By BENJAMIN PIMENTEL
In November 2007, Josefina Jopson, known to many as Mommy Jopson, died after a long illness in Manila. She was survived by 10 children, 61 grandchildren and five great grandchildren, and her husband, Hernan, known as Daddy Jopson.
Jopson Couple: Hernan and Josefa Jopson survived the war, built a family business from scratch and raised 10 children, including the martyred activist, Edgar Jopson.
But spending a holiday season without his soul mate of 60 years wasn’t meant to be for Hernan. He died about a month later, just two days before Christmas day.
It was a sad, but moving, ending to a love story of a couple whose journey together unfolded through the major events of Philippine history over the past 60 years.
Through the trials they had to face in their 60 years together, including the untimely death of their eldest son, Josefina and Hernan Jopson's love for each other never wavered.
Parents of a martyr
To many Filipinos, the Jopsons are best remembered as the parents of a martyr. Their eldest son, Edgar Jopson, also known as Edjop, was the most famous activist of the First Quarter Storm, the great youth rebellion that rocked Philippine society in 1970. Edjop later joined the underground (UG) movement against the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos and was killed in a military raid in Davao City in 1982 at the age of 34.
It was while writing Edjop’s biography that I got to know the Jopsons. I later became a member of the Edgar Jopson Memorial Foundation, together with labor leader Ed Nolasco and author Ceres Alabado. I have fond memories of our meetings at the Jopson’s residence on Paraiso Street in Quezon City where Mommy Jopson always prepared sumptuous meals.
Daddy and Mommy Jopson were a kind and generous couple who both came from modest backgrounds. Hernan was born in Negros and joined the Philippine Army at 21. He was a sergeant when the Japanese invaded, he survived the fall of Bataan and the Death March that followed.
After the war, he bought and sold U.S. Army surplus materials. A friend introduced him to Josefa Mirasol who was then an optometry student at Centro Escolar University. They were married in January 1947.
Sari-sari store owners
The country was then struggling to rebuild from the ashes of the war. The Jopsons were determined to work hard and start a new life. They opened a sari-sari store in Sampaloc. The owners of a rival store across the street warned the couple that they would never be able to keep up with the competition, but the Jopsons were unfazed. They got up early and stayed up late to serve their customers. And their hard work paid off. In no time, they did shut down their store—but because they had to move to a bigger space. In fact, the Jopsons were pioneers in the Philippine retail business. They started the first self-service supermarket in the country.
But with their business successes also came failures. In 1958, the Jopsons, hurt by bad business decisions, went bankrupt. The couple, then with two children, Inday and Edgar, went through one of the most difficult ordeals any family could endure. Hernan and Josefa had to rely on their young children to battle their way out of bankruptcy. After school, Inday and Edgar had to help run the store, bagging groceries, stocking shelves and even manning the cash register. They also spent their weekends at the supermarket.
But the sacrifice paid off. The Jopsons not only got back on their feet financially, they also ended up raising two children who came to understand the value of hard work and perseverance. It was a lesson that was passed on to their other children, and dozens of grandchildren and great grandchildren.
By the 1960s, the Jopsons were among the most successful entrepreneurs in Manila, solidly upper middle class, whose children went to the most prestigious private Catholic schools in the capital.
Jopson Clan: Daddy and Mommy Jopson celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary in January 2007 with the Jopson clan, which now includes 61 grandchildren and five great grandchildren.
Their lives should have followed the typical storyline of an upper middle class Filipino family during that era. That is, their children would have become prominent members of the business and political elites, or go abroad to live prosperous and comfortable lives.
Edjop certainly appeared destined to be a major player on the Philippine political stage when he became a national figure at age 22. But martial law and his disillusionment with traditional power politics in the country led him to the UG movement. Like other middle class Filipino families, the Jopsons supported his decision and helped in any way they can. They gave him and his comrades a place to hide, food and money.
Hernan Jopson probably never imagined that he would have to visit his son in prison at Camp Crame after his capture in 1979. And Josefa Jopson probably never imagined that one of the highlights of her role as Edjop’s mother was being able to spend a few days with him at his UG house in Davao City, just days before he was killed.
Edjop’s death was a major blow, as any child’s death would be to any parent. But so many friends, prominent politicians and personalities, and ordinary people came to pay tribute to him at his wake that the Jopsons felt overwhelmed with pride in their son.
"Instead of being sad, I felt elated," Mommy Jopson said later. "I felt like I was being lifted up by the people who paid him tribute."
Edjop’s death also led Hernan and Josefa to play more active roles in the anti-Marcos movement in the 1980s, and they remained active even after the fall of the dictatorship. Josefa became a founding member of Mothers and Relatives against Tyranny, or Martyr, which helped families of victims of political violence. Hernan served on the board of a left-wing political organization.
Following Edjop’s lead
Their other children followed Edjop’s lead. One of them, Bobbi, married Popoy Lagman who became a prominent leader of the urban "sparrow" movement and was later assassinated in a bitter struggle within the movement. Edjop’s widow, Joy Asuncion, married Romulo Kintanar, the former head of the New People’s Army who was also murdered by his former comrades in factional dispute.
By then, the movement that Edjop and their other children had helped build had gone through painful upheavals that sometimes erupted in internecine violence. Perhaps because of the killings and bitter infighting that engulfed the Left, the Jopsons eventually shied away from politics and focused more on their already growing family and their business. They also eventually gave up their supermarket and shifted to farming and real estate.
They celebrated their golden wedding anniversary in 1997. By then they had a huge and still growing family. But still they journeyed on.
When my wife, Mara, and I got married, I immediately thought of asking Mommy and Daddy Jopson to be our ninong and ninang (godparents). They gladly agreed. The Jopsons celebrated their 60th anniversary early last year. Their children posted a five minute YouTube video to celebrate the occasion. Set to an upbeat Latin music, it chronicled the couple’s story in photographs (http://youtube.com/watch?v=7vigOWrKmAU).
Shortly after watching it, I sent my wife an email saying, "Sana ganito tayo. I hope we can also be like this."
I was scheduled to visit Manila to launch my novel when Mommy Jopson died. I went to her memorial service the day I arrived from San Francisco. Daddy Jopson, looking weak and sad, was gracious as always. When he heard I was coming, he had asked Plops, one of his sons-in-law, to bring a booklet of photos of their land in Mindoro. He wanted to show me the place where my wife and I spent our honeymoon courtesy of our Ninong and Ninang. That was the last time I saw him alive.
A few weeks after I returned to the Bay Area, I heard that Ninong had also passed on. I was saddened of course. But then again, it was also a beautiful ending to a wonderful story about courage, love and sacrifice.
Paalam po, Ninong at Ninang.
About the author: Journalist Benjamin Pimentel is a reporter with MarketWatch from Dow Jones and former staff writer of the San Francisco Chronicle. He is the author of the gripping bestseller UG: An Underground Tale. His first novel, Mga Gerilya sa Powell Street, was launched last year.