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?

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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.


Rizal and my Heidelberg Trip

Here’s an interesting Rizal story you don’t hear everyday.

When my former company asked me to go to Germany, I was told that I’m staying in Walldorf. Too bad I said, I wish it was Heidelberg (also in the southwestern part). Jose Rizal studied and lived here.

Heidelberg is about 20 to 30 minutes ride to Walldorf. There’s no train station that connects the two. Most employees avoid getting booked far from the headquarter. I had to rent a van for my daily commute to work.

That night I started reading Rizal’s diary entries about Germany. I had to brush up on my history. I made a list of places to visit. I thought that I had to spare a day to see Heidelberg.

I read for hours, like a mad man. Even read his poem, “a las flores de heidelberg”, for the first time!

I slept that night reading this poem.

Two days later, the travel agency called. There were no hotels available in Walldorf. The agent sounded apologetic. She said the nearest they could get is Heidelberg!

This got me really excited but I pretended to be hassled by the whole thing.

I must’ve dreamt staying in Heidelberg to reality.

There’s another coincidence I thought was interesting.

The hotel (NH) they booked, rarely used by our employees is actually Spanish owned. However, I was disappointed to discover that they don’t serve Spanish cuisine. Yes, no paella.

The day I arrived, I quickly unpacked and went to the lobby to get WIFI. I can’t connect and it was getting dark outside. I decided to just go out. I went back after about an hour. It was too cold. I only had a shirt on and a windbreaker—I was terribly underdressed!

The next morning I decided to look for a bakery. I wanted something local for breakfast.

Took this photo on a Sunday morning. Around this time locals are slow to rise. They take their time.

From the hotel drop off area, I crossed to get to the other side. I remember the street was partly elevated right in the middle. There’s a tram track. It was a busy street.

While walking something caught my eye. A dark marble marker with a familiar seal, like that of Manila, on a building wall.

The address: 20 Bergheimer Straße.

The clinic where Rizal studied opthalmology!

What were the odds?

The hotel was in the same street and less than a mile from where Rizal learned to fix eyes!

I checked Trivago and looked up hotels in Heidelberg. It came up with around 130!

I conclude that Rizal liked it when I started reading lines from his “”a las flores de heidelberg” that night. He pulled some strings from up above. For sure.

Happy 156th birthday Tio Pepe!

Related links:

https://withonespast.wordpress.com/2012/07/29/around-heidelberg/
https://www.nh-hotels.com/corporate/about-nh/history


Ernie de Pedro’s Takayama Ukon Research

Two weeks ago I received an email from Dr. Ernie de Pedro. Turns out that he has been conducting research for years on the recently beatified Takayama. I was elated to know that he created a website with his son dedicated to the Christian samurai lord.

For those not familiar with Dr. Ernie de Pedro, he’s an Oxford graduate and former director general of the country’s film archive body. He took up his doctorate studies in UST and is now a Managing Trustee for Lord Takayama Jubilee Foundation. He specializes in Philippine-Japan history and has worked with several presidents; from Magsaysay to Erap.

Manong Ernie is a down to earth historian, approachable, rare for someone with his credentials. I met him six years ago. The Chile-based writer, Elizabeth Medina, asked me to interview him in 2011. 

According to Ms. Medina, Manong Ernie witnessed her grandfather’s​ public execution. Emilio Medina y Lazo was governor of Ilocos under the Japanese. Ms. Medina wrote Sampaguitas in the Andes (2006) a tribute and memoir to her grandfather.

When I asked if his spiritual belief is “framed within a formal religion or as a personal religiousness?” Dr. de Pedro had a profound response but the line that stuck with me was that for him, “Catholicism is a good religion to die in.” 

He ended up helping Japanese researchers after being approached for help on several occasions. They thought he was in charge of the country’s archives. He was working with film archives, not national archives. He later decided to help with research.

Last month I was reminded of Takayama when I saw the trailer of “Silenced” by Martin Scorcece. I went to the local library to look for the novel the film was based on. No copy was available. The film made the Japanese novel in demand once more.

“Silence” is about Portuguese Jesuits who came to look for their missing compatriot. The setting was during the time of the “Hidden Christians” of the Tokugawa era. Christianity was banned in 1614. Takayama came to Manila in 1615. He died a few months after his arrival.

Takayama Ukon in Plaza Dilao

I wrote several blog entries about Takayama. I take inspiration from his example. His is a story of faith and loyalty. It must have been his wish or must be God’s design that he died in Manila. Catholic burial rites was impossible under the Tokugawa ban. He would have been deprived of one.

According to Dr. de Pedro, Takayama was interred in the old Jesuit church in Intramuros. When WWII leveled much of it, the Jesuits moved the residents of the crypt to the Jesuit Novaliches cemetery. Takayama’s​ remains (along with Lord Naito) were mixed up with other bones. They did test for DNA but so far has failed to get positive identification.

When I visited the Archdiocese of Osaka I saw a simple statue of Takayama holding a small cross. The one in Paco’s Plaza Dilao have a long pointed crucifix (similar to the one in Takatsuki). The church is close to the historic Osaka castle, about 20 to 30 minute walk. Umeda or Nakatsu (closest to the Archdiocese) are the train stations nearby.

Last February, the Christian samurai lord was beatified in the Archdiocese of Osaka. The beatification puts him closer to sainthood.

In his old age, with support mainly from close friends and family, Dr. De Pedro took on a daunting task but he seem happy with how things has turn out. In his email he said, “Everyone is involved. When I crowd sourced our ramen-money for the Japan trip — every relativr from the Philippines, Japan, Singapore, the US, Canada and Norway came through! Isn’t it great to have such a formidable Support group?”

Please drop by takayamaukon.com and learn more about Justo Takayama Ukon. Support the cause and its advocates, include them in your prayers!

Here are my old posts about Takayama:

The Japanese of Old Manila

https://goo.gl/M4Nh0U

Save the Old Paco Train Station

https://goo.gl/iLmE5L

Takayama the Catholic Samurai

https://goo.gl/pNixye


Seeing Kranji and my WWII Obsession

My current reading list are mostly WWII books these days. Like “Tears in the Darkness” by Michael Norman, about the horrors of the Bataan Death March. Another is “Counting the Days” by Craig B. Smith, chronicles of POWs and stragglers in the pacific war. I have two more that I haven’t even started reading.

WWII literature are the most accessible online. If you’re searching under “Philippine History” you get more hits about WWII than any other time (or subject) in our history. The library here (Singapore) has plenty of great titles too. Some are in digital format that you can download using their app.

Although the Spanish-Philippine epoch has long been my area of interest, lately, I’m getting more and more fascinated by WWII stories. For one, it reminds me of my father’s experiences as a boy during the Japanese occupation. I interviewed several individuals in the past that shared with me their unbelievable stories of hardship, courage and spirit. My current reading list echoes their voices inside my head.

WWII happened less than a hundred years ago. Almost every Filipino knows relatives, or know someone, that survived it. For something that happened fairly  recent in our history it is without doubt greatly underappreciated. I don’t think our standard history text in schools gives it justice.

I admire Japanese who travels to the islands to offer their prayers, flowers, and paper cranes for their war dead. I was told that in Muntinlupa’s Japanese Cemetery, these visitors would still weep and sing the popular Japanese 1940s song ”Night Goes on in Muntinlupa” (composed by Japanese prisoners, later pardoned by Quirino). And these visitors are not that old. They’re much younger. They probably only heard of their dead relative’s fate from their older folks.

The Japanese have long memories. There was a Japanese soldier, said to be of royal origin, that was buried somewhere in downtown Dumaguete. The relatives never stopped​ looking until they finally did half a century later. WWII artifact hunter Tantin Cata-al shared this story with me. He gets regular Japanese visitors. Whenever he stumbles upon dead Japanese soldiers from Mt. Talinis during his expeditions, he puts them in a sack and brings them home. He’s got two when I visited, he was expecting Japanese representatives to get them.

I remember visiting Libingan ng mga Bayani a few years ago. I came to pay my respects to our WWII dead and to Nick Joaquin, the national artist. I lingered long enough time to see the portions that are neglected. Then I spoke to the guy cleaning Nick’s gravesite. He told me then that he hasn’t been paid yet.  “By who? the government?” I asked. By the dead’s relatives.

What?!?

Why does the living has to pay for contractors to maintain the grass? to clean the marker? Is the cost too much for the government to shoulder? these men unselfishly served the nation. What’s wrong with us people?

– – –

When I visited Kranji cemetery it was Sunday. There were only five people. Most likely visiting relatives because they were busy locating a tombstone. A maintenance crew told me that visitors are rare even during weekends. Only exception is when dignitaries make official visits. Two years ago the British Royals, Kate and William, dropped by to pay their respects. Crowds gathered to take a glimpse of their former royalties. The event highlights the importance of Kranji Cemetery as a war memorial.

The area where Kranji cemetery is located was converted by the Japanese into a prison. It was a camp and ammunition storage previously. Not far, down the Kranji river, was where the Japanese forces first landed in Singapore. They crossed the straits of Johor, some in bikes. The cemetery is elevated, on a clear day you can see Johor Bahru’s skyline.

There’s less than 100 tombstones in Kranji but there are around 4400 that are buried in its grounds, more than 800 are unidentified. Its memorial walls has the name of 24000 allied soldiers.

Kranji cemetery also serves as a state cemetery. The first Singapore president, Yusof Bin Ishak, the only man featured in the country’s paper currency, was buried on the northern portion of the cemetery.

Like the American Cemetery in Taguig, Kranji is managed by a non-local European group tasked to oversee maintenance and commemoration of allied soldiers and servicemen. It is funded by member states unlike the American Battle Monument Commission (ABMC). The ABMC representative, a retired Marine, told me that their funding is not granted by congress’ budget. So I assume they operate from grants and contributions.

ABMC’s first chairman was Gen. John “Black Jack” Pershing. A US military legend who mentored Patton, MacArthur and Bradley, even Eisenhower. He served in Mindanao where legend has it that he scared the Moros by dipping bullets in pigs blood. This is unfounded (but was mentioned by Trump during the presidential campaign!) and is believed to be inaccurate but it could also be a real, a psychological tactic employed to sow fear. This kind of historical rumors don’t crop up from nothing.

gloomy day it was #WWII #kranji #kranjiwarmemorial

A post shared by H_YARN_LDO (@heyarnaldo) on

I’ve been deep in my reading WWII books lately that I feel compelled to visit historical sites here linked to WWII events. If there’s something that binds Singapore and the Philippines aside from being close South East Asian neighbors is that both experienced the brutal Japanese occupation.

Back home, we have so many places that witnessed​ the war: old houses used as Japanese residence, rice fields once converted to air strips, larger buildings converted to makeshift hospitals, bomb shelters, even caves that were used as temporary covers. There’s so many to see. When I get back, I’m visiting the Mabalacat airstrip used by Japanese pilots to launch deadly attacks against the allied forces. The Kamikaze East Airfield in Mabalacat is where the Kamikaze pilots first took off.


Farewell “Tito Peping” Jose R. Lopez

One of the few things that I treasure in life is meeting​ learned individuals and drawing myself in long insightful conversations with them. This small blog has made this possible.

One of these special souls I was fortunate to interact with was Jose R. Lopez, grandson of Paciano and José Rizal. I read an update from my facebook page that he recently passed away at the ripe old age of 93.

Heis the youngest grandson by Paciano Rizal’s daughter, Emiliana Rizal.

I never met him in Mr. Lopez person but we had these lengthy exchanges through email (that I re-read when I heard of his passing, it made me sad). I learned a great deal about his family from him. He never turned down a question. He was so open, so honest and so humble.

I could imagine that he gets bombarded with typical Rizal questions all the time but there he was, dishing out answers as if it were his first time responding to them. My questions often required complicated answers, for after all, the Rizals is a huge family. He was very patient replying to them all.

He once opened up an invitation for me to see some of Jose Rizal’s personal effects (a watch, handed to him by a cousin that still runs), teaspoons and a salt container, all bearing the hero’s initial, “JR”. Unfortunately, I never found the time to visit the old man. While I thanked him all the time in our email exchanges it would have been proper that this be done in person.

I could sense that this man was genuinely interested in sharing his knowledge and his experiences. He did so with admirable humility. He didn’t even told me what he used to do for a living. I later learned that he works for banks. He hardly mentioned anything personal about himself. Paciano Rizal, his grandfather, had the same character. In one his letter he described him as “very simple…a withdrawn individual not wanting at all to be recognized.” He told me a story about how the owners of the sugar central would make it a point that they hand Paciano Rizal payments for his sugarcane harvest personally as a sign of respect. His grandfather retired and lived a farmers life. I told him that his grandfather is one my favorite figures of the Philippine revolution, like Mabini, they were ostentatious and selfless, true patriots.

I imagine that if I were to meet Paciano or Jose Rizal, they would be as pleasant, as humble as their grandson.

In one of his last messages he shared his thoughts on history themed blogs in general. I took it as his way of reassuring me that he appreciated my inquiries over the years.

I wish that you are enjoying your trips discovering the world in your unique way of appreciating the past. I do not blame you for doing so as there is so much displeasure in seeking the present and with such presence it is a bit difficult to project the future that awaits us…

It is time to say I do appreciate receiving news about you and how you are doing because with people like you, I personally think the world will be a better place to live in.

Well, the pleasure is mine Sir. Thank you.

Rest in peace now…

Jose R. Lopez
May 14, 1924 – April 19, 2017.


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