Lina: Artist, Teacher, Environmental Scientist, Mother (18 November 1946-25 October 2023)
“She almost died when we were young,” Lina’s sister, Allen Victorio, was responding to the eulogy given by friends, peers, and family members of Dr. Emelina Gagalac Regis. The story was: Lina was climbing an aratiles tree not knowing a live wire had fallen across one of its branches. But as fate would have it, Lina survived that freak accident and went on, as Allen put it, to serve nature, to protect all other trees and the forests they inhabit. To become not only a marine biologist but an environmental scientist who used her discipline to work for the preservation of the world around us. Lina knew that preservation could be a lonely task unless you bring with you a critical mass of people - students, activists, people - to support what you were undertaking. And there was only one path to this direction - education.
She was first a teacher to me, as she was to the many people that night in the Ateneo de Naga Christ the King Church where she was waked for two nights.
For many of us, Biology was a subject we really never understood until she came along. She took the students away from the laboratory and into the field - to the sea most of the time. This was not easy in the late 70s. In fact, it was quite a problem for parents to understand the notion of marine biology fieldwork. But Lina was persistent: going to the sea and the coastline to observe organisms was the way to learn about species. And the impact of humans - ships passing by dislodging oil, factories unseen spewing chemicals into the rivers flowing into the sea. She never insisted on this correlation knowing that it would not matter yet to young minds that are not geared towards the scientific. But she would ask questions. We did not have the answers. But she made us curious. As in when she asked: why are the corrals here yellowing?
She would not rush. A risk, she painfully traveled through theories, trusting a dark world that, she knew, had lights at the end of its own tunnel.
You could divide the people, students included, who knew Lina, into two groups: those who saw her as a radical artist and those who would remember her as a teacher, a scientist.
I belonged to the first. It was martial law and no student organization was allowed on campus. A group of teachers was given a special permit to form a small student organization. It was called SP2ASM (which stood for Symposium, Production/Promotion, Arts, Survey, Music). Rudy Alano was directly in charge of the group, a motley crowd composed of students from different levels. A common trait among them was the love for books. They read everything from Tolkien to Vonegut, the Existentialists and the Absurdists, Gibran’s poetry to Erich Fromm’s ruminations. The other faculty members were Myrna Nocos, Mel and Lina Regis.From these young persons, we learned to call them, our teachers, by their first name. Odd in a traditional college.
Several years later, during a visit to the old Jesuit college, I stumbled upon Elsa Mampo (later Judge) and Lina at the canteen at the end of the ancient assembly hall of Ateneo de Naga. They were discussing this new organization they have formed called EAGLES (Enthusiastic Ateneans for Group Learning and Experience). Lina was bent on joining a theater arts competition. Right then and there, Elsa and I went to the library (or was it already with Elsa?) and looked at John Millington Synge’s “Riders to the Sea.” At the canteen, we translated the English play into Filipino and gave it the monumental title “Mga Kabalyero sa Karagatan.” The play won big. It was the beginning of Lina’s career as an artist and impresario. It was the birth of an organization united by their love of the arts.
EAGLES as an environmental group would come later. As Lina began to see the power of theater to teach, she began a difficult move to make the group be more into ecological activism than an artistic pursuit.
In 1992, without our knowledge, she had submitted to Palanca a one-act play called “Dalawang Mukha ng Kagubatan” and won big time - the First Prize. Tragedy was still present in this work but there was human agency already - that we can either do something about the environment or, at least, be knowledgeable about the destruction being caused upon it.
She would secure a PhD and she would travel with her students to places in the region and outside - her arts a teaching tool, her words a warning to the world. She would be warned in return: her anti-mining activism became a threat and there was only one way for this corrupt world to fight back someone like Lina, and that was to send her death threats.
But nothing would stop her. It seemed. Until one early morning, at about five, I realized she was in the same bus with me. She was standing around until she saw me and asked the oddest question: “Tito, may maleta kang dara? (Do you have any luggage with you?) I pointed to the backpack I was pulling from the overhead bin. She then asked: “Would you bring my luggage down?” “ Of course, Lina.
You see, good teachers do not stop being brave; they merely age. Soon they forget what great things they have done to our world. They ask you to carry some of the burdens they could not lug around anymore. You want to do more for them. For Dr. Lina Gagalac Regis, we want to remember her more but she would not like that. She would like us to act on the world. Or, at least know what dangers lie in not knowing. Farewell, Lina. Now you have the universe for your field site.