The Legend of Irene Moraga Lumbrera
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
My Baby Steps
white socks and black shoes. (Later on, this style became to be known as “momo dress”, so it must be a good taste after all). The way she dressed me created a ‘weird’ look, so different from all the young girls in my neighborhood. She ” (nerd), so people will think I am dumb. The more they made me “different”, my cousin Juaning got more interested and infatuated. Like a hawk, he watched me grow through the years until he can kiss me. His love was true until the end.
I told my father about my relationship with Juana and evens up both sides by saying to her “You are very lucky to see your mother, but Irene did not.” I was always close to my father and have confided in him. He never got mad at me, but I could feel his fondness listening to my childish talks. As a young child, I did not like when it rains. Rain has always made me very sad and continuous crying that my father will carry me all day long. When I was ready, he sent me to a boarding school in Manila, La Concordia, and stayed for few years, using my mother’s fund. I always believe whatever my father has told me. I love him. He treated me like his most precious possession, the youngest of his 10 children. I am the apple of his eyes, maybe because I am the last memory of my mother? And on his deathbed surrounded by all his children, he wanted me to be secured, he willed me to my siblings as he told them, "Irene is special and I know it."
were buddies who used to study by the light posts in Luneta.
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. He is a good provider and manager of a big household by himself.
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 Antonina 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. My mother left the convent and became a jeweler like her father. From her collection, 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 her business trips to Quezon. 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 a previous marriage. 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. She strikingly had a very long hair, which were cut upon her death and stored in a " baul" located in the middle of our living room that had always made me and my brothers curious.
As a sole heir holding the titles of her inheritance, her natural kindness made her lend them to her cousins 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 and refused to get out. I told them, “This is our car, that’s our house, it is my mother’s!
"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/Cerrado Catolico”. 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 Sampagita and make leis for these "diyos-diyosan"(false gods). At fifteen, I was brought by my father to the convent of La Concordia to become a nun. But in a twist of fate, I got married and we moved to Manila close to North General Hospital where my husband 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. I was impressed by her genuine kindness and honesty as she proudly claimed she is an Iglesia in 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 me, mocked me, hurt me. They 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. I was then with 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. But nevertheless, have come to visit me every year, unknown to my family. He bought a twelve-thousand-peso house for me in Quezon City, my first home. There he came to me every year for three months and lived like a normal husband and wife.
It was always God and Iglesia Ni Cristo 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.
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 tried to visit me in the convent with his doctor friends but I refused to see him. 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. 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”.
When I was sixteen, he stole a kiss from me 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 three Impo’s up and tried to save the rebolto’s heads 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 needed to stay at my sister Juana’s house. At that time, my sister noticed that he is coming every day and asked why. 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. Juana told me so because she is always pregnant. She had fifteen children. His father and sister did not like me because of my known fearlessness 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 made me his personal reviewer as he studied Medicine. I needed to read his medical books so that I can assist 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. 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 constantly coached by my family to leave me. When he got sick, he asked my family to look for me. They put announcements on newspapers and radio. 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 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?” Then they brought me to New York and saw Juaning once more but the last time. It was a bittersweet scene as I told him of our son. 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.
Peter: My Legacy Keeper
I was barren for 15 years; I cannot bear children. I had a very difficult menstruation 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 5 months without any symptom. I consulted my doctor when he told me I am pregnant. I asked him to keep it from my husband, with the fear Juaning will take my son and baptized 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. 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 am 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.
He never knew I got a son by him, as I connived with my doctor until 1986, when I must tell him the truth in his deathbed. He got cancer of the throat from smoking. He died and was buried in a Flushing cemetery in Queens, New York, without seeing his son, Peter who was 22 years old then. Peter learned the truth about his father, but he was grown up as an Iglesia, he did not feel the difference. It did not matter to him anymore. I taught him the value of money, industry, faith, health, and all. A perfectly fine man!
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 get tired and say 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, I give him. I always prepare 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 some 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!
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 5 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 Mel saw the growing fondness of the children with me, she stopped with fears that the boys will become Lola’s boys like my son with me. Paolo, 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 Paolo, became a computer engineer. 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 were estranged. Paolo married Katherine Dacillo and have a son. 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 from Princely I, while waiting for Bunsoy to marry his girlfriend in Taiwan. Paolo 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), a woman from Pampanga and someone not an Iglesia. Nevertheless, I got them married after a year as Imelda got converted first, Peter was twenty-one and she was barely eighteen. I am 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 am, 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, she became his shadow. Looking back, they have survived the test of time, as they are now on 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.
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! Are you our Impo Irene?
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 Mel 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 am 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. 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!”
Evil in Our Midst
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. 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 to 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 most petty crime of drowning Irene's cellphone in water! They divided her properties among their children, the treatment she gave Irene, the imprisonment in her own home. "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 girl to a highly ambitious evil, who gained two more heads in the end. How can I survive this kind of “ulupong”, who can only come from the devil! 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, likewise as wise. Love is what I learned, the most important tool 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, “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. 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.