The incredible journey of Negros’ most famous tour guide 2
Roger Lucero, one of Negros' well-loved tour guides. Photo from his Facebook page
Culture

From sakada to janitor to TV star: The incredible journey of Negros’ most famous tour guide

Behind the jokes Roger Lucero likes to tell about the heritage structure he’s helped make famous is a story of survival and finding one’s passion
RHIA GRANA | May 23 2022

It was more than 10 years ago when the internet was first introduced to the world of Negrense tour guide Roger Lucero. It was thru a viral YouTube video that showed the then 23-year-old Bacolod native at work, regaling his audience with stories about Negros Occidental’s tourism jewel, The Ruins—once a gorgeous mansion owned by the Lacsons before it was burned during WW II. It is now one of the country’s most romantic and photogenic heritage spots. 

Lucero’s got comedic timing for sure. His punchlines cracked people up. Like the one about the last of Mariano Ledesma Lacson’s 13 children dying in 2011 at age 92 (Don Mariano commissioned the building of the mansion—or what’s left of it—that Lucero and his audience were standing on.) “So it means wala na siyang anak na buhay,” the tour guide said of Lacson. “Ang laki ng pagkakataon kong makuha ang properties.” 

Roger Lucero
Roger started his career as an in-house guide at The Ruins in 2011.

There’s also the one about the disproportionate number of bathrooms in the 10-bedroom mansion. “Oh bakit sa laki ng mansyon dalawa lang ang comfort rooms?” Lucero asked. “Eh malawak naman ang tubuhan noon.”

Lucero became even more known in 2015 when he made it to Pinoy Big Brother 737. The “Tour Guide Tatay ng Negros” won the hearts of PBB fans with his inspiring journey—a sakada who became a toilet cleaner who became his city’s most beloved tour guide. He also earned the admiration of many for his never-say-die attitude in taking on the challenges inside Bahay ni Kuya.

ANCX was treated to another star performance from the tireless tour guide recently when we stopped by The Ruins to cap Day 4 of a media familiarization tour around Negros Occidental. He was at the end of his own long day, our group being the nth bunch of turistas he would need to deliver the same spiels to about the Talisay City mansion. And yet he lit up the evening with his energetic, theatrical delivery of trivia, history and wisecracks, and gave us a show worth sitting up for despite our aching backs.

He told us the structure was built in 1920 by Don Mariano in memory of his Portuguese wife Maria Braga—which is why it is known as the “Taj Mahal of Negros.” During World War II, it was intentionally burned down by US forces with consent from the Lacsons, so that Japanese invaders won’t be able to use it as headquarters. “It was a good idea na sinunog nila [ang mansyon],” he told his engaged listeners, “at least may trabaho ako ngayon.” The room explodes with laughter. 

Roger Lucero
Roger says he only realized that has a good sense of humor when he started his career as a tour guide. 

Meant to be  

Back in 2015, his audience was a little bigger than our crowd of 10 or so media and travel agents. He was on national TV. He considers joining Pinoy Big Brother one of the most memorable experiences of his life. To think he didn’t even expect to be part of it. He was already set to audition in one of Bacolod’s malls but work got in the way. “Hayaan na lang natin. Hindi siya para sa akin,” Lucero thought to himself then. 

To his surprise, the PBB team turned up at The Ruins after the mall audition. The team’s flight back to Manila got delayed so they decided to drop by the popular tourist spot in Talisay City, Lucero’s place of work. “I was talking to a group of senior citizens then, when I saw Direk Lauren [Dyogi] with the PBB team,” Roger recalls.

The PBB chief Dyogi and his group joined Lucero’s tour—which essentially gave them an idea of what the Negrense could bring to the table. But since Dyogi and the reality show team still had a flight to catch that day, the director left one of his staff members to interview the tour guide. Soon they were making Lucero an offer. At that time, the young man didn’t know whether to say yes or no. Saying yes would mean leaving his job. Saying no would mean letting go of a great opportunity to tell the world about The Ruins, a place he so loved, one that has given him fulfillment and recognition. 

Roger Lucero
Roger (seated third from right) with his PBB 737 batchmates

He requested the PBB staffer to talk to his boss, Raymund Javellana, to iron out work issues. “That way, win or lose, may babalikan akong trabaho. Pag pumayag sya, go ako,” Lucero tells ANCX.

He recalls to us one of his most unforgettable tasks inside the PBB House: to push a boat from one side of the PBB swimming pool to the other, 10,000 times and within 48 hours. 

The challenge had a huge connection to Lucero’s past. From age seven up to high school, he, along with his siblings, would sail a banca along E.B. Magalona River in Negros charging one peso per passenger. “Bukod sa pagtatrabaho sa tubuhan, yun ang dagdag na trabaho namin,” the tour guide recalls. The Lucero kids would earn P50 a day from their little boat business. 

Roger knew it would be impossible to complete the PBB swimming pool task within the time given, but he decided to take it on anyway. “Bakit mo itinuloy, alam mo namang hindi kayo mananalo?" he recalls Big Brother asking. 

“Life isn’t all about winning naman e,” Lucero told Kuya. “It’s how you stand till the end without giving up.”

The boat only got to complete 5,000 laps in the PBB pool but what he gained from it, says the Negrense housemate, could not be measured. “Bukod sa napatunayan ko sa sarili kong hindi ako nag-give up, na-motivate ko din ang ibang tao to do the same.” 

Roger Lucero
Through a full scholarship from STI West Negros, Roger earned a degree in Bachelor of Science in Tourism Management. He graduated December last year.

Send him back 

Roger had the time of his life in Manila after his PBB stint. He experienced what it was like to be an artista. He was in mall shows with his PBB batchmates. He did TV guestings. But after completing his commitments, he was longing to go back to his hometown.

“Na-realize ko, ang hirap pala ng life dito sa Manila. Wala kang kakilala, walang susuport sa iyo,” he says, looking back. He missed his wife and his son so he talked to the PBB show management to ask if they could just please send him back to Negros Occidental. 

“When they sent me back here [in Bacolod], wala ng pahinga. Diretso na ako nag-work. Doon na nag-sink in sa mind ko na ito talaga ang gusto ko, ito yung place na hinahanap ko,” he says.

Lucero is the youngest among 12 kids. Like many in Negros, his family’s main source of livelihood was sugarcane farming. As early as seven years old, when sugarcane grasses were still taller than him, Lucero was already working in the field under the sun’s scorching heat. “Nagdadamo kami sa tubuhan, naglalagay ng abono, nag-gagapas,” the tour guide recalls. Since his parents can’t afford to send him and his siblings to college, they were expected to continue their folks’ sakada life. 

Lucero recalls a time when he couldn’t help but take pity on himself. “Nahuli ako ng tatay ko na umiiyak. Kasi hindi ko talaga kaya [ang trabaho]. Sobrang init, uhaw na uhaw ka. May dala kaming tubig pero hindi naman makapawi ng uhaw kasi nasa ilalim ka ng init ng araw,” he says.  

A heart-to-heart talk between father and son took place that day. “Sabi ng tatay ko, ‘If you want to get out of this kind of life, mangarap ka para sa sarili mo.’”

The young Roger had to wait until he finished high school before he could quit plantation work. When he turned 18, he joined his sister in Manila and looked for a job. What he didn’t expect was that life would even be tougher in the capital. “Lahat ng galaw mo doon [sa Manila], gastos. Nakapag-work ako as factory worker pero after six months, mae-endo ka na naman.”

He worked in factories for two years and spent the next couple of years helping his sister sell street food. After four years in Manila, it was back in Negros for Lucero, and back in the sugarcane farms. 

Roger Lucero
Roger with wife Jona

The discovery  

The trajectory of Lucero’s life would change when he met Javellana, his current boss, great grandson of the late Don Mariano. He was initially hired as a houseboy in the Javellana residence then later on as toilet cleaner at the family-owned The Ruins.

During his early days at The Ruins, Lucero would be met with all sorts of questions from guests: Who was the mansion’s former owner? How old was the structure? etc. “So ginawan ko ng kuwento. Sabi ko, ‘Dati pong simbahan ito.’ Kaya ang mga tao nagsa-sign of the cross lahat bago pumasok,” Lucero recalls laughing. When not performing his cleaning duties or answering questions, he gladly led guests to the best spots in The Ruins for taking pictures.

Roger Lucero
The Ruins, owned by the Lacsons, was built in the 1920s, but was burned down during World War II in the 1940s. It's considered one of the most romantic and photogenic tourist spots in the country. Photo from The Ruins' Facebook page

The good buzz about his janitor reached Mr. Javellana, who realized Lucero seems to have what it takes to become an in-house guide. The boss offered Lucero the post in 2011. He told him the story of the mansion, from which the aspiring tour guide would create a script. Lucero injected humor to his spiels which quickly won over his guests. “Hindi ko alam na kakagatin pala ng tao ang ganoong klase ng tour guiding,” Lucero tells ANCX. “Hindi ko din alam na marunong akong magpatawa. Noon ko lang din nadiskubre.”

It was around this time when his video became viral on YouTube—attracting numerous interview requests from local and national TV stations, finally leading to a prized guesting in “Gandang Gabi Vice” in 2013. The media frenzy gave The Ruins a lot of publicity, which translated to more tourists. When before it would have 20 to 30 guests in a day, after Lucero’s various appearances, the Talisay tourist spot would get a hundred to 300 visitors daily. 

Lucero’s job as a tour guide opened another opportunity he had long dreamt of—a college degree. STI West Negros University offered him a full scholarship so he could finish his Bachelor of Science in Tourism Management. “Nung inaral ko siya, doon ko na-realize na I belong to the tourism industry. Nakita ko ang value ng ginagawa ko,” Lucero tells ANCX. His boss Javellana allowed Lucero to take his classes in the morning and perform his work duties at The Ruins in the afternoon.  

Lucero had to discontinue his studies when he was picked for PBB in 2015. But when he returned to Negros, he got a call from the university saying if he wanted to continue his education, he still had a scholarship to come back to. Lucero finally completed his degree last December.

Roger Lucero
Doesn’t it get boring doing the same thing daily, talking about the same place? “Nakakasawa siya kapag hindi mo minahal,” he says. “Pero kapag sa una pa lang isinapuso mo na, ang fulfillment nandoon. Yung satisfaction nandoon.”

There was that one time in his life when he tried his luck in Manila only to return to Negros, back in the same exact job that made him leave in the first place. The second time he tried his luck in Manila and returned to Negros, however, his story would have a different ending. 

“I’m so happy kasi walang nawala sa akin. Andito ang work ko, andito ako sa family ko, nakapagtapos ako ng pag-aaral ko. I won third big placer in PBB. What more could I ask for?” Lucero, now 35, says with pride.

The guy’s journey could easily rival the story of the heritage structure he’s helped make famous. Many people ask why he chooses to stay in the job despite the doors TV has opened for him. Doesn’t it get boring doing the same thing daily, talking about the same place? To this question, his answer is always: “Nakakasawa siya kapag hindi mo minahal,” he says. “Pero kapag sa una pa lang isinapuso mo na, ang fulfillment nandoon. Yung satisfaction nandoon.”

Photos from Roger Lucero's Facebook account