San Nicolas and Santa Teresita: Historic and Folkloric Notes about some of its Barrios

Exploring forgotten stories about the barrios of San Nicolas and Santa Teresita.

Balandis: the Slanted Houses Along a Road in Cuenca/Alitagtag

Exploring this quaint area in Cuenca and Alitagtag where the houses are slanted away from the road.

Mataasnakahoy: Historical and Folkloric Trivia about some of Its Barrios

Revisiting obscure barrio histories of the barrios of the Municipality of Mataasnakahoy.

An Old Tourist Spot in Taal Called the Pansipit Fishery

A throwback to a by-gone era, when tourists around Luzon visited this resort in Taal and Lemery.

The Hitchhiker who Gets on at the Zigzag in Cuenca Batangas Lipa

A tall tale familiar to all who drive through this curving road in Cuenca. Is it really a tall tale, though?

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28 February 2017

The Batangueño Side of Lasallian Entertainer Ogie Alcasid

Image credit:

The name Herminio Jose Alcasid Jr. will not ring a bell; but the nickname Ogie of the multi-awarded artist and entertainer will be recognized anywhere. Presently with the network ABS-CBN, Alcasid has had a long and distinguished career as “singer-songwriter, television presenter, comedian, parodist, and actor.1

19 February 2017

Tanauan City Ranked Excellent in the 2016 Anti-Red Tape Survey

Image credit:  Google Street View on Google Earth.

Three municipalities, one barangay and four municipal water districts were rated “Failed” in the 2016 results of an anti-red tape survey released by the Civil Service Commission (CSC). The CSC is the lead agency in the implementation of the 2007 Republic Act No. 9485, also known as “An Act to Improve Efficiency in the Delivery of Government Service to the Public by Reducing Bureaucratic Red Tape, Preventing Graft and Corruption, and Providing Penalties Thereof.1

16 February 2017

Revisiting the Batangueño Accent in ABS-CBN’s “A Love to Last” Series

Image captured from

I had heard of the phony Batangueño accent used in the ABS-CBN series “A Love to Last” from a friend soon after it premiered on primetime; but last Friday was the first time I got a glimpse while channel-hopping of what he was talking about. He was right. The use by some of the series’ characters of the famous “punto” or accent is as phony as a three dollar bill.

13 February 2017

Comparative Rankings of Batangas Colleges and Universities Based on Recent Board Exams

Colleges and universities in the Province of Batangas continue to do well in national licensure examinations almost a year after Life So Mundane first published an article detailing the academic achievements of these schools. This is according to data made publicly available by, which describes itself as “a directory of academic programs offered by colleges and universities in the Philippines.”

11 February 2017

Bolang Bilog and the Genetics of Baldness

Image credit:  The

Back in the day, irreverent as my mother could be, she used to entertain the entire family with tales of how she fell, as she put it, for the “matandang kalbo” (bald old man) – meaning my father. My mother was only six years younger than my father, so there. Like I said, irreverent.

08 February 2017

Batangas Uno and other Antique Furniture that Sell for at least ₱1M

The Batangas Uno.  Image credit:  Murvyn Callo on Flickr.

In September of 2010, in what was regarded as the “Deal of the Decade,” an authentic Batangas “Uno” altar “mesa” or table was sold at an auction conducted by the Four Seasons Auction House for the amount of US$650. This is ₱32,441.50 at today’s dollar exchange rate. The furniture was created by an unknown craftsman simply referred to by antique enthusiasts as Batangas I Master and was made of tindalo2 and kamagong3 with lanite4 used for the inlay.

05 February 2017

Balisong, the famed Batangas Butterfly Knife, May Not Have Been Invented in Batangas

Image credit:  By Iamthawalrus - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Like many young boys my generation, I used to own a balisong back in the seventies when I was in high school. Not that I ever intended to use it. It was just one of those things one kept for a just-in-case moment, not to mention owning one brought with it some level of prestige. Besides, because all other ethnicities in this country thought all Batangueños carried a balisong, it felt almost obligatory to reinforce the stereotype and own one.

04 February 2017

Sitting Next to Basketball's Tonichi Yturri


The person from whom I first heard that even farm team players were entitled to join the athletes’ platoon in ROTC was, in fact, one Jose Antonio Yturri. Yes, the very same Tonichi Yturri who would later attain a bit of fame playing for the national team in the Jones Cup under the legendary coach Ron Jacobs and even in the PBA for clubs like San Miguel, Pepsi and Giňebra.

We weren’t buddies by any means and I doubt that he even recalls me in the present day; but he sat right next to me at the back row of the room in Economics I, a sophomore subject. He was tall and skinny and always seemed like he was in utter discomfort trying to fit all of his 6’ 3” or 4” frame behind the desk and on the chair that didn’t seem like it was built for giants like him at all.

The star players at DLSU at the time were the likes of Kenneth Yap and Jong Uichico, both of whom would also have careers in the PBA. Even Edu Manzano, who would later become a famous entertainment industry personality, was also part of the varsity team. He barely got a game, though; and was always humorously heckled by the La Salle crowd on the rare occasions that he was sent in. From what I heard, he apparently had a reputation as a campus joker.

Yturri was only in the farm team, and one of our classmates doubted that he could even get into the NCAA team because he was “just way too slow.” A lot he knew about basketball, as Yturri himself would show in the ensuing years.

I soon found out that Economics in college was a lot more technical and complicated than how I remembered it to be back when I was in high school. For starters, it was turning out to be another numbers subject. I never imagined that the same subject which I enjoyed very much as a third year student in high school could actually involve so many computations.

I was mystified! Not that it offered me any consolation, but Yturri was just as mystified as I was. I couldn’t avoid the subject even if I had already dropped the Commerce side of my original program. Economics was part of the General Education curriculum.

Our professor was this young woman whom we would later discover hadn’t even graduated from college yet. Those who had the utter gall to actually take up Economics and Accounting as their majors in the Lia-Com program were looked upon as demigods by other students. Our professor was apparently one of those, and she was also in the running for honors.

Apparently, the university sometimes employed the brightest students in the graduating classes to teach underclassmen like us. I don’t think that this is still possible in the present day because law mandates that college professors possess at least a master’s degree.

I barely passed Economics, of course, no thanks to this student-professor of ours. I can’t even recall her name, and this alone speaks volumes about the impression – or lack of it – that she made on me. As I had already said, subject expertise doesn’t necessarily translate into ability to teach. Who knows, though? It looked a lot like we were the first class that she every taught. Perhaps, had she stayed on as a teacher, she got better with the passage of time.


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Being "International" at DLSU


So back at DLSU for the first semester of my sophomore year. As a direct consequence of my foolhardiness, I had become, in university slang, “international.” As an irregular student, I was taking freshman, sophomore and even junior subjects. Because I was not anymore part of a block section, I could choose the subjects I needed but at the time slots that I preferred. This was somehow very liberating.

It was initially awkward encountering the classmates I had in my freshman block section. But they were already juniors and had farmed out to their respective majors. Some of them told me that they hardly saw our former classmates since their schedules were vastly different.

One unexpected perk to being an international student was that I was able to make a friend here and a friend there in all the different subjects that I took. Surprisingly, the subjects that I really detested were those I had to retake with freshman block sections. My classmates in these sections were fresh from high school and, although they were really the same age that I was, acted somehow childish. We must have been exactly the same when we were in our own freshman block.

For the second straight time, I dropped out of Business Math. Try as I would, I could just not make myself like the subject. I would actually end up taking this same subject four times before I finally passed it. However, as I felt confident I would, I also got grades of 3.0 to 4.0 in the freshman subjects I had failed because I skipped too many classes. This meant that I no longer had to worry about my accumulation of failures.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to take ROTC in the first semester because I passed ROTC I during my freshman year. As the second semester approached, I knew that I had to make a decision. I had heard that even members of the university varsity “farm teams” – training teams, I believe, they are called in the present day – were pooled together into an athletes’ platoon and only needed to attend ROTC training once each month.

This was fine by me! I was required to enroll in ROTC II in the second semester, but didn’t’ bother to attend even one training day. I much preferred to go home to Lipa Friday afternoons rather than spend Saturday afternoons being shouted at for no useful reason. This early, I had already made my mind up that I would join the football varsity tryouts in the first semester of the following year. As I had already written, I had absolutely no pretensions about making it to the NCAA team at all. Whether I was good enough or not was really rather moot, since the only reason I would be joining the tryouts was to hopefully make it to the farm teams and, thus, become eligible for the ROTC athletes’ platoon.

One subject that I started to take in my sophomore year was Spanish, twelve units of which were still required in those days. Frankly, it was one of those subjects that didn’t seem to make sense and also seemed to be an utter waste of time and money. The Spanish colonial era was close to being a century gone and English had well and truly taken its place as a lingua franca. None of us could see any practical application to learning Spanish.

The language was by no means hard to learn. It has the same structure as English and Tagalog and many of its words are actually embedded into many Philippine languages. My teacher for three of my four Spanish subjects was also this kindly middle-aged mestiza named Miss Reyes who would always, if she chanced upon us along the corridors or passing time on any of the many benches around campus, greet me and the classmates I hung out with, “Como estas Seňoritos?”

To which we would always reply, “Muy bien seňorita, pero no tengo dinero!” And we would all burst out laughing.

Then there was Brother Antonio, an Ilonggo who had migrated to the United States decades before but was at the time assigned at a Christian Brothers school in Mexico. He was taking a sabbatical and became my professor for the last of my four Spanish subjects.

He was a very fascinating teacher. Only about forty per cent of the time was he actually teaching Spanish. The remaining sixty per cent was spent talking about life in the United States and Mexico. This was fine! His stories were actually more interesting that the Spanish itself. All we needed to do when we had had our fill of Spanish conjugation was to ask him about life in North America, and once we got him going, there was no stopping until the bell rang.

But there was this one time when we had an exam and for one reason or the other, most of us had not really studied for it. While I don’t condone cheating, this was one occasion when I allowed myself to be tempted; and particularly so because Brother Antonio didn’t seem to mind that we did. It was still customary then for many male students at the university to bring along attaché cases to class.

For this exam, we placed our attaché cases on our desks to conceal the notes we had surreptitiously brought along with us. All the while, Brother Antonio seemed like he didn’t care and kept looking up at the ceiling.

We all forgot about the exam until one time I and a couple of my classmates encountered him along one corridor of the La Salle Building. “Brother,” we happily called out to him. Instead of looking at us, he looked above us. When he did, he broke into a smile of recognition and explained that he had this problem with direct vision.

As soon as he was out of earshot, we all burst out laughing. It immediately dawned upon us that, during that exam that I was talking about earlier, he was actually looking at us rather than at the ceiling!

Because my gift has always been the languages, I used to be pretty good in my Spanish classes and regularly got grades of 3.5 or 4.0. If I had practice, I could really have become fluent in it. That was the problem. I moved in exclusively Tagalog- and English-speaking circles and had nobody to practice the Spanish on.

Over time, I would forget most of what I learned in my Spanish classes. Just recently, when I began researching the history of my home province of Batangas, I was often dismayed at my inability to make something of the Spanish-language historical documents that I often came across. Suddenly, the Spanish that I took up in college didn’t seem to have been an utter waste of time. How I now wish I had the opportunities I needed to have practiced the language enough to have eventually mastered it.


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Returning to DLSU and the Decision to Drop Commerce


Initially, being home instead of at school was something of a treat. No Accounting, no Algebra, no Business Math and no ROTC to worry about. There was just work at the farm, which I was used to, anyway. As the months passed, I began to be filled with a sense of dread brought on by the inevitable need to face up to reality.

I had not gone to see my college’s dean to take an official leave of absence, so even that was something to worry about. But this, as a cause for concern, paled when compared to the real problem that I knew I would have to face soon whether I liked it or not. Not having bothered to collect my course cards, I didn’t know if I was still a DLSU student or if I had already been kicked out. The Registrar’s Office was supposed to have sent my grades to my parents by postal service, but for one reason or another, they never arrived.

Late in May of 1977, after weeks of procrastination and my Mom’s nagging, I finally decided to retake control of my destiny. If I had already been kicked out, I would try to be brave, tell my parents and ask to move to another university. But first, I had to find out; so off I went to DLSU.

The Dean’s Office was at William Hall, the very same building where I was billeted when I was the Little Olympics coach of the Lipa football team when I was a high school senior. There was a long queue outside the office and I sat next to this mestizo feller who was chatty and wanted to know what I was there for. Curiously, it was so much easier to tell him – a total stranger – my problems than it was to tell my own parents. As it happened, the reason he was also in line to see the dean was for a problem similar to mine. I never even asked for his name, but he wished me good luck when I was told that the dean was ready to see me.

Inside, it was comforting to discover that the dean was this kindly middle-aged woman who was more motherly than stern. I told her that I had not taken a formal leave of absence but had been away for an entire school year. She asked why, and when I told her I had been sickly, she was very understanding. Of course, that wasn’t entirely true; but I wasn’t about to make a damn fool of myself by telling her why I really had to be away for an entire year.

Soon she asked her secretary to get a folder with all my personal details. I braced myself for the worst because I was certain that she had my grades before her. Before long, she told me in a kindly manner that she would authorize my enrolment but also warned that I would have to try a bit harder this time around. My grades, she said, weren’t very good at all, and I was just six units short of being kicked out.

I would have jumped with sheer joy if I wasn’t at the Dean’s Office. She had absolutely no clue that what she had just told me was the best piece of news I had had since I first enrolled at DLSU.

My next order of business was to visit the Registrar’s Office to collect my course cards. I was so buoyed up by the news I just received that I didn’t even mind the queues there. When I finally took a look at my grades, as expected I had flunked Business Math and Accounting. I also failed a few other subjects, but more for my skipping classes than lack of ability.

This was additional good news. The university policy was to kick out students who had accumulated 24 units of failures. But students were also allowed a reprieve if they got grades of 2.5 or higher – the grading system at DLSU was 0-4, as it is in the present day – in the subjects they had previously failed. The units of these subjects were then removed from the accumulated total.

Of the subjects that I had failed in the second semester of my freshman year, three or four were of the sort that were more my line. I was very confident of getting good grades in these subjects once I retook them. But I also had to make an important decision. We used to hear from upperclassmen that we ought to watch out for Calculus because this was one subject that students routinely failed. I knew from high school that this was going to be yet another bridge too far.

There was only one way to avoid Calculus – I had to drop the Commerce half of my program. If I continued at DLSU under the Liberal Arts program alone, I just needed to retake Business Math and then it was so long to all the Math subjects in the world for all eternity.

Because I had known since my freshman year that Accounting was not one of those things that I wanted to do for the rest of my life, before I headed back to Lipa I had already made up my mind to drop Commerce. I had, however, absolutely no intention of ever telling my parents.


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The Need to Take Time Off Just to Grow Up


Joining the school’s football team was definitely not among my plans that freshman year at DLSU. First and foremost, my Mom forbade me. We were by no means rich, she loved to remind me; and the reason she and Dad scrounged to be able to send me to DLSU was so I could get a good education, not waste my time playing football.

Then, there was the other matter of my not being confident enough to try even if my Mom not had categorically stated that I should not. I knew that I had become pretty skillful with the ball and certainly considered myself among the better players of my high school varsity team. But I didn’t know that I was good enough to play at college level nor was I prepared to find out.

That didn’t stop me from watching the varsity team train at lunch break whenever I could. In those days, training time was from twelve noon to two o’clock in the afternoon Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. If anything, watching convinced me that I was just not good enough. I would not discover until two years later that watching players from outside the field made them look better than they actually were.

Whenever I could and if the Green Archers were playing at the Rizal Memorial Stadium, I made it a point to watch them in the NCAA. They were a joy to watch, hardly surprising because they were in the middle of what would eventually become a seven-year championship streak and just about every player also played for the national team.

At the time, I was resigned to the notion that I would be no more than a fan. I had no clue that circumstance would force me in my junior year to finally decide to try out. It was going to be one of the best decisions of my life, even if trying to get into the football field was the least of my concerns.

The less said about the second semester of my freshman year at DLSU, the better. Algebra was replaced by Business Math, which would be no more interesting to me than the former was. The problem always was for me as far as numbers subjects were concerned was that I had absolutely no interest in learning, which naturally translated into an utter lack of effort on my part and subsequent poor grades.

It was the same story with Financial Accounting. The professor was reasonably better than the one we had for Accounting I in the first semester, which I barely passed. My problem was the same as with the Math subjects. The teaching of lessons was progressive, and because I did not learn the basics well, how could I keep on learning when the lessons were getting more complicated?

The turning point was this one time when I had to be absent from classes for almost an entire week after I came down with a bad case of influenza. I slept for the better part of three days, barely even able to get up to eat. My sister Rowena nursed me whenever she could, but she also had her own classes at the Philippine Women’s University to attend. There would be few moments in my life afterwards when I would be as ill as I was that week.

When I returned to school the following week, I quickly discovered that being away for a week in college was worlds away from the same thing happening in high school. The backlog, especially in Financial Accounting, was unbelievable. Even if a mere week had elapsed, the lessons were already way ahead of the last I attended. Moreover, there were worksheet assignments and practice sets that were given while I was away but which I nevertheless had to submit on top of new assignments that were being given. I felt so lost and didn’t quite know where to start.

In retrospect, I probably would have coped better had I been older. But I was just sixteen, lacking mental toughness and feeling quite overwhelmed by all the work I had to deal with so soon after coming back from illness. I started to miss classes first in Financial Accounting and Business Math and later even in other subjects as well.

I started to discover the movie houses and hang out with friends more instead of attending classes. My young life was starting to spiral out of control. The semester’s final examinations came and went, after which I was too scared to even collect my course cards. I had this heavy feeling in my gut that I had already exceeded the allowable number of units for failures.

When I went back home to Lipa for the summer vacation, I was too scared to tell my parents what had really happened and simply said when they asked about my grades that I had not collected my course cards yet. I did tell them that I was feeling sickly and wanted to take a year’s break from school. Surprisingly, neither of them raised any fuss, although I suspected that my Mom was secretly happy that she would get her farm slave back. In truth, I probably needed the year away from school if just to grow up.


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My First Ateneo-La Salle NCAA Basketball Game in 1975


Then there was my first-ever NCAA basketball game. DLSU was still a decade or so away from moving to the rival league, the UAAP. We were required by our Physical Education teacher to attend the opening of the NCAA one weekend, just as other freshman and sophomore PE classes were. I arranged to travel to the Araneta Coliseum with some classmates. Although I was not a basketball fan, the novelty of the experience still excited me. Besides, I was not totally ignorant about the game. Because there was so much basketball on television at home when I was growing up, it was inevitable that I understood at least the basic rules if not the game’s tactical nuances. Enough, at any rate, for me to even grudgingly appreciate the game.

At the time, seating at the Araneta Coliseum or any other NCAA venue was still segregated by school. I was warned by my older brother Ronaldo not to wear partisan colors so I wouldn’t attract the attention of thugs. Therefore, I went to the game wearing just a plain white shirt. But there were many who wore their school colors with pride, opposing school thugs notwithstanding. Thus, the bleachers inside the coliseum were a burst of colors, quite the sight to behold especially for a novice such as I was.

I don’t recall who DLSU was playing or what the result was that opening day of the league. What I remember to this day is the sight of thugs from San Beda and Letran rushing at each other at the far end of the arena. They were quite far from where we sat, but because of the coliseum’s excellent acoustics, we could hear the sounds of faces being smacked with fists as though they were just close by.

It was somewhat scary but also exhilarating to watch. While the melee was going on, the bands of the two schools started playing and the neutrals watching even started to applaud. It was like watching a live version of a Fernando Poe Jr. or Joseph Estrada movie.

The most remarkable thing about the incident was that San Beda and Letran were not even playing each other. The rumble, some conjectured, was probably because of grudges spilled over from the previous season.

Coming from Lipa as I did, the Ateneo-La Salle rivalry at first meant less to me than it did to my classmates from La Salle Greenhills. At the time, Greenhills was for all intents and purposes DLSU’s secondary school. There were still elementary students at DLSU during my freshman year. After graduation, they either transferred to Greenhills for their high school education or moved to another school if their families thought Greenhills was too far. De La Salle Santiago Zobel School in Alabang would not be opened until 1978.

My first Ateneo-La Salle game was highly anticipated because the Green Archers were the defending champions, but had lost the previous season’s heroes Lim Eng Beng and Mike Bilbao to graduation. Ateneo, on the other hand, had a formidable team anchored on the talents of Fritz Gaston, Chito Narvasa, Padim Israel and Steve Watson.

At the time, afternoon classes were customarily called off when an Ateneo-La Salle NCAA basketball game was scheduled so students and employees could all make the trek to the Araneta Coliseum to watch. I met up with two classmates outside Rustan’s Supermarket in Makati then took the Metro Manila Transit Love Bus to Cubao.

It was a good thing that, because we were watching to fulfill a PE requirement, we had already been issued tickets by the PE Office at DLSU. The queues outside the coliseum when we arrived were horrifyingly long, and scuffles broke out intermittently because the fans of both schools mixed freely with one another. My classmates and I hurried up the stairs to the bleachers sections, but if there were signs saying where students of each school should sit, we never saw them.

That was why, when we opened one door and started to tentatively walk into one section of the bleachers, we were shocked to find in front of us a sea of blue. Unlike in the present day when students of La Salle and Ateneo sit next to each other in volleyball matches at the Mall of Asia arena with loathsome civility, back in the day one could end up in the hospital for being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Upon discovering that we were in the Ateneo section, my classmates and I quickly sprinted out to the opposite end of the arena. Because I was an athlete, the sprint was quite effortless. But my classmates were left breathless. Safely seated at the La Salle section, we all laughed about the close call.

There were San Beda students who stayed on their seats next to the La Salle section after their team’s game concluded. Apparently, they would also be watching the Ateneo-La Salle game, but not as neutrals. Soon, they asked for a DLSU cheerleader, and one gamely came to stand in front of them. In the ensuing years, I would understand that there was this almost fraternal affinity that the students of La Salle and San Beda felt for each other. I don’t believe that there were any fights that broke out between students of the two schools in my years at DLSU. I don’t even recall that there was any particular animosity towards San Beda even when La Salle was being routinely beaten by their team in the NCAA in my latter years at the university.

I suppose the relationship between the two schools’ students was a perfect example of the saying “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.” The enemy, but of course, being Ateneo.

The game itself was an abject loss for the Green Archers, despite the fact that they were the defending champions. La Salle eventually lost by 25 points, but Ateneo was certainly leading my much more than that at various points of the game. In the second half when Ateneo was routinely scoring and La Salle unable to do so, the entire Ateneo section started sarcastically applauding the Green Archers on the rare occasions when they did score. The irony in the applause was so blatantly insulting that for the first time, I started to loathe Ateneo. If there was ever a point in my life when I fully began to understand the raw emotions of the Ateneo-La Salle rivalry, it was during that humiliating game.


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The Travails ROTC Brought


Then there was ROTC. I took high school’s PMT all in good humor because the officers were mostly my classmates and most training days were at the very least tolerable. But ROTC brought my dislike for military training to a whole new level.

PMT training in Lipa was under the Air Force. At DLSU, ROTC was under the navy. In Lipa, the officers barked commands in Tagalog. In Taft, but naturally, the commands were in English. So, on my very first ROTC training day, incidentally a one to five o’clock torturous affair, after every command given by that ape posing as an officer, I had to glance sideways to check what the others in my platoon were doing.

Then the ape noticed that I was always a fraction late executing his commands and made me do twenty pushups. When I tried to explain why I was late, he became livid that I spoke without being asked to do so and made me do another twenty. How in the world was that fair? It never even occurred to the ape that most of the time, I didn’t even know what in God’s name he was shouting at all of us. Just about the only command that I recognized was “Attention!”

If I thought PMT was an utter waste of time, ROTC was not only an utter waste of time twice over but also ruinous to the complexion. Wink! There was this one afternoon when all we did from one to five was stand, be shouted at and execute a cacophony of pointless commands. When I got home, I was shocked when I looked in the mirror to see just the left side of my face angry red with sunburn. The right side was perfectly normal. We were positioned at the southern side of the football field facing the north for most of the four hours of the training; and this meant that all of us that side of the field had the sun blazing down only on the left side of our faces. I looked like a freak until the next week.

Anybody who thinks I can be convinced that ROTC is worth reviving is welcome to try. All my experiences of it were totally forgettable. Instead of being able to go home weekends, I had to stay in Manila for almost the entire semester because ROTC was held Saturday afternoons. There didn’t seem any point in making the three-hour trip back to Lipa just to be able to spend one day.


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A Deliciously Eccentric Professor Called Dr. Villacorta


Without a doubt, the most extraordinary first class was Philippine Government or just PhilGov in DLSU course parlance. The professor was this extraordinarily eccentric character named Dr. Wilfrido Villacorta, who introduced himself in theatrical fashion and then asked all of us to expressively introduce ourselves by slamming our palms hard on our desks before saying our names out loud.

Initially, I was wary of him because he looked like a certifiable wacko. But my Manila-born classmates apparently didn’t scare easily and were soon on to him, laughing instead of being intimidated by his antics. The ex-Atenean among my classmates, when his turn came to introduce himself, went beyond simply slamming his desk and instead picked up his entire chair, slammed it hard on the floor and then shouted his name out loud.

The whole class froze instantly, worried that he might have crossed the line. Villacorta had a shocked look on his face, looked left and right through the corner of his eyes, then very deliberately said, “Very good…!!!” There was instant pandemonium as everyone broke out into wild laughter. It was like being in high school all over again.

Pretty soon, though, I was starting to get signs that Lia-Com might just not be the best choice of courses for me. Typically, I was breezing through subjects that required plenty of reading and writing – the Lia or Arts side of my program. But Advanced Algebra was as mystifying as ever, and I regretted not having paid closer attention to my high school Math teachers. In college, Algebra was being taught at a faster pace than it ever was in high school, so not having learned the basics properly made the subject even more a royal pain.

Because the other half of my program was business, I also had to take Accounting. Decades later when I took up Finance while working for my master’s degree in management, I had a gifted professor in Dr. Rufo Mendoza, who had this ability to teach sequentially from basic to the more complicated. He was the first to ever make me see that both Accounting and Finance could actually be not merely learnable but, more importantly, enjoyable.

But my first Accounting teacher in college was this young professor named Miss Pampliega who did not have that same gift of teaching. Hers was a bland personality, a soft voice and a tendency to speak only to those in front. She was quite the example of what is basically wrong with tertiary education in this country to this very day. Professors are hired on the basis of their credentials, and while this guarantees their expertise in their respective fields, whether they are able to impart their knowledge to others is a different matter altogether. In basic education, of course, at least the teachers are trained and have a better grasp of the learning process.

It also did not help that my first experience of Accounting was a three-hour marathon every Tuesday and Thursday that started at one o’clock in the afternoon and ended at four. When I was already teaching History in Lipa, the time slot I detested most was that from 1:30-2:30 in the afternoon. Having just had lunch and forced to sit through a lecture in early afternoon heat and humidity, students were plain and simply brain dead in that hour.

Accounting was by no means hard to learn, just addition and subtraction. But when I was spending hours upon hours trying to work back through my spread sheets trying to determine where I had misplaced a 0, I was starting to slowly realize that I did not have the patience for the subject at all. And while I passed all my subjects after the first semester, typically I would have made the Dean’s Honors List if subjects like Algebra and Accounting were not counted.


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When DLSU First Became a University


The course that I enrolled in at DLSC was a double degree program called Liberal Arts-Commerce or just Lia-Com. The engineering programs aside, and I had absolutely no intention of applying for any of these, Lia-Com was the college’s glamor program at the time. It was actually less my choice than my Mom’s. If I was being honest, I was really clueless about what I was getting myself into.

Having laid to rest my dream of becoming a pilot years before, by this time, were it possible and were it up to me, there was nothing I would like more than to become a professional football player. This was just a dream, of course. I didn’t know that I was even good enough to make the college’s varsity football team, let alone a professional team. Unlike in the present day, of course, a career in football was just not possible then in this country. I had to go to college whether I liked it or not, but essentially I was doing so not really sure what I wanted the outcome of my college education to be. It was like walking down a road blindfolded.

On the first day of the new school year, all freshmen were required to be at the Athanasius Gym for an orientation. The session was nothing as elaborate as what freshman orientation has become in the present day. Basically, there were just the inevitable welcome speeches and then the cheerleaders took over to teach everyone the school cheers for use, I supposed, in the NCAA. I knew the cheers from my days in Lipa, so I was participating only half-heartedly.

One important announcement, though, was that DLSC had already been granted a university charter and was henceforth to be called De La Salle University. The charter was actually granted as early as February of the same year, but the change in name was being effected in the new school year. The signage at the St. La Salle Building facing Taft Avenue, however, would not be changed to “university” until midway through the first semester.

The school’s change in name didn’t seem all that significant to me at the time, but years later, I would realize that it was actually quite historic as far as I was personally concerned. By an accident of timing, I was part of the school’s first class of freshmen after it became De La Salle University.

On the second day of school, I finally met my new classmates. Most were English-speaking rich kids from Metro Manila’s uppity schools. Most of them were really not bad; but it also quickly became apparent, at least to me, that they were not my crowd. Most of them had to go through Grade 7 which we did not have in Lipa, so were at least a year older than I was, since I had recently just turned sixteen. Before long, I was gravitating towards classmates who were either from the provinces or were about my age.

The university was considerate towards freshmen at the time. We were given 8-5 schedules and grouped together in so-called “block sections.” It was actually no different from high school, except that the faces were different.

Just like in high school, in every new subject the professors asked each of us to introduce ourselves and state which schools we came from. One of my classmates was from Ateneo, and he was good-naturedly booed each time he said so in his self-introductions. Each time, professors would tell him, “You have seen the light.” By leaving Ateneo and going to La Salle, they meant. My guess was that they said the same to students from La Salle who went to Ateneo for college.


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The Embarrassing Need to Borrow Money from Brother Crisanto Moreno


Mom’s stinginess caused me trouble at the cashier’s window that first ever enrolment as well. She had given me the exact amount for tuition contained in the prospectus, having either failed to read or ignored the fine print about the tuition rates being subject to change.

Imagine my shock and disappointment after having spent an hour or so in line and then being told by the cashier that the amount due was about a hundred and twenty pesos more than what I carried with me. That amount is pocket change these days, but not so in 1975. After all, my tuition was roughly just a thousand and two hundred pesos; and it was already among the most expensive in the country.

I told the cashier that I had travelled all the way from Batangas and asked if she could please take the money I had, promising to return the next day with the balance. Instead of being sympathetic, she told me to step aside because I was holding up the queue.

How about that for customer service? The problem with some accounting staff, I would discover years later at De la Salle Lipa when the finance department was under me, is that they can really get stuck within the compartments of their own self-created rules. What was to stop that cashier during my freshman enrolment at Taft to accept the money I had or, if in doubt, refer the matter to somebody up the pecking order? Besides, was it ever possible that DLSC’s operations would come crumbling down because I was short by a hundred and twenty pesos?

I quickly found my Dad but to my dismay, he told me that he had just enough money for our fare back home. I wanted to complete the enrolment process that first day before going home, so I desperately raked my brain for solutions. There didn’t seem to be one until I remembered that Brother Crisanto Moreno, who was formerly Principal in Lipa and who was also among my former teachers, was already at the Taft Campus in charge of the College of Industrial Technology. Perhaps I could borrow the money from him?

Off my Dad and I went to find him. He was in a meeting when we arrived at his office, so we spent an hour there before finally getting to talk to him. It was embarrassing to have to borrow money, but it was a pretty desperate time. Brother Cris was very understanding and loaned me the money without any fuss. Before leaving, my Dad reassured him that he would get the money back the very next day.

I quickly returned back to the Cashier’s Office but had to fall in line all over again. It was almost five in the afternoon when I finally paid my tuition, and what this meant was that I would have to return the next day to complete the enrolment process, after all.

The next day, my Dad didn’t even see any point in accompanying me; and frankly, neither did I. I was happy to travel on my own, and upon arriving at the Taft campus, my first order of business was to pay Brother Cris. Collecting the course cards turned out to be the most troublesome part of the day because there were so many students trying to get theirs in a most disorderly fashion. Shortly after midday, I got all of mine and completed my enrolment.

Finally, I was officially a Green Archer.


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Enrollment and the Rude DLSU Office Staff


Perhaps I was a tad too cocky about the De La Salle College entrance examinations. It was challenging, yes, as could only be expected of what was even then regarded among the nation’s top universities. But even if I had doubts about one or two of the Math-related questions, I was still relatively confident that I would be accepted.

But by early April, I was hearing from the grapevine that a few of my classmates who had also taken the exams had already received letters from the DLSC Admissions Office informing them that they were accepted and likewise gave them their dates for enrolment. Initially, I wasn’t too bothered because it was, after all, summer vacation. Although I was for all intents and purposes my Mom’s slave at the farm, at least for a couple of months I didn’t have to think of any school work.

But with each passing day in the month of April, I was starting to get more and more fidgety. I had not taken qualifying exams in any other university and frankly, didn’t want to. Towards the end of April, I jumped whenever the dogs barked at whoever was at the gate, anxious to find out if it was the mailman they were barking at.

April came and went; and still the mailman brought me no letter. By the first week of May, reality started to kick in and I finally started to entertain thoughts of taking qualifying exams at the University of Santo Tomas or some other university. It also started to occur to me that I just might have left it too late and also started to worry about what to my family was unthinkable – that I would spend the start of the next school year as part of a statistic called the out-of-school-youth.

But one Thursday morning, the eighth of May, the dogs were barking like crazy at someone at the gate. It was the mailman. The envelope of the letter he handed over had the seal of DLSC. My heart was racing as I tore it open as soon as I got inside the house, albeit I was also wary that the letter inside would contain regrets. After all, it was already May and many freshmen had already been enrolled.

In a few more moments, however, I was able to heave a sigh of relief. I was in. Decades later, I intimated to my friend and fellow administrator Cora Abansi that the story of my life was such that I frequently got the things that I wished for, but only after passing through the proverbial eye of the needle. Admission into DLSC was a perfect example.

Several days later, I was at the Taft campus with my Dad. My Mom, stingy that she was, sent me the exact amount she read from the DLSC prospectus and typically failed to read or simply ignored the fine print about tuition rates being subject to change without prior notice. But more on this after a while…

My Dad and I left Lipa at dawn and were at DLSC before eight. We thought we were early, but to my chagrin, once inside, there were long queues already everywhere. It was a rude welcome to college, and this very first enrolment took me all of two days to complete.

Dad accompanied me because he was supposed to help me enroll. But, being Dad, he had bought a newspaper before we entered the Taft campus and soon found himself somewhere comfortable to read it. It was annoying then; but in hindsight, I now understand that he was doing me a favor. After all, I had been enrolling myself since I was in elementary. Dad not being helpful forced me to find my way about the campus and familiarize myself with the process.

It was tedious, that much I could already see. There were long queues for every stage of the enrolment process. Moreover, while the student guides were friendly and helpful, the staff manning the office windows throughout this process were unsmiling and rude. It was worlds away from enrolment in Lipa where it was always a breeze and people were always friendly.

It used to annoy me that people could be so rude to the very people who put food on their own tables – the students. In time, I would discover that these very same people were only that way during enrolment, the stress brought on by the endless queues reducing them into scowling wrecks. In my latter years at the Taft campus, I learned to befriend many of these administration staff so that I could coax smiles from them even during enrolment. Sometimes, at the long window where the course cards were given, I would find myself being served even ahead of those who were at the window earlier.

Decades later when the administrative side of operations at De La Salle Lipa was under my jurisdiction, I would insist on frontliners being friendly towards students and their parents particularly during enrolment season. I never forgot the rudeness of the staff at the Taft campus.


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03 February 2017

The Little Olympics and Graduation


I tried to use my trusty Adidas La Plata as much as I could, but by my senior year, it was just too worn out to continue playing with. Because I knew better than to ask my Mom for a replacement – she had sworn that she would never buy a replacement – I played varsity football during my senior year using sneakers.

I was tall and skinny but also strong and athletic. A pair of cleated shoes would have been nice, but despite playing with sneakers I seldom if at all slipped. God blessed me with a great sense of balance for which I would eternally be grateful. He also blessed me with speed. Once, a classmate timed me while I did the hundred meter sprint on my own. I clocked eleven seconds flat.

Because I had been playing football regularly for several years already and had fallen hopelessly in love with the game, I had also become very skillful with the ball. How good I was, however, I had no real way of knowing because we played so few official matches and I had no chance to really test myself against better opposition.

My varsity coach in my senior year was Raul Pondevida, an alumnus of the school who would go on and play for the Air Force and some commercial clubs as well as the Philippine national team. He also grew up inside the air base, so I somewhat already knew him when he became my coach.

In a football sense, however, I rather remember my senior year more for my being appointed coach of the school’s elementary team which was due to participate in the scheduled Little Olympics at the De La Salle College campus. Brother James de Guzman was still around; but in fact, it was he who asked me to take over the coaching chores of the elementary team. Thus, I got to participate in the Little Olympics, after all; albeit not as an elementary kid but rather as coach.

When the tournament began in December, to my surprise I was the only one among all the coaches of all participating schools who was still a high school student. All my players were farmed out to “foster parents” as was the practice whenever the Olympics was held; but I was billeted at the William Hall at the rear end of the university with the other coaches.

At the football field, my team was naturally fodder for the more experienced teams of the other La Salle Schools. I myself was still learning the game and probably had no business coaching yet. In retrospect, however, that experience was also the start of the journey that would eventually be a three-decade career as coach and probably gave me more insights than I cared to admit about the management of football teams.

I actually remember less about the tournament itself and more about the friendship night before we travelled back to Lipa. The conclusion to the affair was community singing of Christmas carols. All the other schools were assigned English Christmas songs. The emcee announced that “Ang Pasko ay Sumapit” was being assigned to Lipa and sounded like she was doing so because we were Lipa.

How condescending was that? That was what La Salle ng Lipa did to us. It unfairly branded us as the poor cousins who did not speak English very well. I was so annoyed! And of course the kids from Lipa gleefully sang the assigned song, blissfully unaware that there was something almost derogatory about why it was assigned to us in the first place.

Finally, in late March, graduation from high school. It was a lot more subdued for me than elementary graduation was, since I failed to even reach the top ten of the graduating class. Did I have any regrets? A little… But only just. In retrospect, it wasn’t really a matter of my allowing my aversion for numbers to overwhelm me in high school and more a matter of my never really wanting to try. As I would discover late in my college years, if I really wanted to, I could do well in Math.

That was basically the problem I had throughout my high school years. The curriculum was heavily biased in favor of numbers, and they bored me to pieces. I gravitated towards subjects that favored the languages, and basically because these were effortless to me. Because I was a voracious reader, I was learning many other things that, while these did not help me to attain top honors in my class, nonetheless gave me so much more satisfaction.

Besides, there was the football. I would not have traded a bagful of academic medals for the sheer joy that came my way every afternoon that I was at the football field.

In my junior year, Mr. Salazar talked to me privately and criticized me for playing too much football. He did so likely out of a sense of duty. He knew that I was the salutatorian of my elementary class and also that I was not doing half as well as might have been expected in high school. How was I to explain to him? You have got to be a player to understand.

And because unlike in my elementary graduation, there would be no medals to hang around my neck, my Mom didn’t even bother to attend my high school graduation. I didn’t really begrudge her this because it was well known to the entire family that she had this quirky dislike for going to our schools.

Funnily enough, I remember very little about graduation day itself other than that my Dad accompanied me and we left school as soon as it was over. I don’t even recall that we had any real celebration afterwards. What I do recall is that graduation formally ended my association with La Salle in Lipa, or at least up to that point.

Now it was time for the anxiety to kick in as I wondered if the admission letter from the De La Salle College Admissions Office would arrive at all.


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The First Binibining La Salle Pageant


It’s a pity that, during the Presidency of Brother Rafael Donato starting in 1995, the annual Binibining La Salle pageant was cancelled. I have this rather vague recollection of the reason being that either Brother Rafael himself or the Philippine District of the Christian Brothers regarding pageants as exploitative of women. To be perfectly fair, however, I personally never came across any formal documents to this effect.

The Binibining La Salle was actually first held during my senior year, and was to my knowledge held every year hence until it was subsequently cancelled. It was less a beauty pageant the way most of us understand one to be and more a fund-raising event. The way I used to understand it, while there was a talent portion and even a question-and-answer during the pageant night, effectively what decided who won the title each year was which of the contestants sold the most number of tickets.

Personally, I would have preferred that the Binibining La Salle was chosen on the basis of merit rather than on how deep the pocket of the ultimate winner’s family was. Nonetheless, I understand why the pageant was being held. La Salle’s state of finances was nothing like what it has become in the present day. Every centavo added to the school’s coffers likely helped to keep the school financially afloat.

Besides, the Binibining La Salle would become a highly anticipated event every year. Families worked hard behind the scenes selling tickets and pageant night was always an occasion for everyone to turn up in one’s finest clothes. People would talk about it for weeks before and after the show.

But back to that first-ever pageant, the first-ever winner was the freshman Ma. Corazon Briones or Emcee. She was the younger sister of my classmate Tats and classmate of my younger sister Rhea. Tats proudly wrote about his sister winning the title in his Filipino column in the Bulik. Big mistake! He unwittingly gave those of us among his closest friends material with which to mercilessly tease him in the weeks to come!


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