REP. VICTOR S. DOMINGUEZ: The Man Whose Heart Was Bigger Than His Life

-->(This was written last year a day before Rep. Dominguez was buried. Today is his first death anniversary.)

The stories were checkered. Some said he died of pneumonia. Others said heart attack. But those who were with him during his final moments say Mountain Province Rep. Victor S. Dominguez succumbed to a broken heart.
Only people who love and love too much would yield to a broken heart. And I know that he had an immense capacity for it.
Since my childhood, I had known him. I spent more than one summer vacation joining his campaign sorties. As his staff for two years in the House of Representatives, I bear witness to his dedication to help people. He took and made time for people- constituents or otherwise- appealing for assistance. He often made me scour telephone directories for the numbers of officials who had the power to appoint or disappoint job-seekers, or grant or deny concessions. Exerting pressure when necessary, he surrendered to no obstacles. His relentlessness was remarkable.
Not a stranger to the discrimination suffered by indigenous peoples, he was resolute to pluck out Igorots from the junction of inconsequentiality to the dais of national prominence. To him, this was achieved by the appointment of Igorots to key government posts. Friends brag and foes concede that his weight-throwing placed Igorots in national major positions. Sundry criticisms may be hurled at the mainstream politics he subscribed to. But if Igorot history will be written, it should devote a page to the trails he blazed for a people who, for years, suffered and still suffer the indignity of being flouted while their resources are being plundered, courtesy of imperial Manila.
When I was 22, he pushed for my appointment --by the President of the Philippines-- as Director of the Cordillera Executive Board. My limited experience- the years I worked for him in the House of Representatives while studying law in a state university- was decorated by good academic credentials (which spelled nothing), and bloated by his influence (which meant everything). He would proudly introduce me as the youngest presidential appointee. If that was an achievement, it was his, not mine. It was my fortune.
He knew how to return favors and never considered them fully repaid. To a fault, he could go to extreme lengths to protect his people- even those guilty of wrongs. Privately, he castigated them for their “sins” but sheltered them from the cage or the whip.
His lingering recollection of favors was a stark contrast to his brief memory for affronts. His heart, as well as his office, was never too crowded for his enemies. One day, a man who publicly campaigned against and vilified him in the past approached him for help on an agency’s budget. I asked, “Why oblige this man?” He replied, “To make your enemy the beneficiary of your goodness is the most gratifying revenge.” That was probably his version of Jesus’ “Throw bread at them who throw stones at you.”
His Quezon City home was perpetually open to everyone in need of help, shelter and food. There was a constant stream of guests, some from the neighboring provinces of Mt. Province. On weekends, his Baguio home was teeming with people shackled by motley problems requiring his service or power trident. Not once did I hear him and his family complain although their privacy was a casualty. Openhandedness was truly his trademark. Probably on this score, no politician will ever match him. 
I agonized when we had a publicized rift. I denounced him for standing up for his relative against my relative. He broke my heart. I must have broken his heart too, because he wrote to say that as my second father, he was hurt by my action but understood me. Alas, things were said and done.
The crevasse ran so deep –it had to for people who were close- I thought it would remain gaping. Fortunately, time, indeed, does heal wounds. My eternal regret is that things were never the same. When soreness vanished, I already had a very large world plus a million and one concerns that I rarely socialized. Also, there was the ideological divide. While working in the executive branch, my ideological metamorphosis was completed irreversibly. I abhorred and still abhor the anti-people national status quo. Rep. Dominguez–wittingly or unwittingly- was a status quo pillar. (Consider how he helped save Gloria Arroyo from impeachment!) Differences in our political views notwithstanding, it was always in my “in-the-future” agenda to pay him a personal visit and savor the old days. With his untimely departure, I forfeited that chance. Missed opportunities will haunt me. But forever, I will be grateful for the privilege of knowing this man who was exceptional amidst his flaws and weaknesses.
Rep. Dominguez had a mischievous side, too. With an impish grin, he voiced out one time that he wished I would romantically “fancy” his very nice, good-looking relative, certainly every girl’s ideal pick. But the relative was not interested in me. Besides, I was eighteen or nineteen and my world was too narrow to accommodate boys. My surprise and embarrassment must have been evident. He simply chuckled and did not wait for a reply that would never come.
There were persistent talks that he died hankering for the affection of kith and kin who politically forsook him. His vital signs were good. But he seemed to have slackened his grasp on his willpower to live.
Jesus’ death on the cross shakes us to the core because of a friend’s betrayal. If Judas were one of the Pharisees, or the Roman soldiers, or the unbelieving crowd, betrayal would have been negated, altering the twist in the story of salvation. Foes cannot betray you as they cannot perforate your heart, although they may arouse your temper. Rep Dominguez must have loved his relatives so much to be ineffably upset by their rejection.
In life, he did not draw comfort from moving around with anger weighing him down. While a shattered heart enervated him during his last days, I believe he began his journey to the afterlife sans a decelerating baggage of hate. During his final hours, he must have been like the father weakened by unquenched thirst for the homecoming of his prodigal son, absolved before absolution was sought, loved beyond he deserved. Thankfully for the prodigal son, he ironed out emotional kinks and embraced the old man again before it was too late; otherwise guilt would have plagued him for the rest of his life.
I looked at Rep. Dominguez’ shrunken body in a brass coffin. So shrived of animation. A light has gone out. I surveyed the thousands who came to pay their last respects to a man whose kindness and generosity humbled also those who rebuff his brand of politics. Many wept unabashedly. He was so very alive. The torch of his good deeds will endure.
His hurts are behind him now. We who still breathe are left to confront our regrets for things undone and unfinished conversations, our guilt for knowingly or unknowingly hurting him beyond his endurance and neglecting to ask for forgiveness, our sorrow for a loss we did not quite prepare ourselves for. In a way, we are dead ourselves. We must struggle to rise from our own graves, dug by our regrets, our guilt, our sorrow.
Au revoir, Uncle Vic. Long you will live.
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