By Filomeno Sta. Ana III

Padayon! Press on! These were Chito’s favorite words.

Chito left us soon after Dinky Soliman did. Chito, the Chair of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and Dinky, the former Social Welfare Secretary, had many things in common.

They were friends. They were activists who shared the same politics and democratic values. They were colleagues in government and comrades in the parliament of the streets.

They, too, suffered from diabetes, which made them most vulnerable to COVID-19. COVID-19 killed Dinky and Chito, but their untimely deaths could have been averted if they were not diabetic.

Diabetes is a most deceptive disease. It is a silent killer. It is not diabetes per se that kills but its complications. When my late wife, Mae, a diabetic herself, and I would argue about her health, she would beg for empathy. She lamented that people not experiencing diabetes could not fully internalize the agony that diabetics endure.

Even amid his COVID-19 infection, Chito’s diabetes deceived us. It hid behind Chito’s cheerfulness and optimism. His friends and I thought that Chito’s good spirits and bright disposition indicated recovery.

It was when I communicated with Chito to seek CHR assistance that I learned that he had COVID-19. I requested CHR’s intervention on behalf of a brother of a friend of my friend and colleague who was detained without an arrest warrant just because the innocent guy was in the vicinity of a police anti-drug operation. Chito said he would attend to the problem immediately.

He was upbeat. But in the course of his message, he matter-of-factly said that he had COVID-19 for more than 10 days. He responded to my message in the wee hours of the morning, when he should have been resting!

At that hour I was already asleep and received his message later. His message that he had COVID shocked me. So, I immediately texted him to express my deep concern, especially considering that he was diabetic.

And I apologized for disturbing him, for anyhow I could have communicated with other CHR friends. His response, as always, was cheery. He did not have a tinge of gloom. “Thanks for your concern… we keep fighting… laban lang (just fight).”

Which again lulled me into thinking that Chito would be OK. We ended our chat exchanging sweet words. I told Chito: “Ingat (Be careful)! Lab u!” Chito replied: “Will do… love you too… be well… stay strong… we fight!” And I said: “You do inspire me Chito; in spite of your frail condition, you continue to fight!”

Later in the afternoon, Jo-Ann, my colleague who sought help regarding the detention of the brother of her friend, informed me that CHR was already assisting the victim. The CHR’s response was swift despite the scant information I sent Chito. Two other Commissioners, Gwen (Pimentel Gana) and Karen (Dumpit Gomez) and Anelyn (de Luna), Chito’s aide, likewise communicated with me.

Jo-Ann’s message: “Hi Ninong Men! Just want to update you. Na-meet na ni J [for privacy, name is anonymized] ’yung mga taga-CHR at nakausap na din ng mga taga-CHR si C [for privacy name is hidden]. Praise God for their quick response!” (J has met with the CHR personnel and they also talked with C.)

I forwarded Jo-Ann’s message to Chito: “Maraming salamat (thank you), Ninong Men. Yes, please do let them know, we are very grateful for their timely help. Praising God for how they quickly responded to our call!” Chito’s response was a thumb up.

And so, I thought everything was going to be OK.

Further, Anelyn received good news from Chito upon his release from hospital care. She said that his condition was improving and that he was ready to report back to office on Oct. 12.

On Oct. 9, Chito died.

Chito’s death has resulted in an outpouring of grief and sympathy from thousands of his friends and admirers. I choose one that was privately sent to me by Carol Pagaduan Araullo. The best compliment for Chito is to receive words of deep sympathy and great admiration from someone belonging to a different activist tradition.

Carol is “natdem” (national democrat); Chito was “socdem” (social democrat). It goes without saying that the natdem and the socdem are ideological and political rivals.

With a heavy heart, Carol wrote: “He was a decent, upright man. Broad-minded and fair…. Kahit iba ang philosophical moorings niya sa akin (even though his philosophical moorings were different from mine), his moral compass was straight, and he was consistent in his democratic human rights-based viewpoint and commitment, He walked the talk. So, so sad.”

Chito’s sudden passing is most painful. The deluge of deaths in the time of COVID-19 has drained my emotions. But Chito’s death has made me weep again: for him, for the many who recently died; for Mae, too. I couldn’t help but relate Chito’s demise to Mae’s death.

Upon retrieving Mae’s old Chicago Manual of Style that I intend to give to Maia, a young promising editor and the granddaughter of the late Saling Boncan (also Chito’s friend), I found a sealed envelope inserted between the book’s pages. It was an undelivered letter from Mae addressed to her friend Snooky. I wonder why the letter was unsent. I am not privy to the letter’s content, but Mae wrote in block letters two quotations on the surface of one side of the envelope.

The first quotation is from Psalm 34 (18): “The Lord is close to the broken-hearted, and rescues those whose spirit is crushed.”

The second quotation is from Wordsworth: “The eye — it cannot choose but see, we cannot bid the ear be still; our bodies feel, where’er they be, against or with our will.”

I surmise that Mae chose these quotes during a bout of depression. Mae was expressing hope and embracing humanity and a wonderful world.

These quotes are apropos as we grieve Chito’s passing. In the darkest of times, even in his time of physical agony, Chito was full of hope and full of grace. In his last words to me, he said, “let’s be sure to meet up in better days… they will come… laban lang!”