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Remembering Mon J

“ENCOURAGEMENT. That’s what we need now.”

Ramon Jimenez Jr. said so, shortly before he died in the morning of April 27, 2020, not because of COVID-19. The wisdom in Mon J’s words could as well help arrest the further spread of COVID-19, the way “It’s more fun in the Philippines” had transformed Philippine tourism into a major income earner for the Philippine economy when he was tourism secretary.

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“I have always believed that the Filipino thrives in an atmosphere of encouragement. Tell us we are doing well and we will come back and do even better. That is also why I believe that whatever containment and recovery plan we have will need a success model ASAP. Example: If in theory we are successful with mass testing in say, Quezon City (meaning there is a concentration of efforts in that area), the sooner we can announce a breakthrough, the sooner all the rest of the country will believe we can defeat the menace…

“Success always needs a tipping point.

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“You can’t fix Edsa traffic overnight. But if you find a way to make even just the Makati stretch of it better and smoother, everyone will believe you will solve the problem once and for all.

“ENCOURAGEMENT. That’s what we need now.”

Rereading Mon’s words from my phone (we of UP High School class of 1971 have always called him Mon, before he became the Mon J) while grieving over the news that fateful morning somehow consoled me with the thought that his going may indeed be God’s timing. Otherwise, the message would just remain where it was.

There is much more from Mon in my phone:

“Clearly, the biggest lesson that the pandemic has taught us is that we are all connected. What we do (or fail to do), has an effect on the entire community. The concept of shared space, shared resources, and shared consequences has finally become clear to everyone. From now on, any plan we make must take everyone’s needs into account. One man’s sore throat could be another man’s death sentence.

“More importantly, we now realize that our salvation… (lies in) the wisdom and soundness of a plan that leaves no one behind and holds no one above the rest.”

Between us, and long before COVID-19 and his becoming tourism secretary, Mon and I had shared a private joke, also from his own words: “Let’s compost them (who made life difficult for us)!” It was a play on the advocacy of the Bangon Kalikasan Movement and Ecology Centers, which my husband and I had organized, and of which he later became a supporter. In fact, when he came to our house in December 2019, we had started discussing how we could further push our vision of cultivating farms and creating forests in the cities while expanding farms and restoring forests in the countryside. He then invited us for more discussion-cum-family bonding after the holidays to Lily and Flor, as he and wife Abby had named their retirement retreat in Alfonso, Cavite, after their mothers. On Jan. 11, 2020, on the eve of the Taal Volcano eruption, we skimmed over a plan for a Metro Manila city awaiting to be implemented as Phase 2 of an earlier, successful project. However, we simply allowed the day to progress in intimate exchanges, highlighted by our two-year-old granddaughter Stella’s charms and guarded delight over Lolo Mon’s dogs Papo and Jaku. One thing, however, was reiterated: An ecological lifestyle, starting with each one, in each home, community, and establishment; just like he had said back in the Department of Tourism, that “each Filipino was an agent of tourism.”

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We will greatly miss Mon in a Phase 2 of a “tourism” campaign enhanced from our previous success stories: composting (not those who made life difficult for us, but biodegradable wastes) to cultivate urban farms and forests, in partnership with the countryside.

The vision, however, is uplifting, and, yes, Mon has expressed that he will still be with us. In our garden in the morning of April 27, as Stella’s papa was draining her pool, there hovered a brown butterfly. Every year on the birthdays of my mommy, daddy, and lola, a brown butterfly comes to visit.

With more farms and forests throughout the country, there will be enough food, livelihood, and employment right in the community; and more virgin coconut oil (VCO), tawa-tawa, lagundi, luya, sili, and more, to fight another virus. (Merciful God, no more pandemic, please!)

And there would be more butterflies, in all colors.

*  * *

Ana Celia Ver-Papa ([email protected] is a high school batchmate, friend, and fellow environment advocate of Mon J’s.

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TAGS: Ana Celiva Ver-Papa, Commentary, Mon Jimenez, ramon jimenez jr
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