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An Ode to Courage

(Article published in the Apr 27,2011 issue of Manila Standard Today)  

By itself, per se, it was difficult to be Adrian Hernandez. To be named after a grandfather who organized the rebel movement in against the Spaniards leading the “Cry of Lincud” on October 28, 1898 and, again, against the Americans after the Treaty of Paris, a grandfather who just as ably also served in times of peace, as councilor of Silay, Negros Occidental in 1907, as member of the Philippine Assembly, and as elected provincial governor of Iloilo in 1912.  To be sired by Eduardo F. Hernandez, President of the Philippine Bar Association in 1985-86; President of the Petroleum Association of the Philippines, 1989-1992; Bar Examiner in Civil Law in 1968 and in Commercial Law in 1982; and author of the authoritative “Philippine Shipping Laws.” To be fruit of the womb of Baby Montinola thus bearing a middle name most read no lower than on the upper half fold of the nation’s business news broadsheets.  All this family baggage Adrian bore bravely, with not a fear and with much fervor.

Nor was it a stroll in the park for Adrian to get to practice law in the Philippines and, as the fates had planned it, as partner in the Romulo law office at that. Ordinarily, having what it takes to be valedictorian from grade school and high school at PAREF (short for Parents for Education Foundation) Southridge School in Hillsborough, City of Muntinglupa and to be graduated magna cum laude at Duke University in North Carolina, USA, would make it a cinch to gain entry at the Ateneo School of Law at Horacio dela Costa, Makati.  But I was then Assistant to the Law Dean, tasked with the initial screening of applications for enrollment, when his father came to the admissions office to explore that option.  For some strange reason, perhaps, among many other reasons, due to the inspiring impact of a bottle of holy water just imbibed at three in the afternoon, I was able to persuade the man about 15 years my senior to instead ask his son to take up his law course instead in the United States.  So Adrian dutifully did,  at Columbia University, and ended up as second honors as Justice Harlan Fiske Stone scholar, an award annually given by the university to its students in recognition of academic achievement.


He then, after taking the fourth year law course at the Ateneo and attending the bar review classes, took the bar examination of 1993,  and passed it, all along undaunted by the fact that he was going to be the last one to be permitted by the Supreme Court to take the bar examination without going through beforehand a Philippine law course.  In Re:

He did not seem at all nervous when he joined us at the Romulo law office, the Camelot of the Philippine legal profession, where sons and daughters of country’s rich and poor are sent to practice, as in “to learn by doing”, the art of advocacy.  He was at home here where almost all the senior lawyers were at one time or another dean, professor, reviewer at a legal academe or institution.  He did not shirk from getting his barong tagalog sweat-soaked as he walked to the courthouse from dusty parking lots, nor from sitting prim and proper clad in coat-and-tie in the board rooms of the captains of industry. 

Here with us he could always be relied upon to hold his assigned ground, to defend against an adversary, be it a fine point of law or a bright colored beach ball.  He was one you wanted to be in your team.  Without fear, he joins the charge, be it at trial, or in meetings, and even at the games, and, even in the course of the usual post-mortem analysis and catharsis, joining in with the toasting and communal boasting. Adrian was not afraid of life.

And for that reason, I surmise, he could look at death in the face.  Said his father: “When Adrian was fully diagnosed for cancer he was already at stage III D. The tumor was so large that they had to remove 70% of his colon such that the remaining 30% could no longer be joined and they had to be connected to the small intestines. And the operation was so tedious that it lasted 11 hours.     

Unfortunately, after about 11/2 years counted from the first 11 hours operation, another tumor had grown and another 10 hour operation was undertaken to remove the second tumor. Though the second operation was successful in removing the tumor, in less than 3 months, another cancerous tumor grew so fast that it savaged his remaining colon, then the small intestines and eventually the stomach. This time Adrian was too weak to be subjected to a 3rd operation.”

It was at this time, when I visited him exactly a week before he died, that Adrian, responding to my open-ended question, “How are you doing?” said, “I am trying to learn how to accept my condition.” “Acceptance, acceptance.”, he said two or three times more, complete with the two-handed gesture in the way he had many times before held a beach volleyball.  “Yup”, I answered, not able to think at all, “we all have to learn that.”

And, it is obvious, he did learn how to accept.  Eddie said, “In the end, Adrian died absolutely without fear and though gasping for air, he finally relaxed and accepted the inevitable. In fact, when he died and I gave him my last embrace. I could not control myself and really bawled and cried in the presence of my family. But when I saw his dead and smiling face I said – Ok Ade. I know masaya ka na. Hindi mo kami iniwanan.”

No more fitting send-off, I could give you, Adrian, than to borrow from Horatio, “Good night, sweet prince and flights of angels sing thee to they rest.”