01 February 2017

Brother Rafael Donato, the First Incarnation at DLSL


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But back to when I was in fifth grade, Brother Vernon’s counterpart in the high school was a young, eloquent and debonair Brother by the name of Rafael Donato. He was trim, good-looking and had a magnetic personality. My mother had such a crush on him!

There was this one time when Brother Rafael was on television speaking during a forum on student activism, and my mother was glued in front of the boob tube the entire telecast. Having grown up in a United States Navy family, not to mention having had various Yank boyfriends during and in the immediate years after the war, she was always impressed by anyone who spoke eloquent English.

Back then, I only knew Brother Rafael from afar; although, just like everyone else, my classmates and I muttered the obligatory “Good morning Brother” whenever we encountered him along the corridors.

Because I was the President of my Homeroom, one day Miss Rivera, my Homeroom Adviser, asked me and my fellow officers to come along with her to attend this community-wide meeting of teachers and students. The reason I remember this meeting among others was because it was then that Brother Rafael proposed the changing of the name of the school yearbook from Sabre to Stallion and that of the student paper from Lipasallian to Bulik.

I remember little about the meeting itself other than that Brother Rafael, who always had this ability to keep his audience spellbound, convinced the entire gathering to adopt his proposals with no opposition whatsoever.

It was not until almost three decades later when he returned to Lipa to become the school’s first in-house President that I fully understood the thinking behind the change of names, at least from his own personal viewpoint. By this time, I was already in top administration and he was my boss. He loved talking about the past and I just loved listening.

The change of names, he explained, was because he wanted the school in Lipa to have an identity distinct from the other La Salle schools in the Philippines. Because Lipa is in Batangas, he wanted the school’s symbols and publications to have recognizably BatangueƱo icons.

Even as a grade school student, I knew that the yearbook’s previous name Sabre was not just a tad mystifying. My older brother’s yearbook, for instance, had the name embossed on the front cover along with an image of the balisong, a BatangueƱo fan knife. I knew that a sabre was a sword of some sort, so I felt that there was an obvious disconnect.

But I never agreed with the name Stallion, either, even after Brother Rafael explained it to me when he was my boss. His earliest impression of Batangas, he loved to tell over and over to anyone who cared to listen, was that it was a place for “fast horses and even faster women.”

He must have been invited to the farms of local breeders and impressed by the race horses that he saw. However, I am Batangas born and raised; and at least in my formative years, it was never as though this was ever Marlboro Country and horses were part of the landscape. In fact, whatever race horses I used to see as a small boy were often inside trailers on their way to and from race tracks in Manila.

I am old enough to remember when there were still a few horse-drawn carriages on the streets of the city. But these were pulled by beasts of burden, not the thoroughbreds the good Brother would have people believe there were plenty of in the province.

So Stallion for the yearbook? Nah! Misnamed. Then again, whoever won an argument with Brother Rafael?

In the middle of the following year, he was reassigned to La Salle Greenhills. This was awkward to say the least, but there was an urgent need for him there brought on by the building of that school’s iconic dome. The decision to pluck him from Lipa was fairly sudden, so that the school was for a while engulfed in a sense of gloom similar to that we experienced at OLRA when the announcement was made that the Maryknoll Sisters were soon to leave.

It was a pretty small and tightly-knit community here in Lipa back then, so even though we were but grade school students, we had a fairly good idea what was going on most of the time. We knew that members of the faculty accompanied him on his trip to Greenhills to assume his new post as Principal there, the Lipa community’s way of showing how much he was appreciated and how he would be missed.

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