OpinYon #18 Dec 20





                                                                      OLOT OF MY BOYHOOD

“I am very happy. This property is very important to me because this is where my father was born.” Imelda Marcos told Agence France-Presse.  “The property (Olot) had belonged to my family long before I met Ferdinand Marcos, so how could the government say it is ill-gotten wealth”, she said.

Two papers described Imelda as “jubilant” after the Supreme Court returned to her a beachfront property because “the wrong government officials had originally signed the documents confiscating the property.”

With the wire report quoted extensively by the two major dailies, there is no missing the mainstreaming of Olot in national media.

Imelda, already 81 years old, has very different remembrances of the Olot of my boyhood days, as I recall that place from over 50 years ago.

 I spent most of my 63 years in Leyte, particularly in Tolosa, where Olot at that time was a sleepy fishing village of not more than 20 homes.

Until Imelda picked it as the site of her fabulous mansion with golf course and pools, it was a 10-minute bicycle ride from the town center; a probably longer hike along the rocky seaward side  of Mt. Inapusong, the natural barrier between the town and its northernmost barrio, Olot.

Mt. Inapusong is actually a hill with a balawarte or stone fortress at its crest, part of the defense and advance warning system against the moro marauders who raided coastal communities. With gentle to steeper slopes on the landward side and a far steeper and more challenging face on the seaward side, Mt. Inapusong was a challenge for local young boys in search of adventure. I am sure more than a few trysts and promises were exchanged in its many bluffs and hideaways.

Sometime in the 50’s, the Tolosanos especially in Manila, together with Speaker Danieling Romualdez, had a huge statue of the Sacred Heart built and enthroned on top of the balawarte, to stand as Tolosa’s guardian and benefactor from on high.

From then on, at every fiesta of Tolosa on May 8 of every year, visitors would trek up Mt. Inapusong, to venerate the Sacred Heart and enjoy the magnificent view of the town and the sea from the mountain.

The same generous Tolosanos and Speaker Danieling also had steps cut into the mountain slope to make the climb easier and built rest stops along the way, for climbers and pilgrims to catch their breath and enjoy the sights on their ascent.

This had become a fiesta tradition, until Imelda Marcos became First Lady.

Tolosa is the third town on the eastern side out of Leyte’s capital, Tacloban City. Its northernmost barrio is Olot, while the southernmost is San Roque, birthplace of our late father Dadoy, and home of his father, Apoy Pael. To the non-Leyteno, apoy is waray-waray for grandfather.

From both barrios, I remember the Romualdezes.

In San Roque, the family of Imelda tried what I suppose was an experimental crop – kenaf, a specie alien and unknown to most in the barrio. I remember their tractor rattling its way through the barrio’s main street, my first insight into mechanized farming, but after one cropping, I saw neither tractor nor kenaf in their farm again.

Later in the early years of the Marcos presidency, however, I was surprised at a Life Magazine cover story where Imelda was described as coming from a sugar-rich family in Leyte.  Kenaf is more jute than sweet and sugar in Leyte was on the other side – the West.

Tolosa is blessed with a long coastline. It can be tricky when the Pacific tide is in, but mostly it is safe for young lads like we were at that time. When bored with the town beach, we would scale the rocks at Mt. Inapusong’s base, dodge the crashing waves and sneak into the Romualdez beach house on the Olot side of the mountain.

It was an impressive beach house, but with the glass windows shut and the doors bolted most of the time. There was an open shower by the backdoor, and it never ran out of warm water. I do not recall barging in on the owners. Neither do I remember being shooed away by anybody. If there was a caretaker, he was always sleeping on the job.

From the road the house had a hog wire fence as a sorry excuse for perimeter security and a sagging gate that would not keep any picnicker out of the beach. Truth is, we had often come in through that gate.

That beach house, we were told, was owned by Eduarding Romualdez, who, we were also told, was a very senior executive of a very big commercial bank.

Speaker Danieling would later build his own beach house next to Eduarding’s while Col. Migueling Romualdez built his home at the center of town.

In case you haven’t noticed, the people of Tolosa loved putting an “ing” to every Romualdez name, including Berting for Norberto, I’m surprised Imelda did not become Imelding.

Anyway, until that time, the fishing village peaceably co-existed with the Romualdez beach houses, the town had open access to Olot and the fisher folk could launch their boats from in front of Eduarding’s beach house.

Olot to us was Cam-olot, until Imelda decided to build her fabulous mansion in Olot – “the property (that) had belonged to my (her) family long before I (she) met Ferdinand Marcos.”

Sometime in my college days, somewhere in the late 60’s, a board mate from Surigao gave me a dog-eared, creased and crumpled copy of The Untold Story of Imelda by Carmen Pedrosa.  Obviously, I was simply one in a long line of pass-on readers of the hottest underground reading of that time.

At that time, it was the equivalent of Fanny Hill or Lady Chatterley’s Lover (Sorry Ma’am Chit, no offense meant in the comparison) --- you wanted to read it but you did not want your religious police to catch you with it. Of course, police in this case would be none other than Marcos’ Metrocom.

From the first page, I literally flew through the rest of the book, marveling at the accuracy and level of detail and impressed by the easy narrative of a story I somehow knew by heart, without even being told the first time, because I lived some parts of it.

Reading about Mana Itray and her utan nga dagmay (a vegetable from gabi leaves) did not only titillate the palate, it jogged memories of the ramshackle house of US surplus green plyboards and steel matting kitchen floor at the corner of Real and Arellano Sts. in Tacloban City.

How did I know all those details? In San Roque as in Tacloban, we were neighbors with some of the Romualdezes – this time Dra. Romualdez and Vicente Romualdez. Imelda, I understand, stayed with the doctora, who never married.

To go back to Olot, when Imelda decided to build her mansion there, the village was relocated across the highway, much farther away from the sea. Now the fishermen have to go a much longer way to get to their livelihood.

Mt. Inapusong was fenced in, the Sacred Heart virtually imprisoned, and the fiesta pilgrims stopped.

I understand the villagers were paid off or bought out. But then again, what kind of bargain would you have expected under martial law.

The same pattern and method was applied in Tacloban where the Sto. Nino Shrine and People’s Center now stand. Properties in the area were bought out, including the home where I grew up. Our folks never told us the deal they got for the property – they did not need to. But whatever it was, I doubt if it would have sufficiently covered the memories in bringing up a brood of six (6) mischievous and sometimes foolish boys.

In other words, if they had their druthers, would they have sold our home?

Time, they say, has different effects on different people. It can dull or dim memories. Or shine enlightenment and acceptance.

I do thank Imelda Marcos for her remarkable recollections of Olot.

If only for sending me down nostalgia lane, I must wish Imelda and Tolosa a better run of it this time around, as Imelda says she will rebuild her mansion.

Welcome to Tolosa, Imelda.

On second thought, shall we just say, Olot?