Patreng Non and her mom Zena Bernardo. Photos courtesy of Ben Opinion and Zena Bernardo's Facebook page
Culture

Exclusive: Patreng Non and the woman who raised her

How did Zena Bernardo raise her four kids? “Kasabay naming lumaki si Nanay,” says the woman of the hour, Ana Patricia Non. 
RHIA GRANA | Apr 29 2021

The last couple of weeks have trained the nation’s collective gaze towards a young Filipina by the name of Ana Patricia Non—the initiator of the Maginhawa Community Pantry. Unknown to many, Patreng’s source of income, a small furniture business, was also hit by the pandemic. Seeing the plight of her neighbors, however, convinced the young lady to offer some form of ayuda for them: grocery goods and fresh produce on a wooden cart parked beside a tree along Maginhawa Street. Members of the community can freely get whatever they want. Those who have the means are encouraged to give what they can. 

We all know what happened next. In a matter of days, Patreng’s humble effort created a ripple effect—a movement, if you will. It led to the sprouting of community pantries all over the country. “Magbigay ayon sa kakayahan. Kumuha batay sa pangangailangan” became a resounding slogan promoting the value of sharing no matter one’s status in life. 

108 Maginhawa Street is now a drop-off point for donations that they redistribute in nearby community pantries. Photo from Patreng Non's Facebook page

The wooden cart filled with groceries and vegetables can no longer be found along Maginhawa Street these days. Gone too are the long queues of people. But not because of the whole red-tagging hullabaloo. It’s because Patreng just announced in a Facebook post last April 27 that 108 Maginhawa Street will no longer be a simple community pantry. It will be turned into a drop-off center for donations. The goods are now redistributed to nearby community pantries so people won’t have to walk far or line up under the heat of the sun to get their hands on food and other essentials. 

The name Patreng has become familiar in both traditional and social media, with many expressing their admiration and respect for the former UP student. We’ve seen her bravely face media reporters. We’ve seen her in tears over not being able to give relief the day she decided to temporarily put the Maginhawa Community Pantry on hold. We’ve listened to her friends talk about the Patreng they know: she’s really good at organizing. She’s always there to help. “She doesn’t shy away from questioning things. Hindi siya basag ulo, but she’s not one to back down,” one of them told ANCX. 

“But how does one raise a woman like Ana Patricia Non?” we wanted to know. And so we tried to score an interview with her mother, Zena Bernardo, who the day before we saw in a photo on Facebook, sitting on the floor and leaning on sacks of produce, visibly exhausted from running around, clearly needing a drink or two. We were ready with our questions but we were pleasantly surprised to find her daughter on the Zoom call instead. Having not spoken to the woman of the hour, we took it as an opportunity to get our queries answered, and get to know more about the private Patreng and the woman who raised her. 

Three generations: Patreng with her Lola and mom Zena. Photo from Zena Bernardo's Facebook page

The fam that helps together 

Patreng, who lives independently like the rest of her siblings, admits she did not tell her mother about her plan to set up a community pantry in their area. “Hindi ko naman kasi expected na magiging malaking bagay sya,” she tells ANCX.  “Nagulat na lang si Nanay nung nakita niya sa news. Hanggang sa lumaki na [ang community pantry], humaba na ang pila. So naisip nya, baka kailangan ko na tulungan si Patreng. She asked me, ‘Gusto mo magpunta ako bukas?’ Ganoon lang sya kadali.”

Her mother’s help has been invaluable—from manning the queues to asking people to fall in line, from organizing the goods to keeping her daughter company at the pantry, especially at the height of the red-tagging brouhaha. “Maaga siya gumigising, sinasamahan nya ako. Very supportive sya,” says Patreng. And now that they are redistributing goods to community pantries, Zena has taken up the task of ordering fresh produce from the farmers and allocating them for distribution.

Patreng says the rest of the family have all done their share of charitable deeds during the course of the pandemic, so the Maginhawa Community Pantry wasn’t totally new to them. Her mother has been involved in Bayanihang Marikenyo at Marikenya, which has organized community kitchens in different barangays in Marikina City. Patreng’s older sister in the United States has cooked for the homeless. Patreng, on the other hand, organized a bigas drive last year to help jeepney drivers who lost their source of income.

Yun ang masaya ako para sa aming family. Magkakahiwalay man kami ng bahay pero nung pandemic, lahat kami may ginawang project para sa community,” she says.

Fresh produce for redistribition to community pantries. Photo from Zena Bernardo's Facebook page

Separate lives 

Patreng and her three older siblings grew up in a humble home. “Hindi kami mayaman,” she tells ANCX. “Sa public school kami lahat magkakapatid nag-aral. Sakto lang ang food namin.” 

Patreng’s parents separated when she was only two years old, so her mother Zena had to do all sorts of jobs to support the family. She was a social worker, a call center agent, a marketing staffer, a teacher. “Madaming raket si Nanay,” says Patreng.

Aware of the family’s financial situation, the young Patreng would sell bread and candies to grade school classmates so she can earn extra for her “baon.” And even when she was already studying Visual Communication at the University of the Philippines College of Fine Arts, she would be as enterprising. “Naglalako ako sa UP para may extrang baon ako,” she recalls, smiling.

Patreng remembers a time when their mom would borrow money from her school teacher just so they would have something to eat. “Kinailangan nyang maging vulnerable para mag-survive kaming magkakapatid. Hindi sya nahihiya [na humingi ng tulong] kasi kailangan nya kaming buhayin,” says Patreng.

But even when they didn’t have much, she and her siblings at an early age learned the value of sharing what little they have to the needy. “Mapagbigay talaga [si Nanay]. Never nya itinuro sa amin na kailangan naming magdamot kasi mahirap kami. ‘Mahirap tayo pero hindi tayo madamot at makasarili. Kailangan natin mag-share.’ Yun ang kinalakihan kong environment,” says Patreng.

Her father also instilled in them this kind of mindset. “Yung side ng daddy ko may kaya sila pero parati niyang sinasabi, ‘Ganito ang sitwasyon ng mga Aeta sa Pampanga, bumili tayo sa kanila para matulungan natin sila.’”

During Christmas, Patreng recalls her mom buying biscuits and giving them to kids in the streets. When she was still in school, her mother would cook for her classmates when they came to visit, from huge amounts of ginisang togue and pritong dilis to pancit canton that she would serve with pandesal. “Masarap magluto si Nanay kaya hindi kami nahihiyang mag-imbita ng kaklase,” she says.

When Patreng and her siblings started going to college and joining activist groups, they also saw their mom bloom, as Patreng puts it. “Activist na din sya, feminist na din sya. Naiintindihan nya ang struggles namin.” Photo from Zena Bernardo's Facebook page

Anak ng bayan

It was not easy to raise her and her three siblings, Patreng knows this for a fact. “Apat kaming magkakapatid na very independent at very opinionated,” the lady offers. And they would often argue with their mother, who also has a strong personality.

One of the issues they would argue about is her mom’s posting of candid pictures of her children or sharing too much information on social media. Patreng recalls one occasion that ticked her off. “Nag-swimming kami. Hindi niya sasabihin pini-piktsuran nya kami ng naka-bathing suit. Tapos pinost nya sa FB. Sabi ko, ‘Wala nang natira sa kahihiyan namin!’” says Patreng, annoyed at the memory but smiling. 

The youngest child admits she’s quite reserved about sharing her private life on social media, and that’s where her personality also differs from her mother. “Ako ang mas strict kay Nanay, siya ang mas carefree. Ako talaga ang nanay sa aming dalawa,” Patreng says laughing.

What the Non kids really appreciate about their mother is that even if they tell her off or tease her, she is always the first one to rescue them when they need help. “Si Nanay pa din ang magse-save sa amin. Kunwari, maysakit ang isa, may ganitong problema, may anxiety, ang unang pupunta pa din si Nanay,” Patreng shares.

Zena in front of the Toym Imao's "Barikada" installation in UP Diliman. Photo from Zena Bernardo's Facebook page

People would often ask their mom how she raised her four children, says Patreng. And her mother would refuse to take the credit for everything. “Palagi niyang sinasabi, ‘Ang mga anak ko ay anak ng bayan,’—which is true. Madami nga kaming natututunan sa bahay pero kailangan mong palayain at some point ang anak mo para mas matututo siya fully and mag-evolve.”

Zena was never strict with her kids. They were allowed to go on field trips, sleepovers, as long as she knew who her kids were with, where they are, the contact numbers. As early as grade school, their mom would tease them about boyfriends. They later on realized it was reverse psychology. “Ang nangyari, late na kami pumasok sa relasyong magkakapatid,” Patreng says, smiling. “Dahil hindi strict ang parents namin, na-enjoy namin ang youth namin.”

Patreng, now 26, knows that she and her siblings have made painful decisions that hurt their mother in the past. But their Nanay wholly accepted whatever experiences her children had to go through in life.

Yun yung sinasabi ni Nanay: na meron kaming pagdadaanang magkakapatid na sobrang sakit at sobrang hirap para sa kanya, pero wala syang pwedeng gawin. Ang the best nyang puwede gawin ay mag-observe lang, i-guide kami, kasi kailangan naming pagdaanan yun at kailangan naming lagpasan,” Patreng says, recalling her mother's words.

Zena Bernardo, a self-confessed plantita, helped in the installation of "Whispering Flowerbeds" at the UP PGH, as a living tribute to fallen frontliners. Photo from Zena Bernardo's Facebook page

Zena in full bloom

Zena Bernardo, born and raised in Marikina, was barely out of her teens when she got married and had their first child with Arthur Non—she was 19, he was 23. They met in UP. “Sobrang ganda ni Nanay nung bata sya,” Patreng says. “Prom queen sya. Madaming nanliligaw.”

After the wedding, Zena was no longer able to continue with her education. She and Arthur parted ways eight years after but they parted in good terms. When Patreng was in grade school, Zena went back to her studies and took up Education at the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Marikina. She would work during the day and study at night. “Kasama kami nung nag-graduate sya, may medal sya. Masaya kasi nakapagtapos si Nanay kahit na single mom sya,” says the proud daughter.

Contrary to what others may have presumed, Zena wasn’t an activist in her youth—“pero very open siya, very progressive.” When Patreng and her siblings started going to college and joining activist groups, they also saw their mom bloom, as Patreng puts it. “Activist na din sya, feminist na din sya. Naiintindihan nya ang struggles namin.”

It was quite a journey the Non children and their mother had. “Kasabay naming lumaki si Nanay,” says Patreng when asked how Zena raised her and her siblings. They are proud of how their mother has evolved through the years. “Kung nagbuhay-dalaga man sya [nung anak nya na kami], hindi ko sya masisisi. Kung same age kami tapos apat ang anak ko, baka ganoon din ako,” says Patreng. “Natutuwa ako na nung tumanda kami, parang na-appreciate ni Nanay ang sarili niya, yung skills nya, yung pwede nyang gawin sa mundo, sa community niya.”