Most mornings Tatay Bautista wakes up when the sun begins to rise behind the hazy, grayish tops of the undulating hills, sending out flashes of light to dance among the branches of the pine trees, and then suffusing the dining room with a warm and yellow light streaming through the wide picture windows.
Sipping his coffee at the long dining table, while basking in the bright morning light, in the languid posture of a don who has retired from the cares of a work-a-day world, Tatay gets excited about the things he will be doing that day. Visit the construction work on the buildings destroyed by the big earthquake. Attend the meetings for the elaborate preparations for the solemn investiture of the new bishops in the Cordillera at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Cathedral. Some days it’s not much but it keeps him going. If it’s a Sunday, it’s usually lector work at the Mass at the Cathedral, a parish council meeting, and the family reunion lunch (it’s held round-robin at the houses of the Bautista sons and each family brings a dish or two for a rambunctious, fun-filled feast).
Some days, it may be an early morning trip to Manila, with Mama Anching beside him in the 12-year-old Renault driven by the loyal family driver Billy, to attend an important conference or meeting, or a party to celebrate a significant milestone given by a dear friend or a close relative, or to take the plane to, say, Zamboanga or Legaspi, to receive an honorary award or citation. On the occasions that they have to make the trek to Manila, they would take the opportunity to spend a day or two at Mama Anching’s house in Gagalangin, Tondo. In the Gagalangin house, which ahs two flights of steps that they continually climb to reach the bedrooms, Tatay and Mama Anching would do all the housekeeping themselves, not wanting, or needing, any servant.
Mornings in Baguio, in the warm glow of the sun filtering through the bog window, while Tatay plans his activities for the day, Mama Anching hovers around him, preparing the toast bread and the butter, and when he’s up to it, since he eats so meagerly, a platter of fried rice and eggs, sunny side up, like the bright morning. As bright as Mama Anching, who emerges from her room in the morning already fully made up, eyebrows, carefully drawn, lips touched up with her favorite shade of red, and cheeks flushed with rouge, all set to face the day and whatever it brings.
Mama Anching! She was 75 and Tatay was 80 when they got married one fine day at the venerable San Miguel church in Manila. She had been a widow for seven years, and had resigned herself to a life of solitariness in the ancestral house in Gagalangin, although she was not exactly all by herself, as she had the children of her only son to dote on; but what stars in heaven ordained that she should meet again the man she first laid eyes on 55 years ago, and fall, if not in a swoon, then in an act of faith and affection, into his arms?
Time is not the enemy, it is an ally. Love, faith, devotion – the emotion endures. Like a new moment in time, it is always re-creating itself, always renewing and energizing itself. One only has to keep one’s heart open to tenderness and acceptance, and the daring and adventurousness of youth. That they were both widowed, and getting on in years, did not hinder the course of the stars, nor restrained the surge of their emotions, so that one day in August of 1988 Nanding and Anching tied the knot in the church.
Dressed in a lovely embroidered Filipina gown in a becoming share of ecru, her cheeks blushing prettily like a young girl’s, so her friends remarked in whispers to each other, at once delighted and envious, while they tottered in their silk pumps and perilously piled coiffures, Constancia Y. Guevarra was given away by her son the doctor.
The groom, Dr. Fernando G. Bautista Sr., handsomely attired in a pale dove-grey suit with purple tie, stood strong and spry and beaming beside his bestman, his son the architect. The San Miguel church, where the wedding was held with great solemnity, nevertheless bristled with an air of festivity, what with the bustle of big families from both sides reuniting or getting acquainted with each other, with great exclamations of joy and surprise, accentuated by the squeals and cries of a spritely passel of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the bride and groom, from among whom they drew the entourage of ushers and usherettes, bridesmaids, sponsors for candle, veil and cord, and ring bearer, coin bearer and flower girl for a ceremony the likes of which could only happen once in a lifetime.
The enchanting wedding was the culmination of a courtship that took less than a year, although the story began half a century ago – and near the start of this book – when Constancia was a Social Studies teacher, and Fernando was an English teacher, at the Sta. Ana Elementary School. She graduated from the Philippine Normal School in 1932, four years after Ding Bautista graduated from that same school. In his early years at the Philippine Normal, Ding was the toothless wonder who, despite four missing front teeth, was immensely popular on campus as a brilliant orator and elocutionist; but on account of his handicap, he was also a closet Valentino, shy around girls because he couldn’t put on his best smile without looking like a movie comedian whom no one takes seriously.
Constancia’s father, Dioscoro Guevara, a native of Gagalangin, was a man of considerable means who owned a fleet of calesas (the taxicabs in those days). Her mother was a Yamio, a family which produced chemists and lawyers. Her father’s sister was the wife of Dr. Florentino Ampil, a legendary name in Gagalangin who made his fortune in real estate; it is said the government rented schoolbuildings from him. Constancia was a true daughter of the ilustrado class whose career was figured out for her. In those days the daughters of well-to-do families aspired to study at the Conservatory and become sopranos or pianists, the highest form of feminine arts, or become maestros, the ideal of womanly calling. Constancia chose the latter, although she would spend much of her professional life in yet another stereotype role for women, that of cashier and disbursing officer of the House of Representatives (the domestic ideal of woman as protector of the purse).
She was a popular figure at the Sta. Ana Elementary School, attractive and de Buena familia. Among her more ardent suitors was a lawyer, Benigno Mariano, whose sister was Constancia’s best friend in high school. He wrote her long, desperate letters which she, after receiving several of them, imperiously returned unopened, scrawling “Return to Sender” on the envelopes in the red pen she used to correct her students’ themes. Another suitor was a teacher from Pasig who rented a room in an apartment on Antipolo street in Tondo, so he had good chances of being granted the rare privilege of accompanying Constancia home on the tranvia.
But the man who swept her off her feet was the dashing Paulino Escueta, a law student at the Far Eastern University whose parents were wealthy landlords in Laguna. It so happened that Constancia was taking classes at the National Teachers College where Escueta was also enrolled in some courses, although his friends jested that he was there to study how to “fish for women.” “One afternoon,” Mama Anching recalls blithely, “it was my birthday, and he came across my path.” That was on September 1 of 1939; barely two months later, on October 29, after a whirlwind courtship, were they married.
A difficult pregnancy forced her to take a long leave from her teaching and when, due to her long absences, her principal, Mr. Pascual, was constrained to find her a substitute, she quit teaching altogether. Moreover, as she became more testy and hot-headed as her pregnancy progressed, the more it became evident that teaching would only worsen her condition, if not get her into undue trouble with the boisterous kids.
She spent the Occupation years looking after her child at home. After the war she took a job as payroll master in the Philippine Legislature. She had known Narciso Pimentel, the Secretary of the House of Representatives, from visits to her husband’s law office, but connections had not been necessary for her to get the job. At that time it was a breeze to find employment in Government as many civil service eligibles were more interested in buying and selling American goods which earned more than the chore of preparing documents and filing them in cabinets. Constancia Escueta, the former schoolteacher, was cut out for her job, and she came to know practically all the senators and congressmen from the time of President Roxas to President Marcos. She stayed on in her job until February 1973 when, coming under the iron hand of martial law, the two Houses were abolished. She had at least the good fortune of retiring as disbursing officer, at 59. Ten years later her son, Paulino Jr., who gave his mother a difficult period of gestation, became a full-fledged doctor; he was only 23. In 1987 her husband succumbed to cancer. Ding Bautista saw the obit of Escueta’s death in the papers while he was at the Rizal Stadium in Manila attending the Southeast Asian Games as technical delegate of the International Amateur Athletic Federation; the SEA Games was then being hosted for the first time in Manila. “I came across the line that said ‘his bereaved wife Constancia’ and it rang a bell.”
That same evening he went to the wake, and again the next day, but he and Constancia exchanged no more than a word of condolence and thanks. They could not have known what to say, not having seen each other for 41 years; besides Constancia was shrouded in her grief. From across time and the generations they were like two ships passing each other in the night.
There were almost close encounters. Ding’s kid brother Conrado was Anchie’s classmate all through high school at Manila West. Conrado once invited her on the phone to attend a class reunion, but she couldn’t make it because her husband was very sick at the time. When Conrado died, her best friend, the sister of her former suitor Marino, asked her to attend the wake at Claret in Quezon City. Conrado had died in Ding Bautista’s house in Baguio, the friend informed her. Anching was surprised to know that Ding Bautista was living in Baguio. Yes, he does, and he’s already a millionaire there, her best friend chirped.
After the polite meeting at the wake, they were not to see each other again until six years later. The widow Constancia went back to the house in Gagalangin, living there alone, although she was visited often by her grandchildren who lived nearby. In Baguio Tatay and Nanay Bautista were like two peas in a pod, quietly keeping each other company, never exchanging angry words with each other; toward Nanay’s last years they were lulled more and more into a deep placidity, unruffled like the billows of fog moving silently down the hills and treetops. “It was an idyllic marriage,” Tatay waxes soft and tender when he speaks of his marriage. “It was personally and professionally fulfilling for both of us. We worked hard and we raised our children the best we could. We were married for 49 years, only one year and two months short of golden when she died.”
Her death ended the idyll on golden pond. Wasting no time on his grief, wanting to dwell only on the happiness that 49 years of marriage had given him, Tatay picked himself up and before long found himself thrown in a whirl of dinners and dances in Baguio, many of them upon the invitation of merry widows. Tongues wagged in this small town and the University founder was gaining a reputation as a man-about-town and frisky Lothario – in his venerable age. “I felt I was becoming scandalous and I thought I had to put an end to it before something happened to my good name,” he quips, grimming.
But the widower needed a woman so badly it hurt. “I could never be happy without a woman beside me, especially at night, especially in Baguio,” he sighs. So he drew up a list of old girlfriends and new, and visited each one. On top of her list was the widow Constancia. One day while he was in Manila, he called her on the phone; he was beside himself with joy when she asked him over to her house. Mama Anching was more level-headed: “We happen to know each other once upon a time, that’s why I asked him to come over.”
‘She had five grandchildren, all college age, whom she had spoiled and who saw her often. Anching looked happy enough living alone,” was his immediate impression.
But it did not discourage him; it rather made him more determined to press his gentlemanly suit. He pursued her by phone, calling her long distance from Baguio, and like teenage “telebabad” they burned the wires. But he liked it much better sitting across her in her hushed living room and so made frequent trips to Manila, his fond thoughts dwelling on her as his car trundled down the zigzags of Kennon Road, raced across hot plains and interminable fields from the Ilocos to Bulacan, and picked its way through the traffic in the city. And when they were alone together, what did they talk about? “Time deposits,” Ding says. “I’m an expert on time deposits.”
And they dated, once to a Kuh Ledesma concert at the Manila Hotel, with a daughter and granddaughter as chaperones; on another occasion to the ballet, with a granddaughter in tow. They gave dinners on their birthdays, surrounded by their families. One time he attended the wedding of one of her nieces. In 1988 when his eldest son Fer died she made the trek to Baguio to condole with him.
But the trips were getting more and more tiring and the calls more and more expensive and they were not getting any younger. The passionate swain felt it was time to pop the question. He invoked his magic number 8.
He explains: “I have faith in the number 8. I was born in 1908. I graduated in 1928. Nanay and I were married on April 18, 1938. I have eight children. My first name and surname each have eight letters. Baguio Tech was founded in 1948. I was installed as president of the University on a December 8. So I told myself: I have to get married on August 8, 18, or 28, 1988. If not, huwag na lang. I was then 80.”
On a day in June of 1988, a quite propitious month, he proposed to her. Her reaction? “Ang feeling ko, usual pakipot ng babae, kunyari ayaw pa,” he grins. Beyond Ding’s macho swagger, however, was the sobering reality that Mama Anching was after all already a grown woman, not the young maiden of fairy tale illusion. “When he proposed I was taken aback, and then I told myself maybe he was only kidding. What’s this? I had no plans altogether of marrying again. I like it when he calls me up – I was so alone – but there was nothing between us really. When I told my son, he gave me little lecture, can you imagine that? He said if Ding was sincere and honest in his intentions there shouldn’t be any problem. He said he looked like the type who wouldn’t play around.” (You’d think they were talking of a young man of 30!) The doctor’s principal objection to Bautista’s marriage proposal to his 76-yer-old mother had more to do with social politesses. “What will they say?” he warned his mother. “That you married him for his money?”
Where upon Anching wrote Ding firmly saying she could not marry him and spelled out her reasons: one, he’s rich; two, he has many children and she has no inclination to be a madrasta to them; and three, he lives in Baguio and she can’t be uprooted from her house in Tondo. Ding refuted all her objections – in writing – and gave a copy of it to Anching’s son. The doctor capitulated and said to his mother, “It’s all up to you then, if you think you’ll be happy with him.” The son was also concerned that he could not look after his mother as much as he would want to as he was then residing in the United States. And yes, time is short for everyone.
Anching’s sisters, on the other hand, had no objections at all, being rather tickled and enchanter by the idea of two people, in their autumn years, marching down the aisle. Sige na, they egged her, he’s a fine gentleman and he doesn’t look like a fast guy. They would organize parties so they could invite Ding over. He actually became a very close friend of one of Anching’s brothers-in-law, Dr. Isabelo Fajardo.
The die, so to say, was cast. Moment after accepting Ding’s proposal, Anching placed a long distance call to his son in the States. “You better come home immediately, she told him. “Why, are you sick?” the son asked apprehensively. “No, I’m getting married.” The news spread like wildfire to relatives all throughout Los Angeles.
Two months after his marriage proposal, on August 28, 1988, reinforcing Ding’s faith in the number 8, he and Anching exchanged I do’s. Love being sweeter the second time, they spent their honeymoon at the Manila Hotel.
Anching went to live with Ding in Baguio, in the house on Bonifacio street in a room that Ding built especially for his new bride. But on the many travels they take together to the provinces or abroad, they always make it a point to drop by the house in Gagalangin that saw their second blooming, stay for a few days there while Mama Anching connects, in an inexplicable and ancient ritual, with her roots. “I’m glad to say that Ding and my son have become good friends,” she says. As for Ding, he’s like a young man all over again, realizing what other men, and lovers, could only fantasize in the realms of what-if and what-might-have-been. Tatay is nevertheless clear-eyed. “We married each other for love and companionship,” he is wont to say to anyone listening with rapt attention to his story of love at 80 summers.
And in the autumn of their lives they’re looking forward to more summers together.
On July 16 the killer earthquake struck.
In Baguio it registered 7.8 on the Richter scale, lower than other destructive earthquakes in the history of this natural killer in the country. But the widespread tragedy it brought was the most painful, the most heart-rending in living memory.
It struck Baguio at 4:30 in the afternoon. Tatay and Mama Anching were taking their customary cup of coffee, when the house started to tremble. They immediately dived under the dining table, while all around them things began to tumble. The cabinet containing Tatay’s collection of celadon bowls and plates lurched over and its precious contents went crashing across the floor. The refrigerator fell on its face. Plates, glasses, vases, toppled from their perches and broke into pieces on the floor.
When the temblors passed, Tatay and Mama Anching crawled from under the table to survey the worst devastation oldtimer Baguio residents could remember since war. The earthquake cut a swath of destruction across Central Luzon but whether in this mountain city or in La Union or Pangasinan, the terrible story was the same: schoolchildren squeezed or trapped between cement slabs of buildings folding like accordions, scores of people killed in collapsed buildings and houses to say nothing of the untold millions of damage to property and infrastructure. (In Baguio, the worst hit, the official tally was: 400 killed, 167 never found, P20 billion worth of properties lost.) In Baguio, stories will be told for years to come of how bravery and daring and the power of prayers saved the day for survivors and rescuers alike. The story will be told of Hyatt Hotel and Nevada Hotel, which toppled down like a house of cards.
The Bautistas were spared the personal tragedies that visited many distraught families in Baguio. They were unharmed except for Herr Bautista, whose foot was crushed when the factory of the Baguio Precision Corporation in EPZA, of which he was general manager at the time, was thrown pell-mell.
But the University suffered incalculable destruction. The FRB Hotel at the corner of General Luna and Assumption, all of 33 rooms and several restaurants, built at a cost of P8.8 million, not counting furnishings and facilities, and used by the UB students as practicum for hotel and restaurant management, was knocked down to the ground. Seven buildings on the U.B. grounds were severely damaged, not including the Administration and Education building which was gutted by fire a month earlier. “The greatest loss,” sighs Dr. Bautista, “was the library containing the masteral theses of our graduates.”
The losses from the earthquake were as heart-breaking: about 36,900 volumes were damaged in the library, equipment and apparatuses were rendered useless, and just to make things worse, the roof of the Auditorium-Gymnasium caved in. Typhoons, one of which brought unprecedented deaths and destruction in Leyte, that followed on the heels of the earthquake, poured through the fallen roof and flooded the lower levels, making ruins of the registrar’s and accounting offices, the laboratories of soil, hydraulics, sanitary and material testing, as well as the ROTC office.
Sadder to say, the earthquake resulted in several casualties in the University. (Fortunately for neighboring St. Louis University, there was a teachers’ and students’ strike on the day of the earthquake.) The cost of the physical destruction in U.B. was estimated at 11 to 12 million pesos, not including the loss of 30 percent in enrollment the next schoolyear. The University was able to collect only P1 million in fire insurance from the gutted Education building. The rest of the cost, the work of reconstruction and rehabilitation itself, fell upon the able shoulders of Dr. Fernando Bautista, who in his retirement and past his eightieth year finds himself bonding hand and spirit to the very foundations of the school once again, as when he was laying the cornerstone of the school back in 1950.
Most mornings, after breakfast with Mama Anching, he puts on his good walking shoes, pulls over a sweater when it’s cold, throws on his hat, and climbs the steps in the alley he had carved out of a portion of a private property he bought and donated to public domain, being a shortcut to the University compound, saunters past the St. Louis University building rising from a steep incline of a hill along General Luna, past the lot where the FRB Hotel used to stand before it crumbled during the earthquake, past gaggles of ladies who greet him good day, call him Tatay, and kiss him on the cheek, past fruit and vegetable vendors on the sidewalks who acknowledge him with a silent and respectful gaze.
He knows every nook and cranny of his University like the back of his hand. He knows where it needs repair; he knows where it needs to be expanded. He likes to keep the confines of the campus within the city itself. He has resisted tempting offers to expand to Naguilian and Trinidad for the simple reason, he says, that expansion will make things difficult for administration and supervision. Why so? Because the University of Baguio is Dr. Fernando Bautista and Dr. Fernando Bautista is the University of Baguio. With him it has attained respectability and venerability and a solidity that will last as long as his reputation. He recognizes that he cannot now extend the span of his personal supervision and influence without weakening it. For him the University, set in a prime location in the heart of Baguio City, is like a jewel, small and perfectible unto itself. Such as it is, it has realized, and will continue to rekindle, the dreams and ambitions the modest teacher from Tondo had shared with his wife Rosa Castillo Bautista, who had stood by hi, and the school like a pillar of strength. The saga of the University of Baguio continues. In its richness and vitality as an institution of learning for the young, it offers Tatay Bautista ever new challenges, ever new beginnings in his long and extraordinary life.
Nanay shared 49 years with Tatay Bautista, bore his children, took care of his home, helped build his dream,
and had only words of solace and support for him.
Grace and ebullience: Mama Anching has the ebullient style of a woman with robust pedigree, pampered by her own family and yet adhering to the traditional role of wife and mother with a readiness and grace.