[Delivered at the Kalayaan Hall in Malacañan Palace, Manila | 28 August 2023]

To the family and friends; the colleagues of Toots in the Cabinet, all of us who had worked with her; everyone here who are here because Toots always held a special place in their hearts.

We are told when you are an official that you cannot show emotion, that you must be stoic, and you must keep yourself to yourself. Ngunit sana maunawaan ninyo kung tumulo ang luha ko dahil napakalaking nawala sa atin. Napaka malaki ang nawala sa akin, sa inyong lahat, at sa bansang Pilipinas.

And if I do shed a tear, it is because it is such a sad day to know – it is such a sad – a bit of knowledge to know that Toots will not be here anymore and what a big gap she will leave not only to our friends, not only to our family but to the millions of those who she took care of, who she loved, and who she worked for tirelessly and endlessly, and I speak endlessly because that is exactly what happened.

Hanggang sa huli nagtatrabaho pa rin siya. Ngunit sinasabi ko nga hindi kasi – dahil tuloy-tuloy ‘yan dahil hindi trabaho sa kanya ‘yan. Ang ginagawa niya na tumutulong sa ating mga OFW, ang ginagawa niya talaga ay isinabuhay niya talaga ang pagmamahal ng kapwa Pilipino, lalong-lalo na ang mga nangangailangan ng tulong, ang mga nalalagay sa alanganin, ang mga nagkakaproblema, nandoon lagi si Toots.

At tayo alam naman natin siguro matagal nang alam natin na si Toots nagkasakit din. At siyempre ay maaaring mangyari na siya’y pauwiin na ng ating Amang Diyos. Ngunit pinagdadasal natin na sana naman magkamilagro. Sana naman may mangyari dahil kung magmimilagro – if anyone deserve the miracle, it was Toots for all the good that she did.

At kaya’t noong narinig ko ‘yung balita na wala na si Toots ay ika ko hindi tayo napagbigyan. Walang milagro. Ngunit sa sumunod na ilang araw, naisip ko hindi mali ako. Nagkamilagro talaga. Ang milagro si Toots. Ang milagro nabuhay siya at naging kaibigan natin at nagawa niya ‘yung kanyang – ‘yung pinakamahalaga na maaari niyang gawin para sa sarili niya, para sa kanyang kapwa.

At hindi siguro natin makikita ulit ‘yan.

At siyempre iniisip na kaagad namin papaano ngayon ‘yung naiwang trabaho ni Toots? Sino ang gagawa niyan? Noong una sasabihin kailangan natin siyang palitan, kailangan natin siyang – maglagay ng kapalit. Ngunit habang iniisip ko hindi na ako natutulog, iniisip ko anong kapalit? Wala na, hindi na mapapalitan si Toots.

Maghanap tayo ng kasing galing niya pero huwag na tayong umasa na mapalitan si Toots, na mag-substitute na magkakaroon ulit tayo ng Toots na ilalagay ulit natin, bibigyan natin ulit ng pagkakataon na magtrabaho. Bigyan natin ulit ng pagkakataon na makatulong sa kanyang kapwa Pilipino.

Kami ni Toots ay matagal na nga kaming magkakilala. Ngunit talagang naging matalik – hindi muna kami naging matalik na kaibigan. Marami kaming ginagawa sa trabaho. Iyon na nga sa mga human traffic – senador ako, lahat ng maitutulong ko, pinupuntahan ako dahil naging kaibigan kami noong kampanya noong pang-senador, noong kasama si Manny Villar.

Doon kami nagkakataon kami magka-usap nang mabuti at nagkakasundo naman talaga kami. Ngayon ako’y pumasok sa Senado at ilang buwan pa lang ay pinuntahan na niya ako sabi niya tulungan mo ako kasi mayroon tayong problema dito, ganyan. So tuloy-tuloy ang aming pagsasama.

At malaki ang respeto ko kay Toots sa kanyang pagka-professional, sa kanyang kasipagan, at talaga ang puno’t dulo nung lahat ang kanyang pagmamahal talaga sa kapwa Pilipino. At iyon ay – that was on a professional side.

But it so happened also that on a personal side, magkasundo talaga kami at nagkakaintindihan kami. Noong bandang huli nga hindi na namin kailangan pagdiskusyunan pa ‘yung aming gagawin o nais gawin. Kaunting salita lang nagkakaintindihan na kami dahil sa pareho talaga ang aming pag-iisip at matagal naming pinag-uusapan kung papaano ba pagandahin ang sitwasyon ng ating OFW, papaano ba makatulong pa.

At noong napuna ko nga, ang sinasabi ko nga kay Fort kanina, napuna ko mula noong na-appoint siya na Department of Migrant Workers ay pagka hinahanap ko siya sasabihin ko “may problema sa Kuwait, papaano…” “Sir, wala na dito, nandoon na.” Nauna na. Bago mo pa nautusan, nandoon na siya sa Kuwait. O may problema sa Riyadh, nandoon na, nauna na. Tumatawag na siya magre-report na siya.

Ganoon si Toots, hindi na nag-aantay ng — may initiative, she’s so professional at saka talagang alam na alam niya ‘yung trabaho niya.

And I know that this all came from her heart, this all came from the compassion and the passion that she brought to her work. And this, as I said, is a rare quality, a rare combination.

Kagaya nung sinabi ko sa message ko, sabi ko ngayon ka lang makakakita, hindi madalas tayong makakita ng tao na napakalambot ng puso ngunit marunong sa trabaho. Hindi siya ‘yung basta’t magawa. She’s a pragmatist at alam niya experience niya, alam niya ‘yung maaaring gawin, alam niya ‘yung hindi puwedeng gawin at ‘yun ang tinatrabaho niya.

Kaya’t hindi ko talaga maisip, parang hindi ako makaramdam — hindi ko ma-imagine na ang buhay na wala si Toots actually because she occupied such an important part of my life as a friend and as a colleague.

And I have to say that I cannot choose which was the better relationship. They were equally wonderful. The professional relationship that we had and the friendship that we had is something that I cannot— I will not find in many people in my lifetime.

So you will understand my emotion. You will understand the great sense of loss that we are feeling. And if I shed a tear, because I feel sorry. I do not feel sorry for Toots because after her last— her heart beat its last, her soul went immediately to heaven. And for that, I have no doubt.

I feel sorry for us, her friends, her family because we’ve lost a wonderful person, a wonderful friend. I feel sorry for the Filipinos who are living and working abroad because they have lost the best champion that they ever had, they ever had in the history of overseas workers for Filipinos.

And that is why I shed a tear, and that is why I feel sorry for all of us. And that’s why I think that we should honor Toots and remember what is it that she worked all her life for? What was the most important thing to her? We all know what that is: we must continue that work, we must honor her memory, we must honor the work that she did before.

Ang trabaho naman ni Toots hindi lang nung Department of Migrant Workers. Habang buhay na siya ‘yun ang ginagawa niya. Ang ‘yung pinag-uusapan nga namin kahit hindi mo in-appoint ‘yan, ‘yan pa rin ang gagawin niya.

‘Yan talaga ang buhay niya. And lahat tayo makita mo – a more genuine, there you go, a more genuine person you could not find. ‘Pag sinabi niyang inaalala niya ‘yung mga na-stranded doon sa UAE, totoo ‘yun. Hindi niya sinasabi ‘yun professional. She loses sleep over that. Pinag-aabalahan niya talaga ng pag-iisip kung papaanong gagawin, papaano tutulungan.

And so that is what… That is a very high standard that Toots set for the rest of us. So let us not let her down. I hope I never let her down when she was alive. I fully do not intend to let her down now that she is gone. I will always remember her [with] great fondness and affection, and great respect.

Toots, I don’t know how many years God will give me in this life. But for the rest of that life, I can confidently say Toots will always be one of the best people I have ever known. Thank you.

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