Meeting Dr. Legarda

I visited Dr. Benito Legarda Jr. in his Sampaloc office two weeks ago. This is the second time I’m meeting this personal hero of mine in person. The first was at a book event at the Instituto Cervantes.

I sent Dr. Legarda an FB message last October. I did not expect a reply, he is after all a nonagenarian. But apparently, he’s social media savvy (his staff helps him out). He directed me to contact his personal secretary before I drop by.

I am grateful that the distinguished took the time to meet the undistinguished. Dr. Legarda was generous of his time,  he was cordial and humble. I can’t thank him enough.

Four years ago I visited F. Sionil Jose in his bookstore (that doubles as his office). I was surprised to be received like a familiar guest. He offered me a seat and we chatted like friends. I’ve never met him in person prior to this meeting. These men are great representatives of their generation. Their humility and openness we must emulate.

WWII stories

Aside from getting a couple of my books signed, Dr. Legarda was kind enough to answer a few questions.

I’ve always wanted to know how he feels that our WWII history is not appreciated and studied by our countrymen?

He suspects that this has to do with many elites (whose scions runs media and most remains largely influential) “were collaborators during the occupation”. 

The late Andrade told me that he’s certain that many families of “collaborators to this day receives substantial amount, if not favor and support, from the Japanese government.” The Japanese after all are known to keep their word.

 

Japanese and guerrilla atrocities

Dr. Legarda also shared the tragic fate of one of Fernando Amorsolo’s brother who was executed by guerrillas. No one dared and stepped forward to vouch for the man he said. He was picked up near where we were (in Sampaloc). Being branded a Japanese sympathizer was enough to get you killed during those days.

I recall the story of the Chile-based Filipino writer Elizabeth Medina. Emilio Medina, her grandfather, became the war time governor of the Ilocos. When the Japanese left, the guerrillas made an example out of him. He was executed in public, with children watching. Dr. Legarda said, “Marcos’ father, Mariano Marcos, he suffered the same faith, also in the hands of the guerrillas in La Union.”

I asked Dr. Legarda if he heard of any Japanese running other towns and provinces with much kinder hands. “Yes but they were certainly not (kind) here in Manila.” He then narrated figures of deaths in Manila alone. We then spoke of Ambassador Juan José Rocha, a survivor of the battle of Manila, he was only 7 then. He was president of the Memorare Manila 1945 Foundation. Dr. Legarda wrote an informative tribute when he passed two years ago.

The reason I asked if the Japs were kinder in other places is because of my family’s experience in San Carlos (Negros Occidental). They were treated fairly by the Japanese. But when the guerrillas took over the town all hell broke loose. Believing they were collaborators, they fast became targets. The guerrillas were so cruel that they buried one grand uncle alive.

When I shared this story to WWII popular relic collector, Mr. Felix Catal, he said it probably was the case but that it was isolated. The Japanese were known to be brutal in the Dumaguete area, 160 kilometer south of San Carlos. More than a 1000 Japanese fled to the hills around Dumanguete. The relic hunter has been exploring these parts (especially the Valencia parts) all his life.

Wounded culture

Maribel Ongpin, who I remember for her kindness (she visited our neighborhood in a couple of occasion while we were staving off eviction from our homes) wrote an interesting observation, “The beauty of the material past was trampled and it brought about a sense of insecurity and loss of confidence. Worse, the horrors of man’s inhumanity as represented and chillingly acted out by the Japanese invaders have had a searing effect on our racial memory.”

One of my college professor, Atty. Cabrera (UPHS-D) told me that the war “brought the worst in us… they turned us against each other.” He was old enough to remember. The bandits, pretending to be guerrillas, robbed his family in broad day light. They were in fact guerrillas, he said, who fought the Japanese then turned to banditry after the war.

There’s this Filipino Director who said in an interview that he intends to make a film about our WWII experience. He felt that the war destroyed our cohesive racial identity as a people—reason why we’re so split as a society today.

Circling back to Dr. Legarda’s books. I told him it is a strange thing to say that “I enjoy your stories” because in it are some of the most horrific descriptions of life in wartime Manila. But learning is a positive experience and oddly gratifying too—we need to be reminded.

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#AngLarawan: not a film review

We Filipinos complain about the sad state of our film industry. But when a good local film comes out it doesn’t get the support it deserves.

Ang Larawan, adapted from Joaquin’s Portrait of an Artist as a Filipino (1952) is as good as it gets.

A friend remarked, “sadyang mababaw daw tayong mga Filipino.”

I don’t agree—I’ve seen artsy foreign films get noticed by moviegoers and receive rave reviews from local film critics.

Perhaps a more acceptable explanation is this:

We lack the education and exposure to Filipino art and history. We limit our children with what television offers (and lately, social media). We bring them to malls and beaches, rarely to museums, plays and art classes.

It is time that we read Filipino literature to our children. Many of our great writers remains unread.

 

Déjà vu!

The late director and National Artist Lamberto Avellano’s adaption (A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino 1965) was snubbed as well when it came out in . It closed after 5 days because of poor attendance. It starred his wife, Daisy H. Avellana as Candida. Like her husband, she’a a National Artist awardee.

Joaquin’s classic first appeared in Weekly Womens Magazine. Before it was adapted to film, the play was popular among theater viewers. It run for 160 shows which is considered the longest in Filipino theatre history.

Avellana was said to have approached Atty. Manuel “Manny” De Leon for support. The LVN boss was curious if Manila would see it—if there was such “intelligentsia” that would see the film. He produced it but they would be disappointed—the film flopped.

Ang Larawan Comeback

I intended to watch the film in SM Muntinlupa. It was pulled from their cinema the day I was about to see it.

The film critics and awards it garnered has put winds on its sails. Now cinemas started showing the film once more (after being pulled out in many movie houses during its first week). I saw in TV Patrol the other day that people has started buying tickets—bravo!

Thoughts on Joaquin

Guillermo Gomez Rivera, who used to play Don Perico (in one performance, a boozed up Joaquin howled and cheered from the audience), told me that the entire play is Joaquin’s interpretation of what happened to identity as people—we had a truncated culture.

“That was the termination of something beautiful (our culture and identity)… we perhaps would never see it again,” Gomez told me. Paula, Candida and the Father, the maestro, died defiant against a fast changing world.

Contra mundum! 

One of my biggest regret was not meeting Joaquin. I would love to pick his mind (but he’s not into interviews I was told). Filipina writer based in Chile, Elizabeth Medina, told me that she once requested for an audience with Joaquin.

“Too bad Nick Joaquin didn’t “pescarme” (hindi ako pinansin) when I called him in Manila in 1997. He didn’t realize, that’s all that I was asking him, to mentor me, that I was genuine. But then it means that he was not meant to be my mentor,” She said.

Seeing Joaquin’s work articulated visually by artists and even students today is personally gratifying. I’ve been a fan for so long that it feels good to see his following grow in number (among my generation and the so called “milleneals”).

My only other wish is that Filipinos dig deeper, contemplate on the message Joaquin conveys through his stories and characters. He is to me, the conduit to our glorious past forgotten.


So long Andrade!

Feeling a bit under the weather I thought of staying home yesterday. But I was informed by the family of the eminent Chemist and historian Pio Andrade Jr. that Wednesday is the last and only day of his internment. He passed away last December 26. They decided to cremate his remains the next day and bring him home to his beloved Paracale.

Before heading to Kamuning (where Andrade is interred) I dropped by Sampaloc to see popular historian Benito Legarda Jr. This is the only second time I’m meeting him. I brought two books he authored and had them signed. We spoke briefly about WWII (more on this on future post).

During our chat he asked if I’ve read his Rizal book (Eight Rizalian Miniatures, 2011). I told him that I’ve heard about it but I’ve never seen one for sale. He sold and signed me a copy. We weren’t talking about Rizal or anything related to him. The offer came out of the blue.

Before leaving I told him that I’m visiting Andrade. I asked if he knew him well. “Yes, where is he now?,” he inquired. He was surprised to hear that he has passed away. “That’s sad,” he said.

Your company up there for sure would enjoy your wonderful stories!

I arrived at the Chapel in Kamuning pass 6PM. I spent a couple of hours with Andrade’s family exchanging stories. In the times we met we talked for hours and hours. So, I had my fair share of Uncle Junior stories to tell.

One of my favorite story was when he was quizzed by the US Secret Service. He actively wrote against the martial law during his time in University of Florida. Marcos had an upcoming US state visit. They were trying to assess if Andrade was a threat. Asked if he knows how to use firearms, “No, only firecrackers!”

Not many knows that Andrade has a great sense of humor. Maybe the way he writes (in his own words “accusatory” and “angry”) sends that vibe that he’s a difficult person. But he’s a great guy to hang with, look, I’m 38, our age are decades apart but we get along.

How I wish that publishers took a second look at his book ideas. I feel that the “Fooling of America” was too controversial that many thought it risky to work with Andrade.

The last time we spoke he told me that he’s got three books lined up. He was already wrapping up editing his Paracale book (Romancing the Gold) and was working on two other: “Que Barbaridad” (vignettes on Spanish cultural and historical contributions) and a Rizal book which tackles inaccuracies and fabrications about the national hero.

I proposed to the family that they donate all his completed and unfinished work to the Ateneo. I remember him telling Guillermo Gomez Rivera to do the same for his huge library in his Calle Mola. The historian Fernando Zialcita, who came earlier to the chapel, suggested the same.

Whether or not the books (or what can be recovered) gets published is entirely up to the family. There were at least a couple of his young nieces that are interested in his work (one in particular is Ariel who I believe writes).

I reached home at around 10 PM. I had a few pending work that I wanted to complete in the morning so I went straight to bed. I pulled Legarda Jr.’s “Eight Rizalian Miniatures,” from my backpack (the book I just acquired earlier). Reading relaxes and puts me to sleep.

I opened it and landed on page 15, there it was, an article (Sidelights on Rizal) Legarda wrote in 2008-09. “Self-professed iconoclast and historical gadfly Pio Andrade delivered a lecture at the Instituto Cervantes… in which he view erroneous impressions about Rizal’s life.”

This was the event where I first met Andrade. He must be kidding around—pulling a prank of sorts!

One more reminder that his work would stay with us for as long as we exist.

Thank you my friend.


Sun Yat Sen’s Singapore Villa

The villa sits in a residential area. It is in Balestier (near Novena, a Catholic church popular among Filipinos) named after US Consul Joseph Balestier, a huge chunk of the estate was made into his botanical garden. Balestier was married to Maria Revere, daughter of one of US’s founding father, Paul Revere.

Last month, I visited the historic villa that became the Singapore headquarters of Dr. Sun Yat-sen. I found out about this place from a Chinese-Singaporean cab driver who I met three years ago.

While he drives his cab here in the Lion City, his Filipino family is in Iloílo. The daughter studies in a Chinese school (I couldn’t remember if it was Iloílo Sun Yat-sen High School).

He told me that he intends to retire in his wife’s native province. Not a bad idea. I would likely do the same, I said. He then went on to talk about Dr. Sun. His knowledge of the Chinese revolutionary was impressive. He said it comes from his parents who revered China’s “forerunner of democratic revolution”.

When we passed by the Balestier area, he told me that there’s a house there where Dr. Sun stayed. Officially, he only visited it a total of nine times.

Dr. Sun and his Filipino connection

There’s this delightful photo of Dr. Sun and Mariano Ponce wherein the former was dressed in a Western-style suit while the latter, looking rather like a Japanese, was wearing a kimono. Those who don’t know both patriots won’t be able to tell the difference. They shared a deep friendship. One of the first biographies on Dr. Sun was penned by Ponce himself.

Dr. Sun assisted the Filipinos in procuring arms from Japan. Most of these did not reach its buyers. The ship carrying the arms sank in Chinese seas. Some of the salvaged guns and ammunition ended up in the hands of Chinese revolutionaries.

I visited Dr. Sun’s Penang headquarters two years ago. I didn’t intend to see it, but we stayed close to it. The series of defeats made solicitations in Singapore difficult; Dr. Sun had to move his nerve center.

Penang (Georgetown) is cashing in on their Sun Yat Sen connection. They have tours going on in places that are linked to him. He is a popular historical figure among the Chinese–their version of José Rizal. Both lived in the same era, they were contemporaries. But they never met. Judging from their renown, I am sure that they had heard about each other.

Dr. Sun (middle seated) surrounded by his Singapore crew. The guy knows how to dress. Good looking fella. (Photo taken from the Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall)

The Villa in Balestier

The villa owner at the turn of the century was the rubber magnate and Dr. Sun supporter, Teo Eng Hock. He purchased it for his mother as a retirement home (it was called Wan Qing Yuan). Teo is the great granduncle of Singapore Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean (I saw how this man campaigned because we used to live in Punggol, his constituency, and we were startled to see how tall he was in person — the guy can play basketball center!).

When Teo Eng Hock learned that Dr. Sun chose Singapore to be the center of his campaign, he offered his villa, and the mother was OK with it. Balestier at that time was considered outskirts; there was not a lot of happenings in the area.

They just don’t make things like this anymore. Look at the details and finish. Singapore not only preserved this villa but made sure that it would last for another one hundred years. When it comes to restoration and re-use of heritage structure, no one comes close (in the region) to how Singaporeans does it.

It is a stately mansion (we Filipinos used this word). From its veranda, once could probably see the rubber plantations and all the natural beauty old Singapore once had. The art deco shop houses in the area are worth seeing.

The two-tiered colonial style villa changed hands a few times. A group of Chinese businessmen bought it, then handed it over to the Chinese chamber of commerce. During the Japanese occupation, it became a communications office.

The first floor exhibits the story behind the Singapore operations and its contributions to the revolution. The second floor features the room believed to be used by Dr. Sun. There’s also the “Reading Room” where revolutionaries brought the Chinese in Singapore to be indoctrinated and educated.

Dr, Sun’s republic is most likely closer to the wester ideals than to the Chinese model we have today. He spent a considerable amount of his younger years in Hawaii where he became a Protestant Christian. When he got back to his bucolic Chinese village he openly criticized old religious practices and even attacked temples. I am sure he also learned how to surf! Mahalo!

Model restoration

We Filipinos could learn a thing or two from Singapore’s heritage conservation. They create clear and viable plans, there’s vision on how historical buildings are managed. Singapore’s museums and heritage sites rank among the best in the world.

There’s but one board that decides which building and monuments are to be preserved. Once a decision is made for a monument or building to be gazetted (for conservation by a technical group capable of doing so, and for public education by relevant agencies), they follow three simple rules: maximum retention, sensitive restoration, and careful repair. Throughout the process, from deciding which one needs preservation up to the actual restoration, there are no overlapping agencies. So typical of Singapore — uncomplicated process, free from delay and corruption.

A detailed floor plan of the Balestier submitted to the colonial British administrators

A delightful tour

I went to the museum intnding to observe the exhibit on my own. I ended up joining the tour. There were only three of us. The other two visitors were young, bespectacled Singaporeans, history buffs like myself.

The tour guide was a knowledgeable and cheerful volunteer, Madam Mae Chong. She goes to the villa to tour people. She laments that visitors are often small.

If there ever was a person with expertise and passion about the life and times of Dr. Sun Yat-sen and his men in Singapore, this lady is it.
I asked Madam Chong if Dr. Sun is revered in China as much as in Taiwan and other places. She said Dr. Sun is considered the founding father of China—they claim him as theirs, the same way the Taiwanese does.

Like what the Beatles said, “you say you want a revolution, well, you know, we all want to change the world”. Looks like everybody has a different take on how to change things.

 


CIA’s cross hairs: then Recto, now Duterte?

There were those who kept vigil in the night of our forefathers… (photo courtesy of NHCP)

President Rodrigo Duterte’s paranoia of a CIA plot against him was recently responded to by US Ambassador Sung Kim who flatly denied the allegation. No surprise there. No powerful country that spends millions on their spy agencies would admit to commiting espionage—even when their mandate is to do so.

But Duterte’s charge isn’t new. America has intruded—and will continue to do so—in our political affairs.

A few months ago, Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte, the President’s son, exposed a meeting in which US representatives met with some members of the opposition in Manila. He did not specify who were the players, but the claim gives wind to rumors of a plot to oust his father.

President Erap Estrada himself believed that the US had a hand in ousting him. This after he did not heed the White House’s calls to stop military operations against the MILF back in 2000. Even the late President Ferdinand Marcos, inspite of his liaisons with the US government, wrote in his diary about the US Embassy and the CIA’s activities during his government.

Recto’s Heart

One historical figure that comes to mind whenever I hear talks of Filipino nationalism in the 20th century is Claro M. Recto. He was a vociferous anti-emperialist, opposed the unfair Bell Trade and Parity acts, fought for Rizal’s life and works to be taught in school—a political seppuku during his time. The Catholic Church did not want Rizal taught in schools, much more in their schools.

I recall a story from renowned hispanist Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera, a Premio Zóbel Awardee (1975). Sometime during the 50’s, he visited Recto at the latter’s Pásay law office (Calle Leveriza) to talk about Spanish-Filipino literature. Señor Gómez said that there was no doubt that Recto was only “equal to Rizal!”.

Recto, a hispanista, was able to see our deeply embedded identity in its Spanish past. In a society fast gravitating towards anything American, he was one of the few hold outs challenging the new master’s impositions.

Recto died of a heart attack in 1960 while he was on his way for a goodwill visit to Spain and to meet with Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. But Señor Gómez insists that Recto was assassinated. Recto was on regular medication at that time, he said. But when Recto suddenly fell ill, his medication mysteriously disappeared from where he had kept it. Investigative reporter Raymond Bonner in his 1987 book “Waltzing With a Dictator” mentioned something about a vial of poison being readied for Recto, but was not utilized. I also recall reading an article that implicated the CIA with regards to Recto’s death. The writer alleged that a powerful beam was directed to Recto’s heart. This was what killed him. But I find this too incredible to believe. Or is it?

Taken Down, Shake Down

In the book “Confessions of an Economic Hitman” by John Perkins, the author wrote about the death of Panamá’s Ómar Torrijos. Credited for bringing the Panamá Canal back to Panamá, Perkins believed that he was taken out. He wrote: “The jackals (US operatives) were back… they wanted Omar Torrijos and everyone else who might consider joining an anti corporatocracy crusade to know it.” The author quotes a book by Graham Greene, “Getting to Know the General” which gave an account of a bomb planted inside Torrijos’s plane. It is believed that another motive for the hit was his threat to get the Japanese to build and maintain the Panamá canal, taking it away from US companies like Bechtel. Torrijos was not only against US interests but Panamá’s oligarchs as well.

Is it safe to assume that what had happened in the Americas is not confined to that continent?

UP Professor Roland Simbulan in a lecture given in UP Manila said “It is now a well-documented fact that General Ralph B. Lovett, then the CIA station chief in Manila, and US ambassador Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, had discussed a plan to assassinate Recto using a vial of poison. A few years later, Recto was to die mysteriously of heart attack (though he had no known heart ailment) in Rome after an appointment with two Caucasians in business suits.”

Remember that unbelievable story of a beam directed towards Recto’s heart?

In 1975, Idaho senator Frank Church called an investigation on alleged CIA abuses (look up “Church Committee” in search engines). A weird looking gun was presented to the committee. It shoots a small, poisonous dart, developed to be undetectable. The target wouldn’t even know he was injected with a toxin. Deaths caused by this dart would later be made to appear as caused by some massive heart attack.

Was this “heart attack gun” or any similar lethal instrument developed by the US the one that ended Recto’s life?


Guanyin, the Chinese Virgin Mary and Tampines Temple

My 19 month old son and I goes out for a walk every day. We live on a circular road. We start and end on the same spot, in front of a Chinese temple.

They say memories are attached to where our parents takes us the most. It won’t surprise me if my son develops a penchant for old Chinese architecture. He sees it everyday.

I saw an exhibit about the town’s history at the local library last Sunday. Turns out that the temple houses old religious relics. It was built three decades ago, a project that placed 13 Taoist temples together under one roof. The reason was the redevelopment of the town into a residential and commercial area (it used to host a dump site and big sand quarries along with scattered kampung villages). Understandably there were objections but eventually everyone decided to follow the government’s plan.

Guanyin and Mama Mary

I attended a wedding a few years ago and had an interesting conversation with the groom about Cavite’s history. He shared anecdotes about his ancestor, General José Ignacio Paua. He was called “intsik” by his contemporaries in the Philippine revolution. He was ethnic Chinese from Fujian. Most people remembers him for arresting and stabbing Andres Bonifacio. But the groom, of course, skipped that part.

According to him, Paua had a hand in recovering Cavite City’s Our Lady of Porta Vaga after the revolution. As proof, he said, he wrote his name on a concealed part of the Marian icon.

How true is this story? I don’t know. I sat there, listened and ate lechon. But the part I remember clearly was that according to this guy, the Chinese during those days worshipped the Virgin Mary because to them she’s the same as their deity Guanyin (Mazu). This I know but what I found interesting was that the deity Guanyin is a popular devotion among Fujian locals, the place where Paua was born. He must have been himself a devotee of our Lady of Porta Vaga because to him she’s the same as the deity Guanyin.

In Ari Dy’s book “Chinese Buddhism in Catholic Philippines,” he writes, “they (devotees of Guanyin) notes that both (Guanyin and Virgin Mary) are maternal and compassionate figures and are therefore the same in that they serve the function of heeding the cries and supplications of their spiritual children.”

Catholic clergy in the Philippines doesn’t encourage syncretism but they don’t repress it. Guanyin was originally a male, before shattering into pieces, then reappearing as a woman. Some devotees refers to her as the Chinese Virgin Mary. There are images of her that resembles that of the mother of Christ. The one in the temple near our home are seated like Buddha without a child and does not have any likeness with traditional depictions of Mary.

Perhaps the historical importance of this syncretism was its religious and cultural creations that we see in our churches and museums to this day. Jeremy Clarke in his book “The Virgin Mary and Catholic Identities in Chinese History” suggests that “the rise in the production of Madonna influenced the manner Guanyin images were produced… these deliberate borrowings become more evident when one considers the development of trade in south east asia throughout the 18th century.”

The demand for Marian and other religious images employed hoards of Chinese sculptors during the Spanish era. Their religious roots, unconsciously or maybe consciously, influenced their work. This explains the countless religious icons bearing Chinese features (like Virgin Marys with chinita eyes) in our old churches. The Chinese in the 19th and 18th century Philippines seemed to have adapted seamlessly to the Filipino way of life, like they do in business.


Pinoy style toponymy

A young local politician told me that the origin of Alabang is the word abang (tagalog for “to wait”). Bandits during the Spanish era use to ambush unsuspecting people he said.

Legends are more appealing than real history. The small Rio Alban (the one in Festival Mall) gave her name to Alabang. Boring story, I know, the legend’s more catchy.

Three years ago, I blogged about the origin of Muntinlupa’s barrio names. Many were surprised that all had botanical word origins.

Most stories about how places got its name are fabulated. They’re mostly “alamat” (legends) but Filipinos takes them as facts.

Pre-colonial Singapore were populated by Malays that had the same practice. They had a profound admiration towards nature and named places to honor it.

The names of the two towns I call home here, Punngol and Tampines, had natural and botanic origins.

Two years ago, we moved to Tampines township. Its name came from the tree “tempinis”. An ironwood variety, like the rare hard Philippine mangkono.

Punggol town got its name from an old Malay word. It was a method of gathering fruits from trees by hurling clubs. Our ancestors adapted the word in tagalog, “pukol”, which generally means “to throw”.

You see, the intangible historical links are there, we only need to pay attention.

Some other places Malays named after plants here are: the heritage district of Kampong Glam, after the tree Gelam. Kranji (I wrote about its WWII site here) from the keranji tree. Sembawang, Katong and many others.

The popular Filipino hangout place, Orchard Road, got its name from trees that used to lined it. What kind of tree? according to local historians, nutmeg. Not far from Orchard there’s a street called Nutmeg.

In the Philippines we call nutmeg as tanghas or duguan (from the red flesh the covers the seeds). The seed is dried up and grounded. It is used as spice and skin medicine.

I grew up in a street called Bagtican (white lauan). I knew even as a child that it’s a tree but never saw one until 9 years ago in Los Baños. It’s a threatened tree because of market demand.

Why knowing the real story behind places names is important?

Well, for one it dispels ludicrous myths that people ends up believing—and studying toponymy (ah, the scientific and fancy name of the study of places names) is a gateway to history.

Try researching where your place got its name and you’ll go into a history rabbit hole!


Automatic writing and the Ninoy story

Courtesy of Philnews

I saw this interesting UK TV show that featured the Glastonbury Abbey ruins and what excavations in the early 1900’s revealed. The archaeological information were provided by one Frederick Bligh Bond, who claims that everything he knew about the site came from spirits—through automatic writing.

In the 80’s there was this popular story involving an automatic writing psychic who claims that he received messages from the late Senator Ninoy Aquino.

The psychic was with paranormal writer and researcher Jaime Licauco (Jimmy, to his close friends, is a direct descendant of the pioneering 19th century Filipino painter, Damian Domingo).

Automatic writing is a controversial psychic method that claims a medium unconsciously writes words inspired by spirits.

The story goes that Licauco was consulting with the psychic when someone who introduced himself as Ninoy Aquino joined their session.

The first message were words of encouragement for his “sweetheart” Cory to “keep it up.” This was followed by messages for the Filipino people, Marcos, his Wife and Ken.

The message to Ken Kashiwara, veteran ABC correspondent (married to Ninoy’s sister Lupita) would give weight to the claim that it was Ninoy.

The words referred to a conversation the two had before leaving Taipei for Manila.

“Ken, I’m awfully sorry, we should have tried the “handcuff” trick…”

Licauco said no one in the room knows Ninoy personally or had any connections with him.

In 1988, Ken Kashiwara wrote an article in the Philippine Panorama entitled, “You’re Right, The Filipino is Worth Dying For.” In it he addressed his late brother-in-law, “Should we have handcuffed ourselves together as we joked that morning in Taipei?”

Licauco had Ninoy’s automatic writings years before the Philippine Panorama article.

Doña Aurora, Ninoy’s mother, addressing questions about the automatic writing said, “We don’t know how God works, I cannot really say if it was Ninoy who sent that message, but it included certain things which were only known to Ninoy and other members of our family, so who knows.”


Withonespast on Chinoy TV

I was watching ANC yesterday when I saw a Chinoy TV ad. They now have a time slot in ABS-CBN’s cable news.

I was tapped as resource person for two episodes of the “Kwentong Chinoy” segment in 2014. I never saw it until this week.

The producer (Vans) I worked with apparently left before I could get copies. When I saw them on ANC I again requested. They sent me the episodes the next day.

I edited and compiled the video. Cropped out the ads and all the other segments for upload. I just want to see myself talking (I’m kidding). It’s easier to upload smaller files.

The other resource person with me is Fil-Chinese photographer and travel blogger (Tara Let’s Asia) Jeff Lui.

I’m glad that they included some of my inputs.

Like stating that the mix of culture in Chinatown (Binondo) is not only Chinese and Filipino (or native)—Spanish influence was as important–it fused everything together.

Before I left, I gave them all my notes and all important historical material I brought with me about Binondo.

I was under the impression (“hoping” is the right word I think) that the feature on Don Roman Ongpin and Binondo would run longer.

We’re talking about the oldest Chinatown in the planet here.

But in television, time is currency.


Who Defines the Shape of our Land?

Apparently a Spanish Jesuit did 283 years ago and again last year.

Padre Pedro Murillo Velarde’s map (1734) is credited for giving the Philippines claim weight in the international arbitration in the Hague. Filipino international lawyers and historians calls it, “The Mother of All Philippine Maps”.

It was purchased by a Filipino executive and professor Mel Velarde for 13 million (PHP) in Sotheby’s. He said part of the reason why he pursued it was because he shared the Jesuit cartographer’s name.

The map came from a Victorian estate where parts of the Harry Potter movie was shot (first two films as the school). Apparently, a major culvert collapsed inside the property. They auctioned estates to fund the repair. The map is most likely part of the British loot when they came to Manila.

In Philippine studies, historical religious accounts are considered biased, if not completely unreliable. An example was when Rizal picked Morga’s Sucesos to anotate over countless religious’ history books about the islands. But even contemporary nationalist historians are willing to set this bias aside. No ones discrediting the Velarde Map for having been created by a Spanish religious.

The oldest pre-hispanic map I saw up close was made by Sultan Fakih Maulana Muhammad Amiruddin, a Mindanaoan ruler. It was made available in the National Library (Singapore) along with other rare maps. He wrote in Jawi, an Arabic form of writing used by Malaysian elites. The map was handed to interested British visitors.

One of the big If’s in our history is that if only the Sultanate of Sulu dealt with the Spanish, Sabah would still be Philippine land. When they agreed to lease it in “perpetuity” they’ve been duped.

Malaysians still remits to their descendants around 60K PHP yearly to this day as “cessation” money not as lease payment. Obviously playing with words to avoid recognizing historical facts.

I mentioned Sabah here because Borneo (Borney) is in Velarde’s Map. It shows the northern area which proves that the Spanish considered it part of the colonial state. Now here’s the difference, Spain left the islands to the Americans. When the British left, they turned everything over to Malaysia—including Sabah.

A Malaysian colleague from Sabah once told me that many Filipinos are in Sabah. Many had already applied for Malaysian citizenship.

The Velarde map gives ground to Spain’s role in securing and legitimizing our boundaries as a state. If it were not for their obsessive mapping, what would be the basis of our claims? No pre-hispanic maps exists that  backs our legal plea in the west seas. What do we have before them? Oral traditions? Arbitration of this kind deals only with hard evidence.

If historical lines were not drawn and walls were not made then there’s no country.

I like what reality TV star turned US President Donald Trump said about borders, “Well, you either have a country or you don’t.”

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Courtesy of the Library of Congress

The opposing view is that Spanish claiming the islands does not necessarily mean the creation of a state. Examples given are the presence of Mohammedan rulers and trade with China long before the Spaniards came. They say that we were already in existence long before the Spanish ships started show up.

But feuding rulers and seasonal commerce does not define the nature of a true state. A state is a governed territory (not necessarily independent like us in Velarde’s time), a nation on the other hand are people that shares a common culture, history, religion, values and language. Bring this two then you have a “nation state” which was what Aguinaldo and his contemporaries tried to establish. But by the time they pushed for this change, monarchic domination had been replaced by a new kind of empire—America.

The short lived Malolos constitution was an attempt to finalize a political and cultural identity. Representatives were placed to represent all provinces (including Palau, now an independent country). Although, not all were natives of the province they represented, the idea was to have different ethnic groups subscribing to an accepted polity.

Filipinoness, if we are to define it in their time, is hispanic and Catholic. Interesting to note here is the issue of separation of State-Church won by a mere one vote. This indicates a kind of religious conservatism in a time when the revolt cites Frailocracy as one of its catalyst.

The list of men that sat in that congress was perhaps the greatest minds our people had ever produced (more than 80 were not even properly educated but intellectuals). Unfortunately, the US had a different plan.

So we go back to the question, who gets to decide where a state’s territory begins and ends?

History has much to offer only if keep our minds open.

 

Blogger’s notes:

  • A reproduction of the map is in the Library of Congress website (https://goo.gl/2NfHCC). This year, replicas has been handed to our military museums by Mr. Velarde, not the Jesuit, the one still living.
  • The map’s exact title is “carta hydrographica y chorographica de las yslas filipinas : dedicada al rey nuestro señor por el mariscal d. campo d. Fernando valdes tamon cavallo del orden de santiago de govor. y capn.” I guess everyone’s in agreement, let’s call it Velarde Map.
  • A great article (with maps) is from a certain “Ka Jaime” that has maritime accounts from the past centuries of Bajo de Masinloc. I learned a great deal about the history of dispute in West Philippine Seas here. (https://goo.gl/o4GwHp)
  • What is rarely mentioned is that the engraver of the Velarde Map is a Malabon native, Nicolás de la Cruz Bagay. Padre Velarde immortalized his name by placing it in the map. Bagay is arguably the most successful local engraver of his time.
  • The other name mentioned in the map was Fernando Valdes y Tamon, the Governor of the islands from 1729-1739. When he came back to Spain he built the Palacio Del Virrey De Manila in Molina de Aragón to honor the capital were he governed. It still stands to this day and is one of the province’s main tourist attraction.

Our Leader of the Band…

Last April, before I left for Singapore my father told me in jest that what’s left of his time he considers “bonus”. He’s too fatalistic at times. Turns out, he said the same to my wife. He was all smiles the last day we were with him. He kissed, hugged and carried my son.

Papa passed away in his sleep last August 17, a week away from his 81st birthday. My brother (his junior) and mother was with him.

Knowing him, I kept this post as short as possible. I left out details but I wanted to share a few things about him (I had to write about you here Paps, sorry!).

Papa’s a reserved person. Not shy but he dislikes attention. He’s the kinda guy that leaves the house without saying goodbye. Comes home without announcing it.

We love his unique sarcastic sense of humor. Something that I think all his children inherited. He always have a smile on—this I miss everyday.

Papa’s family was almost wiped out during WWII. But the experience had an inverse effect—it made him tough as nails. Nothing rattles him. I never saw him tear up, get anxious or down.

I remember when we (along with a number of families) were evicted from our homes in Makati. Everybody was angry and panicked. But not him. He was serious and composed—a picture of stoicism.

I know simple is a common description most children use to characterize their parents. Papa’s a notch higher than normal simple.

I had to trick him so I could get him to a mall. I’d ask him to bring his senior ID so we can use the express lane to pay our bills. Then before heading home I’d treat him with his favorite Chowking siopao or halu-halo.

Papa never developed a taste for fanciful leisure. He derives delight from the simplest of things. He’s happier with coffee, teas and biscuits for gifts; buy him an expensive watch and he’d scoff at it. We complain shirts we bought are left unused. Nanay ends up giving them away.

On weekends, he enjoys sabong. We encourage him to get active—we’re OK with it. After all he’s got his jeepney business and pension, it’s his money and cockfighting is in his DNA—he’s an old timer Negrense—it’s sports to them.

Papa’s consistent in everything he does. It’s hard to make him do something because he’s by nature a skeptic but once he commits, he gets it done.

I pleaded to him once for a small pigeon cage. He objected at first. But I insisted and he built me one. It was literally as big as a chicken coop!

I think at times he says no to lower your expectations, but he intends to do it and surprise you.

When he was in Saudi in the 80’s, my mother said that I asked him for the biggest robot toy for Christmas. I can’t remember making that request but I recall having that grey weird looking robot. It had a cool remote control base and a body that can be inflated to human size.

Once I asked him that we to go to a beach. My friend’s families had gone swimming somewhere north. It was lent and I thought that’s what people do.

He agreed and took me for a dip—in Manila bay!

I remember the cuts and blisters I got from the sharp shells embedded on the rocks. We never said a word of this mini excursion to Nanay.

In my brief eulogy I shared the story below:

He used to assist Nanay to the market and help her carry foodstuffs. As years past, he tires easily and could only chaperon her up to the market steps.

His health took a dive around four years ago, but still like clock work, he wakes up at dawn to accompany Nanay where she takes the jeep. Approximately a 300-400 meter walk to-and-fro.

The last two years walking really became an issue. I see him force himself up to escort Nanay to the tricycle queue—two blocks from our home.

Then came the time that he could barely walk. His steps were slow and labored. He refused using cane. He could only manage to accompany Nanay up to our gate at this point.

About three months after our visit he started having problems standing up. I was told he insisted but fell several times. He probably couldn’t believe he’s ambulant no more—for the first time in his life he was forced to stay in bed.

Nanay said that even when he was bedridden, he wakes up to see her leave. Must be a force of habit I thought. But no, that’s how he expresses his love, never in words, but in his actions.


1898 Los Ultimos de Filipinas & día de la amistad

 

 

The other day I ate lunch while watching the Spanish film “1898: los ultimos de filipinas”. June 30 is our “día de la amistad” with Spain. 

The Siege inspired the official commemoration of the “Friendship Day” that very few Filipinos knows. You see, even laws can’t force people to remember.

This is the second movie about Baler that I have seen. First was the local romance drama “Baler” directed by Mark Meilly. It’s a rare quality period film.

“1898: los últimos de filipinas” story is anchored on the struggle of young soldier Carlos and the proud Teniente Cerezo.

If you’ve been to Baler’s church you’d have an idea of the church‘s dimensions. It’s uncharacteristically small for the region. The Spanish soldiers live, fought and died inside—even burials were within the church’s grounds.

The Franciscan church was in effect the last Spanish territory to be surrendered, and the garrisoned men, the last defenders of the Spanish realm.

Largely forgotten was the US rescue party, led by Lt. Gillmore (recommended reading is Westphal’s, “The Devil’s Causeway”). There’s political gain in it for the Americans. The Spanish capitulating to Filipinos legitimizes their claim for independence. 

A few days ago I wrote a blog about the heritage houses in San Miguel. The Siege’s leader was a native of that town, Col. Simon Tecson. The “Pact of Biak-na-Bato” was  signed in his house.

My favorite character in “1898” is the eccentric Franciscan. Not the typical portrayal of friars but the role reflected their ingenuity. 

They understood the locals, built and expanded their church, contributed to local culture. They were the figurative boots-on-the-ground of the empire.

In the last months before their capitulation, it was Cerezo’s iron will that held the troops together. He refused orders from superiors thinking that they were faked documents.

Then a published newspaper report of the reassignment of a comrade got him thinking. He then accepted that the newspapers, and all what he heard about Spain finally losing her colonies were indeed true.

His story brought to mind the Japanese strugglers who refused surrender believing the war has not ended. The last was Mr. Onoda. He went back home two decades after imperial Japan yielded to Allied forces.

I recommend “Flames Over Baler” by Carlos Madrid as resource for those interested in Baler. He scrupulously laid down all the Siege’s history based on original documentary sources.

I met the author in 2014. We had lunch in Binondo along with Guillermo Gomez Rivera and Pepe Alas. He was then the OIC of Instituto Cervantes.

Now back to the movie. 

The beautiful “indigena tagala” is Spanish Filipina Alexandra Masangkay. Comandante Luna was played by versatile actor Raymond Bagatsing. Both were outstanding in their roles.

The movie was shot in Guinea Ecuatorial, Canary Islands and Tenerife. I was a tad disappointed that no scene was shot in the Philippines!

To this day, the incident in Baler is remembered in Spain. With the Siege’s end, Spain lost their last colony.

The Spanish used to say that the sun never sets in all her dominions. 

That day in Baler it did.

—-


Bahay-na-Bato: Always the Haunted Houses

 

“The town’s Antillean houses were massive but refined, elegant.The builders were not cutting corners. They were out to impress!” These days they’re all gated, almost hidden, with only caretakers (like that lady) for residents.

I recently watched a GMA Front Row about the ancestral houses in San Miguel, Bulacan. “Front Row: Ang Misteryosong Lumang Bahay ng San Miguel Bulacan” was uploaded in Youtube October last year. I’m not sure when it aired on TV.

 

I wasn’t surprised that the stories were, again, about trifling ghost stories.

Filipino TV producers and writers are obsessed with haunted houses. Good for ratings—terrible for the already underappreciated bahay-na-batos.

Manuel, grandson of Doña Crispina de Leon (sister to former first lady Trinidad Roxas) said the, “house reflects the rich history of this town…it shows that even during those times there were cultured, educated people and entrepreneurs…movers of the town’s small economy.”

He said not once did he ever seen a ghost. Manuel spoke of the house’s colorful past. He took the focus away from it being jammed with ghosts.

All the other caretakers spoke of their scary experiences.

The featured De Leon house was where Gregorio del Pilar slept before living Bulacan to head north.

Teodoro M. Kalaw said it was the wish of the builders that their houses continues to be inhabited and appreciated by generations to come.

Our tangible heritage are not just spaces where horror films gets staged. They were built to last for “US” to live in, to celebrate.

Not long ago, while walking around the Dominican’s retreat house in Nasugbu, I overheard teenagers chuckle. “Ay dito yun, eto yun!” one of them somewhat reenacted a scene. Curious, I asked what’s going on. “Sukob po, yun movie ni Chris Aquino, dito po s’ya kinasal.”

Now, the Chapel is not a heritage structure. But my point is that the young would most likely recall a horror flick scene over the history of a place.

We once went to Wisconsin to buy clothes and electronics. This US state have low sales tax and great bargains from “outlet” shops.

I was looking for an IC recorder. A Sony attendant recommended one, “this model is very popular for ghost and paranormal people, y’know”.

Interesting sales pitch.

We have a different culture compared to westerners. In the US, old hotels rumored to be haunted gets more reservations.

Their notorious haunted houses are not adversely affected by its reputation.

On the contrary, Filipinos steer clear of places believed to be haunted.

A few years ago, someone looking for a place to rent in Manila sought my advise regarding an old apartment. He wanted to know if it had a history of being haunted!

In San Ildefonso, the “bahay na pula” was demolished in 2016. Not a whimper was heard. I didn’t even heard of it until a friend told me.

For most people, even local historians, it’s not only haunted, its “dark” past makes them want for it to just go away. They don’t want anything to do with it.

The house was one of the many sites where “comfort women” were raped during WWII.

A blogger friend told me that Engr. Acuzar allegedly bought the house for his Bataan beach resort.

But is it not better that it remain there to educate the young?

If we follow the proponents of the demolition’s logic, we should build on top of Bagumbayan. Ensure no trace of its past remains. No monuments, nothing. Luneta was where Filipinos got shot and guillotined! Let’s build an SM mall and a dozen Jollibee on its very ground!

—-

The last time I saw San Miguel was four years ago. My wife’s family is from nearby San Rafael. The town is a short jeepney ride away.

I remember witnessing two tricycle drivers fight MMA-style when I came to see the bahay-na-bato(s). I thought that’s a bad omen (there was also a bit of rain that day!).

True enough—it was.

I failed to inspect any of the famed houses up close. I viewed all of them from the street. No one allowed me in, not one caretaker!

The town’s Antillean houses were massive but refined, elegant. The builders were not cutting corners. They were out to impress!

San Miguel’s the biggest cluster of bahay-na-bato that I have seen in the province.

Owners are struggling financially maintaining their inherited properties. They’re not given financial and technical support but are told by government and public to hold on to it.

I know of one case in Laguna where the owner just decided to sell the house to free himself with what seem to him a lifelong encumbrance.

I always thank caretakers and owners I meet. What they’re doing is a difficult task. They’re not only preserving the memory of their forebears but the historical identity of us all.

—–

To be clear, I remain a fan of GMA 7 docus. I believe we’re in the golden era of Filipino documentaries. In my mind, they’re the best at it. But I’ve seen enough haunted houses that features our bahay-na-batos.

Time to make something else. Leave our old houses alone please.


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