To the numerous political detainees in the Marcos dictatorship’s jails, Sister Mary Bernard Jimenez was a welcome sight as she arrived under the heat of the sun, lugging heavy packages containing coffee, slippers, snacks, reading materials.
A motherly-looking woman whose sincerity and compassion won the hearts of activists and guerrilla fighters alike, they even came to call her “sister-comrade”: “Malayo ka pa – Kapatid-Kasamang Bernard – nakikita na kita…/Kulay lupa mong habito, sagisag ng pagkamakumbaba/ ‘Ya’y nagniningning kung tinatamaan ng sikat ng araw/ Tungo sa mga detenidong pulitikal.” (I can see you coming from afar, Sister-Comrade Bernard/ Dressed in the humble color of the earth/ Your habit shines in the sun as you draw nearer to us political detainees.)
Born Virginia Jimenez, Sister Mary Bernard, CM joined the Carmelite Missionaries soon after graduating with a degree in education in 1948. For decades she taught at various Carmelite schools, in the provinces (Batangas, Iloilo, Quezon) and in Quezon City.
When martial law was imposed, she was already in her fifties, but Jimenez became one of the earliest volunteers to work at Task Force Detainees of the Philippines (TFDP), a program organized in 1974 by the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines. She became the TFDP coordinator for Metro Manila.
There was much work to be done, for the jails were full of persons who had been unjustly detained by the police and military. Jimenez was a very effective human rights worker. She cajoled and argued her way into detention camps, bringing with her food, medicine and handicraft materials for the prisoners. Her gentle ways and cheerful disposition disarmed the captors. She was often the first to bring a friendly word to political prisoners being held in isolation. She was a familiar figure to those who were imprisoned in Camp Crame, Camp Bagong Diwa (Bicutan Rehabilitation Center) in Bicutan and the National Penitentiary in Muntinlupa, as well as Camp Olivas in Pampanga.
Jimenez gave special attention to prisoners who had few or no visitors. She tirelessly worked for their release papers, going the rounds of military and defense ministry offices. Through her efforts, they regained their freedom. Often the most difficult to visit and the hardest to have released were political prisoners in the maximum security prisons. She also gave them special attention.
Sr. Mary Bernard Jimenez was one of TFDP’s most hardworking members. Fatigue, hunger and fear failed to stop her. Only cancer eventually did. Her death in 1984 was mourned by hundreds of political prisoners and human rights workers. She was 61 years old.