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Embarking on a story without knowing its end

One early morning 50 years ago, I wed Ibarra Avelino Malonzo under a caimito (star apple) tree in Agusan (del Norte). Mama was shocked: “But what will the neighbors say (to breaking convention)?” I replied, “Ma, as I’ll marry only once, I better have it my way.” Our vows included these lines: “Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death…”

Only both sets of parents were present plus godparents and siblings. The Alviola cousins were missing, unconvinced by my “Basta” when they asked “What for?” I was in a floral-skirted mini, fabric from Divisoria, sewn in Balic-Balic; sister Jurgenne said it had to be wearable other days. Our rings were borrowed (and subsequently returned). The late Eddie Agnir (then Silliman pastor) officiated. Mama prepared breakfast costing P200. By noon we newlyweds boarded a bus for Lintoog, Surigao del Sur, to tarry at his family’s bahay kubo with a live kagwang (flying lemur) plastered on one wall.

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Soon we settled down in QC, with Bong teaching at now-PUP and doing labor work pro bono evenings with panyero Ernie Arellano. Martial law in 1972 made him choose between going underground in Manila or a more benign proscription in Zamboanga City, house arrest as it turned out. I soon joined him south.

A word on polarities…

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Kapampangan males hold the purse strings, and pere Malonzo and son were no exception. My Mama, like her Ilongga mother, was sovereign at home and ruled finances. With grace and judiciousness, the conflict was resolved early on. There are other differences: I am a morning person, he a night owl. Then as now pop tunes, Cebuano folk songs, Broadway musicals, and classics fill my head; all he sang were mostly hymns. It has been live and let live, and now he even sings my songs.

And on politics…

Bong’s firm, if naive, belief in a new social order in six months grew fainter as days stretched into years. Trade union work was walking the tightrope between the military (who called us red) and the Party-led left (who called us yellow). A Statement of Principles issued by the National Federation of Labor affirmed basic workers’ rights to organize, and collective action, non-violent struggle, and autonomy and equality as bases for labor alliances. Neither red nor yellow is a lonely stance: The NFL paid with the lives of eight leaders and organizers during martial law and beyond. Bong’s labor work has since moved into agrarian reform, social forestry, and microfinance.

Gender has been the other irresistible call informing my labor seminars throughout Mindanao, undergirding activities in Manila from the ’80s onward through Pilipina and various coalitions. All-consuming politics also meant we had no time for family until my sister persuaded us otherwise, with Nur Ishmael born 1979 soon followed by Maia Aisha, so named in solidarity with the Muslim struggle.

And so life has been a roller-coaster, not knowing whether arrest was one step away, or what the morrow would bring. When I returned home from Basilan in the ’70s, scores of soldiers greeted me, later undertaking a room-to-room search, finding a Trotsky book in the ceiling. It was in fact a raid, slow-motion. I told the CO they were welcome anytime but under warmer circumstances. I flew to Manila early the next day (Bong was in detention at Fort Bonifacio).

But life has also been a tapestry: the purple of women’s pain, the green of life-giving earth, the crimson of justice long denied. Faith has underpinned various wellsprings of our life. And marriage has had its own Sturm und Drang, otherwise we would all be angels in heaven. Yet I would not trade this life for any other, hubby included.

To conclude, I borrow from Victor Jara’s “Cuando voy al trabajo”: Laborando el comienzo de una historia sin saber al fin. Embarking on a journey without knowing its end—50 years ago (last June 6) under a caimito tree.

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Jurgette Honculada, in her 70s, is also lola to Mikael Isaac and biyenan to Ira Dominique Alatraca.

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