I knew Pinky from school days at the Assumption Convent (that was how it was called then, a convent rather than a college). She was a few years older. Everywhere she went, you had to stop and look. Fair skin with golden hued hair and always with a smile, she didn’t look like your regular Filipino, but a mestiza. She had one accessory always with her –- a guitar. She sang at school events and/or played the guitar as accompaniment for songs sang during feast days and other functions. Sometimes, I would play with her and with Marian Legarda. We became the regular guitarists for the school. You couldn’t miss Pinky as she was involved in almost any school activity. She was our role model and the favorite of the nuns. And then she disappeared and rumors swirled around school. When we saw her again some years later, she was wearing a habit and had to be addressed as Mother Jude Mary. Now, we were all afraid to approach her. Gone were the golden locks that made her stand out, and she wasn’t as “noisy” or perky as before; but her guitar was still always by her side. Thus, she earned the nickname, The Flying Nun, in our school.
Pinky was only 18 years old, in second year college when she joined the convent. She said a priest explained the Crucifixion to her one day and [it was] like a light was turned on; but she left the convent several years later because she found it too ritualistic and sensed something was missing; and then she went on a different path. She first joined the corporate world of Ayala as its marketing manager for Greenbelt and Makati Commercial Center. Then she left for the United States to pursue a master’s degree in Educational Management from De La Salle University, a degree in Theology from University of San Francisco, and a doctorate in philosophy from the University of California Berkeley. While studying, she ran a recruitment and placement agency in San Francisco. It was while she was living in the Bay Area that we became friends.
Nothing is a straight path for Pinky. She returned to Manila, looking for a teaching job, actually taught for a while, and then landed the Associate Dean position at Assumption, and finally was nominated for president. Pinky is the first lay president of the school. I was surprised at this announcement. I was hoping that Pinky would be the spark that would change the image of the school. During my time, I was not intellectually challenged. Nor was I comfortable with the school’s conservative, protective, and isolationist policy. It took us years to get approval for a student government, and we could not attend any rally without the express, written approval of our parents. We really didn’t know what went on beyond the guarded walls of the school.
Last November 17, 2016, Pinky penned a memo to the faculty and students of Assumption College, addressing the Supreme Court’s decision allowing the burial of former President Marcos at Libingan ng mga Bayani. In it she wrote: “It is saddening that the Supreme Court decided to allow the burial of Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani. The students of Assumption are taught to respect the highest court of the country, but this decision negates the abuses endured by many Filipinos during the Martial Law dictatorship and the pain suffered by those who languished in jail with no hope of trial due to the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus. This decision allows a military burial to one who sent soldiers and tanks against his own people. And – no – the burial will not bring national unity. In fact, it makes the divide even wider.”
She also wrote another letter bearing the same tone on the current extrajudicial killings. She further encouraged students, faculty, and staff to “continue to speak up and stand for what is right and never collapse or hide in silence.” When I read this letter on Facebook, I could not believe this was coming from the school that sheltered many of the oligarch’s children. I asked Pinky, “How did people react to this memo?” “A majority of them supported me. Some said the school shouldn’t get involved in politics,” she replied. As for me, I was finally proud to be an Assumption graduate.
But Pinky was not yet done. Early this year, she launched a book entitled, Educating Women Leaders, where she exposed the dark secrets of her past. When she was only six years old, an older cousin who was 14, sexually abused her over a period of two years. She didn’t understand what was happening to her at the time, and since it was not violent, she doesn’t want to call it rape. She told no one. Then two years later, while visiting the United States, a La Salle Brother in his 60s also sexually abused Pinky. Her mother got suspicious when Pinky would run away every time this Brother came to visit. She found out from a relative, that the same Brother also “touched” her relative’s young daughters.
Ten years ago, while researching for her book, Pinky wrote to her cousin who had abused her. In it she said, “You destroyed my childhood. You owe me an apology.” To her surprise, he responded: “All my life I wanted to apologize but I didn’t know how. Thank you for writing me a letter as it gave me an opportunity to apologize, and I am really, really sorry for what I did.” Her cousin has since died. Pinky added, “I was already healed. I wasn’t persecuted. The world was just dark and I can’t trust anybody.” It is this same philosophy that attracted her to the nunnery: “I can only trust Jesus. I will just follow Him. He forgave everybody and gave love, empathy, and reached for kindness to those in darkness.”
Pinky also relates in her book the story of the La Salle Brother, who is now gone. At first, she named him, but removed his name after another La Salle Brother asked her to remove it as “many people in his era think the world of him.” This La Salle Brother said thank you and walked away, but “he never apologized” to Pinky.
I asked her if she would be starting a #MeToo campaign in the Philippines considering the number of responses she received after her book was published, and she said she didn’t want to get embroiled in the political system. “It’s much deeper and more profound than that when a culture allows women to be abused.”
Before we parted ways, I ask her about her music and her face lit up. “Yes, I am still composing songs (in English, Spanish, and French). I have added three CDs. The last one I did with Jose Mari Chan won a platinum award a few weeks ago…..I need my creative outlet as I don’t really enjoy the administrative part of my job.” Many years ago, Pinky wrote lyrics to the theme song of the haunting and romantic movie, “Somewhere in Time,” starring Christopher Reeves and Jane Seymour. Unfortunately, this version is only available in the Philippines as it was never sent to the composer, John Barry. (You can hear Pat Castillo’s version in the video below.)
After the interview, I strolled around the school since I had not been back since graduation in 1971. So many new buildings, so many new faces. Nearby, a rally was going on in the open auditorium – loud chants and drum beatings. We could never be this noisy during our time. I am elated that Carmen “Pinky” Valdes is at the helm, steering the Assumption women to be the champions of the 21st century. How I wish I had this opportunity then.