The Legend of Irene Moraga Lumbrera
Once Upon a Time, Ninety Years Later
“With her fiercely independent spirit nurtured by memories of a loving father, she broke free from a convent training and intense family opposition to pursue her own truth guided by the new faith tradition. Always believing firmly that as a child of God, she will never be alone. After building life as businesswoman, single mother, and an active and staunch pillar of the early Iglesia Ni Cristo, Irene came to America with her own dreams and fulfilled them through honesty, diligence, and hard work. Her personal journey is nothing short of miraculous, as it is when a human being is aligned with her divine purpose.”
~Lutgarda M. Resurreccion
Princess of the East: A Fairy Tale
It is very amusing to share Irene’s story as a fairy tale and see for yourself what have come to my imagination from her narratives. Let us travel back to what was then the future.
Once upon a time, in an unknown province of Tayabas in the very far away East, there was a young man by the name of Isko who went to America to become an engineer. After a year or two, he comes back home to share his skills to his people. Isko, tall and handsome, well-dressed in "Americana", the western fashion of suit and tie, riding in his horse, became a portrait of a gentleman and prince charming every woman would love, but he was shy and quiet, that he became a bachelor (matandang binata) with no prospect of a woman or wife in sight. As he became orphan by his father and mother, he lives with his godfather, who was a rich friend of Igmidio, a jeweler from Meycawayan who goes to Tayabas to do business. On occasions, he will bring Antonina, his only daughter, with him, especially after she became a widow. They will go by a caravan with her on a hammock carried by four men, an entourage that sounds so regal in those times of prince and princess, kings, and queens. They will stay with Isko’s godfather while they were there. As he is tongue-tied, his godfather matches him with Antonina, the beautiful and only daughter of his friend, Igmidio. Soon a romance blossoms, and they got married. They were a handsome couple and blessed with seven children and lived happily after until the last child was born. Antonina died two years later, leaving Isko with ten young children to parent. They named the last child Irene “Nene” and treated her like a princess. She grew up special because she was! Growing up without a mother, but she turned out into a lovable, smart, young woman, who was being eyed-on by her second cousin, Juaning, a young doctor who will kiss her when she was sixteen and she becomes “pregnant”. A brief courtship with a childish and innocent princess adds to the romance of a “big brother”, the prince. They will marry after all and live with the challenge of age differences unreconcilable despite his true love, as hers was a naïve innocence and stubborn self-determination. This is the imaginary kingdom of Irene: her mother and father’s love story so heartwarming and her own one-sided love story with Juaning, so determined to win her childish heart that never learned until the end. In a span of time, they bore an only son, Peter. Juaning desperately heartbroken and unable to win Irene, returns to New York and later dies of cancer. And the little princess of this unknown kingdom, is our legendary Irene, ninety-some years later. Tayabas is now known as Quezon Province, named after Manuel L. Quezon, a native of Baler who was then president of the commonwealth during the American regime. Isko became a close friend of the president as he had so much knowledge and skills to share and his command of the English language, was a valuable resource to a developing country flattened by war.
~Myrna D. Santos
We hailed from the progressive town of Meycawayan, Bulacan, where a great river flows through the Central Plains of Luzon to the Sierra Madre mountains. Along with the clear, fresh waters, are pieces of gold naturally free to the local folks. This gold mine makes every household a house of gold where they melt the pellets and turn to beautiful jewelry designs of varying carats. My grandfather, ‘Inkong’ Igmidio Moraga, was a jeweler himself trading to faraway places with rich clientele as Sariaya, Quezon. He owned vast of lands in Bulacan and Nueva Ecija. He loved me and my two older brothers very much. At sunset, we will wait for him as he comes from the farm bringing fruits from his trees. He will bring us to his farm riding in a carabao-driven cart, “Kariton”. He lived to be in his 90’s and before he died, he asked me to wash his body and put on his “barong” (formal native costume). He was one of three sons to a Spanish friar and businessman named Francisco Moraga, after whom the Plaza Moraga in Manila China Town was named because of his bravery and heroism in the early 19th century. It was written in books that our history would have been different if it were not for him. This stature left us a respected family in Bulacan.
Inkong Igmidio has a brother with three daughters and a son, first cousins to my mother’s mother. I remember them as my three beautiful Impo’s (grandmother) who were very rich, Impong Martina and Trudis, I can’t remember the eldest one if it’s Magdalena. Their family name was Rubio, and they were called “Donyas”, (title of respect for rich and honorable women) who never got married and remained “matandang dalaga” (old maids) and were very “masungit” (grumpy). Inkong Victor, their youngest brother, had five children, the youngest was the mother of Juaning, who became my husband. They were in the business and were very successful as they consulted each other for anything. As the only male, he oversaw their wholesale meat store within the house’s ground floor, a perfect location. They had a big, beautiful corner house that extends to the whole block made of marbles and colored stained glass like a church within the población, close to the center of trade, “palengke”, the local market. The Japanese used their house as a headquarters during the war. I grew up there with my Impos that the Japanese officers became fond of me, including the chef who gives me food, must be “sushi”? One time, they saw a lot of men’s shoes, when they asked me, whose shoes those are, I told them, they were my father’s, or they will look for my older brothers who were already with the guerillas! One day, they took my older brother and will hang him in the plaza, my father approached the officer bravely, as he said, “That’s my son” and my brother was saved.
My Impong Trudis/Tuding (Gertrudis Faustino) had lot of rental apartments in Quiapo. She was very fond of me; she tagged me along to give her company, from the church every morning, to places in Manila in her Berlina, with her own driver, especially to collect rentals at the beginning of each month. She carried her money in big cans, (balde). She will surprise me with her hands closed, she will say, “Can you throw this in the garbage?” and when she opens it to me, I say, “This is money!” as I give it back to her, she will tell me, “Keep it and save it. At the end of the year, you will have a lot already”. She gave me a small box to keep and save them as my piggy bank. I grew up with her, but my father wanted me to sleep at home every night, as we live close by. My brothers hated it when I was with her as they feared that I may get influenced to become “sungit” (grumpy), too. But despite of that, they were very generous. They were always helping people. They sent bright students to college to study Medicine and Pharmacy. They had a doctor in the house. I also remember her sister, Impong Martina. They lived to be over hundred years old, and I saw how they turned into their second childhood, (bumalik sa pagkabata) though they remained strong and active. They grew up baby teeth that looked like irregular, sawtooth, and I saw it, indeed! Myrna always kids me, “Let me know if you’re growing some baby teeth already!" They were always dressed in Maria Clara, (Spanish style women’s fashion dress), even at home, and I used to carry their “tails” whenever they will go for a walk, especially going to church every morning. They were very religious Catholics and close to the church. On Lenten season, they had “pasyon” (continuous reading and chanting of the passion of Christ) for a month. People took turns to sing, and food flows on the table continuously. They donated a large sum of money and lands to the Catholic Church. Cardinals and Bishops came to their house to eat on fiestas and holidays that left me wondering why they did not come to anoint them in their sick bed, nor attended their funerals. And yes, I saw the priest riding his own Berlina!
My Impong “Polin”, Apolinaria Faustino Pilares was the sister of Antonina and Tacquio’s mother. She is the first cousin of Impong Tuding and Martina. She gave us a farm lot where my father built our house after moving out of Quezon province. When I got older and going to school, I looked for her and peeping through the high concrete fence, I introduced myself. She liked me and remembered me as a daughter of her niece, Antonina.
Kakang “Tacquio” Eustaquio Bordador, my rich uncle, first cousin of my mother Antonina (their mothers are sisters), dressed up like a poor man who carries a “bag of cash” riding in a Berlina. One day, he went to a jewelry store, the salesperson refused to entertain him because he was wearing his “corto” (short pants) while his Berlina was parked in the front. He was married to a mean lady, Tandang (Old) Ariang. She used to send me for errands in the market that one day, I asked her to do an errand for me, too. I asked her to drop off some stuff to my house. I told her, I did errands for her, she should do errands for me, too. She did not like that and got mad. This has taught me, to be aloof from rich people. On the other hand, as a culture, we really do not ask “utos” (commands) from our elders, Juana taught me. ~Irene Moraga Lumbrera
What Runs in the Family:
Glimpses on our life back then
It is common that cousins marry one another, that husbands are older than their wives, because they must wait for the girls to mature and be ready for marriage. This situation makes men become jealous and possessive of their wives. Men knew the trick of the trade, they showered the mother and grandmas of the women they like, so they can come in and out to visit without difficulty. One note to remember, the women in our earliest generation were short-lived. Of course, they had borne many children resulting from early marriages. Girls marry young, before they reach the age of twenty, older men have already chosen them to be their wives. Those were very tender and productive years; they bear a dozen or more children. My mother had ten children. Juana “Aning,” my eldest sister had fifteen after she married Pedro “Pedring” Evangelista, also a cousin, at a very young age. Carmen is their first child; I took care of her. She became a spoiled brat as the next sibling came not until she was three years old, while the rest came more often just after they turned over a year. She saw how Juana treated me like one of her own children, so she got the notion that she can treat me like that as well. I refused to go back to her house, but Juana begs my father, so Carmen will have a playmate, I was over four years older than her. As she got older, she got stronger and meaner. I have kept my distance farther until these days when I thought age has changed her, but to my disappointment. I remember Juana’s lessons very well, too. She told me to step on Juaning’s foot on our wedding day, to make sure that I will not be taken advantaged of (under the saya). When I got a chance, I stumped on his shoes, surprised, he asked me, “Why did you do that?” I told him, “Tradition”! This is our way of life then; we must live according to our times. My father learned to be more protective of her daughters, but still.
Our families are bright and intelligent like my father. Juana, graduated Valedictorian in high school. She married at seventeen as her older husband-to-be was already waiting for her to mature. He waited for the right time until he can grope and embrace her. She did not go to college, but she perfected good housekeeping and parenting and cooked well. She kept her house spic-and-span clean. She took good care of all her children, giving them baths every day. She took care of her younger siblings, too, as we lost our mother when we were very young. I even thought that she was my mother. She and my elder sister Emerenciana were very close and each one a support to each other. She was a very strong-willed woman, for how can she take care of us all? She had perfected the art of motherhood; from mealtimes, to knowing which child was missing, knowing each one by their names, where they sit in that long dining table, their assigned tasks, their clothes; to discipline, teaching, dressing, sending to school and all. Her success can be measured by the children she produced, all of whom were professionals. Most of her fifteen children were on the US Exchange Student Program, so that the people were saying, “another Evangelista”, if only they can complain, but there was no student brighter who qualified. Pedring, was an only son to a sibling of three girls for Paulina and Agustin, the grandparents of Juana’s children. As Paulina loves Pedring, she will cook his favorite food and bring it to the house. Juana told Paulina to stop bringing food for one, as they have a lot of children and me as well. Juana thinks it was rude to let Pedring eat while the children were looking. While my “siaho” (brother-in-law) Pedring had a lot of children, Paulina thought that she could ask for one when her daughters cannot bear children. She was looking at beautiful Juanita and started wooing her with gifts. This attempt was recognized by Juana at once and told Paulina bluntly, “I’m not giving away any of my children.” Indeed, she lived for them. All her children finished college and are now all living in the United States. Juanita, her sixth child, became a scholar here in the US as an exchange student and became a nurse. She met her husband Dr. Antonio “Tony” Toledo of Cavite, while he was an intern at St. Luke’s Hospital. They got married and came to the US where Tony practiced Medicine as a surgeon, while Nita, took care of their four children, two boys and two girls. They live in Connecticut and now have fourteen grandchildren. She was inviting me I hope I could, one day visit them. Iluminada “Lumen” graduated from accounting and landed a good job at the Land Bank. I was surprised to meet her again when I w
Politics has no place in our family. When Mario wanted to run for mayor, my father told him, “You can do business, but not politics.” My father says the last words, Mario withdrew from the race and thence on, focused on his business instead. Business runs in the family, from jewelry to gasoline, to fishing and poultry, there is always money to rake in. As a young girl, I saw how my Impos do business from manufacturing to wholesale of meat. They have a factory of chicharron (cracklings). They bought cows and carabao skin in bulk, boiled and dried in the sun. When it’s ready for deep frying, buyers from Manila were already in line. I was not allowed in the kitchen that runs day and night. But I asked the workers for a piece of crackling before everything is sold out and yummy, ‘twas good! Emerenciana, my eldest half-sister was married to a businessman and became millionaires from gasoline and auto supplies. I remember, how they were making and counting monies and not telling my father. They hid the money in the attic, in the pillows and in the car tires, then they will come to our house and see what food they can get. My father will buy extra food for them because we hid the food whenever we know she’s coming. I told her once, “Why don’t you buy your own? You have money!” When they remembered to check the monies, termites have already attacked the bills in the attic and the “utusan” (servant) discovered the pillow. My father helped them save what they can, and the rest got surrendered to the bank, useless.
My brother Mario, never wanted to go to school, instead, he wanted to go with businessmen bringing young coconut “buko” to Manila. My father used to look for him because he wanted him to go to school. Finally, when he was ready, he started all kinds of businesses, so that he became well-to-do. He started the first Funeraria Zuleta in Meycawayan, Bulacan, inspired by his godfather, Mr. Padilla from Malabon, who owned the Padilla Funeral Homes. He designed his own coffin, so beautiful with white satin lining which he used as marketing sample, never for sale at all. I remember, when we were young, we used to play in the parlor and hide in those coffins! Next to it, is a store of fresh young coconut. He was a good man, advocating for the poor, but most of all, Kuya (big brother) for us. He loans the coffins to the family just to be able to bury their dead, like my father, who buried a dead old man without any family, living in a hut near our farm. He fought for their rights to be given church services, as when the priest refuses them for their poverty and inability to give good amount of donation. He went all over Bulacan to talk to people about his funeral services. He got widowed early, leaving one child. He cried so hard, like no one can imagine, until I saw Imelda cried over my son’s death. He re-married as soon as possible, the day after the funeral. Then he built another floor (story) on top of the other. He got widowed four times and the house had four floors then. The last wife was young and stayed home most of the time, and I always told her to come down occasionally, or she too will die, nevertheless, she stayed upstairs, to prevent her distance from Mario’s children on each floor, or avoid the wagging tongue of neighbors, or probably because she’s on the fourth floor, and that’s quite high at that time, without elevators! She outlived Mario who died in his early sixties, as he was in the Quiapo Church for his Friday novenas. A neighbor from Meycawayan saw him lifeless, slouched in the pews. Before he died, he moved his family to a farm he earned by selling lands and made a compound for all his children. Today, everybody, all his grandchildren and their children stayed in this same compound, until space and legal issues arose. His son, Alfredo, took over the Funeraria Zuleta and was in-charged, he has consulted me about his clan, I told him clearly to let everybody stay there. I never heard about that issue again.
My son, Peter, continued my business when I left for the US as I cannot live with Imelda. Through my income from doing all sorts of odd jobs in New York, he was able to capitalize the building of multiple, maybe a hundred rental units in my lot and earlier farm, the frontage of which were under long-term lease with local businesses. My grandson, Paulo have a car dealership and a carwash business. He was trained by his father and made in-charged with the properties after he died. My niece, Elizabeth, the eldest daughter of Pedro has moved to Taiwan. She became a lawyer
The Lumbrera Heirloom: In Honor of My Father
Mayo Lumbrera One of his greatest blood relatives, worth mentioning is Claro M. Recto, a first cousin. They have M for Mayo in their middle names that makes Claro, my uncle. They grew up and
I had no recollection how I grew up to be without a mother. I knew it was my father who I have loved so much as he had loved me. His words became my “living bible”, I believed in him, as what he tells me were always true. I remember boasting about him when I was in grade school. When my teacher asks how I knew things, “Who told you that?” I say, “My father told me.” “Is he a teacher?” I say, “yes, he’s an engineer, too!” He is a good provider and manager of a big household by himself. It is from him that I got my talents. Like him, I built a road in my farm and my state-of-the-art house in Lipa without any professional architect. I designed a native looking house from outside, with a modern contemporary style interior. When my family traced where I lived, Juana’s surprise is beyond her wildest dreams, from the gate to the windows where I stood, she asked: “Who are you here, a maid?” Then my workers came with basketful of fruits from my orchard, and they told her, “She owns this (Sa kaniya po ito)”. Juana instantly fell in love with my house as she asked, still unbelieving, “Whose house is this?” She immediately slept on the floor as it was so clean and cool, and slept like a baby, feeling at home with me, at last, forgetting how she got so betrayed when I was converted to Iglesia! The house is surrounded by a beautiful garden, tended by my poultry workers in their spare time. Who will not fall in love with this house built with the grace of God?
With a heavy heart, I left. While I was in the house, I felt that my father has died, and I just knew it! He did not want to tell them that in my presence.
Beyond the Naked Eye: I Must be Special
I heard them say, when I was around five years old, I got sick with dysentery that I was very sick. As they brought me to the hospital, the doctor told my father that they cannot do anything anymore. So, he brought me home. He asked my sister Emerenciana to remove my clothes and bathe me with warm water and dry me up with a towel. As soon after that, I woke up and went outside to play as if nothing happened. Similarly, when I delivered my son, my blood pressure was so low to none, almost passing out, they thought I was dying, I said, “I cannot die, nobody will take care of my son!” With these near-death experiences, not once but twice, I know that I have more missions to do in my life, and yes, I am ready!
When we were growing up, my father moved us to a farm given by Impong Polin, where he built a house made of bamboo. As a young girl, I planted a seed of duhat (local black grapes/berries). Over the years, the tree grew up so tall and straight that you cannot see the top if you are under it. One day, the Japanese came by trucks. When they stopped, I warned everybody, “The Japanese are here!” Everybody, led by my father quickly went in the underground pit which he built for air raids during the war. I did not see anyone so fast that I got nervous. I needed to hide as the Japanese were there with their long riffles with sharp-ended knives on the tip (bayonets), ready to kill anyone near or far. I ran to climb my Duhat tree to hide, so fast until I reached the top. Meanwhile, my father already knew I was missing in the pit as he counted everyone. "If something happens to Irene, somebody here will be responsible," he warned my brothers. They quickly said, “Don’t worry, she’s fine. She knows how to hide.” "How did you know that?" "Because we play “taguan” (hide and seek)! So, the sun had set, was getting dark, and the Japanese were gone. Then I shouted to my father “I’m here but I can’t go down!” They tied ladders together, then my father and brothers held a sack below to catch me, like a ripe fruit falling down from a tree, just in case. Then I’ve realized that this little seed I planted will save me in the end. Isn’t that God’s plan wonderful?
There were so many parents wanting me to be the godmother (ninang) of their children, even if I was so young in grade school. There was a Lydia Fadera who wanted me to be her godmother when she gets married. Like another young woman who I do not know, so sick in the hospital when I met her. I prayed for her, and she got well. She told me that she would like me to be her ninang when she gets married. Time passed, until I met her again as she was able to trace where I lived, and I became her ninang. And so, I did, same with all the people in Lipa where everyone knew me. They shouted my name when their sons, daughters, parents, husbands, and wives die. They cannot forget me for being there in their time of need, as I cried with them that they did not feel alone.
Like Mrs. Lopez who said I was “Beautiful” and gave me a job in-charged of payroll to her five hundred employees when computers were still a dream. Her lawyer filled in the application form for me with her directions. And Carla, the old rich woman in the Hamptons looking for a companion who called me, “My friend”, even if she just saw me for the first time. Like Pam, the personal assistant to Donald Trump who gave me the job to be her assistant while on my way out after the receptionist told me that there was no vacancy. And Ka Pilar who called me from the choir with just a description of “the doctor’s wife” to be the leader of the choir, first, within the group, then to the national. I have no idea of this hidden charm. Last week, as Eloisa my friend, reconnected me to Mrs. Cushman, my previous employer, she said to me; “How is my wonderful lady?” I felt so good to know that in the end of those long years of service, I made a mark, as a “lady” and a “wonderful” one from a lady, and a wonderful one, herself. They may be feeling or seeing something beyond the naked eye? The young lawyer and filmmaker called it “aura” as he held my hands during an interview, further describing it as if I, myself is a “special messenger of some kind”. When the elders and church administration questions Kapatid na Felix about me and my role in the Iglesia, he tells them, “Irene is special, do not touch her, leave her alone”. And my father knew that too, as he said in his last words, “Irene is special, and I could feel that. Please take care of her”. And hey, wait, what about those million chickens in my poultry farm who stopped and paused from feeding and stayed in full attention until I passed by them when they see me coming for my rounds?
When I was new in New York, some thirty years ago, I used to go to the Kapilya in Long Island City. Upon knowing I came from the Central with my transfer letter, the head of deacons assigns me to lead the prayers each time we have a meeting or function and was announced in the circular. When people knew I will be praying, they all came hurriedly to join the prayers. It went on every week, until one of them, probably jealous, came to ask me, “How come you are so special to lead all these prayers?”. Then I told him, “Why don’t you ask your wife? She’s the one choosing and assigning me.”
~Irene Moraga Lumbrera
My mother died when I was two years old. I was left in the care of my sister, Juana, who became my mother and sister. As the youngest of the children, I was always left with my two younger brothers to play with until everyone comes home from school. I remember so well that there is a woman "who does not talk" watching us. She was always there. One day, as I was playing, my doll caught fire, and it spread so fast to burn my hair. The woman turned the fire off, as my two brothers were helpless. That night, as we were having dinner, my father noticed my hair and asked, “What happened to your hair?” We told him about the incident and the woman who helped me. He asked, “how does she look?” As we described her, it was her significant long hair that identified and related to my father. Then my father ordered my sister to dress me in red, to protect me from the “woman”, my imaginary friend, who I later found to be my mother!
My mother was an only child, orphaned early by her mother, so that she was raised in a convent in Manila, La Consolacion, together with her cousin Michaela who later became a mother superior, while Ingkong Igmidio remained a widower for the rest of his life. My mother left the convent and became a jeweler like her father. From her collections, she assigned me a big black diamond ring which I later pawned to support my textile business. My father met my mother during one of their business trips to Quezon Province. She joins my Ingkong in horse-driven caravans from Meycawayan and stays in the house of my father’s godfather. They got married and had seven children of their own as my mother had already three children from an earlier marriage and was widowed. Growing up into a young adult, I was missing my mother and I wanted to trace her footsteps. When I interned at La Consolacion, I was able to see her class pictures from the convent's library. Her classmates became my teachers and were fond of me as Antonina’s daughter. I used to scare one of the nuns, my mother’s classmate who was then taking care of me, as she said, “You are like your mother!” My mother had strikingly a very long hair, which were cut upon her death and stored in a "baul" (wooden safe) located in the middle of our living room that had always made me and my brothers curious that one day, we succeeded in opening it, and saw it filled with our mother’s hair inside. When my father learned about it, he told us, it was our mother’s hair as her remembrance. From then, we respected the “baul” as if our mother was there.
As a sole heir holding the titles of her inheritance, her natural kindness made her lend them to her cousin Sabrina without papers, just because “they were cousins”. On her deathbed, she wants to get them back for her children, but gone are our family treasures to greed and deceit. I grew up hearing about Aunt Sabrina who took our lands. One day, she came to our house in a new car. I went and rode in the car and refused to get out. I told them, “This is our car, that’s our house, it is my mother’s!” Later, we found out that nothing happened to those lands, Aunt Sabrina’s children did not want to go to school and just squandered the family heirloom to vice and caprices. ~Irene Moraga Lumbrera
"But seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you" Matthew 6:33
I belong to a truly catholic family, “Sarado Katolico”. My aunts have statues of saints “reboltos” in the house that we bring to processions in town. The bishop is a family friend who comes to pass-by for breakfast before he celebrates mass on holidays, a tradition passed on from our Spanish culture. I used to gather Sampaguita and make leis for these "diyos-diyosan"(false gods). At fifteen, I was brought by my father to the convent of La Consolacion to become a nun. But in a twist of fate, I fell on the stairs and had fever, they cannot explain. Juaning tried to visit me with his doctor friends, but I refused to see him. When the Mother Superior wanted me to go and rest in the Mother House provincial convent, I told them that I will go home instead, so they called my older brother to pick me up. While at my Impo’s house, Juaning got a chance to kiss me on my cheek, got married and moved to Manila close to North General Hospital where he worked before he went to the United States.
In God’s amazing ways, I met a market vendor, who volunteered to give me back my lost wallet with everything on it untouched. The wallet was a gift from my husband who was then in the US. This older woman, ….. became instrumental for me to get introduced to Iglesia Ni Cristo (Church of Christ). I was impressed by her genuine kindness and honesty as she proudly claimed she is an Iglesia Ni Cristo. We became friends naturally and my mind and heart were ultimately nurtured to a living God’s words in the Bible. I went against my family’s will and was converted to Iglesia in 1950 at the age of twenty-one. They disowned, mocked, hurt, and persecuted me (inusig). My husband tried everything to keep me in the Catholic church. He used to take me to Espiritu Santo, a Catholic church and when he tells me to kneel beside him and pray to the wooden statues, I told him, "These false gods (diyos-diyosan) are not moving. I will not believe in them!" Instead, I went to the Iglesia across the street.
My sister Juana urged my husband to leave me. I learned to live on my own with only the words of God guiding me. As a young woman, getting estranged from my family is not an easy choice. But my faith and bond with God is already strong. I took everything that came from my denouncement of my Catholic faith. One day, my husband wanted me to join him in the US. He followed me to the Central where I was then with Ka “Erdy” Eraño Manalo, whom I have asked for advice. I do not want to immigrate to the US because of the fear that there is no Iglesia in New York. My husband was so angered by my choice. He left with a heavy heart until after a year, when my roommate said, “there’s a man near our house walking around back and forth”, it was him and I let him in. He bought a twelve-thousand-peso house for me in Quezon City, my first home. There he came every year for three months and lived like a normal husband and wife, unknown to my family particularly Juana whom she lives with in New York. It was always God and Iglesia dividing us. I always thought and pondered; if he believed in God as I have, if he embraced Iglesia as I had, could it have been different with us? Could it have been a happy ending as we “lived happily ever after”? I never had remorse, I never had to look back why. My faith has always been like the day I accepted Christ and denounced the Catholic Church. I never regretted my conversion, ever. I have been devoted and got closer to God every day of my life. I found God once and will stay forever. I am not the first one to become Iglesia in my family. My elder sister Florencia became an Iglesia, she too, was estranged from the family, and moved to Manila far from home. She married an American officer in the army, who was converted, and all her children were reared Iglesia. Her firstborn daughter is Norma, who grew up with us since she was a baby until she’s ready for high school. We took alternate times to take care of her who learned how to talk so late at eight years old. As the doctor said, “She’s not deaf nor mute, but she will speak soon and by then she will be very talkative, as she will remember everything she has heard”, she did, and she was until now. She called me from California recently and I cannot stay long with the conversation as I got short of breath listening to her. She’s married to one of the grandsons of the late Gil Puyat from his only daughter. Dottie Macaraig, Norma’s daughter, who lives in California, whom I have seen when she was a baby was able to trace me through Face Book. The rest of the siblings are now based in Houston Texas engaged in a family business of hotel and hospitality. ~Irene Moraga Lumbrera
We were third cousins and born far apart by ten years. He always knew that he loves me. Juan, "Juaning" Urian had always loved me as much from the first time he saw me. As I was so young, he waited for years. He was a relative so he can come to my Impo’s house without a problem. He walks me to school. I hated mathematics, so he helps me with my homework, and I got used to it. One day, he did it all wrong purposely. As I raised my hand to recite, everybody laughed at me. From then I never ask him to do my homework again! He was already a doctor when he comes to our house every afternoon. As a relative he is always welcomed. He walks with me in the plaza, and I could sense him looking at me as he will tell me not to wear short skirts. It is not unusual that he accompanies me to my afternoon strolls in the “población” (center of the town). I did not suspect his intensions to court me as I only knew that he is a relative.
When I was sixteen and fresh from the convent, he stole a kiss on my cheek when he was in my grandparent’s (Impo's) house. Incidentally, that night, I cannot sleep. As I looked by the window, I saw the fire coming from the movie house. There were no gunshots to warn the people, but the police’s whistles. I woke my family up and tried to save the rebolto’s heads (statues) protected in sacks, so heavy that I cannot carry them. I pushed them by the stairs into the ground. Broken, we lost them all as our house went on fire that destroyed all the houses in the neighborhood. Then I realized that these statues are false gods, unable to save themselves! Then I needed to stay at my sister Juana’s house. At that time, my sister noticed that I was kind of restless and Juaning comes every day and she started to wonder. I told her that I am pregnant by Juaning, and he was ready to ask for my hand in marriage. I believed that once there was a contact between a man and a woman, there will be a pregnancy as Juana told me so. His father and sister did not like me because of my known fearlessness “babaeng may balbas” (woman with a beard) if not a plain spoiled brat that I am. Nevertheless, we both agreed as he loves me, and I am “pregnant”. Against all odds, we got married when I was seventeen. He took a two-week vacation from the hospital, and we went to Baguio. I was a teenager, basically a child, with no education on married life or husband-wife relationships. We stayed at the pride of Baguio, the Pines Hotel. There was the biggest nightmare we both will never forget, as I did not know there’s more to our relationship after the dining out and going places. I became a defensive “prey” to an “assailant”. I ran through the stairs while he was after me, as he fears that I will go to the streets. The doorman saw us and asked, “Weren’t you the newlyweds?” Then Juaning told me to come back to the room and he will not do “anything”. With all my self-defenses, the night passed, two weeks passed, and the year passed that nothing happened. He changed his ways to please me, not as a child, but a maturing woman he is in loved with. He brought me flowers and gifts; we went places; rode with me in the ferries wheel to see the skyline of Manila; we dined out; he goes to market and cooked for me. He respected me and we became friends after over a year, until I started falling for him and missing him. One day, I went to the hospital and was waiting for him, the janitor recognized me and went to Juaning who was still working with a patient. He gave the message that I was there and that quenched his fatigue. We held hands as we led home. He made me his personal reviewer as he studied Medicine. I needed to read his medical books so that I can help him to review and study for his Board Examinations. In his short family practice in our town, he kiddingly told me once: “do not tell my patients anything” because he knew I understood Medicine well and might give orders, too. He forgot to tell me, “Do not tell your doctors that you know Medicine, so when I became a patient myself, I treated them as “colleagues”. As Dr. Maranan was to do a Cesarian Section for me with my pregnancy, I was fully awake, so I can see what he is doing. So, before he sent me to Recovery, I told him that I have a lump in my arm, I could feel many nodules. He did not like to do it, but I told him, “Remove it!” So, it was true, he removed a mass like a bunch of grapes. Similarly, when I felt that my belly was getting big, looking almost pregnant, I had it x-rayed on my own. Then I went to Dr. Enriquez, head of the OB-GYN in Manila Doctors, I wanted her to operate on my “myoma”, she did not want to do it, as she thinks I was pregnant. We were arguing hard and the doctors in her department. As I was sure of what it was and that it needed surgery, I wanted her to remove my uterus and the fallopian tubes. When she finally opened it, I was awake, too, indeed it was a myoma. She told me I needed to be in the hospital for a week after surgery. After three days, I got restless as I remembered my chicken farm. We have to do howling (harvesting) per schedule, or the chicken will grow each time they are fed, and I will lose millions in revenue. Magnolia and San Miguel corporation will not buy chicken more than one and a half kilos each. They were very strict on this standard. So, I went home against medical advice. Dr. Enriquez said angrily to me “If anything happens to you, I will not treat you anymore!” So, I went home and did howling. On the process, I felt chilly. I asked my nurse to warm water up and give me a body wash, I felt better, but I returned to the hospital anyway to complete my recovery. I brought plenty of chicken for the medical team as my gift.
When we moved to Manila as he worked in North General Hospital, he got two maids for me, one to clean and cook, the other, to be my companion as I go to Kapilya (House of Worship), market, and other places. When he comes home, I send the maids away and if he asks, I told him that I can manage. Indeed, I had too much time on my hand that I applied as a salesgirl in a pharmacy. He did not want me to work, but I kept my job as I loved it and the owners loved me, too, for my honesty. After a year, he wanted me to wait for him from the hospital after his work. I held the umbrella over our heads on our way home. Soon he got a contract to work in New York. My husband became a surgeon in New York’s Bellevue Hospital. He loved me truly and came home to visit me every summer or winter, unknown to my family whom he lives with in New York. For many years he came, until distance ultimately gave in a gap as well as the constant prodding by my family to leave me. He left me for twelve years, that my brothers brought him to court for rape as I was a young girl when he married me. It was a mess, but he was a doctor, and was able to fix it. He never knew I got a son by him, as I connived with my doctor until 1986 when he saw Boyet for the first time. When he got sick, he asked my family to look for me. They put announcements on newspapers and radio. One day, they saw my name on the Pen Pal Column of the local Komiks (comics magazine) as one of my workers used my address. Through my niece, Lumen who knew of my businesses as she became my consultant for holding executive positions in Land Bank, my siblings led by Juana found me in Lipa where I have my farm. They went to the bank and asked for me. They passed by the post office and asked the local postman. They were surprised to see me in a situation far from their thoughts and asked me, “Whose house is this?” Juaning has come to visit me in Lipa several times. The first time he met Boyet, who was twelve years old then, was very emotional, “Lumukso ang dugo” (an idiom in Tagalog that shows a strong feeling of familiarity or closeness because of a blood relationship). From the gate, they were already holding hands, when I saw them in the sala (living room) my son is already sitting on his lap. Juaning told me that he looks so much like me. I did not tell him, “Because Boyet is your son!” He hugged and kissed the boy so hard, so long as he asked Boyet in curiosity, "Where is your father?" I have always told my family that Boyet is my adopted son. When I came to New York, I saw Juaning once more but the last time. It was a bittersweet scene as I told him more about our son. He got cancer of the throat from smoking. He died and was buried in Flushing Cemetery in Queens, New York. Peter learned the truth about his father, who was twenty-two years old then, but he was reared up as an Iglesia, he did not feel the difference. It did not matter to him anymore. We held hands as he tried to grasp the truth. Could it be that he was happy, or he just forgave me for being as hard a woman he loved, nevertheless? In his weak voice he whispered, “I have always loved you” and to him I have said, I have never loved anybody but him. In his deathbed, he kept saying my name as he told my sister Juana to look for me and say how sorry he was for leaving me and wanted my forgiveness. After his death, Juana came to deliver the message to me personally and coupled it with her own repentance for all the things she has done to hurt me for finding God on my own.
~Irene Moraga Lumbrera
Peter: My Legacy Keeper
I was barren for fifteen years; I cannot bear children. I had very difficult menstruations that sometimes I turn blue in severe pain. My husband arranged a surgery for me to improve the anatomy of my uterus. They put a ring, “tarol” to keep my uterus open. Surely, it fixed my problem and after a year, I missed my menstruation for five months without any symptom. I consulted Dr. Maranan, a friend of Juaning, and told me that I was pregnant. I asked him to keep it from my husband, with the fear that Juaning will take my son and baptize him Catholic. He delivered my son by caesarian section at Manila Doctors Hospital in 1963, I named him Peter “Boyet” Lumbrera, I was thirty-four years old. He saw my son after twelve years and in surprise, he said, “he looks like you and Juaning!” Hiding Peter from his father was like a crime that must be perfect, but sometimes, it needs an accomplice more than myself. One time, Juaning was coming home for a visit, I sent the baby away to hide. I made the house in order, no trace of baby Peter. When he sees children stuff like baby's shoes, he just thinks that I love children and never asked. He never thought that I can hide anything, much more of his son! I got my son a special baby nurse, as I did not want anything to happen while I was at work. When he turned one year old, I took him wherever I was and raised him the best I could, like the father who wants the best for his son. I took him when I met with Ka Erdy in the Central.
I taught him the value of money, industry, faith, health, and all. A perfectly fine man and the greatest Fruit of my Salvation!
I have never loved anybody more than my son. He was everything to me, we had fun together, alone in far Calaca. When he was growing up, I used to invite young children to play with him. I will bathe them first, then they will eat and play until Boyet got tired and says to his playmates, “Go home, play time is over, no more!” I gave him a big golden Buddha piggy bank, where he will put and save the money that I give him. I always prepared his school lunch, so he cannot spend all his allowance. Every time he drops the coin in his bank, he will carry it and say, “It’s getting heavy!” One time, I needed money, I opened it and got most of it. When he found out, I told him, don’t worry, it will multiply, showing all the baby buddhas on the buddha’s belly. One day, I got the money back, I gave him a coin to drop in his bank. As he carried it, he exclaimed, “the money multiplied!” He saw me always writing checks. One day, when I was away and he needed money, he wrote and signed a check like me and went to the bank. As the tellers knew him as my son, the manager called him and gave him money, after which they called and told me. It’s thirty thousand! I taught him how to be independent and sent him to far Eastern University as he entered high school. For college, I sent him to Central Philippine University in Iloilo, so he will become more disciplined and independent. I stayed in Iloilo for a while to feel and learn more about this special private school. I visited the campus and met the school president as I was referred to by Iglesia. I thought it was excellent, I entrusted him to the dormitory manager myself, and after a while, I went to check up on him. I was surprised and proud as the manager told me how good and disciplined my son was. I remembered, how Boyet refused to enroll in ROTC because he did not want to cut his shoulder-long hair. I approached the Director and he said, “Don’t worry, we will not force him. I will find an excuse to tell them that he is exempted because he has asthma”. Boyet did not like to be known as asthmatic, so that he agreed to cut his hair, and the director said, “The crew cut becomes you!” He wanted to study Medicine, but I told him to become a veterinarian instead, so he can take care of our animals. I remembered, as he said, “animals do not talk” as he hesitated, nevertheless, he became one, and the only graduate among two hundred fifty students who was able to write a book. As his classmates needed on-the-job training and further studies, I took four of them as interns in my chicken farm. Then I personally taught and trained them, both to become responsible young men, and doctors of animal.
Boyet and Mel had three children, the first born were twins. We did not expect that, though Juaning had a history of twins in his family. They were expecting a boy and a girl, when they turned out both boys, we named them Princely I, “Butsoy” and Princely II, “Bunsoy”. I made sure that they have airconditioned rooms, so they will not fuss as very tiny infants. When they were around five years old, I enjoyed as they enjoyed, spending time in Manila with me, in malls, in parks, in fairs and rides. That was short lived, as Imelda saw the growing fondness of the children with me, she stopped with fears that the boys will become Lola’s boys like my son as a Mama’s boy. Paulo, the third son, was naturally close to me even if he did not see me while growing up, either. I provided for them, from their shoes to their schooling. The twins became nurses, while Paulo, became a computer professional with Bachelor of Science in Information Technology. When I returned home from the US the last time, they did not meet me nor took the time to know me as their Impo Nene. We had an argument instead. We were estranged but Paulo called me as soon as I arrived back in New York. Peter Paul "Paulo" married Katherine Dacillo. He invited me to visit him in Italy, while he was there. I have my joys knowing I’m a great grandma to a baby girl, Pimi, from Princely I, while waiting for Bunsoy to marry his girlfriend in Taiwan. Paulo has moved back from Italy and now has a car dealership in a suburb of Manila.
I thought that Peter loves me the same, until he fell into the trap of loving another that would become the mother of his children. He must have loved her so much, that he will marry her with or without my blessing. He learned to disobey me, he fell in love with Imelda (Mel) Reyes, a young woman from Pampanga and someone not an Iglesia whom he met after college. He followed her in Cagayan where she was vacationing with her brother. I went looking for my son as he did not tell me where he was. It took me a day to reach far away Cagayan. I was not able to bring him home as he said he will take care of his business first and will go home as soon as possible. When he came, he brought Imelda to Lipa and did not tell me either, until Imelda’s father who is a military man came in with soldiers in a six by six looking for his daughter. Nevertheless, I got them married after a year as Imelda got converted first, Peter was twenty-one and she was barely eighteen. I was no longer the Queen of the kitchen, but I do not want to lose him. I gave them a home in the same compound where I was, complete with everything. My greatest ally, my son will fight for me, I thought. But I ended up solving my problem. Doesn’t my son, whom I have taught my principles, see that, and let me be forsaken? I do not keep resentments, but deep in my heart, I do not understand my Peter. I should have taught him more, to be tough when life gets tougher and fight for the things that matter and obey the golden rules to honor his mother, and not to covet her lands and home! But then again, it must be destiny that he met Imelda, who became his shadow. Looking back, they have survived the test of time, as they reached their fourth decade of marriage, longer than the time I spent with him. I have accepted that, as I have always prayed for his happiness and well-being. On the other hand, Boyet loved me, too, from the bottom of his heart. When I got sick and hospitalized in Manila, he came to visit every afternoon, after school, by himself, he was twelve years old. And in my old age, the last time I came home, as he and Imelda picked me up in the airport, he saw me in a wheelchair. His tears rolled down his cheeks. When he settled me up, he went to buy something. Eager I was to reach home after a long flight, we waited for him. He was gone few hours, he said he got lost because he was sobbing, and cannot believe how old I have become. When we were about to get into the car, I got up as fast as if nothing is wrong with me, “mabilis pa sa alas cuatro”! (faster than four o’clock)
Peter has multiplied himself by three folds, and that could have gotten me stronger in my golden years. But I cannot win them all, just the good thoughts that one day, I will hear the sweetest voices of little children calling on me, Impo! Impo! (Grandma! Grandma!) Are you our Impo Irene? Yes, Karvin! Yes, Kali! Yes, Pimi and Primo! I love you all! ~Irene Moraga Lumbrera
The Alluring Evil in Our Midst
I loved my life in New York where I was for the past thirty years. It was home for me until I was getting old and sickly. A couple of years ago, for the first time, Peter and Imelda invited me to go home for good. I felt loved and ready to surrender. It was a good feeling, but something is not right. I was just waiting in due time, I could sense. My town itself has changed. On our way home, I saw a beautiful Memorial Park Garden, that I thought would be nice for my resting place. I spent a quarter million pesos to buy myself a plot. I was feeling energetic and hopeful that I wanted to build a grocery near my home. I thought I will enjoy it and do business once more, but Peter told me, “You cannot do that anymore, Ma. We gave them to our children.” I was very disappointed, I felt a stub on my chest, “Why did you do that? I’m still alive!” For me, it is still for him, it will still be theirs, but it was not time. He forged my signature, as he did when he cashed a thirty-thousand-peso check from my account. My plan was to give it to my son, for him to get by in his old age. Peter said, “They will not do it to me, they are good children.” Then I told him, “You were also good, Peter. But you have done it to me!” ~Irene Moraga Lumbrera
I cannot leave Irene guilty of treason. It is taking a lot of emotional intelligence and courage to talk about this because of its highly sensitive nature. She would not hurt Peter at all. However, it has a lot of impact on why she ended up retiring in a place far away from home. Is it not in her dream to go back to the Philippines and enjoy the rest of her life with her son? Her long absence from home have paid. She became estranged from her son somewhat. Where is Peter who she has trained to be strong? Where is he who will keep her legacy and protect her in old age? She cannot blame him. She left him in the care of a woman who knows how to lure a weak soul! She loves him so much and will always protect him. She kept her calm so she will win with the temptations around her, taking cover under her heir and legend keeper. In her mind, it is no longer protecting Peter, but this time protecting herself. How will you protect yourself from the evil in your midst? The countless insatiable hunger for money, to the pettiest crime of drowning Irene's cellphone in water! In her bitterness and jealousy of Irene, she threw the imported China wares Irene sent them, as hard as she could in the marbled floor and turned into million pieces. They falsified Irene’s signature and transferred the properties to their names, not dividing among their children, the treatment she gave Irene, the imprisonment in her own home, keeping food from Irene. Does Irene deserve these at all? ~MDS
"How will I survive these without God's wisdom through me, against this daughter dear who has perfected how to test me from evil and temptation, how can she think of all these while my son is looking? I know no way, but leave her unharmed, for that I know, Peter will be spared from pain. I swallowed my pride, I bit my tongue and tamed my temper as Imelda grew from a 17-year-old innocent girl to a highly ambitious woman, who gained two more heads in the end. How can I survive this kind of “ulupong” (snake), who can only come from the dark! My God has saved me from this venomous snake with three heads, like the snake I saw in my poultry farm, that over time, crows like chicken as it blended with its prey. Her temptation crafts are the best I have seen in my entire life, but I am more powerful as God has given me his wisdom to survive and appropriately dance with evil, equally as wise. Love is what I learned as the most important shield in these treacherous challenges. As I love my son, I will use love and emotional intelligence to fight back. Peter has doubts, unsure, as he whispered to me on our way to the airport, “Ma, will Mel still change?” I can only say, “Pray for her. You must live with everything that she is because God has put you together in marriage. And it must stay like that forever.” On the other end, Mel whispered to me something I didn’t expect, “Ma, don’t forget to send us money.” My personal triumph over evil is over. I do not know where Peter’s heart is. He denied me over and over. But I know, he will always be my son, my legacy and heirloom keeper, to whom I gave my all. And that is my gain. ~Irene Moraga Lumbrera
He always told me that he was not eating well and have pains in his abdomen. I knew there was something wrong, but he always denied. He looked haggard and had lost weight each time we do facetime. Few days before his birthday, I called to greet him, unknowing that it will be his last. One fateful day, his son called me that his father, Boyet is dead. I cried so hard because I thought and felt that I did not have enough time with him. I sent him to college in a city far from home because I thought he will learn to be independent; he got married shortly after college. Then I left for America some thirty years ago. Thanks to Face Time and Messenger, I had seen him so close as I held my cellphone close to my chest, lying in my bed. Then I thought of the burial plot I bought for me with my last money, over two hundred fifty thousand pesos. On my way to the airport as we pass by the Memorial Park, after I have decided to go back to America and never return, I silently thought, “who will be interred here first?”
The grief was so much knowing that I outlived my only and beloved son. On that Sunday, he was buried, Myrna planned so I can see Boyet for the last time. I was able to see it from the beginning as they left the funeral parlor until they entombed him with concrete. Then I remembered how I told Boyet that his father was dead when he was young as he covered the doll under the ground with dirt. My gratitude to Paulo as he held his phone steadily so I will not miss a single blink. I heard Imelda cry the hardest among the quiet friends marching with them. I still hear her sobs and felt her pain. Dressed in my best white and made up to attend a funeral fitted for my son, I felt my presence among them as I silently wept and never got my eyes off the casket. I followed him until the end after everyone was gone. Days of phone calls from the Philippines all night that I got confused with time when I called my friends in New York in the middle of the night! That gave me a break from my grief, a few bouts of laughter. Today, I still thought he is alive as I will start to look for him in the Messenger, until I realize that he's gone, forever. ~Irene Moraga Lumbrera
I had no recollection how I grew up to be without a mother. I knew it was my father who I have loved so much as he had loved me. His words became my “living bible”, I believed in him, as what he tells me were always true. I remember boasting about him when I was in grade school. When my teacher asks how I knew things, “Who told you that?” I say, “My father told me.” “Is he a teacher?” I say, “yes, he’s an engineer, too!” He is a good provider and manager of a big household by himself. It is from him that I got my talents. Like him, I built a road in my farm and my state-of-the-art house in Lipa without any architect. I designed a native looking house from outside, with a modern contemporary style interior. The house is surrounded by a beautiful garden, tended by my poultry workers in their spare time.
With a heavy heart, I left. While I was in the house, I felt that my father has died, and I just knew it! He did not want to tell them that in my presence.