Rico Yan: The last interview
Edgar O. Cruz (The Philippine Star) - April 4, 2014 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - Love lives beyond laughter, lies and life itself.

On the morning of Good Friday, March 29, 2002, text messages — first in trickles then fast-spreading — repeated that matinee idol Rico Yan had been found dead in Palawan. There was an attitude of disbelief that reflected Rico’s well-loved status in the entertainment industry: “Sana hindi totoo.”

By noon that same day, media on Lenten presentations broke programming to confirm Rico’s death apparently by natural cause. Yet, we were still in disbelief that an actor of 27 years, enjoying a career peak, would pass on so inconsequentially, so undramatically unfit of a made actor.

Two days before, on Tuesday, Rico and Dominic Ochoa, whom the former considered an elder brother, was with then girlfriend Janna Victoria and two other companions from Smart’s Talk ‘N Text mobile phone service they represented disembarked from the Airphil flight in Palawan’s Puerto Princesa City Airport at 12 noon.

They were supposed to spend Holy Week in Bangkok, Thailand with co-endorser Marvin Agustin. But Marvin could not cancel his commitment to his family to go there so he did not join his fellow actors in Palawan.

Resourceful radio station DYPR-TV and Bandillo ng Palawan reporter, Joel Contrivida, a native of Palawan, learned about the Whattamen meet-and-greet from NCCC Mall which wanted him to publicize the event. With a camera crew, he waited for Rico at the tarmac with a specific agenda.

Wearing drab olive green tee with the printed word “Military,” Rico accommodated Joel’s ambush interview. His face sunburned from a videotaping of the summer special of their Whattamen weekly TV show in Boracay, Rico’s wind-blown longish hair needed a haircut to keep the clean-cut image. But what his eyes projected could not be revealed as he wore branded shades.

Asked if it was his initial visit there, Rico generously answered with an open smile, his killer dimples highly defined as he tried to look at his side for companions he left behind, “First time, first time...”

Joel proceeded, “Puwedeng malaman kung ano ang gimik natin dito ngayon?”

Casually, Rico identified the obvious, “Vacation... Trip... Holy Week vacation...”

Joel probed, “Saan-saan pa pupuntahan natin?”

Rico proceeded to the specifics, “(The capital city of) Puerto Princesa... Most likely island-hopping, Honda Bay and ah siguro we might stay for a while in those power (unintelligible word).”

But Joel knew the purpose of his made-up trip, what brought him there: “I think may gimik kayo na fans day sa ano, sa NCCC.”

Rico confirmed, showing his embracing character: “Oo yah. Oo. In fact, diretso na kami sa NCCC ngayon. And I can’t wait ma-meet all the... lahat ng mga taga-Puerto Princesa, Palawan. First time ko dito gusto kong makita mga kababayan natin dito.”

Joel cleared up: “Sinu-sino pa mga kasamang artista?”

“Well, andito rin si Dominic Ochoa. Janna Victoria, andito din. Makasama natin an ating mga kababayan bago mag-Holy Week, bago mag-Semana Santa.”

“How long are you going to stay here po?”

Unsure of his schedule, Rico replied, “Saturday, Sunday. Depende kung saan tayo ma-confirm flight.”

Then Joel interjected, inching closer to his purpose: “Oo tanungin din natin. Si Dominic Ochoa kasama si Janna; kayo raw hindi nyo kasama si Claudine (Barretto). Bakit solo flight daw kayo?”

Rico tried to grope for an answer, “Ano, ano kasi. She had to go to Subic kasi ang tatay niya nakadestino doon. So I made plans with my friends na dito mag-Holy Week. And dapat kasama siya. Pero sayang hindi siya nakasama. Last minute, she had to stay with her family.”

Joel then tried to coax Rico, rather edgily, to answer his daring question: “Gusto ko lang sanang i-clarify ang issue tungkol sa inyo ni Claudine.”

As Rico started to move away from him with the camera following his action, he asked as he checked his name from Joel’s media ID. Looking afar as if searching for his companions, he blurted: “What’s your name? Joel. Let’s not delve into that...”

Joel poised as he walked away.

Before that fateful trip to Palawan, Rico broke off with his girlfriend of four years on the first week of that same month. It had been buzzed in media but unconfirmed, the issue Joel tried to verify with Rico which he opted not to answer.

Joel’s surprise interview would become a scoop as it turned out to be Rico’s last on-cam talk. But more important than this, it showed how Rico made a big effort to project that all was well with him and Claudine out of love for her.

Joel followed Rico’s entourage to the NCCC Mall where buyers of the simcard brand could have photo-and-autograph opportunities with Rico and Dominic.

After the live appearance, Rico, Dominic, Janna and the telecom company reps checked into a garden cottage at Dos Palmas Arraceffi Island Resort, also in Puerto Princesa City, which had just reopened. It closed for several months due to zero occupancy because of the notorious kidnapping of 20 foreign tourists by Abu Sayyaf bandits that took place there the previous year.

Wednesday passed without event and then Thursday night came. Their group attended a party at the resort’s piano bar where Rico dedicated Jamie Rivera’s love song Falling For You. He said sadly to people gathered there, “To the woman who’s now out of my life.”

With the admission he was broken-hearted having lost his relationship with Claudine, the audience that included GMA 7’s Arnold Clavio who was also billeted in the resort cheered him up.

No doubt, Rico was still in love with her but he had now admitted to himself the loss. It was his first public announcement of the fact. It must have felt so releasing.

Drinking a bit of alcohol but eating much of seafood, Rico then crooned David Pomeranz’s Got to Believe in Magic, the theme of his hit full-length feature (of the same title) with Claudine. He showed unjaded enthusiasm as he jammed for another eight songs.

They then wrapped up the gathering and headed back to their cottage at around 2 a.m. Rico changed into pajamas and slept in the loft as he snored loudly. The others slept together in a big room at the ground floor.

At around 6 a.m., his companions heard groans from the upper floor but dismissed it as Rico’s snores, likely still too drowsy to give it full attention. It turned out to be cardiac arrest due to acute hemorrhagic pancreatitis or a bangungot attack, a common sleeping disorder among Asian males in Rico’s age group.

Dominic went to the loft at 9:40 a.m. to rise up Rico as they were sailing to Snake Island after breakfast. He found Rico’s body in rigor mortis.

That afternoon, Joel rode with Rico’s father Roberto and eldest brother Bobby who rushed to Puerto Princesa City to fetch Rico’s body from the Adventist Hospital where he was rushed for resuscitation. But it was a wasted effort; it was a DOA (dead on arrival). Live over DYPR, Joel was the first to ask the grieving relatives. When he asked how they learned about the incident, father and son looked at each other. Roberto nodded to Bobby to signal him to answer. As his voice quivered, trying to control his emotion, Bobby said, “Tinawagan ako ni Dominic and told me what happened.”

Joel proceeded no further. That was the only information they had at that moment. It became clear to him, though, they were not there to be interviewed but to undertake a duty to a family member they so much cared for.

Even in death, love has not disappeared.

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