NO WONDER I haven’t seen him in ages. Make that, in months. Our Philippine Mediation Center-Bacolod supervisor Fátima de la Cruz texted me last Saturday that “Andy Hagad has left us.” Right there, I knew it wasn’t just going to another country.

The last time I met lawyer Andrés “Andy” Hagad was last year at the Hall of Justice. He was on the way out of the compound, I was rushing to my court-annexed mediation case.

We had a brief chat. I told him to write a column on his health situation. I knew he was on alternative medicine to confront his cancer that was discovered in New Zealand.

Andy followed my advice. He wrote in his Sun.Star Bacolod column Bottom Line, “When the doctors told me I had a malignancy in the lymphatic system four years ago, I was strongly against chemotherapy and did not follow their advice to submit to that treatment immediately.

“Fast-forward three and a half years later; cancerous lumps had by this time grown along my groin and around my face, scalp and neck. They became so pronounced (one particular lump was already threatening to close my windpipe).”

An oncologist confirmed the findings that he was suffering from aggressive non-Hodgkins Lymphoma, and she recommended immediate chemotherapy. In my book, friends and relatives who underwent it implied a death sentence. Andy, however, was to live for almost a year more after our last encounter.

I think of Andy as more of a peacemaker than a lawyer. We were together as court-annexed mediators of PMC-Bacolod. He was just as comfortable with mediation as with litigation, two contrasting sets of disciplines that would flummox many lawyers who are trained to be adversarial.

Said a former law student, “Prof. Andy likewise inspired me to study and train further on arbitration, conciliation, mediation, negotiation and other forms of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR).”

Andy was well-known to many in Negros Occidental as a mediator and as a human rights lawyer. In 1990, he played the role as the spokesperson of the freedom committee for the release of Peace Corps volunteer Timothy Swanson and OISCA’s Fumio Mizuno whom the New People’s Army had kidnapped.

Together with Bishop Vicente Navarra and other Negrenses, Andy signed the statement “No to Indecent Pardon” who expressed their collective outrage at the “biggest travesty of justice” when then President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo pardoned Estrada on Oct. 25, 2007.

His brother Charlie told me at Andy’s wake that he was that kind of person who opposed social injustices. He remembers his Manong when he championed the rights of poor mountain farmers whose lands were landgrabbed in Cádiz City during the early years of martial law.

Judge Ray Alan T. Drilon summed it best in his Facebook blog in paying homage to a great Negrense: Atty. Andres Hilado Hagad, former provincial board member, practicing lawyer, law professor, newspaper columnist, and human rights advocate.

A graduate of the University of the Philippines College of Law, he joined the law firm of Senator Jovito Salonga as a young associate attorney. He returned home and joined the firm of his late father Justice Juan Hagad, former Ombudsman for the Visayas. He ventured briefly into politics and served as Member of the Provincial Board.

A principled man he quit politics and focused on his private practice but involved himself in social advocacies. He wrote incisive commentaries in his newspaper column, and taught in the College of Law of the University of St. La Salle. Andy has been battling cancer for many years opting to submit to alternative medicine for treatment.

Despite his medical condition, he always remained upbeat, and positive in his outlook. A brilliant advocate, he was a respected member of the Integrated Bar of the Philippines-Negros Occidental Chapter.

Godspeed, Andy. It has been a privilege that you had been part of my life as a peacemaker.