A Tale of Two Grandpas

Familial Memories Bubble Up Out of Dad's WW II Recollection

My father's book about his personal recollection of the Second World War as a guerrilla leader fighting under the U.S flag in the Philippines was released on April 18. Almost on the Carpet  was posthumously published nine months to the day he died last July. As I noted in the foreword I wrote for the book, my siblings and I decided to publish it in order to honor the wish of our father to someday see his copious notes about his personal experiences during the Second World War turned into a book. His goal, he said, was to inform his grandchildren and their children's children about the insanity of war and to encourage anyone else who reads his account to embrace peace instead of conflict.

ALMOST on the Carpet

A Guerilla Leader's Recollection
of the Second World War

Personal vignettes are the hallmark of Almost on the Carpet by Luis T. Centina Jr. who started writing it back in 1971 when he contributed an article of the same title to Philippine Digest. He later expanded it under the title "War Stories: An Intimate Portrait of Courage," which was published in the March 2003 edition of Search, an Augustinian cultural journal issued in Manila. He continued writing in long hand to flesh out details he had not covered in his articles. The result is a book written in conversational style with a standout historical event recalling his accidental meeting with Commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon and the top echelon of the Philippine government at Camp Barrett in La Granja, La Carlota, on Quezon's way to Australia.

Upon the instructions of U.S President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Quezon and high-ranking members of his government were evacuated from the mid-section of the country in Negros island on the heels of the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. It was in mid-March 1942, shortly before the fall of Bataan on the ninth of the following month, when Quezon and his party, arrived unannounced at Camp Barrett to confer with Col. Roger B. Hilsman, the American island commander of Negros, before

Eliodoro F. Ramos Sr.

Luis C. Centena Sr.

"Written in conversational style, what stands out in historical terms is his accidental meeting with President Commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon and the top echelon of the Philippine government at Camp Barrett in La Granja, La Carlota, on Quezon's way to Australia." 
heading to Dumaguete to be picked up by PT boat.  From Dumaguete, he was taken to Mindanao from where he was flown to Australia and then to the United States where he headed a government in exile.​

My father, who led the sentries securing the camp perimeter, ordered a guard to puncture the front tire of the presidential car with a bayonet when it refused to halt. What follows is an exciting retelling of events recorded for posterity probably for the first time. Was he punished or rewarded for doing his duty is a question answered by reading this book.

Familial memories bubble up in my father's book. He sketched a sympathetic portrait of my paternal grandfather, Luis Sr., who was always somewhat of a distant figure in the lives of my father's children, including myself, on account of his physical distance from Negros where my father had chosen to raise his family. An itinerant land surveyor, my grandfather was from Calinog, Iloilo, where he lived almost all his life. When most of Iloilo province was virgin lands, my grandfather worked for the biggest geodetic engineering company in Iloilo and surveyed lands throughout the province for development by the American colonial administration. He did this for a living from the 1920s up to the outbreak of the Second World War. 

The great divide that separated us from our grandfather was represented by the Guimaras Strait, a yawning body of water between Negros and Panay islands. On a good day, it takes a day's journey from Calinog to our place and vice versa by land and by sea. Plane travel became available in the 1960s, but it was short-lived due to lack of demand.

Luis T. Centina Jr.

According to my father, Grandpa was a generous parent who made sure he provided for his children's education until he was forced to sell their rice lands to support a growing family. He was thrice married, and by the time my father graduated high school, he and his two sisters by his father's first wife had additional siblings: three half brothers and two half sisters: Pedro, Lirio, Carmen, Luvisminda and Osias. In the 1960s, my grandfather lost his second wife, Aunt Elise, and was married for the third time to Aunt Patti. Their union was blessed with two beauful daughters: Maria Luisa and Divina.

Besides my father, Grandpa's other children by his first wife included two daughters, Aunts Maria and Lourdes, and an elder son, Eliseo who died at ten years of age due to a bacterial infection. Tiay (aunt) Lourdes  retired as a schoolteaher and then joined her two daughters in Australia where she died several years ago. Tiay Maria joined a huge Christian migration to Mindanao after the Second World War, along with her husband with whom she had two children. She died there twenty years ago.

​In his book, my father described Grandpa Luis as having "an easy-going personality and was a good public speaker. Politicians brought him to their campaign sorties to warm up the crowd with Hiligaynon poetry known as binalaybay. He told funny anecdotes which his audiences ate up, and they went away entertained and feeling like they had learned something new. But since my father had sold our rice lands and other properties my mother left behind, the burden of supporting a big family increasingly became unsustainable for him, the sole bread winner in the family. Financial difficulties put my dream of becoming an engineer on hold, and I was forced to look for a job." The change in their family fortune was responsible for my father's own personal quest for his place in the sun. It led him to Negros island, where he was caught by the Second World War during which he met and fell in love with and got married to my mother.

He was a lover of education who appreciated knowledge and drilled its importance into the minds of his children. The reason his last name is spelled with a "te" instead of with a "ti" is that my father, upon coming into his own, decided to use a variant spelling of the family name. My grandfather's love of education has yielded good fruits as evidenced by the success of his children and grandchildren now scattered across the globe. ​ 

Eliodoro Ramos Sr. (third from right, standing) with his American high school classmates and their American principal (crica 1916).

​My aunts and uncles did well in school, with four of them graduating valedictorian from Calinog high school, a record which stands to this day as no other family has produced four valedictorians at the same school. Tioy (uncle) Lirio entered a diocesan seminary to become a Catholic priest and had been ordained a deacon before he left the seminary. Among his contemporaries in the same seminary who rose to prominence was the late Jaime Cardinal L. Sin. Tioy Pedro became chief chemist of the Philippine National Red Cross after completing college on a sports scholarship as a chess champion.​Tiay Carmen was widowed at a young age when her husband, a Manila police officer, died in the line of duty. With three young childlren, she went back to work at a hotel. One day, she met Kevin Roberts, an Australian, who was visiting Manila. They fell in love and  got married, and she joined him in Singapore, where she raised her children before relocating with them to Australia. She now lives in retirement with Uncle Kevin in Perth. After losing her only daugher Zita to lung cancer a few years ago, Aunt Carmen raised her orphaned grandchilren. Her two sons, Vic and Ren, are successful businessmen in Manila.

Tiay Lusviminda founded a Christian missionary school in a Manila suburb, which she managed until she succumbed to cancer in the mid-1990s. Their youngest, Osias, became a college professor in Aklan province, where the world-famous Boracay beach is found. Maria Luisa and Divina, grandpa's daughters by Aunt Patti, have settled in Australia and in Italy finding their own bliss in those countries. If you thread a needle in their individual journey towards success, my grandpa's influence will be the strong fabric that binds them together. He died at the age of ninety-four in 1984.

​The life of my maternal grandfather, on the other hand, was not much of a secret to us his grandchildren inasmuch as some of us grew up around him until he died of a massive heart attack in 1966. Eliodoro Ramos Sr. served in the U.S. Navy in Annapolis, Maryland, aboard the now decomissioned U.S.S. Reina Mercedes in th early 1920s. While in the U.S. Navy, he was deployed to the Panama Canal, and he enrolled himself in law courses through correspondence school. He was a descendant of Col. Quintin Salas, a revolutionary hero against Spain in Panay. Quintin was the last Filipino military leader to surrender to the Americans in the Visayas, effectively ending military resistance in that part of the Philippines to the new colonial power at the turn of the last century. A sister of Quintin Salas was the paternal grandmother of Eliodoro. Among his cousins were Ambassador Roberto Salas Benedicto and Rafael M. Salas, the first director of the United Nations Population Fund and former Executive Secretary of President Ferdinand Marcos. A sugarcane and coffee farmer, Grandpa Eli  was drawn to the arts. His editorial cartoons appeared in the Philippine Free Press and put him at odds with some powerful politicians in Negros whom he lampooned.