would have been another important source for we
had plenty of fish in our lake and streams. Carp,
which had been recently introduced into our lake
and which we Boienens used to call isra nga
puti or white fish to distinguish it from isra
nga item or talsog or mudfish and
other fish previously found in our waters,
thrived on the plentiful shellfish and aquatic
plants, multiplied rapidly and grew to enormous
sizes. One could not sail on our lake without
seeing many of them jumping out of the water. Not
infrequently , some of them would jump right into
the passing bancas.
Such was the capricious
whim of people, however, that when catching carp
was prohibited at first and it could be sold only
surreptitiously at rather high prices, we
considered it as delicacy. Later it was relegated
to the status of a poor man's food. Yes, we had
plenty of fish but in those days before
refrigeration, and considering the difficulty of
transportation, we did not sell our fish in other
Like many others,
my family was a victim of the depression. And our
usual easy-going Boienen ways were no help of
course. my two older brothers, Abraham and
Benjamin, were studying at the Camarines Sur High
School in Naga. Papa and Mamay would not think of
making their children stop studying after
finishing the intermediate grades, unlike most
Boienen parents then. We had some rice, abaca and
coconut lands, but soon my parents found out that
sending uis to school was becoming too much of a
strain on their limited resources.
Them Mamay came
to the rescue. If I may be excused for saying so
myself, I think my mother was a woman of
exceptional talents and resourcefullness. She did
not have much formal schooling. Yet she knew
Spanish fairly well probably because her father,
Genaro Azcarraga, had been a town judge at a time
when Spanish was the official court language. A
fluent speaker, she was often asked to recite
Rizal's 'Mi Ultimo Adios' during Rizal
Day programs. A friend of hers told that Mamay
spoke so eloquently that some of the audience
would shed tears of those in the audience. She
told us the story of Blanca Nieves
before I met it in school as the story of Snow
White. She was also fluent in Tagalog and even
knew a little Latin. She was one of the first
pupils when the American soldiers opened a school
in Buhi; so she also knew English.
On the other
hand, Papa was the son of a Filipino mother and a
full-blooded Chinese who became Jose Claveria
after he was baptized as a Catholic with Spaniard
named Claveria as his god-father. Papa was handy
with tools. He could make articles with his bolo
and other simple tools like a true craftsman. He
cultivated our rice-field inherited from Lolo
Genaro so competently that we always had rice for
our meals unlike many families then who had to
use rice substitutes suchas as camote, banana and
a kind of yam called ngame during the lean month
between the palay harvests that came only once a
year. But he never had steady employment or a
hard and long about how tho augment our family
income to meet our growing expenses. Tlhen one
day while she was supervision our palay harvest,
she thought of making abaca products.
She first wove
and seved abaca slippers for her children. She
sent the first crude ones to my brothers in Naga.
Then she made abaca hand-bags, wallets, and belts.
She experimented with the different dyes and
designs and never seemed to be satisfied with
waht she had made. Soon her products became
objects of beauty and she began to sell them.
overnight, our house, which was quite big, became
an abaca handicraft factory. Our porch became the
workshop of Iluminado Fetil, a shoemaker who had
worked for years at the Ang Tibay
footwear factory, which made the best shoes and
slippers many of them custom-built for
discriminating buyers. Our sala and
dining rooms were crammed full of handlooms and
other equepment for weaving. One bedroom became
the sewing department. Our kitchen was more
oftern used for dying and drying for abaca fibers
that for cooking food.
Mamay was the
general manager who looked after everything. But
Papa was also indispensable. He took charge of
the conststruction and up-keep of the looms and
other weaving parphernalia. The sewing department
was his special domain, but Mamay oftern had
agood laugh at his expense because he was
One December, my
brother Benjamin, whom we call Bening but is
called Ben by most of his friends and co-workers,
happened to mention to us that he had an English
teacher whom he liked and who liked him very much.
He said that she was from Nueva Ecija. Mamay
offered to make a special hand-bag for her if he
was willing to give it to hear as a Christmas
gift. He agreed rather reluctantly being the shy
and eccentric fellow he has always been.
He told us later
what happened to the gift. Unable to force
himself to give it to his teacher personally, he
just left it on her table with an appropriate
note. Then about a month later, he brought home a
copy of their school paper THE ISAROG.
Prominently featured in it was a short sotry
"Just Fibers" by Maiquita T. Sebastian.
The author said that the bag she had received
from my brother made her the envy of the other
lady teachers in the school. We received many
orders forom them. Later on, Mariquita's sister
Aurora sent us an order for a dozen bags, the
first of many others we received afterwards.
This gave us the
idea of giving samples as gifts. Mamay went ot
Naga and gave handbags to the wife of Mariano E.
Villafuerte, the provincial governor and to some
other prominenet ladies there and we received
Papa also did
his share of promoting our products. Accompanied
by Municipal President Gregorio P. Penoso, he
went to Manila with some specially made bags.
Tlhewy went to Malacanang and gave one to
President Quezon for Mrs. Aurora Agaagon Quezon.
Tlhe President sent them to Director of Commerce,
Camelo Balmaceda. The director was much impressed
by the product and gequested us to participate in
a coming trade fair. All this resulted in may
orders. Soon we were ssending shipments not only
to cities and town in the Philippines but also to
America and Eurpoe. Our little home factory was
humming with activity. All the members of the
family had to pitch in.
material was abaca fiber. Papa would go to our
abaca paantation in Komagaka on the norteasternt
shore of Lake Buhi and select the tallest mature
abaca plants to be stipped directly without first
removing the soft inner portions. Then he would
bring the fiber to the poblacion to be
distributed to the different houses of the paratagak who knotted them into
strands that must have been several hundred
meters long. We paid these knotters fifteen to
twenty centavos per kilo of knotted fiber.
brothers had gone on to college in Manila. They
were given the chore of buying the dyes, zippers,
mirrors, buttons and other accessories and
materials we needed from wholesalers there. They
also took charge of our participation in the
trade fair to which we had been invited by
Director Balcaceda. They had to take the time
needed for them to do this from their time
studying. But they did not complain. This was not
done in our family.
I was only in
the intermediate grades but someone had to take
care of our business correspondence. Without
having taken any lesson in typing, I typed the
letters on our old rickety Remington. The
recipients of my letters must have laughed at my
peculiar grammar and style. When I think of what
I did then, I cannot understand how I was able to
do it. Blut again, in our family it was not our
habit to say I do not know how to do it when
assigned an unfamiliar task. We managed with what
was at hand.
One day a
reporter and a photographer from the GRAPHIC, a
weekly magazine publishd in Manila came to us
here in Buhi. They asked questions, took notes
and pictures, and inspected our little factory.
Two weeks later we were featured in a long
article that was very complimentary. They could
not report otherwise, Papa and Mamay had given
them free samples of our products. However, the
accompanying pictures were not very clear and
during the war we lost our only copy of that
Papa and Mamay
never stopped trying to improve our products.
We always used
the best materials available and we paid our
workers well. The daily wage of rice planters
then was ten centavos with one cintavo bonus
added at the end of the day supposedly for buying
face powder for the girls, buyo and tobacco tor
the women, and candy for the boys. We paid
weavers many of whom used to be rice planters
double the amount and gave them better food.
According to them they also had the very valuable
advantage of not being given a dark complexion by
As would be
expected, it was not long before we had
competition. It was no problem at all for them to
sell at lower prices, but we kept our old
customers and acquired more new ones that they.
They could not except the quality of our products.
As I have said Papa and Mamay never stopped
looking for improvements. I well remember how
Mamay introduced a new process of weaving that
was a distinct improvement over the old one. She
taught this process only to carefully selected
weavers she was sure would be loyal to us. And
she almost surrounded the looms with curtains to
prevent 'speis' from stealing here
So we thought of
securing a patent for our product or process.
With the help of the Bureau of Commerce, we were
introduced to a neputable patent attorney in
Washington D.C. , since there was no Philippine
Patent Office yet at that time. The attorney made
some prelimenary surveys at the U.S. Patent
Office to determine whetehr our product or
process was patentable. His office sent us
sketches and descriptions copied fromthe Patent
Office of products or processes previously
patented that were similar to ours and told us
thy were convinced we could secure a patend and
also gave us and estimate of the probale cost of
securing the patent.
We thought that
the cost was rather high, but concluded that we
could manage to procure the needed amount. At
that time the equivalent of one U.S. dollar was
only two Philippine pesos. What ultimately
frustrated our plans was the deteriorating state
of Mamay's health and the immenence of war.
Up to the end
Mamay was the brains of the family. One day she
called all of us to her bedside, except Bening
who was sitll in Gainza where he was the
Then she told us
her last wishes and gave us some bits of advice.
Among them that we should keep her step-mother
Antonina Griarte, whom we children called Inay,
until Inay died. That my youngest brother, Jaime
should go to medical school and become a doctor,
which he did. That we should build a big banca
because we would need it when war would break out.
I had just given
to Papa what remained of the first salary payment
I had received as a newly apppointed teacher in
Bula with a montlly salary of forty peso. He told
me that he would spend it in the acquisition of a
big banca in accordance with Mamay's advice. So
we got a ginaoran or banca
propelled with oars. In fact, Papa also got a sarapan,
or small banca that is paddled. These bancas were
very useful to us when war broke out one month
after Mamay died.