Exhale deeply: An interactive moment

Melo, Raymund, Rafa, Noli—‘Grief is love persevering’

‘Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.’ – Matthew 11:28-30 Heavenly Boracay awaits (Photo by Teddy Montelibano, Sept. 15, 2021)

Editor’s Note:

This is an interactive sensory experience.
Read, relax, watch, and have a listen.
The author shares video and music links, and invites everyone to buckle up for the journey.
You can also watch and listen after reading, with a special Spotify playlist in the end:

OUR DARKEST HOUR yet in this vicious pandemic could very well be tomorrow’s dramatic, post-apocalyptic sci-fi documentary and top-grossing Netflix series of all time.

We have heard the quote, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes,” spoken by Benjamin Franklin in 1789, and also used by Mark Twain. Ironically, the origin of the phrase is a comedy play, The Cobbler of Preston by Christopher Bullock in 1716: “Tis impossible to be sure of anything but Death and Taxes.”

And yet, death always comes as a surprise. There is no fair warning. Even when it is expected, we are never prepared for its finality.

The global pandemic has claimed 4,881,590 lives. That’s 39,896 in the Philippines alone, at 1.49 percent of the total number of cases. Each day, another death hits closer to home and the statistics begin to blur. It takes only one name out of thousands to bring us to our knees. Meanwhile, the perfect storm continues to ravage our lives, picking up momentum by the day.

(Sources: and as of October 13, 2021)

These past two months, death has never been so real. It has hit home and taken many of us hostage.

It has held me in a tight grip, so I apologize for the somber subject that has possessed me to write this, coincidentally, in October, with Halloween just around the corner.

Danse Macabre (Dance of Death), the opus by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns, written in 1872, eerily represented the power of death as the great social equalizer—no one escapes the dance with death, and paintings and artworks have been inspired by this idea.


La Danse Macabre de Camille Saint-Saëns (Les Clefs de l’orchestre de Jean-François Zygel avec l’Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France)

My calendar is packed with overlapping Zoom masses and novenas. Suffice it to say, we are reminded—too often, of late—that we are on borrowed time. How we wish that we were brought closer together without shared suffering.

August had knocked the wind out of me, with a string of bad news—a family member’s cancer diagnosis, an elderly family member contracting COVID, a much-loved business venture going belly-up, and then our worst nightmare, a sudden and heartbreaking death in the family.

By September (normally our family’s most festive “birthday month”), our days were spent zooming from one Zoom room to another on two laptops. We stormed the heavens for loved ones and friends fighting for their lives, with near-perfect attendance in our daily prayers. We built up so much hope, only to be shattered by more tragic news three times in a span of weeks.

These days, I brace myself and dilly-dally before tuning in to social media, particularly Facebook, dreading what has become a social media prayer request and condolence board. The first thing you see is a desperate plea for prayers and a string of clasped prayer hands, and you know that a family is hurting and someone you know is fighting for his or her life. That, or the dreadful black circle or burning candle for a profile picture. And without warning, death punches you in the gut.

My sister Ida uncannily just sent me this message: “Catching up on messages. The St. Scho. chat group had 630 messages that I’m scrolling through, two-thirds of which are deaths and sickness updates, the rest are birthday messages. 😭😓🙏”

Indeed, “doomscrollers” are having a field day.

As I write this, mid-sentence, an old friend’s profile photo turns black, and I find out that her favorite uncle succumbed to COVID. As I try to console her, I receive a message that a family member who is very dear to my heart is COVID-positive. Another day passes, another black profile.

We carry on with normal day-to-day things, but nothing is really normal (don’t even say “new normal” to me, understand?). Deep down, behind the face masks, we are seething, and our eyes are a dead giveaway. Days roll over each other like an avalanche—before you can get over one day’s bad news, the next day delivers one’s worst nightmare, punctuated by yet another lockdown like the olive in a martini (that you imagine yourself choking on to end all the misery), leaving us in a state of oblivion. Nothing makes sense anymore.

Many days I am inconsolable. For someone who takes “good vibes only” seriously, I’ve dropped “chipper” from my persona. Angst is my new second name, despite the mass songs on loop. I have gone through a lifetime’s worth of rollercoaster emotions, and I’ve had enough of it. I am way past “distraught,” “disappointed” or even “sad.” I am angry as hell!

If you’re still reading this, that means you too are suffering. I invite you to join me in a virtual scream at the top of your mind’s voice: THIS IS INSANE!!!!!

My favorite clueless pet peeve just posted another selfie, unmasked and gallivanting in a mall in the city

 Case in point: my favorite clueless pet peeve just posted another selfie, unmasked and gallivanting in a mall in the city, currently a hot zone, with the hashtag #fullyvaccinated #bringitondelta—and you seriously wonder why the virus doesn’t just take the apathetic ones with a reckless “couldn’t care less,” cavalier attitude, vaccinated or not!

“Ordinary World” by Duran Duran

GRIEF. Five letters that weigh heavier than the weight of the world on the bereaved heart.

When death and grief are all around us, our collective psyche easily gets lost in turmoil, so we compartmentalize, take a deep breath, and try to move on.

The problem is, nothing prepares us for death. In the blink of an eye, we are gutted and powerless, unable to comprehend what just happened. Death’s shadow shrouds us in deep despair.

To be overcome by grief is like swimming in dark waters, treading against a tide of vicious and stabbing sorrow, great sadness, mental anguish, and painful regret for all that we failed to do or say.

Grief is perhaps the most intensely painful form of suffering in this life. My life’s greatest loss has been my papa Dennis Jose Dario✝️, back in 2008. He was 71, I was 38. Though 13 years have passed and I no longer cry nor miss him on a daily basis, certain triggers take me back to that moment when the earth stopped and my world crumbled.

Grief feels like a sucker punch to the gut, and for a moment you can’t breathe, think, or feel anything. The mind goes blank. Then the worst feeling in the world overcomes every cell in your body—searing pain from the top of your head and the sockets of your eyes, to the soles of your feet, all in one jolt. You think you are dying, too. It zaps the energy out of you and you collapse in a heap.

Next thing you know, your phone or anything close to you smashes against the wall, with the last bit of energy left in you. But it’s not over yet. That’s just the beginning, a warm-up to a range of intense emotions, imploding until you are completely wiped out and physically spent—a shell of a person, a hopeless and petrified mess.

Adrenaline kicks in at some point, allowing you to function, erratically carrying on, absent-mindedly putting yourself and others in harm’s way as you pretend everything is under control, when in your heart and mind, nothing is right and nothing will ever be the same again.

We grieve for those we have lost, weighed down by death’s finality. We wallow in a sea of misery, a black hole of endless pain.

I cannot begin to imagine the grief of losing one’s ONE, and I don’t even want to go there.

I’d like to take this moment to remind everyone to PLEASE BE KIND AND CONSIDERATE with each other. We don’t know what others are going through, and chances are that they could be grieving for an unbearable loss.

Times are hard, emotions are fragile, and I think it is safe to say that everyone and every family is going through something or another.

We carry on and try to process our grief as best we can, grabbing hold of life rafts offered us by family and friends who reach out to save us from our misery.

According to experts, the seven stages of grief are:

  1. Shock and denial. This is a state of disbelief and numbed feelings.

  2. Pain and guilt.

  3. Anger and bargaining.

  4. Depression

  5. The upward turn.

  6. Reconstruction and working through.

  7. Acceptance and hope.

If you are suffering from grief, don’t lose hope, because it’s always darkest before the dawn.

The best thing to do is to cry for help, and to embrace the support offered. As long as you hang in there, hope will come. I found this article quite helpful, and you might too:


  • GLOBE/TM: 0966-3514518, 0917-8998727, 0917-899-USAP; SMART/SUN/TNT: 0908-6392672

  • If you are suffering from depression or need counseling for grief, call the hotlines.

A friend, Robbie Dinglasan, posted this on September 13, when his cousin Rafa Dinglasan passed away:

“GRIEVING is known for being a negative emotion because it comes with overwhelming sadness.

However, the only reason why we feel this level of sadness is because of the amount of love we feel for that person we lost. Hence, grief is love persevering.”

Time heals. All I know is that the pain from losing someone dear tapers off, in time, and the dull ache slowly dissipates as we remember all the good memories. In time, we are able to accept that they have transitioned peacefully, and we find comfort in thinking of them as angels, butterflies, or even a star in the heavens.

These Bible verses about grief will remind us that God will forever be by our side to comfort us, make us hopeful once again, and give us guidance during the good times and bad:

It may not feel like it, but you will feel joy again. Trust that it just takes time.

We invite you, our readers to offer some words of encouragement and hope, for those who are grieving, by sharing a comment below.

Gone too soon

There really are no words to console the bereaved, but sharing the loss, and offering sincere words of comfort, sometimes eases the pain. To all our family and friends who have lost a loved one, although we are apart, Mark and I are ever-present in our affection and prayers, and offer our heartfelt condolences.

We share in your loss and hope that in your time of sorrow, the Lord will comfort you and give you peace.  We pray for eternal peace for your beloved, and that their memory brings more joy than sadness. 💔🙏🏽


As an act or token of remembrance, I would like to humbly take a moment to pay my respects, and to honor those we’ve lost in the past two months.

Let us together take comfort in knowing that our lives have been enriched by having shared their love, and that God sometimes plucks us at the best moment of our lives.

These four incredible human beings, all tragically gone too soon, will fondly be remembered for how they graciously lived and loved so generously.

Carmelo “Melo” Landaluce Santiago

(January 29, 1943–August 6, 2021)

My husband Mark and I lost our tito Melo Santiago on August 6, 2021. He was 78 years old.

He was a loving father, and is survived by his wife Purita, his six children, Juan Gerardo (JG), Cristina (Tintin), Carmina (Cricket), Carolina (Caron), Camille and Miguel, his six grandchildren, and his siblings Vivina, Joselito, and Victoria.

The Santiago family would like to express our heartfelt gratitude for the prayers, sympathy, love, and support you have extended to our family during this most difficult time. Thank you so very much!

A cancer and COVID-19 survivor, he was hospitalized on July 30 for Diverticulitis pain. He was due to go home on the 7th when his IV meds would have been done, but suddenly his oxygen level dropped.  On the 6th, he died of cardiac arrest due to pulmonary embolism.

The consummate family man, he was our family’s patriarch, the older brother and best friend of our dad Joselito “Boy” Santiago, my husband Mark’s godfather, and likewise our ninong in matrimony. Mark and I talk about him every day, and two months after his passing, we still can’t believe that he’s gone, but it does feel like he’s around. 💔 🦋🦋🦋

He was the founder and chairman of the well-loved Melo’s Steakhouse chain of restaurants and House of Wagyu Restaurant. Aside from his restaurants, he was an independent director for San Miguel Corporation and its subsidiaries and affiliates since 2010, chairman of the Aurora Pacific Economic Zone Freeport Authority, and also served as a member of the board of other companies, including National Power Corporation (Napocor), Manila Standard, Philippine National Bank (PNB), and Petron Corporation. For over 40 years he held directorate positions in various companies in the Philippines and Hong Kong, his influence encompassing food, beverage, publication, properties, power, and banking.

On his official FB, chief presidential legal counsel, Sec. Salvador Panelo, a longtime friend, described him as “a fiercely protective and loving father to his children, and a faithful and generous friend to many. To the corporate world, Melo is hailed as one of its most astute leaders. Unknown to many, he was a silent supporter and contributor to many social activities geared towards helping the poor. He was also a wise political adviser to some known politicians. Most importantly, though, to his dearest family and friends, Melo is loved as a man of warmth and integrity, and a father with a passion for the welfare of his family.”

In his loving memory is a quote, hanging on the Talisay tree by his final resting place:

“Those we love don’t go away; they walk beside us every day. We can’t see them but we feel them.

Still loved, still missed, and forever dear.” 🍀🦋✝️

As he liked to say: “God is good always. In Jesus’ name, all is well!”

His favorite song: Embraceable You by Frank Sinatra and Tanya Tucker

  • WATCH THIS AVP by Bianca Santiago-Macasaet. This slideshow video was created by his grandchildren for his birthday last January 29.

 (From left) Newlyweds Freida and Mark with their ninong Melo; the Santiago clan on our wedding day (Photo by Eddie Boy Escudero); the author with her tito Melo; Melo with nephew Mark and brother Boy

I wrote this posthumous love letter to him on the 40th day after his passing and on his inurnment:

Dearest Tito Melo,

It is with great sadness that I write to you today, knowing you will not reply. Your sudden departure has left a huge void in our lives.

You meant so much to so many, and for the family, you will remain our one and only “Tito, Papa, and Koyang Melo.”

You were ever-present for each of us.

You were always there, a force of nature, and our family’s patriarch and shepherd.

You were the consummate family man.


You were Mark’s ninong and likewise our godfather in marriage.

And over and above these roles, you were like a father to us.

You made each of us feel that we meant a lot to you, that we mattered to you.

We each have wonderful memories with you that we will cherish forever.

As I write this, it’s almost as if I could hear your voice,

teasing us with an inside joke, your witty banter, cariño brutal, punctuated by a punchline that always takes the cake, and your distinct smile and hearty laughter.

You are very sorely missed, and very fondly remembered.

Everyone speaks of your impeccable taste in everything, from excellent food and wine, to whiskey and music. And how you loved your music! It was infectious!

If you weren’t beating on your bongo or conga drums to your favorite Latin and jazz artists Pete Escovedo, Tito Puente, Eddie Palmieri, Tito Nieves, and jazz pianists George Shearing and Bill Evans,

you loved to dance, and never tired of asking me to dance with you despite my two left feet!

For Mark and I who live away, moments spent with you, Tito Melo, were precious and few, but tender and true.

What a privilege it was to have been loved by you, cared for by you.

Perhaps you heart was too big for this world.

Thank you, Tito Melo, for taking care of us all in your own way.

Thank you for being a guiding light.

We are truly grateful.

To have been a part of your life that you so beautifully, generously, and fully lived (and rocked!) with an abundance of love, is such a great honor.

Your cheerful dignity and consummate benevolence will live on in all our loving memories of you that continue to fill our hearts with sweet sorrow.

We will keep your legacy alive by trying to live by your shining example of caring, sharing, and giving without expecting anything in return. In as much as you were blessed with so much, we know that you have given much, much more, that only the Lord knows.

We love you very much, Tito Melo, more than you would ever know, and we only wish that somehow, you did know how very much you were and always will be loved, by us. ❤

It gives us peace to know that you are in Heaven, reunited with our beloved sister Ana✝️ and other loved ones who have gone before us. 🙏

Keep on drumming and dancing, until we meet again!


Mark and Freida


Joseph Raymund I. Isaac

(June 25, 1963–September 3, 2021)

Life capturing art: The famous lensman, known for his captivating portraits, is captured as a dashing groom on the happiest day of his and Jayson’s lives.

Renowned veteran and celebrity fashion and advertising photographer Raymund Isaac died in San Francisco, California, on September 3, 2021 after having been hospitalized for six weeks due to COVID-19. He was 58.

He was a loving husband to Jayson Vicente, a loving big brother to his sister Anna and brothers JR✝️ and Jojo, and a doting uncle to his nephews and nieces Celis, Duds, Ali, Bianca, Ruiz, and Andrea.

On July 15, less than two weeks before Raymund was rushed to the hospital, he and Jayson were married in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Jayson shares with us these photos of their wedded bliss

Jayson tells me that he will always remember Raymund saying, “Home is where the heart is, and so shall it always be.”

In an interview with top model and longtime friend Myrza Sison for her online show Tick Talk, he said, “My legacy is when I make one life better, when I change a life.”

In an interview with Thelma San Juan for he said, “This pandemic is a reboot for all of us. There is no such thing as a bad situation—only situations.”

His sister Anna Isaac-Mitra’s favorite song for Raymund: Corner of the SkyPippin/1972 Original Broadway Cast Recording by John Rubinstein

She tells me, “He was part of the theater group at La Salle Greenhills and I remember vividly how he would always play this for us. The lyrics do remind me of him and his journey…”

“So many men seem destined

To settle for something small

But I won’t rest until I know I’ll have it all

So, don’t ask where I’m going

Just listen when I’m gone

And far away you’ll hear me singing

Softly to the dawn:

Rivers belong where they can ramble

Eagles belong where they can fly

I’ve got to be where my spirit can run free

Got to find my corner of the sky!”

When I was a fledgling writer, stylist, and managing editor for Metro Magazine under Thelma San Juan’s tutelage, I had the privilege of working with Raymund, who was such a joy (amid so much behind-the-scenes drama) and who usually broke the ice for me in the presence of big-name celebrities. He could disarm anyone, and always made everyone feel at ease and at their best, not only with his tongue-in-cheek and unapologetic in-your-face, laugh-out-loud and rolling-on-the-floor “I peed in my pants” sense of humor, but with conversation that reeled everyone into the perfect mood and chemistry—an art in itself! All this, while directing and executing such stunning works of creative genius. It really is no wonder that his loyal celebrity clientele-turned-friends for life would agree to be photographed only by Raymund. And OMG, those gatefold cover shoots a la Vanity Fair—the stories, the drama, the laughter, and don’t forget the excellent food! Such great times!

Behind the scenes in a photoshoot with Raymund for Metro Magazine’s provocative Body Calendar, with Chef Gino Gonzalez in top “beefcake” form

Suffice to say, it was the beginning of a long and beautiful friendship. But this was not how we met.

My sister Ida Dario-Henson was his schoolmate at De La Salle University, and I was the little sister who picked her up in my high school uniform and who hung out with them at the “pebble wash” benches with our cousin Manolet Dario. I was the buntot (tail) after school, and the designated chaperone when they would go to the discos back in the ‘80s.

In tears, my sister tells me, “The Raymund I knew was the most giving person. He brought energy and vision when ours was waning. Even during our college days, he believed in my potential and made it a point that I saw it, too. He saw beauty in us where we could not. That is easily why he excelled in his calling as a celebrity photographer. That, and his immense talent and dedication to his craft, of course.”

Raymund had a gift. It was about how he made you feel about yourself

After watching the virtual memorial, we agreed with many who said it over and over that night: Raymund had a gift. It was about how he made you feel about yourself—that you could do anything and be anyone.

When I moved to Boracay, Raymund and celebrity makeup artist Patrick Rosas managed to get me on a flight back to be photographed for their coffeetable book (what an honor!). Through the years, he never failed to let me know when he was on the island so we could meet up and disturb the peace together—often with his brother JR, who I was much closer to, and who I loved so dearly as well. I wrote this tribute to him when he left us back in August 2016:

 Portrait of the author by Raymund Isaac (2004); disturbing the peace (January 17, 2010)

It was on one of those fateful trips that I met Jayson Vicente, the love of his life. I had never seen Raymund happier.

The last time we were together on his trip to Boracay with Jayson Vicente and Francis Libiran in May 2019

And when he got into YouTube podcast hosting which came so naturally, he invited me to be interviewed, but I was too caught up in the pandemic state of mind, to which he said, “Ganon?!!” (“Really?!!”) He’d send me links until it became a channel, and the rest is history.

Raymund and Jayson in their happiest places: Boracay, El Nido, and at Portfolio Studios, with Raymund’s nephew Duds Mitra

With a broken heart and a whole lot of R.E.S.P.E.C.T. I bid you farewell, gorgeous. You will live on in our hearts, and of course, in your incredible photographs, forever. Thank you for the honor of your friendship, and for making the world a brighter place. Please give JR and Tita Elisa a kiss and a hug for me!

The 8th and 9th day novena masses, virtual wake, memorial, and inurnment were streamed live and are posted on the Raymund Isaac Photography page on Facebook:

Inspired by his famous online channel, the Chikahan Finale live show was such a beautiful memorial, filled with tenderness, laughter, love, and more laughter, just like Raymund, with very special performances by Lea Salonga, Gary Valenciano, Martin Nievera, and Esang de Torres.

I would like to thank Jayson and the Isaac family for giving us all an opportunity to share these precious last moments with Menmen. It meant so very much. ❤️

 (From left) Screenshots of the special live memorial show, with our favorite funny host, and very special performances by Lea Salonga, Gary Valenciano, Martin Nievera, and Esang de Torres

We capture Jayson Vicente, alone at last with Raymund after the room had cleared, followed by a ceremonial send-off with confetti

On the first memorial Mass on October 11, the priest reminded us that there are three things to offer Raymund and our loved ones who have gone before us that would give them joy and peace on their journey to the Father, and these are: “a ‘Thank you’; to ask for forgiveness; and to offer your forgiveness.”

By the way, if you’re wondering what “Menmen” means, this is a term of endearment of family and close friends that originated from one of the pamangkins who, as a child, could not pronounce Raymund! Our dearly beloved now rests with his mom.

Rafael Carlos “Rafa” Ysmael Dinglasan III

(July 23, 1968–September 13, 2021)

Rafa Dinglasan is best known as the La Salle Green Archers captain when the team won the Taft-based university’s first UAAP men’s basketball championship in 1989, and defended the title the following year. He went on to play in the Philippine Basketball League (PBL) and Metropolitan Basketball Association (MBA) before he ventured into coaching, serving as assistant coach for the College of St. Benilde Blazers in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

If he looks familiar, that’s because after retiring from basketball, he became a commercial model, appearing in several advertisements through the years for Safeguard, Nescafe, Rebisco, and Hansel, not to mention his huge Lucky Me Pancit Canton billboard on EDSA.

He passed away September 13, 2021 after battling COVID-19 for 19 days. He was 53.

He was a loving husband to Lala, and he was the world to his daughters Marina and Eneka. He was the firstborn grandson, and everyone’s BIG brother and protector in the huge and very tight-knit Dinglasan and Ysmael clans.

(From left) Photos from their travels; the last family photo taken in Montemar (July 28, 2021); Fafada, as he was fondly called by family, with matriarch Rosary Ysmael and the Dinglasan and Ysmael clan

Despite being fully-vaccinated (he got his second jab on August 16), Rafa and his wife Lala tested positive for COVID-19 on August 25, and their two daughters were found to be positive as well later that day. On September 2, Lifeline 16-911 rushed Rafa to the hospital.

While saving one life, Rafa paid the ultimate price and lost his own 

According to his best friend since childhood and Lifeline 16-911 owner Michael Deakin, “As you may be aware, our dear friend Rafa passed away from COVID-19 on September 13, 2021. He contracted the virus while performing CPR on someone who had collapsed during a meeting. While saving one life, he paid the ultimate price and lost his own. By doing so, he lived up to the Emergency Medical Service motto: So others may live.”

As such, Deakin, who owns Lifeline 16-911, the Emergency Rescue Service company, has named a fleet of ambulances after Rafa, in honor of his heroism.

Moreover, “In honor of his sacrifice, Lifeline 16-911 has created two Rafa Dinglasan Family Fund membership packages: one for individuals and one for families. Both packages include all the membership benefits of Lifeline’s Emergency Quick Response Program for one year. One hundred percent of the fees collected from these packages will be donated to Rafa’s widow Lala and daughters Eneka and Marina. May his legacy live on!”

Click here to find out more:

Courtesy of Lifeline 16-911

In loving memory of Rafa Dinglasan, a GoFundMe fundraiser has likewise been organized by Colette Fox:

“As friends of the Dinglasan family, we reach out to you humbly asking for financial support to help cover hospital costs for a grieving family at this most difficult of time.”

Go Fund Me fundraiser

As he liked to say (in his booming voice): “HEY PARTY PIPOL!”

Lala tells us that Rafa received absolution before he was intubated, and these were his final words: “Father, I’ll be okay. When I open my eyes, it will be beautiful.” Lala continues, “He never opened his eyes again. But on September 13, I’m sure that what he saw was truly beautiful!”

His favorite song that he used to sing to his mom Marilen and to his wife Lala: You to Me Are Everything by The Real Thing

I first heard of Rafa’s condition from his cousin Bernice on September 3. He was taken to the ICU. The following day, he was intubated. This was the same day that we also learned of Raymund’s sudden and tragic passing, from COVID-19.

From September 5, we devoted eight solid days to praying with daily healing masses, with over 200 participants, with perfect attendance. Not a practicing Catholic myself, I had grown accustomed to the prayers the previous month during tito Melo’s 40-day novena Masses, and for Rafa, I even joined the praying of the rosary. Add to that attending prayer meetings and daily prayers on my own. We were not going to let him perish. Not Rafa. The BIG MAN was not to be taken by the Almighty.

His condition improved daily, and on September 10, Lala gave a very hopeful update that Rafa was doing so much better, that some medications were discontinued, and his oxygen levels had increased. Because of this breakthrough, she was looking forward to his transfer to the non-COVID ICU, at which time immediate family would be allowed to visit him. On September 12, she asked everyone to storm the heavens as Rafa developed a cerebral edema and his oxygen levels were down. I’m pretty sure so many of you out there had a sleepless night, as I did, only to wake up to our worst nightmare on the 13th.

Our hearts were crushed in a million pieces.

Through the years (from left): Hey Jude, Boracay (Christmas 2008); on the island (Feb. 16, 2017); Power Plant Mall (2019)

The nine-day novena Masses ensued via Zoom with an average of 800 participants every night, with touching eulogies and super funny stories that totally cracked us up! Nine days were far from enough to reminisce and share stories about the one and only Rafa Dinglasan. Each night, one got a huge dose of “Rafa Love” and his giant heart of gold. If you knew him, you’d agree that he was ever-present, and how, and he was one hell of a stand-up guy!

I’ll never forget his generosity, particularly that time Mark and I bumped into him in the mall in BGC. I was shopping for sneakers at the Nike Park shop when in walked Rafa and Lala, and in Rafa fashion, he announced our names at the top of his lungs, “#%*@ ANDITO PALA KAYO HA!” He insisted that he would sponsor my shoes, and commandeered the entire store to find me the perfect pair. Too bad that they didn’t have my size, but NO, he wouldn’t take that for an answer, and he waited until he heard back from all the store’s branches!

The 9th day virtual novena Mass was sponsored by the friends of the Dinglasans in Capiz. On this very well-attended final Mass with over 400 participants and over 250 who stayed on to hear the touching eulogies by Rafa’s siblings, and the heartbreaking final goodbyes by his daughters Nena and Marina, and finally by his widow Lala, there was much to celebrate, as well.

Mayor Ronnie Dadivas of Capiz presented this posthumous certificate of appreciation and plaque of gratitude/merit from his hometown of Roxas City, Capiz, where he served as Barangay Captain back in 1994.

Posthumous honors and recognition from his hometown of Roxas City, Capiz

Those of us who stayed to the very end got to hear the “breaking good news” from Rafa’s cousin, Robbie Dinglasan. Often mistaken for Rafa’s brother, he and his younger brother Rhoel did grow up as brothers to Rafa. That night, Robbie received word from Rhoel who lives in Gainesville Florida.

Dr. Rhoel Dinglasan, professor and associate chair of Research, Department of Infectious Diseases and Immunology at the University of Florida, and director of the CDC Southeastern Center in Vector Borne Diseases, will establish a fellowship program with DLSU-M in honor of Rafa Dinglasan. It will be called the Rafa Dinglasan Animo Post-Doctoral Fellowship in Infectious Diseases.

The fellowship program will be a joint effort between the University of Florida and De La Salle University, with financial grants from the National Institute of Health in the United States and various other grants. This fellowship will offer scholarships to post-doctoral candidates to continue their studies in infectious diseases and establish a research center in the Philippines, probably the first in Asia.

Throughout Rafa’s battle with COVID-19, Rhoel closely monitored Rafa’s condition while consulting with his peers from various universities around the US for treatment advice and recommendations. He feels that establishing this fellowship recognizes that indeed, Rafa did not give his life in vain. In Rafa’s name and honor, he hopes that the fellowship may serve others in the future by developing young and brilliant Filipinos in scientific and medical research. It is also hoped that the program attracts overseas Filipino scientists to come back home for actual work and research, well funded with a First World laboratory and most importantly, a good salary.

As Caster and Tess Castro shared in their eulogy, “Rafa was large in life, but is larger in death.”

Manuel “Noli” Aurillo

(March 26, 1959–October 16, 2021)

On Oct. 16, 2021, Noli Aurillo, another dear friend, joined our Maker, after succumbing to COVID-19 in a hospital in Caloocan City. He was 62. Our deepest condolences to his family, and to his beloved Bessy Velez.

News of his passing hit hard. He was one of those fellows who struck you as invincible, bullet-proof, and immortal.

(From left): This author’s portrait of Noli taken at Jay Ortega’s Spin Café (April 21, 2016); on one of our Manila trips; Noli Aurillo rockin’ at Kasbah Boracay (December 4, 2011); Noli’s birthday at Exit Bar, Boracay (May 2, 2011)

Like many, Mark and I met Noli in one of his gigs, and we were instant fans, riveted by his sheer genius. We got to know him and we became steadfast friends, appreciating more and more his depth and gentleness through the years. Mark and Noli had a special bond, though, rooted in a shared taste in music and a passion for Pat Metheny. He is so heartbroken.

Mark shared this message with the family on October 16th:

“So sad. I always wanted you all to meet him. I even wanted him to play for our wedding sana. Besides him being the Maestro and one of the greatest I’ve ever heard and saw play, he was a very good friend and a special human being. Very smart and funny. Super intellectual. And we super got along the first time we met. He was amazed at my musical range. I gave him titles from Pat Metheny and he played them all for me. I gifted him with a compilation of mine and he was amazed with it and was so grateful. How I wish you all met him. He was also a kind and gentle soul. He deserves to be recognized as a National Artist.”

The music industry suffered the great loss of another legend and mentor, and not just.

The distinguished maestro was a musical virtuoso, a guitar genius—no, a wizard. What he did with his guitar was simply out of this world and superhuman. He played for two guitarists (actually sounded like a quartet) flawlessly and effortlessly—sheer magic! One hell of a performer and national rock’n’roll gem, I’m sure he is rocking the heavens with his riveting progressive free flow right now!

In his own words:

“Sometimes it happens because we’re too busy thinking of the next note, or if our playing is good enough or simply because our mind is too preoccupied with everything that somehow deviates and derails us from the soul of the music itself. Playing with our heart is a cliché we sometimes ignore but in actuality, it’s the real secret as it goes beyond thinking when we play. You have to have faith that the music you’re playing will get through you and to your listeners. Always make it a point to center yourself around playing the music and not just playing the guitar. The guitar is simply the instrument for the music in our heart and soul to shine through.” – Noli Aurillo


The Tacloban-born musician’s unorthodox guitar style was his signature. So was his tireless nature and indomitable spirit that was most evident in his final days, having started a regular Facebook Live show he called “Pandemic Prayers” that aired on three Sunday nights in September, until he contracted COVID-19.

Watch some videos on his Facebook page:

His timing was impeccable, not losing a beat even when he busted out his mind-blowing wit! Here’s a sample from one of his Facebook posts:

When Mark and I met Noli back in 2010, it was through Stephen Lu, former lead vocalist of Rizal Underground who was a managing partner at Kasbah Boracay where he hosted some of the best live performances on the island, ever.

Stephen met Noli back in the ’80s during the Coco Jam days, but it was in the three years that he brought Noli and other musical artists (including another late rock god, no less than Peyaps or Joey “Pepe” Smith) to Boracay, that their friendship inspired the singer to come out of retirement to continue his journey as a performer.

One of those memorable New Year’s Eve performances of Stephen Lu and Noli Aurillo at Kasbah Boracay (2011)

 Noli liked to say: ‘Always walk on the opposite side of the road so you see what’s coming’

Stephen shares a glimpse of the Noli he knew…

As he liked to say, “Always walk on the opposite side of the road so you see what’s coming.”

(His Facebook profile says, “Music is my religion.”)

His favorite song: A relatively obscure Beatles song.

(I do know that he loved performing Blackbird and never failed to bring chills to the spine.)

What Stephen will miss most about his friend is “riding the musical magic carpet ride” with him, and he sends Noli this farewell message: “Rest well, my friend, we’ll look after your musical legend and those you left with us.”

Another friend and artist, Jay Ortega, met the icon in one of Noli’s gigs in Kasbah, and they instantly hit it off. He recounts for us that first meeting:

“While watching his set, I yelled, Kita betlog mo, Bro!’ And he looked at his infamous ‘p-kp-k’ nyorts, and stopped performing…the audience laughed really hard. He said, ‘Ikaw, may balls ka ba? Tara jam na!’ So, I got onstage and we blasted into orbit. After the gig we got to talking, and promised each other that we would form a band, his last one was Cocojam pa during the ’90s. I was flattered that this maestro wanted to make music with me. I couldn’t sleep that night. Several months later we hooked up in Manila, and started our musical sojourn together.”

They eventually formed a band called Tres with Derek Ileto, and often performed as a duo through the years. I asked Jay what it was like to perform with Noli:

“We never rehearsed songs, hardly if at all, and every time we performed it would always be a different version, and arrangement. It was like taking a magical flight with him always—he’d lead, I’d follow. I’d change it up on him sometimes, and make him follow my lead. It was like that with Noli, always something special, always spontaneously creating music on the fly. It was like taking flight with no predetermined destination, but we would always land with huge smiles on our faces.”

The dynamic duo: Jay Ortega and Noli Aurillo

He tells us what he will remember most about Noli:

“He loved to do magic tricks. Something he learned from friend Rannie Raymundo.

He was into science, and loved the avant-garde.

He was into a lot of experimental music, and what is known as prog rock, or progressive rock.

He loved Allan Holdsworth, and Larry Carlton.

He was a master arranger. And was known for his instrumental covers of artists he adored.

We wrote a bunch of songs together. And I released those songs as a solo EP as the pandemic started, with his permission. I credited the songs to both of us.”


Jay’s farewell message:

“When we wrote songs, it felt like we instantly connected. You knew exactly what to do with my melodies and words. You gave a story, and meaning to my music; very few people have.

I know how deep we both touched each other’s lives.

You being gone has left another hole in my heart. Dalawa na kayo ni Wally, Radah dear.

 (We fondly called each other radah, short for brother. And Radah dear was born from our song Father Dear, a song Noli and I wrote for my father in the house where my Pops grew up.)

I guess this is your last flight, Ey Noli?

This time there will be no more landing.

You’re back where you came from…From the heavens where your other worldly talents were born.

Goodbye, dear friend.”

Rocked-on: Jay Ortega with two guitar legends gone too soon, Noli Aurillo and Wally Gonzalez; with two legends Noli Aurillo and Joey “Pepe” Smith

I’d like to share Noli Aurillo’s final performance on Facebook Live on Sept. 26, 2021, so you can see and hear for yourselves how amazing he is and what kind of sorcery he could do with that guitar of his.


So classy, eclectic, and diverse was his repertoire and alchemic renditions, he could perform Tommy Emmanuel’s Antonella’s Birthday and segue to a Michael Jackson or a Madonna medley, and end with Somewhere Over the Rainbow—ever so seamlessly, like a dream.

Go rock the heavens my friend, you beautiful and lovable madman!

Rest in peace “AU AU AU!” How I wish I could hear you say it one last time!

Too many Noli greats, but this is one of my personal favorites…

  • Read more on Noli Aurillo:

Obituary tributes:

Noli Aurillo: The last guitar slinger

By Eric S. Caruncho / Philippine Daily Inquirer / 06:31 AM June 28, 2015:

Noli Aurillo is back in Malate playing guitar at The Minokaua

By Ruben Cruz Jr. / Business Mirror / July 4, 2017

I’ll end my requiem with this poem by Rhonda Braswell:

Come with Me

The Lord saw you getting tired
And a cure was not to be,
So He put his arms around you
And whispered, “Come with me.”

With tearful eyes, we watched you suffer
And saw you fade away,
Although we loved you dearly,
We could not make you stay.

A golden heart stopped beating,
A beautiful smile at rest,
God broke our hearts to prove
He only takes the best.

It’s lonesome here without you
We miss you so each day,
Our lives aren’t the same
Since you went away.

When days are sad and lonely,
And everything goes wrong,
We seem to hear you whisper,
“Cheer up and carry on.”

Each time we see your picture,
You seem to smile and say,
“Don’t cry, I’m in God’s keeping,
We’ll meet again someday.”


I’ve said that out loud too many times to count, each time a bit louder.

In recent months, COVID really hit home and hit hard. WE HAVE LOST SO MANY, when one could have been enough!

Our hospitals are so overwhelmed that they are also unable to attend to non-COVID cases. Lack of beds is not the only problem. Thousands of medical workers have resigned during the pandemic, complaining of low pay and poor working conditions. Others have sought better jobs abroad. Hospitals fear the desertions have reached a critical point just as the Delta variant sends the number of cases soaring, as it has done elsewhere in Southeast Asia and worldwide. (Source:

There are also those who are so afraid of COVID that despite their suffering from other ailments, they refuse to go to the hospital, or choose to forego annual medical checkups until it’s too late. Some people are simply too weak or immunocompromised, and others are too broke to seek medical help.

In my book, it all boils down to COVID, the culprit, the ruthless serial killer that takes no prisoners but makes prisoners of us all, cowering in fear, anguish, depression, bankruptcy and poverty.

Parents are dying, and their last days are spent indoors looking out the window.

So yeah, FU, COVID!


The pandemic continues to ravage this part of the world like a forest fire engulfing everything in its path. The living suffer the torment of constant mourning, teetering on the verge of a nervous breakdown, trying to hold back a psychotic attack.

Even my dreams are plagued with birds in circled flight!

From the spate of deaths also comes an epidemic of paranoia, vaccination discrimination, and worst of all, hopelessness and depression.

Nearly 20 months into the global health crisis, pandemic fatigue is setting in, with the mental distress of losing jobs, keeping families safe, or the sweeping uncertainty of the future taking its toll on many Filipinos.

“People are taking risks to earn a living despite the threats of Delta and other variants or even simply getting together with their loved ones,” said Dr. Rabindra Abeyasinghe, WHO Representative to the Philippines.

In short, the three golden rules still apply, but with more vigilance:




Yes, I’m talking to you, Mr. and Miss Fully Vaccinated and your “couldn’t care less” posse! If you haven’t heard of “breakthrough infections,” don’t even bother to Google it. Just do us all a favor and carry on. While you’re at it, go ahead and host a party with your kind. 🙄

Even after getting vaccinated against COVID-19, keep taking precautions to protect yourself, family and friends.

Credit: WHO Facebook page (

Do I still have to wear a mask if I’m vaccinated? 

The short answer is yes—at least for now.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) still recommends vaccinated individuals wear a mask in public and in high-risk situations, including if they attend a gathering with “unvaccinated people from more than one other household” and if they visit with an unvaccinated person who is at risk of severe illness.

However, the agency said small groups of vaccinated people can get together without masks.

Do I still need to social distance from others if I’m vaccinated? 

Again, the short answer is yes, for now.

Kindly comment your answer below, thanks!

Early treatment is key

Back in July, Mark and I attended a very insightful and timely Zoom meeting with a group of volunteer doctors and citizens called the Concerned Doctors and Citizens of the Philippines (CDC Ph) who have been advocating the use of very effective early treatments to treat COVID-19, as well as a safe lifting of the lockdowns.

The group is calling on the government to institutionalize early home-based treatment protocols as the country’s hospitals get overwhelmed amid increasing number of COVID-19 cases.

We had the opportunity of meeting the group’s president Dr. Homer Lim, who earned his medical degree from the University of Santo Tomas (UST), and has been in medical practice for 18 years. More importantly, he has saved so many lives from COVID-19 already, and has been spreading the gospel of hope, that death does not have to be the end for COVID. He basically said that the key is early treatment during the first five to seven days. Meanwhile, we should also boost our immunity.

To find out more about how you can protect yourself and your family and household from COVID-19, you can visit their website at

Let us NOT even get into the vaccination argument.

🔥 Woman DEBUNKS anti-vaccine argument in MUST-SEE TikTok!

LOCKDOWN BLUES (Read: Close, open, close, open)

Endless lockdowns will be the end of us

2020 was a very tough year for humanity, businesses, and the economy, to say the least, but no one said 2021 would be harder. Wasn’t this the year that vaccines would end the pandemic? Apparently not.

On March 21, Metro Manila and four other provinces were placed under General Community Quarantine (GCQ), prohibiting non-essential travel. The Philippines logged 7,757 new COVID-19 infections that day.

The travel ban cancelled the fully-booked Holy Week holidays, and tourism came to a grinding halt for the next two months.

As sure as the moon rises, tomorrow will bring new hope. Keep the faith!
(Posted on Day 1 of lockdown, March 28, 2021)

On June 1, Boracay Island was opened to tourists from the NCR Plus bubble. The honeymoon phase was short-lived and on August 1, Metro Manila was put in “hard lockdown,” and Boracay Island in Aklan was placed under MECQ, automatically closing the island destination to leisure travelers, yet again.

Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez warned that the country could not afford another hard lockdown in Metro Manila as businesses would be forced to close or scale down operations, leaving about 1.8 million workers jobless.

With each lockdown, the government takes away the last remaining means for all those still able to feed and help their families.

Two years into the pandemic, and you would think that words like “surge” and “lockdown” would have been a thing of the past, but no. They just throw in new lockdown jargon (“heightened restrictions,” “granular,” and “alert level”) to the tired litany, as if there was a quiz and top scorers would be exempt!

We all know the drill. When coronavirus cases rise, the Inter-Agency Task Force (IATF) for the Management of Emerging Infectious Diseases spins its “Wheel of MIS-fortune” and declares another nonsensical quarantine status, despite volumes of scientific findings that “hard” lockdowns only exacerbate its miserable effects.

Although lockdowns have helped in past surges, in today’s reality, lockdowns have become the automated default solution that carpet-bombs and impoverishes survivors, making life a living hell. Each time a new quarantine status is announced, we are plunged deeper into the abyss, feeling nothing but hopeless bewilderment and severe loneliness. As a nation, we feel that we are on our own again, left to fend for ourselves in a desolation.

In mid-August, Aklan’s MECQ status was extended to the 31st. There were ZERO Covid cases on the remote island of Boracay on the day of the announcement.

With the holiday season only weeks away, cash-strapped businesses are worried about fulfilling the mandated 13th month pay given the current restrictions on businesses. It’s best to keep our expectations low for the rest of the year, and definitely not expect Santa this Christmas.

There were ZERO San Miguel beers on the island—talk about END OF THE WORLD!

COVID tyranny

Already pulling at hairs with uncertainty, separation anxiety, and dwindling funds, Mark and I felt the bad burn of the next round of lockdowns. Restrictions were tightened, and suddenly, stores were ordered closed by 4 p.m., transportation too, and then, swimming on the beach. The liquor ban had also completely wiped the island dry of its “reserves” and there were ZERO San Miguel beers on the island—talk about END OF THE WORLD!

In effect was a police state of mind, with every movement met with hostility.

Survival mode 2.0 MAX

Once again, we shifted inwards and tried to keep it together. We discovered the Spotify microphone icon and voila! Karaoke nights saved the day, and we belted it out and dance like it was 2019!

We also decided that it was time to change what we could, and to use this time to get healthy and fit.

Mark and I, who have been smoking most of our lives, did the impossible and QUIT—our greatest achievement as a couple thus far! Aside from this being no. 1 on our bucket list for decades, we offered it up to God, as our commitments and sacrifice for all our prayer requests, including some miracles for family members with health issues. Plus, we wanted to surprise our folks with the good news, and we did!

Having conquered cigarettes, we’re working on the “getting fit” together, having piled on the pandemic pounds.

To all the smokers out there, listen to the choir leader (because I’ve earned this privilege) when I say: Quit now and try to get ahead of the game—before it is “game over.”

I hate to say it, but our parents, who annoyingly nagged the bejesus out of us all of our smoking lives, were right.

I always chose to believe the other school of thought: that if I quit now, I’d get sick. I’d rather smoke to my last breath. Right? Wrong. Asthma, emphysema, and all the bad stuff make us ticking time bombs. Again, I know this because I got my very first major asthma attack just a week ago and am puffing up nebules as I pound on my laptop with emphasis: QUIT IT NOW.

Tougher times

In rolled September and with bated breath, we hoped for redemption from the powers that be.

Do you remember when Metro Manila’s GCQ was postponed for another week, the day before it was announced? Of course, you do, and I’d bet you even remember exactly where you were and what you were wearing!

With no more money to burn, more businesses went belly-up, including Metropolitan Doctors Medical Clinics, a chain of clinics owned and operated by Dr. Maria Cristina Teotico, an island institution that bowed out for good after 22 years of caring for the residents, our families, and our island guests.

The news was heartbreaking. Doc Girlie, as she is known as a household name, has become a dear friend. No one said it was going to be this hard—and 2020 was just the warm-up!

A couple of months ago, we also had to say goodbye to our Boracay SunCruiser leisure boat. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank its founder Richie Ley for never giving up! And to all those who’ve voyaged with us, our deepest thanks! Maybe one day we shall cruise again…

The Boracay SunCruiser (Photo by Jack Jarilla @boracayphotographer)

Living from paycheck to paycheck wasn’t even an option anymore. We retreated to the kitchen and started a humble food business called Mackoy’s Eats (, cooking family recipes and delivering them from home.

Thanks to the Facebook group we created at the onset of the pandemic back in March 2020 called Boracay Eats Directory (, the platform was created, and remains a community service and non-profit initiative to stimulate the economy and to help promote income generation for the member sellers, as we are able to promote our own dishes.

Perhaps the most active private Boracay group page at the moment and throughout the pandemic, the group welcomes tourist and offers them homegrown and home-cooked meals so they can eat like a local, stay in especially when it’s raining, and enjoy some Boracay favorites delivered to their hotel. Mark and I administrate and curate the page ourselves, and we carefully scrutinize membership requests to avoid nuisance members or scammers. We have 2,000+ happy seller and foodie members that have become a close-knit community that supports one another, keeping each other steadfast, strong, and afloat. It is quite touching, actually.

In tough times, when “buying power” is considered a super power, sadly, group engagement slowed down to a trickle of late, a clear indication of the local residents’ struggle to survive, on very little to no income. We are confident, though, that this will change, seeing that the island is seeing more tourists by the week.

The lockdowns have made ordering out/delivery the new dining out, and dining out has become a rarity, reserved for very special occasions, romantic dates, and well, for those who have unlimited spending power. People hardly even order food anymore. Unless my husband has a secret block chain or crypto wallet, we’re keeping things even tighter at the moment.


We live in fear and despair, no thanks mismanagement of the pandemic

And then the sh*t hit the fan—on national television!

In August, controversy surrounding the government’s costly, overstocked, and unauthorized purchase of face shields sparked the conversation on how the government has been mishandling the COVID-19 pandemic.

Does it really matter who’s lying—whether it’s Krizle Grace Mago, the Pharmally Pharmaceutical officer-turned-whistleblower who admitted that they swindled the government, or resigned PS-DBM undersecretary Lloyd Christopher Lao, who said no MOA was needed? No face shield was strong enough to veil the government’s loss of face. At the 11th hour, the smokescreen cleared, exposing a whole lot of shenanigans against the Filipino people.

I’ve coined a word especially for this lot: “Karmademic”


When karma spreads like an epidemic among the evil.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, now referred to as the Mahatma, meaning “great soul,” is widely recognized as one of the 20th  century’s greatest political and spiritual leaders (Source:

Pardon me for not genuflecting before the demi-gods of deception and greed

Health experts have said face shields are unnecessary, while some lawmakers have called the national government policy requiring them anti-poor. Both the WHO and the CDC do not have recommendations on making wearing face shields a policy.

The many uses of a face shield #kitchensafety
(He’s surely going to get back at me for this! 😂)


We’ve had enough suffering. Helpless and frustrated, we ask ourselves, “WHY?” and look to those that have the power and the means to do something about it: our government. Sometimes I wonder if our so-called “experts” got their degrees from the University of Google. 🤓

Reality check survey

Lest I get red tagged or arrested in violation of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, officially designated as Republic Act No. 11479, I decided to conduct my own survey among friends, casually conducted over the weekend.


Thank you for championing freedom of speech and expression, and for inspiring us journalists to speak the truth!

This is a win for the Filipino people, and for journalists all over the world. MABUHAY KA!

After winning the Nobel Peace Prize, Ressa responded, “This shows that the Nobel Peace Prize committee realized that a world without facts means a world without truth and trust.” (Source:

Back to my survey, I asked: “What are your thoughts on the Duterte government’s pandemic response?” I also asked them to give the government an overall rating from as scale of 0 to 5 (0 being a failing grade, 3 average, 5 excellent).

Paula, 25, professional student

Rating: 0


Joselito, 71, entrepreneur

Rating: 1

“Knee jerk reaction instead of well-planned, scientific approach.”

Ralph, 60, engineer

Rating: 0

“No common sense!”

Anthony, 37, restaurant and bar owner

Rating: 0

“Doesn’t know what to do. Left people jobless and hungry.”

Christine, 55, restaurant and bakery owner

Rating: Wala bang lower than zero for the grade?

“To be fair, every country didn’t know how to respond to the pandemic. It was all new to everyone. There were no guidelines nor manuals to follow.  Everyone was lost. It was how they chose to spend the money and use the situation to their advantage. They treated us like idiots.”

Jack, 49, professional photographer

Rating: 0

“The government failed on its response to the COVID-19 situation. It seems the only solution they have is ‘lockdown,’ which is ineffective and has already affected our economy. There is also an issue with the misuse of the funds allocated for purchasing of the vaccines.”

Nanette, senior citizen

Rating: 3

“Failure! On government’s response to COVID-19, insane for using the same solution over and over while expecting a different result. His bright men are never open to other ideas and how other countries successfully managed to balance the economy and health. Imagine the face shield solution vs. COVID! Only in the Philippines!”

Teddy, 60+, retired journalist

Rating: 1

“How can anyone expect the government to attain success in coping with this pandemic effectively when it disdains the advice of medical practitioners and experts and insists on putting military men at the helm of the National Plan vs. COVID-19?

It seems that the only thing that the Government knows to do is to lockdown everything; isn’t there anyone ingeniously creative in the Task Force who can think up strategies other than a mere lockdown to lower COVID cases and allow business to normalize operations, and the citizenry to have a semblance of normalcy in their lives, under the circumstances?

Also, we have THE WORST kind of leader any country can have during a pandemic—for instance, instead of concentrating on importing vaccines and implement mass vaccination ASAP, he wasted precious time in closing ABS-CBN, causing the ranks of the unemployed to swell by at least 11,000 employees of the network.

Lastly, the Blue Ribbon committee hearings on government spending during the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed shockingly brazen in-your-face corruption ….”

Nicolette, 24, writer and editor

Rating: 2

“As I see it, the government’s response has left out most people, including its most vulnerable, to fend for themselves. A weak, delayed, and militarized (not public health) response in early 2020 allowed for the virus to get ahead of us, and not us ahead of it, like Vietnam or New Zealand. So, the decisions made early on continue to create a lot of difficult problems for us more than a year later: (healthcare) workers are burnt out because we never truly flattened the curve, the government is reluctant to give cash aid because ‘wala na tayong pera,’ and new cases rise to record levels.”

Sister X (yes, a nun)

Rating: Negative

“Palpak, corrupt, walang puso ang responses …. all lies and promises. Negative ang score ko taking into consideration yung mga ginawa niya …. Draconian laws in favor of their own interest instead na for the common good….

Marie, 56, missionary

Rating: 0

“I feel that the COVID response of the government is being handled and was assigned mostly to incompetent officials…. It’s all about money, staying in power, politicking, and unmitigated deception of the masses.”

Paul, 57, businessman

Rating: 0

“A terribly managed response to an overwhelming situation tainted with corruption and plunder.”

Louise, 50, yoga teacher

Rating: 0

“This government failed the nation. They seemed to have never been focused and dedicated enough to solve the matter. All the while they were more preoccupied with how they were going to profit from this pandemic.….”

Kathy, 53, homemaker

Rating: 0

“The President’s response to COVID is very poor. They did not use resources available to them…. I think this is the greatest travesty committed in the 20th century in our Motherland.”

Cristina, 48, medical doctor

Rating: 2

“The government’s response was disorganized and often excessive and yet its implementation left much to be desired. We were one of the first ones to institute a lockdown, and somehow, we’ve mastered only that. That’s all we seem to have been really great at.”

What does the rest of world think?

An article by Bloomberg News published on September 29, 2021 entitled “Why the Philippines Just Became the Worst Place to Be in Covid” reads thus:

The Philippines fell to last place in Bloomberg’s COVID Resilience Ranking of the best and worst places to be amid the pandemic, capping a steady decline over the course of 2021.

The monthly snapshot—which measures where the virus is being handled the most effectively with the least social and economic upheaval—ranks 53 major economies on 12 datapoints related to virus containment, the economy and opening up. 

The Philippines’ drop to No. 53 reflects the challenges it’s facing from the onslaught of the Delta variant, which has hit Southeast Asia particularly hard amid difficulties containing the more contagious strain and slow vaccination rollouts. The region, which recently had the worst outbreak in the world, makes up the bulk of the September Ranking’s lowest rungs, with Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, and Vietnam also in the bottom five. 



Climate crisis

I’ve heard it said that we are being punished for being bad stewards of our planet, that this is a modern-day plague of biblical proportions. And you know what? There is some truth in that, I believe.

(CNN) “The World Health Organization, in a new special report, is calling for governments and policymakers to ‘act with urgency’ on the climate and health crises. The report describes climate change as the ‘single biggest health threat facing humanity.’


As Coronavirus brought the world down to its knees, even non-believers have turned to the unseen powers in a desperate cry for salvation.

It has become the great equalizer, regardless of race, gender or creed. The world suffers as one.

We may be divided in vaccination beliefs, but powerless against this scourge, we have all prayed to God and the greater powers than ourselves to deliver us.

 Has COVID-19 strengthened people’s faith? (Karen Minasyan/AFP via Getty Images)

The grief associated with death is familiar to most people, but individuals grieve in connection with a variety of other losses such as unemployment, ill health, or the end of a relationship. Beyond the permanent loss of a loved one, we count our losses. From names, our mind wanders to the many other precious things we’ve lost thus far.

If you find yourself at a loss, I hope you can find comfort in this this message from Pastors Jojo and Ida Henson, whose ministry called Rootes ( has been bringing people together in prayer weekly.

“With the spate of deaths that have been part of our world in the recent months, grief is like a hovering shadow that doesn’t leave. We feel despondent and unable to move on, feeling like life will never be normal again. But contrary to our desire to curtail the pain of loss or to shorten its effect in our daily lives, we must recognize that grief is necessary.

“It is not a lack of faith or a sign of weakness. Grief is the path we must trod so we can properly process the loss, allowing the heart to catch up with the reality of death….”

On Raymund Isaac’s inurnment last October 13, we heard Gary Valenciano’s new song for the very first time, as he performed it for Raymund in a video.  A song he wrote at the beginning of the pandemic, it reminds us not to lose faith in the darkest of times.


This is the goal, people. None of this ‘new normal’ BS

No one I know has lost so much as a tooth from wishful thinking, so there’s no harm in imagining a world with a miracle cure—not just treatment medications or vaccinations, but a pill we can pop, and POOF! Coronavirus is gone!

Though not YET the miracle cure we are hoping for, scientists are already developing breakthrough pills that are potential gamechangers in how COVID-19 is treated, such as the antiviral pill developed by US drug maker Merck that could cut the chances of dying or being hospitalized in half, with experts hailing it as a potential breakthrough in how the virus is treated.


Meanwhile, the more achievable goal is HERD IMMUNITY.

On September 24, 2021, Norway reopened society, ending its coronavirus-curbing restrictions, which limited social interaction and hobbled many businesses. Some 76 percent of all Norwegians have now received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 67 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, according to the Institute of Public Health.

“The Nordic nation joins a small but growing number of countries, including Denmark and Britain, which have removed all domestic restrictions limiting the spread of the coronavirus.

“It is 561 days since we introduced the toughest measures in Norway in peacetime…Now the time has come to return to a normal daily life,” Prime Minister Erna Solberg said in a news conference. The decision to no longer require social distancing will allow culture and sports venues to utilize their full capacity, rather than just a portion of seats, while restaurants can fill up and nightclubs reopen.

“In short, we can now live as normal,” Solberg said. “Even though everyday life is now back to normal for most people, the pandemic is not over. People will still get sick and therefore it is important that everyone gets vaccinated,” she added. She warned, however, that those who do contract COVID-19 must still go into isolation to avoid spreading the virus.

People queue with social distancing outside the liquor store in Sandvika outside Oslo, Norway, on January 23, 2021 as all liquor stores were closed in Oslo after the discovery of the British coronavirus variant in a retirement home near the city. NTB/Oern E. Borgen via REUTERS

Wishing that things were as normal and safe in the Philippines doesn’t mean that we are, just yet. But we are getting there— I just wish it was happening sooner than later.

More than the vaccinations, I believe it’s the attitude. People are disciplined and considerate enough to make a conscious effort to respect each other’s space. It’s a mindset of deference to Coronavirus, a “healthy fear and suspicion,” reverence and acknowledgement of the virus, and an appreciation of the liberties that come from a healthy deference. Sadly, I find this sorely lacking in our country.

Here, we put our game faces on, while dutifully keeping our masks on. I do it because of the running and blinking LED sign in my head whenever I’m in public and someone is talking to me: “THE SALIVA! THE SALIVA! THE SALIVA!” Sorry, but I just can’t!

Mark and I also stay masked because I simply can’t afford to get hospitalized for COVID. Can you? How sure are you that you’ve got ample protection by being vaccinated, boosted even, or not? Or that you are equipped enough to handle getting “mildly” sick?

Be careful not to let hubris be the death of you or your loved ones. Stay with the program. Before you know it, we will all be able to unmask.

It is also a good idea to test ourselves every so often, especially before or after attending gatherings which we do at home with Abbott COVID-19 Rapid Test Device (nasopharyngeal). It’s important to use a nasal antigen rapid test as opposed to saliva, and to self-quarantine at home if you think you might have been exposed to COVID.

“As vaccination rolls out, testing is still incredibly important,” says Dr. Scott Koepsell, MD, PhD, medical director of the University of Nebraska Medical Center main testing lab. “Not everyone is vaccinated, especially our children, so we need to continue diagnosing the virus. Testing enables appropriate isolation and protects health care workers who perform high-risk procedures on patients.” (Source:

WHEW! ARE YOU STILL WITH ME? After that deep dive, it’s time to decompress with this feel good track from 1982!


Steppin’ Out by Joe Jackson


Breaking news!

It was announced on October 13 that the National Capital Region would be placed under Alert Level 3 beginning Oct. 16, 2021 until Oct. 31, 2021. Other areas of the country would remain on Modified Enhanced Community Quarantine (MECQ), General Community Quarantine (GCQ) with heightened restrictions, and Modified General Community Quarantine (MGCQ), including Aklan Province where Boracay Island is situated.

In addition, the IATF revised the rules for Green Lanes for international arriving passengers effective October 14, 2021. (Source:

Boracay Island is waiting for you!

We’ve got our game faces on behind our masks, wearing bigger-sized swimsuits, and with toes and fingers crossed!

Photo credit: Photos by Freida Dario-Santiago

The country’s beach capital, and Philippine tourism’s “Crown Jewel,” rolled out its pristine powdery white carpet on September 17. On GCQ, the famed island opened its shores to domestic tourism, breathing new life and much-needed economic infusion, and some stability for us local residents.

Photo credit: Photo by Jack Jarilla @boracayphotographer

One month after, the sleeping beauty is slowly reawakening, with a lot more places opening up, foot traffic visibly increasing, and the energy slowing picking up. With renewed vitality, she has definitely dusted off the sand, and has begun her dramatic comeback, sun-kissed, and almost fully vaccinated at that!

In an interview with the BusinessMirror on September 16, Tourism Secretary Berna Romulo-Puyat said that 74 percent of tourism workers in Boracay were already vaccinated: “Hopefully by next week it will be 100 percent. In Baguio, 100 percent are already vaccinated. I hope before Christmas, tourism workers in the country will be 100 percent vaccinated.” (Source:

The LGU of Malay municipality posted this “COVID-19 Vaccination Accomplishment Report” as of Sept. 24, 2021:

                    Projected 2021 Population – 57,345

70 percent of 2021 Population (herd immunity) – 40,141

1st Dose – 54 percent

2nd Dose – 39 percent

Courtesy of the LGU Malay Facebook page

Based on this report, the island will be 93 percent vaccinated, reaching herd immunity once the 54 percent receive their second doses, which will most likely be in two weeks to a month’s time (as of press time).

‘My Boracay’ is already slowly emerging from the long tunnel

As a full-fledged, card-carrying Boracay Island resident for 18 years, I have weathered all kinds of storms, and this time, I am optimistic that “my Boracay” is already slowly emerging from the long tunnel, as long as we are not forced to regress with another Draconian lockdown or closure.

As I wrote in my first The Diarist Ph entry in November 2020 ( when the island was first reopened to domestic tourism “pandemic-time, “We’ve got our game faces on behind our masks, wearing bigger-sized swimsuits and with toes and fingers crossed!”

What are you waiting for?

Get away from it all, to an island unlike any other, that offers a semblance of normalcy, to quiet the mind and quench the thirsty soul. There is no better time than now, with and drop-down rates and promos from airlines and hotel and resort accommodations also offering flexible booking arrangements.

Photo by Jack Jarilla @boracayphotographer

Boracay is renowned as one hell of a Halloween destination, but I advise you to keep your expectations down, and don’t expect the annual Halloween parties you have grown accustomed to pre-COVID. That said, by all means, bring a costume because you can count on us locals to put on our Halloween best!

A more subdued Halloween pandemic-style in 2020 at True Home Hotel & Bistro

As my twin star BFF Angelo Villanueva (a.k.a. SuperModelDiva) always says, “It’s couture, darling, couture!”

  Full-on pageantry (from left): me and Mark at the “Epic Wonderland” Halloween Ball (2016); the Boracay tribe (2017); “Cirque du Freak” Epic Halloween Ball (2019); that’s Angelo rightmost

Helpful links:

Visit the Department of Tourism website for the latest travel guidelines:

Aklan Government’s guide for tourists going to Boracay:;



Cebu Pacific:


The Coronavirus scourge will be defeated on our terms.

When all is said and done and this pandemic is in our rear-view mirror, I hope that we don’t forget the pain and suffering, all that we’ve lost, who we’ve lost, and also never forget who was there for us in our darkest hour.

If there is one thing we’ve learned, it is that LIFE IS TOO SHORT.

As I like to say when scolded for being too full-on, “Tomorrow is not promised to anyone.” Let’s face it, there will be more hard times ahead, and all we can really do is muster the courage to fight the good fight of faith, to soldier on, and above all, to stay honest and kind.

After reading this, please take a moment to:

Hug your loved ones.

Say “I love you.”

Call your parents.

Make amends.

Today, not at Christmas.

Thank you for bearing with me, and I hope you enjoyed the ride and the comic relief to cheer you up!


When all else fails, in music we trust… and medicate!

“One good thing about music is that if it hits you, you feel no pain.”

– Bob Marley

I leave you with this labor of love and loving tribute—a Spotify playlist that Mark and I created for all of you, our dear Diarist readers, as our antidote to this pandemic!

Allow the healing power of music to intoxicate you, and to flood your veins with love. As Nirvana drummer Dave Grohl puts it, “At first, music was in the air, until music became the air.”

Click on the microphone icon 🎤 for the lyrics, and play it LOUD! 🔇

Dance it out and celebrate life! 💃🏻🕺🏻

Raise those glasses with me as we celebrate the lives and indomitable spirits of our dearly beloved Tito Melo Santiago (make that a The Dalmore or The Yamazaki single malt Japanese whiskey, or a fine glass of Chateau Margaux Premier Grand Cru 1992) and our dear friends Raymund Isaac, Rafa Dinglasan (how he loved his Scotch, preferably Glenfiddich), and Noli AU AU-rillo (and his ice-cold SML)!

Thank you, gentlemen, for living life to the fullest, and for fighting the good fight for us to the very end. Cheers in Heaven!


We’ve used up all our booze money in the making of this playlist, so CHEERS!

Enjoy, and stay safe!

SPOTIFY ALBUM: “The Diarist – Exhale Deeply”

Compiled by Mark and Freida Santiago

Arranged by Mark Santiago

In memory of those we’ve tragically lost to COVID-19 and other illnesses. May they rest in peace.


Nolet “DJ Papi” Santos (September 26, 2017)

Inurned with his headphones, “DJ Papi” was one of Mark’s best buddies.

His music still resonates in our hearts, and has inspired us to create this album.



Manfred Spiering (February 20, 2020)

Alice Honasan (February 29, 2020)

Ivan Zalameda (April 19, 2020)

Florina “Ola” Rivera (August 20, 2020)

Tim Moreno (Oct. 25, 2020)

Louie Cruz (November 20, 2020)



Moe Chulani (Jan. 10, 2021)

Chester Gellido (May 16, 2021)

Former President Benigno C. Aquino III (June 24, 2021)

Bambi Lichauco (July 23, 2021)

Carmelo “Melo” Santiago (August 6, 2021)

Remedios “Medy” Gabriel (August 24, 2021)

Raymund Isaac (September 4, 2021)

Eddie Guidotti (September 12, 2021)

Miguel Larrauri (September 12, 2021)

Rafa Dinglasan (September 13, 2021)

Criselda Lontok (September 22, 2021)

Chito Gascon (October 9, 2021)

Noli Aurillo (October 16, 2021)

Mike B. Garcia (October 21, 2021)

These selections are specially dedicated to:

Nolet “ DJ Papi” Santos 

In The Stone by Earth, Wind & Fire

Tito Melo Santiago

Te Vas by Pete Escovedo

Embraceable You by Frank Sinatra and Tanya Tucker


Raymund Isaac

Corner of the Sky- Pippin/1972 Original Broadway Cast Recording by John Rubinstein

Rafa Dinglasan

You to Me Are Everything by The Real Thing

Every Breath You Take by The Police

The Prayer by Andrea Bocelli and Celine Dion

About author


A Boracay Island resident since 2003, she is the author of The Complete Guide to Boracay Island (first to fourth editions), and editor-in-chief of Boracay Sun News community newspaper. She left a successful career in Manila as magazine editor to immerse herself in Boracay Island’s tropical subculture as a free-spirited travel and lifestyle journalist, and brand marketing and PR consultant with over 25 years in the publishing and communications business. She is an independent contractor for CNN International / WarnerMedia Asia Pacific and Discovery Network. <br> @boracaysunnews / @fvdario @Freida Dario-Santiago

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