Felipa Kabigting can be up and about as early as 4 a.m. In the early-morning sun she can be seen doing some stretching by a street post not far from home in Barangay Guadalupe Viejo, Makati City. This is followed by a bath and a dab of astringent, lotion, lipstick and then cologne. In two hours her daily ritual is over.
But tomorrow’s schedule will be far from routine for Lola Filing, 102.
The matriarch born on May 1, 1910, is one of the eight centenarians receiving P100,000 in cash from City Hall at Monday’s flag ceremony, a form of tribute to the elderly in line with the local government’s welfare program for senior citizens.
Of the eight honorees, four reached 100 before they passed away last year and will be given cash gifts posthumously in rites to be led by Mayor Jejomar Erwin Binay. Aside from Kabigting, the other living recipients are Juliana Gurango of Barangay Comembo, 102; Luz Kahn of Forbes Park, 100; and Sister Candida Asuncion of San Lorenzo Village, 100.
“I am still strong and capable,” said Kabigting, who attributed her longevity to a healthy “pork-free” diet, regular exercise for both body and spirit, and simple living.
Lasting like mom
In a country where the average life expectancy is 71 years, Kabigting belongs to an age bracket that would include only about 7,000 Filipinos based on 2007 figures from the National Statistics Office, and around 455,000 people worldwide based on United Nations estimates as of 2009.
But there are other numbers that are certainly more important to the woman, whose lifetime covered two world wars and all but one of the 15 Philippine presidencies.
Widowed at age 62 and outliving three of her eight children with husband Eutiquiano, she now has 43 grandchildren and over a hundred great-grandchildren. She’s also close to matching, if not exceeding, the record of her own mother who lived up to 105.
Born in Makati, Kabigting never had any formal schooling but learned to read and write at her father’s lap. As a teenager she started making a living making baby dresses at an embroidery shop.
During World War II, she gave birth to her fifth child, the light in her house kept dim as she went into labor so as not to draw the attention of enemy soldiers on the prowl.
There were also days during the war that she and other female friends had to hide in a tunnel to avoid being bombed or taken to be raped by the Japanese. She recalled seeing men in her neighborhood being taken prisoner and hauled off to what was then Fort McKinley (now Fort Bonifacio).
Still a healer
Later, raising a growing family, she baked and sold rice cakes in the streets and accepted laundry jobs to augment her husband’s income as a policeman.
But one skill keeps her busy to this day despite her age. Lola Filing remains the go-to person in the neighborhood for those in need of a good hilot, a traditional healer for body pains. She learned the art of the massage from a friend who was a midwife.
“There must be something in my touch. I seem to know just exactly where it hurts,” she said. “I want to give comfort to people and make them relax.”
Kabigting said she herself had learned early on that stress could take away years from one’s life. Growing up in a period when the kalesa still ruled Makati streets and men still courted women by serenading them at night, she said one secret to long life must be “living within your means.”
“I taught my children to be self-reliant. I delegate tasks. I don’t make my life complicated,” she said. “I don’t engage in gossip and I try to live a simple life.”
“At this point in my life, God can take me anytime He wants to,” Kabigting said. “But still, every night when I pray, I ask Him to help me take care of myself and extend my life a bit more so I can continue protecting my family and loved ones.”