27 September 2011


Back in the eighties when I worked at the Discipline Office of the high school, there was this one time when one of my fellow Discipline Officers had his otherwise peaceful morning disrupted by a case reported involving the loss of 500 pesos by one of the students under his year level. I recall this case to this day because I thought it was extraordinary for a high school student to have that much money in her possession for just a day in school.

I also recall thinking that – if I spent that much money each day – I would end up morbidly in debt! On my teacher’s salary, I quickly learned to watch what I was spending on; and fortuitously, rural as the city of Lipa was in those days, it was easy to live frugally. Besides, I was never ever the extravagant type.

If there was one thing that I noticed when I came back to the school to teach after a 5-year absence during which I pursued a college degree, it was that the students of the school seemed to come from more affluent families than they did during my time. I had a few classmates who came from well-to-do families; that said, I do not recall that anyone ever brought that much money to school.

Although, on my Dad’s Air Force salary, we were not poor, we were by no means wealthy either. Mom was skilled at making do with whatever Dad gave her each payday and still managed to make sure that she had enough stashed away in a bankbook somewhere for a rainy day. This meant – regrettably, I used to think; although I would eventually understand and appreciate why – that we were given no more than what she thought appropriate each day that we went off to school.

This was always contentious because what Mom thought appropriate was frequently less than – or, rather, a lot less than – what I actually needed. Not that there was much in the way of choices; I had to make do or perish. A tad dramatic, perhaps; but it was really pretty much an ongoing course in amateur accounting all the time.

Her thinking was incorruptible; or at least, that was how she thought of things. Whatever she gave us was for Recess; and when I was old enough to go to school by public transportation, the fare as well. Anything else was on an as-needed basis; and bargaining with her could be worse than arguing a case before the Supreme Court. Whatever I bought for Recess was supposed to just to get me through to lunch; and, in fairness, there was always plenty on the table at home. But it also meant I had no choice but to go home for lunch every day.

I am not a hundred per cent sure now; but I seem to recall that my first baon during my first few years in school was no more than 25 centavos. My favourite softdrink was this bottled milk chocolate that was strangely called Barley. They stopped manufacturing this for the longest time; and, if memory serves me right, it cost no more than 5 centavos.

I could also buy one of those large pan de sal that cost no more than 5 centavos as well, complete with palaman. Because I was a small kid, I naturally needed to have candies. So, most days, I spent 5 centavos for Lemon Drops. If I was frugal, I even had 10 centavos left over each day to stash into those savings booklets that had tiny pockets in them into which one could insert coins.

I felt like a king if I managed to save one peso! To put things in perspective, a jeepney ride from Air Base to uptown Lipa City cost no more than 10 centavos.

Twenty-five centavos as baon may make the young people of today cringe; but Mom and Dad would always make us feel we were getting so much more by telling us their own tales of those days when they themselves were students. Then – they used to tell us in our nightly post-supper family storytelling sessions – they could buy nilagang saging for one centavo and a full meal for twice that amount.

By the time I was in high school, this fancy Economics term called inflation had started to kick in, fuelled by the oil cartels jacking up petroleum products worldwide. Since we had moved out of the air base, I could no longer ride in the school buses that the Air Force conveniently made available for children of personnel. Jeepney fare from where I lived to school had jacked up to 25 centavos.

From the time I was a sophomore till I graduated from high school, we followed the 40-minute daily schedule which began at 7:30 in the morning and went on straight till one in the afternoon. The rest of the day was free, supposedly for student activities.

My baon during this time was an inconceivable 1.25 pesos! Mom’s logic was archaic at best. Transportation – she figured – to and from school would cost me no more than 50 centavos. This would mean that I had 75 centavos left for Recess. Seemed more than enough, in fairness. With that I could, if I wanted to, buy Chippy or Hi-Ro along with a Coke.

But there was the football, with which Mom did not necessarily agree. As far as Mom was concerned, if I wanted to go back to school in the afternoons, she did not want to know. I did, anyway. Most afternoons, just to be able to play the game; so here is where you do your simple Arithmetic.

Transportation to and from school for my morning classes cost me 50 centavos. Transportation to and from school for football in the afternoon cost me another 50 centavos. How much did I have left over? Maestro, drum roll please!!! A grand total of 25 centavos, no less!!!

I was never the sort to eat a hearty breakfast – too many acids in the stomach. So, for most of my high school years, it was always a case of pretending that I was not hungry so that I could return to school to be able to play the game. Remember that classes for the day ended at one o’clock in the afternoon. Ah… If only those boys who played for me understood how much I had to sacrifice for the beautiful game!

Sometimes, I would indulge myself and actually buy sundot-saging at the side gate during Recess – in those days, the humble banana cue cost no more than 25 centavos. When I actually did, I had nothing left over from the day’s baon. But those days were few and far between; most days I just tightened my belt and waited until I could go home so I could eat the hearty lunch that I always felt I fully deserved.

So I could go back to school to play this silly game when you kicked the ball away then ran after it; and still have savings of 25 centavos each day. All for the love of the beautiful game…

Footbuko in Agricultural Country




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