‘At the lowest points in my life, mother was always there’

Fortunata Alido Pinguel

By Baltazar Pinguel

During the past five years or so, it has been my practice to make sure that by May Day, I would have mailed my Mother’s Day card to the Philippines. I did this to be sure that my mother, Fortunata Alido Pinguel, received it in time for the occasion. As an only child, I felt it was my sacred obligation to make sure she gets one every second Sunday of May. I think it was during one of my weekly overseas calls in April 2009 when my mother advised me to skip sending her Mother’s Day cards. She said that our weekly conversation was enough. It seemed like she had this impression that sending Mother’s Day cards to the Philippines cost an awful lot of money. She must have thought that a special day to remember one’s mother is unnecessary.

November 2006 was my first visit to the country after 18 years of absence and during that time, my mother contracted pneumonia and was confined at a hospital in Novaliches for several days. Conscious of the expenses for her increasingly frequent hospitalizations, she reminded me to be careful in my spending. I think she started computing the amount I was sending back to the Philippines: her monthly allowance, the occasional ‘balikbayan’ boxes of groceries and vitamins, the telephone bills for my weekly overseas calls and, yes, the Mother’s Day cards. I told her I didn’t mind sending her the card, but she was emphatic about it.

This past May Day it occurred to me that for 2011, I had no Mother’s Day card to send. It felt downright strange to me. My mother died July 5, 2010. It was barely July 5 in Philadelphia and I was asleep for less than an hour after watching the Fourth of July fireworks and the 11 o’clock local news that followed when I was awakened by a call from my cousin in Manila informing me that my mother died.

My mother had a serious relapse of pneumonia in September 2009, after she got soaked overnight in the floods caused by Typhoon Ondoy. For two days I was anxious about her situation as I was not able to make connections to Manila with my overseas call. I only learned about her situation and on what happened to our home in Novaliches after making a frantic status entry on Facebook urgently requesting FB friends in Manila to search for my mother. A Facebook friend affiliated with a UP fraternity doing rescue search at her barangay located her and informed me she was safe. I was able to contact her by phone when the lines were restored two day after the flood. In my conversations with my cousin and nieces, my mother’s home companions, I was able to piece things together as to what happened during the flood.

Nita with son Bal, then in high school

The water was up to my mother’s chest inside our house. My cousin had instructed my mom and an old lady friend of hers to stay on top of her dining table to keep their bodies dry. Despite forceful advice from my cousin and nieces to stay on top of the table and avoid getting wet, my mother was insistent in personally making sure that a ‘baul’ (trunk) full of my things were secured. I guess I made the mistake during my 2006 visit in instructing my mother to keep my ‘things’ safe as these were valuable to me. My ‘things’ were nothing more than a collection of mimeographed manifestos from the First Quarter Storm of 1970, posters, stacks of Philippine Collegian during my UP years, clippings of news articles, etc. My mother took it upon herself to be the custodian of my things, making sure some of these mementos were safe even during the 14 years of martial law. I was intending to donate them to Arkibong Bayan. Unfortunately nothing was spared by Ondoy.

My mother’s situation worsened after Ondoy. She was practically in and out of the hospital in Fairview for the rest of 2009, until her death the following year. From my weekly calls with her I could sense how she was getting concerned over the costs of her hospitalization and medication.

Unfortunately for all of us, the tragic events of 2009 did not end with Ondoy and my mother’s relapse. By the end of October, my wife and I who were both working in the same non-profit organization were informed that we were being laid off. The economic crisis of 2008 had hit the non-profit sector so badly because of declining revenues. Up to the last minute my wife and I were clinging to the illusion that things will not be that bad and one of us, somehow, will be retained at work. Things, however, did not turn out that way.

For several months after losing our jobs, I made sure to guard myself from mentioning to my mother about our plight. I was pretty much convinced it will devastate her spiritually. However, as her hospitalization got frequent and her monthly allowance got delayed in coming, she became solicitous about our financial situation and basically forced me to tell her the truth. I reassured her that I will keep on supporting her but the impact of costly medical expenses was getting difficult for her to ignore.

Probably two months before my mother died, she had a terrible stroke. While she remained ambulatory after the stroke, she lost her ability to talk. My overseas calls with her became a daily practice, but were largely a one-sided conversation with me encouraging her to summon strength, reassuring her that I was coming home soon.

During my 2006 visit, her spirit got lifted a little bit when I told her that her situation will improve. Saddled with tuition fee obligations for my children’s college, my mother’s upkeep became a secondary priority of mine. I was not able to keep up with the mortgage obligation for our Novaliches home and the thought of losing her home scared her. One thing I accomplished during my 2006 visit was renegotiate my mortgage with the bank, and she was pleased by that. I told her that I was leaving her some money so she can start paying the bank. This, unfortunately, did not happen. Instead the money was spent for her hospitalization. From then on, she was back into the state of constant fear, and learning that I lost my job must have devastated her.

There have been so many difficult times in my life given the life I chose to lead — seeking social justice. My mother was a constant source of hope during trying times, telling me not to wallow in sorrow when things were tough because there was always redemption and deliverance. This was exactly what she told me in July 1980 when she and the late Sen. Jose W. Diokno found me in a military camp in Cebu City after being ‘missing’ for almost two months. She said it again in 1981 when the dictator Ferdinand Marcos, ordered the ‘closure’ of Camp Bagong Diwa in Bicutan and ordered the transfer of the few of us, detainees, to the Death Row in Muntinlupa. She was a devout Catholic, a regular churchgoer and active member of the Legion of Mary, Mother Butler and other religious organizations. Citing the mysteries of the Holy Rosary to drive home her point, the Sorrowful Mystery is always followed by the Glorious Mystery, she said.

Once again, I feel I am at the lowest moment in my life and I am trying to get comfort from my mother’s words this Mother’s Day.

Until October 2009, Baltazar ‘Bal’ Pinguel was the director of Peacebuilding and Demilitarization Program of the American Friends Service, a Quaker peace organization, and 1947 Nobel Peace Prize recipient. Previous to that, Bal was a founding member and national officer of Bayan, one of the organizations that led the non-violent overthrow of the Marcos Dictatorship in 1986. He was also the last open and legal national spokesman of the militant youth organization, Kabataang Makabayan, until the imposition of martial law in 1972.


  1. Bernie Aquino wrote:

    Thank you for sharing.. make our celebration of Mother’s day more meaningful for having our mother’s with us those trying times.. you were lucky you have your mother with you, I lost mine when i was 9 yrs old.. I remember nanay.. we were together during the Kapatid days and I know a number of mothers during our time who are very supportive of us.. I salute those mother who become the mother of all, the” tandang Sora” of our times… I pray for more blessings that you and chat overcome the difficult situation you’re in.

  2. Sophie Lizares Bodegon wrote:

    Thanks for sharing this touching story. It’s fantastic how she guarded your things, your memories with her life. She was a Marian devotee after all – she kept all these things in her heart.

  3. Roni Oracion wrote:

    This is a great tribute to your mum. It’s so moving and touching. Your story about your mum can be a story of so many mothers around the world who always give priority to their children’s needs over their own. Your mum must have been so proud of you. Well done!

  4. Lerma Prudente wrote:

    Hi Bal! I am so touched.

  5. Dan wrote:

    It’s Mothering Sunday here in the US and I know that even though it is celebrated on a different dates depending on where you are, I wanted to greet all our mothers on this day! Happy Mothers Day to all the mothers on the Earth!

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