For love of country of her birth 

Agnes in a cafe at Gateway, (left) and with me at the Ali Mall in Cubao (right).

    Life is what we make of it.

     Agnes Pelegrino Cabe—a leader of a big community organization in Queensland, Australia—was born to a poor family. But this served her in good stead, as it brought out the best in her.

    She literally pulled herself up by her bootstraps, working while studying at the same time.

   Being a leader and without her saying it, she wished her life serve to serve as inspiration to others.

   We agreed to meet for the first time at Gateway in Cubao, Quezon City. She was leaving for Australia the night of the following day after two months in the country.

  She stayed at the lodging run by the YWCA (Young Women’s Christian Association), a non-profit organization that focuses on empowerment, leadership, among others.

    She also stayed with friends and siblings, some of whom she had not seen nor visited for a long time.

    Agnes is the secretary of the umbrella organization FABICCQ (Filipino Australian Business, Industry and Communities Council of Queensland, Inc.), which serves as a link between the Philippine Embassy in Canberra and Queensland where 73,805 people of Filipino ancestry live.

   Roberto Garcia is FABICCQ’s president. He is also the multicultural development officer of the Toowoomba Regional Council (TRC).

   Agnes is co-owner of a restaurant venture, Kusina, which is reportedly being sold because her partners had become busy and could no longer do their respective responsibilities in the partnership.

   Her partners are Ivy Tia from Cebu, Ella Fuentes from Bacolod City, and Nenet Peralta from General Santos City.

    I arrived at the meeting venue a few minutes ahead of her. As she approached, she was sending text messages regarding her location.

   I could see her in the distance picking her way through shopkeepers, window shoppers and people just passing through.

    Looking smart and walking ramrod straight, she had short black hair cut below the nape and wore a dark blouse  and trousers.

    She was short, in stark contrast to her strong determination and achievements. She seemed to have done  some research since she  immediately recognized me.

    “Kumusta ka (How are you?), ” I said as she smiled at me, her eyes nearly closed. She showed altruism and a steely determination in the way she talked.

    We walked down a flight of wide white concrete stairs, crossed the street with hardly a car on either side, and entered a glass door that a security guard opened for us .

    We entered a high-end coffee shop and took our seats at a small round table.

   I asked if she had taken her lunch and she said not yet. As I stood up to go to the counter, she told me to remain seated. She did the honors of ordering coffee and donuts for us.

    Amid the hushed voices of other customers and the noise of cars blowing their horns  outside the coffee shop, I asked general questions to know more about her.

    The minutes ticked by and after gulping down a mouthful of coffee I suggested we look for a place where she could have a delicious lunch at an affordable price.

    We flagged down a taxi and asked the driver to bring us to a mall on P. Tuazon Ave.

   We arrived at our destination and Agnes paid double the amount on the taxi meter. The driver choked on his words as he expressed his thanks.

   Getting off the taxi, we sauntered into the mall and walked towards the restaurants. We chose one that was well-known for the food quality. A waiter gave a menu and Agnes chose.

    As we waited for our order, I asked her specific questions to which she gave forthright answers.

    I asked if she had become an Australian citizen. “No, but my kids have,” was her immediate reply.

    I wondered why considering that, if she had become an Australian citizen, she would be entitled to what other citizens enjoyed such as  free hospitalization.

    But I thought that listening to what she was willing to say and share would be more productive. In fact, I thought she met with me because she had something to say worth listening to and writing about.

   I remembered what a Filipino community leader in Toowoomba City said about her, “I heard that she was involved with a cause-oriented group while she was still a student  in the Philippines.”

   Could her activism as a student be a reflection of her leadership skills?

    Could that also explain why she stayed at the lodging being run by the YWCA, which is involved in leadership training? She also visited and stayed with friends with whom she shared a common goal.

     That she also visited siblings was probably just a matter of propriety.

    Amid the cacophony of voices of customers in nearby tables, Agnes said she had a difficult childhood and moved heaven and earth to achieve what a talented young woman like her longed for— education.

    She was born to Cornelio Turla, a farmer, and Alicia Mercader, a housewife, in Laoang, Northern Samar, the oldest among seven brothers and sisters.

    But despite the difficulties, her parents decided that she should study. She attended the Pantaleon Madrigal Elementary School.

   Although supported by her parents, she stayed with different relatives from Grade 1 to Grade Vl.

    After graduation, she worked  at an uncle’s house by doing household chores  in exchange for her to study at the Laoang National Trade School.

    After graduation in 1990, she was on her own, asking anybody like friends if they had a job for her.

    “If someone offered me a job, I would go and stay with her,” she said. She got free board and lodging.

    “In 1990, I was working at a bakery in Laguna, then worked as a saleslady for clothes in Malabon,” she added.

    Then she transferred to Bagong Silang in Caloocan City and worked for a small firm selling bread. After that she worked for someone in the police force in Malabon City.

   In 1992, she started college at the Philippine Normal College (now a university), a premier school along Taft Ave. in Manila for aspiring elementary and high school teachers.

   She tried to avail of any scholarships at the time. She sought the help of then Sen. Santanina Rasul whose husband, Abraham Rasul, was the Philippine ambassador to Saudi Arabia. She also approached the late former Sen. Raul Roco.

    Agnes graduated in 1996 with the degree of Bachelor of Science in Education after four years,  the normal length of time to finish the course if one took a full load every semester.

    Finishing her teaching course in time  showed that she was a good student. 

    After graduation, she taught at Palm Crest School, a private institution of learning in Parañaque City, for one year.

    In 1997, she joined the Department of Education by teaching at the Dr. Celedonio A. Salvador Elementary School along Merced Street in Paco, Manila. She taught there for 17 years.

    “I have good memories of the school. I considered my pupils as my own children,” she said.

    She also had a good working relationship with her co-teachers and she would always remember them.

    She fostered friendships she made over the years even after she left to live somewhere else.

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  1. Thank you Rody for featuring a story of Filipino Diaspora in another part of the world Australia. A refreshing story of good story of success of Agnes Cabe who I know is a dynamic Filipino advocate and community leader in Darling Downs Area in regional, Queensland Australia home to around 70,00 Filipinos and of ancestry . Her presence and impact to bringing together the Filipino pride to promote our culture through example of leadership and encouragement of Filipino participation in mainstream Australia events have earned the respect of the Australians and government in the areas and communities ,they settle for the economic ,social and cultural contribution of Filipinos settling and working in Australia.We have many unknown Agnes Cabe’s doing their share in this are of the world. Mabuhay

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