Lisa Filler tells the dramatic story of how her mother and father met and married during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines in World War II. Shared Stories is a weekly column featuring articles by participants in a writing class at the Norwalk Senior Center. Bonnie Mansell is the instructor for this free class offered through the Cerritos College Adult Education Program. Curated by Carol Kearns
By Lisa Filler
My mother Ligaya had suitors of different kinds: a doctor, a school supervisor and an engineer, but nobody really became her boyfriend.
In 1940 Ligaya got a teaching job near Manila in a village called Welfareville. This village was created for orphan children, children of parents with contagious diseases, and delinquent boy and girls. This is the place and time where my parents met.
Ligaya and all single employees were provided with lodging in the dormitory. The assistant principal, Julia Diokno, was assigned to lodge in the Home Economic building and take care of school supplies. Julia asked Ligaya to accompany her especially at night.
One day a young man came and introduced himself as Juan, the half-brother of Julia. Their mother, Pastora Banaag, had been left a widow with two daughters, Julia and Tentay.
Pastora had run away and left her two daughters with her strict brother who took care of her when her husband died. Nothing was known about how Pastora lived for 10 years, until she moved to Cavite City with a baby boy, Juan, who was born in Tuy Batangas.
Pastora had been earning her living by cooking and selling food. One day she asked her neighbors, an elderly couple, Leonida Ayroso and Mr. Filler, to watch Juan while she went to the market. She did not come back.
This elderly couple did not have any children and now they were left with a baby boy they hardly knew. Out of their own kindness they adopted the baby and named him Juan Ayroso Filler. Mr. Filler worked in the US Air Force in Subic Bay.
When Juan was 6 years old, Mr. Filler died. Leonida was elderly and did not have experience earning a living. The little boy Juan started to earn a living by carrying wood and water to neighbors and doing other errands.
When Juan enrolled to go to school, the teachers helped Leonida seek a pension from the US Air Force. Juan continued to earn a living by distributing newspapers before going to school. Leonida adopted a niece to take care of her.
Juan graduated Valedictorian from Cavite High School and got a scholarship to the University of the Philippines. He was one of the graduating classes of Mining Engineers in 1941 when the Japanese bombed and conquered the Philippines.
The university was closed and Juan looked for his haft sister Julia to stay with and find job. He got a job in Welfareville as a security guard and stayed in one of the storerooms of the school.
Juan, Ligaya and Julia practically lived in one household, sharing the kitchen, dining and bathroom. Juan would help Ligaya in washing dishes and clothes and at the same time try to hold her hand (chancing).
This continued and then later Juan would steal a kiss. Ligaya, who had never been kissed, liked it. One day a woman came looking for Juan. Juan took the woman to his room for several hours. Ligaya was hurt and told Julia that she will stop helping her since she has her brother to help her.
Ligaya went to her dormitory. Juan tried to talk to Lher but she did not want to talk to him and avoided him. Juan was so in love with Ligaya that he asked the help of Ligaya’s brother Albert who was also working in Welfareville.
Ligaya refused Albert’s help. When Ligaya was scheduled to visit her father in Pagsanjan, Juan asked Iking, a family friend of Ligaya, to help get him a chance to talk to Ligaya. They were able to visit Ligaya in her dormitory.
As soon as Ligaya met them Juan fell on his knees crying for a chance to court her. Ligaya said, “No. You will not even pass my father’s criteria. You are not from the Pagsanjan and are eight years younger than me.”
Juan said, “I will face your father and introduce myself. I will go with you to Pagsanjan.” Juan asked Iking to introduce him to Ligaya’s father. They took the same bus to Pagsanjan.
Ligaya went directly to her grandmother’s house across from her father’s house while Iking and Juan went to the house of Ligaya’s father. Ligaya didn’t know what happened there.
After several hours Juan and Iking came asking Ligaya to sign a marriage license. Ligaya was so surprised. Juan and Iking explained to Ligaya that her father asked questions about Juan and Iking’s recommendation.
He asked Juan’s intention. Juan said, “I love Ligaya and want to marry her”. The father explained that with the war condition, it was scary to have single daughter. He heard of single women raped by the Japanese. So if Juan was ready to marry Ligaya, he could marry her.
So Juan got the marriage license with the help of Iking. Everything was arranged. After Ligaya signed the marriage license, all the cousins started cooking and preparing an altar at the grandma’s house and called a priest to celebrate the wedding.
After the wedding Ligaya stayed at the grandmother’s house and Juan stayed at Iking’s house. The following day they had to go back to Manila. Iking got a room in a hotel owned by Ligaya’s cousin for Juan and Ligaya’s one-night honeymoon.
Afraid that they may lose their jobs, they kept their marriage secret. Ligaya stayed in the dormitory, Juan continued staying in the school storeroom. When they told their secret to Julia, Julia said, “Do not be afraid to lose your job. You have to live together.”
Juan and Ligaya announced their marriage and rented an apartment. They did not lose their jobs. And the rest is history.