A Fighter to the End
I write this for Mothers’ Day in fervent dedication to my departed dearest Mom, Cristina Valera Jazmines.
My Mom died under much pain and suffering. Up to her last minutes – – and seconds – – she still struggled to fight for life, and did not want to leave this world, even at her much advanced age and number of ailments. She passed away just a few minutes after the flurry of firecrackers and horn blasts had receded in a bow to the passing of the old year and the assumption of a new year. She died at 92, a fighter to the end.
A month and a half later, on the day before the second anniversary of this my third arrest and detention, she would have turned 93.
I miss her a lot. And so do the others in the family, her friends and colleagues and many others she had been with and had helped in life.
She left deep imprints in me that have been part and parcel of the revolutionary cause I have long been espousing, have cost me a series of imprisonments- – up to my current third- – and a lot of other sacrifices. The deep imprints she left with me will continue to be part of what I am and contribute to my determination to fight and sacrifice even more up to the end, in the interest of the exploited and oppressed masses of the people in our society.
Early in my childhood, I had already began to hear impressive stories about how she was determined fighter for her rights and against feudal norms in the family.
Cristina was the only girl and the eldest among seven siblings. Her parents had committed to the schooling of all the boys and were very proud of how the eldest among the boys excelled in school. The family looked forward to the excelling, too, of the other boys. Cristina wanted to study in school, too. But feudal society did not appreciate the need for the girls to go to school and develop a career outside of the home. They were supposed to be prepared to serve as head servants in their future husbands’ families, aside from being mothers of their children. No preparations and allowance for her schooling and study were made by the family. This, despite her mother’s being a school teacher.
But that did not at all prevent her from going to school and from studying. Even if she was not enrolled in school, early every school day she would wait for her mother to start walking to a nearby school where her mother was teaching and secretly (in a discreet corner) attend not only her mother’s classes but also other classes where she sized up she had the capacity to understand what were being taught.
At home, she was not supposed to be doing any homework for school and reading of books. Thus, for a long time, she had to bring her books and her school notes to the toilet or some other secret nook at home in order to be able to read and do homework for school in freedom- – even if behind locked doors.
After sometime when unavoidably her parents discovered that she had long been furtively going to school and reading books clandestinely on her own, she stood to defend her right. Her parents were open to her position, especially her father who carried in him seeds of progressive ideas and causes. She was, thus, finally accommodated, officially enrolled in school and allowed to read books and do homework for school at home without the need to hide these any longer.
She was able to go all the way up to college, attain a pharmacy degree and even reach the final year of her doctor of medicine course at the University of the Philippines.
But she was not able to graduate in her medicine course and become a full-pledged doctor, as she then eloped with my father-to-be, who was not initially welcome to her landlord mother, because of his lowly class status. He was just a part-time kaminero (road construction worker) before he enlisted as a soldier during World War II, and was still just a rank-and-file soldier when he was courting my Mom, when they secretly got married and when I was born as their first scion.
As my parents both had to work double-time to eke out a living, as soon as I could be weaned up to the time I had to start schooling (in kindergarten), I lived with her parents, who were becoming more and more lower middle class in the city even as they still had dwindling feudal holdings in the countryside.
It was auspicious, as I picked up a lot from my grandfather about sympathy and concern for the poor masses of the people, about the evils of U.S. imperialist domination of the puppet republic and about the need for a people’s liberation movement and revolution as the only means for the country to attain genuine national liberation and fundamental social changes, as was then taking place in Cuba with the downfall of the hated Batista puppet regime and the take-over by the people’s revolutionary forces. I also learned from him a lot about art, especially drawing and painting.
When my parents took me back, my Mom was responsible for now and then discussing with me in time with appropriate circumstances about the family, our individual and shared responsibilities and development, and the running of the household. Nothing was dictated on us, and instead persuasive and democratic means of exchanges and agreements became the norm between us and our parents (particularly our Mom, as our Dad was usually tacit and often talked with us through our Mom).
Our Mom taught us much about self-development and the need to do our best for excellence, about industry, about frugality, about honesty.
When at one time I talked with her in confidence about my feeling insecure that we, their children who do not come from elite families have been brought to study in expensive schools like Ateneo where most of my classmates were from the elite, she explained to me how she and our Dad value education so much that they would do all they can and sacrifice a lot, scrimp on many other things and even go into debt, just to be able to provide us the best education. She said further that even if we lose everything in material terms and are even reduced to our barest bodies, we should be able to remain proud of our education and self-development, and the principles, abilities, and worthy accomplishments that become part of us and cannot be stripped from us.
Much earlier, when we were just starting schooling and were being given allowances for our food and miscellaneous needs in school, our Mom would explain to us that they could afford a very small amount, but we should appreciate even the very small amount as it was equivalent of a worker’s usual jeepney fare from home to work, and that the worker had to labor for that amount.
She would also often drill into us the appreciation of the products of the labor of farmers as the ones who produced the materials that went into our food, and thus the need for us to consume all the food on our plates. Wherever we resided, there were also vegetable plots nearby that we would tend to sustain our need for vegetables, but more importantly to make us always appreciative in practice of the labor of farmers.
Our Mom was also a strong advocate of frugality. She would often emphasize the need to concentrate our resources on the more essential needs and to avoid, as much as possible, diverting meager resources to non-essential and more especially to dispensable luxuries and waste. She would remind us time and again that in our country alone several millions are so poor that they fall very short of their essential needs.
Both our Mom and Dad were always very emphatic about the highest need for integrity and honesty. They always pointed out that what should accrue to us should be earned through our own capabilities and labor, and anything that properly belongs to others but happened to fall in our hands, should be returned to the rightful owners. They always refused to pay bribes, even if their refusal would cost the loss of transactions. and they always returned whatever surplus would be mistakenly included in the change given to them by sellers.
I was still in my later grade school and early high school years when my parents advanced further in the systematization and relation to political and socio-economic advocacies of their ideas. That was when Claro M. Recto’s crusade for nationalism and national industrialization reached my parents, and they became ardent advocates of Recto’s crusade. They also went on to themselves implement Recto’s crusade in practice by pioneering in the setting up of an industrial project to produce tar paper locally (this was, however, swamped after a few years by the plastics industry).
When, in the early 1970’s I joined the revolutionary movement, my Mom had no question about it and fully supported my decision.
Not too long afterward, when she went to her maternal ancestral hometown in Ilocos Norte to look into a few remaining parcels of feudal landholdings of the family that had been put under her charge, the peasants there collectively met with her to relay to the family that a revolutionary peasant organization had already been formed there with the auspices of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and its military arm in the New People’s Army. The peasants formally informed the family through her that revolutionary maximum land reform had been declared on the family’s feudal landholdings, which means that the family’s ownership of the parcels of tenanted land is no longer recognized and the said parcels would all be turned over to the tillers for free. Immediately, without any argument and without any ifs-and-buts, my Mom accepted the declaration. The peasants in the assembly celebrated the agreement and in gratitude gave my Mom a few sacks of rice as a token of their appreciation for her understanding and quick agreement.
As soon as she returned home, my Mom shared with me what took place. I expressed full acquiescence. She also shared the same with her siblings, who also gave their consent to her agreement. With their careers and work concentrated in the Big City, they had anyway long lost interest in those land parcels in the province.
When I was imprisoned (twice) during Martial Law, my Mom made sure of her visiting me at least once a week. She was most active among the family in supporting me and other political prisoners, all the way from Camp Crame to Camp Bagong Diwa. She was one of the leading members of the Committee of Relatives of Political Prisoners and with other advocates of human rights, fully supported our struggles as political prisoners, in the fight for justice, in campaigns for our freedom and the defense of our human rights. She helped raise funds not only for the work of the committee and the campaigns for the freedom and support of political prisoners, but also for the support of families of political prisoners who were much in need of help.
I confided to her that our struggle for freedom was not only to be able to physically get out of prison, but more importantly so to be able to more effectively work for the greater freedom of the people in the wider society – – the very thing that was the reason for our imprisonment. She understood very well.
When I regained my freedom and went back to the ground, whether in the open or in the revolutionary underground, our communication was confined mostly through letters. She would, however, do whatever was necessary for the sake of security for us to be able to see each other even once in a couple of years, and even just for an hour or a few minutes. She would give up all her previous appointments, go through various tedious detours and walk long distances just to be sure she was not being followed by state intelligence operatives. She would give whatever I needed urgently for assistance.
For more than a decade before this my third arrest and detention, we had not seen each other. But she still often had to keep on evading shadows trailing her even to different churches she would go to. She did not want shadows sticking to her back.
This my third arrest was maliciously just a few hours before the resumption of the long stalled formal peace talks between the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDF) and the Government of the Philippines (GPH) on February 14, 2011. The arrest was made despite my supposed protection from arrest, detention and other antagonistic acts of the state, as I am a consultant in the peace talks. The day before was my Mom’s 91st birthday.
The day right after my arrest and the same day I was transferred from the Bulacan Provincial Jail in Camp Alejo Santos to the Philippine National Police Custodial Center in Camp Crame, she was immediately there to see how I was. Since then, she had been visiting me weekly as much as she could. Those who had been taking care of her had been saying that she was most happy and excited, and always had a much earlier day every time she was scheduled to visit.
Our discussions during her visits showed how she continued to give highest value and concern to education of her kin. She was always very proud of those of her children and grandchildren who excelled and continue to excel. During the last few times we were able to discuss at length about the need to ensure the completion of the schooling of the rest of her grandchildren who still have not finished their schooling, she vowed that the completion of their schooling should be guaranteed by the family and that they should be given all the help they need.
At the opening of the Painting Freedom art exhibit at the Sining Kamalig in December 8, 2011, where two of us NDF peace consultant detained at Camp Crame exhibited a number of our paintings, someone who was there wrote that my Mom’s sweet smile the whole time showed how much she was moved by the great appreciation and love showed by those who attended the launching.
Much more than the longer distance, from where she used to stay, up to my present detention camp, it became very difficult for her to visit me here as, after her first slip and fall, she had become totally dependent on her wheel chair, thus, it was impossible for her to cross the tight zigzag rail visitors have to go through to enter the detention area and for her to climb four flights of stairs to reach us political prisoners here at the Special Intensive Care Area (SICA) jail.
An arrangement was once was made so that we could see each other for a short time by the gate. But that was just for one visit, when she was already at the gate hoping to be allowed to see me there. That was her last visit.
Her second slip and fall happened sometime after then, followed by further severe damages and intensive sufferings, until she went through more complications and was no longer able to survive her fight against death.
Two days after my Mom passed away, I was given four hours to be able to make a brief visit to her wake under very tight watch by 18 guards. In the interviews and eulogy I gave (but was not able to finish – – as I reached a point where I could not contain my grief and was crying inside), I recalled some memorable anecdotes and experiences with her and the many, many things I have been very appreciative of her.
I miss my Mom very much. My love and thoughts of her and the many valuable lessons in the interest of the people, that I learned from her and progressed with much further, will always remain with me.
12 May 2013
*The author is a National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDF) peace consultant and a member of its Socio-Economic Reforms Committee. He is supposedly protected by the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) but was nevertheless still arrested on February 14, 2011, just a few hours before the resumption of the long stalled formal peace talks between the NDF and the GPH. He is presently detained at the Bureau of Jail Management and Penology – Special Intensive Care Area (BJMP-SICA) in Camp Bagong Diwa, Bicutan, Taguig City.