The parents of Ester originated from Maribojoc, Bohol province but migrated to Mindanao after World War II (late 40s) where her civil engineer father managed road projects (from Davao, Agusan, Zamboanga, Iligan and Cagayan de Oro) and her mother taught in the public schools there. The family settled in Iligan City in the early 1960s.
“Teray” as Ester was fondly called by family, colleagues and friends, was the third of 10 children brought up in a low middle income family with a strong Catholic orientation and a tradition of academic excellence to achieve a profession for good employment or career opportunity.
Due to the nature of her father’s work, her elementary years were spent in a variety of public schools in Mindanao—from Zamboanga del Norte, Lanao del Norte to Iligan City. Her high school education was at the RVM-run St. Michael’s College in Iligan City, where she was active in the Legion of Mary. In her teens, she gave catechism lessons to children during summer in Maribojoc, Bohol, her parents’ home town.
While in college, she was editor-in-chief of the Varsitarian, the Mindanao State University students’ paper. She graduated cum laude with Bachelor of Arts in English from the Mindanao State University in Marawi City. She also received a journalism award upon graduation.
She was a faculty member of the MSU-Iligan Institute of Technology in Iligan City from 1971 to 1981 and was a full scholar MSU Faculty Development Program Grantee.
Before she took a leave of absence due to security pressures brought about by Martial Law policies, she was secretary of the School of Engineering Technology (MSU-IIT), Assistant Director of the Colombo-based Plan, and staff of the College Training Department of the School of Engineering Technology of the university.
Testimonies from family members and colleagues attest that she was always ready to help people in need, whether in the family or outside. She believed in freedom of expression and the rights of people and communities to determine their own social, political and national direction.
In college, she got into contact with the emerging movement for revolutionary change. As her involvement and support deepened, she became active in arousing and raising the political consciousness of her students, friends and colleagues.
She was a faculty member of MSU-IIT for 10 years (1971-1981) before she took an indefinite leave of absence due to security pressures brought about by Martial Law.
This eventually led her to go full time and serve the people in the villages of southern Mindanao through social awareness raising and local publication that helped community organizers.
Joy Asuncion, who knew Ester from 1979 to 1982, and shared a house with her together with their spouses (she with Edgar Jopson and Ester with Romulo Kintanar) in Davao City, said in a testimony, ”I learned that she had to give up her teaching and administrative work in (MSU)…Iligan Institute of Technology (IIT) in Iligan City, Mindanao, after the military found out her involvement with the underground movement and started to do surveillance work on her family, home and school. Then she had to move from Iligan to Davao City.”
Ester was a staff of Mindanaw, an underground protest publication, in mid 1982, and became its editor in 1983.
Her personal traits and her dedication both to her profession and to her way of fighting against dictatorship brought inspiration to her family and the professional community in Iligan and other parts of Mindanao.
In a tribute “Alay kay Teray” on November 20, 1984 held in Iligan City by the MSU- IIT Alumni and colleagues, it was acknowledged that “Teray” was a committed teacher and writer who devoted her life for the betterment of her country. “She stood for what she believed in,” a colleague said, adding that she epitomized a “committed woman and mother.” The same source shared that in some discussions, Ester emphasized that being a mother is “no obstacle in serving the country.”
“Even if she had a family of her own, she sacrificed personal comfort for a cause that she believed in which she viewed to benefit not only her children but the entire Filipino people,” another colleague underscored during the public tribute attended by friends, colleagues, administrators and comrades.
Despite her schedule, she found time to show her love for her kids in concrete ways, a comrade noted. For example she recorded what she learned in the countryside like a folklore, and shared these with her children. “She was a comforter, a friend and a morale booster,” he said, adding that she was such “a great loss” to the movement at a time when it was gathering momentum against dictatorship.
“She was simple and easy to be friend with. We shared housekeeping work at the same time we were helping our husbands with technical, research and other tasks,” Asuncion observed, adding that “Teray” was “a very loving and caring wife to her husband Rolly and two children, Eric and Jay. She will always be remembered as a loving and dutiful wife, mother, friend, and comrade.”
An administrator at MSU-IIT noted that as a teacher, she was patient, did her
work with humor, and most of all, was untiring in serving others, in helping edit, as adviser to the school paper, doing consultation work, even after class hours.
In thanking those gathered in the tribute of 1984, her mother Victoria Sarmiento Resabal, who was then principal of an elementary school in Iligan City, urged that in remembering her
daughter, those gathered “can focus on her life of giving as a guide for those who still care and love freedom. Let us remember Ester by sharing what we have to the poor.”
CIRCUMSTANCES OF DEATH
Ester’s effort at further raising the social awareness of allies and of serving the poor and disadvantaged in the countryside was cut short on November 21, 1983.
Along with 12 religious and other rural workers, she was on her way to attend a seminar and to purchase a printing machine in Cebu City—part of her work in raising social and political awareness in the villages—when she took the M/V Dona Cassandra on November 21, 1983.
A typhoon that brought big waves caused the boat to keel and eventually to sink, drowning 200 passengers in the waters between Nasipit, Butuan and Cebu City, including Ester and her companions. Survivors attested that they saw members of the group helping passengers put on their life vests.
Along with other companions, Ester’s body was not recovered.
“Her body was never found despite efforts by the authorities and her own family and comrades to search the area called the Mindanao Deep,” Asuncion said in her testimony.
IMPACT ON FAMILY AND COMMUNITY
Coming from a low middle class family, more members were made aware of the importance of working for the people in any endeavor, whether as a professional, as a family person, or in an organization or out of an institution.
In a write up, Procopio Jr., her elder brother, said Ester inspired him to go into journalism focusing his writings on those who are seldom heard in our society, the poor, indigenous peoples, farmers, workers, students, teachers, fisher-folks, the urban poor, women and victims of human rights violations.
In a posthumous program, colleagues, friends, students, and relatives recalled Ester’s very jovial and giving ways, and her dedication to her work as a teacher both to students, and as an activist and mother.
Her colleagues, friends and fellow workers attested that despite her youth, she expressed courage and contributed much to the cause of freedom and national democratic movement at a time when doing so entailed a lot of dangers, and in Ester’s case, meant giving up a comfortable profession in an academic institution.