JONATHAN VITUG: 21 DECEMBER 1970 – 06 JUNE 2014 — A CHRONICLE AND REFLECTION ON HIS LIFE

Family portrait, circa 1979

The previous five posts about my brother seem to dwell more about his latter days and the aftermath of his death.  This is not really a complete picture of who he was, and there was more to him than that.  I’ll try to paint a more complete picture within the confines of this single blog post…

Jonathan at 2

My mother would love to relate that Jonathan’s birth was a relatively easy delivery (about 1 1/2 hours, compared to 8 hours when I was born and 22 hours when my sister Jackie was born), but he had a lot of health issues that required repeated visits and confinements in the hospital.  He only started becoming fully healthy when he was about three or four years old.

Jonathan and the blogger at 4 and 5 years of age respectively.

I was born in January and Jonathan was born in December of that same year, which means we are ony 11 months apart in age.  Because of this fact, it was decided that we would go to school together at the same grade level.  I suppose it would be easier for us to look after each other, and for most part we were indeed in the same class, with some exceptionsL  in kindergarten I had to be moved from Dominican School to Angelicum School because of my hyperactivity, and after I was moved to Angelicum in the second half of my kindergertan, my brother then joined me in Angelicum in first grade; then there was this experiment in 6th grade where we have differing homeroom classes.  There were also a few rare occasions where Jonathan and I would bicker, but in general we get along well in grade school.  After they found a way to rein in my hyperactivity, I excelled in academics.  Jonathan was smart enough to keep up but it was clear I was the so-called “brains” in the family.

Jonathan and the blogger, circa 1982
At Grade School graduation, 1983, with maternal grandparents (extreme left and extreme right), father (2nd from right) and sister Jackie (front)

In high school, the way students are grouped were by academic levels.  In first year, I was grouped in the top tier class, while Jonathan was in the second-highest tier.  But by the time second year came, my brother performed well enough that he then became part of the same tier as I was.  I may not quite be classified as a loner, but I didn’t quite belong to any clique in high school, but Jonathan had a clique, a set of friends that turned out would be his closest friends even beyond high school and college.  Though it wasn’t that valued at the time, it was even clear then that Jonathan had better social skills than I did.

The blogger (top left) and Jonathan (bottom left) with two classmates during high school graduation

In college, Jonathan and I went totally our separate ways.  We actually both passed the entrance exams in both Ateneo and La Salle, but I decided to choose Ateneo de Manila University because my entrance exam scores entitled me to a merit scholarship, while my brother is more drawn to the dual degree program being offered by La Salle called Lia-Com (Liberal Arts and Commerce).  Despite the legendary animosity and rivalry between the two institutions, Jonathan and I got along very well and we did share our experiences in our respective universities.  Jonathan managed to make the dean’s list in La Salle around three or four times while I only made it once, in my last semester.  But I have to note two things.  First, in La Salle the grade point average to earn a Dean’s List is 3.00 while the equivalent in Ateneo was 3.35–and if we use La Salle’s criteria, I could’ve made the Dean’s List in Ateneo six times.  Second, my course was Management Engineering, and anyone who goes to Ateneo would know the degree of difficulty earning a decent grade in that course, that simply passing would probably be good enough.

With LaSalle homeroom group mates and professor circa 1988
Graduation portrait

After Jonathan graduated with a Humanities – Business Management dual degree from La Salle, he had a slightly rocky start as he hopped from job to job and from industry to industry.  Meanwhile, I took a slower but steadier career path.  But in 1994, there was an opening for a market analyst position in the newly opened Makati Shangri-La.  He took that opportunity and it was his big career breakthrough.  As he relayed to me about how his work was like, I became very envious, as his tasks as he described them were what I would consider a dream job.  When he moved on to catering sales around three years later, I asked him if I could pursue that opening but he advised that Shangri-La discourages relatives from being part of the same hotel.

At the front desk of Manila Hotel, circa 1992
Family portrait, circa 1994
At Makati Shangri-La (seated, left)

I have a feeling that if it were up to him, he would’ve stayed in Shangri-La to this present day.  Sure, there was a brief moment that he decided to pursue a glorified au pair job in San Francisco for a month, and the good thing was Shangri-La took him back, but there was an incident that forced him to leave the hotel.  At the time, I wondered what drove him to do that, and it made me think what would make him turn uncharacteristically greedy, but it was only revealed after his death that it was from an act he did for love.

He then took on a similar position at Crowne Plaza, but after more than a year, he became a bit listless and a major opportunity came when Agoda, a web-based hotel booking agency, was looking to ramp up its Philippine operations.  Jonathan seized this opportunity and his career then went on a higher level.  I reasonably believe that it was through Jonathan’s efforts that have helped Agoda become the leading online hotel booking company in this country.  However, four years after he joined the firm, he was a victim of wrong impression as the officers presumed he has close ties to a forner boss who ordered his team to implement a questionable practice, but the fact was Jonathan basically only acted like a chauffeur when that boss was in our country.

Jonathan (bottom right) with officemates from Agoda

When he exited Agoda, there was a one-year non-compete clause, so he could not  join a direct competitor like Expedia.  So he had to lick his wounds a while and take a lower-paying position at St. Giles Hotel.  He has a supportive staff and a father figure of a boss there.  The work was satisfying and his inputs were greatly appreciated by all, but he was still keenly looking out for opportunities overseas, and there was an opportunity at AsiaTravel in Dubai that he couldn’t resist but take.  With a heavy heart but with his boss’s and subordinates’ blessings, he pursued the job offer in Dubai–but little did he realize the office intrigues involved as the person he was supposed to succeed actually had a secret agenda to have a friend from within his ranks take over his position and relayed a less than flattering report on his otherwise good performance.  So after less than two months, he was told that the position was not his and he was forced to return home.

At St. Giles Hotel (4th from right, standing)

Officers from the same firm learned of the debacle and offered Jonathan an consolation position within the Philippines–it was a fraction of what he was being offered for Dubai, but Jonathan accepted it.  A few months later, he learned from a former colleague of his from Crowne Plaza and Agoda of a managerial position in Expedia, and by that time the non-compete clause already lapsed so he pursued it.  He had to burn a bridge in AsiaTravel to pursue the Expedia position, but Jonathan figured that it would be worth it.  For the first nine months of his stay in Expedia, it was actually rewarding and Jonathan was having the best time of his life.

One big happy family: the Expedia team (Jonathan third from left), before the “Dutch storm”.

Around the ninth or 10th month of his stay, his beloved boss decided to pursue another position, and he was replaced by a Dutchman.  Even then Jonathan sensed cloudy days ahead, but because he loved being in Expedia, he chose to stick it out and do the best he could.  Unfortunately, this Dutchman proved to be too demanding and did not hesitate to humiliate my brother in front of other officers.  On October 2013, in a meeting in Malaysia, Jonathan received dreaded news that he was to be let go.  The rest of this story has already been relayed in my previous blog posts.

Prior to the tragic turn of events, Jonathan lived life to the fullest.  He got to travel to the US, and several places in Asia (like Korea, Macau, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and Vietnam), and got to tour other islands in the Philippines like Bohol, Cebu, and Boracay.  He was generally frugal except for a poker habit (which as far as I know he kept under control though it led to him not being able to amass savings).  He enjoyed dining in Manila’s cafes and restaurants and with his positions in Agoda and Expedia he also got to enjoy staying at some hotel rooms for free.  He also gave love and received love in return–I know of at least two boyfriends in his lifetime and a few flings here and there.

In the various jobs Jonathan pursued, key traits that were noticeable were his work ethic, his compassion towards his subordinates, and his knack for smoothing out rough situations.  Partly because he doesn’t want to be caught up in the notorious rush hour traffic in Manila’s streets, he makes it a point to leave the house very early and be the earliest at work, but besides his constant promptness he is also known to be very present at work.  I know where he got the way his subordinates from–he learned it from my mom, who over the years treats our helpers and sales staff in our shops with the same compassionate approach.  His colleagues attested on how he never berates his subordinates, how he gently teaches them when they make mistakes or then assumes their tasks when teaching didn’t quite work.  Unfortunately, some superiors may have viewed his compassionate approach as “passive leadership”–in fact that was what he was told by the Dutchman when he was let go.  He was well respected by client hotels as whenever they had an issue, they could count on him to smooth things over.

In Hong Kong, circa early 2013

There were two negative traits that I noticed about Jonathan.  First he is known never wanting to wait or be in a situation that bores him–if something bores him he would rather change the topic or go to another place.  It seems he finds the errands my family runs or family gathering boring that most of the time he chose to not join us when we do those things.  Secondly, during his lifetime I presumed he was selfish.  During the financial crises my mom endures (and still does) he never came forward to offer help–he eventually would after some coaxing but generally he would be reluctant.  But during the last days of his life and from what we learned from his work colleagues, he was actually generous.  And discovering his journals, I found that he is actually generous and does want to help out, but he also wanted room for him to pursue his own dreams, and that by pursuing his dreams he could’ve given a more permanent solution to the problems our family has been running into.

Visiting Legoland Malaysia

This is as comprehensive as I could get talking about my brother within a single post.  I am grateful at the outpouring of love and support that came our way at the news of his passing.  He is loved, and surely will be missed.

JUST ME!

JOSEPH

The blogger’s mom, the blogger, and Jonathan, late 2013