It’s Sunday, and it’s 2:00 p.m.
Ate Lovely (not her real name), the psalmist, gets ready for Mass by practicing her part. While getting ready, she could be seen obviously enjoying the company of her friends and some of the seminarians inside the sacristy of a seminary chapel in Talisay City.
She and her friends from the lectors’ guild just exchange the funniest (and sometimes, corniest) of jokes while waiting for the mass to begin.
After the mass, she then continues to share stories with her co-lectors. When there might be obviously no more jokes to crack, she then joins other youth for Frisbee-throwing. As she catches the blue disc, one could sense the energy she exerts and the warm smile that comes from her face.
However, no one would notice that with her warm disposition and outgoing personality, Ate Lovely would bear the scars of a dark past. It would seem that her tall build is not enough to protect her from sustaining those wounds that have become scars.
Born to a family of eight in Daanbantayan,Cebu, she grew up with the feeling that her father loved her so much.
However, when she was eight, the feeling of love began to subside when she began to feel something strange with the way her father treated her.
“Nalain ko kang Tatang gud na nako ikaw kuno ba, kon ikaw naa sa akong lugar, unsay bation nimo,” she would then throw the question back.
She then recalls her father mussing her hair, and as she started puberty, she would then notice him advancing in his degree of sexual abuse, particularly toward her private parts.
Her youth however did not prevent her from telling her mother, but the latter would not just budge, saying that she must be crazy.
The cycle continued as she advanced through high school. During this time, she tried to escape from her father’s abuses by staying inside the parish convent, where she also serves as the youth choir director. However, she just could not be successful because her parents know where she is, and her parents always force her back home.
For a time, she decided instead to live in her classmate’s house to confuse her parents. However, she did not stay there for long because her parents found her there and forced her back home once more.
At one point, Ate Lovely decided to keep with her a cutter for self-defense should the abuses happen. It just did not abate. There was even one night where she found out her father was already on top of her.
Seeing that she was already in despair, she even attempted suicide thrice.
When she finished high school, she decided to move to the city to avoid her father’s sexual advances. She had no one to turn to, but herself. Though she was staying with her aunts, she had to think of ways to fend for her own needs.
Being young and appealing, she had already a lot of suitors. However, they all got rejected. She muses,“Da, di pud ko padala ato nila uy. Ako ra man gani tong ingnon nga ‘maayo ra mo sa hambog, atik ra nang inyoha.’” Most suitors would find her a wasted opportunity, but not for this man named Max.
“Nagpangita baya ko og love sa papa. Mao tong gipakaslan nako siya,” she tells, in a sober tone.
Max was persistent in his courtship, and in less than a month’s time, Ate Lovely already said yes to the marriage proposal. She says that at only 17, she got married in Muslim rites inMindanaowithout her knowing it.
Ate Lovely recalls with a laugh: “Ignorante pa kaayo ko ato. Kani bitawng wa koy buot.”
Her new family had to move to Lanao del Norte, the birthplace of Max, after finishing college in BogoCity. In a matter of four years, she managed to keep secret her pregnancies to her three children. Her youngest son, JR, who is turning eight this year, butts in from the background, saying “babaye ug lalaki,” referring to his elder brother and elder sister, who are 11 and nine, respectively.
Life though was not kind to Ate Lovely in her stay there. She would recall how she perceived her husband to be committing acts of infidelity, only to realize that Muslims may have as many as four wives, provided they could give them support.
Again, she says, “Ignorante pa kaayo ko ato. Kani bitawng wa koy buot.”
She thought trauma brought about by the abuses done by Tatang would end with her marriage to Max. But then the husband’s family had a dispute over parcels of land, and their dispute ended up with her husband’s cousin beaten up half-dead.
Owing to the pride of the family and the absence of Ate Lovely’s relatives, the family decided to make her pay for the crime she never even thought of committing. She was assured that she will get away with it once they settle the issue amicably. However, she refused.
“Madaot pa lang gani akong record. Unsaon na lang nako inig pangita nako og trabaho unya puhon?”
With no money in her pockets, she tried to escape, but her husband confiscated her mobile phone. Luckily, she was able to get it back and, using it, contacted her parents to send her money in Lanao.
When she got the money, she then made her escape with the help of a few friends who were also habal-habal drivers in the area.
She remembers luckily meeting another lady-friend along the way who said that there are policemen actually waiting for her because the family already knew of the escape with the children.
“Nakuyawan na ko kay akong nabalitaan gani nga giatngan na ko sa Tubod (Lanao del Norte). Mao to nangalyas na lang ko.”
“Maayo gani nakaabot pa ko og Ozamiz ato,” she later recounts.
She reveals she has used up all her strength and she fainted inside the ship. No matter how her co-passengers tried to make her eat, she would not take any bite of it because her body has been worn down by stress and fatigue.
Ate Lovely admits that she has had her shortcomings before God especially since leaving the choir in her parish in Daanbantayan. She felt the strong urge to return to God especially in her moment of distress. She then made a pact with God while still in the ship back home forCebu.
“Mi-promise gyod ko kang God nga mobalik na ko og serbisyo niya, nga inig balik nako sa Cebu, magbag-o na ko, ug unya di na ko mobalik didto sa Mindanao.”
Ate Lovely mustered her courage to return home and to face the possibility of being abused by Tatang once more.
Alas, nothing still changed.
“Gibalik na pud niya og buhat.” With all her might, she forced herself out of the room. She just could not sleep. That was for her the most unimaginable thing that would happen to her in her entire life.
Her determination to seek retribution for the wrong done by her father moved her to confront him regarding the issue. But Tatang would deny it, saying “Maayo gani wa ta mo ka****.”
This triggered her sisters to narrate the same ordeal they had gone through at the hands of their father, to the dismay and anger of Ate Lovely.
Without any hesitation, without looking back, she left, determined to change her life.
Since she could never detach from her church work, she decided to stay there and ask for the help of the new parish priest in the area. Luckily for her, there was Papa, the dad of the parish priest, who also became her stronghold.
Papa became her everything her tatang was not for her. Ate Lovely found a new lease on life, peace of mind and body, comfort, warmth, shelter.
After Papa knew that her parents were trying to persuade her to come home, she asked that they leave her place in Daanbantayan.
They had to make do with a rented house in Tabunok,TalisayCityuntil Papa’s son-priest knew about the arrangements. The priest even thought they were living together.
Papa’s son-priest then decided to let Ate Lovely and her family stay in the house that his family commissioned. Ate Lovely and her children now stay there in the house originally meant to be rented out.
She quickly recalls one remark done by the rector of the seminary where she is serving as psalmist: “Alam mo, Ate Lovely, kung di yan nangyari sa’yo, di ka mapupunta dito.”
It has been two years now since she found comfort in her friends in the seminary, and the guidance of priests who give her time for counseling and confession.
However, not all is done yet, as she faces the possibility that Papa will leave this world soon. Ate Lovely shares her plans, her expectations for the future.
As for her father, she remarks “Ako na siyang gipasaylo. Apan ang Ginoo na lang ang bahala kaniya.”
“Lahi ra gyod kon ang ginikanan mao gyoy moatiman sa anak. Mao nang gi-try gyod nako akong best nga mahatag nako sa akong mga anak ang tanan.”
Despite those scars, she has found her peace.