Noeleen’s Gift Shop…a historic commercial landmark in Tacurong City

Noeleen’s Gift Shop

…a historic commercial landmark in Tacurong City

By Apolinario Villalobos


Noeleen’s Gift Shop had its soft opening in October 1968 just when Tacurong was beginning to metamorphose into a progressive junction with protrusions that led towards Cotabato (today, divided into Sultan Kudarat and Maguindanao), South Cotabato, North Cotabato, and Davao. Tacurong is politically within the scope of the Sultan Kudarat province.


According to Mrs. Nenita Lao Bernardo, the proprietess, she opened the boutique with just a   capitalization of Php2,800 but by dint of hard work and astute management, she was able to develop it into what it is now…delightfully crammed with affordable novelty items. One can find neatly stacked blankets, towels, branded t-shirts, fashionable apparels, shoes, sandals, home decors, perfumes, colognes, jewelries, watches, trinkets, and various gifts for special occasions.


It is interesting to note that the shop today, serves even the third generation of early patrons, as their grandchildren have kept the tradition of trekking to it for anything that they need for various occasions, be they party dress, shoes, or gifts for birthdays and weddings. The boutique is frequented by customers from as far as Esperanza, Tantangan, Isulan, and of course, Buluan. One time, I chanced upon a family of 6 with the mother in colorful malong directing her children to the stacks of items where they should choose what they needed.


Noeleen’s is open from Monday to Saturday, as early as 8AM to accommodate customers who would come all the way from surrounding towns.

The Elisa P. Bernardo Elementary School in New Passi, Tacurong City

The Elisa P. Bernardo Elementary School

In New Passi, Tacurong City

By Apolinario Villalobos


It was a scorching afternoon when I was invited by Judith Bernardo to New Passi, a barangay at the foot of Magon Hill, after we met at a party, hosted by a cousin. I deemed it another adventure, so I accepted her invitation as I was curious about her project or donation for the school named after their mother, Elisa Panizales Bernardo. As I had still time to be spent in the area, I thought it would be a worthwhile trip.


From the city of Tacurong, we drove over the paved highway, turning left at the junction where the San Lorenzo Ruiz parish church was located, just across the Cordero mango grove. Both sides of the road were shaded by the thickly-foliaged African palms. Very noticeable was the fast development of Baras, where the Bird Sanctuary and the Jarell Resort are located, as well as, Upper Katungal. Practically, houses of indigenous materials stood proudly side by side with colorful concrete ones which were made more interesting by their contemporary architecture. I even noticed a lodging inn with an obviously western block design. Very noticeable, too were the number of small convenience stores (sari-sari stores) and small stalls filled with wet market commodities, that lined both sides of the tidy road. Their presence manifested the affluence of the residents.


We dropped by the Barangay Hall of Baras where Judith delivered donated sets of aprons needed for a certain project. I learned that she has been engrossed in various projects in Baras and New Passi for several years now. When we reached New Passi, we went straight to the site at the back of the Principal’s office where a two-burner stove of concrete and bricks was being constructed. It was intended for the feeding program of the school for the children of poor farmers, and which was initiated by Judith’s elder sister, Nita. As a background, the feeding program was conceived by Nita when she learned about the heavy absences every Monday and Friday. She was told by the principal at the time, Charlie Braga, that many students are impoverished, so that most of them would go to school without taking breakfast at home. From then on, Nita regularly donated I sack of rice which volunteer mothers and teachers cooked into gruel.


On the other hand, the sight of teachers and mothers cooking gruel on makeshift stove on the ground made Judith decide to have a sturdy stove made for them. The design is such that combustible wastes except those made of rubber and plastic could be used as fuel. She personally looked around for able masons who could undertake the construction.


Adjacent to the school is a small parcel of rice field donated by the late Serafin Bernardo to the school so that it would be able to generate an income for projects. Since the time of Charlie Braga as principal, it was well-maintained.  Incidentally, Mr. Braga has been transferred to the neighboring school of Baras as a promotion. He was also responsible for the picturesque landscape of the school, the main avenue of which is lined with hardwood trees. Pockets of flower gardens are also distributed throughout the campus.


The other concern of both Judith and her sister, Nita is the lack of library. There had been plans for its construction but unexpected problems would always crop up. On our way back to the city, Judith confided her wish that someday the project would be realized, but realistic that I am, I told her that assistance from concerned sectors is necessary, First, a structure had to be built and second, books are needed to fill the shelves. The project would surely involve a considerable amount. I confided that I have the same wish….but with a hope that benevolent hands would “touch” the school someday.





Ms. Bernardita S. Paclibar and Ms. Nenita P. Bernardo…my beloved cousins, my strict teachers

Ms. Bernardita S. Paclibar and Ms. Nenita P. Bernardo

…my beloved cousins, my strict teachers

By Apolinario Villalobos



Looking back to the days when I was young, I fondly recall my cousins who have been part of my growing up. One was “Ms. Paclibar”, a cousin who was also my teacher in Grade Three, and who was known for her strictness. She was fair, as inside the classroom, I was treated as just one of her pupils. I also experienced spanking and ear-pinching. But every time I visited my “lola” Sayong, their mother, she would offer me fruits from their yard, especially, ripe guavas. If none has been picked on that day, she would tell her younger sister, Heidi (but I fondly called “Lily) to pick some for me.


She chose to stay single till the day she died, as were most of the teachers of the past years. It was a most appropriate decision because when their parents were ageing, she contributed a lot in caring for them. When I was in college, I recalled her hair to have changed color from brownish black into cloudy white, but fitted her mestiza features. That was also the time that she began calling me by my nickname, while I called her “nang Deting”,  as when I was in elementary she would call me in school by my family name. I failed to attend her wake and funeral as I was out of the country when the news of her demise reached me.


In college, a cousin was also one of my teachers, “Ms. Bernardo”. She handled our science subjects. A University of the Philippines graduate (BS Pharmacy), she was supposed to be a pharmacist by profession. But after a short stint in such field, she chose to stay put in our town and teach in the only Catholic school, the Notre Dame. Practically, she was among the pioneers of the school together with the Canzanas, Jamorabons, Romeros, Josefina Lechonsito, and, Mr. Nicolo who later became principal of the Tacurong Pilot School.


As a science teacher she was in-charge of the school “laboratory” with its donated few microscopes, few boxes of thin crystal slides, preserved insect specimen in jars of formalin, and science reference books. It was in that sparsely –furnished room where I saw my first amoeba and other flagellates, cross section of leaves and stems, and microbes in a drop of water from a canal. What took root in my memory was her admonishment of the whole class for the failure of one or two classmates , with a clear reminder that no one can help us but ourselves in order to have passing grades. Being a perfectionist, she expected all of us to pass, and eventually, graduate. We shared the same idea that the school and books can help but intellect is innate in all of us, hence, we become what we are by our own doing…which made me proud of her and our parochial school with its sparsely furnished library.


She exuded sophistication in her tailored dresses, mostly cotton, as she gracefully walked her way from their house to the school and her being slender helped a lot in radiating such image. Her seemingly eternally coiffed hair also added to her classiness.


Their father was our clan’s “Tata” who contributed a lot in making our town what it is today, a flourishing city, as he was a long-termer Vice-Mayor. When he finally succumbed to complications which forced him to stay home, my cousin and teacher whom we fondly call “nene Nita” stayed by his side, until a full-time caregiver was hired.


Today, at an advanced age of almost eighty, “nene Nita” lives at their ancestral house with her youngest sister, Judith, while the younger brother, Nonito, lives not far from them.


Both the Paclibars and Bernardos are among the pioneer families of Tacurong City. But, to my two strict teachers…and beloved cousins, my recognition is more than their being members of the prominent pioneer families of our place. They are among those to whom I owe much of what I am today.