Bonifacio, the Hero

At the Requiem Mass on the beautiful morning of January 24, there were no eulogies. Instead, people were given the chance to share their stories and memories of our grandfather every night of the wake.

Truth be told, Papa’s passing felt… light. It helps that we knew how colorful his life had been. That we knew he had fulfilled his mission in life. He meant so much to many people, that he truly is our very own, Bonifacio, The Hero.

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Allow me to share the text of the speech that Mama delivered during the Requiem, as a way for the family to thank everyone who thought of us and mourned with us.

I cannot think of a way to fully express our gratitude and appreciation to all of you for having allowed yourselves to be God’s instruments and served  as our source of strength and comfort at this time.  Let me also say that Papa himself showed us the way in the sense that he spoke to us in full awareness that the end was coming soon for him.  I thought perhaps one way of saying “thank you” would be by sharing with you some stories from his “memoirs”.

Papa was the 5th of 7 children of Juan and Mauricia. Born in Nadatngan, Sagada on the 27th of February, 1927, he would have been 85 next month.

Papa had his first job when he was in Grade 5 working as a gardener in Sagada for what he refers to as the Red House Garden of Fr. Lee Rose and Fr. Wayland Mandell.  It must have been a flower garden that he was asked to work on when he started.  By signs and and actions, he says, he was instructed to make plots with a special plot in the center in the figure of a star and with spacious walkways between the plots. Soon the garden was flourishing with flowers and the priests were so pleased with their garden and with the work that he had accomplished.

Papa eventually graduated from the garden to serving in the house of Fr. Mandell as well as at The St. Andrew’s Training School as a janitor.  Those of you familiar with the history of the Episcopal Church in the Philippines would know that the St. Andrew’s Training School in Sagada was transferred to Quezon City as St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary.

Dad had written his memoirs and this has yet to be published. One story there that would be of particular interest to people from Sagada and Besao takes place on the 8th of December in 1941 when the Church of St. Mary the Virgin was celebrating their annual fiesta.  Dad says “It had been the practice that all mission schools in the Sagada outstations such as St. Matthew’s in Bangaan, St. Benedict’s in Bangnen, the Bila Mission Station, St. James in Besao and All Saint’s in Bontoc were invited to join the merry-making and to participate in athletic competitions.”  He says further:  “I could remember that our team was playing softball against St. James, Besao, when Fr. Gray, the priest-in-charge, came down to the ballground at about 9:30 in the morning to announce the bad news that Camp John Hay was bombed earlier in the morning and that the United States and the Philippines are already at war against the Japanese.  There was instant silence, he says, as suddenly the people were overcome by a cloud of anxiety.

Prime Bishop Edward Malecdan  mentions this game as a game between the ECW of both the Sagada and Besao mission stations in his article: St. Andrew’s Theological Seminary through the Years (1932 – 1990), published in The 3rd Quarter of 2010 issue of The Philippine Episcopalian.

Unfortunately, Papa did not mention what the score was when the softball game was stopped. 

One of the favorite stories that he often told friends and family is of an incident that took place during the Japanese time.  It was probably in October of 1944 or 1945 when he was incarcerated and tortured by the Japanese for the purpose of extracting information on the whereabouts of the guerrilla forces. H said he was totally ignorant of the information they sought from him, but he was beaten from head to foot with the steel handle of a hacksaw blade.  On the night before Holy Innocents’ Day, the names of six prisoners were announced through the microphone. They were supposed to be released the next morning and his was one of the names called.   However, prior to their release, they would have to accompany the Japanese Patrol to the interior where the guerrillas were located.  Very early the next morning , the six were called and taken to the lobby of the Prison.  Three of the 6 were handcuffed, tied together with a rope, and taken into a bus.  Papa and his 2 companions were tied with their hands at their back and another rope was used to link them together.  They were taken to a heavily-guarded open truck and driven to a wide open space. Eventually, a convoy of trucks and Japanese soldiers were moving towards Pacdal.  “At the crossing, we were told to disembark. As we began to climb the road going to Bekkel and on to Ambuklao, …I heard an owl from a distance and I thought it was a bad omen.”  He watched as his two companions individually fell after they were struck one after the other with a sword. Eventually he was asked to kneel and pray.  He felt the saber hit the back of his neck and he fell instantly.   However, while he felt pain, he realized he was still alive.  He saw the soldiers lift the bodies of his companions and they were dumped down the road.  He pretended to be dead as he felt himself being lifted and dumped as well.  He landed on a bush and kept still until the soldiers were gone.  When all was silent, he got up and discovered he was not wounded at all.  He has always been grateful for this second life that God had given him.

We now move on to 1947 when Fr. Mandell, now dean of SATS, looked for him in Baguio and encouraged him to come to Manila to serve as his driver and also have the opportunity to continue his education.  After some preparatory activities to ensure he could be enrolled in Manila, he moved in November and was assigned to drive a Flaming Flamingo, a 1948 Dodge pick-up with red paint on the hood.

After a vehicular accident probably in 1954 (Papa’s point of reference here is when the Seminary transferred to this place, their present location), he taught the late Julian Beleo how to drive and Uncle Julian took over the wheels of the Flaming Flamingo.  Dad was assigned to the garden during which time he built what Dean Mandell referred to as the Memorial Step.  These are semi-circular steps which he built from big boulders of adobe, shaped and made to fit one another to form three steps.  The steps are located on what he refers to as the short-cut between the Seminary main building and the basketball court.  Papa was eventually promoted and given the title of Superintendent of Buildings and Gardens and Administrative Assistant.  In 1964, Fr. Charles Clark was now Dean of SATS, when Dad took a Sabbatical and accompanied Dean Mandell( now head of the Joint Council of PIC-PEC) during his furlough.  They took a trip around the world and traveled to Los Angeles to dispose of some of Fr. Mandell’s properties.  My siblings and I were so amazed at all the stories he had to tell after this trip.  In fact, he brought some slides which we often watched in the evening as he told stories of his travel.

It was Fr. Mandell who started calling our dad “Papa”.  Eventually, this is the name his grandchildren started calling him by until we ourselves also called him Papa.

Papa retired from SATS as Business Manager in 1987 when Bishop Artemio Zabala was Dean.  He had served SATS for 39 years, plus 1 year at the St. Andrew’s Training School.

Dad’s other life was as Barangay Captain of Barangay Kalusugan from 1973 to 1997 – a good 24 years. He has chosen as his resting place the Himlayang Pilipino, at a location close to the resting place of Prof. Pacifico Lagustan.   Prof. Lagustan taught Spanish at Trinity College (now TUA) and was also Political Adviser to Councilor Honorio David, one of 6 councilors of District 6 in Quezon City.  Councilor David was tasked to organize the barangays from the New Manila area to the Welcome Rotunda.  Prof. Lagustan, as Political Adviser, was asked to recommend who would be appointed as Barangay Captains.  Eventually, after Martial Law, the position of barangay captain became an elective position and dad continued to prevail in the elections.  He decided not to run in 1997.

I never really asked how he got to be appointed as Barangay Captain.  It was a subject matter we hardly discussed. We were at odds when it came to politics.  After he wrote his memoirs, he wanted for his cover page the photo of a trophy that was given to me for winning a Spanish declamation contest during my college days.  I never really understand why he wanted that and discouraged him from using that ancient trophy.

Yesterday, I asked my sister for the portion of dad’s manuscript that he had asked her to type out.  Only then did I learn that when Prof. Lagustan was asked to recommend a barrio captain for this area, he thought of his favorite student and came looking for the father of that student.  Dad says that when Prof. Lagustan went to his office at the Seminary, he asked him: “Are you the father of Laura Bernice?”  Why Papa never told me this story, I do not know.  Or perhaps he told me, but I chose not to remember.  I regret having argued with him against using the  ancient ordinary-looking trophy as his cover page.  I do not even recall if it’s still around.

Listening to the stories that you have told during the last few days we kept watch over Papa, I realize I was unable to spend that much time with him.  In the earlier years of martial law, we pretty much kept to our own worlds and avoided occasions that would give rise to argument.  He was certainly a man of extreme patience, as most of you have witnessed.  My siblings and I were not a bunch of meek and obedient kids but he was always the loving parent no matter what troubles we brought to his doorstep.  Papa was a parent to more than just the 5 of us.  More often than not, there was a cousin or a close relative living with us in our home.   Furthermore, people often came to the house to consult their BoKap or to confide with him regarding whatever issues they had in their areas.  Papa would listen to whoever had something to say, and then he would be quiet for some time before he responded.  He dealt with us in the same manner.  I wondered if he was giving the other person time to reflect on what he himself had said and eventually figure out what he had to do.  

It is time to bid our father, our grandfather, uncle, and  BoKap “goodbye” as we proceed to his final resting place.  Papa was the epitome of calmness until the very end.    After we had told him what the doctors had told us about his condition, he refused to undergo any further procedures.  He said he just wanted to die peacefully just like our mother did.

Papa had his way.  On Wednesday afternoon, he went to sleep.  We watched over him, at times in spoken prayers, at other times, we sang hymns.  Somebody would hold his hand, one other would rub his legs while another would stroke him on his head.  There were many ways to assure Papa of our love.  We too were well aware that he loved us deeply.

We thank God for giving us Papa.  We thank God especially because Papa was with us for longer years than other Papas perhaps have spent with their families.  Farewell, Papa…embrace the light that descends upon you and allow the angels to take you on their wings.