WE knew of each other in school and that was the extent of my earliest relationship – or the absence of it – with Joanne del Rosario. Hard to believe, when there I was the other night, swearing in my dear classmate for a fifth term as member of the Colma City Council.
I do recall that she was among the girls – most of us had just turned 16 – who would define “ladylike,” with their long shiny straight hair, makeup, polished fingernails, heels and an aura of gentility unlike the ones who had not shed our boys’ shoes, not plucked our brows and tried but failed to tame our naturally curly hair with an iron, the one that smoothens wrinkles on the green and white uniforms we rarely wore.
Joanne and her group should have been on the cover of magazines or on fashion show ramps, and boys sure agreed. Fancy wheels would roll into the lanai with dashing driver from the schools across the creek, further down the avenue or farther in the still-developing suburbs or the big city downtown.
Neither she nor I were deeply immersed in campus activities when our peers were passionately studying or vociferously blasting the government. While I found a platform for my nascent political awakening in a column in our school paper and a march to Plaza Miranda where students from every college descended to protest signs of imminent military rule, my eye was focused on social issues in the lifestyle section rather than life-changing front page of dailies.
Martial Law came down in our sophomore year. Faced with unknowns, we were not children anymore. I worried for my father, who held no punches against the self-declared president-for-life in his column in the newspaper that was the first to be shut down by the regime. I remember the stillness the September morning I woke up to greet my Dad. “Marcos declared martial law,” he said in that voice reserved for sermons when he felt my grades did not meet his expectation.
I’m sure Joanne was as stunned as I was by the development. Having been born in New York, she had the option to flee to free society in the US, where three siblings lived, I know now. She chose to stay with her parents, continue studies at our college that was in the midst of Filipinization from its American beginnings.
By junior year, my clique had expanded to underclassmates who shared my propensity for fun and daring. Lord knows how we made it to graduation having skipped class and broke rules like smoking away from the lounge designated for such habits.
I can’t imagine Joanne engaging in rebellious acts. She had left school, started working, and gotten married and lived to Maryland with her ex before coming to California where her only son Reggie was born, I learned when our paths crossed again in the 1980s in South San Francisco, where I had resumed my journalism in Philippine News.
Her call pleasantly surprised me, having had no recollection of one conversation with her back in the day. I was thrilled to have a classmate nearby, happy to help get a story published about her acquaintance seeking justice. And that’s the Joanne I came to know and with whom I bonded.
She was starting over: acquired certification as a Legal Secretary, moved from New York with her young son to the Bay Area, met her new love and now-husband Rene Malimban, started work at a biotech firm and joined an association of Filipino American residents of the quiet little town where she relocated.
Fate chose her to be in Colma when two of its Council members came under investigation. Allies who saw her as an ideal representative of Filipino skills and savvy persuaded her to agree to file for candidacy the following elections. Most Colma residents concurred and re-affirmed their choice in a recount requested by the former mayor who lost the race.
Sixteen years today, Joanne del Rosario is one of two seniormost leaders of Colma, second only to Helen Fisicaro, who has served 28 years. Between 2006 when she was first elected and Dec. 13, 2022 when she swore in as Colma Mayor for the fifth time by her husband Rene minutes after she took her oath as reelected Council Member, Del Rosario has transformed into a town leader and a political force.
When she found out about the all-volunteer nonprofit I had formed to educate about domestic violence, she disclosed her experience as a survivor of intimate partner violence. She joined our nonprofit as survivor speaker, empowering people in abusive relationships by showing them how they can find healing and thrive just as she has. She has recruited her contacts to become partners supporting our education movement for healthy relationships.
Lately the grandmother to Ryden by her son Reggie from her first marriage has been zipping across the Bay to babysit A second grandchild will be arriving next year, another blessing on Joanne’s milestone year.
2023 will be full with her growing family, mayorship and advocacy, and Joanne del Rosario may just spring a surprise with a new role suited to her productive life in public service.
Cherie M. Querol Moreno is Executive Editor of Philippine News Today, Founder-Executive Director of ALLICE, Commissioner with the San Mateo County Commission on Aging, and Program Manager with Peninsula Family Service transportation program.