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.

Bravo, Heneral Luna!

This is the first the time I experienced a dominantly young crowd applaud at the end of a local film.

Heneral Luna is an inspiring film, didactic in an entertaining way.

This film is probably one of the best local historical period drama ever produced, along with Raymond Red’s “Sakay,” FPJ’s “Asedillo” and Albert Martinez’s “Rosario”.

The trouble with me sometimes, when it comes to these kind of films, is that I tend to look for details that were missed and events that were deliberately distorted. Drives me crazy! But even the best period films based on real historical figures, “Braveheart” for example, did not nail everything perfect.

The challenge period movies face is that its writers and directors had to take liberties to dramatize and to communicate—here’s where they’re often hit. For Heneral Luna, with its budget, they face far more difficulties.

But even autobiographies gets confronted with charges of deliberate falsehoods—difference is that making movies is a form of art, it will always be subject to the mind of its creators.

Let’s support this movie and keep it in cinemas for more weeks.

There are three things I like about Heneral Luna, the film:

First, they showed the human side of him. Instead of centering on his epic battles (which they could have since he was the only real military leader in that cabinet, and a fighting one at that) they spent time presenting who he was as a person. They also steer clear from the rumors about Luna, like the one where he was supposed to have handed the “treasury” to his lover (although she did appear there as somewhat of a power broker).

Luna was a renaissance man, he enjoys poetry like his women, he understand medicine, he was a legendary guitar player; short tempered but the only man that was capable of prolonging the war if not win it completely.

The success of the film was not the depiction of the battle scenes (which for me were not impressive in the movie) but in how they highlighted Luna’s attributes and weaknesses.

At the end of the movie, everyone understood who he was, his purpose, why he did what he did; why he was prepared to die for his country and why he was executed by the very people he sought to liberate.

Second, while the subject of the film is heavy, they made the characters people the audience can relate to. I suspect Antonio Luna to be a very serious fellow, judging on accounts about him and how he writes, but we have to remember that while his generation were highly educated and Hispanized they have qualities that are no different from ours today.

The scenes where the hero was depicted as being jovial amid a perilous battle, connects with Filipinos today. Do we not smile and continue to laugh even when we’re faced with the most trying events in our lives?

Third, the message. I think many Filipinos now understands that if we are to succeed as a nation, we have to rid our government of corruption. We can no longer afford to be soft on those who err and steal so they can enrich themselves and their families.

Luna tried to rectify corrupt cabinet members and undisciplined military leaders. It proved costly on his part; he made powerful enemies. Even today, the leader that would endeavor to do what he did would end up like him—if not maligned, jailed if not killed.

Why? We’re too divided, we go tribal easily.

In order to move this country forward, we can’t afford leaders sleeping with our enemies and having their pockets lined with the “kaban ng bayan”. Luna’s character in the movie spoke of this in his intense debates against the rich cabinet men of Aguinaldo.

When a Luna like figure comes, I hope, we Filipinos will support that leader. It going to be demanding to get behind leaders that are not cowed by special interests, local military upheavals and other nations—they’re going to make unpopular decisions, hard ones but there’s no alternative.

We need the kind of revolution Luna called for—united with zero tolerance for the corrupt and those who wish to tear the country apart.

There’s some crazy uproar about what the movie failed to show—how it demonized certain individuals considered national heroes by certain groups and families. Again, it’s the message we need to focus on, not the personalities. Not because your relatives and kababayan took part in the revolution entitles them to be national heroes.

The film’s message is timely, election’s just around the corner.

Do we really want the Aguinaldos, the Buencaminos, the Mascardos and the Paternos to continue leading us, or do we want a Heneral Luna?

I say we must have a Heneral Luna, and we must be Heneral Lunas. All of us.


The ALDUB Phenomenon and Filipino Values

Before I get in trouble with supporters of this new ALDUB love team, let me say that I have only seen a few episodes, two actually, the one that I like was the cancelled wedding affair where Yaya Dub fainted (turns out that’s real). So I am not an expert as you can see but rather a casual fan of the Kalyeserye.

What Joey de Leon labelled as Kalyeserye was purely accidental a friend told me but it took off like it did and now people moves their lunch breaks just to get a glimpse of the tandem and all the character around them.

While the whole Aldub appears to have been a happy accident, the scouting eyes of the comedic geniuses behind Eat Bulaga is not. They get the right guys, most not really big showbiz names, to join their show. That’s why they’re still in business after all these years.

Ok, so why am I even writing about this.

It is refreshing that the Aldub segment is conveying some old values that most Filipinos remembers well but no longer practice.

The Aldub series appeals to the Filipino because it shows them what is now missing in today’s generation—old Filipino values we once held so high. I saw an article stating that the show was some divine creation, well, I won’t go that far but what I know is that it struck a chord among Filipinos because it mirrors parts of our past.

At least these two still engage in old school “ligawan”.

This may sound odd, and I know the “Lola” is played by a man who once became notorious for his disgusting sex scandal video, but how many of us remembers our overly protective grandma’s just by seeing the character that he plays?

This “Lola Nidora” is also based on a woman that was supposed to have been educated in the old Philippine-Spanish system, from a Spanish-Filipino family, which explains her passion for style, sophistication and educated opinions—and her being so “maldita” at times.

I find all of these very interesting but I’m not surprised that Filipinos identify with this “character” as someone close to them. It’s like hearing Filipinos talk about their conservative Spanish-Filipino mestizo grandparent that spoke Spanish, went to church like clockwork, led their local communities, build beautiful houses, how educated they were—nothing but nice words really.

Whenever I hear these stories I feel that most Filipinos, at least in memory, still cherish the kind of people we once were.


SPANISH INFLUENCE ON FILIPINO CATHOLIC SPIRITUALITY

by: Fr. Jose “Long” D. Gutay, OFM

Let me begin this article by quoting from the lecture of Archbishop Leonardo Legazpi on Filipino Spirituality. He said:

The drafting committee for the CBCP Pastoral on Filipino spirituality avoided getting enmeshed in complex definitions peculiar to the academic scene. We opted to simply view spirituality as arising from a spiritual experience. What precise experience is this? We defined it as the Filipino’s historical encounter with Christ and as a result of this encounter the Filipino is invited to walk on the path leading to holiness (Landas ng Pagpapakabanal). Since this CBCP letter adopted a pastoral approach, it studied the objective of this encounter in its manifestations within the life of witness and worship of the faithful. This encounter is no illusion; it is not a figment of our imagination. It takes place in the reality of our day-to-day lives. It leaves its mark in the way we worship God and give witness to his goodness and mercy. This is what we mean by the spirituality of a people. It is a living, palpable experience that motivates and impels us to conversion.[1]

A very significant element mentioned in the above definition of Filipino spirituality is what the archbishop calls as “the Filipino’s historical encounter with Christ”. It is an assertion that the Filipino’s encounter with Christ and his response to this living experience have all passed through a process in history. The main protagonists in this historical process are the Spanish friar-missionaries who brought Christianity to the Filipinos.

The Encounter

The first attempt to colonize and evangelize the Philippines happened with the Portuguese explorer, Ferdinand Magellan, in 1521. But the effort was cut short by his death in the hands of the native warriors of Mactan, Cebu. It was only in 1565 and through the endeavors of the Spanish adelantado, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi that Christianization and colonization in the islands formally began. The first missionaries who launched a modest but daring attempt to convert the natives were the Augustinians who came with the Legazpi expedition. Much-needed assistance was supplied with the arrival of the Franciscans in 1578. The Jesuits followed suit in 1581. The Dominicans and Augustinian Recollects arrived in 1587 and 1606 respectively.

The missionaries played a major role in the Filipino’s “encounter” with Christianity and the Christian God. This in a way became the ground of Filipino Spirituality. The efforts of the missionaries were greatly conditioned by factors that are intrinsically woven into the geographical and chronological context of the period. The Philippines is geographically way off the cultural evolution of Europe. Thus, the friar missionaries had no choice but to take into account the unique ethno-historical character of the host territory. Although the Philippines evolved culturally on its own, this development was also a confluence of the local ethnic elements and those of its Asian neighbors.[2] And besides, Islam had already made significant strides in the south (Mindanao) and penetrated, although still superficially, Luzon and the Visayas.[3] It was also a period wherein Spain and the Church were being ushered into new historical, religious, political and economic paradigms in Europe. The Protestant and Catholic Reformation, Spain’s Siglo de Oro, the age of conquest, mercantilism, Hapsburg’s ascent to power, to mention some, were all important events that shaped this epoch. Quite evidently, the motives and actions of the missionaries were all molded by these historical events.

But it was not a one-sided process in which the Spanish missionaries shaped the Filipino spirituality. Much of the native pre-Christian cultural expressions survived in the process. Given the geographical, political (social fragmentation and political decentralization), demographical (personnel vis-á-vis the native population), and linguistic limitations within which the Spaniards had to operate in the colony, the Filipinos were provided a chance to choose from among the various religio-cultural elements being laid down by the Europeans. At the end of the process, the resultant spirituality is a syncretic blend of Hispanic imposition and the natives’ Filipinization of Christianity.

The Hispanic-Christian Imposition

American historian John Leddy Phelan’s analysis of the imposition of Christianity in the Philippines would be of great help at this juncture. Phelan asserts that Spanish missionaries viewed themselves as soldiers of Christ waging with spiritual weapons a war to overthrow the devil’s tyranny over pagan peoples and they envisaged their work as a “spiritual conquest” of the minds and hearts of the natives, a supplement to, and the ultimate justification for, the military conquest.[4]

In pre-hispanic Philippines, religion touches all aspects of life. Religion and culture were terms whose meaning was practically the same. The native culture found by the missionaries was radically religious and the native religion was the great cultural wealth of the country. There was no religious vacuum. Religion filled all corners of life. It was life, art, literature, poetry and music. All was touched by religion. In primitive societies nothing is secular.[5]

The missionaries came ready to conquer the world for Christ. The temporal conquest, through the power of the arms, had no justifications without the spiritual conquest through the power of the Word of God. Satan’s kingdom had to be vanquished. Christ’s kingdom had to be established. In preaching the Gospel to the natives the missionaries were convinced that they were presenting the absolute and total truth.[6]

However, much that they would like to launch a wide scale “spiritual conquest” of the Philippines, the situation on the ground proved to be relatively difficult. During the first synod of Manila convened by the first bishop of Manila, Domingo de Salazar OP., shortly after his arrival, there were attempts to address the problems of evangelization in view of the unique cultural and geographical situation in the colony.

Methods of Evangelization

The methods used by the missionaries in the propagation of the faith can be reduced into the following: catechism (pre-baptismal and post-baptismal), preaching, the administration of the sacraments, the introduction of liturgical practices, fiestas, etc. The venue in which the missionaries used to implement this approach was the reduccion.[7] It was, in a way, effective although the natives at first resisted it. In the long run, due to the blessings of town living, and other inducements of the missionaries, like rituals and celebrations (fiestas), new civilization was born in the Philippines. To attract and convince the natives to leave their farms, the missionaries introduced come-ons like colorful fiestas, processions, dances, theatre shows, Moro-Moro plays, etc.

In a relative short period of time a big number of natives were converted to Christianity. One major factor that facilitated this phenomenon was the missionaries’ decision to preserve the native’s political structure. The missionaries counted on the local leaders. They knew the prestige and the power they exercised over the local communities. Although it is true that the Spaniards imposed a centralized form of government with the institution of the governor general and the alcaldes mayores as heads of the provinces, all the other agents of the local government in the municipalities were natives. The barangay set-up was basically retained. The role of municipal mayors (gobernadorcillo), capitanes de barrio, cabeza de barangay were given to the elite class (principalia). The principales eventually became the intermediaries between the new rulers, the Spaniards and the local communities. They consequently became the intermediaries (fiscales) between the Church and the people.

The conversion of the natives might be caused by political advantages. But this approach was necessitated by the urgent need for evangelization. This may not be the effect of a deep and profound spiritual discernment. This would only come later, with a deeper catechetical instruction and the missionaries took this task seriously.

Religious and Liturgical Practices[8].

The missionaries also introduced many of the religious and liturgical practices that they themselves had in Spain but not without innovations to fit the native culture. Among them are: fast and abstinence during Lent and the Holy Week, sanctorum (religious contribution during confessions), feast days of obligation, devotion to the saints, and the misa de aguinaldo (Christmas dawn masses).

The Filipinos responded affirmatively to these practices. It did not take much effort to convince the natives to accept them. They seemed fit to the Filipino’s penchant for outward expressions as spiritual articulations of their relationship with the divinity. The missionaries simply substituted these articulations with the aforementioned practices. One such concrete example is the veneration of the saints that the natives eventually took as a replacement to their spiritual anitism[9].

The penitential practices introduced by the missionaries proved to be attractive to the Filipinos. A Spanish canon who was studying in a Jesuit college in Manila introduced the practice of inviting the church men of different social standing, in order to take discipline three times a week. The natives, attracted by this, lost no time imitating the Spaniards. In time, however, the spirit of penance lost its appeal, becoming in many places mere external rituals. Many who felt impelled more by fanaticism than true devotion went to extremes of bloody penance (flagellation, reenactment of the crucifixion, etc.). These are still being practiced even today.

Popular Religiosity: Filipinization of the Spanish Imposition

Phelan believes that the Filipinos were no mere passive recipients of hispanization and Christianization, and the circumstances gave them considerable freedom in selecting their responses to this cultural stimulus.[10] This could explain well the reasons why the aforesaid practices have themselves evolved into the Filipino’s expression of religiosity in the course of time.

Once encouraged by the missionaries to build little altars in their houses, the natives have easily made this practice an important part of almost every household. The painting of crosses on arms, houses, along roads, at strategic places, on top of mountains, in their own fields, etc., have evolved into a native’s custom after having been introduced by the missionaries to the devotion to the Holy Cross. The recitation of the Angelus three times a day also became a popular devotion in the poblaciones.

Another devotion that was brought from Spain and took root in the religiosity of the natives was the reading of the Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. At the beginning of its practice, the Pasiones, as the narrations of the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of the Lord were called, were literal translation from Spanish. The Pasiones eventually were indigenized, written in the local languages, and has incorporated some peculiar folk elements and values in them that made them uniquely Filipino. Another practice introduced by the missionaries that has become a Filipino custom still being done at present is the celebration of the Misa de Aguinaldo[11] or Misa de Gallo (Christmas dawn masses).

What became a universal devotion in the Philippines is the praying of the rosary. It was probably the most widespread than any other devotion. Its origin in the colony however is associated with some heroic and glorious moments of Philippine history – Spain’s victory over the Dutch intruders in the seventeenth century. The triumph was attributed to this devotion. Since then the people not only prayed the rosary, they wore it around their necks as anting-anting (amulets).

The missionaries took advantage of the Filipinos’ giftedness in singing, dancing, and acting hence making these practices more appealing to the latter. The Filipinos came up with innovations so that these European religious expressions would in effect be inculturated and filipinized. All the more that these practices became pervasive in the colony when the Spanish Church in the Philippines was institutionalized.

Hispanic-Cathlolic Spirituality

A hispanic-catholic spirituality? The natives already had their spirituality before the arrival of the Europeans. They did have a pantheon of gods and goddesses, rituals, native priesthood, belief in the afterlife, creation, etc. They did have an “encounter” with the divine many years prior to Hispanization. But the missionaries came as innovators and saw Christianity as a very effective means of incorporating the natives into Spanish culture. And besides, the missionaries were themselves product of the Council of Trent and self-proclaimed agents of the Catholic Reformation in the 16th and 17th centuries. Their goal was to reorganize the politics, economy, and religiosity of the host colony. But the Filipinos too had a complementary role to play. They had to adapt themselves to the changes introduced by the Spaniards and they did somehow respond enthusiastically to the multiform appeal of the new religion and cultural imposition.

Spirituality in colonial Philippines could be aptly described as syncretic. This is evidenced by the reality of Filipino spirituality today. It is like praying to Jesus and Mama Mary with bended knees inside the steaming Quiapo Church with a recently purchased anting-anting in one hand and a rosary in the other, while wearing a western-designed pair of jeans and shirt to top it all.
________________________________________
[1] Archbishop Leonardo Legazpi, OP is the prelate of the Archdiocese of Nueva Caceres (Naga). He delivered a conference on “Filipino Elements in Spirituality” on July 29-31, 2002 at UST, Manila. The text is printed in the “Lecture Series on Spirituality” published by Carmelite Center for Spirituality, Manila, Philippines.
[2] The latest theory on the peopling of the Philippines and its cultural evolution is what some historians term as “core population theory”. Considered as a better scientific alternative to “wave migration theory”, the former explains that population centers (cores) evolved simultaneously with other neighboring territories in the region. These centers either influence the demographic and cultural evolution of their neighbors or are themselves influenced by the latter.
[3] Islam arrived in Jolo, an island off the coast of mainland Mindanao, in 1481. It was brought here by a certain Muslim missionary and scholar, Sharif Kabungsuwan from Borneo.
[4] John Leddy Phelan, The Hispanization of the Philippines: Spanish Aims and Filipino Responses 1565-1700, Madison 1959, p. 53.
[5] Cfr. Lucio Gutierrez OP in The Archdiocese of Manila: Pilgrimage in Time (1565-1999), ed. by Crisostomo Yalung., Manila, 2000, p. 97.
[6] Ibid, 97-98.
[7] Owing to the fragmentation of the pre-hispanic Philippine society, the missionaries decided to resettle the dispersed households into compacted villages of 50 to 100 houses to form the nucleus of the territory which they eventually called the cabecera. The poblacion-barrio pattern we have today is a carbon copy of the cabecera-visita we find today the town, the municipality, the poblacion. Where the visita was found we find today the barrio. The church, the town hall, the palengke – a loaned word for market form old Spanish – the school and the houses are all clustered around the church. The plaza is the center of the town. Ibid, p. 92
[8] Cfr. Pablo Fernandez, History of the Church in the Philippines (1521-1898), Manila 1979, pp. 157-164.
[9] The anito is not a deity but a spirit medium who functions as an intermediary between the believers and the deities.
[10] Phelan, p. viii.
[11] This is the custom of celebrating masses very early in the morning during the nine days previous to Christmas day. It was established soon after the arrival of Christianity to the islands. It is not known however when nor who were responsible for its initial establishment.

—–

Reposted here from the Franciscan online archive


The Terror in Torre de Manila

I doubt it if we’ll ever get rid of DMCI’s Torre de Manila. These guys are buying time—or whatever can be bought. After those senate investigations and all the media attention, after decades of delays brought about by legal technicalities, their construction would slowly creep back in.

Companies like DMCI makes their money from such developments. A friend who bought a “Torre de Manila” unit told me that the condominium was advertised for its proximity to the park. So he and his partner bought one. They’re now regretting their decision. Not because the building turned out to be obstructing the Luneta skyscape but they fear they’ll lose their investment.

Real estate companies are liable only to their stockholders and unit owners—if these two are pleased—they did their job. On the other hand, our local government and its agencies are tasked to catch projects that are disadvantageous to the general public—in this case to a heritage site.

IMG-20140429-00280

Well, at least this monument in Calamba is still clear of visual obstructions. But this is not Manila where land deals amounts to the millions.

Some believes that pockets were greased to get this project rolling—this of course is not beyond the realms of possibilities. Let’s no kid ourselves now. Manila city hall are acting like they woke up one day with that horrific building already standing.

Manila’s City Hall together with other Philippines agencies that were suppose to regulate heritage zoning in the capital dropped the ball on this one—as they did in so many other so called land developments that ended up destroying historical sites.

* * *

I decided not to blog about this issue until I see the Rizal shrine with its “photobomber” first hand. Last month I drove pass the monument.

Yes, it did ruin the view—a visiting dignitary offering a wreath to honor Rizal would most likely wonder what’s that obnoxious building is doing behind it!

You know the problem with Manila is that it gets leaders like Lito Atienza, who’s now a lion campaigning against “Torre de Manila” Someone should remind this guy that if he had not ordered the demolition of that historic art deco building called Skydome there would be no Terror de Manila.

He asked for it to be leveled so Manila could build a justice hall or something—what ever happened to that? From a government office to a condominium building!?!

It must be my deviant sense of humor that makes me laugh hard about how these guys’ runs Manila. It is literally a circus that never leaves town.

I don’t know how permits are issued in Manila, who calls the shots, who sits on these meetings? But like many old cities, it does have a zoning plan that’s supposed to safeguard its heritage sites. It is safe to assume that if such a zoning plan is in placed that it is loosely enforced—and I’m being polite here.

Heck, even in Intramuros a building was built not too long ago. It would not surprise me if SM Manila would one day annex parts of the city hall. It seems like everything’s up for grab in Manila for the right price.

* * *

There are some quarters that suggest that there’s nothing wrong with the Torre de Manila condominium towering over the shrine. Some even backs the construction, saying Filipinos are again “over reacting,” Some say that those making a big fuzz out of it are people that never read Rizal.

A former colleague told me that we should accept that development around the area is inevitable. I reminded her that aside from being Rizal’s final resting place the area used to be killing fields for revolutionaries—for me and to countless Filipinos it’s hallowed grounds. I asked her if someone decides to build a house or a public restroom next to her family mausoleum would she allow it? “No,” she said. So why should Filipinos say “yes” to DMCI I replied.


Japanese Memorial Garden in Muntinlupa and other WWII stories

My brother trying to read some of the Japanese letters engraved in stone. We visited the Japanese Garden in Muntinlupa last April.

I took my brother to Muntinlupa’s Japanese memorial two months ago. Like many locals he has never heard of it.I have written a couple of blogs (here, here) about this solemn garden. I thought he’d like it because of his familiarity with Japanese history.

He recalls his wife’s story about Hiroshima. How her ancestors suffered after the atomic bombing. As is often the case, innocent men, women and children were the biggest casualties. Its status as a minor city actually contributed to it getting picked by the US. Destroying Tokyo would cripple the country for a longer period.

In the book, “The Untold History of the United States,” Filmmaker Oliver Stone and historian Peter Kuzniak proposed that the atomic bomb was no longer necessary. The two suggests that the obliteration of Hiroshima and Nagasaki was a warning to other expanding nations. The message was clear—America intends to dominate the post-world war.

Isn’t it an irony that the most active nation in stopping other nations from developing nuclear technology is the only country that has used it to destroy two cities?

* * *

The Japanese occupation reminds me of my parent’s horrific wartime stories. Experiences made my father swore never to return to San Carlos in Negros Occidental again.

One particular ghastly memory of Papa was watching his uncle being buried alive in broad day light. He said his uncle never begged for his life but asked to be shot—the guerillas refused to do so. These criminals were never punished after the war. My father recalls his chance encounter with one of them in the 70’s. He literally bumped into one of them while crossing Cubao!

My father lost his mother and a younger brother too. Lola got sick while they were hiding near Kanlaon. When she died they made a shallow grave intending to give her a proper burial after the war. When they returned the forest had reclaimed everything. They spent days trying to locate the grave. They never found her.

* * *

The indefatigable writer Sionil Jose believes that the Japanese deserved what happened to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. My brother, a US military man, believes it was a mistake. When I told him that some historians believes that Japan was far from surrendering he said “with all the force and leadership they had then it was just a matter of time”.

I recall a story from the archivist Ernie de Pedro of Japanese soldiers planting rice in Ilocos. Men who volunteered for the job asking only for some food and water. He believes that these men were most likely farmers. Planting and harvesting must have brought them some sense of normalcy as it recreated their former lives.

Not many people know that the Pedro Diaz school in Muntinlupa (which made news recently because it sits on top if a fault line) was name after a community leader that was executed by the Japanese. The Japanese memorial in Bilibid was said to have been where the last hold outs were captured.

Not far from where I live now is Punggol beach. The Japanese killed Chinese men they suspected of collaborating with their enemies in its shores. There’s a marker there that reads “On 23 February 1942, some 300-400 Chinese civilians were killed along Punggol foreshore by Hojo Kempei firing squad. They were among tens of thousands who lost their lives during the Japanese Sook Ching operation to purge suspected anti-Japanese civilians…”

* * *

Now, going back to the Japanese garden. I was delighted to find it improved. It now have comfort rooms. The shrine, with all those colorful linked paper cranes, was striking in its serenity and symbolism. The Japanese dedication in honoring their war dead is something to be admired.

Let’s all wish this amiable fella the best of luck. I believe he’s five years away from being released from imprisonment. He probably lost that front teeth from rioting inside. Nah, he seems like a nice fellah really.

We run into one of the guys that maintains the garden. He was welcoming and assisted us during our visit. These guys are “living out” inmates tasked to look after certain area around Bilibid. They can freely go out of their cells. I gave him a ride back to the gates of the prison and kidded him, “you can take the ride all the way to the town and no one would notice!” To this he replied in Tagalog “Hindi po Sir, malapit na ako lumaya, 20 years na ako dito po eh.”


The 2nd Part of Pio Andrade Jr.’s Podcast

This is the second installment of my recorded conversation with historian cum chemist extraordinaire Pio Andrade Jr. I divided the 3 hour podcast and edited the gaps and dead air last year. I published the first part last January and shelved the second part for a later publication—I thought I lost it only to find out that I backed it up (oddly, the only copy I made!) on one of my thumb drives.

Here the Paracale historian talks about the Catholic church’s legacy, Quezon’s corrupting influence, origin of the “pork barrel,” Agoncillo as historian, Aguinaldo and Gen. Luna, early 20th century Filipino Justice’s delicadeza and so many other historical tidbits about us Filipinos.

The University of Florida alum also discussed the origin of towns and places name; How most of it have botanical if not zoological origins. We should stop telling our children those fancy legends about our towns but I must confess that I find them too amusing. Pasay for example came from a variety of shrimp known as Pasayan—I grew up hearing the legend that Pasay was a name of a Bornean princess—we’ll Andrade just crushed that belief now!

* * *

Andrade’s views are controversial but to him the only history that merits sharing are the ones that are supported by historical proof — outside this everything’s propaganda.

It is easy to understand why there’s resistance to what he writes. He does not conform to the standard, he does not mince words, he plays no politics.

When I spoke with archivist Ernie de Pedro, one of Andrade’s friend, his fear was that Andrade has made so many enemies that no one would touch him one day—that his wealth of historical knowledge would never see the light of day.

Now Andrade’s working on building Arellano University’s publishing house. I wish he gets all his books out.

An illustration of his belligerent writing is an article that came out last November in Inquirer, “Andres Bonifacio: A monument of lies.” I happen to glance over the comments below it and saw a plethora of hate remarks.

That article would stand up to deeper enquiry—trouble is that it’s about Bonifacio—a hero that has been lionize beyond measure.

It’s true that we Filipino are not prepared yet to look at our heroes and scrutinize how they were presented to us—it took me years before I grasped that most of what I know about our history is not really history but political advertising.


Bedok Reservoir and other Lake Stories

Last month we were invited by some friends to eat “bulalo” in Lucky Plaza, the mecca of Filipino overseas workers here in Singapore. During weekends Filipinos, mostly domestic workers, congregate around the area.

We shared stories about our diversions. I told them I enjoy biking around the 4 kilometer shoreline of the Bedok Reservoir especially before the crack of dawn. During this time of the day the manmade lagoon provides spectacular scenes unlike anywhere else.

One of the older women there cautioned me that “it’s not safe”. She started telling me about the numerous “mysterious” deaths that has occurred in the lake. She used to live near the reservoir and claims to having sensed some “bad spirits” in it. I sat there in torment listening to her other supernatural stories but her story about unknown entities residing in lakes did not surprised me.

* * *

I recall this news of children drowning in Taal lake a few years ago. Curious was how the correspondents seem to link the deaths to the paranormal and not measures the local government failed to enact. Why would they assume that spirits are randomly taking lives in that placid lake?

My mother said Visayan folklore also attributes drowning deaths to mysterious sea vortex that abruptly appears from nowhere. They call it “Lilo” or “Liloan”. Some littoral towns carries this name to this day. I wonder if they were named after the fabled whirlpools.

When I was in Laoag, I read about the myth of its lake’s origin. According to local legend the lake was once a town called San Juan de Sagun; apparently an unforgiving god sunk it to teach the wicked townsfolk a lesson. The legend sounded biblical like Soddom and Gomorrah.

Fresh water lakes are remnants of catalytic natural catastrophes. I could imagine whatever creature had been left to struggle in it would ultimately adapt. It is possible that monsters people claimed to have seen in lakes are literally monstrous prehistoric animals.

Speaking of adaptation, the only known fresh water sardines, the tawilis, are from Taal Lake. These once sea dwelling fish learned how to live in fresh water conditions. Now that’s fascinating. One of my favorite history book about Batangas is “The Mysteries of Taal: A Philippine Volcano and Lake” by Thomas Hargrove. In the book he marveled how the lake, categorized as fresh water, appears to have sustained species intended only for the sea.

* * *

One of my favorite legend around Laguna de Ba’y is the one told by old timers of Pila-Pila in Binagonan.

The story goes that a gorgeous lady who had countless suitors decided to test them. She would make her husband the man who can erect a bridge from Pila-Pila to Los Banos’s main market. Because it was practically impossible all of the men back off except one—a fine-looking man who took on the task.

The following night, the barrio was awaken by loud activities. To their shock they found demons building the foundation of the bridge! Turns out that the man was the devil himself. The maiden then went to the church and took the cross from the altar and brought it to where the demons were busy setting up the foundation for her bridge. They all scampered but left the vestiges of their work there in Pila-Pila.

I’m sure those rock formation, called “Fuente del Diablo,” have some scientific explanation behind it but these stories are amusing. But what’s more fascinating is that some people believe in it.

* * *

While biking along the lake shore of Laguna de Ba’y in Muntinlupa two years ago I came across some local fishermen. They were casting their nets and were catching milkfish. What they catch they prepare for their families, any surplus they sell.

I asked these men if a bigger ship could still ply the lake. “You need to get rid of those private fish pens in the middle of the lake first,” they said with these big smiles on their faces. They told me that there’s potential for using the lake for transportation if our government is willing to invest in it. They should know because not only do they boat around it, they swim on it too.

But the fishermen also said that ships must be modest in size for a larger vessel would run into some shallow waters particularly during summer. They told me that the deepest depth of the lake is around 6 feet “mas o menus”. They got it right, LLDA classified the lake as a “shallow freshwater” with maximum depth of 2.8 meters.

* * *

Now going back to the Bedok Reservoir. It was recently the site of some of the water sports for the SEA games where held. Not far from it is the 30 hectare campus of the Temasek Polytechnic. It has the most idyllic site for a learning institution that I have ever seen.

The tree lined pathway of the Bedok Reservoir

I did check some online articles and found that some believe the reservoir is cursed, some say it’s haunted, others attribute its location as bad fengshui. But I’m of the opinion that these so called mysterious deaths are nothing more but coincidence. The lake’s so peaceful and attractive that troubled souls would naturally gravitate to it—to die? Maybe, we don’t know what really goes on the minds of those people who unexpectedly plunge in its still waters.

Also, the lake have a maximum depth of 18 feet. Extremely dangerous for someone who can’t swim. I could barely swim so I’m not thinking of dipping in its placid water anytime soon. I’m happy biking around it in a sunshiny picture-perfect Sunday.


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.

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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!


Aguinaldo to Me

Last week I attended Dr. Serafin Quiason’s lecture on the life and time of Emilio Aguinaldo at the Yuchengco Museum in Makati. Most of the attendees were colleagues of the astute professor and descendants of President Aguinaldo; I met Wharton alum and one time finance minister, Cesar Virata, a grandnephew and another man who was a great grandson. The organizers, the Philippine Map Collectors Society, a group of prominent cartophiles, was there in force.

“The tragedy of Aguinaldo was that he lived too long and that he did not die a heroic death,” Dr. Quiason remembers his mentor, Professor Teodoro Agoncillo, telling him. The two visited President Aguinaldo together during their time working together in UP. He was enthralled by the late President’s “hospitality and generosity,” he recounted their time with the president with understandable pride. He said that Agoncillo and Aguinaldo spoke in traditional Tagalog which made it hard for him because he was Capampangan. According to him the President spoke Spanish with a Cavite accent and enjoys fried rice for breakfast.

Dr. Quiason and Gemma Cruz Araneta chatting before the lecture (at their back is a huge portrait of the Yuchengco by Botong Francisco). The Yuchengcos are ardent Rizalist. Aside from having a collection of paintings of Rizal, they renamed their insurance company after Rizal in the mid 1900’s. They also named their banking corporation Rizal Commercial Banking Corporation. I wonder if some of Rizal’s kin take royalties from all these!

The lecture was what I expected it to be. A litany of President Aguinaldo’s feats and exoneration from his involvement in the deaths of Bonifacio and Luna. At one point, the good professor even quoted Gen. Alejandrino’s words to Bluementritt extenuating the president from the killing of the founder of the Katipunan as necessary to unite the country. When asked if the president had any hand on these, Dr. Quiason responded that there’s nothing that would implicate Aguinaldo directly to these crimes. But many believes that history had already rendered its judgement on the man. I for one believe that it is these killings that has made him one of the least appreciated hero in our revolution. But then again, aside from Rizal, who else gets the right attention anyway?

There’s an interesting question raised regarding the absence of a holiday that commemorates the first president in the country. Everybody laughed at the question but I wonder if this exclusion had anything to do with his unpopularity. There are even calls by some to make Andres Bonifacio the first president which I think is silly but then I found out that this is supported by the likes of Robin Padilla; now it’s doubly silly. I think these people made that clamor to promote their Bonifacio movie last year. What would do us good is to study history as it should be studied—warts and all.

But is Aguinaldo a hero? In my mind he is. In his 20’s he had the weight of the entire Filipino people on his shoulder, leading a revolution and building a government. Did he made errors during his leadership? Sure, and I for one believe that he made critical lapses in judgement that led us to a more bloodier war (with the Americans) but hindsight as they say is perfect sight.

One of the highlights of our trip going to General Trias (formerly San Francisco de Malabon) when I was a little boy was seeing the Aguinaldo house where he declared the country independent. I recall my father would even ask me to get a five peso bill (the one where there’s a depiction of the house with Aguinaldo waving the flag) Of course later on I would learn that he did not made any declaration. It was read aloud by the Biñense lawyer Ambrosio Rianzares Bautista, one of its author. Curiously, the document was not even signed by Aguinaldo. The trouble with how history is taught in our schools is that there’s so much exaggeration. While the idea is to foster nationalism it ends up distorting historical truths. I had to tell my father that what he told me then about Aguinaldo and that house was a big lie.

Oh well.

 

 

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