Politically yours: Not your usual love story

Younger Rey Claro Casambre.

Both smile easily, laugh heartily. Rey is fond of thinking up his own jokes. Cora is the more serious type but her candid remarks would send Rey into laughter without her meaning to. Definitely a happy couple loving what they do. Cora’s late Inay once told her, how come you choose to be poor yet seem to be so happy?


MANILA — It’s not flowers, chocolates, nor classy restaurant dates that kept the love burning for detained peace mobilizer Rey, 68, and wife and fellow activist Cora, 73. Not that these would not delight them, but for over 45 years, it would be sharing the same principles and hopes and dreams — and many things in between — that for them serves as the tie that binds. And what would that be? World peace it is, one based on justice they would stress. Serving the people is their chosen profession, and living a life for others, their mantra.

This isn’t so much their love story as it is – say – just one of perhaps many testimonies of the commonalities of the two known to or observed by people they grew up with especially their kin, classmates, co-professors and students, fellow activists, basic sectors to whom they were teachers and organizers, doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, bishops, priests and nuns, government officials, diplomates, friends from other nations, and many others whose lives they have touched and continue to whether or not as a couple.

Just a brief context: Rey and Cora met way before they fell in love. Rey is the little brother of Cora’s batchmates in the University of the Philippines Diliman. UP High valedictorian and editor-in-chief Rey would later become a communard – or how they called the “rowdy” students, “the Hooligans” that set up barricades at Diliman to prevent the police from entering the campus at the onset of Martial Law.

Both served as scholars of the National Science and Development Board (NSDB – now the Department of Science and Technology or DOST). Physics grad Rey and math grad Cora would later find each other as co-teachers at UP Baguio. At that time the First Quarter Storm would be brewing. Rey and Cora would be among the first science and technology for the people advocates.

Onto more commonalities. Both love music, especially the Beatles. “When I’m 64” is one of their theme songs, though so are other hits of their time such as “Saying Something Stupid Like I Love You”. They’re both good at carrying tunes – Cora is a natural at singing the Alto of any song. Both are born of musically-inclined families: Rey’s grandfather is a violinist while Cora’s father is an all-around musician.

Cora Casambre.

Both are writers/ poets. They would write each other letters when apart, even notes when together, and write poems for each other and for their colleagues and loved ones. They wrote a lullaby or two for their daughter. They also have a translation of Les Miserable’s “Song of the Barricades” aside from their own Filipino version of Desiderata.

Both never stop studying. They keep reading and taking stock of current events and connect these with the lessons of history. They share these learnings and ask each other questions and hold issue discussions between them or with others when opportunity allows. They study history and currents. They relate learnings with present decisions. They initiate discussions among family and treat these as a precious chance to grow and advance collectively in an all-around way – whether making simple daily decisions or big life ones.

Both never stop teaching. They waste no time and are always eager to impart knowledge that they believe would help others. They seldom run out of anecdotes and examples to explain.

Both are straightforward and frank. They seldom mince words and tell you what they think straight to your face sometimes it hurts. They proceed constructively though and do not leave a conversation or episode hanging and unresolved. They are open to criticism and believe it’s everyone’s continuing struggle, changing for the better. And in between, accepting and understanding and working through people’s peculiarities too.

Both smile easily, laugh heartily. Rey is fond of thinking up his own jokes. Cora is the more serious type but her candid remarks would send Rey into laughter without her meaning to. Definitely a happy couple loving what they do. Cora’s late Inay once told her, how come you choose to be poor yet seem to be so happy?

Both are generous souls. It has been written how Rey and Cora would graciously accept various gifts given to them and how carefully they would keep these if not to be put to immediate use, or not among their needs. (The two have – as they would say – divested themselves of the things they no longer need – especially Cora. Rey meanwhile would have a bunch of stuff that he considers potential recyclables and so wouldn’t yet want to throw away.) These would later comprise their gifts during occasions — both have the birthdays especially of kin memorized – and when they gift-give, the dedication would include the history of that gift, in effect connecting people and extending the warmth extended to them by the original gift givers.

The Casambre family.

Both are thoughtful and loving and kind to each other and to others. It’s once been told that Rey would choose to walk home so he could instead spend the trike fare on adobong mani to take home for him and Cora to share. Or that he would jog out in cold and early December mornings to get Cora puto bumbong from near the Church. Not a few friends and colleagues have also grown used to him carrying these food containers around, so that he could grab each and every opportunity he could take something home to Cora from a meeting or a gathering, especially if it’s pansit. If there are bones he would ask that these be collected too for the good old dog back home, who’s as much part of the family. Cora prepares Rey’s nutritious go grow and glow baon lovingly whenever she could, or get ulam from trusted suki whose life stories she already has a database in her mind.

Both were born on the 20th of June! Not of the same year. But their mothers WERE born on the same day same year! It’s our favorite trivia to tell.

Finally, as parents and grandparents Rey and Cora are both superb and cool. As humans, like us, not always, there are rough times, there are many. But they lead in regaining clarity of mind. Generally they teach understanding, discipline, openness, patience, objectivity, compassion, and simple living. And they walk their talk.

Most of all, as before narrated, they both hold a high regard for and confidence in their fellow Filipinos and for the people of the globe struggling for a better world. They are optimistic and see the silver lining most of the time. They see many joyful and beautiful things through the daily grinds of life – and I think that’s what keeps them going despite all the odds of trying to change the world.

This situation they are in now, being kept apart by Rey’s incarceration, at their age and at this time of creeping authoritarianism — would be the most difficult perhaps of their experiences in struggle. Yet they remain all of the above while in full engagement in the fight for freedom as far as circumstances allow.

For indeed, the fight goes on. (https://www.bulatlat.org)

DISCLOSURE: The author is the daughter of Rey and Cora Casambre. Rey is the peace consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines who is in prison for more than a year.

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