I REMEMBER MY FATHER
By Dr. Sixto Y. Orosa
1712 Dasmarinas Ave.
Makati, Metro Manila
I have some very vivid recollections of my father, Simplicio Orosa y Agoncillo: he was a sea captain of unflinching courage and patriotism; he was a businessman of unscrupulous honesty; he was a guitarist of the rarest skill. And incredible as it may sound, he was many other things besides.
All these may appear as shear idolatry but a recounting of my fatherís life story will give substance to my remembrance of him as a man of seemingly incompatible parts.
Of the five boys and three girls in our family I can claim to having been the closest to my father, and it is for this reason that among his children (I was the third child) I believe I knew him best.
My relatives keep saying that I am the exact replica of my father and that my features resemble his so much that anyone who had seen us together would have immediately assumed I was his son.
Perhaps because of this physical resemblance and the fact that I was an inquisitive child who continually pumped my father with questions, he grew particularly fond of me. My brothers and sisters accepted his partially for me with grace or at least with resignation and they slyly turned it to their advantage. Whenever they wanted something from father, they would invariably ask me to be their spokesman.
Although I was my fatherís favorite child, I was never spared the discipline he imposed on his other children. I well remember that he insisted on our having periods of study even during our long summer vacations because he used to say, "vacation does not mean all play". He would admonish us further: "study your lessons for the coming school year so that you can answer questions or solve problems. Be a jump ahead of your classmates."
Since my father was somewhat of a mathematical wizard, he helped us with our arithmetic problems. We marveled at how he could add ten or more columns of figures at sight Ė all in a matter of seconds.
Besides study our father required us to work Ė to scrub the floor, wash the dishes, water the street in front of our house. There was always some chore to be done, if there was anything my father disliked it was the thought that his children would grow up idling their time.
Although my father was a strict disciplinarian, I do not remember his ever having inflicted corporal punishment on any of us. He talked or lectured to us gently, his voice cool and low. And he almost never repeated his reprimand or counsel, he would call attention to one thing and that was enough.
Until I was 12 my father could spend relatively little time with his family. This was because he captained large tigerless (sic) sailboats called "batels" which plied between the water of Batangas and the Visayan islands to the south, carrying locally made merchandise such as towels, mosquito nets, trousers, etc. Father would exchange these good for cattle which had a ready market in our home town of Taal. Father made several trips a week, much against his will for they kept him away from us a good deal of the time.
Accordingly when I was 12 years old (I was born in 1891) my father decided to end his career as a traveling merchant, wishing to spend more time with his wife and children. He then thought of a solidly anchored job, opening forthwith a "sari-sari" (general) store in Taal to be managed by my mother, older sister and some relations under his overall supervision. Although the enterprise proved to be successful father had to abandon it eventually. The Philippine-American war was still on and Taal at that time was occupied by American forces who combed the street day and night. One particular commander with the rank of captain was prone to slap Filipinos and he had a special aversion to the prominent citizens of Taal. It was during this period that father, anxious for his familyís safety, decided to move to a barrio on the shore of Lake Taal, not very far from the town.
While we stayed there, my father often took us to the lake and taught us how to swim. He was a great swimmer and could stay afloat for hours.
One day while we were on our way to the lake, we saw some American soldiers coming. My father quickly called us to him and we lost no time in retreating to our temporary residence in the barrio. After a few weeks my father decided that we should move to Bauan, the next town about 16 kilometers from Taal.
When we reached Bauan, my father finally chose a barrio called Aplaya (meaning seashore) which was located about one kilometer from the town proper. There was no house available, we had left Taal in a great hurry and father made no inquiries about lodging. Accordingly, we had to turn a small nipa house into our temporary quarters.
Father soon realized the irony of our situation in trying to flee from the American soldiers in Taal. We ran directly into them in Bauan. American authorities began to lock up behind bars everybody that was somebody on the slightest suspicion that he was helping the revolutionaries (called Insurrectos) with food, money or ammunition.
Father was soon confined in jail and I had to take his meals to him three times a day because the food being served the political prisoners was deficient and inadequate. As our custom, we kissed the hand of our elders every time we saw them. During my visits, I would do this to my father with tears in my eyes. He would then comfort us gently, saying "donít cry son, I am very comfortable here. Do you see that cot? Your mother sent it for me to sleep on. Donít worry, I manage somehow and I am hoping to be released soon." My daily visits to my father made me even closer to him.
True enough, my father was released. Upon returning to Aplaya, he formed a corporation Ė doubtless encouraged by the success of his former business ventures. Besides himself, the other stockholders were pharmacist Clemente Brual and Justino Brual, another businessman. My father was president and manager.
He went to Manila regularly to purchase a wide variety of goods for the store, and all the transactions were carefully listed in the books. I occasionally accompanied him on those trips to the city and helped out in the store Saturdays and Sundays.
In Manila we slept on the second floor of the Chinese stores my father patronized, and we usually ate at the "Dimasalang" restaurant, which word incidentally was a nome de plume of our national hero Jose Rizal. After each meal my father usually drank five glass of water and this caused him to perspire profusely. Because he tipped generously, the waiters vied with each other for his patronage.
My father consistently declined any invitation for meals that the Chinese merchants extended to him. I began to wonder about this and finally, unable to contain my curiosity any longer, I asked him why he never accepted the Chineseís hospitality. He answered "I used to do so but these Chinese are very smart. I began to notice that invariably they added the cost of our meals to the cost of the merchandise I bought from them."
My father opened two more stores and his trips to Manila continued. He then bought the biggest house in Aplaya, made of the strongest Philippine hardwood, acquiring it from the owner who preferred to live on his farm outside Bauan proper.
We occupied the upper floor and my father converted the ground floor into a store. Sometime later he bought still another spacious one story building which he also converted into a store, appointing a relative (of course) to manage it. With this last purchase we therefore had three stores and a large warehouse besides.
So honestly and equitably did my father run his business that when Justino Brual died shortly after our arrival in Aplaya, I was to hear his widow say years later, "we are very fortunate to have joined the corporation founded and managed by your father. The dividends I received regularly are more than enough to support me as well as all my children who are studying in Manila.
My father was highly respected not only for his honesty and integrity but also for his probity and valor. The following incident will illustrate this: a prominent "cacique", perhaps having taken a little too much wine stepped out one fine evening and with a revolver in hand, stood in front of the house of the most popular physician in town. In an angry and menacing voice, he shouted at his unseen adversary "Aste, come down here and I will shoot you." He hurled this threat repeatedly.
Nobody approached the drunken man, least of all Aste. Forthwith, someone suggested that the only person who could appease the tipsy mountebank was my father. Consequently several people ran to our house to fetch my father so he could calm down the obstreperous "captain" who at that precise moment was still challenging the mild mannered physician to a fight.
My father quickly answered the appeal for help. Unarmed, he approach the "captain", held him by the arm, and told him it was best that they hie to the captainís residence because he (my father) had an important message for him. The inebriated man acceded meekly and the two went to the manís house, where my father disarmed him, rebuking him gently. Shortly thereafter, the man came to his senses.
Time and again, after that incident, my father was asked to intervene or arbitrate similar quarrels and on occasion even disputes between husbands and wives. Invariably he succeeded in settling differences among the town folk. The reader may conclude that my father was a deadly serious man who never knew how to relax and enjoy himself. Quite the contrary, my father loved music. At every spare hour he had, he played the guitar, at first for his pleasure and later for the pleasure and admiration of the whole town. This despite the fact that he was entirely self taught and played only by ear. He became one of the guitarists in Taal and undoubtedly the best in Bauan. When singers from other towns or provinces came to Bauan, my father was generally sent for to accompany them on the guitar. He was a wizard no less on the instrument. With apparent ease he could play both the principal melody and the accompaniment. He could also play with another guitarist on one and the same guitar.
Fatherís love of music provided the ideal compliment to the hours he devoted to his thriving business. Years rolled along placidly and profitably for my parents while we children continued our studies first in Bauan and Batangas town and years later in Manila.
During this while, my father totally abandoned his life at sea. The only other time he returned to the sea was during the Spanish American war, and the role he played in that war led him to a personal encounter with Admiral George Dewey himself.
Batangas province was in the midst of a feverish war effort and every patriotic Batangueno was called upon to contribute to his countryís cause. Taalenos even then were not know to shy away from any war effort or combat, and one of the bravest of them was a woman, Mrs. Marella, popularly know as Aleng Eriang. She was a wealth widow who has now gone down in history as the Tandang Sora of Batangas. At the risk of discovery, imprisonment and torture, Aleng Eriang helped the Filipino rebels with food, money and arms. At the height of the war she made my father captain of the steamboat "Bulosan" which earlier plied the waters between Lemery, the port of Taal, and Manila.
As the war wore on, my father transported Filipino soldiers on the Bulosan, leaving the harbor at dead of night and steaming into port at the break of dawn. Three days after Admiral Dewey blasted the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay, the Bulosan was sighted with the Philippine flag flying on its mast. The admiral immediately dispatched a captain and several sailors to the Bulosan to lower the Philippine flag. My fatherí reply to the captain was swift and unequivocal "tell Admiral Dewey that I take orders only from General Emilio Aguinaldo."
My fatherís answer angered Admiral Dewey. Forthwith the Admiral sent the captain back to the Bulosan to reiterate his demand on pain of bombardment if he refused again. My father was adamant and told Deweyís emissary, "for the last time tell your Admiral that I shall lower the flag only upon orders of General Aguinaldo."Dewey realized he had lost the contest of wills with the iron willed and stouthearted brown captain. Admiring Simplicio Orosaís bravery, Dewey decided not to press the matter. Several days later, after Aguinaldo had been notified of the incident, he congratulated and commended my father for his courage and loyalty, then asked him to lower the Philippine flag.
My fatherís little know act of heroism had taken place during the tenure of office of his first cousin, a brilliant lawyer named Don Felipe Agoncillo who was the Philippine Revolutionary Governmentís Ambassador to Washington and Paris. Agoncillo had been sent abroad by Aguinaldo at the termination of the Philippine revolution against Spain.
Agoncillo, then in Washington, was presenting a strong pleas for the granting of Philippine independence at the time Captain Simplicio Orosa was boldly asserting his countryís independence on board his own domain, the steamship Bulosan.
The encounter with Admiral Dewey was my fatherís finest hour. But my father, although stout hearted in war was in peace a meek, quiet man who shunned quarrel or dissension. And in matters that related to his children he was actually soft and sentimental. It was in fact his excessive sentimentality that ultimately led to his death.
I was already in my senior year as a medical student when my older sister got married without telling anyone of us, not even our parents. My father took the elopement as a personal slight, and he was to feel it deeply for the rest of his life. This was understandable for when my oldest sister had reached marriageable age he would tell us quite often " you may marry the person of your choice anytime, anywhere. The only thing I would beg you to do is to inform me. Donít take me by surprise. At least give me some warning."
After my sisterís elopement, my father was never quite the same again. From then on he never touched the guitar again. He lost his appetite and spent sleepless nights. With his vital resistance undermined, he fell victim to bronchial pneumonia, a serious lung ailment.
My older brother (Vicente) was then studying engineering at the University of Illinois in America, so my mother and I took him to Manila and engaged the services of Dr. Ariston Bautista. Dr. Bautista was the best known and most popular physician of that time. He visited my father regularly, daily when necessary. But my father, already bedridden, got weaker and weaker.
To this day I feel grateful that my fatherís illness coincided with my long semestral vacation. That way I was able to help my mother while a nurse cared for my father day and night. However, in spite of our heroic efforts to minister to him, he failed to rally. Father died peacefully while both mother and I were holding him. Just before he expired, he forced a smile on his lips and said "pray often and place your trust in God." That admonition was what had guided my father throughout his life.
Dr. Sixto Y. Orosa
Marioís N.B.: A yellowed typewritten copy of this account came into my possession after my father Vicente passed away in 1979. His younger brother Sixto had given Vicente a number of mementos during their lifetime, such as the above account and his book entitled "Across Three Generations". Published in 1976, the book is part political Philippine history, part autobiography and his immediate familyís journal. "I Remember My Father" is a chapter in the book.