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USA: The Gomez paradox endures

Words and photos by Dionesio C. Grava

Maita Gomez, aka Margarita Favis Gomez, was one of Pitoy Moreno’s top models, a Miss Philippines-World, the scion of a rich landed family and had a family of her own (she was then married to Perez-Rubio with whom she had a daughter, Melissa) when she decided to join the underground movement in the fight against the Marcos dictatorship.

How could someone who was the toast of Manila’s elite society suddenly become a dedicated freedom fighter at the time of a wicked, corrupt leadership who had no qualm about torturing or killing anyone perceived as a threat to the establishment? Nearly two months after her death the Maita enigma has continued to perplex many of her countrymen.

Among those who touched on that issue and other reminiscences about the beauty turned revolutionary were gathered at the social hall of FACLA (Filipino American Communities of Los Angeles) in Temple St. as they reminisced about her one more time on the 40th day after her death. They were seated in steel folding chairs arranged arch-shaped near a covered table bearing vases with flowers and framed photos of the demised Maita Gomez.

Fe Koons, a writing colleague and organizer of the tribute/memorial, would later reflect in a Facebook account her sentiments then: “i know maita gomez does not want being the center of attention but for the years that she has served the people.. maita you are always in our hearts and minds. We recalled your patience, your perseverance and your bravery going to the countryside for freedom and justice!”

Another community writer, Cora Pastrana, did likewise: “Maita lived her life to the fullest …. she experienced it all – the comforts then extreme hardship. To the manor born, the Castillian beauty turned activist. I remember her still.” Others in the group were Lolita Lledo, Tess Mercado, Bobby Halili, Tessie Zanoria, Rhony Laigo, Art Garcia, Dong Lledo, Bernie Ganon-Targa, Bernardo Bernardo and Mark Masaoko.

They had stories to tell on that August 20 evening. Those were trying times, they said, when love of country were not words spoken with ease. Those times brought challenges and changes not only to many lives but to the homeland as well. Some of the conferees had personal encounters with Maita; a few of them knew someone who knew her.

Some recalled that being beautiful and tall, Maita always stood out among fellow Filipinos. As head of Womb (Women for the Ouster of Marcos and Boycott) and one of the sparks of Gabriela, which at that time was headed by Nelia Sancho, another beauty queen turned rebel, Maita was always a dynamo in the group, an inspiration for many and during those dark years a byword of radical activism.

Somehow amid the hardships and excitement of guerilla life Maita hooked up with folk rock pioneer Heber Bartolome, who later became her second husband. After Marcos fled to Hawaii, Maita continued with her social and political advocacies. As co-founder of the Kaiba party she sought elective positions in 1987 and 1995. Both times she lost. In 2009 she became a founding co-chair of the Makabayan Coalition.

Meanwhile, the harsh condition of life on the run was catching up with her and she was known to have health problems. Maita died in her sleep one Thursday in July at age 65. Her life of adventure and sacrifices for the Motherland was laid to rest on the same day Dolphy of comedy fame was also buried.