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Bacolod City, Philippines Friday, June 15, 2012
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The Good Life
with Eli F.J. Tajanlangit

Red surprise for ECJ

The Good Life
with Eli F.J. Tajanlangit

There were no invites but some 300 people came, each one with a scheme or two to make sure his or her arrival was not detected. Cars were hidden a block away. Those who came from his companies came hours earlier and hid themselves inside the venue

It was a surprise party for ECJ, The Boss, or simply Danding to many of his friends and associates, and for days, it was the whisper among those closest to him who remembered his forthcoming birthday and wanted to greet him.

His wife, Gretchen, who was let in on the secret, brought him to their clubhouse, a block away from their house, for what he had thought was the usual birthday mass and dinner. There, the lights went fully on and the live band burst into happy birthday as the doors swung open for him, to be greeted by cheers, and hugs, and handshakes, and kisses from his family and friends, all of them wearing red to wish him everything good.

San Miguel top honcho Ramon S. Ang whom ECJ calls “my partner”, personally saw to even the details of the event such as making sure the Japanese food he loves were brought in, and the appropriate music played.

It was a night of good food, warm talk and nice music. Sugi had a sushi bar, misono table and teriyaki grill. Son Mark prepared a succulent steak that was oh-so-slowly cooked, it took more than half a day to do. Lechon was flown in from Bacolod.

The band played the appropriate pieces, the singer with such an outstanding vocal range and just-right repertoire. When he sang “Where do I begin?” from the Love Story, Gretchen sat on ECJ’s lap and the crowd simply roared.

Fr. Candi, who had officiated in almost all of the family’s important dates, said the mass. Former President Joseph Estrada came, and even sang, which led ECJ to quip, “It took me 77 years for the President to sing for me!”

Among those who came were House Speaker Sonny Belmonte, Senator Bongbong Marcos, Comelec Chair Sixto Brillantes, former Senator Ernie Maceda and Rep. Albee Benitez who came straight from the airport from Macau. The La Salle contingent had Education Secretary Bro. Armin and Bro Gus, and the La Salle basketball team. Players from three other teams ECJ and his companies are supporting were also there.

Aside from Mark, Charlie and daughter Lisa and her hubby Dr. Nick Cruz, ECJ brother Rep. Henry and partner Sylvia were also there. Grandchildren who were still in the country also gathered around ECJ – Tina and Mike Barrera’s Ernesto; Mark and Kimi’s Paola; Charlie and Rio’s Claudia and Jayme; Lisa and Nick’s Santi and Sophie. Those abroad called, emailed, and texted their greetings.

Very dear friends Joseph and Baby Tay, Douglas Lu Ym, Emon Suarez, Lito Aranaz, Rene So, Tommy Campos, Mila Puyat and his son Miguel and daughter-in-law Dr. Luisa and Menchu Henson were there as well. SMC executives who were there included 8th floor movers Beth and Margot, and ground floor shakers Kin and Mon. All told, it was a night of friends gathering for a dear, beloved and respected friend.

But it was Bongbong who delivered the night’s most memorable message. He recalled how he had sat with ECJ on the plane out of the country in 1986 and how ECJ had personally welcomed him when he came back from exile. Bongbong said ECJ had driven him from the airport to the Clubhouse, “where we are now.” It’s been a long journey for ECJ, Bongbong said, but it just proves one thing: You can never put a good man down.*

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