“In sickness and in health… ‘Till death do us part.”

Gemma and Ereneo Laquio can never forget this wedding vow that they have uttered to each other 32 years ago.

In a little sitio in Patalon, Zamboanga City called Miluao, love flourished between two individuals like seeds of plants in an abundant land. In today’s generation, Gemma and Ereneo are what we can consider as “childhood sweethearts.”

They started dreaming of a happy family amidst having little in life. Because they wanted to provide their newly established family a secure and healthy living, the couple decided to move to Sibuco, a municipality in Zamboanga del Norte, where Ereneo owns a lot. The couple lived a simple yet happy life in the province where farming was their lone source of income.

Just when they thought that they had finally reached their humble dream of a simple life together with their five children, a frightful event happened in the area where they reside. They were caught at the middle of exchange of bullets and gun powders because of a political war. Gemma and Ereneo had never feared so much as they did at that time –not a fear of their own death but a fear for their children’s future.

Though doubtful with their decision, they moved back to Zamboanga City and started anew.

Ereneo underwent rigorous training and worked as a security guard earning 100 pesos daily while Gemma stayed at home taking care of their children. And with their new beginning, came another blessing in the family –a blessing of life with their youngest child.

During this time, Gemma also celebrated her 42nd birthday. They can vividly remember how happy they were celebrating these two significant occasions in their life.

Little did they know that this happiness would demand a heavy price. A day after Gemma’s birthday, Ereneo suffered from stroke which caused half of his body to be paralyzed. He could not stand and could barely move because of his condition. But more than his physical body, he felt as though his entire family was not able to move because of this catastrophe.

He felt bad knowing that his wife needed to stand and provide for their family, a role that he should have held as the head of the household. Many times, Gemma would cry at night having faced with the responsibilities of taking care of her husband, children, household chores and money for their living. Gemma had to work in a canning factory at night and attend to her kids and husband in the morning.
In today’s generation, we hear many stories of women who leave their partners when faced with grim adversities. But this was never the case with Laquio family. And though Gemma knew how difficult her life would be in the next days, she promised to keep her vows to her husband and her family.

“Di gyud naku biyaan akung pamilya. Kay kana man gyud ang gipangsabot sa pamilya, walay biyaay.
(I will never abandon my family. That is what family means, no one is left behind),” Gemma said.
With all determination, she went to talk to the owner of the vacant lot in front of their residence, Mr. Roland Maravilla. She offered to take care of his lot by maintaining a beautiful garden of vegetables and fruit trees. Fortunately, Mr. Maravilla gave her his permission.

Gemma started selling vegetables in the neighborhood and she also sell fried banana to augment their income to support home expenditure and school dues.

Ereneo, on the other hand, had never given up despite his illness. Seeing his children and wife having a hard time with their status, he encouraged himself to continue fighting and defying his sickness. He strived so hard to be able to stand and move again. Once he was able to stand, he started to do one-hand lifting to recover from his condition. Day by day, he was determined to push himself to the limit on his way to recovery.

One sunny day, Gemma was surprised to see her husband plowing their garden. Shocked as she was, Gemma knew that this is her husband’s way of saying that he will never neglect his responsibilities as the head of the family. It was when she knew that everything will be alright.

Laquio children also supported their parents with the little things they do especially in school. They would help by selling yema in school and fried banana after class. They sometimes would offer their classmates tutorial in exchange for little amount for their baon. Gemma and Ereneo have always known how bright and helpful their children were.

The children also made sure that they are always at the top of their class to get a scholarship that they need. Without a doubt, as consistent honor students that they were, they were able to get academic scholarships and land part-time jobs as working students.

In fact, Gemma was able to put up a small sari-sari store from the money that their children gave them from their extra school allowances.

Currently, their eldest son already graduated with a vocational course while 2 of their children graduated with degrees in Education and are currently working. And though they are now working professionals, they still help their parents cook and sell bananas just like the old times.

In 2015, Laquio family became part of the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program. The program, according to Gemma, helped them especially in values formation and new learning that they acquire through the Family Development Sessions (FDS).

Laquio family has also been active in community activities especially in their barangay and during FDS. In fact, they sometimes serve as Resource Speakers where they share their family values and how they manage their family among other Pantawid families.

When asked about their advice to other families in the community, Gemma left us with a beautiful message that had us thinking about the true meaning of family.

“Katung nanumpa mi sa simbahan 32 ka tuig ang nilabay, dili lang storya ang among gipanaad kun dili ang among pagtuo nga panalipdan ang among pamilya. Kung naa moy problima og wala moy lain maduolan sa pamilya lang gihapon modangop. Kana lang ang pamaagi para masulban ang problima. (When we gave our vows 32 years ago, we didn’t simply created words for the ceremony. We gave our devotion to protect each other and always be the fortress of our family. If you are faced with a heavy problem and you feel like there’s nowhere to go, take a tight grip to your family. That’s the only way you can face your problems with courage),” Gemma added.

This is perhaps the true essence of a family that is worth emulating. The values and the story of Laquio family serve as inspiration to many families especially to those that go through a rough journey. The positivity that Laquio family gives to their fellow Pantawid families shines bright and are evident in their daily relations with the community.