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People I will never forget

By PAULYNN P. SICAM, The Philippine STAR Published Mar 15, 2021 5:00 pm

An old friend sent me a challenge on International Hugs Day to name 18 people I will never forget and to send them a message. After I thought about it, I responded, half of them are dead so how do I message them? She replied, even five will do.

I tried, but perhaps it is because of my age and the times that all I could come up with are people I will never forget who have passed away — four of them just in the last year since the lockdown began, but not from COVID-19.

The generous and caring Atty. Fulgencio “Jun” Factoran left us in April, my beloved sister Patricia Magee left in May, my idol Gilda Cordero Fernando flew the coop in October, and my dear friend professor Eduardo A. Morató, Jr. passed away just recently, on Feb. 28.

As I write this, I am told that the great constitutional scholar, Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, SJ, another treasured friend, has just passed away. That makes five in less than a year. He would have been on my short list of unforgettable living persons. Take your deserved place in God’s heaven, Fr. B.

 The author with Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, SJ

Last night, I listed other unforgettable friends who have passed away: the late, great Gasty Ortigas, my shrink Tony Perlas, my aunt Fe Ayala, my president Cory Aquino, my Inay Fausta Baje, my cook Barbara “Bobet” Roxas, and my parents.

My dad’s death in 1957 was the first great loss in my life. I was 10 years old. I do not remember grieving the same way over another loss until I was in my 40s when Gasty, who inspired my advocacies in peacebuilding and agrarian reform, among other urgent concerns, passed away in the late 1980s. 

Dr. Tony Perlas was a psychiatrist who saw me through some of the most painful episodes in my life. For a while, he became the father I longed for after my dad died.

Fe Ayala was my godmother who was young and hip enough for a lost teenager to confide in. Our relationship grew stronger as I grew up and she aged in wisdom, through shared pain and lots of laughter. 

I served Cory Aquino as my president, but she also made me her friend. My kasambuhay, a word I learned from Ed Morató (more on him later), Inay and Bobet, taught me what it means to care for other people who are not family, so that my mother and I could work.

Inay joined my parents in 1941 when my mom’s third child was born and stayed with us for 40 years — through the war, the birth of my mom’s next seven children and first dozen or so grandchildren. She died at age 60 in my mother’s house.

Bobet joined my household in 1975, helped me raise my children, and fed my extended family exceedingly well for the next 20 years. She died at age 40, from cancer, in my home.

As I write this, I am told that the great constitutional scholar, Fr. Joaquin G. Bernas, SJ, another treasured friend, has just passed away. Take your deserved place in God’s heaven, Fr. B.

Comes now Ed Morató. We were friends for 49 years. We met at work in our 20s and became fast friends. In the early days, we spent a lot of time over long lunches figuring out our country and the world, and everything else under the sun.

But as he got more immersed in the plight of the poor and his obsession to uplift them through education, training and social entrepreneurship, I would only see him occasionally, when he passed on writing and editing projects to me, which I gladly accepted. I would do anything to be a part of his world.

He began to suffer health issues in the last two decades — his kidneys, his eyes, his heart were starting to fail him, but he didn’t stop working.

He created and taught courses in development and entrepreneurship, and shared with cooperatives, NGOs, private foundations and government agencies his approach to poverty alleviation and the empowerment of the poor.

He pursued consultancies, and managed three foundations — all aimed toward reaching what his friends call his “unreachable star.”

And knowing his time on earth was limited, he published 55 books and thousands of cases, emptying himself of his knowledge and wisdom to bequeath to today’s and future teachers, managers, entrepreneurs, government, and NGO workers.

In October 2019, Ed asked me to help him develop a book idea proposed by his friend Jun Villacorta. It would be a legacy book, written by people who know him, about his phenomenal life and work.

I suggested a festschrift, where great teachers are honored by their peers and students with a book on their accomplishments. Ed liked the idea but he wanted it to be all encompassing, to include — besides his peers, colleagues, students, and mentees — his family, his friends from childhood, and his kasambuhay, his loyal drivers and housemates who have taken care of his needs for decades.

And he would also contribute his own perspective in the book. So much for a festschrift. Ed assured me that, having been his friend for so long, I knew him well enough to handle the project well. Me, I was just too happy to be part of his world again. In the process, I discovered that there was so much more to him than I thought I knew. 

When his body gave up on him last month, Ed Morató died empty. He had shared everything he knew. And what a rich legacy he has left us.

We called the book Guru, which was how almost everyone who contributed to it referred to Ed Morató. It was launched online when he turned 73 on July 12, 2020. To the many who loved him, it has become the keepsake he wanted it to be.

When his body gave up on him last month, Ed Morató died empty. He had shared everything he knew. And what a rich legacy he has left us.

Thousands of students, peers and colleagues have imbibed his passion for empowering the poor through entrepreneurship. And his foundations are throbbing with his vision and his indomitable spirit.

Rest in peace, Ed, assured that your dream is in safe hands and will see fruition.

To Fr. Bernas and other unforgettable friends, Godspeed. Until we meet again.

Banner and thumbnail taken from the Twitter account of lawyer Mel Sta. Maria