Friday, November 13, 2009

Myrna and Celia

Commentary : Myrna and Celia

By Denis Murphy
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Posted date: November 13, 2009

It’s the time to choose the winner of the Urban Poor Person of the Year Award, which is given each year to a person (rich or poor), government official, business person or civil society leader, who, in the opinion of the poor, has done the most for them during the year. Last year’s award went to Chair Leila de Lima of the Commission on Human Rights for her struggle against forced and illegal evictions.

There are a number of nominees for the award. The list includes Myrna Porcare who lived in North Fairview, Quezon City, along the Tullahan River. Myrna was 52, a mother of seven and the leader of the poor people of her area. She was murdered on Oct. 10. She attempted to stop the security guards from setting up fences around her property and that of her neighbors. She tried to remove the fence and for that she was dealt a shotgun blast, from a distance of two to three meters, directly into her chest and stomach. When her 18-year-old son tried to help, he, too, was gunned down. The two bodies lay in the filthy garbage the river had strewn over the area during the “Ondoy” storm. Myrna had been president of the Samasape (Samahan ng Magkakapitbahay sa Pechayan), a people’s organization since 1997. She was re-elected in 1998. “She was the only one who stuck up for our rights,” her sister told me mournfully.

The guards who shot Myrna are now out on bail, but their agency hasn’t stopped intimidating the people. The day after the shooting and the initial hearing before the Quezon City prosecutor, residents of North Fairview were questioned by guards in their area. The guards showed P1,000 bills and asked residents where the witnesses who had testified at the hearing lived. They said they wanted to give the money to the witnesses for their needs. A day later Fr. Robert Reyes and I met more guards sprawled on the floor of a hut not far from Myrna’s house, sleeping with their guns alongside them. They hadn’t a care in the world.

The legal landowner is not known to be very wealthy, so people wonder whether some powerful person(s) may be behind the murders. A few days before the shooting, some 200 police and demolition team members came to evict the few families scheduled for demolition by the court. It is generally believed such support for an eviction on private land requires large amounts of money.

It seems that no good comes to the poor people of the Philippines from the deaths of their good leaders, such as, Myrna and the farmer, factory worker and sugar worker leaders who have been murdered over the last few years. In the Early Church, Christians probably also wondered what good came from the deaths of so many ordinary people at the hands of the Romans. It was only after decades, maybe centuries of reflection, that it was recognized that “the blood of martyrs is the seed of faith.” Someday, Myrna and all the other dead may be recognized as the seed of a finer, more democratic Philippines where all men and women are assured of their human rights.

But not all poor women are leaders, and fortunately not all are killed. There are thousands of women in the slums who lead quite noble lives of caring and sacrifice but are never praised. Celia Regulacion who died very recently of TB in her mid-40s may receive a special award in the name of all these women.

Celia didn’t have money for medicines after she had bought food for her children, but she did buy five or six sticks of cigarettes a day. Her friends say it eased the pain of TB. Her husband didn’t work. She was often coughing and didn’t feel good, but still every day she helped the Kabalikat people’s organization as a census interviewer. She was a tireless talker, funny and always kind, according to her friends.

Toward the end of her life, it didn’t seem to matter to her whether she died or not. She certainly didn’t do all she could to get medicine or pay for a doctor. “She was dying but her sickness didn’t put her down,” her neighbor said. She was as pleasant as ever and she continued to volunteer, but there just wasn’t enough joy in life to keep her going beyond the short life she had been fated. She had lived as long as needed to raise the children. She couldn’t afford to stay in the hospital. Who would buy food for her children? She told her husband to go back to the provinces as she could no longer provide food for him. On her deathbed, she refused to use the breathing equipment, though her children begged her to keep struggling.

Celia had her limitations which sometimes upset her friends, but they miss their old friend. They laugh spontaneously when they talk of her. It seems the handle of her coffin broke and she fell to the ground in the graveyard. They remember Celia had looked angry when they saw her at her wake and that she looked angrier and angrier day by day because she wasn’t being buried. And then, suddenly, the circle of women began laughing.

(Denis Murphy works with the Urban Poor Associates. His email address is

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