The Malaria Scare in Puerto Princesa
While in Grade 3 at the Puerto Princesa Pilot Elementary School, an incident occurred which scared us, young pupils, no end. Our teachers were talking seriously about it, so were our parents at home. It was about dreaded malaria which they said could make us crazy if we are bit or worse die from it. The health people, it seemed to me, were in panic as they went about telling the residents not to sleep without mosquito nets, avoid forested areas and to immediately see the doctors in case of prolonged fever and chills. At ten years of age at that time, I could hardly understand what the fuss was all about until one afternoon in school, two small aircraft suddenly flew above the school grounds, and the town itself up to the Iwahig Penal Colony across the bay. The flyby lasted the whole afternoon with the small aircrafts leaving smoke in their wake. We learned later that the aircrafts were fogging the town including Iwahig to fight off the anopheles mosquito – the malaria carrier. The story behind it all was that some foreign medical technicians arrived in Puerto Princesa to test how effective was their anti-malaria drug on the inmates of Iwahig. It was said they brought with them sealed bags containing the mosquitoes which later were able to escape, hence the need to fog them out. The mosquitoes we were told belonged to the African strain, a very potent one. For a long time thereafter, mosquito nets was a must, especially for children. Long after this incident, the fear of malaria and its mosquito – carrier was constantly in our mind.
The Three Fires in Puerto Princesa
One early morning, also during my grade school days, we were jolted from sleep by explosive sounds, one after another, not far from our residence. Running outside, we saw the Hagedorn fuel station, across the Mendoza Park along Rizal Avenue and Valencia Street (where the Philippine National Bank presently is) burning. Puerto Princesa at that time had no fire station to speak of and the fuel station was razed to the ground. Policemen who responded said the fire was caused by a small gas lamp a pet monkey accidentally toppled, spilling its petroleum contents thus spreading the fire to the curtains and eventually the whole house, on to the stockpile of flammable materials. It was a 3-hour blaze that really scared the residents because of the possibility of the fuel storage tanks exploding, spreading the fire. At the back of the fuel station were logs and timber that could easily get burned. Miraculously, no further explosions occurred . . . The burned premises remained vacant for some years, with only burned wooden posts and fire-scarred concrete walls as remnants of the fuel station. Years later, the burned premises was where the first Rafols Hotel was built.
The Burning of the Iconic Travelers’ Inn
The Travelers’ Inn was, for many years, Puerto Princesa’s leading destination for travelers to Palawan. It was a 2-storey wooden building painted yellow that stood in the corner of Rizal Avenue and Valencia Street where Edwins’ Food Plaza is now. The Inn, as it was known, was owned by the Castro family. My sister and I passed by this Inn daily in going to school; even at a young age I already admired this beautiful building.
One afternoon, while I was in our work educational class as a first-year student at the Palawan National School, there was a big commotion outside the room and the students were running back and forth in an open field across our building. Curious, my classmates and I rushed outside asking what the commotion was all about. We were told that the Travelers’ Inn was burning. Leaving our teacher, Mr. Martinez, by his lonesome self in the room, we all ran to the Mendoza Park where many people had converged looking at the burning building. As it was made of wood, the fire gutted it very quickly; in less than an hour, the Travelers’ Inn was no more. What a sad fate it was for a Puerto Princesa landmark.
The Burning of a large Commercial Store in Purok Manggahan
Years ago, that portion of Rizal Avenue where now stands the Skylight Hotel & Restaurant was called Manggahan obviously because it had several old mango trees growing alongside the sidewalks including the interior portions of the Palawan National School. Our residence was less than 500 meters away. The prominent stores and shops included the Salcedo’s Store, a restaurant operated by the Leongs and a large business establishment owned by then Councilor Bayani Inocencio, that carried practically all household needs. It was a popular store that served customers from that part of Rizal Avenue up to the capitol area and even beyond including buyers from the neighboring barrios.
One early morning, in the late fifties, that store burned down, strong winds fanning the raging fire with no firefighting equipment to combat the conflagration. It didn’t take the fire more than two hours to gut down the building, causing massive loss of the articles for sale. It was a big loss indeed for Puerto Princesa.
There were several other fires in Puerto Princesa in those days; one of them was the brush fire that burned across the area now occupied as military camps in Barangay Tiniguiban. The day after the fire, we visited the area and saw vast portions thereof scarred black by the fire. Several houses were burned, but no one was hurt. Soon after this fire, the Puerto Princesa municipal government started building up its firefighting capability with the arrival of fire trucks and enlistment of firefighters to replace volunteer firefighters and policemen doubling as such.
Looking back, it is sad for Puerto Princesa to have lost those important landmarks. Of course, new establishments later came to replace them, but to people like me who knew those places before they were lost by fire, my memory of them remain to this day.