CENTENNIAL BIRTHDAY. Some of the children and grandchildren of Elsa Bañez Valera (Mama Elsa) shortly after the Thanksgiving Mass held in her honor at the SVD District House chapel in Ubbog, Bangued, Abra on Friday (Dec. 17, 2021). Her homecoming to celebrate her 100th birthday here in the Philippines was put on hold due to the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic. (Courtesy of Oeuvres de Onamore FB page)

MANILA – The coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic might have “spoiled” Mama Elsa’s long-planned homecoming and celebrate her 100th birthday here in the Philippines and yet there’s no stopping her children, grandchildren, and relatives from celebrating this extraordinary milestone though they may be thousands of miles apart.

Elsa Bañez Valera, fondly called Mama Elsa, was born in Bangued, Abra on Dec. 17, 1921 to Mercedes Paredes Purugganan and Dr. Colonel Leon Crisologo Bañez, who shaped the foundation of her values as a woman of faith, family, education, and strength.

“We started planning for Mama’s centennial birthday as early as last year (2020) thinking that the pandemic would be over by then. Gaya ng marami sa atin na Pinoy, gustung-gusto ni Mama na mag-celebrate ng Christmas sa Pilipinas at syempre para sana mag-reunion na rin for her 100th birthday. Kaya lang nandyan pa rin yung pangamba dahil nga sa Covid kaya hindi natuloy (Like many other Filipinos, Mama would like to spend Christmas in the Philippines. We did plan to have a reunion and celebrate her birthday in Manila. Unfortunately, the Covid-19 threat persists that’s why we did not push through),” said her son Rene, now based in Connecticut, USA.

Mama Elsa was the second eldest of five, she is no stranger to having a big support system with her two brothers -- Dr. Leon Bañez and Brig Gen. Arnulfo Bañez and two sisters, Bella Bañez Cabanos and Estrellia Bañez Garcia.

Mama Elsa was taking up nursing when World War II broke out. Her studies were interrupted by the Japanese invasion in 1941. After settling, she returned to her studies in Commerce at the Philippine Women’s University.

Later, she married Felixberto Garduque Valera and they were the definition of a power couple. This brought on the extension of her family through 12 children who are her love and light: Chedes Garcia, Ellen Martinez, Etta Vered, Michael Valera, Elgie Valera, Virgilio (Gelly) Valera, Sue-Zette Valera, Chona Trinidad, Marissa Banez, Olga Bigornia, Angelee Niedermeyer, and Rene Valera.

Despite her role as a mother, her career was also an important part of her life. Mama Elsa was appointed general manager of the Rice and Corn Administration (now known as National Food Authority) under President Diosdado Macapagal. Other notable roles include being a board member of The Catholic Women’s League Abra and Philippine Girl Scouts for the Province of Abra.

With her retirement from the Ministry of Education and Culture in 1981, this enabled her to immigrate to the US in pursuit of a better life for her children and future generations.

Today on her 100th birthday, she is the mother to 12 children, grandmother to 24 grandchildren, and great-grandmother to 20 great-grandchildren. Although her family is great in numbers, it is her unconditional love, support, strength, and wisdom that has guided her family to be where they are today.

The Bañez and Valera clans -- from the United States, Metro Manila, Abra, and other parts of the Philippines) started their respective celebrations on Friday morning with a Thanksgiving Mass at the SVD District House in Ubbog, Bangued, many of them attending the live-streamed Mass online.

“We are grateful to have her and be a part of this milestone. Join us in our celebration of Elsa Bañez Valera,” Rene said.

Mama Elsa is a niece of Don Quintin Paredes who served as Philippine Solicitor General from March 1, 1917 to 1918, as Secretary of Justice from 1920 to 1921, and as Attorney-General from 1918 to July 1, 1920 who was a member of the first parliamentary mission to the United States in 1919. (Contributed by Kristen Valera)