By Ma. Ceres P. Doyo

Maria Yusay Feria, simply called Maring or Tita Maring by many, passed away quietly last Jan. 22 at the age of 93. She had lived a full and happy life of single blessedness dedicated to the welfare of many.

The day after she passed, our ex-Nassa (National Secretariat of Social Action) group asked Ed dela Torre to make an e-poster in her honor with group photos of ourselves during reunions. I found in my photo files a solo shot of her which I took when we were in Good Shepherd Convent in Baguio for a short retreat with Sr. Mary Christine Tan RGS, her bosom friend and schoolmate.

Soon after I posted that e-poster plus my very brief write-up on her on Facebook, so many condolences, goodbyes, and recollections began to pop up. I have since added more sentences to that first post because more recollections kept playing in my head. Here is a more expanded write-up with added bits for this column:

Not many know that Maring helped save the lives of some activists who were being hunted by the Marcos dictatorship during the martial law years. Oh, the risks she took, the things she did—some so hilarious if not suspenseful! One of the daunting operations Maring was closely involved in was the escape to exile of Charito Planas. Some details on this are in Planas’ book “Escape!” but Maring had her own recollections that would make you double up with laughter. Big woman that she was, Planas was not easy to hide. Maring had to play her own part so as not to make Planas stand out but with some almost disastrous outcome. Hint: Maring was a smoker and had to have her puff. I will not get into more details so as not to give surveillance agents ideas on how and where to find their prey.

Karen Tañada (granddaughter of the great Sen. Lorenzo Tañada) was among the hunted that Maring helped. She did post on Facebook how Maring gave her a new haircut so she would look “different.” There were other big ones, Sen. Raul Manglapus among them, who later came back from exile in the US after the dictator was ousted. He became foreign affairs secretary during the Cory Aquino administration, with Maring as his chief of staff.

In Maring’s living room hangs a framed blow-up photo-on-canvas—a gift from a friend—that shows her linking arms with anti-dictatorship demonstrators ready to face water cannons. Her family might want to donate it to the Human Rights Memorial Museum in Diliman, Quezon City, that will be finished sometime soon, part of the provisions in Republic Act No. 10368 passed during the term of President Benigno Aquino III. The law provided for the museum’s creation and compensation of more than 11,000 martial law victims and survivors. The funds came from the Marcos ill-gotten wealth returned by the Swiss government.

When Cory became president, the military intelligence gave her a trove of photos surreptitiously taken during her visits to Fort Bonifacio where her husband Sen. Ninoy Aquino was detained. One of the black and white photos taken on the sly showed Maring, Sr. Christine Tan, and Mrs. Dakila Castro entering the detention area. Cory gave the photo to Maring with a dedication written on it. I did use the photo for an Inquirer article on the anniversary of Ninoy’s assassination.

Though to the manor born, Maring had a big heart for the downtrodden and, most especially, the political detainees, but she was not the G&D (grim and determined) type. She was fun to be with and was a great ballroom dancer even when she was well into her 80s. She had a group of amigas from her age bracket, among them, her St. Scholastica’s College schoolmates who danced their way into their sunset years. Among her non-dancing amigas were Nini Quezon-Avanceña, Supreme Court Justice Cecilia Muñoz Palma, and Thelma Arceo. A true-blue Scholastican steeped in the Benedictine ora et labora, Maring lived out her Christianity the best way she could.

Our Nassa group of “subversives” will miss the twice-yearly reunions in her home (and the Iloilo-style pansit molo). She had worked in Nassa’s finance department for many years where she was simply called Maring and developed close friendships and links to the so-called “poor deprived and oppressed,” the so-called PDO of liberation theology advocates.

No goodbyes, dear Maring. Enjoy your heavenly rest. No puede fumar in heaven ha! And oh, for nincompoops and cowards she had two gentle words: “No tiene.”

Originally published in Philippine Daily Inquirer, January 27, 2022

Maring Feria, patriot