Our mothers, our heroes

I usually write about heroes and heroines during this time of the year when we celebrate the 1986 People Power revolution. For this column, I write about our mothers. They are heroines.

In the Philippine revolution of 1896, several mothers stand out.

There is of course Teodora Alonso, mother of Jose Rizal. She was herself persecuted, among other   was made to walk 50 kilometers for not using her Hispanic last name “Realonda de Rizal”  and her family forced to leave Calamba after losing a land dispute against the Dominicans. She  was faithful to her son, accompanying him to Hong Kong and Vatican. She lived up to 1911, long enough to see his son declared our national hero.

Gregoria de Jesus, wife of Andres Bonifacio, was likewise a heroine of the revolution. She had one child by Bonifacio and five by Julio Nakpil, her second husband. As described by Dr. Robert Yoder: “In periods of danger, Gregoria, wife of the Supremo, sought to hide important documents from the soldiers. Sometimes she sought shelter in the homes of friends. Knowing that this exposed them to danger she also often rode in a carriage all day returning home only when she felt it was safe.’

Melchora Aquino, a mother of six children, stands out because of her age.  For this reason, we know her through her alias,  Tandang Sora, and for her bravery in providing material support to the Katipunan. The eminent historian Ambeth Ocampo in  his Philippine Inquirer column once described how she offered refuge and hospitality to the Bonifacio and his comrades during the Cry of Balintawak, feeding hundreds of them in her farm before they marched out to declare the start of the revolution. Arrested by the Spaniards, Tandang Sora was exiled to Guam. Fortunately, she was able to come home to the Philippines and dies here in 1919, at 107 years old.

In the struggle against the Marcos dictatorship, several mothers  stand out. One of the most famous is Lorena Barros, mother to one son, who was killed by the military. She represents many mothers in the anti-Marcos struggle who made great sacrifices leaving their children to their families, including to their mothers who raised their children for them.

One such mother was Paula Carolina Malay, among others co-founder with her husband Dean Armando Malay of Kapatid, an organization of families of political prisoners. Bantayog ng mga Bayani describes what Paula, also known as Ayi, did during the Marcos years:

“She visited jails, raised funds, and distributed news bulletins from the underground and alternative press.  She marched in the streets, waved placards and signed petitions.She wrote letters of appeal to friends abroad, prompting them to pressure their own governments to oppose Marcos’ repressive rule  . . . Likewise, she tried to do what she could for the families of imprisoned peasants and workers.  All of them could come any time and unburden themselves for a while – and Ayi would cry along with them, sharing her own worries and problems.”

One must not of course forget the mothers Ninoy Aquino left behind: Doña Aurora Aquino, his mother, and Corazon C. Aquino, the mother of Ninoy’s five children and the country’s first post-Marcos President. The nation will always be grateful for the grace and strength of these mothers in the days following Ninoy’s assassination when the country could have descended into chaos.

Going to the present, I would like to honor the mothers of the two missing University of the Philippines students –  Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño.  Erlinda Cadapan and Concepcion Empeño have been unrelenting in their search for their daughters, including making sure that General Palparan, accused of being responsible for their abduction, is brought to justice. In the same way, Edita Burgos is also to be praised for her determination and persistence in looking for her son Jonas.

During these times, I definitely honor Senator Leila De Lima, mother of two sons. She does not deserve to be in prison. I am sure she will be vindicated soon.

Finally, I will be remiss if I don’t recognize my own mother, Lourdes Maestrado La Viña. Known as Inday in Cagayan de Oro, she was the first woman Kagawad of Cagayan de Oro. She ran in 1980 as councilor in the Mindanao Alliance slate led by former Senate President Nene Pimentel running as Mayor.

Later, my mother became active in the anti-dictatorship movement, participating in all the major mobilizations against Marcos. She was assigned because of her status to the “negotiation panel” that would deal with the police and the military that were sent to deal with the marchees, rallies, and the welgang bayans of that time.

Less known to people is the active support my mother (and father) gave to young activists when martial law was declared. My father allowed our house (then being constructed) to be the half-way house for KM and SDK members being pursued by and escaping from the military, many of them on the way to the mountains of Bukidnon and Misamis Oriental to join the New People’s Army. To this day, those activists who survived those times come to me to thank our family for what our parents did.

My mother, in the early years of martial law, was also courageous enough go every week to the Philippine Constabulary headquarters in our city, Camp Alagar, to visit a political detainee who was the nephew of one of her best friends.

A mother does not have to be in politics to be a heroine. The life long dedication of mothers is enough for us to honor our mothers.

Recently, for example, Tita Mely Malferari, passed into eternal life. Everyone who knew her would agree that Tita Mely was an awesome mother. Widowed early, she raised her six children alone while working as a music teacher. She could play anything in the piano, as she did for me when I auditioned for the Xavier University High School Glee Club requesting that she play Pilate’s Dream from Jesus Christ Superstar. The late Fr. Tony Cuna, with whom she is now probably playing for again in heaven, was surprised at my choice but not Tita Mely.

Later, Tita Mely immigrated to the US and became the pianist/organist for a Catholic Church in Queens, New York. She came back to Cagayan de Oro and continued to teach music to the end of her life. That’s a heroine’s life for me.

My mother in law Teresita Sto. Tomas Bonto is also a heroine. Her devotion to her husband and children, her faithfulness to the Lord, her persistence in following the adult itinerary of faith provided by the NeoCatechumenal Way and her loyalty to the Church,  and yes her sense of humor are big testimonials of a loving God.

These past five years, I have had the good fortune of having a meal with my mother once a week when I am teaching constitutional law in Xavier University. I discover new things about her, like how she usually voted for Gabriela as her party list choice or that this and that person from Saint Scholastica or Saint Theresa’s College was her contemporary.  Sometimes, we fight – over politics (I supported Grace Poe, she is an original Duterte supporter, and we disagree on the war against drugs) or my schedule (she thinks I travel too much). We worry together – about my siblings and her grandchildren. Most of the time, I just listen to her, always learning, knowing that these moments of dialogue and presence will not be forever.

On Thursday, March 1, my mother celebrates her 88th birthday. I am grateful that she has reached this day. I promised a big celebration for her when she reaches 90.

This week, every day, I am grateful for all mothers, our heroines.


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