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*By Pia Regina Zamora 

How do you call a 73-year old guy who never finished elementary, had two failed marriages prior to his present love life, but has developed a number of machines borne out of inherent intelligence? You can call him anything you want but for conversation’s sake, let’s give him the name Senor.                                                        

When he was young, Señor Bonilla never liked to go to school. He would cut classes and just go anywhere. With that, he was hated by his teacher. But according to him, there was really this incident that made him decide to stop school. In their classroom, there was the teacher’s platform.  With the growing dislike by his teacher for him and vice-versa,  he bore a large hole into the platform and covered it with a thick cloth. As expected, his teacher stepped unknowingly into the trap and fell on her backside.  Her skirt rose up to her thighs, giving everyone  a full view.   The whole class burst out laughing and Señor, of course, had the loudest.

When he went home, he told all his friends about the prank and remarked, “Ay hala! Maestra namon katsa ang panty!. (Oh no! Our teacher wears a canvas  undergarment!”) Her teacher eventually heard about it and whipped him really hard.  Senor accepted the brutality wholeheartedly; he was just too happy to finally have the reason to quit school.

 Anyway, Señor left school after fourth grade and helped in the farm. He was very keen in observing the best planting practices for rice and other crops.   During his teenage years, he found work in a furniture shop in Mambusao, Capiz. He would make wooden cabinets and peddle them along the streets of nearby barangays. But because income was not good, he left his job and tried his luck, as everybody else does, in Manila. He did odd jobs and even ventured into photography,  taking pictures  people for souvenirs.  He did several jobs other than those already mentioned that listing them all would fill the whole page.

With every vocation came a new place to visit.  He had gone to Mindanao, several parts of Visayas, and of course, Luzon. He called all these escapades of his as “lagaw.” This would explain all his flings and his two failed marriages which were brought about by his adamant ability to hop from place to place.

When Senor came back to Iloilo, he came to work in a factory in Janiuay. And because being observant was innate in him, he studied  how the “galingan” mechanisms of the Japan-made machines worked. His observation led to the completion of his invention. But prior to his major invention, he already had previous experiences with metals. In the year 1960, alongside his job at the factory, he started making ice cream carts for the Morning Star Ice Cream, Star of the Sea Ice Cream and Dairy Gold Milk

His inquisitive and workaholic nature led him to develop  Johnny’s Ice Cream.   He learned the art of  making  ice cream with the use of  gata or coconut milk  as a key ingredient. It was in the arduous task of continuously mixing the ingredients  that he came to realize the value of the Japanese-made “galingan.”

Day and night, he would think and dream about it. He thought of all the materials that were needed and the way to piece them together. On that same year, he bought scrap metal and rubber and made the first ever locally made mechanized ice cream mixing machine in Iloilo city. It proved to be  much more efficient than the usual mano-mano style of mixing.

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Johnny’s Ice Cream benefited from his invention. After this positive turnout, orders for the machine came pouring in. Several came from Calinog, Calumpang, Sta. Barbara, and even as far as island of Negros.  Aside from ice cream machines, Senor Bonilla also fabricated 14 processional “caros” for the religious celebrations of Calumpang.

In the year 1968, his dynamic lifestyle started to lie low when he began working as a construction worker for the DPWH (Department of Public Work and Highways) in Iloilo. After several promotions, he became the head of the construction unit for the whole province. Four years prior to his promotion, however, he had started, yet another business of his, the Carling Special Ice Cream. 

Everything was going well with Señor until his house and the ice cream factory at Timawa, Iloilo city, was demolished for a road widening project. After that fateful day, Carling Ice Cream remained passive but still, hope remained for the entire Bonilla family.

From the year 1987 onwards,  Señor continued making his machines but produced no  ice cream of his own. Finally in 1992, at their new location at Molo Boulevard, Senor Bonilla made a comeback.   Carling Special Ice Cream was peddled once more along the streets of Iloilo City.

At the time of this successful rejuvenation, he also made his last ice cream mixing machine for   Garinfarm.  Since then, he has stopped fabricating his mechanized ice cream machines.  Why? He said, “Tigulang na ko ah. Tak-an na ko.” (I’m already old and I’m tired.)

At present, he stays at home, manages a sari-sari store, a small money lending business, and his Carling’s Ice Cream. He also admires his son, Carlo, for putting up his own ice cream business. As his heyday is over, he now enjoys the comfort that his family gives him and the occasional drinking sessions with his buddies.

As this conversation closes, you are left to answer this: “How do you call a 73-year old guy who never finished elementary, had two failed marriages prior to his present love life, but had produced  a number of machines borne out of inherent intelligence?”  When you say that he is a suave, charismatic and street smart guy with a perfect combination of wit, humor, enthusiasm and determination, you get the jackpot. But laconic humans who always shorten their verbal outbursts, would simply say, “He is one great guy!”

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*Pia Regina Fatima Zamora is second year BS Public Health student of the University of the Philippines Visayas.  She loves to read suspense thrillers and watch them as well.  Email address: tonigiov@yahoo.com