During the last quarter of 2008, the topic under discussion in the Mountain Province forum was writing stories of our childhood in the province. We called it “Igorot Episodes.” I was one of those who related tales of my childhood. In 2007, I was communicating with the late Dr. Johnny Brawner, my classmate in high school, who became a general surgeon and was based in Ohio, USA. We were recalling our high school days.
In May 2014, Yvonne Belen invited me to write stories of my childhood in Bontoc. (I was a year ahead of Yvonne at the then MPHS – Mountain Provincial High School.) It is from these letters that I got my stories.
The stories before the headings, “Bontoc in 2006” and “Pako” are from my letters in the Mountain Province forum. “Bontoc in 2006,” “Pako” and “Lang-ay” are from my letters to Johnny Brawner.
High School Days
I can still vividly remember these activities during my high school days. There were all sorts of athletic competitions like basketball, volleyball, softball and there were several social and civic organizations that formed their own teams. The main draw, of course, was the basketball and Preparatory Military Training (PMT) competitions of SVS (Saint Vincent’s School) and my beloved and always winner, MPHS. All of these athletic competitions were done weeks prior to the Bontoc Town Fiesta held in May each year.
The Bontoc Plaza was the hub of activities. We even invited tennis players from Solano, Nueva Vizcaya and there were fierce competitions between the two teams that during Solano’s fiesta, they also invited the Bontoc tennis players to compete with them. One of the highlights of these competitions (as I recall) is the tug-of-war between the men of the different barrios (villages.) During my days, Guinaang was always on the top.
There was, of course, ballroom dancing during Saturday evenings at the Capitol (CFI - Court of First Instance) and the three beautiful contestants for the Miss Funtok will dance where male dancers will bid for the dance. Whoever raises the most money will be crowned Miss Funtok and she will sit on top of a beautifully- made float which parades around town accompanied by the Boys Scout Band of the Bontoc Central School. Those were the days.
I remember us standing at the Bontoc bridge watching the folks from Samoki (alisto da pay ay men palais- they’re good in hiding under a stone wall then come out to throw stones at their opponent who are unaware of their presence) throwing stones at the menfolk of Lanao. During the fag-fag-to (stone throwing) at the Chico River, we young ones in the Poblacion also did our fag-fag-to but we used corn cobs. We also had competitions like kag-kag-tin (kicking), is-is-pada or iskrima (sword-play), fulintik (marbles), parsi-it with lastiko (slingshot with a rubber band), kawayan pis-pistol [bamboo pistol] (where we wet old newspapers and put a small portion on one end of the kawayan [bamboo] - we used to steal these kawayan at the back of the Lopez and Aguana backyards - and when you push that piece of wet paper you hear a loud bang and the piece of wet paper will hit you). I do not think our kids know these little fun things that we used to enjoy. I remember one time I told my kids that when I was their age I made my own toy truck by making two small Alpine milk cans beside a sardine can, they were laughing and had a good time teasing me.
Central Telephone Switchboard
The Dizons of the Public Works manned the toll gate in Caluttit and they operated the central telephone switchboard. We used to have one long, one short ring that belongs to one family. All phones then were into one line isu nga mabalin ti ag-eavesdrop (so it’s possible to eavesdrop.) I remember our telephone set was one which the army used (you know, you ti-ri-tir [turn] a handle to make a call) and you must shout otherwise the other party can’t hear you. When I went home three years ago, I asked Christine (my sister) if she still has that phone and she said she didn’t. Sayang, antique pay didiay. (How unfortunate because it’s an antique.)
My first and lasting friendship with Henry began when we (Adolf Gomez, Henry and myself) were selected by MPHS to represent our school at a Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) conference in Baguio City. I do not even remember what the topic was - I think it has something to do with water safety and health issues in our respective communities. The highlight of our conference was the last day cultural presentation where we (the three of us) did a little pat-patong (beating the gongs) and we all wore our “wanes” (G-string.) I heard many in the audience saying, “Wow!”
Dennis the Menace of Bontoc
When I was growing up, they called me Dennis the Menace of Bontoc because I did whatever I pleased. When I like candy, I just go to Mr. Heng Wa’s store and get a handful without paying (I didn’t know later that naka-lista gayam [was being listed] so at the end of the month they give the utang [credit] list to my parents and they had to pay.) And in like manner, I had to pay too… ad-ik mafilang nan saplit nan amak ken sak-en, saplitan na sak-en inghana maputlong nan kawayan - now a days they call that child abuse), ulay koma no wad-ay karsonsillok ta wad-ay akit ay cushion nan saplit ngem ayke men karsonsillo nan o-ngong-a ed kasin, basta short pants ay no tap-i na ya wad-ay lekaw nan kimot mi. Isu nga when we were young ya no wad-ay men-gad-dil iska iskwelaan ya ma-gadil kami am-in tay infectado nan school chairs ya no wad-ay lekaw nan short pants mo ya infectado ka… (I can’t count the beatings that I got from my father and he beat me until the bamboo was cut – nowadays, they call it child abuse. It was good if I had briefs so that there will be a bit of a cushion when they beat you. But did children have briefs before, they only had short pants that even has a hole on the part where you sit. So, when we were young and someone in school has a skin disease, we all have it because the school chairs are infected and if your short pants has a hole on the part where you sit, you’ll also get the infection.)…
The Manuel Moldero I know was the barkada (group mate) of my late dad and they had a hacienda in Tumauini, Isabela. He was first married to a Mildred Ochoa, who was the lady tennis champion of the Philippines then. As a matter of fact, they (Manuel and Mildred with Pat Yngayo - another tennis champ) played at the old tennis court near the Bontoc Hospital - I think this court was converted into a basketball court. Manuel Moldero, his younger brother Albert, my Uncle Ising from Dagupan, Tabuk, my dad and some friends like to go hunting in Tabuk and Apayao. This was when Tabuk and Apayao were thickly forested. They used to bring home aling-ngo, (wild boar), ogsa (deer) and some wild birds.
Wang-Wang used to be a Dangwa Bus driver whose line was from Bontoc to Tabuk. I just can’t recall his first name but I think his last name is Cenon. They used to have a store in front of the Presidencia (Town Hall) and one of his sons, Digman, is my contemporary. Mr. Cenon was given the name Wang-Wang because of the way he drives his bus… it goes something like... wang…. wang…. when you step on the gas pedal several times instead of just one smooth press. In spite of the name given to him, he was one of the safest drivers who traveled between Bontoc and Tabuk didiay laeng ta saan ka nga makaturog ta wang wang met ti lugan na, ma-i-togtog pay ti olom no saan ka nga alert wen-no komapet ti togaw mo. (…the only thing is you can’t sleep because his bus is wang…wang…you bump your head if you’re not alert in holding on to your seat.)
We all waited at the Pilis Barber Shop for the drop off of Bannawag (a weekly magazine) by the Dangwa bus from Baguio City. For some reason (which I do not recall) people were so engrossed in a serial story in the Bannawag that they rush to get a copy and sit along the popular Bontoc Circle (Rotunda) and read (in Ilocano) the next scenario. It was a scene to watch a group of young men reading one Bannawag. If my memory serves me right, I think the “sikat” (protagonist) of this Bannawag phenomenon is (or was) my good old friend, the accordion player of Bontoc, William Dacuycuy. I can still picture those young men stooping over each other’s shoulder just to say, “ania ngay ti napasamak” (what happened next?)” I think one of the scripts was about Darna (I am not so sure), a female heroine who saves people from the bad guys.
From Pork Taba to Chicharon
When we were young, my late mother would wake up very early in the morning to get the first cut of either pig or baca (cow) straight from the slaughter house in front of the Gomez Hotel. My mom would buy the taba (fat) and makes it into chicharon (pork rind.) Here is the beauty of this scenario, while she is frying the taba to make into chicharon, we would scoop some of the taba, mix it with our hot rice, pour some patis (sauce of fermented anchovies) in it and eat it bare hands while it is still hot. Ayyyyyy. nag-imas la unay. (Oh, it’s so delicious.) No wonder we grew up having high cholesterol, high blood pressure and blocked blood vessels.
Tengaw in Alab
I remember being stranded in Alab because we went to Pinaching to cut some fern for our Industrial Arts project not knowing that it was tengaw (rest day.) We had a helper at home by the name of Phillip from Alab who came with us to the mountain. When Phillip realized that it was tengaw he said that we can not go back so we climbed the mountain and came down to Alab. I was told that Funtok had fag-fag-to and Alab has sap-sap-lit (sword-playing where you whip your opponent with all your might using swords made of bamboo.) I know that they grow kawayan in Alab and they use these to sap-sap-lit.
Bontoc in 2006
Ching and I were in Bontoc for Christmas in 2006 and we stayed there for four days. I have not really walked around town but my brother Clement drove us around and what a big change Bontoc has become. A lot of the rice fields in Samoki have been occupied by houses and about three big hotels. The road from the former carayan (river) gate to the tip of Samoki is now lined with houses and has side walks. The town market is now surrounded with buildings that one can not even see the market from the street anymore.
There are tall buildings along the street from the Town Plaza to Nora Ruiz’s house and these are newly built buildings (three and four stories tall), except for the old house of Nora and the good old Kitchenette. Lots of stalls along that short road and lots of tricycles. The main road is now so congested from Chakchakan to Callutit that you will be amazed at how different the town is now.
The Presidencia is now a huge building but the old Bontoc Hotel is the same building. Lots of students but luckily we were there during the Christmas vacation, otherwise the town would have been crowded. All the old buildings along the road going to the carayan have been changed to concrete government buildings. The public library has been moved to the town plaza near the basketball court and the old public library has been converted to a huge government building built for public functions (that building can accommodate 500 people.) Near the Circle is another tall and huge government building.
There is a road going up to Maligcong now so with Mainit. We took the road to Maligcong but it stopped a few kilometers before the barrio but the view from the top of that mountain is beautiful, you can see the whole town of Bontoc. The Bontoc bridge is now made of concrete and I was told that some portions of the carayan has been leased to businessmen who charge when you get gravel or sand. Bontoc has its own radio, TV, cable and cell phone stations. Our All Saints Cathedral is, I think, the most beautiful building of Bontoc, and has just been renovated. Although students of the Mountain Province State Polytechnic College no longer remember MPHS, it’s still worth to walk around the building and reminisce.
The road from Baguio City up to the boundary between Benguet and Mountain Province is paved but once you enter Mountain Province, it turns into dirt road like old times. Same with the road to Banaue from Nueva Vizcaya, it is paved up to Banaue only and dirt road from Banaue to Bontoc.
After coming from the early Sunday mass at the Sta. Rita Church, we went walking along the town plaza passing by the tennis court (this brought back fun memories of the early days of Bontoc tennis, I could just picture Honesto Belen and my dad, Dimas, playing doubles.) When we were down by the town market ket ado ti jeeps and trucks nga agdisdiscarga ti goods da (there were many jeeps and trucks discharging their goods.) We later learned that Sunday is the market day in Bontoc so when Ching saw bundles of pako (fern), she grabbed it together with the og-goot ti sayote, camote, lokmog, ken parya. Sinalad mi ti pako with some camatis and lasona on the side ket it was heavenly (sayote shoots, sweet potato and bitter melon. We made a salad out of the pako with some tomatoes and onions on the side and it was heavenly.)
Christine sent me a DVD on the first Lang-ay in Bontoc and even though I’ve seen and participated in a lot of Igorot balangbangs (dances), the Lang-ay really opened my eyes and this is where I learned that the different barrios and other municipalities of the Mountain Province have their own distinct attire, dance and chants.
About the Author
Born in Bontoc Poblacion, Bontoc, Mountain Province. Started Elementary school at All Saints Mission Elementary School, spent one year at SVS and finally graduated from sixth grade at the Bontoc Central School.
Started one year of high school at MPHS. On my second year, studied at Brent School in Baguio City (an exclusive school for Americans) but didn’t finish there. For my junior year, I enrolled at MPHS where I finished high school. When I went home for our Easter Break, MPHS was preparing for the Provincial Meet to be held in Bayombong, Nueva Vizcaya. While at Brent School, I ran the 400 meters so I tried it in Bontoc and was qualified. I won my events (400 meters and 400 meters low hurdles) and went to Lingayen, Pangasinan, for the Interscholastic meet.
My parents wanted me to be an Engineer so I enrolled at the Mapua Institute of Technology in Manila but only stayed for a semester ta mahina ak met ti math (because I was weak in Math.) I got employed at St. Luke’s Hospital then enrolled at MLQU (Manuel Luis Quezon University) as a working student. Graduated with a degree in Business Administration then went to work as Assistant Personnel Manager in Makati Medical Center (Makati Medical) under the late Frank Longid.
At Makati Medical, I met Montserrat “Ching” Patuggalan, a nurse, and we later got married. We left the Philippines for New York in 1973 and have been here since. We have three boys (young men) and one ‘apo’ (grandson) from my second son.