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PLAZANS of Cagayan de Oro

By Anselmo B. Mercado

On February 19, 2023, the Plazans convened for a get-together dinner at VIP Hotel, Cagayan de Oro. This was organized by the current set of officers (led by its President Bill Casiño, and others, Rene Garcia, Nitoy Malferrari, Cris Cabillon, etc.). When I entered the VIP function room (about 6:15 p.m.), I was pleasantly surprised to see quite a huge crowd of about 150-200 people already settled down in various round tables. I said to myself, “Wow! Amazing! Wonderful!”

Immediately, I could recognize familiar faces and friends, but so many were not so familiar, others looked strangers to me, because, either their faces (as I knew them) had changed over the passing years, and/or obviously because the Plazans consisted of different generations.

From mere looks as I glanced around, it was difficult to calculate the range of ages, but I reckoned it was between from the youngest (about the early 50s) to the oldest, guess what and who? He was Tony Roa whom I approached and I asked about his age. He readily replied, “90”. That prompted another Wow! I continued to look around, and in those moments, so many other “Plazans” entered my mind, quite a number of them had passed away (RIP. God bless them. Our prayers for them).

It was Henry Yu (aka Henry Lee, Henry Visbal) at first who phoned me about this dinner event. Then, I received a call from Bill Casiño inviting and asking me if I could come and give a talk about the “History of the Plazans”. This was another surprise to me, and I asked him, “Why me? There are others who would be more appropriate and capable for this.” He replied. “Your name was suggested by others.” And so, I said, “OK, I am honored by the invitation. I will try to share my own personal recollections, but certainly not the “history” of the Plazans.

I settled down at a table with familiar friends: Henry Yu, Bong Cabe, Roque Gaerlan, Harold Willkom, Caloy Gorospe, Filamer Artajo, and Mario Reyes. When the program started, I was called by the Emcee to sit at the head table with Bill Casiño, Cris Cabillon, Rene Garcia, Filamer Artajo and Congressman Rufus Rodriguez Filamer Artajo was first to share his own recollections of the “History of the “Plazans”. Immediately after him , I was called to share my own recollections.

I. The “Plazans”: My Personal Reminiscenses:

     There is a bisayâ song, “Ang Atong Kagahapon” …

Ang atong kagahapon, tugob sa handumanan,

        Kalipay atong batî-on, punô ning atong dughan.

Ang atong kabatan-on, walay kagul-anan,

katawa, hudjaka, molingaw kanunay, ning kinabuhî ta.

Atong kabatan-on, atong kagahapon, lumalabay lamang.

Sama sa panganud galupad-lupad sa kahanginan.

Maoy magpabilin mga handumanan ning atong dughan. …

I like the song’s nice lilting, cha-cha beat, but more so, I love the meaningful words which very much relate to my reminiscenses of the Plazans. Indeed, as the song goes — those “yesteryears, our youthful years, we will deeply cherish, and in our hearts they will remain”.

My years with the Plazans started at about the 1950s, during my high-school years at the Ateneo de Cagayan, and continued on to my college years and beyond. I was a basketball player and many Plazans were my co-players. Also, my family life in Kagay-an began in the early 50s, when my father was the manager of Philippine Air Lines, PAL (1950-1962). PAL office was located at the ground floor of the Lara building (corner Pabayo and N. Divisoria Streets. Our family lived on the upper floors of the PAL office. Plaza Divisoria, in a sense, was my playground.

I have read some books and articles about the history of Cagayan de Oro City, aspects of it, such as — the early beginnings of the town and community, the religious aspects, and the evolution and expansion to what it has become today (written by famous authors). A booklet was printed out, upon the initiative of Roy Gaane and others, some years ago (a copy of which is in my home library). The booklet contains a number of short write-ups by Kagay-anons themselves, recalling their growing-up years in Kagay-an, their school days, their social life, etc. They are enjoyable, informative, and interesting readings. But, I am sorry to say — in all the writings, there is no mention whatsoever of the Plazans. Really, sorry, because I cannot imagine Kagay-an without the Plazans.

Congressman Rufus Rodriguez has initiated a laudable project he calls “historical trails”. This project will establish “trails” of heritage sites, places, and institutions worthy to see as one visits Cagayan de Oro, the province of Misamis Oriental, and neighboring provinces of Camiguin and Bukidnon. Among the prominent places along the “trails” will certainly include Cagayan de Oro’s San Agustin Cathedral and the adjacent Gaston Park, the City Hall, and nearby the first (oldest) bridge, the Capitol building and its park, Lourdes College, etc.

Along the “trails”, two places will be outstanding, namely, “Plaza Divisoria” and “Xavier University-Ateneo de Cagayan”, two priceless heritage treasures of the “City of Golden Friendship”. Plaza Divisioria has always been associated with the North and South Divisoria Streets along which were located a variety of shops, businesses, and offices (Shanghai and Ah Fat bakeries, the King’s Store, Dadlani Bazaar, the Casino, Prince and Princess theaters, Bina Tan grocery, etc.), the Kiosko, the wet market, and the monuments of Rizal, Bonifacio, and later Magsaysay. If these physical features and attributes of Plaza Divisoria have given the City its physical beauty, its uniqueness, and physical ambience, the people have given it “life”. The Plazans is certainly one prominent group that has made Plaza Divisoria “alive”.

Here again, I remember the Beatles’ song, “Places to Remember” …

There are places I remember, all my life, ‘though some have changed.

Some forever, not for better, some are gone, and some remain.

All those places have their moments, with lovers and friends I still can recall.

Some are dead, and some are living, in my life I’ve loved them all. …

… But, all these memories lose their meaning,

when I think of love as something new.

But I never really lose affection for people and things that went before.

I often stop and think about them, in my life, I’ve loved them all.

The Ateneo de Cagayan (renamed Xavier University in 1959), was “The

School” in Kagay-an. The Plazans, most of them, if not all, were “Ateneans”. Two places at the Ateneo were frequented by many Plazans — the “backcourts” and the “gym”, obviously because a number of the Plazans loved and/or played basketball. Usually, after the games, the Plazans would “imtabay” (congregate, and loiter around) in their favorite “istambayan”, hang-out sites) at Plaza Divisoria.

The Plazans were actually composed of two groups, namely: 1) the “ganits” (many were professionals, some doctors, engineers, politikos, businessmen, lawyers, etc.), who frequented Plaza Divisoria to chat, discuss, relax, loiter around, etc.), and 2) the “bagets”, the “young ones” in those days (now the “young once”).

II. Some Favorite Activities of the “Baget-Plazans”, and Some Personalities:

The Plazans were, first of all, obviously noted for being “istambay” — “killing time”, chatting, watching people passing by, “oogling” and whistling at “chicks”, intimidating some “boarders” of the Ateneo when they went out of the school campus. The other favorite activities included:

1) The favorite sport was basketball. In school, some Plazans were outstanding players who were in the school varsity teams. Some of them also played with commercial teams during the “Summer Basketball League”. They were my team-mates. I could recall some names: Mercado brothers, Dolores brothers, Orqueza brothers, Aguirre brothers, Roa brothers, Gorospe brothers, Sito Neri, Tario Ebdalin, Ben Chaves, Pondol Dadole, Gaylord Gayloa, Andoy Kwong, Henry “Watusi” Yu, Ben Tagam, Vilmo de la Cruz., Leo Daba. Most of them were members of the often champion team, the “Shanghai Bakery”.

2) The Plazans frequently enjoyed swimming and picnics at then pristine waters of Kagay-an river, and also at the nearby beaches in Bon-Bon, Opol, Chali, Lapasan, Gusa, Baloy,etc.

3) Joy-riding at their favorite Carmen Hill on the way to Manresa Farm. This hilly, winding route is now “Fr. William F. Masterson SJ Avenue” (named after the visionary founder of the Xavier U College of Agriculture). It was during one of the “joy-rides” that an unfortunate accident occurred, seriously injuring some Plazans (among them Danzig Zambaan with a broken limb).

4) “Gang” activities somewhat divided the Plazans in “barrio-barrio” situations. Plazans formed “gangs”, the ones I recall were the “Winchesters”, “Stalag 17”, “Bell Boys”, among others. There were occasions that some groups antagonized each other, and they occasionally engaged in “puñete” (fist fighting). A few Plazans were good boxers (I recall Miro Castro, MikMik Roa, and Temy Dizon).

5) Singing was also a favorite activity during “istambay” time. It was at that time that the ukelele was popularized. Among the favorite songs of the Plazans were those by internationally known singers, such as, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Neil Sedaka, the Four Aces, the Platters, etc. . Kagay-an had some good singers, like the Ortega brothers, Boy (with a Mario Lanza voice) , and Raul, both of whom somehow associated themselves with the Plazans. Some Plazans were members of the “Ateneo Glee Club”. I suppose many Plazans also liked dancing (bogey, cha-cha, rock ‘n roll, twist, and the slow “sweet” dance).

6) Smoking and drinking were favorite “addictions”, if I may say. Fortunately, drug addiction was non-existent. The favorite brands were the “blue seal” cigarettes — Philip Morris, Winston, and Marlboro. For drinking, Plazans imbibed San Miguel beer, Tanduay Rum, Mallorca, and tubâ.

6) Movie-going was a favorite past-time. At Plaza Divisoria were two theaters, “Prince” and “Princess”, which burned down during a big fire in the City sometime in the late 50s. Among the popular actors were James Dean. I recall Patuting Neri being labelled as the “James Dean” of Kagay-an because he was fond of imitating the styles of the famous actor.

7) Personalities who are worth mentioning in my personal recollections are: a) There were the “good ones”, the best, most “bu-otan” among them was Fr. Miciano SJ, who made “his rounds at night” and frequently hang-out with the Plazans; b) There were “naughty ones” (“mga badlongon”), and among the “naughtiest” was Adong Puertas; c) Among the “popular ones”, the most well-known was Maning Gabar.

So much for those yesteryears, our youthful years, and the memories we will always cherish in our hearts. I hope someone will write about the vintage Plazans, who, among other Kagay-anon, have made Plaza Divisoria, truly alive — priceless, unique, beautiful, and really a pride of the “City of Golden Friendship”.

III. Changes and Development:

Since the 1950s to the present, significant changes and development have occurred in the “City of Golden Friendship”. As the Beatles’ song goes, some changes are “forever, not for better, some are gone, and some remain”. Let me mention a few.

  1. The City is fast transforming into a metropolis. In all dimensions, in all aspects, in all directions, the City has tremendously grown. With this, as they say, “there is a price for growth”. Physically, along with the increasing subdivisions, housing projects, public and private residential areas, and thriving businesses, are traffic congestions, air and noise pollution, and flooding at several places, which many believe will continue to get worse in the years ahead.
  2. Life has changed. Unlike the Kagay-an of old, today, many people in Cagayan de Oro, the residents, even neighborhoods, young and old, act like “strangers” to one another. Despite this “negative” development, the culture of friendliness and peacefulness is prevailing.
  3. Many Plazans have emigrated to other places, many to distant foreign lands, and there they have raised their families. Those who have remained in Cagayan de Oro have experienced many changes as well. All have raised their families adapting to the changes. Obviously, practically all have become grandparents, even great-grandparents.
  4. Some Plazans have been blessed with fortunes, while others have suffered misfortunes. Nevertheless, rich or poor, in whatever state of wealth or health, their being Plazans have been etched in their lives and dignity as persons.
  5. Even to date, many “die-hard” Plazans continue to meet. They have a new hangout place — at SM Mall, Dunkin’ Donuts and other sites.
  6. The Ateneo de Cagayan of yesteryears, to which so many Plazans have been attached as “Ateneans”, has changed so much with so many new buildings and structures. The old gym is gone. The “backcourts” is now the “covered courts”. The Grade and High Schools have been moved over to Uptown Cagayan de Oro.

I would like to think of the City of Cagayan de Oro as like a vigorously growing “tree”, growing in a peaceful, friendly, clean, ecologically green and sound environment. Among its prominent branches and fruits would include, among others, the Plaza Divisoria, Xavier University (Ateneo de Cagayan), and the Kagay-anon, among them the Plazans, (“ganits” and “bagets”).



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