BACOLOD CITY — Straightforward, bold, loud, assertive and generous if I may describe him. Many of his acquaintances, his brethren and his relatives looked at him as big man, sagacious, cocky, and a swashbuckling figure. In his younger years, he was a smart academician, athletic, notoriously competitive and yet by his caliber and witty remarks he won friendship from old and young people as well. In a conference, his presence can always be felt by having the last stunning query on a particular subject, not to impress but to correct, to clarify, and nonetheless to seek the truth. His sharp retention and logic would not spare obscure and deliberately ambiguous statement otherwise he would consider it twisted and he would eventually fall to entertain sarcasm.
These attributes of a man, an Augustinian Recollect for that matter, his solid manly voice, his groovy, elegant get up and the exuding scent of a gentleman, have come to a sudden end in a time when a man like him was badly needed in the Order, in the Church, and in our midst.
Let me take you to an open window, not to induce appalling and melancholic narrative or tempestuous miscalculation of a man who had lived his life as a religious, an Augustinian
I hope this chronicle in the end, will leave a message, evoke a self-questioning, pause to a prayer (Requiescat in pace) for a man who has defined his vocation as a man of God.
Who is this Man for Us?
I entered Casiciaco in 1995 the year I first met him. I was a neophyte. I knew nothing about him. He went to Baguio to accompany a religious. He normally drives a vehicle for he knew Kennon Road a lot. He had mastered it. I was cleaning the Recreo, and there he was seated, talking, sipping his cup of coﬀee and a cigar in his hand. He was muscular and strong, with no single wrinkle in his forehead. He spoke with brittle accent of the southerner. Lionhearted in his remark and cracking up to draw anyone in conversation to lofty ideas if not to go down to a funny gag. His blue long sleeves tucked in his black trousers was more of a statement than a fashion, the look of a dignified and uncompromising administrator. The golden cross was shimmering in his chest. He was chatting with his contemporary, the then, Rector Fr. Lauro Larlar. I overheard him said: “Is there anyone from the boys who knows how to do massage?” The good rector looked at me. He then looked at him. He explained later on that he had played basketball the previous day. His body ached and in need of massage considering that he also drove long hours from Manila to Baguio.
Dawn of the triennium of 2012-2015, I received my new patente indicating UNO-R as my new home as Campus Director and University Chaplain. Padre Moral was the current Vice President for Religious Aﬀairs. We would be working together for the very first time but not for long because that was his final assignment which he would not be able to finish.
His Life as Priest
Back-slapping, baby-kissing, swashbuckling a fatherly man he was. When he is wearing the habit, he would playfully whip his friends with his cincture. The young people who take his hand for besa mano, he would linger a bit to either squeeze the hand if not tightly, to press, to hold it. And it changes everything. It breaks the monotony.
There is that deep sense of getting connection and intimacy when we want to touch people. It is reaching out. It is a therapy. Jesus has touched Bartimeaus the blind and cured him.
Padre Moral was mindful of his duty, dedicated to his work. He was always the early bird in the capilla. Time is gold for him. Seldom came late in an appointment. There is that European influence in him in terms of time management. Something that is admirable to him.
Well-disciplined in dining etiquette, as he was, fastidious, avoiding meat at every meal. He was a gracious host but not a voracious eater. He loved gelato. He could easily open his resources when it comes to sweet, tasty flavored, and almond-vanilla-laden confection and nothing else on top but ice cream.
He had seen what is worst and what is best in life. In his humble place in Lugway, within the Hacienda in Silay Town, he had observed how the sakadas, the sugarcane cutters, and among his kins, the kind of life that awaits an out of school youth. Little did I know about his life in Boys town run by Columban missionaries in Bacolod but the loneliness he experienced, the rudiments of being there had gotten to his nerve to master endurance, to absorb discipline. He had seen the bitterness of poverty as he knew the sweet-smelling odor of success in venturing to the impossible. He had proved though to himself the possible to dream dreams–a life-changing choice in Casiciaco.
He had seen the bitterness of poverty as he knew the sweet- smelling odor of success in venturing to the impossible.
In Marcilla, in Navarra he must have had some happy days in being able to learn and speak Spanish fluently, eating tortilla de patata and had mastered to determine the best wine. Returning in Europe for further studies in the late 1970’s would have given him a fun-filled opportunity to travel and a challenge to bury his head on books he would love to read as demanded by his course, a chosen path, very close to his heart–moral theology!
By his background as moral theologian, he abhorred any wrongdoing. Neglecting a religious duty is doing evil. He despised neglect. He gave a constant reminder to always pray specially to members of the community where he was assigned. He had great appreciation to old religious who by reason of their health or state, still manage to come to the capilla to pray. Live religious life to the highest possible way, his injunction. Doing evil is loathsome to him. It is a kind of obsession that in taking up moral theology in Rome obtaining a licentiate; that was his dominant thought and he gravitated on that. Right is right, and wrong cannot be right.
His experience in Europe or in Guam did not create impression upon him to be ostentatious. The perception of some brethren that he was a bit showy could be compensated by his desire to be more dignified, gallant and lionhearted. Matured in dealing with women, conscious of his status, unattached, and so he was. It was a character that befits a shepherd.
He has moderate taste in terms of material goods. However he was misconstrued by others by wearing signatures Hermden (shirts). In the advent of iPhones and other sophisticated hausehalt geratt (gadgets) he was a beginner.
His passion for teaching theology and languages (Latin and Spanish) and other subjects had earned him good reputation as an expert and as formator and a vowed Augustinian Recollect for many years. His heart as a priest was spent to impart long lasting impact on discernment, in being conscientious in daily prayer and the capacity to translate prayer into something noble and charitable.
As once rector of a Diocesan seminary in Kabankalan, he cared about praying the Liturgy of the Hours as a principal duty. He was conscientious and had cared about justice and he was unbending towards issues that will aﬀect doctrine, faith, more so, morals. Became Rector and member of Diocesan council of clergy in Bacolod he remained orthodox in his stand on RH Bill– a bill that dares to kill the innocents inside the mothers womb.
The dawn of the new treinium has given him much of his opportunity to be of service, joining the team of experts in Rome and Spain in formulating the Order’s project of revitalization and restructuring. He was one of the pillars in translating many important documents to make it available in English especially the textbooks from Grade 1 to Grade 6, part of the so called Projecto Educativo de la Orden. The year 2012 was the centenary of the Religiosas Familias the historical document that elevated the OAR to a distinct and independent Order. In the call of duty, his response, as always expected, was remarkable.
In every meeting that the Evagelization group or Vice President for Religious and Chaplians were requested, we had been together. He was gifted with talents as and as expert he did join in formulating the Recoletos Graduate Attributes and the Tatak Recoleto brand of education. He carried on until 24th of November 2014 during the finalization of the given task to complete the CoreEd curriculum content. The meeting was held at the Talavera House of Prayer in Cebu. He was rehearsing his piece to launch the OAR Graduate attributes. But on our way back to Negros Occidental, on the 27th of November 2014, after purchasing a pack of cigarette, something happened.
His Disposition as Administrator
The heart of a shepherd is the best quality of an administrator. Trained in the climate of Augustinian philosophy, he had a big heart to run a school or a formation house. The seat of wisdom, the center and dwelling place of the Spirit, the place of encounter is the heart for St. Augustine. He had a big heart, a good servant-leader. Dealing with labor, managing a University and Directorship of Religious department require a lot of compassion not just unbending mind to survive the day, to survive the treinium, and the years of doing apostolate, but a heart that beats for compassion. The nitty-gritty of empowering people, assigning a task also demands keen, delicate eyes of a shepherd but his heart for the job was a great deal.
In board meetings, he would make sure to wrap his argument with certain decision respecting charity, labor, and corporate welfare even if he knew it might call the attention of individual and as well as religious concerned. I may say, he was the man who was not perfect in every way but did strive to lead on such path measured by Christian conscience.
His Last Days
Sudden. Flabbergasted. Heart- squeezing. That I felt. We were together from 24th of November to 1st of December 2014, his final moment. Who would think a man who appears to be so robust and healthy, would collapse, would be in a comatose on the next day, and eventually on the fifth day would be pronounced dead? Blame his work? That was his passion. Got stranded due to bad weather. Blame the delay at the port of Toledo? It would not have given us the suﬃcient answer to that hasty, tragic demise of Padre Moral.
He had not quit smoking but I observed him doing regular routine on the treadmill. I tested him once with a glucometer and it was marked 139. I knew he was taking medications to address his diabetes. A week before the Talavera meeting, he told me. “Fray Abe, you need to have regular exercise.” By saying that he was soaked, sweating out, in coming out of the fitness room. Without hesitation, resorting to alibi, I muttered: “Yes, sure, I will, tomorrow.” Two days before
the REAP meeting, I noticed him making rounds at the University oval, sporty and quite reflective raising his right arm as if punching the air. “I am not feeling bright.” That was he said to me. Came the day we were about to go to Cebu. He demanded Roger to prepare the Mitsubishi Montero, he was determined to drive and I was at the front seat. We had another companionMark Garcelan seated behind us, he’s one of the College Guidance Oﬃcers. The rest of the UNO-R team the Religious Education faculty Gennie Pedrosa and Basic Education Christian Life Formation teachers Ofelia Caitiles, Carmel Mesias, and the Campus ministry staﬀ Joey Jolito and Outreach Coordinator Mely Flores, Guidance Counselors Lino Sumbillo and Wilma Maravilla rode on the van moving straight to the port of San Carlos City.
We were moving just right on time. I led the Padre Nuestro, Dios Te Salve, Gloria al Padre with some Augustinians saints invoked and oﬀ we went.
On the way to San Carlos, after an hour, as soon as we had passed kilometer 52, there was a blinking at the dashboard. We got flat tire! We needed to stop in the middle of nowhere. I noticed a lose nail cutter has gotten into the rear tire. Quite disturbing, I kept it with me as a memento. It took us one hour to change tire. Then just before the boat’s departure sounded oﬀ we were already seated inside the ferry Danilo Lines bound for Toledo City.
We had peanuts, soda and steamed rice cakes. Padre Moral bought them for us. At around
12:00 noon we disembarked. Heading to Talavera house of Prayer for the finalization of the REAP core curriculum, he was driving again. Without a spare tire, we were cruising the mountain, chasing the heavy trucks and buses. We did not have lunch but not so unfortunate. We had candies, rice cakes. The sun was scorching that day. XAt the Talavera, the meeting was facilitated by the University of San Jose-Recoletos. Group reporting, critique of the draft had
taken our time. We ate lunch at 2:00 in afternoon and dispersed at night by 10:00 in the evening. Finally it’s done in two hectic days. The culminating activity was the Holy Eucharist. The REAP president Fray Julius Marcos, has asked each participating priest to say a parting word. Padre Moral was the last person to give his piece. He was calm, grateful for everyone. His tone was diﬀerent. His voice was not the usual persuasive type, it had no audacity, dry, no cracked jokes. There was that meekness shining on his face. It was concluded then applauded. We took group photos. And when everybody had prepared, we shook hands, said goodbyes and immediately got into the car heading back to Toledo in a matter of two hours
To our dismay, the Toledo port authorities canceled out all trips to San Carlos due to typhoon
Queenie but the weather was ineﬀably fair.
I saw Padre Moral’s face was not appalled, not frowning and did not mumble word of imprecation. He turned the wheel back to the direction of USJ-R Balamban campus. Balamban is an extension of USJ-R in partnership with Tsunishi a-Japanese firm with modern facilities and a-five star dwelling place enough for visitors. The School Director Fray Roland Cepe and Campus Minister Fray Allan Cabatian warmly accommodated us there. We spent the night waiting for the weather bureau to give clearance to boats going to San Carlos. We had the meal provided by Padre Moral. We sipped coﬀee. Some watched Captain Philips on HBO, others played cards together with him. After lunch, I had a cup of coﬀee, he lighted a cigarette, sat by the terrace puﬃng up. I fell asleep with runny nose and then the phone rang. It woke me up.
Joey, yes, what’s going on? I was shaking on what he told me.
“Please come, Father, Padre Moral fell down. He is now at Toledo General hospital. We took him here!”
The first thing I had in mind was to call the Prior Fray Constantino Real of UNO-R. I looked for any vehicle available. I got a motorbike and a driver. We were flying to the hospital of Toledo.
There I saw him lying in bed. Soaked with his urine. Half of his body paralyzed. It was awful to ask, but I asked him just the same. What happened to you? He replied, “I could not move my armed.” I noticed his left pair of his shoe was missing. I searched for it under his bed. His Citizen watch had a cracked. Joey Jolito was explaining how it happened, but I ran to the physician to know what better thing to do next.
He explained to me though that it would be better to proceed to Cebu for a better facility and medical treatment needed by Padre Moral. But there’s another problem, we have to look for an ambulance. USJ-R has its own ambulance but it will take an hour to wait for that ambulance. Thanks to the quick response oﬀered by Fray Roland, his good connection with Tsunishi has provided an ambulance for free. In a matter of minutes the ambulance arrived. We zoomed away. We tore the high way with the blasting air-raid. Padre Moral on his stretcher, awake. His phone rang. He wanted to answer it. He was searching for it on his left side as it’s customarily hang on his waist on a leather casing. I told him it’s with me and he needed not to worry. The driver of the ambulance was making our way so fast with the help of siren and he kept blowing horn just to insist to pass without any delay. The school nurse who went with us was checking Padre Moral’s blood pressure. I was taking picture, I mean, in my head, to be calmed, to save what was happening.
Perpetual Succor Hospital
We arrived at exactly 6:00 o’clock in the evening. At the emergency room, though still tensed, I saw some Friars who came ahead of us. Their presence was reassuring. Fray Allan Cabatian and Fray Roland Cepe met us there. They knew some nurses and the Sisters of St. Paul of Chartes who run the Krankenhaus (hospital).
He was being attended to by the doctor. I was interviewed to get his name for documentation. I could not remember his middle name which is Eguid. Normally we do not say it every time he was being introduced as speaker and Mass presider. You would know the implication why. The doctor suggested that he would undergo CT scan. On our way to the lab he was a bit noisy and naughty as well. His right hand, he kept pointing up. He kept asking for his phone. He thought Fray Allan has it so he was almost shouting Fray Allan’s name. Give me back my phone! He said. The sister, who might be the Oﬃcer in Charge of the Hospital whispered to Padre
Moral: “let us pray.” We prayed. We invoked the saints too. The CT scan only lasted for about thirty minutes. On his way back to the emergency room he was talking in dialect, in Ilocano, he was joking. I knew it. He was from the south. He knew Hiligaynon fluently but Ilocano, he was just making fun. He had three important things; a noise-rending in that emergency room, the Ilocano words (Wen Apo) his concern about his phone and Father Allan’s name.
He had a huge stroke. His nerve connected to his brain had collapsed. His pituitary gland had blown up. The Pituitary gland is a small oval endocrine organ that is attached to the infundibulum of the brain.
The doctor said, he would observe it in three days if Padre Moral’s body would respond to medications he might recover. However the blood clot may cost him a lot. He was not actually recommending to do the operation to remove the blood clot. It was going to be a major operation which according to the attending physician very few would survive in such operation. If it happens that a patient survives, the situation is pitiful, good as dead.
On 28th of November, 11:00 in the morning, at the Intensive Care Unit, I checked him. His voiced slurred. I asked him something to at least know if he was still in his conscious state. Could he still respond to our conversation? Those were the things in my head. I said, Hello, what’s up? How are you? He did not respond. He looked to the left side of his bed as if he never heard me. At 1:00 in the afternoon, Friday. My phone rang. The doctor said Padre Moral had deteriorated so quickly. He was in a coma. The ringing of phones was left and right. Fray Roland had the greatheartedness to talk to the Provincial all the details of what Padre Moral was going through. Our initial decision was to give the last Sacrament to Padre Moral. The Prior of USJ-R Fray Vicente Ramon gave the last rite. We prayed. It was a very moving scene. The doctors and nurses were also present. The Friars had made the decision. A waver was signed by Fray Vicente. The man of God would have to undergo an operation at around 4:00 o’clock in the afternoon. I took video of him on his way to the operating room. It was a long agony.
We waited for four hours. Finally the operation was over. He was back at the ICU. There the man, our brother and friend bandaged in the head, with the breather in his mouth, the medications on his arm, the wound on his belly where his scalp bone was kept to purposely serve as the rightful place just in case he would recover and then to put it back onto his head. His pulse was normal, blood pressure erratic, oxygen in his blood low. It was like Gethsemane stage. I was beginning to lose hope. Some Friars from diﬀerent communities were coming in to pray, to anoint, to spend time in his last moment. His relatives from Silay City worried, already informed, eager to see him.
30th of November was the First Sunday of Advent. The Chaplain of the Krankenhaus preached about preparation for the coming Lord into our lives. I felt that deepest sadness whilst listening to the priest. I had self-examination. Padre Moral was going as a man, as a priest, as an Augustinian Recollect. He had defined his vocation in the way he could, the best he could. How have I been living my life? How will God terminate it? Advent is Jesus’ coming. He is coming to take anyone, ready or not into eternity. It was a beautiful departure on an advent. I prayed again. The mass ended.
December 1, 2014
All his relatives came and saw him lying on his bed at ICU. The breather helped Padre Moral’s thoracic region move up and down. His condition had no signs of improvement. The medications continued. His head shaved, his face shining, the stitches from his sculp to his right ear was awful, his hands beginning to pale, his feet turning cold. Some Friars Fray Emeterio Bunao, Fray Constantino, Fray Jaasel gave him the last rite again. Some friends who came, his brothers and relatives who came all the way from Hacienda Llugway, Silay City just left to rest in Talavera. At exactly 11:00 in the evening of December first, he was pronounced dead by his attending physician.
“Those attributes of a man, an Augustinian Recollect for that matter, his solid manly voice, his groovy, elegant get up and the exuding scent of a gentleman, have come to a sudden end in a time when a man like him was badly needed in the Order, in the Church, and in our midst..
At the funeral parlor, I put on him his white habit and his chastity belt. He was in peace.
Requiescat in pace.. Amen.