Friday, February 14, 2014

AVELINO HALAGAO: A Jolly Good Fellow

 A memorial service is planned for the late Judge Avelino Halagao on Saturday, February 15, 2014 at 5:30 p.m. at Marymount University.  Tina and I plan to attend and offer our prayers and condolences to his family as we did during the wake of his late wife Siony who died in 2012.
Siony and Aveling
To many of us, Judge Halagao was nicknamed Aveling.  A close lawyer-friend called him “Jabbar” – after Basketball Hall of Famer Kareem Abdul Jabbar who is a 7-footer.  Initially referred to jokingly for his comparatively short size, Aveling actually gained respect by standing “tall” in many of his undertakings.
Aveling was a fellow Ilocano; a fellow Bedan; a fellow lawyer; and a fellow basketball fan and follower..
Involved in so many fields of endeavor, he was always greatly pleasing in his approach, cheerful to work with, and charming to friends and foes alike. 
To everyone, he was by definition, and “nobody could deny” that indeed, he was “A Jolly Good Fellow.”
We both came from the Ilocos Region in the Philippines – he from Ilocos Sur and I from Pangasinan.  We both spoke the Ilocano dialect and could sing with a lot of enthusiasm, “Manang Biday”, “Banatiran” and “Ti Ayat Ti Maysa Nga Ubing”. Many do not realize it but there are more Ilocano-speaking residents in Pangasinan than Pangalatot!
He was a great visionary – (wittily translated in Tagalog by my barber as “may malaking kita”) as he showed outstanding leadership in the community we lived in.  He co-founded the Ilocano Society of America (ISA) and became its first President.  He commanded a following that would blindly assert, “no anya ti kunkunam, kunkunami metten”. (Whatever you say or your view is also what we say or is also our view).
We both went to San Beda College of Law – the school that was dubbed by the U.S. Embassy as the “Harvard” of the Philippines during his time (at least a decade older) and mine.  I would have preferred “Yale” but that was the embassy’s view.
Aveling was always proud to say, like I did, that during that period San Beda produced more Bar Topnotchers than failures. Meaning - easier to top the bar and pass than to fail if you study in San Beda. 
His younger brother also went to San Beda. I told Aveling that his brother was a ranking leader of the Crusading Lions’ Party which I founded when I successfully ran for President of the Student Council.  It was in power for several years in San Beda partly because of his brother.
We were both lawyers.  He was, in fact, one of the first Presidents of the then, Philippine Lawyers Association (PLA) in Metropolitan Washington, D.C. area.  It was later renamed the Philippine American Bar Association (PABA). I became President under the latter. He did an outstanding job!
Earlier employed by a bank, he specialized in Trusts.  When he started his private practice, clients trusted him to handle immigration, real estate, and accident cases.
When I came back to settle in Washington, D.C. for health reasons, we planned to set-up an Asian Pacific American Law Center.  But his decision to go back to the Philippines suspended our plans.  So I suggested that he should get involved in Philippine politics instead. Being acceptable to both the Singson and Crisologo clans in Ilocos Sur plus a political network that we built earlier, he could become a Congressman under the Party-list system. I introduced him to my nephew, another Bedan, Carlo Maynigo Bernabe who co-founded the Philippine People’s Parliament (PPP) – a certified party-list organization. He was a special assistant to Mayor Herbert Bautista of Quezon City, his classmate. He learned the mechanics and dynamics of the system through my Bedan lawyer-friend Sixto Brillantes III. The latter turned out to be a classmate of Aveling.  Brillantes is now the Chairman of COMELEC.
Since it was too late for Aveling to pursue the party-list route, another opportunity presented itself – a vacancy, (COMELEC) Associate Commissioner.  We pushed him to get the position without political backing.  He advocated genuine electoral reforms and good governance giving priority to OFW and immigration concerns.  He was in fact short-listed but unfortunately, as I expected, another one was appointed. 
Lesson learned: in the Philippines, political backing is still necessary to get appointed to a position like COMELEC Associate Commissioner.
Setting-up his law firm and with my nephew Carlo as Executive Director, a professional law and lobby firm was born.  His firm was aggressively representing foreign companies that possessed new technologies.  Until his death, his firm was introducing the “best and most innovative technology for waste to energy management system” to Local Government Units (LGUs) in partnership with the private sector. This latest technology was the product of a French company.
Aveling was not only a basketball fan and follower who witnessed the playing days of San Beda’s Caloy Loyzaga – Asia’s best Cager ever; and those of Jerry West, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Michael Jordan, and the latest million dollar-earning stars.  He was also a player who had pick-up games with lawyers Mingging Ordoveza, Dodong Tecala, Mon Paterno and me.  In fact, he was the player-coach of the San Beda Alumni team when we played against the Ateneo Alumni team in an exhibition game.  We lost to a team led by Mon Paterno and a bunch of former MICAA players by one point, I think! J
 I could not resist writing this tribute to Aveling.  It would be like singing the song, “"For He's a Jolly Good Fellow" – meant to honor, greet, or congratulate him for a significant event.  That event is his union with his Creator.
The origin of the tune is French like the technology company that he last represented.  It is the second most popular song in the English language, following “Happy Birthday To You” and followed by “Auld Lang Syne”.
Avelino Halagao, due to his achievements on earth, will forever be immortalized.  Together with Siony, he produced great children.  He built foundations that future generations would emulate and follow.  He planted trees and built a resort in his hometown that brought and continues to bring joy and entertainment.
Here is to AVELING: a FELLOW Ilocano Bedan lawyer and basketball enthusiast!  He is indeed, “A Jolly Good Fellow”.

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