Walking through More Memories: The Streets of Naga
Memories are selfish. When kept to yourself, or shared with others close to you, memories are great positive things. It is when these memories get airing through the social media that they become contentious and open to feelings coming from a shock of recognition from others, or a repulsive response from someone who thinks those are not how he remembers things.
But, who critique memories when they are by nature personal first before turning into a social act around which people could gather and be embraced by the beauty of communitas?
The numerous response to my column last week, From the Street of Compassion, has encouraged me to continue with short essays on the streets of Naga, as I could remember them.
Far from being jaded, I endeavor to write from a critical perspective, which is not the stuff dull tourism guide notes are made of. Hopefully, with this approach, we can have not an alternative way of looking at things but a different manner of apprehending the sensations of our small, small city.
Who thinks of Naga City in terms of gates? I do.
In high school, there was only one gated school and that was the Colegio de Santa Isabel. It was, I believe, the only one that made a fuss when anyone from other schools came to visit or enter the campus. You had to have an official business to be inside CSI.
There was only one occasion when anyone could enter the campus and that was when there were musical presentations in the only decent auditorium in the city of the 70s. That gate, which was beside that triangle, which now bisects Jacob Street and Elias Angeles Street, before one reaches Bagumbayan Street, would swing open to welcome the public. If you were a pupil from Naga Parochial School, that would be a rare opportunity for you to stay up late, which was around seven in the evening.
CSI was then popular for presenting musicales that were of another world, and another culture. Think of seeing Oklahoma in our own provincial city of the 60s.
Coming from Ateneo de Naga, we thought it was big deal to have a gated school. Our school not only did not have any gate, but it was a campus open to anyone and everyone. There were no guards and there was no need for I.Ds. There was freedom also as guaranteed by the unusual, and sometimes, radical Jesuit pedagogy.
Ateneo de Naga had no perimeter fence before. Strangely enough, it felt more exclusive then than now. The school was maintaining its gilded reputation – teachers and students all and that was the great wall that separated the campus from the rest of the city.
When Martial Law came, there was a modicum of physical gatekeeping: a tiny guardhouse was set up. A bamboo pole serving as checkpoint was built next to be raised manually to allow vehicles. In the 60s and up to the 70s, calesas were not allowed inside the campus, except during rainy days. Inside meant right up to the steps to the Four Pillars.
I was not in the city anymore when the grand gate reminiscent of those found in film studios of yore was constructed. I was also not in the city anymore when food stores and stalls began to proliferate on either side of the avenue. From the corner of Bagumbayan, as you turn, you still could see the famous (let’s call it iconic) Four Pillars. Your vision now has to contend, however, with the street made narrower and dingier by stores of all persuasions and bad taste.
There was an act that made this avenue much grosser and evil and it has to do with another gate. This was the gate of the Naga Parochial School along the avenue.
That gate was a fun gate. Outside the gate you were greeted by vendors selling everything from “iskrambol” (a kind of “dirty” milk shake), pancakes, which we called “hotcake” (I still could recall the way the old man would start spreading oil on the pan by way of a stick with the end rounded by a piece of cloth, black and greasy from repeated dipping into the can of butter), komiks stand, and different toys and candies.
From that gate, a little boy, seven years of age, disappeared in the afternoon of September 2, 1970.
The story was a man fetched this boy at four in the afternoon. The impression was the boy knew the man because the boy freely went with the man.
The whole city woke up to the news of the missing boy. On September 10, 1970, the body of a boy was found in a ditch near his grandfather’s house.
The reports that ensued were more shocking: the kidnappers were known to the father of the kidnapped boy; the boy suffered in the hands of the kidnappers, at one time, the boy was thrown into a copra pit somewhere in Tinambac, and was already bleeding when the kidnapper and the driver of Cony (a light vehicle) drove back to Naga and then to Camaligan. That was the last time the driver, who turned state witness, saw the boy alive.
Fearing that another kidnapping would happen again, that huge gate of the Naga Parochial School fronting the shortest avenue in the world was locked… for years.
Memory is always tricky. To check the narrative, I dug facts about the case and found two online entries from the Supreme Court. There were seven men accused; all pleaded not guilty. Only one was sentenced to death. The other details of the crime I leave out; they are too gruesome to be part of one’s memories of Naga.