Growing up in Tabuk of yore (First of five parts)

By Estanislao Albano, Jr.

“ In contrast, the family was subsisting on the rice and other basic commodities Filomena bought from the looters at the start of the war and which she stored under the stairs of their two-storey home.”

Note: This is the recollection of Dr. Amelia Belandres Miranda of how life was in Tabuk during and shortly after the war. Now in her 80s, Dr. Miranda still opens her EENT clinic. However, the pandemic has stranded her in Manila. This article was first published in the Tabuk Life magazine of the Tabuk City LGU.
Dr. Amelia Belandres Miranda’s reminiscences of hers and her siblings’ childhood in Tabuk has all the elements of an engaging movie. The setting is a veritable frontier – isolated from civilization, devoid of comfort, a natural paradise and at the same time fraught with natural dangers foremost of which is the deadly malaria disease, sparse population with simple and uncluttered relations. It was also the Second World War. While the locality was spared the bloodletting happening in many parts of the country, violence lurked in corners because of the presence of the Japanese and the guerillas in the locality.
And yes the main characters are very interesting – the gutsy and resourceful mother, Filemona Moldero Belandres and her young children namely Amelia,10, Teresita, 8, Rosemarie, 6, Glorina, 5, Manuel, 3, and the baby Jocelyn. The Spanish features and temperaments of the Belandreses lend more cinematic color to the story.
Let’s view some sample scenes from the saga –

The letter
The letter came from Saturnino Moldero, the former three-term congressman and 1935 Constitutional Convention delegate for the fourth district of Mt. Province who was then living in his house in Balong, Tabuk. Earlier, Saturnino was placed under house arrest by the Japanese but later, he was released it being that Spain was not an enemy of Japan. The Molderos were half Spanish and half Igorot. Saturnino was the eldest and Filomena the seventh of eight siblings.
The letter said that Tabuk was a “land flowing with milk and honey” and a lot safer than war-torn Manila. In contrast, the family was subsisting on the rice and other basic commodities Filomena bought from the looters at the start of the war and which she stored under the stairs of their two-storey home.
Not long after the arrival of the letter, Filomena decided to heed the advice of Saturnino.
The head of the family, Bienvenido Belandres, a government veterinarian, could not join the journey because he has been interned by the Japanese on account of his profession. With the scarcity of oil products in the country, the Japanese Army in Manila had switched to horses as a mode of transportation and that they needed someone to take care of the animals. Amelia would bring fresh clothes to him in the Japanese camp and then take home his soiled clothes for washing.
The epic journey
Sometime in February 1943, the family along with Filomena’s elder sister Maria Moldero, a nurse, left Manila on an open truck which Amelia now presumes to have been rented. There were some other people with them when they started. They brought a lot of quinine and bundles of clothes and blankets. They knew that Tabuk was infested with malaria and Saturnino had advised Filomena to bring extra clothes and blankets as these items were in short supply in Tabuk and could be bartered for food.
The truck stopped in Tarlac to buy alcohol which was its fuel. Farther along the way, they were stopped by Japanese soldiers. The other passengers were detained by the Japanese and it was only the Belandres family and a Filipina nurse and her Hungarian husband who were allowed to climb back to the truck. After some days, the group arrived in Cauayan, Isabela which was as far as vehicles could go in Cagayan Valley during that time. The next mode of transportation was the Cagayan River with its rafts made of bamboos propelled by Cagayan men with their bamboo poles. The rafts which also accommodated animals was called barangay. When night fell, the passengers would sleep on the riverbank with the raft tied to a tree. The raft ride took around two weeks before they reached Enrile where they alighted.
They stayed with the Spaniard Maistequi family in Enrile. Amelia recalls that while in Enrile, the family crossed the Cagayan River to go to Tuguegarao to buy a few things. They ate in a restaurant owned by the Abraham family whose descendants still reside and do business in the city to this day. They went back to the home of the Maistequis that same day.
A runner was then sent to inform Saturnino of their arrival in Enrile and the latter sent carabaos and horses to carry them and their belongings. It was the children’s first time to ride carabaos. Their legs were bruised by the constant rubbing with the hair of the carabaos. Amelia recalls that after several hours on the trail, when she alighted, she could not stand on her feet, They crossed the hills to what is now Rizal where they visited for a while with the Yandoc and Gonzales families.
The travel from Enrile to Tabuk took a day.
First glimpse of the new home
Amelia remembers that when the caravan hit what she would later learn to be Bulanao, night had fallen. It was pitch black. When they reached San Juan, the next barangay, all of a sudden they saw a flickering light in a house which happened to be that of newly married couple Flaviano and Rosita Gatbonton. The light in the total darkness was such a welcome sight to a weary child so much so that Amelia says she would carry the memory to her grave. They slept with the Gatbontons.
The following morning, they continued the journey to Balong to the north of the valley through the narrow path framed by the ledda grass which was barely enough for the carabao to pass though. The plain was a sea of ledda, a grass taller than a man, and studded with the arrosip, a small tree. The sisters would discover later that the arrosip served a good purpose: you climb them to avoid being gored by the wild carabaos or cimmarons which abounded in the valley during that time. Amelia says you have to mark the locations of the trees so you know where to flee when you hear the sound of approaching cimarrons.
The wild pigs crossed the path.
The afternoon before, they had crossed the Aliog Creek primeval forest and the sound of wildlife was so awesome to the city kids.
Saturnino’s house where the family temporarily stayed was located along the Baligatan Creek. He had a farm which was tilled by tenants.**(To be continued)

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