From a life that began seemingly wonderfully, if naively, at 19 years of age, when she fell for the "generous" ways of a "gentleman," one who was at least three decades older and very much married, a big politician, whose big promises of marriage never came to pass, and whose five children by her are now all under the wing of their father—Che Tiongson today looks to a future that is at once difficult and messed up, yet thankfully different and hopeful.
The difficult part is simple enough to see. Che has no skills to get herself employed in a job that will pay for rent and food, much less send five children to private school. Neither does she have money or connections to start a business, no matter how modest. She was plucked at 19, when she had just begun college. She has not studied since and has never worked. She is finding, she says, that she was raised to be a dependent.
"No work. Hindi na ako nag-aral. Hindi naman ako tinuruang mag-negosyo, ganun. Parang ginawa lang akong housewife kasi gusto niyang maging dependent na ako sa kanya. Habang nagsasama kami, yun ang gusto niya talaga. Kapag nagbigay siya sa akin, very minimal. Talagang very minimal, kasi nga ayaw niya talaga na parang magkaipon ako."
She says that she never thought of filching money from Chavit Singson, her landed and wealthy partner.
"Sa seventeen years naming nagsama, hindi talaga ako kumukuha sa kanya. Ganyan ang pagkatao ko. Kahit kailangang-kailangan ko na, hindi talaga ako ganun. Hihingin ko na lang kesa kunin ko."
Not that she could have taken money from the vault, she says calmly. The vault had a combination, the number of which she does not know. She wants to assume though, that on those occasions he gave her money to spend, he gave this to her with an open hand.
"Pero, I think, pagbigay, e, bigay na yun, e. Kung anumang gawin ko dun, akin na yun. Wala siyang binigay sa aking property na nakapangalan sa akin. Lahat—walang negosyo, walang properties. Gusto nga niyang maging dependent ako.
"Yung car ko, sa akin nakapangalan, kaso nung pinaalis niya ako, nung nangyari ito, damit ko lang talaga bitbit ko. Naiwan ko yung car ko, siyempre. Wala na yung car. Wala na lahat yung gamit. Kaya hindi ako dun [Corinthian house-apartment] ngayon natutulog, kasi walang bed, walang laman, wala lahat. Tinanggal nung Sunday [August 30]."
TREATED LIKE PROPERTY. Right now, things are still looking messy for her, she admits. For some time, she had felt like she was being treated like property, but couldn't seem to do anything about it. Partly because, she suggests, she felt helpless. Partly because, she says, he had the kids for leverage.
"Ang isa pang torture ko diyan, yung pag-aari niya ako, na pupunta siya dun [Corinthian house-apartment] any time gusto niya. Para galawin lang ako. At yun lang talaga ang purpose niya. Pupunta siya dun, ayun, 'tapos alis na siya.
"Pag nag-no ako, ganito yun, may panakot na, 'Hindi mo na makita yung mga bata!' Parati ko silang tsini-check. 'O sige, papuntahin mo yung mga bata rito.' Sinusundo ko sa school, sabay-sabay kong hinahatid. Yung mga ganun na lang, na kahit every day nakakausap ko sila, nakikita ko sila."
In fact, she says, he was there on August 22, a Friday, the day before he beat her up. "Grabe siya. Ginalaw pa niya ako nung Friday, na parang wala siyang balak gawin. Na meron pala siyang plano na sundan ako, at gagawin iyon [to beat her]."
ASKING THE COURTS. These days, Che is focused on getting relief from the courts. She is asking for a Temporary Protection Order that will keep Singson away from her. She is asking that he not be allowed to carry a firearm or any deadly weapon. She is asking that he be put on the hold-departure list.
She wants him to stop harassing her, annoying her, or getting in touch with her. She wants him to stop threatening her. She wants him to stay away from her and the children, from their residence, school, and her place of employment, should there be one.
And, if the court pleases, she wants permanent custody of her children. And for her kids' needs at school and home, she wants P300,000 a month.
(Note: PEP has an exclusive interview with Luis "Chavit" Singson, to be uploaded at the soonest possible time.)
POOR BEGINNINGS. Still, Che says she is set on going back to basics. Life from now on will be very different from what she has known in the last seventeen years, she admits, but she can do it. After all, she acknowledges, she comes from humble beginnings.
"Yeah, ako talaga, ako, ang sabi ko, nag-umpisa naman ako sa amin na simple lang din yung life, e. And I can always go back with that life. I can always go back—for as long as I have my freedom, as long as I am happy, as long as I have peace of mind. Yun ang hindi kayang bayaran.
"Hindi siya kayang bayaran ng kahit anuman. Parati ko ngang sinasabi, akala ng iba, ang sarap-sarap ng buhay ko. Totoo, dahil totoo naman, na-experience ko rin yung mga 'yang luxurious life, na nagbiya-biyahe ka, ano, ganun. But ang kapalit nito... does that make you happy? At the end of the day, are you happy?"
She finds that there's nothing left in the relationship with the public official to make her return to him. She speaks of thoughts that seem to have been percolating in her mind for some time. She speaks of minding her own needs.
"Yung relationship namin, parang bangko, na dapat deposit nang deposit. Ang nangyari sa amin, withdraw nang withdraw, hanggang sa nagiging negative. Kasi yun na nga yung nawalan ka ng respect, ng trust.
"Ayoko na. No. I don't think mangyayari pa. Sabi ko nga, mas gusto ko pang simple life than going back to him. I don't mind. Nanggaling na ako dun, e. At least, nasubukan ko. Na-experience ko na, e. 'Saka isa pa, ang iniisip ko na lang dito ngayon, sarili ko.
"Yun lang maganda dito. Alam ko na okay naman mga bata dun. Kung ipaglalaban naman niya talaga sa akin, 'tapos wala naman akong mabibigay sa mga anak ko para suportahan, anong magagawa ko?"
The welts just below her eyes are subsiding now on her still beautiful face. "Napulot lang daw niya ako sa basurahan—'tapos daw binihisan, tapos yumabang na. Natawa ako dun," she says of Singson's television pronouncements. Che's voice is as calm as when she first began to speak to us. She sits poised in her chair. Her mouth laughs. But her eyes don't smile.