When it was decided that Fernando was going to become a maestro, not an abogado, as it would be impossible for the family to afford law school, his benevolent aunt Elisea Gonzaga who would later become wife of Emilio Magsaysay, a pastor in the Seventh Day Adventist church, and his good uncle Jesus San Felipe Gonzaga who would later gift him with the first new suit in his life came forward and offered to pay for his matriculation of P4 a year for four years at the Philippine Normal School. Both his aunt and uncle had graduated from the teacher’s school, thanks to their sister, Fernando’s mother, who, being the eldest, had sacrificed her own ambitions to help send the younger siblings to school.
Fernando’s brothers were as eager as he was to obtain a good education. Amado was studying to be a tenedor de libro (bookkeeper) at the Philippine School of Commerce in Sta. Mesa (now the Polytechnic University of the Philippines) while working at night as a printer’s devil in a letterpress company. Later he went to the University of the Philippines for his accounting degree. The tall and good-looking Vicente, who attracted the eye of the girls in his school and in the neighborhood, was helping his mother, who doted on him, dreamed that he would become a doctor, but Vicente, fulfilling the romantic tragedy of the beloved and the beautiful, died ten days before his graduation, leaving behind three small children. The youngest Conrado was to take up mechanical and electrical engineering, working in the day as sweeper and librarian at the University Club of Manila in front of Aristocrat on Dewey Boulevard, a private club owned by American businessmen and professionals, and studying at night at the University of the Philippines.
All through my four years in the Philippine Normal School, I worked Saturdays as a plumber’s assistant to earn my allowance and pocket money. The master plumber was a neighbor, the old man Cruz. I went with him and his son Ponying – we were playmates when we were small – to his plumbing jobs in Sta. Cruz, Quiapo, Singalong and other places, and we fixed toilets, lavabos and ventiladors. The old man Cruz paid me fifty centavos a day. We took the tranvia to and from work. The major means of transportation in Manila under an American Governor General were the calesa, the caritela and the tranvia. A two-day ticket cost 17 centavos, one way was nine centavos.
In all of my four years at the Philippine Normal School, I could count maybe only ten times that I rode the tranvia. I walked and partly ran to school, morning and afternoon. I’d leave at 6 or 6:30 in the morning and wend my way through Dagupan, Soler, Meisic, Rosario (now Quintin Paredes), Jones Bridge and Taft Avenue, where the school was located (it still is). I wore tsinelas (slippers of calfskin or goatskin with gamosa). It was only in my third year, when I had my Observation and Participation classes, that I was enjoined, for propriety’s sake, to wear shoes, although I could ill afford them. So the slippers will last longer, on rainy days I put them in my back pocket or my bag and walk barefooted through the slush. Upon reaching the school I’d wash my muddied feet under the faucet before putting on my slippers.
With my plumber’s pay, I’d spend three centavos for rice, two centavos for a viand of dinuguan or higado or sinigang, and maybe three centavos for pancit luglog; the rest went to school materials. When there was no plumbing job the Saturday before, I contented myself with a baon of rice and tomatoes. Some generous classmates would share with me a piece of their tapa (jerky) and we’d have a picnic under the mango tree in the schoolyard.
That mango tree is still there. When it was in fruit, I was the one who was always showing off and climbing that tree. I remember during my second year I was up in that tree and the school’s registrar, the much dreaded Bertha Lincoln, saw me and she shouted, “Young man, come down from that tree!” Like a scared cat I scampered from one branch to another and then fled to the men’s room. She waited for me at the gate but I escaped through the window. If she had caught me, I would have been suspended and it would have affected my class standing. I was an honor student then – without really trying – and I knew that the Division Superintendent of the City Schools of Manila would invite (by letter) only those who were on the honors list.
In his first year at the Philippine Normal School, he studied Drawing under Mr. Herminio Ancheta. Since Ding was the shortest and the youngest-looking in class, Mr. Ancheta took a fancy on him and named him roll-caller, a designation that carried certain distinction in class. “Hoy, Bulilit,” Mr. Ancheta would holler at him, “call the roll!” Fernando sauntered through a whole semester in Drawing without touching brush and crayola.
Mr. Ancheta was a talented artist. In school he would produce a painting in oil or watercolor in ten to fifteen minutes flat, using whatever was at hand – discarded paper or a board yanked out of a dilapidated aparador. He would instruct his favorite Bulilit to sell his instant masterpieces for 50 centavos or a peso and with some of the money Bulilit would be sent out to buy a pack of his teacher’s favorite cigarettes, La Insular or Katubusan. Bulilit knew who on campus had money on them: the pensionados from the provinces, some of whom were veteran schoolteachers. (In the provinces it was not unusual for Grade II graduates to start teaching in Primary.) For every peso he collected Fernando made three to five centavos. He spent the money on pancit or dinuguan.
Mr. Ancheta, by all indications a budding bohemian, gave Bulilit a grade of 91 in Drawing, the highest grade ever in this class. And this Fernando earned without doing a single drawing! Imagine his shock then when four years later the Assistant Superintendent of Schools, Mr. Florentino Cayco, would summon him to his office and tell him that his first teaching assignment was going to be: Drawing.
From his first year in PNS he became very active in campus politics, becoming vice president of the freshman organization, member of the Junior House of Representatives, and in his third year speaker pro tempore. It did not affect his popularity, neither was it ever an embarrassment to him, that he was so poor he could not afford more decent clothes – he only had camisa chino – much less the dentures to fill up his missing front teeth. He was not alone in his poverty, though. Many of his classmates also came from poor families like him.
In his second year he became friendly with a classmate of his – Dolores Bernardo, nicknamed Loleng, during an excursion to a botanical farm in Lamao, Bataan. Since he discovered that he was happy when he was with her. But he did not court her, not even in jest. “Owing to my poverty, I had vowed that I would not give a girl a second look until I was somebody,” he says.
She was a sweet girl. She shared with him her baon, she gave him one or two tickets on tranvia on stormy days (her scholar’s ticket was five centavos instead of nine and she had 50 tickets in a libreta). Once she was his dance partner in a school program; they danced the Carinosa and a modern number to the tune of “Happy Days Are Here Again.” They wore customes cut out of crepe paper.
Loleng went on to become principal and then supervisor in Cabanatuan. Since then he rarely saw her again; once she invited him to the Cabanatuan town fiesta; another time during a Palaro sports meet he went up her house unannounced and came upon her washing clothes in a batya. “I felt guilty. Perhaps if I had courted her, things would have been different?” One could only shake one’s head at the unfathomable. When his class celebrated their Golden Jubilee at the Philippine Normal School in 1978, he was so overjoyed to see her that he impulsively rushed forward to embrace her.
She died a spinster at 72 in 1980. He read about her death in a newspaper obituary. “I was very fond of her. I want to see her,” he told his wife. ‘That’s alright,” his wife said. “I’m coming with you.” At the wake he took his seat beside the three sisters of Loleng who were all severely dressed and veiled in black. One of them, Ising, wept upon seeing him and said, “Why did you come only now? She had been wishing to see you.”
In his junior year, he wore his first pair of shoes and long pants.
He was sent to his first practice teaching assignment, Observation and Participation, at the Jefferson Elementary School’s Grade VII class, in Paco, near the Hike Shoe Factory, which was owned by an American. He was going to handle a Physical Education class. When he entered the classroom, in his shorts and slippers, there was a commotion among the students and then they started jumping out of the window.
The principal of the school, the spinsterish Miss Ruperto, caught one of the fleeing students and demanded to know, “Who’s your teacher?’ Miss Ruperto gave Fernando Bautista a dressing-down right there and then. “How could you explain to maintain discipline in your class when you’re wearing shorts? Some of your pupils are older than you and they’re wearing long pants. If you could not be properly dressed, better drop the subject,” she snapped.
Once outside Miss Ruperto’s office the novice teacher burst into tears. He was so ashamed of himself he was ready to renounce teaching altogether. It was then that Miss Blue, the supervisor in the Training Department of the Philippine Normal School, saw him and asked, “Why are you crying, young man?” He told her what happened. “What did you expect, with your outfit? Come back in long trousers and a coat. And look stern when you face your class,” Miss Blue said, not knowing whether to be mad at him or sorry for him.
On reaching home, he told his mother what happened and she forthwith produced a pair of long pants, tight-fitting in the Moro style popular at the time, that belonged to Amado and a white drill americana with a one and a half inch-high “clerical” collar that belonged to his father, and which did not require a necktie, as well as a beige-colored pair of bulldog Hike leather shoes that was either his father’s or Amado’s. He wore the same suit and shoes everyday for a whole semester of practice teaching.
It was a hectic year for him. He went to classes in the morning, did practice teaching in the afternoon, and then back to Normal for Drill and P.E. Just as his cortos and missing teeth did not hinder him from becoming a campus orator and politician, neither did his shortness and sparrow-like build stop him from being active in sports.
Everything was fine in the Bautista household. All the boys were working hard and studying hard and determined to pursue their own careers – Amado in accounting, Fernando in teaching, Vicente in Medicine, and Conrado in engineering. “They looked like a happy family,” remembers Atty. Jose Calingo, who was a classmate of Fernando’s at the Normal School and lived on Ricafort street, some distance from Dagupan. “All the brothers were my friends. They all looked well-behaved and disciplined. The mother was a kind woman who would give me a place at their table when it was time to eat and I was around in their house.” He and Fernando ware fervent devotees of the Nazareno of Quiapo during their schooldays. “On Fridays we walked together from school to Quiapo to hear Mass.” (He was surprised to learn that Fernando turned out to be a university founder and not a monsignor, but he did not find the former unlikely. “He had the highest IQ in the whole of Normal School during our time,” he says.) Calingo was also a close friend of Vicente’s, the fair and tragic boy.
One evening, during supper, Vicente, bristling with youth and good health and on his second year of medicine proper, startled everyone with the sudden announcement that he was getting married. Neither the entreaties of his mother nor the remonstrations of Amado and Fernando could dissuade him from what they felt was a premature decision, much less diminish his ardor for Mapalad Hilario, a spirited girl who lived next door. They got married not much later and lived with Vicente’s mother until he died in 1936 of kidney poisoning. He was only 24. The tragedy was made more poignant by the fact that the young man and father was due to graduate from Medicine in ten days. He left behind three children (a fourth died at birth). Mapalad remarried a year later, as soon as she shed her mourning clothes.
It was Fernando who practically adopted all of Vicente’s children – Angelina, Vicente Jr., and Totoy – who in turn gifted their uncle with many other children, six from Vicente Jr. and five from Totoy, both of whom have passed away; a surviving sister, Angelina, is childless. The grandchildren of Vicente, form part of the large clan and family that Fernando Bautista today proudly calls his own.
On his fourth year in Normal School, Fernando’s father fell off the mountain. It was said that the elder Bautista was in Mindoro following, like a siren call, hot rumors of gold to be panned in the mountain streams. He was caught in a storm in the mountains and was carried downhill by the flash floods. He broke his ankle. Amado was then municipal treasurer of Naujan, Mindoro, but he was not informed about the accident. The father managed to make the trek back to Manila on his own.
The wound festered and became gangrenous. For a long time he could not move around much, and so it came to pass that when the grown boys had not much need for a father figure he was suddenly there at home, not all in one piece maybe but there. But when he felt better he began to journey out of the house once more and went back to playing monte. “When I was small I remember Tiyo Idong coming to our neighborhood in Penalosa after his lunch to play cards with the men,” says Gloria Gonzaga, now Antonio, whose father Jesus was the brother of Fernando’s mother. “He was a soft-spoken man and did not talk much. When I was already going to school he taught me how to properly enunciate in Tagalog by making me read from Liwayway.”
Fernando’s recalls: We got used to seeing him around the house, but we wished he did not go back to gambling. I could not know if he was aware of our progress in school, but one time when I was already a teacher at the Sta. Ana Elementary School, I was surprised to see him among the audience at an operetta I was directing. He had apparently taken the tranvia to school, but he was wearing his pajama top and I was so embarrassed because I was dressed nattily in a white suit.
“Perhaps it wasn’t the first time he attended a school affair I was involved in, but he’d never let me know. He loved plays and operettas, being a thespian himself, and probably missed live theater, especially the zarzuela, which was then steadily losing out to the popularity of the silent movies. But if he cared at all about what we were doing, he would not let us know.”
“He died of cancer of the bone in 1930. He was 57. We buried him the morning after his death and in the afternoon I resumed my teaching, sad and wanting so much to let him know that we would miss him, nonetheless.”
The boys went about their own work. Fernando applied himself to his studies with more diligence, especially after learning that only those in the honor list were invited by the superintendent of schools for employment. He was still working Saturdays as a plumber and still getting fifty centavos per day, but it was great help for everyday expenses.
But when it came to graduation expenses, him plumber’s pay was certainly not enough. In November of 1927 when it was necessary to have his picture taken for the school annual, his Uncle Jesus gave him the suiting material and his brother Amado gave him the money to pay the tailor. (It cost P15-17 then to have a suit made, hecho derecho.) He got himself a butterfly necktie from a Japanese bazaar for ten centavos. Smart-looking and tentatively smiling in his new suit and tie, he had his picture taken at the Sun Studio, a Japanese studio near the Binondo Church.
Four months later, in March of 1928, at the graduation ceremonies at the Philippine Normal School he had his mother with him; he was doubly happy because he finished 26th in a class of 520 graduates: it was safely within the five percent skimmed for the honors list from the total graduating population. After the ceremonies, his mother went back to her work in Grandeza and he wended his way home, tired and wanting only to hit the sack. There was no party among friends, there was no special dinner prepared at home. It was the same thing for Conrado when he finished his engineering course. Graduations are part of the ordinary day-to-day trudge and hardwork that one should be grateful enough to hurdle and survive, not special evens that signal the final climax, the end. For the Bautistas, it’s yet another day, and there’s tomorrow.
Fernando woke up the next morning to a long and carefree summer and the exciting prospect of a teaching post upon the resumption of classes at the Sta. Ana Elementary School. He accepted invitations to dances and picnics. During the Holy Week he sang the pasyon at the bisitas, rendering the holy passages in a singing voice remembered from his father and mother who sang them beautifully. With his friends, he made the pilgrimage to the bisitas as far as Angono, Taguig and Marilao. In the merry month of May, he went carousing with his friends, flitting from one house to another, in the unending feast that marked the Flores de Mayo celebrations. In the evening the splendid santacruzan flowed like a river of light down the narrow and crowded streets of Tondo and Binondo. Fernando and his gallant friend were in great demand as torch bearers for the pretty damsels who positively sparkled underneath the fancy arches wearing the family jewels with their lavishly beaded gowns. Or they were drummers and buglers in the corps that provided the tune for the languorous march all down the streets, around the plaza, and into the church of the revered Santo Nino.
For Fernando Bautista, it was the summer of great contentment.
The best thing to happen to Fernando in that wonderful summer of 1928 was his summons to the office of Assistant Superintendent of Schools Florentino Cayco (later owner and president of Arellano University) for an interview. He was being assigned to the Sta. Ana Elementary School to take the place of a teacher who was being transferred to another school. He was going to handle all classes in Drawing in that school (thanks to Mr. Ancheta’s gratuitously high grades in his transcript of records, although it meant nothing in terms of actual skill).
When Fernando heard that, he almost sank in his chair and broke out in cold sweat. Soon after the interview, Fernando, not one to back out of a tight situation, took a “crash course” in drawing from his brother Amado and his uncle Jesus Gonzaga, who had taken Fine Arts courses in UP, an innate talent and flair took care of the rest. “When you’re pressed against the wall, you can do anything,” he says of his hilarious episode.
He went on to teach free-hand drawing, finger and scissor cutting with colored paper and mechanical drawing and was so convincingly good that after one year he became a model teacher in Drawing, doing demonstrations for the benefit of teachers at the Bonifacio Elementary School in Tayuman and the Mabini Elementary School in Sta. Cruz. The summer after his first stint as Drawing teacher he enrolled in the Drawing class of Dativa Cristobal Roque at the Normal School and he got the highest mark – not because he was Bulilit once more but because he deserved it.
His artistic flair might also explain why, at the opening of school at the Sta. Ana Elementary, he also found himself in Home Economics, the inviolable female bastion where no man dared to tread. But Fernando Bautista did not seem to be any threat to the female teachers.
His first principal was Miss Nieves Gomez who would later marry an Algonza, who would become chief of police of Manila. “Miss Gomez asked me to take care of decorating the model living room, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and office according to the season – Christmas, Valentine’s Day, Mother’s Day and so forth. There were three Home Economics teachers but I never knew why Miss Gomez had wanted me to do the decorating instead of them. As I had to do everything myself, I learned how to sew, embroider, do patchwork and stitch. I made table runners, bedspreads, pillow cases and antimacassars. You needed antimacassars then because men wore greasy pomades and they dirtied the chairs and sofas when they leaned back their heads. I learned color and print coordination. I took pains to paint the flower pots to coordinate with the color motif in the living room. I could do buttonholes. The only thing I didn’t learn was knitting.”
The readiness and flexibility of the drawing teacher and interior decorator, who was receiving P80 a month less pension, caught the attention of his supervisors. Public school teachers were not allowed to take up the advanced course leading to a Bachelor of Science in Education unless they showed satisfactory performance in their first year of teaching. Fernando proved himself more than qualified. From Drawing he had been “promoted” to handle the academic subjects, Good Manners and Right Conduct and Character Education (“These are very important subjects and I consider them necessary for a good student foundation. Unfortunately, they have been removed from the elementary curriculum”). Later he also became a model teacher in English.
Fernando enrolled for evening classes at the University of the Philippines in Padre Faura. He took the tranvia from Sta. Ana to San Marcelino, near the Paco Cemetery, and then walked the rest of the way to Padre Faura. Little did he suspect it then but he was also walking into the arms of his future wife.
Rosa Castillo was his classmate in Botany I and they were assigned the same microscope. Although he was not that much taller than she, he always offered to take down the microscope from its perch on a high shelf at the start of the class. After school he saw her being fetched by her boyfriend who brought her home on the tranvia to the Manotoc Subdivision in Gagalangin, Tondo. Sometimes he came upon them boarding the tranvia at the Paco Station; they took their seats in first class while Fernando sat in second class.
“It was not love at first sight,” says Fernando Bautista. “Rather, it grew through the years.”
Rosa Castillo was born in Tondo of parents who came from Pateros, Rizal. When she and her sister Cayetana were still small, the father died in a cholera epidemic that decimated the town. To support the children, the mother tended a small sari-sari store. But love after the time of cholera came again for Rosa’s mother: She met Victoriano Yamson, who was one of the best lawyers during the time of Quezon (he also served the President) a distinguished orator and debater. They had three daughters and a son.
Rosa was a model teacher in Grade II at the Magdalena Elementary School in Sta. Cruz, which was also a model institution. It seems she was always a step ahead of Fernando. Rosa was six months older than he. In 1936 when he became the youngest masteral holder and the youngest principal, he was only duplicating the feat of Rosa who four years earlier, when still an undergraduate, became principal of the Intramuros Primary School. Even in the senior teachers examination in 1935, Rosa was number one, while he came in number two. That exam always exacted a high mortality rate: as much as three-fourths of the total examinees.
Rosa Castillo, although hard-driven in her career, was no killjoy, if not exactly a barrel of fun. She was rather outgoing and loved the company of her friends. It was she who drew Fernando into her gang consisting of fellow teachers from Magdalena, vivacious, close-knit and loyal to each other. There were the Roxas sisters, with names that sounded like heroic Iberian marches – Libertad, Estrella, Luz and Esmeralda. There was Crisanta Tangco, who later became assistant to the superintendent of Manila city schools. And Mariano Pascual who later became superintendent of Manila city schools. Domingo Tan who became principal of the Jose Abad Santos High School, and Luciano Tapia, who distinguished himself as a soloist of the Manila Teachers Chorale.
Together they went to the movies, to the Ideal and Grand in Avenida, Lyric and Capitol in Escolta, Empire in Echague; you paid 20 centavos when you went in before noontime, 30 centavos when you went in after 12. They all loved Jeanette McDonald and Nelson Eddy and “Love Boat,” and were enthralled by the epic “War and Peace.”
On weekends they would watch as many as three movies in a row. Afterward if there was not much money left among them for the panciteria, they sometimes headed for the house of the Roxas sisters in Sampaloc, raided the kitchen and gabbed some more until about ten in the evening when they would remember to go home.
Or sometimes on Sundays they would tale the bus to a small dam in Marilao where they swam and picnicked on sinigang of fish fresh from the fisherman’s salambao; or to the Dalahican beach in Cavite where they feasted on oysters (costing ten centavos a kerosene can); the coastal town did not yet grow tahong then. Rosa Castillo was up to anything – except dancing. This Fernando found out during the dinner-dance held to raise funds for the Red Cross. Fernando, the would-be Valentino, loved to dance. He learned the tango, the waltz, the Lambeth Walk and the pasa doble in his neighborhood where dances would be held at the sight of the Victrola. When the band slid into a slow waltz number, he walked up to Rosa and asked her for the dance but the lady demurely and embarrassedly said sorry. “I don’t know how to dance,” she confessed.
Love had not waltzed into their hearts as yet. The young man’s fancies were being diverted elsewhere. In 1933 there was the fair and fashionable Constancia Guevara from Gagalangin who was teaching Social Studies at the Sta. Ana Elementary School. She had graduated from Philippine Normal School the year before and after serving as substitute teacher in the Division of City Schools of Manila, she was permanently assigned to Sta. Ana.
Evenings of Saturday and Sunday, after the late movies or the supper at the Roxas sisters, it would fall upon him to take the other girls in the gang home by calesa. First to get down was Miss Tangco who lived on Bulacan street, then Rosing whose house was located at the back of the Gagalangin fire depot. Then he’d go visit Constancia who lived at nearby Solis street.
Then there was a girl named Annie, also a teacher, who lived on his street. She was a childhood friend and she was entirely devoted to him. Passing her house on his way home, however late the time, he would find her at her window patiently waiting for him. She’d call out to him and press into his hands balut or sweets or whatever it was that she had prepared for him.
But the young man had vowed to himself that he would not look at woman seriously until he was “established.” And so he kept himself diligently to his teaching, adept at handling English as well as Drawing and Industrial Arts classes, coaching volleyball and tennis for boys and girls, training declaimers, and directing operettas (he set up Finarliso in Sta. Ana., an idea he borrowed from Tondo Intermediate).
In the school year 1935-36, he was assigned to a professional team on special detail in the Department of Public Instruction which was then tasked to revise the courses in English for Grades I to VII. Chief of the team was Dr. Cecilio Putong, a well-known name in education at the time. The team’s significant contribution was the inclusion of Filipino writers in English in classroom textbooks, thereby boosting the reputation of budding literary luminaries then like Juan Laya and Lydia Arguilla, Frankie Sionil Jose, Estrella Alfon, Ligaya Fruto, and Edith and Edilberto Tiempo.
At the same time that he was working in the Department of Public Instruction, Fernando Bautista was also on loan to Dr. Manuel L. Carreon, who was then chief of the Department of Tests and Measurements. He assisted Carreon in framing the questions for the Civil Service examinations for junior and senior teachers and superintendents. He was actually asked to stay with this department but he felt that its system of promotion was too slow.
His burning ambition was to become superintendent that was why he took every chance to obtain higher education. (There were only three universities then – the University of the Philippines, the National University which was owned by Camilo Osias and the Jocson family, and Sto. Tomas University of the Dominican Fathers.) “Dean Francisco Benitez of the UP College of Education served as my model and inspiration in striving for higher education and more effective service in molding the character of the youth,” he has once said.
He spent seven long years in UP and saw three presidents – Dr. Palma, then Dr. Jorge Bocobo, and when he graduated, Dr. Bienvenido M. Gonzales. In all that time he was not able to attend a single convocation or social affair on campus, as he arrived for class at 5:30 and all convocations were held not later than 4:00 in the afternoon. He failed first semester of ROTC because his captain, would-be General Macario Peralta, was affronted by the trainee’s miserably faded uniform; the captain was extremely fastidious. He almost failed Social Studies under Dr. Paterno Santos who, not caring a hoot whether one was a working student or not, marked Fernando absent every time he was tardy. (“When I taught at the UP College in Baguio, he was back to haunt me – he was my dean.”)
The long years – faded uniforms and tardiness notwithstanding – paid off for Fernando Bautista. As he is wont to say, “With hard work and determination, anything is possible.” In 1936, soon after finishing his masteral course from UP, he was appointed Assistant Principal of the Gregorio del Pilar Elementary School (now Jose Abad Santos High School) in Binondo. It was formerly the Meisic Elementary, where he studied Grade I and II. Some of his old teachers were still there and they were so very proud of him.
After a year he became principal of the Rizal Elementary School in Tayuman, achieving a record of sorts as the youngest principal in Manila with the highest degree. And the most eligible bachelor? Not for long. In the summer of 1938, on April 18 of a glorious Easter Monday, he got married to Rosa Castillo.
Because of the gang, I was with her almost everyday, including Saturdays and Sundays – for nine years. Love grew quietly, slowly, almost unsuspectingly. In December of 1935 when I was putting the finishing touches to my masteral thesis, and I came to the part of the dedication, I wrote “R” (for Rosing) all of a sudden. It seemed most natural.
Mother and I went to see Rosing’s mother (namanhikan) and a wonderful thing happened then. It turned out my mother and her mother were old chums in Tondo and even worked in the same pabrika. Naturally, they didn’t take long to agree to the wedding.
I had earlier proposed to Rosing in a letter, very vaguely, very indirectly. I was too timid to say “I love you.” In one of her last letters to me, Rosing told me all about her past suitors. I wrote back to her, finally in very clear and definite terms, “I love you for what you are.”
I thought we were both more than ready for marriage. We were both principals. I was already 30 years old and so was Rosa (she was six months older than Fernando, being born on September 4, 1907). I had an increase of P10 as principal. Although for many years I gave all my salary to my mother who in turn gave me only what I needed for allowance, I was still able to squirrel away P100 in the bank.
We were married by Fr. Jose Jovellanos at the Tondo church (now cathedral). We had for sponsors my English supervisor, Visitacion Gonzalez, and the Dean of the College of Education of U.P., Dr. Francisco Benitez. Of course we had two members from the gang, Luciano Tapia and Esmeralda Roxas, as best man and maid of honor. Nobody in my school knew about my wedding.
Rosa wore a silk gown made for her by her elder sister Cayetana, and carried a bouquet of calla lilies. I wore black pants and a white jacket, tuxedo-style that cost me P37, and black leather Ang Tibay shoes.
We had decided on 30 guests, 15 from my side and 15 from hers, consisting mainly of immediate members of our families. The reception was held at the Rooftop of the Cosmos Restaurant at Juan Luna in Binondo. We paid P3.50 per cover. We went to Baguio the next day for our honeymoon and stayed in the house of the Villongcos, the owners of the school building where Rosa was the principal. They let us stay in the basement of their summer house. I was in Baguio for the first time in December of 1928 in my first year of teaching. I was so engrossed in teaching and decorating the Home Economics rooms that I lose weight, from 105 to 95. The doctor advised me to take it easy. I joined a YMCA annual conference at the Vallejo Hotel in Baguio to get my mind off work. I was enamored with Baguio – Camp John Hay, the Mansion House, and the roses and geraniums were in bloom. I promised to myself that I won’t come back to this beautiful city unless I was with somebody I love.
After the honeymoon they went to live in the house in Dagupan, Tondo. Two months later they moved in with Rosa’s mother who was living alone in the house at the back of the firehouse in Gagalangin. Exactly nine months after the wedding, on January 18, 1939, their first child Fernando, also called Fer, was born; on December 20 of that same year, their second child Benjamin, better know as Bnn, was born.
The couple was working as hard as ever. Rosa was transferred to Zamora Elementary School in 1939 and, after the birth of her second child, to M. Hizon Elementary School. (In those days, if you went on maternity leave, you were replaced.) Fernando stayed on as principal of Rizal Elementary School.
“Because he was young,” recalls Maria G. Sanchez who was a Grade IV teacher under him, “he was very sociable and enjoyed the company of the teachers and parents.
A family man himself he had a soft spot for children. When he heard that my baby was very sick, he sent me home during recess. He even urged that I bring my baby to their family physician, Dr. Mamaril. It was Dr. Mamaril who prescribed Alpine evaporated milk instead of the powdered milk I was feeding my baby. And indeed my baby became healthier and more mataba.
“He was very upright. At the start of his term as principal he made it clear to us that he was not going to accept any gift or token of any kind. ‘Don’t be disappointed if I don’t accept them,’ he told us. These gifts – a box of candied fruits maybe or a handicraft pasalubong from the province – are culturally correct but in a work situation these thoughtful niceties could assume, intended or not, the cajolery of little briberies.”
Mrs. Sanchez kept the example of Mr. Bautista in mind when she herself became supervisor at the La Consolacion College and further impressed the lesson upon her husband, a locomotive engineer at the railroads, who as supervisor was in charge of posting engineers in the provinces, some posts being more lucrative than the others. “You can never impose discipline if you receive gifts from your men,” she would tell him.
Such was the honesty and integrity of the good men and women of Tondo in those days. They labored in the docks and in the warehouses; they worked shifts in the Alhambra tobacco factory that was right across the Rizal Elementary School in Tayuman; owing to the proximity of the great markets of Divisoria and Pritil they prospered as traders and retailers of fresh produce and dry goods.
At the turn of the decade, in an era called Peacetime – a myth or a reality – life for Fernando and Rosa in Tondo seemed idyllic enough. During summers he took on a job as reviewer for the junior and senior teacher examinations in Manila, Dagupan and Pangasinan. (He got the assignment from Florentino Cayco who had relinquished his post in the city schools to become president of National University and the Arellano University after war.) He would hold classes in Dagupan and Sta. Barbara in the morning and in Urdaneta in the afternoon and then catch a ride back to Dagupan where he stayed in a rented room. On weekends he would come home on the Manila Railroad, his hands full with gifts of suha, panocha and matamis sa bumbong for his pretty bride.
The young principal nurtured his dream of becoming a superintendent someday, but youthful ambitions have a way of surpassing themselves. In June of 1940, Fernando accepted a teaching position at the UP College of Arts and Sciences in Baguio City, a move that unpredictably changed the course of his career and uprooted him forever from the ancient kingdom of Lakandula and the once grand waterway named Canal de la Reina.