Much has been said about how to live longer. But 102-year-old World War 2 (WW2) veteran and Bataan Death March survivor, Captain Alberto “Tatay Berto” Tuico Orillo has only two secrets: avoid meat and do not smoke!
Born on Feb. 17, 1919, in Nagcarlan, Laguna, Tatay Berto is the second child and only boy in the family of three children. His father, Mariano Orillo, was a municipal police officer while his mother, Andrea Velasco Tuicom was a housekeeper who passed away when they were still young. (Read: Pope Francis Pays Visit to 90yo Survivor of the Holocaust)
It seemed like longevity really runs in the family as Tatay Berto’s paternal grandmother, whom he fondly called Andang, and elder sister, Rosalina Orillo-Cortezano both lived their lives well until the age of 101. Araceli passed away at 90.
Talking about his diet, Tatay Berto recalls his younger years back in Nagcarlan. “We only eat nilagang pako (steamed fiddlehead fern) and laing (taro leaves in coconut milk, a Bicolano dish) with fried kabasi (gizzard shad),” he tells My Pope Philippines.
“We get coconut and firewood from the farm. We only eat meat when my father brings us. Celi (referring to his late younger sister, Araceli Orillo Arone) looked healthier because she lived with our father,” he said in Filipino. (Read: Want a happy, healthy life? Experts suggest eating the rainbow!)
Tatay Berto also admitted that he used to smoke as an adult, but when he retired, he quit smoking and drinking entirely. He also seldom ate meat, as he learned that meat has an ingredient or chemical that is poisonous to the body — a fact that he discovered while he was still working for a food and beverage company.
His Younger Years
When he was young, Tatay Berto used to be an altar boy until high school. In college, he studied in Sta. Cruz, Laguna, but only got to finish the third year because the war already erupted in a nearby town. To make use of his free time, Tatay Berto worked for a slipper’s factory and furniture shop where he would get 20 cents to 30 pesos a day.
At the age of 20, he was recruited by the government to undergo six-month military training in Guagua, Pampanga. He later joined the Philippine Constabulary and got promoted to private first class. He was later inducted to the United States Army Forces in the Far East Liberation Army when Pearl Harbor in Hawaii was attacked on Dec. 8, 1941.
Bataan Death March
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese quickly invaded much of southeast Asia. And as it turned out, the combined American-Filipino army was not enough to defeat the Japanese forces. After months of fierce fighting, the allied forces surrendered and the Bataan Death March followed.
In April 1942, the Japanese forced about 76,000 captured Filipino and American soldiers to march across the Bataan Peninsula— from Mariveles to San Fernando and from Capas to Tarlac. Tatay Berto was among those who took part in this infamous event.
“We slept like sardines. Sometimes we get drenched by the urine of our dying comrade who slept beside us. When they die, we let their bodies dry in the open. When the pile reaches 20, we would bury them all together in a deep well,” Tatay Berto shared. (Read: What we can learn from the heroes of Araw ng Kagitingan)
Luckily, he kept a canteen cup of water where he can sip just enough to wet his dry lips or throat. Apart from clean water, he said that it was his prayers and faith in God that helped him survive the ordeal.
By March 1945, Manila was liberated. It was also around this time when then-23-year-old Tatay Berto met the beautiful 22-year-old Constancia Arbilo at a dance party. They got married and were blessed with seven children.
When Tatay Berto retired from the service with a rank of a guerilla captain, he opened his own store and copra business, but they didn’t flourish. So, he decided to work for a food and beverage company in Manila for 20 years.
In recognition of his military service during WW2, Alberto was granted US citizenship in 1992 at the age of 72. But after seven years, he decided to go back to the Philippines from homesickness as his wife couldn’t be with him. Constancia died on November 5, 2012, at the age of 90 from illness. (Read: Couple Shares What Makes a Relationship Simple and Easy)
At present, Tatay Berto is living with his three children. He prays that this pandemic will end soon so he can walk outside the house and smell the fresh air again.