“Walang hirap na ‘di n’ya sinuong” (She faced every hardship), a sister wept as she delivered her tribute. “Tita Lina” to young activists or “Lita” to her contemporaries, Myrna is considered a great loss to the rights movement but, as people who extolled and reflected on her role said during her wake, she would remain an inspiration.
By Aubrey AC Makilan
Born during the Marcos dictatorship, the human rights movement today continues to make a difference in the fight against repression and the defense of human rights. The movement’s mission has been pursued by activists and volunteers, church people as well as lawyers and civil libertarians – not a few of them sacrificing their own lives.
Last Jan. 2, one of the movement’s leading lights – Myrna Fajardo – died unexpectedly. She was 46. “Tita Lina” to young activists or “Lita” to her contemporaries, Myrna is considered a great loss to the rights movement but, as people who extolled and reflected on her role said during her wake, she would remain an inspiration.
Born on Sept. 7, 1959, Tita Lina was the third eldest among eight children – but the eldest among five girls.
Little Lina was a bright student, Nanay Bebeng, her mother of 78, said as she would often invite friends to their house in Bagong Barrio, Caloocan, for a group study.
As an active church volunteer, Nanay Bebeng would often bring her eldest daughter to medical missions and community meetings. It was through these that Little Lina would would be exposed to the issues of the urban poor, including demolitions and lack of basic services.
Later after classes, Lina would go to the community and immerse herself with the urban poor. As a student at the former Gregorio Araneta University Foundation (GAUF), she would continue to deepen her political awakening. Her footsteps were followed by her other siblings like Jocelyn, Gloria, and Peña.
It was at GAUF where Lina would meet Gilbert, also an activist. Their marriage would later be blessed with six children: Roz Victoria (or RV), 18; Rosa Guia, 16; Liberty Emmanuelle, 11; Armando, 8; and the twins Christine Ann and Felisa Joy, 5.
Lina got her heart involved in human rights under SELDA, a group of former political prisoners, in the mid-1980s. She became deeply involved in clarifying the human rights mission at the time when the movement was riven by internal political conflicts. Then she also became a key person in pushing for the celebrated class action suit against the Marcos dictatorship for human rights violations.
Volunteers of SELDA say that Lina was also partly instrumental in building and rebuilding the group’s chapters as she took efforts in “knowing by heart” the stories of nearly every political prisoner she would meet.
Nanay Bebeng recalls Lina’s bravery particularly during protest rallies where she was always on the frontline bombarded by water cannons. One of such protest rallies would lead to a three-day detention in 1994 with police charging her with “obstruction of justice.”
The constant risks and threats of human rights work did not dampen Lina’s enthusiasm in her work, however. “Malayo pa lang, nakangiti na s’ya” (You can see her smile from a distance), fellow human rights workers would attest. “She smiles a lot and her laugh reverberates in the office,” says Girlie Padilla, also a human rights worker and secretary general of the Ecumenical Movement for Justice and Peace (EMJP).
Last Dec. 20, Lina left her four younger children under her mother’s care as she had to prepare for the yearly “Paskuhan sa Munti” (Christmas in Munti) at the National Bilibid Prison (NBP) in Muntinlupa the following day. Lina stayed overnight in the SELDA office to finish everything for the activity, said Padilla. But she was unable to go to NBP anyhow after a bout of fever on Paskuhan day itself.
For four days, Lina did not see her children and Nanay Bebeng was wondering. She was unaware that Lina was hospitalized at the Quezon City General Hospital until granddaughter Roz Victoria told her by phone.
Saying she wanted to spend Christmas at home, Lina was released from the hospital on Dec. 24. Following stressful days, she was again hospitalized Dec. 27 this time at the Calalang General Hospital near their home in Valenzuela. The doctor, who suspected a heart ailment, warned that her condition was deteriorating. She died of a cardiac arrest six days later.
Despite her age, Nanay Bebeng was calm in her daughter’s wake. “Malungkot sana ako sa paglisan ni Myrna ko pero hindi, naaliw ako sa dami ng taong nagmamahal pala sa anak ko” (Myrna’s death makes me sad but I’m also happy to know that many people love her), she said.
Lina’s house, garden, and parking space overflowed with mourners, including many SELDA members who were dressed in their orange organizational shirt.
Nanay Bebeng said a former political detainee went to her house in Caloocan looking for Lina to thank her for helping him process his release papers. To his surprise, Nanay Bebeng led him to Lina’s wake.
The tribute for Lina on Jan. 6 by fellow activists, friends, relatives and family became not only a moment of grief for her loss but also a time to salute someone who apparently touched many people’s lives.
A vendors’ group from the University of the Philippines in Diliman, to whom Lina extended help, also paid tribute to her. A letter of condolences coming from the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) was read by lawyer Edre Olalia of the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC) of the Government of the Philippines and the NDFP.
Imelda Continente, a fellow human rights worker, sang Lina’s favorite song, “Awit ng Mortal.” While she sang , a power-point presentation showing Lina as an activist, mother, wife, and friend was played as friends and other mourners watched fighting back their tears.
“Walang hirap na ‘di n’ya sinuong” (She faced every hardship), sister Jocelyn wept as she delivered her tribute.
This coming March will mark the 20th wedding anniversary of Gilbert and Lina. The family plans to celebrate it in the cemetery with a visit to her tomb. Bulatlat.com