Coronacion Chiva and her second husband were both members of the Hukbalahap movement in Panay Island during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines. As an anti-Japanese guerrilla, Coronacion chose Walingwaling, the name of a rare Philippine orchid, as her nom de guerre, and the alias stayed with her even after the war.
Just like in Central Luzon, the Huk movement in Panay did not dissipate after the war. Its members continued to demand for agrarian reform from the government. At the height of the Huk movement in Panay in 1948-1949, the name Kumander Walingwaling was a byword in the villages.
Walingwaling’s first husband died in WWII. After the war she remarried; her second husband Andres was a fellow Huk member and an intellectual who read political tracts and was a member of the Federacion La Liga Filipina, organized in Iloilo by the well-known labor leader, Jose Nava.
The couple stayed with the Huks, Andres the ideologue and Walingwaling the combatant. Both were captured in 1952. Walingwaling was detained first at the Iloilo Provincial Jail and later moved to join her husband at the Bilibid Prisons in Muntinlupa. Andres was given a sentence of 10-to17 years; Walingwaling, believed to be the highest ranking Huk woman in the Visayas, got the heavier penalty of life imprisonment.
Walingwaling gave birth to son Eduardo in prison, which won her a release on humanitarian grounds. Years later, after Andres was released from prison, the couple decided to take up the government’s offer to move to Mindanao. They were given a 10-hectare homestead, where they grew coffee and other crops. This was in the early 1960s.
After several years, Walingwaling received a government pension in behalf of her late first husband, and the couple decided to return to Calinog in Iloilo, to use the money to start again. They purchased a piece of land and work animals, and started farming. They also built a concrete house. Life was not difficult. People in need would go to Walingwaling for help and were rarely turned down.
Still, mission called. Walingwaling noted how people in communities around her continued to suffer poverty, for lack of land to till, and for low wages they received from farm employers. So from 1967 up to 1971, she became an organizer for the Panay Association of Nationalistic Laborers, Employees and Farmers’ Union (PANELFU), which advocated for land reform and better wages. She was elected union president in her town. She also spoke at rallies organized by the union in the central Iloilo towns and in Iloilo City, railing against poverty, military abuse, exploitation of their workers by sugar planters, unfair sharing schemes, and so on. The rallies drew thousands. She was so popular she received speaking invitations even for fiestas and village dances.
In 1972, after martial law was declared,Walingwaling was among those arrested and detained at Camp Delgado, along with student activists and other professionals. She boosted the morale of her fellow prisoners by regaling them with stories about her life as a Huk and her jail experience at Bilibid. Because of her local stature, her jailers often let her be, sometimes even slipping her a bottle of her favorite gin.
She was let out of prison after six months. Back home, the couple opened their house to the secret activities of students who formed the resistance against the new martial-law regime. Walingwaling gave succor to them, fed them and gave them supplies like salt and cigarettes. With martial law in place, PANELFU, where she had been organizer and speaker, was discontinued. Walingwaling sent the students to revive her old union contacts.
Circumstance of Walingwaling’s death
Walingwaling and her husband became more than simple supporters. They became the young ones’ teachers. Often they would tell the activists who visited them about the local people’s long struggle for a better life, connecting this to the Filipino people’s struggle for nationhood. The couple provided them historical context.
Walingwaling was arrested for the third time and detained briefly after her son Eduardo was found to have joined the New People’s Army. For the next year, she was obliged to report every month to a military station in Janiuay town. (Eduardo died a combatant at 17.)
The couple’s own activities were continuously monitored by the intelligence forces of the regime. Walingwaling received threats and was secretly advised by friends in the police force to “lie low.” Still she went on with her regular activities, including going to the town to visit family and buy supplies from the market.
Her colorful life finally came to an end as she was coming home from one such visit. She and several women were preparing to cross a river when two men came, with one pointing a gun at her. Her companions heard her saying, “You better squeeze that trigger or I’ll kill you.” She died from multiple bullet wounds. She was 51.
On the day she was buried, the town of Calinog was a dead town. Classes and work stopped, the market was closed and the municipal hall was empty. Walingwaling’s political life spanned over three decades which made her a symbol of her people’s struggles for decent life, and under martial law, resistance against oppression.
She is today a legend of sorts in Iloilo, a unique, brave and outspoken woman, fully committed to her cause. Student activists who once met her tell fond stories of her warmth and her bravado. Feminists also honor her.
Fellow activist and former social welfare secretary Judy Taguiwalo had written a poem in 1984 in Walingwaling’s honor.