Early in his term in 2016, President Duterte demanded that all Aquino appointees resign from their posts and give him a free hand in appointing his own “people.” But Dr. Patricia “Tattie” Licuanan, chair of the Commission on Higher Education, insisted on staying on, reasoning that she had a fixed term and was due to step down from CHEd only in July this year.
Since she signified her insistence on staying on, Mr. Duterte went to great pains to make things difficult, if not uncomfortable, for her. He barred Tattie from attending Cabinet meetings and apparently, a campaign of vilification was launched against her. Surreptitiously, her decisions as CHEd chair and any hint of corruption was investigated, until the travel issue and the imbroglio over scholarships for teachers erupted in the media and the halls of Congress. Rather than subject herself to six months of harassment and innuendoes of corruption, as Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea hinted in his phone call to Tattie, she decided “it was time to go.”
Last week, bristling at the way Tattie had been treated by Malacañang, the “ka-womenan,” a loose constellation of women in government, civil society, academe and other fields, feted Tattie. The hastily organized gathering was meant not just to commiserate with Tattie but more importantly, to welcome her back to the world of NGOs, to affirm the sisterhood we all felt for and with her, and express our collective gratitude for all she had done for Filipino women and for Philippine education.
It was a night of song, feasting and sharing of public statements (and private chismis) regarding her departure from CHEd. And though we must concede that there was little more she could have done in the six months she had remaining, Tattie is still a big loss for government and for the Filipino people.
When our father Erning Jimenez suffered a serious stroke, our second cousin Bee was taken in to nurse him back to health. She stayed for just a few months, since she left for the United States shortly to pursue her nursing career. But I remember her for being such a gentle presence, looking after Papa with efficiency but also gentle care.
Bee was the daughter of Tito Ger Ruiz and Tita Guia Montemayor Ruiz, who is one of the daughters of Lola Amparo Ungson Montemayor, sister of our maternal lola, Emilia Ungson Braganza. I remember spending summer vacations in our hometown of Alaminos, Pangasinan, during which we would visit Lola Amparo in their family home near the parish church.
There was one other Ungson sibling in Alaminos, the eldest Turing who married Lola Kiting. Their residence sat almost directly across the street from the Braganza home, which fronted the town plaza. This was the orbit of our life in Alaminos: from the windows of my Lola Eming’s house, we could shout across the street to our Ungson cousins and on boring afternoons, we could walk to Lola Amparo’s place to hobnob with the Montemayors. As we walked the streets, we would bump into other relatives, hail long-time neighbors, and gossip about other townsfolk.
Alas, those days are gone. Alaminos is now a city, and the Ungson-Braganza-Montemayor clan has since dispersed if not to the afterlife then to parts far away, mainly the United States.
A few days ago, our clan was momentarily united in sharing news of Bee’s passing. She was one of seven fatalities in a road accident involving a van where she and her companions had been passengers.
Early reports indicated that the driver, who survived to tell the tale, had fallen asleep at the wheel and crashed into a tree. Bee — Berenice Montemayor Ruiz Roxas — was with her former nursing classmates at UST and some doctors, taking some R&R before embarking on a medical mission in Camiguin.
From what I heard, Bee’s sister Pong and Bee’s children are in the country to take care of repatriating Bee’s remains. While we grieve for Bee, we her extended family take comfort in the fact that it was the spirit of service, and Bee’s kind, giving nature that brought her here, to die among her people.
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