A Betan's Journey Thru Time and Space

 

Chapter One:  My Young Frat Days at Los Banos

I am Porfirio Gregorio Castaneda, the first born son of Dominador Castaneda of the Castaneda clan from Cavite and Sofia Gregorio of Paranaque.  I was born on September 15, 1937 and I spent my childhood years growing up in the barrio of La Huerta, in the town of Paranaque (now a city).  On my 6th grade, my parents tried to suppress my adventurous spirit and confined me in the convent of the St. Andrew’s Catholic Church of Paranaque run by the Belgian missionaries.  After my high school graduation, it came as a surprise that my father, then a professor of painting at the U.P. School of Fine Arts, who tutored me in the rudiments of drawing and painting since I was 6 years old, and my mother whose hidden agenda was for me to take up priesthood, urged me to apply for admission at the College of Agriculture of the University of the Philippines at Los Banos.

It was in the campus of the College of Agriculture that I first met the Betans.  I went to Los Banos on the first week of June 1954 to enroll, accompanied by a town mate Pablo Burgos Jr. Aggie batch 53 (deceased).  He was then a junior at the College of Agriculture.  At that time, there were 2 chapters of the Beta Sigma Fraternity in U.P. Los Banos: one at the College of Agriculture and another at the College of Forestry.  Aboard the bus to Los Banos, Pabs was wearing a maroon beret with the Greek letters Beta Sigma.  He told me that he was a member of a fraternity and mentioned that later I could also become a member.

At the College, Pablo helped me billet in one of the 7 cottages called bungalows built along a dirt road that run behind the U.P. men’s dorm and the YMCA leading towards the cow pasture of the Animal Husbandry Department.  I was assigned to Bungalow No. 1 along with 6 other freshmen, one of whom is Angel Mendoza, Batch ‘55.  Next day was enrollment for freshmen.  Angel and I sailed along the enrollment process assisted by Pablo’s fraternity brothers who were assisting the enrollees and  were very visible with their maroon berets.  Also assisting them were a group of upper classmen doing menial jobs.

Later, Pabs explained to us that the upperclassmen were applicants to the Fraternity and were being tested with some light initiation.  Two weeks later on a Friday evening, Boy Donesa ’52 from bungalow 4 came and warned us that they would have an initiation session the whole day of Saturday.  We were prohibited from watching the rites.  The Betans held their initiation sessions on the cow pasture adjoining the bungalows every Saturday for more than a month.  One Sunday afternoon, they had their final initiation at the newly built, still unoccupied Library.  Later on in the evening, there was a big celebration for the new Betans of Batch ‘54 .  I always watched the initiation furtively.

I was challenged by what I saw and later came to envy the new Betans who passed the test and the rite of manhood.  We freshmen in the first three bungalows then got acquainted with the new Betans, residents of bungalows 4, 5, 6, and 7, who introduced themselves to us.  They were Oca “Chop-chop” Siasoco, Sonny Mendoza, Bert Verano, Tony de Guzman, Mon Asagra and now deceased Pol Elago, Boy Maslog Jr.  We eventually got acquainted with the rest of the Betan residents. They were Johnny Quijano Jr. ‘52, Steve Castillo ’53, Renato Sanchez ‘52, Tony Mapa ‘53, Teody Montilla ‘53, along with now deceased Brods Richard Jacaria ‘53, Pabs Burgos ‘53, Bert Lim ‘52, Terry Mendoza ‘52, Joseph Madamba ’52, Boy Donesa ‘52.  The bungalows were run by the U.P. Men’s dorm.  The first 3 cottages were occupied by freshmen, and the last 4 by upperclassmen.  The unwritten rule was that no one can be billeted in the last 4 without the current occupant’s consent.  Thus the bungalows became the unofficial frat house where secret caucuses, initiation sessions and impromptu chugalug sessions were held.  Bungalow 4 was then the unofficial slaughterhouse for Betan initiation rites.

We became immersed with campus life.  At the Molawin  Mess Hall, Angel and I were always invited to sit with Sonny Mendoza, Bert Verano, Boy Maslog or Paskie Tantenco ‘54 who lived in a house behind the Men’s dorm.

Student Election came and Angel and I gravitated towards the “Duty Above All”, the campus political party of the Betans. Control for campus positions were contested between the Duty Above All party, the U. P. Student Catholic Action (UPSCA) and the Student party of the Upsilon which even at that time we jokingly called The Pepsies.

Upon suggestion of Pabs Burgos, we helped the Betans during the second semester enrollment.  There, Angel and I met June Divinagracia, Ped Ramos, Ado Nora, Ed Nabong, Art Abierra, Maeng Ala and Frankie Colanta, who in hushed tones told us that they were Beta Sigma applicants, too.  Jun Divinagracia that early was already kissing the hands of Boy Donesa, Dave Gorrez and Joseph Madamba everytime we met on campus.  By this time, we acquired a lot of Betan friends and were even been invited as guests in a Betan chugalug at the Bungalows.  We were introduced to then GP Ignacio Amador, a stern looking Betan who was called “Pop” (not brod) by every Betan.  At this time, I was also recruited by Jack Jacaria, editor of the College newsletter to be part of the editorial staff as a graphic artist. Ped Ramos was a writer-reporter.

By November, Pabs had reserved me a slot at Bungalow 4 because Johnny Quijano was graduating and Angel at Bungalow 5 was going to room with Jack Jacaria. December came.  Then Lantern Parade.  There were a lot of Betans on board an LTBCo (Laguna Tayabas bus company that plied the Laguna, Quezon and Batangas area) to Diliman.  When classes resumed in January 1955, Dave Canet ‘54 asked Angel and I if we were really serious in entering the Fraternity.  He advised us to make good grades and also gave us an informal briefing on going through initiation (without mentioning the gauntlets and paddles). Final exams came and by March, the semester was ending.

As applicants, we were asked to return a week early for the first semester of the next school year, which we dutifully did.  We were assigned by Boy Donesa to the Betans helping with the registration.  Later we were asked to fill out our application forms to the Beta Sigma Fraternity with Pabs Burgos as my sponsor.  The following night, more than a hundred applicants came for screening, of which 30 were selected that included me and Angel Mendoza.  The 30 selected applicants were told to report to the Bungalows at 12 noon Saturday, supposedly to clean and cut the grass at the Bungalows perimeter.  To our surprise, our initiation begun at the cow pasture behind the bungalows.  Thus began the initiation that lasted for six weeks that was akin to the crucible and fire, and the anvil and hammer that transformed 26 of the 30 Sophomores into Beta Sigmans of Batch ‘55.  We went through gauntlets at the cow pasture, reporting in small groups to Betans inside the dorms, individual assignments and “kidnappings”.  Angel and I experienced the novelty of being “amuyongs” living in the Frat slaughterhouse.  Blood, sweat and tears... then the finals, the blindfolding ceremony, and the final gauntlet.  I can remember Oca Siasoco literally carrying me into the last few meters.  Somebody yelled “Let there be light!” and we were welcomed into the first day of our life as Betans, crying with mixed feelings of joy and relief from the feared terrors.  I remember those who first hugged us as new brothers -- Joseph Madamba, Boy Donesa , Tony Bautista, Tony de Guzman, and Oca Siasoco. Pop Amador, the stern unsmiling GP, had tears streaming down his face.  It was often said that of the 30 barbarians who started the initiation, four “survived” and the rest were transfigured into Betans of Batch ’55, as follows:

Ismael Ala “Maeng”                                                    

Isabelo Alcordo ‘Beloy”

Reynaldo del Castillo “Rey”

Francisco H.Colanta “ Hopya”

Francisco Cornejo “ Frankie’

Porfirio Castaneda ‘Popoy “

Romeo Dilag “ Romy”

Delfin Divinagracia Jr. “Jun”

Romeo Dizon “Romy “

Salvador Dolar “Buddy”

Angel Espinosa “ Angie”

Juanito Gibe “ Johnny”

Angel Mendoza “ Angel”

Conrado Nora ‘Ado”

Abiricio Pasco “ Dad”

Pedronio Ramos “Ped”

Arturo Abiera “Art”

Juanito Domingo

Edwardo Nabong “Ed”

Amado Rances “Amading”

Arturo Boncato “ Art”

Serafin Opinion

Manuel Villaflores “ Manny”

Sofronio Gonzales “ SofoBoy”

Vicente Momongan “ Vic”

Julius Quimpo

We immediately assumed our respective roles in the Fraternity, contributing our respective talents in every activity --  stage plays, Broadway-type of productions, Glee Clubs, monthly socials, campus politics and once in a while, confrontation with Pepsi.  We participated in the transformation of ordinary college sophomores into Betans -- Batch ‘56 “The Cream of the Crop”.  There was a special initiations and I cannot forget -- for Virgilio “Boy” Atienza Batch 56, who was expelled but underwent initiation a second time.  Those were the high points of my life -- being with brothers and enjoying the warmth of brotherhood.  At the College campus, alumni brods mingled with the resident members and even attended monthly meetings and socials. Vic Saplala, Lino Nazareno, Roming Obordo, Rudy Yaptenco, Flor Quebral, the Gorrez brothers, Dave and the twins, Danny and Frankie could be seen in caucuses and chugalugs.

In mid- 2nd semester of 1957, I left the college to join Johnny Quijano who was pioneering, opening up land in the malaria infested wilderness of Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro.  It felt sad leaving the brods behind on campus -- Angel, Frankie Colanta, Oca Siasoco, Ado Nora , Ped Ramos, Igan Leones ‘57(deceased), Ning dela Paz ‘57 (deceased), Frank Mamaril ‘56, Don Gonchorre ’56.  And while on board the ferry towards San Jose, Occidental Mindoro, my mind raced back into my brief life with my brothers, wondering when I would ever meet them again.

 

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Chapter Two:  My Sablayan Years

 

The General del Pilar, a World war II Liberty ship refitted to carry civilian cargo and passengers, used to ply the Manila - San Jose- Mindoro, and Coron- Palawan route once a week.  I was one of the many passengers bound for the port of San Jose, the jump off point for parts of Occidental Mindoro, then newly opened by the government for settlement.  The deck space was overcrowded and every bit of space was occupied with passengers’ belongings and farm implements.  The luckier ones and those with money to bribe the ship crew had canvas cots to sleep on.  Others just spread their sleeping mats on the cold iron deck, which would eventually get wet during the journey.  Some of the passengers had been on the boat the night before.

 

Luckily, Brod Tony Bautista’s uncle who worked for the General Shipping lines gave me a free pass, but since I boarded the boat just 3 hours before sailing time I had to settle for space on the deck roof.  The boat finally left the pier at one in the morning.  I had with me an army backpack and a canvas travel bag, a memento from Ning dela Paz ‘57 (deceased) during our last chug-a-lug which he jokingly printed “Porgcast”.  ( I would later use this 45 years later as my email address).

 

I remember vividly the night of our farewell chug-a-lug at the Bungalows with Ning dela Paz, Angel Mendoza, Frankie Colanta, Pol Elago, Igan Leones Tony Asuncion, Jess Pido, Ric Villanueva, Pol Ortega, Boy Maslog and Sonny Mendoza. We finished off 5 long bottles of Tanduay Rum and sang old songs till sunrise.  I remembered Igan’s farewell gift -- a flask of Tanduay rum which I stuck in my backpack.

 

The next morning, we were abeam the headland of Calavite, Mindoro island’s northern most point.  The coastline was undisturbed by any sign of human habitation, and with excitement I anticipated our arrival in San Jose for there were 3 Betans -- Butch Reyes'53 who owned a cattle ranch on the hinterlands of San Jose; Roger Guevara, a native of San Jose and whose family also raised cattle and ran a hotel; and Eddie Capinpin 53 who managed a rural bank.  Their presence assured me that I would not be a total stranger in this place.

 

By lunchtime a crew of the ship pointed out to us some houses of the town of Sablayan and later at 4 p.m. we were entering Mangarin Bay to the Port of San Jose, reputed to be the major port of the region located at the southwestern end of the island.  The wharf consisted of a single rickety wooden pier overcrowded with all types of water craft, sailboats called "batel”, big motor kumpits unloading cases of beer and softdrinks, a Naval patrol boat, a barge overloaded with logs and on the beach on both sides of the pier are motorized outrigger boats used to ferry passengers from San Jose to all points of Occidental Mindoro’s coast.  The ship docked and came the onrush of shouting stevedores and cargadores vying for the “right” to carry the passengers’ baggages.  I spotted the Lady Nora, the big outrigger used by Johnny Quijano to ferry him to Sablayan.  I left my luggages with Dado, Johnny’s friend who owned the boat and took a Jeepney to town.  I went to Butch Reyes’ house and was told he was at the ranch. Roger Guevarra was in Los Banos, so I went to the residence of Eddie Capinpin instead.  Eddie took me to the public market where we had our usual bottles of beer with broiled fish and kinilaw for pulutan.  I updated him on the brods and he gave me pointers on how to survive in Sablayan.  After some beers, he took me back to the wharf where I boarded the Lady Nora which was sailing late in the evening at the onset of high tide.  When Brod Eddie left, loneliness gripped me and so I took out my rum bottle, drank a mouthful, made myself comfortable on several sacks of salt, fell asleep, and later was awakened by the noise of the boat’s running motor.  The Lady Nora was a 40 footer outrigger powered by a truck diesel engine and reputed to be one of the fast boats plying the Sablayan – San Jose route, (the fare was slightly higher, thus the clientele more refined).  There was a small cabin to accommodate 10 passengers but the rest like me had to make ourselves comfortable on top of whatever cargo or deck space.  Being a Sunday night, the boat was full of passengers returning to Sablayan: school teachers, local government employees, business men, and several Philippine Constabulary soldiers with prisoners consigned to the Sablayan Penal Farm.

 

We approached Sablayan Bay the next morning.  It is actually a cove with wide areas of coral reefs, and as we passed the shallows I could see the corals and lots of marine life that included a turtle.  That was my first time to see one in its natural habitat.  Soon we were approaching the port of Sablayan.  I was met by Gener Mercene, Johnny’s handy man.  Sablayan is an old isolated town without any roads connecting it to other communities in the province, the only means of transportation and travel was via watercraft like the Lady Nora.  During the southwesterly monsoon between the months of June to October when huge seas battering the western coast, Sablayan would be completely cut off from the rest of civilization.  Sablayan is a neat town with the houses of nipa and hand-sewn lumber, at the end of a small peninsula forming the western arm of the cove, at the tip of this peninsula is a Catholic church and a municipal building which housed all the municipal government offices, including the Post Office, the Police Department and the Philippine Constabulary detachment.  A radio in this detachment was the only means of communicating with the outside world.  At the municipal building I was introduced to an old man, Pedro Dano, a Caviteno from Medicion, Imus, who told me that there were a lot of Caviteno families in Sablayan who were descendants of the soldiers of the Magdalo faction of General Aguinaldo.  The soldiers fled and hid there when the general was captured by the Americans in Palanan, Isabela.   

 

At about 10 in the morning, Mang Gener and I started for Katuray, a Barangay of San Vicente, 23 kilometers away.  We passed an old World War II airfield now filled with hastily erected huts of the newly arrived settlers awaiting the allocation of their homesteads.  The settlers were mostly from Central Luzon and the Ilocos region, with a fair leavening of ex-Huk surrenderees who were still active in Central Luzon.  What was of main interest to the settlers was the flood plain that stretched out for 25 kilometers from the coast to the foothills of the mountain spine that separated Occidental from Oriental Mindoro.  Bordering the coast were extensive  fresh water marshes composed of grassy areas with stands of Buri Palms, excellent for wet rice culture.  There was a wider belt of cogon grass plain, and on the edge of the foothills was a virginal rainforest that spread up to the mountain slopes.  A nature lover that I always have been, it was most exciting to see throngs of monkeys who were not scared of people.  Then in the patches of forests bordering the marsh were flocks of wild pigeons, green parrots, and cockatoos, Egrets Gallinules, and wild ducks.  Along the forest trail were tracks of deer and wild pigs.  When we reached the edge of the grasslands, Gener started shouting to scare away the Tamaraws or Feral Carabaos (descendants of the animals that escaped the ranches during World War II and are feared by the natives more than the Tamaraw) that he told us have gored people in the past.  We arrived on the farm at 4 pm since our travel was punctuated with several stops for tuba.  That morning in Sablayan, I started wearing the Betan beret that Boy Doneza had given me.  The beret gave me pride as a Betan and in this rugged frontier it was my connection with my brothers and reminded me of a code of ethics inculcated in me during initiation.

 

It was in late October when Johnny Quijano arrived and we settled into the business of running the farm.  There was land to be cleared, fields to be plowed (we had 2 big tractors) and rice to be harvested. I also took the responsibility of hunting for our meat -- wild boar, deer, monkeys and wild pigeons and every now and then the feral carabaos called Cimarrons. During my hunts I always remember the times in UPLB when Boy Doneza, Tony Guzman, Tony Bautista, Oca Siasoco and I hunted for the big Flying Foxes feeding on the Kapok tree at the Sunken Garden, behind the Language Department and later cooking the big bats for Pulutan.  There was also the time when we planned to butcher a yearling calf that often strayed from the adjacent pasture, but had to be dissuaded by Joseph Madamba who by that time was an Instructor in the Animal Husbandry department.  Later on we were content on predating on chickens at the Poultry Department, penned in for culling to the dismay of Amading Campos (Honorary Brod and former Fraternity Adviser) who headed the Poultry Division.

 

Time flew with the season for Johnny and me in this wild frontier.  Every now and then we would travel to San Jose to visit Butch Reyes, Eddie Capinpin and Roger Guevarra. Ed Nabong whose father was a part owner of the big farm would visit us occasionally during his semestral breaks.  Johnny Quijano also frequented UPLB because he was courting Amparo “Paddy” Pagulayan, the winsome nurse at the College Infirmary.

 

In one of those instances I went with him to Manila and to Los Banos.  There, we saw the brods rehearsing the Broadway production "South Pacific".  The cast: Ning dela Paz and Patsy Chan, who then was Efren Rivera58's girlfriend; Levy Perez, Resty Bautista, Rene Cuadro, Basilio Duran and Jimmy Lagdameo – Batch 58 all, the last batch I had a hand before I went to Occidental Mindoro. 

 

In the summer of 1960 while hauling supplies with our tractor from Sablayan town, 2 lanky youths hitched a ride with me to the farm.  As always, I wore my Betan beret, and the taller youth with thick eyebrows told me that he was studying in UPLB.  The name was Fernando Roman, and he was getting into the Beta Sigma Fraternity.

 

Some years later, Johnny married Paddy Pagulayan and decided to reside in the urban environment of Manila.  I heard Butch Reyes also opted for the life in the suburbs of Manila for the sake of his children; so with Ed Capinpin, and with Roger Guevarra finishing his degree in UPLB.

 

Then there was just me.  The only Betan on the west coast of Mindoro Occidental.

 

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Chapter Three:  The Fugitive, Artist and Scuba-Diver

 

                

                                                          Proclamation 1081- Martial Law, 1972

Saturday, September 21.  I immediately sensed something was wrong when I woke up in the morning.  I lived in La Huerta, Paranaque in a neighborhood where every home had a radio or a television tuned in full volume.  That morning there was the marked absence of the voice of the Radio Patrol anchorman, or the cartoon character Popeye or Tom Jones or the Beatles.  No freelance radio commentators lambasting the government.  Only an abnormally hushed silence that was even louder than the usually noisy TV channels and radio stations of the neighborhood.  Save for a song that was monotonously played over and over in just one station.

I went to the public market to buy a Saturday edition of the "Manila Times", but the news stand was strangely closed.  I passed the police headquarters on my way home and there were PC soldiers in combat fatigue uniforms with long automatic weapons and bandoleers of ammunitions.  Then I realized that the rumored Martial Law had finally arrived. 

Within the fraternity circles, I had always been open with my left of center views and association and I was warned by some concerned brods about my activities with the Left especially with the impending imposition of martial law.  I called up Ed Baldoria, who lived at UP Village.  He told me the U.P. campus was raided by the Metrocom and that the Marines had assaulted the Iglesia Ni Kristo Center the night before.  He warned me to stay away from the campus, being that a lot of prominent people in the government and the private sector were arrested and detained; and that the Metrocom were casing squatter areas to flush out known criminals and leftists in their “underground” houses reminiscent of the “Sonas” used by the Japanese Imperial army during World war II.  

That evening I filled up my backpack and hid in my friend’s rest house at the salt beds of Paranaque.  That was September, and that was the time when the salt beds were used as fishponds because they were flooded with sea water.  One could approach the hut only thru the dikes.  It would not be till December when the ponds would dry up and again be converted to salt beds.  In the meantime, I was safe here.  I could see any person arriving from a distance.  I grew up in this place.  My maternal grandfather used to manage these salt beds when he was alive and the people in this area knew me very well.  There I waited and waited for the signal to start fighting, for the masses to rise up under a new flag and fight for a new beginning.  Nothing came.  I remembered the words of an anti-war poster that said, “What if there was a war and nobody came?”  

After a few days my wife came to tell me that Brod Tony Bautista, LB’54 called up to ask about me.  Three more weeks passed and when things seemed to have calmed down, I sent my wife to the Science Education Center’s Director with my resignation letter in hand.  He had knowledge of my leftist leanings.  Survival was now the focus for I had a family – a wife, a 7 year old daughter, and two sons aged 6 and 5 years.  I could not run and hide in the hills as I had to provide for them considering that my wife’s income as a school teacher at the La Huerta Elementary school was not enough to provide the basic needs for the kids.  From a Vietnamese proverb I remembered that the best place for a fish to hide was inside the fisherman’s net.

I decided to stay in Manila and not in the hills.  I severed contact with my leftist associates.  Having become “wanted” on both sides, I disguised as a decadent, borderline alcoholic, grew a mustache and a beard.  (During the days of political activism, a lot of activists sported long hair and facial hair a la Fidel Castro and Che Guevarra.)  I maintained the short hair and clean cut look of a bureaucrat and taught myself the art and manners of intelligentsia conversations seen and heard only in coffee shops and trattorias of Ermita.  I started hanging around and selling my paintings to the art galleries at M. H. del Pilar and Mabini streets.  I attended art show openings and book launchings and renewed my acquaintances with artist friends.  It was there where the famous artist Bencab found me and referred me to Alfredo Roces, editor of the Filipino Heritage Book.  He needed an art editor for the series.  I glued myself into my work as an art editor and went to different parts of the country gathering illustrative materials, taking photographs and conferring with authors.  

The following year, while having lunch at a popular carinderia at Remedios street in Malate, I met Brod Johnny Florin, LB ‘53, who told me about the sad news that Lt. Col. Antonio Bautista, LB‘54 of the Philippine Air Force was shot down and killed in Jolo, Sulu.  Tony, the die-hard Betan, the front liner was gone.  Tony was one of the brods who warned me about the imposition of martial law and offered to hide me in his quarters at Mactan Air Base - inside the fisherman’s net, so to speak.  He was the kind of person who would do anything for a brod.  As in anything with a capital A.  Alone and separated from my fellow Betan-leftists, I wondered what ever happened to Willie Nepumoceno, Jun Bernal, Perry Callanta or Ben Vizmanos.  I dared not try to contact them.  

Martial Law had its immediate merits.  For instance, there was an image of relative calm, without the protests in the streets by the students and labor groups.  It was a good time for the government to vigorously promote tourism.  As a result, there was a surge of interest on the country’s coral reefs and other marine resources.  To earn additional income I started working in a field that I did best – scuba diving. This was a sport I learned since my youth. I worked for Mike Jones, an old scuba diving acquaintance, who was running a live-aboard dive boat for foreign scuba-diving tourists to Mindoro, Cebu and Palawan .  

Being a veteran scuba diver, I was recruited by the Bureau of Fisheries, then under the Ministry of Natural Resources, specifically to assist the organization of The Coral Reef Research Project and train the marine biologists in scuba diving. The Project’s main objective was to study, manage and protect the coral reefs of the Philippines, which was fast attracting foreign scientists and scuba diving enthusiasts.  It was a new and high profile project, which gave me the opportunity to meet Brod Arnold Caoili’57.  Arnold, himself a scuba diver, headed the Ministry of Natural Resources Planning Division.  I was tasked to organize the Coral Reef project under Arnold and build a unit that he could be proud of.  To begin with, I wanted Arnold to be proud of me as a Betan.  He appointed me to represent him at the Philippine Commission on Sports Scuba Diving organized by the Ministry of Tourism.  I also got a lot of assistance from Joseph Madamba, LB‘52, my dorm mate from my college days at the bungalows, who at that time headed the Philippine Council for Agricultural Research and Development.  He provided funds for our research projects on Coral Reefs.  

At the Ministry of Natural Resources, I met Brods Bernie Agaloos, LB’50 and Roger Baggayan, LB‘53. The Bureau of Forestry was dominated by Betans.  Thanks to the Forestry brods for the welcome I would receive even from non-Betan foresters in the remotest office of the Bureau of Forestry.  Later when Arnold became Assistant Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, my Project team was given special assignments.  We were tasked with helping identify potential scuba diving sites for the Department of Tourism.  We conducted underwater survey of the reefs of Balicasag island, Panglao Island, the Bohol Double Barrier Reef, Apo Reef , Tubattaha Reefs, Calamianes Islands with its sunken World War II ships, Cuyo Islands and many other reef areas that are now popular scuba diving destinations.  It was a dream assignment for me a scuba diver.  We were moving from the Visayas to the Sulu Seas and Western Palawan on board  a big outrigger boat hopping from one island to another making multiple dives, exploring and surveying Coral Reefs; and camping out and sleeping on the beach of whatever island we were at after dusk.  We were even sent to an island north of Panay island where there was trouble among the islanders because of the gathering of puka shells.  This place is the now famous Boracay Island.  

My marine biologists whom I recruited from U.P. and University of San Carlos in Cebu became seasoned divers and gained practical knowledge of the coral reefs and marine environment.  When the DENR created the Task Force Marine Parks, we were assigned to identify and survey potential marine parks sites, namely: Sombrero Island, Bacuit Bay, Coron Islands and the now world famous and popular Tubattaha Reef where our marine biologists spent two months on board a fishing boat conducting the biological study of the area.  

Arnold also assigned me to work with Task Force Pawikan at the Turtle Islands in Sulu.  There I met and teamed up with Brod Querico Tan, LB‘54.  Rico, a forester, assisted me largely with his knowledge of the area and his close relationship with the people of Taganak, the Turtle Islands.  A typical Betan, Rico maintained good rapport with the local Moro National Liberation Front commanders which facilitated our travels in the islands in Muslim-dominated areas.  The local MNLF commanders even sent Rico wild boar meat for pulutan.  You can just imagine the two Betans – me and Rico – right in between the operatives of the Philippine Navy and the Marines and the local MNLF guerillas.  

Later in Palawan, I met a Philippine Navy Seal who assumed I was an operative of Naval Intelligence.  I became well versed in tropical Marine Ecology and Coastal Resources Management.  I was eventually tasked with preparing technical papers on management of marine protected areas and soon I was going overseas to present them in scientific forums and seminars.  Later, the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere Program took me as a consultant to prepare a proposal for Palawan entitled “Man and the Biosphere Reserve”.  I read the proposal at the International Symposium on Protected Areas in Caracas, Venezuela, an exalted task for one who did not have a B.S. in Marine Biology, like me. 

While all of these were going on, the artist side of me put up an exhibit of bird paintings at the Ayala Museum.  I also published a limited edition copies of a "Portfolio of Philippine Birds" (also under Ayala Museum); while the diver in me co-authored the "First Philippine Diver’s Guide", sponsored by the Philippine Tourism Authority. 

While in Palawan our Coral Reef Project team was detached to the Philippine Navy and assigned to make a survey of the Kalayaan Islands (popularly and erroneously called the Spratleys).  The real Spratleys Island belongs to the People’s Republic of China, 300 nautical miles southwest of Kalayaan Islands.  The Kalayaan Islands, a 250 wide by 300 nautical miles long area of the South China sea claimed by the Philippines was an immense area full of uncharted coral reefs and a few minuscule islands, seven of which belong the Philippines, one by the Vietnamese and one reef by the People’s Republic of China.  In the Kalayaan Islands our marine Biologists were beefed up with Philippine Navy Seals and we worked for months, without our families knowing where we were, for this was a classified mission.  We even surveyed a reef within range of fire from the North Vietnamese occupied islet.  After our special assignment, the DENR made us continue the survey work at Kalayaan Islands.  It is to the credit of the Coral Reef Project that the study leader of the survey is currently one of the country’s representative to UNCLOS (United Nation’s convention on the Laws of the Seas) where jurisdiction over the Kalayaan Islands is being discussed.  

In between our forays to the Kalayaan Islands in the South China Sea (one could only perform underwater operations in the area during the calm months of Febuary to early June) I was assigned by the DENR to the Palawan Integrated Area Development Program (PIADP).  One morning while waiting for our flight to Puerto Princesa, and in company with consultants from the UPLB, a young man grabbed my left hand, looked at my initiation scar and said, “Betan ka pala.”  Del was the youngest Ph.D. in Los Banos to assume the team leadership of the local and foreign consultants for PIADP.  I helped Del with the plan for the environmental management of Palawan until the end of the consultancy term.

That was Brod Delfin Ganapin, Jr., LB’72. (I didn’t get the burn during my initiation.  Gamy Manikan, Roy Lising and Mel de Santos would later do it for me right after the finals of Brod Ike and his co-Silver Strife.)  

 

                   

                                                                           People's Power 1986

 

February 1986.  Then the 4-day EDSA revolution. The incoming administration, not knowing the true purpose of my project at the Kalayaan Islands, cancelled the project.  I was relegated to a floating desk at the Natural Resources Management Center, where I was recalled to rejoin Delfin’s team of consultants in Palawan.  This time I was a full- pledged, fully paid consultant.  I was the only consultant without an M.S. or a Ph.D.  They took me for my practical and ground knowledge of Palawan’s Coastal and Marine environment.  But with this title handicap,  I took it unto myself to work hard for the sake of Delfin, my fraternity brother.  On our days off, Delfin and I would enjoy an evening of chug-a-lug with Sonny Mendoza, LB’54, now a medical doctor at his Badjao Inn in Puerto Princesa.  The two years of consultancy ended and Delfin joined the DENR as Director of the Environmental Management Bureau and later as Assistant Secretary. The Undersecretary of the DENR at that time was Brod Victor Ramos, UPD'62, the younger brother of my ka-batch Ped.  Delfin had asked me join him at the DENR.  I asked him for a few months respite in La Huerta in order to do some paintings and to enjoy the company of my newly born 2nd granddaughter.  

One rainy morning in June 1986(?) I got a call from the French Embassy cultural attache who often joined my dive trips to Tubattaha Reefs.  She asked me to meet with Alain Traoil, a Frenchman and operations manager of a French research vessel.  She told me I was to guide the research boat in its cruise of the seas around Palawan.  I was reluctant considering that the month of June was the beginning of the southwesterly monsoon; therefore, it was a bad time to work on the seas of Palawan.  I agreed to meet with Alain Traoil just the same; and then he told me something that I could not refuse.  His boat was the legendary "Calypso".  By morning of the next day, we were on a flight to Singapore to live out my childhood dream.  I was a high school senior, a budding diver when I first read an old issue of the "National Geographic Magazine" about Jacques Costeau and the Calypso.  Since then, I dreamt of simply seeing the Calypso and Jacques Costeau with my own two eyes.  I was quivering with excitement when I walked up the gangway of the of the World War II vintage minesweeper.  Being on board the Calypso and guiding her thru the Palawan waters under the eyes of the legend himself – anak ng hueteng!  That was not even part of my dream.  My street Spanish helped me to communicate with the crew. Signed the ship’s log.  Was handed our uniform -- T-shirts and khaki shorts.  Was assigned to a bunk.  The Calypso headed back to the ocean.  In a few minutes I could see behind the island of Singapore and the bigger land mass of peninsular Malaysia.  We were headed toward the shores of Palawan, a beautiful and pristine island in my own native land.

                                                                                 

Postscript, by Norman Bituin.  Brod Popoy mentioned Lt. Col. Tony Bautista, LB'54, the "die-hard Betan, the front-liner" who sought him out during martial law to hide him in his air base quarters, who was shot down and killed in Sulu.  Let me tell you, Brods, my personal story and encounter with Tony Bautista.  I had just become a Betan after our Diliman finals in Dec. 9, 1965.  The following weekend I attended mass at Immaculate Conception Church in Cubao, Quezon City proudly wearing my white Betan sweatshirt with the big red "Malmon Karate" in front.   I was standing by the side door of the church when someone beside me asked, "Betan ka ba?".   Expecting me, of course, to confirm it he immediately shook my hand and smiling introduced himself  - "Brod, Tony Bautista, Los Banos batch '54".    He noticed the still fresh "tatak" on my  left hand.  I explained to him what it was.  He then turned to his side, held his ear with the scar (I think it was the right ear) and said - "Ito brod ang tatak ko, silver nitrate".   We chatted some more, in between the homily and prayers.  Before we parted and shook hands again, he handed me his calling card which read to my pride and awe: "Capt. Antonio M. Bautista, Blue Diamonds - Philippine Air Force".   I kept it in my wallet for many years.  I felt privileged to have told this unforgettable story and shown the card to some brods in the distant past.  This is and you are, however, my biggest reading audience for my chance meeting with flying ace, now highest in the sky, Brod Capt. Tony Bautista, a Los Banos Betan.

 

                                                                                   * * * * * * *

 

 

 

 

Chapter Four :   Calypso Rediscovers Palawan

 

 

I am starting this final Chapter with a prologue and end it later with an epilogue. The prologue is a song, and the epilogue will be a separate issue of Environmental Awareness contrasting both the blight and the beautiful about the Philippine marine resources.

 

While I was writing this Chapter, Tatang Vergara asked me if I ever heard of John Denver’s “Calypso”.  I said "No, I don’t even know that there is such a song".  Tatang shared the lyrics with me, which I am reprinting it below in full.

 

                                           *************************************************

                                       CALYPSO

                                                          Words and Music by John Denver

 

                                                          To sail on a dream, on a crystal clear ocean,

                                                          To ride on the crest of a wild raging storm;

                                                          To work in the service of life and the living;

                                                          In search of the answers to questions unknown

                                                          To be part of the movement and part of the growing,

                                                          Part of beginning to understand...

 

                                                          Aye, Calypso, the places you’ve been to,

                                                          The things that you’ve shown us,

                                                          The stories you tell;

                                                          Aye, Calypso, I sing to your spirit,

                                                          The men who have served you

                                                          So long and so well.

 

                                                          Like the dolphin who guides you,

                                                          You bring us beside you

                                                          To light up the darkness and show us the way;

                                                          For though we are strangers in your silent world,

                                                         To live on the land we must learn from the sea;

                                                         To be true as the tide and free as the wind-swell,

                                                         Joyful and loving in letting it be...

 

                                                          Aye, Calypso, the places you’ve been to,

                                                          The things that you’ve shown us,

                                                          The stories you tell;

                                                          Aye, Calypso, I sing to your spirit,

                                                          The men who have served you

                                                          So long and so well.

 

                                                          Aye, Calypso, the places you’ve been to,

                                                         The things that you’ve shown us,

                                                         The stories you tell;

                                                         Aye, Calypso, I sing to your spirit,

                                                         The men who have served you

                                                         So long and so well.

                                            ************************************************

 

 

RV Calypso anchored. Originally a wooden-hulled minesweeper built in Seattle, Washington, she was commissioned into the British Royal Navy in Feb. 1943 and assigned to active service in the Mediterranean Sea. The Irish millionaire and former MP Thomas Loel Guinness bought Calypso in 1950 and leased her to Jacques Cousteau for a symbolic one franc a year. Cousteau restructured and transformed her into an expedition vessel and support base for diving, filming and oceanographic research. A barge accidentally rammed Calypso and sank her in the port of Singapore in 1996. She was raised  and towed to France where she will be transformed into a permanent exhibit.  (Source: Wikipedia)

The land mass of peninsular Malaysia slowly faded away at our stern and blended with the darker mass of clouds of a brewing rainstorm.  I reminisced about the last night when I bade goodbye to my wife, my son, my daughter-in- law and my two granddaughters Dominique, now 5 years old, and Denise, 5 months and recently baptized the previous Sunday.  As always my wife lighted a votive candle at our small altar in front of the image of the Nuestra Senora de Paz y Buenviaje, our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage, the Virgin of Antipolo.  In tears my wife told me about the candles she had lighted every time I started on a voyage; and that my granddaughter Dominique was disappointed because we wouldn’t be going to the beach in San Juan, Batangas the following week.

 Leaving home was now becoming more difficult with my growing family.  I was jolted to reality when the Calypso started breaching the huge waves of the South China Sea and then heard my name summoning me to the command bridge.   I ran along the companionway, climbed the flights of ladder to the blacked out bridge and presented myself to Pierre St. Jean, Calypso’s Captain, who stooped over the big state-of-the-art ship’s radar with another man.

 

 

 

Popoy with two Calypso crewmen

 

To my delight, right in my line of vision, was the legend himself in the soft greenish glow of the radar, Jacques Cousteau. The National Geographic magazine I read when I was younger portrayed him as a man bigger than life, the demigod of scuba diving, a French naval officer, explorer, ecologist, filmmaker, scientist, photographer and researcher who studied the sea and all forms of life in water.  He co-developed the aqua-lung, pioneered marine conservation and was a member of the Académie Française (a body among the most learned Frenchmen).  He shook my hands and motioned me to the chart table where he spread out a large scale hydrographic chart of Palawan published by the British Admiralty.  He asked me about local sea conditions, local weather, condition of the reefs, fishing activities, geography, the people, and even local politics.  Then he asked me about my bird paintings*.  I was surprised that he even knew about that.  He inquired about my family and even apologized for taking me away from them temporarily.  I was also told that as a guide I was to station myself at the bridge every time the ship is underway in Philippine waters, despite the ship’s state-of-the-art navigational systems.

   *To see author's bird paintings, go to Artworks - Paintings by Brod Popoy Castaneda UPLB '55; or click link below.

 

 

Popoy and the legendary Jacques-Yves Costeau study Palawan's hydrographic chart

 

The dinner bell summoned us for the 2nd sitting for dinner at the wardroom.  Dinner was vegetable salad, soup and bread with fresh fruits and a choice of wine or beer (a far cry from my usual fare of rice, fish, seaweeds and tuba or lambanog).  With the wind going our way, we crossed the South China Sea faster than usual.  By midday the next day we were threading thru the reefs and the ripping currents of the Balabac Strait.  Home again, what a beautiful feeling.  By evening we entered Puerto Princesa Bay. Early next morning, the governor of Palawan, Badong Socrates, and the WESCOM commander welcomed the Calypso and Jacques Costeau.  Later the delegation from the French embassy came on the morning flight from Manila.

 

Popoy (shirtless) in big banca with his Calypso buddies

 

That afternoon after all the visitors had gone and after topping off our fuel tanks, we shoved off for the start of Calypso’s cruise to rediscover Palawan, the Philippines’ last refuge.  Our first stop was Bastrerra Reef (former name), the now world famous Tubattaha Reefs, where we filmed the fantastic marine congregation of marine life in this atoll reef.  From this coral reef we sailed north to the Cagayan Islands, the home of the Turtle Eaters.  It is here where the Green Sea Turtle is a much sought after delicacy and served especially on fiestas and wedding feasts.  Here we rode the underwater rip currents along the submarine walls at the west side of Cagayan Island.

 

 

 

 

 

Sailing northeasterly, our next stop was the Cuyo Islands, the cultural birthplace of Palawan.  We came here to film the crater of the underwater volcano that was shown to us when we first surveyed the reefs of this group of islands.  At Cuyo, as well as in Cagayancillo, I doubly served as guide of the sea and of land.  I guided the filming crew in shooting the gorgeous and marvelous underwater seascape.  Then going with Frederick Labourasse, the land film photographer, we went to shoot the land features and the people of this group of islands.  Here in Cuyo I had spent a lot of time in my previous work and had made a lot of friends in the process.  Cuyo Town is very clean, plenty of shops with the basics. There was no litter around, and the shops and houses were well maintained.  My acquaintances in Cuyo were not surprised to see me because they have a saying here that one who has drunk the waters from the wells of Cuyo will eventually comeback.

 

  

 

 

 

From Cuyo islands we sailed towards the Calamianes Islands where we climbed the limestone palisades of Coron Island to dive in the lake on the island’s center.  Then we explored and filmed the sunken ships of Admiral Takeo Kurita’s ghost fleet.  The ships were sunk in Coron passage by the torpedo planes of Admiral William Halsey during the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the closing days of World War II.  Cousteau was most impressed by the scenic beauty of the Calamianes Islands, including the island of Culion.  Calamianes Islands is home to both endemic and exotic species of animals like zebras, topis, gazelles and giraffes that roam freely in its verdant hills and plains.  To the ordinary reader, Culion is known only as a “leper colony”.  But the reality is that it is a picturesque island where one can find one of the oldest relics in the country. Culion is an absolute masterpiece of nature that combines pristine white sand beaches, wonderful dive sites, virgin forests and rolling hills.  It is as charming as its stunning land-and-seascapes.

 

From the Calamianes Islands, we proceeded south down the west coast of the main island of Palawan exploring the different atoll reef formation along the Palawan passage on one atoll, Bombay Shoal.  We explored the remains of the United States submarine, USS Darter, which fired the first torpedo that damaged the Japanese Imperial Navy’s cruiser Musashi, which sunk later in the Sibuyan Sea.  The Darter got stranded on the shoal while trying to evade the pursuing Japanese destroyers.  Fortunately the crew of the submarine were all rescued.  From Bombay Shoal we went to the famous underground river of Palawan.  Here, Cousteau was fascinated by the edible nest swifts that could fly in the complete darkness of the caves using echo location like the bats.  From the underground river we proceeded to Bacuit Bay, El Nido, and at El Nido we explored the underwater caves that Costeau had heard so much about.  At Ten Knots Resort, I met a divemaster whom I knew only by name - a Betan, Dave “ Dacky” Gorrez Jr., Batch 82, and son of the famous Dave Gorrez, Sr., Batch 52. I introduced him to Cousteau and recommended that he guide the crew in filming the underwater caves near the resort, a feat which he admirably accomplished.  Jacques Cousteau was so impressed by the underwater labyrinths that we spent 3 weeks filming the caves.  In the meantime, I guided the land film crew shooting this beautiful place.  We were also able to go west to the South China Sea to film the marine life in the abandoned off-shore oil wells.  We also spent several days filming the schools of Sperm Whales inhabiting this part of the sea of Palawan.  Besides the underwater filming, Cousteau was fascinated in the different aspects of this beautiful place.  I went with the film crew to climb the ancient burial caves located on the most inaccessible part of the limestone cliffs of the islands that include Bacuit Bay.  We would carry our scuba tanks and camera gear and climb up the cliff, and then on vertical surface, descend down the caves to film the burial sites of ancient Filipinos.  Here in what would other be in the midst of total darkness, our lights would show the skulls, skeletons, and burial jars where our ancestors were interred.  Cousteau always warned us to thread softly and never to take away anything.

 

We all worked through the ongoing monsoon season.  Jacques Cousteau told me that he was fascinated by the monsoon rains and to him in the tropics the monsoon rains was the source of life.  It was mid September when he felt pleased and fulfilled about our work in Palawan.  One morning we escorted him to the airstrip at El Nido to fly home to France.  We in the meantime sailed back to Puerto Princesa where after resting for a few days, the Calypso sailed for Singapore leaving me on the wharf of Puerto Princesa, from where I would make my way home to my family.  I never talked or told stories very much about my four months with the Calypso.

 

Maybe I was just afraid to wake up and realize that it was only a dream.

 

 

Popoy bids goodbye to Calypso.  Au revoir...

 

The End (?)

 

 

 

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