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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 fee...fi...fo...fum.
"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.
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).
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 .