Mario Talja, Super Friend and Comrade, Part 3
CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews) - We thanked Mario for his fortitude, leadership, calmness, music, helpfulness, protectiveness, and above all his friendship. Mario was as stoic and as grim and determined as activists often are but he had a soft heart and empathy. Actually the perfect Cagayan de Oro word for Mario’s greatest strength would be “pag-amping” - the ability to take care of others, to nurture, to safeguard and protect, and accompany the people he loved. Behind the stoicism and calm demeanor, Mario was a caring person. He cared for the communities he served, for the island and country he loved, for his wife and daughters, his brothers and family, his extended family, indeed for all of us.
I had a special relationship with Mario, being both from Cagayan de Oro, sharing a link with his in-laws the Royos, being his and Gina’s ninong in marriage, and working with him in LRC for almost a decade.
Two years ago, he came to me and my wife Titay to ask for help and guidance. We had a long conversation about forgiveness: how to forgive yourself for your faults and mistakes, for your selfishness and limitations; how to forgive the people you love when they have hurt you, even for things you thought you would not be able to forgive them; and how to ask for forgiveness from the people you love because for sure you have hurt them even without knowing.
Mario’s sister in law Nonette said it best for all of us: ”We have known Mario in his many roles, as a friend, a co worker, a leader, a brother, a Tito, a protector, a husband, a doting father to two amazing daughters, a sparring partner who was always very sure of himself, a confidant, a health adviser, a listener, a singer, duet partner with the right pitch and ready chords, a biker to hitch us through Cagayan traffic, and many more. Like most of us, he played these life roles with light hearted dedication, riding through a lot of trials and errors, learning from them. I have seen how Mario walked the path he chose, with openness and readiness to try. I have witnessed his energy, persistence, courage and patience. Through the highs and lows of his life’s journey, we participated in various ways.
We want to complain bitterly about why he had to leave us so suddenly, We cry at the gaping hole he left in our hearts. But in God’s time, he is called, to remind us to choose Love. Love that transforms us into that someone we desire.
Love that is not just for self, but expands to everyone, and everything.
Love. That is the best, the only way to summarize the life of Mario JB Talja. His love for our common city Cagayan de Oro, for our great and troubled island of Mindanao, for Pilipinas nating mahal (Our beloved Philippines) for Indigenous Peoples and the poor, for us his friends and comrades, for his brothers and their families who loved him fiercely, for Gina, Inna, and Ally who were always at the center of a heart that was always brimming
over with love.
Last January 1, 2019, to welcome the New Year, Mario posted this meme in his Facebook timeline: ”I am walking into 2019 with a clear heart and mind.
If you owe me, don’t worry about it. If you wronged me, its all good, lesson learned. If you’re angry with me, you won – I’ve let it go. If we aren’t speaking, its cool – I truly wish you well. If you feel I’ve wronged you, I apologize it wasn’t intentional. I’m grateful for every experience I learned. Life is too short for pent up anger, holding grudges, and extra stress and pain. Here’s to 2019!!! Remember forgiving someone is for you so don’t block your blessings. May 2019 be a year of possibility and a season of forgiveness”
Mario posted this without knowing it was a goodbye letter to all of us. I certainly did not know. I had always thought, being from the same city, Mario and I will be crossing paths again.
Mario and those of us who worked with him have seen challenging times; indeed we have lived dangerous lives fighting for human rights, protection of envrionment, and for justice and democracy. Those were good years - when we were young and poor but idealistic, burning with love for the poor and the country, and full of hope. In those years of struggle, we sang Joey Ayala’s Walang Hanggang Pamamaalam, a haunting love song if there is one, a lot because we were never sure when and even if we will see each other again.
Ironically now that we are older, I thought we would always see each other more often – having the time and the means now. But maybe we will. Certainly for me, the friendship with Gina and now with Inna and Ally will continue. After all, as we sang together during the LRC parangal (tribute) to Mario: “Ang pagibig natin ay walang hanggang paalam, at habang magkalayo papalapit pa rin ang puso; kahit na magkahiwalay, tayo ay magkasama sa magkabilang dulo ng mundo.”
Pag-amping ug daghan salamat, God bless, Mario, super friend and comrade.
(Antonio “Tony” La Viña of Cagayan de Oro City is former Dean of the Ateneo School of Government. He teaches Constitutional law in Law schools in Manila and Mindanao)