Category Archives: Historia

Magellan’s a hero too?

Growing up, Magallanes’ a place where we took buses going to Alabang. In grade school, I remember a cardboard illustration in a wall depicting Magellan and Lapu-Lapu fighting while in knee-deep seawater. We all know how that ended.



When I started reading local history books, the Portuguese explorer was always depicted as a bearded white villain, violent and greedy, who met his death in the Battle of Mactan.

In High School, I read about NASA’s “Magellan Spacecraft,” the first interplanetary mission.

For those not familiar, its objective was to probe the planet Venus. It orbited and mapped almost the entire planet at a resolution of 100 meters!

But like Magellan, it died where it made its discoveries, it went on to a final orbit to take gravitational readings until it got vaporized!

I was curious as to why would the Americans name an important mission after Magellan?

The answer came many years later. The author Laurence Bergreen* wrote, “during the time I spent in NASA’s scientists and engineers observing how they designed and operated missions to Mars, I occasionally heard references to Magellan… When I asked how they made the connection across the centuries between a robotic spacecraft and the all-too-human voyager, they explained that Magellan, like a few other figures of his age, pursued “intelligent exploration,” meaning he set out with a specific purpose.”

By the time I was in college, I was deep into Philippine history. We had a small library in Perpetual Help College but it had a good collection of history books. First book I read from cover to cover there, “The Good Fight” by President Manuel L. Quezón. There I stumbled on another old title, “The Voyage of Magellan,” a translated journal of Pigafetta. It read like a fantasy book written in some alternate world!

The expedition relied heavily on what Magellan learned from Portuguese navigators. Unverified information that there’s a passage at the end of a continent. The unknown was that nobody knows really if such a route exists.

“Magellan and his men often didn’t understand what they experienced, When he began the voyage, he had no idea of the extent of the Pacific Ocean, nor did he know where the strait could be found until he stumbled across it. And that is one definition of discovery: finding something you didn’t know existed.”

When I was assigned in Cebu a few years ago, one of the first things I did was visit Mactan. The Spanish era monument erected to honor Magellan is still there, opposite Lapu-Lapu’s Adonis-like metal statue.


There was a Magellan monument that was erected in the mid-1800’s in the northern part of Intramuros. When the Americans started developing the area they transferred it near Aduana. Interesting is that Americans recognized its importance. Again, those guys I think values his legacy more than us.

In 1945, during Manila’s liberation, Monumento de Magallanes took a direct bomb hit. We never rebuilt it.

Back in Cebu, there’s a memorial site where Magellan planted a cross to symbolize that he was claiming the islands for Christ and the Spanish King. Magellan’s cross is located near the Santo Niño Basilica where his Child Jesus gift to the island’s chief was enshrined.

Magellan’s cross in Cebu marked a single, historic event that changed the destiny of our islands and its inhabitants.

A Malaysian colleague, who’s into the history of Islam in the region, told me that if it were not for the European intervention, South East Asia would be completely Muslim.

This is what Duterte was referring to when he said “we are not Spanish”. What he and nativists historians suggests is that had it not been for Magellan and Spain, we would have stayed the same.

But what things have stayed the same for hundreds of years?

We have to remind ourselves that we are history’s children. We are who we are because of our ancestors’ response to the changes and challenges of their time.

Here’s Nick Joaquin, taken from Tony Joaquin’s “Nick: A Portrait of the Artist Nick Joaquin”:

“As a Filipino, I have—-and should have—an “awesome” memory not only of the previous century but of all the Philippine past. That’s what is meant by the Latin word “piety”. That is what’s really meant by another Latin word for patriotism. Because a nation is its entire past. But certain “nationalists” claim that our past is not our past. Our past is ony before Magellan and after the Motin de Cavite. I claim that what happened in between is the real Philippine history since then was created this unique culture of adobo, pan de sal, the pandango, the town fiesta, the Simbang Gabi, the terno, the barong tagalog, kundiman, haranas, the karihan and tambourine jewelry, not to mention the plow and carabao, the horse and rig, the kanto and plaza. All that is not Pinoy? Well, all that is between Magellan and Burgos.”

Post Notes:

I can’t recommend Laurence Bergreen’s “Over the Edge of the World: Magellan’s Terrifying Circumnavigation of the Globe” enough. I’ve read other books about Magellan but this one takes the cake. The details and the work he put on this book is amazing. This guy does not even read Spanish! He spent God knows how many hours in Spain’s libraries and had to translate texts written in old Spanish word for word. I guarantee that you won’t look at Magellan the same way after reading this one—how’s that for an endorsement?

The other book I mentioned here is Tony Joaquin’s “Nick: A Portrait of the Artist Nick Joaquin”. Such a great fella. Believe it or not, he reached out to this blogger when he started his book project, this was many, many years ago. I wish I could have been more helpful but I don’t know Nick Joaquin in person nor am I a Joaquin expert. I love the man and his body of work, I blog about him here, but that’s just about it. Tony’s book is one of the best biography in Filipiniana in recent memory. He did a fantastic job—I love it! For sure he made his Tio Nick proud. Whether you’re a Nick Joaquin fan like myself or a regular reader, the book is a must-have.

Featured photos were taken back in 2011 when I was assigned in Cebu.

Old Chinese, food, history in Negros

An unexpected discovery reveals that a great grandparent is Chinese. Surprise! The man first settled in Calatrava, Negros.

So I got curious, whatever happened to Chinese immigrants of Negros during the Spanish times?

From Dumangas we would cross the Guimaras Straits to reach Bacolod. Highlight of these crossings is seeing the three islands: Panay, Guimaras and Negros. Seeing Mt. Kanlaon is breathtaking.

From Dumangas we would cross the Guimaras Straits to reach Bacolod. Highlight of these crossings is seeing the three islands: Panay, Guimaras and Negros.

The Chinese pioneer’s of Negros’ blood line are still very much alive. “Gonzaga, Yanson, Locsin, Montelibano, Lacson, Yulo, Yusay, Guanco, Limsiaco, de la Rama, Araneta, Ditching, de la Pena, Yunque, Ledesma, Magalona, Valderrama, Consing, Cuaycong, Guanzon.”

Like in all other cities, towns and provinces, the old Chinese fully integrated into the native population. With them came their culture and way of life. The pioneer wave were not as clannish as those that came in the 1900’s. Why?

Since most Chinese were male immigrants during the Spanish years, they landed in the “island without their women. They intermarried with the native and and became Christians. This Chinese mestizo class grew and progressed and, in the end, became the leader of the land, the new ilustrados.”

Home Cooking

In Negros, where my parents are from, there’s a rich tradition of Chinese inspired food. They blended beautifully with Spanish and native dishes. Some of my favourites are the fresh lumpia, calamay-hati, bitsu-bitso and so on.

I love my mother’s fried bangus with egg and tausi, one of my favorites. I never thought of it as Chinese until I got to sample a Singaporean friend’s black bean sauce recipe. Tausi (dòuchǐ), fermenting black beans, after all is a Chinese invention. Majority of Singaporeans, like our Filipino-Chinese, have Hokkien roots.

Batchoy, a soup dish that has evolved into the Ilongos soul food. My first memory of eating one was from an eatery in St. Paul Stree in Makati, owned by an Ilongo couple with a beautiful daughter. Since then when it’s available I got to have one. I was probably among the first customer to line up when Ted’s Oldtimer La Paz Batchoy came to Filinvest Alabang.

“Ba” was derived from the Hokkien word “Bah” which means meat. A popular Singaporean dish Bah Kuh Teh literally means meat and bones tea. Our batchoy on the other hand is a soup with a blend of entrails and meat. Chui apparently pertains to mixing in Hokkien, like kiáu-chúi which means mixed and dissolved in water.

Here are some familiar words even to Tagalog speakers:

• Bi-hon – Bihon – noodles
• Am-pau – ampao – puffed rice
• Misua – miswa – noodle
• Po chiok – busog – full stomach
• Siau pau – siopao – hot bread
• Bah-chui – batchoy – pork, entrails soup
• Bi-choe – bitso bitso – glutinous rice cake
• Misua – miswa – noodle
• Na mi – namit – good taste
• Po chiok – busog – full stomach
• Sian chaw – sansao – Jelly extract
• Siau pau – siopao – hot bread
• Sip – sipsip – to suckSi pit – kimpit – tongs
• Suki – suki – regular client
• Tau si – tausi – salted black beansTau-gi – toge – bean sprout
• Ti kui – tikoy – sweet sticky cake

A page from Sa-Onoy’s “The Chinese of Negros”caption. There were some words that were included that are not Chinese, like jabón, this is Spanish.

More Words

Interesting is the word Ukoy (tag. ókoy). This  means a dark person but for some reason it became synonymous with the fried flour beans and shrimp. The same word (siyókoy) means a half man, half shrimp sea monster. Did our ancestors found resemblance between the delicacy and the mythical creature?

There are other examples of Chinese words that were originally Chinese. My favorite is “buwiset” which in Tagalog and Ilonggo means unlucky. According to a Hokkien dictionary “bô ūn” means “unlucky person”. I asked an old timer ethnic Hokkienese about this. He does not recognize the word nor remember it being used by locals. So I guess the word evolved only back home. 

Another word which I like is, “bang tai.” Tai means station while bang is the a corruption of the word “kàn” meaning to look.  In old Visayan language, this pertains to watch towers the Spanish missionaries built to warn the communities of approaching pirates and slave raiders. These are also commonly referred to as bantayan. Many of these towers still exist (especially along the coasts of Cebu). Today when we say “bantay” it only means “to watch”.

OK. Enough old language lessons from me. Bye for now! zai gian 再见 ! Hasta Luego!

Wilfredo Sa-Onoy’s “The Chinese in Negros” inspired this article. He writes, “While there are many sources of information about Chinese… these dealt mostly with the Chinese in Manila… Negros being a young province in terms of economic development attracted the Chinese only during the last two or three decades of Spanish rule.” And yet, today, their descendants are leaders in regional and national businesses and politics.

Lady of Guidance!

I got a notification from a website called a few days ago. They added my blog (here) about Nuestra Señora de Guia as reference. Wikipedia’s entry on Ermita Church used that same blog. But all I did was type, the content came from a worn booklet, “Libreta y Novena”, handed to me when I visited the Church 10 years ago.

It was one of those unplanned stop over. I came off from a US visa appointment. When I left the embassy I thought of exploring Ermita. I’m familiar with its streets, I studied high school not far from it.

One of my stops was Ermita Church. It’s architecture is modern but more than 50 years old. It was designed by Architect Carlos Santos Viola, known for building Iglesia ni Cristo temples. The original was completely destroyed along with the suburbs antillean houses during WWII.

Credit to the owner: Ramon F Velasquez.

The Church was empty that day. So after crossing myself I went straight to the altar. I wanted to get a good look of the Nuestra Señora de Guia. Unlike the life size Nazareno of Quiapo, the Marian image is small, barely two feet, positioned high above the altar. It’s dark too, so it’s hard to see its features from a distance.

I was a few meters away when I saw a man cleaning the floor using a towel. He was as surprised as I was but I assured him I’m no trouble. I told him I should be on my way in a few minutes.

This same man approached me when I was about to leave the church. He handed me the booklet. “It’s for you,” he said.

Maybe our Lady of Guidance, wanted me to put its contents online?

Well, that’s what that blog is doing now—a guide for those who wants to read about Ermita shrine’s history.

¡Viva la Virgen de Guía!

On a different note but still about Ermita shrine.

My parents were married in Ermita church more than 40 years ago.

It was a “very simple wedding” according to my mother. I’m not surprised. They were a frugal, simple couple from Negros.

No picture of the wedding survived. It must have been lost in the floods we experienced over the years.  Fortunately, I still have the aras (Sp. las arras matrimoniales), token coins presented by the groom to his bride. The practice in most Hispanic nations was for the groom to gift 13 coins, the number of apostles plus Christ. Many doesn’t follow this in the Philippines because 13 is considered an unlucky number.

Our parents aras has no numismatic value (except for a few minted early 1900’s) but  they’re invaluable mementos for us, their children. This, along with their original marriage certificate, are the only surviving proof of their blessed union.


Not a critic review: Goyo, the Boy General

Por fin! the film “Goyo, the Boy General” is now showing on Netflix. Here’s hoping that they add “Dahling Nick” soon.

So was the movie good? What about it was bad?

In my book, it’s right up there with Raymond Red’s Sakay and Heneral Luna, which by the way is from the same Director, Jerrold Tarog.

The film’s fascinating portrayal of Gregorio del Pilar caught many by surprise. Filipinos are used to seeing their heroes like FPJ characters, spotless men with remarkable inhuman abilities.

The young general was depicted as a womanizing, self-doubting person who acted as hatchet man for Aguinaldo. He redeemed himself in the end by accepting his fate and probably that of the revolution’s termination.

Ever heard of the phrase, “never meet you heroes?” Well, Tarog’s film introduced us to our text book heroes and many left their movie seats dumbfounded.



I read that Former Mayor Lito Atienza (who I’ll never forgive for destroying the art deco Sky Dome along Harrison ) claims the movie was so bad he bolted out of the cinema. The guy’s so full of himself. But I wonder if Mayor Alfredo Lim has seen the movie. He’s a descendant (from the Siojo line of San Miguel Bulacan) of the young general. He must have heard family stories about him.

The present Manila Mayor, Erap Estrada, has links to Bulacan too. Judge Arcadio Ejercito, his grandfather loaned his house in Malolos to be utilized as the office of Secretaria de Guerra. But Goyo took orders direct from Aguinaldo himself, not from the secretary of war nor the senior generals.

I suspect that the accounts Tarog and his team used were derived from various sources but they most likely based the film’s overall theme from Nick Joaquin’s work. To many he’s a fiction writer, but many forget that he’s one helluva historian.

Joaquin understood the language, history and culture of our hispano-filipino forebears like no other. Nick’s father, Don Leocadio, was a colonel in the revolutionary army.

Guillermo Gomez Rivera told me once that he asked Joaquin to write in Spanish. At that time Gomez still had his Spanish newspaper Nueva Era. Joaquin told him that he’s out to re-educate the English-only Filipino generation.

And they are today with films like Goyo.


It’s not the typical, romanticized, hackneyed Filipino hero film. Goyo reveals to us the ugly side of the generation of leaders that led the revolution.

Filipinos like to be entertained when they go see movies. Unlike Luna where there were several entertaining, even hilarious scenes, Goyo was straightforward in its depiction. The main protagonist’s character was not as complex as the mercurial Antonio Luna.

Also Goyo, didn’t live that long. He was shot in the head, among the first to die when the American assaulted their position. He was protecting the passage (Tirad Pass) Aguinaldo took heading north.

I saw a movie about him in college, played by Romnick Sarmienta, where he fought until the bitter end. Not true.

Another complain I heard was how Aguinaldo was unfairly portrayed as villain. Well, considering this film was from the same director that made Luna, that’s hardly surprising.

But was Aguinaldo really that bad?

The film gave us a peek at how cruel his men were. Some historians suggests that Aguinaldo was more humane to foreign prisoners than his Filipino enemies. Bonifacio and Luna were among the well known skeletons in his closet.

The revolution ended early because Filipinos failed to unite. How familiar is this story to us Filipinos?

Buencamino in his deposition in the US senate said, “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.”
“The revolution like Saturn devours its own children”, a common saying during the French revolution that proved to be true for our revolution.

Roby Tantingco, from the Center for Kapampangan Studies, shared this historical snippet of the Macabebe townspeople at the turn of the century:

MACABEBE CHURCH IN RUINS, 1901 (photos available here). This is the price the people of Macabebe paid for their loyalty to Spain. In June, 1898, Gen. Aguinaldo sent 7,000 mostly Tagalog soldiers to destroy the town, bombing their beautiful centuries-old church and killing an unknown number of men, women and children. The reason–the townspeople had earlier protected hundreds of Spanish soldiers, friars and government officials, including the Governor-General’s wife and children, who had fled to Pampanga to seek refuge in the last town that remained faithful to Spain. Macabebe soldiers delayed the pursuit, allowing the Spaniards to jump into ships that had come to rescue them.

Three years later, in 1901, the Macabebes got their sweet revenge when the Americans visited the town to recruit volunteers for the operation to capture Aguinaldo. The recruiting officer, Lt. Matthew Batson of the US 4th Cavalry, only needed a battalion, but nearly got an entire regiment because the Macabebe women “were eager to have their sons, husbands and sweethearts to go with him.”

On March 23, 1901, the Macabebes, using a combination of acting skill, proficiency in Tagalog, and military genius, captured Aguinaldo in Palanan, Isabela, forcing him to swear allegiance to the United States “without any reservation whatsoever.” The newspaper Baltimore American called it “the bombastic, puerile, fawning, insincere statement of an opportunist in bad plight.

Philippine history is full of such stories.

We never learn.

The classic Bear Brand ad “Look at my mole” Lolo

Remember the Bear Brand TV ad “look at my mole” that aired in the 80s?

It was about an old man reminiscing about his childhood. It opens with people gathering around, performing music (Tertulia), enjoying food and card games. He was in a sailor outfit, dancing with his Lola, dressed in elegant baro’t saya. It ends with the once little lad, now a Lolo (Grandfather), dancing with his own granddaughters.

Esquire Philippines lists the ad song in their “Commercial Jingles That Defined the Eighties”. It went head to head with San Miguel’ “Si Boom,” Seiko wallet’s jingle and Sunny Orange’s “I love you”.

I remember getting excited when the commercial appears on TV. The “Lolo” used to eat at our old carinderia. If memory serves me right, this lasted for at least a year. My mother owned a small canteen near Makati’s business district in the 80’s.

“Look at my mole” Lolo loves a good laugh. This is what I remember the most about him. Once he had trouble kick-starting his motorcycle. “I think we should get a match, and lit it!” he said. So I went to my mother and asked for one. This made him laugh to no end!

In the early 90’s, after a lengthy court case, we lost our rights over that property in Makati. We had to vacate our home, boarding rooms (our other business) and the canteen. We lost contact with most of the regular customers.

Two years ago, someone shared the old TV ad on FB. I was thrilled to see it again. I showed it to my mother. She remembers him. “(Always in) short sleeves polos, wire-rimmed glasses, slacks, a good pair of leather shoes”. 

I reached out to a former colleague, a Spanish speaking mestizo, who I heard was related to the old guy via LinkedIn recently. At least I wanted a name—if I could get more information that’d be a bonus.

Yesterday, I finally got an answer. The man is his father’s cousin, Juanito Muñoz.

I was excited to know more but that’s all I got. “I am not sure if he’s still alive, haven’t seen him for years,” this man wrote. I did not press my luck. Looks like he doesn’t know much about him either.

Were we even talking about the same person?

See, If that guy’s my uncle we’d be close—he’s a charming old man—a cool Lolo for sure. That’s why the TV ad was a success. The role he played was him.

So, here’s hoping someone can add details about Manong or Mang Juanito. It would make my day to know if he’s still around, lalo na if he’s still dancing!

The Cathedral’s Holy Cross Relic

Two years ago, a friend from Tarlac told me that their province has a piece of the Holy Cross. Curious, I googled it, her story checks out.

The relic can be found in the Church of Monasterio de Tarlac. It was donated by a German monastic in 2007. I wanted to see it until I found out that it was in a sealed reliquary.

I wanted to see an actual piece, a shard, no matter how small.

Two weeks ago, on my birthday, I dropped by the Cathedral (Cathedral of the Good Shepherd). I was in for a surprise. The Holy Cross relic is on display at the ecclesiastical museum.

Because the Cathedral’s museum has limited space, they regularly rotate exhibited items. Popular among visitors are the church’s cornerstone (primera piedra) and St. John Paul II’s mementos—the first Pope to have visited the island state.

The Cathedral, the oldest in the island, underwent full restoration for three years. It reopened in 2016. It was an impressive undertaking.

I can’t help but feel a bit envious. Why? Some of our Churches back home are older by even centuries and yet many languish in neglect.


I often encounter Holy Cross relics in literature but never got to see one until my recent visit to the Cathedral. While many doubts the authenticity of such relics, they remain popular object of devotion. It is after all, if genuine, a piece of the Church’s greatest symbol and that of man’s salvation.

The Holy Cross relic in the Cathedral is placed in the middle of a dark timber cross, adorned with mother of pearl floral and vine design. The relic is minute and hardly visible.

There’s another Holy Cross relic here in Singapore located in the Church of the Holy Cross.

St. Helen (Santa Elena) who was 82 when she went to the Holy Land to retrieve the Holy Cross, is believed to be the source of all Holy Cross relics.

A Netflix documentary suggests that the Queen made the pilgrimage to the Holy Land to save his son’s (Constantine) soul from hell. It is believed that the Emperor had his son and his wife murdered after uncovering their affair. Now, that’s kinda messed up but that’s ancient Rome!

Constantine was not only a Christian emperor but he’s known to Catholic’s as Saint Constantine the Great.

While he did not lived a saintly life, scholars believe that what he did for the Church expunged his sinful past.

Or maybe St. Helen unearthing the Holy Cross, the very symbol of salvation, did?

Santa Elena’s quest for the Holy Cross has inspired one our beloved summer tradition, the Santa Cruzan (Santacruzan). Everyone at some point in their lives has experienced one in their home provinces.

Must be our times, but these days this religious event has become a full blown beauty pageant—in some places even gays have their own version.

This tradition is considered by many as a pioneering feminist event. It’s female led and dominated. The Spanish missionaries, understanding the women’s role in our ancient societies, used it to draw the natives closer to the Church.

How feministic is it?

The Santa Cruzan is lead by a lady called Hermana Mayor, the women are called Sagalas. The characters at the beginning were all biblical, like Santa Maria Magdalena and Queen Sheeba. Even historical figures like Cleopatra and Judith were later added. Then in the early 19th century it had been Filipinized with addition of characters like Banderada, a woman dressed in the colors of the Philippine flag.

Santacruzan is a religious tradition that the pioneers of the Church created for the natives. We took it and ran with it. It exist in no other country but ours.

Why not Spanish?

(L to R) Tia Lydia, “Mommy” Doña Amparo y yo (¡Qué muchachito lindo! ) CTTO: James Mo

Looks like our local educational system is opening its doors to more languages like Korean. Hardcore K-Pop fans were delighted to hear the news!

But why prioritize Korean and Mandarin? Why not Spanish? Our old lingua franca?

All my siblings had mandatory Spanish. It was removed from standard curriculum when I started tertiary education.

With its contribution to our local languages, why was it removed as an “official” Filipino language in the Cory Constitution? Whose idea was it?

The late statesman and journalist from Bulacan, Blas Ople, who took part in drafting the 1987 constitution, tried to salvage it from being written off but was thwarted by hispanophobic colleagues.

While he doesn’t speak it fluently he was a staunch defender of the old lingua franca. His efforts was not forgotten by the Spanish speaking community. He was awarded the Premio Zobel, the country’s oldest literary award, in 1993.

In his Panorama column in 1992, he shared his experience during the crafting of the Constitution of 1987:

“I should reveal this now. In the Constitutional Commission of 1986, I fought until the end to have Spanish retained in the new Constitution as an official language, together with Filipino and English. I wanted at least an explicit recognition of Spanish as such a language until the wealth of historical material in our archives, most of this in Spanish, can be fully translated into English or Filipino.

But the real reason was that I wanted to preserve our last formal links with the Iberian world, which includes most of the countries in Latin Américas with a population of about 400 million. I remember Claro M. RectoClaro M. Recto’s sentimental journey to Spain, which was aborted by a heart attack in Rome. If we lost that final strand of solidarity with the Spanish-speaking world, we, too, would never get to Spain.

It was as though both sides had agreed on a policy of mutual forgetfulness.

The “radicals” in the Con-Com strongly advised me not to press the provision on Spanish, because this would have the effect of reopening other controversial issues in the draft charter. It could delay the framing of the Constitution beyond an acceptable deadline.

My worst fears have been realized. We have expelled ourselves from the Iberian community of nations. The rift is final, and will never be healed.

A few weeks ago, I saw an “Inquirer Radio” interview of Guillermo Gomez Rivera. An octogenarian, he remains the most active advocate of bringing Spanish back in our schools. Like Ople and his grandfather, Guillermo Gomez Windham, he won the Premio Zobel in 1975.

Another proponent of the language that I respect is the Filipina writer based in Chile, Elizabeth Medina. She now makes short YouTube lectures on Filipino history and culture. The last one I saw was about “Asuangs” (bruho)! In it she translates the accounts of Padre Francisco Ignacio Alzina about the fabled night creature.

Those who wants to improve their Spanish can benefit from her lectures. She speaks in Spanish and translates it in English and Tagalog. Must be her ulterior motive—imparting Filipino history while teaching Spanish—a matar dos pájaros de un tiro!

To continue to deny Spanish as a Filipino language is counter productive. We have thousands of words that came from it. We have centuries of history with it and it has economic value. Just ask Filipinos working as Spanish language support in BPOs.

My first Spanish lessons came from “Mommy,” our Spanish-American neighbor. She spoke often in English and Tagalog but she speaks Spanish sometimes, curses and sings in it too. At a very young age I heard such words as “urbanidad,” “amor propio” and “palabra de honor”. And, “hijo de puta,” “puneta,” “cabron” and “tarantado”! She loves Julio Iglesia’s “Hey” (Spanish version). And yes, I’ve got it memorized.

When Spanish was vilified in school it never got to me. Why? Because I was taught that it’s a well where many of our great traditions came from. I knew it was not something I should fear or hate.

I am sure many Spanish advocates in the country today had grandparents who shared with them wonderful stories about it. We all should consider ourselves fortunate that we heard it from the last generation that spoke it as a Filipino language.

Spanish Philippine Armada in Singapore (Part 2)

Governor General Juan de Silva’s mission to go after the Dutch outside Spanish Philippine territory, deep into the Malay peninsula, was not without its critics.

“Silva set sail from Manila late in the season, ill-staffed, ill-equipped, under a barrage of criticism from the church, the orders, the bishops, the cabildos and the Audiencia Real. Worst of all he left the city of Manila behind heavily taxed, the exchequer steeped in debt, and a fort-city with no defences to speak of… (P. Borschberg)”

But he was unswayed and determined. “Silva’s inexhaustible energy… his greatest virtue… he press his advantage home to the Dutch in the Moluccas, for he reasoned that as long as they had a base anywhere in the Far East, they would have the power to put Manila in the same peril as that from which he had freed it. (H. de la Costa)”

Silva arrived in Singapore confronted by the geopolitical realities of the Malay peninsula. Aside from the Dutch attacking the Portuguese where it can, Johor had been discreetly extending its assistance to the VOC. The Sultan of Johor did so because of political convenience. The Acehnese, under Sultan Iskandar Muda, was breathing down his throat. He needed protection and a strong deterrent which the Dutch provided.

Understanding that success of the luso-hispano effort partly relies in controlling the Johor king, Silva went straight to him. Malacca , which was an important port under the Portuguese, had been besieged by the Dutch.

“The main portion of the fleet (Silva’s Armada) appears to have remained off Singapore at anchor, two galleys of the Spanish armada proceeded to Malacca where they arrived toward the end of March, 1616… the city was understandably engulfed in a sense crisis and deep pessimism (after the Dutch attacks). It is against the backdrop of this gloom that one is to understand the excitement and new-found hope that accompanied the arrival of the Spanish governor in Malacca…(P. Borschberg)”

The presence of Spanish forces in Malacca was welcomed because they were Catholics intending to restore order. To many the Dutch were a “plague of heretics” while Silva and his Armada, saviors from an invading force.

“It was a most fortunate event, and was worthily celebrated by the public acclamation of the inhabitants of Malacca, who called Governor Don Juan de Silva their redeemer. They received him in their city under the pall, which demonstrations of joy and honors as if he were a viceroy, for as such did they regard him; and they assured themselves that with his valor and powerful fleet they were to deliver India from the inopportune war and the continuous pillaging of the Dutch.(P. Borschberg)”

To the bloggers left is the Straits of Singapore where some 400 years ago Governor Juan de Silva’s Armada slipped anchor. 

But in Malacca, Silva’s promising campaign took an unforeseen and tragic twist.

“The fleet entered the straits of Malacca on 25 February. Unfortunately, the Dutch squadron that had worsted Miranda (Portuguese) got wind of its approach and fled. On March 22, Silva slipped anchor before Malacca and was given a royal reception. The loss of the Portuguese galleons failed to disheartened him (Silva), and he was about to proceed to the Moluccas to deliver his knockout blow when he was seized by a sudden illness which proved fatal. He died on April 19, and his great enterprise, which might have changed the course of history in Southeast Asia died with him. (H. de la Costa)”

Rumor has it that Silva was poisoned. It is said that before dying, he completely lost fate in the campaign. Perhaps sensing that no one but him was capable of launching such an ambitious undertaking.

What happened to the Armada’s men?

“After lying in state at the residence of the Society of Jesus at Malacca, the embalmed corpse of the governor was brought to the fleet and received with a salute on May 2. Two days later, the ships set course for Manila…(P. Borschberg)”

Silva’s captain decided to hurriedly sail back to Manila after getting word that a Dutch attack, led by Spielbergen (who made allies out of Maguindanaoans and Sulus) was on its way. The Dutch had Iloilo on their radar, then Manila.

The question historians ask today is that if Silva did not perished in Malacca, would the campaign had succeeded?

It was a sad ending for Silva, but if it was any consolation, he left Singapore a maritime legacy that to this day remains a useful discovery.

“…the “discovery” of the so-called “Governor’s Strait” (or Strait of John de Silva), the present-day Philip’s Channel, which serves as the principal maritime artery for international shipping today. Intra-Asian trade at that time used to pass either to the north of present-day Sentosa (Old Strait of Singapore) or to its south (New Strait or Strait of Sta. Barbara). The “discovery” of this third and historically most significant passage…(P. Borschberg)”

History is full of “what if’s” but also of consequences from actions the boldest men had bequeathed it.

Sources & Recommended reading:

The Jesuits in the Philippines 1581-1768, H. de la Costa

Juan de Silva in the Straits of Singapore, 1615-1616, Prof. Peter Borschberg (NUS)

The Singapore and Melaka Straits : violence, security and diplomacy in the 17th century, Prof. Peter Borschberg (NUS)

The Philippine Islands, 1493-1898, edited by Emma H. Blair and James A. Robertson

First part of this blog, here:

Spanish Philippine Armada in Singapore (Part 1)


According to historian Peter Borschberg (National University of Singapore), “Spanish Governor of the Philippines, Juan de Silva, commissioned the construction of what was arguably the largest European armada seen in Asian waters before 1620. In the course of joint operations scheduled for the years 1615 and 1616, the Spanish and Portuguese sought to evict the Dutch once and for all from the region of the Singapore and Malacca Straits, if not the region as a whole… The presence and intervention of the Spanish armada around Singapore marks a fascinating episode in the pre-Raffles history of the island.”


I completely forgot about this expedition until I went over Fr. De la Costa’s voluminous, “The Jesuits in the Philippines, 1581–1768”. An indispensable resource for Filipino history learners. I brought some of my history books here (Singapore) to study two months ago.

When the Dutch (the United Netherlands East India Company or VOC) threatened Cavite, Silva defended it so well that it forced them to skip attacking it. They proceeded to block the entrance to Manila, which was expecting trade ships it urgently wanted.

“Silva took the simplest and most direct view of the situation. He had to break the blockade. To do so, he must come out and fight. To fight he needed ships. He had no ships. He would build them.”

“(There’s) a galleon under construction in the island of Marinduque which had somehow escaped Wittert’s (the Dutch commander) notice. Silva sent word to complete her hull, give her a rig, and run her through the Dutch blockade to Cavite. It was a chance he had to take, but not a hopeless one… Silva flung an army of carpenters on her to complete her rigging, and the was his flagship—the San Juan Bautista.”

Silva went on the offensive.

“On 24 April 1610… Wittert, still at anchor near Fraile (now known as Fort Drum, south of Corregidor) , saw to his vast surprise this miscellaneous collection (Silva’s ships) bearing steadily down upon him… Screaming the ancient war cry of the Crusades (deus vult, Catholic motto during the crusades meaning God will it), the Spanish tercios swarmed over the side with musket, pike and cutlass. Luckless Wittert was the first to fall.”

Silva finished off the Dutch. Seizing all the invading forces vessels and killing their Captain.

“At two in the morning of the following day all he church bells of Manila pealed the victory to the surrounding countryside, and sent it swinging from belfry to belfry across the land… the action was called the Battle of Playa Honda (Zambales)”

Silva would be consumed by his desire to arrest the “Rising sun of Holland.” He knew that he had to venture outside Spanish Philippines to stop them.

He had an idea—Consolidate the Catholic forces in Asia to defeat a common enemy—The reformist Dutch.

A partnership with the Portuguese (Silva sent his Jesuit priests to Portugal’s Estado da India) has to be forged. The Portuguese knew the Spanish governor was the right man for the job. They agreed to supply him with four galleons. Silva waited for a year for the Portuguese in Manila.

Growing impatient, he decided to rendezvous with the Portuguese in Malacca. Silva was about to enter uncharted “dominium”, the Portuguese “sphere” set by the Treaty of Tordesillas. He set sail from Cavite with the largest Spanish armada Asia has ever seen. This also marks the first luso-hispano military venture in the continent.

In all, the Armada had ten large ships and an unspecified number of galleys. The flagship, La Salvadora, alone had 900 men. In all, the armada had 10 galleons, four galleys and three frigates. It had around 5000 men, 2,000 are Spaniards with 500 Japanese samurais. Silva had 300 cannons and 50 metric tones of gun powder.

February 25, 1616 the Armada reached the straits of Singapore. Silva sent word to the Sultan of Johor who was allied to the Dutch. He chastised the Sultan (who had signed a treaty of peace with Portugal earlier) for helping the Dutch attack Portuguese ships. As punishment, he ordered fruits to be struck down from trees. An interesting tactic to diminish food supply for natives that relied on farming.

(To be continued…)

The Little Prince exhibit at Singapore’s Philatelic Museum

The few fiction titles I enjoyed growing up were Les Miserables, The Last of the Mohicans, Don Quixote and The Old Man and the Sea. In college, an even shorter list, there’s Sophie’s World and some Stephen King classics. I prefer non-fiction—history books–of course.

I picked up Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s “The Little Prince” when I was already 29. I saw random people in coffee shops reading it and I got curious. It was too short a read but it leaves a mark in you. “The Little Prince” had been translated to around 300 languages, the most translated book in history.

In 2015, the animated film “The Little Prince” came out. It rekindled my interest in the book that I wished I read as a boy. Jeff Bridges’ character in the film was the wise old retired aviator neighbor. James Franco was the fox. The little girl’s voice was played by Mackenzie Foy. She was the Young Murph in the film Instellar.

Two weeks ago, I visited Singapore’s Philatelic Museum‘s exhibit “The Little Prince: Behind the Story.” I was excited to see it because I’ve read the book. But also because Saint-Exupery is fascinating historical figure. He died relatively young at 44 in July 1944. He published “The Little Prince” April 1943. He was at his creative peak when he went missing.

Saint-Exupery was a poet, writer, aviator and a bad ass adventurer. He was a commercial pilot before he signed up as a reconnaissance pilot during WWII. He was a pioneer of postal flights and had close calls piloting for Aeropostale (not to be confused with the apparel). Saint-Exupery had a rich resource to write from—the man lived an interesting life.

But the origin of his greatest novella was as interesting. Dr. Jeffrey Mirus of & Christendom College, “The Little Prince was Saint-Exupéry himself. He was constantly sketching pictures of children, even on napkins in restaurants. On one occasion the American publisher Curtice Hitchcock asked him what he was drawing: “Nothing much: it is the child in my heart.” Hitchcock recommended he write the story of that child. The book was published in April 1943, about 15 months before Saint-Exupéry disappeared while flying a reconnaissance mission for the Americans over his native France, occupied by the Germans during World War II.”

Not many know that Saint-Exupery went to US to lobby for the North Americans to help against the war with Nazi Germany. During his time as postal pilot he assisted for the released of kidnapped downed pilots in the Sahara. The list of his accomplishments seems endless (“mais il savait tout faire” there’s nothing he could not do).

The gourmette. This bracelet confirmed where Saint Exupery crashed. Off Riau Islands, near Marseilles. This led to the discover of what remained of his plane. Ending speculations that he had been captured or shut down in enemy territory.

The mystery behind his death has for many years increased his cult like following. Many speculated that his reconnaissance plane was shut down (there’s a man who even claim he did it). Some suggest that he orchestrated his own death. But coming from a historic French Catholic family this theory is far fetched.

But even when his gourmette (bracelet with engraved identification) was found by a fisherman in Riou Islands speculations around his death persisted. Perhaps, it will never end because his readers clings to the mystery of his death, like family members of planes missing for years believes their love ones are off in some tropical island somewhere.



Beautiful sculptures from the French Artist Nazare-Aga. Reminds me of pop out books but these are exquisite sculpture!

Beautiful art created by French artist Arnaud Nazare-Aga. Made of lacquer and composite materials sculpture and painted with bright colors, these toy arts perfectly captures the images of what “The Little Prince” has experiences in that journey we all imagine to be in.  Nazare-Aga read the book when he was a boy. He later found out that his grandfather who was a pilot, like Saint Exupery, knew each other. This inspired the artist to create his sculpture with the help of Antoine Saint Exupery Youth Foundation.

Like most of us, Saint Exupery loves to draw to pass time. Here’s an example—a letter with illustrations.

Notebook of Andre Prevot. Saint Exupery’s co-pilot when he attempted the Paris-Saigon flight. They crashed in the Libyan desert. Prevot thought of suicide but felt guilty of leaving Saint Exupery behind. “We ought to struggle and stay together.”

The gourmette (bracelet with identification) of Saint Exupery. Its discovery (54 years after his tragic flight) puts an end to speculations that he was shut down. He crashed and died near France. Presumably due to mechanical failure.

A few days ago I posted a blog about a book project. The Chavacano translation of “The Little Prince”. The writer, who I don’t know in person, sent an FB message to promote his book project. I just visited the Saint Exupery exhibit at the Philatelic Museum (Singapore) a week earlier. Now that’s a strange coincidence.

But these things happens all the time. Times when you have something in mind, then you accidentally come across a book, stumble upon a place or meet someone related to whatever was inside your head.

I take this as a sign from Saint Exupery?

““Yo me pregunto si las estrellas están encendidas para que cada cual pueda un día encontrar la suya.”

El Diutay Prinsipe & the creole that’s more than a lengua de tienda

Various versions of Saint-Exupery’s classic

I must have sent a note to the universe and it decided to respond. Last week I was at the Philatelic Museum (Singapore) to see the exhibit, “The Little Prince: Behind the Story” (more on my next blog). Then a few days ago, Jerome Herrera sent a link (to this blog’s FB Page) to his book project press kit. He was translating The Little Prince to Chavacano. “El Diutay Prinsipe” is due for release this month (September 2018). Now, that’s a strange coincidence, right?

The writer’s work is written in modern Chavacano orthography. Proofread by friends and self funded, a labor of love for an often misunderstood language. Herrera is also a blogger whose site, Bien Chavacano, has become a meeting place and repository for Chavacanos and non-Chavacanos to visit.

What makes “El Diutay Prinsipe” important is that it puts to writing a language rarely used in popular literature. Rizal wrote Chavacano conversations in his Noli, wittingly or unwittingly, recording for eternity the creole he admired. He was not alone. There were many hispano-filipino writers that did, like Jesús Balmori, an Ermita native. He penned the lyrics for the song, “el pasacalle aray”. And now we have “El Diutay Prinsipe”.

More than “lengua de tienda, y de nula dignidad, lengua de trapo”

The first time I heard Chavacano spoken was in college. A close friend’s family were Zamboangueños. During some holidays, we would hung out in their home and have these drinking sessions that lasts until the wee hours of the morning. I remember then that there was this AM station that plays Spanish songs. He would tune in and explain what the songs were about. Chavacano has given him a deeper appreciation of our hispano traditions and I thought that was really cool.

I would discover Cavitenen and Ternateño when I already had this blog. By this time, I already spent considerable amount of hours researching the history of our vanishing languages, among them Spanish and Chavacano in Cavite (now spoken mostly by old timers). Ermita’s Chavacano, the one that the likes of Rizal was familiar with, is believed to have vanished in the mid 1900’s or after WWII.

What would save our Spanish and Spanish creole?

I posed this question to historian Benito Legarda Jr and he said, “both parents must speak using it at home, if only one does, the child won’t pick it up.” A former colleague from Bicol shared with me how his father literally forced him to speak Spanish. He would refuse his allowance to school whenever he catches his son speaking any other language at home except Spanish. It apparently worked because the language he hated when he was a child gave him a livelihood later in life.

Views that our Spanish creole is nothing but a bastardized language comes from hispanophobic Filipinos. The writer-historian Elizabeth Medina once shared an online discussion where she was defending the position of preserving Spanish as a Filipino language. In it I discovered that many of those who opposed her were, as Medina called them, “Tisoys”! One of the commentators in the thread said that the closes we’ll ever get to Spanish is our debased version, which is Chavacano. These Filipinos wants nothing to do with their hispano-filipino heritage. For them, its words were to be kept as communication worthy only to be used in the kitchen.

It is not surprising that today, especially in Metro Manila, other Filipino language are often scoffed at and made fun of—many try their best not to sound “promdi”. But we must continue with our local languages—using them ensures that the death bells won’t be tolled for them in the future.

Herrera’s “El Diutay Prinsipe” is a noble and admirable effort. It not only promotes the language among young Chavacanos, it also allows it to be read and studied by non-Chavacano speaking Filipinos. “El Diutay Prinsipe” shows that Chavacano is not mere pidgin but a complete language worthy of our appreciation as a Filipino language.

Dave Chappelle’s take on emasculated Pinoys and Pacquiao

In his recent Netflix special explains the legend that is Manny Pacquiao and the reason why Filipino men worships him. “Emasculated” by unemployment and having their overseas wives send money to support the family, Dave explains that Pacquiao somehow restored their manhood “with his fist”!

Dave Chappelle with wife Elaine and daughter Sonal. His Fil-Am wife, Elaine Erfe, is from Brooklyn, New York. They live with their kids in their 65 acre farm in Yellow Springs, Ohio.

Dave Chappelle and his family are big Pinoy boxing fans. He flew his kids to Macao in 2013 to see Pacquiao fight Brandon Rios. He once interrupted a Nonito Donaire interview to have a photo with the Filipino pugilist telling him that he’s going to show it to his sons.

His Netflix special comes 13 years after the last, “For What It’s Worth”.

Dave Chappelle’s “The Age of Spin” comes in two parts. The Netflix deal is estimated to be worth 60 million.

Here’s Dave’s Pacquiao bit:

I noticed it with that Manny Pacquiao controversy. Yeah, it was– Now, in the gay community’s defense, Manny Pacquiao said some outlandish shit about gay people, very not nice things that I won’t repeat, but there was biblical verses and some analogies to animals. It wasn’t a good look… But if you know what’s popping in the Philippines, you know that they got a whole generation of kids in the Philippines growing up without their mothers. Yes. A lot of women in the Philippines go to the Arabian Peninsula, they come to the United States, they make all their money here, they send all that money back home, which is still one of the number-one staples in the Philippines’ economy– money that the expats send back to the Philippines. The men, on the other hand, are left rearing children, twiddling their thumbs, waiting on their wives’ checks. These men have been fucking emasculated. And then suddenly, a boxer rises from amongst them and reinstates their manhood with his motherfucking fist. This is not the guy you’re supposed to ask, “What do you think of homosexuals?” He’s not your champ!”

Dave Chappelle’s special is now available on Netflix.


Article (June 2017) repostedfrom one of my inactive blog (Papel de Manila).

Photo courtesy of

Lyrics of the Japanese song about Muntinlupa (montenrupano yowa fukete)

While writing the blog The Japanese Song About Muntinlupa I enlisted the help of Japanese YouTube users (commenters on Hamako Watanabe’s songs). I asked for the song’s lyrics to be translated to rōmaji (Roman letters) since none was available online.

A user that goes by the name Makoto, responded and provided the lyrics below:

Montenrupano yowa fukete

(Late in the evening of Muntinlupa)

Montenrupa no yowa fukete

tsunoru omoini yaruse nai

Tooi kokyoh shinobitsutsu

namidani kumoru tsukikageni

yasashii hahano yumewo miru

Tsubamewa matamo kitakeredo

koishi wagakowa itsu kaeru

Hahano kokorowa hitosujini

minamino sorae tonde yuku

sadamewa kanashi yobukodori

Montenrupani asaga kurya

noboru kokorono taiyohwo

muneni idaite kyohmo mata

tsuyoku ikiyoh taoremai

Nihon-no tsuchiwo fumumadewa

Makoto added, “This was sung in 1952 by professional singers back in Japan and became a big hit…”

I noticed that his title is, “Late in the evening in Muntinlupa,” different from “The Night Goes on in Muntinlupa” which I took from a Japanese news report. The book, “Japanese War Criminals: the Politics of Justice After the Second World war,” on the other hand, list it as “It’s getting late in Muntinlupa”.

I decided to skip making an English translation. Those who wish to understand the song can use online translators (i.e., Google). It’s not going to be that accurate but you get the key words and that helps.

One of the markers dedicated by the Japanese in Muntinlupa

Not everything went back to normal after the Japanese capitulated. There were still Japanese prisoners (in New Bilibid). What do you do with them? This took years before it got resolved.

Those who weren’t executed, were repatriated (after the San Francisco Treaty).

Muntinlupa now was then a sleepy rural town with dirt roads and scattered nipa huts. The town center has impressive American colonial wooden houses, some with thatch roofing (some are still standing to this day).

Songs like “Muntinlupa” are important accounts of our distant past.

Penned by Japanese prisoners, it reminds us of the consequences of war.

It’s a special song but a sad one.

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