Monday, October 03, 2016

The nuns, father, and son

IT was a rare outing for a person who stepped down three months ago after six years in power.

If the front-page story published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer last Sept. 25 riveted, it was because I learned something new about my former mentors, the Missionary Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (ICM), who run St. Theresa’s College (STC) Cebu.

Last Sept. 23, former President Benigno Aquino III joined ICM nuns in a forum held at the STC in Quezon City to reflect on the lessons of martial law.

With my silver hair, spectacles and grandmotherly mien, I was often mistaken by students and staff as an ICM nun when I was a college lecturer in my alma mater until 2012.

The mistake tickled me pink but also challenged. The ICM sisters may look like whimsical members of a knitting sisterhood but they are fierce social gadflies, weaving solidarity with the poor, respect for human dignity and ecological awareness with our lessons in English, Math and Religion in the 1970s.

I knew from experience that the ICM sisters were active in the anti-martial law movement not just now but then, when the country was still in the stranglehold of the Marcoses, when being an activist was at its most dangerous.

However, from the article I learned that Sr. Iluminada Torres and Sr. Consuelo Varela smuggled out of his cell at Fort Bonifacio the letters of former senator Benigno Aquino, Jr. President Aquino’s father was one of the “dissidents” rounded up and jailed by President Ferdinand Marcos for destabilizing the nation, which was the pretext for putting the country under his dictatorship for nine years (1972-1981).

If you had studied with Sr. Consuy, as Sr. Consuelo is also known, you would never imagine her committing any wrongdoing. The ICM sisters are known for being sticklers of taking the high road, whether it be writing in English or conducting one’s life.

I can only surmise that the two nuns’ decision to act illegally stemmed from a belief that it was the morally right thing to do. Her parents aptly named Sr. Iluminada!

Listen to lines taken from a letter written by the father to his only son on the eve of his “moment of truth,” just before he faces the military proceedings that will try him for illegal possession of firearms, violation of the “Anti-Subversion Act,” and murder.

“It is a rare privilege for me to join the Motherland in the dark dungeon where she was led back by one of her own sons whom she lavished with love and glory…

“I have no doubt in the ultimate victory of right over wrong, of good over evil, in the awakening of the Filipino…

“Live with honor and follow your conscience…

“There is no greater nation on earth than our Motherland. No greater people than our own. Serve them with all your heart, with all your might and with all your strength.”

Reading and rereading the letter written on August 25, 1973 at 11:10 p.m., I am reminded of the scene in “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy when the Lady Galadriel bequeaths farewell gifts to the members of the fellowship before they embark on their quest.

She reserves the gift of illumination for the one with the hardest task. To Frodo the Lady of the Wood gives a crystal phial that glitters with the light of EƤrendril’s star.

She tells the Ring-bearer: “May it be a light to you in dark places, when all other lights go out.”

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s October 2, 2016 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”

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