Amada, or Madge to friends, was a sickly child who suffered from aplastic anemia. But like her 16 brothers and sisters, Madge learned very early to share in the household work as well as in everything else. Madge was a good story teller, holding her audience spellbound with lively tales about friends and teachers. She had a happy disposition, usually preferring to see the bright side in most situations, so that she was always a welcome addition to the groups she joined.
She was a bright student, earning high grades and most of the time coming out top of her class. In college, she was active in both academic and extracurricular activities. After graduating from college, Madge moved to Manila to pursue further studies. She took graduate units in philosophy at the University of Santo Tomas. She taught for a while at the Far Eastern University.
In college, Madge was an active member of the National Union of Students of the Philippines (NUSP) and the Young Christian Socialists (YCS, youth arm of the Christian Socialist Movement led by former senators Raul Manglapus and Jose Lina). After college, she joined the Khi Rho, youth arm of the Federation of Free Farmers. As a Khi Rho member, Madge began helping organize farmers’ cooperatives, activities that took her to the far corners of Luzon. Thus began what would become a life-long involvement in rural concerns and peasant issues.
When martial law was declared in 1972, Madge left school and found work, first, as a staff writer of Cor Manila, newsletter of the Catholic Archdiocese of Manila. Then from 1973 to 1976 she took up work as a community organizer of the Basic Christian Communities (BCC) program in the Our Lady of Fatima Parish in Highway Hills in Mandaluyong City. Here she organized bible study classes side by side with discussions about the structural problems of the poor in the parish and lessons in Philippine history. Later, Madge and several nuns volunteered as staff for a labor center which the parish had set up to serve workers from the factories that dotted the area.
As her involvement in the BCC program deepened, Madge was increasingly drawn to reinterpret her Catholic beliefs in the context of the social realities of the period. The merging of her political and faith beliefs saw expression when she joined the Christians for National Liberation (CNL), a group that aligned itself with the National Democratic Front.
Madge joined the CNL in 1975, and as one of her early tasks, started organizing anti-martial law core groups in other parishes in Metro Manila. She also became a supporter of urban poor activities around Metro Manila.
Co-worker Agnes Rio remembers Madge’s involvement in the struggle for human rights and liberation, chiefly organizing church people and poor people to resist the Marcos dictatorship. Madge circulated mainly with nuns from the Oblates of St. Benedictine (OSB), the Religious of the Good Shepherd (RGS), and the Franciscan Missionaries of Mary (FMM). She helped create two task forces for these nuns’ work among themselves and among Metro Manila’s poor. Madge and her friends created the Task Force Urban Poor, and the Task Force on Church Conscientization.
She was one of the early pioneers of the Basic Christian Communities-Community Organizing Program (BCC-CO), a program of the Catholic Church that would serve as a vehicle for fulltime community organizers to immerse themselves in far-flung rural communities. As history would show, BCC-CO became an effective tool for reaching these rural communities and mobilizing them to fight the Marcos dictatorship.
With ICM’s Sr. Asuncion Martinez (Bantayog Hero in the Wall of Remembrance), Madge assisted in developing the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP). She also developed close relations with two Benedictine nuns who became strong champions for freedom and democracy in the country, namely Srs. Noemi Francisco and Mary John Mananzan.
In 1977, Madge took up work as rural community organizer in Ilocos Sur, in the parish of Fr. Zacarias Agatep, where she helped secretly organize anti-martial law core groups. She also continued to work among church people, notably in Baguio City, where she helped contact members of religious organizations towards organizing more CNL core groups. As she developed more friends in Baguio City, she also expanded her interest to include helping build anti-martial law core groups in mining communities around the city.
Madge faced life with gusto. In 1988, she wrote: “I am like the fish that can live in the sea or in brackish waters. I have no problems adjusting to the hard life. I don’t spend more than is necessary. But, if there is a chance, I am ready to fully enjoy the comforts of life, good food, and entertainment such as concerts, ballets and stage plays.”
After the fall of Marcos, Madge joined the peace talks opened by the Aquino government with the National Democratic Front. This opened Madge to even greater dangers. With her exceptionally fair skin, light-colored eyes and distinctive facial marks, she was easily recognizable. She had to frequently evade spies and paramilitary patrols, often making narrow escapes as she plied between rural and urban areas in western Pangasinan, where she was then based.
In 1989, Madge was in an NDF camp in Infanta in Pangasinan when Scout Rangers attacked. Madge and five local residents were killed in the ensuing firefight. A government helicopter brought the bodies to Mangatarem town to be displayed in the town plaza but the mayor refused to agree to this. Many people who knew her dared the soldiers’ presence and came and lighted candles for her. (This caused some soldiers to ask why the people lighted no candles for the troopers.) She and the others were buried in the town cemetery.
Days later her family came to claim Madge’s body. A five-day wake was held for her in Manila. Beethoven played in the background. Madge’s body was reinterred at the Manila Memorial Park on the 8th of March, a fitting day, friends and comrades felt, because it happened to be celebrated also as the International Women’s Day.
Madge’s health had been frail all her life, but she refused to let this stop her. She left a safe and comfortable life, sacrificing her own mobility and personal freedom, in order to live and express her faith in the realities of the Philippines, thus helping liberate her country and fellow Filipinos from cruelty, oppression, and faithlessness.
She was 39.