Monday, August 14, 2006

SEARCHING FOR ISTAK


Istak was a sacristan in Cabugao. His family lived on a farm that is part of the frailes' hacienda. One day, the old priest that Istak served was replaced by a younger one whom Istak later caught in a tryst with Capitan Berong’s eldest daughter. The priest dismissed Istak and told his family to leave the hacienda. Istak’s father appealed but was refused. In his anger, Istak’s father pummeled the priest to death with a silver crucifix then fled Cabugao. They eventually reached a place in the land where salt is made. But during the last leg of the trek, Istak’s father was lynched by a python and his mother swept away by the big river. Istak and his brothers settled in a place they called Cabugauan. There, Istak married Dalin and became a renowned healer. One day, a paralytic man came to town and asked for Istak. The man asked Istak to deliver a message to the President who is being chased by American soldiers. Istak did and finally caught up with the President in Tirad Pass where he and the famous boy general died in a battle.

That is the gist of F. Sionil Jose’s Po-on (which is the Ilocano word for tree or roots) that, in my personal opinion, is the best among the 5-book Rosales Saga. Its almost our story: Miguel Tomas stabbing the priest with a puyod and the escape to Piddigan in Cagayan Valley (the original destination of Istak’s family is the Valley); Lakay Burik’s youngest son eventually becoming a healer; and Lolo Porong dropping the last name of their family (Istak changed their family name from Salvador to Samson). It seems to me that during those times, those who are from Cabuago adopted surnames that started with the letter “S” (as in Salvador and Samson). Pablo Samortin and his wife Leona Salatan were from Cabugao and eventually migrated to Umingan.

Cabugauan today is a barangay of Rosales, Pangasinan. The town will be my take-off point in my search for traces of my ancestors in nearby Umingan. Rosales is also the base of 3 dear friends: Bagis Moi (who helped me in my Umingan foray) and Bagis Gelro who are both my fraternity brods and kumpares, and Pare Elias --- Bulan’s ninong and a key figure in me and my wife’s story, and who claims to be a grandson of F. Sionil Jose. Pare Elias and Bagis Gelro showed me around Cabugauan after they heard of Istak’s story. It is now a cluttered part of the poblacion and I wonder where would Istak’s place be, and his farm where the big snake gave him the power to heal.


Some 20 minutes from Rosales is the town of Tayug where Uncle Andring was born. He is a descendant of Manuel Ciencia who, I believe, is a brother of Esteban Ciencia. Manuel have 6 children: Mercedes Bacal, the spinster Perfecta, Arsenio who was a policeman in Quezon City, Uncle Andring's father Primitivo, and Lolo Piryong. They are first cousins of Esteban Ciencia's children: Cirila who married Emilio Galang and are now based in Marikina, Eugenio, and Lolo Porong (which is what Auntie Angeling can recall and tell me before she died).

As it would, I looked for and finally met Uncle Andring in a simbahan: at the Baguio Church of Christ where he served as a pastor and currently teaches bible classes. It was he who hosted my parents during their honeymoon so it can be said that I was made in Baguio. From him, I learned more details of my father's stay in Davao like the tubaan they frequented where they were known as Manila Boys; and other stories of our family like Auntie Angeling's secret visits to Camp Murphy where her boyfriend (before Uncle Doming) was jailed for being involved in the Hukbalahap movement.



Sometime ago, I was asked by a brod in Pangasinan to stand as a Ninong to his first child. On our way to the binyag, I took my family to a trip in Tayug and shared with them Uncle Andring's stories. At the church, we lighted a candle and said our prayers for those who were there before us. I prayed that someday, I will finally meet my relatives from Tayug. We passed by the town of Asingan on our way to the church of Rosales near Cabugauan where the binyag will take place. I showed Bulan the church and told him of the Philippine president who was born there.


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