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Friday, September 24, 2021
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Bunye: El peregrino, Tomas ‘Buddy’ Gomez III

Speaking Out

TOMAS "Buddy" Gomez III was former consul general in Hawaii and former press secretary during the time of President Cory Aquino. Prior to that, he held senior executive positions within the Ayala group.

My last encounter with Buddy was during a Zoom reunion on July 11 of former Ayala executives. During that meeting, Buddy excitedly informed us about his forthcoming Camino de Santiago pilgrimage. Just a week later, friends and colleagues were shocked and saddened to learn that Buddy died more than halfway through what he described as "spiritual adventure of a life time." He was 86.

Buddy's son, Mitch, described the last few days of his dad. "Our dad was truly on a mission, certainly excited about his "spiritual adventure of a life time." He planned his camino clear-headed, clear-eyed and was truly deliberate about it. No one could have convinced him to do otherwise. In his blog "Cyber Buddy," our dad always expressed himself (regardless of subject matter) with energy and passion and a little bit of drama. The last few weeks of his blogs and FB posts were quite different. They were very spiritual and prayerful.

"He started his camino in the town of Sarria in Galicia in northwestern Spain on July 18 (a Sunday). He was physically alone in his last journey but spiritually accompanied by the prayers and well wishes of family, friends and all the peregrinos who preceded him.

"In the morning of Friday (July 23), he was found by workers in the room of the hostel where he was staying. A report from the local civil authorities said that he died in his sleep in the afternoon of Thursday (July 22).

"At the time of his death, he had already covered 75 kilometers of his 115-kilometer journey. And he was less than 40 kilometers away from Santiago de Compostela. On Wednesday evening, a very tiring day by his own admission, he emailed family about his first real sit-down dinner in three days. It would be his last dinner. One of his last messages to family was: ‘I will certainly try to keep going. I just woke up and I will be on the road again in an hour. Rising with the dawn.’ Approximately 12 hours later, after reaching his hotel in Arzua, he passed away.

"His last days were days of introspection, contrition, repentance, atonement. While we were praying for him, he was praying for us. As Father Maury said: His body may not have completed the camino, but his heart certainly did."

Buddy was very first boss when I joined the Ayala group in the mid-70s. He was then head of Ayala's PR department and concurrently the Executive Director of Filipinas Foundation, which is now known as the Ayala Foundation.

As the foundation's executive director, Buddy had a direct hand in the setting up Ayala's flagship project -- the Ayala Museum -- and engaging in research projects like the Sumilao cattle research project in Xavier University; the Magalang, Pampanga land reform experiment, scholarships in vocational-technical education and various studies (e.g. An Anatomy of Muslim Affairs in the Philippines.)

One of Buddy's most striking qualities, to me, was his ability to converse on or discuss anything under the sun -- be it politics, business, arts, or history. This extraordinary ability no doubt was developed through his extensive reading habits. I understand that he would finish at least one book every two weeks. While discussing a proposed project of the Ayala Museum involving the photographing of Philippine birds, Buddy gave us an impromptu lecture on Sinibaldo de Mas -- the 19th century Spanish diplomat, adventurer and poet, who introduced photography in the Philippines in 1841.

I remember Buddy for his unabashed self-confidence, which he tried to pass on to those who worked with him. Once he told me, "Toting, dapat malaki ang bilib mo sa sarili. Kasi kung hindi ka bilib sa sarili mo e sino ang bibilib sa iyo?" This is one life lesson that I have learned by heart and have since tried to pass on to others.

Buddy's advice is now a standard topic which I repeat every opportunity I have -- be it a leadership forum or a school graduation. Incidentally, another standard fare in my graduation speeches is Buddy's advice "to read, read and read."

I met Buddy again years later, when Buddy was appointed Press Secretary of President Cory. I was then Mayor of Muntinlupa. In addition to his Press Sec duties, President Cory also appointed Buddy as Cabinet Officer for Regional Development or Cord for Metro Manila. Buddy suggested that we would make a good team with him as Cord for Metro Manila and I as chair of the Metro Manila Authority. At that time, the chairman was elected by the mayors from among themselves. Taking the cue from Buddy, I ran and was elected as chairman of MMA for three consecutive terms.

Thank you Buddy -- my boss, my mentor and my friend. I and fellow Ayala colleagues of our generation -- including Merle Esteban-Villacorta (your ever loyal secretary), Melvyn Martin, Charisse Garcia Chuidian, Malou Camesa Mariano, Katy Dizon Jacinto, Jovy Cinco, Edith Nolledo, Mau Blardony, Toto Cruz, Francis Sebastian, Boyboy Reyes, Bebs Inocencio and Rene Montemayor will definitely miss you.

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