ONE Panagbenga season 20 years ago, our beloved father died and the skies literally turned gray in the midst of the colorful Baguio Flower Festival, where I was then one of the regular judges of its events, including the Grand Float Parades.

He collapsed one evening in February 1999, on February 19 to be exact, while I was helping to put to bed the weekly Baguio Cordillera Skyland News at its office which was then along Ferguson Road.

My sister Evelyn called the Skyland landline to say Dad had a stroke, and asked me to immediately go to the SLU Hospital of the Sacred Heart where Dad had been rushed to.

I didn’t know much about strokes then. I even thought it couldn’t be that bad as it was the first time that it happened to him, or to anyone in our immediate family.

We were numb all throughout the seven days that he was in coma and hospital personnel said they have never seen such a family in such mourning.

Our comatose father expired at high noon on February 26, 1999, just before he was scheduled for operation to open up his skull as I had questioned the attending doctor on why he had not opened up our Dad’s skull despite the stroke having been diagnosed as a “bleeding stroke”.

And so it has been 20 years since then that our beloved father, Balbino “Mars” Japson Alambra, travelled to the life beyond.

Premonition calling?

On the evening that my father suffered from a stroke, I was at the Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) at the top of Session Road to cover an event.

I was near the teller tables and a BPI staff member approached me to say that I had a phone call. [Yes, that was the time before mobile phones.]

Perplexed, I approached the landline phone and found out that it was my Dad. I must have told him my itinerary for the day. My Dad asked me how my day was – small talk – no emergency, no urgent family matter.

On hindsight, did our Dad’s guardian angel give him an inkling of what was to come? That it was his time to go?

On to the beyond

2019 March 7, Thursday: As I write this column today, I remember the 7th of March 20 years ago in 1999 when we buried our dear father at high noon at the public cemetery in our ancestral hometown, Santo Tomas, La Union.

Why there and not in Baguio City where he and the Alambra family had migrated to long before the war?

Well, my father had somehow blurted out to me that he missed his mother, our grandmother Bersabela Japson Alambra, whom we did not get to meet as she had died during “Liberation” time in Baguio City. She was one of the victims of the “dog fights” in the sky and the carpet bombings that were meant to flush out the Japanese invaders.

And so I thought of bringing Dad to his mom, Lola Ylang, in the Sto. Tomas Public Cemetery where our forebears are buried. And there, I had purchased the widest available space at the fringes of the cemetery as our family’s final resting place, facing east so that Dad could see the top of Mount Sto. Tomas in Baguio City, his beloved city that could be seen beyond the hills of Sto. Tomas, La Union.

Eve of our Dad’s 20th death anniversary

2019 February 25, Monday: On the eve of our Dad’s 20th death anniversary, we visited him and our late mother Martina “Isha” Verceles Alambra, blaring out one of their favorite love songs at their final resting place in their dear hometown Santo Tomas, La Union, where they preferred to be buried after a married life well lived in Baguio City, where our Dad's family had been one of the earliest lowlander families to settle in the upland Summer Capital of the Philippines.

Dad’s 20th death anniversary

2019 February 26, Tuesday: I set up an altar to commemorate the 20th year following our father's death on 26 February 1999.

The first candle that I lighted somehow "died" at the exact time of our father's death at high noon two decades ago.

And so I lighted another candle as I prayed for our gentle and soft-spoken Dad, who had served in churches with the Holy Name Society, starting in Guam when he worked with Brown Pacific Maxon from 1947-1957, the year of his homecoming and wedding with our mother.

Dad then continued serving with the Holy Name Society at our childhood parish, Saint Vincent Church at "Campo Filipino" in Baguio City.

Balbino “Mars” Japson Alambra of Santo Tomas, La Union and Baguio City (1925-1999).

Dad, you are loved.