Monday, April 23, 2007

Evangelina “Eve” Nobleza – Bokingo February 24, 1921-April 18,2007 A LEGACY OF ELEGANCE

This woman of elegance came from an era when an acquired privilege found itself curtailed by those in a position of authority particularly the conservative-churchy parents.

But having been educated in Silliman University during the time of the American missionaries, she has redefined her outlook in life: open-mindedness and sensitivity to others’ perception led her to a level of influence that was beautifully subtle.

Evangelina “Eve” Nobleza – Bokingo, professor emeritus in Home Economics, had much to share not just on good housekeeping but of building a more respectable image. Today’s dot-com ladies, who will usually conquer corporate chambers wearing fashion magazine replicas, could have taken lessons from Mrs. Bokingo, and would have developed some professionalism in their fashion sense.

Ma’am Eve’s legacy is much needed in the present altered world. Her former student Joy Arbolado-Kitane has one unforgettable lesson from the quintessential H.E. teacher: “… the universal law of 14 rules that when we dress-up for home, church, school, or any occasion for that matter, the number of visible items or colors in your person in one setting should not exceed 14. Beyond it, you are overdressed. Even the Queen of England follows this rule.”

I remember one time while Ma’am Eve and I were waiting in a lobby looking at people come and go, she whispered to me in a sad voice: “that lady with the choker really looks like she’s being choked as her neck is too short for such for an ornament.”

Fashion was not just an everyday lesson, it was a life lived and defined by modesty and humility.

On my freshman year in the dorm, we had an evening with Ma’am Eve where she taught us the basic things on social responsibility: our presence should not become a visual monster or an air pollutant within and beyond the dormitory.

She also reminded us on the importance of developing a “thinking process in English,” lessons on elegance in language and dignified professionalism.

Even Silliman First Ladies would be delighted whenever Ma’am Eve would visit the President’s Home (now called the University House). Her touch was always a bright wash of glory.

She often shared anecdotes of her precious moments with some of the pillars of Silliman: her unforgettable breakfast with Dr. David and Mrs. Laura Hibbard, the Rosel juice (made of pink petals) and the freshly-baked banana-oatmeal cookies – she learned first hand from Mrs. Dorothea B. Vernon, the Galilean fellowship of Rev. Douglas Vernon, Mrs. Ethel R. Chapman’s story of the ‘good pig’ and the ‘bad pig,’ the pressure from her Bible teacher Mr. Apolonio Molina to deliver a memory verse, Mrs. Edna Bell’s Christian Endeavor Society, Mrs. Metta J. Silliman’s rule for the students to speak only English and how she pushed Ma’am Eve to have her short story published in The Sillimanian, her confidence-building sessions with Mrs. Henrietta H. Glunz, the loyalty and friendship of her Home Economics teacher Miss Frances V.V. Rodgers, her membership to the Costume Ladies Committee in every theatrical production of Mr. William Hamme, her team work with Maestro Dr. Albert Faurot in production designs, the floral arrangements she did with Mrs. Bell and Thelma Appleton in the SU Church Aesthetics Committee, the tips on carpentry and furniture design she got from Silliman’s landscape architect Charles A. Glunz, and the wisdom on how to become a ‘real lady’ from the Dean of Students Mary Winternheimer.

All these and more were the defining moments in Ma’am Eve’s silent strength at Silliman: the rare elegance with her presence.

But the greatest elemental force was her gentleness that stemmed from her faith in GOD, the GIVER of all. Her encounter of Him had planted a seed of generosity and service.

Her home was always open for young people to experience a thanksgiving of a life abundantly blessed by GOD, not of financial harvest but of the joy in the beauty of HIS great faithfulness – this was her constant testimony.

She continued to demonstrate that rare elegance even in those six months she made the SU Medical Center her home, as she was suffering from physical pain. The aura of peace she projected was truly her gift to friends who came to visit.

Ma’am Eve’s faith in God was her ultimate-unfading ornament, and it was always in the right place: within her heart.

Saturday, March 10, 2007


Everyone is like a butterfly, they start out ugly and awkward and then morph into beautiful graceful butterflies that everyone loves. Drew Barrymore

SUMMER SUN is here! School children will soon have their break and most of them will just be at home – not to rest but to keep themselves busy with uncensored television marathon, to play with plastic toys and break Mom’s favorite vase as they wrestle for the remote control.
Or they can take one sunny morning to explore the butterfly sanctuary at St. Paul University in Dumaguete and discover Sister Joseline’s beautiful journey with butterflies: every phase and every turn is a wonder, no ‘ugly and awkward’ moment, every step is full of wisdom.
The idea of a butterfly sanctuary came from the University President Sister Maria Nilda Masirag, Spc. The suggestion came as good news for Sister Joseline Lasala who is the head of the Maintenance Staff and the Physical Plant of St. Paul. Sister Joseline loves nature and had been wanting to build an eco-sanctuary since her earlier days at St. Paul Quezon City. She is happy that the dream has been realized in Dumaguete on October 28, 2006. Oriental Negros with its high bio-diversity is a perfect source for flora and fauna for a nature sanctuary within the city, and this made the project doable.

The St. Paul Eco-Sanctuary Park has butterflies as its first inspiration. Sister Joseline sent out inquiries to friends on how to start a butterfly sanctuary, and one responded with a down-load from the internet, providing a simple step-by-step process with details of the possible species that could be collected for a start. Sister Joseline has kept the original copy of the instructional material and is willing to share this with those who want to be God’s “co-creator.”
Sister Joseline’s research on butterflies has given her a lot of insights on life and its dimensions, all anchored on a spiritual connection. She has discovered that the word “psyche” actually means “butterfly” and is defined with the concept of the soul – its departure from the physical form as it flies to heaven like a butterfly.
Her observation of the complete metamorphosis from an egg to a caterpillar, to its pupa stage and eventually to its first flight as a butterfly is a life journey for Sister Joseline that has given her a lot of insights. She has learned the following lessons: the pupa stage gives points in zero-waste management; the presence of a butterfly is an indicator of clean air for its fragile flight cannot survive in a smoky space, today’s world is too toxic for a butterfly to enjoy total freedom; a person’s touch can guide a minute-old butterfly to enjoy honey on a dinner plate and to take its first flight on a chosen garden; life is so short for a flying beauty can only live for two weeks or even less; a specie of caterpillar needs a specific host plant but it can share the same nectar plant with other species the moment it becomes a butterfly – a lesson on unity-in-diversity. These are just examples of many lessons from Sister Joseline’s journey with butterflies.
This summer a regular morning visit to the sanctuary will lead children to discover the butterflies of the season: the white-winged with striking black in the middle is the Catopsilia florella but the female can have yellow wings; Catopsilia pomona are the yellows with black upper edges; Catopsilia scylla is white with black edge and yellow on the hind wings; the caterpillar on a camote top will soon become the regal Hypolimnas bolina which would have purple to deep blue shades in its wings; lovely as the sunshine with its brown-orange wings and dotted in white on the fore is the Cethosia biblis. There will be more as the heat of summer leads other species to lay eggs on their respective host plants. Sister Joseline’s assistant Joefel Amor who enumerated the scientific names is proud to say that, “one visit may be rewarded with seven species.”
After her wonderful journey, Sister Joseline who is originally from Siargao Island, has become an angel for the environment. Hopefully, her call for everyone to be God’s co-creator will take wing and bring this University Town to an awareness that like butterflies, we can be without the sting that harms the beauty of our world.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Mama's LOVE & LIFE

News soon spread about my Mama Mening’s passing. Friends and relatives came. People noticed the growing number of floral offerings. Flowers where overflowing for this woman who really loved flowers. Maximina Minerva Rañua Badajos - Atega was known for her garden of orchids, roses and other unique collections – and for her endless charitable work. The chapel where she was honored was overflowing with floral arrangements, and when she was transferred to the big church, more flowers were offered, the others had to be placed in lines outside the sanctuary. Near her white coffin with silver trimming where two regal clusters of her favorite blooms, the Waling-waling. More orchid arrangements surrounded the casket: vandas in shades of gold and purple and dendrobiums in white and violets. She had them all and they all seemed like they were joyfully blooming to honor a dear friend.

It made me wonder how a daughter of a fisherman could gather all these touching ways of respect?

My mother, born on June 4, 1921 in Kauswagan, Cabadbaran, Agusan del Norte was an ordinary woman who made choices that gave her an ‘extra-ordinary’ life. Being the daughter of a farmer-fisherman from Camiguin Island, she knew the value of hard work and learned to be independent, for her mother died when she was still 4 years old. She chose to study in the town proper where education was of better quality even if she had to take long walks everyday to and from her barrio. To have money for lunch she would sell boiled camotes to her well-off classmates who would sometimes exchange their sandwiches with jolly Mening’s camote variations. On weekends, she would work in her father’s coffee farm, where she formed her great love (actually, more like an addiction) for any form of coffee drink, and in the evenings she would go fishing with her Tatay.

After graduating from grade school, she left her town to study in the big city. She spent her first two years of high school in Davao City, but World War II sent her back home. The lovely young Mening caught the attention of the Japanese commander who was assigned in Agusan. She made use of the special attention by asking the Japanese officer to build a classroom for children near her father’s coffee farm. Sunday school for children kept my mother busy during the war. With their closeness, the officer also made sure that my mother’s family would be protected, and the assignment was a pleasure to the Japanese soldiers for my mother had rewarded them with a share from the coffee harvest. Mama Mening’s special connection made her secret mission easy to undertake: help the Filipino guerillas with supply of food and medicine. She was able to save many lives, among them a woman who was almost raped by the Japanese soldiers; there were around 40 young Filipino men facing execution and her commanding voice had stopped the death sentence; families who, assured of protection, crossed the Agusan river…. She was a war heroine.

The mayor of Cabadbaran during the Japanese occupation was Virgilio, the handsome son of the town’s wealthiest land owner, Don Andres Atega. A bachelor, Virgil was very popular among the ladies, and he would visit them from barrio to barrio. He heard of three lovely sisters in a coffee farm and he decided to visit them. His eyes were not on the beautiful face of the very confident Cecilia, nor on the very shy Crisanta, but they were on the lovely pair of legs, the loveliest he had seen, belonging to the youngest of the three, Maximina. He also loved the simplicity of this woman whom others fondly called Mening. To give his visit a sense of purpose, he requested the three ladies to organize a benefit dance that would be held in the town plaza. On the evening of the event, Mening was asked to sing a song in tribute of the young mayor. Mening with her “Mutya sa Buhat” number instantly became the young mayor’s sweetheart.

The love that bloomed was strengthened by their secret mission during the war: they used their influence to help the Filipino guerillas.

After the war, Virgil decided to take up Law at Silliman University. The Japanese commander offered Mening a trip to Japan and asked her to become his wife, but she turned these down. Mening went to Agusan National High School in Butuan City to finish her secondary education. Her classmates would always remember Mening’s talent in theater, a Best Actress awardee in school plays. To support her schooling, she applied as assistant cook in a restaurant. For her college education, Mening went to Manila and took up a Teacher Education course at Philippine Christian College. To attain her college goal, she served as a cook at the UP Medical School canteen and on weekends she would accept laundry from the American missionaries.

Virgil had somehow forgotten Mening and found a new love at Silliman. Mening tried to keep in touch through letters but Virgil never responded. A female cousin of Virgil was the one updating Mening and explained that Virgil was too busy with campus activities: debating team member, student government president, work student at the Treasurer’s office, etc.

In 1949, Mening was graduating from college when she got a surprise visit from Virgil who had just finished his Law studies at Silliman and was in Manila to prepare for the Bar exams.

Virgil found her sleeping in her small room and she was surrounded by the laundry she just finished ironing. Truly a “Mutya sa Buhat”! Virgil was so touched by the lovely portrait of a hard working woman unfolding before him. He awakened her by touching her hand and instantly asked her to marry him. Mening was shocked but managed to gather her senses and say yes in a very shy manner. It was easy to say yes to her one and only love. However, Virgil was asked to find a husband for her best friend Aurora as they had a vow to be married at the same time – Mening and Aurora dreamt of a double wedding. Virgil sent a telegram to his friend Mariano Causing, a military officer based in Cagayan de Oro, about the beautiful Aurora. The handsome Mariano right away flew-in and joined Virgil in Malate’s Café Adriatico. It was a love-at-first-sight for Mariano and Aurora which ended in the realization of a dream wedding. With the pastor at the chapel of the Union Theological Seminary in Manila, there were only five of them inside the sanctuary. Mariano and Aurora witnessed and stood as sponsors as Virgil and Mening exchanged vows, and likewise, Virgil and Mening stood as sponsors for Mariano and Aurora. It was a simple ceremony for the two college seniors who were just wearing Sunday dresses with their grooms, Virgil in coat and tie and Mariano in military officer’s uniform. The reception cost them only twenty pesos for each pair – the four of them had a special dinner in Manila Hotel.


After graduation, the young Mrs. Maximina B. Atega went home with her husband Virgil to live in Cabadbaran, the town that they had always loved and together, as a teacher and as a lawyer, they served the people with faith and beyond….


The text message I was hoping I would never receive finally came and I had to go home. My 86-year-old mother, Maximina Minerva Rañua B. Atega was hospitalized for she had aneurysm and was declared brain dead. My family had to make an important decision. Before the journey home, my heart led me to Silliman Church, and I witnessed the last part of the Bible Reading Marathon. I actually had a hard time concentrating as some friends tried to start a conversation with me. I decided to transfer to a pew where I could be alone. Filled with much anxiety over my Mama’s situation, I asked God to guide my family with His wisdom. At this time, it was a good friend; Ate Mayette Utzurrum who was reading the 14th Chapter of the Book of Revelation and I heard the 13th verse with this line, “…blessed are the dead who die in the service of the Lord….” I forwarded the verse to all my brothers and sisters – all ten of them. Just like me, my sister Joan found the verse to be a manifestation of God’s wisdom, and she was driven to tears as it was a perfect line that made us accept the truth and the honor on Mama Mening’s inevitable last moment.

It was in the morning of January 15 when Mama complained of a severe headache. My sister, Jemimah tried to help by giving her a gentle massage on her forehead but she was really screaming with pain and so, she had to call my sister Joan to get an ambulance. At the hospital, the doctor explained that the brain scan showed my mother’s very difficult state, the brain hemorrhage resulted in blood clotting up to her nasal cavity. He was honest about the possibility of Mama leaving us on that day. Jemimah right away communicated with all of us. My brother Andre also sent a text message, which was more definite with the doctor’s estimated time of “departure”: around nine o’clock in the evening. Guided by the verse, I agreed to the suggestion to let Mama rest by putting a stop to the breathing machine that was keeping her alive. My brother Gabriel told them to wait for him before a decision would be made. When he got to the hospital at around 1pm, I reminded him to consider my request for 3PM as ‘holy time’ for Mama’s final rest. God’s will prevailed when the attending doctor explained that there was no need to do anything for he was sure that Mama would definitely go with the weakening vital signs. With the text message of Andre being forwarded from one recipient to another, many were already at the hospital to support the family and to express their love for Mama. The evening came, and many more came to be with Mama who was still in ICU. As the forecasted time was coming closer, almost every member of the family was already there except for my sister Ruth who was having a hard time booking a flight from Los Angeles to Manila, my brother Samuel who reasoned that he ‘had important things to finish in the farm” and myself who was still at Silliman Church praying. I was set to take the trip home and was anxiously waiting for the sad news. I had accepted the possibility of not seeing Mama for one last time. Pastor Haniel Taganas gathered those who were at the Silliman Church Bible reading to join Pastor Jonathan Pia who was leading a circle who prayed for “…God’s abiding presence and strength…” for me and family. As they surrounded me, I was touched by the precious act of love in that moment that I felt so very far from home – first flow of tears finally came. I told Ate Mayette that I was blessed by the reading of the scriptures and pointed-out to her the wisdom in Revelation 14:13.

Nine o’clock came, and each member of the family present was given a time to be with Mama. One by one, they all went. But after the farewells, Mama was still alive and it was already beyond ten in the evening. Midnight had come and Mama was still alive! The doctor was saying that it was impossible and told my family that maybe she was “still waiting for someone to come.” They had one thing in mind, get Samuel and force him to be with Mama. At dawn, Andre drove to Samuel’s farm and successfully convinced him that it was time he should talk to Mama.

Morning of January 16 came and Samuel was finally with Mama in ICU. Samuel is a brother who had unresolved issues with Mama: he was a consistent 1st honor pupil from grade one until grade four when he was accused of stealing in a scout camp and Mama had scolded him in front of his friends, this later turned out to be a false accusation – from then on, he changed direction and explored the world of a ‘kanto’ boy. When his very emotional time with Mama ended, the doctor went to check the signs again; Mama’s heartbeat had gone down to 41 and blood pressure went zero. Everyone agreed, it was finally Mama’s time; and they thanked Samuel for taking the courage to see Mama. But Mama kept on and on. The afternoon came and another evening, Mama was still alive. The doctor made another examination and he told my brother Gabriel that our mother “has a very strong heart and it’s keeping her alive.” Then the doctor said, “Maybe, she’s still waiting for another one to come.” They told the doctor with certainty, “She is waiting for Moses who is on his way, our youngest is her favorite son – the one who never fails to make her smile.”

Jemimah had been updating me with every development through text messaging and every message led me to pray for God’s gift of peace for Mama. My mother kept on with the heartbeat count going from 42 to 41. I was already on a bus and was nearing home. When I got the message that she could be waiting for me, I cried like a child and begged God to just let her rest. But her strong heart was holding on. People were looking at me, probably thinking of a different love angle as reason for my tears.

At midnight, my brothers and sisters decided to rest at a nearby hotel. I arrived at the hospital at 1:30 AM and was ushered to the ICU by my nephews Macky and Krisver who volunteered to be with their Lola. I was the only one allowed to go inside Mama’s room. I was very calm as I entered and was in prayer. When I held her hand, her heartbeat went up to 43 and then to 44, then 45. I continued praying for peace. Heartbeat was back at 43. I started singing, “kumbaya my Lord, kumbaya… someone’s dying Lord, kumbaya….” I sang more of her songs and then, I read my sister Ruth’s text message to her, “…Mama, you don’t have to wait for me. Be assured that the legacy of a strong-willed woman will be always in my heart….” I planted a kiss on my mother’s forehead, put her hand on my face, combed her hair with my fingers… I kissed her again. Then, I prayed for God’s will to prevail. At 4:30 AM, the time she would usually start her mornings, Mama’s strong heart finally rested. I cried as I realized that indeed, she was waiting for me. My eyes were filled with tears for I felt the special touch of a very loving mother even at her final moment.
touch of a very loving mother even at her final moment.