One can hardly catch her talk about herself; only about the organization she leads, the work that needs be done, and the people who inspired her.
But she liked talking about her name, her nom de guerre, because she said it defines her. “I chose the name Puah because of the biblical image of a woman, a midwife, parang nand’yan sa character ko,” Ka Puah declared.
The character Puah briefly appeared in the Bible, in Exodus 1:15-21, along with Shiphrah. The two were midwives who defied the King’s order to kill all newborn baby boys. It is said that Puah and Shiphrah made possible the birth of Moses—the prophet who led his people out of slavery and into the promise land.
THE DEFIANT PUAH
“In my life as religious, I defied my superiors,” Ka Puah was quick to admit. Like many religious nuns and priests, especially those who were ‘raised’ in the 60’s and 70’s along the doctrine of Vatican II and of Liberation Theology, being confined in a convent is indeed restrictive.
There may be many interpretations and criticisms of the Vatican II now, but in the Philippines, especially at the time of the Marcos dictatorship, it meant Jesus Christ as liberator, the Church as the people of God, and living the Church’s preferential option for the poor, deprived, and oppressed through its social action programs.
“I have journeyed with the people of God all these years —the farmers, peasants, fisherfolk, and the indigenous people,” Ka Puah commented.
In this journey, a constant inspiration to Ka Puah was the Redemptorist priest who disappeared during the Marcos dictatorship—Fr. Rudy Romano, whom she described as “Isa sa mga naka-influence sa aking bokasyon (He was among the influences in my vocation).”
She met the priest when she was in college and an active member of her parish’s cultural group. Fr. Romano taught her group how to play the guitar, prepare and perform skits. She was totally impressed with the priest’s relationship with the community, “Talagang maka-masa siya, iniisa-isa niyang bisitahin ang mga bahay (He was truly for the masses, he visits everyone in their homes).” she narrated.
But it wasn’t until Ka Puah was already a professed nun when the two met again; quickly reminding Fr. Romano that she was among his trainees years ago. They did not see each other again, “But I heard of his work among the workers. His heart was for the oppressed workers in Atlas Mines in Cebu. He was also passionate with justice and peace issues, the liberation of the masses, and he sowed the seeds of revolutionary struggle,” she recalled.
Ka Puah was assigned in Mindanao when Fr. Romano was abducted and had not been surfaced since then. “I was just so sad. But I had a chance to visit the Atlas workers and even held a liturgical service for Fr. Rudy. We did it in front of the Atlas Mines in Toledo (Cebu),” she said. They were surrounded by vigilante groups that time—the same military-backed vigilante group that was the suspect in Fr. Romano’s abduction and disappearance.
Like Puah in the Bible and Fr. Rudy Romano, Ka Puah stands up for those who cannot defend themselves, and she’s proud of it. To her, Puah’s example in the Bible as articulated in Proverbs 31:8-9 “Open your mouth for the speechless, in the cause of all who are appointed to die. Open your mouth, judge righteously, and plead the cause of the poor and needy” has to be lived by daily.
But the limitations posed by her congregation would later force Ka Puah to leave the religious life. “I am not religous anymore, but still a Church worker trying to live out the gospel imperative and the Church’s teachings among the poor,” she quipped. “Anyway, I am very happy and I feel that there is more meaning in my life.”
PUAH, THE MIDWIFE
Like the midwife Puah in the Bible, Ka Puah’s life has been dedicated to giving birth to a new social order—even if it means risking her life as she defies what is wrong and not pleasing to God, who is just.
She keeps in her heart and mind tasks set during the last Congress of the Christians for National Liberation (CNL) where she was elected first woman chairperson of the 47 year-old underground organization affiliated with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. The work calls for the increased and deepened participation of the Church people in the armed struggle and to push forward the national democratic revolution towards socialism.
Recognizing that, “this is not an easy task, not an easy mission,” Ka Puah always draw inspiration from the CNL members in the different regions, “they who are in the line of fire for living the struggle.”
Many CNL members who went ahead of them remains close to Ka Puah’s heart for they offered their lives in the service of the poor. “There are those who offered their lives in the armed struggle—the priests, nuns—who became NPA to serve the marginalized. To Ka Puah, it is “the highest expression of faith, of how faith and the gospel should be lived.” ###
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