You may know the Garcias as the founders of The Philippine Reporter, or as the driving force behind the Filipino-Canadian Writers and Journalists Network, the Community Alliance for Social Justice, the Justice for Jeffrey campaign, and more. But on a gorgeous summer night at Rembrandt Banquet Hall, they celebrated another revolutionary milestone: 50 years of marriage.
Between incredible performances by Lilac Caña, Emilio Zarris, Lui Queaño, and Naeema Ticzon-Garcia, the couple shared their epic love story.
After meeting the poised and beautiful Mila in 1967, Hermie recruited her into the Student Cultural Association of the University of the Philippines (SCAUP). In the midst of a dangerous student movement, they fell in love.
While many people remember July 1969 as a time when Gloria Diaz became Miss Universe and Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, on the same day on July 21st, Mila and Hermie were married.
Only two weeks after the wedding, they were jailed on trumped-up charges, for covering peasant exploitation in Negros Oriental for their community newspaper Dumaguete Times, which lasted only five issues. Their captors attempted to pit them against one another, but no amount of physical and psychological torture could break them.
Upon release, they returned to Manila. Their first child, Norman, was born in 1970, the year of the First Quarter Storm, and as Marcos declared martial law in 1972, they went into hiding, concealing their identities and writing for mimeographed underground newspapers against the dictatorship.
When Mila was arrested in 1974, the military tried to convince her that Hermie was dead. They showed Mila his bullet-riddled Volkswagen Beetle but she remained undeterred, believing he was not dead. Finally, a relative came to the detention centre with something special: Fig Newtons. “Only Hermie and I knew that it was my favourite snack, as I had craved for it when I was pregnant with our first child,” she said. The package proved that he was still alive.
Six months later, Hermie was imprisoned. Mila gave birth to her son Lawrence in the detention centre, inspiring 140 detainees to go on a hunger strike to free Mila and another nursing mother, Marie Hilao. After 14 days, the two mothers and their babies were released. However, Hermie was still imprisoned.
When Mila had their third child, Kalayaan, she juggled three jobs, while Hermie took care of their children in the detention centre on weekends and wrote articles under Mila’s byline.
After a long campaign, Hermie was released, completing 6 1/2 years without conviction. They worked in Manila, the sounds of their typewriters lulling their children to sleep. For the safety of their family, they decided to emigrate to Canada, but upon arrival, they couldn’t find work in journalism since they had no Canadian experience. This inspired them to start their own social justice-oriented Filipino-Canadian newspaper, and in 1989, The Philippine Reporter was born.
For Hermie, the most important element in a successful marriage is compatibility. “Chemistry may be strong at the start but if there’s no compatibility in many things, like lifestyle, taste, values, maybe even the way people speak, the chemistry will fade and die,” he said. “If the chemistry is not nourished by compatibility, even patience cannot sustain it.”
And as evidenced in the speeches by Mithi Esguerra, Lord Mayor Art Viola, and the Garcia sons, Mila and Hermie are certainly compatible. Norman spoke of his parents’ weekly movie nights, and how he can still find them together, hours after the credits have rolled. Throughout their 50 years, they have been an unwavering example of true love.
As Mila said, “Fifty years later, we find ourselves grateful for our blessings: a lasting marriage, flourishing in love and bliss with the pride and joy of our lives: our three wonderful children, and five beautiful grandchildren, Serena, Santiago, Domenic, Naeema, and Justice; a lasting partnership in journalism committed to social justice; and a love where romance has never left.”
Happy 50th Anniversary, Golden Garcias. Here’s to many more years to come!
This article was published in The Philippine Reporter on September 13, 2019.