How does one write about Manang Jane Timbancaya-Urbanek? How does one describe the breadth and depth of her experience and journeys, her challenges and victories?
Manang Jane is excellent with words, both spoken and written. She is a radio talk show host and speaks fluent Cuyunon, Cebuano, Pilipino, and English. She is articulate and can stand her ground with anyone in the area of communications. She has written a number of children’s books that have strong messages about environmental protection. On social media, she writes about her everyday experiences and insights that offer gems of thoughts and inspiration.
She is a believer in positive thinking, having raised six children who are hard-working, talented, and entreprenurial, in spite of, or maybe because of, the difficulties they faced, especially after she became widowed. Not only had she nourished and cultivated their artistic talents, she tried her best to inculcate in each of her children good moral values, which she believed would prepare them to be well-adjusted adults who would be assets to society, and not liabilities. Among other things that she does, she runs the newly-opened Dang Maria Bed and Breakfast and Restaurant, and Neva’s Pizza Delight, a 17-year old pizzeria, a favourite destination of pizza enthusiasts in Palawan.
As a former staff of Palawan Council for Sustainable Development Staff (formerly Palawan Integrated Area Development Project Office), she takes pride in being part of the conceptualization and implementation of the Pista Y Ang Kageban, a tree planting festival which has brought thousands of volunteers to the watersheds of Puerto Princesa every month of June to plant trees, and, for the musicians – to play their music while the tree-planting is going on. Dubbed as the Palawenos’ ‘alsa masa’ for the environment, this festival has been celebrated for the past 27 years in this city, as a community mobilization and volunteerism project.
The Timbancayas and Ponce de Leons of Cuyo
Manang Jane’s parents were educators, and natives of Palawan, belonging to an indigenous ethnic group called Cuyonon. They were educated by the early American teachers who were assigned to the Philippines, the Thomasites, in the early 19th century after World War II. Her father, Tomas Paz Timbancaya, went to Silliman Institute, in Dumaguete City, after graduating from high school in Cuyo, Palawan. His classmate, Maria Felizarte Ponce de Leon, who he married eventually, began teaching when she was 17 years old, after graduating from high school. The Ponce de Leons of Cuyo trace their lineage to the two Ponce de Leon brothers, who were exiles from the dukedom of Arco, Spain who landed in Cuyo in the late 18th century.
Tomas and Maria Timbancaya, as parents, were great believers in education. They believed that it is the best legacy they could leave their children, and the best game changer of lives.
Manang Jane is the 8th child in the family of 10 children. One brother, Dave, became a member of the first Bayanihan Dance Troupe as a guitar player, singer, nose flutist, and acoustic base player. He was later involved in the tourism business, but passed away at 62. Another brother, Tommy, was a promising, respected lawyer in Puerto Princesa when he died at 36. A sister, Ester, is an anthropologist and a linguist, and is soon publishing the Cuyono Dictionary, a work of 40 years.
Another sister, Filiusa, has translated the Bible into Cuyonon, and worked as a businessperson in the US for many years, running her hotel for cats and dogs. A sister, Mary, is an accountant, working in the US until today. Another brother, Ben, is a chemical engineer – turned farmer and lives in Dumaran and Magsaysay. Alonso, who recently passed away, was a marketing graduate-turned farmer in Roxas. The youngest brother, Alvin, is a doctor, the CEO of the Coop Hospital in Puerto Princesa City.
Growing up in Cuyo
Cuyo was perhaps one of the best places to raise children in. People were kind, concerned about each other and except for isolated cases, Cuyo was generally crime-free. Manang Jane recalls how clean and how green this island was while she was growing up as a child. The seas surrounding the island teemed with a rich array of marine life and fisherfolks at that time did not need to go to the high seas to have a rich harvest of marine products.
Life in Cuyo then was so simple and laid back. The boats plying the Manila-Cuyo-Puerto Princesa-Cuyo-Manila route docked at Cuyo once a week. Weekends for Manang Jane and her siblings were spent swimming and going out to gather shells, fish, sea urchins and sea weeds, after finishing assigned household chores.
After graduating from high school in Cuyo, she went to Silliman University like all her siblings before her, and after her. She took up a four-year course in Pre-Medical studies and graduated in 1971. Alas, pursuing a medical career, she decided, was not her calling.
Early marriage and children
Shortly after graduation, at a Baha’i gathering in Manila, where she was enrolled at the UST Medical School, she met the man she married, Ronnie Padilla, who hails from Camarines Norte. After a few years in Manila, they decided to settle down in Palawan as volunteers for the Baha’i Faith. Manang Jane and Ronnie were blessed with six children: Lua Khanum, Corinne Agnes, Quddus Ronnie, Anis Olinga, Neva Jane, and Nabil Randy. Today, except for the two youngest children, the older children have families of their own, charting their own stories, manning their own businesses. It has not always been like this for Manang Jane and her children.
Folks say that people who decided to stake their claims in Palawan and live here, inevitably pay a ‘tuition fee’ of tests and difficulties. Manang Jane and her children were not exempted from this phenomenon.
“I am very happy and grateful that my children and I went through tough times.”
Sure, all of us go through tough times. But not everyone can include ‘very happy’ and ‘grateful’ in dealing with life’s difficulties.
Manang Jane seemed to glow as she was saying those words. She believes that tests and difficulties are blessings that all of us need for our spiritual pruning and development. She became a widow at 36, with six kids to take care of. Having worked at the Development Academy of the Philippines in Makati for several years with a project called Rural Transformation, when her family decided to reside in Palawan, she was invited to work with the Capitol by then Governor Salvador Socrates. Instead of being a regular employee, she chose to be a contractor of the official weekly one-hour radio broadcast of the Governor, as she wanted to be with her young children more, during, what she believed to be, the impressionable years.
When asked what knowledge she could share with mothers, Manang Jane said: “Children are precious souls entrusted by God to parents. As parents it is our responsibility to teach our children good values. And the best way to teach is by example. And even if you can afford, parents should not give their children everything they want. The value of, and love of, work should be taught children at an early age. To honor and love parents should also be taught. If we allow our children to disrespect us, as parents, and take us for granted, or at worst, even manipulate us to get what they want – is, being irresponsible. And if this happens, it is partly our fault.
Manang Jane believes that whatever she achieved in life is because of her firm belief that when one makes God and His teachings the center of everything one does, there is no way anyone could fail.
“We are not poor; we just don’t have money”
One morning, during one those rough days when there was little money in the house, Manang Jane called her children and told them about the situation. She told them that they could choose one of two options, which were: walk to school and have snacks; or, ride the tricycle to school and no snacks. They all chose walking to school. “Good decision!” she said. “The walk would make your legs stronger.”
One son asked: “Why Nanay? Don’t we have any budget for both the tricycle and the snacks?” She replied: “We do not have enough to cover both.”
While they were dressing up for school, she overheard her son asking an older sister: “Are we very poor?” She heard her daughter’s answer: “No, we are not poor. We just don’t have enough money.” After hearing this conversation of two of her children, she knew that if they could differentiate between being poor and not just having enough money, they would be alright. She knew deep in her heart that they would be able to cope with all kinds of tests and difficulties that life is so full of in the future.
“The Children and I were a team.”
In Manang Jane’s family, all her children were encouraged to express their feelings and opinions. Because she was out of the home most of the time, her eldest daughter, Lua, played a major role in helping her take care of the younger children and managing the family’s finances.
Because Manang Jane was out of the house during week days, weekends were for doing the laundry, other household chores, and for consultations. The children were all given time to say what they have done right during the week and what they have done which was wrong. When it came to be the youngest child, Nabil’s time to speak, and who was about four at that time, he said:
“What I did wrong was to climb the very tall star apple tree!”. And when Manang Jane asked him why he thought it was wrong, he said: “Because I might fall down and hurt myself.” And when she asked him what he did right, he said: “I came down!”
Sustainable development is striking a balance between development and preservation
Manang Jane was deeply involved with the campaign for the legitimization of the Republic Act 7611 or what is popularly known as the Strategic Environmental Plan law of Palawan.
This law is unique to Palawan. Years of scientific studies on Palawan which started in 1982, funded by the European Union, under the Palawan Integrated Area Development Project, by foreign and local consultants produced the document which was the basis of the law.
RA 7611 is a landmark legislation for sustainable development in the Philippines and is Palawan’s response to the challenge of repairing the environmental damage and contains the blueprint for the kind of development which will ensure that the ecological balance of Palawan is preserved.
Four Palawan leaders played significant role in the evolution of the SEP law, according to Manang Jane, namely: Salvador ‘Badong’ S. Socrates who was at that time the concurrent Governor of Palawan and Undersecretary of the Ministry of Interior and Local Government; Teodoro Q. Pena, who was at that time the Minister of Environment and Natural Resources. These two leaders insisted on including an Environmental Studies Program as part of the PIADP;
David A. Ponce de Leon, who at that time was the Congressman for Northern Palawan, was the principal author of the SEP Bill. Ramon V. MItra, who was the Speaker of the House of Representatives at that time and Congressman Ponce de Leon wheeled and dealed with the other congressmen to have the bill passed in the Lower House. RA 7611 was one of the last bills signed into law by President Cory Aquino, upon the strong pleading of Speaker Mitra who reportedly requested the President: “Ibalato mo na ‘yan sa Palawan.”
Manang Jane served as the Media Coordinator of the Office of the Speaker in Palawan.
Learnings from being in a mixed marriage
In 1991, at age 40, Manang Jane got married to an Austrian businessman, Franz Urbanek, one of the early pioneers of tourism in Honda Bay, who owned Meara Marina Island Resort.
When I asked her about her mixed-marriage experience, she said: “Filipinas contemplating marriage to a non-Filipino need to know more about the culture of the man proposing marriage. The myth that such marriage is a ‘get rich quick formula, or a passport to going abroad’, should be banished from the minds of Filipinas who think that way.”
And she added: “Many foreigners do not understand the concept of making ‘tampo’ (sulking or not talking) of the Filipina. They cannot relate to it. Little issues like that which cost a lot of tears and hurt feelings Filipinas should know more about. “Ang hirap hirap pa namang magtampo na walang audience!” (it’s hard to sulk when one does not have an audience!)”
Manang Jane continued: “A wife has a strong negotiating and bargaining power when she has her own income. Filipinas contemplating on marriage with a non-Filipino should never allow themselves to be convinced not to work anymore, and instead, stay at home and attend to his needs. It will not work in any marriage. As far as I am concerned, an empowered woman (or man) is someone who is not dependent on anyone except God.”
Dream Big Dreams
Manang Jane believes that there is no limit to what one can do. She believes that being in a learning mode always, opens more opportunities to discover more pearls of wisdom and more opportunities to help people help themselves.
“Dream big big dreams. Working hard to translate those dreams into reality is not enough. You have to work smart.”
Manang Jane is currently a consultant for Public Affairs of the Rio Tuba Nickel Mining Corporation. She is one of the fifteen Board of Directors who founded the PCCI-Puerto Princesa Chamber of Commerce and Industry. She is a member of the Kiwanis Club of Palawan, the Puerto Princesa Central Rotary Club, the Soroptimist International (Puerto Princesa Chapter), Diwata, an organization composed of women-members who believe in responsible mining, and a member of the Palawan Association of Real Estate Brokers.
Manang Jane Timbancaya-Urbanek is many other things to many different people. Her life journeys and experiences brought many wonderful things that adorned her life and of others. Truly a woman of wonderful words and wisdom!