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Chapter One

ROOTS AND CHILDHOOD

 

My grandparents were part of a wave of settlers that came to Mindanao during the early part of the 20th century after the American "pacification" campaign against the Muslim natives. Like many settlers, my grandparents believed what the American rulers had proclaimed -- that  Mindanao was the "Land of Promise."  Mindanao indeed promised a better life to the settlers. Unlike Luzon and the Visayas, Mindanao was seldom visited by typhoons. It was blessed with fertile land, lush forests and abundant mineral deposits like gold, ore and copper. It was sparsely populated and there was enough land for everyone. There were no landlords who owned the vast tracts of land. But the native Muslim inhabitants would see them as invaders no better than  the Spaniards and American who had come before them. The struggle for possession of this land and her resources has time and again turned this Promised Land into a No Man's Land. This was the land where I was born.

My paternal grandfather, Bernardo, came from Oras, Samar -- a large island in the Eastern Visayas. He was a teenager when General Jake Smith ordered his men to turn Samar into a "howling wilderness" after Filipino guerrillas massacred an American detachment in Balangiga. The angry General told his troops in 1901:

"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 United States.  Kill everyone over ten...Short severe wars are  the most humane in the end... Every native should  be treated as an enemy until he has conclusively  shown that he is a friend... Samar must be made  a howling wilderness."

 

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 Samar after the American forces completed the "pacification" campaign. He studied in Manila as a scholar of the American colonial government.  Filipino teachers were being trained from all over the country to assist the  American teachers, popularly known as the Thomasites, in providing mass education to Filipinos. While in Manila, Bernardo met and married  Aurea Burgos, a mestiza Chinese-Filipino whose family came  from Ilocos. The couple migrated to Lanao sometime in 1915 where Bernardo had been assigned as a teacher. They  resided in Dansalan (now Marawi), near the site of the American military camp -- Camp Keithly.

And that is how my father, Antonio Burgos Picardal, came to be  born beside Lake Lanao in 1921. He and his siblings  grew up among the Muslims in Dansalan.  They learned to speak  Maranao.  One of his sisters, Lourdes,   later married a Maranao -- Masbud Magumpara. Thus, a Maranao Muslim branch was added to the Picardal clan.

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 September 29, 1940,  Antonio's mother died after jumping from their truck.  What actually happened has remained a mystery.  Some said that Aurea jumped because the truck was out of control. However,  some of the children believed that Aurea jumped after a quarrel with Bernardo over his womanizing. Bernardo tried to hold  her but it was too late. Whatever happened, my father and most of his siblings blamed their father for their mother's death. They harbored this anger for the rest of their life.  

In 1941, as the United States was preparing for war against Japan, Antonio joined the USAFFE (United States Armed Forces in the Far East). He was sent to Davao for training. With the fall of Bataan and Corregidor to the Japanese forces, General Wainright  ordered  the USAFFE to surrender. Instead of following this order, Antonio walked all the way from Davao to Iligan where he joined the guerrilla forces. Commissioned as a second lieutenant, he led his band in attacking Japanese military installations and ambushing enemy troops. He acquired a reputation of being a courageous and ruthless guerilla officer. Once he was captured by the Japanese but he was able to escape and rejoin his guerilla band.

After the war, Antonio studied at the Mapua Institute of Technology in Manila on the veterans' educational pension, which he supplemented with his earnings as a janitor. He received his degree in civil engineering in 1950 and returned to Iligan.  He was employed by the National Power Corporation as a project  engineer and helped supervise the construction of  a tunnel and the power plant at the Maria Cristina Falls. 

A year later, in 1951, Antonio met  and fell in love with Nicole.

My mother, Nicolasa Paradela Legaspi, was born in Cebu in 1927.  Her ancestors on her father's side were civil servants and artists. Her grandfather was a gobernadorcillo of a town in  Pilar, Cebu during the Spanish period.  She had an aunt who was a sculptor and a painter. From her mother's side, there were writers and musicians.  Her family settled in Lanao after the war.  Nicole received her teaching degree and in 1950 was assigned to teach in Samburon.  That is where she first met my father.  They were married in Linamon, my mother's hometown, in 1952.           After their wedding, my parents resided in the city of Iligan.  One year later the first child was born. They named her Nilda. On October 6, 1954, I was born.  Seven others would later come after me: Nonita, Angel, Samuel,  Myrna, Amelia, Cecilia and Agustin.

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 near the church of St. Michael's. From our balcony, I could see the church tower. The ringing of the bells reached out through the windows, through the walls and even far beyond our balcony to all houses in the town. It was the signal for my parents to take me to mass with them. Every time we went to mass all our attention was focused on the man with the colorful vestments, speaking in a strange language and performing those mysterious rituals.  The candles and the incense added to the sense of mystery.

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 migrate to Davao.  However, my maternal grandmother  promised to give them a piece of land if they  stayed .  So our family moved  to Maria Christina subdivision in Tibanga.  The subdivision was located outside the city proper. Most of the residents  belonged to the middle class.  We had neighbors who were doctors, lawyers, teachers, engineers and military officers. Our new home was near the house occupied by the Irish Redemptorists who had recently  arrived.  Since they didn't have any church, the Redemptorists celebrated  mass in St. Mary's -- a school just a block away from our home.  My parents often brought me and my siblings to mass on Sundays.  I was always filled with awe whenever  I  saw the priest with his colorful vestments, raising the host and the chalice during consecration while the altar boy rang the bell to mark the sacred moment.   When we came home after the mass I would wear my father's oversized white tee-shirt as a mass vestment  and mimic the priest's gestures and his gibberish as my father and mother watched with amusement.

 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 North Central School in Saray, a public school not far from home.  The school was just being built and we had to bring our own chair.  Most of my classmates were poor and they often went to class barefoot.  I was not  a serious student.  I spent most of my time playing with my classmates.  We would sometimes skip class, go off to the nearby beach and  swim. Several times, my nervous teacher, Mrs. Lalu, would catch me up on the rooftop of the schoolhouse and she would order me to come down. I would sometimes give my teachers the impression that I was taking notes during class but actually I used up my pads of paper drawing my teachers and  my classmates.  Yet at the end of the year I would surprise my mother by getting a medal for third honor in class. My mother was always delighted to climb the stage during the closing ceremony to pin medals on me and my sisters Nilda and Nonie.

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 La Salle that I stopped pining for her. 

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, Burgos and Zamora. Fr. Burgos was a priest from Vigan, Ilocos who had a doctorate in theology and who fought for the rights of the native clergy. My father claimed that we descended from the same clan as Fr. Burgos because his middle name was Burgos and his mother's father was from Ilocos. I was impressed by Fr. Burgos's heroism and I liked the idea of his blood running in my veins too.


In 1965,  when I was in Grade Five, I transferred to La Salle Academy -- an exclusive school for boys. Since most of the students in La Salle went to school on their bicycles, I asked  Papa to buy me one.  I was so excited when he brought me to the store and bought my bicycle.  Even after class and during weekends, I would spend a lot my time going around the city on my bicycle. Besides cycling,  I also enjoyed  camping with my fellow boy scouts and climbing Mt. Agad-agad.  I also joined the regular singing practice of the La Salle Glee Club.  I enjoyed  all these  extracurricular activities.   Studying was not really a priority for me although I got good grades. 

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 La Salle brothers would herd us to the Redemptorist church for  regular confession and mass. Even during summer time, I would hang around the church for the whole month of May. My siblings and I would bring along some flowers and attend the Flores de Mayo. On Sundays, the whole family would attend mass in the Redemptorist church. Thus, I grew up under the shadow of the Redemptorist church.

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 March 5, 1966, I decided to go along with her.  I invited my elder sister Nilda to come along with us.  At first she didn't want to go since she was assigned to wash the dishes after breakfast.  I finally convinced her to come when I helped her with the dishwashing.  When we reached the  river, our laundry-woman started to wash our clothes while I practiced swimming nearby.  Nilda  went strolling with a girl she had just befriended.  At around three in the afternoon, I remembered that we still had piano lessons at five so I started looking for Nilda.  I couldn't find  her and I went home to report that she was missing.  A few hours later, they found her body and that of her friend on a deep hole twenty feet under water. When I heard that she was dead I immediately knelt  before our family altar and cried before the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus.  I  began talking to the image, "Lord … forgive me for inviting Nilda to come with us to the river.  Please … bring her back to life … I promise I will become a priest." 

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 six o'clock 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  Northern Mindanao. When I asked Bro. Gerard what they were doing in the mission, he told me that they would spend a week in each barrio, preach to the people, say mass and solemnize the wedding of the mancibados -- couples living together without being married in church.

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 Cebu. When he heard from my mother that I was interested in becoming a priest,  Lolo Enteng suggested that I apply to the St. Alphonsus' Seminary since the son of his close friend studied there.  He accompanied me to the Redemptorist monastery and we talked to Fr. Suico.  After my interview, I asked  my father's permission to enter the seminary but he refused without even  telling me the reason for his decision. Perhaps, he had his own dream for me. Or maybe he thought I was too young to leave home. I was very disappointed.

So I continued  studying at La Salle in my first year of high school.  One day our teacher asked us to write our own life-story and our dreams for the future. He told us to be creative.  So I drew a colored comic book telling the story of my life and foretelling my future.  In that comic book I  drew myself as a priest working in the remote barrios giving missions -- preaching to the people, saying mass and solemnizing the wedding of the mancibados.  The story ended with myself on my death bed years later wearing my habit and another priest giving me the last rites and telling me, "Go in peace, Fr. Amado." Thus, becoming a priest  and dying as a priest became my dream.  Fr. Suico seemed to have the same dream for me, for he was very persistent in recruiting me. After a few months he went to our house wearing his Redemptorist habit to  convince my father to allow me to enter the seminary. They talked for a long time and finally my father signed the application form.  When I brought Fr. Suico back to the monastery on my bicycle, I asked him how he was able to convince my father.  He answered, "Your father finally consented after I told him that we cannot  be sure if you will really become a priest. But even if you do not become one, you will still get an excellent education."

           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 Cebu. She immediately sent me to the tailor to have me fitted for the clothes I would bring with me.

So at the age of 13, I was all set to leave home and enter the St. Alphonsus' Minor Seminary in Cebu.