Manay Gina, the third child of Dr. Jose Perez and ‘Nene’ Vera who were the producers of Sampaguita Pictures, spent her 73rd birthday quietly with family a day after Valentine’s Day. The former congresswoman from Pangasinan was named Georgina Dolores by her maternal grandfather, the late Senator Jose Vera, after his favorite saint George and his wife, Dolores.
Manay Gina was born in 1949, a few years after the Philippines was liberated by the United States. It proved providential because, in her adulthood, Manay Gina herself became a “liberator” of thousands of abused women through The Haven for Women, which has 15 regional centers.
These centers are rehabilitation facilities for women in crisis, the victims of rape, incest, forced prostitution, and the like. They were erected when Manay Gina was the president of Congressional Spouses Foundation, Inc. (CSFI). They also built The Haven for Children with four regional centers that help street children, and The Haven for the Elderly in Tanay, Rizal serves as a shelter for senior citizens, who have been abandoned by their families.
I have seen the Haven in Alabang and was thoroughly impressed by the love and care that Manay Gina has poured into it, as she has to all her projects for women, mothers especially.
Manay Gina grew up on the movie set, reared by a movie producer father who entertained stars and fans alike, practically every day. That was why, when Manay Gina became the wife of a high profile politician Joe de Venecia (JVD), her refined social skills were brought to the fore.
In socio-political circles, Manay Gina is famous for her grace. Her parties are always fun. There would be songs, games, and prizes for everyone.
Manay Gina is also the mother of reinvention, turning her losses into something positive. When her husband lost the presidential race in 1998, she delved into wellness and resurfaced months later as a svelte and super fit Manay Gina. She also transformed herself as the toast of radio and television, being the host of the award-winning Pira-pirasong Pangarap on GMA 7. Its radio version was also acclaimed as a Catholic Mass Media Awards hall of famer as best drama.
The bleakest period of her life was the death of her youngest child KC. “It was the most devastating pain I have experienced. Nothing else will ever compare,” she said.
Yet, again, Gina had proven that even the deepest grief can be transformed into a miracle of hope.
Months after KC’s passing, Gina with fellow orphaned mother Ali Sotto organized the Inang Naulila sa Anak (INA) Foundation. Its purpose is to help other orphaned mothers who are also hopeful to rebuild their lives. Through the INA Foundation, orphaned mothers can transform their traumatic experiences into something affirmative and, in the process, help the other bereaved mothers move on from a place of grief to a place of optimism.
With the help of the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and her husband Joe de Venecia or JDV, Manay Gina founded the INA Healing Center in Batasan Hills, Quezon City, which offers counseling services to orphaned mothers. The foundation is assisting the DSWD and local government units in training the barangay health workers as grief counselors.
So, what is Manay Gina’s secret that enables her to bounce back from every tragic ordeal?
In one of our chats, she opened up about having an idyllic childhood.
She said, “Each time something bad happens to me, I would go back to my happy place. Growing up, my parents gave me and my brothers and sisters so much love. It was like we were living in an enchanted kingdom. As a result, I became a complete person. So, when storms came into my life, and in times my dreams crumble before my eyes, what helped me pull myself together was that anchor. I hold on to the happy memories of that special place, where I was truly cared for—my happy childhood.”
Her husband is proud of all her achievements in her political life and as the spouse of the Speaker of the House of Representatives. He unabashedly supports all her projects and lovingly calls her “Babes.” To JDV, she is his pillar of strength, his support and his forever cheerleader. Manay Gina also calls him endearingly “Babes.”
It was love at first sight for JDV who sent Manay Gina three red roses three days after meeting her. He wrote in the accompanying note: “With each rose, I crown thee the empress of my heart, and sovereign of my domain!” And their love story commenced!
Their children are Vivian, Dennis, Joey, Karen, Sandra, Mark, Leslie, Carissa, Philip, KC, and Christopher, now a hard-working congressman in Pangasinan.