Endless love

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Sunday, February 2, 2014

LOVE stories in these days of instant this and instant that often end as instantly.

But not the love of Mario Ortiz and Julita “Lita” Villacorta who say they have been married four times, always to each other, on November 16, 1949, and again on their silver, golden and diamond wedding anniversaries.

Theirs is a story that began during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines when both became prisoners of war.


Mario in high school and college was always an achiever. He was “an orator, a debater, an honor student, a class officer, a dramatist, a writer, an ROTC officer and a basketball player.” When war broke out, he was too young (19 then) to be commissioned an officer and he so fled with his family in Sibonga. Then he went back to the city and worked as a reporter for the Visayan Shibun and at the same time was part-time announcer in kzRC. This was when he established contacts with the guerillas and fed them with vital information. He was arrested by the Japanese, a day after Capt. Casiano Cabagnot , leader of the Bohol Area Command, implicated him in guerilla activities.

The brilliant Julita was born on June 16, 1927. When war broke out, her family fled to the mountains but later came back and resided near the Colegio de San Carlos. Lita decided to study Niponggo under Fr. Ernest Hoerdemann, SVD, and was also in a special class handled by Isao Mori San. She not only learned to speak Japanese but also to write and read Japanese. So she was asked to teach Japanese to Filipinos employed in the different Japanese offices and was later hired to work in the post office. She was asked to sort letters and eventually intercepted some of the reports that identified people helping the guerillas. The guerillas also asked her help to forge passes so they could enter the city. For this she was arrested on Aug. 27, 1944.

Both Mario and Lita were detained at the Cebu Normal School. Lita was interrogated once, and never again, though she continued to be detained. Mario used psychology during interrogations. When he was sure the Japanese knew the answer to their questions, he told the truth. When he felt they were not sure of what he did or what he knew, he denied involvement or knowledge.

At the school, Lita and other female prisoners slept in what used to be her classroom in Grade III. Then she was transferred to a building near the Redemptorist Church where, with other female prisoners, she did the laundry, as well as prepare the inumol (Japanese rice balls which were given to the prisoners, including Mario, who was still in Normal). Then one day, she was transferred to the Cebu Provincial Jail (now housing the Sugbu Museum), the only girl there. She was on solitary confinement. Mario was also transferred there and was housed with other prisoners.

Because of her fluency in Japanese, Lita was moved out of the jail to be an interpreter for Japanese nurses housed at the University of the Philippines (UP), and in the process, got in touch again with her family. When UP was bombed, she was transferred to the motor pool where, one day, she felt ill and asked to go home.

Shortly after she left, the motor pool was bombed, killing all the Japanese there.

Thus she regained her freedom.

Mario and his companions decided on Christmas Eve 1944 to make a dash for freedom.

With a lot of prayers, on Christmas night, they broke out of their cell and through a hole in the prison perimeter fence, they managed to get out of the jail and made their dash for freedom.

When peace came, Lita resumed her studies at the Abellana High School. It was at this time that she and Mario finally, formally met, and talked endlessly about their war experiences. Mario became Lita’s first and only love (Mario becomes deadpan when Lita asks him about his other girl friends) and when he was finishing his law studies at the University of Santo Tomas, they regularly corresponded. Lita graduated valedictorian in 1946, and delivered a valedictory address written for her by Mario.

When both graduated from college and Mario became a lawyer, they decided to get married. It was marriage that saw the flourishing of their respective careers, Lita in the field of education, retiring as regional director of then the Department of Education, Culter and Sports (Decs, now DepEd) Region 7 in 1992, after which she became executive director of Decs-Ecotech Center until 2001. Mario, on the other hand, became a successful lawyer and also entered the political scene, becoming city councilor, vice mayor and later mayor of Cebu City.

Lita says they endeavored to give their children a good education, sending them to the best schools, that’s why they worked hard. Fortunately, their children have taken after them and managed to get scholarships. They have five children: Reynaldo who died at the peak of his career with the World Bank, Danilo, Edwin, Jerome and only daughter Julie. For their successful parenting, the Ortiz family was named “Family of the Year” by the Inner Wheel Club of the Philippines in 1995.

Now in the twilight of their years, Mario and Lita are still active: Lita with her socio-religious activities and Mario, ever the brilliant lawyer, still handling cases.

Of their marriage, both Mario and Lita say they have never had a major quarrel, perhaps because, as Lita puts it: “We have the same character, humble and without pretensions,” not to mention prayerful and brilliant. In fact she says: “We did not choose each other. It was God who chose us for each other.”

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 03, 2014.


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