Last night, I received unexpected and unpleasant news which stirred a lot of memories and emotions. I was supposed to write about the UP Academic Leadership Conference that I just came home from. But this news prompted me to write something different, instead.
October 2007 – I was probably within my first week on the job at UPOU. I couldn’t access my MyPortal account and found the helpdesk completely unresponsive. I wasn’t aware that the person manning the online helpdesk had just resigned. I then sought the help of Ems, the administrative officer for the Faculty of Information and Communication Studies who promptly called someone and got him to talk to me and give me access I desperately needed.
That was my first interaction with someone whom I would eventually supervise for the next three years.
Along with Joshua Ebarvia in the former Management Information Systems Office, UPOU has Jerico Tolentino to thank in playing a key role in keeping the university’s decaying network infrastructure afloat. Jerico and Joshua came in at an unfairly difficult time in UPOU. My predecessor was on his way out and there was no clear plan for moving forward. I wasn’t much help early on in my taking over because I could barely make sense of anything that was happening.
We were a small team of three and at the time, we were among the youngest staff members of UPOU. And while it was almost never explicit, there was never a lack of things that reminded us of that fact. But at the same time, we understood that borderline radical changes were necessary in order to effect the improvements in UPOU’s infrastructure that management expected. These were changes which would not sit well with a number of people. That, in turn, meant our office did not sit well with them either. While Joshua was relatively pliable, Jerico can be one cold, uncompromising S.O.B. And I mean that in a good way, because I believed that there were times when it was the mindset required for us to be able to do our jobs. I don’t know how much of this he actually knew or even appreciated, but it was because of this belief that I spent a LOT of time in front of my superiors having to defend him and explain our side of the story whenever some complaint arose. It was my most important but least pleasant job as head of the office -- shield my team as they do their jobs with as little interference as possible.
Again, unlike Joshua who I consider a close friend to this day, I had a bit of an unstable personal relationship with Jerico. There were times when we could confide with each other with matters beyond work. I am close with the person who would eventually be his wife. On the other hand, he had this barrier or attitude around him which I never really figured out. Things came to a head between us because of how he left UPOU. It got bad enough that even my relationship with his wife got soured. I never got the chance to speak to Jerico in person again, but in time, when I found myself in speaking terms again with Iyen, I took it as a sign that things were ok. There never really was no animosity on my part to begin with, anyway.
Whatever non-positive aspect there was in Jerico’s personal relationship with Joshua and myself, there is no way it could overshadow everything else. The three of us had a pact – no matter what happened in the office, we would always have each other’s backs. When one of us screws up, the other two would cover and make up for it. I gave us three years. If within those three years it got really bad, all of us would resign together. And we almost did – twice! Somewhere under my junk would probably be my signed resignation letter. They never made it to the Chancellor, though. The Vice Chancellor for Finance and Administration deftly intercepted my attempt to submit it and defused whatever emotions the three of us were on, pulling up what was probably the lowest morale I had ever experienced as a staff member. I do believe we had a considerable amount of will to endure, but in those moments when it proved insufficient, we had our boss to catch us. I will always be thankful to her for that. None of us ended up leaving during that crucial formative period.
For Jerico’s part, I will always credit him for a number of milestones. Aside from the number of applications he developed for UPOU, he should be acknowledged as the person responsible for UPOU adopting Google Apps. I imagine it might be hard for the newer constituents to appreciate now, but this was a game-changer for us. UPOU email accounts were suddenly available again. It also helped in making the upou.edu.ph domain safe to use again. He helped me find a better means of running the ever problematic MyPortal. The difference made be moving the learning management system from an old in-house server to a Moodle Partner’s data center was like night and day. I also recruited him as a lecturer in the Diploma in Computer Science program right after he graduated from it. He still is one of the most reliable lecturers I have ever had the privilege of working with. With the whole MISO team teaching in DCS, the program was at its most efficient. To say the least, unlike with the rest of UPOU, hardly any DCS student complained about late grades.
It was around 2010 when, despite the fact that there were still a lot of things that need fixing, I felt that we had already established a general direction for IT development in UPOU. Unfortunately, our little victory took a huge toll. We were all burned out and it had felt like we had worn out our welcome amongst colleagues. A change was imminent and this time, we had no intention of fighting it anymore. Unsurprisingly, Jerico was the first to go. Joshua followed suit a year after. Even I was starting to make plans in the event of my own departure. Breaking up the band was bittersweet for me, but as I had suspected, it eventually turned out to be for the better. Both of them successfully found their greener pastures and eventually found the careers they deserve overseas. They, in turn, were replaced by people whom I would say are better suited to the dynamic among UPOU staff. However, to this day, I always make it a point to credit them where credit is due. I owe them that.
I was content that things had gone well for all of us…. until last night.
I had received word that Jerico, my former colleague and comrade-in-arms, passed away. He was too young. But what made this particularly saddening for me is that he had just signed up for what I would guess is a lucrative contract to work in Germany. His wife and baby girl were preparing to follow him there. That sounded like a promising future for the family, as far as I could tell. But now, this…
I am not a religious man and cannot come up with a comforting Bible quote or a faith-based reason to explain this with conviction. But what I do know is that no matter how bleak this looks for Jerico’s grieving family, I have no doubt that at some point, hopefully sooner than later, he would want them to survive this tragic setback, get back up and move forward. It isn’t going to be easy. But I have no doubt that they will.