Manong Junior was the eldest of us all, 12 siblings, in our family. He played the role of eldest very well. In fact, it is like I can still hear him saying, “It is all right, Tatang. Give the slingshot to Romy. He can have it. I’ll make another one for me. “ Manong Romy was next to him and I was the third, the first younger sister.
I cannot forget that first day of the war. My family was out there picking up the bamboo cuttings thrown away in the construction of the bleachers in preparation for the provincial athletic meet held every December in the La Union High School grounds. Suddenly, up in the air, some airplanes were heading east. The next thing we knew from one neighbor’s radio – Clark Air Base in Pampanga was bombed. So was Camp John Hay in Baguio.
It was war! No one knew what to do.
We had to evacuate to the mountains. Just like everyone. My father was away on official business in one hinterland town in the province. It was Manong Junior who mainly helped my mother to pack the essentials for survival. She used blankets and it was Manong Junior’s task to crowd them correctly and tightly together in the big blankets so they won’t fall in the way – the clothes, the blankets, the rice, salt, bagoong, other available food stuffs in the house – mongos, dried beans, tuyo, even vinegar, and some Purico – oil to fry – and the soap.
The war dragged on … to years. We began to be hungry. The “boga” (big mountain camotes) that my 2 brothers and 2 cousins, Manong Artor and Manong Ruding scrounged in the mountain sides helped a lot.
And then it was time to move somewhere else for one can dodge the bullets maybe but no one cannot run away from hunger – where there is no more food. My father was ill. He had to be carried by my 2 older brothers in an improvised blanket gurney along the dry river bed with small and big stones in the way with some light from the moon peering through the trees in the river banks. The destination was far and the way was long. Manong Romeo began to tire; he was after all younger and thinner. For several times he, threatened to put down my father on the stones. But Manong Junior had the resolve, “No Romy,” he first pleaded, “We can’t do that.” Later he’d say, “Not yet here Romy. Not yet here. Later.” I can see now that without Manong Junior’s determination to carry my father through, we all may not have made it. My father recovered. My family did not perish.
After the war Manong Junior could have gone to the University. The family was ready to support him. He chose to join the Philippine Scouts together with Manong Romy and my 2 cousins. When he came home, 2 years after, he brought home, his bride – the mother of his six children – Roseanna, Eduardo, Alexander, Victoria, Alfred, and Baby.
Manong Junior was a dreamer. This is one part of him that is not very much known. He dreamed of food production in the water – the seaweeds, called “aragan”, for example. In one of his visits to Palawan – he saw the coconut crab. “It is a very rare delicacy. When propagated it can be one attraction for tourists to the country”. But it was not yet the time -- 40-50 years ago when he began to talk about these. Neither was it his place. But it’s better to have dreamed than never to have dreamed at all. When one can dream –
Oh, my brother Johnny. His, was a simple life. Very simple. Very difficult. And so hard. And he was giving – giving all the way. His humility ws beyong compare. He was unassuming to a fault.
My brother Johnny – looking back I feel that he lived true to himself. I know that he believed that the one and only obligation of the individual in this life is to be true to himself.
And he was.