Josue (October 6, 1932 — March 29, 2009)

A eulogy given in behalf of Josue N. Niguidula on April 2, 2009 

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are the persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
(Matthew 5:3-10)

Josue is the youngest sibling in a clan of 11 brothers and sisters whose father is the late Aquilino Niguidula. Among the third generation cousins, there is almost a unanimous conclusion that Josue is the most approachable and friendly uncle, to which I concur. For the longest time, I thought it was just me—I had a connection with his eldest son that went beyond ‘cousins’ as we went to school together from grade one to our senior year.

As stories began to filter out, Josue is described as a diligent and hard worker with a reputation of honesty and integrity. As an electrical engineer, he worked on projects where his clients sometimes wonder if he was making money. In a trade where profits are increased by padding the cost of inexpensive materials, Josue chose to price quality materials at their cost.

What made Josue tick was perhaps his position in the family. Being the youngest sibling to brothers and sisters who were exceedingly successful in their respective field made them tough acts to follow. Consider that he had siblings who were a successful newspaperman, an educator, engineers, medical care givers and a theologian. Some of them receiving accolades like the “Father of Philippine Radiology” (Luciano Niguidula) or applause from the Vatican and a blessing from Pope John Paul II for his work as pediatric heart surgeon (Tony Niguidula). Perhaps the pressure to succeed was excessive; perhaps the “box” he found himself was limiting.

One quirk in the Niguidula Clan is that there is this tendency to be “boxed” into a stereotype that haunts you for the rest of your life.While it was positive and gracious because it affirms and accepts you for whatever that feature or flaw that you are or possessed but it may also be negative as it forever confines or haunts you. Take my case, for example, born with a congenital defect (hare lip/cleft palate) was not expected to live when I was born, yet with the available medical technology (ca. 1960) and a mother’s tender loving care, I pulled through—but I was subsequently sickly that I had to be pampered and overprotected. Never mind that in the next decades that my work was among the urban poor and was sacrificial—I somehow am marked as pampered and overprotected.

Josue must have had the tag of being bunso—the youngest—box him in. I remember my mom quipping that Josue always is in need of help because he is the youngest. In the times where he would work with his engineer siblings, he would oftentimes be considered an employee and not a partner (or at best a junior partner).

This was also exacerbated by the fact that he had nephews and nieces who were as old as or even older than himself. His older siblings were old enough to be his father—literally—as they married and had their own children right about the time Josue was born.

He had to develop coping skills to deal with all that which contributed to his character. In the shadow of his supercharged siblings, he had to deal with an imposed inadequacy of his position in the family; in the company of his nephews and nieces who were virtually his peers, he had to deal with an exponentially redefined sibling rivalry.

Josue was forever measured according to the success and prestige of both of his siblings and his nephews and nieces.

That was when he decided to redefine himself.

One salient characteristic that grabs Josue’s later life was that he never went to church. Born into one of the pioneering protestant families, his own father was a minister with UNIDA (Iglesia Evanglica Unida de Cristo—a protestant denomination) and a sister who would become a prominent theologian (Rev. Lydia Niguidula). That feature in his life was disturbing to some—including myself.

Having found myself to be the third generation minister in the family, that feature was pointed out to me (no less by my mother who still thought that Josue needed help because he was the youngest sibling). Eventually I would have the chance to ask my uncle about it and what ensued was a candid, profound and unique conversation. It was perhaps something that Josue never shared to anyone—not to his father and definitely not to his sister. He was candid about what he thought about the church (in this case the Protestant church) and faith.

His thoughts brought me back to chapter 14 of Noli Me Tangere (Dr. Jose Rizal) where Tasio ( Pilisopong Tasio) would give a litany on what he thought of the church (in this case the Roman Catholic church). Some scholars (Rev. Eugene Hessel) concludes that Tasio (along with Elias) is stating what the author knows and believes.

That brings me back to the whole generation thing: a generation earlier, his father (Aquilino —whose life intersected Jose Rizal's) left the Roman Catholic Church for the exact same reasons why Josue chose not to be part of his own church (Protestant!). Somehow he would ‘leave’ the Protestant church but unlike his father, he wisely chose not to be part of another (his wife, Imelda, is Roman Catholic).

In both cases, father and son—a generation apart—saw that the church was no longer a matter of faith but of religion. The father chose to leave and join another; the son chose the same but stayed out.

Josue—born a generation later saw in his father’s experiences and later his siblings’ (which invariably included my mother) how faith devolved into a religion. Religion is something that is preoccupied with not making a mistake as opposed to doing something good (“abala na hindi magkamali na walang ng ginawang mabuti”). Think of the Good Samaritan vs. the Priest and the Levite (Luke 10:25-27). Faith is overshadowed by legalism and false piety that robs it of its dynamism and replaces it with an institutionalized ethos where you have to watch your back or step for fear of causing someone to stumble or otherwise giving a potential political rival an ammunition to shoot you with later. With that preoccupation one ceases to do the good one is called to do (this thought is expanded in my book The Spirituality of Discontentment: Reflections on the Sermon on the Mount).

Josue did not attend church, but he was a faithful husband.

Josue did not teach the Bible, but he raised three upright children.

Josue did not attend or lead church committees but was known for running his business with exquisite integrity.

Josue did not actively participate or contribute to charity but was known for being just and fair to his employees.

He had petty vices that may annoy some people, but what is his cigarette smoking compared to the addiction of many around him to lust and pleasure and what are his rounds of beer compared to many around him drunk with wealth and fortune. In the blinding glitter of the success of some around him, he shined a light of integrity and simplicity. All that he wanted was to live simply and provide for his family (Micah 6:8).

Tonight is Josue’s night. Tonight he is no longer the younger brother of a famous radiologist, surgeon and a theologian or of other successful engineers. Tonight Josue stands all on his own. Tonight Josue stands as the Good Man.

To top it all, his approachability and friendliness is underlined by that integrity that lacking in any form of guile, pretense or hypocrisy. He manages to stay above (or below...) the family squabbles that punctuate the life of the Niguidula clan (befitting television soap operas no less). There is no double talk or sanitized press releases from him—what you see (hear) is what you get. That is known in Scriptures as being “pure in heart” and the promise to them and Josue in particular is:

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matthew 5:8).