A Father ‘til the End

Even while incarcerated in a Saudi jail during his last few days, Reynaldo Cortez had nothing in his mind but his wife and their six children. During his last conversations with his family, he was discussing the future of his children with his wife and kids. And on June 13, without even the slightest hint, Rey was beheaded in Saudi Arabia.

Vol. VII, No. 19, June 17-23, 2007

Even while incarcerated in a Saudi jail during his last few days, Reynaldo Cortez had nothing in his mind but his wife and their six children. During his last conversations with his family, he was discussing the future of his children with his wife and kids. And on June 13, without even the slightest hint, Rey was beheaded in Saudi Arabia.

For their future

Rey was 19 when he married the 15-year old Melody.

“Pero na-survive namin ’yun, ’di kami humingi ng tulong sa mga magulang namin,” (But we survived those times without asking help from our parents.) said Melody, 37, who was very proud of Rey.

“Di kami nag-aaway. Kung may alitan, pinag-uusapan naming bago matulog,” (We never had any serious fights. We talk about any misunderstanding that came between us before we go to sleep.) she told Bulatlat, noting her husband has no vice and would only watch the television or movies in compact discs at home.

It has been nine years since Melody and Rey lived together with their children. They have six children.

Rey, 41, who fondly called her “Love,” decided to work in Saudi as a welder in 1993 to provide for his family. He learned welding and other mechanic skills when he was still working at the vulcanizing shop of his father-in-law in Guagua, Pampanga. He was then earning only a thousand pesos ($21.55 at an exchange rate of P1=$46.39) a week, an income not enough to support their three children then.

But Rey was not immediately able to send money home during his first years in Saudi Arabia because he was paying off debts he incurred for his airfare. Before getting his second work contract in 1995, Melody said, Rey was just sending about P6, 000 ($129.33) every two months. From 1995, after paying his debt for his first airfare, Rey risked his life when he organized a lottery among his co-workers to augment his earnings. Lottery is prohibited in Saudi Arabia as in other forms of gambling. Since then, his wife said, he was able to send home P7, 000 ($150.89) monthly.

A loving father

Alphie, 20, their eldest, remembers their father-and-son midnight snacks when he was still in grade four. Alphie said his father would wake him up at 3 a.m., carry him to the nearest gotohan (snack house serving porridge) in their place and eat goto (porridge with ox tripe).

Girlie, their eldest daughter, confirmed how loving their father was. Rey would take her hands, swing her and dance as if she was a debutant, Girlie said, smiling when she recalled those moments.

Even in jail, Rey called her on the phone to check her condition especially after she was confined in the hospital for a week due to an infection in the uterus. Rey used to crack jokes while talking to his children on the phone to divert their minds away from his depressing condition in detention.

Unlike his elder siblings, Ace, 8, the youngest, had never had any personal encounter with his father. He was not yet born when his father left for his last contract in 1998. Sadly, he will never get the chance to see his father anymore.

He contents himself with looking at pictures of his father whom he described as “gwapo” (handsome). While not being able to get a chance of knowing his father personally, he was nevertheless grateful for the toys and chocolates his father sent him.

During phone conversations, Ace said, he would tell his father, “love kita” (I love you.). Everytime Ace pretended to kiss his father by mimicking the sound over the phone, his father would reciprocate. This would cheer Ace up.

Ace sighed while recalling that his father was not able to send his most recent request. “Pero ‘yung bike ko wala pa,” (But the bicycle I asked for has not yet arrived.) said Ace, head bowed and teary-eyed when talking about his father.


His family transferred to Rey’s province in Sorsogon while he was in Saudi Arabia. But when Rey was detained for killing a Pakistani driver who allegedly tried to molest him in May 2002, Melody decided to return to Pampanga where she could work and earn a living. In their family’s lot at St. Dominic Subd., in San Pablo, Guagua, Melody was hardly able to earn enough money to build their home which, until now, is unfinished.

While Rey was in jail, Melody sold kakanin (rice cakes), pansit (chinese noodle dish), spaghetti, and other merienda (snacks). But when she started to feel chest discomfort, and later found out that some fat deposits were blocking her arteries, she was not able to work the whole day because she tired easily.

Meanwhile, their three children dressed chicken and earned P150 ($3.23) per day to augment the family income. Alphie would dress the chickens from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. Afterwards, he would go to the market, deliver the chickens to his aunt who owns the stall, and help her sell until 11 a.m.

Although given a choice of courses at AMA-Guagua after being granted a scholarship by Vice Pres. Noli de Castro in 2005, Alphie decided on a two-year computer course to be able to finish schooling early and work to help support his family. He just finished his course and is applying for any computer-related job in the town of Madapdap.

Girlie, who was also awarded a scholarship at the Microcomputer Institute Technology in 2005, lacked the interest to continue studying then because of what had happened to them.

This school year, two of Rey’s children are enrolled in high school and one in the primary level. Melody said just for the three students, she spent about P4, 000 ($86.22) for their school needs and fees. Whenever she runs short of money, she borrows from loan sharks locally called “five-six” (20 percent interest) where payment is collected daily.

Last words

“Parang teledrama mga text niya (Rey). Mag-aral raw kami nang mabuti, mahal nya kami..Sinasabi namin, miss ka na namin,” (His text messages were like dialogues in television soap operas. He told us to study hard and that he loves us. We would reply by telling him how much we missed him.) recalled Girlie. She added that they had no inkling that Rey would be executed because he did not usually talk about his problems aside from the fact that he was clueless about the developments of his case.

“Bilib na bilib naman ako syo. Alam ko namang di mo pababayaan ang mga bata,” (I admire you a lot and I know you would take care of our children.) Rey would tell his wife and would tease her about their past. The couple met when Melody was looking for their chickens which escaped their coop in the subdivision and Rey, who was then living in his auntie’s house just beside Melody’s, offered to help her.

“Lakasan mo ang loob mo, matatapos ’din natin ’to,” ( Have courage; we will get over this.) she would reply to him.

But they have never entertained the thought that this biggest crisis in their married life would end in Rey’s death.

On June 13, it was Jonathan Panlilio, Migrante International case officer who informed them of Rey’s beheading. Panlilio was in Pampanga at that time visiting the Cortez family when he received a text message from Connie Bragas-Regalado, Migrante Chairperson, informing him of Rey’s execution.

Alphie, who was taking his rest from work, was awakened by his mother’s crying. Panlilio also told him what happened to his father. In shock, Alphie entered his small room and started to cry.

“Hindi man lang ako nakahingi ng sorry,” (I was not even able to apologize.) he said citing his father’s request to him that he publicize his father’s case, a request he was not able to fulfill. He felt more guilty when he learned that his father sent him a computer.

“Kung naabisuhan sana kami, nakapunta sana kami para makita man lang siya,”(If only we were told beforehand that he would be executed, we could have visited him.) Alphie said.

Life ahead

There is no doubt that starting all over again would be very hard for the family knowing that one of their pillars is gone.

Rey planned to build his own vulcanizing shop in Sorsogon after his last contract that would expire supposedly in June 2002 until the fateful killing in May that same year.

For Alphie, he promised not to fail his father this time. If he could find the means to transport the tools his father was able to collect in Bicol, Alphie would have no second thoughts about making his father’s dream of setting up a vulcanizing business a reality.

Meanwhile, Girlie expressed her interest to go back to school and study nursing. But unlike her father, she does not want to work abroad where she would have to live and work in a different culture and be subjected to a different set of laws.

“Mahirap ‘yung sa iba, ‘di ka sanay sa kultura tapos, gaya ni Papa, ‘di mo alam papatayin ka na pala,” (It is hard to work in another country where you are not familiar with the culture as what happened to my father. He didn’t even know that he was going to be executed.) she said, noting that they had no hint at all that his father would be beheaded on June 13.

For nine years, the family waited and hoped for the day that he will return to their welcoming arms. Sadly, even in death Rey could not be with them as it is the custom in Saudi Arabia, as in most Muslim countries, to bury the dead within 24 hours thereby making repatriation of his body difficult to secure.(Bulatlat.com)

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