Padre Damaso’ and the friars: Myth versus reality

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The friars built roads and bridges for transportation.

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

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

The friars quarried stone and introduced new building technologies.

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

The friars introduced modern irrigation.

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

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

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

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

The friars made the abaca industry.

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

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

Fr. Espallargas is unmentioned in history textbooks.

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

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

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

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

The friars established the modern printing press.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The friars built the sugar industry.

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

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

The friars built the looming industry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prejudice

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

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

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

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

 

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The Direction This Blog is Headed?

I suppose I should explain my long absence.

Well, this should. New born baby—my first!

Since I decided to be hands on in raising my boy, I have to follow a tight daily schedule. I couldn’t give up my work, I need to keep the paycheck  comin’ now more than ever so I juggle between my job, babysitting and all my other commitments.

This is perhaps the most challenging period of my life but also the most rewarding.

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I love that classic Eagle’s hit “push it to the limit,” because that’s what I’m doing now. I’m lucky if I get a straight 4 hours sleep —and things would only get busier as I’m about to enroll to a language class and continue training jiu jitsu!

So what happens here? What happens to this blog?

The blog continues but I couldn’t update it as often as I use to but it’s here to stay. My first entry here was in March 2008. I don’t know of any other project or hobby that I stuck with for this long except traveling and visiting historical sites around the country—and these are what I write about in the blog so they all go together.

I hardly travel these days and I have very little access to historical materials, these two things inspires me the most to blog. Living in a foreign land disconnects you from your comfort zone. But this shouldn’t stop me from updating this blog.

But what will I blog about?

This is something that I need to work on. This would take some creativity, easy for a creative person but I’m not but I’ll find a way to be more consistent without straying away from the theme of this blog project.

Gearing up for what’s left of 2017!

 


ACM’s Exhibit on Christianity in Asia

The facade of ACM. And those silver spheres, must be Dragon Balls

I arrived at the Asian Museum Civilization pass 4 this past Sunday. While there’s hardly traffic here it takes me about an hour to get to the downtown core—the old colonial seat of power. The British are gone but they left behind elegant buildings now utilized to promote art, culture and history. Like the old supreme court and the City Hall, redesigned and linked from the inside to house the impressive Singapore Gallery.

The ACM was moved to the Empress Place Building in 2003. Originally intended to be a court building but was later used to house various government offices. The interior showcases wonderful doric columns and cornices. It has a top tier Chinese resto and a spacious ballroom. The museum’s bookshop has a great collection of books on arts and culture from all over the region.

Stramford Raffles landed on the west portion of the Empress Place building. There’s a colonial era monument there to commemorate this event. He’s widely considered to have founded modern Singapore even by locals. I find this rather odd because back home, colonial figures are portrayed as evil. Perhaps Singaporeans, true to their meritocratic mind set, values contributions regardless of where it came from. If you look around, prosperous nations like theirs doesn’t really have history education that strongly demeans the former states that ruled them, it’s third world countries like ours that tends to linger on the subject. We still use colonial oppression as social tool to stir nationalism.

I first saw the museum six years ago. I came looking for Jose Rizal’s bust that the Singaporeans built to commemorate the Filipino’s visits to the islands. It’s located near the a pathway along the river, just across the iconic Fullerton hotel. A few meters away is the Cavenaugh Bridge, a structure that caught the young traveler’s attention. He provided a detailed description of this suspension bridge in his diary. Rizal reached Singapore’s shores five times, making it his most visited foreign land.

I’ve stepped inside the Asian Civilization’s Museum at least a dozen times. I recall two memorable exhibits, the Terracota warriors and the Land of the Morning, an amazing exhibit showcasing Filipino cultural and historical items. This two were my favorite thus far.

What made me go back is the current exhibit billed, “Christianity in Asia: Sacred Art and Visual Splendor.” They brought in items from the Louvre, museums in Lisbon & India and Bibliothèque nationale de France. There were, of course, items from the Philippines (described in photos below) where Catholicism succeeded unlike any other colonies in Asia. As a Catholic and a history buff I knew I’m in for  treat.

The relic that fascinated me most was a worn sandal of Saint Francis Xavier, Catholicism’s most prolific evangelist in this part of the world. So important were his contributions that it is said that Catholics in continental Asia could trace their Catholic roots from ancestors that converted to Catholicism with the help of St. Francis. The Historian Pio Andrade Jr. told me that a handful of Catholic Chinese that settled in Manila preceded the Spanish missionaries. According to him these Chinese were baptized by St. Francis Xavier himself. But unlike his Spanish brethren there’s no account of him reaching the Philippines.

In 2009 I visited Malacca. Up on the hill where the St. Paul church’s ruins stands is an open grave where St. Francis Xavier was temporary buried. The body of this saint must be one of the most traveled in the Church’s history. It now lies in Goa in Basilica of Bom Jesus. An Indian friend who I worked with Cebu, a devout Catholic, extended an invitation for me to visit his beloved Goa. I’ve yet to save money and allocate time to make this pilgrimage.

In one area designated for Filipiniana items I found a 19th century Talismanic shirt from Southern Luzon. It is inscribed with prayers in Latin and Spanish. The faithful wearing it believes that it protects them even against bullets. I first heard of these anting-anting from my father who had seen one in his youth. I’ve always wanted to see one and now I did—fourteen hundred miles from home.

Manila was once among the biggest ivory sculpture producer in the world along with Macau and Guangzhou. Our artisans were most likely Chino-Cristianos, Chinese who made a good living creating santos. This partly explains why there are noticeable Chinese facial traits in our religious images. We don’t see the westernize (if there are these are direct imports from Europe) images of the saints but Asianize adaptations. A chinita Virgin Mary with a complexion of an oriental woman. No, not at all Caucasian. We grew up seeing these in our parishes.

The second biggest ivory sculpture in Asia, a crucifix, was made in the Philippines. It’s part of University of Santo Tomas Museum, currently on loan to ACM. The biggest ivory icon is in Notre Dame France. But even then ivory was expensive, in fact only the hands, face and feet of religious images were made from it, the rest are formed using wood. I’ve seen intricate sword handles made of ivory in Negros Oriental at the Cat-Al private collection. They’re fascinating works of art. Noticeable is how it retained its gloss and whiteness for decades without cleaning. They’re most likely ceremonial samurais not made for battle.

The tradition of making religious images or santos continues to this day. One of my favorite town’s to visit is Paete in Laguna where wood artisans still produce fine religious art. The trade was so prevalent that in 18th and 19th century Mindanao carved images of the Buraq, the mythical animal that brought Prophet Muhammad to the heavens are depicted with saintly faces. Ours is believed to be the only one with a human face. Some historians attributes this to sculptors of traditional Santos that were used to making Christian icons.

 


Books, Books, Books: Juan Ponce Enrile (a memoir)

I just finished reading Juan Ponce Enrile (a memoir) and I thought it was a book deserving of being blogged about. I know that there are people who hates what he represents but I would call even them to give it a chance.

I have the Kindle version which is 19.00 USD. Not cheap but since I am overseas I’ve been ordering Philippine published books available on Kindle when I have spare cash to spend. Reading them makes me feel right at home—albeit only in the mind.

Enrile’s book is an important memoir, if you don’t believe that, well, ask ex-President PNOY. He attended the book lunch four years ago, along with Imelda!

The history buff that I am relished the parts where Manong Johnny wrote about his childhood in that isolated bucolic barrio of Gonzaga in old Cagayan. His notes on how people behaved back in the day were charming snippets of the Filipinos old way of life.

I am aware of the criticism leveled against Enrile’s memoir. Some say it reeks of lies. Case in point was the “ambush” story which Gen. Montaño, the PC chief then who investigated the incident, already said was bogus.

In the first chapters, Enrile recounted the story of his father, his childhood, his old town and his beloved mother. Her only surviving photo I read prominently hangs in his posh Makati home. He looks more like his mother than his mestizo father. She sent him in several occasions to school by asking whoever was administering the school to charge them nothing in exchange for little Juanito running errands for them.

Enrile recounts in his book how he changed his mind from having no desire to become a lawyer (his father’s a popular lawyer, cousin of Mariano Ponce) to devoting himself to become one. The famous story of boys stabbing him with blades because of jealousy I have heard before but reading his accounts provided more details. The attackers were scions of Cagayan elites. They were never charged and remained regular students, while the young Enrile was expelled for causing trouble. Imagine if this injustice never happened, the man would have been an engineer we probably would never heard of.

An interesting account from the book was when Enrile was imprisoned by the Japanese. He shared a small dark space with a man he would later discover to be a Spanish tobacco trader. He spoke with the man in Spanish. He explains that while his Spanish was not perfect, he learned the language from his mother who spoke it with his grandparents. They were fluent speakers. My distant relative, Guillermo Gómez Rivera, whom Enrile represented in the past told me that the man speaks Spanish.

Rene Saguisag, one of the few lawyer that I admire, in a recent podcast interview with Martin Andanar (now PCOO secretary) said that our experiences during the war had a lot to do with corruption. I read the same observation from Director Erik Matti, who I heard was making a film about it. This same observation was echoed by several WWII survivors I’ve had the chance to meet. Not to blame past experiences for our present predicament but it’s an interesting subject to say the least.

My father’s stories about how Filipino guerrillas, in guise of fighting the Japanese, cruelly raped women and ransacked houses I thought were isolated incidents. He’s from Negros, Enrile’s from Cagayan and yet they have familiar stories. The former Senator recalls how bandits, after looting the houses in Gonzaga, brought him and his friend to the seashore. The abductors then asked them to dig their own graves. Enrile begged for his life from the group’s leader. He mentioned to him that his brother is a soldier fighting in Bataan. Upon hearing this he freed them. Turns out that this bandit trained along with his brother in the army reserves.

Unfortunately, my Father’s uncle in San Carlos was not spared by the guerrillas. Like Enrile, he was made to dig up his own grave but his fate was different. He was buried in that hole he burrowed.

The other book that I had the chance to read was “Altar of Secrets : Sex, Politics, and Money in the Philippine Catholic Church” by Aries Rufo.

It’s an interesting book that most Filipino Catholics should read. The work of Rufo reminds us that even prelates are susceptible to sin. They’re human beings like you and me.

Rufo wrote about the once popular Bishop Yalung, a Cardinal Sin protege. He was later defrocked because of alleged romantic relations with a couple of parishioners. He came from the parish where I took up Catechism, The National Shrine of the Sacred Heart of Jesus in San Antonio Makati. The same parish where I would see the Binays attend Sunday mass regularly.

Could  you imagine the Church having a fund for illegitimate children of priests? It’s hard to believe but this exists.

The last time I visited this church was when I attended the wedding of a friend. He met his wife in the software company where I was a supervisor. I hired the guy and has become friends with the two. They’re both very good people and now they have a happy little toddler, a cutey named Liz!

Not all men who wears the cassock lives holy lives. But I have met great priests in my life; like the Servites in Muntinlupa, all selfless missionaries of the Lord. They’re great inspiration to young Catholics like myself. I’m inclined to believe that most are true servants but there are exceptions, of course, and this is what “Altar of Secrets : Sex, Politics, and Money in the Philippine Catholic Church” is all about.


The RSAF “open house” experience

These planes are parked like cars

I visited the Royal Singapore Air Force museum in 2011. I heard then that the RSAF use to have a yearly  “air show” but that it had been put off indefinitely. It made a comeback this year. I thought I should see it. Who knows if they’ll have one again next year.

I’m a huge aviation fan and I try to see air shows and aviation museums when I’m near one. Not many know that the Philippine Air Force have a museum in Villamor near NAIA Terminal 3. There’s not much to see but the effort is laudable considering our military is cash strapped. The museum traces its beginnings in 1974 during Marcos’ rule (actually then it was called Marcos Museum).

The joke since I was a boy was that Philippine Air Force is all air, no force. Thanks to the intensifying tensions in West Philippine Seas we’re slowly building back air power. We recently bought Korean made FA-50’s. At least we’re back in the supersonic age.

The RSAF open house’s in Paya Lebar Air Base lasted for two day and was attended by some 400 thousand visitors. The biggest attendance in its history.

There’s no direct transport that goes to the base but you don’t worry about this here. Singaporeans are masters in securing and running events. The organizers paid dozens of private buses that shuttled people in and out of the venue.

The static display gave the public the chance to inspect the RSAF assets.  They even allowed visitors to sit on the cockpit of the F-15s and F-16s, the Apache, the Seahawk, the Chinooks, the C-130s and the Stratotanker KC135.

I remember having a poster of an Apache attack helicopter when I was in my teens. I have never seen one up close until last Sunday. So I joined the long line, together with some kids, to get a closer look.

I recall a Zamboangeño friend who had a brother-in-law in Armed Force of the Philippines. He would occasionally hitch a ride in one of the PAF’s C-130 from Villamor Air Base to Zamboanga back in the 90’s. I asked him if I could try and we were cleared to go except my Mother threatened to suspend my allowance if I did. Zamboanga and Sulu is a place no parent wanted their children to see even now.

The highlight of the show was how RSAF demonstrated their ability to go airborne in just minutes to intercept an unknown aircraft. The scramble demo involved two F-15s and two F-16s. Remarkable high level performance topped with aerial acrobatics.

Singapore has a 719.1 km² land area, smaller than Marinduque, but it has the biggest air force in South East Asia. According to experts, they’re the “best trained, led and equipped in the region.” 

There’s a reason why the smaller nations is spending more in military hardware than its neighboring countries. Bigger nations naturally coerce and influence what they perceive to be weaker states around them. History tells us this to be true.

We don’t need to look far—read what’s happening in the West Philippine Seas.

I tell people that the Scarborough now guarded by the Chinese coast guards is so near that Zambales fishermen frequents it—I heard this from some of them. The Chinese recently placed buoys around the shoal and there’s nothing we can do but to express our displeasure. Our neighbor is literally in our doorsteps and we can’t get rid of them.

In the 1990’s no foreign military vessel would wander off in Scarborough. The US, with their air bases in the area then, routinely went on target practice there. Truth is we won’t be getting what we lost anytime soon. We can only hope to continue building our military to defend what’s out there, what’s ours.

Let’s learn from the Singaporeans.

Formations above, static displays below…

All roads leads to RSAF’s Open House last Sunday

The mighty Apache


More and more Philippine Books on Kindle!

Earlier, I bought El Filibusterismo by León María Guerrero III in the Kindle store for $9.99. While I have the book version back home, I thought of reading it again. I also have his brilliant translation of Noli Me Tangere. But in my opinion, Ma. Soledad Lacson-Locsin’s Noli was far more significant and accurate because she was from Rizal’s generation.

I noticed lately that there’s an increase in books authored by Filipinos in Kindle. For someone who collects Filipiniana titles this is exciting news.

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Best biography on Rizal, also by Guerrero. The copy I have was given to me by an office colleague, Ben, nephew of NHI’s Director Badoy. This is also available in Kindle.

Recent titles like Endless Journey by Jose Almonte and Juan Ponce Enrile’s memoir, both criticized for some deceitful claims but generally good reads for both are major political figures. I’ll probably buy these two after I finish reading quite a few titles that I haven’t even started reading!

Almonte was assisted by journalist Marites Dañguilan-Vitug who also have her books about the Philippine Supreme Court on Kindle: Hours Before Dawn, Shadow of Doubt and Our Rights, Our Victories.

There are also several books about the Marcos era. One that is worth picking up is Primitivo Mijares’ “The Conjugal Dictatorship”. The author was an aide to Marcos who turned critic during the martial law years. Mijares, known as Tibo to his friends, went missing and was never found. His son was also murdered a year later.

Other books about the Marcoses on Kindle are mostly about Imelda. Which I’m sure sells well because Westerners are fascinated by her. Like Carmen Navarro Pedrosa’s work. I remember reading Marcos’s diary where the former President cited that this author was financed by Iniñg Lopez (Eugenio II) to malign his wife.

Now, for the hardcore Philippine History buff you better download “The Philippine Islands” of Blair and Robertson. Antonio de Morga’s “History of the Philippines” (originally “Sucesos de las islas Filipinas”) is also a great addition. Even Dean Worcester’s Philippine: Past and Present is up for free download. This American, who came to the islands in the late 1800’s, won a libel case against the Spanish newspaper El Renacimiento in 1908. Kalaw was one of the newspapermen that was sentenced to go to prison but was later pardoned by Governor Harrison.

Books about historical events and personalities during WWII abounds in Kindle. Admittedly, this is one area in our history that I haven’t really studied as well as 19th century Philippines.

In contemporary Philippine literature you have works from F. Sionil Jose. The Samsons, Don Vicente, Dusk, Three Filipina Woman and even a German version of Gagamba, der Spinnenmann. I interviewed F. Sionil before; indeed, a living legend. I enjoy reading his essays on Philippine history and current events.

Then there are Kindle books on finding Filipinas for companionship, marriage and even sex. I wonder how Amazon regulates such titles but they’re there and I’m sure some people are clicking and buying.


Baclaran Day

p_20160305_144650I grew up seeing the hectic streets of Baclaran and its modern Romanesque church. I was too young to understand then why my mother would kneel, pray, and move, while kneeling, towards the altar. You still see a few devotees doing this today.

My Aunt’s ritual was different and less taxing. After mass and novena, we ate lechon (rumored to be “double-dead” swines!). These carenderias along Redemptorist Road has long been replaced by stalls vending anything from dress to herbal remedies.

Baclaran church is open 24 hours a day. Imagine the upkeep and the bills the Redemptorist fathers have to settle! But they have plenty of resources.When they recently asked financial support for a campaneria many came forward. One of them, Kris Aquino. It remains the biggest Marian shrine in the country. Everybody avoids Wednesday, Novena time, especially if the trip would pass by the area.

Baclaran church was designed by Don Cesar Homero Concio of Pateros. His version, completed in 1958, was the third building on the site. Concio also drew the plan for the Protestant Church of the Risen Lord in UP. In my view, the Insular Life Building in Makati is his second best work. Unfortunately this building was redesigned in 2005.p_20160305_144907

The Concios still maintains their ancestral house in Pateros. Perhaps the only significant bahay-na-bato in the smallest municipality of metro-Manila.

Before the Redemptorists moved to Baclaran they had a smaller church in Malate. When they transferred to Parañaque, Don Manuel M. de Ynchausti and Ana Belen, his wife, requested that the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help be placed in the center of the graceful altar they donated.

If it were not for the Ynchaustis, Baclaran would have been different from what it is now. We probably would see popular devotion to St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus instead. The founding Redemptorist, Fr. Drogan, was a devotee. One could still see a simple monument of the saint surrounded by “love locks” (no one’s sure how this trend started, inspired by  Paris most likely) courtesy of visiting lovers.

I’ve always been fascinated by the 19th and early 20th Ynchaustis. In the 1800’s they were commissioned to build Puente Colgante (also called Puente de Claveria), the first hanging steel bridge in Asia in the mid 1800’s. Described by the great Nick Joaquin as the unparalleled bridge in Asia it was dismantled and replaced by the art deco Quezon Bridge in 1939.p_20160305_145408

The 19th century Ynchaustis donated vast lands to religious and social causes. The only company I remember that at least had their name was YCO floorwax (YCO is the abbreviation of Ynchausti y Compañia). We use to wax the red wooden floors of our elementary school. We would later use “bunot” to polish the flooring.

The now saint, Pope John Paul II held masses in this church when he was still archbishop. He came back in 1981, then as Pope, and blessed the icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help.

Here in Singapore, devotion to Our Lady of Perpetual Help is popular among local Catholics. Since they’re a former English colony, they use “Succour” instead of “Help”. The church of St. Alphonsus is currently undergoing redevelopment and expansion. It is situated in Thompson Road and it was of no surprise to find many Filipinos in attendance during masses. There’s even regular Tagalog mass schedule. The Redemptorists came in this island in the 1930’s. The train station (MRT) that serves the area is aptly called “Novena”.


National Gallery Singapore, a must-visit for every Filipino

Singapore is home to some of the most impressive art galleries and museums in the region. This certainly is not an accident. The government creates art programs accessible to its people and attractive to its visitors. Most museums are discounted if not free for its citizens.

I recently visited the new National Gallery Singapore. How they transformed the old City Hall and Supreme Court, buildings of great historical importance, into one modern museum is a feat that merits admiration.

NGS’s exhibit, the world largest collection of modern and classical SE Asian art, was just as impressive.

I feel like I’m already beating a dead horse in this blog when I say we need to emulate Singapore’s adaptive reuse of its old buildings. They’re under tremendous pressure to build and expand but they do so without knocking down their historic structures.

Now back to the museum.

For Filipinos, living or visiting the island, NGS is a must stop over. Put it on your to-do list paisanos.

Why?

Inside you’ll find works from our greatest painters: Juan Luna, Felix Resurrecion-Hidalgo, Fernando Amorsolo and Carlos “Botong” Francisco. Men hailed as art pioneers in the region. Their obra masetras—national symbols to us Filipinos.

Like Luna’s “España y Filipinas” that speaks of the Filipino past and identity. There’s so much symbolism in this obra. One could spend an entire day figuring out the concealed message it tries to convey.

There are three known “España y Filipinas,” all painted by Luna. I have seen the one in Lopez Museum 8 years ago. Another version is in Cadiz Spain. The one in the NGS’s collection appears to be the piece that was recently auctioned in Sotheby’s. I did check with a staff and I was told that the painting is on loan. So, I’m confused now. Maybe Ambeth Ocampo could help us figure this out.

Then there’s “The Christian Virgins Being Exposed to the Populace” by Félix Resurrección Hidalgo. This painting placed second to Luna’s massive “Spoliarium” in an art competition in Spain. I first saw this painting in Metropolitan Museum of Manila. The original was destroyed in a fire in Vallodolid.

The works of Fernando Amorsolo were so palpable you could feel his emotion. I learned about this painter in poster reproductions that adorned our elementary classrooms. I was too young to appreciate art then but those posters embedded in my mind the joyous nature of Filipinos, the beauty of our old barrio life and our great traditions.

Amorsolo’s painting during WWII are chilling reminders of a war that’s not that distant from us but many had already forgotten. NGS has two of his work during the occupation, “Defend Thy Honour” and “Marketplace during the Occupation”.

There were also art works from modern Filipino artists: Alfredo Manrique, Vicente Manansala, Ben Cabrera, Imelda Cajipe Endaya, Pablo Baens Santos, Romeo V Tabuena, Roberto Chabet, Hernando R Ocampo and Lee Aguinaldo.

The building that house’s NGS is in itself a great historical and architectural exhibit. I briefly joined the guided tour. The guide took the group around explaining its parts, history and even materials used. The visitors were entertained when she showed the temporary holding cells of the supreme court and later the trap door that opens to the courtroom upstairs.

The city hall is where Admiral Mountbatten accepted the surrender of the Japanese in 1945. Lee Kuan Yew, the island nation’s first prime minister, held office in this same building.

The National Gallery Singapore consists of two wings, the City Hall and the Supreme Court, connected by a link bridge.  The DBS Singapore Gallery focuses on local artists while the UOB gallery features classic and contemporary SE Asian artists. Both buildings went under painstaking restoration work. The entire project is a text book effort in architectural reuse.

I look forward to seeing the museum again, hopefully some of you guys can join me!

The city hall, from a distance, the supreme courts dome. These two building were adapted to house the Singapore National Gallery

Part of the Supreme Court wing of NGS. Good view of the Marina Bay Sands

Filipino artists work on display!

 


More Philippine history books puh-lease!

As force of habit, when I’m in Manila I spend a few hours scouring local bookstores for Filipiniana titles. I even have a planned budget to spend!

Since very few Filipino publishers goes to Kindle (like Sionil Jose’s publisher) you have to buy titles you like before they’re gone. I’m a die-hard bibliophile but I also don’t mind the convenience digital books affords.

So what did I found the last time I was home?

Great Philippine history titles, very good ones.

Thanks to university publishing houses like UST, Ateneo and UP. These guys are putting up some fascinating historical books out in the book market.

I’m done reading Richard T. Chu’s “Chinese and Chinese Mestizos of Manila: Family, Identity and  Culture 1860s to 1930s,” and “Chinese Merchants of Binondo in the Nineteenth Century”. The latter, about a 100 pages, is a quick read that provides a glimpse of how Chinese merchants took advantage of colonial laws and local traditions to progress their social and economic standing. These two books compliments each other.

Another good title, “Arenas of Conspiracy and Rebellion in the Late Nineteenth Century Philippines,” by Michael Cullinane. The book’s about the anti-Spanish movement in the south (most significant took place on Palm Sunday, “tres de abril”, in 1898) and how it influenced the entire country. The name of this foreign author sounded familiar, found out later that he also wrote, “The Parian of Cebu City: A Historical Overview, 1565-1898,” a must read if one endeavors to understand Cebu’s history.

The last title I purchased is “Sakdalista’s Struggle for Philippine Independence 1930-1945” by Motoe Terami-Wada. I haven’t started reading this one but the book’s subject is of great interest personally. I’ve heard of the Sakdalistas at a very young age from my father.  In 2011, I visited the church of San Policarpio in Cabuyao where some 61 of them perished during a battle that only lasted 48 hours.

Wada also authored the book “The Japanese in the Philippines 1880’s-1990’s” which is a collection of stories from Japanese living in the country in the 19th century. An interesting read for it contains reflections and attitudes of the Japanese in the country prewar and post war.

* * *

Last December, Benedict Anderson, author of “Imagined Communities” and “Under Three Flags” died in Indonesia. A leading scholar in South East Asian history and a personal favorite of mine. He traveled Filipinas quite extensively in a second hand car. I wished I had my books signed when he was still around.

I’ve always been curious why there seems to be as many foreign Philippine historians as Filipino historians. That these folks are around tells us that they’re getting support to research and write. Maybe more than our local historians.

I remember a visit I made in the National Archives in Kalaw a few years ago. I was surprised that in the table where you wait for your papers I sat with foreigners. I could imagine those old white men writing journals and books about us one day, maybe they probably did by now.

An uncle, who once owned a small clothing line, told me that local brands would always have a hard time competing with foreign brands because Filipinos have an aversion to buying local. I don’t accept this completely, there are some trusted local brands, but there’s some truth to his claim.

I wonder if this attitude applies also to history books? Do we prefer reading history when it’s authored by a foreigner? Do we trust them more?

When I was in high school I read William Henry Scott. The  foremost expert in Pre-Philippine history. What I remember then was that it was our history teacher who recommended his work. I was surprise that we were pointed to an American historian instead of a Filipino.

I think there’s nothing wrong with foreigners contributing to Philippine history text. In fact, if it weren’t for them we would know less of our past. We would have not known about Lapu-Lapu if Magellan’s scribe never bothered to mention his name but what I’m saying is that we need more Filipinos to write more about Filipino history and even more Filipinos to buy and read more Filipino history book!

I am sure many Philippine history buffs shares this sentiment.

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Lessons from Penang

I was not surprised to see Penang drawing tourists like magnet when I visited it two weeks ago. I’ve seen how well they market their tourist attractions back in Singapore. From international events like the Penang Island Jazz Festival to architectural heritage tours, their vibrant and diverse food scene. You see their ads everywhere—tourism is the economy’s mainstay.

The Penangites has successfully restored most of their English colonial buildings including the old British fortification, Fort Cornwallis, in George Town. The oldest English structure in town. These people understands what looking after heritage and promoting it can do for local business and their lives in general.

Everywhere there are hotels, restaurants serving local and international cuisines, tourist friendly bars and walking tours. If you want a do-it-yourself tour, pick up a brochure and a map at the airport and just spend a day walking (or rent a bike) around George Town. It’s not hard to do. The locals are very accommodating.

I felt secured walking the streets. I visited the brightly lit colonial shop houses at night and they were impressive. Like Macdonald’s in Dato Karamat Road; an English era building called the Birch House now leased to the fast food giant. Some of these buildings and shop houses has been around for a century. They contribute greatly to the charm of old George Town. The town is an example of why there’s more value from reusing old buildings than replacing them with bleak concrete and glass structures.

The old City Hall, the Eastern & Oriental Hotel (Singapore’s Raffle’s sister hotel, older by 2 years), the Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee watch tower and Fort Cornwallis; the beautiful Georgian and Victorian colonial buildings that houses Standard Charter, Southern Bank and HSBC, you can see all of these architectural treasure on foot. They’re clustered in what is known as the heritage core of the town. The oldest Catholic church, the Assumption, in Love Lane (called as such because millionaires used to house their mistresses in the area) is not far from another heritage church, the Anglican’s St George in Lebuh Farquhar.

The local government is also promoting some of the houses that Sun Yat Sen visited when he was in Penang. Turns out that he had supporters in town and that he had an office along Jalan Macalister, not far from where I stayed in Jalan Rangoon. This Chinese revolutionary not only was contemporary to some of our country’s founders but had known them personally. He helped Filipinos acquire arms from Japan during the revolution. Mariano Ponce is a very close friend of Sun.

Like Manila, Penang was mostly abandoned after WWII. The Chinese “towkays” and Europeans moved out. Squatters from other places started to move in, occupying the old buildings of George Town. Its story reminds me of Intramuros.

But this all changed in 2008.

There was a drastic shift when their leaders started investing on infrastructure. They developed their port to accommodate large cruise ships. Tourism started booming. They improved their airport, the long bridges to the hinterlands also contributed in increasing tourism traffic. The shorter bridge was constructed in the 1980’s, the longer one, 24 km long, in 2006.

Then George Town was designated a  UNESCO World Heritage Town—this made the locals go full blast in restoring what’s left of their heritage. The declaration made the town even more appealing especially to those hearing about it for the first time. The rest as they say is history and a visitor seeing this entire place now would be surprise that this transformation took so fast.

But for sure, behind this remarkable achievement is unity to accomplish a common goal. Never easy but never impossible. They did it so why can’t we? Just imagine Manila drawing tourists not for its casinos, girly bars, shopping malls and fancy hotels but because people wanted to get acquainted with its history.

If you’re a foodie type, well, Penang’s food hawkers are all over the place. The best food is street food. We all know this right?

We ate char kway teow as if it was staple food. Word is Penang’s version is the best. I ate this fried flat rice noodle in Singapore and in other places in Malaysia. They all taste the same. I guess I’m not a good char kway teow judge but Singaporean friends attest that Penang’s better than those made here. Must be the water, but everything is tastier, greener, better on the other side of the fence.

The food is plentiful, remarkably good, and cheap. I have written a blog about our food experience in Penang here. What I enjoy most about George Town is that food hawkers are not that hard to find. Well, not ideal I guess if you’re trying to curve your calorie intake but in these stalls you get to taste authentic local food. Our cab guy, Ibrahim, told us to go for hawkers instead of restaurants. I told him that I always go for local market and hawker food. For me this is where the best local cuisines can be savored.

Another curious phenomenon in George Town are its graffiti.  Tourists stop by them like pilgrims. I’ve never seen anything like it.

We should borrow a page from Penang’s handbook. I don’t know of any place that experienced such a rapid economic transformation without losing its important historical structures.

“When you come back, 5 years from now, there will be better infrastructure, less traffic than now,” Ibrahim said while driving us to the airport.

We can learn from these guys.

Efficient. modern airport. Getting a taxi is a hassle-free. Clearing immigration was fast. Not the biggest airport but it works just fine.

Chinese temples and ancestral houses everywhere. Well kept and accessible for tourist who wants to see what’s up with these colorful structures.

 

Tried following the heritage trail of Sun Yat Sen but was too ignorant about his history. There are several houses in town linked to the man. This one, near where I stayed, is in Jalan Macalister. He stayed here for a brief time. It serves now as a historical center for everything Sun.

An example of an ancestral house that belongs to some of the pioneer families in town.

Shop Houses are everywhere. These are shops that doubles as residence for shop keepers and owners. Fascinating is how these structures stood the test of time. Some of them are a hundred year old building. Interesting historical artifacts that are still being utilized to this day. They’re still mostly shops by the way.

This is one of popular hawker places in the area. This is in Lorong Selamat. Food stalls like this are known to serve the best Penang dishes. It can’t be beat by expensive restos I tell you.

 

You can go around by bike here. The weather’s very similar to that in Manila though. Get ready to have your armpits wet.

The most famous graffitti in town. These folks was having their pictures taken with the “Little Children on Bikes”. And just look at that shirtless old dude on bike, pausing so this family can have their photo taken. What a courteous fella.

Cute board signs in Chinese that made little sense to me of course.

A scene from one of the clan jetty. These are areas were historically appropriated to coastal families. The descendants still occupies the area and it has become tourist attractions. There are rooms that can be rented here.

 

I just love the scene. Busy food stalls. At night, everything comes alive.

An old building now a fast food resto.


Transplanted Bahay-na-Batos in Las Casas of Acuzar

Before visiting Bataan, my stand on relocating heritage houses is that of a purist advocate.  Keep them where they were constructed. If the town and the inheritors choose not to care for them then let them die nobly in situ.

Physically moving them is violating the very meaning of heritage conservation.

But after seeing Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar I’ve had a change of heart—not a radical departure from my original opinion but a change none the less. I still believe that we should avoid the “relocation” of bahay-na-batos but this option should not be out of the table.

Projects like the Las Casas of Acuzar do serve some good. In a time where even historically popular heritage houses are not spared from ruin, such projects has become necessary evils.

The fear that Acuzar’s out to get every single bahay-na-bato in the country is baseless. He handpicks them based on historical, architectural and cultural merits. Bad news for those who wants to dispose their ancestral houses in exchange for some cash. Although I heard that the resort plans to add around 20 more houses.

To be honest, I don’t like the idea of collectors plucking heritage houses away from where they were originally built but people like Acuzar would not invest on acquiring heritage houses if it weren’t for the negligence of our historic town’s people and government.

But if there’s anything we can learn from this strange project (who would have thought that you can transport an entire baha-na-bato?) it is that it can be done. Acuzar even laid out the plan how to make them tourist attractions!

If our heritage agencies would think outside the box for a moment, maybe they should do an Acuzar, salvage threatened Spanish-Filipino colonial houses then put them in an area where they can be viewed by Filipinos.

The reality is that our laws are not going to protect our tangible heritage. If you believe that it can, well, you must be in la-la land. Look, never in my life that I imagined the Alberto house of Biñan would end the way it did. Go to Biñan and see for yourself, if you’re feeling more adventurous, go to San Nicolas Manila, even in our provinces that are fast developing. We’re losing so many, so fast!

The misconception in Biñan is that because Acuzar came to the owner to buy the house he then decided to get rid of it. The truth was that the house was decaying for decades—no funds, no assistance from both local and national government. Only when it was literally gradually caving in that the present owner sought the help of Acuzar.

When a group of construction workers started dismantling the house it caught the mainstream and social media’s attention. As I expected, just like in FPJ movies when cops shows up after the gunfight is over, everyone became fanatical heritage advocates especially the local politicos.

In Bagac I heard some interesting stories behind the houses and how they end up in all places, a coastal resort.

The Casa Mexico, a sophisticated bahay-na-bato with delicate barandillas, a graceful front staircase (imagine ascending to the piso principal, the main sala today, what sight that must have been), stylistic balustrades, creative carvings all over—and this you better believe, the entire house was retrieved from a junk shop. Sold like worthless scrapings.

The neglect some of our people have towards our tangible heritage is just so infuriating. But this mirrors how we value ourselves as a people, and this utter disrespect for the past is an expression of how we lost our identity as Filipinos.

What’s even more absurd is that the very people, family members that shares direct lineage to the people who built these houses are the ones who gives these houses up so easy.

Like the house from Lubao, built by the sugar planter Don Valentin Arrastia in the early 1900’s. It’s a delightful example of Capampangan wealthy living in the countryside. The elaborate ceilings, its elegant chandeliers and its solid wooden floors—it is so elegant. A few years ago it was faithfully reconstructed using the same materials from the house here in Bagac—this one’s very eclectic—and historic, to say the least.

Why did President Macapagal Arroyo, a Lubao native, did not help restore this house escapes me. Her father was helped by the Arrastia’s in his early education. It was a house his father must have adored.

An article I found in one of the printed guides in Las Casas has this moving story as recalled by a granddaughter of the Don Valentin. In it she narrates her family’s memorable experiences around the house. The kind of stories you hear from people who had a great childhood. Then much to her surprise, during a recent visit to Lubao she found an empty lot.

I’m surprised that she was surprise the house is gone. I think for a precious physical connection you share with your ancestors you should check the house they built for the family from time to time?

But what do I know, these are their stories. At least they can still visit their abuelos home in Bagac and perhaps swim in the nearby beach. Leave town and not worry about the house.

If my memory serves me right, Don Valentin’s house in Lubao was still there when I saw the town for the first time in 1998.

When I visited Unisan a few years ago, my friend Pepe Alas, toured me around his hometown. He showed me where the Maxino house once stood. Pepe recalls how it used to look like inside and out, how he and his childhood pals would rent computer games in its ground floor.

The Maxino’s were murdered during a house break in. Of course the house is rumored to be haunted. I’m sure it was but I doubt it if the ghosts of Don Antonio’s family relocated to Bagac after the transfer.

After that holiday in Unisan, I tried to look up pictures of the house on line and in some of my books, found some references but no pictures. So I gave up and just left everything to my imagination.

Well, this visit to Las Casas was the opportunity I have been waiting for. Here I finally saw the house that left Unisan.

It is the first bahay-na-bato in Unisan-and most likely the first in the province of Tayabas (now Quezon, tomorrow who knows?) to have been uprooted and transplanted.

The house now is Café Marivent in Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar.

Casa Bizantina on the background

Of course a visit to Las Casas is not complete without dropping by the Casa Bizantina, originally from San Nicolas Manila.

How this massive historical house that stood for more than a century in Calle Madrid ended up in Bagac is somewhat shady. It was uprooted and transferred without the local government contesting it?

We’re talking about Manila here; they’re the worst in protecting heritage structures—I think I just answered my question.

I have visited Casa Bizantina numerous time. One time, I went inside. I’ll never forget the pitiable tenants leasing small bed spaces and jam-packed rooms in the massive bahay-na-bato. A lady I spoke with told me that there are more than 20 families living in the casa!

Those people knew little of the house’s history but I remember hearing from one of them that the “City Hall” has sent people to tell them that the house would soon be taken down. If this is true then, no, I’m sure this is true, It’s not surprising that historic district is losing century old houses.

We have mad people running the asylum.

Casa Bizantina used to house the Instituto de Manila, now the University of Manila, before it transferred to Sampaloc. One day I hope someone from that school would write a complete history of this splendid mansion.

Due the popularity of the movie Heneral Luna, the Casa Luna was a hit among the visitors.

There was a tour of the house when I passed by so I decided to join. It was informative and entertaining. I was observing those in attendance and it was satisfying to see that these people has travaled quite a distance just to learn and see these glorious treasures of our past.

The house was built by the wealthy Novicio’s in the mid-1800’s in Namacpacan, La Union. Local politicians would later rename the town Luna after the prominent patriotic family. Ironically, they forgot to conserve the house of the family they named their town after.

My suggestion is for them to get their old name back, drop Luna, they don’t deserve it.

Transferring building materials was actually a practice before. The idea is not new and has actually been recorded in the past. In some cases, entire house were relocated piece by piece. True to the spirit of “bayanihan” where townsfolk lifted bahay-kubos to new locations, Filipinos also did the same with bahay-na-bato.

An example of this is Casa Meycauyan, which was originally from San Fernando Pampanga before it was brought to Bulacan. It must hold the record of being the only bahay-na-bato that has been transplanted twice in two different centuries!

This activity, although not widespread back in the day, goes to show how good the materials were. As they call it then and now, materiales Fuertes—built to last forever.

The green painted Casa San Miguel

Casa Bizantina again, this time with Korean tourists who seem to be all over the place.

The houses from Jaen and Mexico, not the country, the Capampangan town.

They call this area Paseo de Escolta. Recreation of a portion of the old Spanish Escolta in Manila.

Rails are being laid down for the tramvia.

Casa Mexico. The house that they found in a junk shop. Faithfully rebuilt based on the original.

The Casa Novicio (Luna) tour. The film, Heneral Luna, must have inspired them to come here. Some scenes from that film was actually shot here.

Good to see these kids getting interested in our history. Their facebook after this for sure would be flooded with their selfies with the houses as backdrop!

Another house from Jaen. I think those folks from Nueva Ecija doesn’t give a rat’s ass about their heritage

A Spanish Filipino house from Candaba

The Casa that Don Maxino built in Unisan


The Alberto House of Bagac, Formerly of Biñan

There she is, the Alberto Mansion, now in her new home, 150 kms north of Manila, Bagac!

When I heard that the Alberto House was rebuilt in a coastal resort in Bagac a few years ago I knew I had to go and see it. They say it’s a “replica” but I immediately recognized some parts of the house. How much of the house came from the original Biñan house must be in the low percentile; Gerry Acuzar stop acquiring parts from the Spanish era mansion after protests from the local government and some NGO’s in Biñan.

Gerry Alberto, the last owner, decided to donate (some claims he sold it) the house to Acuzar after typhoon “Ondoy” smashed parts of the roof and wall; water sip in damaging the house’s interior. I know this because I visited the house after the storm has passed and spoke with the owner. He knew it was time to give it up before the entire house collapses.

The politicians of Biñan who hugged the lime light when the news about the transfer was all over the place are silent now. While what remains of the house in Biñan are rotting under the elements.

I am against transplanting heritage houses but we should use it when everything fails. In Biñan’s case, the local and national government failed to salvage the house until the owner decided to dismantle it before it caves in. It was not in good shape even before that terrible typhoon. It was crumbling for years and no one came with a plan to rescue it!

A councilor commented on this site that his efforts to get the local government to act was “overtaken” by elections. They were too busy with politics as usual.

The Alberto House is gone and it ain’t coming back. Biñan’s energy is better spent looking after their other heritage sites in the city.

From the looks of it, Acuzar no longer needs the invaluable scraps from Biñan. Perhaps, now, the city of Biñan can reconstruct the Alberto mansion somewhere in town.

Early this year I visited an aunt’s property in Biñan, near the Carmona boundary, I was surprised to see the city’s vast open lands. You don’t get to see this when you’re in the crowded downtown.

If Las Casas de Acuzar recreated an Alberto House in Bataan, why not within the prosperous city where there’s still plenty of open space?

I believe there are government officials there that genuinely cares about the city’s heritage but their voices were sadly never heard. The only way they can correct this wrong is to recreate the Alberto mansion and use it to educate Biñenses.

The Alberto House in Bagac was oddly familiar. This bahay-na-bato stands as the one that I visited the most (and blogged about too). It was a twilight-zonish moment to know that it stood for hundreds of years in Biñan but is now in Bagac. But seeing it felt like reconnecting with a friend you have not seen for awhile.

It was the first house that I entered in the Las Casas. It’s located near the bridge going to the Sanctuario de San Jose. The portion that was rented out to moviehaus operators in Biñan is there, now an Italian restaurant. This is the only part of the original house that I have not seen before. At least here in Bagac the Alberto House is complete, it’s clean; I walked in every room and was satisfied to see how this “replica” turned out.

So many local tourist was impressed by the house. I overheard teenagers talking about how wealthy Rizal’s grandparents must have been. “Even wealthy people now don’t build houses like this,” one of them said.

Well, the Filipinos from that epoch built houses to showcase their religiosity, culture and identity.

Rich Filipinos now just build to impress—their houses, in exotic Mediterranean style and Bali inspired themes. They’re proud to show the history of another nation except their own as if they’re ashamed of it.

As I walked around the Alberto house I imagined how Consul John Bowring described it in his book “A Visit to the Philippine Islands”. It was that important back in the day, when an official comes to Biñan they make a courtesy call to the mansion.

I have seen countless bahay-na-batos in the country and for me the Alberto house stands out as the grandest, the most impressive—not to mention its colorful history.

Biñan lost a great deal in this one.

A few weeks ago, a lightning struck the head of the Rizal monument in Biñan’s plaza. This is right in front where the house once stood.

Call me superstitious but I take that as an ominous sign.

Some materials, like this dirigkalin post, made it all the way here. Some of the paintings too. In this house, Rizal’s sister-in-law was said to have been held. The incident caused Teodora her liberty. She was accused of poisoning her sister-in-law.

The windows that’s close to me personally. The times that I visited this house in Binan I would look out out from these windows and see the church and the municipio. These windows used to open up to the Presidencia, the town hall in Binan. My avatar since I started this blog are these capiz windows, I think they managed to salvage the frames but the capiz shells appears to be new.

Here I get to experience the spacious court yard as it was during the prime years of the house. Just look at how princely it is. Beautiful. It’s a Spanish-Filipino colonial mansion like no other I tell you. Listen, they don’t make them like they used to!

Related Posts:

puto biñan and an alberto house-less biñan

The Fight for the Alberto House of Binan

Update on the Alberto House of Binan

The Alberto of Biñan and the Vigan Wife

Calls to Save Casa Alberto of Biñan…Too Late the Hero

The Alberto’s and Binan

Discovering Rizal’s Chapel of Our Lady of Peace


Kilometer Zero of Bagac, Bataan’s Death March

The Kilometer Zero marker of the Bataan Death March

Last Sunday I visited the Bataan Death March’s Kilometer Zero marker in Bagac. These obelisk white markers line the road side from San Fernando all the way to Bataan, in Bagac is where it starts.

I intended to climb Mt. Samat, to see the “Dambana ng Kagitingan,” but the weather has not been kind. So I observed it (passing it from Balanga to Bagac) from a distance, the hill and its giant white cross. The shrine was commissioned by President Marcos, he was himself a soldier in that war.

The journey to Bagac was long but comfortable. From Cubao, I alighted in Balanga. The trip lasted about 3.5 hours. Passing the towns of San Fernando, Bacolor, Guagua and Lubao in Pampanga; Hermosa, Orani, Samal and Abucay in Bataan.

I’ve been reading a couple of local books about the war in Manila and neighboring provinces lately. This readings relit my curiosity in local WWII accounts. One that I delight in is Pacita Pestaño Jacinto’s “Sleeping with the Enemy,” a diary of a newlywed, educated woman caught in a ruthless occupation. I had the book with me during this trip.

The author wrote for several newspaper and magazines, working along some of the best writers of her generation: Jose Garcia Villa, Salvador Lopez and Teodoro Locsin, to name a few.

The diary (available in National Bookstore for P215. Note, this is the abridged version) provides the reader a rare glimpse into the lives of the Filipinos in Manila during the war. Moving were the accounts of how ordinary people tried to live normal lives in an environment encircled by death and ruin.

The Bataan Death March has come to symbolize the great defeat that took away the invisibility cloak of the Americans. To many, the resistance in Bataan & Corregidor was the last dash of hope. When the defenders capitulated, with MacArthur fleeing in a sub down to Australia, it was the biggest let down.

Hence the expression you hear to this day, “sinuko na ang Bataan,” which means selling out, if not, unnecessary giving in to disadvantageous demands.

But there’s no doubt that the Filipinos and Americans who fought and defended Bataan did so with great valor. Their sacrifice must never be forgotten.

In Pacita Pestaño Jacinto’s diary, she wrote of the surrender, “tonight is like no other night we have passed. The silence is like a pall… This once, the Japanese radio has told the truth, Bataan has fallen. What else is there to say.

* * *

War is cruel, there’s nothing like it my Father always reminds us. His stories about the war were so frightening that when he first told me these they gave me chills. I remember having nightmares!

These accounts along with others come in handy when I get agitated and stressed by the ups and downs of this life. They mean nothing compared to the hardship my Father’s family, and so many Filipinos, went through during the war.

It can be argued that a generation that went through war is  greater than a generation who never had one.

I believe they are—without a doubt. They have a deeper perspective in life, they understand how to struggle, to live.

WWII is recent past, there are still people who lived through it around us. But how many still remembers? How many of us asked them about it? How many read about these events in history books?

Not too many I think.

—–

How to get to Bagac, Bataan’s “Death March Kilometer Zero marker”:

  • In Cubao, take Bataan provincial buses (like Genesis) to Balanga. Fare is currently P200
  • Go down in Balanga “Terminal”
  • Take a jeep to Bagac. Fare is P45.
  • If the jeep driver, as I’ve experienced, is not familiar with the “Kilometer Zero” marker, go down in Bagac town proper and hire a tricycle. This should cost you P30-P50.

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