Nasyunal, Batch 77
posted 28-Mar-2007  ·  
2,134 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

(First of two parts)

Come April 7 and 8 this year, towards the glorious end of the Holy Week, we of batch ’77 of the nasyunal (CNHS) will gather in a reunion. But it will not be your usual batch get-together. It is going to be special because we will be observing the 30th anniversary since our graduation in high school. In this two-part series, I wish to pay tribute to that remarkable class of 1977. We were such a youthful, bright-eyed and hopeful bunch 360-plus strong, armed with a high school diploma and launched into the world of increasing adulthood. Our claim to being special lies in the fact that we went through high school during the exciting and grandly turbulent seventies. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. It was an era like no other.

When we entered high school, martial law was a year old. Ever heard of Puberty in the New Society? We had our first crushes, pimples, and all the other strange, drastic changes in body, mind and heart under the pale of the Bagong Lipunan. After the flag ceremony on Mondays, we stayed for ten more minutes under the elements to ramble through that monstrously protracted Prayer of the Nation composed by the Apo himself who refuses to become abo. During induction balls we swayed and bumped hips to the music of the Commodores. We embraced and brushed our clothes and smelled each other’s cologne and b.o., boy-to-girl, while some now-forgotten singer crooned "So lucky in my life. . ." or "Let me try again. . ." This latter song supplied the title of a movie that belonged to the Erap series, starred by you-know-who. By this time Mr. J.E. had ceased to be an action star (lumaki na ang tiyan eh) and thought that he could be funny, which indeed he was then as he is now, so he ventured into comedy. That series started the now-famous Erap English. Nobody then ever had the slightest suspicion that he will be President of the Republic for less than half the term and swiftly morphed into being Most Famous Prisoner of the Strong Republic.

We wore our khaki pants with flared seams, up to 15 inches wide that swept the street clean as we walked. Height of fashion was wearing bang-bang T-shirt, and how we wished we could sport our hair long in order to look Jeprox. The salsa dance came into uso and the women’s skirt suddenly dropped way below the knees when we were in third year (but the teachers’ uniform at the nasyunal remained mini, to the eternal delight of Meny Arcilla, he! he! he!). In showbiz, it was still a choice between Nora vs. Vilma who were changing the men of their lives so constantly but not anymore in terms of sweetie-lovey teaming for they actually got pregnant. Besides, the boys were being distracted by the young Alma Moreno, Rio Locsin and Lorna Tolentino. For it was too the ascendancy of the bold movies, of the wet-look and bra-less kind (the bomba belonged to the early seventies when we were too young to watch). And the Chinese martial arts films. When we were in first year, Bruce Lee died. We committed to our hearts the theme music of Enter the Dragon and tried to imitate his famous stance and huni (Aaaiieiiaiah!). Karate became part of the boys’ repertoire of playing tricks during vacant hours (but in real physical struggle we reverted back to the good old bara-bara punete). On the more serious type of cinema, our batch witnessed the flowering of the so-called second golden age of Philippine movies: Tinimbang ka Ngunit Kulang of Lino Brocka, Nunal sa Tubig of Ishmael Bernal and Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon? by Eddie Romero. Yes, we watched them Pinoy movie classics at the surot-infested Dadoy’s or at the bag-ong sinihan during its glorious days when management sprayed its interior with perfumed air freshener! Our Hollywood fare was as envious: the object of fantasy by our female classmates (and the boys’ envy) was a John Travolta who had the flattest and narrowest belly anyone could imagine and he ambled around in an elephant walk. Then we relished the first feature movies of two young, promising auteurs who go by the names George Lucas and Steven Spielberg (Star Wars original version, and Jaws, respectively).

There should be something about political repression (it was the Marcos era) that could do wonders to artistic expression. The martial law days produced many of the most important geniuses of Philippine cinema. And it did the same to music: the mid-seventies of our puberty blues were the glorious era of the Original Pilipino Music. Our batch saw the phenomenal outburst of refreshingly new sound but unmistakably sariling atin. Manila Sound. Hotdogs. Cinderella. Pinoy rock and Pepe Smith. Apo Hiking Society. And Ryan Cayabyab. Later, this trend would be aped locally by what is known now as the ISLA group (that includes batch mate Nonong Icaranom, nasaan na sya?) with their early successes such as the now classic Bakero ning Karbaw, Disco sa Hunasan, and Mutya ning Virac. And speaking of the Mutya ning V, the first title holder in 1976 was our batch mate Eleanor Vargas who grew so suddenly into a lady before our very eyes, from the lanky and awkward over-sized girl who loved to play tubig-tubigan as a high school junior, to the stately beauty queen that she had become. That first beauty contest started what is now a provincial past time: searching for the muyta-of-this-mutya-of-that occasion, from Family Planning Week, to the Calabnigan Barangay Fiesta, to the Christmas Cheers. So great is the Catandunganon’s obsession for beauty contests that there are some among us who have created careers out of it. It has become a cottage industry dominated by the local gay community.

If today we are anxious about our times as a season of cataclysmic disasters (Reming, etc.), we could look back to the ‘70’s for consolation. It was panahon ning pangastigo, talaga. Flooding of Central Luzon. Tidal waves in Zamboanga. Stacks of dead soldiers coming back from Mindanao. Rising oil prices. Communist insurgency. And on the homefront, the moro invasion. No, they didn’t actually come but I vividly remember how the rumor of a moro raid scared Virac like hell when we were in second year. People spent a sleepless night preparing for it and exchanging the wildest speculations. Supposedly, the radar at Buenavista detected a big number of kumpits on their way to the shores of Virac, and they were daw swifter than a typhoon! I even heard that the ROTC cadets were being mobilized to meet the infidels. What?! With wooden rifles? Anyway, no moro came (to my disappointment). Later, a real invasion from the sea did come. One day, the people of Virac discovered a great quantity of dilis being delivered by sea waves on the entire shoreline from San Vicente to Talisoy! Aside from the dilis fishermen were scooping can-fulls of atuloy and pusit from the waters just a few minutes into the open seas. The town actually ran out of salt to preserve the hordes. According to the old folks, parigsok na. When we were in fourth year, another rumor of doom was taken seriously. It was season of earthquakes, for one. So somebody who claimed to be regularly possessed by angels (an alumna of CNHS, really) prophesied that a big temblor will bring tsunami to Virac proper, and within 24 hours! The news spread towards noontime and by the afternoon, classes at the nasyunal were canceled. People panicked and the runway of the airport served as a refuge for some. Well, the 24 hours passed without the earth shaking a bit and the sea have never been so tranquil, baging linanahan. Of course, the winner was our nasyunal alumna who impressed people claiming that her intercession with her host of angels prevented the disaster.

Of course we had our share of shining moments in the mid ‘70’s. In 1974, our province proudly became a diocese. We eagerly learned to call the Virac parish church the Cathedral and got used to a mitered cleric saying the high masses of our Sundays. It began a sort of religious revitalization for the province and many of our batch mates were among the first recipients of Fr. Ping’s youth sessions that later bloomed into the nationally renowned youth encounter program. In 1976, the hablon-dawani was organized at the CSC and started what was to be the second golden age of theatre in Catanduanes (the first I believe was the one that originated at the Catanduanes College during the middle 60’s). Well, we may cite too the construction frenzy in Virac courtesy of political patronage that resulted to the large and concrete saod, new capitol, EBMC, roads and bridges, etc. It created the myth that ga kiling na ang Catanduanes due to uneven burden of weight in the south! Well, speaking of unbalanced development . . .

But who cared during those days? We were martial law babies. Our sort of activism was the KB that engaged us in street sweeping and tree planting. After graduation, those of us who pursued college in Manila witnessed the renaissance of the militant student movement during the 1978 Batasang Pambansa elections. This flowered progressively until it spawned the broad sectoral protest movement after Ninoy Aquino’s assassination. This was what I caught up with when I arrived in Manila for graduate studies in 1983, just in time to be a participant in the making of history! During the funeral march for Ninoy, I had the great excitement in my life when I spotted in the motley crowd my nasyunal batch mate and second cousin Federico Niegas Jr. He was marching under the banner of the Concerned Artists of the Philippines linking arms with such idols as Lino Brocka and Behn Cervantes. As a budding visual artist Jun was already an activist while I was a graduate student sent by our teacher in research to do participant observation. I wouldn’t hear from him for a long time while I progressed in the protest movement both in consciousness and political work. In the early nineties I would receive the sad news that Jun Niegas died of heart failure the night before he was to fly to Saudi as an OCW. By this time, some of my batch mates were already sending their children to high school and the most economically successful were driving their own cars. I was newly jobless then, severed from the radical movement and had just declared myself as a "free spirit," and decided that to write serious literature is what I really want to do in life.

(To be continued)

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