October 2, 2023

This coincidence might be meaningful, but I do not understand why an urge came over me to do this piece at this time.

Fr. Herman Flameygh is one of the many pioneer CICM priests who influenced life in the mining communities or should I say, the bosses, with his formula for peace in the camps. I have forgotten when he left this mortal world but allow this piece to speak on one of the great educators in these parts who molded the great men and women who came out of Philex Mining Corporation and the other mining camps as well.

The story of Fr. Herman begins in Sangilo, Itogon, Benguet which was the first mine in his missionary life. He was in Sacred Heart High School in Itogon when he got students from Sangilo gold mine. Then he got students from Balatoc, Acupan and Antamok mines with some kind of a compulsion to fight each other.

Fr. Herman said there were many things that some could afford more than others. Some had uniforms, some had buses and some didn’t which created  some kind of discrepancy and animosity. Then there was another factor, there were boys and girls. And at one given time, he went to the boss in Balatoc suggesting that there should be a school somewhere to keep all those“fighting guys apart” as he described it.

Ralph Crosby was the superintendent of Benguet Consolidated Incorporated and Fr. Herman asked the senior priests  to talk to him. There were Fr. Andres Vandaele, Fr. Karel Beurms, and Fr. Vanewalle Octaaf who were leaders of the church whom he asked to approach Crosby to ask ifhe could build a new school for the other students from the mine camps. In those years, the Americans at the mining camps were free masons and the Roman Catholic church did not look fondly on the fraternity. They remarked, “Why should I go to talk to him” and Fr. Herman went. “I talked for 10 minutes and I got two schools,” he said. Which is the history of the schools built in Antamok and Balatoc.

When he returned from a vacation in Belgium, he was assigned to Lepanto Consolidated Mining Company in Mankayan town which was under the leadership of Jack Foster. Fr. Herman got two schools, one in Lepanto and another in Suyoc. But Fr. Flameygh did not just build the schools for education but built the schools with the families in mind. Ham Reed of Suyoc heard of Fr. Flameygh from other miners.

Reed remarked that, Suyoc was a lousy place to work where there was a murder a week,  gambling, and mines attendance at 50 percent. He started a school and a semblance of stability came upon Suyoc.

But education by the Thomasites in these Benguet hills were not just academics. It had its social and political bias, according to him. The system was, there was a school from Grades 1 to 4 which was what they called the primary classes and there were Grade 5 and 6 which they called the intermediate classes and that was two distinct things, you could have quite a lot of these middle schools to Grade 4. By the time they were Grade 4, they already knew how to count and do mathematics, they knew how to write and they knew how to read. 

So, they were ready for what you call manipulation and you can lead them. 

He said, “I remember Marie was asked by a candidate in Itogon to give evening classes.”

She trained them for around three weeks to write Jose Fianza and that was the evening classes. So, everybody could go to vote. They were literate.

A new provincial Fr. Rene Verlenden assigned Fr. Herman to Philex and after a time he handled the school there too and it became the best of schools. It was a good school and they had quite a lot of students, who numbered more than 7,000 graduates up to 2008, when this interview was done.

“You see I have a big respect for two types of people that seemingly have been overlooked in the social strata. The first one is illiterate miners, if you allow their kids to have an even go on level ground in a school, they shine.I had these kids under my guidance, a little bit of a firmhand up to the age of fourth year high school and then the sky was the limit.It was your life do with it what you want. I have engineers, I have doctors, I have dentists, I have teachers, I have a couple of Anglican priests but Catholic not that I know of as of now, many tried but stopped half way. Anyhow, I am a committed person to education.”

He had also gone to Mr. Brimo and said, “Look here, Sir, I am not only the parish priest but parish priest of the whole area. An abled mind is intrusive and it enters into a preexisting need of the community. And  these people should also benefit from the education that we provide here. If they had to go to Baguio, imagine the expense that would be? Don’t you agree, Sir?”

Mr. Brimo said, “Approved.”

“So all the natives in our area could go to school in our school. And well like everyone else, they deserved a lot of deductions. Then we moved very carefully. We had Atlas Cop Co there, we had San Miguel there with beer, and we had quite a lot of agencies that came selling things especially Petron and so and so, all those fellows. You live off the land, let the land live also. I need to put people in high school and I need scholarships so I said it was about time and it wasn’t so expensive, so I had more than 110, I had actually in all 11 percent more students on scholarships most of them from suppliers, guys that came to peddle and they started by putting their price a little higher for us to have some. So, an agent  of Atlas CopCo or Volvo all of these people at Philex became my sponsors at school and that worked very fine up to the moment I left,” he said.

The social aspect of the church was primary in Fr. Herman’s concept of being a parish priest. This was the revolution of the Social Responsibility that was at work without anyone knowing it. This was Fr. Herman, the educator of many fathers, hereabouts.