The Unsung Heroines of Edsa

Gerry Lirio, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 25 2018 06:41 PM

Her heart was pounding with fear on the morning of January 28, 1973. But Bing Pimentel, wife of lawyer Aquilino “Nene” Pimentel Jr., then a delegate to the 1971 Constitutional Convention, needed to show courage. 

Soldiers had arrived in their home in Cagayan De Oro City to arrest Pimentel for criticizing President Ferdinand Marcos’s declaration of martial law. Bing wanted to cry, but Nene prevailed upon her. 

“I had to be strong for our children,” she recalled in an interview with ABS-CBN News.

“The soldiers ransacked our shelves and cabinet in search of evidence against Nene,” she said. 

“They started picking up books with the word ‘revolution’ in the title. I gave them a copy of Marcos’s ‘Today’s Revolution: Democracy” which he wrote to justify his one-man rule,” she said.

But it did not stop the soldiers from taking Pimentel away. The eldest of her seven children, Gwen, was only 12-years old when all this happened. 

Away from the sight of soldiers, and of her husband and their children, Bing cried.

Nene Pimentel went back home several months later, but only to be arrested three times again for opposing Marcos.

Marcos did not put Bing behind bars, but she still paid a dear price for standing by her man, as did the wives of other prominent Marcos critics. 

Ruth, the wife of Teofisto "Tito" Guingona, wouldn't let go of her husband, so policemen kept her for several days at the Bicutan Detention Center.

Lydia Salonga, wife of Jovito Salonga; and Cecilia Mitra, wife of Ramon Mitra, meanwhile nursed the wounds of their husbands.

After two powerful grenades exploded at the 'miting de avance' of Marcos’s rival political group, the Liberal Party, at Plaza Miranda on August 21,1971, nine people were killed and over 100 others wounded. Among those seriously injured were LP stalwarts Salonga, Mitra and Gerry Roxas. 

Salonga was permanently blinded in the left eye and completely lost hearing in his right ear. 

Mitra sustained 32 shrapnel wounds all over his body. The shrapnel stayed inside his body until he died in March 2000. Doctors refused to take them away because doing so would do more harm.

Lydia and Cecilia took care of their husbands for months after the Plaza Miranda bombing, even as they felt the uncertainty of the family’s future.

During a rally of farmers and fishermen in the midst of the 1992 presidential elections, Mitra, who was born out of wedlock, was quoted to have told his story about his poor life:

“All candidates say they're going to do something about poverty, I don't doubt the sincerity of their words. But do they really know how it is to be poor? Do they really know how it is to be hungry, really hungry? I do. Do they know how to throw a fishing net, how to fish from a boat through the long night? I do. The farmer who follows the carabao, what he thinks and what he feels, is something I know very well.”

Mitra’s fortune rose when he joined politics, but took a dive with the imposition of martial law, but the beautiful and elegant Cecilia, from the famous Aldeguer-Blanco clan of Iloilo, did not leave Mitra. 

Lydia and Cecilia faded into the night quietly. Lydia died of complications from diabetes in April 2010. Cecilia passed away several days before Christmas in 2010.

While Tito and Ruth were detained together, Roxas and wife Judy Araneta were severely wounded together at the Plaza Miranda bombing.

Judy Roxas is the vice chairperson of the Araneta Group and is the mother of Sec. Mar Roxas. Fernando G. Sepe, Jr. ABS-CBN News

Judy said in an interview with this newsman in August 2008, one of the grenades exploded right in front of her husband, who was seated in the front row with Salonga and Mitra.

The explosion changed the course of Philippine history, as it did Judy’s life.

Judy said her husband suffered injuries on his legs and feet while she was wounded on her right knee and the left side of her waist; her yellow kimona turned red with blood. 

The pain was excruciating, she said.

The Roxas couple left their respective hospitals in wheelchairs after several weeks. He was up and about after a month while she had to use a wheelchair for another six months while undergoing daily sessions of physical therapy on her knee.

The dictatorship left indelible marks on Judy's body. Shrapnel fragments remain buried in her waist. For a long time, these metal fragments in her body would trigger metal detectors in airports. 

When Judy walks, she has to constantly watch her step. When going down the stairs, her right foot must step ahead of the left foot or she would fall, Judy narrated in a rare interview, part of which was published in the Inquirer. She is now 84 years old.

In all the many years of her husband’s incarceration, Bing thanked God for keeping her family together. 

The family survived by God’s grace, through the generosity of kind friends and supporters, she wrote in book titled “True Love Within Our Reach.”

“Somebody would give us rice after I prayed for it,” she recalled. 

“How did it happen, when I told nobody of our need? Somebody gave my sons scholarship when I wondered only in prayers where to get money for their tuition? I would not know how we would have survived.”

Recalling her husband’s arrests, Bing said it was likewise a miracle that she was able to put up a brave front.

“I told my children that their father had to go because he was fighting for something that the Marcos government wanted to suppress,” she told ABS-CBN News.

“They could have perceived Nene’s arrest negatively, that he was leaving us because he did something wrong. I said: ‘they should be proud of him because he did something good,’” she said.

She didn’t cry. To keep her children's spirits up, she told herself she wouldn’t cry. But in all those years of living dangerously, it wasn’t easy. Each night she feared that she wouldn’t see her husband alive again.

"Any woman who understands the problems of running a home will be nearer to understanding the problems of running a country," Margaret Thatcher said in 1979, the year she became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom. 

For these Filipino women, their understanding of the problems of the country probably made them better understand how to keep a home intact while the men of the house were incarcerated.