Of Fireflies and Firebrands

 The Lanots' house (Photo courtesy of Marra PL. Lanot)

The Lanots' house (Photo courtesy of Marra PL. Lanot)

When my family moved to Quezon City in 1960, my father was actually fleeing from congested and crime-infested Manila. He wanted trees and fresh air, maybe for a touch of his Marinduque.

Indeed, our part of Quezon City was young and windy. It nestled in Diliman, at the foot of the mountain.

All around the rolling hills were tall cogon grass, where the white cottony fluffs kept blowing everywhere. Snakes nonchalantly crawled on unpaved streets. Sunflowers bloomed from cool October to February – the small variety, not the huge ones with big brown center like those cultivated for cooking oil. Cadena de amor sprouted here and there. It was home to sampaguitas and santans. Aratiles trees grew for the picking.

 Cadena de amor (Photo courtesy of Marra PL. Lanot)

Cadena de amor (Photo courtesy of Marra PL. Lanot)

 Santan (Photo courtesy of Marra PL. Lanot)

Santan (Photo courtesy of Marra PL. Lanot)

 Sampaguita (Photo courtesy of Marra PL. Lanot)

Sampaguita (Photo courtesy of Marra PL. Lanot)

 Sunflowers (Photo courtesy of Marra PL. Lanot)

Sunflowers (Photo courtesy of Marra PL. Lanot)

I was nearing 18, and the world seemed fresh and mysterious. Our lot was three minutes away by bus from the University of the Philippines. Civilization meant U.P., Cubao, and Sta. Mesa. Sta. Mesa, having been developed the earliest, had the Holiday movie house, the Sampaloc Church, groceries, and the old-style tiangge of imported goods.

Other than Sta. Mesa, U.P., and Cubao, which started as high-end – Rustan’s, Aguinaldo’s, Oceanic -- our place was pretty much on its own. We lived on the corner of Highway 54 (now EDSA, or Epifanio de los Santos Avenue) and Cebu Avenue. From Quezon Ave., facing Cubao, were Panay Ave. and Cebu Ave. Parallel to Highway 54 were Samar Ave. and Bohol Ave. Today, on the corner of Samar and Timog is GMA-7, and on the corner of Mother Ignacia Ave. (formerly Cebu Ave.) and Sgt. Esguerra (formerly Bohol) is ABS-CBN.

 MRT station, as seen from Mother Ignacia Ave., with tricycle station to the right. (Photo courtesy of Marra PL. Lanot)

MRT station, as seen from Mother Ignacia Ave., with tricycle station to the right. (Photo courtesy of Marra PL. Lanot)

Our new residence was situated on Cebu Ave., then a dirt road. Sen. Jovito Salonga’s house and that of the owners of Singian Clinic beside San Miguel Church were built at the same time as ours. Our next-door neighbors were two old sisters, whose small cottage was surrounded by pine trees that howled during typhoons. A little farther away could be seen two abodes being constructed across from each other on Samar Avenue.

Across the street from where we lived was a shanty inhabited by Samuel and his wife and two daughters, and his brother Rudy. When we moved into our new home, we brought with us our German Shepherd, O’Tot, and our black cat, Muning. The windows didn’t have bars yet, and we didn’t even have a main door. Upstairs were our sala, bedrooms, kitchen, and dining room. Downstairs was to house my father’s dream printing press, which he named Tamaraw Publishing House, Inc.

Since O’Tot was our only guard, my father befriended Samuel, the toughie in the neighborhood who went in and out of prison for brawling and petty theft. Samuel became our salaried guard while our house was unfinished. Samuel turned out to be dependable and honest. And when he was again thrown behind bars for fighting with someone, he asked that my father be called up to verify to the police that Samuel really worked for us.

When heavy rains flooded part of Cebu Ave., where Sen. Salonga lived, and tore the roofs off Samuel’s hovel, his family would rush to our garage, where my mother brought them mats, blankets, pillows, and food.

Our house, designed by family friend, architect OT Arellano, looked like a kamalig, or barn, before it was furnished. It had huge sliding capiz windows with wide pasamano, or window ledge. Instead of iron rails outside the windows, thick cylindrical columns protected the house. The columns, seen from the outside, resembled a bamboo organ. The floor and walls were of wide wooden slabs, and the stair was a mini look-alike of the wide staircase of old Filipino colonial houses.

On the wide sidewalk in front of our home stood four beautiful flame trees. Once, when the trees near our front door rained worms, a female visitor panicked as the worms fell on her, she shouted and shouted, hastily removing her blouse, unmindful of the passersby who laughed at the scene.

Another time, a female neighbor was taking a bath, when suddenly she saw a snake wrapped around the pipe just below the shower head. Scared, she grabbed her towel and ran out of the bathroom and into the street.

Again, one morning, a huge transparent tube lined one side of the floor and wall of our garage. It turned out that the transparent tube was the skin a snake had shed maybe the night before.

Our neighbors with the pine trees, the two sisters who were white as ghosts, hardly walked in the sun. We had only two or three chances to talk to them when they happened to pass by.

My parents exchanged visits with Sen. Salonga and the Singians. My mother soon gave piano lessons to the daughters in the two houses on Samar Ave. And Sundays were spent mostly with relatives dining with us, or we would go to Quiapo to get a bus to Angono, Rizal, or take a bus to Pampanga or a bus to Lucena, Quezon, and catch a ferry to Boac, Marinduque.

We owned neither car nor television. There was no such thing then as Barangay South Triangle, which is now bounded by Edsa, Timog, and Quezon Ave. There was no Hi-Top or Tropical Hut, no Puregold or Mercury Drug, no GMA-7 or ABS-CBN. An RPN-9 tower, however, was on Panay Ave., and on Highway 54 was Uncle Bob’s station, the precursor of Channel 7. Condos and townhouses and restaurants were non-existent. Neither were beer joints and gay bars. Sporadic incidents with unorganized pickpockets, pokpoks, and loonies didn’t ply the dusty roads.

 Mother Ignacia Ave. (formerly Cebu Ave.) from EDSA, with ABS-CBN tower in background

Mother Ignacia Ave. (formerly Cebu Ave.) from EDSA, with ABS-CBN tower in background

Tricycles and motorcycles didn’t add to pollution. No barrios of squatters would throw rocks against the police or the Metro Manila Authority out to demolish their homes. No MRT blocked the sky, and no floods on Highway 54 existed. And road widening was unimagined. Now, there is are endless road constructions and drainage diggings going on everywhere all at the same time. Now, within Barangay South Triangle, traffic jam can be hell.

Came the First Quarter Storm in the early ’70s, and the youth and laborers of a full-blown barangay spilled to the streets to join protest rallies, the kind that actually rocked the whole world at that time. Firebrands marched along España, Quiapo, in front of the U.S. Embassy on Roxas Boulevard, Liwasang Bonifacio, Mendiola, outside the gates of Malacañang, singing and chanting slogans such as “Makibaka, huwag matakot!” and “Marcos, Hitler, Dictador, Tuta!” The unarmed demonstrators taunted the solders, the Metrocom, and the Philippine Constabulary despite water canons, tear gas, and even armalites. The more blood from students’ skulls stained the streets, the more the activists cried for justice.

Soon, martial law clamped down on the country, and 20 years of artificial peace shrouded the cities. In the countryside, the New People’s Army rapidly grew in number as a response to the salvaging and killing of suspected supporters of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the NPA. Debts to the International Monetary Fund and World Bank ballooned as the U.S. continued propping up the government of Ferdinand Marcos.

When Ninoy Aquino, the political archenemy of Marcos, was assassinated, the Filipinos released their pent-up emotion against the dictatorship in a universally unprecedented People Power Revolution. The time was ripe for the rise of Ninoy’s widow Cory as the new president of the Philippines. Right, left, and center of the political spectrum campaigned for this “mere housewife,” as the Marcos think tank described her, during the snap election, which was, of course, supported by the U.S., since Marcos already smelled foul.


Another time, a female neighbor was taking a bath, when suddenly she saw a snake wrapped around the pipe just below the shower head.

Even atheists and agnostics welcomed the political intervention of the Catholic Church, led by Cardinal Jaime Sin. The transition or revolutionary government gave hope for a true democracy until little by little the oligarchs ruled once more. Once more, the trapos, or traditional politicians, brought back the crooked days. Fortunately, the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary entities were independent of each other, following the Constitution. These three branches of government were not ass-licking trolls of the President.

My mother was ever enterprising. Not one used to depending on others, she thought of businesses even before she retired from teaching at the U.P. College of Music. She put up a bachelor’s apartment, a general merchandising, a piggery, raised chickens, went into catering, sold skinless longganisa and her bestseller, the sardine-styled Oriang’s bangus.

Nick Joaquin would bring friends over to celebrate a birthday or just drink beer and listen to his favorite songs. Released political prisoners enjoyed the hospitality of my parents, especially the food my mother prepared. Poet Ka Amado Hernandez and his wife the Queen of the Sarswela, Aling Atang dela Rama, would appear in our house and Aling Atang would sing to the accompaniment of my mother on the piano. My mothers’ siblings would play four hands on the piano, and the house on Cebu Ave. resounded with music. The original Madrigal Singers sang at my parents’ birthdays and wedding anniversaries.

Among Mama’s clients was Maita Gomez, who loved her French bread. The Madrigal Singers would bring crates of bottled bangus each time they went abroad. Sonny Parsons of the Hagibis, Florante, and Rudy Fernandez would often pick up their orders of the bottled bangus. The Women Writers in Media Now (WOMEN) had their fill of Mama’s recipes, and so did the Concerned Artists of the Philippine-Women’s Desk. My father’s students in astrology looked forward to Mama’s merienda. Members of the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) ran to my mom for catering at anniversaries, birthdays, weddings, and gala shows. Writers also requested her to serve food at their book launchings. So did music students who gave recitals.

We now have in our area kiddies’ schools as well as a Catholic chapel, which is under the parish of Sacred Heart in Kamuning. The population and buildings increased. Our barangay now houses the influential fourth estate – not the print but the broadcast media – of GMA-7 and ABS-CBN.

What my father tried to protect his children from – pollution, congestion, and crime – now abound in Quezon City. With “modernization” came humongous billboards and blinding videos. Etc., etc.

The “paradise” we once knew is gone. Although the former Highway 54 had been dark and desolate, it had been a relatively peaceful place fit for the noble savage. Samuel and family transferred somewhere because the owner of the property where they squatted built his own house.

Our place in the early ’60s was somewhat like the U.P. campus with its spaciousness and green outdoors. One could traipse anywhere with grasshoppers, dragonflies, butterflies, and fireflies. Stars looked so distant, but the birds bridged land and sky.

It seemed God recreated the world with each drop of dew on the wildflowers, with each raindrop on the treetops, each shaft of sunlight in the morning.

Still and all, the house our parents built is lodged in my memory of wildflowers and fireflies.


 Marra PL. Lanot

Marra PL. Lanot

Marra PL. Lanot writes poetry and essays in Filipino, English and Spanish. She also writes for newspapers, magazines and television, and has attended as invited delegate to various international literary/poetry festivals, the most recent ones of which are in Colombia (2013) and in India (2014).


More articles by Marra PL. Lanot