SAN PEDRO, Laguna—“Mama PJ” was a favorite moniker her friends and fellow activists at the University of the Philippines Los Baños gave her, probably because she had always been maternal.
Not surprisingly, Pamela Jane Lapiz decided to live the role anew when she left her own family to become mother to poor, distant communities in Quezon.
Lapiz was 29 when she joined the New People’s Army, and 45 when she perished in an encounter between the Philippine Army and the communist rebels in Lopez, Quezon in April this year.
News of Nanay Sol’s death came during a double celebration at her biological family’s home. It was her second daughter’s graduation and the christening of her first grandchild.
“I received the call telling me that PJ could be among those killed in the encounter,” recounted her husband, who requested anonymity for him and his children for security reasons. “I kept it to myself, until the following day when we went to (Quezon) and I myself saw her in the casket.”
Lapiz met her husband in her freshman year. “It was the height of protests against tuition fee increases and PJ was among those very active in the campaign,” the husband, also an activist in college, recalled.
The two fell in love almost at the same time that they went underground as members of the Communist Party of the Philippines. In 1986, Lapiz gave birth to their first daughter. Shortly after, the couple got married both in church ceremonies and within the Party.
Even with a child to raise, Lapiz and her husband continued to work with non-government organizations. She joined a peasant group, while he organized trade unions. In 1988, the two went back to school to reorganize the underground youth group Kabataang Makabayan.
Lapiz had a second daughter in 1992.
In 1996, she decided to join the armed rebel group. Recalled her husband: “It was a difficult choice. She had wanted all of us to go, but I insisted that we stay. It started all the misunderstandings but eventually, I learned to accept and respect her decision.”
Despite the distance, the set-up worked quite well. The family would visit the guerrilla zone occasionally, while Lapiz would drop by every now and then. In their hometown, the neighbors had thought that Lapiz worked abroad; only a few knew where she really was.
Said her eldest daughter, now 25: “When I was young, I used to wonder why she was always away, but my mother had her way of making us understand things. She’d explain that there were a lot of other children who didn’t know how to read and write, that they came from the poorest of the poor and that we should appreciate the blessings we had.”
As a girl, the daughter recalled how other children called PJ “Nanay” and how she felt jealous about it. “I asked her why other children would call her ‘Nanay’ when we were her children. She’d say that if one genuinely cared about other people, she should be a mother to them as well.”
In 1999, Lapiz gave birth to her third child. At this point, the husband thought she should give their children more time and tried to convince her to stay. “But she just wouldn’t give up her cause,” her husband said. “She went back (to the countryside) 10 months after she gave birth,” he added.
The following year, a letter came informing PJ’s husband that Lapiz had filed for a “divorce,” a practice accepted within the Communist Party organization.
It was painful, the husband confessed. “But I learned to accept that ours was a relationship born out of the struggle against an oppressive system. Unfortunately, my wife was among those who heeded the call.”
Raising their three children was an everyday struggle, he recalled. He found a job with a private company and later ran a small family business. Relatives also pitched in to help with their expenses.
“There were times when I had to bring my daughter with me to work (since there was no one to leave her with). I would hide her under my desk so my boss would not see her,” PJ’s husband said.
However difficult, the family survived. The eldest daughter now works in a big financial institution while the second, aged 20, had graduated with honors in college. The youngest, 13, is doing well in high school.
“Parting ways need not always be damaging. PJ and I had remained friends,” the husband said.
Despite the divorce, he added, Lapiz had never stopped sending them letters, writing her children poems, or calling them. She would also send them whatever she could. Once she sent a malong, a tubular skirt usually worn by Muslims that can also be used as a blanket, when she needed one herself up in the cold mountains, the daughter remembered.
“She told me that every passing day, she would think about the kids. But she had to think about other people’s children too,” the husband said.
In a tribute held at Lapiz’s hometown following her death, friends and former comrades remembered the jolly lady that she was. “She loved to sing revolutionary songs and write poems. She also taught the children (in the mountain community) how to read and write,” said one who had met the slain woman in Quezon.
Another activist, a friend of Lapiz’s daughter, said she would often ask in her letters “how her daughter was doing in school.
“She may have spent less time with us but she truly was a remarkable person,” said one of Lapiz’s daughters. The bond they shared may not be physical, but it taught them to become independent and responsible, she added.
She recounted how once, when she was in high school, her mother came home unexpectedly. “Nanay went ballistic when I told her I was afraid to light a match. We spent that whole morning practicing after she taught me how to do it.”
It was also her mother with whom she discussed plans of getting married. “I told her I got pregnant and that my plans were ruined. She told me they weren’t, and encouraged me to go on,” the daughter said.
Lapiz may have not made it to her wedding last year, “but she was with me all the way until I gave birth, even helping me breastfeed,” she added.
The night before the encounter that killed her, Lapiz had called her children and told them of her plan to see her grandchild in June. It was the last time they talked to her.
“She had prepared us for this (eventuality),” her daughter. “But we had hoped that it would not happen this soon,” she added.