ABQ’s Shrine for Miss World Philippines 1967 Margarita “Maita” Gomez
I never really knew who Margarita (Maita) Gomez was, but when I heard about the death of our Miss World Philippines 1967 last Thursday (July 12, 2012) my heart turned into a well of sadness. According to reports she died of cardiac arrest while taking a nap.
Geez… we had just lost Comedy King Dolphy a couple days ago and now this. So on Friday the 13th (July 13, 2012) I had a bizarre schedule – 1) attend the send off of the current Miss World Philippines winner, 2) visit Dolphy’s wake and 3) pay my last respects to Maita Gomez, Miss World Philippines 1967.
At the Funeraria Paz in Manila Memorial, my hubby and I were first greeted by the view of a hallway lined with flowers for Maita. It felt like a hallway lined with love. Next, her son Pog welcomed us with a smile and a quizzical look because I obviously wasn’t a family friend. I simply said, “Oh, I’m a former beauty queen,” and that seemed to answer whatever question he had in his mind.
When I entered the room that was holding Maita Gomez’ ashes (her body was already cremated) and laid my eyes on the small collection of photos by her urn, I was astonished by her smile. What a beautiful woman she was, I thought to myself. In the news stories covering her death, I read that she was a freedom fighter; well, I’ve never really met a beauty queen who chose the thorny path of fighting for the people. And with Maita somewhere else now, I guess I never will. But at least, I could read about her life and perhaps learn a lesson or two.
I found this wonderful article in Tagalog, written by Judy Taguiwalo of Pinoy Weekly online and I took it upon myself to translate it into English, for the benefit of myself (LOL) and my English-only readers… to Judy, forgive me if this translation isn’t up to par. But I did put my heart, mind, soul and 4 hours into it and got to know a bit more about you and Maita in the process.
Click HERE to read the original article written in Tagalog.
A Salute to Maita Gomez: “Walang masama sa kaliwa; mabuti ang kaliwa.” (There is nothing bad about the Left; the Left is good.”
by Judy Taguiwalo (translated into English by ABQ’s author)
From what I can remember, I first learned about Maita Gomez through an article in the Philippines Free Press that I had read in Bacolod. The article, which came out right after she won Miss World Philippines 1967, was written by Nick Joaquin, under his pen name Quijano de Manila, a monicker he used when writing for the Free Press. Aside from being beautiful (she was one of Manila’s Five Prettiest as featured in Free Press), Maita Gomez proved to be sharp and intelligent and knew was going on in politics. Beauty and brains, as they say. When asked what possibilities were in her future, her answer was – President of the Philippines!
At UP Diliman, Maita Gomez was one of the campus beauties – tall, willowy and with an absolutely gorgeous face. I would often see her near Pavilion 1 because I think she was taking up a pre-med course. Of course, we didn’t know each other then. She was part of high-society – not just because of the beauty she possessed, her being a model for Pitoy Moreno or always being in the society pages (better known now as the lifestyle pages) but because she came from a Hacienda-owning family in Pangasinan. Perhaps she was stirred up by the First Quarter Storm of 1970 or the UP Commune of 1971, but if she was, she did not become a part of the organizations I circulated in. But I believe that the first freedom fighting group she joined was Aletheia.
It was during Martial Law when spent time together in the countryside. Maita Gomez had become a legend – the beauty queen who embraced the country’s democratic movement and chose to go underground to fight the dictator Marcos. In the countryside, where black parachutes were crafted into unisex pants, a pair on Maita Gomez would always look like designer jeans.
The farmers in a barrio where she stayed for a while knew her only as Ka Dolor. When I visited the place, Maita had already been whisked elsewhere. But the folks there had plenty stories to share about her. The farmers’ and womens’ groups said she know how to connect with them so they took good care of her. They would quickly hide her from strangers who arrived in town because she was just too easy to notice. But the mystery of Ka Dolor’s identity was finally discovered when barrio folk who went to town to buy supplies, saw her on the old magazine sheet used to wrap the dried fish that they had bought.
After the Martial Law era, when Maita Gomez and I were together in Gabriela and the founding of the political party Kaiba, (Women for the Mother Country), I told her about how the people in that barrio remembered her so fondly. Maita Gomez herself could never forget the place because according to her, she and daughter Melissa spent some time there together. Melissa even wrote to her grandmother about the wonderful time she was having, as well as the different types of food she ate, like – fresh water shrimps, wild chicken and snake! I can’t imagine what her grandmother might have thought of such a letter but it was clear that Maita Gomez seriously wanted her daughter to understand the movement that she had embraced.
When I was jailed in Camp Crame in 1984, WOMB or the Women for the Ouster of Marcos and Boycott, was one of the groups that fiercely campaigned for my freedom and. Maita Gomez was one of the defiant and militant women who made up WOMB. At the height of EDSA 1, I suddenly received a short note from Maita, Irene and Gigi and the rest of WOMB: “Don’t worry about your freedom, where here outside with thousands of citizens.”
Afterwards, when Marcos was overthrown in 1986, Maita Gomez and I spend time together in Gabriela, in Kaiba and at the Institute of Women’s Studies of Sister Mary John Mananzan. This is where I witnessed her self-deprecating humor. On a document she was filling out, she said that her civil status was – single, married, widowed, separated, etcetera – she wanted to write “all of the above!”
When it comes to generosity, one cannot underestimate Maita Gomez! Her apartment in Malate was open to a activists who found themselves in the area after a face-off with the US Embassy or after a rally in Lawton. When I had to attend the 25th wedding anniversary of a sibling in California and needed a formal outfit, I ran to Maita who opened her closet to me. It wasn’t filled with too many clothes but what little she had, was high quality, simple and elegant. And so I was able to find something that I could wear to my sibling’s fancy silver wedding anniversary.
In the early 1990s, Maita Gomez decided to continue her education. She entered the non-formal education program of the Polytechnic University of the Philippines (PUP) where she received credits for her writings which included a biography of Laurie Barros – a well-written history of women’s movements in the Philippines which was part of the documentation of a presentation Maita did at a Gabriela congress. Afterwards, she enrolled in the School of Economics at UP where she finished her Masters in Development Economics. She then taught at UP Manila, became part of IBON and eventually focused on researching the issue of mining.
All through this, she continued to be involved in the movement. She regularly took part in the march commemorating Womens’ Day every March 8. She was also elected member of the National Council of Selda, an organization of former political detainees. And she was co-chair of Makabayan, a coalition of progressive parties.
Maita Gomez always gave special attention to young activists. Her apartment in Malate, which was near UP Manila was always open to the friends and group-mates of her children, particularly Pog and Michael. She would boast about the chosen sexual orientation of one son and the activism of the other, even while they were in high school. So it is no surprise that this was the post of Michael on his Facebook on the day his Mom died:
“2005, I skipped school in Letran HS just to go to a protest against the US Embassy, the next day a photo came out in the news and when I got home I saw Mom had a copy of it on the ref, a neighbor visited and Mom quickly showed off the photo clipping saying, “That’s my son!””
The life and struggles of Maita Gomez, the new Gabriela woman, were indeed colorful and hers was a life very similar to what Laurie Barros described in 1971:
“ The new woman, the new Filipina, is first and foremost a militant…She is a woman who has discovered the exalting realm of responsibility, a woman fully engaged in the making of history…” ((Ma. Lorena Barros, “Liberated Women II” in Pugad Lawin, Taon 18 Blg 3, January – February 1971: 32)
Just as it was for Laurie Barros, it was clear to Maita Gomez that making such a committed stand would help shape history. As one comrade remembered her in the last National Executive Council meeting of Makabayan, where they were discussing the tag line for the possible candidacy of Teddy Casiño for Senator, Maita Gomez suggested this:
“Walang masama sa kaliwa; mabuti ang kaliwa.” (There is nothing bad about the Left; the Left is good.”)
What a perfect epitaph for Maita Gomez, my beloved comrade, co-woman and friend!
Maita, your monument will be built in the hearts of the people!
(The original article written in Tagalog was first released on the Facebook page of it’s author Judy Taguiwalo.)