It seemed like an uneventful day for boatman Dominador Gonzaga until he saw Alicia Tizon strolling by the seashore of San Francisco, Camotes Island.
He stopped fixing his pumpboat and stared at Alicia, who was spending time by the beach that afternoon.
The rapid pulsating of his heart found an ally in the waves as it kissed the lonely shore near the spot where his pumpboat was docked.
The ocean breeze smelled sweet, and as he saw Alicia passing by where he was standing, Dominador knew that he was ready to love again, five years after he lost his first wife to old age.
It was 2012.
Alicia was only visiting her older sister on Camotes Island. She was separated for 15 years from her long-time partner with whom she has four children.
Alicia was based in Barangay Poblacion, Danao town, which is located on the main island of Cebu.
From Danao, a person needs to take a two-hour boat to reach Camotes Island.
“Niadto dayon ko sa balay sa iyang igsoon anang gabhiona aron mananghid sa iyang maguwang nga mangulitawo ko,” Dominador recalled.
(I went to her sister’s house that night to ask permission from her older sister that I would like to court her.)
The courtship lasted for only a month.
After sharing their first kiss, the two decided to live under one roof with the blessings of Alicia’s children.
Dominador did not have children so he packed his bags and moved to Danao with Alicia.
“People criticized our relationship. I was asked why I chose an older man because he was 66 (years old) and I was 47 when we got together. I told them love knows no age,” Alicia said in Cebuano.
They planned to get married, but they did not have the financial means to pay for wedding fees, rings and food.
There was an opportunity to be part of a free mass wedding, but Alicia said younger couples with children were prioritized.
“Ganahan mi makasal kay nahigugma mi sa usa’g usa. Dako ang akong gugma ni Alicia. Di kini mapulihan og laing klaseng pagbati,” said Dominador.
(We want to get married because we love each other. I love Alicia very much. This love can never be replaced with other feelings.)
The couple has been living together in Taboc Looc, Danao, for five years when a neighbor informed them that the Home Development Mutual Fund (or Pag-IBIG Fund) is sponsoring a free mass wedding on Valentine’s Day.
Dominador was a registered self-employed member of the Pag-IBIG Fund.
Alicia, 52, and Dominador, 71, decided to seal this love in a wedding ceremony. On February 14, Valentine’s Day, they joined 145 couples from all over Cebu in a civil wedding ceremony officiated by Mandaue City Mayor Gabriel Luis “Luigi” Quisumbing.
In his message to the newly wed couples, Quisumbing reminded the couples “to continue to discover new things to love about each other.”
Speaking to the couples, Quisumbing shared his own wedding experience to his high school crush Maria Carmen Carmela “Maricar” Hofileña on March 6, 2015.
“I remember my wedding two years ago… I remember how nervous and excited I was. But remember that a wedding only happens for a few hours. The marriage is for the rest of your lives. The real work begins after the wedding. So I hope that you will never stop the process of learning about each other because as much as you love each other, you still don’t know your partner entirely,” he said.
In her video message to the couples, Pag-IBIG Fund President and Chief Executive Officer lawyer Darlene Marie Berberabe said over 18,000 couples got married in the six years that the Pag-IBIG fund organized the free mass wedding.
This year, there are more than 2,000 couples who got married in 24 locations nationwide.
Ma. Salve Ceniza, Pag-IBIG Fund Mandaue Member Services Branch head, said they spent around P400,000 for the Cebu wedding which provided free symbolic rings, reception venue, buffet lunch, flowers and decors and photo booth to the 146 couples.
As she took her time to walk on the red carpet to meet Dominador in the middle of the aisle, Alicia said she felt that forever was within reach as she will be officially declared as Mrs. Gonzaga.
Before they even reached their spot, Dominador gave Alicia a kiss on the cheek which, he said, was a sign of his love and devotion to his wife.
“Tinuod na gyud ni. Legal na gyud mi nga mag-asawa. Di na pwedeng buwagon pa kay ang akong kasing-kasing nagpitik alang kaniya lamang,” said Dominador.
(This [marriage] is real; it’s legal. We can never be separated because my heart beats for her alone.)