Category Archives: Manila

To España (via Philippine National Railroad!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Meet up with Dr. Legarda


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

So long Andrade!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you my friend.

CIA’s cross hairs: then Recto, now Duterte?

There were those who kept vigil in the night of our forefathers… (photo courtesy of NHCP)

President Rodrigo Duterte’s paranoia of a CIA plot against him was recently responded to by US Ambassador Sung Kim who flatly denied the allegation. No surprise there. No powerful country that spends millions on their spy agencies would admit to commiting espionage—even when their mandate is to do so.

But Duterte’s charge isn’t new. America has intruded—and will continue to do so—in our political affairs.

A few months ago, Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte, the President’s son, exposed a meeting in which US representatives met with some members of the opposition in Manila. He did not specify who were the players, but the claim gives wind to rumors of a plot to oust his father.

President Erap Estrada himself believed that the US had a hand in ousting him. This after he did not heed the White House’s calls to stop military operations against the MILF back in 2000. Even the late President Ferdinand Marcos, inspite of his liaisons with the US government, wrote in his diary about the US Embassy and the CIA’s activities during his government.

Recto’s Heart

One historical figure that comes to mind whenever I hear talks of Filipino nationalism in the 20th century is Claro M. Recto. He was a vociferous anti-emperialist, opposed the unfair Bell Trade and Parity acts, fought for Rizal’s life and works to be taught in school—a political seppuku during his time. The Catholic Church did not want Rizal taught in schools, much more in their schools.

I recall a story from renowned hispanist Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera, a Premio Zóbel Awardee (1975). Sometime during the 50’s, he visited Recto at the latter’s Pásay law office (Calle Leveriza) to talk about Spanish-Filipino literature. Señor Gómez said that there was no doubt that Recto was only “equal to Rizal!”.

Recto, a hispanista, was able to see our deeply embedded identity in its Spanish past. In a society fast gravitating towards anything American, he was one of the few hold outs challenging the new master’s impositions.

Recto died of a heart attack in 1960 while he was on his way for a goodwill visit to Spain and to meet with Spanish dictator Francisco Franco. But Señor Gómez insists that Recto was assassinated. Recto was on regular medication at that time, he said. But when Recto suddenly fell ill, his medication mysteriously disappeared from where he had kept it. Investigative reporter Raymond Bonner in his 1987 book “Waltzing With a Dictator” mentioned something about a vial of poison being readied for Recto, but was not utilized. I also recall reading an article that implicated the CIA with regards to Recto’s death. The writer alleged that a powerful beam was directed to Recto’s heart. This was what killed him. But I find this too incredible to believe. Or is it?

Taken Down, Shake Down

In the book “Confessions of an Economic Hitman” by John Perkins, the author wrote about the death of Panamá’s Ómar Torrijos. Credited for bringing the Panamá Canal back to Panamá, Perkins believed that he was taken out. He wrote: “The jackals (US operatives) were back… they wanted Omar Torrijos and everyone else who might consider joining an anti corporatocracy crusade to know it.” The author quotes a book by Graham Greene, “Getting to Know the General” which gave an account of a bomb planted inside Torrijos’s plane. It is believed that another motive for the hit was his threat to get the Japanese to build and maintain the Panamá canal, taking it away from US companies like Bechtel. Torrijos was not only against US interests but Panamá’s oligarchs as well.

Is it safe to assume that what had happened in the Americas is not confined to that continent?

UP Professor Roland Simbulan in a lecture given in UP Manila said “It is now a well-documented fact that General Ralph B. Lovett, then the CIA station chief in Manila, and US ambassador Admiral Raymond A. Spruance, had discussed a plan to assassinate Recto using a vial of poison. A few years later, Recto was to die mysteriously of heart attack (though he had no known heart ailment) in Rome after an appointment with two Caucasians in business suits.”

Remember that unbelievable story of a beam directed towards Recto’s heart?

In 1975, Idaho senator Frank Church called an investigation on alleged CIA abuses (look up “Church Committee” in search engines). A weird looking gun was presented to the committee. It shoots a small, poisonous dart, developed to be undetectable. The target wouldn’t even know he was injected with a toxin. Deaths caused by this dart would later be made to appear as caused by some massive heart attack.

Was this “heart attack gun” or any similar lethal instrument developed by the US the one that ended Recto’s life?

Withonespast on Chinoy TV

I was watching ANC yesterday when I saw a Chinoy TV ad. They now have a time slot in ABS-CBN’s cable news.

I was tapped as resource person for two episodes of the “Kwentong Chinoy” segment in 2014. I never saw it until this week.

The producer (Vans) I worked with apparently left before I could get copies. When I saw them on ANC I again requested. They sent me the episodes the next day.

I edited and compiled the video. Cropped out the ads and all the other segments for upload. I just want to see myself talking (I’m kidding). It’s easier to upload smaller files.

The other resource person with me is Fil-Chinese photographer and travel blogger (Tara Let’s Asia) Jeff Lui.

I’m glad that they included some of my inputs.

Like stating that the mix of culture in Chinatown (Binondo) is not only Chinese and Filipino (or native)—Spanish influence was as important–it fused everything together.

Before I left, I gave them all my notes and all important historical material I brought with me about Binondo.

I was under the impression (“hoping” is the right word I think) that the feature on Don Roman Ongpin and Binondo would run longer.

We’re talking about the oldest Chinatown in the planet here.

But in television, time is currency.

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!)

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