100 trees for a centenarian: Mindanao settler, ‘Hard Knocks U’ student

MAITUM, Sarangani (MindaNews / 25 February) – One hundred trees for a 100-year-old surviving settler in Mindanao.

This town on Wednesday, 24 February, celebrated the birthday of centenarian Serafin Ramos, Sr. by planting 100 langka or jackfruit trees at Bacarri Bakir, the family-owned farm in Purok Bugo, Barangay Malalag here.

Serafin Ramos, Sr. celebrates his 100th birthday on Wednesday, 24 February 2021, at the family’s ancestral house in Maitum, Sarangani. Photo courtesy of Beth Ramos

Ramos Sr. and his wife Cresilda, braved the rough seas and sailed with hundreds of residents from Luzon in 1950 to find greener pastures in Mindanao, touted as the “Land of Promise.”

With their few belongings tucked in a kaban or baul (wooden chest), his violin and one peso and 50 centavos in their purse, the couple and several other survivors of the dangerous sea voyage eventually settled in Maitum, a rustic coastal town where the Metal Age anthropomorphic secondary burial jars were discovered in 1991.

He was then 30. She was 24 and pregnant. They hailed from Agno, Pangasinan, both from poor parents. To remind them of the harsh ocean voyage from Luzon passing through the Visayas and ending in Mindanao, they named their first-born Luzviminda, now 71.

Their three other children are Beth, Nieda and Serafin Jr., who are professionals in various fields, unlike the parents who had not gone to school due to poverty.

As a tribute to an inspiring old man who was a product of “University of Hard Knocks” or the “University of Life,” the Ramos family, about 30 volunteers from the Municipal Environment and Natural Resources Office, Maitum Advocates for Sustainable Environment and the Philippine National Police Mobile Group detailed in the town planted the jackfruit trees early Wednesday morning.

The fruit trees were donated by the Kiamba Sarangani Development Foundation, Inc. through the initiative of the United States-based Carolina Villanueva Peralta.

At his dinner party graced by two dozen immediate family members only, the birthday celebrant was clad in an embroidered barong tagalog with shades of violet and in black slacks.

They feasted on roasted pig and other dishes. His three cakes bore the figure 100, and were adorned by carpentry tools and a violin.

Ramos Sr., fondly called “Apin” by family and friends, was mostly a carpenter but would do other jobs such as farm laborer to raise his children, according to Beth, the second of the four children.

“He would also help our mother, who passed away in 2010, in preparing snack foods that we would sell in the town,” she added.

“During his prime days, he was a very good family provider. He would make the night a day so he could provide for our needs,” Beth recalled.

“Our father raised us with the values of industry, honesty and integrity,” she added.

“When we were growing up, he was a strict disciplinarian — making us kneel on mung beans (monggo) with hands spread apart for a period of time whenever we did naughty things,” Beth recalled.

Due to old age, Ramos Sr. has a faltering memory since the past decade, but when he is lucid, he still sings his favorite Ilocano love song, the Dungdunguen Kanto (I love you forever) and plays the violin, she said.

So what’s their father’s secret to longevity?

Volunteers plant 100 jackfruit trees to celebrate the 100th birthday of Serafin Ramos, Sr., an Ilocano settler from Pangasinan province, in Maitum, Sarangani on Wednesday, 24 february 2021. Photo courtesy of Beth Ramos

Tatay (father) loves to eat vegetables and does not like foods laced with Monosodium glutamate, popularly known as vetsin in the country, she noted.

Serafin Jr., who inherited his father’s penchant for playing the violin, said that a priest came early Wednesday to pray and bless the old man for his centennial birthday.

He noted that family members who are not living in the ancestral house were barred from getting close to the patriarch, in line with following the health protocols for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic.

“The dining tables were arranged away from each other that we were clustered like ‘baryo-baryo’ or distinct barangays,” Serafin Jr. said.

“We are celebrating a great milestone in the family. We love him so much,” the only son of the brood said.

Under Republic Act 10868 or the Centenarians Act of 2016, a Filipino who reached 100 years old is entitled to receive P100,000 and a Letter of Felicitation from the President of the Philippines congratulating the celebrant for his or her longevity.

Ramos Sr. is the fifth centenarian in Maitum, with three of them already gone, data from the local social welfare office said.

His papers are under process so he can claim what is due him from the government. (Bong S. Sarmiento / MindaNews)