02 February 2017

Military Training and Foreigners in our Class


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Junior year was when we had to undergo the first of two years of compulsory military training. During my time in high school, the course was called Preparatory Military Training or PMT. Because I was born to an Air Force family, there was irony in that I have always had nothing but disdain for military training. The fact of the matter is that I was born happily civilian.

Officer training for PMT began in our sophomore year, and many of my classmates signed up. Never even crossed my mind to do so. Apart from the fact that training would have taken me away from football, the truth simply was that I was just not interested.

PMT training days during my junior year, therefore, I always placed under the category “utter waste of time.” It was not hard by any means, and especially so since many of the officers were my own classmates. But I found little practical value to all the shouting that went on for the two hours of each training day along with the endless to-ing and fro-ing around the field. I had yet to hear of a war that was won by soldiers who knew nothing but to march all day long.

Besides, since I was raised in a military family, I was fully aware that the nation’s military equipment was antiquated. Thus, or so I reasoned inside my adolescent mind, were we ever stupid enough to get involved in a shooting war with anybody, there was always going to be one conclusion. Why train, then? I would have found PMT more relevant if we were actually taught to fight with our bare hands, but marching all day long? Pushups, squatting, pumping and duck-walking?


It was either the second or the third grading period when we said goodbye to our American classmate Daniel Johnson. He first came when we were freshmen, the son of a United States Peace Corps volunteer who was serving as an agriculture consultant to local farmers.

He was always something of an anomaly in our class. He stood 6’ 2” and, therefore, towered above everyone not just in our class but the entire campus. He had blond hair, deep blue eyes and, because he was from Minnesota, also had very fair skin.

Despite his size, he was really very gentle. Thus, he was initially bullied. He got smacked on the head or back and teased mercilessly for no other reason than he was different. It was almost akin to a fraternity initiation; and I had to hand it to Daniel. He rode the treatment all in good humor.

Can’t say the same for this Australian kid who was assigned to our class midway through our junior year. We were a lot less sophisticated about foreigners than high school kids of today. In a way, this new Aussie kid was even stranger than Daniel was. The latter at least learned to speak Tagalog, and that helped in his being subsequently accepted.

The Aussie kid was the son of an expatriate employee at either the Shell or Caltex refinery. Apart from the fact that he didn’t speak Tagalog, his Aussie accented English was quite unintelligible to most in the class. Inevitably he got picked on, arguably more viciously than Daniel was when he first arrived.

It was always in the latter’s favor that he was this towering giant. But the Aussie kid was no taller than most of my classmates. One day, the swats on his head and body got so vicious he ended up a crying wreck inside the classroom. He lasted no more than a couple of weeks. His parents probably pulled him out and enrolled him in a different school. I never really found out.

To this day, I still cringe at how my class treated the poor lad. It was behavior totally contrary to the so-called hospitality that Filipinos generally love to boast about. I make no excuses other than it was just the way things were. Perhaps, it was also a perverse Batangueño way of showing affection.

Many years later when I was already in administration, Brother Mario Dacanay, who was a Visayan from Mindanao, told a group of us fellow administrators during a workshop that one of the strangest idiosyncrasies he observed about his Batangueño students when he first arrived at De La Salle Lipa was their tendency to whack him on his back with their palms before shouting, “Brother!” as a form of greeting. At first, he used to think the whacks were some form of attack. We all laughed because Brother Mario was a martial arts practitioner. He explained that before long, realized that his students were just being affectionate in a quirky sort of way.

To get back to Daniel, on his last day in school, he was called to the front to formally say goodbye to the class. I don’t now recall the things that he said, but it was how he said these that I still remember to this very day. He delivered his parting words in Tagalog, but this wasn’t the remarkable thing. It was his unmistakable Batangueño accent that was drawing guffaws and rounds of applause.

I don’t think that I had ever seen anything stranger than a tall, blond, blue-eyed and fair-skinned boy speaking with an accent as shamelessly Batangueño as ours was.

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