Bohol’s Choice Cuts
By Loy M. Palapos
December 25, 2011
BLAS GARROTE ROMANILLOS
FINDING GOD IN PRISON
Religiosity is a typical Boholano virtue; but finding God may not be the concluding chapter of one’s life. There are those who subjugate themselves to the trimmings of godliness, yet fail to learn the ultimate meaning of existence. On the other hand, there are individuals who have become crosses borne on some other people’s shoulders, pass through turbulent paths, experience hellish abominations, cause others hell but, like Dimas, the thief and criminal, find their heaven amidst public denunciation.
Like Blas, the mischievous boy who used to tread the pathways of De La Paz, Cortes, Bohol. Let’s hear his story. “My classmate was erasing the blackboard at the De La Paz Elementary School when, suddenly and without warning, he turned to me and shook off the eraser’s dust on my chest. I was then wearing a neatly pressed Barong Tagalog. I ran out of the classroom, got a scythe – the one used to cut grasses – and hack his arm. I was in grade two.”
That gruesome incident started his notoriety. In the succeeding years, fistfights punctuated every facet of his youth. One, in grade five, he did not go to school with some of his classmates. The next day, they found themselves in the municipal jail. Upon their release the next day, they stoned the school, but were caught and again jailed. “That started my on-and-off affair with prison, and with all things that led me there: fights, thievery, alcohol, and drugs.”
In high school, coming late and cutting classes were the usual fare for his “barkada.” One time, the guard punished the group by making them push 25-centavo coins with their noses, through a rough pavement, causing their noses to bruise and bleed, “that made me really angry – angry enough to make me stop schooling.”
From that point on, he and his friends were almost always out drinking, and having pot sessions. “Just for fun,” he recalls now. They stole from their neighbors. They got jailed when caught; but after serving their term, they were back again in their own ways of plunder. He became known for his temper, at the Christ the King Academy. People feared him. Mayor Pabotoy even said, “There’s no hope that Blas will change.”
With his infamy in his hometown reaching obnoxious heights, he sailed for Mindanao. He worked at daytime, selling fish in the public market, and studied at night. But the love of wayward life was stronger. Again, he dropped out from his classes. A friend enticed him to join the Army. He trained, but it did not last long. He went back to school with his teachers convinced that he had brains and, despite the mercurial moods, he finished the secondary curriculum.
He entered college and took Agricultural Engineering, at the University of Bohol leading to a degree in Architecture. It was not smooth-sailing, with Blas involved in a gang again. He was back to his old life, until another gruesome event happened.
“One time, I heard that a friend of mine mocked my barkada during a mahjong session. To me, that was a big sin. At that time, I was high on cough syrup and marijuana, as we drank beer mixed with Corex and, in my rage, I lost control of myself, got hold of a knife, and stabbed him.” He almost killed the guy. He had to flee.
The authorities caught up with him and he was once more placed behind bars. He was later brought to the BDRC (Bohol Detention and Rehabilitation Center). Ironically, his father was a staff at the Center. He stayed there for 2 years.
Then he was transferred to the New Bilibid Prison in Muntinlupa, where he was sentenced 4 to 6 years and one day imprisonment. The prison authorities brought him to the Minimum Security compound, then to the living-out section. There, he was tasked to apprehend those attempting to escape.
He and his companions decided to escape. Through guts and luck they succeeded in the scheme. He went to his relatives house in Vito Cruz, and told them he was released from jail. They believed him.
Aware of the long arms of law, he speeded to Bicol. Whenever he saw a Church, he went inside and prayed, or heard Mass. He went to Bulacan and worked in a salt bed and fishpond; a hard life, but it was there that his dream of becoming an Architect resurrected itself. He remembered that the stabbing incident happened 11 days before his final exams in college. He enrolled in a Correspondence Course in Architecture, through the help of a sister abroad.
In-depth introspection became a habit, especially during lull-hours. He made it a point to read the Bible before he studied his lessons, and wrote down significant Bible verses he encountered. Attending prayer meetings became more often, and hearing the Mass was becoming regular. One morning, while feeding the prawns in a pond, he sang “Ang mga ibon na lumilipad ay mahal ng Diyos,” and he saw birds perching on his banca, as if listening to his song. It became a daily sight. Even as a fugitive he felt God’s presence.
But he was restless and desired to pursue his dream and go back to Manila to study. In Manila, he trained as a Security Guard, but when the exam was given, he failed. The psychiatrist said, “You’re very intelligent, but I wonder why you didn’t pass. My recommendation is for you to take the exam at Camp Crame.” Why would a fugitive go to Camp Crame?
His sisters arrived from abroad, and Blas joined them in a trip back to Bohol. Aboard a ship, a boy woke him up and handed him a note written on a cigarette wrapper, which warned him of the impending recapture. Getting ready to jump, he told his uncle to just stay, but before he was able to dive into the sea, soldiers with Armalites subdued him.
He was incarcerated in the Tagbilaran City Jail, and was transferred to BDRC, then back to the New Bilibid Prison at the Maximum Security compound, where he was put inside a “bartolina” for a 4-month isolation. People, and even his relatives, thought he was a goner. His ordeal turned out to be a blessing. “God caught me off-guard and led me to a new life.”
The repentant fugitive turned to God. He joined prayer meetings in prison. One day, an international Evangelist inspired him to righteousness. He was specially touched by Joshua 1:8, which says, “Keep this book of law on your lips. Recite it by day and night that you may observe lawfully all that is written in it; then you will successfully attain you goal.”
One day, he had an argument with an inmate about the Virgin Mary. He insisted that Jesus would not have been able to save mankind if it wasn’t for Mama Mary. That night he had a vivid dream of the Virgin Mother. When he woke up, he saw Virgin Mary by the window…smiling. He wrote this experience on his diary and went back to sleep.
One night, the inmates had an overnight Bible study in the Chapel. At 3:00 o’clock in the morning, while he prayed with his hands raised, a very cool air drifted through the Chapel. Then he saw Jesus, and heard His words in his heart: “Don’t use your hands to do evil again. Follow me.” This episode changed his life completely. He became a free man inside the prison walls. All his vices disappeared.
Unknown to him, his sister was attending prayer meetings in Makati. In the last week of October, she made an audacious prayer for his release from jail. Exactly a week later, on November 12, 1990, he was granted conditional pardon because of good conduct. From the Department of Justice, he learned that his release papers were approved on October 22, 1990, at about the same time his sister prayed for him.
He went back to his hometown and asked for forgiveness from all people he had hurt, especially the man he nearly killed. He found work through El Shaddai, not as an Architect but as a Disciple and Preacher. He criss-crossed the country preaching the Word of God. “Yahweh El Shaddai came into my life and made me believe I was still worth something in His eyes.”
Blas Garrote Romanillas was born in De La Paz, Cortes, Bohol on June 16, 1960. He graduated in 1992 at Yuri Arts in Makati City, specializing in Charcoal Painting. He was once a Sacristan of Fr. Martin Pimentel.
He is married to Rowena Sumande-Romanillas, from Bacolod City, with whom he has 4 children: Blaise Samuel (16), Ben Joseph (14), David Peter (13), and Emmanuel (11). As an Evangelist he has been assigned in Tagbilaran, Bacolod, Davao, Cotabato, Sorsogon, Lucena, Iligan, Metro Manila, San Fernando, Naga, Sarangani, Cebu, Siquijor, Cavite, Batangas, Dumaguete, Bayawan. Laoag, Canada and Hongkong.
His father was Aniceto Peña Romanillos, from Loon, Bohol, who worked as a Laboratory Material Testing Staff of the Bohol Provincial Government. His mother, Cresencia Garrote-Romanillos, was a Comelec Registrar of Antequera, Bohol.
They were 11 siblings in the family. Maria Eva G. Cottrell used to work with POPCOM, and now resides in London, England. Maria Ana R. Redulla was a Nurse. Ramon was a former Security Guard of Bohol. Maria Luz used ti be a Teacher, and now is based in Dubai, UAE. Pius was a former Municipal employee of Cortes, and is now working in Abu Dhabi. Pedro Leo is a Civil Engineer in Dubai. Ruel and Rey Feliceto used to worked also in Dubai. The youngest, Aniceto, passed away in 1971.
Brother Blas Pondoc Garrote Romanillos is an International Disciple and Preacher. He is also a Designer and Painter. He found God during his darkness moments… in prison.
(Website: loypalapos.com; Email address: email@example.com; Contact #: 09498345957)