Oh, mother, where art thou?
HEART AND MIND - Paulynn Sicam (The Philippine Star) - September 11, 2018 - 12:00am

Spunky, brave, headstrong, proud, blunt and plainspoken to the point of recklessness. That was my mom. She made me nervous when she stood up to bullies, especially those who held power over her.

On Sept. 6, around 15 years ago, I was walking with a friend from my office to a nearby Starbucks when I was hounded by two black butterflies. They hovered right in front of my face, persistent and annoying.  When I waved them away, they came back again and again, as if they had a message they wanted to deliver. 

Then it dawned on me. I had missed my mother’s death anniversary by two days! I had forgotten completely.

It had to be Mom, who was righteous, outspoken, persistent and didn’t suffer fools with excuses for sin. She was a large presence in our lives and those who knew her, and she was not to be ignored.

This memory came back to me at Mass last week on the 21st anniversary of her death. She was a force of nature, but her passing was almost anti-climactic. She had been in a coma for two and a half years before her stout and restless heart gave way and she was finally at peace.

Mom was born to be heard. Whether she was listening to songs her children were singing, watching a movie, a newscast or a basketball game, her judgment of what was right and proper was immediate and devastating. My siblings and I took to editing suggestive lyrics to avoid offending her sensitive ears. And there were topics that we avoided discussing at table when she was around.

But it was when she sat on her rocking chair knitting sweaters while watching the news and basketball that she vented her verdict on virtue and vileness, decency and depravity, uprightness and dishonesty. There were no two ways around her sense of right and wrong.

It was what made her knit bonnets for rebels to keep them warm up in the mountains, and go out of her way to bring wounded insurgents to hospitals. It was what made her join a group of urban guerrillas who risked their freedoms to light the fire of democracy and coax the middle class out of their complacency during the worst years of martial rule. For this, she suffered prolonged detention, tried as a “terrorist” by a kangaroo military court, convicted and sentenced to death by firing squad. Through the ordeal, she proved herself to be made of steel.

I saw her accost a colonel for lying on the witness stand during her trial, saying accusingly before a small crowd, “And you call yourself an officer and a gentleman!” The burly officer moved to slap her but his equally burly bodyguards held him back. Totally powered by adrenaline, I jumped in front of my mom to protect her, until I felt my knees buckle seconds later, when the danger was over. 

Her encounter with the much abhorred and feared Col. Rodolfo Aguinaldo was even more impressive because she was alone with him in an interrogation situation.  It was he who led the arresting party and allegedly found bombs buried in her backyard. She argued with him about the behavior of his men when they came to her house to arrest her and her husband, why they had to steal their properties such as a collection of lighters, a motorcycle, their cars, even the molasses she used for baking her Christmas fruitcakes. When Aguinaldo told her that molasses is an ingredient for making bombs, she pounded the table and said, “Now you tell me!” 

She also asked him if he played tennis and challenged him to a game.

She was awesome. I only half-jokingly referred to her as my Macho Mom.

When martial law ended and she and her group of dissidents were cleared by the Justice Department under the Cory Constitution, Mom filed a claim with the military for the properties that were seized from her home and were never returned. Her lawyer demanded a couple of million pesos but during the negotiations, the AFP panel bargained for a much lower amount. Mom sat quiet through the negotiations until the AFP offered P600,000, which Mom readily accepted, to the consternation of her lawyer.

When asked why she settled for so much less. Mom said, “I have never had that much money in my life.”

That was my Mom — spunky, brave, headstrong, proud, blunt and plainspoken to the point of recklessness. She made me nervous when she stood up to bullies, especially those who held power over her. But what a great legacy of values she left her children and grandchildren! 

When the Bantayog ng mga Bayani honored her memory by declaring her a hero of the resistance to martial law, they noted that she was “neither ideologue nor political leader, but she was a steadfast person who simply did what she believed was right." She gave generously of herself without expectation of reward or praise. Many came to call her “Mommy” in recognition of her good heart and selflessness.

Oh, Mother, where are thou? You are just the kind of no-nonsense patriot we need at this time.

Twenty-one years after she left us, I really miss my mom.

LOVE MOTHERS
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