Queen of Lorega
It’s raining heavily and Tomasa tries in vain to keep herself dry as she scurries from the front gate of the Compassion child development centre into the kitchen. She shakes the water off her clothes, and then takes a moment to glance around the empty facility that signifies such a dramatic change in her life. Switching back into gear, she begins preparations for the mealtime that will quickly be upon her.
Soon the animated conversations and laughter of children fill the air as they come in from the rain to enjoy a warm meal together. Tomasa has been serving the children as a kitchen volunteer for quite a few years now, but the joy that comes from seeing these precious children given the food that they so desperately need to survive never ceases to bring a smile to her face.
With mealtime over and the clean up done, Tomasa sits down with some leftover food and glances out the window. The wind and rain beating against the glass is mesmerising and takes her back to a very different time and place ten years earlier...
A powerful kingdom
“The Queen of Lorega” is a well-known drug-peddler in the poverty-stricken community of Cebu City, the oldest city in the Philippines. She is feared by all, including drug peddlers, pimps, prostitutes and criminals. From her shanty home in the middle of the public cemetery, the Queen controls the whole community. Even the local police hold no power in her kingdom, as she is protected by loyal policemen who are also, secretly, her clients. Her name is Tomasa Casinillo.
“When they needed to take a hit or make a hit,” says Tomasa, once known as the Queen, “They came to me.”
Earning a hefty pay packet of 5000 pesos (AU$115) a day, the Queen was a very rich woman and unconcerned about the poverty that surrounded her.
Breaking down the defences
So when her son told her that her three grandchildren had been enrolled in the local Compassion child development centre, Tomasa was unimpressed. Tomasa’s grandchildren would come home from the centre excited and keen to pass on to their burly grandmother everything they had learned throughout the day, and would express the love and care that they had received from their centre workers.
This self-sacrificial attitude of the Compassion staff baffled Tomasa. Eventually, curiosity got the better of her and she decided to attend the centre to see for herself what was going on. There was something about these people that intrigued her. She found herself returning time and time again. Little by little, she began neglecting her trade and spending more time at church. In 2005, Tomasa’s world turned upside down when she came to know the Lord.
“I did a lot of bad things in my life,” Tomasa admitted. “Many lives were destroyed and some were even killed because of my evil ways. I am amazed that the Lord still loved me and made a way for me to change. How can I not serve Him now?”
In May 2009, tragedy struck when her partner Emilio was diagnosed with cancer and given only a few months to live. In November, Tomasa and Emilio decided to completely follow the Lord in their lives by deciding to finally get married. No eyes were dry as the elderly couple walked down the aisle.
On 26 December 2009, Emilio passed away.
A new life to live
Crack. The sound of lighting striking propels Tomasa back to the present. The days of her “reign” as Queen are starting to feel like a distant memory. Her heart still aches from losing her life-partner, but she knows that her priority now is the children. She continues to serve the Lord faithfully by coming to church, serving the mothers as an area leader, and serving the children as a kitchen volunteer. The knowledge that her actions are a step in changing so many lives for the better keeps her going.
“I will still serve Him as long as he allows me to live,” the former Queen of Lorega says.
By Edwin Estioko and Hannah Wellham