Pagsanjan misses siren call to class
But gradual deterioration over the years has silenced the iconic musical siren of Francisco Benitez Memorial School (FBMS) on San Isidro Hill, an aural landmark that has become as much a symbol of Pagsanjan town as the renowned Pagsanjan Falls and its historic stone arch.
While preparing for another school year, FBMS officials and alumni have started a campaign to restore the musical siren, which broke down a year ago.
“It is very important for us to have it working again. It’s now our priority project because we know how close it is to the heart of the Pagsanjeño,” Amada Fernandez, the principal, told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
“We have two options now: Repair it or buy a new one. [If] … it can be restored, we will restore it because we know it’s the sound that the Pagsanjeños grew up with,” Fernandez added.
The musical siren was installed in 1956, a decade after the town began to rebuild from the devastation of World War II. It was a gift from a native, Cesar Lanuza, who served as a member of the Board of Investments and was part of the Philippine Reparation Mission to Tokyo.
Lanuza brought the siren to his hometown straight from Japan, said school officials.
FBMS, which was built during the American occupation 104 years ago and was once known as “Little Baguio,” was the first school in Laguna to have a siren as bell, they said.
A giant music box of sorts that plays a single-tone melody using a preset pattern of notes, the siren was installed atop the main building, overlooking the town and adjacent localities. It is set on or off by pressing a single button.
3 times a day
The sound, an untitled yet familiar melody, echoed around and even beyond town three times daily—6:30 a.m., 7 a.m. and 1 p.m.—letting students and residents know the exact time of day.
“It developed punctuality among the children. … Since it stopped working, children would arrive late in class because they had no signal,” said Lupe Lubuguin, a former principal who remains active in school and civic affairs.
“Before, it was synchronized, you saw everybody walking to school. During my time, I would start crying when I would hear the first bell and I was still at home,” the alumna added.
Tirso Tanyag, a utility worker at the school for 35 years now, recalled how wear and tear took its toll on the siren’s delicate wiring.
“I do maintenance once a week. Sometimes, rats would bite into wires and we would replace the simple parts. I would also put oil to keep it working properly,” he said.
Tanyag noted that the sound was never the same since its last major repair more than a decade ago.
“It wasn’t as loud and the notes would change from time to time. Sometimes, the sound would break off,” he said.
To support the siren’s restoration and cover other repairs, the school held its first grand alumni homecoming last month and raised some P200,000 in donations from an estimated 1,500 alumni belonging to 37 batches, Fernandez said.
School officials are looking for an expert who can restore the siren’s melodic call.
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