She was born in October, 1909 or 1913; nobody really knows exactly when. When she was 16, she married a sailor, some said a mason, and other people who considered her their enemy said that she had an affair with one of the porters stationed in the pier of Iloilo City.
She eventually married this porter, rumor has it. This man’s name is Emeterio Campaniel whom she bore two daughters: her first child named Asuncion when she was 18 and her second daughter, Leonor, when she was 21.
She then left Tiyok, as her husband was fondly called by people who knew them. He physically battered her whenever he got inebriated. Maria existed during a time when battering women was not scoffed and derided by the society, when it was accepted as a part of “disciplining” misdirected and erring wives. She, however, was a woman ahead of her time: she left her husband when this action by a wife was unheard of; she retained her maiden name, Cadete, despite the usual practice of dropping it and taking the husband’s name; and she took care of her daughters in the absence of any financial support from their father.
An unsuccessful married life became a reason for her to pursue a different career that again challenged the conventional roles of the women of her time.
She had an aura of a character in a legend sprung from a small town. She acted as adviser to the local people of Janiuay, Iloilo on legal matters during her heyday before World War II. According to stories, the defendant or the plaintiff or whoever side she was against, trembled whenever they knew that Maria Cadete was the legal adviser of the other party. There was no clear accounts of her life during this time but according to what’s passed around, her expertise in dealing with rape cases and land settlement was unparalleled.
After the Second World War the legendary fame of Maria Cadete among the people of Janiuay waned until she was relegated to oblivion for unknown reason. She was last seen in Bukidnon on the island of Mindanao doing menial job, a far cry from her former work as the legal voice of the people in that farming community in central Philippines. Rumors then spread that she permanently settled in the Cotabato region during the early 80s.
Later did I know that this legendary Maria Cadete and my taciturn great grandmother Maria are the same person. I heard the story of Maria Cadete, who inspired hidden deference and regard in me, told in the third person by people around me without any reference to the old woman I call Lola Marya. My lola used to stay in her own hut for wanting to have a life of her own, free from any meddling from her two daughters and eight grand children.
I never bothered to connect the dots that led to my questionings as to the why the old and reticent woman of 93, that’s her age when I left for college, kept on asking me whether I was going to study Law in college, or on the progress of my schooling as a “law student” whenever I went home for a vacation.
Yesterday, I confronted the legend that I’ve always believed ever since I heard the uncanny Maria Cadete. Lola Marya, who until this time clings on to her life as she is celebrating her 100th year and the Maria Cadete who inspired awe in me because of her recalcitrant defiance of her Fate both existed physically at the same time, in the same places ignoring the physical law of impenetrability.
And what is even more amazing is the fact that for almost a hundred years now, these two inspiring women always have been one and the same.