Paang Bundok is a child’s paradise. While his city counterpart has the Paraiso ng Batang Maynila, the kid from Paang Bundok has that entire Eden all to himself.
Paang Bundok is nestled at the foot of an unnamed hill in Calauag, Quezon. Curiously, while that little mount is a landmark in Calauag, nobody bothered to christen it after some momentous event or date, or one great native guy from the place. The mound is not as imposing as Mount Banahaw or as menacing as Mount Mayon, but nonetheless it is a landmark in Calauag that nobody misses. It is the northern peripheral boundary of the town opposite the southern mete which is the famous Lamon Bay. At the back of that mountain lies the Majarlika Highway. On top of it is the only college of the town that churns out outstanding teachers of South Quezon: Calauag Central College. Adjacent to that school stands the venerated Morato Mansion. Again it is a pity nobody in the town ever thought of preserving the landmark that saw better times.
The Morato manor is a typical Bahay Kastila. At the time it was constructed in the 1930s it faced the ferrocarril and was overlooking the scenic Cal Agua, now Calauag Bay, the eastern part of Lamon Bay. The railway then in the 1930s was the modern means of travel fast and snug, hence the master of the house, Don Tomas Morato chose the scenic and strategic location. While the train station was a good one kilometre away, the entire locomotive stopped right across the steel gate of the Morato residence to disgorge a most esteemed guest. His good friend Don Manuel Luis Quezon of Baler, a fellow Kastila and cumprovinciano was some kind of a government hotshot prior to the establishment of the Philippine Commonwealth. After some hunting in Mt. Makiling and luxuriating in his favourite hot spring in Los Banos, Señor Quezon would hie off to Calauag to have some intimate chat with his amigo, the logger Don Tomas who later on, became the mayor of Calauag in 1937, while my grandfather, Tiburcio, was his first councilor. Quezon, must have found some balmic effect in the breezy salatan air of Calauag. In later years however, Calauag has the famous Balagtas line paraphrased as, ‘sa loob at labas ng bayan kong sawi, sa loob ng seawall nag kalat ang t-i!” Calauag being known thereabouts for its concrete breakwater constructed during the time of Morato and because of dearth of public toilets has transformed the seawall as the longest water bowl.
When Quezon went on to become president of the Commonwealth, his rendezvous with Don Tomas continued and the pilgrimage to Calauag was his routine annual trek: a much awaited event by the leaders in that little town. Quezon was met by school children, teachers, the townspeople, and a marching band. Shortly before the war in 1941 and before he was spirited to Corregidor and later to Australia by submarine, Quezon recuperated from consumption (from which illness he succumbed in 1943 in Saranac Lake, New York) withdrawing in that Bahay na Bato. He was seen for the last time in Calauag in one break of day being carried by two men disembarking from the presidential coach and negotiated for the last time the winding porch of the house of Morato who was himself present in hurried expectation. Morato then became the first mayor of what is now known as Quezon City and to whom the former Sampalok Avenue was named after. Significantly on December 24, 1941, 7,000 Japanese troops landed in Lamon Bay. Superior Japanese intelligence gathered that the highest Filipino official indeed frequented that place.
One story has it that some important executive orders were drafted in the House of Morato by the President himself, a known workaholic who laboured until the wee hours of the morning to the constant mortification of his doctors. Upon finishing one paper the contents whereof Quezon thought was a work of genius, he proceeded to the room of his friend Tomas to show off the presidential opus. Tomas who had the fancy of walking drench-naked after a bath was surprised, in all his splendour, to see the President inside his room. Quezon was deeply embarrassed by the sight of Tomas (famed for his masculine asset) and remarked, “perdoneme Tomasing, I’ll come back at a better time.” To which Don Tomas replied with welcoming open arms, “this humble mayor of Calauag has nothing to hide from the President of the Commonwealth!”
Did I mention that Morato was a logger? Notice the stretch of Calauag to Tagkawayan via Quirino Highway now? That was the concession he got from his friend, the President of the Commonwealth. What you see now is a vast panorama in thousands of hectares of bald landscape. For nothing to cut anymore, Sta. Cecilia Sawmill, the Morato flagship folded up and relocated to Morato Avenue, Quezon City and trained its sight to property development. They left in a hurry without reforesting the area where they got their fortune.
Paang Bundok therefore has some historical significance as a preferred place of recuperation and relaxation for President Quezon, the foremost historical personality of the province from whom it was named in recognition of his momentous contribution to our country. The place now, as a sitio of Bgy. Sta. Maria, is blighted and the House of Morato forgotten and decrepit. One more tropical storm and the structure falls flat. Why are we so enamoured with the present completely ignoring the past? We always think that the world began when we were born and feign surprise about the import of the past. No fitting marker was chipped from the coffers of the local government nor a simple letter of commemoration sent to the Philippine Historical Commission to fashion any fitting tribute for the site. In other places, those equivalent sites are valued as hollowed grounds where once upon a time great men trod suggesting that they were once like you and me.
It is there in Paang Bundok where I spent my childhood. I was nearly six years old when brought to Calauag in time for enrolment at the parish kindergarten school. I thought all the while that Calauag is just for school time and my real home was in Quezon, Quezon where I was born. It dawned on me later that Calauag is the home base of my parents since both of them worked there, my father as the mayor’s clerk and my mother as grade one school teacher. I was a transient after all in Quezon, Quezon and in Calauag I had to contend with a new environment and playmates whom I had not known from Adam. I missed my old friends in Quezon whom I grew up with until when I was five, and who were all tender and docile crying in their peculiar gentle punto. Overnight I acquired puntong Calauag, a quaint accent with a hint of assertion punctuated with ay! Some words in Quezon are greek in Calauag like purog ka, gulping pangit, hitsurahin, and I was forced to discard the initial expression Ay Iya! In Paang Bundok there are loads of children of my age, lots of them. With their numbers, so are their temperaments. Paang Bundok is sliced from the poblacion by the railroad. Our side is already Bgy 5 of the poblacion and the interior of the main road, Rizal Street (my father indicates “interior” in our postal address) but since our house is across the railroad and faces Paang Bundok I considered myself its native son.
For me Paang Bundok in its entirety is my kind of enchanted kingdom. For a little kid it is vast. It has its slopes, steep and gentle. It has its shares of parang, tubugan, and rice paddies. In the parang, I hang around in the horse stable of Mang Estrella and helped Lando in grooming his couple of mola. Paang Bundok has sapa, brooks and creeks. It had a canopy of kalumpit, klam, narra, santol, basiad, pilaway, liputi, kawayan, banaba, acacia, niog, pajo, and myriad other trees of all sizes. From my point of vision, the mountain is Mount Everest. From our window I sized the Bundok for my first attempt of climbing it. The Bundok in 1960 was a huge forest, thick, dark and foreboding. My playmates teased me no end that I could never scale the Bundok. I told them I could do it but just wait. The teasing never stopped and I went away teary eyed. One morning, I decided I had enough and climb I must. It was school day and I could not wait for the next Saturday. I made up sick with matching cough and stuffy nose. My mother fell for it and prepared my favourite Royco chicken noodle soup. The minute she was gone I went straight to the boys who were bullying me that I could never make it to the top. I told them in no uncertain term, this is it, either they come with me or I do it alone. There I was five and almost six, raring to climb a mountain that from a distance could never be conquered. By just going at its foot, one has to trek meandering narrow and muddy pathways. Finally I was looking up the mountain, and the boys were behind me all egging, “sigue nga, kaya mo ba?”
The first step was tentative; the second devoid of confidence, the third shaky but the fourth and the rest were firm and furious. “Kaya ko ito! Malapit na!” I don’t remember anymore how long it took me to climb, but I found myself looking down at the roof of our house and the whole town below. Finally, I conquered the Bundok.
While at the top, we found several heavily laden santol trees. For little kids like us they were natural magnets. We started to climb and filled our small pockets with the best santol with huge eyes as they were sweet. While we were up, we didn’t notice a group of students in PMT uniforms from the nearby college approaching the tree and started shouting for us to get down. Startled, I practically slid in one trunk unmindful that the process hurt my arms and legs with slivers. Upon reaching the ground I together with the other boys ran as fast as we could in going down the Bundok. By running fast down a slope I realized the law on gravity worked, such that my legs did not obey my stop commands. I felt the ulat slicing my legs and face, the makahiya and amor secos pricking my knees, the ipil-ipil branches stabbing my cheeks. I closed my eyes to protect them. I only slowed down when I bumped coconut trees here and there. I reached the bottom all right but I was bloodied and because of the unimaginable pain, wailing. The boys brought me home. Seeing my sorry state, my mother’s brother, Kuya Luis a former Malacanang presidential guard was fast in collaring the boys that scared us and lined them up before me for identification. But since I wanted to go back on top of the Bundok again, I told my Kuya Luis that he missed the culprits. I found myself screaming in pain in the Sanidad’s clinic while Aling Mameng, the town’s nurse was dressing my wounds. I got broken skin on my legs and knees, scratches on my inner arms, a couple of bukol on my forehead, and puncture wounds 1millemeter near my eyes. On our way back home, I knew that my mother was in homily but I did not pick up a word. I could afford not to listen to my mother’s speech and spared of the palo because she knew I was then all cut up. I was looking at the other face of the Bundok, the steep side almost 90 degrees where only vines and protruding roots served as grips. Instead I heard the dare of Rading and Uti that that I could not make.
My little feat made me some kind of hero in Paang Bundok. I was now part of the group. I mastered all their games, from tubigan, tumbang preso, bimbiw (some kind of hide-and-seek) and anit. The Bundok terrain I mastered even with closed eyes. Later, I nearly died of tetanus when I jumped from atop an excavation and landed on a protruding rusty tin can cutting my right ankle. The bleeding was profuse and I was horrified because the wounds from my recent ascent to Mt. Everest had not yet healed and now again. My friends brought me to Mang Ben, a budding herbolario, the son of Mang Udoy the carpenter and the apo of Inang Ani, the manghihilot of Paang Bundok. His credential was impressive that I allowed him to dress my gaping wound with ash taken from the bottom of his abuhan. That he said was the best disinfectant! I believed him because the minute he said that I felt the pain subsided and stopped the bleeding. The following day I was running a fever and had enormous kulani. I thought it was a different story altogether that I told my mother not about the cut but the kulani. She brought me pronto to Dr. Lim who having put two and two together was staring at my cut clobbered with pus and ash. “May sugat ito, patungong tetanus.” With the familiar smell of antiseptic and boiling syringes, Dr. Lim administered the most painful injections in my life. This time I listened intently to my mother’s discourse, but still I was confident that I shall be spared of the palo, what with my tetanus and kulani. I got the ultimatum from my father, “malapit-lapit ka na!”
I learned to spin the trumpo that I bought from Mr. Abena who lived near Kalyeng Supot who personally carved the trumpo out of guava trunk with his electric high performance rotary tool. When we got bored trumpo spinning, we resorted to samal, pitting one’s trumpo against the other with the nail as its warhead. Since I got the best wood, no one could break my trumpong makunat.
I learned to fashion the best saranggola out of newspapers and broom sticks. Uti taught me how to make a well-balanced kite that was matiktik or stable airborne. Once my kites reached the scalp of the big acacia tree near the CCC that was when I could no longer retrieve the kites and time to kiss them goodbye as the string got entangled in the mighty arms of the acacia.
Mr. Abena also made fine salanga out of guava trunks. Salanga is the wood catapult where one firmly ties the rubber ends of the slingshot or labtik. I became an expert hunter of maya when they rested in droves at five in the afternoon. “Ma-alin!” I would yell before unleashing a stone missile from my well-crafted labtik. At vesper we hunted down kabag or bats that swarmed out of the church steeples and layang-layang that flew close to the ground as though kissing it. The Bundok was the refuge of the regal kilyawan or the yellow oriole, and from where we found lost salaksak or kingfisher. Up in the sky behind our kites we saw marauding lawin or hawks. And of course, the ubiquitous uwak. Once in a while it was visited by balod or wild pigeon and other birds that we only see in pictures today. My fascination with birds was shown by my nerve in tagging behind the Capellan brothers on their hunting trips armed with twin-barrelled shot-gun in search of the prized balod and wild ducks in Barrios Kinal-in and Dominlog, a good five kilometres from home. With my forays in hunting, hiking with the Boy Scouts in later years was a breeze.
Mr. Abena could also make you a wooden rifle made from apitong. One day I brought him a copy of the Manila Sunday Times where I saw a picture of the famous AK-47 brandished by a heroic Vietcong. I had the best gun in our baril-barilan. Since all the explosions and gun blasts were our vocal chords’ courtesy, in no time I was hoarse as a duck that my mother mistook for colds. When I tagged along with my mother to nearby Lopez town in one October month, we passed a periahan, and a battery operated tin toy gun caught my fancy. It was made in Japan! I tarried and insisted on trying the novel contraption that produced a high-tech sound and sparkling lights. The periante whose freckled face I still distinctly remember obliged as she knew my mother. There was nothing like it in Paang Bundok and having it, I would be the centre of attention. There was one problem though; it was too expensive at P25. As a public school teacher, my mother’s salary was only P120 per month. The sixth part of her salary was just too much to sink in for that piece of tin. I convinced my mother to buy it so that I wouldn’t get hoarse at the end of the day, the Eveready would take care of that. Still she had other things to do and told me we should get going, besides the price was just too steep and we simply could not afford it. I held fort. I knew my mother capitulated because of the smile on the face of the periante who was finally wrapping the merchandise paid for at P20.
Arriving at dusk in Paang Bundok I showed off the device with its dizzying sounds and multi-colored lights. In an instant, nagkalibungbungan, I got a crowd of curious and envious onlookers whose eyes were all transfixed on my new trophy. For one whole week, I was a very obedient child to my mother. I swept and scrubbed the floor; I assisted her in the kitchen, and did what I hated most: pangunguli.
Characters abound in Paang Bundok. There was Aling Talina, the laundrywoman and the common-law-wife of Dobol from Kalyeng Supot. He was Dobol because he had his first wife in that far side of the town. Every night, Aling Talina the mistress, always came home in Paang Bundok drunk and wild. Without fail at 7 at night she delivered her loud monologue bewailing the infidelity of Dobol to the embarrassment of Junior, her first son with another man, Rudy and Tamir, her kids with Dobol. At eight sharp, she’s through and it was time for me to sleep. Junior Bingi, the eldest of Aling Talina was my favourite story-teller. When I was about ten or eleven he allowed me to listen to his exploits with the pom-poms in Paang Bundok. I bought my first table from Junior Bingi who crafted the finest wooden iron horse and chairs salavaged from the slabs of wood taken from Sta. Cecilia Sawmill. There was that Estrella brothers, fine looking boys who got their looks from their mestiza mother, Aling Andang. Lando, the eldest idolized the late Jess Lapid by riding his mola along the railroad. His bodybuilding equipment was made from scrap steel tracks of MRR. Sonny the middle son was the silent type who swooned over Glecy the lovely daughter of Aling Sining. But he was beaten to the draw by Utoy, the younger brother, who recounted his tryst with Glecy every time the latter would use their bathroom near the parang. When Glecy found out that Utoy was a kiss-and-tell she broke off with him, and paired-off with Garito. Lando and Garito were close buddies who scaled the windows of Aling Sining at midnight and slept till the early morning beside their girlfriends, Neya, the eldest, and Glecy. Lando and Neya married soon after Aling Sining discovered the happy arrangement. As to Garito, he went back to Candelaria leaving Glecy heartbroken.
There was another character, Mang Joe, the local playboy who sired three kids with Aling Idang. We called them Tong, Ting, and Tang. When Aling Idang got pregnant, Mang Joe would disappear and showed up after the birth of each child. When Ting was about sixteen, Rudy of Aling Talina, slew him in the dark alley of Paang Bundok one rainy night. There was no known cause for the murder except Ting perhaps was at the wrong place and time. Rudy inherited his mother’s vice, when his drunk, nagbubusa.
Paang Bundok was ahead of our time. There was spouse-swapping and we woke up surprised to find that Mang Ben was no longer the partner of Aling Linda. But it was cause for trouble. In one inuman, Tiago teased Mang Ben for being kurnitin or turotot (cuckold). Mang Ben resented the gag and challenged Tiago to a one-on-one. Their fist fight was fun, but Tiago was clobbered for having drunk too many and Mang Ben was the better street fighter. Tiago went home and got his kampit and dared Mang Ben to a fight to the finish. While Mang Ben was the darker one, I saw that he got scared of the challenge. The two armed men squared-off and I was watching them in between the slits of our fence made from wood slabs. When they were about to hit each other, I heard my mother pleading with the two men and the other men in Paang Bundok to stop the madness. The two protagonists relented and shook hands. Because of the social cost of marital disputes and separations without benefit of legal intervention, the elders struck a modus vivendi. Later on, when spouses called it quits, one of them must settle with his/her new family in another far side of the town usually Sabang Dos or Pinagtalleran away from the scandal and the acrimony it spawned. Some of my best friends vanished and never to be seen again like Kuto, the balut vendor and his elder brother Maning, because their father took them to resettle in Pinagkamaligan after the split from his wife. Maning chose to stay with his father when he tried to stab the new found love of his mother. Kuto idolized Maning so he preferred his father. I had never seen Maning and Kuto from then on.
Tiago was the neighbourhood toughie in Paang Bundok. He was soft spoken and kind when sober. Once irrigated with alcohol, he became rowdy and challenged every body to a fight. He had what we call gilas, a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde personality. I admired him though for being polite with my mother offering extra hand whenever she came from the market. I learned later that he was my mother’s former pupil in Grade One in Calauag Elementary School. He was my hero because he saved Udet, the youngest daughter of Aling Conching. In Paang Bundok, children played even in the middle of the railroad and the two-year old Udet was there with her other playmates. Her babysitter-sister Delay was herself in the middle of a game and she completely forgot that Udet was sitting in the middle of the railroad’s traveza. Udet’s other playmates scampered when they heard the horn of an incoming train and the two-year old Udet was left to her own devices. We were all frozen in terror and the womenfolk with Aling Conching were screaming. Like Superman Tiago came from nowhere and scooped Udet an inch from the steel behemoth and from certain death. Mang Idro, Udet’s father, was grateful and invited Tiago for a couple of drinks. Soon after, Tiago and Garito- Mang Idro’s son from his first family in Candelaria, were slugging it out. It turned out that from the day that Garito arrived in Paang Bundok Tiago resented Garito’s puntong Batangueno. Tiago found Garito too sophisticated and eclipsed him. Besides, Garito was the damsels’ crush ng bayan for his proficiency in the baras.
Tiago had several brushes with the law. He was arrested for alarm and scandal and direct assault when he challenged the policemen in Ideal Restaurant located in the poblacion. Being the tough guy that he was, he earned the ire of another toughie, Jorge, the diminutive man not known for playing fair. Tiago had a best friend for Angel, a soft spoken guy with horrible psoriasis. While others shied away from Angel because of his hideous hide, Tiago found him an ideal partner. They were inseparable. Soon it crept in Paang Bundok that Jorge was hunting Tiago down. Tiago had a score to settle with the hobbit. One afternoon, I was playing with Uti a game of bato taya when an inebriated Jorge confronted Angel and asked where Tiago was. Aware of the intention of Jorge with Tiago, Angel played dumb and denied any knowledge on the whereabouts of Tiago. This infuriated Jorge and vented his ire on the unwitting friend of Tiago. Jorge pulled a viente y nueve and without warning buried it on the side of Angel. I heard the cry of Angel, asking Jorge “bakit mo ako sinaksak?” Jorge pulled the blade back and was again poised to bury the same on the poor man’s body, whereupon someone from the crowd shouted at Angel to run for dear life. Angel did, clutching his right side now full of expelled guts. I was too close with Jorge that had he buried his dagger the second time, it could have caught me and cut my cheek. I smelt spurting blood and saw the sheen of small intestines. Had the scene been part of a movie, it could have merited an R18 from the Censors because of the extreme violence and language. And I was not yet seven then. The following day, we heard the sad news that Angel succumbed to his stab wounds in Magsaysay Memorial in Lopez. I witnessed the daily violence in Paang Bundok and the way it viewed human life and the inevitability of death.
When people are dying or naghihingalo in Paang Bundok, ordinarily they are not rushed to the hospital for treatment. The dying man’s folks gather round him and mumble some prayers or oracion and the rest of his loved ones were wailing. Or, his folks waited for the fading man to expel his anting-anting. The longer he was in death throes, the more potent his amulet was. To this day I could still remember the face of that man dying from TB. He had that blank stare, and his breaths were deep and far between. No CPR there. Or some first aid. We, that included me, just waited for him to die. As to his anting-anting, his youngest brother probably caught it; he had TB in his later years only that he overwhelmed the disease by going religiously to the puericulture clinic and took dosage of Streptomycin without fail.
Going back to Tiago, upon the death of his buddy Angel, that was the last of him in Paang Bundok. Maybe he was deathly afraid of Jorge who swore to finish him off. The last time we heard he hied off to Manila to seek his fortune. Stories had it that at one time he went out dead drunk from Alibangbang in Cubao and rested atop a plank when the Cubao underpass was still under excavation. He was not seen hence. Every time I pass Cubao underpass I mumble some prayer for the repose of my hero’s soul. His body must have been buried somewhere there.
Paang Bundok remains a part of me since our ancestral house is there. My youngest sister Delmama and her family stay there. When in Calauag, I spend the night in Paang Bundok and find myself refreshed the next morning. No wonder, it is home. The sound of a passing train was a sedative for me.
When I founded Sentro ng Gabay Legal Sa Quezon I made Paang Bundok its base. It is there that my indigent clients confide to me their doubts and fears. And then I tell them my little story on how I conquered my own fears. I begin, “nakikita mo yung Bundok na yon?” pointing at that little mount across our house, beyond the ferrocarril, beyond the tortuous meandering pathways.