by Marlu Balmaceda

These are names that are forever etched in my heart.  I may not have interacted with them all that much, but their mere presence in school was reassuring – knowing that they were there made our campus a safe haven.

I have a vivid image of Mang Segundo wearing his straw hat and a crisp polo shirt.  Everyday he would open the gates in the morning to welcome us and then stand by the gate on the Adriatico Street side to see us on our way out. He had this gentle and equanimous disposition – a very grandfatherly charm.  A smile or a quick goodbye wave from Mang Segundo was the perfect way to end a school day.

Then there was General Uy who was a security guard posted at the main entrance on Herran Street.  I may have first heard high school girls call him “general” as they sweet-talked him to allow them to leave campus to cross the street and go to a little store called Nemart (across St. Paul’s College).  Nemart was just a half block away from school but to many of us, going there was a big adventure.  In that store you could buy snacks that weren’t sold in school and I remember in particular their famous ice buko.

General Uy was a big and hearty fellow who would chuckle and scratch his head when girls cajoled him to let them out. I don’t know if he ever gave in though.  The solution for many was to request those who go home for lunch (called externes) to buy Nemart goodies for them. 

I recall that there were few security guards in Assumption Herran.  The campus was quite safe with its high walls and perhaps, kidnappings and other crimes were still uncommon. But what I do remember was that when the school closed in 1974, General Uy lost his job.  I knew this because he would go to San Lorenzo in the mornings to wait for Papa to bring us to school and would request him for some assistance.

When I moved to high school in Makati, it was a whole new environment and with a new set of manongs, manangs and security staff but, they were just as kind and caring as those we grew up with in Herran.  Take for example Manang Marcelina who manned a small canteen close to where the clinic was at the time – the space between the two high school buildings. It was only open during recess in the morning and in the afternoon.

When we were in First Year, my best friend – Sequi Cu Unjieng – and I would buy ice cold soft drinks in bottles. We would pry open the bottle caps (called tansan) using openers that were nailed to a wooden rail.  Beneath the openers was a small half metal drum that looked like a cradle. This cradle would catch the tansan as it fell after the bottle was opened.  From time to time, the soft drink companies would offer prizes.  You would have to peel off the cork or plastic covering underneath the tansan to reveal the prize.  It could be as grand as a trip to Disneyland or small tokens like a free soft drink or toy. 

Since no one besides us seemed to care about those occasional freebies, Sequi and I would diligently collect bottlecaps and spent our recess just doing that.  While most were duds, we would come across some prizes that we would like to claim.  And that’s where Manang Marcelina came into the picture.  She offered to redeem the prizes for us when the soft drink delivery truck would come on weekends.

I remember getting so excited for winning a Sprite T-shirt and anxiously waited for Monday morning.  Since Sequi and I would gather heaps of bottlecaps, we would give the rest to Manang Marcelina.  These included small cash prizes from 25 centavos to a few pesos. Come Monday recess, Manang would have our prize for the week and in addition, a small bag of delicious yema treats that she made herself!

But why would she gift us with those delicious yemas?  I never gave it a thought until years later when it dawned on me that it may have been her way of thanking us for those bottlecaps – particularly the ones with cash prizes.  The amount may have seemed small to us but turning over our “winnings” to her may have added to whatever savings she had.  To this day, I think of sweet and quiet Manang Marcelina when I come across yemas – but none, so far, comes even close to the ones she made with love and appreciation.

It was also in high school when we had our first encounter with a lady security guard named Sergeant Pepper.  I do not know her real name as Sgt. Pepper was a nickname taken from a popular 1970s TV series called “Police Woman” starring Angie Dickinson.  It was her character after which the name was taken.  Later, girls would just call her “Pepper.”  Poker faced with her hair cut to a bob with bangs, she nevertheless added a feminine touch to her security job by making sure she always had lipstick on.

Much like General Uy in Herran, many a high school student would try to persuade Sgt. Pepper to let them out for one reason or another – mostly to go to the San Lorenzo Park, which may seem harmless as it is adjacent to the school.  But if that park can only tell stories!  Oh, how so many yearned for “freedom” even for just a few minutes during departure time, but in my own experience Sgt. Pepper was unshakable and unbribable.

I do not know what became of Mang Segundo, General Uy, Manang Marcelina, Sgt. Pepper and the many other manongs and manangs who made sure that we were cared for and protected; that our classrooms and the school grounds were tidy and safe; that while we were preoccupied with our lessons, they were busy making a living by giving of themselves to us.

In my mind’s eye I can see Mang Segundo’s straw hat shading him from the late afternoon sun. I can also still hear General Uy’s jovial laugh, followed by a toothy grin. Even now I can taste Manang Marcelina’s delectable caramel-coated yemas.  And as for Sgt. Pepper, her usual deadpan reaction is frozen in time.

Looking back with much gratitude, I am indebted to them for showing us the values of selflessness, kindness, respect, humility, and integrity – lessons learned not inside the classroom but through those who surrounded us as security, maintenance and administration staff.  They were like our silent guardians whose warmth and affection also helped nurture the Assumption in us.

Marlu Villanueva Balmaceda (HS ’78) belonged to the last Grade 7 class that graduated in Assumption Herran. Recently retired, she worked for over 30 years in corporate communications. An author and editor, her book titled “Tombola & Other Stories” is a collection of girlhood memories of growing up in the Assumption. She was a past president of the AAA and currently a trustee of Assumption College.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *