BELOW THE LINE
By AMBASSADOR JOSE ABETO ZAIDE
This space may sound off-key because Todos los Santos was a month ago. But I can’t wait for next year, and I ask the reader’s forbearance for this unseasonal column which remembers three personages who just passed away.
Ambassador Benjamin Domingo passed away on 21 November 2019. Ben was commercial attaché with the Department of Trade, and crossed over to DFA as a successful Foreign Service Officer examinee. His provenance enriched our foreign service with better mastication of trade.
My claim to fame is that Ben succeeded me at the Philippine Embassy in Bonn, to serve Ambassador Gregorio G. Abad. Although Ben arrived a notch higher – he was Consul General and First Secretary; and he didn’t mark time. One example of his dervish energy and direction is that he wrote “Rizal in Germany” (one of 32 tomes during his foreign service tours of duty).
Pastor Weber recalled meeting Filipino Chargé d’Affaires Ben Domingo and a busload of Pinoys in June, 1977, who came to honor Dr. Jose Rizal on June 19. The congregation sang Filipino songs and someone read chapters from Noli et Fili. Pastor Weber is the later successor of the same church of Pastor Karl Ulmer, the vicar of Wilhelmsfeld, who had befriended Dr. Jose Rizal. Our national hero wrote the final chapters of Noli Me Tangere at Wilhelmsfeld, which boasts of a park and a street named after Rizal, with a larger-than-life statue of him. Ben, an avid Rizalist, used the Knights of Rizal as an instrument of diplomacy.
Ambassador Jaime Yambao spoke for the DFA officers and retirees, and led speakers in extolling Ben Domingo’s work. Ben was our first ambassador to Brunei Darussalam. A lawyer and Doctor of Philosophy in Philippine Studies from UP, he served in the Office of the Secretary, the Foreign Service Institute, the Office of International Economic Affairs and Development, and capped his foreign service stint as undersecretary for legal and migrant workers’ affairs. He labored to widen and deepen our bilateral relations with the outside world, and is well remembered as mentor and example to the officers and staff. Even after retirement, Ben got his second wind as dean of the Manila Law College.
Ben is survived by his wife, Gloria Domingo, and their two sons, Jeremy Domingo, who has grooved into theater and the arts, and Jesus “Gary” Domingo, our ambassador to New Zealand. Gary is a chip off the old block who does his father proud. (BTW, Ben’s younger sister Delia Domingo Albert also raised Philippine diplomacy a notch higher as our first woman secretary of foreign Affairs.)
When my wife Meng and I decided on a piece of terra firma in between our peripatetic foreign postings, we chose a prime location a notch above our means, close to the corner of Sucat and SLEX. It had a young community of vigor and spunk, children of school age, and all arrows pointing to moving up.
At our first year, our Quadrant 8 competed for the best Christmas décor. With our team member neighbors Ron and Tess Mayor, Reggie Molera, General Mike Hinolo, Bunny and Vickie Huat, Mr and Mrs. Panopio, we created a cardboard cathedral which we thought a humdinger winner — only to be disappointed when disqualified for being one-dimensional. We protested the decision, but took it sportingly.
Ron Mayor had his Green Gang Boogie Band (color of his alma mater) which sang yesteryears hits; and his doting wife Tess indulged his hobby and talent, taking on minding their children Ramon and Pia – all the way and beyond up to being indulging grandmother to the next generation. It is a matter of fact that mothers are generally better than fathers in this department.
But nothing remains the same. Like a river that is never the same, our village grew and built upon the empty lots while we were out on foreign postings. We returned to a somewhat different world. Maybe because we have become older and slow-footed, we are unable to keep track of the congregation and the progression as new families move in.
Last week we received the sudden sad news that Tess had left us.
It is always harder for widowers than it is for widows. (Blame it on Filipina wives’ penchant for spoiling husbands.) Ron comes to their home just across ours to check things and turn off the lights. But he spends nights at his daughter’s place. Because things are never the same at home.
It will take some time to adjust. Just the remembering of good times past..
My wife Meng and I drove last Monday, 25 November, to pay our last respects to Maria Pacita “Ching” delas Alas Montinola. After finding nobody at the small chapel, we went around… and discovered everyone gathered at the main church of the Santuario de San Antonio parish.
Ching, as she is known to all friends, was dearly remembered and extolled by family and friends. She was a woman of impossible dreams. She was at the right elbow of presidents. And she served four of them — Corazon Aquino, Fidel V. Ramos, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, and Benigno Aquino III.
She also had the sobriquet as the 25th member of the Upper House, (because she was the President’s special emissary to our solons). Could we ever come back to the time when things were possible and not so contradictory?
Ching’s favorite hobby and pastime was spotting and indulging musical talents, whom she could sherpa on their stairway to the stars. This is how we got to know her . She was also fairy godmother to a musical prodigy, Chino Gutierrez, whom we also discovered and occasionally impresario-ed.
Ching was mother to sons and daughters (nine, including twins); and she was herself descended from a family of one dozen siblings. Besides all her many good works, she may especially be remembered for a joint venture with her youngest sister Carmen “Menchu” delas Alas Concepcion. After discovering a treasure trove about their father, a barrio boy from Taal, Batangas, the two sisters honored him with the launch of the book, “Don Antonio delas Alas:The Small Man with a Tall Shadow”. They held high this pensionado to the US who topped the class at Indiana University, and finished with Master of Law cum laude from Yale and delivered valedictory address. He was four-term congressman for Batangas. His love of sports engaged him in the planning and construction of the Rizal Memorial Complex in 1934.
Incidentally, this was the reason for the two sisters staring down Mayor Erap on his plans to tear down the sports complex and convert it for commercial use. The two sisters bought time for the National Historical Commission of the Philippines to save the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex from demotion or improper renovation attempts by declaring it a National Historical Landmark. (Were it not for Ching and Menchu, we would probably be searching elsewhere where to host the ongoing SEA Games.)
Three personages have gone before us. But we are so much richer for their spunk and initiative. We hold up high their example, because if not for them, our world would be so much different, perhaps in some matters, even beyond recovery.