Carlos P Romulo personally asked him to join his team when Mr Romulo was appointed head of the Department of Education. Mr Romulo even sent someone to where they lived in Frisco to invite him to join him in government. Larry Henares called him an Islamic scholar. He was a proponent of the Ninth Ray campaign to introduce a ninth ray on the sun on the Philippine flag that sought to recognise the contribution to Philippine history and sovereignty by our Muslim brothers. He was highly regarded in the UP community and was well known as a poet, a writer, a scholar and a brilliant mind. He was a proud Filipino.
He was a political organism. He ran in circles with the great political thinkers and political personalities. I grew up with him saying he met with this person, or had coffee with that, and then I’d read the name in the newspapers. I know very little of his political involvement, only that he once ran for public office in Toledo, in Cebu. He didn’t win the election, but I have no doubt that had he been successful, he would have served with all his heart, only thinking of what was best for the constituents he served. He helped set up livelihood programs in various locations in the Philippines to help his countrymen improve their lives. He spent his years advocating Mindanao Muslims so that they were represented and respected as valuable, integral parts of the Philippine society, and not viewed as schismatic or separationists.
But to us, his nephews and nieces, he was simply Uncle Wawell. The uncle who wanted the best for his family. To me, especially, he was Koji. When I was little, he was the uncle who visited me and played with me. He allowed me to call him Koji because that was the name of the character he played in my dress up games. He even suffered a busted lip once because we played jump rope and my head hit his chin and he bit his lip. He was in pain, I’m sure, but he said he was okay.
I think he taught all of us how to play chess. I remember him telling me when I was looking at what piece to move that I needed to think, be strategic and plan. Little did I know he was trying to equip me for life. He was telling me that it was necessary to plan and to know where you wanted to go, what result you wanted to achieve and to consider carefully how you planned to get there. He loved his lists of things to do and enjoyed word games, particularly a good crossword puzzle. He loved a good chat and a cup of coffee, and he could talk about anything under the sun. He was brilliant like that. He believed in his nephews and nieces. He was our biggest fan and our biggest defender. He was someone who was always there if you needed to talk. He tried to give us everything we wanted, if he could. When he found out that I needed a portable typewriter for school projects, he just appeared at Don Jose one day with typewriter in hand…just because I needed one. He was like that. He once said that he would do everything to support his nieces and nephews, because he wanted us to realise our potential to make up for him not living up to the promise of his own potential. He loved us, in the way that he loved his brothers and sisters, deeply and completely.
Antonio Porchia said that “one lives in the hope of becoming a memory.” On Friday morning, I received the heartbreaking news that my Uncle Wawell passed away. Koji is no longer physically with us. I will never hear him laugh or clear his throat, or hear him call his sisters Fems, Gards, Binggay or Jinks, which always made me smile. But he is with God and he is whole, healthy and no longer in discomfort. He said once to me that he never lived up to the promise of his potential. Oh but he did! He has contributed to everyone’s lives in more ways than he can imagine. He has made the lives of a multitude of people better. He has made his family feel valued, supported and important. His memory will live on through his family, his nieces and nephews and their children, and the people whose lives he touched.
We love you Koji. We are proud to call you our Uncle Wawell. You are remembered with pride and love.