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by EB Fernandez


I love going back to PMA.  I love to immerse myself in breath-taking vistas of misty mountains and sweet smelling evergreens.  I love to be at the parade ground, at the Melchor Hall.  I love to touch the sundial. I feel goose bumps each time I pass the guards at the main gate.  Beyond this gate are stories to be told.  If only these trees could tell my story.   They saw me garbed in my prestigious attire, the full dress uniform. If only these stones could say more.  They cheered for me as I stomped on them with my combat boots, rifle and full combat gear.  Whatever, I love going back for every reason there is to say.   Stop now, I am blushing.

My right cheek was burning. The UV radiation infused heavily on my tender skin.  I turned to the opposite side dreaming that I would get an even tan. My left face was cold.  My nose inhaled that the scent of pine.  I peeked at my Rolex and it vaguely suggested 9 a.m.   Ah, we must be in Baguio now. After all, we had been on the road for more than 5 hours.  Bob Sacs was on the wheels and trying to stay awake by singing with the Everly Brothers.  A second voice would have completed the harmony, but my voice wouldn't even start.  I adjusted my prescription glasses.  Then I saw a pine-shaped car deodorant hanging from the stem of the rear view mirror. The air-con was in full blast.  That explained it all.  This was not yet Baguio.  Watson, wake up!

Our first stop was at a restaurant in Villasis, Pangasinan, and this was our usual hide-away.  The place was like magnet.  It sucked in all PMAyers passing by this way.  I saw Pol Lacerna, our former classmate.  Déjà vu. Sometimes, I would wake up in a dream and felt like we were still on our way for the reception 37 years ago.  The first gulp of Taster's Choice woke me up.  I asked for more salted eggs with tomatoes, an extra scoop of fried rice and binago-ongang baboy.  I ate like a horse; after all, this was my first decent meal since I left Guam 14 hours ago.     

I hated long flights, like the northern route from L.A to Narita.  I took the equatorial route passing by Honolulu and Guam.  Bob picked me up at the airport last night at 11 p.m.  We passed by the house in Cubao to freshen up.  After that, I grabbed my parade uniform and threw in a couple of clothing into the valise.  There was no time to take a rest; besides, it was daytime in Los Angeles, I couldn't sleep for crying out loud.  I had been on the road for more than a day since I hit 71 North at the crack of dawn, and that was two dawns ago.

Kennon road brought back vestiges of memories long time gone.  For who could forget the waterfalls?  It must have just rained.  Were these the same sunflowers that carpeted the cliffs and kissing rocks?  The curves and the bends made me hallucinate.  Bob negotiated the ascending road at the Lion's Head quite effortlessly.  (Mao).  It must be the new battery he put on his car.  I looked at the left hand side of the road and below the ravine was the famous zig-zag.  I could see some houses along the road.   There were fewer houses along the road during our time.  Well, there were only two families then, now look how many they are. 

We hit the summit before noontime as we tried to figure out where to spend the night.  We did not have hotel reservations.  Our plan was to crash at Nelson's home, if all things failed.  Meanwhile, we decided to check out a condotel near the PMA grounds.  Nelson with some others prepared this place for all mistahs attending the homecoming tomorrow.  The place was located at a site where we first learned how to shoot the caliber .30 M-1, the KDR. Not anymore, this is now Pinesville subdivision and we were looking for Yambao's residence.  

The security guard at the front gate had no idea where the house was.  How do we pick out one house amidst all these structures?  "Sir, yellooww ti balai da, ket nalabaga ti bubong", sabi si Roy.  Bob knew some of the bystanders.  They were his enlisted men when he was assigned at PMA in Tactics Group many years ago.  I was able to figure out what the guy was telling us.  (My Ilocano roots kicked in).  We decided to drive around looking for yellow houses.  There were hundreds of them. 

Then, there was a grocery store at the fork and the owner was very eager to help us.  He jumped out of his store and ran to the other side of the road. I had a hard time keeping up with him; I didn't have those Baguio "beans" anymore.  "Sir, kita yo ti water tank".  I said "when", with a twang.  I could tell from the incline of his jaw that he was referring to a very tall
object in the sky.  His hands were folded over his chest and his lips were articulating the directions.  "Sir, take 57 South, 91 West, then, take a right hook on the 605".  I said "when", I didn't care, and I got the idea. We rang the doorbell, rattled the iron gates, hollered like coyotes and did every trick in the book to get the owner's attention, but no one answered the door.  Apparently, we were one day early for check in. 

Being one day early was a blessing as far as getting a room at Manor is concerned.  The host classes of '74, '79 and 84 had all rooms booked for themselves.  However, they needed to check-in the following day yet, so, today was a lucky day for us, and we were able to get a room for the night. I slept after lunch.  Bob did some practice shots at the John Hay Golf Club. Tomorrow, he had to face off with the Academy's top notched players.  I heard a couple of players, both from class '72 were the Tiger Woods of the tournament.  Beating them was like crossing the English Channel in a straight jacket. Dinner time was uneventful.  I had lamb chops and a bottle of merlot by the fireplace in front of the piano player.  Why not?  After all, our car was blue. 

I woke up at around 5 a.m.   We had breakfast at the golf club.  The whole place was slowly filled up with cavaliers who were intent to beat each other's a_s in a golf match.  Today is the PMAAAI championship golf tournament.  The winner of this contest would be ranked as the crème de la crème by PMA golf aficionados.  There were a total of 237 contestants.
Top-notched and wannabes were all there.  Our class team was played by Nelson Eslao, Ted Runes, Bob Sacs, Teody Viduya, Boy Caste and Joey Lalisan. Only the best scores of four players in a team were counted. 

I left the golf club after almost all players had teed off.  I returned at around 3 p.m. for the awarding ceremonies.  There were hundreds of give-away given away at the raffle.  Ted Runes won a small refrigerator.  There were a couple of dozen awards given to the outstanding players and outstanding teams.  Bob Sacs won an award for having the most number of birdies; 4 all together.  Our class team won the Championship award for the Firsties Category, thanks to the outstanding scores of Nelson, Ted, Bob and Teody. The winner for the Overall Champion in the Individual Category was... o say can you see...  Bob Sacramento!!!  In Oscar parlance, this was the best actor award.  This means that he bested all other rated players.  I had never seen Bob acting like a cuckoo outside a cuckoo's nest. "Walang mananalo sa akin".  I thought he was just dehydrated and hallucinating.  I offered him a soda, but he was serious after all, "Talagang walang mananalo
sa akin".  He was altogether excited.  "Swerte ka na sa asawa, swerte ka pa sa golf", that was Menchu's complement after Bob called her in the States. Congratulations Bob.  Another Matatag, a level higher than the rest!

We closed the bar that night.  The stories never ended.  I guessed that story-telling (a lie) came together with the territory.  I had to look interested.  He scored a 34. The runner-up, a member of class '72 had a 33. In US pro golf version, Bob scored a 71 or 2 over par.    Now, he would be the man to beat next year.

We knocked at the gate of Yambao's castle at about 10 p.m.  I felt like little Jack knocking at the trunk of a giant beanstalk.  The caretaker greeted us with enthusiasm.  "Sir, 'kala namin awan na nga mag-tsik-in". She tried to exercise her Tagalog amidst an Ilocano motif.  Bob and I were the first to check in.  The house was huge and tall.  The first floor emerged after we climbed a 60-degree concrete staircase.  I estimated the height of the ceiling to be 12-foot high.  My goodness, Mr. and Mrs. Yambao must be super sized.  I prepared myself to hear  "Sir, si Mrs. Yambao ho", the cute caretaker introduced her to us.  I looked up and saw nothing.  I looked down and there she was, lovely and cutely smiling at 4'11".  I slept at the room on the 2nd floor.  Also, there were 2 vacant rooms in the attic, but you needed a blood pressure machine for the climb. Before I went to bed, I measured the ceiling.  It was 11'4" from the floor. Mrs. Yambao must have hired a good feng shui expert.  

What the...  I was inside the restroom at 6 a.m. and she knocked at the bathroom door.  I thought I knew what she trying to say, and yet I didn't. Seemingly, the caretaker wanted to turn the water heater on.  I told her not to worry.  I wanted to reminisce my cadet days when cold water was therapy. I jumped up and down to create heat molecules as the cold water insistently shivered my spine.  That was the easy part.  The trick was how to move around without knocking your sanamasita on the wall.  I had been in a ship's cabin on a cruise, the bathroom was small, but this one was a real challenge.

Virtus was at the Melchor Hall when I came in to register.  Gel and I decided to wait for Ping outside the hall.  Meanwhile, GMA's entourage arrived.  The arrival honors started and finished.  Ping was still at the chapel area.  We stayed behind while others proceeded to Borromeo field. Shortly, Ping came in.  People were flocking over him for pictures.  Twiggy was calm, cool and collected as he tried out his best to transport us to Borromeo field with less turmoil.  Where did this entire people come from? They all wanted to have pictures with Ping, not I, not Gel nor Twiggy.  The ladies were falling all over him.  Life's not fair.

The staging point for Class 71 was at the left hand side of the grandstand facing the cadet corps in formation.  We came down the slope via a staircase on the opposite side. Down on the level ground, we needed to cross the front of the grandstand to get to where we should be.  At this point, the audience's attention was at GMA as they were being seated.  We tried to surreptitiously pass behind the cavalier's line without catching attention to ourselves.  The reverse was true, however.  Instantly, we were noticed by the first group of classes gathered there.  We created a commotion for ourselves as we negotiated the next 500 yards.  I saw elation on everyone's faces as they tried to reach for Ping.  They congratulated him and gave him compliments.  Even Wykes was smiling.  I thought Eddie Adan would pause for one second just to enjoy the jubilation. 

It was always like that on every homecoming year.  Class 71 always stole the show to the envy of most classes.  What could the Lady of Loakan say this time?  Surely, she did not snob us.  A throng of humanity flooded us even as the ceremony was going on. The taking of pictures never stopped.  A brief pause was observed as the colors were lowered and the National Anthem played.  The media frenzy never stopped either.  I was elbow-to-elbow with sharks.  Now I knew how they looked like.   Ping was able to extricate himself when we did the traditional trooping of the line.  Nevertheless, he was busy waving his hands to calm down the crowd's uproar.   We marched off with 26 other classmates to "tackle" the cadet corps.  The AFP Chief of Staff stayed at the grandstand with GMA.  Here comes the MATATAG, the "RULING CLASS".  It sounded like "INRI" to me.  I didn't hear any of the speeches.  I had heard enough.   

"Di ko alam ang kasunod, bonk".  I said that as if I was trying to test him whether he would know the next activity. "Lunch daw tayo kina Yambao, e". Ping said that like he'd seen Mrs. Yambao already.  He got out of the traffic jam and joined us for lunch.  Gel's Ford Expedition followed GMA's caravan.  "Di bale, Gel, me award ka naman e".  Gel got an award for being a successful business entrepreneur.  We arrived early.  Boy Caste was handing out gas slips to those driving back.  "Para akong Bombay nito", he quipped. Mumbai or not, just give my gas slip.  Caste got an award for exemplary contribution to alumni affairs.  Nelson had the food catered.  We had full breakfast this morning; coffee, mushroom omelet and beef tapa.  For a real heart-stopper lunch, we had kare-kare, gulai, crispy hito at inihaw na baboi.  There were soda and beer for beverage. 

Instant Replay:

Cora Malinis, "Uwi na kami sa Martes". (Back to the freeways in NorCal). Malou Garcia "Balik ulit kami sa Cebu" (Punta ako doon).  Barrie Castellano "Oy 3 weeks na lang kami".  (Caste will retire on March 3).  Lyn Molato, "Naka Roco ka pa ha?".  (Referring to my Hawaiian shirt).  Jinggoy Martinez, "Roco-roco ka?". (A ewan).  Benjie Rivera, "Upo ka na rito" (I sat not on
her lap, but next to Rey at lunch).  Sandy  Navida, "Ito ang pinakabunso ng 71". (Referring to her youngest child, not to herself).  Esther DA, "Me padala daw si Rochee?"  (Wala, sinong me sabi sa yo?)  Connie  Elona, "Ang tarik pala nito". (The staircase remember?). Lita Gil, "Oy, di mo na ako kilala".  (Sorry misstah, dami nyo kasing magaganda rito). Chit Eslao, "Oy, Ernie" (Oy, Chit, tagal na noon a, Cotabato pa).  Lulu Runes "Meron ka nyan a, mali ang napili  mo" (Ted had the original matching red tie for the class suit).  Marilyn Tabanda, "Kasama mo ni Ching?" (Haan, adda trabajo, he, he, he).  Lulu Tabamo "Sige, Ernie, c u" (Bye Lulu. Bob and I had to leave early after lunch).

Supporting Cast:

Rey Alcasid, Romy Dominguez, Jun Paynor, Ping Lacson, Rolly Malinis, Rolly Garcia, Bob Sacs, FernaEB, Rey Rivera, Oca Martinez, Edgar Elona, Bobby Navida, Ted Runes, Dick DeLeon, Gel Molato, Joey Lalisan, Teody Viduya, Cesar Gopilan, Dong Tabamo, Twiggy Zubia, Boy Castellano, Domingo DA, Lakai Tabanda, Virtus Gil (excused from marching), Nelson Eslao, Jimmy delaCruz, Wency Cruz, Jimmy Canatoy .

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