Falling in love
by Laguna Lupie
In 2003 I was a full time activist who was recently deployed from my university to become a staff and researcher of a peasant/fisherfolk organization in the Southern Tagalog region. At that time I was determined to move from the student sector and student’s issues and begin serving the basic masses in earnest. I wanted to immerse myself in the issues of the Philippine peasantry and be a part of the long term campaign for genuine agrarian reform. It was while working for the peasant sector that I met my future husband, Ruel.
It wasn’t love at first sight. When I first met him, he didn’t strike me as anything special and he didn’t seem interested in me either (I later learned that at that time he had a girlfriend, another activist named Nancy). He was tall and thin and dark. Not what you’d call good looking but he was a quiet man and had an air of kindness about him. But I hardly noticed him and I certainly would have laughed if anybody told me back then that he was to be the future father of my sons.
A few months passed and I was active and busy doing research work in the different provinces of the region (we were writing a book on fisherfolk issues in the region) when we found out that Ruel and another companion were shot by elements of the Philippine military under the leadership of then Col. Jovito Palparan. His companion, Choy Napoles, died during the ambush but Ruel survived with a minor gunshot wound in his arm. He was brought from his home province in Mindoro to the Orthopedic Hospital in Manila where he recovered under the care of the fisherfolk group PAMALAKAYA.
It was during the dramatic events of that time when this man I met a few months before came into focus as another victim of the human rights abuses of the Philippine military against activists or leftists. For the time of Jovito Palparan during the reign of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was a time of great terror in the Southern Tagalog Region. Many activists became martyrs, victims of summary executions and ambushes, and all because they were brave enough to speak up and fight for the rights of the poor, to fight for their rights as peasants and fisherfolk of the region. I met many wonderful people, mostly peasant leaders and organic intellectuals, during my stay at ST (short for Southern Tagalog). Many are dead and gone or incarcerated as criminals under false charges. The man I would build a family with was one of the victims of the Terror. When we met in the offices of the peasant group KASAMA-TK, he was working as an organizer of the fisherfolk group PAMALAKAYA. He has recovered from his wounds but was still dealing with post traumatic stress disorder. He would have terrible dreams, panic attacks and could not deal with loud noises and hated the firecrackers of New Year revelries. Until now, ten years into our marriage and the nightmares and the panic attacks still come up as unexplained illnesses. He would be driving the car and suddenly be unable to breathe and have pains in his chest that we thought was a heart attack only to find out later on that his heart was fine. Perhaps it will always be that way with him.
In Tagaytay, when I turned thirty.
We started out as friends in those sparse offices in Sto. Tomas. I didn’t live there full time like the other internal refugees as I would go home to our house to take care of my ailing father and manage our faltering family business as I did my duties as a researcher for the peasant sector. We coordinated on some of the work, like writing the newspapers for the peasants and doing that helped us get to know each other better. The quiet and serious man I hardly noticed when we first met turned out to be funny and gay in the most unexpected of ways. He was jologs and irreverent and so unlike the many “grim and determined” activists I have encountered before. For the first time in months, I met someone I could be comfortable with, who was funny and fresh. At a time of fear and sadness, when other comrades had been abducted and were summarily executed by the Terror, this friend was a comfort and a respite from the nightmares.
Other things caught my attention as well. The fact that he was humble made him stand out. Activists are very intelligent people, many of them outspoken leader types, who sometimes come across as braggarts. He was none of that. He was quiet but sure of himself in that same quiet way.
Vinzons Hall, U.P.
He was no intellectual, he wasn’t smart the way a college graduate is smart but learned many things as an activists and he was sharp and intelligent.
When we got together, he struck me sometimes as too reckless and in a hurry but I also appreciated the fact that while I wondered endlessly about where our relationship was headed, he told me without blinking an eye that he loved me and he was sure of it and that he would marry me someday despite what everybody else said.
He scared the hell out of me but his decisiveness took my breath away. There was none of the ambiguity of relationships I had witnessed in the past. No mistaken signals and misinterpretations, no silences and need for spaces between people. None of the “it’s not you, it’s me…” issues. Just a man in love who wanted to spend the rest of his life with his beloved. It was that simple and it was that powerful.
I still remember the moment when I knew for sure that we liked each other. We were all at a weeklong meeting, and I remember one night I was sitting at the cafeteria for dinner and I looked up and he was standing by the doorway looking at me intently. And I smiled and he smiled back. And I knew. I knew for sure that we wanted one another. It was magic.
On the way home from that meeting, we sat beside each other on the bus home. He took my hand somewhere between SM Megamall and the Shangri-la Plaza and he said he loved me. It was like a corny movie and I was laughing all throughout but I said yes to him that moment and never looked back.
Two years after that bus ride we got married and started our life together.