April 28, 2005
Requiem for Ray
Today, Ray Punongbayan died after a PAF chopper he was on crashed somewhere in Nueva Ecija. He was probably the most famous volcanologist in recent memory and the explosion of Mt. Pinatubo (see picture) was one of the primary reasons he became famous.
He was intelligent and articulate but he was also passionate, to a fault, about his chosen field. He also cared very deeply about his country which you would discover after a 30 minute conversation with him. He was also an honest man and that is saying a lot for a man in government.
I had a chance to meet him when I defended him from a baseless graft charge filed by a subordinate who was after his post. Throughout 3 years of protracted litigation, I got to know the scientist, the man and the Filipino, Dr. Ray Punongbayan:a good man.
He retired from the office he held for 20 years, Director of PHIVOLCS, poor as a mouse but still dedicated and committed to serving his country. Until the date of his death, he lived in a rented apartment--a far cry from many government officials whose mansions sprout within the first years of their appointment.
Ray enjoyed many simple things. He had a great sense of humor and he could laugh at himself. He enjoyed good conversation and could imbibe spirits with the best of them. But the one thing I saw that he was really passionate about was his craft, his science. Once he toured me through the equipment at PHIVOLCS and his eyes were alit as he explained to me, practically a luddite when it came to volcanoes and the equipment in the room, patiently and very clearly what was going on. He was most excited when talking about PHIVOLCS, volcanoes, earthquakes, science and his country.
He retired with a graft conviction wrongfully imposed on him for a corruption that was so alien to him; yet that did not turn his mind from serving what appeared to be an ungrateful country. He poured himself into another realm of public service, serving as governor of the Red Cross--which is how he found himself on that chopper earlier today.
Ray was not a religious man; he did not speak of God often. He was also a man of science which does not lend itself easily to faith. Yet I know that Ray would appreciate that he is now with the Creator, He who made the volcanoes, the rocks and the nature he loved so much in life.
Goodbye Ray. Pacem en requiescat.