My mother Lourdes Maestrado La Viña, Inday to all her friends, lived for ninety years and two hundred eighteen days. On October 4, 2020, on the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, she passed to eternal life. She succumbed to complications from pneumonia even as she tested negative for COVID-19.
Mom’s life was rooted in Mindanao. Except for part of her high school years where she was an interna (dormer) in Saint Scholastica’s College and her college years in Saint Theresa’s College, both in Manila, Mom lived all her life in this great island. She grew up in Cagayan de Oro, spent the years of the Japanese occupation in Molave in Zamboanga del Sur, and did a couple of years of high school in Ozamiz City. After marrying my father Gabriel Jr, whom she met in Ozamiz, they settled in Cagayan de Oro and never left.
Her parents were Silvino Dacapio Maestrado, a lawyer and politician from Camiguin, while her mother was Josefa Abejuela Chaves, a native of Cagayan de Oro. My mother had one sister, Carmen Maestrado Velez who died a couple of decades ahead of her. Gabriel La Viña, Jr, my Mom’s husband and my father, was a lawyer and a graduate of Letran College and San Beda College of Law. He also died more than twenty years ago.
Mom and Dad raised six children, all of whom inherited her intensity, both independent-minded and opinionated. Meals were always loud and road trips the family did frequently erupted into fights – when we were younger for trivial reasons like who could sit in front or by the window but as we grew older for more serious reasons like our political differences and disagreement on values and priorities.
When we were growing up, our parents brought us to places in Mindanao where our family had roots. We took long car or boat trips to Ozamiz, Molave, Camiguin, and Bukidnon. Later, Davao, Zamboanga City, Cebu, and Manila became family destinations. Confident in our roots, we learned to travel to far places, to foreign countries as well.
Mom was fiercely loyal, to her children, in-laws, and her grandchildren. My wife Titay and I, and our children, will always be grateful for the time she spent with us when we were living abroad. She made me promise to bring her to Paris one more time, and especially for the 2024 Olympics.
Her loyalty extend to our friends. In my case, for example, Mom is Gilbert Teodoro’s biggest fan in Cagayan de Oro. In the 2010 elections, already eighty years old, Mom campaigned hard for Gibo and was disappointed when he lost. She continues to hope that he will return to public service again. If he does, I am sure Mom will campaign for Gilbert from heaven.
Mom also has a special affection for Fr. Jett Villarin SJ, a college classmate and close friend who was president of Xavier University in Cagayan de Oro before becoming Ateneo de Manila President. That affection transferred to Fr. Bobby Yap, another college classmate who succeeded Fr. Jett in both Xavier and Ateneo de Manila. When I told her that Fr. Mars Tan had become Xavier University President, she was very happy as she also know Fr. Mars as a former Jesuit Volunteer and someone she described as a good and humble priest. She was also proud of the fact that Fr. Mars was from Mindanao.
It is interesting that aside from these Jesuits who are my contemporaries that Mom also had close friendships with former XU presidents Fr. Ting Samson and Fr. Ernie Javier, former XU Academic Vice-President Fr. Raf Borromeo, our high school principal Fr. Pepe Fuentes, and our grade school headmaster Fr. Theodore Daigler who was a good friend of my grandfather in the war years. From Fr Daigler (whom she knew as a child) to Fr. Mars, that’s a span of eighty years of engagement with the Jesuits of Xavier University.
Mom was a big fan of the Blue Eagles, the basketball team of the Ateneo de Manilla University. She would insist on watching Ateneo-La Salle games (my brother in law JJ Atayde, a pure La Sallian, would be her nemesis that day but always in a good natured way) and Ateneo championship games. Thankfully, Fr. Jett would always accommodate her request for tickets. If she could not come to Manila for a game, she would watch it on television with her youngest grandson Knox.
And then there is Mom’s political engagement which lasted all her adult life.
In 1980, she joined the opposition ticket of Nene Pimentel and won as the first woman councilor of Cagayan de Oro. Later, she joined the Mindanao movement to oust the dictatorship, putting her name and our family’s resources to the service of the struggle. Our house in Cagayan de Oro became a hub and a hideaway for activists. I can say now that included people in the underground movement – some famous, some we know only by their nom-de-guerres.
This courage, which also characterized my father, was manifested when they provided sanctuary to student activists running from the military when martial law was proclaimed. In the first few weeks of martial law, Mom was also brave enough to regularly go, with Tita Bella Tiro, to the detention center in Camp Alagar, the Philippine Constabulary Headquarters in Cagayan de Oro, to visit a political detainee who was a son of a friend. This was in the first weeks and months of martial law. Thankfully, the Casiños, who were family friends, lived near the camp and became the refuge of Mom and Tita Bella.
In elections during the Marcos era, when the Comelec was biased against the opposition, Mom was sent to confront officials of the election body so cheating would be prevented. And in demonstration after demonstration, in the last years of the Marcos regime, Mom was always proud to be assigned as a negotiator with the police to prevent dispersals of the rallyists. She believed that she was able to intimidate the police officials – although some were actually her good friends who could not imagine hurting her and the cause-oriented groups she worked with.
Up to her death, my mother was a Trustee of the National Museum, a position she was well-prepared for as she was the Chair of the Historical Commission of Cagayan de Oro for many years. Mom took her responsibilities with the National Museum seriously, giving full support to the leadership of Dr. Jeremy Barns and his deputy Dr Ana Labrador. It helped her that I knew the museums well since I bring my classes there for field trips.
My mother forged many friendships in her long life – relatives, childhood friends, classmates, poetry reading group mates, Ikebana and Zonta friends, business colleagues, bible study companions, friends in politics, women much younger than her, women from Cagayan de Oro, Ozamiz, Manila, Davao, London, New York, everywhere in the world. You have to live for 90 years to have so many people love you.
Being passionate in her views, she also fought with people and used harsh words – sometimes with people who were her relatives and friends. But in time, she would reach out and apologize. I think she would not mind if I ask all those she hurt to forgive her for those words.
My Mom’s biggest sorrows was to lose her son Cacoy, my youngest brother, who was a UP Music student and died too young at 32 years old in 1995 – followed a year after by my father who died too soon at 70 years. She would not have been able to get through that grief without her friends and an absolute faith in God.
She carried that faith in her last days when she repeated her long standing instructions not to have her life extended by extreme measures. If I am not mistaken, she signed her own DNR (do not resuscitate) statement and stated again that she did not want to needlessly suffer. We are grateful to our good friend Dr Nonen Santos and her colleagues in the Capitol University Medical Center for giving Mom world-class and compassionate care.
The saddest thing in this pandemic is that people die alone and we are not able to say goodbye to our loved ones. With God’s grace, that was not the case of Mom, having tested negative for COVID. In the one week she was in the ICU, we were able to talk to her and say goodbye and how much we loved her. In her last hour, she was with my siblings Pompee and Susie and was able to talk by phone also to some of her grandchildren.
Like the biblical Jacob, I imagined she had a dream earlier this past week, when we celebrated the feasts of the archangels and guardian angels; she saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. After saying goodbye to all of us, and thankfully not alone in her last moments, the angels finally came to fetch her. Thanks to be God for a life full of grace!
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Antonio “Tony” La Viña of Cagayan de Oro City is former Dean of the Ateneo School of Government. He teaches Constitutional law in several schools in Manila and Mindanao)