by Dr. Rene V. Reyes
The year was 1965. We were kids in slippers and short pants carrying handcrafted kargumay bags slung on our shoulders as we walked the unpaved streets of Payo going to the only public elementary school in the town. The kargumay bag was very light as it contained only our pencils and our grade 3 writing pads and occasionaly a book. What we learned in grade school we relied mostly from what our teachers imparted to us since books then were scarce. They were good teachers, knowledgable of the subjects at hand. Really hardworking and dedicated teachers they were, most if not all of them now gone, some of them pictured here with the president of the Philippines on the occasion of his visit to our humble town.
The town was abuzz with news that President Diosdado Macapagal was visiting Payo. It was election year and he was running for reelection against then Senate President Ferdinand Marcos who at age 48 seemed bent on fulfilling the promise he gave to his fellow Ilocanos when he first ran for Congress in 1949. “Elect me to Congress and I will give you an Ilocano president in due time.” President Macapagal on the other hand had a vigorous campaign, visiting even remote and far flung areas like Catanduanes and more remote towns like Payo. The president at that time was 55 years old.
Payo in 1965 was a lot different from what it is today. The town streets were not paved but nonetheless served as playground for us kids during moonlit nights playing kariring or tubig-tubigan or some other traditional games. On dark nights we stayed inside studying our lessons using makeshift kerosene lamps or petromax for those who can afford it. Electricity has not come to the town yet until a year later when a power generator lighted the streets from six to ten in the evening. It was a project that was realized towards the end of my father’s first term as mayor of Payo. In less than a year and for some unfortunate reasons, a fire broke out in the hill in Sto. Nino St. where the generator was installed. Payo returned to the dark ages. It was back to the lamp and petromax to provide a flicker of light to the people of Payo.
There were only a few houses of concrete and GI sheets in the town then, the most prominent of which were the Aguilar house and the Francisco house, the latter though not fully built of concrete was imposing and beautiful. Both were in Sto. Santiago street. Most houses in the town were made of wood and nipa thatch. Wood posts were in vogue even for the bigger ones like ours which if not for its walls of wood and thatch roof could pass for a modest comfortable house in the 60s. It was here where the president stayed for a while before his party proceeded to the next town and continued his campaign sorties.
A day or so before the president’s arrival, everybody was busy and excited. Payo has never been visited by any president ever. Teachers in the elementary school supervised and helped in preparing our house for the president’s visit. The wooden floor was waxed to its shiniest, curtains were installed, cobwebs were removed, all surfaces were dusted and several petromax lamps were hung. The house glowed.
The president was met by the people in Banquerohan after dusk. Carrying portable lights like the reliable petromax and the homemade caraba, a piece of buro bamboo filled with kerosene and stuffed with cloth as wicker, the welcoming crowd and the presidential party proceeded to the town plaza where a campaign rally was held. The octagonal kiosk situated near the church, now gone, provided the platform for the meeting. The congressman, Jose Alberto and my father, the mayor delivered their speeches before the president gave his talk to the people of Payo who were awed at seeing a president of the republic for the first time.
The president and his party proceeded to our house after the plaza event where he was met by the ladies of Payo including my mother and those who helped spruce up the house prior to the president’s arrival. While Mrs. Hermina Valledor, Francisca Vergara, Delia Robles, Nang Toning Castro and my mother and some others were with the president, those who attended the rally followed the presidential party in the house. I could not recall at what time in the evening the president left Payo and where he went next. All i can remember is that the town was stirred into action and excitement with his visit. After all it was the very first time that a president came to visit a remote town like Payo. In fact, until now, he is the only president who has set foot in the town.
The 1965 presidential election was a hotly contested fight. With almost 10 million registered voters and a 76 percent turnout, Marcos edged Macapagal by 670,000 votes. Marcos got 52 percent of the votes, Macapagal 43 percent and Manglapus 5 percent.
The new president, Ferdinand Edralin Marcos was inaugurated on December 30, 1965. A long and checkered history of our country followed.
From left to right: Nang Toning de Castro, Mrs Delia Robles (partly hidden), Nang Mining Valledor, the admirable H.E. teacher, Pres. Diosdado Macapagal, Mrs. Francisca Vergara, my mother, Nang Quining to all. The picture was taken in our old thatch roofed wooden house, typical at that time.