Joji Paduano was an exceptional young girl, bright, self-confident and talented. At age four, she was the youngest finalist in a radio singing contest. She started school before she was six, led the pupil’s government, and graduated with honors in the elementary. In high school, she edited the school paper, represented her school in declamation contests, and was top of her graduating batch. (Mother’s letter)
She excelled in singing and writing, showing leadership qualities and an early interest in people’s problems. Teachers and friends say she was an eloquent speaker always full of ideas for helping other people. A former schoolmate remembers having long talks with Joji: “ She was very concerned with people being persecuted or maltreated, with children suffering from malnutrition, with broken families, with the government … Listening to her, it was like talking with a grownup, full of ideas, concern and love for everyone.” (Letter from Jolly Cinco)
“It is not often a school has the opportunity to have a pupil with such bright potential,” wrote Joji’s former elementary math teacher. (Letter from teacher Tessie Meneses)
Joji was the eldest of six brothers and sisters of poor middle-class parents. Her father was once occupied as a jueteng collector, then later chief cook at a Bacolod restaurant. Her mother was a church worker and was active in local affairs, once serving as barangay captain. Joji’s father and the late Haydee Yorac were cousins.
After leaving high school, her father sent her away to study. In Manila, she stayed with relatives and augmented her finances by offering rich classmates tutoring services. The following year, she transferred to a local college in Bacolod, also working to finance herself and provide for her family.
In Bacolod, Joji was elected president of the Student Catholic Action of Negros Occidental. She also became active in the Patbutlak Cultural Theater, a diocesan theater group. At that time, the Negros church under the late Bishop Antonio Fortich was running pro-poor programs, something which appealed very much to someone of Joji’s nature.
“If you come from Negros,” says former activist Rolando Salutin, who worked once with Joji in the poor communities,“you will see evidence everywhere of the disparity between the rich and the poor. Farm workers (sacadas) are made to live in dwellings worse than pig sties. Sacadas mostly came from the provinces like Antique or Aklan. Labor contractors recruited them and brought them to Negros by the truckload. These contractors ignored the appalling work conditions these sacadas suffered in the hacendas, and so did the hacenda owners. All they wanted to see were the profits to be made from the sacadas. I think exposure to that kind of inhumanity was what started Joji’s political awareness.”(Salutin interview)
As these abuses became more well-known, and the human rights situation deteriorated in Negros as in the entire country, Joji became a frequent presence in protest rallies being held almost weekly in Bacolod City. She attended consciousness-raising seminars, learning about the power structures that controled the province and the entire country, connecting the relationship of the local rich families to the Marcos dictatorship. She was soon known in Bacolod as one of those student leaders fighting the Marcos dictatorship.
Risks to her safety were growing. Protesters and ordinary citizens were being hauled to prison by the score. A number were being killed or abducted. Because she was becoming well-known, Joji’s security had become a concern. “You will soon miss me,” she told her family.
Not long after, Joji left the city and moved to the rural areas of Aklan. She took up a responsibility in the underground movement to enlighten the community and eventually became editor of the Daba-daba (Flame), an underground newspaper being circulated in Aklan. She would issue statements and even give radio interviews. She had taken the name Ka Kristin.
From Aklan, she had written her family: “Mama, whatever happens, you should be proud of me for I dedicate my life in defending our rights and fighting for freedom. I am happy here with the people. My brothers and sisters, love each other, help Mama in everything. I love you.”
In the early morning of May 11, 1984, army soldiers belonging to the 47th IB surrounded the nipa hut where Joji and a companion were staying. Joji was pounding at a typewriter when she was hit by a burst of fire from the soldiers. Her companion (name) was killed immediately while Joji sustained a wound in the back hip. When the firing stopped, the neighbors, nearby who were in hiding, heard Joji ask the soldiers to take her to the hospital. The soldiers ignored her pleas, searched the house and left her to bleed to death. Joji and her companion’s bodies were later retrieved by local people to be buried.
“Her memory will live forever and will serve as a great example to others,” wrote one of her teachers, most of whom had been certain that Joji would someday be “a great leader.”