by Karen Caro-Trujillo
Someone once said “I’ve spent half of my life here in Spain”. Two days after, he left this world – never to return.
His wish was to write about his latest trip and send it to Ang Bagong Filipino. Who would have expected it would be his last?
Let’s call him Mr. E.
Mr. E came to Spain in his youth with high hopes of making it big in Spain, seeing what-have-you in many countries while learning about them, and as he had honed himself, serving as a guide to many of those who wished to see the wonders of Spain and Europe and, of course, promoting the beauty of the Philippines and warmth and hospitality of its people.
He was a man of God and a master of public relations with solid connections to several high officials of the Philippine government and the Foreign Service. He was even awarded a Presidential Order of Merit in recognition of his professional dedication and for being among the prominent ones.
Mr. E (second from right) with Filipino and Spanish members of Caballeros de Rizal
Credit given to his original research was understated. His work in gathering together the descendants of “Los ultimos de Filipinas”, a group of Spanish soldiers who bravely fought and defended their post in Baler (now the capital of Aurora province) almost a year after Spain lost the Philippines to the United States, became the basis for the celebration of the first Philippine-Spanish friendship day on June 30, 2003.
It was Mr. E who visited each of the concerned families and made friends with present mayors and leaders of the cities where the soldiers came from, thereby tracing their origins and linking them to a network of people interested in moving Philippines-Spain relations forward.
Mr. E’s research delved into the intricacies of historical details and genealogical issues and finally he presented them to people who showed great interest in his project. It eventually intensified awareness on the significance of the siege of Baler among the Filipino and Spanish peoples. The story of the Los Ultimos de Filipinas even inspired a movie in the Philippines which gathered numerous awards and honors.
I first met Mr. E nearly a decade ago in one of his organized trips to the outskirts of Madrid, together with other Filipinos interested in seeing more of Spain. He was jovial, inspiring and meticulous (especially in observing the tight schedule) during the excursion. It made me wonder about his keen interest in establishing links between cultures as diverse as that of the Philippines and Spain and he even offered to do the same for my Latin American friends. His ardent devotion to promoting the Philippine culture must have been a personal commitment to pay back a scholarship he earned when he came to his second mother country.
I was surprised to see him going to a school one day to cast his vote for the Spanish elections. He was 100% Filipino to me except that he carries a Spanish DNI. Despite acquiring Spanish citizenship, he remained Filipino at heart and mind.
Mr. E explaining José Rizal’s legacy in Rizal Park, Madrid, Spain
In his last trip before his journey to the after life, he was ecstatic in explaining the past events associated to his beloved Philippines while we hit the road to a city with a Santo Niño on top of one of its church, a road called Paseo de Filipinos and a seminary-museum holding the biggest collection of ivory statues of saints – with attribution to the Philippine status of being the only predominantly Catholic nation in Asia. It was sad I didn’t concentrate on his other words for I was busy taking pictures of the surroundings. I wasn’t aware Mr. E was suffering. After the trip I bid him goodbye and thanked him for guiding us through a wonderful outing. It was his last - a really memorable one for all of us.
(In memory of Mr. Exequiel Sabarillo, a true-blooded Filipino)