(Author’s note: I was requested by Ms. Vina Araneta of ABS-CBN Davao to write an essay about my life then at the Ateneo. Her husband, Dr. Rey Pilapil who is the editor-in-chief of Tambara, the journal of Ateneo de Davao University, has started compiling personal stories of alumni for their special issue dedicated to the 70th year of AdDU. I quickly prepared this and sent the article to Dr. Rey, with a note that I would also have this published in my regular column.)
How should I start?
Too hazy now remembering those good ‘ol days. Not because those were more than half a century ago! I first set my foot at Ateneo in 1963. Undeniably, old age is taking its toll. It’s just that there were too many “firsts” in my life then to now recall.
BARRIO KID — I grew up in a barrio (Guihing 60 kms from the city in the south). That was the only world I knew then. Then when I got into high school in Digos, another new place came to my life. It was a sleepy town but now the bustling capital city of Davao del Sur.
It was in 1963 that I decided to live in far away, strange Davao City as I enrolled at the Ateneo in college. This guy from the “boondocks” had to try out his luck with a rare opportunity: a full Ateneo scholarship. As a trumpeteer in the high school band I got a 50% scholarship with the other half for passing the Ateneo scholarship test.
SCHOLAR — My parents (my father Martin a bus driver and my mother Amparo a Grade One public school teacher) could ill afford to send me to the big city and to “classy” Ateneo but the full scholarship was something worth grabbing. So I packed my meager belongings and settled down in a small makeshift room under the staircase of my aunt’s rented place of Magdalena Apartments in Magallanes/Bolton Sts. I cannot forget this: that every big rain then, the ‘camarin’-type buildings rented by hundreds of families virtually “float” with Davao River flood waters below that never dried up until the next flood came. Yes, the unending stench and the ‘forever’ mosquitoes!
My aunt’s place near the Bonifacio Monument was quite a distance to the CM Recto campus but I was not taking the usual jeepney ride in going to and from Ateneo if I could, (except during a heavy rain). A good walk from the campus passing through theatres, beer houses was my usual treat. That also saved me from the usual ten centavo fare (P10.00 today?) for the ride every time. But when rains came, and a jeepney ride was necessary, I had to jump at the front seat beside the driver all the time and not look back at the other passenger-lady-classmates at the back so I need not do the customary “I paid for you too” courtesies. Sorry, lady classmates, but I did not have enough in my pocket then!
PART-TIME JOB — Once in a while in between school, I got to earn a bit for my jeepney fares and school needs by getting occasionally , part-time work at the then provincial capitol as “casual employee” at the land tax division, posting tax payments of ledgers piled up to the ceiling.
AT ATENEO — I distinctly remember Fr. Wieman, SJ and Fr. Dotterweich, SJ (bless their souls) who were my first English and Theology teachers. Fr. Mitchell SJ was Rector for some time. Fr. Martin, SJ the chubby, white-haired, cigar chumpin and slave-drivin basketball coach was also incharge of the school band. He came from a wealthy family in the US so we got word our new band instruments were bought by him! All priests then wore the white “sotana” (unlike now where even the crucifix pin is no longer in vogue).
LIBERAL EDUCATION — It was Fr. Wieman who initiated us all into what he then described as “liberal education” for Ateneans. It taught and made us realize early on that getting an education should not be initially to learn skills; that it was not about knowing a specific trade or be trained to do something, but it was to hone or transform the whole persona into a well-rounded personality. “Just get your feet wet first” was the mantra emphasizing on one’s spiritual being, character, the arts and the like. And eventually to be a “man for others.”
I eventually became editor of the Atenews and joined the Sodality, serving as early morning altar boy and always first to sip the wine — before the celebrant did. My quiet excuse: just wanting to be sure it was not stale and safe for the priest. (Sssshhh!)
The whole student population was not that many then at the CM RECTO campus so we somehow knew each other even if they belonged to the other years. We always cheered for our basketball and debating teams. Every Saturday morning, I had to wear my ROTC fatigue uniform that I personally starched stiff and ironed.
GRANTEE TO USA — While I was already in 4th year, I was chosen as a US State Department grantee to travel to USA and participate in what was then a project known as an “Experiment on International Living” (not Loving!) One awardee from every Asian nation was chosen (me alone for the Philippines) and we all seven Asian participants stayed in host families in Minnesota and visited universities until we exited in Florida, seeing important American landmarks on the way home. I should mention here that throughout the 90-day US trip, my personal “baon” in my pocket then was a hefty $100 (@ P4.00 then to $1)!
AS JOURNALIST — After graduation in 1967, finishing my Bachelor of Arts degree, major in English, I immediately searched for a job as I dreamed of going to law school but I had to financially support myself. I landed at the editorial office of the weekly Mindanao Times using my Atenews stint as credentials. I first started as “proofreader” then a reporter. I really wanted to be a lawyer so I enrolled at the Ateneo law school housed at “the old building.”
TAU MU FRAT — My life at the law school was definitely eventful. I joined the Tau Mu (Fraternal Order of St. Thomas More) fraternity and could not forget that stage when as a neophyte, I was initiated alone in the “finals.” Then I went on eventually as Tau Mu’s Grand Archon.
Our hang-out “Lorenzana’s” (yes, owned by Lito Lorenzana’s family) just outside the Ateneo campus was our favorite waterin’ hole where we got our beer and “pulutan” even up to the wee hours of the morning.
ABSENCES — During my law school days, and as a journalist reporter and eventually becoming editor of the then weekly Mindanao Times, I was also Correspondent of the Manila Times (then ran by the venerable Chino Roces) and stringer of the international Associated Press (AP). Those were the challenging era before the 1972 martial law declaration by Pres. Marcos. I was dispatched to cover happenings and incidents in volatile Mindanao which was wracked then by tribal wars and conflict. Of course, at the expense of my regular school days in the law school. Which reminded me what CFI Judge Vicente Cusi then would say in a booming voice during our Remedial Law class when he would spot me in my seat: “Who’s this stranger in my class!”
BAR OPS — Martial law was declared in 1972 and we were among the first law graduate batch to take the bar exams the following year with all new presidential decrees and proclamations not yet in the law books. That was a real challenge. Tau Mu frat’s now traditional “bar ops” which assisted Ateneo lawyer aspirants during the review, with lectures and “tips” were a great boost to us.
I went to the UP law center in Diliman, Quezon City, for the needed bar review classes and unlike my law school days where I spent more time in the field than in the classroom, those review classes kept me 100% in the room. To some extent, I learned a lot of my law for the first time during that “review” course.
And yes, not to forget to mention my childhood, next door neighbor and supportive Beth who kept the fire a-burnin. I followed to the letter God’s commandment “Love thy neighbor” so I married her right after passing the bar!
All told, instead of finishing the law degree in four years, I did mine for six years! I started law in 1967 and took the bar in 1973. So when I landed 10th place in the bar exams and many were taken by surprise, my usual plausible explanation was:
“You guys did your law in four years, I did mine in six. So how could I not top the bar?!” Right?