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Artists sketch oldest grandma in Kapangan.

By JJ Landingin

Baguio City -- A diminutive elderly woman in tribal attire walks into a portrait stall of the Baguio United Nations (UN) Creative Hub and becomes an instant celebrity.

On this day, all eyes are on her as she poses for a sketching session by Pasa-Kalye artists led by Roland Bay-an, of Kapangan, Benguet.

This spritely lady with white hair is known hereabouts as Kapangan's (Benguet) oldest living grandmother, Lakmi Sapigao-Guimbongan. She attests to have been born on July 2, 1908, making her 109 years old.

She tagged along one of her daughters, Adela, on this special day.

Asked about her "celebrity mom," Adela proudly points out: "Her (Lakmi's) blood pressure is normal, she has not been sick for a long time."

Barely four-and-a-half feet tall, Lola Lakmi spent most of her life as a farmer and still looks very strong for her age. She used to till their small rice terraces in Gadang, Kapangan, some 30 kilometers from this city.

"She is very strong for her age. She can cook for herself but we do not want her to. But she won't allow anyone to bathe her or even do her laundry," says Adela.

Busy body

As artists sketch Lola Lakmi, it is obvious the grand old lady of Kapangan is having fun. Adela tells us of her happy disposition and she always wants keeps herself busy.

Of course it pays to be a matriarch of a family that has grown to over 140 members in the last century.

"We really do not want to see her cleaning our backyard," says Annabelle Banda-ay of her grandmother, but she gets away with cleaning not just her yard but that of her kids and grandkids as well. "And she would still insist to do her own laundry," adds Annabelle.

At this juncture Annabelle shows pictures of her grandmom on her Smartphone - weeding on a slope that bounds their house and farm. "But what can we do if she escapes our watch?" says Annabelle.

Prayers and vegetables

Lakmi gets a glimpse of the sketches made by the artists and takes pride in them. She picks up one of the sketches and poses for a photograph for The Manila Bulletin with a big smile.

Lots of prayers, hard work, and kamote help make this 100+ year old lola strong.

"Even when we were kids, I remember she devoted lots of time in prayer," recalls Adela. "She prays a lot even as a young woman, even when we were kids, we know that she wakes up at 3 a.m. just to pray."

Someone begged to ask what Lakmi's diet was like and Adela replies: "Red rice, kamote and lots of vegetables - food that she grows herself."

Lakmi, who is of Ibaloy and Kankana-ey blood, was married to a full-blooded Ibaloy man who died in 1978. Since then, she had to take charge of working the farm.

"Sometimes she remembers that she needs to till, plant or harvest," says Adela. "But that is a thing of the past now, because we do not want her to work."

What saddens her

Lakmi has not been sick for a long time that's why it saddens her that one of her daughters is in the hospital.

"Our elder sister undergoes dialysis," says Adela. "My mom really wants to bring our sister back home, because she can't understand why doctors have to drain her blood which spins inside a medical apparatus - our sister is always in her prayers," she adds.

Age matters

Born before Baguio was officially named in 1909, Lakmi has 10 children - five boys and five girls - and the eldest is about 86 years old.

"I am her grandchild and what I know about my grandmother is that her father, Baguel Guillermo Sapigao, was of Ibaloy-Spanish descent who married a Kankana-ey lass from our town," says Annabelle.

She says that her lola has a brother who is still alive. "Only a brother (of Lakmi) remains alive - our Lolo Sixto, who is already in his 90s," Annabelle says.

She says Lakmi and Sixto also have a cousin who is now way past 90 years old.

Annabelle says the Office of Senior Citizens Affairs (OSCA) has listed Lola Lakmi's age at 99 because it is based on the Department of Social Welfare and Development's (DSWD's) record which logged her birth year as 1918.

Adela says she hopes that the DSWD will rectify its record even with the absence of documents while her mom still has a clear memory of events during her youth.

"We were late in having her (Lakmi) registered, so the compromise age of 99 was put on record for now. But she was really born in 1908 and not in 1918," maintains Adela.

She hopes this happens before Lola Lakmi's birthday on July 2.


A SMILE FOR THE AGES -- Whether she's 109 or 99, Lakmi Sapigao Guimbongan is still known as the oldest living grandmother in Kapangan, Benguet. Here she smiles after being handed a sketch of herself by one of the artists at the UN Creative Hub in Baguio City last Monday. (JJ Landingin)
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Title Annotation:Luzon
Publication:Manila Bulletin
Geographic Code:9PHIL
Date:Feb 24, 2018
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