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The other half

opinion / Columnists
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High blood

The other half

As the saying goes, “Behind every great man is a great woman.” I have found this to be true about my own mother, Liesel Commans Quirino, a mestiza with a German father and a Filipino-Spanish mother. Born on May 7, 1931, she was 21 years younger than my father, yet due to her strong character, their age difference posed no hindrance to their marriage. My father, writer/historian Carlos Quirino, had been married twice before. In his younger days he was quite a ladies’ man, cutting a dashing figure in his military uniform.    However, when he met my mother who was then still a teenager, he was ready to settle down and become a family man. She sure put the “chastity belt” on him!

My mother was 10 years old when World War II broke out in the Philippines. Throughout the war, my mother and her family were forced to live on top of the company’s garage and warehouse on Gandara Street in Binondo.  They were driven out of their home on Taft Avenue because Japanese officers took over the houses on that street.

Her one vivid recollection of that time was her encounter with a Japanese soldier when she was taking a bath in the outhouse that served as the family bathroom. The soldier kicked in the door and, as a reflex action, she grabbed a 2×4-inch piece of wood standing in the corner of the bathroom and prepared to strike.  Their eyes locked; when he realized that she was only a child, he backed off. At that young age she was already a fighter: She never backed down from challenges throughout her life.

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Full of spunk, my mother was quite a handful for the teachers and nuns of St. Scholastica’s College of Manila. Her classmates have told me of the many naughty pranks that she had led. My mother was in the same class of Vicky Quirino, a daughter of then Vice President Elpidio Quirino who was a widower. When President Manuel Roxas suddenly died of a heart attack, my father, then aide de camp to the Vice President, broke the news to the latter. When Quirino assumed the presidency, Vicky, his only surviving daughter, became the first lady at the age of 17. Vicky brought her gang of classmates to stay with her in Malacañang.

It was Vicky Quirino who introduced my mother to my father, and I, my parents’ firstborn, became her baptismal godchild.

My mother caught the writing bug from my father and wrote two books. The first is a novel titled “Like the Wind I Go,” which chronicles the lives of women of four generations, based on her own family’s history. The second book is titled “Why the Great Balls of Fire When We’re Going to Go Pffft Anyway?” and is a collection of short stories, most of them humorous accounts of people she knew.

My parents were married for 50 years. Being half-German, my mother was the disciplinarian of her children. Whenever she’d say “No!” to us, we would go behind her back to our father because he spoiled us. But then he’d quickly say, “Don’t tell your mother.” We used to jokingly call our father “The General”—but our mother was “The Field Marshal”! She ran the house and took care of everything, so that my father could have the time and peace of mind to write.

Without my mother’s loving support and encouragement, my father would not have been able to write as much and as well as he did. I guess that joint effort paid off, not financially, but in terms of recognition and honor beyond material gain. In 1998, then President Fidel V. Ramos named my father, Carlos Quirino, National Artist for Historical Literature (a new category). Half of that title belonged to my mother, Liesel Commans Quirino.

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Cynthia (Denden) Quirino, 67, has a master’s degree in film and TV production from the University of California in Los Angeles. She’s a proud grandma of a 17-year-old girl from her daughter and of a baby on the way from her son, and a marketing consultant for renewable energy projects.

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TAGS: Commans Quirino, Cynthia Quirino, High Blood, Inquirer Opinion, war survivors, World War II
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