Alexis Rainier V. Jacoba, 37, or Ekkis to friends, was born and raised in Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija. He is a lawyer by profession, like his parents. He is now setting up various businesses –- a pre-school, an events company, and a consultancy company among others.
Ekkis took up Law at the University of Sto. Tomas in Manila. He passed the bar in 2004 and began practising in a leading renewable energy company while holding his own law office with partners.
Going to Mass on Sundays was an obligation inculcated to the 11 Jacoba children, their mother being a devout Catholic and a member of the Third Order of Carmel. When Ekkis entered college though, he went to church only on occasions, or when he needed favors.
I served in our parish church at an early age of 7 as sacristan, or altar boy until I was 12. I enjoyed my duty, assisting our parish priest during the Mass. I couldn’t imagine myself just sitting still on the pews for an hour’s time. As a sacristan, I felt I was doing something important for God. I felt special.
Then, I turned 13. Past the age of an altar boy in our parish, I was relegated to the pews. As a regular attendee, I began to see the Mass as a repetitious ceremony. I couldn’t wait for it to finish. I just looked forward to the family lunch afterwards.
I went to high school and started to take interest in girls. This time, I saw the Mass as a good excuse to get girls to go out with me on a date. It gave me that good boy image not just to the girl I was courting but to her parents as well. The girls readily said yes to my invitation and it was easy for them to get their parents’ permission. Not only that. I could even get to hold hands with my date when the Our Father was sung.
My journey back to the Church started when I began to read Kerygma magazine. My sisters were members of Charismatic groups which subscribed to Kerygma, so copies of the magazine were always just there, lying around our house. One day, I picked up a copy, browsed through it, and instantly liked Bro. Bo Sanchez’s writing style.
I copied his beautiful prose for my love letters to impress the girls I was courting.
Soon, I stepped into college. Free from my mother’s watchful eyes, I no longer felt pressured to attend Sunday Mass. I only went to church when I was in dire need like I had to pass an exam, or a subject, especially later in Law school where it was difficult to keep good grades. Or, when I had love problems, or I committed a sin, and needed cleansing. Otherwise, I would rather stay longer in bed on Sunday mornings.
While I was thankful to God for helping me finish Law, pass the bar exam in 2005, land a job in a reputable company, and put up a law office, nothing changed in my Sunday schedule. I had heavy workload in my offices, so I had better excuse to get some rest on Sundays.
From 2005 to 2010, I was in the peak of my career. I don’t even remember going to church if it wasn’t on special occasions.
During this period, I received a lot of good fortune. In addition to my work, I taught in various schools, like San Beda College and Polytechnic University of the Philippines. I earned my first million. I afforded and lavished myself with luxury items, like a BMW car, expensive watches, among others.
To top it all, I had a beautiful girlfriend. Let’s call her Rita.
The world was mine. Life was good.
Just as surely as I worked myself up to the ladder of success, I eventually ruined everything I worked for because of an addiction that began unexpectedly.
I had to meet a client at the Resorts World hotel which is famous for its casinos. After our business discussions, my client gave me cash and encouraged me to try the game tables. I took the money out of courtesy but didn’t gamble.
Then we had to meet again at the same hotel. He gave me money again and this time, he was more insistent that I play. He actually made sure I used the cash.
I thought, “What harm can one game do?”
But alas, in my case, a lot.
I thought I’d play once just to please my client. But what started as a harmless game on the tables became a full-blown addiction in no time.
In six months, I didn’t just become a regular, but a VIP. The casino indulged me with freebies, like free hotel stay, with my own concierge to boot. Yes, I received royal treatment.
Then, the unthinkable happened. In 2012, I found myself without savings and with a debt worth millions.
This was my secret indulgence and later, dilemma for two years. Nobody knew about it, not even Rita, who was by then my fiancée, as we had already scheduled to tie the knot on April 8, 2013. But she must had noticed something was bothering me.
Finding The Feast
Sensing I needed help, Rita, who attends Feast PICC, encouraged me to join her one Sunday in 2012.
What first impressed me was the lively music during the Mass and worship time.
I thought, “This is something different. Good different.”
I also loved the place –- the plush accommodation and the air-conditioning.
Then, Bro. Bo came onstage. I couldn’t contain myself. This was the guy who wrote those beautiful lines I copied for my love letters. He was right before me in the flesh!
The Feast soon became my refuge. I found inspiration to get out of my addiction. Attending The Feast became my weekly habit. But, I couldn’t forego my craving for high stakes and the thrill of winning.
My prayer then was, “Lord, make me win big time and I’ll stop.”
Before going to the casino, I would attend the prayer meeting for good fortune.
In November 2012, I gathered enough courage to tell my family, Rita, and her family about my real situation. The wedding that we planned for April 8, 2013, was set aside as they all advised I seek counseling first.
In November 2012, I decided to go for counseling at the Ateneo’s Center for Family Ministries.
But the road to my salvation was a rough one. I slipped, I slid, I fell.
After five months of keeping my hands off gambling, on April 7, the eve of our supposed wedding day, I had a huge fight with Rita. I sought refuge in my happy place — the casino. I stayed up all night playing until I had only P500 on hand. Then, I saw a fellow who owed me money. I made him pay so I could continue my game. The fellow obliged and paid me.
I played until dawn and lost everything, except P20 in my pocket.
Day came and I was spent and hungry. But I was in a high-end hotel, there was nothing I could get for 20 bucks. Pitifully, I lapped up the free-flowing iced tea in the casino.
I couldn’t go home because I couldn’t get my car out of the parking lot— I just didn’t have cash for the parking fee. I couldn’t call for help. My mobile phone ran out of battery.
That day, April 8, 2013, I knew I had hit rock bottom. The very same day I was supposed to tie the knot with the love of my life, I wanted to die. I looked at myself and realized I was a wreck, a foolish wreck.
After our fight, Rita sought the help of AJ, my younger brother, to look for me. They found me like a destitute in the casino, helpless and hopeless. When I saw my distraught brother and the harried look on Rita’s face, I despised myself for putting them in such state. I wanted to bury myself alive out of shame.
At the same time, I’d never felt loved and accepted by the very people I took for granted. I was really a jerk. I remember, I tricked one of my brothers just to get money for my addiction. I lured him into “buying” a car for P250,000. Actually, there was no car. When he found out the money went to the casino instead, my kuya forgave me— just like that.
What was I doing with my life? As if it wasn’t enough that I dug myself into a pit, I had to drag my loved ones there, too.
I thought I could do it on my own. I thought I had things in control. I thought I could do everything.
Amid my troubles, I managed to graduate from Law school. I passed the bar, I won my cases, I made things happen. I attributed my success to my intellect and hard work. I never recognized the presence and power of God working in my life.
That wretched day at the casino, I said enough is enough. Remembering the teachings at The Feast, I resolved to change and turn my back against gambling.
I attended Bro. Bo’s Truly Rich Club seminar. I applied what I learned there and after a year, I managed to pay almost all of my debts. In two years, I didn’t just get back the money I squandered, I even almost tripled it.
I also joined the Philippines Gamblers Anonymous, a support group for addicts like me that meet twice a week. I even got to bring people there to The Feast.
This time, I knew better and recognized God’s guiding hand.
But none of these helped to save my relationship with Rita. We parted ways last February 2014. I realized my love tank was empty. I needed to work on my relationship with myself before I could return her love for me.
On May 2015, I signed up with Recovery Circle Foundation’s sobriety program with the help of my family. To this day, I continue to meet up with my pyscho-spiritual coach.
As part of the sobriety program, I made amends with Rita and her family. We are reconciled now as friends but as for our getting back together, that remains uncertain.
One thing I’ve learned at The Feast is to surrender to God’s plan. I have entrusted my future to Him, including my love life. My only prayer now is that I find His will for me. And I promise to do my part fulfilling it.
I never stopped asking God why He gave me this Cross to bear. I got His response lately. He said, “I wanted you to come back to me and bring others with you.”
So today, I continue to invite more people to The Feast.
I have signed up for The Feast retreats and formation programs such as the Radical Men, a training for future leaders of our faith community. I can’t wait for it to start. I even became the head of Batch 13 of ILovelife, a retreat for Singles which I attended in May 2015. Now, I also have a Caring Group (CG) with Bro. Didoy Lubaton, as head as I am now a Light Group (LG) head.
Back to the Church
When God came to my rescue and transformed my life, I got a deeper understanding of the teachings of Jesus through the talks of Bro. Bo, and of the Church doctrines, mainly through homilies during the Mass at The Feast. I now have a personal and intimate relationship with God.
For the past two years now, I have hardly missed a Sunday Mass— either at The Feast or at a nearby parish church. I savour each Holy Eucharist as if it were my first and last.
I have come to appreciate the Eucharist because I now know what the rites are all about, especially the miracle of the Bread and Wine turning into the Body and Blood of Jesus. I never fail to receive Communion knowing how much I need Jesus in my life and how He can cleanse me and transform me as I partake His Body.
I have also learned to listen intently to the Mass readings and the Gospel, not just the priest’s homily.
Hungering for His word, I now keep a Bible in my room for my daily study.