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Remembering a Filipino pioneer educator

Pioneer3 (421x299)PioneerThe movie Conrack starring Jon Voight in the role of an idealistic village school teacher in country Georgia in the U.S. who devoted his life in teaching in far off village school in Georgia reminded me of my father the late Regino Perdon, of Nabua, Camarines Sur in Bicol region in the Philippines. 

Like the character Pat Conrack of the movie, Regino pioneered a number of barrio school classrooms in the hinterlands and boondocks of Bato, Caramoan, Baao, Pili, Lupi, and Sipocot munici-palities in Camarines Sur and a few other boundary villages in Camarines Norte.

My father Regino belonged to the batches of pre-war young Filipinos barely past their high school who started their teaching career under the then American “Thomasite” program to help implement free public primary education in the Philippines.  

Later on after my father married and started a family, my mother Concepcion Reyes who went with him from barrio to barrio would tell us their children countless anecdotes about the life of a small barrio classroom teacher having contact with many different types of characters during the pre-war, the Japanese occupation and the post liberation years. 

She would recall my father’s bartering canned good for wild boar meat with Aetas  in the village of Curry at Mt Isarog,  his securing passage with brave ‘bankeros’ on stormy nights in Lake Bato, his being slapped in the face by  Japanese sentry in Bato during the Occupation, his falling out with an angry guerrilla fighter and poker player also during the war years, with ‘sabungeros’ and more Damon Runyon small barrio characters.

I  myself would recall my father’s encounter when I was a toddler with barerrio folks of Napolidan and the occasional visits by members of the then Filipino rebel group Hukbong Mapagpalaya ng Bayan or HMB from their Sierra Madre Mountains hideouts to the hinterland lumber company of that sitio then and still now belonging to the Lupi municipality in Camarines Sur from 1948 to 1950. 

My childhood experience in that small village  and the Napolidan primary school founded by my father upon request by the then Philippine Lumber Company which was at the prime of its business interest harvesting lumber in the dense Bicol forest at the foot of Sierra Madre range was unforgettable.

So much so that now at 70 years old and after accidentally reading an incorrect item in the internet about the founding of the Napolidan Elementary School in the town of Lupi, it prodded me to redeem the mistake with documentation and public record in view of my research skills as historian and public record archivist. 

Recently I had the opportunity to visit Napolidan of Lupi, Camarines Sur, which is easily accessible however through the town of Sipocot where me and my brothers grew up. I planned to to talk to the officials of the Napolidan Elementary School and inform them that their history of the school is not accurate because nothing in their text mention my father, Regino Perdon, who established the barrio Napolidan Elementary School in 1948. 

The official historical entry for the school in the Internet stated that ‘It was in 1951 the school was opened under Mr. Romeo Acquire with an emergency classes from Grade I to IV.’ 

To prove that it was my father who opened and organised the barrio school where my eldest brother the late David belonged to the first batch of students and we, younger brothers Dany, Eduardo and myself, were attending as ‘saling pusa’ in order to preoccupy us and prevent us from loitering and get lost in the dense forest of nearby Bicol National Park in Napolidan. 

I checked the Filipiniana Division of the National Library of the Philippines where the written history of local barrios throughout the Philippines are kept. It is called Historical Data of Camarines Sur, produced by the Bureau of Public Schools in 1954. The data on Lupi was prepared in 1952 by a committee headed by then school principal, Mr. Fernando Alsisto and assisted by 31 teachers. The report of the committee covered the whole bearrios comprising the town of Lupi, Camarines Sur. 

I found the valuable historical compilation  by the Department of Education which  says: ‘The School -Labourers from Catabañgam were brought with their families. People from other places came for work. They built their houses with building materials supplied by the company. So many people came that in the following year, the barrio school was organised. 

In 1948-1949 the first class was opened under the tutorship of Mr. Regino Perdon, a teacher with 22 years teaching experience. On the following school year the enrolment increased. Miss Trinidad (Zenaida) Fernandez was sent to open the extension class. Presently, it was Miss Corazon Tagum and Miss Francisca Padilla as teachers.’

With this public record, I contacted by email Mr. Roger L. Nidea who was listed in the Internet as the head teacher for Napolidan Elementary School  and made appointment to see him during my forthcoming visit to my brother Eden who lives in nearby Sipocot.

I brought a complete set of my published books and a copy of the historical data about Lupi, Camarines Sur including the report on the founding and opening of the Napolidan school during my visit on December 12, 2013. 

I failed to meet the school principal Mr Nidea, however, when I  reached Lupi and found out my  contact Mr Nidea  had just retired.  I went to Lupi with nephews from Manila Reggie Perdon and Dexter Perdon who were more than happy to visit Bicol the birthplace of their parents my late brothers Danny and Hermes and my brother and Sipocot resident Eduardo and his son Michael.

  The present  school officer-in-charge Ms. Nora A. Miguel was  also not available during that day. We were welcomed instead by school  teachers Bella A. Buere, Albert N. Borromeo and Imelda C. Canaria.

I  explained to them tactfully  the errors I found in the published history of their school which is posted in the  Internet. I gave them a copy of the Historical Data of Camarines Sur I got from the National Library and my book, The Life and Times of the Perdon Family which contained a number of photos taken during our brief stay in Napolidan with my father, Regino Perdon, as the organising teacher. 

Regino Perdon [b.1901-d.1961], the eldest child of Catalino, was one of the pioneer teachers of the town of Nabua during the American period. He began teaching in 1919, barely out of his teens, fresh from completing a secondary education that qualified him to handle elementary education classes.

Tall, dark and good looking, he was likeable and very popular among his young co-teachers. Our family album pictures show him, almost always, in an elegant white suit, perhaps made of gabardine which was the fashion of that era. It was common for the majority of male teachers to wear Americana or Americana cerrada, even during summer days.

Because of his height (inherited from his parents’ genes), he was almost always found at the back row during annual group photo of teachers, an official ritual to record the events of the year that had passed.   

Even at that time, the town of Nabua was already noted for its high number of young teachers and other professionals. Many of the families of Nabua, like my grandparents, took advantage of the American introduced education and sent their children to school, to become the first wave of Filipino students under the American tutelage. My father was one of the early graduates.

He was a professional, an attractive and handsome young man. He enjoyed his new found lifestyle, coupled with freedom and little luxuries in life in his first place of assignment in the remote barrio of Bikal, Caramoan, Camarines Sur. He was appointed as temporary teacher with a salary of P330, per annum and placed under the supervision of teacher Jose Losantales.

The following year, he became a permanent teacher and with an increase of salary  at P348 annually. Yearly, he would receive promotion in salary until 1927 his last stint in Caramoan town with a salaryof P576 annually. Teacher Perdon was very close and friendly with the community of his assignments and had preference to get barrio assignments, including opening remote school in Camarines Sur. For him he was at peace in remote areas. 

It was the beginning of another pioneering work of opening schools in remote parts of the province of Camarines Sur, something that my father preferred because he was out of reach from notorious and demanding School Division supervisors whose regular inspections of barrio schools forced teachers under them to spend for their needs during their official trips.

My father, like many of his co-teachers, paid for the expenses of the higher education officials from his own pocket, despite the generous travel allowances granted the supervisors by the division school office in Naga City. So patronage, which breeds corruption, really existed even before I was born.  

In June 1927, he started teaching in Baao, Camarines Sur and stayed there for two years until 1929, when he was again given a new post opening a school at barangay Curry, a  remote barrio of the neigh-bouring town of Pili. There he had to hike morning and afternoon for many kilometres to reach his teaching post and back to his accommodation in town in the evening. The place is also in Camarines Sur.  

My mother would tell us later that my father opened the school in that barrio called Curry, located at the foot of the legendary Mt. Isarog, a former active volcano, where many of the inhabitants were Aetas, the nomadic aboriginal tribes who were enticed to a more settled life and adapted into a more permanent lifestyle in the lower lands. A couple of these Aetas, in fact, worked as household helps for my parents.

He was again transferred and became ‘regular teacher’ in 1938, just married with my mother, Concepcion Reyes, whom he met in Cadlan, Pili during his ten years stay in that post. His teaching service was interrupted when the Second World War broke out.

In January 1945, schools in Camarines Sur were re-opened and he was reappointed as ‘regular teacher’ with an annual salary of P660. My father took the Junior Teacher (Promotional) examination held in Naga City on 29 December 1939 and passed the test with flying colours. He received 100% grade for education and experience. He qualified for promotion, not only in grade but also in salary.  

It was in June of 1948 that he started the Napolidan Elementary School and given an appointment as ‘class teacher’ and receiving a salary of P900 annually.

It was at this time of his teaching career that another challenge opening a school came. A petition was received by the Division of Schools of Camarines Sur from Mr. Silvestre Gochuico, the manager of the Philippine Lumber Company. It was a request for the establishment of a primary school for children of employees working at the newly opened lumber company within the forest areas of the Bicol National Park.

The lumber company was originally located in Catabañgan, Quezon province, but due to some problems at the old site, they decided to relocate the sawmill and brought their employees and their respective families to Napolidan, a small barrio within the Bicol National Park. 

The company set up a lumber community. Its sawmill was located close to the Camarines Sur boundary with Camarines Norte. With almost three decades of teaching experience and being partial to teaching assignments in remote areas, my father accepted the offer.

He decided to uproot his family again to start a new school in a barrio called Napolidan which is part, even today, of the town of Lupi. The barrio was, however, closer and more accessible through the town of Sipocot, also in Camarines Sur, than Lupi which was an isolated town then, accessible only by train, hence it was regarded as a railroad town.  

Our wooden house was made of roughly hewn wooden slabs supplied by the lumber company and roofed with anahaw leaves from the anahaw plant, the fruit of which was edible and sweet. It was a big house for us. It was one of the houses built by the lumber company for the self-contained community.

It was a simple structure. One night I remember we were awakened by a big snake that entered through the anahaw roof and was slowly slithering into the roof trusses of the house. As a young boy,  I was fascinated by the presence of wildlife in our midst. It did not bother us. The snake did not linger and went away, and we went back to sleep. 

As children, we enjoyed the clean flowing river of Napolidan and we became accustomed to the monkeys we saw on top of the big trees that lined the riverbank, swaying from branch to branch like Tarzan and Cheetah in some early movies shown occasionally in the community.

Most of the monkeys were just looking at us and observing us in our daily use of the river. In some instances, when someone’s attention was distracted from what they were doing, a pair of monkeys would brave themselves and rush to the riverbank and snatch the fish or meat of wild deer (usa) being cleaned, to the surprise of the horrified housewife who was cleaning the items. We always had dried tapa of wild deer that was hunted by adults in the community.  

These were happy and mostly enjoyable days living a semi-jungle existence in Napolidan, until the Huk problems started to surface and demoralised the community. Many members of the under-ground Huk movement inhabited the thick rain forest areas of Bicol.

I recall one night we were awakened by men with guns, wearing coloured fatigue uniforms like the ones used by the members of the Philippine army, marching slowly along the small dirt road built for the trucks carrying lumber from the sawmills to the town of Sipocot where they were loaded on the freight train. Silently, through the spaces between the timber walls of our house, we watched them.

I remember they looked like members of the Philippine army, except for the long hair that some of them sported. They were visiting Miss Trinidad Zenaida Fernandez, a newly arrived young and lovely lady teacher from Pangasinan. She was sent to the place to open an extension class for the school.

The uniformed men were trying to recruit the lady teacher to join the movement, perhaps for the movement’s teach-in programs which explained to their members and new recruits about their opposition to the government. I never saw them again after that visit. Apparently the young lady teacher was not inclined to live like a nomad in the rain forest area of the Bicol National Park. 

Weeks later, news spread in the little community that an encounter between the Huks  and the government military forces would soon take place. All the families of the small lumber community were instructed to evacuate.

Some resettled in another barrio like Sooc, Villazar and the neighbouring town of Sipocot. It was in Sipocot that my father decided to settle down with his young but growing family of six boys. Looking back now, I can sympathise with the current Filipino Muslim communities in Mindanao who move from place to place when there is an impending battle between government troops and the MILF. It was the same situation.

My parents packed our family things and we ended up in the poblacion of Sipocot, as refugees. It was there that my youngest brother, Domingo (Nonoy), was born in 1950.

Luckily, my father was given a substitute teaching job at the Sipocot Elementary School, then a permanent assignment in Banga Caves Elementary Schoiol in Ragay, Camarines Sur, so the family income continued.  

It was during this ten years stint in Pili that he met and fell in love with a lady brought up under a rigid Catholic regimen. She was a simple but attractive, old fashioned and religious young lady by the name of Concepcion Reyes. She was adorable and counted many friends in the town.

Her simplicity in outlook endeared her to many male suitors in the town, including my father who was smitten by the old-fashioned lady. She was very active in the town’s religious group called Dignitarios de la Acción Catolica. Her religious training and activities would later influence our up-bringing—four brothers, and two adopted brothers. 

She was the only daughter of Pablo Reyes, a Chinese naturalised Filipino accountant (tenedor de libros) and Honorata Genaro or Ynario who was a widow, businesswoman, and housewife, but a very disciplinary mother. She had a brother, named Fortunato, and a half sister named Josefa Balilia, from a previous marriage of her mother. Her family was residing in Cadlan, another barrio of Pili.

She was shy but prim and proper and with a very strict Catholic up-bringing. Noticeable was her long tresses of black hair that fell softly down to her ankle; it was well-maintained with generous application of fresh coconut oil, which was of great abundance in Camarines Sur; it added allure and a beguiling look that enchanted and attracted the teacher from Nabua. During special occasions, her hair was pulled back and formed a bun secured by a gold peineta or horquilla (hairpin) from my grand-mother’s jewellery box.  

It was his pioneering work in remote barrios that would eventually cause a serious health problem and forced my father to retire from teaching at the age of 54, having accumulated 35 years of teaching experience. Apparently, the hiking and difficult travels he had to undertake every day to reach the remotest sites of  his teaching assignments cause his illness in later years.

I dare say, also, that his little vices of drinking, smoking and gambling, particularly cockfighting, played a significanht part in the deterioration of his health. He died in 1961 leaving a grieving wife and young six children. From Bayanihan News, January 2014 issue, Sydney, Australia.