“Farewell, dearest friend, never to see one another anymore till at the right hand of Christ.” – Donald Cargill
NEW YORK CITY — “I cried while seeing him in that very sad state.”
Thus was the lamentation made by Block 22 NHA, Mandurriao village chief Ray Rico when he visited childhood friend and former classmate, Dr. Erwin “Tongtong” Plagata, in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of the Iloilo Mission Hospital in Iloilo City, Philippines May 14.
Dr. Elmer Pedregosa, hospital administrator, confirmed that Plagata, 61, a former city councilor, died of heart attack at around two o’clock in the afternoon on May 17.
“Tongtong was a fighter. He tried to hold on but God ended his pain and sufferings,” sobbed Rico, who graduated with Plagata in the Central Philippine University (CPU) high school batch 1973.
He described Plagata as “my childhood buddy” since kindergarten and elementary.
Rico said Plagata’s wife, Franzine, and son Toto Ach-Ach, “lost a loving husband and father.”
Rico said the last message he whispered to Plagata was “you can make it, but rest if you must.”
The ailing physician extended his right hand for a shake with Rico as their usual gesture, but he had a shortness of breath, recalled the village chief.
“Tongtong nodded. I then asked for his permission to go because I couldn’t stand seeing him in that state. Tears were starting to roll down from my eyes,” Rico narrated.
Plagata last held the position of senior executive secretary to Iloilo City Mayor Jed Patrick Mabilog.
He died without clearing his name after he was one of the two former Iloilo city councilors named by President Rodrigo Duterte as alleged protectors of illegal drugs. The other was lawyer Antonio Pesina.
Plagata’s shining moments were in the late 90’s when he was first elected as city councilor. Aside from being the son of the late charismatic former PNP Colonel Achiles, who himself was a former city councilor, Plagata gave young boys free circumcision in the barangays.
He earned the monicker as “Dr. Paltak”. Paltak is Hiligaynon of circumcision.
Plagata hogged newspaper headlines in 1996 when he accidentally hit with a stray bullet Philippine News Agency (PNA) Iloilo employee Virgilio Orquiola on the leg in a night club imbroglio.
He was then Mayor Mansueto Malabor’s chief of the task force on anti-drugs, prostitution, and pornography, and was “inspecting” the Anata Night Club on Ledesma-Quezon Sts., City Proper.
Plagata begrudged the headline story in our newspaper (Sun.Star Iloilo) where we named him as the “triggerman”. He berated our Super Balita reporter Nelson Robles after he was lampooned as “Tong-tong-tong-tong Pakitong-kitong” in a blind item.
He raised his voice when he saw me one morning (I was the editor of Sun Star Iloilo) in the office of the late councilor and then city hall executive assistant German Gonzales.
Plagata also threatened to confiscate copies of Super Balita, Sun Star’s sister publication, branding the tabloid as “pornographic.”
After years of a turbulent relationship with Plagata, his real person came out sometime in 1998 during the campaign period in the national elections, where he was again a candidate for a local position.
Plagata was guest in a morning candidates debate show aired “live” on ABS-CBN Iloilo where I was one of the moderators.
He gamely accepted the challenge, agreed to participate in the debate, and never cast doubts on my impartiality as a moderator.
After the debate, he volunteered to bring me to my destination in the Atrium. I joined him in his car and we exchanged pleasantries.
On that day, we buried whatever hatchet we had and decided to let bygones be bygones.
Plagata, after all, was human imbued with passion to make friends with former adversaries, and to embrace humility and generosity when no one was watching.
Mary Worthley Montagu once said, “While conscience is our friend, all is at peace; however once it is offended, farewell to a tranquil mind.”
Rest in peace, Dr. Paltak. ‘Till we meet again.