WALKING home”—every evening, as he took the route down from the hill, through the steps leading to the Dela Costa housing, Emmanuel Jose “Em-J” Pavia would send this SMS to his mother, Marge, to say he was on his way home.
On the evening of July 18, however, there was no text. That was the first instance that Marge knew something was amiss.
“We invited him twice to just take the car home with us, but he said that he was finishing the midterm grades, which were due the next day,” Marge tells me, recalling that fateful evening.
She had last seen him that afternoon when he came to her office at the Ateneo High School to bring her a can of Pledge. “He heard me say that since the offices were new, maalikabok pa.”
Uncharacteristically, he also visited his former HS math teacher, dropping by her office before heading home. “Sorry, ma’am,” he grinned from the doorway, “wala akong extra food for you today!” And then he left.
At 7:26 that night, he sent his final message to a younger female cousin, a Snapchat of something funny.
He was gunned down that early evening on the street where he lived by a yet unidentified gunman.
Such was the young man that Em-J was—thoughtful, caring, funny, diligent, ever patient. His passions were ultimate frisbee, basketball, teaching, and making people feel better about themselves.
“There was something about him that would make you stop, listen and think about what he was saying, which made him a natural teacher, coach and mentor,” says Antonio Umali, who had known him since sixth grade.
In their senior year in high school, Em-J set up an ultimate frisbee organization, which exists to this day.
Antonio says this was when he first saw Em-J’s passion for teaching. “It’s a hard sport to teach. When he first taught me and a couple of our classmates, I thought he was being very thorough and patient because he was our friend. But when I saw him teaching complete newbies in the organization, I realized that he truly was interested in sharing the knowledge.”
Value in relationships
What defined Em-J, Antonio says, was his willingness to give time to people. “Whatever personal needs he had would take a backseat to any pressing needs of others out there. He was careful never to fall out of friendships, and eager to make new ones. He truly saw the value in relationships with others.”
This was very evident in his friendship with classmate Mikey Dalumpines.
“Em-J was one of the guys who really made an effort to reach out to me when I moved to Davao in 2011. I’ve never been the type to maintain contact with my friends, but he kept in touch and checked up on me a lot through random messages or funny stuff on Facebook. The way he acted as an anchor for our barkada is what we will miss the most.”
Mia Teh, one of his closest female friends, recalls how Em-J never had a negative word to say about anyone. “He was, at his very core, a deeply loving person—and that always shone through, whether he was in a good place or in his darkest hours.”
Em-J was always in love at any given point in time, Mia says. “With teaching, basketball, singing, jokes, people. He lived so simply, so passionately, and he cared so deeply for people. I don’t know anyone who didn’t like him. His friendship was warm, relentless, constant. I miss him every day.”
Gab Palanca, his classmate and AMP (Ateneo Musicians Pool) orgmate, says that Em-J embodied what they learned in Philosophy. “The essence of the course was hope—hope in that we are saved and worthy, in the face of uncertainty. I think he lived that out more. That ‘Tiwala + I hope in Thee’ was our mantra in senior year. Sobrang nakita ko yun sa kanya. He helps you to hope and trust after you’ve given it all, because that’s all you can do. Em-J really reminded me about it when I doubted, and I hope I did the same when he was the one in doubt.”
He was encouraging as a mentor and teacher, like the older brother that he was.
Basketball teammate Ace Libre says, “He was such a genuine and compassionate guy. His impact on my life was silent but undeniable—something I hope will last for as long as I breathe.”
Lean Kintanar, who learned ultimate frisbee from him, points out: “He was a junior at that time and I was a freshman, and although he was an upperclassman, he did his best to coach us. That’s what I remember most about him. He was always ready to lend a helping hand, on and off the field.”
His humor and patience were legendary. Classmate Armando Miclat says that Em-J had such a funny and dry wit: “He’d make puns, corny jokes. Deadpan humor delivered with a straight face. Then he’d laugh and smile a goofy smile—an ear-to-ear grin, teeth showing. It was infectious, and the whole group would laugh.”
Even at a young age, Armando recalls, Em-J had the makings of a great teacher, something he imbibed from his parents, Jerry and Marge, both teachers and administrators at the Ateneo.
“From nowhere, he’d manage to say the right things to calm you down, to make you feel better,” says Armando. “I’ll miss how our birthdays were only two days apart, and we’d have a joint celebration! I’ll miss how he’d welcome our group to his house and make us all feel like brothers hanging out.”
Even at a very young age, Em-J’s heart was different from that of regular youngsters. One of his oldest friends, Sam Santos, will never forget an experience that showed Em-J’s generosity: “Back in fifth grade, we were seatmates during our class field trip. My mom made burritos for my baon, my favorite. I thought about offering Em-J one, but I was too selfish. I sat beside him, stuffing myself, pretending not to notice him so I didn’t have to share.
“Once we were done eating, Em-J took out a bag of cookies. Since I didn’t share, I didn’t expect Em-J to share as well.
“So imagine my surprise when Em-J opened the bag and offered the first piece to me! He ended up giving me half the pack. I felt so guilty. How could he be so nice and selfless? But that’s Em-J. Selfless.”
Gab Lim was one of Em-J’s closest friends. After college, he went on to pursue a medical degree and is now doing clerkship. When Em-J first told him that he wanted to become a teacher, Gab had frowned upon the decision.
“He was initially in a really tough quota course,” says Gab, “and would have made it big if he had stayed. I thought, ‘Sayang naman. Ang galing mo pa naman sa Math.’
“But in the middle of his first year of teaching in Ateneo High School, I realized why he chose to become a teacher. He talked about all of his students. He was so ecstatic about having a moderating class, and he loved his students. He knew who were the varsity players, the smart ones, the sleepyheads, and even those who wrote funny answers on his quizzes.
“He was very supportive and dedicated. He would be frustrated if one of his students couldn’t grasp his lessons, so he gave free tutorials after class. He went to every game of his students who were varsity players. Kahit anong sport pa ’yan, I would see him there cheering on his students. Once, I was with him at Araneta Coliseum when a group of his students approached and gave him a bro hug. Parang barkada lang siya ng students niya.”
Em-J’s sudden and tragic death leaves a huge hole in the heart of everyone who loved him, especially his high school classmates, whom he treasured like brothers.
“He would always try to organize our A-boy (Em-J was in the high school honors section) basketball sessions even if no one was replying to him on our Facebook thread,” Gab says. “It was admirable, really. He never gave up on trying to bring us all together on every free weekend. I guess that’s how much he loved spending time with us. We grew closer as a barkada because of him. I will always be thankful to him because of that.”
I never met Em-J Pavia, but his is an inspiring story of a young man who made such an impact on the lives he touched in his brief but full 24 years on earth.
On the evening of his passing, I checked out his Twitter page, and was struck by the quote he chose: “Aim for the moon. That way, even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”
Rest now with the angels, Em-J. You left this world so suddenly, but there is the stardust of beautiful memories to sustain those you love in the wake of your loss.