Two beautiful women of Cagayan de Oro

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By Susan Palmes-Dennis

The 'S' Factor

Thursday, March 19, 2015


MARCH is Women’s Month.

It is that time of year when the world celebrates small and big victories achieved by women and I can't help but express my gratitude to these women in the frontlines who made these significant strides to progress.
The strength of these courageous women who achieved these milestones for themselves, their families and society as a whole should be shared and retold so others may know what they did.

For this year’s celebration, I would like to honor two women who made significant contributions to their communities. They died one day apart from each other. One died in Vancouver, Canada and the other one in Cagayan de Oro City, Misamis Oriental in northern Mindanao, Philippines.
Both of them though come from my city of Cagayan de Oro. The two didn't meet personally in their lifetime, but I knew them both and thus I am dedicating this little piece to them.

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The first lady was my student in college who later became my friend. Whenever we chanced on each other online we talked for hours like long lost friends – me here in North Carolina and she in British Columbia. We shared stories about the culture of the two countries that we live in and how we have assimilated into our adoptive countries. Since I am older in experience and wisdom in life, I shared so many things to Antonette Rubiato. Antonette or ”Guava” to her BFF (best friends forever) Lyzle Munalem. Antonette was on her 37th week of pregnancy when the Grim Reaper claimed her life and the baby she was carrying four days ago.

She succumbed to preeclampsia in a hospital and the doctors with all their advanced medical technology were unable to save her. When I saw her Facebook with angels and flowers I didn't pay attention at first since the thread didn't come from one of my friends. I continued scrolling down until something struck me and I read the post. My being shocked is an understatement; I was jolted to reality and reminded of my own mortality.

Women who bear children are in danger of dying due to many causes like loss of blood, low blood pressure, infection, too much anesthesia and so on. Like Antonette, there's always the risk of death even with advancement in medical technology. The danger to a mother's life still hangs on the balance. It is said that a woman's foot is close to the grave whenever she gives birth. And too many people take for granted the bravery of women in giving birth and ensuring the continuity of the human race. I would always recall Antonette Rubiato as one of my beautiful students in the College of Mass Communication at Liceo de Cagayan University. I called her “Angelina Jolie” since then until two weeks ago.

Like Angelina, she has pouting, rich lips, long straight black hair and long legs that would make anyone take a second and third look. According to Lyzle, her best friend who by the way maintained their friendship despite the distance and the years that separated them after graduation that Antonette was a dreamer and a strong woman. From Lyzle I learned that despite the Mass Communication diploma she already got from Liceo, Antonette went further by taking a caregiver course while she was working in Hong Kong before she went to British Columbia. She dreams big not for herself but also for the family she left behind. Antonette dreamed of having her own child and her first child was Aiden, her son with clear blue eyes. Lyzle said “Aiden” was everything to Antonette. She and her child whom she named Emerald Rubiato Pride died and she could have so many years of fruitful living in this earth. But only God holds the answer to so many questions.

The second woman in my story is Nene Abonitalla of barangay (village) Kauswagan in Cagayan de Oro. I also learned about Nene's death on Facebook four days ago. Nene retired a year ago after so many years of working at City Hall delivering services to the residents.

A few months back, I heard from friends that Nene had terminal cancer. But during our talk she was brave enough to admit to me her condition and she accepted it. Despite the prognosis she continued her way of life and served the church in Kauswagan based on photos I saw on her Facebook. I kept her in my prayers since then. We went a long way back. Unlike Antonette, Nene didn't have children of her own but she has adopted in her own way the children of the residents of barangays Pigsag-an, Lumbia and other sitios of Cagayan de Oro.

Nene was a lecturer of the PDP-Laban party before she joined the city government. She was aware of the social issues and how these are intertwined to development. Nene and I were together in a project of CREDEGROW funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in the early 90s that took us to nearly every city and province in Mindanao. We worked together with the Lumads, Muslims and Christians.

It was in this journey that I learned more about the real issues on empowerment, development, peace and co-existence among the Muslims and Christians and how these are linked with the issues of peace, population and development. I won't bore you with all the details of our work in Cotabato, Sultan Kudarat and how we walked by foot in Pikit, North Cotabato for hours. There is more to that but what mattered is how that journey together forged our friendship.

These two women are my heroines this year as we celebrate Women’s Month. Both ladies contributed in their own small ways to helping their families and society even if not many knew about it. Whatever hardships, regrets, losses and heartaches they might have experienced along the way didn't matter now for both have earned their long deserved rest from their worldly toil.

My hats off to Antonette Rubiato and Nene Abonitalla-Padla, two beautiful women of Cagayan de Oro.

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on March 19, 2015.

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