Teenage mom turned Palengke Queen
She dreamed of becoming a teacher.
But at 14, Catherine Caritero found herself pregnant.
It was February 2001 and Catherine was a second year high school student at a public school in Lapu-Lapu City.
She broke the news about her pregnancy to her boyfriend then who was also 14 years old. She also told some of her friends.
But she hid her condition from her family.
By June 2001, when she could no longer hide her growing bump, she left home to elope with her boyfriend.
The news was a total shock to her siblings.
“I did not know if I should be angry or sad. People said a lot of nasty and hurtful words about Cathy and our family,” said her brother, Johvanie, who is three years older than Catherine, as he recalled how he felt upon learning of his sister’s pregnancy.
Catherine was the youngest of six siblings in a brood of five girls and one boy.
Their parents were separated. Their father had left for Manila while their mother was with a new family.
Looking back, Catherine said that running away from home was a decision reached by a child who was simply lost and confused.
“I stopped school. We did not have any money. My then boyfriend would just go to the cockpit, gamble money and would come home lucky. Life was just like that,” said Catherine.
On October 13, 2001, she gave birth to Michael Angelo. Catherine was only 15.
“After I gave birth, my boyfriend’s parents told us to live with them. We were basically raised by his parents,” she recalled.
But after a year, Catherine got pregnant again with their second child making matters even more difficult for them.
On April 27, 2003, only four days after her 17th birthday, Catherine gave birth to Angelica and became a mother for the second time.
For four years, they lived with her boyfriend’s parents who provided her children with their needs.
“But I also have dreams of my own. I wanted to achieve something so I can give my children the best,” she told Cebu Daily News.
“I decided to go back to school so I can have a diploma to present when I apply for a job,” she added.
As Catherine had two more years left in high school, she went back to study a few months after giving birth.
Since then, her mornings were spent with the children while she prepared for night school in the afternoons.
This was her routine for two years.
In 2006, she finally earned her high school diploma with honors from Poblacion Night High School in Lapu-Lapu City.
Catherine was 19 and a mother of two.
Wasting no time, she applied for a job as a production worker in Lapu-Lapu City’s economic processing zone and got accepted.
Her salary of P6,000 to P8,000 a month was enough to buy milk and food for her children.
Meanwhile, her boyfriend remained jobless.
She worked from 2006 to 2008 until the company had to let go of some contractual employees including Catherine.
As she waited for other job opportunities, she worked for five months as a vendor in her older sister Apple Jane’s fish stall at the Mandaue City Public Market.
The Caritero siblings were no strangers to running stalls in the wet market.
Their mother used to sell crabs and so did their grandmother and aunt who sold other seafood products in the market.
Around this time, Catherine thought of starting a business with another sister to sustain her children’s educational needs.
“My Ate Karen and I thought of setting up our own fish stall. We started with P5,000 as capital and the business prospered from there,” she said.
They sold all kinds of fish waking up as early as 2 a.m. to get their supplies from the Pasil Fish Market.
The job meant hardwork and patience and for Catherine, the journey was far from easy.
In 2012, she decided to part ways with the father of her children after spending 11 years with him.
“I have had enough. I had dreams for my children but I could not see that in him. He was still dependent on his parents and he lived the lifestyle of a single person. I did not want that anymore,” said Catherine.
She later met her current partner and in 2014, gave birth to her third child, Julia.
“My only wish is for the Lord to give me good health and enough strength so I can continue to work and support my children until they finish college and find jobs,” she said.
Her son, Michael Angelo, is turning 17 in October while her daughter, Angelica, just recently turned 15.
Angelica said her mother was always transparent about her story.
“I am 15 now. This is the age when she became a mother to my Kuya. It is difficult to imagine how she did it,” she said.
“I know she sacrificed a lot for us. She remained strong all these years. She is a cool mother and I am very thankful for all her support even though she
is oftentimes exhausted from working,” said Angelica.
For Catherine’s brother, Johvanie, his sister stepped up and embraced motherhood despite her very young age.
“Kun sa prutas pa, na-ahat sya og kahinog to being an adult kay Mama naman intawon sya (She was like a fruit whose ripening process had to speed up. She had no choice because she was already a mother.),” he said proudly.
While he admires his sister for her tenacity and perseverance, Johvanie advised young people to learn from Catherine’s experience and not take the perils of teenage pregnancy lightly.
“Cathy had regrets in life but she could not do anything about them because what happened has happened. I wish that the youth would think twice or thrice about their actions,” he said.
Despite all the hardships, Catherine said she managed to survive because of the support of her siblings.
In the recent Mandaue City Palengke Queen 2018 which was part of the city’s fiesta celebration, Catherine won second runner-up in the first ever beauty pageant that she has joined.
Surrounded by family members who cheered her on, Catherine wore a white gown embellished with lace and sequins as she confidently represented the market’s fish section, a role she held with pride on coronation night last April 29.
During the talent portion, she performed a hula dance with her daughter and nieces.
While hers may read like a success story, Catherine reminded young people that the last 17 years was an uphill climb to get to where she is now.
“Motherhood changed me in so many ways. Everything changed. I stopped being a teenager. I had to grow up overnight and think like an adult. It should not have been the case because at 14, I was still a child,” she said.
She, however, loves growing up with her children.
At 32, Catherine no longer plans to pursue college.
Her goal now is to support her three children through school to earn their college degrees.
“My dream is for them to fullfill their dreams. As their mother, I will be here to support them. I am working hard and will continue to work hard to help them turn their dreams into reality,” she said.
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