Read the exclusive interview
July 31, 2021 was the day they were supposed to get married. The couple, who met online through the Facebook platform, had been dating for four years and three months when COVID-19 took control of their love story.
Thirty-two-year-old seafarer Ralph Waldo G. Landicho and 26-year-old Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW) Raquel F. Panganiban were looking forward to an exciting future together. Ralph went back to the Philippines on June 4, while Raquel, who’s working in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, came home June 12. They both live in Tiaong, Quezon where Ralph lives in Barangay Lusacan and Raquel in Barangay Ayusan.
As soon as Ralph landed in the Philippines, he wasted no time in making sure their wedding would go as planned. “Kung saan-saan na po kami nagpunta. Bumaba siya ng barko at hindi agad kami nakapagpa-vaccine kasi super excited siya sa pag-aayos ng kasal namin (We went everywhere. He wasn’t able to get vaccinated, because he was super excited to work on the wedding preparations as soon as he got off the ship,” Raquel tells Manila Bulletin Lifestyle.
With their very busy schedule, Raquel also revealed that Ralph was so sweet to even plan something behind her back. “He surprised me with a proposal, even if our wedding day was already set. The venue was in the garden of my papa (his tito/uncle whom he fondly calls ‘papa’),” she says. His uncle had an intimate birthday party on June 24, and Ralph took the chance to propose since everyone was there already to witness the beautiful proposal.
He was invited by Raquel’s parents to stay with them after the pamanhikan last June 26. “We’ve been living together in my parents’ house,” says Raquel. Ralph moved in that same day.
Everything was turning up roses as the couple reunited and got busy planning for their big day, but Ralph suddenly started experiencing body aches on July 19. “He wanted to get a massage so he could relax because he felt tired then—until he started having chills and fever on July 24. We went to the hospital for a check up and the laboratory results were okay,” Raquel remembers, even deciding to go home to recuperate but when he still didn’t get better, that’s when we booked a swab test and the result came out positive.
His cousin helped by lining up at the hospital to get a slot. “We waited until 12 midnight,” recounts Raquel of that frightening day on July 30. Their godparent drove them to the hospital. They got admitted and Ralph was given all the medicine that could help him get better.
Raquel reminisced how they supported each other all throughout this ordeal. “We encouraged one another. Ayaw pa mamatay ni hubby kasi dami pa niyang gustong mangyari sa buhay namin bilang magasawa, ganun din sa pamilya niya. Sinasabi nya palagi na, ‘Bebe, hinde pa ako mamatay. Magiging official pa ako?’ Dream niya maging official sa barko (Hubby didn’t want to die yet because there’s so much that he wanted to do as husband and wife, even for his family. He would always say, ‘Bebe, I’m not going to die. I’ll become an official.’ It was his dream to become an official aboard the ship where he works).”
Raquel adds that Ralph would tell her, “Bebe, uwi na tayo. Hindi tayo nababagay dito sa hospital (Bebe, let’s go home. We’re not fit to stay here in the hospital).” Raquel tells Manila Bulletin Lifestyle that she tried so hard to encourage him to soldier on. “He would always tell me, ‘Mahal na mahal kita, asawa ko (I love you so much, my wife)’ and I would tell him that I love him even more.”
Those words helped him a lot, “Natuwa siya at parang naging better. We prayed together so that he could get better.” Raquel continues, remembering that Ralph started having dreams on August 3. “His breathing got worse and his coughing was getting more severe. His oxygen level was going so low that he even finished around 20 oxygen tanks in less than 24 hours. He also switched to breathing using the high-flow oxygen machine already.”
One could only imagine what Raquel was going through that time, especially when they were supposed to get married real soon. “He really wanted to get intubated so he could live, but he didn’t survive. Hindi nya nakayanan ang hirap. Kinuha na siya ni Lord.” Ralph passed away that same day, and until his last breath he told Raquel, “Bebe, I want to go home.”
“Oo, uuwi tayo, kaya lumaban ka para makauwi na tayo,” Raquel would tell him.
The rollercoaster of emotions didn’t end the day Ralph left the world. On the same day, on August 3, Ralph was cremated and his urn was brought home. The funeral took place the same day. “Mahirap. Masakit. Nakakapanghina. Wala kaming magawa kung hindi mag-iyakan ng mag-iyakan. Lahat pumunta at lahat ng nagmamahal sa kanya ay dumating, lalo na ang mga kaibigan ni hubby (It was hard. It hurt. It was weakening. We couldn’t do anything but cried and cried. Everyone went, especially those who loved Ralph, especially hubby’s friends),” says Raquel about the two-night wake.
While the wake was ongoing, even until now, Raquel couldn’t explain the pain that she’s going through. “No words can describe. What I remembered on those days was I wasn’t listening to all the encouragement from friends around me. Sobrang sakit at sobrang hirap, kasi sobrang bait ng asawa ko, sobrang mapagmahal, at sobrang maintindihin kaya sobrang hirap na hirap ako (at kaming lahat) sa pangyayari (It was too painful at too hard, because my husband had a good heart, loving, and understanding that’s why it’s so hard for all of us to accept what happened).”
But Raquel tried her best to move on—for Ralph. “Pero pilit akong bumabangon para sa kanya pa din ayaw kasi nya na ako ay malungkot. Ayaw nya na ako ay nahihirapan kaya yung mga sinasabi nya nung si hubby ay nabubuhay pa yung mga sinasabi nya ang binaon ko para ako ay lumakas at bumangon (I tried to get up for him, because he doesn’t want me to be sad. He doesn’t want me to have a hard time. That’s why everything that hubby said when he was still alive—I put it to heart so I can have the strength to live).”
Her sister Roxanne Geronimo Landico was among the many who witnessed the harrowing experience. Moved by their love story, she posted a video compilation of the life Raquel and Ralph had prior to this ordeal and what they were supposedly looking forward to for the rest of their lives. The prenuptial shoot was taken by photographer Fidel Jr. Salcedo Mangubat and set in Villa Nonita, Tagaytay City while their wedding was supposed to be in Greener Pastures, Sariaya, Quezon.
Almost a month has passed, but everything is still fresh for Raquel and everyone Ralph left behind. “Hindi man magiging totoo, pero SANA andito na lang siya ulit physically, SANA kasama pa namin sya physically. SANA may Ralph Waldo G. Landicho pa din kami na mapagmahal sa Diyos, mapagmahal sa magulang, mapagmahal sa asawa, mapagmahal sa kapatid at mapagmahal sa lahat ng taong nakapaligid sa kanya (I know it won’t happen but I wished he is still here physically and he is still here with us. I wished that we have Ralph Waldo G. Landicho still with us who loves God, his parents, his wife, his family and all the friends who surround him).”
“COVID-19 is real. Huwag po natin baliwalain. Mag-ingat tayo para sa kapakanan ng ating sarili, lalo’t higit ng ating pamilya, dahil masakit ang mahirap ang mawalan ka sa buhay ng dahil sa COVID-19 na ito (Let’s not take this lightly. Let’s be careful, not only for ourselves, but for our whole family, because it’s painful to lose someone because of COVID-19),” Raquel ends with a reminder that really hits home and her heart.
*Prenup photos by Fidel Jr. Salcedo Mangubat