DURING my four years at JPHS (1961-65), the student population was somewhere between 1,000 and 1,200.
A large chunk was accounted for by students from the mining community of Larap.
It was understandable because all the families there had money from the iron mines – the Philippine Iron Mines -- and therefore, paying for the tuition fees was never a problem.
They came to school and went home, in buses, especially arranged with the transport company by the PIM management, their parents’ employers. So it was really cool for the Larap gang.
Other students came from the town of Jose Panganiban itself, whose parents (not all actually) were also employed at the mines, including my father. A sprinkling was accounted for by baranggays around it. The rest came from the neighboring towns that included Paracale and Labo.
With such a huge family like the JPHS, keeping wayward students under check had become a big concern among the members of the faculty.
The bulk of the burden, however, sat on the shoulder of the principal, who, at that time, was Ms Beatriz Villaluz.
Many boys were problematic, especially those in the upper years – 3rd and 4th years. It was very common to see a number of them bumming around at the carinderias in front of the campus, just across the dusty road that leading to the mining camp.
And inside, it they were not, smoking, they were gambling, drinking tuba or reading “komiks”. Cutting classes has become a worth-while trade among them.
Since the two campus gates would be shut immediately after the bell was sounded for the start of the morning and afternoon classes, those who were off campus wouldn’t be allowed to come in unless they were able to present good reasons to the Office of the Principal.
A number of parents had complained of the low grades that their students had shown them every grading period, although they were in school every time, complete with books and notebooks and snacks money.
I was in my third year and, like the rest of my batch mates, had become familiar with most of the faces that littered the campus.
One day after school hours, I was summoned to the Office of the Principal. Things like this did not startle me anymore, having been almost a permanent fixture at the office, where I did occasional office jobs like filing documents, typing some notices for thumb-tacking on the school bulletin board and all, along with two other senior students.
But this time, I was sent straight to the Principal’s office.
“Alfredo,” Ms Villaluz preambled. “I have something for you to do …”
“But this is strictly confidential … understood?”
I forgot to respond, hearing the word “confidential”.
And then she told me.
The next day, during an hour-long afternoon class break, I set out for home, quickly took some snacks and left, walking straight to one of the carinderias where some of the “tambaneros” had engaged themselves in a card game, with others smoking or reading “komiks”.
I grabbed a bowl of “ginataang bilo-bilo”, engaged one bummer in a chat and stayed on a few minutes more.
I knew most of them. After a while, I left and moved on to the next eatery, chatted with some who bothered, left and went on to the last store.
As expected, the same idling activities were taking place. Nothing is new, after all.
I had no problem with the gate. It was opened for me by the school janitor, Mang Joe, the moment I showed up.
Just before I knocked off for the day, I would drop by at the Principal’s office and leave with the office secretary a sealed envelope – addressed to the Principal.
On the many mornings that followed, several boys would be herded off by Mang Joe from the Office of the Principal straight to the grassy area around the campus.
Armed with shovels and picks and a wheelbarrow, they began getting rid of the nasty mounds of grass that carpeted the area, under the watchful eyes of the janitor.
Having cleared that spot after an hour of sweating under the 9 o’clock sun, they marched back to the Principal’s office for some chat – with no-one else but Ms Villaluz, who gave them the dressing down.
The scene was repeated everyday – Mondays to Fridays – as the names of the “tambaneros” continued to flow into the desk of the Principal, straight from the secret list that I provided.
Those who got their comeuppance returned to their senses and stayed on with their classes, but only to be replaced by new ones.
Lasting until I graduated, this secret service had never reached my mother.
I was afraid that once I shared it with her, it would not take long for her to spill the beans to her “amigas-lavanderas” in the neighborhood.
And that would be my doom.
-By ALFREDO P HERNANDEZ