I was 10 or 11 years old at the time, and my parents and I had gone to Sunday Mass at the Baguio Cathedral.
A hush descended over the congregation as Father Rafael Desmedt, the parish priest and mass celebrant, slowly ascended the stairs to the pulpit, located right in the center of the church, very near where we were seated.
He then surveyed his flock with deliberate pause, and the silence was deafening, as we all observed.
Having caught the undivided attention of his audience, Father Rafael launched into his spiel about God’s love and the evil that men do, their souls lost to the devil, unless they repent and embrace God’s teachings by bringing back goodness to their hearts.
“Confess your sins,” he warned, “and confess now, before it is too late.”
My father, who has never seen the insides of a confessional box, decided he had enough.
He deftly plucked a copy of the Midland Courier tucked on his side coat pocket, and began reading it, first scanning the headlines, before turning the leaves to where the opinion pages were.
Between the second and third pages, Father Rafael likewise decided he had enough, and in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear, barked at my father, “Mr. Carantes, will you please put your Midland Courier down!”
My mother’s face went pink with embarrassment, but the smart woman that she was, managed to save the day.
Turning to the people right behind us, she said in near wicked smile, “Here in Baguio, even the word of God takes a backseat to the Midland Courier.”
Everyone within hearing distance grinned, and nodded their heads in agreement.
By then my father had quietly slipped out of the church, all the time slapping the sides of his pants with the folded Courier, whistling softly as he went along.
Every time I remember the incident, I wonder from which side of my parents I take after.
Old family friends tell me that I have my mother’s looks, and my father’s easy-go-lucky ways.
Even after all this time I sorely miss my folks, my mother’s cooking and my father’s infectious appetite.
* * * * * * * * * *
Every summer I did all kinds of odd jobs to earn a little extra money so I could buy comic books and eat pancit miki at the Bontoc restaurant, a dish of thick noodles swimming in a greasy ocean of chicken, pork, squid, and Chinese bola bola.
Shining shoes was the most lucrative, specially if someone like Mr. Blanco—who loves kids plying a summer trade—hired you to shine all his shoes, which came up to nearly a dozen.
Ten centavos for regularly colored shoes, 20 centavos for combination, or black and white pairs.
But my days as a shine boy abruptly ended when I ruined Mr. Blanco’s combination shoes, spotting black dye on the white.
I left all his shoes at the stairs of the Sky View restaurant which he owned, not bothering to wait for payment.
* * * * * * * * * *
So I shifted to selling ice drop, and later, poprice and popcorn.
But the ice drop metal carton box was too heavy for a small tyke like me, and oftentimes the ice drop had melted before I could sell them, since I was too focused in watching the games at the Burnham old basketball court, instead of joining the others going round and round the gathered crowd, shrieking, “ice drop, ice drop, ice drop.”
Poprice and popcorn weren’t really big sellers, the little money earned from selling either product not worth the sweat and tired bones.
Only when schools would temporarily close for the Christmas season did poprice or popcorn become in demand, being the favorite exchange gift of naughty school pupils.
Poor girls, us boys would gleefully watch them cry after unwrapping the package worth five centavos.
One summer I asked my father if I could sell newspapers for a change. “Why not,” he added, and took me to Mr. Bernal, the local newspaper distributor. My old man then asked him if I could be one of his newsboys.
Mr. Bernal readily said yes, and told me to report early the next morning.
The trouble was only the bigger boys could sell the Manila Times, the fastest selling national broadsheet in those days.
Us little ones could only sell the Bulletin and the Philippine Herald, while the other big boys sold the Manila Chronicle, the next best seller after all the Manila Times copies have been bought.
Bannawag and Liwayway, Ilocano and Tagalog magazines respectively, were unpredictable. At times, they would get sold out; at other times, no one would buy a copy.
* * * * * * * * * *
But Sundays was different. On Sundays, all big and small boys would get to sell the Midland Courier.
Ten copies only for us little ones, but all the ten were soon sold out before the hour, and we would go back for more—at least three trips to the dealer’s stand, and by midday it was time to take a break and count your blessings, the coins in your pocket jingling like music to the ears.
“Pssst” is not a word pleasant to hear, but not on Sundays. A “pssst” meant needing to buy a copy of the Midland at 10 centavos each—not exactly cheap in those days.
But in my first year high school, I wasn’t just selling the Midland to while away the summer, I was beginning to read it, curious why the paper was selling like the proverbial hot cakes.
Among the columns, I liked the “In and Out” better than the “Fore and Aft,” which to me meant an incorrect spelling of a number, and Aft was probably short for after.
G. Pawid Keith was another favorite opinion writer.
Besides, the “In and Out” was more entertaining than the “Fore and Aft.”
Only when I “learned” Japanese and finished my freshman English did I appreciate Sinai Hamada’s incisive prose, and since I postured myself to be a “scholar” in my college years, I would flip over and dissect the message of the column to better understand it.
And because Sinai and the Midland Courier itself were great influences on public opinion, politicians acted more carefully in the performance of their duties, while others deemed it wise to behave, rather than find themselves “insinuated” by a critical Midland Courier as being this or that rascal.
And the Midland Courier was a newspaper way ahead of the times.
Preserving the environment for the future of our children was already a Midland catch phrase, even before the DENR existed, particularly since the Courier was rather apprehensive about the city’s greenery slowly being lost to progress and squatters.
* * * * * * * * * *
When I first started writing for the Courier in 1980, people read my column only out of curiosity, but over the years I soon acquired a readership, not that I wrote great or anything close, but what I had was imagination, and even today, I like to think that it is imagination that keeps my column alive.
I like to think too that I have a feel for the people’s pulse, and I am able to articulate their sentiments.
But this piece is not about me, it is about a paper that has, throughout the years, become a guiding light for the people of Baguio as they can better manage their lives that hopefully, would also inspire the city leadership to do better or at least improve public service.
The Midland Courier is the watchdog of government, ready to pounce on any public official who betrays the people’s trust.
More than anything, the Courier exposes those who picture themselves as paragons of virtue, and yet live secret scandalous lives, slyly pilfering public funds.
To be sure, the Courier is not a saint. It is a god to whom readers pay homage every Sunday, and while the Courier is not exactly infallible, it is, to the highest degree, fair, honest, fearless, and free.
What would your Sunday and city be without your Baguio Midland Courier?