As with any progress in life, the Cabualan siblings had mixed emotions about moving in a new house. On one hand, they felt happy and triumphant because the concrete house represents their hard work. It is sturdier than the one they used to live in which their parents built more than two decades ago using wood, bamboo, and light materials.
But on the other hand, they were melancholic because they felt that the memories of their childhood, both the good and difficult times, also went away when the old house was took down.
“Parang hinahanap-hanap mo ‘yong feeling ng dating bahay. Kahit na ganoon lang ‘yon (masaya kami) because of the memories. Parang every corner of that house nakikita mo iyong struggle mo (doon),” said Rizza, the eldest Cabualan child, who lived in their old dilapidated house for 25 years.
But the longing was fleeting. Rizza and her other siblings knew that having a new house trumps their sentimentality. It is more spacious and safer to live in. They will not have to worry as much as they did when they were in the old residence during rainy season.
The 26-year old University of the Philippines graduate loosened up and smiled, “This (house) is actually for our parents. We’re happy na naipundar iyong bagong bahay. We still have a lot of plans (with it).”
Part of the budget used in building the new house was from the cash prize the Cabualans received as the grand winner of the National Search for Huwarang Pantawid Pamilya in 2017. But aside from having a new house, the Cabualans have experienced a lot of shifts since declared as the most outstanding 4Ps family, not just in Leon, Iloilo but in the country.
The Cabualans’ story of pagbabalik makes them stand out from typical families. Couple Remia and Romulo used to be part of an underground movement before they started a family. After eight years of hiding and running away from the military they decided to surrender to lead a new life.
They were given amnesty in 1995 and took part in the community integration program. The adjustment of reintegration was not easy but gradually the community and their respective families welcomed them back.
Since then, the couple has become advocates of peace and development. Both of them had served as tanod members and Remia was chosen as Tanod Commander by their Punong Barangay to help maintain peace and order in Barangay Tina-an Norte.
The couple was blessed with six children: Rizza, Sarra, Nino, Jessa, Jodel, and Japeth. They had high hopes and beautiful dreams for their family when they rejoined the community, but life proved to be difficult for people like them who did not finish school. Not having a sustainable source of income made it hard for them to take care of six kids.
“(Kaming) mag-asawa mula kami sa walang-wala. Hanggang dumating ang aming mga anak. Lahat ng kahirapan, lahat ng trials sa buhay – kung minsan nadadapa din ako – pero pilit kong bumabangon hindi para sa akin pero para sa mga anak ko,” said Remia.
Despite the unconventionality of their story, the couple is grateful that they were blessed with kind and understanding children who never once felt embarrassed by their parents’ past.
Rizza shared, “One of my friends (asked me), ‘How does it feel na you have parents na rebel returnees? It came to a point ba na ikinahiya mo sila?’ I told them na hindi. There was never a chance or a time na ikinahiya ko sila. Sabi nila nakakatuwa kasi si nanay yung team leader ng tanod dito sa Leon. Malalaman mo na siya ang nagse-serve na taga-maintain ng peace and order dito sa community.”
In 2011, the Cabualans experienced another defining moment as they became 4Ps beneficiaries. The program has helped the younger children go to school and pay attention to their health. It also helps the couple to have improved self-confidence to share their advocacy on peace and development.
Finally, the Cabualans were starting to make their dreams real as education became more accessible to them.
Aside from Rizza, Sarra is also now a college graduate and working in a private company. Niño, a graduating BA in English student in Western Visayas University shared that their story surprises those who doubted their ability to attend college:
“Nagsimula kami sa walang-wala so people tend to judge na wala kang patutunguhan hanggang college ka lang or not even college. But we proved na may mararating kami. May lugar kami in this community.”
The younger Cabualans also promised their parents to graduate from college and to help lift their family from poverty. Jessa, 19, is now a first year college student of Iloilo Science Technology University – Leon Campus. Jodel, 16, aspires to be a lawyer someday. She is now in grade 10 at Buga National High School; and Japit, 14, grade 9 at Elementary School.
More community participation
Two years felt like a short period of time but many has changed in the Cabualans, other than having a new house, since winning the Search. Remia, for one, has become more active and in demand in their community as member of different organizations.
“Medyo busy sa invitations (bilang) guest speaker minsan and attend sa mga meeting. Halos lahat ng organisasyon sa bayan namin napasukan ko na. Lahat ito walang sahod, volunteer (ako),” Remia shared.
Her being dedicated and trustworthy has started to reach people outside her barangay as she was elected president of the Tanod Federation of Leon Province. The area has 1,842* 4Ps households.
Her better half Romulo is always there to assist her and make sure that she is safe as being a tanod is risky and dangerous. He used to be a tanod as well but his health condition prohibits him from continuing the job.
Remia’s voluntary work definitely helps her community but she could not help but feel guilty whenever she has to prioritize work over her family. Whenever she thinks of quitting she asks herself, “Paano na ang katahimikan ng barangay?”
But the Cabualan siblings do not mind. They understand their parents’ passion for serving the community even though they are also busy working at a construction company. If it was up to them, they would rather have their parents stay at home, relax, and do voluntary works whenever it is convenient to them. But whenever they pitch this idea to their parents, it is always turned down.
Rizza shared, “Gusto sana namin kahit mag-sari-sari store pero ayaw nila… Sabi nila as long as kaya ng katawan namin, we will continue to work.”
A true huwarang pamilya
The Cabualans already claimed their so-called ‘15 minutes of fame’ when they were proclaimed grand winner of the Search and appeared in televised news. The awarding was short-lived but their being huwarang pamilya did not end in Muntinlupa Sports Complex where the awarding ceremonies was held. They knew they have to live up to the title.
Remia explained, “Sa akin (may) pressure. Paano ko paninindigan ang pagiging huwarang ina? Bilang isang modelong ina? Mahirap para sa akin kasi ‘yung titulo nito may kaakibat na responsibilidad.”
She understands the gravity of bearing the title that is why she advises her children to continue their good work and uphold cooperation as a family even after the Search.
“Masaya (kami noong nanalo) pero may pressure din sa amin to maintain the image of huwarang pamilya. Hindi ka naman magpapaka-hyprocite na sinasabi mo (mag-aaral kang mabuti) tapos wala ka naman palang patutunguhan,” said Niño, adding that this also made them “driven and motivated” to do well in school.
And for Jodel, she heard her teachers telling her classmates “na tularan kami, gawin kaming inspiration.”
All the same, the Cabualans welcome the pressure and the opportunities to share their advocacies that came with winning the Search. They have been to various events, training seminars, and gatherings to tell their story and remind them, especially their co-beneficiaries, to follow 4Ps’ conditionalities.
Remia told them: “Aalagaan ninyo mga anak niyo; pag-aralin ninyong mabuti. Itong programa bihira lang ito at tsaka ‘di natin alam kung kailan hihinto. Habang mayroon pa dapat alagaan nating mabuti.”
The Cabualan siblings have also started looking after their younger cousins who need help to continue their education and doing volunteer work. “Sabi nga nila, pay it forward,” said Rizza who is planning to start volunteer work this year.
Niño, meanwhile, joined the Sangguniang Kabataan. He credited their being a huwarang pamilya as one of the factors he won the election. “Manifestation (iyon na I am) credible and has potential kaya I was elected as SK chairperson.”
The Cabualans are doing everything to sustain their gains from the program especially now that the older children are earning. Remia explained that it is important for them to make the investment of 4Ps to them worth it:
“Tulong-tulong kami sa mga hindi pa nakatapos. Hindi lahat ng oras aasa tayo sa gobyerno. Hindi palagi aasa tayo dapat marunong tayong tumayo sa sarili nating paa.” ###
*Data as of June 2019