Author Archives: Arnaldo Arnáiz

Boac Fire Destroys Heritage Houses

Sad news coming from Boac. A fire destroyed 8 heritage houses in its poblacion. This includes the gazetted Piroco house (also called Maharlikang Bahay) according to an Inquirer report.

Among the fires casualty is the ChiWing Panciteria. The granddaughter of its original owner, Karlene Chi, broke the news to this blogger last night, she posted:

“Last night, a fire ripped through four blocks and almost all the buildings featured here have been destroyed. My family owns the panciteria that was featured here (surname is Chi). It’s called the ChiWing Panciteria, after my grandfather. My grandfather opened that store way back in the 30s or 40s. My dad and his siblings grew up in that kitchen. It is devastating to think that the history and that kitchen is gone… that’s all the family has left. Pictures and memories.”

My eldest brother’s stories about Moriones Festival inspired me to visit Marinduque. I grew up seeing his big red flag with a centurion’s angry face in our home. A keepsake from his pilgrimages to the island.

Some of the houses I visited in the area were annihilated by the blaze. I felt a familiar grief similar to the destruction of Bohol’s old churches after the devastating earthquake of 2013. I am blessed to have seen those churches before they went down.

The destruction of Boac’s antebellum houses is such a great lost. There’s this lamentable abrupt termination of tradition and cultural identity whenever a bahay-na-bato goes down. We can always reconstruct a certain architecture but never recover its rooted soul.

As Teodoro M. Kalaws elucidates:

“the great houses… are the material expression of our communal type of society… our grand sires erected those mansions to house generation after generation of descendants. They served to give life and fulfillment to the supreme ideal of stability, unity, perpetuity, of the Filipino family.”

When I visited Boac, I went mad taking snapshots of its old houses. Like their version of Tagalog, their antillean houses were delightfully unique. Perhaps owing to the islands isolation and fortune—for the most part, the houses were spared from destruction during WWII.

It is my belief that everything happens for a reason. Bad philosophy I was told but it’s a Christian way of rationalizing such a horrible event. Let’s all hope that things gets better for those affected…

And they will.

I look forward to the day that the houses would be reconstructed to honor the old Boac.

Here are some photos (there was no photocopying machine when I was there) of the heritage mapping done by Boac’s secondary students. This project had been archived by the province’s tourism department.

These photos were not included in my Boac blog (read it here http://tinyw.in/7M4x). I saved it on a separate folder. I thought it was nice reminder that the next generation would take up the mantle of heritage conservation when their numbers gets called.

Bahay ni Purificacion de la Santa. That name is holy indeed.

Sofronio Roque house

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Felipe Buencamino’s US Senate Appearance

The biopic movie “Heneral Luna” introduced many Filipinos for the first time to Felipe Buencamino. Veteran actor Nonie Buencamino, a descendant of his, played his“contra vida” character.

Felipe Buencamino is one of Emilio Aguinaldo’s trusted ministers. He started on the other side of the fence, worked for Manila’s Audencia (courts), became a fiscal and later a judge. He fought against the Filipinos (which he claims at the beginning were mostly brigands, disorganized and had no political goals) during the outbreak of the revolution. But he had a change of heart after he was imprisoned for espionage by Spanish authorities. He jumped ship after his incarceration.

He must have impressed Aguinaldo because he had a meteoric rise—from the battle fields to becoming foreign affairs minister. He remained one of the closest man to the president’s ears until he was captured (November 1899). Unlike most of El Presidente’s trusted Caviteño men, Buencamino was a true blue Bulaqueño. He later help frame the Malolos Constitution.

In the early 1900’s he co-founded the Partido Federalista with Trinidad Pardo de Tavera as president (while Aguinaldo escaped north). The party’s goal was to have the US take us in as its citizens and the country as one of its states. They were also popularly referred to as the Americanistas.

I got interested in Buencamino’s story when hispanist historian Guillermo Gomez Rivera gave me a copy of his “Statement before the committee on insular affairs on conditions in the Philippine islands.”

He appeared before the US Senate in 1902.

Here are some of what Buencamino shared during the hearing.

On “Heneral Luna,”:

“Two bands were formed within the Philippine Army, one for Gen. Luna and the other for Gen. Aguinaldo.”

“General Luna wanted to effect a coup d’etat to supplant Aguinaldo.”

“General Aguinaldo decided on the suppression of General Luna… collected 4000 men and went to look for General Luna, leaving the town where the captain-general was temporarily on June 1. General Luna was leaving Bayambang, about 75 miles from Cabanatuan, so that it took Aguinaldo four days to arrive at the town of Bayambang. But what I can not explain is the coincidence that upon the same day that Aguinaldo was arriving at the residence of General Luna… on the same day and at the same hour General Luna reached General Aguinaldo’s house (Cabanatuan).”

“Everybody lost confidence in the insurrection by this occurrence (Luna’s assassination). It can be said that from that time the insurrection had morally died.”

On how the hostility started between the Filipinos and Americans, the US Senate Chairman asked, “so the opening of the hostilities was simply premature. The hostilities were to be begun by Aguinaldo (through an executive order) anyway a little later?

“Yes, Sir. The basis of this was a lack of confidence in the Americans.”

While he was critical of how Spain failed to entirely educate Filipinos, he acknowledged the benefits of their regimented religious education:

“When the Spaniard came they taught Christianity, the immense benefit of which I cannot but acknowledge. This was an incomprehensible act in the 15th century, because only the Philippines in the Far East were selected to be Christianized; and, as is natural, Christianity perfected us and our education about the basic principles of life… Spain at that time brought about the unity of the Philippine people, who had been divided into a great many tribes. We were as highly educated as any people in the world, any citizen of the most civilized country in the world could go to the Philippine before the revolution and could be sure of his life, his property and interest.”

Buencamino’s opinion apparently changed after the abortive revolution. This appears to be the opinion of the Federalistas for wanting to become American citizens. They believe we “can not govern ourselves,” he continues:

“Self-governance, according to my sad experience, belong only to people and nations who can inspire their neighbors respect and consideration… Let it be supposed that Aguinaldo established a free government under a system of independence, and he would have a conflict with any of the hundreds of these foreigners (with residences and businesses in the country, some of whom were claiming indemnities because of the damage caused by the revolution, i.e., in Iloilo) because he has no idea of what international responsibility is, we would have international conflict. Thus, we would go on until we would extinguish ourselves forever, and we would suffer the fate of Samoa and China. For all these reasons I deduced the inadvisability of our being independent.”

He believes that the Filipinos unpreparedness to govern was brought about the Spaniards failure to educate its colonial subjects. “We have never had an opportunity of being politicians,” Buencamino said.

The name Felipe Buencamino will forever be linked to Antonio Luna’s ghastly death. Buencamino allegedly told his men, “At last they’re dead, go see the body and get all the papers from their pockets, especially the telegram”. This same man would later state that the Filipino revolution “morally” died the day Luna was assassinated.


Stranger dreams

I’m not good at remembering dreams so I’m writing this here. This happened two weeks ago.

I slept at around 12 midnight. I got up at exactly at 3 AM. Yes, that’s three hours of sleep. This has been my routine for more than a year now. I start my day drinking brewed coffee and eating toasted sliced bread with butter. I’ve been doing freelance work for this same company for three years. So everything at this point, as far as my job is concerned, has been routine. I can do my tasks with my eyes closed.

After responding to important emails, I said “Hi” to my colleagues online. We have a chatroom where everything gets discussed. There were four online (three from the Dominican Republic one in the US). The boss, a New Yorker, was idle. That’s always good news (like his city, he wants things done fast). There were no immediate requests that needed to get handled.

Suddenly, I started having problems with my Internet. I remember having trouble opening websites. I decided to restart my computer. Got back in after five to eight minutes. I started back reading the conversation in our group chat, checking if I missed out on any updates. I noticed that the only words that came from me was “I’m back”. Weird, considering that I knew I had a few short conversations since I logged in earlier. To be certain, I started looking at logs and time stamps. There was nothing there. I then checked my email’s sent folder. For sure, the emails I responded to earlier had copies there. To my shock, nothing!

It dawned on me that everything that I thought I did never really happened. It all happened inside my head! I never had my coffee, no toasts with butter. My Internet never got disconnected. The chats, the emails, they never happened. It is clear now that I woke up from that hyper realistic dream of mine when I typed those words “I’m back.” This strange dream would not be the last. It had a shorter sequel a few days later…

I had this bad habit of catching a nap after a heavy meal. One day, I was woken up by my wife. She normally doesn’t disturb me unless it’s something really important. But this time she did. She said she only wanted to remind me that she and my son had eaten one of the mangoes (she bought three big ones the previous day). She remarked that they were nice and sweet. I said OK and then went back to sleep. The following day, to my surprise I found that the mangoes, all of them, were untouched! I confronted my wife and asked “didn’t you tell me last night you sampled one of the mangoes?” She gave me this puzzled look and said in her usual emphatic “suplada” tone “No”.

Of course she did not. Again, I dreamed all that!

Is it possible that we all could be living inside such dreams? When we see a person who acts strange, those who seem to talk to imaginary companions, are they really mad or are they living inside these prolonged lucid dreams? I’m not worried but perplexed because this hasn’t happened before.

And yet there’s another strange occurrence a few days ago. I don’t know how this one ties up with my two strange dreams earlier.

The other day, I labeled a few jars. The way I do this is with a packing tape and a pentel pen. I’m not really a stickler for order, but I like labeling things, even when the visible contents are already screaming what’s inside. After labeling a few jars. I had a short merienda (light snack). I took my stuff and placed it inside our cabinet. We have a dedicated area for hardware and tools. Then I slept afterwards.

Later that day my wife called my attention asked, “Why was the masking tape inside the ref?”.

Oh boy.


On remembering

After my father passed away last year, I’ve been consumed by the question, “do we survive death”?

Growing up Catholic, I understand my religion’s conception of the afterlife. But there’s something about losing a person close to you that triggers questions about what you previously thought you comprehend.

Maybe it’s human nature to not want death to be the end. That they go on existing in a plane our limited earthbound mind would never even come close to understanding.

I wasn’t looking for advise on the matter but as Carl Jung once said, “synchronicity is an ever present reality for those who have eyes to see”.
The Chile-based writer, Elizabeth Medina, author of “Rizal According to Retana,” (http://tinyw.in/524l) wrote me an email last week (responding to the topic of her Lolo’s grave in Ilocos):

In the end, our physical bodies die, and we continue on. Where we have lived and acted consciously to express our being, in a way that impacts positively on others (with the conscious intention of helping, defending, protecting, educating, supporting), is the best way to leave a mark. It doesn’t even matter whether you leave a mark, or you don’t, but the mere fact of living a conscious life and expressing your humanizing intent means that you will link your existence to others’ futures.

Yes, my lolo’s grave will probably disappear but I found his memory and I wrote a book to rescue it. The book has reached some people’s consciousnesses (thank you for reading it), and it isn’t the fact that I’ve written it that has protected my lolo’s life from being erased. It’s the fact that he lived as he did that made it inevitable for a descendant of his to write a book about him. Energy can neither be created nor destroyed. Each of us changes the world, but especially if we become awakened to the meaning that we can give to our lives, consciously (yes, with love, with devotion).

Rizal’s bones were exhumed and those that had not returned to the earth are in that monument in Rizal Park. The remains of GomBurZa returned to the earth in Paco Cemetery. But those lives and deaths sacralized our land, for anyone who wants to feel it.

I believe finally in a greater Plan (Cosmic Intelligence) that doesn’t change even if individuals disappear from this material world. The Plan is beyond our capacity to grasp in its mechanisms, which are divine. Which are the laws of “life, energy and evolution”. And each of us is valuable for it, we come from it and we return to it.

But unless we start from the basic (honoring our ancestors/forebears, expressing it in actions, experiencing a change in our awareness, a deepening, an appreciation that was not there before), the questioning life about the deeper themes, the things not said, we can’t advance to the subtle. We can’t redeem ourselves, so to speak. They don’t tell you anything about this in school, or even at home. Life seems to be nothing but a survival machine and it’s a bit depressing and meaningless, mechanical, with some highs interspersed, some magical moments, and then back to the doldrums. When everything is meaningful and magical and new and talking to us all the time, but we are deaf blind and dumb. So my lolo Emilio as who he was, your father as who he was, when we internalize them, they can no longer be “lost”, nor can we. Then we can relax and let go of them. They are in us. I don’t miss Filipinas, she is in me. She always was. It’s wonderful to go home and eat lumpia Shanghai, discover Mount Banahaw. But if I can be there in the body, it is in me, in my spirit.

We do what we can in the material realm, and within our poor limitations, but the important thing is what happens in our mind, in our awareness, in our emotion joined to our intellection, and to the body. This is about us. It isn’t about them. It’s about the communion between them and us, that goes beyond dying or dates. Or if the bad people won and the good people lost. We are the continuing story, What we are doing, feeling, thinking today and how we work with the past, present and future, in the direction we choose.

So really, I am in peace. I am glad I wrote and published Sampaguitas and made it available in English as well. I have no idea if it has reached a lot of people or not. I did it for me, for lolo Emilio, my father, my kids. You know, around 5 years ago a young woman contacted me here in Chile. She was really emotional about having read Sampaguitas, because her mother (Chilean) had her with a Filipino who was in the merchant marine and he abandoned them, typically, and she had never known anything about him or the Philippines, and when she came across the book, she felt she had connected with her father. I lost contact with her almost immediately, but I could feel how moved she was.

The ”Sampaguitas” mentioned here is her book, “Sampaguitas en la cordillera” (2006). Its English version, “Sampaguitas in the Andes” she made available for gratis in her website (http://www.elizabethmedina.cl).

Now, do I believe all that?

Yes, I do.

I remember this one moment, standing in front of my father’s remains, feeling that he’s not there. I was looking at him but I was looking for him. Then it hits me. Before me was merely the vessel that carried his spirit. I was comforted by this thought.

“When we internalize them, they can no longer be “lost”, nor can we. Then we can relax and let go of them. They are in us.”

Amen.

Love you Pa.

 

 


You can’t make this stuff up!

 

ctto: “Feast of La Naval de Manila” https://news.mb.com.ph/

I recently started posting short blogs across all my social media. The first one was about Gen. Henry Lawton. He died in San Mateo in 1899. The only US general to perish during the Philippine-American war. The coincidence relating to his death is worthy of a “Twilight Zone” episode:

 

“We all know Lawton (Manila), the plaza named after US General Henry Lawton. As army captain, he led the expedition that captured the legendary Indian chief Geronimo (Apache wars), a feat that had been attached to his name. Years later, he finds himself in San Mateo (Rizal), now a general, pursuing Filipino fighters. He died on December 19, 1899, from a gunshot wound. Ironically, the Filipino General he fought against that day was a man named Gerónimo (Licerio).”

The other miniature story is about the “80 years war” between Spain and the Netherlands. Our involvement and how its culmination bequeathed us with a lasting religious tradition.

“One of the longest war in human history, the “80 years wars” (9th longest) between Spain & Netherlands, reached our shores in the 1600s. There were several battles that took place from March to October 1646, from Lingayen to Corregidor. It culminated with the Spanish colony crushing the attacking Dutch forces who had 19 ships against their 4 fitted civilian ships (Dutch suffered 500 casualties; the Hispano-Filipinos 15). Staggering was the victory over the massive Dutch armada that most attributed it to heavenly intercession (popular accounts of the Virgin Mary appearing with flag in hand). This epic confrontation produced one of our greatest and enduring Catholic tradition, the “La Naval” of Manila (the Dominican Church is now in Sta. Mesa Hts. QC).”

This post is partly inspired by my wife who had known of La Naval since she was a child. She studied in UST from grade school to college. However, she knows little of its past aside from the basic information Priests had told them. This is my gripe against our clerics today. There’s no emphasis on apologetics and local Church history in schools and churches. Droves of Catholics are parting with their religion of birth and there’s very little that’s being done to win them back in. The bishops, for example, has decided to preoccupy themselves with local politics these days. Last time the Church got embroiled in running the government it flared up a revolution.

“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and to God the things that are God’s.”


Remembering Fr. Gerry Tapiador

While searching for news about Filipino Catholicism online, I inadvertently discovered that the great Catholic apologist, Fr. Gerardo “Gerry” Tapiador, passed away five years ago. Fr. Gerry made regular TV guestings on shows where Catholic viewpoints were needed. The last time I saw him was on GMA Network with broadcast journalist Howie Severino. They were discussing the beatification of Pope John Pall II. Fr. Gerry also had a radio show in the 90’s that I listened to intermittently. He had that distinct unhurried and mild voice that listeners could easily distinguish and appreciate despite the gravity of his expertise which is Catholic Apologetics.

I attended a public school frequented by born again Christians. They conducted regular Bible studies. We also had Catechism, but the Born Again Christians were far more vigorous. They brought snacks and toys to entice us children to join them. We also happen to have relatives who left the Church and became active in this Christian sect. It is during this time that my curiosity was stirred about certain Catholic practices. I started reading about what other religions were saying.

Many, many years ago, Kabayan Noli de Castro’s defunct “Magandang Gabi Bayan” showed a religious debate among different religious sects. Fr. Gerry represented the Catholic Church. De Castro inquired about the Bible versions his guests were using; everyone had their own modern and translated versions of it, but Fr. Gerry had the Septuagint (LXX) version. The earliest existing Greek translation of the Bible from the original Hebrew. He was fluent in Greek and Hebrew. There was no doubt who was the real Bible authority among the panelists.

 

One of his books for Catholics who wants to understand their faith better. Published by St. Paul Publication. He would be remembered for his contribution in Catholic Apologetics and as for me, planting that mysterious seed that grew my faith over the years.

 

I was probably 13 years old when I met Fr. Gerry in person. It happened at St Paul’s Library in Makati. We lived next door to it. In fact, the bookstore’s raised parking space was our play area. Our eldest brother attended the adjacent Saint Paul Seminary (SPS). During that meeting, I asked him what book would best answer inquiries other religions make about the Church. Upon hearing my inquiry, I could then tell that he was a bit perplexed, perhaps because of my young age. He suggested this booklet, “The Catholic Church Has The Answer,” by Paul Whitcomb. After having acquired a copy of my own, I had read it repeatedly from cover to cover. It kept me Catholic. In fact, I never owned any other books on Catholic apologetics after that. I no longer have the original yellow booklet that I bought that day. It was lost when we moved out of Makati (a copy of it in digital form is now available in EWTN’s website).

Part of his introduction in the Diocese of Novaliches’ website reads, “Fr. Gerry was born in Rome, Italy. He graduated at San Carlos Seminary (Batch 1981) and was sent to Rome and Jerusalem for further biblical studies. He was the first Filipino to deliver a valedictory speech in Hebrew at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem… a devoted lover and servant of the Word of God, he served as Regional Director of the National Capital Region for the Episcopal Commission on the Biblical Apostolate in the Philippines. He is also an active member of the Philippine Bible Society (PBS) whose Bible Museum at its Headquarters in U.N. Avenue, Manila is embellished by his contributions. He has also published several materials to aid people in appreciating and studying the Word of God; they include among others The Mysterious Seed: A Simplified Manual on the Tools and the Principles of Interpreting the Bible (1993), The Roman Catholic Faith and the Bible, Hark the Herald: How the Bible Tells Us When Jesus Was Born (2005).”

The last time I met Fr. Gerry was during the wake of a love one, Doña Amparo Keyser, in Súcat, Parañaque. After the requiem Mass, I approached him and retold the story I shared here. How did it turn out?, he asked. I’m still Catholic, I said. We both laughed. We had a very brief exchange, but I doubt he remembered that boy from some 20 years before, knowing him as a busy man. I thanked him for what he did and his work in general. I felt that was important. There are no longer a lot of priests around like Fr. Gerry.

Descanse en paz, Padre Gerardo.


That’s a staycation

We have no immediate family here in Singapore, so I thought a two- to three-day family vacation would be a great way to celebrate my son’s second birthday. Last year, we arranged a Jollibee party for him. It was attended mostly by family members and a few of our closest friends in southern Metro Manila. It was also a good time for my son’s cousins to see each other, some of whom haven’t seen him in person. I also wanted my parents to be there since it’s his first birthday but my father, who passed away recently, was not feeling well that day. My mother was there along with his half a dozen “após”.

All firsts are special. His small Jollibee party was a lot of fun. But after the party I told my wife that in the future, instead of parties, we should travel instead as a family, something we did as a couple before the baby came. Now that he’s getting bigger, it’s time to tag him along. We had so much fun during our stay in D’Resort (D’Resort @ Downtown East). A caveat here, though: this is not a review — don’t even think it is one. It’s a brief shout out of sorts. The place was so nice and the people too.

Mother telling his son not to be afraid of the crashing waves, not to fear mother nature.

We celebrated our son’s birthday in D’Resort over the weekend. It is a quality leisure and entertainment resort. People get to relax, dine, and play. It was renovated in 2012 with the concept of being the “first nature-inspired resort with an integrated waterpark experience”. It has its own access passage to the enormous swimming complex (Wild Wild Wet). Swimming and playing around the pool is something that the mother and child enjoys. But because my son just turned two, we didn’t get to try those towering pool slides. They look enticing and intimidating at the same time. There’s this slide (they call it Vortex) that is so high one would slide down at 35 feet per second! Our baby was happy waddling around the shallow pools for toddlers. And so did we. For the price of the accommodation, we had a great room (Beach Cove class) with a vista of Pasir Ris Beach. It’s big enough to house maybe six people. It has four beds that we ended up linking together. We brought our own food, some pasta, bread, drinks, and of course the birthday cake as we sang “Feliz cumpleaños a ti” to our beautiful boy on the first night of our stay at around eight in the evening.

From time to time, I do surf fishing in Pasir Ris beach. The rear of the D’ Resort faces the straits of Johor. The body of water that separates the main island to Pulau Ubin. On a clear day, you could see what’s on the island. I heard a few signal noises from commercial ships that pass by. Nothing that would bother your rest. As a matter of fact, I get excited when I hear one. Our room is about 500 meters from the shore. These loud noises are created by the ships air horn. They remind me of my time in Mabolo, Cebú City. I rented an apartment near the pier. At nights, when land traffic and human noise are low, you could hear the ships.

For this vacation, my wife came up with the idea of taking one but not going out of town. She said it’s called “staycation”. I thought the whole thing did not make sense. Why would you go to a hotel within town to take a vacation?

Well, they say when you try new things, that’s when you learn. Our schedule here in Singapore is hectic. We both work and take turns taking care of the baby. We don’t have household help nor relatives to rely on. I’m consulting for a European company that is based in California. This gives me some flexibility with time. I work all night (morning in the US).

When the sun comes up, I take over baby duties. When my wife comes back home from work in the afternoon, she takes the wheel from me and I go rest. I normally sleep less than 4 hours in most days. If you don’t have a lot of time for an extended vacation and you need to have one quick vacation, a “staycation” solves that. The idea wasn’t as bad as I thought it to be. So we headed to the closest resort in town. And when I say close, I mean close. Roughly three kilometers away from home!

On the third and last day, we waited for the sun to rise. There’s an exit to the park and beach surf for guests at the rear. We walked along the coasts. It was relaxing to us adults, but the baby was a bit terrified by the strong crashing tides. I wonder if he would have any memories of this when he grows up.


That grouper was not named after Lapu-Lapu!

 

When I heard a relative telling his friends that the fish Lapu-Lapu was named after Lapu-Lapu, the Mactán chieftain who furiously defended his turf against Fernando Magallanes (popularly known as Ferdinand Magellan), I thought of correcting him. But then again, I didn’t want to embarrass him.

As early as grade school, I learned from school that the carroty grouper fish Lapu-Lapu was named after the shadowy hero. In college, I heard a different twist from the story. Someone told me that it was the hero that was named after the fish. Some historical accounts list his real name as Cali Pulaco (Salip Pulaka).

I normally don’t pay attention whenever I hear someone repeat trivial historical inaccuracies, like the origin of town names, for instance. These tales abound with folklore which are often recognized as historical truth. Filipinos like reciting stories that have no historical basis. These persist maybe because they really are as entertaining as they are amusing.

Setting my hooks for an afternoon fishing session

 

I took up fishing last year. In this part of the world, Malays are the most passionate anglers. Fazmi, a Malay friend, told me that this  has something to do with their ancestors living in fishing villages or communities.

One of the most prized catch in shore fishing are groupers. They taste good and are quite rare. So rare that for more than a year of fishing I haven’t even caught one.

In one of my fishing sessions, I encountered the word “kerapu”. Curious, I asked a group of fishermen what kind of fish it was. One of the guys, thinking I was Chinese, answered “ang gau”. I took note of these names and researched about them when I got home.

Kerapu is the Malay’s common name for the grouper fish. Skilled fishermen would know the type of grouper just by looking at its color and spots.

Our Lapu-Lapu is a kerapu. Ang Bau is the Hokkien name of the kerapu fish. I realized that there’s no truth to the claim that it was named after Lapu-Lapu the hero.

But why did kerapu became Lapu-Lapu?

Loanwords evolve —or are corrupted, if you may— as time passes. “Bagas” is milkfish in Malay; we call ours “bañgús”. A common anchovy is called “bilis” here, which sounds like our favorite anchovy “dilis”. “Banac” (mullet) to us is “belanak” to them. Common sardine is “tamban” here; we call ours the same. These are just some of the words that I encountered along the shores which rang a bell. I’m sure there are more because we share a common ancestor.

I hope that relative of mine gets to read this and stop telling the fish was named after Lapu-Lapu.

Or maybe not.


To España (via Philippine National Railroad!)

In Alabang, PNR staffers told passengers that they could only accommodate those who bought tickets from an earlier time. The rest would have to wait  for two hours for the next ride. Yes, not efficient but if you don’t have any options you’d be happy to wait. Well,  air conditioned Metropolis Alabang is nearby so those passengers can go inside and idle their time away.

No not madre españa but that frequently flooded area named after the Iberian motherland.

The journey felt like an attraction ride. It ran steady at 20 kilometers per hour as it wildly swayed from side to side. Not to disparage efforts our government is taking to modernize our train network but like its current speed—it’s too slow.

To this my mother said, “mas mabuti na yan kaysa wala”.

But let me point out that even in its current condition PNR benefits many of our countrymen. The trip from Alabang to España was under an hour. That’s faster than taking any other public transportation today.

During the ride, I stroke up a conversation with a farmer from Tanauan. An OFW from Saudi who decided to come home to farm. He was headed to Pasay to buy pesticides. He dreams that our trains would one day connect his beloved Tanauan, hometown of the hero Mabini, to Manila.

“Pare, maybe not in our lifetime, but who knows?” I told him.

I went to a public elementary school in Makati where many of my classmates lived “home along da riles”. Our school was near the Buendia Station. Our teachers would pause from teaching as trains blasts their thunderous horns.

We played in and around the railroad. I noticed how scant and unkempt my friends houses were. They were illegal settlers along the railroad. Their shanties stood in stilts with the canal below serving as sewage. But what made an impression on me was how happy they were even living in that condition.

Rail work begun in 1887 under British direction. The asset was transferred completely to the Philippine government during the American administration. Since then it went through its phases of development.

Our PNR stations these days are devoid of the former elegance and grace it once had. We never had grand and wide stations like those in old Europe but they were lovely. They look pretty and there are a few of them left, like Paco and San Fernando (Pam.), though slowly crumbling to their deaths, scattered along our old riles.

Our trains had its good days. The line north referred to “Sugar road” while the south transports “Sugar, forest products and petroleum.”

History teachers tells us of Rizal’s letter praising the women of Malolos. Well, he visited the town via our railroad. He then proceeded to see friends as far as San Fernando. This was a century ago. The crumbling stations along the north has been waiting for the trains return.

When? that depends on how determined our government wants to put us right back on track (there’s the pun).

Recent developments under Duterte’s “Build, Build, Build” vision looks promising. It comes as one of the bigger items in the infrastructure build up. The railway sector get a big pie with 1 trillion pesos (this budget includes the MRT).

The north would be extended all the way to Malolos (from Tutuban). Then another 55 kilometer railway reaching Clark in Pampanga. So you can alight from Clark airport and go straight to Manila.

To the South, from Tutuban the railway would run once more and reach Los Banos. I’ve been dreaming of riding an overnighter train to Bicol since I was a little boy. I wonder when would I finally get to ride one—I’m almost 40 now!

While I was on vacation a few years ago when visited Quezon province I saw the old railroad cut through an intensely green rice paddy (if memory serves me right I was in Unisan). Imagine if you were on a comfortable train ride going down south and you wake up seeing something like that?

Aside from moving goods and people, there’s tourism money for the PNR and towns it serves. A reliable and working train network is good for local economies too. One of my favorite travel show is “Japan Hour,” it is basically people riding trains to visit towns in the province.

The plan to establish a train running near the Laguna De Ba’y was drawn during the American occupation. Another plan that would have benefited us if it were carried out (much like the Burnham plan for Manila) to its conclusion. Due to massive population growth in recent years all you see today are houses.

Experts say that trains would contribute in dispersing the population out of Manila. It improves local economies. People would build their homes outside Manila if there’s an efficient public transport. This is something we haven’t realized yet because we have a failed rail system.

How we ended up with a mismanaged railway system? We all know the answer to that. The same answer why we ended up with poor infrastructure all over our islands.

I now live here in Singapore where the slightest delays in train arrivals makes the evening news—and theirs I feel is one of the best in Asia. They demand the highest standards from the people that runs their train system. I imagine having the same trains going in and out of our cities, taking us to our provinces, north and south, to see relatives and spend fiesta holidays.

Sana lang we get to see it in our lifetime. Sana.

 


Meet up with Dr. Legarda

 

I had a senior moment a few days ago. I accidentally deleted the original post “Meeting Dr. Legarda” (December 2017). I tried googling caches of the blog online hoping that there’s a copy out there somewhere to no avail. And so, I’m starting from scratch.

 

I wanted to ask Dr. Benito Legarda Jr. a few questions and have my books signed (a personal favorite is his compiled writings “Occupation: the Later Years”). I’ve enjoyed and learned so much from his work over the years. So I messaged (on FB) him last year, sometime November. To my surprise, the nonagenarian responded! He told me to let his secretary, Ms. Fe, know when I plan to visit. I first met Dr. Legarda in person in a seminar at the Instituto Cervantes a few years ago.

I started reading Dr. Legarda’s articles and books in college (1996). I was not really into WWII history then but I heard stories about it all my life. One consistent storyteller in our home was our father. He imparted to us unforgettable stories of life, death and struggle in wartime Negros. My father passed away last August. He was 10 years old when the war came to our shores. I told Dr. Legarda that reading his stories now brings memories of my late Father. His stories echoes Papa’s memories of the war in his  home province of Negros Occidental.

Another person who shared memorable wartime stories with us was the late Doña Amparo (affectionately called Mommy in Calle Bagtican). I refer to her as my “adopted grandma” not because she took care of me (although she sometimes did) but because she was really the first person who introduced me to culture and arts. She placed my feet on the door of lifelong quest for education on Filipino history. Doña Amaparo came from an affluent family. The last American director of Iwahig was her dad. They used to own parts of Cartimar and where Pasay Chung Hua now stands. One story that I’ll never forget (this was also shared by one of her granddaughter during her eulogy) was when she was placed inside a bangâ (but I believe it must have been a tapáyan because this had a wider opening and a wider base) when the Japanese inspected their home in Pasay. She was so slender and small that she not only fitted inside the earthen jar but stayed there for at least an hour until the Japanese left!

—-

After signing my books I posed a few questions to Dr. Legarda. He had some allergy that afternoon so I decided not to stay long. The first question was how he feels that WWII history is not a popular subject among our youth. He said “prominent families collaborated with the Japanese then… many of them still in power today.” He cited former President Noynoy Aquino whose grandfather, Benigno Aquino Sr., was director general of the local political party the Japanese created.

Dr. Legarda’s observation made sense. How can a President like Aquino recount and promote the heroism of his people during the war when his very family colluded with the enemy who had Filipinos killed by hundreds of thousands?

The late Dr. Andrade said that he had reasons to believe that many of the collaborators families still received benefits to this day. The Japanese are known for their commitment to their word. Gen. Ricarte’s children received allowances and scholarship in Japan long after his death in the highlands of Luzon.

My next question was if he heard of Japanese running other towns with kinder hands. “Yes, but they were certainly not here in Manila.” He then shared statistics of deaths in Manila. We went on to talk about Ambassador Rocha who survived the Liberation of Manila when he was only 7. The good Ambassador made it his advocacy to promote the remembrance and study of the events that transpired during the war. Dr. Legarda wrote an informative tribute to the Ambassador when he passed two years ago.

My family’s experience, on my Dad’s side, must have been an exemption. They were treated fairly by the Japanese. But this came with a heavy price. When the Japanese left San Carlos (Negros), they were hunted by Guerrillas. They were excessively brutal my Father said. So cruel that they buried a grand uncle alive!

Before heading out, I thanked Dr. Legarda and told him that “I can’t tell my father’s wartime stories to my son, it’s impossible. But thanks to your books, I don’t have to.” He smiled and said, “it will, they’re good substitutes.”


#AngLarawan: not a film review

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

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

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

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

Perhaps a more acceptable explanation is this:

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

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

 

Déjà vu!

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

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

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

Ang Larawan Comeback

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

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

Thoughts on Joaquin

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

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

Contra mundum! 

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

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

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

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


So long Andrade!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you my friend.


Sun Yat Sen’s Singapore Villa

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

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

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

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

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

Dr. Sun and his Filipino connection

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

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

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

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

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

The Villa in Balestier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Model restoration

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

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

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

A delightful tour

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

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

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

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

 


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