Past 9 p.m. on Saturday, a still energetic AJ Perez gave an interview after doing the “Kapamilya Karavan” show during the Bangus Festival in Dagupan, Pangasinan. He talked about his upcoming episode on “Maalaala Mo Kaya (MMK)” that will be aired on April 30. He finished taping the episode last week.

“‘Yong MMK episode ko po ipapalabas ‘yan this April 30. Kasama ko dito si Bugoy Carino. Kuwento ito ng dalawang magkapatid and ‘yong bonding nila and ‘yong kuwentong pagmamahal sa isa’t isa and struggle nila from having to move from Manila all the way to Samar,” he said.

In the same interview, Perez also dispelled rumors that “Gigger Boys,” an ABS-CBN’s all-male group that he was a part of, is on the verge of breaking up.

He said: “Buo pa din ang ‘Gigger Boys.’ It’s just that paminsan na lang kaming sumasayaw together as a whole group kasi iba’t iba ang schedule, kulang ang time for rehearsals. May ‘ASAP’ ‘yong isa, ‘yong isa out of town, taping, pero hindi pa rin nawawala ‘yong ‘Gigger Boys,’ buo pa din ang grupo.”

As for his fans, he said he was reaching out to them through social networking sites, specifically Twitter.

In fact, before the tragedy, Perez was able to tweet the “long drive ahead.”

When he left Dagupan for Manila hours later, no one knew that it would be his last television interview.

An ABS-CBN van carrying Perez, his father, 2 road managers and an event marshal collided with a provincial bus in the province of Tarlac around 11: 45 p.m. The young actor, one of the lead stars of “Sabel,” sustained serious head injuries and was declared dead on arrival at 12:20 a.m. Sunday. He was 18.

State of shock

The entertainment industry on Sunday mourned the sudden death of the young star. Musical variety show “ASAP Rocks” offered prayers for him, while celebrity show “The Buzz” observed a moment of silence.

His friends and co-workers said they were still in a state of shock.

“AJ’s death comes as a shock to all of us. We are saddened that he was cut down at such a tender age. We shared the deep felt sorrow of his family and we will miss him,” Johnny Manahan, Star Magic head, said in a statement.

Jessy Mendiola, his leading lady in “Sabel,” remembered Perez as someone who would constantly encourage her and had only good words for everybody.

“Kapag sinasabi ko hindi ko kaya, sasabihin niya, ‘Kayang kaya mo yan. Ang galing galing mong umarte.’ Palagi siyang ganoon. Kahit mga masamang words ang ibato mo sa kanya, mabuting words sasabihin niya sa’yo. Ganoon siya kabait.” she said. “Ini-expect namin anytime dadaan siya, maghe-hello, magha-hi, mag-smile sa amin…. Ang hirap na tanggapin na wala siya.”

Gab Valenciano said Perez had inspired him.

“If he’s listening to me right now, I want to thank you for being an inspiration, not just to the younger people but myself, to the older guys. And I pray wherever you are, you are happy with the Creator. I love you, bro, and I will see you soon,” he said.
Rayver Cruz assured that he and the rest of their friends would be there for Perez’s family especially during these trying times.

“Alam naming lahat kung nasaan siya ngayon, masaya siya. Pag-pra-pray namin siya. Sa family niya, stay strong na lang…Nandito kami lahat para sa kanila, sa family niya,” Cruz said.

Members of the “Gigger Boys” – Enchong Dee, Sam Concepcion, Dino Imperial, Robi Domingo, Chris Gutierrez, and Aaron Villaflor – also expressed disbelief over his death.
Concepcion said: “Noong nalaman ko ‘yon hindi ko pa kayang i-accept agad…When I found out about it, my heart was pounding. Ganoon pa din ang feeling ko hanggang ngayon.”

Perez was introduced in 2006 as member of Star Magic Batch 13. He was discovered after appearing in a TV commercial.

On TV, he was part of the teen-oriented program “Abt Ur Luv”, and various television series, including “Lobo” and “Agua Bendita”. He played the main cast role in the recently concluded primetime drama, “Sabel.” It was announced that Perez would be part of a “Mara Clara” movie.

His remains now lie in state at La Salle Green Hills. (MNS)