One day at a time. That’s the motto Joy Asuncion Jopson Kintanar has learned to live by.
After all the turbulence of the past, it’s a philosophy that serves her well now that she’s in her senior years. Widowed twice, she was once married to the martyred activist Ed Jopson, and later to Rolly Kintanar, also an activist-leader who was likewise killed by gunshot.
Not that Joy harbors any bitterness. If there’s anything that defines her, it’s courage and faith. It’s those virtues that saw her through the risky activist years and helped her make the decisions that she felt at that time were right. It’s what sees her through each passing day.
A graduate of St. Theresa’s College, Quezon City, Joy was a quiet, diligent student majoring in Education when the First Quarter Storm of the student movement erupted in January 1970. At that time, she was the vice president for internal affairs of the student council, and was identified more with the moderates than with the radical faction.
After graduation she worked first with the Columban Priests of the Archdiocese of Manila, as Student Catholic Action (SCA) extension supervisor, then with the Good Shepherd nuns at the Kaunlaran Multi-Purpose Center (KMPC) in Sta. Ana, Manila, as community organizer and group dynamics facilitator and trainer.
Meanwhile, a blooming romance with Atenean student leader Ed Jopson (popularly called Edjop) soon led to marriage, and the young couple began to live a very simple, frugal life. While Edjop worked with labor unions in the urban areas, Joy continued working with the nuns.
“We lived on a budget,” she recalls. Though their families could well provide them with all the trappings of a comfortable life, they chose to live in a cheap apartment and gave up the car that Edjop once drove.
Denims and T-shirts
With the ardor of youth, Edjop tried hard to be one with the laborers with whom he was working. He gave away his new shirts to mga kasama (comrades) and took to wearing sandals, denims and T-shirts. “You could count the number of shirts he had,” Joy recalls.
Because many of the laborers smoked, EdJop began to smoke, too, if only to make them feel that he was one with them.
Similarly he wanted only very simple meals. If Joy so much as served him a meal other than plain fish and rice, he would ask where it came from. “Padala ’yan ni Mommy,” Joy would sometimes reply.
Eventually, as the couple became more radicalized they decided to leave the city. By then they had their eldest child, Nonoy, whom they brought with them. (Nonoy is now one of the country’s leading triathletes.) A few years later, when Joy gave birth to their daughter Joyette, she had to leave her with her sister after five days. Similarly, when second daughter Risa was born, she, too, had to be given to the care of family after three months.
The frequent separation from the children, and intermittently, from Edjop, were difficult, Joy admits, but then it had to be done because of the risks.
“We just had to make the most of the situation,” she says. Seeing some of the seeds they had planted in the collective take root gave them some consolation.
“It was then I realized that what we were doing was worth the separation,” she recalls. She herself learned to live with different kinds of people and to plant palay seeds in a community where they lived.
“It also helped that we were living very lightly,” she says. “We had no material attachments, we didn’t have much money and we didn’t have any property to drag us down.”
For a time, the modus operandi of working in the fields and having only occasional reunions with family worked for them. But life changed forever when Edjop was killed by the military in Mindanao in 1982. Understandably the memory of those events still gets Joy misty-eyed.
“I could not even claim his body,” she recalls. The only way she could go to his wake was to disguise herself as one of the wealthy friends of the family, and when later she finally got to visit him in the cemetery, it had to be a very brief interlude, fraught with potential dangers.
Still, she has no regrets about the life they led together. “I chose to love him and to marry him,” she says. “Love lightened the load.”
Eventually the grief diminished and she fell in love again with another activist leader, Rolly Kintanar. They were married in 1987 and had one son, Gabby. But just when they had settled into a normal lifestyle, living in the city and running a corporation they had founded, Rolly, too, was killed.
Though she doesn’t want to be accusatory, the murder of Rolly, she says, was factional. “The radical movement owned it,” she says.
Second wave of sorrow
While lesser mortals would have crumbled at this second wave of sorrow, Joy has remained strong. “I had two great loves, with two great men,” she says, “and I count them as blessings.”
She also takes pride in the way her children have grown. Her eldest, Noy, is an Ateneo graduate and a triathlete, often participating in competitions. Joyette, an MBA graduate, who was once into ballet and belly dancing, also competes in triathlons. The two youngest, Risa, now a college teacher, and Gabby, a college student, live with Joy in Quezon City.
Despite the grief and the loss, she lives today with complete peace of mind. Doing meditation helps, as do her faith and daily prayers. “Somehow God provides,” she believes. She still runs the security agency that she and Rolly established together, minding the day-to-day administration and managing the staff. She also keeps up with the times by attending seminars on business management and by being computer literate.
If she hadn’t gone into activism, Joy thinks she’d probably have been a teacher. After all, she did graduate with a bachelor’s degree major in education. But it’s not for her to dwell in what might-have-beens. She would rather take each day as it comes.
“At the end of the day,” Joy says, “as long as you know you didn’t oppress anybody and you didn’t take advantage of others, then you can sleep well,” she says. And, indeed, she does.