A Brand of Brotherhood

Few understand the different brand of brotherhood that exists in IHMS.

It is not formalized by a blood compact, but it runs in the blood of an alumnus. Mao nga mahinangup--when one meets one.

It is not celebrated with pageantry, for it was forged in the silent companionship, like during siesta time when we conspire to stealthily escape from the dorm to enjoy the freedom of the outdoors . . . didto sa kalibunan or in silent prayer during times of difficulty.

It is not proven by physically hurting someone, like what fraternities do; but it goes beyond the pains that we share for having left family and friends behind and having had no one but each other to lend support.

It did not happen overnight. Rather, it was nurtured like a plant over time. Thus, it also survives time. No wonder, we talked to each other during the reunion as if everything happened yesterday. But come to think about it--it was our silver anniversary in 2005!

It is based on a common love for music--no, not the dumb, repetitive and hypnotic music of the young but the elegant classical music that that woke us up in the morning and soothed our soul.

It is expressed in unbridled boisterous laughter and even in no-holds-barred jokes that are oft-repeated, where one’s failures and weaknesses are exposed, accepted and even loved. And thus one can really be one self without pretensions.

It is also marked by a love for the quiet solitude.

It even makes us communicate with one another without words. Ask Jeffrey and Ram who can laugh at a piece of stick at the slightest hint or remembrance of a person. Or, Soc, Chris and Manuel at the mention of a single word.

Yes, there is a link that binds us together, which other people may not fully comprehend.

It is a different brand of brotherhood forged in a sequestered life inside the seminary, as we went through the pains and joys of growing up to adulthood in IHMS. (nox arcamo)


Our Tour of Bohol

When we were in Second Year College, we decided to go on a tour to visit the home of each member of the class.

It was the start of semester break in 1981. There were nine of us including Ram, who was already a Manila boy having transferred to UST Central Seminary that year. The members of the class were Jeffrey, Soc, Nick, Chris, Junior, Gents, Mario, and me.

We planned our itinerary by identifying the host in each stop: Nick in Duero, Mario in San Miguel, Soc in Sevilla, Jun in Bilar, and Nox and Jeffrey in Tagbilaran.

But first, before the tour, we had a class requirement to hurdle.

The Stage Play. Both our Pilipino and English class required us to write a full length play and to stage the play in the auditorium as part of our first semester requirements.

In our English class, our teacher divided us into two groups for the staging of the play. In our Pilipino class, we suggested to your teacher that we divided ourselves into two. Writing and staging one play for English and another one for Pilipino, we thought, was too taxing. So we had better ideas.

It was one of those moments when I was inspired to write. I wrote the script for our group. The other group asked if I could make a slight variation of the script for their group. Well, I decided to write another one for them. We then collaborated to translate the script to Pilipino for our Pilipino class. And that was how we hit two birds with one stone.

I cannot recall the titles or the exact storylines of both plays. But both were love stories--something we were poor at and sorely missed. Too bad we never bothered to keep a copy of the script for posterity.

But, I remember, our teachers were very pleased with our scripts and presentations, even if our minds were somewhere else.


Night swimming in Duero. Our first stop was Duero. We stayed in Nick’s house. To make our stay a little more memorable, he organized a basketball game against the locals. We thought it was a simple friendly game in a private court. We were not prepared for what greeted us. The basketball court was jam-packed with people anxious to see their local bets compete against the seminarians from the City. The first thing we noticed as we were warming up was the board and the ring. The ring was higher than usual. And it was much smaller than usual. The board too was narrower than usual. We couldn’t even hit the basket even while we were warming up and nobody was guarding us. We were already terrified at the prospect of losing. But we couldn’t back out for we were right smack in the middle of the spot lights.

In our team, only Jeffrey, Mario and Gents could really play serious basketball. The rest of us, because of our height, were only good at intimidating the opponent before the start of the game. In actual play, we were good substitutes when nobody else could play. Ram was intimidating because of his height and massive extremities; Nick, Junior, and Soc because of their looks. Chris and I were the lean players that neither looked intimidating nor competent to play.

Before the start, the locals wanted a 30-30-minute game time. But we protested and asked for a 20-20 because, we said, we were extremely tired from the trip. Ahh . . . pasumangil!

We put up an extremely good fight in the first two minutes. But after that, it was disaster. As expected it was a lopsided game . . . in their favor, of course. We couldn’t even hit the ring from the free throw line. As the minutes ground so slowly in the first half, we silently agonized and prayed for the clock to tick faster and faster and get it over with. On the bench some of us must have been dreaming of time travel. But there was the second half to contend with. As the locals exhibited their master at our expense, the cheering gradually subsided. Probably, pity must have settled in its stead. I don’t remember how it ended, but I remember feeling humiliated.

So we vented our frustration on the food and beer and tuba served by Nick's family. And we drowned our humiliation in the cold rough sea that greeted us that night. We stayed on the beach for a couple of hours only since it was so cold even with the bonfire.

We slept soundly that night, dead tired after a long trip and an embarrassing game of basketball.

The Walk to Tumok. Our next stop was San Miguel, which in mid afternoon was a ghost town. The place was literally deserted. We disembarked and looked around. It was so quiet. “Are we there yet?” We didn’t even know we had arrived. “Is this the town proper? Is this the market place? Where is the crowd?”

Mario pointed towards the west where a balsahan was “parked”. Balsahan was a crude cart with wooden wheels drawn by a huge cow. He told us that the balsahan would take us to Tumok. He estimated that if we were to start walking immediately, we would reach their house before sundown. (In my own estimate, a good two and a half hours walk.) I immediately noticed the way they measured time not by the hands of the clock but by the movement of the sun. I knew then that I was in another world.

A huge white cattle pulled the balsahan with our bags on it. I never thought cows could pull such a heavy load. Sometimes we would even ride on the balsahan. But we pitied the cow. After all, it was sacred in other parts of the world. We should also respect it.

The scenery was so stunning. It was so peaceful. We enjoyed every minute of the walk. Since the cow was so slow, we would walk ahead of the balsahan and scout the area looking for a beautiful spot. There was a slight mound where we could see the blue waters of Talibon. Some of us spent a few minutes enjoying the view, as the cow inched its way towards us.

The breeze was soothing as the sun moved down the horizon. San Miguel rested on high elevation. The road we traveled was gravel and meandering. There were no houses on the road side. I didn’t even recall encountering a single soul on the road. The afternoon was undisturbed. Except for the creaking sound produced by the balsahan, I swear that the other sound we heard was the rustling of the tall cogon grass.

The road winded through rolling plains. Near one of those hills, hidden by the tall grasses, Ram left a souvenir of himself. And he was quick enough to reach the balsahan before it turned the next bend.

It was almost dark when we finally arrived in Mario's house. We were famished, too. Chicken was hastily cooked and served. It was full moon and the wind was cold. The hot kinutil after dinner was superb. It soothed the tired mind to a restful sleep.

The following day, we were again scheduled to play a game of basketball against the locals. Not again! This time, we were well rested and didn’t have an excuse. Well, we thought we were in a strange world that measured time through the movements of the sun. They probably didn’t know much about basketball, too.

The locals were warming up at around 10AM when we arrived at the court. They stopped playing, obviously intimidated by our height and bearing. They literally gawked at us as we scrutinized the battlefield and kicked some dusts.

It was getting hot. The cement floor was uneven. But the basketball ring and the board were of the right height and size.

Ram stood out for his height. When he came to our side of the court, he jumped high to reach the ring and it quivered hard when his fingers touched it. He hasn’t even touched the ball yet. And the locals watching, gasped and gaped. They couldn’t believe they would be playing against an obviously superior visiting team.

We warmed up the way professionals do. The locals couldn’t get their acts together; they fumbled, for they were watching us. They were even ashamed of touching the ball. They just wanted to ogle.

Ram played center. The other team could field no one even slightly above his chin. Naturally, when the game started, we took first possession of the ball. I think we even scored the first shot. Now we were playing serious basketball.

Unfortunately, if I remember it correctly, that was the only time we threatened them. We never thought that, in such a far away place, they would play a good game of basketball--and teach us a lesson or two.

The rest of the game was easy--for them! Again, it was lopsided--in their favor. First half we wanted to surrender, but pride prevented us. We blamed the home court advantage. Then we blamed the heat of the sun at a high altitude. We were not used to it. It affected our bearing. Half time, they served cold buco (coconut) with milk (which must have been a specialty). We realized it was not good when you’re exposed to the heat of the sun. Our stomach churned. Napasmo intawon! But we held on to our pride. We could blame the ice-cold buko on a hot summer day, but we couldn’t quit.

I do not know how we finished the game, but all throughout we were all praying for a swift conclusion.

We shook their hands after the game, like real sportsmen. But deep within we were nursing our wounded pride. We promised never to show our face in that place again. That was also the last time that our batch played basketball as a team.

I can’t remember the hour of the day when we started our walk back to the sawang or poblation for I literally lost track of time. But it was afternoon. The walk back to “civilization”, as we joked, was quick and uneventful, except for the conflagration that Nick may have caused. A bush fire was said to have occurred that afternoon and into the night, the origin of which has remained a mystery to the people of Tumok until today. Luckily it was contained to a limited area and didn't cause any damage.

The Busay of Sevilla. Our next stop was Sevilla, where according to common belief the only flat surface is a table. We discovered for our selves that it was true. Even the Mesiona residence that stood a few meters from the roadside was hidden from view. For it was on a slight elevation a few meters from the road. And to get there, you have to climb a winding footpath. The area was forested and shadowy. The huge trees seemed to muffle the sounds that we made.

Fortunately for us, there was no basketball game scheduled in Sevilla. No, it was not because of the terrain but because Soc probably thought that we have had enough of humiliation in court already.

We visited the home of Soc’s friends. I am not sure if it was during this particular trip when I recall visiting a house at the farthest barrio of Sevilla. It was almost 6PM when we reached the house. I can’t remember whose house it was. But I remember hearing the distant clang of the church bell signaling the Angelus. There was a distinctive character in its sound with each peal prolonged, accented by another before the previous one totally faded. It was calming. The most beautiful church bell sound I had ever heard.

The highlight of our stopover in Sevilla was our picnic in Busay. It was the same river that dissected Loboc and emptied into the beaches of Loay. There was a white water rapid. But the current was not that strong since it was not raining. I really didn’t want to swim in a river, since I always had the impression that a muddy carabao somewhere upstream was bathing. But it was fun seeing the entire group in the water. I wanted to have a piece of the fun. So who cares about bathing carabaos upstream? Well, we had lunch there, and really had a great time.

On the road to Bilar. We were excited to visit Bilar since Junior had always been a good host and would provide an unlimited supply of cold beer. In general, the visit was uneventful since by then we were already tired from our trip. What I recall from this trip to Bilar was the overcrowded bus that we took going there. It rained hard when the bus started to negotiate the dangerous winding road with a deep ravine on the right side. An old man with a sack of goods boarded and couldn’t sit. The good-hearted Ram offered the old man his seat. The old man thanked Ram, “Ang Dios lang ang magbayad sa imoha, doy!” Ram who was always quick with a repartee joked with the old man, “Ngano man diay, Nong? Utangan ba diay ang Diyos sa imo nga Sija man ang imong pabayron?” Junior heard the comments and the boisterous laughter was unstoppable, if not scandalous. The old man also laughed upon seeing them laugh.

Last stop in Tagbilaran. Our last stop was Tagbilaran. We didn’t plan to stay overnight. But it was there where we planned to split up and go on our separate ways. I am not sure if it was during this time when Ram, Soc, Jeffrey and I were at my house in the afternoon. If I remember if correctly, we were supposed to hear mass at the Cathedral. A nice, fitting activity to end the fun-filled tour. We changed to more decent clothes. Ram and Jeffrey borrowed leather shoes from me. We were walking towards the Cathedral when Jeffrey complained about the stones on the road. He moved away from the edge of the road. He felt the same way and when he looked at the pair of shoes he was wearing one was flat and black, the other light colored with high soles. We started laughing as we accompanied him back to the house to change shoes. We reached the Cathedral in time for the mass. We met the others there. I guess that was how we culminated our tour that semester break. (nox arcamo)

The Name of the Brotherhood

It was like any ordinary evening in the seminary, just after supper. The seminarians were leisurely relaxing. The studious ones spent their free time in the study hall. Others went to the chapel to visit the Blessed Sacrament. Still others preferred watching the PBA game on TV. But not for Nick, Rene and me who had something else in mind. We had earlier agreed to spend the evening somewhere else, on the roof garden, to do something else, an initiation rite.

I cannot recall how we came up with the idea. But the initiation was the first move towards solidifying the triumvirate. Call it a clique stemming from an adolescent craving for belongingness. We wanted to call it a fraternity. Ok, it was a fraternity but one thing was sure. We never planned to do anything illegal. Honestly. We just wanted to strengthen our bond of friendship.

So while everyone was busy doing his own thing that evening, we were also doing our own at the roof garden. And the timing was perfect because the place was quiet and dimly lit. Nobody was there, not even Gene who was a regular visitor. Only the stars, the moon, the fishermen’s lantern in a far off distance, and the electric lights from the city were sole witnesses.

Rene acted as the leader as he explained the mechanics of the initiation. There was no hazing of sort. Only some rituals of commitment to the so-called fraternity or brotherhood which I cannot recall now how it was done. The ritual did not take us long. Perhaps only about twenty minutes. We ended with a commitment to keep the fraternity a secret, even to our classmates. (In fact, we did, until right now as I write this.) As a sign of our new-found secret brotherhood we had a special handshake that we used whenever and wherever we meet.

That evening happened when we were in second year high school. I doubt if we were ever serious about what we did that evening. In fact, we never bothered to renew the ritual. But what would last after that quiet evening at the roof garden was the special handshake and of course the friendship that would continue even when we parted ways after graduating from high school.
By the way, we never even had a name for our group. (soc)

A Spiritual Camping in Bilar

Our tour in 2nd year college left an indelible mark in our hearts. So the following year, 1983, when we were in our 3rd year, we decided to go on an outing in the forest of Bilar.

The first time we asked permission, we used “camping” as a reason. But we were declined. So we brainstormed and thought hard to find a convincing reason. Days later, we approached our superior again and told him that we were going on a “spiritual camping” to discern our vocation. It was approved.

There were only seven of us in the batch, namely, Jeff, Junior, Gents, Chris, Mario, Soc and me.

So off we went to Bilar, specifically to Camp Magsaysay. There was an eerie feeling when we entered the narrow pathway leading to the camp. It was dark because of the foliage that covered the path. Dried leaves crackled under our feet. The air was moist and cold.

We carried a couple of air gun with us. I had my trusty tirador (slingshot) with me.

The place was so quiet; the birds nonchalant and unconcerned as we tried hard to shoot at them and missed.

We tried anything to entertain ourselves in the wilderness. We shouted as hard as we could. We explored the place. We made shooting targets out of beer cans. There were two Israeli tourists who visited the camp in the morning. We made friends with them, by inviting them to our makeshift shooting range. They were great shooters. We learned later that they both served in the military.

Later that day, Chris devised a lit-ag (trap) for the chicken that wondered in the vicinity. It was dusk when his trap caught a haw (iguana). Gents and Mario were our expert chefs. They cooked and served it for dinner. They said it tasted like chicken. For me, it looked like a giant lizard and must have tasted like lizard. So I didn’t partake of it.

We built a bonfire and gathered around it. We talked and drank beer. For coffee, Chris was again at his elements. He took an empty beer can, put rice inside, and placed it over the fire until the rice turned black. Then he poured water into it, heated it some more and--lo and behold--we had coffee for the night. The taste was wonderful even without sugar.

In Magsaysay camp, there was a Marcos-prefab building with chairs and tables. We settled in one of the rooms, using the tables for our bed. The night was bitterly cold. And we didn’t have blankets and mosquito nets to protect us from the cold and the insects. But we slept soundly nonetheless.

The following day we had to replenish our water jug. So we walked all the way to Tabel Store. But instead of filling it with water, we decided to fill it with beer. We stayed until afternoon until it was time to go home.

There was really nothing spiritual about the camping, except for the spirits we consumed. (nox arcamo)