After my graduation in 1935 from the C.S.C. (Colegio del Sagrabo Corazon) High School, Boys Department, Bangued, Abra, I had no hope of continuing my studies. How I envied my friends and former classmates who had well-to-do parents who could afford to send them to college in Manila.
I had a great desire to become a priest but did not know of anyone who could support me in the Seminary.
My letter to my uncle with a copy of our graduation program showing my name as “HONOR STUDENT” got a wonderful response. He wrote Father inviting me to join my brother in Kiañgan for vacation.
To me then, any change or chance was what I was looking for. Father allowed me to leave for Kiañgan, Ifugao, Mountain Province.
There were very few civilized people there, mostly living in the town. All the Ifugaos were considered non-Christian tribe or uncivilized people. They wore G-strings and had big holes through their earlobes used for hanging their tobacco pipe. They carried spears as canes and a double-bladed bolo in a wooden scabbard. They were always chewing “buyo,” making their lips red and their teeth black. They had a colorful pouch hanging from their G-string containing areca leaves, betel nut, lime powder, and tobacco leaf.
The Ifugao women were dressed with a piece of cloth called TAPIS wrapped around their breast if unmarried and around their waist if married, exposing their breast. Their head and arms were entwined with colorful beads. They had huge earrings of gold. Like the men, they were always chewing buyo.
Their cone-shaped hut looked like an unopened mushroom, with a long grass roof and only one room. Nearby was a wooden pestle where they pounded their rice before cooking it for the evening meal. Under the house, which was standing on four posts about five feet high, were baskets for housing their chickens and bundles of palay raised from their farms called rice terraces on the slopes of the mountains where they lived.
The women worked in the fields while the men hunted at night for wild deer or boar or monkeys to eat. Hence, during daytime the men were seen sleeping or caring for the children at home while the women were out in the rice terraces raising rice and vegetables as farmers.
Being a place up in the mountains of Northern Luzon, far from the sea, they did not use salt. They raised the very hot red pepper with which to season their food.
They did not skin the animals, be it cow, carabao, pig, goat, sheep, etc. The animals were burned over a bonfire until their hair turned into ashes and the skin roasted.
Then the meat was cut into big chunks the size of a fist and boiled.
Sometimes they threw inside the pot beans or cabbages, with plenty of red hot pepper.
These people were muscular and strong as wild animals.
They had wooden idols which they worshiped to bring them luck. They offered food and drink called GAYA (rice wine) to them.
Whenever one got sick and to the point of death, their Roce (priest) opened up a chicken, or pig, or carabao to get the spleen to run on the body of the sick person, accompanied by incantations or native songs.
They held a tribal feast by letting a big carabao loose and then they chopped the animal down. Everybody was fast to get a slice of meat for himself from the fallen animal.
While visiting a tribal village one day, I was surprised and scared by bloody naked people running with pieces of meat and brandishing their double-bladed machete bolos like wild people! They were all drunk with rice wine and yelling at the top of their voices, running and jumping with joy!
It was a wedding feast. The guests were served food in newly bought urinals with the price seal on them.
When I tasted the food, my mouth got burned right away. You could see the burned hair of the animal floating on the soup with the big chunks of meat! The meat was half-boiled, with blood in it.
Then I tasted their wine. It was red and strong, with a punch!
The men and women danced in circles simulating a rooster courting a hen but not touching each other. Their arms, hands, legs, and feet went with the beat of gongs.
Our quarters near the P.C. barracks were on top of a hill overlooking the town and several hills around. We could hear very clearly the distant beating of gongs and we knew that a CANIAO (feast) was going on.
There in Kiañgan, I got reunited with Manang Maming, who was my classmate in Bayombong, 3rd year high school. She was preparing her clothes and beddings for her trip to Manila, where she would continue her studies. She was going to take a nursing course.
Poor me, I had no parent wealthy enough to allow me go to college like my cousin. She was going to stay with her two sisters, Mg. Loling and Mg. Susing, who were already studying in Manila and living in the Lakambini Dormitory near the Philippine General Hospital where my other cousin, Mg. Trining, was taking up nursing. My mother had died and my father had remarried. Nobody could support me.
(But now I know that God has a plan for everyone and that He loves and takes compassion for the poor and helpless people who seek His help. At that time I did not realize this as a fact.)
My uncle, Lt. Antonio Bravo, P.C., was the Commanding Officer of the 39th P.C. Company, Kiañgan, Ifugao, Nat. Prov. He was a very powerful and influential man, the highest-ranking government officer or official in that place. He easily recommended me to become a laborer in the Bureau of Public Works headed by Eugenios de la Fuente, who also lived in Kiañgan.
I started working in the Ibulao Bridge Construction many kilometers away from Kiañgan. My job was to haul hammer-broken lime stones to the bridge foundation at the bank of Ibulao River, which was a hundred feet down the steep trail from the road where the rocks were piled.
My co-workers were native Ifugaos, men and women. They gingerly carried the basket of rocks on their shoulders down the trail without difficulty, because they were barefooted, strong, and used to running up and down mountain trails.
As for me, a 17-year-old school boy wearing rubber shoes, that was not an easy task. I could hardly put the basket of rocks on my shoulder, and had a hard time going down the muddy trail. I was the only laborer wearing long pants. My companions wore G-strings.
My first attempt was a tragedy. I became embarrassed and a laughing stock of the light-hearted Ifugaos who acted like children, looking always for fun in their jobs and singing at work!
With a basket-load of rocks on my sore shoulders, I slipped and rolled down the trail, the rocks following after me and piling up on me at the foot of the trail.
To the Ifugaos it was some funny thing to look at, but to me it was no fun at all!
Anyway, I got up and laughed at myself with them. And they became my friends.
I got used to the job after a week. With sore shoulders, arms, and legs, and aching and bruised, I had to do the job as a laborer in a road gang with Ifugaos.
Then they assigned me with a companion to paint a hanging bridge west of Kiañgan going to the Banawe rice terraces. It took us two weeks to do the perilous job of hanging like houseflies on spiders’ webs with our waists tied to the steel cables of the bridge above a deep stream under us. We boarded with a nearby fence. That was a bridge connecting Kiañgan and Banawe.
After our painting job, I was assigned as Asst. Road roller Engineer to Fabian Valencerissa. I learned how to drive the diesel engine road roller. But we lived in a nipa hut along the road near a stream not far from Ifugao huts.
Every day we hiked to the place where we parked the road roller, walking over rough lime stones that paved the road.
My job was to shovel broken lime stones on the path of the road roller if it bogged down.
It was then that I started reading a correspondence book about auto mechanics, and how I wished I could continue my studies in Baguio or Manila, even as a servant of a rich family.
After serving as a road roller assistant engineer for two months, I was given a job as a checker of graveling trucks, listing the number of cubic feet hauled and dumped along the road.
That was the time I learned how to drive. On the way to the Naym riverbed when the trucks were empty, I was allowed by two friendly drivers to drive: Bernardino (Dinong) Sanchez and Poncian Torres.
In later years when I was already a lawyer and a Captain, I was able to recommend Torres to become a driver of BAL (Benguet Auto Lines) to a Colonel who was the manager of the MRR (Manila Rail Road Company). Col. Villa was my office-mate in HPA before he retired. I also returned Poncian’s driver’s license confiscated by my former soldier who became a motor cop. Poncian was very happy.
Dinong Sanchez was a Sergeant under me in the PMA Motor Pool as bus driver in 1965. He was one of those who made an affidavit that I was a BPW employee in 1935.
After I learned how to drive, I was given the job as timekeeper of the laborers working at the Ibulao Hanging Bridge. The people with whom I worked hauling rocks to the bridge foundations were placed under my payroll.
Later on I was designated as CAPATAZ-TIMEKEEPER over a group of Ifugaos that built the rift raps along the road to present slides or erosions.
One day, following a big slide, I was leading my Road Gang of Ifugaos to a big landslide that made the road impassable. A bird called “IDAW” flew across our path. All ten laborers turned back and refused to go with me to clear the slide, claiming that it was a bad omen for them. I continued to walk to the blocked road and found nothing wrong along the way. Praise the Lord!
During my employment as capataz-timekeeper, between Lamut and Ibulao there was a BIG landslide that blocked the road for one month. My laborers and I lived on big bats that inhabited a nearby case.
We had boiled bats, roasted bats, and fried bats as food for the duration of our isolation from civilization. Bats are good eating provided that in skinning them the outer skin does not touch any part of the meat, because the bat urinates while hanging, thus bathing itself with its urine!
The road between Lamut and Kiañgan and Ibulao was just a trail good for one vehicle coming one way. And so there were stations manned by lady employees for every five kilometers of road.
One of them was Miss Kabigting, in the station of Barrio Banting, Ifugao, before Nayon, Ifugao.
That was the first station from Lamut. One of my employees, Sosing Paredes, son of Treasurer Paredes, wrote a poem in the toilet. It read:
“O MISS KABIGTING
QUEEN OF BANTING
HOW I LOVE
YOUR MOTING” (pussy)
Sosing was also the brother of Mr. Crecensio Paredes, our Foreman. And so he was at liberty to go fishing with some laborers in the Nayon River whenever we ran out of food. He became an officer during World War II and led Ifugao soldiers as guerillas and became a General in the Philippine Army before he retired.
There were the Padua sisters in another station who were our inspirations in that God-forsaken place of the world, where civilization had not yet caught up. Then there was the wife of Mr. Robles, who owned a graveling truck and was at the same time a foreman. I lived or boarded in their Camp house when I was a checker and capataz-timekeeper in Nayon.
His wife was a Gatekeeper at the Nayon Station. She was a mestizo, or fair-skinned lady, with two beautiful children. Manong Cion was like a sister, who cooked delicious food and was an inspiration, like a beautiful angel to everybody. That was in 1935.
I saw Mr. Robles on the road going to Nayon and was able to speak with him on our way to Bayombong from Baguio with my family in 1955. He lost his truck to the Japs during World War II and his job as foreman after the war but retained his land in Nayon, which had grown into a productive town after twenty years. Manong Picong Robles was a hot-tempered mestizo.