Thursday, December 15, 2011

Memories of My Parents and the Prayer of St Francis

The David Jamili Katague Family in front of Katague Residence in Barotac Viejo, Iloilo, 1956.

I attended Catholic mass this morning here in Northern California, USA. It was a perfect autumn day, cool and sunny. The beautiful mass liturgy, music and the priest homily reminded me of my deceased parents and my own mortality. The communion song was the Prayers of St. Francis. The lyrics of the song still reverberate in my mind, especially the last line “and it is in dying that we are born to eternal Life”. Allow me to quote the first two paragraphs of this popular song of devotion, as a prelude to my tribute to the memories of my parents, David Jamili and Paz Balleza Katague.

“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life".

My father, Dr. David Jamili Katague was born in Guimaras, Iloilo, Philippines on December 29, 1905. He was the middle son of three brothers, Julio (the youngest) and an older brother (forgot his name). His parents were poor, but have a small property in Guimaras and Binalbagan, Negros Occidental. My father was a very smart child. Since his own parents could not afford to sent him to college, a rich aunt from Leganes, Iloilo adopted him. He was sent to Iloilo High School in La Paz, where he graduated salutatorian of his class. He was a freshman in high school when the three brothers of Guimaras, Iloilo changed the first letter of their last name from a “C” to a “K”.

He did not tell me much of his college days, but he finished dentistry (Doctor of Dental Surgery) at the University of the Philippines, Manila in 1929. That same year he passed the Philippine dental board examination copping second place nationwide. That same year he also married my mother, Paz Barrido Balleza of Barotac Viejo, Iloilo. They resided in Jaro and built a two-story house in Arguelles Street. My father had a dental office in the first floor of their residence. After five years of marriage, they were still childless, so they adopted a son, named him Rodolfo. A year later (1934), I was born on December 20. I grew up in Arguelles street until 1941. When the Japanese-American War started, we moved to Barotac Viejo where I finished high school in 1951.

My father’s childhood years were very normal for his generation. When he was in high school his father died and his mother remarried the younger brother of his Dad, so his mother’s name was still Mrs. Catague. This second marriage produced nine children, three girls and six boys. The family resided in Binalbagan, Negros Occidental. I had two occasions in my childhood years visit relatives in Binalbagan.

My father was a people person. I remember during our monthly shopping trip for supplies in Iloilo City, that he would greet and smile at every person we met along Iznart and JM Basa Streets. On one occasion, he greeted a person with enthusiasm as if they were long time friends. Afterward, I asked him who the person was and he said he does not even know his name. He treated men, women, young and old, all alike. I told him he would be a good politician. He could also draw freehand. His sketches and freehand drawing were beautiful. I know now that my children and grandchildren talents of drawing, sketching and painting is from his genes, since I have no ability at all to draw, paint or sketch.

My mother on the other hand was very reserved. Although she had not finished high school, she was good in mathematics. She could add and multiply in her head. One day, a vendor came to the house and was selling some farm products. She asked for the price and the vendor said 3 for 1 peso. Without blinking an eye or hesitation, she said, here is 8 pesos give me two dozens. I was amazed at how fast she could compute in her head, ratio and proportion problems.

The marriage of my parents resulted in seven children. I am the oldest (scientist and amateur blogger), followed by Erico (lawyer), Myrla (teacher), Agnes(dentist), Efren (engineer), Ruben (accountant) and Amor (chemist). Agnes lives in Maryland. Myrla resides in Toronto, Canada. Efren resides in Sydney, Australia. Ruben is in Bacolod and Amor and Erico are still in Iloilo, Philippines. All of them are married and have several children and grandchildren.

My mother, Paz Barrido Balleza and family are big landowners in Barotac Viejo and the neighboring towns of Banate and Ajuy. The Balleza family were considered rich at that time. She was born on January 14, 1909 and is the youngest of three children, the only girl with two older brothers, Modesto, Jr (lawyer) and Jose who are much older than her. My mother’s parents both died, when she was only in high school. So, she was under the care of her oldest brother, Modesto. At that time, Modesto Balleza family had a big house in Iloilo City, just across the street from St. Paul Hospital and one block from Assumption College-an exclusive and private school for girls.

My mother went to high school at Assumption College until she was a junior. In her senior year, she met my father, fell in love with him, stopped school and got married. My mother with tears in her eyes told me that the reason she married without finishing high school was to get away from the control of her oldest brother. When their parents died, there was no will. Thus, the Balleza properties (rice and corn lands, coconut plantations, fish ponds) were all under the control of her two brothers.

The division of property according to my mother was very unfair. The brothers claimed the best rice lands to themselves. What was left for her to inherit were the properties in the distant barrios, rice land with no irrigation, except for one parcel of rice land (20 hectares) near the town. Of course, she did not receive one-third share of their parents' properties. When she married, control of her properties was given to her. My Dad then helped her manage the rice lands and other properties.

I remember, we have more than 20 tenants come to the house in Barotac Viejo, almost every week during the planting and harvest season, besides the encarcado (the overseer) of my mother’s properties. At the side of our house, we built another house to store the rice harvests, so that we could sell the rice when prices are high because it is off season. The proceeds from the rice harvests sent all seven of us to college. The income of my father as a dentist was just enough for our daily expenses. His dental patients oftentimes had no cash. In exchange for his dental services, they would bring chickens, eggs and vegetables and other farm products. Later, my father decided to quit his dental practice and spend full time managing my Mom’s rice land, fish ponds and other properties.

My mother was very frugal. She would not leave a morsel of rice on her plate. I remember her saying, “If you do not finish your food, God will punish you”. So even today, I always have a clean plate after lunch or dinner. My mother had a strict budget and allocated 10% of the farm income into her savings. By the time, I was in college, they had enough savings to purchase a commercial property in Iloilo City. With the back pay that my father received having served as a Dental Officer in the Philippine-American Army from 1941-1945, they were able to build a commercial building at Iznart street, just across the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA) building and very close to the provincial capital.
The building was named the “KATAGUE BUILDING”. The building was not properly maintained after the death of my father in the early 1970s. In the late 1980s when my mother died, the seven of us decided to sell the building and land. The land was more valuable than the building, because of its location. The new owner demolished the “Katague” building, built a bigger building and is now a school and a bank.

When my parents died, they have a will allocating the lands to the seven of us. As the oldest child, I inherited the best of the rice land, the 20 hectares of rice land near the town with irrigation. At about this time, the Philippine Agrarian Reform Program was in full implementation. My inherited rice land was the first one reformed and distributed to the tenants. Since I was residing in the US at that time, I was not able to do anything. Today, the 20 hectares are now owned by my parents' former tenants. I have not received a single peso from the Philippine Government. The only land left for me was a 7-hectare upland parcel planted with corn and beans which was not included in the agrarian reform program. My sister in Iloilo is now managing it for me. The rental income is barely enough to pay for the annual taxes.

Fifteen years ago, I visited the rice land that was land reformed. I cried when I remember the history of this particular piece of land. Of the ten tenants that benefited from this agrarian program, only one approached me and acknowledged his gratitude. He told me he was able to send all his children to college from the proceeds of my inheritance. As a matter of fact his oldest daughter after graduation from college married a US air force officer and now resides in Fairfield, California, only about 30 miles from my home. He indicated, he would inform his daughter and son-in-law to visit me someday to extend their very own personal thanks. I am still waiting for the day of their visit.

The Prayers of St Francis song is still ringing in my mind, reminding me of the many pleasant memories of my parents and my own mortality.

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