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

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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.


The Revere Bell in Singapore’s National Museum

I dropped by Singapore’s National Museum yesterday to see a rare piece of Americana. The Revere Bell.

The bell was donated by Maria Revere, daughter of Paul Revere. She was married to the first American consul in the island (Balestier road was named after him). She wanted it to be tolled every night to let the sailors know that it’s time to return to their ships. Those guys must have been causing trouble during those days.

Paul Revere, was not only a well known silversmith of his time but also legendary patriot, one of the founding fathers of his nation. His “Midnight Ride” is an enduring story of patriotism during the American revolution. It has been mentioned countless times in American pop culture. My favorite nerd rock band Weezer even has a song titled “the British are coming”. These are the words Revere shouted that night when he rode on a horseback to warn his people.

There’s a popular portrait by John S. Copley, depicts Revere rubbing his chin with his right index finger while holding a silver teapot. It is said to convey the message of Revere and his silversmith business. He looks like a youn Jack Black if you’re to ask me.

The Revere Bell is the only one that was made in the United States that was exported. That’s how rare the relic is. The US embassy for a time became its home. It was brought to Singapore when Paul Revere was no longer around (he died 1818) but with it came his legendary name and reputation.

one most beautiful colonial here in Singapore. the conservation work they've done here is awesome

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I’ve been to the National Museum of Singapore a total of three times. It never fails to amaze me. In all my visits I learn something new. The architecture and style of the old neoclassical colonial building is in itself a museum piece.

I would recommend first time or even regular Singapore visitors to see it. It has the most essential historical information about the island. From its precolonial epoch to its modern history.

If you’ve heard of the fabled Singapore Stone, a piece of it is in the museum. It used to be a large stone that protruded at the mouth of the Singapore river. It had inscriptions that experts has not yet deciphered. Many believes these were old Sumatran text. The legend was that the strong man “Badang” hurled the stone in its place. It was revered for a long time, until the British (for their ships to be accommodated) blew it into pieces!

I like the permanent exhibit, it walks you through different epochs in Singapore’s long storied history. There’s the “Modern Colony” where the lifestyle of the educated and moneyed class is presented: a study desk made of solid wood with side cabinets, a mobile wardrobe trunk from the 1st commercial store in Singapore (John Little, recently closed shop). Spectacles and glasses made of brass and alloy. High society was into dances back then, the clubs was buzzing and its clubbers wore gorgeous dresses (exquisite “cheongsum” with floral motif) and expensive suits (layered western clothing, yes, in the tropics!).

The exhibit about the Japanese occupation (Surviving Syonan) is an interesting presentation. While it’s a brief interlude that lasted for only 3 years, it had a lasting impact on the colony and its citizens. In the exhibit are some curious propaganda materials. The Japanese went full blast with it. They placed propaganda everywhere: art, music, theatre, films, books and radio. They even had a compulsory Japanese language subject in school. And if the campaign had succeeded the current Japanese language schools would not be in business!


Short Visit to Angeles, Subic & Olongapo of my Childhood

A good time was had last Tuesday when my two brothers along with two nephews and a niece journeyed up north. My elder brother (here for a short vacation like myself) visited the final resting place of his US Navy mentor and friend, Andy. We then went to Subic, then Olongapo. Here we spent many summer holidays back when were little kids.

The first stop was Angeles where we met Cecil, Andy’s sister. He held the rank of master chief, the highest among enlisted personnel. He was not only accomplished Filipino in his field, he was, according to my brother, the kindest person he ever met. The kinda guy that would drop what he’s doing if someone needs his help.

A view of Mt. Arayat from Magalang.

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Andy recently retired, bought a beautiful house near the San Fernando-Angeles border. He started sending boxes after boxes of his stuff from the US: chandeliers, Japanese furniture, even a wooden mini bar. Everything was waiting for him—what he had is how every OFW imagine how their careers to end. Retire back home, surrounded by loveones, living in the dream lofty house decorated with personal effects culled from memorable trips. Sadly, tragedy struck. During one of his usual runs, he suffered a fatal heart attack. He was only 51.

Some of the boxes he sent from the states are there in his garage, left unboxed, waiting to be opened. It was so sad to see.

After Angeles, we headed straight to SCTEX. Passing by Clark airfield and some of the best views of the peaks and valleys of Central Luzon. The kids were awed by mountains carved to make way for roads. Our driver, Jesse, who worked in Subic for two years said the entire project was supervised by the Japanese. The guy turns out to be a conspiracy theorist nut like myself. He said the Japanese took on the project so they can look for buried treasures. Of course, there’s absolutely no proof of that but it’s fun to talk about nonsense if you have nothing to do.

the Pinatubo eruption created this Martian like landscapes in central Luzon. Strange beauty indeed.

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Travel time was way longer in the 80’s but you get to pass all the busy towns. Now, Olongapo and Subic doesn’t​ feel that far of. The access has brought some economic benefits to locals. We kid our mother who practically gave her lots in the area to relatives (who doesn’t even know who she is) to take those back!

After eating our lunch in one of Subic’s restos along its scenic shoreline, we headed straight to another navy buddy of my brother. Navy servicemen are common in the area because Subic back then (when they still have the US port base) allowed Filipino recruits. Many of the young locals did join and some of them went back to retire.

I got really excited seeing the color coded jeepneys still plying the streets. As they say then, only an idiot get lost in Olongapo. If you don’t know how to read, all the jeeps are color coded.

We used to go to the busy wet market and see US servicemen buying local goods. When night time comes, the streets comes alive with all the a-go-go clubs neon lights. You see drunk American men then hanging on to their Pinay companions. One thing about the town is that almost all roads leads back to the main road.

Our house was in Balic-Balic and I remember being woke up by the thundering sound of fighter jets going around. The noise made the glasses in our small kitchen shake (we live uphill).

My Aunt Lydia’s husband worked as an engineer in Subic then. He would always bring back home some sweet goodies from the base. Back then, they have stores there selling merchandise for US servicemen. Everything of course was “estaytsayd”. The sweets and chocolates I tasted then are the ones I go for today (snickers and M&Ms). I never got to see the inside of Subic during those times. All I saw then was its gates guarded by US military men whenever we pass by.

Ah hot sun, sand and just look at that water, so nice. also hot 😁😁😎

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Spending time in Olongapo is probably the reason why I love nature. I have a profound appreciation of our natural environment because I enjoyed it as a child. We used to bathe in Mabayuan (a tributary of Sta. Rita river) during my summer vacations back in the 80’s. While we’re at it, we would catch these almost invisible fresh water shrimps. My cousin Jean, who now lives in the US, uses her long skirt to net this fast little crustaceans. The water was so clear then, people would wash dishes and clothes there. Whenever I hear the sound of water flowing stream, I get transported back to those sweet childhood memories.


Captain Remo of San Pedro Tunasan

My friend, Pepe Alas, handed me a copy of his first book, “Captain Remo,” last Sunday. It’s short but a good read even if you’re not the history buff kind. I finished it on my flight back to Singapore yesterday.

According to the author, that sepia photo is the only extant picture of the hero. Unacceptable in today’s standards of course where everything is captured by our tiny phones for eternity

 

There are interesting historical anecdotes in the book. Like how San Pedro Tunasan, the old name, remained popular for decades even after it was officially shortened to San Pedro in the early 1900’s. I read President Marco’s diary last year and he still referred to it in its old name in the 70’s.

In page 6 Alas writes, “Cuyab was begininning its duck raising industry, San Roque was well known for its healthy farm produce…San Vicente for its numerous rice farms.” The rich barrios of the old days are the poor barangays of today. The traditional livelihoods and industries are all but gone. Even sampaguita, once the biggest in the country, somehow vanished. But according to the author, “although sampaguita shrubs were already aplenty, it was not yet an industry until after the war.” For some reason, the shrub easily grows and blooms in San Pedro. I wonder if this was the reason why the old locals started farming it. I can still remember seeing sampaguitas, from above the bridge (tulay), harvested in the early mornings along the railroad.

I collaborated with Alas on a book project before (remains unpublished). He made several revisions and additions over the years. I’m uncertain what the book would be like when, and if, it finally hits the printing press. Captain Remo’s biography is sponsored once more by San Pedro’s local government. Another project that they could explore is the history of the sampaguita trade. The town used to pride itself as the sampaguita capital.

The autobiography of Abelardo Remoquillo, popularly called Captain Remo, is an attempt to introduce a local hero, a Sanpedrense, who died in the Battle of Ba’y. The author’s observation that all prominent Filipino heroes are almost exclusively from the Spanish epoch is accurate.

It’s true what Alas said that the recognized heroes outside the revolution against Spain are the three faces in the 1000 bill (and Ninoy, if you consider him one). I’m sure not too many knows who the three figures were and what they did or how they died. Ok, if you don’t believe that, try to name them all while reading this, a ver?

If you got it right. Congratulations!

I studied in a school named after Jose Abad Santos and I swear that I have classmates that graduated without knowing who he was and how he died for his country. And the school never really bothered anyway to teach its students the Chief Justice’s story.

Remoquillo was a promising law student before the war started. He died when he was only 21. He figured prominently in the “Raid of Los Baños”.  Considered the most daring and successful rescue mission in modern warfare history. More than 2000 prisoners were freed. The young hero was under the command of Gustavo Inglés. So many books has been written about the rescue, I would leased surprised if one day Hollywood makes a movie out of it, like they did with the Raid of Cabanatuan.

One could only imagine what it takes to have all that courage to make the ultimate sacrifice. My grandfather on my mom’s side joined the resistance at a very young age but he survived the war. Imagine all the young lives, the innocent civilians that perished during those hard years. Capitan Remonquillo never saw his land liberated.

One other thing that this book made me realize is how important the reserve officers training in school was, the ROTC. While it is unlikely, war is a reality that will once more confront us in the future. The ROTC reserves that banded together and fought the Japanese were organized and courageous. We must have the same today.

The first time I saw Capitan Remo’s monument in the old municipio I wondered who he was, how he lived, how he died. I knew that he was a local, a WWII hero but that’s about it. Thanks to Alas’ and Ms. Sietereales’ work, these questions were answered.


Soon to Rise: Alberto House of Biñan?

I saw a link (Facebook) earlier of plans to acquire land in Biñan to reconstruct the historic Alberto mansion.

This most likely would be a total reconstruction since most parts of the house has been transplanted in Bataan. If you haven’t been to Las Casas I suggest you see the Alberto house there. They recreated it in its original dimensions.

But what’s the use of reconstructing the Alberto mansion?

They should have thought of this when the owner was looking for help. Even when he decided to sell the house’s materials, they should have jumped into the chance of acquiring it. There was virtually no interest in this bahay-na-bata not until social media and national TV highlighted what Biñan was about to lose.

According to an Facebook post the city council passed an ordinance to acquire “parcel of land consisting of 1,197 square meters, more or less…located in Plaza Rizal, Brgy. Poblacion, City of Biñan” This would place the reconstruction within the vicinity of its original location. I am not sure if they’re considering the actual area where it once stood. All of these for sure costs more now for sure. Hopefully the city council gets a good deal.

Back in ’08 with me is Pepe Alas. This staircase (or parts of it) is now in Las Casa. A scene from the blockbuster Heneral Luna movie features it. Arnisson Ortega,author of “Neolibiralizing Spaces in the Philippines”, alleges that the site was leased to Starbucks. If only they considered “reusing” the house then, the establishment or any shop would have benefited from having leased a space that’s considered among the most historically important and oldest house in the country!

The Alberto house is arguably the most “historically” important extant bahay-na-bato in Laguna before its demolition. The Rizal’s in Calamba is a complete reconstruction publicly funded during Pres. Quirino’s time. According to the US Secretary of Interior Standards is the “process of depicting, by means of new construction, the form, features, and detailing of a non-surviving site, landscape, building, structure, or object for the purpose of replicating its appearance at a specific period of time and in its historic location”.

For sentimental reasons I guess a reconstruction serves a purpose. But the way I see it, a waste of tax payers money. Instead of appropriating money to reconstruct the Alberto house why not spend it in rehabilitating existing bahay-na-bato in old Biñan? If owners don’t want it, then perhaps spending money in education and promoting the importance if these historical houses is just as good.

The Alberto house holds the record of being the most blogged about in this site. I simply fell in love with it the moment I first saw it. Along with fellow blogger Pepe Alas, I met the present owner twice—and the dead owners, once. True story, read it here!

I predict that bahay-na-batos would be extinct in half a century, with the exception of those being cared for and protected by local governments and loving descendants, most would be demolished and the land beneath it sold. An example of this is what’s happening now in Manila, in the old quarter of San Nicolas. Remember many of these houses stands in prime areas now. These are top of the line real estate we’re talking about here.

Filipinos don’t seem to have a sense of obligation to look after heritage. A visit to Bataan’s Las Casas’s resort proves this. I mean, who are these people giving up their ancestral houses? Selling them like scrap metal? There’s an old house there that was almost entirely procured from a junk shop!

A few years ago, I joined a group of Filipino expats in Chicago for a baptismal party. They rented a place just outside Chicago. We drove half an hour, maybe more, we had difficulties locating the house. Turns out that it was a beautifully restored century old log cabin located in a park. It brought to mind books I read about the old America. I can imagine the original owners living off the land.

My point is that they did all that for a humble log cabin house. In Binañ’s case, many didn’t even bat an eye for that poor centuries old house while it rotted and eventually taken down.

Is heritage conservation a priority only to affluent nations because they have money to spare?

I hope not because if this is the case, then ours, what’s left of it, would not be around much longer.


Lent, superstitions & a reminder for penance

Last Wednesday I attended an evening mass nearby. I normally avoid this church because the choir’s too loud. They have complete drum sets and very powerful speakers. They remind me of born-again services I attended as a child during my summer vacations in Cavite. The singers, some Filipinos, have great vocals. Maybe I just prefer the more traditional music from the choir stalls—but that’s just me. It’s Ash Wednesday, with little time in my hands I had to go to where’s convenient.

Neo gothic beauty. Small but lofty ceilings with intricate leaf and vine artworks on its columns. Classic English Catholic church as can be seen in the positions of its auxiliary altars, apse, chancel and aisles.

 

I used to frequent an older church from the north east part of the island, not really far from where we are now but it takes two bus rides. I have written about this beautiful neo gothic church here established 150 years ago to serve the fishing Teochew communities. I still visit this church from time to time. Last month, I paid my last respects to a Burmese parish priest, Fr. Peter Paul, who recently passed. He was interned in Myanmar but services were held in Nativity to honor his memory.

I don’t know Fr. P that well but I attended masses he celebrated since 2009. The last time I saw him was a memorable interaction, my confession after so many years. Prior to this the last was back in grade school, that’s almost 30 years. He had a good laugh about it but then reminded me to do it more often. Which of course I still haven’t done and so Fr. Peter P. was my last confessor.

I’m a superstitious person. I was raised this way but interesting is that my siblings grew up unlike me. They took up from my father, an extreme opposite of my mother when it comes to superstitions.

One of my favorite superstitions is avoiding sleeping without eating something. The soul, Mama said, would look for food when your already in deep sleep. The danger is that it might not find its way back to your body! Why? The soul might get trapped inside the caldero ng kanin!

I remember being given pieces of bronze and all sorts of coins when I would wonder around our hilly property in Olongapo. I was told these metals makes you heavy and elemental hates the smell of tanso (copper). Hence, they can’t mess with you or put a spell on you.

Some are really scary. My mother would all wake us up if there’s a funeral procession passing by. According to her spirits possess powers that can lure our souls. When you’re asleep that’s when you’re soul’s vulnerable. Look, these all my sounds strange but believe you me, we have tons of it. Filipinos, like most orientals, are very superstitious.

Many of the superstitions I grew up with revolves around out witting evil spirits. Funny as it may sound that’s really what they were. But how can mortals out smart the devil? The whole idea sounds absurd but many of these are deeply embedded in Filipino tradition.

So are demons or whatever they are true?

I believe so.

I’m sure the good priest will be missed by his parish. It was nice meeting Fr. P. Rest in peace.

Now, back to my long over due penance with the late priest. There was this interesting coincidence that took place that made that day all the more unforgettable.

I normally don’t share these kind of stories here but here goes:

Fr. P and I had a brief chat after my confession. He said even he tries to do it weekly, twice if possible. He needs it because like me, he said, he’s a sinner too. He’s humble, happy, very accommodating guy. After the absolution, he gave me a list of prayers. So I started, and the good priest walked away. This took place near the altar, right after the afternoon mass.

When I was done with the prayers, which were surprisingly short (I was expecting a longer list after all those years of not doing it) I left hurriedly. It was pass 6PM, the skies still lit but the sun had set.

These days I listen to podcasts more than music. My playlist includes mostly stand up comics and educational podcasts like Freakonomics and NPR’S Radio Lab. When I left the Church’s premises I decided to listen on my ride back home. I lost track what I had on but was surprised that there was this comedians mocking priests and the Catholic Church. They were brutal, all the bad press you hear about the church and its priests. They were howling in laughter!

I’m inclined to think that’s just another coincidence?

Descanse en paz Fr. P.


Libraries are our Friend

Libraries eventually will all be phased out as information becomes available in digital forms. This institution will all serve as repositories of physical books. One day,  we’ll just borrow digital facsimile online (Google’s on it with GoogleBooks). There will be no need for a visit.

And so, enjoy them while they’re still around.

Arguably the best library in the region is Singapore’s NLB. For foreigners like myself it comes with a price (around 2000 pesos) but it still a great deal. I consider it paying for a premium membership. I can borrow books from the central library and drop them at any of NLB’s branches island wide. Your library card is a piece of plastic that carries all your information. You don’t have to worry keeping track of what you loaned, there’s an app that alerts you when is your due. You can request for titles and reserve them on line. Open until 9 PM, they also operate from Monday to Sunday. It’s easy to see why I enjoy the library here, makes life and reading easy.

Drop your borrowed books, anytime!

Neni Sta. Romana Cruz, chairwoman of National Book Development Board, in her email  to this blogger relating her NLB experience said, “how I love the National Library of Singapore! I spent my whole day there on my last visit last year. I was so envious!”

The titles I like the most of course are Filipinianas and old history books  about us Filipinos. Unfortunately I can’t bring most of these home. Most are tagged under “reference” use only. But it’s fine, the library provides spaces and facilities conducive to learning (and sometimes snoozing!).

 

They update you regularly by mail, SMS and email. Very efficient service, unlike no other in the region for sure.

 

Our library back home is teeming with first hand historical sources. I can’t wait for my next visit. It’s far from what Singapore has managed to establish but as long as books that I want to borrow are accessible that makes up for everything.

Our National Library has been a victim of  countless pilferage, especially after WWII. Constant issues with funding has also placed rare manuscripts in danger. I wonder if there’s a plan to ensure everything is backed up in digital form before they’re lost forever. In one of my visit to the Lopez Museum and Library they were already scanning their collection.

We have to go digital, invest in making local libraries around the country portals equipped with computers and tablets. There appears to be no other viable option for us.  You go the remotest barrios where even basic medicines are scarce. There’s just too many of us, scattered in so many islands, with so little money for sending books around.

I met a Filipino here a couple of years ago that works for a design firm. He related to me that  those small colorful National Geographic books in their dilapidated elementary school in Cebu inspired him to dream of working abroad as some kind of a visual artist. He would look at those donated book’s pictures for hours he said. He later left his small town to study arts in Manila.

Now, that’s the power of books.

***

I read a couple of books the last two visits I made to NLB. They have an impressive Filipiniana collection. Some are archived available only upon request. Most are in the “reference” section. You can read it there but you can’t take it home.

The first, “An Epistle of a Friar Prisoner 1898-1900” by Lino Dizon. An expert historian of Central Luzon during the Spanish-Philippines epoch.

The book is about Padre Fernando Garcia OSA experience during the Philippine revolution. There were his letters of his “sorties from town to town and provinces” as prisoner and missionary at the turn of the century.

This Spanish Augustinian wrote in Capampangan. Started his career in the mid 1890s. Initially assigned in Tarlac in 1896, then Macabebe. In 1989 he was in Hagonoy, a prisoner of Aguinaldo’s army. His observations were critical of the treatment they received from the revolutionaries . He escaped in Bontoc went back to Manila and wrote “Ing Macuyad a Pamagsalita Diquil Qng Bie Nang Delanan at Pangatimaua Ning Metung a Mebijag”. Many missionaries were left behind when the Spanish started withdrawing from the islands at the turn of the century.

It’s a fascinating read for it shows two things that many Filipinos reading history often overlook.

First is how skilled and learned the Spanish Friars were: they were engineers, scientists and scholars. The churches and presbyteries, today’s remnants of their handiwork, represents their meticulous and masterful planning.

Second is how they mastered the local languages. They communicated using it which made conversion faster. No one understood the local communities more than these Spanish parish priests. Perhaps they did more than other Filipinos living in other regions and speaking other languages during their time.

It is not rare to encounter documents written in local languages by Spanish missionaries like Padre Garcia’s work. It can be argued that by recording ancient local languages and customs they unwittingly preserved these for us to study today. Without written records, so much would have been lost!

Another book I stumbled upon was from a Monash University (Australia) professor, John Newsome Crossley, “Hernando de los Rios Coronel and the Spanish Philippines in the Golden Age”.

The book revolves around de los Rios, his time in the colony and his accomplished resume. It’s an interesting read that deserves a separate post. Crossley suggests that de los Rios was an ordained priest. The first chapters of the books presents the early history of Spain in the islands. Well researched and written; it even breakdown the political make up of the early administrations, even the role of the missionaries in the natives lives. This book’s a lot better than some of our standard text books in grade school and secondaries.

How Crossley got the idea to pick de los Rios as subject for his book is in itself an interesting story. During his visit to UST’s Benavides library in Manila, Fr. Aparacio presented to him a first edition of Copernicus’ “De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium”. The copy was signed by “Hernando de los Rios Coronel”. You can tell a lot from what a man reads. The author then went on to write about the Spanish gentleman.


Padre Damaso’ and the friars: Myth versus reality

This article was written by Pio Andrade Jr. This appeared on for the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Lifestyle section on January 25, 2016.

If the Augustinians, Franciscans, Dominicans and Recollects were mostly evil like Damaso, how was Spain able to hold PH for 350 years with a ridiculously low occupying army?

EXACTLY a year ago when Pope Francis visited the Philippines, Carlos Celdran, who claims to be a culture and history guide for tourists and heritage buffs, made a public appeal for the Pope to intervene in his civil case for “offending religious feelings.”

The case was filed against him when he disrupted a service in 2010 at the Manila Cathedral by donning the gentleman’s suit à la Jose Rizal and crying “Padre Damaso!” (a reference to the villain in Rizal’s fiction) at Cardinal Gaudencio Rosales and priests and policemen (who were attending the service).
Celdran, who did the stunt to protest alleged Church violation of the separation of Church and state by its political activism, had called for forgiveness, but he was nonetheless convicted by the Manila court. He had vowed to appeal his conviction at the Supreme Court.
Now that the Philippines is observing the first anniversary of the Pope’s visit and hosting for the second time the International Eucharistic Congress since 1937, it would be worthwhile to look closely at the issue.

Is the fictional Padre Damaso an accurate representation of the friars who dominated Philippine life during the Spanish era?

If the friars—the Augustinians, Franciscans, Dominicans and Recollects—were mostly evil like Damaso, how was Spain able to hold the Philippines for 350 years with a ridiculously low army of occupation?

If the friars were evil Damasos, would Catholicism, which for the past 100 years has been painted black by public education, be deeply implanted in Filipino hearts?

If most of the friars were evil, there would have been many records of lynching of priests by the natives. But how come no such accounts can be found in history books, even those written by historians critical of Spain and the friars?

Let us look at the accomplishments of the friars during the Spanish era which are not adequately described—if they are mentioned at all—in history textbooks.

The friars propagated many useful plants from Mexico during the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade.

In history textbooks and press articles, the Galleon Trade has been simplified as the commercial exchange of Mexican silver with Chinese silk and spices. But many Filipinos do not know of the Mexican plants that came with the galleons, such as corn (maiz), camote (camotl), peanuts, tomato, sunflower, ipil-ipil, cacao, indigo, kalachuchi, marigold, kamatchili (quamochitl), kakawati, maguey, tobacco, acacia, caballero,
papaya, chico, coffee, pineapple, guava.

These plants have increased the Philippines’ food supply, providing us new medicines, giving rise to rural industries, and beautifying backyards and plazas.

Some of the better-known friars responsible for the introduction of such flora were: Fr. Jose Davila (cacao and chocolate making); Fr. Diego Garcia (tobacco and cigar making); Fr. Tomas Moncada (wheat); Fr. Octavio (indigo and processing of indigo dyestuff); and Fr. Antonio Sedeno (mulberry; he was a Jesuit, not a friar, but just the same a Catholic missionary like the friars).

Philippine history textbooks are silent about Mexican plants being introduced locally and the big role the friars played in propagating them all over the country. Some of the plants led to the establishment of extensive rural industries such as cigar, indigo dye, tanning leather, chocolate and coffee.

But the friars also propagated useful plants from neighboring Asian countries. They popularized the use of moras or vetiver for erosion control of irrigation canals and small streams; citrus plant species from China for eating and cooking; rosemary and thyme for home remedies; and sugarcane from China for the manufacture of sweets.

The Dominicans brought Tonkin seeds (from Vietnam, of course) and showed the plant’s medicinal potentials.

The friars built roads and bridges for transportation.

Dominican Fr. Juan Villaverde built over 100 kilometers of roads in Pangasinan, Nueva Vizcaya and Kiangan. He also pointed out the Dalton Pass as the gateway to Cagayan Valley.

Recollect Fr. Pedro Cuenca built the Bacolod-Minulan Road in Negros; Franciscan Fr. Victorino del Moral built the famous Puente del Caprichio in Majayjay, Laguna; and Fr. Andres Patino built the Tinajeros Bridge in Malabon.

The friars quarried stone and introduced new building technologies.

Dominican Fray Domingo de Salazar, the first bishop of Manila, quarried at the mouth of the Pasig to come up with solid materials to replace the combustible nipa-and-wood house of the native Filipinos. Jesuit Fr. Sedeno introduced the technology of brickmaking and burning limestone to make lime as mortar for brick and stones to build stone structures. These translated into the building of durable, long-lasting stone bridges, churches, schools, fortifications and bahay-na-bato.

The friars introduced modern irrigation.

The Philippines was a rice exporter in the 1860s until 1880s because of the irrigation systems built by the friars in many provinces. In Cavite province, the Recollects built 18 irrigation systems that watered 21,000 hectares of rice lands.

In Calamba, Laguna, under the Dominicans, eight irrigation systems watered 4,250 hectares of ricelands. In Bataan, an irrigation dam of the Dominicans supplied water to 521 hectares of rice lands. Bulacan had two friar-built irrigation systems watering 1,850 hectares.

In Umingan, Pangasinan, a Dominican priest taught the farmers how to build portable bamboo waterwheels to draw water from brooks or streams below the level of farmlands.

We became a rice importer because it was more profitable to raise sugarcane, abaca and tobacco than rice by the 1880s.

The friars made the abaca industry.

Abaca was a Philippine monopoly and a major export crop starting in the 1830s. Credit is due Franciscan Fray Pedro Espallargas in Albay for inventing the abaca stripper, which made abaca fiber extraction faster and easier while increasing the yield and quality of the abaca fiber, the best marine fiber in the world.

The abaca stripper was so successful that, from 1830 to 1920, abaca became known internationally as “Manila hemp,” and it accounted for 20-40 percent of the foreign exchange earnings of the Philippines.

Fr. Espallargas is unmentioned in history textbooks.

The friars established the hospital, banking and water systems in the Philippines.

Fr. Felix Huertas, a Franciscan, is unknown except for a street in Manila’s Santa Cruz district, which does not identify him as a priest. He was the head of San Lazaro Hospital for lepers and he founded Monte de Piedad, a combination of savings bank and pawnshop, which was the first agricultural bank of the Philippines.

But his greatest achievement was completing the forgotten Carriedo to supply Manila with safe, potable running water beginning in 1882.

I do not remember reading about Fr. Huertas in the many articles on Manila’s past published in the Philippine press.

The friars established the modern printing press.

Dominican Fr. Francisco Blancas de San Jose introduced modern printing in the Philippines. This replaced the wooden block press, also introduced by him and the Dominicans, which published the first books in the country such as “Doctrina Cristiana.”

The press was a big help in education. It helped disseminate the Gospel in the native languages, which meant the friars did not destroy local languages and cultures, as most history books virulently declare, but, rather, they studied and conserved them. The press that Father Blancas established is still running today—the University of Santo Tomas Press, which is the second oldest in the world after Cambridge.

The friars cultivated the Filipino’s talent in music and the performing arts.

Filipinos are the minstrels of Asia. One writer noted that nightclubs in Asia would always boast of their Filipino musicians. Indeed, the Philippines may be the most musical of Asians and the friars cultivated the musicality of Filipinos.

Franciscan Fr. Jeronimo Aguilar was the first to teach Filipinos and deepen their musical talents. The friars taught the natives music for Mass and other religious rituals. I have seen in the National Archives a few Cuentas, the record of income and expenses of each province during the Spanish era; they showed that choir members were paid for their services.

The friars defended the Filipinos from abusive Moro attackers and slave traders and built fortifications that have withstood the test of time.

While busy building communities, the friars were also defenders of the natives from corrupt local leaders and pirates who periodically raided coastal villages to plunder and acquire slaves.

The friars built a hospital and welfare system in the Philippines that was ahead of North America’s.

The friars built the first hospitals in the Philippines; they built them in the first century of Spanish rule, antedating the system in the United States by 100 years.

They introduced medicinal plants from Mexico and Spain and recorded for posterity the herbal cures used by the natives, so that Philippine herbal medicinal knowledge and skills were conserved.

The friars built the sugar industry.

The giant sugar industry was also due to the work of the friars, particularly the Recollects missions in Negros. Sugarcane then was first crushed between two wood or stone cylinders called trapiche to yield its sweet juice.

Fr. Fernando Cuenca introduced the first hydraulic sugarcane crusher in 1850, which began the sugar boom and made Negros a very wealthy province.

The friars built the looming industry.

The Dominicans, who founded University of Santo Tomas, the oldest university and the only Pontifical university in Asia, introduced the first modern loom system, supplanting the native loom and making weaving faster and easier. Thus, the weaving industry became a big home industry in many places in the country.

The friars, not the North Americans, introduced public instruction.

Most Filipinos have been led to believe that Spain did not educate the Filipinos to make them submissive to Spanish officials and that the United States introduced public education in the Philippines. This is a big lie.

Formal public education in the Philippines officially began in 1863 with the Educational Reform Act. But even before that the friars had been active in teaching elementary reading and writing.

Gunnar Myrdal, in his monumental classic “Asian Drama,” wrote that the Philippines was ahead of other colonized Asian countries in education in the second half of the 19th century. The Philippines had higher literacy than other Asian countries, even higher than Spain, according to data submitted by Taft to the US Congress.

This was, in fact, the prime reason for the Katipunan revolution—our relatively advanced state of education and the economic progress under Spain that had been largely fostered by the friars. Revolutions are not started by uneducated masses.

It is important to point out that the Philippines was economically prosperous during the last four decades of Spanish rule, thanks to the agriculture-based industries—abaca, sugar, tobacco, indigo, and coffee—the propagation and cultivation of which were pushed by the friars.

Prejudice

Many of the information about the big role the friars played in Philippine cultural and economic advancement are not being taught in our schools; thus, generations of Filipinos do not know of the good friars. Thus, Filipinos are culturally Catholics but are superficial about Catholicism, especially its moral teachings and the work of the missionaries.

With the visit of good Pope Francis last year and the hosting of the International Eucharistic Congress this week by the Archdiocese of Cebu—the cradle of Christianity in the Philippines and the largest diocese in Asia, and whose Visayan people are known for their very intense devotion to the Santo Niño introduced by the Augustinians, the first missionary order in the country—it is imperative to re-examine the prejudice against the friars fostered by our ignorance and the lies spread by anti-Catholic or pseudo-nationalist
historians and writers.

Filipino Catholics should banish the negative and largely false image of the friars fostered by dishonest historians, politicians, writers, media men and culture tour guides like Carlos Celdran.

Pio Andrade Jr. is a history buff and freelance journalist. He obtained degrees from Mapua Institute of Technology and University of Florida, and is a science researcher who has written several studies on ethnobotany, radiation chemistry, textile chemistry, food technology, pesticides and biomass energy.

 


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