By Alex P. Vidal
“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.” — Harriet Tubman
IT started as a ragtag group of young men who didn’t care about their lives.
When Justice Ramon B. Britanico (mayor of Miag-ao, Iloilo from 1968-1971) spotted them in the public plaza sometime in 1971, the mayor exhorted them to do something about their lives.
“That’s when (Vicente) Bugoy (Molejona) gathered them and named the group as Kilometraje 40,” disclosed Rene Monteclaro, station manager of Radyo Ng Bayan Iloilo.
Moncteclaro, who also hails from Miag-ao, Iloilo, some 40 kilometers southwest of Iloilo City, said the name “Kilometraje 40” was taken from the landmark of “KM 40 SJ 14” near the historic Miag-ao Church where the group gathered regularly.
KM 40 means the distance from the municipality to Iloilo City while SJ 14 is the distance from the municipality to San Joaquin, the last Iloilo municipality going to Antique province.
There are many disputed etymologies for Miag-ao. One of the most popular, and probably the most widely accepted version is that the name of the town was derived from a plant named Miagos or Osmoxylon lineare, a flowering plant from the family Araliaceae that used to grow abundantly in the area when the Spaniards came.
Molejona, who was laid to rest at the Miag-ao Catholic Cemetery on March 9, 2015, was Kilometraje 40’s founding president.
“Among the group’s original members was Jomar, my older brother. From a small group, Kilometraje 40 rose to become a serious organization,” narrated Monteclaro, now 62, who became the group’s president in 1978.
Monteclaro, an ex-seminarian like Molejona, said the group later on welcomed women as members. The males are called the “pinasahi” (rare) while the females are the “pinasulabi” (priority).
They launched the “Kauswagan”, a cultural show and became actively involved in organizing socio-civic cultural activities.
Kilometraje 40 produced “The Legend of Maya and Gao”, a cultural presentation and dance drama.
They also launched the “Mutya kang Miag-ao” beauty contest that became an institution in 1978.
“Our group was non-sectarian, non-political and non-profit,” explained Monteclaro. “We were independent. We raised our own funds. We didn’t realy on others, and we have our own constitution and by-laws.”
Monteclaro said the members considered Molejona, a retired director of the Population Commission (Popcom) before his death on February 22, 2015 as “a mentor and a source of our inspiration.”
“Bugoy was a role model. In Kilometraje 40, so many dreams and projects were made possible. We engaged in interaction. In fact, I learned my master’s degree in management from Kilometraje 40,” Monctelaro said.
Monctelaro added: “We learned so many values from Bugoy. He taught us how to become responsible; how to lead an organization; not to give up.”
During difficulties, Monteclaro said “Bugoy never said harsh words to his people. When his friends approached him and apologized for a wrongdoing, Bugoy would tell them they committed no wrong to him but to the organization. And he was always smiling.”
Monteclaro continued: “Because of Bugoy, we didn’t afraid to accept responsibilities. He simply had a knack of simplifying things. He would always tell us, ‘kaya natin yan’ (we can do it).”
Former president Bernard Montealto said the group became inactive for awhile and regrouped when Molejona died.
(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo)