I caught the tail end of a wonderful era called Peace Time (or prewar, circa 1920-1940). My grandparents and parents lived peaceful and productive lives during those years, in what perhaps, was the most idealized Filipino community at the turn of the century.
Our country and our people displayed transformative behavior. The road to self-rule was exhilarating.
The Commonwealth government gave politics and civil service a new paradigm. The importance of mass education in English and the rise of professional careers gained momentum. Professionalization in public service and private practice became the badge of honor.
Political will was demonstrated by individuals whose conviction and behavior as town officials or employees defined the dignity of their office and their dedication to excellent constituent service.
In return, mainstream hometown constituency manifested a healthy respect for the law and the instinct to desire common good.
In communities where political will was active, authority symbols made things happen. Their names were top of mind. They were role models in many towns of the Southern Tagalog provinces. I can distinctly picture the exemplars in my hometown Majayjay, Laguna, during those peacetime years.
The Mayor—Simeon Ordoñez, Alcalde. Servant leader, governed by consensus, had a participative workstyle with counselors. A crises manager, he could mobilize volunteer work in times of emergency, had excellent written English skills to communicate with upper bureaucracy, walked the talk of service competence, and was a man of modest means, stately and well-respected. People depended on Mayor Simeon to do the right thing.
The Police Chief—Martin Morales, Hepe. He moved around with the swagger of a law enforcer. Swift, crisp, a martinet with a loud voice. Always visible in a crowd. Walked the street with a regular schedule. He kept youth out of mischief and escorted drunk men home—no fooling around. He maintained a zero crime rate and kept jail empty. With Hepe Martin Morales, you’d better obey the law, or else poposasan ka!
The School Principal—Jose V. del Callar, Principal, Mr. Knowledge and Mr. Right. Tall, ramrod straight, he projected his booming voice in conducting the morning flag ceremony. A disciplinarian to the core; studies first, play later. He did not spare the rod. Kids who engaged in fisticuffs were told to report to his office. They got whacks in the behind with the long ruler. School premises were always clean and orderly. Del Callar bred respectful kids.
The Parish Priest—Padre Cornelio Magmanlac, a Batangueño priest with a fierce missionary spirit. He was capable of fire and fury in the pulpit—the repent-or-burn-in-hell threat. He heard long confessions in the afternoons, visited the sick to bring viaticum, and packed the church full on Misa de Gallo and Good Friday. A holy man, he taught people to pray.
The Health Officer—Dr. Pio Villaraza. Fully dedicated to the oath of Hippocrates, he treated a long line of patients with all kinds of ailments and managed an efficient prenatal care department for pregnant women. He made house calls even in the dead of the night, and would trek to inland barrio in an emergency. Pay him with chickens or nothing, that was okay. He cured the sick regardless of age, creed and color. The people loved him.
The town ecology. It was a harmonized, balanced ecosystem. The towns were surrounded by thick forests, golden rice fields, gushing spring waters, and canals with flowing water on side streets. Backyards were lined with coconut, lanzones, santol and guava trees, and further upland were patches of cabbage, pechay, and sayote fringed with saba banana, gabi and kamoteng kahoy.
Chickens and hogs
There was a lot of protein in chickens and hogs in the pen. No one got hungry. No one was malnourished.
The place was clean. Every morning, women and children swept the yard with walis tingting. There were no jeeps, tricycles and motorcycles to pollute the air and shatter the peace. People walked all the time, to school, to market, to church, to fields and farmlands, to visit friends on the other side of the town.
The winds blowing from the Sierra Madre mountain ranges were cool and fresh. The good amount of rain kept the foliage green all year round.
The hometown culture. It was the robust culture of Christianity. The sacraments of the Catholic Church facilitated the entry and passage of the people into their Christian lives—Baptism, Confirmation, Matrimony, Holy Orders and Last Anointment. Sacraments were covenants of sanctifying grace from womb to tomb. The rituals of the people’s faith were celebratory, and full of joy and reverence for the sanctity of life.
Home was the locus of family values. Parents taught and transmitted values and virtues—fidelity to the marriage vows, respect for elders, helpfulness with one another, industriousness, table manners, polite talk, decency in attire, prayerfulness and fear of God, and as citizens, respect and obedience for the law of the land.
For careerists and men in government, the catchphrases were maginoo (gentlemen of the old school), delicadeza (unflinching moral integrity) and palabra de honor (word of honor). These values sound anachronistic today.
Our society is mired in bureaucratic incompetence, pandemic poverty, thievery in government, chaos on the street and vandalism of natural resources.