Wednesday, April 7, 2010

San Rafael Village remembered

In the on-going word-war between Manny Villar and Noynoy Aquino, that special mention of San Rafael Village in Balut, Tondo brought back my childhood memories. I actually grew up in that place, from 1960 to1987. Our family eventually sold our modest 280 sqm property back in 1991.

No, the village is not the equivalent of PhilAm Homes in Quezon City, as Winnie Monsod suggests. I had childhood friends in PhilAm at the time and I could tell the difference, and in fact it was a far, far cry. San Rafael was not a gated subdivision as there was only a semblance of a marker at the village's entrance which was perpetually unmanned, not like the gates of FilAm where you have round-the-clock armed and uniformed guards. Only the main streets were paved then, from North Bay (now Honorio Lopez) Blvd, to the two main entrance roads of the village going to Taliba st where the church was located. Our house was parallel to the road of the church, and it was swirling dust in summer but muddy during rainy days. During particularly heavy rains spawned by the seasonal typhoons, our split level bungalow house would be submerged knee-deep in flood waters. We would then have our family meals in the dining table with our feet submerged, and it now reminds me of the fiesta dining in Villa Escudero, minus the resort atmosphere and buffet cuisine.

The nearby world-famous (infamous?) Smokey Mountain was always a sight to behold. Due to the perpetual methane gas deep in the bowels of the mountains of rubbish, it resembles some sort of Mt. Vesuvius where it always appears orange-reddish and smoking at the summit, seemingly set to explode at any moment raining tons of smoldering garbage on the entire village. From a distance, it appears picture-perfect outlined by the rays especially at sun-down. It is our main attraction, and the pervasive smell always reminds everyone of its daunting presence. Eventually, we residents got used the smoke and smells engulfing the entire village and its environs, yet the assault on the olfactory nerves was still persistently noticeable at times, especially after the rains. The onslaught was particularly assisted by the sea breeze, as the odorous mountain was just right beside North Bay.

I had a lot of playmates in the area. In my early childhood we would play piko, patintero, saranggola, siyatong, and the occasional fishing in the nearby North Bay breakwater. I wonder if the internet-savvy kids nowadays have any idea of what I am talking about. Anyway, it got more challenging as I approached my teen years. The main pastime in the environment turned to street basketball, drinking sessions till the wee hours, and there was the perpetual challenge in avoiding drugs, which was quite prevalent at the time and place. Also, there was the all too common street-gang warfare, and I remember some acquaintances actually losing their very young lives due to some petty street riots. I doubt if the PhilAm village culture was quite the same. Looking back, I guess it was just providential that I came out of that in one piece, though not entirely unscathed.

It was also good that my parents were very active in the nearby church, my late father in Knights of Columbus and my mother in Catholic Women's League. Many times I would hang out with the kids of their parish colleagues, and we would get involved in church activities as well, like forming a kid's choir and organizing junior Cursillos. Still, the peer pressure from the various negative influences in the area was greatly distracting, especially for a young, immature heart and mind.

Oh well, I could go on and on, but I guess one's past is part of a jigzaw puzzle and the total picture would always be under construction. Whatever other people say about one's past, it can't be changed, and eventually, one's future picture is purposely constructed personally, with God's grace. As for Villar and Noynoy, may their puzzle pieces fall into place, as their pictures could paint the face of an entire archipelago.


Anonymous said...

Well said, Willy...and well-written. This evoked the same feelings I got when I read John Knowles' "A Separate Peace" way back in the 70's.
- TE

Anonymous said...

Additional Info lang:

I also grew up in San Rafael Village. Our family stayed there from 1960-2002. We lived at Kalakal St.

The place turned to worse not in the 60s but in the 80s (when the Villars where not there anymore). Smokey Mountain "grew" and the floods were rampant during the late 70s and 80s (Marcos era).

In fairness to my parents who bought a spot there in the 60s, it was a modest place for upper and middle class families. Perhaps not comparable to Phil-Am but definitely not dirt-poor as some would like to project. I had Chinese and mestizo playmates who were children of traders from Divisoria and Navotas.

The drugs, gang wars and other slum-related things were from Nepa (Balut) which has a side access to the village.

Our family also served at the parish church from Msgr. Agcaoili to Fr. Gungon. The priests there will attest that parishioners were generous and financially capable.

Paglilinaw lang po... Peace!

WillyJ said...

Anonymous of 4/9/10 1:05 am,

Yes! Wow! Imagine we could touch base in here the blogosphere. I agree with your recollections although I remember it was Msgr Caoili not Agcaoili, right? And the asst Priest was Fr Jose. But don't trust my memory too much :-)
I think the floods became worse mid 70's with the reclamation of North Bay, and from then on it was downhill. The thing I am 100% sure though is that my parents certainly knew your parents, and that would be mutual. My late father Quintin used to be KofC Grand Knight and my mother Herminia became president of CWL. When there was a 'jazz mass' during the early 70's, we formed
a choir of younger kids, under the tutelage of Mrs Maningat. Most likely we know each other too. Could you drop me an email at

On the gauge of poverty, I guess the difficulty lies in personal perceptions of what is and what is not considered poor. Certainly there were many affluent residents in San Rafael, but when people accuse Villar of falsely claiming being poor once, while he insists otherwise, there must exist
different barometers of poverty between them. Some people living in San Rafael could conceivably be as wealthy than some people who live in Philam (and vise-versa), and perhaps it was the choice of location rather than the cost of property - San Rafael being closer to the trading centers of Divisoria and Binondo.

Not all residents however, were traders or businessmen. My father was an ordinary employee, and he acquired our lot on installment.
The price per sqm of residential property would most likely be higher in Philam, then and now. Philam now costs around 30T/sqm. Perhaps we can verify with the real-estate brokers during the 60's-70's, but when we sold our property in 1991, it was 10T/sqm.

Best regards and God bless,