Interview With Monica Portugal

Monica Portugal discusses the conflict between Muslim and Christian groups in Mindanao, her experiences living undr Martial Law as well as her involvement in the smuggling trade in the Philippines.

Interviewee: Monica Portugal, born in 1943

Interviewer & writer: Kisho Tsuchiya                Interpreter: Marjorie Lucagbo Tsuchiya

Date: August 8 and August 27, 2019

Location: Puerto, Misamis Oriental

Language: Bisaya


My name is Monica. I was born on October 10th, 1943, in San Carlos City, Negros Occidental. My parents died when I was a child, so I managed to finish only until grade 2 elementary school there. After that, my aunty brought me to Cagayan de Oro City in the year 1950. I heard that I have 12 siblings, and I am the youngest. But I was raised separately from my family, so now I don’t remember anything about my siblings. [After saying this, she cried.] Among my relatives, I know only my nephew (and an aunty).

I don’t remember much about my childhood in Negros. In my aunt’s house in Cagayan de Oro, there were 22 children who were orphans. I was very happy growing up with them. When I moved to Wao in Lanao later, some of these friends were also there. 

 I moved from my aunt’s house when I started working as a smuggler sometime in 1963. My work in Puerto in the 1960s was smuggling products from Japan such as televisions, bicycles, and plastic mats.

I got married to a man from Bicol in 1967. He came to Cagayan de Oro to sell fish.

After a while, we moved to Wao in Lanao under President Magsaysay’s resettlement program, and stayed there for 2 years until a war broke out in Wao. My husband became a farmer there, and took care of rice and corn. The seeds were from the government. I sewed clothes there. At first, our (Christian migrant) community was ok. I joined small religious groups that visited house to house there. There were no Muslims in the community that I lived. 

In Wao, people resided in locations according to their original places such as Cebuanos with the Cebuano group, Ilocanos in with Ilocanos, Batanguiño with Batanguiño, and the Muslims lived in the upper part.  I met Muslims only in the market at the city center. Some were good Muslims, but some are not. My Muslim friends sometimes gave cautions that “Something dangerous can happen soon”. In the market, usually Christians did not show their back to the Muslims because they used to say that “the Muslims could backstab you”. The Muslims did not show their back to the Christians either.

There were times that Muslims with arms visited Christian houses asking for food or money. If the resident couldn’t give them anything, they got angry. And, if they gave anything, they often came back again and again. So, often Christian migrants were irritated with them. I didn’t have any Muslim friend there, but my husband had. They were nice people. They informed us whenever a Muslim wedding was about to take place. Why so? In Muslim marriage in Wao, they sacrifice water buffaloes for the feast. If they couldn’t afford to do so, they used to steal water buffaloes from the commoners there. Our Muslim friends informed us beforehand so that we could hide our water buffaloes.

Then we began to hear gunshots occasionally. Any time we heard gunshots, we had to hide. We were afraid because even Muslim women had firearms. Then, the army “rangers” from Manila came to Wao. They attacked and bombed the mayor’s house (or office) at the municipal center. The rangers believed that the Muslim mayor was protecting the Muslim gangs. But, after living there for 2 years, we left Wao because of frequent conflicts. And I preferred to stay in Cagayan de Oro because I made a living here and liked to be with your [the translator’s] mother.

 When we came back, it was already the Marcos’ Martial Law time.

After coming back to CDO, my husband became a construction worker. He went to Manila and maybe other places. Then, he disappeared. Never came back. That time, I already had two children. I continued to work as a tailor, and raised the two children myself. It was very hard. But it was ok. God was with me when I prayed. 

In Martial Law CDO, I stopped my earlier work as a smuggler. There were a lot of army soldiers and policemen here. I couldn’t get arrested for my children. Instead, I sold cigarettes, whiskey, etc. (in a legal way), each time a ship came to Del Monte’s harbor. I also sold dolls made of coconuts leaves and skins to Japanese sailors. I realized that I could earn more than when I was a smuggler. That time, a lot of people from this town frequented at Del Monte’s harbor to sell their products to the sailors. 

During the Martial Law time (in the 70s), some bad local policemen abused their power. For example, they just came here and there, and grabbed common people’s property. If they resisted, they just shot and took everything. I myself experienced such abuse of power by the police. I was selling my products to Japanese sailors. The Japanese people gave me noodles. Some policemen came and just grabbed all these noodles. After Cory Aquino became the President over there (in Manila), the army soldiers and policemen disappeared from here. Now under President Duterte’s Martial Law, such abuses of power do not happen: Policemen are calm and not abusing the commoners. I think President Duterte knows how to use military and police in a good way. 

I continued to sell products to sailors and tailors. But recently I stopped working as a seller, only continue to sew cloths. And one of the two children died. 

I joined the Blue Army (or the Fatima group) in the 1990s. There were a lot of women in this group. [She was laughing.] Now we are very few. My life has been very hard: Being poor, losing my husband and a child, and raising another child alone. 


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