I went back to my hometown on All Saints’ Day, the national holiday to honor and celebrate the memories of loved ones who have passed away, still reminiscing about my just-ended joyful ride with Charice and the Philippine Chasters. Little did I know that another chapter will be added albeit a sad one when I received a text message from abBonita that Charice’s father had just met a violent death.
Through Bluemax, I heard the next evening that Charice had returned from Jakarta and that some Chasters were already at the Divine Mercy Viewing Chapel in Muntinlupa where Ricky Pempengco was lying in repose. Unlike in the US where visiting hours are limited to about 9:00 pm, 24-hour vigil is customary in the Philippines when relatives and friends can visit at any time. I arrived at about 9:30 pm and found the place already encamped by the 3 major networks, TV cameras in place, looking for scoops and people to interview. Huge bouquets of white flowers sent by Chasters from Japan, Singapore, Los Angeles and Lantao were among those that bedecked the hall. I paid my respect to Ricky and was then told that Charice was resting in a private room. After being given permission to enter, I talked to Mommy Raqz and to Charice who was slumped in a bed being attended to. She looked tired, sad, and haggard, just like any typical teenager who lost a loved one and none of the image of a celebrity that she is. I extended condolences to her on behalf of the entire Chaster family and told her how all Chasters really love and care for her and her well being. I even advised her to take a break, get much needed rest and that, personally, I want her to be around for many years to entertain my grandchildren long after I’m gone. She held my hand and just said, “Salamat po (Thank you)”.
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The next day, I found the place packed with relatives, friends, and many Chasters! In fact, many Chasters were still coming past 12 midnight direct from their second shift jobs just to be with Charice in her hours of bereavement. Little CutieSinger, one of our youngest Chasters at 12 years old was present who later tried to catch a few winks on the lap of Tita Wower. There was a time that almost half of the room was filled with Chasters! Charice, Mommy Racqz, and Carl were busy entertaining late-coming friends and relatives. Charice, when in her happy mood was like a kid playing around with CutieSinger, who was so shy and starstruck that it took her awhile to approach Charice and be prodded to sing a few notes. It was turning to be quite a happy occasion – a time of reconciliation, understanding and healing of the rifts among the Pempengco clan, and a time of more bonding and friendship. I decided to leave at 4:00 am quite ashamed that I will not be able to sacrifice like the many but much younger Chasters (with the exception of a few of course) who were determined to stick around for an all night, sleepless vigil. While my spirit said “Yay” to stay, my 67-year old body was not ready for the ordeal and was saying “Nay”.
I was back the following day in time to witness the family picture-taking and listen to the eulogies. Many of Ricky’s friends, sisters and other relatives reminisced about their experiences with Ricky. Mommy Racqz expressed how much she still loved him in spite of the sad past between them. Carl recalled a time of meeting a man who said to him how much he has grown, not knowing it was his father. Then it was Charice’s turn. Charice completely broke down, and cried like a little child, almost fainted and had to be consoled before she could even utter a word about her Dad. And between sobs, reached out to whatever little memories she could recall – how her father wanted her to be a soldier. She expressed how much she loved and missed him, and longed for the time they could have had together had she learned earlier the sad state her father was living in. Charice even mentioned a premonition while in Jakarta of seeing a security guard smile who looked like her father, just prior to hearing about his death.
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The funeral procession started a little past 2:00 pm from Muntinlupa City to Cabuyao Memorial Park with a long convoy which included 5 full sized buses. The convoy created traffic and inched along the old national highway with hundreds of people lined up along the way hoping to catch a glimpse of Charice. It took a little over 2 hours to reach the cemetery which was so packed with people that it was very difficult to get near the burial site. I stood behind Carl trying to console him while Beda and Aki were profusely fanning Charice and Racquel. White roses were handed to family members for their last respect to Ricky. As the coffin was being interred, Charice broke down again. She sat almost in stupor as the tomb was being sealed. It was a heart-rending sight to watch our princess, so bubbly and lively on stage now crying like a little child grieving for a tremendous loss.
As her SUV backed in to fetch the family, a big crowd trying to catch a glimpse of Charice formed blocking the exit. Security guards had to form a chain to create a path for the family. A bunch of Chasters voluntarily followed suit and joined hand-in-hand to form a secondary chain in support of security with Beda barking commands like a little general for the crowd to back off. The crowd obeyed as Charice and family hurriedly walked into the vehicle and drove away as the crowd started to disperse.
As our bus sped away along South Luzon Expressway, I cannot help but think of the events that transpired the past few days. That we have now witnessed the other Charice – the typical teenager, the little child that’s still in her, mingling with her roots, unmindful of the pinnacle where she stands as a star of the entertainment world – the girl with the beautiful shoes still planted firmly on the ground.
After all the hugs and kisses as we bid goodbye to go our separate ways, I cannot help but think that the love for Charice by the Chaster Family has now morphed from DEDICATION to FAITHFUL AND PROFOUND DEVOTION for the welfare of OUR PRINCESS.