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Monday, November 10, 2008
My Story at Boac
By Jorge Bunag
Perhaps it was the intensity and tumult of the time that, although I was barely two years old, my recollections of an incident before the break of dawn seemed vivid in my mind and to this day I relive that moment over and over again. It happened on the shores of Laylay, Marinduque during World War II when the Japanese overran our beloved Philippines. Our sailboat which was known in the vernacular as a “batel” touched land in the dark. There was chaos and the shouts of the men (the cargadores) who helped us were muffled only by the sound of heavy thuds hitting the ocean waters. We were carried on the shoulders of these men and as there was no pier where the sailboat could dock, they had to walk to the shore in waist deep salt water with my mother and everyone in the family on their shoulders. We evacuated from Manila when the Japanese occupied the city. Thank God we were soon safely ashore and the next thing I remember, we were on a calesa where I could hear the horse trotting in the heavy rain. When we reached the house, I remember the amazement on my Lolo Tomas’ face when he saw us. Quickly he prepared breakfast for us and we exchanged stories.
My Lolo Tomas del Mundo was married to Maria and they were quite prominent in Marinduque. Well known to the Spaniards who colonized the island, my Lolo Indo, their son, soon became involved in politics and ultimately was elected Governor of Marinduque. He had an illustrious career and a number of Marinduquenos remember him on his white horse and holstered pistol. Somewhat a hero at that time, they called him “Acord” who was the predecessor of the more popular Lone Ranger. When dignitaries such as President Quezon visited Boac, he stayed at my Lolo Tomas’ house.
My Lola Patro, who was the daughter of Lola Maria, had four children: Liling, Menching, Rafelito and Badong and we were 8 grandchildren, myself being the eldest.
We went to Boac almost every summer mainly during Holy Week (Semana Santa) or at times to participate in the Flores de Mayo festivities. We all had experienced a veritable paradise as our Lolas’ pampered us with sumptuous Boac cooking, (the incomparable bibingka, kare and Humba are but a few examples of this). We took trips to the beach at Balogo or trips to the “bukid” where we ate young coconuts. Once we were allowed to swim at the Boac River not too far from the Nepomuceno Bridge. I remember its cool clear waters unlike what we’ve been hearing it has become in modern times due to the mining industry. The rest of the time we spent playing or roaming the streets of Boac and passing time at the plaza which was across my Lola’s house. We of course enjoyed watching the Moriones and participating in the Flores de Mayo parade. My Lola Patro who was close to the Marinduque Church hierarchy was appointed several times as “Hermana Mayor” of the Flores de Mayo festivities and it was because of her intense devotion to the “Biglang Awa” (Virgin Mary of Mercy) that she was Grand Marshall at an important anniversary of this Virgin. The “Biglang Awa” is a miraculous patron in Marinduque and several cures in the island were attributed to her.
During our time at Boac, we were able to meet our many relatives – Tito Tavo, Tita Nenita, Lola Ursula, Tito Molong and others who all seemed extremely happy to see us. We hung around Tito Tavo’s hardware store, the Mangubat’s candy and general store and once in a while if we were lucky, Tito Molong invited us to view a movie at his theatre for free! We would eat Sno-balls during the summer, buy ice cream, taho and when we saw a “lumboy” tree, somehow we were able to avail ourselves of its fruits. At night I would go out with my “barkadas” and the fashionable thing was to carry a flashlight as the streets were poorly lit and the plaza was dark. Our leader was Baby (Mangubat) who reminded me of an Elvis look alike heading the Lords of Flatbush. We would roam all over and our escapades were not bereft of mischief. One night we tried to knock at the house were a known widow in town lived but to no avail. Another night found us at the only cabaret in town in the town of Tampus where I had my first experience with 10 centavos per dance affair. I remember I was so scared, probably a result of the guilty conscience I had for consorting with erstwhile ladies of the night. But we had so much fun. One would experience difficulty imagining how we kids could fail to have the time of our lives.
A most memorable experience was when we went to the beach at Balogo. I remember we were up early and already there were two or three calesas lined up in front of the house. We all got to pick which calesa to board and with our picnic bags and food (they always seemed to pack chicken and pork adobo – Boac style) the cocheros would make a sound which made the horses go. We were thrilled to ride the calesas. I remember hearing the heavy sound of the horse’s hooves as we crossed the shallow portion of the Boac River.
As we approached Balogo Beach, the smell of the ocean salt water was prominent in the surroundings. We would jump off the calesas and even before we were able to change into our swim suits, we were in the water. After swimming we would be called for lunch and what a feast it was. There was the adobo, kanin of course, fresh fish and squid broiled at the beach and mangoes for desert.
At Balogo, I remember Mang Agustin, a fisherman who lived there. He was a handsome man, almost like a movie actor and his muscular physique was bronzed from the sun. He was a kind, humble, soft-spoken man and very well trusted by our family. Once in a while we would board his banca and he would take us far from shore (or as he would say “ma-pa laot po tayo”). In my later years, the fishermen gave me “tuba” (or palm wine) and we drank together. The tuba went down the hatch easily but what a hangover it gives.
Maybe it was the atmosphere of paradise or the summer winds that induced me to fall in love every time I would visit Marinduque. It is the same feeling one would have when entering the enchanted forest. As a number of my fellow Marinduquenos will tell you, each time the boat on which we sailed would approach the island, there seemed to be an intense feeling of excitement coupled with anxiety. I felt this as the launch docked at Balanacan and as we approached the island. The thousand palm trees all seemed to sit there beckoning me to come ashore. There was a feeling of elation as the jeepney we rode sped towards Boac. The smell of wood smoke and of course the strong scent of the ocean water, which permeates the island, seemed to enhance that feeling of familiarity and nostalgia telling me that “I’ve come home”. As one approached the town of Boac, the familiar streets and houses seemed to emerge. The Sto. Domingos, the Mangubats and all other families’ houses are still there as if frozen in time. And as the driver went through town, past the church at Mataas na Bayan, past the plaza - one’s heart seemed to beat faster in anticipation of once more seeing the place of one’s boyhood years and embracing your Lolas and Lolos and all your loved ones.
It was in the summer of “54 or thereabouts that I encountered my first love experience. I was barely thirteen and at that time it was the Flores de Mayo season.
Because of her religious demeanor, my grandmother at that time took us one afternoon to the church at Mataas na Bayan. During the Flores de Mayo festival, the church had a wonderful ritual where a small procession would go to the altar to bring flowers to the Blessed Virgin. In this particular afternoon, there were two little angels who marched at the head of the procession. I was not really paying much attention when one of the angels caught my eye. She was the most beautiful angel that I ever saw. I remember she had lily white angel wings. Her brownish hair was long and hung down her back up to her slim waist. She was smiling as I caught her fleeting glance and it was the loveliest smile I ever saw. Her lips were full and her lovely eyes seemed to reach into your soul.
For days after I thought of her all the time, feeling a bitter sweet sensation in my heart – bitter because I may never see her again and sweet because the thought of her brought a strong emotion of love. The longing I had for her only tempered the deep feelings I had in my heart. To this day I think of those summer days when just as the flowers bloomed in the balmy May air, my love blossomed in its innocence. Her name is Maria (the characters in this narrative are real but fictitious names are used to protect them). It was not until fifty years later that I met her again at the Katagues’ Chateau du Mer and when I did I told her of those precious moments.
There were other subsequent summers when I encountered similar feelings with women in Boac. There was Susan whose lovely face was accentuated by a thousand candle lights during a candle festival in Boac not too far from Tito Tavo’s hardware store.
I was so filled with deep emotions that I ended up writing her a poem.
And then there was Daria. She lived diagonally across from Lola Patro’s house and she used to sit in front of her house on warm summer days. I could see her from our living room and admired her from a distance. She was a white complexioned, slim, but full-figured woman and her beauty only betrayed her flirtatious nature. I never had the nerve to approach her but one time when I was going back to Manila via the vessel named “Baztan” she occupied the cot a few feet from me (we slept on cots or “tijerases” during the entire trip). But again my faintheartedness kept me from approaching her. I had to confine myself to a lifetime of precious memories of her.
At the risk of being accused as a womanizer, I plead innocence but admit my guilt as a romantic. And as I mentioned, the romance was brought about by the enchantment which is Marinduque, where the ocean waters and the summer winds greatly enhance the longing for tender and innocent love.
I often think of my beloved Marinduque even as far away as the United States in the state of New Jersey where I now live. I promised myself that for the rest of my life, I will keep going back to the place where I found happiness and much love. This is the place where the people are so warm and friendly that even as a stranger they would say “Ano baga totoy, ikaw biga'y dito na matira?”
I did come back in 2004 when Marinduque International held their bi-annual Mission of Love.
Town of Mogpog Medical Mission
I was witness to hundreds of our “kababayans” all over Marinduque who lined up for hours seeking medical attention. Their plight was heart-wrenching. I remember helping a woman well beyond her seventies whose blood pressure was extremely high. I helped her by-pass the lines to see a cardiologist who gave her medication and warned her not to go home in the scorching sun. And they are still there – hundreds of old men, women and children. Children with hare lips and respiratory problems, some with cataracts and other eye conditions that need immediate medical attention. And so, to those of you who care, come home and share in the medical and charitable assistance for our fellow Marinduquenos.
I would like to live and spend more time where my Lolos and Lolas lived and showered us with attention and much affection. They are no longer there but the memories of the good times will keep them alive forever.
Thank you Jorge for this excellent story.
About the Author: Jorge was President of Marinduque Eastern Seaboard of America(MESA) from 2002-2004. He has a Masters of Business Administration degree from Tulane University, 1972. He is also a graduate of De La Salle College in Manila. He is currently an assistant Vice President for CitiGroup. He is married to Barbara with two children Marc and Kathy. He and wife Barbara have 3 grandchildren, Nicholas, Matthew and Danny.