My elementary school V.I.P.s

Last August 2020 would have been my elementary class’ 45th anniversary reunion, but Covid-19 nulled and voided all the plans and the excitement of our Grade VI batch from Bacong Central School. We could only hope and pray we can have a reunion this August 2021, although “46th” anniversary is not as an important number as the “45th.” A few of us can’t seem to wait for our 50th grand anniversary after some of our classmates passed away in the last year or two. Fear of the unknown sometimes kill hope and enthusiasm. So I still try to remember the people in my batch that had significantly impacted (positively and otherwise) my elementary years, and this blog article tries to capture those memories before they grow dimmer in my fast-disappearing memory cells.

BCS Batch ’75 T-shirt and banner design for the 2019 BCS Himamat reunion and parade

My cousin MARIA NILA moved on weeks before our planned 45th reunion, after battling breast cancer and then bone, lung, and blood cancer. Before her passing away were those of other batchmates.’ There’s Lordie, Jose, Hernina, Zenona, and couple others from other sections of our batch. We only heard of their earthly departures while our classmates and I were chatting online in preparation for our 2020 grand reunion that never was.

MARIA NILA was two of my closest female classmates, she and my other cousin MILAGROS. There were four Vendiolas in our batch, all “brainiacs,” as some classmates called us. “Bookish” would be the derogatory version. Maria Nila, or simply Nila, was the eldest daughter of Uncle Joe, my father’s childhood playmate in Bacong. I didn’t see Uncle Joe in person because he died very young, but from old black and white photographs I could see Nila looked like Uncle Joe. She also got Uncle Joe’s brains for math, science, and administration. Nila, in fact, eventually became a math and science teacher and later principal at a Catholic high school in Cavite, until she had to retire early to battle her first case of cancer six years ago. Reading through the Facebook comments by her former students opened a crack into her strict but fair-minded personality, her penchant for academic rigor and drive for some level of administrative excellence, and her strong-willed, independent personality — the very qualities and traits that I remember she nicely played during our elementary years, and even to her last weeks in Bacong.

I was somewhat rambunctious in Grade VI, sometimes showing some immaturity as I started my puberty stage, and Nila was my “guardian” and “corrector” when I went a bit too loose and crazy with my ways. She kept reminding me to focus on my studies when it seemed I was enjoying too much my social life in Grade VI. She helped me focus for exams by providing me with great academic reviews and competition. She went into her mother-like nagging when I got side-tracked to chatting with the girls, like MARITESS, another very intelligent yet “unfocused” chatterbox in our class. I felt she wanted a Vendiola to get the top academic spot, and if she couldn’t beat the very studious and highly intelligent EMMA, a Vendiola can still be a class valedictorian if I could just get my academic acts together instead of wasting my class time with the girls and my study time with children’s games and kayukok. Her emotional maturity, like that of most girls anyway, was years ahead of mine. Looking back, she was my constant and anchor in Grade V and Grade VI, the turbulent years of my pre-adolescent stage.

And there’s my other cousin MILAGROS (MIla for short) who was more keen on achieving academically and emotionally than on having some childish and even child-like fun. I thought NILA and MILA were instructed by my mother to watch over me as I traipsed interchangeably between academic excellence and idle child’s play. MILA’s motherly and caring instincts actually have served her well as she has pursued her vocation as a teacher-administrator nun of the Order of the Carmelite Sisters in Dumaguete and in Siquijor. MILA would have achieved much higher grades if not for her broken arm that was on cast for months, making her miss several days’ classes, and forcing her to re-learn how to write and function as a left-handed. I think she broke her arm, ironically, while trying to climb a guava tree or while we were playing kayukok. Her wisdom in choosing more meaningful and useful life activities later on was borne from a freak accident, incurred at a time when she wasn’t in her characteristic mature and responsible self. Deviation from the usual course could be devastating — I learned that much from her. Being a nun suits her quite well.

MILA learned such life-changing lesson early. She then developed into a better person for caring, compassion and service to others after her accident. But I could be wrong: maybe those enviable traits were innate to her rather than results of a freak accident. I never asked her because I was scared to feel her pain and suffering.

MARITESS was a very intelligent girl, the top student of our school’s section 1 class until she hit early puberty. She became more interested in boys and Pinoy komiks than in hitting the books when she was in Grade 4. This was when EMMA dislodged Maritess from the top. EMMA used to play second fiddle to Maritess when Maritess was on top of her game. When Maritess started slacking off, the consistency and persistence of Emma served her well: she was studious, disciplined, a favorite of teachers for her pleasant personality and cooperative, if not compliant spirit. I couldn’t remember Emma complaining about anything when we were in elementary and high school. That’s what I love about Emma. In contrast, Maritess was overly outspoken and too willing to share her opinion and her mind.

I somehow made it a habit to watch Maritess and Emma, two girls of contrasting character and work habits for they were after all my “competitions,” (my dear mother’s term) although we didn’t become classmates until Grade V. They were always in Section 1; I was in lower sections because my mother and my aunts wanted to teach me (my mother and my aunts were teaching Section 3). My dear mother believed that Grades V and VI were the most critical years of elementary, since only Section 1 students can aspire to be class valedictorian or salutatorian. It didn’t make sense to me at that time, but, yes, my mother was wise and a master tactical strategist.

Aside from my cousins Mila and Nila, Maritess was the girl I had the most fun interacting with. She was witty, loud and bubbly, opinionated, free-spirited, hyperactive, and very intelligent. She and I were like cast from the same mold. So we clicked quite well, except in cases when our opinions collided and our temperament taxed each other.

Maritess was a great public speaker. Maritess and I used to emcee programs at school and even outside. I remember competing with her at declamation and speech contests, too. My mother, my unofficial coach, always told me to “watch out” for this Maritess because she had the best potential to beat me in any declamation or speaking contests. And she always almost did. It was sheer luck (to my favor) that she talked too fast and too loudly when she got nervous, and maybe the judges didn’t like those qualities. And once, she forgot her lines. Right there and then I knew she lost her first prize declamation trophy. It felt that I wasn’t really the winner; she merely gave away her chance to bag the trophy.

SUSIE was another academic powerhouse in our class, aside from Emma and Maritess and my cousins Nila and Mila. I would even put her IQ, her critical thinking, and her ability to learn and master new things much higher than anyone else’s in our class. Unlike demure and cooperative Emma, and like Maritess, Susie didn’t think twice when she wanted to share her opinion or her mind. Maritess and Susie were feisty, physically and verbally.

Dear Susie never received the appropriate academic honors that she deserved. Transferring from school to school didn’t help her academic standing either. Her father was a school head teacher then a principal, and whenever he was transferred to another school, Susie also had to transfer. Adopting to her new school must have taken a toll on her studies, although she proved to be very adaptable and didn’t seem to have major problems adjusting to her new school(s) and new classmates and new teachers.

The girls in our class were all sweet and close to one another. There’s the cousins Felisa and Celsa, diminutive Esmeralda, my barriofolks Hernina, Diosdada, Susan, and cousin Dioscora. Julie was a distant cousin, too. Maria Luz was another boys’ favorite in our class. Luz and Susie lived by our school, so sometimes during recess and lunch breaks they would invite some female classmates to their homes, and a few boys would come along uninvited. Cleofe, Sofia, and Evelyn were in our class, too. After school, I often saw Evelyn fetching buckets of water from the water pump near the town’s market where her parents had a stall. These girls were the very quiet ones, or maybe they just wanted some peace and quiet after Maritess’s and Susie’s voices kept echoing in our classroom. And my voice was even more booming and screeching and cracking as my puberty-stricken voice box couldn’t maintain the tone and pitch off my blabbering mouth.

There were two Lanis in our batch, both fair-skinned beauties; two Elizabeths, one so tall she towered at least a foot above any other Grade VI. There was another Vendiola cousin from another section: Fe Maria. The brunette beauty, Adela, was in our class in Grade V but she chose to transfer to another section in Grade VI; hmmm was it because of that looker in that section? Other girls I could remember from the other sections who played kayukok with us after school were Editha, Diega, Juneth, Bonifacia, Jojo, Virgie, Elsa, Marina, Vivienne and Vivian, and… and… and many others. Sorry my brain’s memory cells have been worn old….

Puberty — with all the growth spurts and heightened awareness of desires and laffection — hit us at the onset of our teen years. Grade V was the coming of age for most girls; other girls even had a clear head start a year or two ago. For many boys, Grade VI was it for us. Other boys might have a later onset of puberty. Some boys were just rearing to get a girlfriend. Others wanted so much to have a girlfriend but just didn’t know how. Unfortunately for the girls, pagya pagya lang was all they could hope for, since their crush were either setting eyes on someone else, or can’t verbalize the intentions. Women’s lib or gender equality was not in place yet. SSDU (sabay sabay, di uyab) lang. And there were many “love teams” that never were. Pagya pagya lang tawon taman.

Most of the time, and maybe because we were all going through the funny phase of puberty, we boys huddled together in our social circles while the girls were on their own “gossip circles.” Top “secret” conversations (more like gossips and hearsays) revolved around who’s cute and who’s hot; who’s going out together; and who just got rejected. This last topic usually elicited circumspection among us young men. But the news break of new love teams always created both envy and encouragements among the boys.

Anyway, my closest male classmates were Clyde, Julito, Junie, Jose, and Alfaro (Alfredo and Boboy later were also my very close friends in high school). They were my homeward-bound walking buddies after school. Often, they were my confidantes, too. Of course, I relished learning “gossips” from them and discovering their puppy loves.

JUNIE was often my homeward-bound walking buddy in Grade V. Quite a humble yet friendly boy, Junie also became close with my younger sister, and his older sister helped out my mother when Mama retired. In fact, she was a God-sent neighbor who brought my mother to the hospital in Dumaguete when my mother had a heart attack.

CLYDE was my seatmate in Grade V and Grade VI, and was my closest male friend in Grade V. He was quiet, a good foil to Maritess’ and my chatterbox moments. He was somewhat new to our school, a transferee from Siquijor. And in Grade V, I was also new to Section 1. Clyde and I were outsiders or strangers to a bunch of pupils who were already close-knit, so naturally Clyde and I felt more comfortable with each other as we tried “to join in with the crowd.” The commonality of being “outsiders” helped us bond. Most girls found Clyde attractive, his clean short hair complemented his boyish face and muscled body. He was a good dresser, too. So I got to know the girls in the class better through Clyde who attracted the girls. I thought I had the same effect, too. So we use one another to get closer to the girls. At this early puberty stage, connection with girls was important and rewarding. Yet, I remember we boys huddled together while the girls clustered together. It felt like we were two opposing teams yet we all felt the need to discover our new-found hormones and how they made us gravitate towards the opposite gender without losing the safety net and support of our same-gender group. Puberty was indeed a strange stage.

Another eye-candy for the girls was CARLITO, a proverbial “tall, dark, and handsome” young man. A fair-skinned version was RICHARD. Both were quite aware of this and some people thought they were a bit rough, impulsive, and conceited. But having known well both these boys, they were actually sensitive souls and fun-loving boys.

We guys envied Carlito’s looks, height and athleticism. He had more muscles than any of us boys and was a smooth talker. He went about with confidence except in the classroom. He used to great advantage his advanced physical development, height, and great coordination on the basketball and volleyball courts, and the track fields; he excelled in almost all the sports or games we played in grade school, including sword-fencing. I thought he always harbored some resentment if not anger towards me. One time, I “killed” him at a team-sword fencing. While Carlito was madly fending off two others from my team, I stabbed him too hard at the back of his shoulder that he bled. He hissed and swore I would never be allowed to join our fencing game again — he called the shots in that game. I didn’t mind being excluded because I was really not destined to be a swordsman. Another kink: Carlito and I (and so did Richard, Renato, Julito, Alfredo, and Clyde, just to name a few) were quite obvious with our desire to catch the attention of RUBY, the prettiest-faced girl in our batch. But neither Carlito nor I ever “touched first base” with Ruby, and somehow he blamed me for that.

Our town’s Valentine’s Queen fundraising festival gave RICHARD and me an advantage on Ruby over the other boys in school. Richard’s and my mother “sponsored” Ruby to join the Bacong Valentine’s Queen Festival and raised enough money with Ruby’s aunts and co-teachers to secure Ruby the runner-up crown. The rich mayor and the municipal staff and business sector, however, raised more money to make the mayor’s daughter the eventual Valentine’s Queen. The Valentine’s Queen (a former classmate at a private school, St. Louis School in Dumaguete City) was very pretty, more so with her over-sized glittery crown and expensive designer gown. But the prettiest on the stage on that coronation night was by far Ruby, although her crown of diamonelle was much smaller and her gown was borrowed from my cousin Clementa who was the Mayflower Queen the year before.

“Mura siya’g manyeka!” (She looked like a pretty doll. Like a Barbie doll, I suppose), my classmates oohed when they saw Ruby parade towards the stage that night.

Unlike the queen and the other princesses, Ruby had no escort. For some reason our mothers couldn’t agree who should escort her that night: Richard or me. As a result, as finally decided by Ruby’s aunt, neither of us ended up as Ruby’s escort at the coronation night ceremony. Such silly disagreement by our mothers cost my friendship with Richard and his younger brothers. Although Richard and I were not in the same grade section, we were still somehow close at the start of our last years in elementary school since Richard’s parents rented out one of our sari-sari stores and I frequented at this store as the unpaid, unqualified janitor and security guard overnight. I used to play dama (Chinese checkers), chess, dominoes, and cards with Richard and his younger brothers at our rental store. But after that Valentine’s Queen festival, the brothers started to grow cold and hostile against me, even berating me and calling me names like “pisut.” The name-calling didn’t bother me (I had my operation when I was yet a baby; in contrast, the brothers had theirs much later in Grade 5 or Grade 6 so maybe they were the “pisut” at that time). The petty disagreement of our mothers continued on to the year’s Linggo ng Wika where I was Balagtas (the Philippines’ top poet) and Richard was a minor Tagalog poet. My mother made sure I looked like a very decent Balagtas, complete with shiny jusi barong Tagalog and a silk sash (I was boiling in that outfit as we paraded at school and the main streets of the town), and I found the fake olive head gear ridiculous.

But Richard had the one major victory on me: he succeeded in getting Ruby as his girlfriend in the end (I even thought they later married).

Bullying was rampant at school. JULITO was often bullied with a derogatory nickname, “The Earth.” He had a giant mole above his upper lip, and the mole became “The Earth.” I even joined at the name-calling at the start. I admired his ability to stand up for himself against his bullies (mostly our male classmates). Later on, I also stood up for him since Julito and I became very close friends, uncannily through my bullying. He also stood up for me when our classmates gave me mean nicknames. We became walking-home buddies. So something good could actually come from a nasty thing.

The other boys in our class seemed to settle for “being average” in class to avoid “notoriety” among our male peers. Many of the boys in our class managed to stay out of the academic excellence radar by staying in the background of the girls who seemed to exert their presence, influence, and monopoly of the intelligence and diligence pool.

My male classmates purposely “flew low” in the academic skies. Behind me in the Honor Roll were all girls. Yet many of my male friends were intelligent enough to easily crack into the Top Ten, if they dared try. For example, I believed the math wiz in our class were my cousins Neciforo and Nila, followed by Susie, Maritess, Emma, and Serlin; the great scientific minds were Emma and Carlos, followed by Susie, Maritess, and Richard; best in current events and Social Studies were Julito and Clyde, followed by Emma, Susie, Maritess, and Felisa; best in Pilipino were Maritess, Carlos, Richard, and Zosimo, followed by Emma, Alfredo, Nila, and Dioscora; great at English were Maritess, Susie, and Emma, followed by Nila and Mila, and the rest of the girls. In English, I can understand why the girls fared much better than my male classmates, since women have always acquired better skills in learning a language. Besides my female classmates were far more dedicated students to boot.

Pidgin English was rampant among my male Grade V and Grade VI classmates. Our English and Homeroom class instituted an “English Only” policy. We had to speak in English when we’re on school grounds until 4 p.m. when academic classes ended. We had a coconut badge hanging on a piece of abaca rope that we had to wear if we got caught speaking in Bisaya, and it’s the culprit’s responsibility to catch a classmate speaking in Bisaya and hand over the “English Only” coconut badge to the errant person. The last pupil to have the badge by 4 p.m. had to pay a fee or serve a punishment.

So pidgin English was spoken during our class hours, especially at the close of the school day at 4 p.m. I laughed silently when I heard the other boys spoke in their brand of Bisaya-lish. “Your last to come out so you kill the light.”

Or the variation: “Your late to outside the room, so you kill the light.”

“You come here to me,” “I heard you speak Bisaya, I only repeat after you.”

“Promise, cross my heart, I swear my God and my family name, I said in English.”

When I got caught speaking in Bisaya, it was very easy for me to offload that coconut badge. I merely asked (of course in English, so my classmate was unaware of what I was up to) the closest male classmate to explain a specific lesson to me, and I’d be sure somewhere along his jumbled up explanation he’d blurt out a Bisayan phrase. Voila! I’ve found the next holder of that damned coconut badge.

Close to 4:00 p.m., arguments would ensue along the lines: “Time passing by already.”

Or, my favorite: “Finish already 4 o’clock .”

Top this: “You speak Bisaya, no English, I listen to you.”

I was baffled that we boys didn’t follow the girls who spoke in Tag-lish or even straight Pilipino and got away with this “English Only” policy, since speaking in Pilipino was allowed, but not in Bisaya. Or maybe we didn’t know Pilipino that well either.

Boys apparently had different priorities in school than the girls did. Ours were the girls.

My male classmates believed it was more acceptable to our “boys’ club” to have so-so grades as long as we were highly marketable to the girls. Further, playing games or pranks, or name-calling, or skipping classes without being caught by the teacher, was more important than studying for tests, and the daily drills in our math and Pilipino classes. For some weird reason some male classmates even bragged about having “failed” a test or a subject but would hide their test papers when they got 100% or anything higher than 80%. It was more honorable to have been in a fist fight than to be praised by our teacher for outstanding behavior or being diligent or doing well in tests. Homework was an alien concept among these boys.

My male classmates were just happy to get mediocre grade in our all-male Practical Arts and Industrial Arts classes, so I struggled to keep my motivation to achieve high marks in these classes. In contrast, my female classmates were getting extremely high marks in their all-female Home Economics and Cooking/Sewing classes. My cousins Nila, Mila and Dioscora were so concern about my lack of motivation in my all-male classes. They kept reminding me that my “main competitions” for the #1 spot on that Honor Roll were rolling in exceptionally high marks in their all-girls classes, reminding me what “grade-average” meant. Of course, I totally understood that grade-average included my Practical Arts and Industrial Arts grades. So, thank goodness to my cousins Nila, Mila, and Dioscora for reminding me of what academic excellence ought to be, that it is a desirable achievement instead of something “unmanly.” (Besides, my mother was expecting from me nothing but the best I can possibly be, nothing less; my father merely encouraged me to “love learning new things.”) Honestly, many times I wanted to merely “pass” a test to be “just like the other boys.”

Alas, my Grade V and Grade VI experience is also felt by other male students in most places of the world who want to maintain academic excellence and be on top of their respective classes. Even worse, this male attitude towards academic excellence continues through high school and university. Is this dysfunction part of male puberty or male psyche?

Yet, surprisingly, a horde of males still dominate the labor and work force as leaders, so much so that the females have been fighting for gender-equality in the work force — in many, many cases, rightly so. But hmmm, I still have to hear of the gender-equality advocates fighting for equal pursuit for excellence among the boys/men in elementary and high schools. It’s a male scourge in schools.

To read similar blog article on my BCS batchmates and experience, check out this link: https://wordpress.com/post/sansengarden.wordpress.com/3182

Or, check out the fun and games we had in elementary school through this link: https://sansengarden.wordpress.com/2021/01/17/my-elementary-v-i-p-s/

Last August 2020 would have been my elementary class’ 45th anniversary reunion, but Covid-19 nulled and voided all the plans and the excitement of our Grade VI batch from Bacong Central School. We could only hope and pray we can have a reunion this August 2021, although “46th” anniversary is not as an important number […]

Last August 2020 would have been my elementary class’ 45th anniversary reunion, but Covid-19 nulled and voided all the plans and the excitement of our Grade VI batch from Bacong Central School. We could only hope and pray we can have a reunion this August 2021, although “46th” anniversary is not as an important number as the “45th.” A few of us can’t seem to wait for our 50th grand anniversary after some of our classmates passed away in the last year or two. Fear of the unknown sometimes kill hope and enthusiasm. So I still try to remember the people in my batch that had significantly impacted (positively and otherwise) my elementary years, and this blog article tries to capture those memories before they grow dimmer in my fast-disappearing memory cells.

BCS Batch ’75 T-shirt and banner design for the 2019 BCS Himamat reunion and parade

My cousin MARIA NILA moved on weeks before our planned 45th reunion, after battling breast cancer and then bone, lung, and blood cancer. Before her passing away were those of other batchmates.’ There’s Lordie, Jose, Hernina, Zenona, and couple others from other sections of our batch. We only heard of their earthly departures while our classmates and I were chatting online in preparation for our 2020 grand reunion that never was.

MARIA NILA was two of my closest female classmates, she and my other cousin MILAGROS. There were four Vendiolas in our batch, all “brainiacs,” as some classmates called us. “Bookish” would be the derogatory version. Maria Nila, or simply Nila, was the eldest daughter of Uncle Joe, my father’s childhood playmate in Bacong. I didn’t see Uncle Joe in person because he died very young, but from old black and white photographs I could see Nila looked like Uncle Joe. She also got Uncle Joe’s brains for math, science, and administration. Nila, in fact, eventually became a math and science teacher and later principal at a Catholic high school in Cavite, until she had to retire early to battle her first case of cancer six years ago. Reading through the Facebook comments by her former students opened a crack into her strict but fair-minded personality, her penchant for academic rigor and drive for some level of administrative excellence, and her strong-willed, independent personality — the very qualities and traits that I remember she nicely played during our elementary years, and even to her last weeks in Bacong.

I was somewhat rambunctious in Grade VI, sometimes showing some immaturity as I started my puberty stage, and Nila was my “guardian” and “corrector” when I went a bit too loose and crazy with my ways. She kept reminding me to focus on my studies when it seemed I was enjoying too much my social life in Grade VI. She helped me focus for exams by providing me with great academic reviews and competition. She went into her mother-like nagging when I got side-tracked to chatting with the girls, like MARITESS, another very intelligent yet “unfocused” chatterbox in our class. I felt she wanted a Vendiola to get the top academic spot, and if she couldn’t beat the very studious and highly intelligent EMMA, a Vendiola can still be a class valedictorian if I could just get my academic acts together instead of wasting my class time with the girls and my study time with children’s games and kayukok. Her emotional maturity, like that of most girls anyway, was years ahead of mine. Looking back, she was my constant and anchor in Grade V and Grade VI, the turbulent years of my pre-adolescent stage.

And there’s my other cousin MILAGROS (MIla for short) who was more keen on achieving academically and emotionally than on having some childish and even child-like fun. I thought NILA and MILA were instructed by my mother to watch over me as I traipsed interchangeably between academic excellence and idle child’s play. MILA’s motherly and caring instincts actually have served her well as she has pursued her vocation as a teacher-administrator nun of the Order of the Carmelite Sisters in Dumaguete and in Siquijor. MILA would have achieved much higher grades if not for her broken arm that was on cast for months, making her miss several days’ classes, and forcing her to re-learn how to write and function as a left-handed. I think she broke her arm, ironically, while trying to climb a guava tree or while we were playing kayukok. Her wisdom in choosing more meaningful and useful life activities later on was borne from a freak accident, incurred at a time when she wasn’t in her characteristic mature and responsible self. Deviation from the usual course could be devastating — I learned that much from her. Being a nun suits her quite well.

MILA learned such life-changing lesson early. She then developed into a better person for caring, compassion and service to others after her accident. But I could be wrong: maybe those enviable traits were innate to her rather than results of a freak accident. I never asked her because I was scared to feel her pain and suffering.

MARITESS was a very intelligent girl, the top student of our school’s section 1 class until she hit early puberty. She became more interested in boys and Pinoy komiks than in hitting the books when she was in Grade 4. This was when EMMA dislodged Maritess from the top. EMMA used to play second fiddle to Maritess when Maritess was on top of her game. When Maritess started slacking off, the consistency and persistence of Emma served her well: she was studious, disciplined, a favorite of teachers for her pleasant personality and cooperative, if not compliant spirit. I couldn’t remember Emma complaining about anything when we were in elementary and high school. That’s what I love about Emma. In contrast, Maritess was overly outspoken and too willing to share her opinion and her mind.

I somehow made it a habit to watch Maritess and Emma, two girls of contrasting character and work habits for they were after all my “competitions,” (my dear mother’s term) although we didn’t become classmates until Grade V. They were always in Section 1; I was in lower sections because my mother and my aunts wanted to teach me (my mother and my aunts were teaching Section 3). My dear mother believed that Grades V and VI were the most critical years of elementary, since only Section 1 students can aspire to be class valedictorian or salutatorian. It didn’t make sense to me at that time, but, yes, my mother was wise and a master tactical strategist.

Aside from my cousins Mila and Nila, Maritess was the girl I had the most fun interacting with. She was witty, loud and bubbly, opinionated, free-spirited, hyperactive, and very intelligent. She and I were like cast from the same mold. So we clicked quite well, except in cases when our opinions collided and our temperament taxed each other.

Maritess was a great public speaker. Maritess and I used to emcee programs at school and even outside. I remember competing with her at declamation and speech contests, too. My mother, my unofficial coach, always told me to “watch out” for this Maritess because she had the best potential to beat me in any declamation or speaking contests. And she always almost did. It was sheer luck (to my favor) that she talked too fast and too loudly when she got nervous, and maybe the judges didn’t like those qualities. And once, she forgot her lines. Right there and then I knew she lost her first prize declamation trophy. It felt that I wasn’t really the winner; she merely gave away her chance to bag the trophy.

SUSIE was another academic powerhouse in our class, aside from Emma and Maritess and my cousins Nila and Mila. I would even put her IQ, her critical thinking, and her ability to learn and master new things much higher than anyone else’s in our class. Unlike demure and cooperative Emma, and like Maritess, Susie didn’t think twice when she wanted to share her opinion or her mind. Maritess and Susie were feisty, physically and verbally.

Dear Susie never received the appropriate academic honors that she deserved. Transferring from school to school didn’t help her academic standing either. Her father was a school head teacher then a principal, and whenever he was transferred to another school, Susie also had to transfer. Adopting to her new school must have taken a toll on her studies, although she proved to be very adaptable and didn’t seem to have major problems adjusting to her new school(s) and new classmates and new teachers.

The girls in our class were all sweet and close to one another. There’s the cousins Felisa and Celsa, diminutive Esmeralda, my barriofolks Hernina, Diosdada, Susan, and cousin Dioscora. Julie was a distant cousin, too. Maria Luz was another boys’ favorite in our class. Luz and Susie lived by our school, so sometimes during recess and lunch breaks they would invite some female classmates to their homes, and a few boys would come along uninvited. Cleofe, Sofia, and Evelyn were in our class, too. After school, I often saw Evelyn fetching buckets of water from the water pump near the town’s market where her parents had a stall. These girls were the very quiet ones, or maybe they just wanted some peace and quiet after Maritess’s and Susie’s voices kept echoing in our classroom. And my voice was even more booming and screeching and cracking as my puberty-stricken voice box couldn’t maintain the tone and pitch off my blabbering mouth.

There were two Lanis in our batch, both fair-skinned beauties; two Elizabeths, one so tall she towered at least a foot above any other Grade VI. There was another Vendiola cousin from another section: Fe Maria. The brunette beauty, Adela, was in our class in Grade V but she chose to transfer to another section in Grade VI; hmmm was it because of that looker in that section? Other girls I could remember from the other sections who played kayukok with us after school were Editha, Diega, Juneth, Bonifacia, Jojo, Virgie, Elsa, Marina, Vivienne and Vivian, and… and… and many others. Sorry my brain’s memory cells have been worn old….

Puberty — with all the growth spurts and heightened awareness of desires and laffection — hit us at the onset of our teen years. Grade V was the coming of age for most girls; other girls even had a clear head start a year or two ago. For many boys, Grade VI was it for us. Other boys might have a later onset of puberty. Some boys were just rearing to get a girlfriend. Others wanted so much to have a girlfriend but just didn’t know how. Unfortunately for the girls, pagya pagya lang was all they could hope for, since their crush were either setting eyes on someone else, or can’t verbalize the intentions. Women’s lib or gender equality was not in place yet. SSDU (sabay sabay, di uyab) lang. And there were many “love teams” that never were. Pagya pagya lang tawon taman.

Most of the time, and maybe because we were all going through the funny phase of puberty, we boys huddled together in our social circles while the girls were on their own “gossip circles.” Top “secret” conversations (more like gossips and hearsays) revolved around who’s cute and who’s hot; who’s going out together; and who just got rejected. This last topic usually elicited circumspection among us young men. But the news break of new love teams always created both envy and encouragements among the boys.

Anyway, my closest male classmates were Clyde, Julito, Junie, Jose, and Alfaro (Alfredo and Boboy later were also my very close friends in high school). They were my homeward-bound walking buddies after school. Often, they were my confidantes, too. Of course, I relished learning “gossips” from them and discovering their puppy loves.

JUNIE was often my homeward-bound walking buddy in Grade V. Quite a humble yet friendly boy, Junie also became close with my younger sister, and his older sister helped out my mother when Mama retired. In fact, she was a God-sent neighbor who brought my mother to the hospital in Dumaguete when my mother had a heart attack.

CLYDE was my seatmate in Grade V and Grade VI, and was my closest male friend in Grade V. He was quiet, a good foil to Maritess’ and my chatterbox moments. He was somewhat new to our school, a transferee from Siquijor. And in Grade V, I was also new to Section 1. Clyde and I were outsiders or strangers to a bunch of pupils who were already close-knit, so naturally Clyde and I felt more comfortable with each other as we tried “to join in with the crowd.” The commonality of being “outsiders” helped us bond. Most girls found Clyde attractive, his clean short hair complemented his boyish face and muscled body. He was a good dresser, too. So I got to know the girls in the class better through Clyde who attracted the girls. I thought I had the same effect, too. So we use one another to get closer to the girls. At this early puberty stage, connection with girls was important and rewarding. Yet, I remember we boys huddled together while the girls clustered together. It felt like we were two opposing teams yet we all felt the need to discover our new-found hormones and how they made us gravitate towards the opposite gender without losing the safety net and support of our same-gender group. Puberty was indeed a strange stage.

Another eye-candy for the girls was CARLITO, a proverbial “tall, dark, and handsome” young man. A fair-skinned version was RICHARD. Both were quite aware of this and some people thought they were a bit rough, impulsive, and conceited. But having known well both these boys, they were actually sensitive souls and fun-loving boys.

We guys envied Carlito’s looks, height and athleticism. He had more muscles than any of us boys and was a smooth talker. He went about with confidence except in the classroom. He used to great advantage his advanced physical development, height, and great coordination on the basketball and volleyball courts, and the track fields; he excelled in almost all the sports or games we played in grade school, including sword-fencing. I thought he always harbored some resentment if not anger towards me. One time, I “killed” him at a team-sword fencing. While Carlito was madly fending off two others from my team, I stabbed him too hard at the back of his shoulder that he bled. He hissed and swore I would never be allowed to join our fencing game again — he called the shots in that game. I didn’t mind being excluded because I was really not destined to be a swordsman. Another kink: Carlito and I (and so did Richard, Renato, Julito, Alfredo, and Clyde, just to name a few) were quite obvious with our desire to catch the attention of RUBY, the prettiest-faced girl in our batch. But neither Carlito nor I ever “touched first base” with Ruby, and somehow he blamed me for that.

Our town’s Valentine’s Queen fundraising festival gave RICHARD and me an advantage on Ruby over the other boys in school. Richard’s and my mother “sponsored” Ruby to join the Bacong Valentine’s Queen Festival and raised enough money with Ruby’s aunts and co-teachers to secure Ruby the runner-up crown. The rich mayor and the municipal staff and business sector, however, raised more money to make the mayor’s daughter the eventual Valentine’s Queen. The Valentine’s Queen (a former classmate at a private school, St. Louis School in Dumaguete City) was very pretty, more so with her over-sized glittery crown and expensive designer gown. But the prettiest on the stage on that coronation night was by far Ruby, although her crown of diamonelle was much smaller and her gown was borrowed from my cousin Clementa who was the Mayflower Queen the year before.

“Mura siya’g manyeka!” (She looked like a pretty doll. Like a Barbie doll, I suppose), my classmates oohed when they saw Ruby parade towards the stage that night.

Unlike the queen and the other princesses, Ruby had no escort. For some reason our mothers couldn’t agree who should escort her that night: Richard or me. As a result, as finally decided by Ruby’s aunt, neither of us ended up as Ruby’s escort at the coronation night ceremony. Such silly disagreement by our mothers cost my friendship with Richard and his younger brothers. Although Richard and I were not in the same grade section, we were still somehow close at the start of our last years in elementary school since Richard’s parents rented out one of our sari-sari stores and I frequented at this store as the unpaid, unqualified janitor and security guard overnight. I used to play dama (Chinese checkers), chess, dominoes, and cards with Richard and his younger brothers at our rental store. But after that Valentine’s Queen festival, the brothers started to grow cold and hostile against me, even berating me and calling me names like “pisut.” The name-calling didn’t bother me (I had my operation when I was yet a baby; in contrast, the brothers had theirs much later in Grade 5 or Grade 6 so maybe they were the “pisut” at that time). The petty disagreement of our mothers continued on to the year’s Linggo ng Wika where I was Balagtas (the Philippines’ top poet) and Richard was a minor Tagalog poet. My mother made sure I looked like a very decent Balagtas, complete with shiny jusi barong Tagalog and a silk sash (I was boiling in that outfit as we paraded at school and the main streets of the town), and I found the fake olive head gear ridiculous.

But Richard had the one major victory on me: he succeeded in getting Ruby as his girlfriend in the end (I even thought they later married).

Bullying was rampant at school. JULITO was often bullied with a derogatory nickname, “The Earth.” He had a giant mole above his upper lip, and the mole became “The Earth.” I even joined at the name-calling at the start. I admired his ability to stand up for himself against his bullies (mostly our male classmates). Later on, I also stood up for him since Julito and I became very close friends, uncannily through my bullying. He also stood up for me when our classmates gave me mean nicknames. We became walking-home buddies. So something good could actually come from a nasty thing.

The other boys in our class seemed to settle for “being average” in class to avoid “notoriety” among our male peers. Many of the boys in our class managed to stay out of the academic excellence radar by staying in the background of the girls who seemed to exert their presence, influence, and monopoly of the intelligence and diligence pool.

My male classmates purposely “flew low” in the academic skies. Behind me in the Honor Roll were all girls. Yet many of my male friends were intelligent enough to easily crack into the Top Ten, if they dared try. For example, I believed the math wiz in our class were my cousins Neciforo and Nila, followed by Susie, Maritess, Emma, and Serlin; the great scientific minds were Emma and Carlos, followed by Susie, Maritess, and Richard; best in current events and Social Studies were Julito and Clyde, followed by Emma, Susie, Maritess, and Felisa; best in Pilipino were Maritess, Carlos, Richard, and Zosimo, followed by Emma, Alfredo, Nila, and Dioscora; great at English were Maritess, Susie, and Emma, followed by Nila and Mila, and the rest of the girls. In English, I can understand why the girls fared much better than my male classmates, since women have always acquired better skills in learning a language. Besides my female classmates were far more dedicated students to boot.

Pidgin English was rampant among my male Grade V and Grade VI classmates. Our English and Homeroom class instituted an “English Only” policy. We had to speak in English when we’re on school grounds until 4 p.m. when academic classes ended. We had a coconut badge hanging on a piece of abaca rope that we had to wear if we got caught speaking in Bisaya, and it’s the culprit’s responsibility to catch a classmate speaking in Bisaya and hand over the “English Only” coconut badge to the errant person. The last pupil to have the badge by 4 p.m. had to pay a fee or serve a punishment.

So pidgin English was spoken during our class hours, especially at the close of the school day at 4 p.m. I laughed silently when I heard the other boys spoke in their brand of Bisaya-lish. “Your last to come out so you kill the light.”

Or the variation: “Your late to outside the room, so you kill the light.”

“You come here to me,” “I heard you speak Bisaya, I only repeat after you.”

“Promise, cross my heart, I swear my God and my family name, I said in English.”

When I got caught speaking in Bisaya, it was very easy for me to offload that coconut badge. I merely asked (of course in English, so my classmate was unaware of what I was up to) the closest male classmate to explain a specific lesson to me, and I’d be sure somewhere along his jumbled up explanation he’d blurt out a Bisayan phrase. Voila! I’ve found the next holder of that damned coconut badge.

Close to 4:00 p.m., arguments would ensue along the lines: “Time passing by already.”

Or, my favorite: “Finish already 4 o’clock .”

Top this: “You speak Bisaya, no English, I listen to you.”

I was baffled that we boys didn’t follow the girls who spoke in Tag-lish or even straight Pilipino and got away with this “English Only” policy, since speaking in Pilipino was allowed, but not in Bisaya. Or maybe we didn’t know Pilipino that well either.

Boys apparently had different priorities in school than the girls did. Ours were the girls.

My male classmates believed it was more acceptable to our “boys’ club” to have so-so grades as long as we were highly marketable to the girls. Further, playing games or pranks, or name-calling, or skipping classes without being caught by the teacher, was more important than studying for tests, and the daily drills in our math and Pilipino classes. For some weird reason some male classmates even bragged about having “failed” a test or a subject but would hide their test papers when they got 100% or anything higher than 80%. It was more honorable to have been in a fist fight than to be praised by our teacher for outstanding behavior or being diligent or doing well in tests. Homework was an alien concept among these boys.

My male classmates were just happy to get mediocre grade in our all-male Practical Arts and Industrial Arts classes, so I struggled to keep my motivation to achieve high marks in these classes. In contrast, my female classmates were getting extremely high marks in their all-female Home Economics and Cooking/Sewing classes. My cousins Nila, Mila and Dioscora were so concern about my lack of motivation in my all-male classes. They kept reminding me that my “main competitions” for the #1 spot on that Honor Roll were rolling in exceptionally high marks in their all-girls classes, reminding me what “grade-average” meant. Of course, I totally understood that grade-average included my Practical Arts and Industrial Arts grades. So, thank goodness to my cousins Nila, Mila, and Dioscora for reminding me of what academic excellence ought to be, that it is a desirable achievement instead of something “unmanly.” (Besides, my mother was expecting from me nothing but the best I can possibly be, nothing less; my father merely encouraged me to “love learning new things.”) Honestly, many times I wanted to merely “pass” a test to be “just like the other boys.”

Alas, my Grade V and Grade VI experience is also felt by other male students in most places of the world who want to maintain academic excellence and be on top of their respective classes. Even worse, this male attitude towards academic excellence continues through high school and university. Is this dysfunction part of male puberty or male psyche?

Yet, surprisingly, a horde of males still dominate the labor and work force as leaders, so much so that the females have been fighting for gender-equality in the work force — in many, many cases, rightly so. But hmmm, I still have to hear of the gender-equality advocates fighting for equal pursuit for excellence among the boys/men in elementary and high schools. It’s a male scourge in schools.

To read similar blog article on my BCS batchmates and experience, check out this link: https://wordpress.com/post/sansengarden.wordpress.com/3182

Or, check out the fun and games we had in elementary school through this link: https://sansengarden.wordpress.com/2021/01/17/my-elementary-v-i-p-s/

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