A star is born
During the revolution against Spain, at the end of the 19th century, Filipino priests were also involved in a nationalist religious movement to protest abuses by Spanish friars and their own second-class standing in a foreign-dominated church establishment in the country.
Led by Gregorio Aglipay and Isabelo de los Reyes, they set up the Philippine Independent Church, also known today as the Aglipayan church in honor of its founder, in 1902.
They broke away from the Roman Catholic Church and rejected the authority of the Vatican. Among the decrees issued by the new faction was one abolishing the celibacy requirement for priests and allowing them to marry.
Aglipay and his colleagues were way ahead on this one.A young, gifted cleric from Laoag, Ilocos Norte was one of the key followers of Aglipay.
Santiago Fonacier also had literary inclinations and edited a number of Spanish periodicals while translating Jose Rizal’s two novels, “Noli Me Tangere” and “El Filibusterismo,” into Ilocano.
In 1912, Fonacier was elected to the first Philippine Assembly as representative for the first district of Ilocos Norte, and later won as senator for the Ilocos region. He also served as a member of the Board of Regents of the University of the Philippines and the Philippine Independence Mission to the United States.
It was Aglipay who introduced Fonacier to Carmen Jamias, a sister of my mother. In September 1909, they were married and had eight children, all of whom were baptized with Ilocano names in rites officiated by Aglipayan church officials. The first was a girl, Emma (accent on the second syllable), the Ilocano word for modesty. Next came Laing, a boy, meaning goodness. Third was another boy, Lawag, for brightness, and the fourth was Bituen—a beautiful star.
The fifth child was Wayawaya, meaning freedom, as she was born on the eve of July 4, US Independence Day under a Commonwealth regime.
The sixth was a boy, Gasat, meaning luck or good fortune (Fonacier had just won election as a senator). Next came Anos, another boy, meaning patience, and the last, also a boy, Takling, the Ilocano word for refuge or sanctuary. While all the children were given Ilocano names, the grandchildren had Tagalog titles such as Tagumpay, Sikat, Araw, or Bayani.
Upon the death of Aglipay in 1940, Fonacier was chosen Obispo Maximo (Supreme Bishop) of the Philippine Independent Church.
Going back to the fourth child, Bituen, today is her 99th birthday, the oldest of two survivors among the eight children of Santiago and Carmen Fonacier.
Born on Dec. 30, 1920, she will be 100 years old next year, making her eligible for the P100,000 gift given to senior citizens who reach their centennial year.
I am reminded that during earlier consultations regarding the Senior Citizen Law, I had proposed the amount of P1 million as a gift for senior citizens marking their 100th year. To my mind, P100,000 was too small an amount to mark such a remarkable personal achievement. It was not approved.
At 99, Bituen is still a beauty and remains in the pink of health, suffering no major ailments through the years. After finishing at UP High in 1936, she went on and earned a BS in Education degree at the University of the Philippines.
She became an English teacher, first at the Pangasinan National High School, where Angela Valdez Ramos, mother of President Fidel Ramos, also taught. At Southeastern College in Pasay City, she continued to teach English and later became Dean of Women. Her last teaching position was at Far Eastern University.
All those years spent teaching English is reflected in the way she speaks the language—perfect grammar, diction and pronunciation. What a far cry from the English you hear these days, even from college graduates.
We have deteriorated so badly in what was once our great advantage over neighbors in the region. The current trend of mixing Tagalog and English will bring us nowhere in an increasingly global society.
Bituen, daughter of the Obispo Maximo, would marry Rizalino Pablo, the son of another high-ranking Aglipayan cleric. Pablo was the first executive director of the National Economic Council, now the National Economic and Development Authority. Their marriage would produce six children, two of whom would serve as undersecretary in two different Cabinet departments. Lualhati Pablo was undersecretary of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, while younger brother, Mabini (EQ) Pablo, held the same position in the Department of Public Works and Highways, both serving with exemplary professionalism and integrity.
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