On my very first day of class as a college freshman at the Ateneo de Manila University, I met Jason in my English Honours class. We were the chosen ones to learn from the wisdom and brilliance of the late Doreen Fernandez, and were all a bit intimated by life, college, and being an Atenean. I felt completely overwhelmed by the environment, but Jace smiled and introduced himself, making me feel at ease right away. Later on that freshman week, I met two other girls who, together with Jace, irreversibly became pillars of my soul. Together we formed an inseparable group, what later on became known as the ChopSueys, with each one of us representing a vegetable. We were as different as night and day, but somehow we formed the perfect family and remained the best of friends for a lifetime. The friendship that ensued from those first days at the Ateneo grew into an unconditional safe haven where we could air our grievances and figure out life together.
Jace quickly fell into the role of protector, guardian angel, sounding board, review mate, lunch pal, and brother. Being stuck with a bunch of girls full of issues around the clock, his short lines that offered a quick solution, had a dash of humour and a pinch of sarcasm, but they were always lined with care and concern became classics.
Having boy trouble? Mare, iwanan mo! (Sistah, leave him).
Failed an exam? Tara, chibog tayo (c’mon, let’s grab some grub).
Broken heart? Ang sakit! (It hurts!).
Need to fight for something or someone? Panindigan mo! (stand up for it)
But when my time came to marry a non-Filipino, he scowled and stared me right in the eyes, “Mare, sigurado ka ba? Hindi yan Pinoy, iba magmahal ang puti.” (Sistah, are you sure about this? He is not Filipino. The white man loves differently from us).
Family was everything to Jace, whether it was by blood, marriage or affection, if you were a bro, you remained a bro for life. Ask any of the Ateneo boys who grew up with him. He sacrificed his own comfort and personal ambitions to put others first, even if it meant taking a different, more painful road than he wanted. If the family needed him to adjust, he did so without asking.
A True Blue, this was the man who was the living embodiment of the Ateneo motto of being a man for others, the true lux in domino. His goal was not to enrich himself, but to serve and be a champion of the poor and marginalised. Ask the SALIGAN lawyers who stood by him, or the farmers in Davao who paid him in chickens and vegetables instead of cash. He grew up with the other Ateneo boys reciting Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam, and lived his life trusting in the goodness of the Lord and the generosity of life.
There are unsung heroes among us, and today I honour a fellow Atenean, a friend, a proud Pangalato, honorary Davaoenian, and a brother who leaves a legacy of love, honour and service.