Category Archives: Manila

Ernie de Pedro’s Takayama Ukon Research

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Takayama Ukon in Plaza Dilao

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are my old posts about Takayama:

The Japanese of Old Manila

Save the Old Paco Train Station

Takayama the Catholic Samurai


Gomez’s “quis ut deus” and the aswang

When the prolific Cebuano writer, Antonio Martinez Abad penned “La Vida Secreta de Daniel Espeña” in 1960 I wonder if he knew it would be the last from his generation. When I heard that the most dedicated advocate of the Spanish language in the country, Guillermo Gomez Rivera, completed his Spanish novel (more than half a century after Abad’s novel piece) I had to see him.

He handed fellow blogger Pepe Alas and myself a copy. I was supposed to read it but I forgot my copy back home. Alas told me that it’s an autobiographical novel. In it the Premio Zobel awardee included prominent contemporaries, individuals he knew—some family members.

Entitled “quis ut deus” (Latin for Who’s Like God?) the novel’s about Teniente Gimo; our version of Count Dracula.

Driving around Intramuros with Gomez. We had a so-so lunch in pricey Ilustrados were we ate sad small dishes. Pepe Alas took this photo. We were somewhere in Muralla (near Letran) here.

Interesting is how this novel, written around the legend of Teniente Gimo, have real people in it. This ghoulish character has prominently figured in Ilongo culture. If you’re Ilongo, or have Ilongo parents like myself, you perhaps heard about this legend from Dueñas.

This myth has done much to the detriment of this enchanting agrarian town’s reputation.

How an aswang could have anything to do in fighting the Americans in the 1900’s?

Well, this is something that we all have to find out.

Now, I really have to go back and get that book.

* * *

My mother is a hardcore believer in aswang. She swore that she had seen one, in fact she claims that one of our former household help in the 90’s was one! Her reason? she would see her walk around our compound pass midnight when everybody’s sound asleep. When quizzed what she was doing wandering around late at night she would have no memory of it!

It’s impossible to convince them that these things are not real. I remember one time telling them that aswangs are rumors instigated by the CIA in the Visayas to counter communist insurgency (Major General Edward Lansdale, lead intelligence operative in the islands admitted to this). My parents would not have any of this—they’re convinced that these ghouls disguised as ordinary people are as real as you and me.

The Spanish Orders who chronicled much of our ancient oral traditions had noted some of these in their accounts. These folklores are not a recent creations or something that the Friars invented to scare the general public into going to church.

My time spent around Malaysians has provided me with an invaluable understanding of our historical and cultural links with them. Most of our pre-Filipino customs and traditions are essentially “Malay” (I would be writing more on this topic later on).

The myth of “aswang” in all likelihood came from our Malay forefathers.

For example, the Mananangal also exist in their folklore. They call it “Hantu Penanggal”. They have Tianak too, they call it “Pontianak”. Their “Manaden,” “Langsuir,” and “Bajang” (we have “mambabarang,” these are witches) are like our aswang. At first I thought that because they’re Muslims they would not believe in these creatures but they do—turns out they’re as superstitious as we are!

New Books Like “In Binondo, Once Upon a War”

I’ve been stocking up on my Filipiana books the past few days. Plenty of new nonfiction titles, very good ones, up for grabs. Forget the foreign publications you can get them cheap (sometimes free) over the internet. But I grumble that some great history titles are a bit too expensive.

Who’s going to buy them if we keep them out of a student’s budget?

The government should subsidized local books. To keep the cost down. If they can spend billions in ghost corporations and projects why not books, c’mon now?

Now this book is both priceless and and pricey, “The Manila Synod Of 1582: The Draft Of Its Handbook For Confessors,” published by Ateneo Press, 162 pages priced at P850. A significant historical text that reveals the attitude and humanity of the first Catholic Bishop of Manila, Domingo de Salazar, towards the natives.

Loot. Books.

But I worry that such a publication, invaluable and exceptional as it is, would only be read by a handful of enthusiasts and scholars.

It has been a routine of mine, since my first job in 2001, to purchase one book every pay day. I no longer follow this because of time constraints but I still do raid local bookstores every once in awhile. I monitor releases on the internet these days. When I find something I want and the store confirms they’re available, then I go.

Whenever I’m back home I see to it that I visit my friends, Pepe and his wife Yeyette, and their children, 5 in all, in their small apartment. They live not far from my relatives in San Pedro, so when I visit them I drop by the Alas home too.

We often discuss the need to get the children to read. I implore for him to do more. The children watch TV and play computer games all day. My friend has given up and told me last Sunday that it’s hopeless. Mind you that the books in that home occupies half of their narrow sala but still the children won’t touch them.

Now, back to my new books…

I was pleasantly surprised by this book, “In Binondo, Once Upon a War,” written by Filipino playwright Amelia Lapeña-Bonifacio, popular for her work in children theatre. I’m a sucker when it comes to stories about pre-WWII Manila. I enjoyed reading it. I finished it in three days. Here let me share some of it.

“Manila is split into two by the Pasig river, wide, beautiful and clean, rich with lively fishes which draw fisher folks from all over the city… During rainy season, beds of lilies crowned with white, pink and lavender blossoms. The business districts of Binondo and Santa Cruz are on the one side of the Pasig while on the other side… the handsome houses of Ermita of the old rich, the schools, universities, Cathedal, the open field of the Luneta park.”

She remembers what Santa Cruz Church was like before it was recently desecrated and made to look like a Protestant church.

“Second well known church, a walking distance into the district of Santa Cruz. It is simple and almost without any ornate decoration of Quiapo Church…Plain grey wall topped by short iron grills encloses the church where the Virgin Mary hold the Child Jesus astride her hip. While Quiapo Church is the focus of male adoration, the Santa Cruz Church is the center of all women’s ardent supplications.”

She recalls Manila’s “classiest” shopping area and masa Divisoria.

“The elegant shops of business buildings as one walks away from the front iron grill gate of Santa Cruz Church, Berg Arcade andSoriente Santos are stocked with all kinds of clothing, ready-made or materials in bolts hanging cloths… Heacocks, Oceanic commercials, Rebulida’s are the shops popular with ladies because they specialize in jewelry and silvermade. Walkover’s is a shop known for its elegant and expensive imported footwear.”

“We certainly learn a lot when we visit the shopping area known as Divisoria near Cathedral Binondo bcause of the rich variety of products there. Oh wow, there are even shops that sell pets like dogs, cats, rabbits, birds and fishes. Because we learned to read the fine prints of labels and converse with the friendly Chinese shopkeepers, Mother or Father do no inhibit us from going there. For sure, Binondo is an enormouis and lively center of learning!”

The book is a sentimental gold mine. Now you go see these places and all you see is filth and decay. I don’t think there’s going to be anything left of Manila’s heritage in the years to come. The old houses that survived the war are now dying a slow death, while those that are neglected are sold and bulldozed to make way for more glass and concrete structures. So forgive me for the negativity here but I have seen how historical buildings are being plucked out little by little. One day our memory of the entire city would only be found in these books—everything else would be left for the imagining.

Second Hand Shops and Antiques in Evangelista

Segunda Mano shops are popping all over Evangelista. The area is now becoming the new Ermita. I recall how Mabini in Ermita was crammed with antique shops back in the day. They’ve been replaced by money changers. The antique shops hold outs can be found still in Mabini near Calle Sta. Monica.

In these Segunda Mano shops I go for old documents: letters, notary documents, pictures and Filipinianas. If they’re not too pricey books makes great acquisitions but dealers today are aware that collectors are willing to spend good money so they sell high. I remember seeing the classic coffee table book “The Streets of Manila” in 2007 for around two thousand pesos. Now it’s around 10 thousand if you’re lucky.

Looking for something specific here is literally trying to look for a needle in a haystack. So this one of those moments that it’s better to have no plans. I like the vinyls records as I’m thinking of starting my collection. The portrait is a Maribel Coching, daughter of the great comic illustrator and National Artist Francisco Coching.

Segunda Mano stores are more like garage sales. Most items they sell are not really antiques—old sofas, ornamental jars, decorative wall paintings and all sorts of junk. Antique shops on the otherhand, as its name suggest, sells just items that have cultural and historical value.

But the Segunda Mano shops, like the ones in Evangelista, are stocking up on invaluable antiques which makes them worthwhile haunts for collectors of bulkier antiques. For collectors of old documents I’d say there’s not much to see here but if you have time to spare it still makes a good stop over because some interesting documents of historical merit do find its way here.

In one shop I found a mid 1800’s law book bearing the signature of a certain Simeon Villa. I suspect this to be the famed poet Jose Garcia Villa’s father who serve as President Aguinaldo’s close aide during the revolution. He was a physician who kept a journal that provided details on the day to day lives and struggle of the revolutionary government on the run. I’ll probably regret not acquiring it.

Another interesting paper I found are what appears to be sketches of the great Tanay painter Tam Austria. Turns out that they’re consigned items that sells for a whooping 60 thousand pesos. I could not validate its authenticity (nor do I have the money to pay for it) so I examined the sketches without the intention of buying it of course.

In Calle Hen. P. Garcia I chatted with Tita Gemma, owner of a small shop that sells small figurines, paintings and decorative antiques. She too have interesting art works for sale including an early Anita Magsaysay-Ho who aside from knowing the name I know nothing more. It’s a pity that I understand little of Philippine paintings. The owner laments the high cost of keeping the shop. She bares that she often just break even.

In Calle Hen. Hizon, a  shop attendant listed the names of celebrities that visited them. I advised him to take pictures next time so he can post it in his store. That would make good advertisement I said. I asked him if he ever experienced multo from the ancient tocadors, mesas and huge aparadors he sells. He said that he has never seen one but he feels some kind of ghostly presence sometimes.

I left Evangelista around high noon and headed straight to Ermita. I still do visit the place to see what’s there to see. More of a force of habit. The prices has gone steeper; they know tourist can afford a higher price (the presyong turista attitude of our vendors). I was looking for a small clay jar for incense and I could not find anything below 800 pesos!

I don’t fancy myself as a collector. Items I’ve collected over the years does not have monetary value. I know because I frequent sites that sells antiques too—not to sell but to window shop.

Nothing compares to the joy of finding portraits of Filipinos, scribbling in Spanish or archaic Tagalog, clothed in the style of an era gone. These fires up all the romantic parts in me—what were the lives they lived, who are they, what were the food they enjoyed the most, what church they attended, languages they spoke, places they visited, are these people my relatives! These questions consumes me easy.

But just who would be interested in portraits of unknown Filipinos and their possessions except, maybe, relatives but the fact that these family heirlooms ended up in antique shops is a good indicator that even descendants has lost interest in them.

This is where an individual like myself comes in—if you have old pictures and documents you don’t want to keep just let me know!

Seeing Francis…

Pilgrims walking from Calle Vito Cruz to Calle Quirino, Luneta and UST

I knew it’s not going to be easy to get near Pope Francis but I had to try because in 1995 I failed to see Pope John Paul II. After standing in Quirino Avenue for 5 hours (some had been camping there since Saturday and Friday) near the Papal Nuncio I did saw the successor of Peter—a fleeting glimpse that lasted a few seconds. It was like seeing a bright comet—the car he was in (a volkswagen family van) went by so pass I was not able to snap a photo. This Papal visit reminds all how deeply Catholic the country remains is amidst the increasing secularization of our society.

I don’t think the adoration we Catholics have for this man could be explained or understood by non-Catholics. How I wish everyone could share the experience and joy of being led and inspired by this man.

I cry easy and his homily in Tacloban made me tear up—I wept with those Filipinos who lost their families while Pope Francis assured them that Christ understands them for He, like them, suffered too.

His message was sincere; straight from his heart. How I wished most of us understood him in his native tongue. But I believe his message, despite requiring translation, was felt and understood by all Filipinos. The image of people weeping, while drenched in rain, with their pastor in that cold and windy day is one that would be in our heart and minds forever.

Also, that Pope Francis delivered his homily in Spanish was a bonus. I’m a student of this language; its speakers would tell you they use to “para hablar con Dios”. Hopefully one day we’ll all speak this language again.

You expect people to look for shelter when it starts raining but these folks won’t budge. I’ve never seen these many cops in my life.

I’m not a religious person; although I study and research the tradition and history of the Catholic Church in this country, I do not consider myself a good Church member. I continue to struggle following its teachings and traditions. The past few days of the Pope’s visit has inspired me to examine my Catholic faith. Francis’s words has made me look into my flaws and weaknesses—this is my takeaway from this momentous visit of the Church’s highest leader.

While waiting for the Pope to leave his official residence, I witnessed some extraordinary kindness from the people around me. I saw policemen carrying babies and looking after them so they could be nearer where the Pope’s convoy would pass. There were people helping senior citizens—some sharing candies and snacks.

But of course there were those who just went there to heckle, take selfies and complaint. There was this woman who even started shouting at the police for allowing some people (they were babysitting their babies and little children for crying out loud) to go in front. These folks missed the point of the exercise! People like these are irksome but hey, mercy and compassion right? Patience is a virtue that’s easy to have when the Pope is around 🙂

Also, it’s refreshing to read nothing but good news about the Church these past few days. Even the Damaso shouting anti-Catholics took their day-off’s (they’ll be back of course). In social media all comments are positive! Never thought I’ll see that especially when the subject posted has something to do with religion. Such is the uniting power of this popular Pope.

ChinoyTV and Myself

chinoytv, stan chi, vance alfonso, binondo, chinatown, manila

It was pass noon time when I reached Calle Condesa. In an eatery right beside Binondo church I was greeted at the door by ChinoyTV researcher and producer Vance Alfonso. Inside I was introduced to the camera men, Richard Gregorio and Mon Santiago, Jeffrey Lui of Tara Let’s Go blog and the host, Stan Chi, contributor writer for FHM.

The format is interesting. Because the segment is less than 10 minutes, everything had to be compressed. It was a challenge because history is a wordy subject—I had trouble curbing my points. But that’s how TV shows are Stan said, there’s not a lot of time.

And, to catch the audience’s curiosity, it has to be natural and entertaining. The whole thing was a great learning experience. But I doubt it if I would repeat. My performance was, arrgh, awful—I wasn’t the duck on a pond, more like, a white guy dancing. I had to be reminded, many times, to shorten my sentences—difficult for someone who’s used to blabbering historical data like a mad man!

But the shoot was fun. The guys made it fun. Especially Stan, a natural comedian, his wit and humor carried us through that humid afternoon heat! I had a great time.

I don’t know when the episodes would air, what I do know is that the shoot was for two episodes. ChinoyTV is shown over Living Asia channel and other cable channels. Vance said that he’ll just send me a link. They upload their episodes in Youtube so people could watch it on line. Not excited to see it but I’ll share it here.

I was glad to see another blogger there yesterday. Jeff Lui, of the travel website called Tara Let’s Go. He’s a photographer and a traveler. I’m impressed with his knowledge in history. The thing about bloggers is their passion, you see, most are writing and recording their experiences on line for free—they’re not instructed nor paid to do so. Blog sites these days is where I source news, entertainment and information.

It was another blogger, my friend Glen of Travelers on Foot, that introduced me to Vance. We started blogging around the same time and both of us consider ourselves old timers in the local blogging scene. TOF is a popular culture, history and arts blog and the man behind it, a great supporter and aficionado of Filipino arts!

During the shoot I handed over to Vance some print outs of my research on Binondo. I hope these guys continue to promote and feature Filipino history on their show.

Izquierda a derecho: Vance, Arnaldo, Jeff Lui of Tara Let’s Go, Stan Chi and Mon. My gosh, everyone’s chinito here except me!

Life & History Lessons from a Septuagenarian Cabbie!

It’s not every day that you get to ride a cab with a septuagenarian behind the wheel!

I was on my way to meet the ChinoyTV crew in Binondo for an interview. I was running really late—I had to take a cab. And I’m glad I did. The cab ride turns out to be a nostalgic tour of sorts!

That’s him!

Mr. “Tatay” Mazo, of Mauban, Quezon, has been driving since the 1960’s. I knew that I could extract interesting historical bits from the man. So I was ready with my little notebook to write down notes.

When we reached San Marcelino there were these massive wheeler trucks stucked in the middle of Quirino Ave. No problem—Tatay knows. He made a quick right turn before Calle San Marcelino and we came out in Calle Nakpil.

I told him that I was about to meet a group of Filipino Chinese in Binondo. He smiled and relates, “You know, one of the first man who ever showed me around Manila is a Chinese. He speak Tagalog but have difficulty pronouncing some words.” Calle Jose Abad Santos was aba-la-lo and Misericordia, mi-se-co-la. The Chinese was a regular customer.

“Back in the day, we would go around to find passengers in Binondo, that’s where the action was for us taxi drivers” Tatay said, noting that it was the shopping center back then and people swarmed the borough especially during weekends and holidays.

“If you want to treat your wife, you take her to Escolta and your friends would tell you, wow pare pang-Escolta pala si misis.” But those days are long-gone. “Manila just have too many problem, traffic, name it, they rather go to Quezon City and Makati.” The best thing about the city then according to the ol’ man was there’s hardly any traffic—now it’s everywhere.

I asked if he miss the ol’ Manila days. “Yes, of course, coming from Mauban (Quezon province), seeing it for the first time was like being abroad.” I reminded him that he’s lucky, to this he just laughed and told me, “no you are, you can afford a taxi, I can’t!”

I asked him if the changes in the street names confuses him and he said no but he finds it stupid and irksome. “They don’t have better things to do, so they change the streets.” I dare test his knowledge, while passing Nakpil, I asked if he remembers what was its old name, “Calle Tenesse, oh, no, Vermon(t).” Now that’s impressive! Of all the changes, there’s one that’s unforgivable to him. “When they change Calle Tayabas in Tondo to Yuseco, who’s that!” Of course, he likes the old name better—he’s a Tayabas boy.

And he’s got something to say about the Binay fiasco. “Some politician used to poke fun at him. That he (Binay) could not even afford a cup of coffee at the Manila hotel,” and that the poor guy was “an abogadong walang asunto.” I’ve never heard of these being reported anywhere, or perhaps, I was still not around when these happened but Tatay believes that such insults drives some people’s dogged craving to get rich.

And about the Bangsa Moro deal, “We will regret it, thank Heavens, I’m too old to fight them in the future!”

What about life, what does he feel about the quality of life today compared to his younger days? “I would buy fish for .50 cents, that’s a planganita, so many that you could not possibly consume it in a day.” He continues, “Your question about the past, well, we can’t bring it back. So many of us doesn’t have discipline, we’re lazy—just look at those idiots, without shirts drinking, they’re young, I’m old but those men does not want to work! The people see their government is a joke, so, why take their life serious?”

His final advice was to be always productive and enjoy life. “A little good food here, some beer there, family and friends are good—remain productive, and everything should be alright.”

How I wish I had my recorder with me — what a pleasure getting stuck in traffic with a 70-ish wise old gentleman!

Life, indeed, is full of surprises!

Manila Cathedral 2014

tag: manila cathedral, intramuros, manila

Just before I left Manila last Wednesday I decided to drop by the Manila Cathedral to check on recent repairs and renovations, and, I heard, some interesting additions. This picked my curiosity, for what else could be added to the cathedral — at the back of my mind I was thinking of those foolish parish priests who take liberties decorating and modifying their century old-churches as if it were their own house! So I was hoping nothing really stupid was done to desecrate what was once the center of Catholic Asia.

To my relief, nothing really changed but the entire church has been somewhat refurbished. I read that there was a need to make some structural works on its foundation, so this was something that was necessary in order to keep it safe. The church spent 70 million (huge sum from donations) to make structural retrofits, fix plumbing and electrical installations. They also chemically treated certain areas susceptible to molds. Most of the interiors are now in marble which makes it more like a palace.

We have to remember that this is a mid 1900’s church (and not the original), which makes it relatively young compared to its Spanish missionary built churches, which, ironically are far sturdier and resistant to tropical conditions and the occasional tremors.

I have never seen so many tourist in my life visiting the cathedral. This was the first time that I saw a tourist in every corner of the church. There were even Koreans taking selfies making funny faces a few meters from the altar, which, I suppose they have very little regard to as they’re not Catholics. The pedicab drivers and the calesas are making a killing with these renaissance of Intramuros. Seeing all these makes me feel good about the future.

The Cathedral has this new feel to it. Everything’s spanking new, clean, polished to the utmost brightness! This is all too strange because I’m used to seeing antiqueish Spanish era churches. Minus the cathedral’s design, which was wonderfully preserved, It has been fully pimped, and now better than ever! (ok, I should not have used that word!)

steely church of San Sebastian

tag: san sebastian church, quiapo, manila, san sebastian college, augustinian recollect

I walked around the wet streets of Manila yesterday. I wondered about what it felt like to be a Manileño during its golden age. When it was the center, the most modern, the most beautiful city in Asia. Well, it is a shell of what it once was, reality is that it’s in a sad state of bleakness, poverty. Even the once massive but graceful houses of Quiapo are now boarded by some of our most unfortunate kababayans.

Surprising is how the government of Manila allowed the construction of a building (old location of the UP fine arts school) right smack in the middle of Quiapo town! As if things couldn’t get worst in this area. There’s not a lot of planning involved in city planning around Manila after Mayor Lacson. I wonder if they even have a vision for the future around here.

I started in Manila’s city hall, crossed the Ayala Bridge to Calle  Casal, then straight to Legarda, turning left to Bilibid Viejo. That’s a short 2 kilometer walk in a showery Manila day. My reward was seeing the magnificent marvel of engineering the Recoletos built in 1891. Alleged to have been been designed by Gustave Eiffel, it is the only all-steel church in Asia and is said to have been the only prefabricated church in the continent.

Just imagine what it was like when colossal chunks of the church started to roll on the streets of Manila. That must have been a sight to see! It was, according to Jaime Laya, an international project, with English, Filipino, Belgians and other foreign nationals taking part in its planning and construction.

The Augustian Recollect missionaries in the Philippines were known for their intrepid and valiant expeditions. Nick Joaquin refers to them as “jungle” experts, so fearless that they took on wilderness that even locals would dare not go. So it is not unexpected that they envisioned something so out-of-the-box with their basilica. A prefabricated iron neo-gothic church in a tropical territory. But they must have forgot that salty winds from the nearby bay are known to slowly deteriorate even the densest of steel!

My first memory of San Sebastian was when I was a boy. These visits are rare because Quiapo church was easier get to (and my nanay was a Nazarene devotee) but the image of the steel church, with its noticeable dim interiors and captivating glass window art, made an deep impression on me that when I see a gothic church, wherever I go, I’m instantly reminded of it.

The challenge today is preserving the church. Since it would cost more to restore it than build a new one, some, even among the Recollect community are brooding over the idea of tearing it down and just building a new church. Not the best news a heritage advocate would like to hear but there’s not a lot of options left out there. Time will come when the entire steel church would be unsafe to use and by then we would all be confronted by the truth.

They don’t make ‘em like they used to they say, and this storied church, that has survived catastrophes, both man-made and natural, might finally succumb to deterioration caused by nature. Let’s all pray that God allows it to stand for another hundred years.

Chinatown Chow and Friends

Tag: Instituto Cervantantes Manila, Carlos Madrid, Guillermo Gomez Rivera, Chinatown Manila

Driving around Binondo on a regular day is a torturous errand. There’s nothing like it. Forget Makati and EDSA, in this part of the country traffic takes on a whole new meaning. But Manila is Manila and if you’re a history nut like me it makes going through the capital’s abyss of vehicle and smoke worth it.

And so when friends, Pepe and Don Guimo invited me to eat lunch and catch up in Binondo I said yes!

The new director of Instituto Cervantes, Dr. Carlos Madrid, upon the invitation of Don Guimo also joined us in that mall in Calle Reina Regente in Binondo. It took me around 2 hours to reach the place from Makati. There’s another person that was supposed to there but didn’t make it, Ms. Sony Ng, a historian for the Locsin clan. Gomez said that the new IC director is keen on knowing more about the Locsin clan (Gomez and I are related through this family). My impression of  Carlos is a guy that’s historically inclined and intellectually curious about Filipino history. The first question he asked me was about my last name which he recognized. He recently published a book about the political history of the Marianas Island’s from 1870 – 1877.

Carlos, Arnaldo, Pepe and Sr. Guimo

I could see good things happening at the Instituto under Carlos. It’s about time we get someone passionate about Filipino history at the Instituto. Expect projects geared towards engaging Filipinos to take another look at their Spanish past – an essential part of our identity as Filipinos.

When I was studying Spanish at the Instituto a few years back, my first professor, erudite in Hispano culture, would find time in his class to talk to us about Hispanic culture in Latin America. Of course, these Hispanic traditions are all too familiar — surprising was that many students commented and has showed interest on the subject (after all, these so called ‘hispanic’ traditions are all under our noses). I would talk to some of these students too. Their interest to know more about the language and our hispano-filipino memory is like that of a child’s genuine curiosity to understand more by asking more.

And so I thought it a good idea to speak with then IC director, Pepe Rodriguez to share my ideas. I waited for him in the staircase and approached him one afternoon. Pepe’s a proper looking fella but very accommodating. He used to be a correspondent for a Spanish news agency and in the process has met most of our past and present national leaders. I told him about that interesting class and how it can be improved. I asked if it was possible to discuss Filipino traditions our Spanish past gifted us in our class, for professors to present (as that professor of mine did with the Latin American tradition he adores) these Filipino traditions having strong ‘hispanic’ influence. I firmly believe that this would have a deeper impression on the young Filipinos and would make them look back with a profound appreciation of our Spanish past.

Well, the meeting didn’t last long. Mr. Rodriguez said “it’s interesting that you thought of that, I agree with you…”. While I appreciate his response I wasn’t under the illusion that he’s going to act on it. Nothing came out of that short exchange of course, but I felt I needed to share. It was here that I realized that the Spanish government’s cultural arm real mandate is to teach Spanish as a foreign language and its culture (and that of the Latino countries) as lessons in people and geography.

There must be changes but this is easier said than done because such foreign institutions are cautious in involving itself in controversies. I could understand why presenting some parts of our past as hispanic or ‘Spanish’ would certainly ruffle big feathers in the country. But I remain a believer that the Instituto must be a vehicle that counteracts a century of miseducation that started when the Americans landed in our shores. We’re dealing with generations of Filipinos conditioned to see Spanish, both the past and the language, as nothing more than small insignificant blips in our historical evolution.

Still, I appreciate our Instituto Cervantes and I’d recommend it to everyone. The past few years has been fruitful for researchers, historians and students — it truly is a place for learning, not only language, but Filipino history and culture. I’ve met some of the most interesting lecturers and experts in its halls. Dr. Madrid said that the school’s programs now are aimed at making the institute more of a community for people interested in Spanish language and culture. The cultural programs are worth seeing (visit their official site for what’s goin’ on there here).


Like what I always say, history is a strong incentive for the young to learn Spanish. It was for me… once young Filipinos could relate to the historical importance of Spanish as a language they would embrace it for life.

June 2014

Eating Paella in Chinatown

Tag: los ambos mundos restaurant, wah sun,  chinatown manila, binondo

A recent visit to the house of Don Guillermo Gómez Rivera  inspired me to take another look at the Chinatown I thought I already knew. There was a time, according to Gómez, that Spanish was widely used in the area. That the language was so prevalent in Manila that even the purest of Chinese learned to speak it!

This story didn’t surprise me at all. People engage in commerce use a common language. You don’t expect Filipino and Spanish to speak Chinese. They spoke the lengua franca of their time. The Chinese learned how to count, market, and to sell in Spanish!

According to historian Pio Andrade, the prominent Chinese Filipinos of old Manila wasn’t speaking broken Spanish but fluent Spanish!

A good example of how people adapt language to do business are the people that lived around the Spanish seaports of old Ciudad de Cavite and Zamboaga  — to this day these towns speak a form of Spanish their ancestors adapted so they could transact with Spanish merchants and ship men.

By all indication, Chabacano speakers in Zamboanga are increasing. Unfortunately, the Chabacano spoken in Ermita and some other district of Manila has long been lost. Cavite city is struggling to keep their numbers up. While Ternate in Cavite is having some success through education and parents insisting that their children learn their Chabacano.

Beautiful reminders of that past many would just want us to forget.

Many scholars wonder why Intamuros never had an area for a market.

The answer was that there was no need for one. Everything was available just outside the walls. The Chinese of parian offered just about everything the people of Manila needed—from skilled labor to pancit.

The food in Parian was so well known that the first bishop of Manila couldn’t stop but mention them in his letters to the Spanish king!

There was one thing that surprised me during this recent visit — and this is that to this day there are remnants of this forgotten hispanized Chinatown. Restaurants that still carries on the tradition of serving some authentic Filipino dishes.

They call it ‘fusion’ in contemporary culinary language these days but back then it simply was the way of food preparation and eating–Filipino identity mirrored in plates and dishes.

Some of these dishes shouldn’t be called Chinese nor Spanish cuisines but Filipino. After all, Rizal insisted that pancit is ours, not an import. This is true because pancit starts from this Spanish technique called ‘guisa’ and ends up with these noodles that must have been brought here by the Chinese — this weaving of culture is what makes it very Filipino.

I don’t usually write about food culture for I know very little about it. But I do understand its historical value–after all ‘food’ is the only part of culture that outlasts all the other parts of it. People are bound to lose the way they dress and even the way they communicate through the passing of time but food, the manner it’s prepared, its ingredients, its taste, all of these stays.

This brings a whole new meaning to that popular phrase ‘you are what you eat’.

When you read a tinolang manok from some old text that would be the same tinola your mother would prepare at home. There’s this link that’s almost infrangible in Filipino cuisine. Yes, the ingredients and how it’s cooked would vary but no one could argue that it’s not the same dish.

In Chinatown, one could still enjoy a cup of thick, rich ‘la resurreccion’ chocolate from some of the restos around here. This morning drink was staple in every Manileño breakfast table. The small shop in Calle Ongpin still sells La Resurrecion Tablea’s with the traditional wrap in Spanish. They say that the tableas are still made in the area. The shop is said to had been established only in the 30’s.

The lone restaurant in Chinatown that carried on the tradition of an authentic Filipino theme is the  Ambos Mundos (‘both worlds’ in Eng.). The menu is still in Spanish and the food, yes, still Filipino. ‘Bebedas’ lists softdrinks these days but I wonder what kind of drinks they serve in the late 1800’s? as for ‘Postres’, they still have leche plan and halohalo but in between are some modern sweets. ‘Verduras’ lists torta talong, ocoy, guisadong gulay, lumpia and ensalada. Main dish features ‘paella’,and I ended picking  ‘paella manila’ as recommended. That decision did not disappoint! I was told that this particular paella is one that had been passed down from the original Gaudinez’s that started the business in 1888.

Paella Manilena, bistek tagala and one smart pig right in front of the restaurant’s entrance

Ambos Mundos was first established by the Gaudinez in what is now Palanca Street in Quiapo. It transferred to another location sometime in the 1900’s then to its present place in Florentino Torres Street, corner of Azcárraga 17 years ago.

Whenever I’m in restaurant that serves paella I see to it that I order paella. In my view, the most refined, the classiest of all Filipino dish. There was a time in our history that paella was ‘the’ rice served in fiestas. Nowadays, paella has been sidelined for the more economical spaghetti.

I also discovered that Wah Sun, the old panciteria place, and Ambos Mundos are now owned by the same family. Interesting is just like the wonderful fusion of food served in old Chinatown, a Gaudinez married into the Chinese family that owned the Wah Sun (this panciteria was  established in the mid 1900’s). I was told that you can order food in Wah Sun and have it delivered right across Ambos Mundos. Unfortunately, Wah Sun appears to have been closed and I’m not sure if they have plans to reopen it or if they’re just doing some renovation work.




Save the Old Paco Train Station!

Sometimes getting diverted is a good thing. While I was initially irked that the bus I took to get to Philippine Normal University ended up in Plaza de Dilao, my mood changed when  I saw the Takayama monument and the old Paco train station.

I dream one day our old train stations gets restored back to its former glory. Yes, there was once a time when efficient train service moved Filipinos to their destinations. Old city train stations in Europe, most of which were either destroyed or damaged in the WWII, are now tourism centerpieces in their localities. We should follow this as it not only promotes history but elevates the status of our railway system in the eyes of our people. We now have a generation who has never experienced train travel.

That’s not the Old Paco Railway Station’s parking lot. That’s Manila’s killer traffic.

The train stations we have now are unsightly and unsafe platforms. Even the modest Spanish colonial stations (most are now ruins) are better than these eye sores. Philippine National Railway’s trains and coaches are mostly hand me downs from Japan. It’s high time this enterprise gets privatized. The government had the time to fix it but struggled to put everything in order. The people deserves a train system that works!

Built during the early years of the American era, the Paco railway station was partially damaged when some businessmen, with the backing of powerful Manila politicians, started preparing the site to build a shopping arcade. They abandoned construction but damaged had already been done to the historic railway station. The last time it suffered this degree of damage was during WWII.

The building of malls in our old towns and cities has been the greatest threat to our hopes to conserve our heritage. Businessmen look for historical sites as most of these sits on expensive prime properties. Politicians loves to profit from these projects too. It makes them look good as it not only generates jobs, to them it glamorizes their city. A feather in their cap that increases their chances of getting themselves re-elected.

Some of the fiercest battle during the ‘liberation of Manila’ took place here. The Americans had to cross the Pasig river to get to Paco and Pandacan. The Japanese, realizing this, made sure that Paco would be heavily defended. The battle for Paco produced two Medal of Honor awardee. Both American minorities, one American Indian and one Hispanic[1].

I’m curious as to why it has taken this long before our heritage agencies considered declaring the building a heritage structure. The Paco station deserves not only a plaque of recognition but protection from destruction!

– —

[1] Sergeant Cleto Rogriguez and Private 1st class John Reese Jr. from Co. B, 148th battalion infantry.

Support the on line movement to save this wonderful building by liking the FB fan page below:

Another advocacy group I admire is the Railway and Industrial Society of the Philippines. They’re currently heading research and other conservation projects for some of our most important heritage structures.

Support and learn more about them here:

Fr. Felix Huerta : Great Benefactor

PHILIPPINE history focus so much on political history that many historical, but nonpolitical, persons of outstanding accomplishments are hardly mentioned in standard history textbooks. Take the case of Franciscan friar Fr. Felix Huerta, the administrator from 1850 to 1878 of San Lazaro Hospital which treated lepers for free. To most Manilans today, Felix Huerta is a street close to the San Lazaro track [1]. Very few know that Fr. Huerta was responsible for two enduring and beneficial projects — Monte de Piedad and Manila’s water supply system.

Plaza Goitti, now Lacson Plaza (after the late Manila mayor). To the right is the rear wall of the newly renovated Sta. Cruz Church. The BPI building, as it is known today, was the Roman Santos building, Monte de Piedad’s first home. (see notes for the building’s brief history)

As early as 1860, the Madrid government ordered the founding of charitable pawnshop in Manila for the poor. But for some reason or another, the order was not carried out. Thus on July 21, 1880, Fr. Huerta, with the backing of the Archbishop and the Governor General and 33,000 pesos from the Obras Pias [2], founded the Monte de Piedad, a bank and pawnshop for the poor. The bank was formally opened on August 2, 1882, with office at the first floor of Santa Isabel College in Intramuros.

Monte de Piedad lent money at 6% annual interest and paid 4% annually on savings deposits. But its biggest business was in pawned jewelry. It was an old custom of Filipinos to buy jewels as capital, and hock them in times of need. Monte de Piedad charged .5% interest monthly on pawned jewelry and other properties which could be redeemed anytime before maturity of renewed when due. Unredeemed jewelry and properties were auctioned every 10th and 11th of each month.

For auctioned properties, Fr. Huerta insisted on a charitable policy, which is said to be a pristine Catholic banking practice. All earnings from the auction exceeding the amounts due to the bank were turned over to the debtors. If the debtors was dead, a search was made for the heirs, while the money was kept in the bank earning interest.

Today, Monte de Piedad is still around. Its banking rates and policies may have changed, but still extends cash and jewelry loans using the deposits as collateral.

Fr. Huerta also made the Carriedo water systems a reality. Before he died in 1743, Francisco Carriedo stipulated in his will that 10,000 pesos be invested in the Galleon trade until it earned enough to build a water system for Manila. But the British appropriated the Carriedo fund, then worth 250,000 pesos, when they conquered Manila in 1762. As a result, the Carriedo fund had to start anew with a capital of 10,000 pesos. With the end of the Galleon trade in 1815, the Carriedo fund was forgotten. Fr. Huerta dogged search of over 300 documents in the archives led to the discovery of the Carriedo fund which amounted to 177,853.44 in 1878. This was used to finance the completion of the Carriedo water system in 1882.

Fr. Huerta, was also a good historian. He wrote “estado geografico, topografico, estadistico, historico, religioso de la provincia de san gregorio.” [3] The history of the order in the Philippines.

in 1960, I was confined for chicken pox at the San Lazaro hospital. The chicken pox ward was the second floor of an old Spanish building attached to the old San Lazaro chapel, which could have been the original hospital for the lepers. As I ascended the stairs to the ward, I saw on the wall a portrait of Fr. Felix Huerta. I did not know then that I was looking at the portrait of a great missionary, a true child of St. Francis, and a great benefactor of Manila.

Just like Fr. Huerta in his day, many priests and nuns today are engaged in development projects for the poor while remaining steadfast in their religious devotion. I will mention several examples:

Mother Milagros of the Assumption Sisters, with the help of her former students, built a school for the poor in San Simon, Pampanga in 1970. She also built an irrigation system and established a farmers’ cooperative in the same town.

Jesuits Gaston Duchesneau and Mr. Benedicto Allanegui in 1961 organize the San Dionisio Credit Cooperative in Paranaque with 38 members and 380 peso capital. Today this cooperative assets are worth over 10 million, making it the largest and most successful credit cooperative in the country.

In 1971, a Filipina nun acquired a piece of land in Antipolo which was transformed into a low cost housing project for the slum dwellers she was serving.

We rarely read these modern counterparts of Fr. Huerta in the press which harps so much bad news. Thus we are deluded into thinking that the Philippines is a basket case with no hope in sight. If the press will print good news as avidly as it prints bad news, then we could say, borrowing the words of William Faulkner, “We, Filipinos, will not only survive, we will prevail.”


Blogger’s notes & footnotes:

This undated article was written by the historian Pio Andrade Jr.

– Interestingly, the street Felix Huerta in Sta. Cruz does not carry the religious title of “Padre,” as in streets like Padre Burgos and Padre Gomez. It is as if to hide the fact that Padre Huerta was a Spanish priest who dedicated his entire life caring for the people he served.

– The Roman Santos building used to be the site of the first office of the “Bank of the Poor”. First planned in 1884 by the Monte de Piedad de Casa de Ahhoros and by a decree of Governor General Moriones. The first foundation was said to have been laid during the birthday of Queen Ma. Cristina. Initial funds came from the Metropolitan Archbishop of Manila, private donors and loans from Banco Espanol Filipino (todays BPI). The building was opened on 1894. The event was graced by then Manila Archbishop Bernardino Nozaleda. In 1937 the building was sold to Consolidated Investments Corporation. It became a multiple floored structured by this time. The plan was drawn by Juan Luna’s son, Andres Luna San Pedro. The building was under construction during the outbreak of WWII. It became a warehouse during this period. During Manila’s liberation, the building was converted into a Red Cross hospital. In 1952, Prudential Bank and Trust Company founder, Roman Santos, made it the headquarters of his company. Since then the building carried his name. In the following years, the building would be completed. It had 9 floors by 1957.

[1] San Lazaro Hippodrome – Race track that dates back to the Spanish times. Most of the defunct “hippodrome” was bought by Henry Sy and this became an SM mall in 2005 . The art deco styled building was among the casualties of this development. The greatest heritage destroyer of Manila, Mayor Lito Atienza, graced the opening of SM San Lazaro with the owner in 2005.

This race track in Sta. Cruz was home to Asia’s first racing club (1867).

[2] Obras Pias (Works of Piety) – Catholic foundations that received donations dedicated to religious, charitable, medical and educational purposes. Some of these charitable institutions invested in the galleon trade allowing them to widen the reach of their missions.

[3] Estado geográfico, topográfico, estadístico, histórico- religioso de la santa y apostólica Provincia de San Gregorio Magno – The histories of the Franciscan missions in the province of St. Gregory the Great (mission towns under the Franciscan order). This book is an essential resource for local town culture and history.

Related article: Don Francisco Carriedo and Manila’s First Water System

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