THE late Engr. Ernesto R. Aboitiz had unusually young looking eyes: sharp, inquisitive, clear, and active. Surrounded by a thick frock of gray hair and a prominent goatee, his eyes revealed a youthful spirit that no aging body could confine.
It was as if the poet Samuel Ullman was thinking of him when he wrote the memorable lines: “You are as young as your faith, as old as your doubt; as young as your self-confidence, as old as your fear, as young as your hope, as old as your despair.”
I got to know Engr. Ernesto Aboitiz during the defining days of People Power 2. A friendship was born between a veteran advocate and a middle-aged upstart in the work of political advocacy. He soon became a dear friend, a feisty fiscalizer, and a precious mentor. He also became the first personal monthly pledger of our fledgling movement.
Ernie was an acquired taste. At first encounter, one gets the uneasy feeling of being stretched out of one’s comfort zones. After all, Mr. Aboitiz had been there and done those things that were just beginning to dawn on me. Ernie had worked with two presidents and was involved in the phase of transition between the two. It was no easy role but he had his conscience and his Church to guide him. I recall with admiration how often a man of his stature would humbly ask specific guidance from persons much younger and less well known than himself, only because they were priests of the Church.
One can say he was a dye-in-the-wool Catholic who was not timid about concealing his core identity in the challenging worlds of business, government, and high society. He was a bearer of Catholic identity and culture. Once, when he was with me in our rather tight and bare space we called a “prayer room” for a mass, I asked him to remove his shoes before entering. He did so with no hesitation. Ernie was a simple man who had a deep sense of the sacred even if he was not exactly what people ordinarily refer to as religious. Sir Ernie, a title bestowed on him in 2009 by his St. Sylvester Papal award, was so becoming of him.
The gospel last Sunday (Luke 2:41-52) on the finding of Jesus in the temple show an inquisitive boy of twelve who is comfortable in the presence of influential people, even as later on he also showed himself to be very much at home with the poor.
Inquisitiveness is the first step towards wisdom. Wise people begin by asking; often good questions are more important than good answers. Ernie had endless questions that threatened the uninitiated but shed light to those who were open. While there would be disagreements, the process of asking removed the superfluous and often only the truly essential remained. It was his way of sharing his cumulative wisdom as well as channeling the energies of what later on became the Dilaab movement.
The questions taught us many things: that resources, when the hearts and the systems are not in the right place, can be a curse; that empathy and compassion towards public servants is essential if we are to have meaningful change; that by linking with others and becoming part of a network we do not have to reinvent wheels; that people need to put their money where their mouths are; that prevention is better than cure; that effectiveness is not just a frenzy of activities; etc. By insisting on concrete counterparts from stakeholders in advocacy work, he embodied the Church’s vision of a community of disciples where no one is so poor so as not to be able to give anything and no one is so rich so as not to be able to receive anything.
Last December 2009 he showed himself thinking of others even as he entered a very difficult period in his life. He said to me: “It is really so simple to help others if you really want to and the best way to help is to be in government. It gives you a big high just because many are helped due to a little effort on your part.” It is small surprise that my dear friend was happiest with our outreach to the police and he was looking forward to the germination of the seed of our effort to evangelize politics.
Last year, Ernie and other members of our network planted some seedlings. He did more than that. He planted some seeds for Dilaab, the Church, and the nation.
Do not worry Ernie, we will continue to water the seedlings while God will give the growth. Adios Amigo!