Thursday, April 2, 2015

On the trail with numbers, dates and stories


Part of the work that I do involves investigative reporting. In my line of work, numbers, dates and stories provide rich trails of information that can lead to conclusions of different kinds.

Taken collectively, they can be the highway towards the most coveted truth. Because in more ways than one, truth-seeking can be a very arduous process especially when you are trying to dig data and memories that date more than a hundred years back.

That is why I have much admiration for historians like Greg Hontiveros of Butuan and my own sister- in- law Dr. Ikin Amores, an Oxford socio-anthropologist, who have made the study of history and culture their life’s work.

As for this little personal research project commissioned by my mother, I have started plotting relevant dates and numbers which may have a bearing on the identity of our Juan Atega. Alongside these figures are questions which I hope can be answered through personal inquiries and even more research.

Some of the hypotheses here actually open the discussion on the Juan Atega lineage and may lead to knowing why his name does not figure much in Atega genealogy.

*  Padre Pedro Garcia de la Virgen delos Martires was born on September 1, 1840 in Ateca, Zaragosa, Spain. He joined the Recollects in June 3, 1860 when he was just 20 years old. He was sent to Butuan four years later in 1864.  He died in Cebu on December 1883 at age 43.

Padre Garcia converted entire tribes of Manobos in the hinterlands of Tungao and Antongalon. He was said to own vast tracts of land from Cabadbaran to Carmen in Agusan del Norte.  He must have done so by ‘marrying’ into big, landed native families and siring children from their daughters.

Acknowledged as a naturalist by Spanish authorities, Padre Garcia had a special interest in Philippine plants which he studied and featured in European fairs.

My Lolo Belo also told me once about the Ategas’ love for nature – such that he would join his Tio Andres when he would commune with ‘supernatural beings’ in the forests and they would be gone for days in any given year. He never saw his Tio's 'friends', he said, but he surely felt their presence.

It is also worth noting that the Ategas are descendants of proud Manobos and maybe other tribes in Agusan, thus, the inherent love for flora, fauna and the seeming obsession to own land as a birthright.

* Padre Garcia was 25 years old when one of his sons, Andres, was born on November 9, 1865. Andres died on February 19, 1937 at 72 years old.

* Juan Atega was Gobernadorcillo in 1898. This must have been the same period when he was Juez de Primera Istancia or Juez dela Paz. We don’t know yet as to what degree or qualification he had to merit the post.

All I remember was my Lolo Belo telling me that his father was a Judge and he also slept with a book for a pillow. This was after he noticed that I made a pillow out of a novel I was reading then. Lolo Belo also told me that the land from the Butuan Post Office up to the Philippine Offset Printing House used to be theirs. But because he was young, he did not know how the property was sold or ceased to be theirs.

* Another significant date is January 6, 1899 which was the Feast of the Three Kings. This was the same date when Juan Atega, on the advise of a Jesuit priest, Fr. Nebot, hoisted the Pontifical flag of the Vatican in lieu of the Philippine flag (of Aguinaldo). That was the time when the Spanish government was leaving Mindanao and a transition government was put in place with Juan Atega as gobernadorcillo and later on Mayor of Butuan.

My mother said that she was told that her Lolo Andres called the three sons of his brotherJuan, the three kings. This somehow connected the memory of the flag hoisting with the fond moniker for the three boys. I know that linking the  moniker with a significant date is a long shot but the urge to do so is just strong when I wrote this blog entry.

*  The first American Governor of Agusan Frederick Johnson married Remalda/Romualda Atega Calo in 1910. Johnson is credited for introducing sanitation and hygiene to  Butuan natives who were reeling from the cholera epidemic that hit Agusan and other parts of the country in 1902. Born in 1872, Johnson died of cancer in September 13, 1913 in his native Denmark. He was only 41.

Why are Johnson and Calo significant in the quest for Juan Atega? It is because Johnson was the first husband of Juan Atega’s second wife, Remalda Calo.  It is of record that Remalda Calo married Juan Atega (after Johnson) but they had no children. No date was given as to when the union was, but of course, the timing of this second marriage of Juan must have been after 1910. I can only surmise that Juan married Remalda around 1913 or at some date when Johnson had already left the Philippines.

Remalda was Juan's first cousin as their mothers were sisters.

*  In the Ategas’ old tradition, an able brother or male relative takes care of  the interests  and members of the clan as necessary.  I am tempted to wax biblical about this but I think that would be pushing it too much. But anyway, such may have been the case of the union between Andres Atega and Juana Noja. When Andres became concerned that the lovely Juana, first cousin of his wife Roberta, was in a relationship with a foreigner, he pursued her relentlessly. (Reference: Moses Atega blog, Taken from the Water). He reportedly did not want the lovely pioneer of the American school system to simply fall into a foreigner’s hands.  Andres Atega actually sired children among sisters (e.g. Ibays and Curatos), just like his father, Padre Garcia did with Josefa and Canuta Azura Atega.

I can only surmise that Juan Atega must have been concerned with Remalda Atega Calo that he also took on the ‘responsibility’. This must be aside from the fact that Remalda must have been an outstanding beauty who caught the eye of the then widowed Juan.  Juan’s first wife, Anselma Duro, had already died, leaving him with three young sons, namely Conrado, Isabelo and Florencio.

Some online accounts from old folks and other Ategas indicate that in one way or another, Juan took care of Remalda’s children by Frederick Johnson.

Ironically, it was supposedly Andres who suggested taking Juan’s boys under his wing (for them to live at the Dakung Balay) for fear that they might not be treated well by their new madrasta.

I also remember my Lolo Belo telling me that his Tio Andres actually had the power to ferret the truth out of people and make women fall in love with him. He only had to be in the same room with a woman and the magic just happens.

* There is an online account that Juan Atega died in 1938. This was a year after Andres died. There are also accounts that Juan Atega died in 1948. This was two years after one of his grandsons, Oscar Atega, the son of Belo, was born. 

If we were to reconstruct the birth of Juan based on Andres’ timeline, he may have been just a little bit younger or older than Andres. Remember that they were born of sisters whose ages should not have been far from each other. So, Juan must have been in his 70’s also when he died. But if Juan Atega died in 1948, then he may have been younger than Andres.

* If  Isabelo Atega was born on April 1901 (or September 1901 as he says), then he must have been around 12 years old when his father, Juan Atega, remarried and left them to the care of his brother, Andres Atega, at the Dakung Balay where they grew up.


I honestly do not know where this trail will lead me but I am comforted by the fact that little by little, Juan Atega is revealing himself through the power of story.

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