To die in one’s sleep is perhaps one of the greatest kindness that our God could bestow us. Some of my friends and I have wished for such passing, and recently someone very close to our family was blessed to die that way. He was a good and honest man, someone who lived his life with integrity, simplicity and personal discipline. He was to my knowledge a prayerful person and that, my friends tell me, is one way of gaining such a favor; to die in one’s sleep.
“Tito Jimmy” to us is none other than James G. Barbers, one of the first, if not the first Police General of the Philippines. His stellar attributes and character earned him the trust of the high and mighty of the Philippines as well as the little people of the City of Manila where he eventually became Vice Mayor. In the many years he was a police officer, Tito Jimmy was known as a disciplinarian who was among the first to conduct unannounced visitation of police precincts and outposts that current PNP officials have copied. On one such visit, Jimmy Barbers found a patrolman fast asleep on the job, took the cop’s side arm and left. The next day, the patrolman reported the theft to Barbers, claiming he was attacked and taken by surprise and that the gun was stolen from him. Jimmy Barbers humored him for a few minutes by pretending to believe the patrolman’s story, but he eventually unleashed the wrath of Barbers on him. I can’t recall how many months that patrolman did traffic duty and went without a side arm.
Yes, Tito Jimmy had a wicked sense of humor but more than that, he was one of the people I know whose loyalty as a friend and as an officer is hard to match. We’ve known Tito Jimmy way back when my father Louie Beltran was just a police reporter covering “Presinto Singko” in Manila. Through the years we saw him promoted from Captain to Colonel to General, but he remained down to earth, brutally honest to friends and kumpadres whose paths may have gone astray or whose egos have made them “Legends in their own minds.”
If you were wrong – you were wrong! No sugar coating and no turning a blind eye not even with my father. He taught us that that was what real friends do. Through thick and thin, Tito Jimmy remained loyal. When my father decided to turn himself over to the Custodian of the Camp Crame Hilton, a certain Col. Fidel Ramos, it was Tito Jimmy who fetched my dad at the residence of the Vera Perez clan (Sampaguita Pictures Compound) and drove dad to Camp Crame even if it could affect his being a police officer.
A man or woman can be remembered for many things; their achievements or their faults. Their humanity or the monuments built in their honor, but very few are honored for how in their simplicity and zest for life they manage to be a positive influence by example. In all the decades I’ve known Tito Jimmy, he lived in the same house in project 2 in Quezon City. In the early years it was stereotypical of government housing and only in the later years did he actually renovate or modernize his ageing abode. The furniture regularly got moved around but remained mostly the same. His home did not showcase material goods but instead focused on memories by way of many photographs of his youth, his family, his friendships and career.
Every year, a week or a few days before Jan. 19, he would personally call my parents, or my mom, and in the latter years, would call me or my siblings to invite us to his birthday party. It was always a personal call, no secretaries or assistants. The only time he would delegate part of the chore of inviting people was when he got too busy and he would pass the task to his other kumpadre Elpi Cuna. Year after year you would see the core group of loyal friends and relatives who sincerely loved Tito Jimmy, in attendance. Funny enough, I noticed that people had their habitual time slot for arrival at the party by virtue of age, political disposition and distance from Tito Jimmy’s residence. Going to Project 2 to attend a birthday party can be quite a challenge due to the traffic and particularly finding a place to park, but even the neighbors turn out to be very accommodating for their beloved neighbor.
When I pushed through with our wedding a couple of months after my father passed away, Tito Jimmy stood in for my dad essentially fulfilling a life long commitment of a kumpadre. This was extra special for me because when my father died many of his so-called good friends could not give us the time of day, but not Tito Jimmy. He was there when my father passed away. He was there when my mother Marita passed away and he continued to stay in touch at least once a year if not more. This was what I meant about generational friendship. Being there for your contemporaries as well as their children.
Indeed Tito Jimmy Barbers lived by example. Married for a lifetime, shared his blessings and opportunities with those in need and the less privileged, served the nation with dedication, lived frugal and Spartan in many ways, conversed with God daily, and rejoiced and regaled every year, every day that God gave him. He was more than one of Manila’s Finest – He was one of the country’s Finest – James G. Barbers.
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