Tita Pet, the people’s Auntie

Community Opinion & Analysis Jan 26, 2018 at 4:20 pm

From left: Rafunzel Korngut, Pet Cleto, Sarah Salise and Bern Jagunos (Reporter’s file copy)

By Joey Calugay
For Bayan Canada

To my dearest tita Pet. You will forever live on in our hearts and dreams.

Aling pag-ibig pa ang hihigit kaya
Sa pagkadalisay at pagkadakila
Gaya ng pag-ibig sa tinubuang lupa, Aling pag-ibig pa?
Wala na nga wala.

(What love can be purer and greater
than love for one’s homeland?
What love? No other love, none.)

– Andres Bonifacio
(Anti-colonial revolutionary, 1863-1897)

The People’s Auntie – Bubbly with a twist of quirk!

Spritely and bubbly. That was how I would characterize her personality. Perhaps it was to hide any deep rooted sadness within her. The type that would eat away at the souls of lesser beings. But tita Pet, our tita ng bayan (the people’s auntie), had the vitality to outlast even the most vibrant youth among our ranks. This is how she kept the darkness at bay and not just for herself, for her light would scare away the shadows from those standing within her vicinity. She wasn’t always winning but she never lost her battles in the end.

Quirky was also a quality I would adorn her with if you asked me. But it was also that quirky personality that always managed to tear down my defences. While deep in thought or mired in a stressful situation during political events, often people will see me in these activities standing alone lost in my thoughts. Most would give me my space shrugging it off as one of my many socially awkward traits. But she would somehow find me and ask, “O, Joey! Bakit may simangot?” (Joey, why the frown?). Then she will proceed to annoy me with her teasing until I forget what was bearing down on my mood in the first place.

What is struggle without the unwavering optimism? She taught me that it isn’t the challenges we face that should be at the forefront of our minds at all times, but the positive revolutionary outlook and our undying faith that a better world is possible. There is every reason to be happy and bubbly.

The People’s Propagandist

She was someone we relied on as a talented journalist and writer. In her last few years she was appointed to our public information committee tasked to help draft national statements and press releases for Bayan and Migrante Canada. As the editor, she was instrumental in coming out with the Akdaan Literary Anthology books published in Toronto. A wellspring of literary art mostly by Filipino Nat Dem activists and cultural workers that challenges your mind and inspires a militant spirit.

This is not to mention her stint in radio with Radyo Migrante as an interviewer and sometimes host. I was honoured to be interviewed by her for a show on the commemoration of Martial Law in the Philippines and our opposition as Bayan Canada to the burial of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the heroes cemetery. When she and Luis Queano (the indomitable duo of progressive propaganda) teamed up to launch and co-anchor TV Migrante, a show broadcast weekly on FTV, there were those who suggested that perhaps a younger team can takeover one day to draw in a younger audience. The suggestion may have been a good one, but I seriously question who would have had more youthful enthusiasm than tita Pet.

Forever a Youthful Organizer!

Even in her advanced years she tackled organizing with the same spirit of youthful enthusiasm. Like I mentioned above, she can put to shame the most energetic youth activist we know. She helped to build (so far as of this writing) the one and only Gabriela chapter in Canada based in Toronto. Although throughout the years along with her kasama (comrades) they have struggled to keep it going, the foothold is there and the seeds are growing, taking root for Filipino women’s empowerment among our kababayan (compatriots) living and working in Canada.

It was during one evening when I was visiting Toronto, after an event, where tita Pet read one of her poems and participated in a cultural presentation, that she joined us in search of one of Toronto’s late night Asian food restaurants to grab a bite to eat. Most Filipinos are meat lovers and the vegan food, albeit tasty, served at the anti-war event we were at that was organized by progressive allies was just not enough for us shameless carnivores.

A group of young activist from Anakbayan Toronto were with us leading the search for food. I kept observing tita Pet and wondered if she was perhaps too sapped from the event to be wandering around late night in search of good Asian food digs. Nope! I was wrong. I was projecting my own weariness on her. She was right up there with the youth, as high as ever, somehow drawing energy from them while my own thoughts kept wandering to the bed I was going to sleep in that night. My weariness overpowering my need for tastily stir fried meat. I’m sure others have similar such night-out-with-tita-Pet stories to share.

Our Love for a Revolutionary Woman

What I know of her earlier years are vague. I met her in the early 90’s, while others had met her even earlier than that. I defer to them for those stories. But what I know is that she was a single mother struggling to raise a daughter, uprooted from her beloved country and trying to eke out a living here in Canada. Struggling through life as a single mom most certainly was not easy. I heard of her being homeless several times sleeping in homes of other comrades in different cities and her personal fight with bouts of depression. I may have even heard the rumours of her struggle for the love of family who may have mistakenly blamed her for devotions to her political beliefs over her family’s needs. Perhaps my memory maybe playing tricks – it was rumours after all – but do we not have our own personal struggles of this sort to share as Nat Dem activists? But for all her human weaknesses she came through for us in the end did she not? We, her kasama, her ultimate family? Throughout all her personal challenges she never wavered in her support for the Philippine movement. From her biting critique of US imperialism’s and Canadian imperialism’s meddling and super profiteering in her beloved Philippines to her opposition to the various puppet regimes who serve their monopoly capitalist interests, she kept up her onslaught. She never wavered in her active role in organizing compatriots in Canada. Did she ever let us down? In summing up her life from my perspective, she most certainly did not. She loved her family in the movement and she never ceased to show it.

She is a symbol of our struggling nation. The new woman, a new people rising from what will be the ashes of the old semi-feudal and semi-colonial society that is the Philippines.

And as the Filipino revolutionary, Andres Bonifacio wrote in his poem, “what greater love is there?” – so we also say to you tita Pet that we love you! What greater love is there than that? No other love, none.

Mabuhay ka tita Pet!