My parents, Candelario Verzosa and Purificacion Lahoz were genuine Ilocanos from Vigan, Ilocos Sur. I was, however born in Sta. cruz, Laguna on 14 August 1941. My father, an engineer, was working there during the construction of the Caliraya Hydroelectric Project. I am not so sure, but I think my mother was the company doctor. When war broke out in December, the whole family moved back to Vigan. My elder sister and two more sisters and the first boy in the family were all born in Vigan. I went to school from Grade 1 and 2 at the Vigan Central School.
In 1946, the family moved to Manila where my father got another construction job. We lived in Paco. My sisters and I went to Paco Catholic School which I attended from Grade 3 to Grade 5. Two brothers were born in Paco. In 1951 my folks were able to buy a lot in Cubao, Quezon City where they built a house and this is where the family has been living since then. My youngest sister was born in Quezon City, and that completed the eight children in our family. The girls attended St. Theresa’s College in Quezon City. I was there from Grade 6 and the whole of high school. Later, I went to St. Theresa’s College, Manila earning the degree Bachelor of Science in Commerce, major in Accounting in 1960. I took the CPA exam and passed it after reviewing hard and surely with the help of all the novenas!
My first job was at Filoil Refinery Corporation. It was supposed to be the first Filipino oil company, but it cannot compete with the big ones, so it did not last long. Though my boss Mr. Ramon del Rosario, Sr. was a good person and I learned a lot from him, the experience convinced me that the corporate world was not for me. So, when the opportunity came, I accepted an invitation to go to school at the Loyola University in Chicago to study sociology. A friend from college and I were offered free tuition and free accommodations with American families, in exchange for working with the Filipino Students’ Catholic Association (FISCA). We worked not only with students, but also with Filipino nurses and doctors – literally a wave of overseas Filipino workers at that time. We put out a newsletter and organized activities such as dialogues with other foreign students, recollections, socials, etcetera. I completed my MA, major in Sociology and came home to the Philippines in March 1965.
I looked around for meaningful employment, not in a corporation and I discovered at the Asian Social Institute (ASI), a graduate school of sociology, economics and social work. The founder, Fr. Francis Senden had the vision of training idealistic young Filipinos to work for the development of the country , to be of service, especially to the poor. I worked in the Sociology Research Department. We gathered data for certain dioceses so they could have their own social development plans, especially since Vatican II was just completed and the ministry of the Church should not be confined only to spiritual matters but to total human development. Later, Fr. Senden asked me to be the registrar, and later part-time accountant. I worked in ASI for seven years. It was also at ASI where I met my future husband, Edward Gerlock. It was a good learning experience, very fulfilling. Fr. Senden was a great person – very charismatic and inspiring. In 1972 after the declaration of martial law, I decided to work in the province.
I worked at the Social Action Center of the Prelature of Tagum, in Mindanao from 1973 to 1974. Two times while working there, the military interrogated me. One Sunday, five staff members were herded to the Philippine Constabulary Headquarters without any warrant or warning. It seemed just like a whim on their part. We were interrogated arbitrarily by one of the intelligence officers. Ed Gerlock, who was still a Maryknoll missionary at that time, was the social action director. He came to check on us and he too got interrogated for a longer period. The second time was when the military arrested one of the social workers of the Social Action Center. He was accused of distributing materials against the Marcos regime. Another colleague and I were suspected of being accomplices. The interrogation was one of the most terrible experiences in my life.
One day on 31 October 1974, the military fetched Ed from the parish convento, brought him directly to the airport and on to Camp Crame in Quezon City. Though I was hired as researcher in Tagum, I ended as administrative officer to take the place of a staff member who went to study at the East Asian Pastoral Institute. My worked in Tagum was also a significant learning experience for me.
Back in Luzon , I joined the Task Force Detainees (TFD) of the Association of Major Religious Superiors that Sr. Mariani Dimaranan headed then. After six months, I was invited to work at the Luzon Secretariat for Social Action (LUSSA), first as Project Evaluation Officer, then Admin-Finance Officer, and finally Coordinator of the Justice and Peace Desk. I was with LUSSA for four years. I found my work and my experiences in LUSSA and TFD to be very fulfilling and significant. It was Martial Law. We worked so that more people, especially priests and nuns and service-oriented people, would be conscientized or become aware of the unjust situation in our country and do something about it.
We supported issues such as the struggle against the Chico River Dams of the Bontocs and Kalingas, the construction of the Bataan Nuclear Power Plant, workers who dared to strike at the Bataan Export Processing Zone in Mariveles, etcetera. We encouraged the dioceses to organize Basic Christian Communities using the community organizing process.
In June 1979, I went to the United States and on 31 May1980, Ed and I were married in Hawaii at Hale Mohalu (House of Comfort), a facility for leprosy patients who were being evicted by the government. Our daughter Alay Kealoha Maria Angela, was born on 10 January 1982 in Honolulu. Ed and I applied to work as lay missionaries with Maryknoll and were assigned in Venezuela. We worked in a relocation site — Nueva Tacagua, Caracas. It was also a privilege to have had the opportunity to work in Latin America where a lot of struggles were ongoing – within the church as well as politically. I learned about Venezuelan and Latin culture, met a lot of friends, learned Spanish, and I suppose contributed also something for the people we worked with. We helped set up a pre-school – Escuela Nuestra Esperanza (Our Hope School). Ed helped establish the Red de Apoyo (Network for Support), a support group for justice issues which is still existing until now.
After Marcos was escorted out of the Philippines in 1986, Ed and I came back. We completed our term in Venezuela and returned in 1987. We adopted our second child, Laya Stanley, who was born on 11 January 1988. We received him when he was two months old. Since coming back, some colleagues and I organized a partnership of certified public accountants. All of our clients are NGOs , no businesses. I also worked as Finance Officer of the Coalition of Services of the Elderly, Inc. (COSE) for 12 years until my retirement in 2009. COSE organizes older people in poor communities so that they can help one another. I continue to help in the accounting of the records of the Burial Fund of the Older People and the Confederation of Older People’s Associations of the Philippines (COPAP).
I became the general manager of Villa Angela Heritage House in Vigan after my brother passed away in 2010. It is the ancestral home of my father’s family which he and my mother restored and converted into a pension house. A significant section of Vigan has been declared as a heritage village by UNESCO. The place is a showcase of Philippine culture and history, and my siblings and I are proud to be part of this. This does not involve full-time work, so I continue to reside in Quezon City with my husband, my daughter and her husband, Mark and their baby boy Lucas, our first grandchild, and Laya.
I hope to be able to continue helping people, especially the Older People in their various projects. I hope that I can still continue to be of service to our country, so that in the future, at least the basic needs of all Filipinos are fulfilled and that they are able to exercise their basic human rights. (Mercedes Verzosa-Gerlock)