For he’s a jolly good Buddy

Tomas "Buddy" Gomez III was always the life of the party. He always had the most generous smile and biggest laugh. He never ran out of stories to tell. He loved to share historical tidbits about people, events and places.

Buddy's death on July 22 while mid-way through a weeklong pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain came as a shock to his family, friends and everyone who knew him.

He was looking forward to visiting the Philippines either later this year or early next year, praying that quarantine restrictions due to the coronavirus disease would be more lenient by that time.

Weeks before embarking on the pilgrimage, which he considered as his own "spiritual adventure of a lifetime," Buddy sent me a message: "Mabuti siguro sometime late January 2022 na ang planned reunion... much safer na and about the birthday of Tita Cory. After all, the 'bratpack' was her legacy to Philippine journalism, when you come to think about it."

Days prior, we were chatting about his plan to visit sometime between October and December, but I told him that at the rate the government's vaccination roll-out is going, it was unlikely that herd immunity would be achieved by the last quarter of the year and so big group gatherings may not yet be allowed.

The bratpack he was referring to was the batch of reporters who covered the presidency of Cory Aquino under which he served as press secretary from January 1990 to February 1992. He called himself "bratinello Buddy."

Upon Buddy's prodding in 2015, we organized the first reunion on April 9 that year. We invited some officials of the Cory Aquino Cabinet that time, including the executive secretaries - the late Joker Arroyo, Sen. Franklin "Frank" Drilon and Jun Factoran; press secretaries and spokesmen – Buddy, Teddyboy Locsin, former Supreme Court justice Adolf Azcuna and Rene Saguisag. Press undersecretaries Mila Alora, Danny Gozo, Ducky Paredes and Deedee Siytangco were also present. Some media relations officers and in-house writers helped us organize the event.

It was an unforgettable potluck party where politics was not on the agenda. There were a lot of kumustahan, after 23 years many of us last saw one another, and endless picture-taking. Buddy wanted a repeat of that reunion, more so after the deaths of Arroyo in October 2015 and Factoran in April 2020.

Buddy was supposed to meet a few of us early last year when he came to visit but rumors of a lockdown in early March of 2020 forced him to cut short his trip and he had to fly back to his home in San Antonio, Texas.

Buddy enjoyed the respect and admiration of reporters who covered the presidential beat during his time. Having started his professional life in the media through the Lopez-owned Chronicle Broadcasting Network, DZQL-Radio Reloj in 1957, Buddy knew what journalists needed for their daily news grind.

Ibarra Mateo, who covered Malacañang for a Japanese wire news agency, remembers Buddy "for his animated disposition and colorful use of the English language in fielding difficult, piercing questions."

"Popularly known as Buddy, he would sometimes exasperate members of the press in fulfilling what he called as his sacred duty to President Cory, which is protecting her from unfair attacks from the media," Mateo said. "How did he do this? He would crack jokes to fend off tension. Or he would answer questions in a way that would make reporters attending a press conference erupt into laughter. And then, he would answer the questions seriously, once he had calmed the situation."

Years after he had settled in Texas with his wife Mary Egloff and their children Jose and Malia, Buddy would send photos of the family and update us on how his son, who was a cute little boy we fondly called "Bugoy" during his stint at the Palace, had grown up.

He regaled us with stories of his life in Texas, particularly when he worked as a front desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a hotel, and as a furniture and antique restoration specialist.

To older Filipinos, Buddy is perhaps remembered as the bowtie-wearing diplomat who kept a close watch on the Marcoses while they were in exile in Honolulu where Cory Aquino assigned him as consul general in 1986.

Buddy was a good storyteller. His blog on ABS-CBN online was informative and fun to read.

Just hours before his sudden death was announced by his daughter, Human Rights Commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit, Buddy's last blog about the first segment of his 115-kilometer (km) trek to the Camino de Santiago was published.

Most of Buddy's blog followers, who were looking forward to the next segment, a 25 km stretch from the town of Portomarin to Pals de Rei in Galicia, Spain, could hardly believe the sad news of his passing.

After reading his last three blogs, one would think that Buddy probably saw his death coming. On July 10, one week before starting the pilgrimage, he wrote: "Who knows, this could be my last purposeful jaunt. So, let me render a physical testament for the record, before my ashed inurnment: I am 86, 165 lbs. in a 5'5" frame scarred by three abdominal surgeries, (don't they call that 'procedure' now?), including a botched gallbladder removal. A bout with pancreatitis, to boot, rewarding me with the experience of excruciating pain I happen to believe was worse than my sweet mother when she gave birth to me!"

In his last blog, he said: "The first 15 kilometers was a constantly undulating uphill climb. It was gentle and moderate for younger bones but certainly not for the likes of me. What would normally take 6 hours to walk the Sarria to Portomarin stretch took me 8. After 15 kilometers, my pace had gone down to half of when I started with the first 5 kilometers. And then, I was strolling with my knees and legs threatening to buckle. But as I said, I survived."

On the fourth day of his seven-day trek, Buddy breathed his last. He was supposed to reach the Santiago de Compostela Basilica on July 25, the feast of St. James.

Rest well, Buddy.


The views in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of VERA Files.
This column also appeared in The Manila Times.

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