O, Colonel! My Colonel!

My apologies, I could not resist   tweaking Walt Whitman’s immortal poem, “O, Captain! My Captain!” which my brother and his batch used to recite for declamation contests at the Ateneo. My Colonel is Laureano G. Cariño, born in Biñan. Laguna in 1911, 20 years after the poet Whitman.  He married Loida C. Almeda, a pharmacist like my grandmother, with whom he had six children.

When Col. Laureano Cariño rang the bell of our house in San Juan, he was already 53 years old. It was 1964 and I had just been crowned Miss Philippines after winning a contest sponsored by the City of Manila, a fund-raiser for Boys Town and Girls Home. Dressed in a spotless khaki uniform, clean cut with wavy salt and pepper hair, he introduced himself, smiled cheerfully at my youngest brother, and asked if he could talk to my mother.

He introduced himself as the commanding officer of GHQ-AFP Band, the official band of the Armed Forces of the Philippines. He was inviting me to play the nose flute with them during one of their Sunday concerts at the Luneta, before I left for the Miss International Beauty contest at Long Beach, California. My mother and I were perplexed, yet honored by that singular invitation.

Like magic, he transposed “Leron, Leron Sinta” and “Bahay Kubo” so I could play it using the 5 notes of my nose flute, and with the accompaniment of   the AFP band. He also taught me how to sing, “California, Here I Come,” a fitting finale, he insisted because I was headed for Long Beach. Colonel Carino would come every morning for about two weeks, with a younger soldier who played the guitar. His patience was bottomless which made me feel apprehensive, if not guilty. What if I were to come home  empty-handed, without the coveted beauty title?   I always told the colonel I would be so ashamed for wasting his time and wearing out his patience. He would smile; look me in the eye and say, “Mananalo ka!”  He never failed to bring boxes of putong Biñan, to the delight of my siblings. To this day, I have not found putong Biñan as delicious as what the colonel used to give us.

That concert at the Luneta was  my apotheosis, so to speak, the pinnacle of my life as a beauty queen.  No other Miss Philippines, Miss International, or Miss Universe has ever been invited to perform with the GHQ-AFP band at a vast and historical public park.   That was what I said during my  “testimony” last 4 July when the city of Biñan invited me to the unveiling of Col. Laureano G. Carino’s marker, in front of the new city hall. My colonel  passed away in 1979, when I had already fled to Mexico because of martial law.

I had the pleasure of meeting the Cariño family, among them the colonel’s grandchildren, Anita and Cecilia CarinoSen and Larry Almeda Carino, and his great grandchildren.  Students of Santa Catalina and Lake Shore Colleges sang their school hymns, which were composed by the colonel. At the tender age of 8, he was already part of the Banda Cariño, his father’s; he played the triangle. At 12, he was acclaimed as “a boy coronet prodigy.” He was sent to the University of the Philippines in 1933, was a pupil of Maestros Nicanor Abelardo and Antonio J. Molina and obtained a degree in composition and conducting. In 1937, he joined the military service, organized the First Infantry Band of Camp Murphy (now Aguinaldo) and joined the regular forces in 1941. During the Japanese occupation, he hid all the musical instruments in various houses in Biñan as he did not want to play for the Japanese. As a result, he was incarcerated in Calamba, Laguna.

For five decades, Colonel Cariño was the undisputed musician, conductor, composer, and music professor of the Philippine Army. Whenever he discovered incipient musical talent among the soldiers, he would train them patiently while encouraging them to finish high school and pursue a college degree.

Unlike Whitman’s Captain who had “fallen cold and dead” after a fearful trip, Colonel Cariño and the Army band won “bouquets and ribbon’d wreaths” here and abroad. Significantly, he was given the Presidential Award for the Best Coronet Soloist in 1953, by Pres. Elpidio Quirino. In 1967, Pres. Ferdinand Marcos honored him with the Presidential Award of Merit for Cultural Advancement. And in 1968, he received the Edwin Franko Goldman Memorial Award from the American Bandmasters Association.

At 7 a.m last 4 July, Biñan folk began to gather in front of the city hall, including Mr. Pedro Beato, the young guitarist who used to accompany the colonel to our house in San Juan; we took selfies for posterity.  Members of the Cariño family arrived, the ladies of all ages, elegant in embroidered pina-seda. Mayor Arman Dimaguila drove up  the driveway and we all walked to the marker for the unveiling ceremonies, after which we proceeded to the People’s Center for the program.  That was where I gave my “testimony.”

Unfortunately, I could not stay for lunch because I had to be back in Makati by 11:30, for a previous engagement; I was hosting a reunion of my ex-classmates. I felt I would regret it all my life if I had not woken up at the crack of dawn to be present at my colonel’s unveiling.  Before leaving, one of his daughters, I think it was Ramona, took me to the dining hall where there were framed pictures of the colonel on each table. “There is one with you, playing the nose flute, “ she said, “Let’s look for it, I want you to take it home.”