AGENT OF CHANGE: My Treasured Friend, Lalu

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MARAMAG, Bukidnon (30 June 2020) Finding a true friend is not easy. I was so blessed to have found one in the person of Dr. Lourdes G. dela Torre.  It was because of her influence that many of my outlooks in life have changed.  However, our real bonding is short-lived because fate has willfully snatched her from me. 

The experiences are still fresh and my heart bleeds whenever I remember her.  Until now I would run to the door whenever a bus stopped in front of the house hoping that she would alight from it. But she’s gone.

How can I easily move on when the many meaningful experiences I have with her are still fresh in my mind?

I first met Lalu in a small office at then Bukidnon State College (BSC) in February 1984.  It was the school’s student publication office, The Collegianer where she was the Editor-in-Chief.

She took me in as the section editor in Filipino. That was the start of my journalistic journey from college days until today. It started our friendship.

We have so many things in common.  We both came from low income family living from a far barrio.  We have the same number of siblings and we are both the youngest.  We were both born on the month of February.  We married on the same month – March though not on the same year.  We completed our degrees on the same semester and landed on a teaching job months before graduation.  We parted ways like this. I was hired by the Department of Education while Bukidnon State College took her in. 

We then became busy with our own careers and families.

Our paths crossed again after 28 long years, when she asked me to work as a part time teacher at the Don Carlos Polytechnic College (DCPC), where she was the Dean of the College of Education.

I invited her to live with my family in Maramag since Malaybalay is far from the college. She happily accepted it.  Our reunion was memorable. It was filled with multiple stories: from our humble beginnings until who we have become after those long years of silence.  How she loved to talk about her grandchildren especially Kyla, her first apo.

I have seen her diligence and enthusiasm at work, much more when it involves students. 

She was very critical about institution leaders who waste government resources. She hated corruption so much.  This was one reason why she worked in several institutions.  Whenever she sees irregularities in the system and her efforts could not change it, she would go out without hesitation or regret.  She would fight for her right and others’ rights even alone. Her principles cannot be waivered.  For her, what is wrong is wrong and should be sanctioned. 

Being always together, she unveiled to me many of her traits.  She would cry in silence whenever her rights are abused.  I just stayed in the other end ready to listen and to comfort her.  We were each other’s source of strength.

I discovered that behind that sober face is a character so down-to-earth.  A person who, despite her title and intelligence, is very humble and generous.   She loved to work with people especially the “common tao” and empathized with them.

She was full of fun and her ideas were very useful.  One moonlit night, she took me for a walk to the integrated bus terminal of Maramag where lots of passengers were waiting for a ride. It was already late in the evening.  I thought she was going to meet somebody.  But we simply mingled with the passengers and sat there in silence. No words. Just pure observation of how the passengers go up and down the bus. Everybody was in a hurry and the area became noisy and messy whenever a bus arrives.  Others who were not able to take a ride would simply take a small space to while the night away. Through that scene, I have reflected about life’s uncertainties.  I was so afraid then.  This was one of her ways of teaching me life’s realities.

Gradually, my learnings with her changed me as a person. I have tried hard to emulate her simple ways of living. She seemed unaffected by the complexities of the changing world.  With all honesty, I found true happiness in it.

Months before she died, we volunteered as local missionaries in the Parish of San Andres here in Maramag. This was in connection with the Golden Jubilee celebration of the Diocese of Malaybalay.  We were assigned to different barangays where there are chapels and Basic Ecclesial Communities or BECs. We would go from one house to another to pray and help parishioners be blessed. 

It was not easy because houses in the villages are far from each other. We have to go up and down hills.  I found the situation to be hard but I have never heard her complain. 

This was not her first time to engage in a missionary work, she told me. She was still single when she was a Redemptorist lay missionary assigned in San Francisco, Agusan del Sur.  The only difference was that today she works with a group, while back then, she did it alone.

Based on her observations during our mission work, life in the barrio then and now have remained the same.  She saw that the situations are still oppressive and ironic.  Farmers who produced food for the people have very little food on their table.  Carpenters who helped build beautiful and towering buildings, live in shanties.  She felt sad with these scenarios.

Dr. Lourdes G. dela Torre listens to a sharer during a mission event in March 2020 at the San Vicente Ferrer chapel in Maramag, Bukidnon. 

Lalu is at her best when interacting with people.  She has plenty of ideas to share.  She once asked Rev. Msgr. Jerry Cagas during one of our evaluations: “What is our next move after we finish our mission?  What legacy are we going to leave our brethren as remembrance of this Golden Jubilee celebration?”

No one answered her question. Even Fr. Jerry was not prepared for it. I know Lalu wanted to leave an imprint of her endeavor. Sadly, we were not able to finish our local mission because COVID 19 pandemic captured the world and locked as in our own small worlds. 

Then the inevitable happened.

Without her knowing it, she has left a big imprint in my heart- that of giving oneself to others without expecting anything in return.  If she is only alive now, she would have seen a great change in me. Probably, she would be very happy.

Lou, wherever you are now, please accept my grandest salute to the kind of person you are and for the kind of person I have become because of you. Thank you my mentor, my sister and my friend for sharing your life with me.  You will stay forever in my heart!

MAIN PHOTO: The author with Dr. dela Torre during the Move this World International Seminar on Bullying at the Capitol University in Cagayan de Oro in April 2014. Courtesy of Ms. Marissa G. Taypen

The author works at the Department of Education as a Master Teacher 11 stationed in Maramag Central School.  For decades, she mentored elementary students on campus journalism. “AGENT OF CHANGE” is a collection of tributes for the late Dr. Lourdes G. Dela Torre, who was an educator, researcher, community worker, Bukidnon News columnist, DXDB radio co-anchor, family woman, church worker, among many other roles. She passed away on May 21, 2020. 

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