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My First-Ever Failing Grade and the Fatal Puerto Galera Trip


But even this was to prove problematical, at least for me personally. Sir Cris wanted us to submit stuffed animals to add to his collection at the Biology laboratory. This presented two problems. First, we each had to kill an animal, something that I was loathe to do. Second, we had to inject it with formaldehyde and submit it mounted on a piece of wood for display at the laboratory. My Mom would have nothing of the formaldehyde, so effectively she settled the conundrum for me.

In other words, I would not be submitting a stuffed animal to make up for the blank quizzes that had I submitted. I was not worried about failing Biology because my grades in the first two grading periods were high; and I was certain that I would also be able to breeze through the fourth quarter without any problems.

But this third grading period, I already knew, was going to be the first and only time in my life that I would receive a failing grade while I was in Basic Education. Sir Cris certainly didn’t disappoint and gave me a 69. My only concern was that I had broken my parents’ “no failure” policy at home. I kept hedging when either my Mom or my Dad would wonder out loud why they had not seen my report card yet.

In fact, my parents did not see my report card again until after the end of the school year, when as expected I passed Biology with plenty to spare despite the 69 of the third quarter. Both my parents took it all in stride, and my Mom was particularly philosophical after I reminded her that she wouldn’t let me buy any formaldehyde.

Incidentally, the collection of fetuses that would become a fixture at the Biology laboratory was submitted by my classmate Vicente “Dunol” Magsino Jr. as his project for this same make-up work that Sir Cris gave us. Dunol’s family owned the Magsino hospital uptown and the fetuses were likely from their patients.

Perhaps, all my classmates and I will forever remember Biology and our junior year for that unfortunate incident at Puerto Galera, where all third year classes had gone in August or September to examine the marine ecosystems at the lagoon close to the town. We got to Puerto Galera without a hitch, but the examination of the coral beds had to be aborted even before we got started.

First of all, more than a hundred students and a few adults were loaded onto two outrigger boats. Many of us in the first boat could see that the second boat was already badly overloaded. So overloaded, in fact, that many students perched themselves on the roof of the boat’s cabin.

In hindsight, perhaps this was the sort of field trip that was always bound to go awry. An examination of beachside coral beds would have been a hundred-fold safer. At Puerto Galera, the chosen coral reef was about a kilometer or two from the wharf and could only be reached by taking outrigger boats.

Maybe Sir Cris and the stand-in Principal, Brother Bong, who had accompanied us, should have known better than to allow the second boat to leave the wharf with students precariously seated on the cabin’s roof. In the end, when the boat capsized a couple of hundred meters from the coral colony where it was headed, what caused it to flip over was – or so we heard from those on that second boat – one of the chaperone teachers panicking when the boat started to tip to one side and jumping into the water.

This started a chain reaction, and as the other students on the roof jumped into the water as well, the boat lost its equilibrium and capsized. Three people died in that accident, but probably the most remarkable thing was that all the students were for all intents and purposes unscathed.

The fatalities included Miss Balbastro, the Secretary to the Principal who came along as one of the chaperones; and Sir Cris’ landlady – who we heard had gone along because of the fresh fish – and her little girl.

Meanwhile, word that reached Lipa was that it was the inter-island vessel that took us to Puerto Galera instead of one outrigger boat that had capsized. The following day when I was safely back home, my father took me aside and quietly told me that he had not told my Mom about the incident; and that he was fretting about what he would tell her if it turned out that I was among the fatalities.


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