By Apolinario Villalobos


Our family is big. Our parents raised our family at an early age. I was told our father was about 18 and our mother was 17 when they settled down. Had not two of our siblings die, we would be 11. When our parents arrived in Mindanao, they first settled in Basilan and later in Tacurong when they joined our uncle, Serafin Bernardo. Our mother was the only girl in the Bernardo brood, elder to their youngest, tatay Peping who was the father of manong Boy (Serafin Bernardo III).


Upon settling in Tacurong, our parents ventured into a small business – selling dried fish that they purchased in Iloilo. The hardship was not felt by us for our discipline was such that they made us understand that our struggle to survive was part of a normal life. We did not grow up celebrating birthdays or any special occasion. We went to school without “baon”.


I was about 4 years old when our youngest, Oca, who was barely 3 months old, then. I helped in taking care of him so that when he was gone, I had the time to help our parents by selling the old stock of dried fish that we called “reject”, after washing them. At that age, I already knew how to cook rice as I was assigned to bring it to the market for lunch of our parents. I stopped doing it at 5 years of age when I was made to go to school with my elder brother, Tito. As a pupil, I was called “visitor”. During the time, I had collected old newspapers that were used as “lining” of boxes used in packing dried fish. That was how I was able to develop my love for letters and pictures. From the old pages of newspapers that reeked with the smell of dried fish, I discovered the cartoon character, LI’L ABNER and many others.  The first word that I learned to spell was PURICO a brand of lard that I was made to buy from stores at a young age of 4. I would fill our yard with the word that I would write on the ground using a stick.


My elder sister Maria Erlinda was among the first students of the Notre Dame Girls Department when it was separated from the Boys Department. My elder brothers were Notre Dameans up to high school as there was no college yet in the town during the time…except Florencio or Tito who finished his college much later in NDTC.  During the time, affluent families sent their children to colleges in Marbel (Koronadal), Cotabato City, Davao City and Iloilo City for their college education.


My elder brother, Floriano finished his BS Commerce in Accountancy in Jose Rizal College in Mandaluyong while working at the Mercury Drug at the same time. My elder sister Maria, finished her college education in Cotabato City. Only I and Tito finished our college at the Notre Dame of Tacurong College. In my case, our batch was the last of the graduates as afterwards, the college department of the said school was closed.


Our parents were barely 40 years old when they died, with our father passing away first, followed by our mother in less than a year. I was in Grade 6 when our father died and halfway through my First Year in high school when our mother passed away. My elder brother Tito finished his college as a “working student” – library assistant at NDTC. I was also a “working student” when I entered college in the same school, up to my third year because on my fourth year I was employed by the Department of Social Welfare when Claudio Estante opened a branch of the Region 11 based in Davao City.


In high school, to help me through my studies, I lived with a relative for less than year, a year in Davao with an elder brother’s family during which I studied at Holy Cross of Agdao for my Second Year in high school. The rest of my high school days were spent in Tacurong during which I worked at Panay Vinegar while studying at the Notre Dame Boys Department. I washed bottles and delivered stocks to the stores in the market as an all-around employee. I recalled spending long hours at night pasting brand sticker to bottles when we were flooded with orders from neighboring towns.


Our youngest sister finished her Nursing degree in Davao and fortunately did not standby for jobs as she was able to land a job in Saudi Arabia for a year after a short stint of teaching in her Alma Mater, then went to America for a better opportunity. I did not attend my college graduation at NDTC, as instead, I attended the pre-employment training in Manila to prepare me for my employment at Philippine Airlines where I spent 20 years.


As additional information about our journey, our eldest Leonardo worked in a company as a “pay master” despite his having finished first year college. Next to him, Leopoldo finished Law and had a stint as Chief of the COMELEC in Davao City and Tagum. An elder siter, Daisy who used to model for the Grimaldo Fashion School died at a young age in Manila, another elder sister, Maria Erlinda was a teacher and has also passed away, next to her, Floriano has retired from his job at Mercury Drugs in Manila as branch Supervisor, then Tito or Florencio who journeyed from a teaching job in Notre Dame of Lebak during the time of Fr. Silvestre, to a job in the HR department of Alcantara and Sons in Davao City, then as researcher for the Southern Philippines Development Authority (SPDA), then as a Recruitment Officer of the United Laboratory, and finally as Manager of the Training Division of the United Coconut Planters Bank, has also passed away. Our youngest, Felanie is a nurse and lives in America while an elder sister, a deaf/mute is still alive and is the center of our attention.


I could say that our parents succeeded in rearing us by instilling in our person the kind of discipline that made us survive our journey in life.

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