Interview With Marina Ybanez Tapang

Marina Ybanez Tapang discusses her early life in Cagayan de Oro City, her experiences in the smuggling trade, the conflict between ILAGA and Muslims in Mindanao, as well as her marriage and faith.

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Born in 1957 in Puerto, Cagayan de Oro, Philippines, Tapang shares how both her parents worked to support their 5 children; her mother as a fishmonger and her father as a laborer in the Philippine Packing Corporation. Her mother’s business took her away from home for days at a time as she ventured to distant markets, and Tapang would distract herself from her mother’s absence by playing with other children by the sea; and she preferred games traditionally played by boys.

    While she had heard of her relatives being involved in the smuggling trade, selling domestic goods to sailors and purchasing foreign wares brought in by ships, she only joined the trade when her aunt introduced her to it in 1973. Sailors would join the locals in bayle, and sometimes mistook the women as sex workers, as a small minority of prostitutes did provide services to seamen. Tapang learnt to dodge their advances, but recalls that an Italian sailor fancied her, and even played farewell music when she rejected him. She ceased her trade when she met with an unfortunate boating accident, when her hair got caught in the motorboat’s machinery, requiring her to be hospitalized.

    The next year, she moved to Wao, aged 17. While it end largely peaceful and she did not experience any direct clashes between the Muslims and Christians, she recalls fearing Muslims, and hearing rumors that the ILAGA Christian militia had mystical healing abilities and were bulletproof. She remembers one occasion when she and her sister heard screams to evacuate immediately due to incoming Muslims.

    Two years later, she got married and moved in with her aunt. Her husband worked as a driver while she worked as a launderer to make ends meet. She moved back to Puerto when she became pregnant, and her husband followed, working various jobs to support her. There she met a Japanese sailor who fancied her and was willing to marry her after her husband’s passing; but she rejected him, while her friend eventually seduced and married him in Japan. While she knows she made the right decision, this episode remains her greatest regret.

    In closing, she discusses her spirituality and her active participation in Church, where she joined the healing ministry the Blue Army, and rose to become Chapel President. Her faith continues to guide her to overcome challenges in life.

Interviewee: Marina Ybanez Tapang                    Interpreter: Marjorie Tsuchiya

Born: July 17, 1957

Interviewer and writer: Kisho Tsuchiya and Dominique J. Lucagbo

Date: February 28, 2020

Location: Puerto, Cagayan de Oro City

Language: Bisaya


My name is Marina Ybanez Tapang, I was born on July 17, 1957 in Puerto, Cagayan de Oro City. I grew up here together with my 4 siblings, 2 of us were girls and 3 were boys. I originally had 10 siblings but 5 of them died during birth. My parents were both working together to provide food for us. My mother was a fish vendor, and my father was a stevedore in Philippine Packing Corporation. I was really close with my mother and sometimes, I get sad whenever my mother would go to other places to sell fish. She usually woke up at 5 in the morning, then she bought fish in the market and sold it Bukidnon for 2-3 days. 

During those times, I would go to the seaside and try to occupy my mind by playing with other kids. I was really boyish back then, other girls would play hopscotch while I played marbles and rubber bands with the boys. We even had this game we call kondisi. Kondisi, sometimes called shatong, is played outside on the ground. We would dig a small slanted square hole where we put a small bamboo wood so it sticks out. A player hits the wood with a stick so it catches air enough to be hit by a stick. It’s one of Filipino’s traditional games. I also love playing guitar, I used to play songs by Greenfield, Michael Jackson and Filipino artists too such as Imelda Papin.  

When I was still a child, I was already hearing about my cousins, relatives and neighbors riding a boat to sell things to ships in exchange of smuggled goods. But it really didn’t bother me because I was still young. However, when I turned 16 [in 1973], my mother died. I started to go “boating” with Aunt Monica, my mother’s cousin who is 12 years older than I am. She guided me on the basics of how this business works. We had to sell random things like souvenirs, beverages, etc. and people in the ship, mostly foreigners, would give us smuggled goods but we prefer money. Not too long after I began this lifestyle, I decided to stop going to school and continued trading with the ships.

In this business, it is not new for foreigners to mistake us as prostitutes. If some of us sell goods, there were also a number of prostitutes doing their business. There are men who would pester us persistently but we learned to wriggle our way out of those situations. 

Some foreigners were also friends of mine. We considered this lifestyle as our business and it would give us an advantage if we personally knew our customers. I also had suitors from the ship, there’s this one Italian who always visited me and gave food and things as a gifts. They also join us to Bayle, a type of ball. We dance to music like cha-cha, tango, jazz and to slow sweet music. But I was still boyish back then and didn’t really have an interest in relationships. I rejected the guy and the next day I heard trumpets and them singing in the ship “Goodbye Marina, Marina, I will miss you Marina”. It was a funny memory.

One day when we were about to go to the ship, an accident happened that caused me to stop everything. As I was trying to plug a hole in the boat to stop the water from entering, my hair was caught by the machinery of the motor boat. Then it stopped and I was a little too disoriented to understand what was happening. The next thing I knew, they were trying to reach another boat using a paddle. They borrowed a knife to cut off my hair and brought us to the seashore. I passed out, they told Aunt Monica and my father about the incident, and they brought me to the clinic. But they didn’t accept us. So, they had no choice but to bring me to a hospital in the city. I was confined for a week. My hair was cut too short for a girl and I looked like a boy. I was too embarrassed that I started wearing a blonde wig my father found on the ship. 

When I turned 17, I went to Wao, Lanao del Sur where some of my siblings and relatives were also residing. Wao was peaceful most of the time but I’ve heard about conflicts between the ILAGA group and Muslims. ILAGA was known for their ability to heal faster and was even said to be bulletproof. They were against the Muslims and killed a lot of them. We civilians on the other hand were afraid of Muslims. There was one time that me and my sibling Sherlita were picking fruits from a tree when there were suddenly shouts about incoming Muslims and we had to evacuate immediately. We were in a hurry to get our clothes that Sherlita wasn’t able to bring anything but the sack of fruits she was holding. 

By 1976, I was 19 years old and got married. We had a church wedding where both sides of my family were present. My father had already a new wife that time. The wedding was actually a mess that caused conflicts between our families. After the wedding, a feast was supposed to happen with a roasted pig in the table but there was none. Both families blamed each other and I was really embarrassed for the visitors. My husband even thought I would jump off the bridge because of the embarrassment. But in the end all things were resolved, but not forgotten. 

We didn’t have a permanent house after the wedding; we were living in my auntie’s house. My husband worked as a driver where he would load harvested crops in the truck. Meanwhile, I worked as a launderer. I accepted laundry from anyone just to earn a living. When I got pregnant, we decided that I would go back to Puerto, Cagayan de Oro City and he would follow after me. He followed and worked different jobs in the city; he tried to work in a pier, construction site, and even as a bus conductor. But our earning was still not stable. Then he tried to canvass goods from the ship and sell it to places like Bukidnon, there we actually made some profit. He continued selling and was mostly not home and that left me with nothing to do in the house, so I decided to go back “boating” [smuggling]. 

This is where I met Masi, a Japanese man who always visited me in my house. He admitted that he liked me a lot but he didn’t know I was already married. I just ignored his confession and continued business with him. But time came where I was already developing my feelings for him. Masi was handsome and gentleman. He never took advantage of me and waited patiently. He still didn’t know that I was a married woman until Julie, our neighbor told him. Julie liked Masi and was envious of me. But what took me by surprise was Masi, even knowing that I’m already married, still wanted to have a relationship with me. He said he will wait until my husband dies and he will bring me to Japan with him. Masi went back to Japan and even sent me money. A day before my birthday, my baby bump was already visible, Masi suddenly came. He gave me gifts for my birthday and stayed in Julie’s house for the night. Few weeks later, Masi admitted to me that Julie was pregnant. The night he slept on Julie’s house, he was seduced and something happened between them. Next thing I knew, Julie and Masi went to Japan and got married. I know it was wrong to even like him because I was a married woman, I am happy for them and I am happy with my children and my husband. It was love at the wrong place and the wrong time and he was my deepest regret.

I continued living as a mother and a wife to my husband. Problems come and go but life must still continue. I became a member of the church and serve God. By 1997, I started to become an active member of the church and became the President of the chapel. I am also a member of the Healing Ministry and Blue Army. For now, my top priority is my family and with God by my side I am confident to face the challenges of life.

Interviewer: Kisho Tsuchiya

Interviewee: Marina Ybanez Tapang

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Transcript Notes

  1. Bayle is a communal social gathering of the village for dance and music, where youth could mingle.

  1. Consider the importance of oral histories from individuals like Marina Ybanez Tapang Joan, who were not directly engaged in the inter-religious conflicts in Mindanao during the Cold War in the Philippines.

  2. What does your answer to Q1 suggest about the nature of the Cold War in the Philippines?