Reminiscence: A glimpse of pre-war life in Old Baco

By Laura Aceveda Maliwanag

Let me turn the hands of time to when I was 10 years old. The year was 1936. We were a family of seven — four girls and three boys. Sadly, our mother passed away when I was barely eight years old.

I have vivid memories of our house, nestled on a 1,000 square meter lot owned by my parents, in the town of Baco (now old Baco), in the Province of Mindoro. Our house was big, made of sturdy materials, with nipa thatched roofs and floors of seasoned stripped bamboo. It had a bedroom, a large living room, a dining hall that could seat 25 people, a balcony, a kitchen, and a batalan. A board frame was attached to our house by the window, with the bold letters: RUSTICO G. D. MALIWANAG – Notario Publico. That was my father’s name.

The balcony was screened by long-tailed non-flowering orchids (sangumay) that the Mangyans brought from the mountains as a “regalo” to my father. It was on this balcony that my father received his numerous visitors, politicians and townsfolk who came to seek his assistance and consultation. When they were troubled by land issues, my father would lend them a helping hand and accompany them to Calapan, the provincial capital.

At the corner of the house by the gate stood a big duhat tree, always laden with fruit during the month of May. A few meters from the gate, along the pathway leading to the balcony, stood an avocado tree where our cocks and hens perched at night. Passing through the backyard, one could see four towering coconut trees, all heavy with fruit, forming a boundary from other lot owners.

Our lot was fenced by stripped bamboos and sturdy kakawati trees. Inside our garden lot could be found fruit-laden guyabano trees, matured cassava plants with big tubers ready for harvest, flowering paraiso trees, Santa Ana flowers, fruit-bearing atis shrubs, and tuba (medicinal plants). We also had one coconut tree (adjawan) near our batalan. When we took a fancy to the young coconut fruits, we used only a long bamboo pole to strike them from the kitchen window.

Not far from our house, a banglin (rice bin) was erected where Father stored about a hundred cavanes of palay for our consumption. Unripe bananas were also placed there with the leaves of the madre cacao. The leaves of kakawati (madre cacao) helped ripen the fruits.

Come rain or shine, our house was always open to visitors. During strong typhoons, our house was a refuge for many townsfolk who flocked there until the storm abated. The town fiesta was held at the end of November, and Father was always a host to musikeros (hired music band from Batangas) and the barrio folks who came to town to attend the fiesta. Since fiestas are held only once a year, Father made grand preparations to make it memorable. Our guests had their meals and stayed overnight at our house. Father made sure there was enough food for everyone.

As a child, I enjoyed watching people prepare food at our house. From the window of our dining hall, I could see men bustling about their tasks. I watched them work in our yard, cooking tulyasi of sotanghon, apritada, and adobo, while others butchered a large pig. Some women were slicing onions, while others shelled garlic and shrimps. Nearby, on a small table, were cans of red pepper pimiento and gisantes, bottles of toyo, and other condiments used in cooking. Not far from the table was a stool where a woman pounded pimiento. Some were busy grilling liver and pig’s tail over the glowing charcoal. I loved to watch them, but a great deal of smoke rose in my direction, so I had to retreat and join the other children to follow the town band.

A week before the fiesta, palanyags (merchants with stores from Calapan) erected their improvised stores at the town proper. To give a more festive look, street corners were lighted with Culman lamps. Dolls for children, shirts, shoes, dresses, utensils, and china and silverwares were all on display. Crowds flocked to these stores to buy their wares. Three days after the fiesta, they would pack up and look for another town that would celebrate another fiesta. On feast days, I participated in the shooting gallery of lead horses where candies were given away as winning prizes. There was also a game where white mice and numbered homes were used. I usually ended up as a loser. Those who won usually received pitchers, others dozens of plates, while others half a dozen of glasses.

The month of May meant happiness to all of us children. During this month, my younger sister and I would participate in the Santacruzan. Nightly, we would join the procession around the town and dance at the kubol with the Reyna Elena as our head. We would process from the town of Baco to Pambisan and to another place, Malaylay, each of us with a lighted candle. A local musical band tailed behind. We sang to our hearts’ delight, amid the explosion of firecrackers as we went along.

In the wee hours of the night, we could smell the scent of dama de noche abundantly planted along the way. I would snatch some dama de noche flowers and place them inside my basket. My sister and I had beautifully decorated baskets. Very early in the morning, in preparation for the Santacruzan, we would pick flowers by the roadside – baligtaran, sweet rosal flowers from Tabon-Tabon, and bougainvilleas from the garden of Tia Mary. We would place them inside the baskets and prepare them for the night’s dance. As a child, I was already plump, and I could hear some remarks directed at me. So I had to stretch my waist a little sidewise, notwithstanding that it was a painstaking effort for me. We also had banners for the Santacruzan.

The highlight of the event was at the end of May. A caracol, a water procession by boat, was held. All participants, including the Reyna Elena, and young men and women of the town, and other folks joined in the celebration. There was splashing of water, and it was a half-day affair. Everybody went home tired but happy.

Another thing I loved to do was to watch the pipit (small birds) perched on our guyabano trees. When dusk fell, I watched them as they went to sleep. When I sensed that they were already asleep, I brought along a kerosene lamp and cautiously caught them.

A gecko crowed nearby – “Toko, Toko”. When my father was out of town, I could tell if he would come home for dinner or not by listening to the gecko’s calls. I would count carefully – “coming, not coming, coming –“ and I always believed what the gecko meant.

As kids, my younger sister, my elder sister, and I took turns fetching water from the nearby pump. We used a bamboo pole to lift the can of water, which was equidistant to each other, and place each end of the pole over our shoulder. We made sure that the big jar (tapayan) at our batalan and the other containers were all filled to last for the day.

Since our place was quite remote, Father would always buy fruits by the crates. I remembered he would buy us crates of oranges from the batels docked at our shore from Isla Verde, an island nearby. He would also buy us pakaskas (made from concentrated sweet buri sap) from Isla Verde. There were also crates of sweet mangoes from Lubang Island and atis fruits. When relatives from Batangas arrived, they brought along with them large pots of sinaing na tulingan that could be preserved for even a month’s time and also large pakwans. During Christmas, Father made sure that we always had a leg of ham and a Keso de Bola. Noche Buena and Media Noche were always observed in the house.

My elder brother had a horse that he rode every time he went to our coconut plantation. He kept it clean and scrubbed. There was a time when he found a swarm of bees that built its beehive by a sloping coconut tree. He drove the swarm of bees from its house by building a fire near the coconut tree and using a mosquito net. We were overjoyed when he arrived with a big can of wild, pure honey.

We had another pet, a dog named Brownie, that used to accompany us when the family would go to the plantation. Unfortunately, the dog was struck by a crocodile while swimming across the river as she tagged along our boat.

At home, I was the errand girl. Every Sunday, I would hike to a meat store of Nanay Ilyang at Malaylay, two kilometers away from our house, to get the pork Father had ordered. I remembered also buying a cupful of bagoong sauce from Aling Dama’s sari-sari store. All the way home, I would dip my finger into the cup, lick my finger, and upon reaching home, it was no longer a cupful of sauce; as an alibi, all I could remark was that the seller was so stingy with her sale.

On moonlight nights, I would join the other children in playing games like tug-of-war and hide and seek. We often hid ourselves under the house of a neighbor. As a child, I think I had played all sorts of games, like piko, luksong tinik, luksong lubid, tatsing, hipanan ng lastiko, tirador, dawit, saggam, korocotok, and flying kite. On moonlight nights, we also trapped sand crabs. We dug a large hole in the sand, put a big open can inside it, and sprinkled the sand from the hole to the water with grain husk. After a while, the sand crabs would emerge from their hideout and end up being trapped inside the can.

As a child living near the seashore, my sisters and I would often wake up early, sometimes as early as 4:30 in the morning, to join fortune hunters. We would scratch the sand in a squatting position with small sticks, working horizontally to seek treasures such as medals, century coins, and crucifixes that were washed up on the shore by the waves. These relics were said to have come from sunken ships and vessels caused by stormy weather.

One morning, the town woke up to see a large tortoise adrift by our shore. The people were in a festive mood, but when the tortoise was about to be killed, big tears welled up in its eyes. Despite this, the people still partook of the meat and the hundred soft delicious eggs found inside its womb.

Since my father was often busy with his clients, we often took baths in the river for fun, starting at 8:00 A.M. and emerging from the river at 2:00 P.M., dirty, sun-tanned, and of course, very hungry. I also remembered working as a pinball girl in the bowling alley of our town, which I did just for fun. I didn’t know if I was paid or not, but all I could remember was that I arranged the bowling pins and got excited whenever there was a spare or a strike.

However, my father eventually remarried, realizing that he was neglecting his duties towards his children.

Now our town, Old Baco–once bustling with activities, contained about a hundred houses, a municipal building, complete elementary schools, a church, a plaza, an artesian well, and a bowling alley–is no longer there. These town landmarks, including our house and lot, were washed away by the raging sea. The only things that remain are nipa palms and coconut trees that can be seen along the seashore and, of course, memories. When the municipality vanished, another town proper (the New Baco) was transferred to the interior part of the locality.

Soon after, my father had a two-storey house constructed in the newly-created town, which had a good view of Mt. Halcon. The climate was cold and invigorating, and the town was situated along the National Highway and provided with electricity. It had a beautiful municipal building, a municipal hall, a concrete road, an elementary school with a home economics building, a town plaza, a market, a basketball court, and a secondary high school run by Father Tonkil, a German philanthropic priest.

Every year, Father would celebrate his birthday with a party, inviting the town mayor, Mr. Gaudencio Zulueta, and all local officials, the town’s priest, and the school teachers. That affair was also attended by his close relatives, children, and grandchildren. Even though I worked in Manila, I made sure to be present on his birthday.

Two years ago, Father passed away, and he was well-loved and remembered by the people of Baco. His body was transferred to the Municipal hall of the town, and he was accorded a military burial with a Filipino flag draped over his casket. To honor him, the town’s flag was on half mast for the whole month of February 1980. To the people of Baco, Father was no ordinary citizen. They were only paying their homage and respect to the man who had served them as Municipal Mayor during the Japanese occupation.

During the war period, my father took on a dual role. He not only served as the Mayor of the Kalibapi Government (Mayor ng Taga-Labas) but also as the Mayor of the Guerilla (Mayor ng Taga-Loob). Col. Florencio Medina, another respected member of our town, implored him to accept the position of Mayor during the Japanese occupation. Col. Medina’s reason was simple – “If nobody will head the town, then the lives of all the people of this locality will be in great danger.” Knowing that he could be of service to the community, my father accepted the offer without hesitation.

The Japanese Government was unaware of my father’s dual role, but it had the blessings of the underground Guerilla Movement stationed at the deep recesses of Mt. Halcon. To protect his family, my father evacuated us to our coconut plantation in Caritan, an isolated island. Many times, our lives were in great peril. It was only by God’s help and perhaps through miracles that we were able to survive the war.

Now in my fifties, memories of that time flood back. Some memories fade away, but others live on and on. I cherish those fond memories dearly.

(This essay was authored by Laura A. Maliwanag in 1982. She passed away on May 13, 2010 at the age of 83.)

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