By Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III
Her full name is Rizalina Bautista Boncan. Friends call her Saling. We call her Tita Saling — the loving, caring aunt, even to non-relatives.
To name a daughter after Jose Rizal can be forbidding, but Saling lived up to it: enlightened, courageous, patriotic, heroic.
On a deeply personal level, I was pained and shaken when I received from my friend Mike Limjap the tragic news about the passing away of our dear Tita Saling. In truth, I felt a tinge of guilt for not having visited her in the past few years.
A few Fridays ago, before Tita Saling’s passing, Mike and I had dinner, and I asked him how she was. Mike said Tita Saling was hale and hearty when he saw her during the family Christmas reunion. I was relieved to hear that from Mike because the last time I talked to Tita Saling to belatedly inform her of my wife Mae’s death, I sensed that she was fragile.
More recently, another friend, Jessica Reyes-Cantos, asked me to invite Saling to a reunion of former Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC) people. Saling was the FDC’s founding treasurer. I failed to contact Tita Saling; neither was I able to join the get-together.
Much earlier, my mom Paula asked me repeatedly to arrange a dinner with Tita Saling. My mom and Saling were, for a short time, classmates during their childhood. Again, I was not able to do this.
At the time that Mae was undergoing dialysis treatment, she reminded me several times that it was high time we visited Tita Saling. Mae and I considered Tita Saling a close friend and a second mother.
Once upon a time, Mae and I visited Tita Saling every Christmas season, and we exchanged gifts. Her son Raul, Jr., whom Tita Saling fondly called Raulito, narrated to me how “she would vigorously prepare the Christmas lunches you and Mae would have at home. She made sure that every detail was promptly given attention so her well-loved visitors would feel right at home.”
Sometimes, when Saling would cook and deliver food for her brother who resided at UP Village, she would surprise us with a visit at our home, which she called a Swiss house because of its gabled roof and expanded eaves.
Occasionally, we had lunch in restaurants near her home. In one instance, her fellow smoker, neighbor and girlfriend, Tita Maring Feria, joined us for lunch. The conversation was filled with tsismis and jokes, mainly about Marcos and minions and sometimes about Saling’s and Maring’s mischievous mayor, Jojo Binay.
A favorite restaurant of Saling was the one on Jupiter Street, which served crackling lechon Macau. No fancy and expensive restaurant for her. One time, Mae and I brought her to the Corner Tree. Upon learning that the food, though delicious, was pricey, she told us that she’d be as satisfied with the food served in a <i>carinderia</i> or in Max’s.
True to her Ilocano roots, she lived simply despite being materially endowed. She knew how to husband resources and let the money grow. (That was why she was elected FDC treasurer.) In her 80s, she opted to do away with the car and chauffeur, preferring to walk to go to Mass or take a tricycle to buy food at a nearby <i>talipapa</i>, or hail a cab to purchase groceries at Landmark.
Like Mae, Tita Saling was a storyteller. She shared with us the story of her life. Like all of us, she had sad experiences — World War II, the period of dictatorship, family issues, etc. But because she had a happy, cheerful disposition, the bad episodes neither diminished her nor slowed her down. In fact, her trials and struggles made her a strong woman.
She had copious notes and journals, which she wanted us to edit. They were personal narratives, but also a chronicle of different periods of our nation’s history, turbulent and euphoric.
In her life, she always helped people, in the city or in the rural areas. She was most generous to those with less in life. And because the adage that those who have less in life must have more in law is violated in the Philippines, Saling joined movements to change the laws and transform the system.
Like Marcos, she was an Ilocano. But she fought Marcos. She had courage. She resisted the dictatorship at a time that it was a lonely struggle.
She was part of the core group of rebel women belonging to the Concerned Women of the Philippines led by Nini Quezon Avanceña. They joined protest actions, campaigned for the release of political prisoners, and asserted human rights.
After the dictatorship’s downfall, Saling continued to pursue various causes. She became a trustee and treasurer for many years of the broadest coalition then, the Freedom from Debt Coalition. She was part of the FDC leadership that, at various times, included personalities of various professional backgrounds and political persuasions: Liling Briones, Butch Montes, Noel de Dios, Randy David, Bertie Lim, Carol Araullo, Maitet Diokno, RC Constantino, Gani Serrano, Lidy Nacpil, Jolly Macuja, Chito Gascon, Rene Ofreneo, Alex Aquino, Bong Mendoza, Ed Tadem, Viking Logarta, Boy Tripon (+), Boy Morales (+), Pipo Reyes (+), Gon Jurado (+), Aida Lava (+), et al.
Tita Saling was a leader — a heroic and lovable woman. A Rizalina, indeed.
I regret I was no longer able to directly communicate with Tita Saling since Mae’s passing. There were opportunities, but I missed them. I have to remind myself again of the saying that life is short, and we should not postpone doing things that we wish we did, especially concerning relationships.
Tita Saling will be in my heart, in my thoughts with lots of love.
Filomeno S. Sta. Ana III coordinates the Action for Economic Reforms.