mass had ended. Elder brother Cesar had said the family’s short response.  The parish priest announced that, on account of the slight midnight drizzle, those who wanted to accompany Paeng to his crypt would have to go up the alter and go to the back, passing through the intricate covered walk to the catacombs.

Thereupon, only son, Paul, took the urn containing Paeng’s ashes and silently walked with his own two sons, whom Paeng so deeply loved, right behind him.  Then followed the members of Paeng’s immediate family.

As the grieving disappeared from sight, it was not the perfumed men of Forbes Park whose fortunes Paeng kept intact with his handling of the monetary policy nor the senior bankers in their signature jackets and smart casuals whose careers Paeng had launched and assisted, who rose to join them.

          It was men in rubber slippers, women in cheap sandals, people in unironed shirts and creased blouses who stood up as if in hot pursuit.  A handful or two who had heard and were able to get a public ride despite the storm, but representatives nevertheless of those who were not able make it, who at one time or another were on the receiving end from that hand that so easily and so often reached back to his right hip pocket.

        

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