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MY COLLEGE CLASSMATES 37 YEARS AGO

Looking at them at present, one wonders if there was a typo. Some may insist that 37 may be an understatement.  Others may just quip that the author meant 370!  That is right, almost four decades have been added unto our age and we looked kinda different than we were before.  Gone were the days when our laughter is crispy as it were.  Some are now completely in daze.  Some are in their late 50s (like me) and the rest in their early 60s.  All of us are instant qualifiers for the ageing population of this planet.  We were part of that generation that rebelled and were at the same time complacent.  Conservative but somehow progressive.  Creative but in a way lazy.  We merely linked with the past generation and the succeeding one hoping that somewhere along the way we will be benefited by the excesses of both corners.  We belonged in an era where TV was tubular and lately has become consumers of everything digital.

Our memories can still express in the past tense, both before the computer boom and the recent wonders of high technology.  We imagine a lot of advances and now seemingly living through its realization.  We were a part of the distant past and the onrushing future.  We wanted to live eternally behind the discoveries of science while embracing a religious belief marked with traditionalist outlook.

We wanted to look young at a tender senior age.  We wanted to stay healthy ‘til kingdom come.  We rejoice at the prospects of fulfilling something along with the youth.  We never intended to grow old as a matter of fact.  In other words, we wanted have our cake and eat it too.  We love the word immortality.

But are we near yet such realization?  Let me have a headcount.

Two of my classmates are dead already.  One, a playmate in the elementary and high school and another, a homework buddy in college.  Both succumbed to a fatal ailment.  They were still in their late 50s.  They still cared for more years, dreaming of a second wind, anticipating what it would take to live like octogenarians.  Sickness however claimed the better of their plans.  Sonny Miranda, my elementary and high school playmate (not from Letran though), was a dutiful student.  He was almost a scholar except that the labor force immediately tempted him before he graduates.  He was one of best supervisors in his company (3M) and he lived a life with perks and privileges.  Two decades later, the next generation of workers came in—all with impeccable credentials, youthful and vibrant and generous with their time.  Suddenly, Sonny was eased out and eventually joined the ranks of the unemployed.  He was fiddling his fingertips when I chanced upon him.  He joined me for a while but he would rather stay with his family.  A few months later, his family would scamper around, listless on what to do.  Sonny had a massive heart attack and was gone.

Ed Garcia on the other hand was  a little bit Jewish.  He was shrewd in his law profession.  He was also a lucky investor.  He got his first million when he bought stocks of Petron when government sold it to a private company.  He dropped his stocks and earned so much.  He bought a condo unit and there lived like a prince.  His braggadocio was firmed up by such a lifestyle until one day, I would receive a call from him.  He was mauled by a bully in their office.  His voice was cracking over the phone. I rushed to see him and he showed me the back of his head, neck and a big part of his shoulder all bluish for hematoma.  He was nonetheless still in his elements except for the tell tale sign of violence.  His sense of pride was still there.  He was trying to impress me even by showing me his firearm.  He wanted to shoot the guy but of course, the lawyer in him, made him deferred.  He asked a favor if I could do some kind of revenge for him.  Once upon a time, I was government executioner during the death penalty days and he was counting on my reputation.  My response was to for him to forgive the transgressor because he may not like my idea of imposing the extreme penalty on his violator.

He bargained that I should only maul the fellow.  I relented initially but went for it nonetheless for friendship sake.  I assigned two burly officers from my group of security personnel and instructed them to find the guy and just impose a warning that another instance done against Ed would be dealt with fatally.  From that time on Ed would lead a careful life.  I would see him occasionally also during our mini reunion period and I would also learn that he disposed his condo unit, transferred to his parents in Tondo, filed an early retirement and planned to go abroad.  A few months later, I would be informed by some classmates that Ed succumbed to lung cancer.  Ed was a chain smoker.

Several of my classmates are abroad.  We have Dan Bassig, the irrepressible romantic guy in our class.  He was the only one in the graduation roll exhibiting a wedding ring.  He retired in the US Navy.  Now, he is a doting grandfather to a baby girl, the only child of his only daughter, a lawyer in California, USA.  Dan frequents Manila to take charge of their properties in Pasig and Bicol.  Then I heard that Maan Puruganan, a statuesque lady, had gone to the US also and there found Andy Sahagun and Mita Solis already part of the federal workforce.   Maan I understand is still working in the Airline industry and in between takes, dotes around her grandchildren too.   Tanggol Co once attempted to stay abroad to live with his family, in Europe but he would rather bloom in his Bazaar along Espana st. rather than idle in the cobblestones of London.   He visited me also in Davao and we planned to put up a business.   Vivian Tornea, a government official in Overseas Welfare Administration was assigned as a diplomatic attaché  in Spain but it was not for long.  She was recalled a few months after.  I remember when I was in charge of Muntinlupa penitentiary, she brought along a number of foreign diplomats to check on the condition of prisoners.  She did not know that I was employed in the prison service.  While they were waiting for prison security to usher them, she saw a poster where names of all prison officials were indicated.  She saw the name “Venancio J. Tesoro” on top of the list.  She inquired from the gate guard if the Tesoro listed was a graduate of Letran.  The security personnel radioed my office.  Nonetheless, Vivian disregarded her querry because according to her the Tesoro she knew as classmate would never be a prison official from her vantage point.  She confessed later that the Tesoro she knew as seat mate in Letran, she expected to be a prisoner but never an official.  She had the biggest surprise in her life in the diplomatic corps when she saw me welcomed them and conducted a lecture.  Vivian whispered to me at that instance that it was the first time she heard me speak English!

Some of my classmates retired in silenceVio Mateo was into banking and retired as bank manager of Land Bank.  Bong Feliciano, also a constant buddy of Vio never got employed in the public and private sector but pursued an enterprise.  The business he founded, he turned over to his children upon reaching the 50s.  The three of us would always repair in the hot springs of Calamba, Laguna for quite a time.   We would imagine that we have organized a business that would take us to places where we could enjoy life to the fullest.   Lately however, since I was assigned in Davao, I would invite the group to spend a break in the de facto capital of Mindanao for some youthful flashbacks.

Others still active in the business frontJoseph Castelo is an entrepreneur through and through.  He started with mineral water distribution and now into supply of security papers.  He is still conducting his business as if he just graduated in college—still aggressive, avant-garde , assertive and uncompromising.  Not far from him is Angel Lee, now in charge of a family business in the brokerage industry.  Before, he was joined by another classmate, Ed Ocampo but the latter organized his own brokerage outfit too.  Mariano Shi shuttles from Taiwan to Philippines and Singapore.  He was too shy, much like before, in highlighting his business.  According to him, he was just assisting a friend in pursuing trade and some export projects.  Mariano retained his usual humility so that no one will bother him for credits or loans!  Sonny Marquez is owner of one of Muntinlupa’sbig auto supply (3Js) store.  He was our classmate for a semester only.  He was a seminarian when he transferred to Letran but after a while he dropped out.  Igmidio Dacanay is one classmate very difficult to categorize.  While he merited another classification as a religious pastor, there is a qualification.  Since he admits temporarily some kind of prosperity by selling longganisa to his followers he falls under this heading.  And there was Rolly del Rosario, an active marketting guy who is always in sync with Vio and Bong in the trading business.  Lately, I heard that he was going abroad.  Who will not forget Beth Salonga, heir to the Salonga business empire—the original suppliers of branded musical instruments.  The Salonga music store in Raon St., is almost an institution already.  She founded also the Fersal Appartele along with her husband Fernando.  One of the best drums is under his namesake.

Some are in government serviceMarlyn Galvez, a lawyer and presently deputy Ombudsman is still up in front.  This writer is also active in public service as prison administrator assigned down south in Davao Penal Colony.  Ted Granados I understand is in Leyte still casting a moistened eye on an elective post.  Bobby Dumlao, lawyer and Director of Presidential Action Group, is in Malacanan.  Her never aged at all.  He looks the same as if nothing happened along the way.  The fellow must be some kind of an alien form of life!    Dar Santos is a lawyer and lately, I was informed that he was working for a political party somewhere in Malabon.  He looks very serious, prim and proper.  His projections were that of a magirstrate.  I will not be surprised if one day he may appointed as judge.  He is an active legal  practitioner and would constantly visit the penitentiary.  Since I was prison superintendent whenever and perchance he would visit, I suspect that there are hundreds of prisoners he was assisting—those whom he defended and lost.  And of course, there is Rudy Gundran, a teller at Social Security System.  He could facilitate any problem one encounters at SSS.  He was one of the senior officers at the front line in the main office of SSS.  He was a fellow Alno batchmate during Letran youth camp.

Others whose whereabouts cannot be determined yet.  I don’t know where is Silva, remember our tall and musculature classmate who always would carry his snob nose revolver in class and up on the last floor of our building right inside the laboratory, he would oftentime fire his gun?  There would be pandemonium at the Knights Inn when they would hear shots coming from above.  The Froks fraternity thought that there were competing fraternities shooting at them.   He should be in the law enforcement because of his build.  And yes, Gordon, the hippie looking classmate, long curly hair and from a distance, could assume as a drug user.  I would oftentimes meet him inside the library and in the farthest corner using books stacked together as his drum set.  His drum sticks were always tucked in his low waist pants.  Tess Morales, the daughter of Prof. Morales (?) our math teacher, I have as yet to know too where she is.  Roweno Pimentel was my constant buddy in the comic department.  I wish to check it out where his exact location is so that I could revive my career in comedy.  And Carina del Valle, the classmate who was the center of our collective concern.  I have not heard anything from her yet.  Mon Pebenito is another interesting character.  So full of bragadocio and he would match it by inviting classmates in his palatial house in Morato street, Quezon City.  During those times, he would declaim and brag about his political plans.  I have as yet to get an information on what area or province he threw his hat.  I would frequent his house during our student days and he would regale with his precocity in playing the electric organ followed by his masterly singing.  He would have been a good singer except that he looked like a boxer!

Unlisted but still a part of the Letran Class.  Sometime a few months ago, Dan and I made a list of Letran graduates.  Dan said that class 75 was the biggest.  We were able to list down 41 names.  I lost the paper though.  What I remembered are those I have identified above.  A few days more, I will be able to recall who they are.  As it were, these are names who made an imprint.  As to others, I have as yet to check my memory bank.

WHAT WAS IT IN THIS COUNTRY 40 YEARS AGO…and AFTER

MANILA. PHILIPPINES.  On September 21, 1972—40 years ago today, 56 year-old reelected President Ferdinand E. Marcos declared Proclamation 1081 and placed the entire country under Martial Law.  And it was a period that lasted for nine years on paper (although the ambiance of martial law administration stayed on up until the Marcoses were driven out of power during the Edsa revolt in 1986).

 

That Fateful Day

 

I still could vividly recall that day.  I was an 18 year old college sophomore playing basketball in the early morning of Saturday in the open court of Letran College in Intramuros, Manila.  Out in the streets, we could hear sirens blurring out but it did not cause concern for us cagers.  We stuck with the game and had hearty laughter every time a team mate fumbles the ball.  We were young and carefree.  We never minded the world around us.  What was important for us at that time was to win the game even if it was just a practice session.

 

The War Zone

 

We were about to wind up when four playmates that went out of the school compound to buy cigarettes came rushing back.  They were having a good laugh but their ashen complexion revealed something scary.  They shouted, “Ven!  There is war outside!”

 

My companions who were mostly in ROTC were jubilant to hear the hushed voices of my friends.  “You mean we have to wear our combat uniforms already, hehehe!!!” came the cavalier response.

 

“Look, outside, combat tanks with mean looking soldiers, all armed to the teeth,  are prowling and they are arbitrarily  arresting students, anybody, and anyone  especially those sporting long hair!”  my friends answered back.  The fashion at that time called for long hair among the youth.  All my friends had a healthy crop as crown and it was almost taboo to see your earlobes.  It must be covered by hair.  I was sporting an athletic afro look since I have a curly hair.  And if the warning was correct, we were supposed to hide from the so called combat zone.  And so after we changed our clothing, we went upstairs, in one of our rooms to look down at the parking lot where according to my buddies, soldiers were already posted.

 

A Day of Living Dangerously

 

There were also a lot of students, most of them my classmates in other common subjects, monitoring what was happening in the classroom where we assembled.  It was the only opened classroom at that time.  I discovered that those seatmates of mine were activists and firebrand of left leaning sounding groups based on what I was hearing from their conversation.  They were the ones actually being hunted by the military and the school campus was the safest place they could repair.  For a while, I was, well, together actually with my basket ball team mates, huddled inside the room composed mostly of, if my hunch was correct, dreaded insurgents!  I could see them folding what was like banners with red letters and the dreaded symbol of rebellion, the hammer and sickle.  For that brief moment, my basketball team became also, by association, a communist front!

 

One by one, my team streamed back to the gymnasium where the ROTC office was located.  It was for us an insured area since soldiers would never bother a unit recognized by them.  We could mix along with the staff and personnel and try to be one with them if only to elude the heat.  But our problem was, if indeed we were ROTC cadets, how come we sport long hair.  Our power forward volunteered a solution, “Why don’t we have an instant hair cut, a crew cut, to appease any soldier we might meet should we go home or leave the school premises?”  That was the dumbest suggestion we ever heard.  No one can touch our long hair, even if it would cost our lives.  We were even prepared to be driven out of our respective houses by our parents if they would pose as a threat to our lionesque mane.  No way.  We ignored the suggestion and went our separate ways.  Some scaled the back fence and got lost in the maze of shanties of informal settlers doting the side streets.  Others went back to the classroom to be indoctrinated.  A few went to the faculty room to seek assistance from priests who were manning the admin offices.  In my case, along with two friends decided to check it out on the street what was really happening.  We merely took a shower so that our hair would thin out covered by a baseball cap, with hair combed up and gelled in pomade.  All of us braved to move out until we reached home.

 

A Hairy Conviction

 

For us at that precise moment, martial law was not a threat to freedom and democracy, for us at that time, forty years ago; it was more of a menace to our lengthy fleece.

 

That was of course a Saturday.  The succeeding days were a revelation.  Two days later, a Monday, we, along with my classmates and fellow basketball players, were back in our classroom, sporting a different look and a brand new haircut, the high ‘n tight warrior hairdo.

 

 

Thus began our baptism of radical politics in the streets.

 

For a time, we, as a nation, hoping that giving up rights in favor of progress was what animated expectations.  It came out different.  Economic problems piled up.   We could not hit back at the mass deception.  We became sterile for a time.  Consequently, we were ashamed to face irrational power and derisively labeled as that generation of cowards and a society of indifferent weaklings.  There was little sacrifice and heroism during the course.  We the youth at that time were more concerned about lifestyle and only a few dabbled in fortitude.  But for those who remained steadfast, from their ranks today were, however, conscripted the champions of modern day principled progress.

 

Forty years after

 

Since then the country had difficulty achieving for its citizen the desired development.  Today, when my children would ask how come we are still laggards compared with other countries in Southeast Asiak, I could only sigh.  Israel wandered in the wilderness for 40 years.  Thereafter, they found progress.  In our case, we were thrown to reinvent ourselves and for 40 years we are still in the wilderness unable to refresh our capability to mature into a well developed economy.

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