He was small, with a shaved head and an ever-present serene smile on his face. He spoke with the most gentle, soothing voice that can arguably cool off or tone down any hot temper. Occasionally I think he must have been a monk in his past life. And in our school paper, the Collegian, where I was privileged to be with him for three years, some fondly called him Sto. Niño.
He was an accomplished and respected Kultura writer then editor in our paper. But it was his poetry, fiction and creative prose which caught my attention. Before college, my idea of poetry in Filipino was limited to balagtasan and the like. He was one of the writers I read - and met - in college who showed that poetry in Filipino can be very real and present, resonating with people's experiences today.
And he did it beautifully. Maybe because he was always open and honest about his feelings, without apology. I sometimes had the impression that he wore his heart on his sleeve and he was feeling too much. But his heartbreak, suffering and joys were his raw material to write the most beautiful prose and verse, with both form and feeling.
Though we were not very close, I was at ease with him enough to confide in him from time to time. It was he who encouraged me to write poetry in Filipino. I was a News staffer then, and while I was starting to deeply appreciate poetry in our native tongue, I was still reluctant in writing it. But he persisted and told me I could do it. Had it not been for him, I would probably not have taken that first step and written my first poem. And he was very diplomatic in critiquing that first poem, in a way only a "monk" with the perpetually gentle voice could. =)
We lost communication after graduation but I always had fond memories of him.
The news of his death came as a shock. At first we all thought he was just missing. Death was far from my mind. But when his body was found last Tuesday, it seemed like a dream. Preliminary investigation showed that he was strangled to death, and possibly robbed, as the money in his wallet was missing. So far, it appeared to be a random incident, with no political motivation on the part of the killers.
I have family, friends and acquaintances who died of illnesses. A close family friend was murdered with political motivations. While they were painful, I could explain them away logically. But how to comprehend a murder that happened just because my friend happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time?
I cannot understand his death right now and I am sad to know that there are many things he could still do that I will never know. But one thing I do know is that he tried and was somehow able to do the things he could do in his short time here. He embraced his life, feelings and experiences. He is one of the people I remember when I read this quote from novelist Wei Hui: "Suck dry the juice of life like a leech, including its secret happiness and hurt, spontaneous passion and eternal longing."
He also left a valuable legacy - he was a dear friend, mentor and teacher to many. I could see in the outpouring of support and condolences from people that he had touched many lives.
VJ, thank you for your life.
Police investigation on Vincent Jan Rubio's case is still ongoing as of this writing.
One of VJ's old works: http://likhaan_online.tripod.com/08242001archivesite/lit10-10.html. Could not find other works online.