Bob walks down memory lane

Roberto C. Garcia, known as Bob by friends, has been busy all day. He has always been busy as the multicultural development officer of the Toowoomba Regional Council (TRC) in Queensland, Australia.

Bob has not noticed the time has passed. Has he been following the examples set by public servants such as Mayor Geoff MacDonald and former Mayor Paul Antonio, who are his friends?

Roberto “Bob” Garcia (solo) and having fun with ‘mates from the Philippine Science High School (top photo), Class of 1969, during their Golden Jubilee in 2019.

April Fools’ Day came and went. Then, Prince Long Lo, who announced that Bob was his “adopted father,” won the Awards Australia Foundation Diversity and Inclusion Award at the Young Achievers’ Award.

May is just around the corner. Garcia is happy for the former international student from Hong Kong who, like him, has helped many people, mostly immigrants and skilled workers. Bob posted his greeting on his FB wall, saying he was genuinely happy about Prince’s achievement.

He remembers how joyful Prince was when MP Charis Muller appointed him to the Multicultural Queensland Advisory Council (MQAC) for Cultural Affairs. Bob still remembers events that left a deep impression on him.

It was also May 2019 when he and his wife Doris took a trip down memory lane as they visited the old country. In his mind’s eye, he could still hear the whine of the jumbo plane heading towards the Philippines, which he missed even though he and his family had become residents of another country since they migrated in 1984. He pressed his face against the porthole glass, trying to catch a glimpse of what was below at 20,000 feet.

“Mom Doris and I attended our 50th Philippine Science High School (PSHS) reunion at the Taal Vista Lodge on May 1, 2019,” he wrote on his FB wall. “Ours was the first or Golden Batch (Class of 1969) of the PSHS,” he said.

Prince Long Lo during the awarding ceremony

Of the 120 who passed the qualifying tests, only 98 made it to graduation day. From one building in Quezon City near the Quezon Memorial Circle, the country’s premier science high school now has 16 campuses nationwide.

Bob, Jun Sabug, and 29 others were there “to keep the flame alive.” Cracking harmless jokes with old friends, reliving camaraderie, and reminiscing youthful escapades heightened the mood of the moment.

From hindsight, 1965 to 1969 were difficult years. But they were young, inquisitive, curious, and eager to learn new things. They could do so because they still had youthful energy.

“We had a blast, reliving the 70s through music and catchups, with a lot of help from our invited performers,” Bob said. “Our batch members came from far and wide— the USA, Australia, Canada, and France, among others.”

He also said: “We had plenty of fun as we celebrated 55 years of friendships. The five class sections competed in games that didn’t require much physical exertion given our age range of 71 to 73.”

The five class sections were Cavaliers, Falcons, Fleeters, Thunderbolts, and Valiants. “The Thunderbolts, which I was a member, consisted of Section 1 students,” he said, adding that it had 12 members, the biggest number of attendees.

Bob’s parents were happy to receive the news that their son, an only child, passed the admission examinations of the prestigious science high school as a government scholar. That meant free tuition and books, a monthly stipend, and living in a campus dormitory.

In his last year at PSHS, Bob opted to commute from their family residence on Ibarra St, in Sampaloc, Manila, to the PSHS campus in Quezon City.

Friends forever: Bob Garcia and high school buddy Jun Sabug

“My batchmates who came from the provinces decided to stay in the dorm,” he recalled.

For the celebration on Feb. 21-23 this year, Bob begged off, citing work and other responsibilities, such as his obligations as president of the Filipino Australian Business, Industry and Communities Council Inc. (FABICCQ). He hopes to attend the homecoming next year.

Bob also attended the UP Vanguard Inc.’s 97th Homecoming and Convention on May 4, 2019. Held at the UP in Los Banos, the event was graced by 287 fraternity brothers, 67 of them jubilarians.

“We were short of three because we were aiming for 300 attendees,” Bob said.

He added, “Our UP Vanguard National Commander was Guido Delgado of Class ’79.”

“There was excitement as well as fun. Old friendships were revived, brods gave each other brotherly hugs while some, touched by the significance of the moment, wiped their eyes as they tore up,” he added.

Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) Undersecretary Jesus “Gary” S. Domingo was also a Vanguard fraternity brod. Domingo, son of an equally illustrious diplomat father, is in charge of Civilian Security & Consular Affairs at the DFA.

“Assistant Secretary Ronald Cardema was also a military UP Vanguard and fraternity brother,” he said. Cardema is the chairman of the National Youth Commission.

Bob placed seventh out of some 3,000 students who took the PSHS entrance exam. In college, he had an NSDB (National Science Development Board) scholarship and availed of his father’s veteran educational benefit.

“I spent four years as a Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC) cadet. In the last two years, I was billeted (free) at the barracks on campus (like the Philippine Military Academy),” he said. At the same time, he was studying for his chosen college degree. To sweeten his military training, he had his own room as ROTC Corps Commander while the rest of the cadet officers were in a big room with bunks.

He recalled, “We underwent daily inspection at 6:30 a.m. At night time, lights were out by 10 p.m.”

With a start, Bob stands up. He has been lost in thoughts. He stands up to go home. It’s late afternoon, with the bright and glaring at a low angle in the sky. He feels tired, but the spark of life at the core of his body seems inexhaustible.

As he gets in his car, his grandchildren crosses his mind and half-consciously wonders if Doris is already home.

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