I was 2 years old when our family transferred in 1952, from Cuyo to Puerto Princesa, then still a municipality. We resided at the old governor’s quarters along Mendoza St. (vacated when it was transferred to a beautiful building by the wharf) as my father had just been appointed assistant provincial fiscal. The governor at that time was Patricio “Basit” Fernandez, my father’s first cousin who had invited him to Puerto Princesa where the provincial capitol was.
At 7, I was enrolled at the Puerto Princesa Central Scchool, later renamed the Puerto Princesa Pilot Elementary School. For me and my older sister, Diana, school days then meant leaving home at 7 in the morning and back home by noontime. In the afternoon, we were already in school by 1:30 and back home by 5:30. We had to walk to school and back, crossing Mendoza Park then Rizal Avenue, passing by the old postal office on to Burgos St. to a small gate at the back of the school campus, passing by the house of my classmate Hernan Fetiza, whose father, Mang Isko, was then the school’s jack-of-all-trades.
There were already a number of motor vehicles in the town at that time mostly passenger jeepneys, buses and trucks and also private vehicles; downtown streets still had no sidewalks. Philippine Airlines’ Dc-3s were the main air carriers from Manila passing by Roxas town in the north on to Puerto Princesa and back. Sea travel to Manila was by the weekly trips of Compania Maritima’s m/v Gen. Luna, m/v Fortuna and m/v Balabac of the Rio de Olavarrieta, the latter two vessels passing by Panacan (now Narra), Balabac, Caramay and Cuyo. Gen. Luna’s arrival was always eagerly awaited, with people flocking by the wharf to buy newly-unloaded ice cream and food stuffs. The town’s commercial activities were mostly in the public market (the first being almost in-front of our elementary school, abandoned after it burned own and transferred along Burgos St.) and the filipino-chinese stores (Go Tian Suy, Tomas Tan, Tan Et Ching, Pe Chua Co and Balthazar Go among a few others). I remember two famous bakeries downtown – Hongkong bakery and Cosmos bakery owned respectively by the Yap and Liao families. I remember too, the Palawenia Hotel, next to the Governor’s residence, operated by Roque Miguel, the Traveller’s Inn (where Edwin’s Food Palace is) owned by the Castro family which burned down in 1963 and the Rafol’s Hotel. There were two movie houses then – the Republic theater showing tagalog films and Melba theater, showing english movies. Both movie houses were owned by the Hartman/Mendoza families.
Back then, people congregate at the Mendoza Park in front of the Puerto Princesa municipal building. The park had the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. It also had a basketball court where occasionally tournaments were held and where we played after school in the afternoon. It also had a tennis court, where on weekends, the town’s prominent residents (the Valencias, Marcelos, Castros among others) play tennis. There were several “pulot” boys during the games, I being one of them where after running here and there for the balls, I’d end up richer by a few centavos good enough for a bottle of coke and ‘pan de coco’ from the old man Castro’s store just across the park (where Kitkat’s now is). There was also a big Namarco outlet in the park, housed in a ‘quonset’ structure carrying a wide variety of goods, from where one could buy even ‘stateside’ items like corned beef and other meat products from abroad. . . . . . . . . (more on the old Puerto Princesa by next column)
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