HE IS bustling with so much life.

Blessed with a family who loves him, friends who adore him and a brilliant tennis career waiting to be revived.

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Pop Sabandon, former ranked No. 3 in Philippines men's tennis, would have taken a flight to Hong Kong yesterday being a visiting coach at a tennis academy there but he missed his plane.

He was instead laid to rest at Davao Memorial Park yesterday afternoon having succumbed to two gunshot wounds in the head on that fateful evening of February 19 in General Santos City.

People close to him, however, are still crying out for justice for Pop whose full 28 years ended so tragic at the hands of a man who still remains at large.

Pop was born on April 11, 1981 in Marawi City. He was the eldest among five children of Melchor, a native of Davao City, and Linda, who hails from Oroquieta City. His parents were also popular tennis players during their early years.

Linda, in an interview at Pop's wake at Ecoland Phase 4 Tennis Club courts on Wednesday night, shared their son's death came as a shock to the family.

"We deeply mourn the loss of Pop. We want justice. I couldn't remember him being involved in a fight. He thought of the welfare of our family most of the time. He was God-fearing, loving, caring and generous. He's a great loss to us," Linda shared.

She recalled that Pop started out as "pulot" or ball boy when he was five in Marawi.

She continued, "Whatever he earned at the court, he gave to me. He then started playing tennis when he was six with his father teaching him. From there, he became a champion in many local and national tournaments. He competed in the national circuits of Milo and Wilson, too. He was among the country's ranked players in boys 12-under, 14-under, 16-under, 18-under and men's category."

Pop was a varsity tennis player at the De La Salle University (DLSU) where he completed his sports management course in 2003. He also earned an associate degree in culinary arts at the College of St. Benilde in 2007.

He also joined the Philippine men's team in the Davis Cup having been ranked third over-all in the country.

Close buddy Johnny Arcilla, the current No. 1 men's player, reminisced the 18 long years of friendship he shared with Pop.

The 30-year-old Arcilla, a native of Butuan City, arrived to pay his last respects to Pop. Arcilla also played a couple of exhibition matches on Wednesday to help raise funds for Pop's burial expenses.

"I came here for my good friend and to help in the fund-raiser. Our friendship goes a long long way since we played in 10-under. We played together for the country in Singapore, Hong Kong and Malaysia in past international junior tournaments. We were also together for five years in Classic Pro in Manila," Arcilla said in the vernacular.

He said Pop was a very good person and a very good friend. He went on saying, "He was never quarrelsome. He was always happy as if he had no problems. He greeted me on my birthday on Feb. 15. It was the last time I heard of him but the next two days after he died, I dreamt that we were playing tennis."

Arcilla added: "He was a very strong and brilliant player. It's difficult to play against him. Win or lose, he was always happy and content. When he got married, he took a break from tennis. He started his comeback the past year. I believe he could have achieved more had he been given the chance to live."

Arcilla left for Japan yesterday to compete in the Davis Cup Group 1 Asia-Oceania as part of the Cebuana Lhuillier-Philippine team.

"I will play for Pop. I'm more inspired to play and do my best in the Davis Cup because of him," he added.

Philippine Tennis Association (Philta) regional vice-president for Mindanao Juanito "Titong" Cansino, Jr., on his part, said he had known Pop when he was 12.

Cansino said, "He kept coming to Davao and compete in our age-group tournaments here. He's a very good player and a very good kid. He won the men's singles gold for Lanao del Sur in the 2003 Mindanao Friendship Games in Mati, Davao Oriental. He even made it as a finalist in the First Rhoy Laingo Memorial Tennis Tournament held at Eco 4 courts last December."

Mom Linda, meanwhile, cited the overwhelming support of Pop's friends from different parts of the world. Even his facebook account would show the many people whose lives he touched as they stated words of encouragement and comfort to his family and condemnation for his death.

"The fact that so many people love Pop shows that he was a good person and he didn't deserve the kind of death he suffered. We are crying for justice but we are also happy for the outpouring of support from friends and family," she said.

Pop is gone. But the beautiful memories of his life will live on.