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The last time I saw Monica

/ 12:46 AM January 01, 2017
Monica Feria

Monica Feria at a balcony of the Philippine Daily inquirer office in Makati. (Photo by Philippine Daily Inquirer)

The last time I saw Monica Feria, she was walking with a friend in Baguio. I recognized her even from behind. It was February in the year just past and my family was trapped in the car due to the Panagbenga traffic, but there was Monica, our former colleague in the martial law newspaper Daily Express, walking with grace in her feet – proof of years of training in ballet or gymnastics.

We called out to her and as she approached the car, she said, “I had been thinking of you. I need to talk to you.” But the car had to move on, and we shouted the address of the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Northern Luzon Bureau at her. We could have coffee there.

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Later, Monica told us of her concern: Should she or should she not transfer the remains of her parents Dolores Stephens Feria (buried in Baguio) and Rodrigo Feria (buried in Cabangan, Zambales) so they could be together in one place? That way, she said, she and her two sisters and their relatives would have one place to visit the dead every November.

Although it made sense, a transfer of the remains would require much paperwork as well as expenses, my husband Rolly Fernandez, who was responsible for recruiting Monica to the Daily Express in the 1970s, reminded her. Monica paused, then said, “When I was at Mommy’s resting place, I felt that she was happy here in Baguio. Maybe I’ll leave her in peace.” We exchanged phone numbers.

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And then last week came the shocker that Monica, a longtime desk editor of the Inquirer, had been diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, was confined at the Philippine General Hospital intensive care unit and was rapidly deteriorating. A common friend, Sol Juvida, was able to visit and reported how heavily sedated Monica had been. “I hope she heard me,” Sol said.

Monica, who passed from this earth at 9 p.m. of Dec. 30 at the age of 62, hears us, Sol. What makes her passing bearable to her many friends is the thought that she is now with her mother, the legendary literature professor of the University of the Philippines Diliman, and, like herself, a political prisoner during the Marcos martial law regime. She was Dee Feria’s youngest daughter.

Uncompromising

Even when Monica worked for the Daily Express covering the welfare beats (education, health and science), certain principles were deeply ingrained in her and could not be compromised.

Once we watched a farewell concert of violinist Joseph Esmilla from different orchestra seats at the restored Metropolitan Theater. The young man was then about to leave for a music scholarship abroad. After he took the last bow, then First Lady Imelda Marcos swept onstage to share the bow and give a spiel about her protégé. Taking that for her cue, Monica rose from her seat, turned her back and walked out of the theater.

I’d see her also at the home of English and literature professor Nieves “Mrs. E” Epistola at the UP Diliman campus. Once, Monica, the actor Gigi Dueñas and Mrs. E reminisced about the Diliman Commune. Monica recalled how the passwords for the “liberated areas” changed from day to day. At one point, it was “saging ni Pacing,” literally “Pacing’s banana.” This double entendre was derived from what was then called a “bomba” or soft porn movie.

Mrs. E exclaimed, for Monica and Gigi were then still in their teens, “You were such children playing with danger!” Years later, Monica would stand as godmother to Gigi’s only daughter Amihan.

Writing from her home in Guadeloupe in the French West Indies, a distraught Gigi says Monica’s passing is “still too raw [and] my mind is jumbled with images and memories of her.”

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Activist-writer Aida F. Santos mourned Monica’s passing in her Facebook account: “Too many from my generation, too soon.”

Historian Fe B. Mangahas said, “It’s so sudden, so sad. She was like a younger sister to Roger and me!”

Theater giant Anton Juan wrote on Facebook on the night she died: “Monica Feria, Pambansang Bayani. One of the bravest women of our fighting generation that braved [the] truncheons, barbed wire and military guns of martial law has passed on. I am sad but proud of her memory and the memories we shared. Her choice to be a hero … mocks the masks of traitors who crossed her life and ours. … Tomorrow all the … firecrackers and the fireworks will [sound] in your celebratory honor. Our nation is blessed to have had you. And I am blessed to have known you … .”

A report on martial law that she wrote in September 2015 for the Inquirer, titled “Sept. 22-23, 1972: Our lives changed overnight,” won a citation in the latest Catholic Mass Media Awards.

Memorial service

Monica is survived by her sisters Chuki and Bunting, her partner David Limsico and their daughter Jasmin.

A private cremation is scheduled today. There will be a memorial service for close friends on Jan. 5, 5-9 p.m., at the Church of the Risen Lord in UP Diliman. Interment is on Jan. 6 in Cabangan, Zambales.

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