A. Paulita Roa .
A FEW years ago, the now late Lorenzo “Lory” de la Serna sent me this gem of an article about the Cagayan de Oro of the 1950s. This is a boon to those who are interested on contemporary history. Lory was one of the stalwarts of the first radio station of the city, DxCC. He was a prominent member of the local broadcast media, was a prolific writer and a civic leader.
I came to Cagayan de Oro (Valley of Gold) shortly after the inaugural broadcast of DxCC, the only radio station in the city and second in the entire Mindanao. I arrived in Macabalan wharf after sailing the rough sea for two days and one night on board M/V Don Jose. Although I was already a broadcast journalist in Cebu, my first job here was not as such but as a draftsman under Col. Pablo Calo, G2 of the 4th Military Area.
Cagayan de Oro was a town with history. It is steeped in tradition. Its most conspicuous families — the Roas, Neris, Chaveses and Velezes — trace their ancestry to proud native chieftains whose offspring married daring and courageous immigrants from the Visayas and Luzon. Coming from Cebu, I was one of those who saw it grow by leaps and bounds and conquered when I was hooked by a “lumad” Kagay-anon. I am married not only to a wonderful woman belonging to the large Raagas clan, but most of all, to the phenomenal city of tomorrow.
When I joined brothers Henry and Rueben R. Canoy’s Radio Mindanao in 1954, Cagayan de Oro was still a very small town where everybody knew everyone and the city’s most sought after girl was Dorothy Jean Buhay (more popularly known in the later years as Dottie Pabayo). At that time, I saw the late city councilor Pureza Neri Ramos strolling in Gaston Park with a man behind her holding an umbrella to shield her from the sun — reminiscent of the Spanish influence of the city.
The narrow streets were still in Spanish and named after a reason or something — del Mar (now Apolinar Velez Ave.) because its northern dead-end was a wharf facing Macajalar Bay; Real (now Nicolas Capistrano St.) because it started from Casa Real (the present site of the City Hall complex), Dolores (Manuel Fernandez St.) because it was leading towards the cemetery. I do not know however, why JR Borja St. was previously named Luzon, the largest island of the Philippines. Retained is Kalambagohan St., named after the steely lambago trees that used to stretch along the banks of Cagayan River, the only source of potable water then and the delicious “pigok” fish.
Gradually, the historical spots were surrounded by modern buildings characterizing its transistion to the progressive city it has become. But it dutifully preserved Macahambus Cave where the revolucionarios hid during the Fil-American War as well as the symbolic monuments to Andres Bonifacio and Jose Rizal, the Plaza Divisoria and nearby Gaston Park. I missed though the historic Heroes de Agusan St. (now Pacana St.), the street named to honor the Kagay-anons who fought and lost to the Americans in Barangay Agusan.
The Casino along Plaza Divisoria (now Veterans Bank) owned by Anastacio “Ating” Gabor was not a gambling den but a social hall. It was the only place where political party conventions, anniversary and inaugural rites and parties and other significant events of the city were held. Its slogan was “Where Friends Meet Friends.” It was where the elite Rotarians and their Anns danced the Rigodon de Honor. The other venue for live-in seminars and mini-conventions was Chali Beach in Barangay Cugman.
The word Divisoria comes from the Spanish root word “divider” or to divide. It was meant to split the city with a plaza to prevent the recurrence of another conflagration that almost gutted down the entire poblacion shortly before World War II.
Plaza Divisoria was also the place where political issues, community affairs and rumors were leisurely discussed every afternoon by Pio I. Roa, Blas Velez, Pepe Palacio, Felix Caburian, Dodong Godinez, Tioy Quimpo, Bontong Navales and Tobal Lopez. They were the main local news sources of DxCC’s Fred Bascon (English) and Abs Rojas (Cebuano) newscasters. A city councilor and then a vice mayor, Pio “Ping” I. Roa, later hosted a commentary program in DxCC titled, “Kini Ang Matuod.” During the Christmas season, Ping and I would conduct a remote controlled prorgram at the Community Amphitheatre to preserve our local “Daygon” or Christmas carols.
The public market was at Plaza Divisoria-Burgos (Amphitheatre) where the acknowledged leader was Donato “Nato” Esling. He later represented the marginalized market vendors in the city council. Somehow, his association was the first party-list in the country.
Other landmarks around the historic plaza were Glory, Prince and Princess moviehouses, L.R. Canoy Store, Our Store School and Office Supply, Bombay Novelty Bazaar, Ah Fat Bakery, Bazaar de Oro, Times Bazaar, Nippon Restaurant, Hong King Restaurant, Philippine Lumber, Mindanao Lumber, Cagayan Construction Supply and Suy Tiak Commercial. I wonder what happened to Cagayan Hopia Factory whose doughs contained real meat and real onion, as well as Philippine Tin that served brewed coffee supplied anytime of the day. Ben Go was the sole distributor of three kinds of coffee grown in Mirayon, Talakag, Bukidnon.
There were seven hotels: Capitol, Ambassador, Central, Casa Filipinas, Golden Gate, Casablanca and Cosmopolitan; and three bus companies, namely: the Bukidnon Bus Co. owned by Armando Noble and managed by Antonio “Dodong” Almirante, the Mindanao Bus managed by Vitaliano Namalata and the Republic Bus of Lorenzo Nambatac. Rodrigo “Dondo” Lim of Ang Sidlak Enterprises was the proprietor of a few taxicabs operating in the city. It was later named Aninipot Taxi. Dondo was the city’s sole distributor of national dailies.
Prescriptions were concocted by pharmacists at Pura’s Pharmacy, Farmacia Salud and the Visayan Pharmacy. Paterno Velez, one of the city’s affluent residents, was a pharmacist by profession.
When I arrived in Cagayan de Oro for the first time, its many institutions of learning had already made the city the undisputed educational and cultural center of Mindanao. They attracted students not only from the different parts of the island but also from the nearby Visayas and even far north in Luzon. The student hungering for knowledge already had a wide choice of schools to suit his situation and circumstances.
The most outstanding school is the Jesuit-run Ateneo de Cagayan that later became Xavier University in 1958. It accepted boarding students from grade school up. Its Law School maintained an excellent passing average for the first two of its graduating classes. Lourdes College (exclusive for pretty girls only) of the Religious of the Virgin Mary (RVM) sisters was already existing. Liceo de Cagayan, a non-sectarian institution privately owned by Rodolfo “Roding” Pelaez, had already turned out some barristers.