Remembering my brother Joedax

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By Ramon Dacawi

Benchwarmer

Friday, August 8, 2014


(WE’RE again into a season of wakes and funerals that reminded me, albeit quite late, about my brother Joe’s own transition on July 30, three years back. Gener Artos, a former overseas worker who’s active in pushing benefits for hemodialysis patients, lost her eldest daughter, Jenny, to the dreaded disease. Early dawn of Thursday, pioneer fullback Vangie Umoc-Gigan of the multi-titled Baguio Cinderellas, texted that she learned that their mentor, dyed-in-the-wool football coach Manny Javellana, has also reported to the great playing field in the sky. Later at the office, somebody told me Angel Bangcawayan, one of the 192 dialysis patients at the dear ole Baguio General Hospital, had also passed on.)

Eldest of five siblings of an unlettered Ifugao gardener at the Pacdal Forest Nursery, my brother Joe was laid to rest first Saturday of August, 2011. He lies beside my elder brother Danilo and Danilo’s daughter Janet, on a choice plot by the first gate, behind where a mausoleum was being built, in the overcrowded patchwork of graves that is the city cemetery.

Manuel, our youngest, was buried with our parents in Hungduan, Ifugao.

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Given his lack of material acquisitiveness, Joe’s purchase of that tiny piece of real estate many years back was a curiosity. Understandably now, he had kept me from his original purpose for the rectangular patch. I learned why on the first night of the wake, when the family gathered to firm up details of the funeral.

“Your brother had reserved that area for you,” his widow, Manang Corazon (nee Balicdang), told me gently. “He thought you’d go ahead of him.” In fact, she added, he had also earlier yielded another portion so another family could bury its dead.

Hearing this, city councilor Peter Fianza erased my doubts about my brother’s original intention. He said Joe had worried about my incessant gulping and puffing, years after family physician, Dr. Julie Cabato diagnosed me as a sugar magnate without a hacienda.

Notwithstanding his reputation for bluntness, my brother knew his warning me of the medical do’s and don’ts would just trigger another argument between siblings that we had tacitly learned not to inflict on each other.

Revelation on the pre-need gift sank in quite gently. It turned into a soulful experience, into which slowly entered humor that was far from morbid and was rather soothing. Eyes welling, I smiled. Into my mind flashed that line from novelist Richard Paul Evans that somehow described who my brother Joe was: “Those with softest hearts sometimes build the hardest shells.”

“That’s correct,” agreed assistant city accountant Almaya Addawe, she with the eagle’s eye against discrepancies in expense liquidation reports, as Joe was a stickler for truth about employees’ work and travel time, leaves, personnel selection and promotion. “Look at the long line of wreaths at this wake,” she said, equating the flowers to the respect this martinet had earned.

So the accounting department at city hall wasn’t that surprised when Joe returned his unused per diems from a group travel. It inspired his companions to follow suit and declare their own rightful period of travel and expense.

E-mailing his condolences, former fellow city worker Lou Pasetes, now of Chicago, wrote what many city hall officials and employees thought of Joe: “I knew him to be one who frankly speaks his mind no matter who it was directed to.”

As personnel officer with uncompromising adherence to civil service rules, Joe was not exactly the most popular figure at city hall, his friend and confidant, former city councilor Edilberto Tenefrancia. “He’s Mr. Clean,” agreed Rhey Bautista, Joe’s mentor and guide at the University of Baguio.

Campus leadership contemporary Swanny Dicang remembers how Joe, on a YMCA summer work camp in Benguet, “tried to level a whole mountainside for a community”.

Sorry, but Joe’s work ethic and ethics are meant for the west, I told a job seeker who asked me to lobby for him before the personnel officer. ”Your friend must apply on his own, as hiring is based on merits, based on the objective formula for rating applicants,” Joe told me when I tried, and that was it.

We had our differences. For years, he’d walk to and from work, something I swore way back in high school I’d transcend. Often, aboard a taxi, I’d pass him by walking to work. Always, I’d rein in the urge to offer him a lift or fare. He was task-oriented as I’m now and then a petty country club manager.

I finished college in five years, stalled by the parliament of the streets and recovery period from alcohol-induced jaundice. He did it in over a decade also marked by student activism that UB nurtured, and his early work in print and broadcast media. I inherited his shoeshine box and then rented out ponies at the Wright Park when he and boyhood buddy Willie Cacdac elevated themselves as caddies at the Baguio Country Club. He played football and competed in sipa in the Inter-scholastics while I only watched and covered sports events.

Joe, Willie, Manny Salenga and George Jularbal lost their jobs at radio station DZHB of RMN-IBC when martial rule was declared. Still, Joe’s story on the declaration made the headline of the Baguio Midland Courier which military authorities curiously forgot to shut down earlier like the other media outfits.

He worried how Willie would take the lull and the order for them to report periodically to military authorities for their campus activism and bias for covering our own student rallies. Willie laughed when I told him, saying he worried more about how Joe would take it.

Somehow, things eventually normalized and Joe was back at the MidlandCourier and as correspondent of the Philippine Daily Express. “I remember Joe quite well as I’d receive his dispatches,” recalled Rolly Fernandez, then the Express national news editor, now the Northern Luzon bureau chief of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

In 1980, Joe yielded to me his news editor post at the Courier, with the blessings of Steve Hamada, who succeeded his dad Sinai as editor-in-chief. It was misery-finding company. People would ask Steve how he was related to the venerable Sinai, the Igorot lawyer, short story writer and founder of the Courier. Now and then, people also would ask if I was, in any way, related to Joe.

“Tell them Sinai is the father of Steve Hamada, while Joe is the brother of Ramon, not the other way around,” I told Steve. “Talaga ka met a,” he replied, smiling almost ear-to-ear.

Joe was diagnosed with cancer a month after he retired from city hall September, 2009. During recent visits to his hospital room, I noticed his humor and gift for repartee coming back. As was done by the late Peppot Ilagan, his friend and co-worker at the defunct Focus weekly, it was Joe’s attempt at lightening the impact of his exit on family and those who knew him.

City hall employees took the drift, with some bursting at the seams when reminded not to be at the wake during office hours, especially if they were in uniform, lest Joe would tell them to file their under-time.
That’s why my brother’s funeral had to be on a Saturday.

The Dacawi-Balicdang-Padilla families thank you all who had toasted with them my brother Joedax’s life. (e-mail: mondaxbench@yahoo.com for comments)

Published in the Sun.Star Baguio newspaper on August 09, 2014.

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