ROOTS AND CHILDHOOD
My grandparents were part of a wave of
settlers that came to
My paternal grandfather, Bernardo, came
"I want no prisoners. I wish
you to kill and burn, the more you kill
and burn the better you will please me. I want all persons killed who are capable of bearing arms
in actual hostilities against the
Tens of thousands of Filipinos -- combatants as well as civilians -- were killed while many more were herded into concentration camps and tortured.
Bernardo survived all these atrocities
and he left
And that is how my father, Antonio Burgos
Picardal, came to be born beside
My grandparents acquired land in Samburon -- a place outside Iligan -- where the family transferred. Aurea transformed Samburon into a coconut plantation. She acquired a truck which delivered dried fish, copra and tuba (coconut wine) to Dansalan. She was very good in business. It was Aurea who built up the family fortune. But material wealth did not bring much happiness to the family.
Bernardo, who rose in the ranks to become an Industrial Arts Supervisor for the schools in Lanao, was a ladies’ man. Whenever he went on school visitation, he would ask the young teachers to dance the tango and the curacha with him up to the early hours of the morning. His position and his charm made it easy for him to have mistresses. This was the cause of his constant quarrel with his wife.
In 1941, as the
After the war, Antonio studied at the
Mapua Institute of Technology in
A year later, in 1951, Antonio met and fell in love with Nicole.
My mother, Nicolasa Paradela Legaspi, was
A few weeks after my birth, I was stricken with broncho-pneumonia. My parents rushed me to the hospital because I was so gravely ill -- they were afraid I might die. But two months later I was baptized and named Amado -- the Spanish word for "Beloved." The nickname they gave me was Mading.
One of my earliest memories as a child is that of sucking from a bottle of warm milk. I also remember being bathed by my mother in a wash basin with warm water. Perhaps, even then, I was already treasuring the rare moments when my mother would lavish her full attention on me. She was always away, so the one who took care of me was my father's grandmother -- Lola Pacoy. She taught me to suck my thumb so that I would stop crying.
Our first home was an old house that
belonged to my mother’s uncle. It was
As I was growing up I became aware of an image that Mama placed in our family altar. It was the image of a bearded man with a heart sticking out of his chest. Whenever I looked at him, he also gazed at me. Wherever I stood he always followed me with his penetrating look. I finally asked my mother, "Mama, who is that strange man who keeps looking at me?"
She laughed and said, "He is Jesus and that is his Sacred Heart."
Thus, at an early age I became aware of the reality of Jesus. He was part of the family and he watched over us. It was before his image that we gathered to pray the rosary in the evening.
Christmas was my favorite time of the year. I knew that Christmas was coming when my mother would bring out the Christmas decorations -- the Christmas tree, the Christmas lantern and especially the belen. I liked to watch the figurine of the baby Jesus in the manger being surrounded by Mary and Joseph, the three kings on their camels bringing their gifts, the shepherds with the sheep and the cows gazing at him, and the star over all of these. The delicious food on the table, the burst of firecrackers and the gifts reminded us that we were celebrating the birthday of Jesus -- the savior of the world.
In 1959, my parents were planning to
I was a school drop-out at the age of five. My mother enrolled me in kindergarten at St. Mary's but I didn't last more than two weeks. I didn't like school. I preferred to tag along with my father wherever he went. I enjoyed those moments with him. He would take me with him to his projects -- he was building roads, bridges, school houses and a cement factory. These projects were far from home and we would be away for long periods. I would sometimes sleep beside him in his field office or at the back of dump-trucks. He would brag to his friends that I was his bodyguard and that someday I would be an engineer like him. I also went with him regularly to the barber shop, to the movie-house, to the restaurant and to the tennis club. Through all of these, I felt close to him.
In his own way my father was deeply religious. He didn't talk to me about God but he showed me what he believed in. He would take me along to St. Michael's where we would make the station of the cross. I would stand beside him as we gazed at the various pictures of Jesus that depicted the story of his suffering and death. During Easter I would accompany him to early dawn procession and the salubong. I was thrilled to see the cute girls with their wings as they were lowered by a pulley to take off the black veil from the sorrowing Mother Mary. When he was building roads in the remote town in Kapatagan, Lanao del Norte, I would accompany him to a nearby church for mass. Whenever my father attended the meeting of the Knights of Columbus (a religious fraternity of middle-class lay men), I would also tag along. I considered him my hero.
One evening, I saw my father quarreling with my mother. She was pregnant and she loved to listen to the soap drama over the radio. He shouted, "Why are you always listening to that damned drama?"
My mother shouted back,"Who are you to prevent me from listening to whatever I like on the radio?"
My father went near her and grabbed the radio and smashed it on the floor. My mother started to cry. She screamed, "You good for nothing husband. You are very abusive. I hate you. You leave this house immediately!"
My father looked at me and said, "Mading, pack up your clothes. We are leaving!"
After packing up our clothes we went out and waited for transportation. It was already late at night. We were on the side of the road for a long time. I looked up to him wondering why he didn't stop the jeepneys that were passing by. He was in deep thought for a long time. Then he told me,"Let's go back home to your Mama."
When we came in, my mother and my brothers and sisters were still crying. He brought her to their bedroom and closed the door. The following morning, I saw my father and mother go to mass. When they came home, I knew that all was forgiven. After that I never saw them quarreling violently again.
On some weekends, my mother took me and my siblings to her parents' home in Linamon on weekends. Her father, Lolo Islao, was a retired town treasurer. Her mother, Lola Franca, was a businesswoman who acquired large tracts of land in Linamon and Matungao. Every time we visited our grandparents' home, they would serve us lots of fruits -- durian, marang, jackfruit, lanzones. They were always glad to see us especially when we kissed their wrinkled hands that smelled of efficascent oil.
My father seldom took us to his father's house. The only time we paid a visit to my grandfather, Lolo Bandoy, was on Christmas day. It was always a very formal and brief visit. Lolo Bandoy would be standing sternly with a .45 caliber pistol on the table beside him. Our visits to Lolo became even fewer and far between after my father and his siblings sued him in court to demand their share of the piece of land that was their inheritance from my grandmother.
In 1961, we moved to our new house built by
my father. It was not far from the newly
built Redemptorist church and
monastery. It was time for me to go to
school, I spent less time with Papa. For three years I studied in the
My mother was always busy teaching during the weekdays. Whenever she was around during weekends, she made sure that we did the household chores. Since I loved to play, I often neglected my house work. I would go out with my slingshot and hunt for birds (I sometimes ended up breaking our neighbors' window). I loved to go up our rooftop and throw down our cat with a home-made parachute tied around her waist. I believed that cats have nine lives so I was confident that the cat would survive even if the parachute failed to open..
Once I saw bee-hive on the mango tree. I wanted to drive them away, so I put on a protective mask and long sleeves and climb up the tree carrying a torch as my brothers and sisters cheered me on. I panicked when I saw the bees going after me. I fell and went through the nipa roof of our play house. Our pregnant neighbor, Mary, saw all these. She jumped over the high fence to come to my aid. I had difficulty breathing but I was alright. I was just worried that she might have a miscarriage.
Because of my mischief my mother would get angry with me. Whenever I heard her call out my full name, "Amadooo…" I knew that she was already mad at me. Once she got so angry because I failed to do my household chores and I was quarrelling with my sister, Nilda . Mama spanked me with a broom. I was crying at the top of my voice and beg her to stop but she wouldn't. I was shocked and hurt by that unexpected violence. While scrubbing the floor with tears in my eyes I began planning to run away from home. But I only went as far as our neighbors' fence. I didn't know where to go.
But there were also times when I would experience her tenderness. Whenever I got sick she would massage me, give me a sponge bath, and feed me with boiled eggs and arroz caldo. That's why I liked to be sick. Whenever I had problems with math or algebra, she would spend time with me in the evenings or the weekends and we would go over my lessons. She bought me some crayons and water color so that I could draw and paint. She encouraged me to read the stories from Aesop's Fables, the fairy tales, the Greek myths, the Reader's Digest. I enjoyed reading the stories about Snow White and the seven dwarves, Cinderella, Beauty and the Beast, Little Red Riding Hood, The Emperor's New Clothes, etc. She would send me to the public library to borrow these books. She also built up the family library and bought the complete set of the Book of Knowledge and Grollier's Encyclopedia. I spent a lot of my free time reading.
When I was ten years old, Mama encouraged my sisters Nilda, Nonie and me to learn to play the piano. She bought a piano for us and hired a piano teacher who came once a week to give us lessons. I was bored with the type of music we learned to play -- mostly a simplified arrangement of classical pieces. My teacher would get mad at me for playing by ear the songs of the Beatles. After a year my mother had to send us to a piano school since the teacher stopped coming. Whenever we had a recital, my mother would always be there to listen to us. She became proud that we could play the piano. Thus, whenever we had guests she would command us to perform for them. The guests were probably bored as we were while listening to our rendering of Bach, Beethoven and Chopin.
In 1964, when I was in Grade Four, my
mother decided to send me to a
Catholic school. I studied in St. Michael's which was run by
the RVM (Religious of the Virgin Mary) sisters.
Our school was just beside the St. Michael's church. This time, most of my classmates came from
the middle and upper class. Unlike the
public school, the boys were separated from the girls. Our classroom was beside the classroom of the
girls. There I began to notice that girls were becoming attractive -
they were no longer a nuisance. There
was one girl that I considered the
prettiest girl in Grade Four. Her name was Teresita. Perhaps, she had some
Spanish or American blood -- a mestiza.
She seemed demure and aloof. Most of all, I was captivated by her deep expressive eyes. Everyday before entering our classroom, I
would try to catch a glimpse of her. I
never got the courage to approach her and talk to her. It was only after a year
when I transferred to
One day our teacher, Miss Sescon, asked each one us what we wanted to be when we grow up. Mifrando, the brightest boy in class announced," I would like to become a priest when I grow up."
When it was my turn, I proudly declared, "I would like to become an engineer like my father. I like to build roads, bridges and houses."
On weekends and in summers I played games with my brothers and sisters. Sometimes we would play engineers and construction workers. We would dig a canal and then construct a bridge over it. We would also build a playhouse out of the pile of wood in our backyard. At other times we would play soldiers and use our toy guns to ambush our neighbors. One of the favorite games we often played was the Wedding. My brother Sam acted as the groom, our neighbor Janet was the bride, the others acted as bridesmaids, flower girls, best man, sponsors, etc. The role of the priest was reserved for me. We all made up our own costumes and I used a bed-sheet as my vestment. The thought of becoming a priest did not enter my mind. It was only a game for me. Yet Mama started telling her friends and relatives that I might become a priest someday because I was fond of playing the role of the priest.
It hadn't yet occurred to me that I might become a priest. But the dominant figures in my imagination were priests. Two of my favorite comic strips were about priests who were heroic figures. The character in a Tagalog comics was called Padre Romano Guerrero. He was a karate expert and the defender of the weak and the oppressed. He fought criminals and corrupt politicians. And although he was attracted to a beautiful woman, he remained a faithful priest. In the English comics, the character was a Zorro-like figure -- a masked rider-- who fought against evil foes. The people didn't know who he was but he was actually a priest. They were my imaginary heroes, although I didn't dream of becoming like them.
There was another priest who had begun to
fascinate me: Fr. Jose Burgos. In our
history class we studied about the three priests whose execution sparked the
growth of the nationalist movement -- Frs. Gomez,
when I was in Grade Five, I transferred to
I usually passed the Redemptorist church
on my way to school. Late in the
afternoon after class, I would play basketball and football with my school mates
at the church grounds. Once a month,
Bro. Matthew and other
Towards the end of the school year, a
water crisis hit the city. The local waterworks system was not functioning. Our
laundry-woman had to go to the river every Saturday to wash our clothes. So one
Saturday morning on
Of course, my sister did not rise from the dead. During the wake and the funeral I had a gnawing feeling in my gut. I felt a sense of guilt especially as I watched my father hugging the coffin and weeping. I was expecting my parents to scold me for bringing Nilda along with me to the river. Since they never blamed me for her death the guilt feeling disappeared.
Praying before the altar and asking Jesus to bring my sister back to life deepened my awareness of the reality of Jesus. Since he did not answer my prayer I felt that I did not have to fulfill my promise of becoming a priest. Yet the idea of becoming a priest grew in my mind. I started to read the different Gospels to know more about Jesus. I also used my father's book of meditation which had a brief gospel passage for each day and some reflection. I also read Fulton Ousler's The Greatest Story Ever Told -- a popular narration of Jesus' life. I started doing the way of the cross on my own at the Redemptorist church. As I went around the church gazing at the various pictures, the story of Jesus' suffering and death became more vivid. I also led my brothers and sisters in praying the rosary after supper. Instead of concentrating on the Hail Mary's, my mind focused on the various mysteries of Christ's life -- the joyful, sorrow and glorious mysteries.
The following year, while I was in Grade
six, I started serving mass as an altar boy. I was thrilled to wear the
vestments and assist the priest during mass. I loved ringing the bell while the
priest raised the host and the chalice during the consecration. I often
imagined that someday I would be the one saying the mass. Serving on Christmas eve and the Easter vigil
was for me the peak experience as an altar boy. I liked the smell of incense
and the sight of candles being lit in the dark.
Even during weekdays, I volunteered to serve mass. I would wake up early
in the morning to cook rice and then proceed to the Redemptorist church to
serve at the
morning mass. The one in charge of the altar boys was Bro. Gerard
Santamaria. He was a stocky Redemptorist
brother in his late 50s who spoke Cebuano and English with a Waray accent.
Sometimes he would invite me inside the monastery for meals or snacks after
serving mass on special occasions (like Christmas and Easter) or after a game
of basketball with him. It was during these times that I had an inside view of
the monastery. On my way to the refectory
I would walk along the wide corridor and pass the rooms of the Redemptorists
on the ground floor. The smell of bacon
and brewed coffee would greet me as I entered the dining room. I sometimes
bumped into the members of the community. The
superior was Fr. Ireneo Amantillo – a short and jolly Ilongo with a
booming voice. I also met Fr. John Lucey, a towering Irishman, who seemed older
than he actually was because of his white hair. There was also Fr. Filomeno
Suico, a Cebuano who I thought had some Chinese blood because every time he
laughed his eyes would disappear. They were very warm and friendly. But I was wondering why I seldom saw all the
members of the Redemptorist community except for one or two who were left
behind.. Bro. Gerard informed me that they were often out on
mission in the remote barrios and mountains of
Towards the end of the school year, my
mother's uncle, Lolo Enteng, came for a
visit. He was a manager of an insurance firm in
So I continued studying at
I rode back home at top speed feeling
ecstatic. My mother also shared my joy
and told her relatives and friends that I was finally entering the seminary in