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When one good compadre dies

solitudeBY GREG CASTILLA  – Shock is an understatement. But that’s how I felt when I read some posts on Facebook early Tuesday morning this week from common friends in Paris and in the United States that Pading Chito Perez had died.

My initial reaction was, “C’mon guys. You must be kidding. It can’t be.” I should have known better. After all, I am the one living in Naga.

Posted Los Angeles-based Toots Perez, a common friend and high school classmate, “What’s the news about Chito Perez?”

I could feel the sense of urgency in his question. Continued Toots, “Sorry to get you up too early today…but please check him out. Unpleasant news is currently breaking.”

Before I could find out, another post came in. This time from another common friend, Vic Rey, from Paris, “I just read Cynthia Allison’s confirmation.” Cynthia is the daughter of Pading Chito living in the U.S.

I still refused to believe because he just had his birthday celebration last week. In fact, I heard that he was on his way to recovery from his first stroke early this year.

So I texted Hannah, my niece who is married to Bong, Pading Chito’s son. Her short reply put an end to everything I was hoping for. It was as if someone doused me with cold water.

When someone we know dies, after the initial denial, we start remembering the person and the memories associated with him or her. That’s how powerful memories are. They last and can be a source of strength in times of pain.

Dr. Joaquin F. Perez, Jr., Chito to many of his classmates, colleagues and friends, was literally a man of many words. Let me explain.

Even as a young boy, he already had the making of someone who would be a logophile, a word-lover .

If my memory serves me right, he was the only one in our Grade VI class at the Naga Parochial School who would bring a pocket dictionary to class.  Later on, I found out that he would memorize the words in the dictionary.

Admittedly an avid reader – which again did not surprise me – his column in the Bikol Mail was a testament to his command of the English language.

I love reading his articles in the Bikol Mail because his topics were so down-to-earth. People could identify with what he wrote. He wrote about his drinking days, the girls who had caught his eyes as a young lad, his loyalty to the different Ateneos he had attended, and the many youthful indiscretions that he had committed.


And who can forget his style of capitalizing so many words in his articles that has become a source of laughter among his friends. But he did not mind. Ask him why he was doing it, he would just give you a smile. He had a ready smile for everyone.

So honest. So human. So transparent.

When he asked me to stand as one of the sponsors at the baptism of his son Bong, who is now a successful medical doctor himself, I was really honored.  Up to now, I still don’t know why he chose me to be the sponsor over his rich and influential friends in Naga.  But I never asked him why. That I was asked by a person who was kind and friendly was enough for me to feel honored.

When I left for the United States in 1980, I lost communication with him for so many years. But I never failed to get in touch with him each time I came home. We both love to drink and that was enough motivation for me to see him. And he would never disappoint me.

Indeed, among friends the years of absence do not diminish the quality of friendship. Everytime I’d see him nothing seemed to have changed in him. We talked mostly of things mundane just like in high school.

But it was in things that were mundane that he was at his best. When he was at his best, he had a positive effect on his friends.

One thing that impressed me about him was his irrepressible sense of duty to his patients. A classmate once told me that most of his clients were not well-to-do, yet he would not want to miss their appointments.

He struck me as someone who found fulfillment in healing someone. True to his vocation, he made sure that at least one of his children follows his footsteps.

No physician, however conscientious, knows the day and time he will pass on. But I noticed in some of his articles that he would write about death and God. One can only surmise that he was getting more and more aware of how fragile life was. In hindsight, this could be his way of preparing himself.

It was also recently that he started using his trademark LABSYA with increasing frequency in his articles. Again, I could only surmise that he was finally at peace with everyone, including perhaps those whom he had offended.

To his family, to Mading Bebot and the children, I have to say what a remarkable family the Perezes are for rallying around Pading Chito during his last days.

Let me end with a text Pading Chito sent me sometime in 2003:”Dying means letting go of the senses, leaving behind the material world, and crossing over to a new kind of higher perception. So it is really no big deal.”