The Venerable Metamorphosis
of Notre Dame of Tacurong College
By Apolinario Villalobos
The school that started with a couple of buildings divided into small rooms has proudly metamorphosed into a proud educational institution today, and with a determination, more than ever to excel. The once flood-prone swampy grassland, now pockmarked with modern structures was donated by Mr. Sabas Buenacosa. The institution’s humble beginnings saw sides of pathways planted to acacia trees and aratiles for their shade, and the basketball court patiently built by members of the pioneering faculty, with its thin concrete layer of cement that withstood years of ball dribbling before a thicker one was laid.
The makeshift stage fronting the basketball court was later improved to have a sturdier roof and a stock room. Other enhancements that followed were the Administration office, the two-storey wooden structure that housed the library on the ground floor, and small auditorium on the second floor, an annex building for additional classrooms, the convent of the Oblates of Notre Dame (OND) sisters, and the Training Department (elementary) – all of them further lent a more academic look to the amor seco grass-carpeted campus.
The pioneering teachers were always around to lend a hand for anything that called for the improvement of the school. Effort was on gratis, as the school was still struggling financially to be able to survive. At the helm of all this effort were the parish priest, Fr. Elino Isip and Fr. Robert Sullivan, the school Director. The noisy generator of the parish convent, provided limited electricity in the evening for college classes and activities, especially, basketball on weekends. There were other priests who came before and after them, but the transformation of the school was more felt and became more visible during their time.
Teachers who taught in high school also did the same in college when the latter was opened to welcome eager students who came from as far as Buluan, Lambayong, Esperanza, Maganoy, Isulan, Tantangan, and New Iloilo. Most of the students from the neighboring towns were accommodated by Mrs. Pacing Sara in her home with its several extensions. She was fondly called by Notre Damians as “nanay Pacing”.
Unselfishly dispensing their duties as teachers were Mr. Ricardo Jamorabon who handled PMT and ROTC aside from academic subjects, Mr. Alfonso Romero, Mr. Rafael Sespeῆe, Mrs. Gloria Canzana, Mrs. Ching Romero, Ms. Nenita Bernardo, Mrs. Josefina Lechonsito, Ms. Azucena Hojilla, Mrs. Emma Jamorabon, Mrs. Leonor Pagunsan (who later became President of Notre Dame of Marbel University), Mr. Elmer Festin , Mr. Fermin Roca, and Mr. Plaridel Batucal. Mr. Marcelino Doῆa did his best as high school principal, then. The small band that provided marching tunes during parades and field demonstrations was under the baton of Mr. Cantil and Mr. Tirado.
When the Training Department was opened, Mrs. Trinidad Concepcion took the seat as its principal till the so many years that followed. She was assisted by the able teaching force that included, Mrs. Leticia Romero, Mrs. Lydia Raῆido, Ms. Violeta Subaldo, Mr. Ernesto Cajandig, and Mr. Tim Castaniaga. Because of them, we now have a mayor, Lina Montilla, as well as her siblings Roncal and Lino who preceded her at the helm of the city, successful medical practitioners, Dr. Carlo Romero, Dr. Leo Villalobos, and many more, aside from businessmen, and farmers who contributed to the development of Tacurong.
Mr. Leonardo Ninte, as the librarian, did his best to catalog donated books from the United States, through the effort of Fr. Robert Sullivan, Fr. Haslam, and Fr. MacGrath. The science laboratory with antiquated equipment was administered by Ms. Nenita Bernardo who chose to be part of the just- established school, rather than give in to the invitations from schools in Iloilo. She saw to it that field trips should not go beyond the town to avoid taxing the students with expense. Researches, then, were frequently conducted in swamps and streams, a kilometer or two from the campus, particularly in New Isabela, to gather specimens. On the other hand, Mr. Ric Jamorabon tried his best in converting a box-type structure into a militaristic “armory” – with all its wooden replica of rifles and real, albeit, old automatic Browning automatic rifles needed for demos on dismantling and assembly of their parts. Not a few fingers got hurt in the effort during the required demo as part of the ROTC drill. Mr. Jamorabon also coached the school’s basketball team.
Mr. Juanito Canzana, aside from pitching in when the Pilipino teacher in college failed to show up, was the ever-patient Registrar, putting the school records in order. Supporting him in the administration office were Mrs. Emma Jamorabon as the Administrative Secretary who also taught Physical Education to the college students, as well as, the rudiments of typing which proved very useful later on with the onset of computerized information technology. Mrs. Fely Subaldo on the other hand, made use of her patience in cashiering, and Mr. Plaridel Batucan took charge of accounting.
To further the school’s effort in putting the institution in the mainstream of artistic competitiveness, Kayumanggi Dance Troupe was organized. Talents of teachers and students were pooled in coming up with repertoire of indigenous dances, with “singkil”, as the centerpiece. The opportunity brought to fore the dancing skill of Ernesto Cajandig and the Subaldo sisters, as well as, the singing prowess of Agustin Carvajal. Not to be outdone, Mrs. Ching Romero and Mrs. Leonor Pagunsan put up the high school’s Choreographers’ Club. Mr. Elmer Festin meanwhile, organized the Debating Club for the high school and college, as well as, put up “Green Ember”, the high school organ.
The courses offered in college were Bachelor of Arts with choices of major and minor subjects in English and History, Bachelor of Science in Commerce, Bachelor of Science in Education, and Bachelor of Science in Elementary Education. Scheduled “practice teaching” of BSE and BSEEd students were considered big events, observed even by classmates, who added jitters to the would-be teachers. Some of these practicumers comprised a part of the school’s teaching force later on, such as: Gaudencio Garcia, Ding Lazado, Domingo Salanap, Teresa Neri, and many more.
Graduates who also excelled in their chosen field, just like the teachers, were Erlina Diaz who became the principal of Notre Dame of Isulan, Ruel Lucentales who became Assistant Secretary of the Department of Social Welfare until the time of his demise, Domingo Cargo who got connected with National Food Authority and currently with the Commission on Audit, and Renato Hingco who worked with the Department of Budget and Management in Legaspi City and later as Corporate Secretary of the Bicol University. A graduate in high school, Virgilio Guillermo, also showed excellence later by becoming an Assistant Secretary of Labor during the time of Blas Ople, as Secretary. Later, Veo, as he was called by friends, became the Regional Director of the National Manpower and Youth Council (now, TESDA) of Bicol. A special mention goes to Felizardo Lazado who, despite his heavy teaching load, was able to work on the concept of Tacurong’s only festival – Talakudong. During the early years of its celebration, he was an active member of the city’s festival steering committee. This he did, aside from dispensing additional responsibilities as administrator of the NDTC museum. When he left for the United States, his responsibilities for the festival were turned over to City Councilor Bogz Jamorabon, another proud product of Notre Dame, as the Talakudong Festival’s Committee Chairman.
Another alumnus of this institution who discreetly shares an effort to put the city in the map of tourism is Rey Malana, a nature lover, who converted an inherited property in Barangay Baras, into a bird sanctuary – the only one of its kind in the whole province of Sultan Kudarat. He sacrificed personal gain in favor of the popular clamor and his love of nature, by maintaining the original setting of the fertile farm along the swift banks of Kapingkong River, which would have become a cornfield. The bamboo grooves and a wide patch of indigenous trees were left untouched for the benefit of homing Philippine egrets and seasonally migrating kinds from neighboring countries in Asia.
I could recall a frequent visitor of the campus – Mr. Fructuoso Buenacosa, “Lolo Putoy” or “Tiyo Putoy” to the youngsters. He was the town’s “walking historican”. He never missed a visit to the library, every time he was in the campus. We loved to ask him how the swampy land along the highway was transformed into a plaza, or when the town’s Pilot School was established, or when the first movie theater was opened, etc. His encyclopedic knowledge on the town’s transformation was later compiled into a small book. He, like the other benefactors of the school and parish were fondly remembered for their unselfish acts: Mr. Mending Lapuz who donated the first four posts of the church’s belfry, the structure being an integral part of the school campus, and Mr. Nonito Bernardo who was actively involved in the building of the original parish building where the school’s directors reside, as well as, its current renovation. No less than the bishop of Cotabato, leads the throng of thankful parishioners and alumni in giving due recognition to Mr. Bernardo.
Students and teachers will not forget, too, the ever-energetic lone security “force” of the whole campus, Mr. Juanito Panes. He rendered duty straight for the whole week, making rounds and could still etch a smile on his face. His lanky build did not deter him from facing off with intruders at night, which happened several times. As the generator was turned off after college classes, all he had was a flashlight to light his way around the campus and a piece of stick while checking rooms and corners of the campus.
Those are sweet reminiscences….
And, nothing is sweeter than remembering also the days when high school students would walk in groups on their way to school and the college students on their way home in the dark, with streets lighted only by stray lights from open windows of homes …when parade was a grand event not only for students but also for the whole town…and, singing the “Notre Dame Hymn” and the “Notre Dame March” gave students an ecstatic feeling!
Notre Dame of Tacurong College was a big family, then… still is… and will surely be, in days to come!