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Mrs Mary Relunia and some of her children

Mrs. Mary Relunia of Sydney, an enduring Filipino matriarch

BY MILA CALACALA – MRS. MARIA BONOT RELUNIA, 90, of Kincumber of Central Coast, NSW celebrated her birthday inconspicuously last Saturday 9th January at Pabico Club 55 in Mt. Druitt, NSW.

Maria was the widow of the late Atty. Jose Relunia, Sr. of Sydney one of the pioneer Filipino community leaders in Sydney and erstwhile maverick founder of the first Filipino senior citizens club in Australia, the Fairfield City-based Philippine Australian Society of Senior Citizens. Inc. (PASSCI) and the Filipino Community Cooperative which operates the Hiyas ng Bayan child care centre in Mt Pritchard. NSW.

Unknown to many, Maria was not only the inspiring wife of the trail blazing community leader the late Jose Relunia, Sr, but also the enduring matriarch of 10 Relunia children, 2 grandchildren, 21 great grandchildren, with two more grandchildren on the way.

She was also a lawyer back in the Philippines.

Mary graduated as Valedictorian in High School at Colegio de Santa Isabel Naga City and got a degree in Bachelor of Science in Education at Far Eastern University (FEU).

Mary as she is called by her friends was born on 6th January 1926 at Calabanga, Camarines Sur in the Philippines. Her parents were Henrico Bonot and Basilia Tordilla and she was the eldest of five children – Maria, Juan, Ester, Araceli, and Vicente.

The late Atty Jose Relunia met her while both of them were public primary school teachers in Calabanga, Camarines Sur. Husband Jose was from Pamplona, Camarines Sur but was assigned as a teacher at Calabanga Elementary school. They got married in 1947. She gave birth to  Jun on 19th March 1948. After a few months they left for Manila for better job opportunities.

Eldest son Jun, 67, of Werrington Downs, NSW, was the president in 2014 of the NSW-based peak body Philippine Community Council of NSW (PCC-NSW) and at various times president of PASSCI, and the Australian Devotees of our Lady of Penafrancia (ADOLP).

In the Philippines, Mary got a job as Examiner at the Bureau of Internal Revenue while her husband Joe first worked at the Philippine government superannuation agency the Government Service Insurance System (GSIS). Jose was an associate and friend of the late Philippine financial leader and Central Bank head Governor Gregorio Licaros.

Whilst building a family, Joe and Mary both studied law and successfully passed the Philippine bar examination. Later on, they both finished Masters in Business Administration at Ateneo de Manila University.

The children were educated in the prestigious at boys’ school Colegio de San de Letran in Intramuros and the girls’ school College of Holy Spirit  in Mendiola.

Joe became Training Officer for GSIS while Mary continued her work as Examiner at the Philippine taxation office Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR).

Eventually Mary left BIR and was employed as Senior Investment Analyst at the GSIS . Joe became the Vice President for Human Resources at the GSIS.

In 1984, Mary and Joe opted for Early Retirement Scheme at the GSIS. Their children in Australia Jun and Mila petitioned them to migrate to Australia. When they arrived in Sydney they bought a house at Cranebrook and opened the first Asian Grocery in Penrith. Customers usually Filipinos and students from TAFE College in the area would remember the husband and wife proprietors.

Through a business visa, Mary and Joe were able to petition from 1985 all their remaining children in the Philippines to migrate to Australia. The fourth child Jesus and his family migrated to USA prior to 1985.

Meanwhile as they managed the Asian grocery, Joe worked at the Australian Taxation Office and was part of a team who interprets rules and regulations issued by ATO and forming basic guidelines for tax compliance. Mary was a Housing Officer at the Department of Housing.

Unknown to many in the community, Mary helped many Filipinos particularly the seniors secure beautiful units at the Housing Commission areas.

On weekends Mary and Joe were involved in the community particularly with the Philippine Australian Society for Senior Citizens, Inc and the Filipino Community Cooperative Ltd.

Mary has been an inspiration to Joe and has supported Joe in all his endeavours.

When Joe died in 2002, Mary continued to be involved with PASSCI which is now headed by her son Jun.

Mary now lives with her daughter Merle and husband, Dr Marvin Drapeza at Kincumber in the Central Coast. During weekends, the other 7 children take turns in taking care of her. She enjoys these weekend visits since they allow her to spend more time with her grandchildren and great grandchildren..

To this writer, Mary has always been and will always be the best MUM ever. Mila Calacala is the second eldest