A tribute to Atty. Neil Santillan

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By Orlan R. Ravanera

Kim's Dream

Thursday, January 9, 2014


KAMING mga regional directors ay labis na nalulungkot sa dagliang pagpanaw ng aming mahal na Executive Director, Atty. Niel. Para sa amin, si Atty. Neil ay hindi lamang aming direct boss, siya ay isang mahal na kaibigan, isang mahal na kapatid.

Parang kailan lang na, we had dinner together in Cagayan de Oro and after a bottle or I would say bottles of beer, we had begun to open up to each other. I sincerely told him na, “Atty. Niel kung meron po akong nagawang di ka naging masaya sa aking panunungkulan, pasensya na po.” Sabi po naman niya, “alam mo dir. Orlan, magkaibigan tayo at masaya ako ngayon dahil pinagtitibay pa natin ang ating pagkakaibigan sa ganitong pag-uusap. It is normal to disagree, but we cannot be disagreeable.” In fact, sabi niya, “we really complement each other kasi, kung saan ka mahina doon ako malakas at kung saan ka malakas, doon ako mahina and with that together, we can be strong partners.”

Before parting, I still can recall that we had a brotherly embrace. Had I known then that was a sort of a goodbye last embrace, I should have embraced him more tightly, friend to friend, brother to brother, a last farewell to a fallen comrade-in-arms in our fight against the number one enemy of the nation, which is dire poverty to make life better for our poverty-stricken people thru cooperativism.

In truth, for real friends, there is no such thing as goodbye. This is according to Richard Bach in his book, Illusion and I quote, “For real friends, there is no goodbye for they will certainly meet again after moments or lifetimes. For those we love, there is no such thing as separation because they have become a part of us. As a favorite poet would put it, “Death is stronger than life, but love is stronger than death.”

For 15 years, Atty. Neil had been with us as our dear colleague, first as legal officer, when he joined CDA then in 1998 rising from ranks to become our Executive Director in 2003. He had exemplified that constitutional mandate that a public office is a public trust, always calm but firm, always of service but full of humility.

He was always there for us, beating everyone in office attendance, reporting to office very early manifesting a heart filled with “celestial fire” and his life of service had given credence to Kahlil Gibran’s poetic lines, to quote: “When you work, you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music . . . and what it is to work with love? It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth. . .”

Being the executive director of an office dedicated to advance cooperativism to transform a highly skewed societal order, I can say that his life had showcased a meaningful life based on the principles that he had lived-by. Titles, social standing, financial wealth. These are what were described by King Solomon as meaningless, utterly meaningless because in the final analysis who we are is defined not by these trappings but by the principles that we ardently believed in, struggled for and were willing to die for. By his work as executive director, he showed that the essence of his life is to advance a set of principles, time-honored and universally-accepted to which he dedicated his life of service in CDA.

The daily pressures of work had no match against his will to serve. Yes, we do feel the struggle of an office to serve, short of personnel, short of budget but is expected to prove equal to the task to serve the eleven million cooperative members throughout the land. But Atty. Neil was that vessel that according to Rabindranath Tagore that “thou emptiest again and again, and filleth it ever with fresh life. This little flute of reed thou hast carried over hill and dales, and has breath through it melodies eternally new.”

I sometimes contemplate on death just like all of us because we will all die, it is just a matter of when. In my reflection, I can see that death is ending nothing. Just like a drop of water becomes vapor, which is invisible, yet vapor materializes into billowing clouds, and from clouds rain falls back to earth, forming river torrents and eventually merging into the sea. Has the drop of water die along the way? No. It undergoes a new expression at each stage.

Thus, we can say that Atty. Neil’s journey does not end upon his death because death is just a rebirth to another life, a life which is far greater than our life on earth. That being, we can then conclude that the opposite of death is not life but birth, for life has no opposite as the journey goes on without letup toward that essence of the essence, the root of the root called LOVE.

Sa ngalan po ng mga regional directors ng CDA, paalam Atty. Neil. Sa pag-lisan po ninyo, hindi lang po kami nawalan ng executive director. Nawalan din po kami ng isang mahal na kaibigan, ng isang mahal na kapatid.

An officer and a gentleman but always full of humility. Your cooperative journey with us was in fact a triumph of the human spirit, for the greater glory of God. We know in our heart of hearts, a good person that you were, that you are now in the loving embrace of God, in a huge mansion, in the streets of gold and gutters of diamonds.

This is my firm belief as stated in John 14, and I quote, “Let not your hearts be troubled, ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions.”

As you leaped up to the Great Beyond, we can only look up to the stars and reflect that, ”From time to time, there appear on the face of the earth, men of rare and consummate excellence who dazzle us by their virtue and whose outstanding qualities shed a stupendous light. Like those extraordinary stars of whose origins we are ignorant and of whose fate, once they have vanished, we know even less, such men have neither forebears nor descendants; they are the whole of their race.”

To you, Atty. Neil, wherever you are, now with us, then with the stars, our firm salute and our warm embrace. We love you. Salamat po.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on January 09, 2014.

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