Haiti victim Jerome Yap

A hero's home coming

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By Sarah Jane P. Pauyo; Photo by Isabela A. Martinez

JANUARY 11 – Dr. Leticia Yap was on the Internet to chat with her son, Jerome, who had just left the Philippines for Haiti to resume his duties as a staffer of the United Nations (UN) office of the field personnel. The mother and son talked about Jerome’s plans of another homecoming this March.

“Jerome said: I found a ship here [in Haiti] going to the Philippines. I will be there from March 30 to April 10,” Leticia told the Varsitarian. “Since [the fare costs] only $1,100 compared with Prague which is $1,200, it’s much better if I just go home.”

It was their last conversation.

A magnitude-seven earthquake hit Haiti on January 12 killing thousands, including four Filipinos. Jerome, 43, was pinned under the rubble of the Christopher Hotel in the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, where the UN Stabilization Mission in Haiti (Minustah) held office. However, it was only six days after the calamity that Jerome’s lifeless body was recovered under the rubble.

“It was a horrifying six days for us,” Leticia said.

UST conferred upon Jerome, an Advertising alumnus, a posthumous award last January 27 during the St. Thomas Aquinas Mass, in recognition of his service “characterized by competence, compassion and commitment.”

Jerome’s remains arrived in the Philippines last February 2 and were cremated on February 6.

Fond traveller

Jerome’s 15-year service with the UN was driven strongly by his love for travel. After graduation, he worked in the family-owned travel agency for a while and then left for the United States, joining his brother and sister in 1988.

Leticia said Jerome tried his luck and applied as a messenger at the UN headquarters in New York. It was his diligence that got Jerome promoted from messenger into a personal assistant of Luiz Carlos da Costa, a deputy special representative to the UN secretary general.

Jerome’s journey with the UN brought him to so many places, including assignments in Kosovo, Liberia, South Africa, and Haiti. However, Leticia said she was worried for her son being assigned to work in conflict-torn nations as part of the organization’s peace-keeping mission. The office of the field personnel sends peace-keeping officers to troubled areas.

When Jerome was assigned in Kosovo, Leticia recalled that she asked her son to give up his job.

“At that time, I saw on TV that there were shoot-outs everywhere,” Leticia said. “So I said better give it up and come and stay home, but maybe it is in his system to help people. So he kept on.”

Whenever he had time, Jerome would often go to Prague in the Czech Republic, his favourite, and visit other parts of Europe. He would also visit his siblings in New York and return to the Philippines to visit Leticia, a 73-year-old pediatrician in San Fernando City, Pampanga.

In fact, Jerome came home and stayed for three weeks to celebrate the holidays last year. He even brought his mother, sister, and sister-in-law to Bangkok, where they had a grand time.

“He bought me a nice brooch, a pair of earrings and a ring because Jerome knew it will give me pleasure,” Leticia said. “Even if you don’t ask anything from him, he is very generous.”

The mother could only hold on to the nice memories.

“Jerome was a “fun-loving person who loved life and interacting with people.” Leticia said of her son who was the fourth child in a brood of six.

Indeed, even Jerome’s friends and co-workers would say exactly the same thing in their tributes to their beloved friend.

They put up two benches placed side-by-side in Central Park, New York, and dedicated it to the late UN worker and his boss, Da Costa, who also died in the earthquake.

Jerome’s brother-in-law also built a “reef ball” or an artificial coral reef to fulfill of Jerome’s wish before he died. An admirer of aquatic life, part of Jerome’s ashes was used to make the reef ball that was submerged in the waters of Mabini town in Batangas.

Music lives on

As a child, Jerome loved music. Leticia recalled that when Jerome was young, “he would dance and sing in the clinic.” He also studied playing instruments and eventually developed a good singing voice.

At the UN, he joined the UN choir giving him the chance to see European countries like France and Germany. He would become a choir master at Don Bosco Academy in Pampanga, where he took his secondary education.

Jerome might have taken a different career turn after receiving his Advertising degree from UST, but Jerome was always a true Thomasian. His service to extend peace to conflict-torn nations was no ordinary feat, considering he dedicated almost two decades of his life to it.

“It does not take to be a great man to be a hero, but to do work with passion and love-that is being a hero already,” Leticia said. With reports from Cliff Harvey C. Venzon Tomasino