Ah! Money! Money!
May 10, 1947
Men, Women, children, Aye, Even the Educated Professionals of Northern Luzon are Afflicted with the Hunt-For-Hidden Treasure craze: the Burning Desire to Become Rich Quick.
By Ramon Silen
Agoo, La Union
IF you see a group of men with picks and shovels and crowbars at dusk way up North these days, one to ten they are not on their way home from their places of work, but ten to one they are on their way to search for hidden money. The hunt-for-hidden-treasure bug has so terribly bitten the people that even women and children spend sleepless nights digging here and there in earnest search.
The craze started way back in the latter part of 1945, two weeks after the liberation of Baguio from the Japs. Two GIs came down to the lowlands, with their jeep loaded with boxes, to visit the girls whom they had befriended before their final and successful drive into the summer capital. The women thought the boxes were stuffed with eats and drinks as had always been the case before when American friends visited them. But they were in for one of the biggest surprises in all their lives.
The boxes were taken to the house of a young lady by the name of Itang. After a few minutes the other girl friends of the GIs came in. When the boxes were finally opened black and moldy objects greeted their eyes. The girls looked at each other questioningly. Frank, one of the Americans, picked up one of the objects, and let it fall on the wooden floor, with a clinking sound. “Ah! Money! Money!” chorused the girls. In no time at all the girls each had a handful of the coins. With their bill-like fingernails they scraped off the rust and mold on each coin. They were all silver pesos!
Tarnished Silver Pesos
The GIs exchanged the coins for paper bills at the rate of P100 rusty and moldy silver coins to P60 paper money. All the women in the barrio ripped open the seams of their skirts, and brought out all their paper bills which they had successfully hidden from the Japs. Yet the soldiers were able to dispose of only one box of their coins out of the five they had. They drove farther south to Pangasinan to “visit” their other friends. While the people were still busy cleaning their coins one of their neighbors, a young man named Mateo, arrived home from Baguio. He at once rented the big house of Lacay Itong, the next house to Itang’s, for P100 a month. He converted it into the soon famous and successful “Bamboo Bar” in barrio Cadael between the towns of Aringay and Agoo. The formerly poor Mateo was now a rich man. Reliable sources stated that while he was scampering for shelter in the outskirts of Baguio he fell into a hole, which turned out to be a gasoline drum half-filled with silver coins. That was the source of his original capital.
Several groups of young men hurried up to Baguio to try their luck, but they all returned home empty handed.
Hardly had they settled down when another story of the same kind revived their burning desire to become rich quick: One late afternoon a GI drove his six-by-six truck to a schoolhouse in Camp Spencer, Luna, La Union, and parked it near two gasoline drums supposedly filled with rusty nails. A group of schoolboys on their way home saw the truck and swarmed around it. The driver called the bigger boys in the bunch to help him load the drums onto the truck. That done the boys waited for the American to give them some cigarettes, candy, or chewing gum. He dug inside one of the drums with his two hands, jumped off the truck, handed something to the boys, and then drove off.
The boys could hardly believe their eyes. He had given them tarnished silver pesos.
He Keeps On Digging
Here is another story, still hot from the grape-vine-telegraph: Three high school boys with a map, crowbar, candle, and matches went inside their school grounds one night. The map, the story goes, was given to one of them by a Jap PW whose friendship he had won in the early liberation days. By following the directions in the map their first strike with the crowbar made them richer by P15,000. Half of the amount was in PNB notes.
The following story came from the fisherfolk of Cabaruan, a barrio of Sto. Tomas of the same province. On a moonless night two men were idling away the young evening hours along the seashore. A ship at sea was “gunning” its searchlight into the skies over the land as it sailed toward the shore. The LCT beached and a group of men with shovels alighted from it. They dug in the sand near by. After ten minutes they struck a gasoline drum. they brought it out, gave P100 to each of the two men who had helped them, and then sailed away.
The teaching profession has also a tale of its own although not as encouraging as the others. A teacher in the town of Naguilian, La Union was pruning his fruit trees one morning. He saw a small piece of wood with Japanese characters on its nailed to one of the trees. He invited his confidantes and showed them the sign. None of them could decipher the Jap characters.
He forgot all about it for some time. But when an American friend of his dropped in at his home for a visit he remembered the thing. Both of them went to the tree where the sign was. After reading it again and again the visitor offered P45,000 in cold cash to his host to allow him to dig the buried treasure in his yard. After getting the treasure he would return the land to him free. The poor teacher rejected the offer thinking that he would do the digging and searching himself.
The once flat yard of the teacher is now full of deep and ugly holes. He keeps on digging and digging, but the treasure is as illusive as that one at the foot of the rainbow.
This story from Sta. Maria, Pangasinan, is a most discouraging one. Six men in that town struck a land mine while searching for buried treasure, and all six of them were blown into bits.
Only a week ago I met one of my friends, a principal of a big central school. He was all frowns. I asked him what the matter was.
“To hell with those crazy people!” he muttered. “One of the cement posts of our school gate is now tilting at thirty degrees, and it’s about to fall down because its bottom was excavated last night. All the breadfruit, orange, cayamita, and avocado trees in our school yard have been uprooted. If I only knew their names I’d sue them in court for trespassing on and damaging public property.”
The following morning I was with a group of professionals chit-chatting in front of the municipal hall in a northern town where my principal friend was assigned. Soon a lawyer joined our group.
“How was the hunt last night?” a doctor in the bunch asked the lawyer.
“Well, no luck so far. But, who among you can say that Engineer C (one of those in the crowd who was smiling and nodding with approbation) and I may not strike a drumful of money tonight?” he challenged.
Yes, Gentle Reader, even the educated professionals are very much at it. And worse. You bet!