They have come a long way since their activist days in the years leading to the Edsa People Power Revolution.
From being comrades in the struggle against the Marcos regime, Annie Santoalla, Lan Mercado-Carreon, Joel Saracho and Egoy Bans are now lifelong friends and, more recently, business partners.
They were just in their early 20s when they crossed paths: Carreon, Santoalla and Bans were marching on the streets, while Saracho was a newspaper reporter covering human rights issues and the mounting protests against the dictatorship.
Santoalla was then with the Ecumenical Movement for Justice and Peace, while Carreon was with the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), whose members included Santoalla’s future husband, Ed. Bans was then with a student Christian organization.
“Those shared experiences during those dark days kept our friendship alive to this day,” Saracho recalled some 30 years later.
Their bond grew strong as Saracho not only covered the anti-Marcos protests for Malaya newspaper but also the fact-finding missions conducted by his three friends’ respective organizations, mainly on human rights violations and the militarization in the countryside.
Carreon had already gone underground when the Edsa revolution, whose 27th anniversary is being marked today, broke out. Saracho recalled doing desk work for Malaya in a “safehouse” during the bloodless four-day upheaval.
That camaraderie didn’t end with the fall of the Marcoses. In the first few post-Edsa years, the four friends again found themselves together bearing witness to history.
Following the January 1987 Mendiola Massacre that left 13 people dead in a farmers’ march near Malacañang, they helped one another in coordinating indignation rallies and in issuing press statements.
Later that year, in September, student leader Lean Alejandro was shot dead outside the Bayan office in New Manila. “Ed and I heard the shots and were first on the scene when Lean was killed. Afterwards we marched to Annie’s EMJP office on Balete Drive. We were all working together in arranging the funeral, etc.,” Carreon recalled.
The following year, Carreon went missing for “nine months” after being abducted by a group of men who “suspected me of being a government spy.” She said she was held captive, tortured and moved to different locations in Manila and Nueva Ecija province.
In an interview with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, she declined to give further details about her abductors, and just recalled with gratitude how her colleagues in the movement became “my search party.”
But Santoalla was more forthright about this episode, saying her friend was abducted on suspicions that she was a government spy during the split in the Philippine Left, a period marked by “purges” which they thought already claimed the life of Carreon.
“We could have chosen to be selfish. But we really looked for her and pressured people to surface her,” Santoalla recalled.
Carreon and Santoalla are now both with the Philippine office of the international antipoverty group Oxfam, while Bans is working in a government TV station. Saracho is now a theater and TV actor, having honed his stage skills as an occasional performer at Bayan rallies.
At one point, Santoalla and Saracho worked at the TV network ABS-CBN in different departments.
“But perhaps one more thing we have in common, aside from being activists, is that we all love to cook and eat. We were a bit crazy,” Carreon said with a chuckle.
She said her daily “allowance” then from Bayan was P10 a day, so she and her colleagues would often pool their money to prepare their own meals.
With the passing of the years and their ties now extending to each other’s families, the four friends have opened a new front for another common cause: Good food.
They are now co-owners of a small restaurant in UP Village, Quezon City, called “Ed’s Table,” a 30-seater place named in memory of Santoalla’s husband who died of leukemia in 2011.
“We wanted to have a place where we can hang out and enjoy each other’s company and relive stories from the old days, and where we can share our favorite pastime—eating. So we thought, why not put up a restaurant?” Santoalla said.
Ed’s Table opened in October last year, offering mostly the so-called lutong-bahay fare. But more intimately for Saracho and company, it can be considered a testament to their enduring friendship, one that was forged in darker, stormier times.
“We are godparents to each other’s children, and even the children are now friends with each other. We have an unspoken pact to take care of each other,” Saracho said.
“We may not be family by blood. But we choose to be in this family, where the members look out for each other,” Carreon added.