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Monthly Archives: March 2011

More help needed for Japan’s tsunami victims

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Twenty days have passed since the devastating earthquake and tsunami in Tōhoku, Japan. And each passing day, the death toll still rises. But for the hundreds of thousands of survivors who are left homeless and economically crippled, their current situation makes those who died from this deadly double-calamity appear to be more fortunate.

The humanitarian response that Japan has been receiving from all parts of the world has been awesome and heartwarming. Sadly, it is not enough. Millions of dollars are still needed to help rehabilitate the areas and people affected by the tsunami (since Japan is always earthquake-ready, the earthquake seemed to have had little adverse effect; it was the tsunami which did Japan in). It is estimated that the cost of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated parts of our Asian neighbor could reach more than $300 billion, making it the world’s most expensive natural disaster on record.

Twenty days may have passed, but that doesn’t mean that everything’s OK already in Japan. Thousands are still homeless; many of them are still in evacuation centers with little food, clothing, medicine, and other personal effects. Our Japanese brothers still need our help. We, the lucky ones here in the Philippines who are inside air-conditioned houses with comfortable amenities and internet connection, should all do our share. Believe me, even a twenty-peso donation is already a lot of help.

Please click on the names of the below organizations to know more information on how to send donations to our unfortunate Japanese brothers.

All Hands Volunteers

Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines

Catholic Relief Services

Convoy of Hope

Philippine Red Cross

7 Eleven

This crisis ain’t over till it’s over. Let us all unite to help Japan’s sun rise again. After all, we all live in the same house called planet Earth.

Celdrán’s antics are no longer repulsive

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Garbage collectors have been accustomed to the smell of garbage. The smell of filth. That is why they are hardly repulsed anymore whenever they are confronted by a pile of rotting fish and meat mixed with soiled diapers.

Strangely, I find Carlos Celdrán’s latest caper less repulsive, too. Aside from getting used to hearing garbage news on TV, I find his recent tarpaulin controversy more comical than ever before, but still pitiful, nonetheless. This time, however, I have to side with Celdrán against allegations that he’s a “papansín” (loosely translated as a person who perpetually seeks attention from the people around him). This is in relation to what he did two Fridays ago (18 March) against a helpless anti-RH bill tarpaulin.

Check out this video from everybody’s favorite “rational hero”:

As seen from the footage, the self-proclaimed “fat bastard” (Celdrán fans, before you strike, please be advised that this is how he described himself when he commented on a blogpost of mine last year; so there’s no need to be furious, OK? blame your idol, not me) tore down the said tarp —bearing the words “Choose Life, Reject the RH/RP Bill”—, and then ran away with it like a cellphone snatcher.

Right after that, there was complete silence. He did not mention anything at all about that roguery of his in both his Twitter and Facebook accounts. Immediately after stealing the tarp, he bragged in his Facebook account that he opened up an HSBC account in Binondo as well as scrutinized the Department of Tourism’s “Tara Ná” logo.

There was no mention at all about the now controversial tarp that he stole.

So does this latest caper of his make him a “papansín“? Definitely not. Cayá ñga siyá tumátacbo sa vídeo, eh. Dahil ayáw niyáng magpahuli sa guinawá niyáng pagnanacaw. Ayáw niyáng mapansín. Eh caso nahuli.

Now, whatever happened to that no-nonsense, trash-talking, church-profaning Carlos “Fat Bastard” Celdrán that fans loved about him the most? Shouldn’t they be disappointed with their idol, instead? He did not even inform them immediately right after he stole that darned tarp (Celdrán usually updates his “respectful” and “highly intelligent” fans on his daily activities and plans, even the most mundane ones). With all that running of his instead of another no-holds-barred attack against the clergy, it can be surmised, in a way, that Celdrán has gone “soft”.

And why is that?

It should be remembered that Celdrán still has a court case hanging over his head for his unprofessional conduct inside the Manila Cathedral last year. Thus, it is but logical for his lawyer to advise him not to do anything silly anymore especially since they are negotiating for an out-of-court settlement via a pathetic apology that I do not believe is sincere (he proudly proclaims himself a “Cafeteria Catholic” and is affiliated with the anti-Catholic group Filipino Freethinkers).

Unfortunately for Celdrán, focusing too much on his “street heroics” made him forget a Bayani Fernando legacy: the closed-circuit television cameras mounted all over the metropolis. And when reporters contacted him about his CCTV video, it was too late to deny, of course. Aside from the CCTV, there were witnesses. So right after being interviewed by reporters, he posted this on his Facebook fanpage:

Seriously. They have me on CCTV and got witnesses to ‘confirm’ it was me. Dang. I did it 3 p.m. Who says I was trying to hide it?

I do. Because in the video, you were running so fast as if a hungry pack of wolves mistook you for Grimace. And you almost ran down on a motorbike, Carlos (and not the other way around; perhaps that motorcycle dude has nine lives). And just by observing your Facebook statuses and tweets (thank you for following me, by the way; I am so honored, really), it is very obvious that you would never have mentioned anything at all about that tarp you stole if you weren’t caught on CCTV. But you were. So there. Tsk.

If there was no malice intended, especially since Celdrán thought that what he did was something heroic, he shouldn’t have run. He should have just taken that tarp off then walked away with it with his head held up high. But by running away like a thief in the night, he proved to his enemies the kind of coward that he is.

And he added that he is “coming clean”. Really. But why right after being caught on CCTV? He is saying that now only when he learned that we was caught on camera.

I am aghast that his shock-value fans did not even ask him why he was running away with his tail between his legs. Yet they still shower him with praises with his “coming clean” alibi.

Anyway, If I were stupid, I would have believed him, too.

With that pending case of his in jeopardy again, he can be considered as a lawyer’s nightmare. So how to remedy it?

By pulling off another stunt, of course. And again, at the expense of the Catholic Church’s tolerance on forgiveness. So with a barrage of mediamen, Celdrán marched to the church he profaned a year ago, to attend Mass and go to confession for the first time in years.

To my knowledge, he is the only celebrity in the world who publicized in advance his Sacrament of Penance.

There’s your hero.

Let me reiterate: the Church is not involving itself in politics. To halt the creation of life —a very natural process— is not a political but a spiritual issue, something that is already metaphysical even. The Church is entrusted to protect the sanctity of life; the government has breached it. By proposing the RH Bill, the government has tread upon holy grounds, a terra incognita not understood by secularized minds in the government. In effect, the government has declared war against the Church. It was they, not the Church, who made the first volley of shots. CBCP or no CBCP, the Church was merely on the defensive end.

It is the government, not the Catholic Church, who is guilty of violating the separation of Church and State.

We do not need an RH bill. Celdrán, for instance, has been distributing condoms to squatter families in Intramuros for years yet he did not go to jail on orders from an “evil friar”. And just visit your nearest health center; it is almost rare not to spot posters promoting “family reproductive health”. Condoms, pills, ligation in hospitals, heck, they’re everywhere. Frenzy condoms even sponsor rock concerts. You see such products in newspapers and magazines. Even on TV. And that RH Bill has not even been passed yet.

RH Bill proponents claim that this bill is also meant to educate the people about reproductive issues. Come on. I still remember clearly that I first learned about pills, IUDs, condoms, and the like when I was in the sixth grade — and in a Catholic school!

We do not need the RH bill to fight poverty. This overpopulation myth and all that hot garbage are not the cause of our economic woes. As a historian, Celdrán should know better.

Think. Don’t merely grandstand.

Earth Hour 2011

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Earth Hour 2011: It’s time to go beyond the hour

At 8:30 PM on Saturday 26th March 2011, lights will switch off around the globe for Earth Hour and people will commit to actions that go beyond the hour.

With Earth Hour almost upon us, our thoughts are with the people of Japan during this incredibly challenging and sad time for their country.

Ash Wednesday essay

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Today is the start of this year’s Lenten Season…

ASH WEDNESDAY: TURN AWAY FROM SIN
Archbishop Socrates B. Villegas
(reposted from the Philippine Daily Inquirer)

MANILA, Philippines — The season of Lent is a preparatory period for the celebration of Easter. Easter is the central point around which revolves the message of Christianity. If Christ did not rise from the dead, our faith would be meaningless, irrelevant and purposeless.

We open the season of Lent today by putting ashes on our foreheads as the Church admonishes us, “Turn away from sin and believe the Gospel.”

Without God, nothing has value. Without God, we are nothing. With God, everything is beautiful. With God, everything is possible. God has become like us so that we may become like Him.

Who are you? Who are we? Who are we in relation to the material things we have? Who are you in relation to your possessions? Who are you in relation to the earth? Who are you in relation to other people? Who are you in relation to the times and seasons and years of your lives? Who are you in relation to your talents and your intelligence?

Are you an owner?

The owner says this money is mine. The owner says this land, this house, this car, this property is mine. The owner says I am free to use all my properties and possessions as I wish. The owner says I can enjoy what I have because I worked hard for them.
I have absolute rights over my body and over my properties. I can use my time however I wish. I can waste it. I can use it—my time is mine.

I have people I pay for serving me, they are mine. I can dismiss them. I can use them provided I pay them justly according to our contract. I am the boss. I am the owner. I do not need to account to anyone. I am the master of my life and I am the captain of the ship of my life.

But you are not an owner! You are only a steward.

Everything is grace

My time, my talents and my treasures were entrusted by God to me temporarily. The earth and its fullness belong to the Lord, says Psalm 24:1.

If what I have is God’s and not mine, therefore, I must use my material blessings according to the plan of God and not just according to my whim and pleasure and comfort.

The steward’s rights are not absolute. The steward will one day return what has been entrusted to him by the real Owner. Christ died for you. By your baptism, you have become a recipient of the life and love of Christ Himself.

The source of our stewardship is our baptism. When we were baptized, God entrusted to us the honor of being His children. “You belong no longer to yourselves. Remember at what price you have been bought and make your body serve the glory of God.” (I Cor 6:19).

Everything is grace. You have done nothing to merit being a child of God. None of us is self-made. When God created us, he looked at us and found us very good.

Life, time are borrowed
The ashes on our foreheads remind us of the temporariness of all things and all peoples. When we were born, we were born with a twin sister — Sister Death. Death is a sure part of the story of everyone born on earth.

Our life is borrowed. Our time is borrowed. At a time we do not know, we will return to ashes from where we came and God will judge us if we had been wise and faithful stewards or pretentious and self-serving owners.

Do not forget — you are not an owner. You are only a steward.

Jerry Acuzar and heritage conservation

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For the heritage conservationist, San Nicolás in Manila is a well of opportunities to tap into one’s worth as a cultural worker. It is because this fabled district is filled with decaying centuries-old Filipino houses that are yet to be saved by the government and other concerned sectors. It is but unfortunate that there has been no move yet to salvage these historical treasures from the deathly claws of urbanization and civil apathy. Around three years ago, me and my friends Arnaldo Arnáiz and Will Tolosa visited the place and took pictures of almost all the antique houses. One that stood out from among the rest was the so-called Casa Vizantina.

BEFORE: A picture that I took of a decrepit-looking Casa Vizantina when it was still in the corner of Calles Madrid and Peñarubia, San Nicolás, Manila in 2008.

AFTER: Casa Vizantina restored to its former glory by Jerry Acuzar when we visited it last year in its new home in Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar in Bagac, Bataán.

I am very familiar with Casa Vizantina’s façade. Whenever we go to my mom’s home in Tondo, we often pass by San Nicolás, right in front of this house. Throughout my growing-up years of traveling to and from Tondo, I do notice this house’s gradual deterioration. Year after year, the house turns more uninhabitable although several squatter families still live inside it.

It is interesting to note that the popular Casa Manila in nearby Intramuros was modeled after Casa Vizantina. This San Nicolás gem was built in the late 1800s by a certain Don Lorenzo del Rosario. During the First World War, the house was leased out to the Instituto de Manila (former president Manuel Roxas once studied there! today, the school proper is in Sampáloc district and is now known as the University of Manila). When all of Manila was being burned and bombed by the Japanese Imperial Army and the US WASPs, almost all of San Nicolás was miraculously spared. But what the war did not do to this once majestic arrabal the neo-poor did. Casa Vizantina, for instance, was leased out to “various tenants”. Little by little, the house was apparently abandoned by its original owners. Sadly, this once-upon-a-time palace became a castle of various squatter families —a “legacy” of US WASP governance— from the Visayas and elsewhere. Many other old houses in San Nicolás were being toppled down almost every year. And this alarming travesty continues to this day. It is very disheartening to hear that in every regime change, promises of a booming economy are continuously thrown at our faces. But we never hear anything from them about conserving our past treasures such as these San Nicolás houses that could even rival those in Taal, Batangas. The San Nicolás houses have a very big potential to attract tourists especially our Spanish, Latin American, and even Southeast Asian friends (remember that the bahay na bató is a perfect blend of Oriental and Occidental). Since the dawn of the internet, blogging, and Facebook, we have been seeing so many self-appointed heritage advocates clamoring for the conservation of various heritage sites throughout the country. But the government paid attention to other duties. And hardly do we find any philanthropical action dedicated towards the conservation of our past architectural masterpieces.

Enter Jerry Acuzar in the picture.

This self-made millionaire from Quiapò, Manila has been collecting heritage houses (bahay na bató) from all over the Philippines for several years already. As a young boy, he used to pass by Calle Hidalgo on his way to school. In his growing-up years, he witnessed how the beautiful Filipino ancestral homes found in the said street deteriorated. He then wondered why these houses were not being taken cared of by both the owners and the local government. Years later, he took it upon himself to save prominent but abandoned/semi-abandoned antique houses found all over the country. After buying them from their respective owners, Acuzar had these houses dismantled (his critics use the word “demolition”), had them transported to his seaside hacienda in Bagac, Bataán, and from there resurrected to how they originally looked like. Originally, Acuzar planned to make his Bataán property his own private getaway, but changed his mind. He then opened his 400-hectare seaside resort to the general public. The once private hacienda became known as Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar.

Casa Vizantina is one of the houses he was able to save from further humiliation, neglect, and possible destruction. It is now back to its former glory, albeit in a different site.

This herculean effort of Acuzar, however, received both praise and negative criticism from various sectors. Indignation against him reached its crescendo last year when the nation learned that he already bought and started dismantling the ancestral home of the national hero’s mother in Biñán, La Laguna. The dismantling was put to a halt when heritage conservation groups led by Dr. Rosauro “Bimbo” Sta. María of the United Artists for Cultural Conservation and Development, Inc. (UACCD) pressured the local government. As of this writing, the impasse between the City of Biñán and the UACCD vs Jerry Acuzar and Gerry Alberto has yet to be resolved. Over the past few months, my ambivalent stance towards the actions of Mr. Acuzar remains to be unresolved as well. Me and my wife had the opportunity to visit his estate late last year. Right after that visit, it dawned upon me that if it is possible to dismantle houses from their original locations, is it not possible to return them there as well? Shouldn’t we just consider Acuzar’s estate as a temporary haven for these houses, as a “safe-keeping” enclave where they will be maintained everyday until their local governments and/or original owners will be able to afford to take them back?

Various hispanistas and conservation heritage advocates such as popular travel blogger Ivan Henares and my Círculo Hispano-Filipino contertulios Gemma Cruz de Araneta and Dr. Fernando N. Ziálcita maintained that heritage structures should remain in situ. As Henares put it, “structures should remain where they are, preserved together with the environment they were built in”. But should these houses continue to remain where they are even if their very own environment starts neglecting them? That will no longer be heritage conservation.

Based on my observation (and experience), perhaps 99% of local governments all over our country do not have heritage conservation on the top of their to-do list. About a decade ago, I was working part-time for the now defunct Nueva Era newspaper which Señor Guillermo Gómez edited. It was the last Spanish-language newspaper in the Philippines. Me and Señor Gómez usually went around Metro Manila taking photos of all ancestral houses that our eyes could catch, for we feared that they will not remain standing in the next few years (before I joined the old man, he was already traveling around the country taking photos of various bahay na bató). We would then publish the photos in the said newspaper (those were the days before blogging, Facebook and Twitter ruled the universe). To our quixotic minds, since we are powerless to physically save those houses from being torn down, we were at least able to record historical memories for posterity’s sake. And browsing through past issues of Nueva Era, our fears proved to be true after all. We noticed that year after year, these Filipino houses continue to be demolished to give way to modernity. No worth at all is given for their historical value. Our patrimony was placed further into the darkest background. A bahay na bató was turned into nothing more but a mere bahay na bató that has no more place in modern times. It seemed as if nobody even cared to save these houses anymore.

But Acuzar is doing exactly that — saving Filipino structures from years and decades of neglect by having them transferred to his estate where they will remain taken cared of for good. Of course, the thought that he will earn money from it should be taken out of the question in the meantime. The fact remains that Acuzar will shell out money regularly to have these ancestral houses he had “snatched away” from neglect and ruin to be well-maintained and preserved for ages. Henares will definitely counter this. He wrote in his blog that the best solution is to educate the masses about the importance and worth of heritage structures found within their locality. I agree, or should agree. But is anybody doing this? With all due respect to Mr. Henares, has he or anybody else offered any concrete steps on how to do this? Who exactly should be responsible to educate the masses? And more importantly, who and how will this project be funded? And will this “education” immediately save the Alberto Mansion? Remember: around 20% of that structure was already dismantled last year. Only an official verdict is keeping it from being totally transported from Biñán to Bagac. Also, the owner, Gerry Alberto, needs no education on heritage; he is a highly educated man, and a distant relative of Rizal himself.

Henares also added that Acuzar should just build replicas in his hacienda instead. Still, building a replica of, say, the Alberto Mansion will not exactly save the Alberto House in Biñán. Gerry Alberto gave up on it already due to financial problems of maintaining it. If he hadn’t sold it to Acuzar, then he would have sold it to other people. And if that ever happened, perhaps a more terrible scenario could have occurred to the house itself. But in Acuzar’s hands, at least future generations will still be able to see it. And, as I have mentioned earlier, there is always the possibility of bringing the whole house back to Biñán once the Biñenses are truly ready to take care of it.

Going back to the Alberto House, what matters here now is how it should be conserved. And Acuzar was able to find a more viable solution. Before the Acuzar purchase, almost nobody ever gave a damn as to what this house is all about. But when the purchase and dismantling commenced, out came the “concerned” activists. Out came the “angry voices”. Out came Facebook pages trying to save the Alberto House. I guess what I hate about this hullaballoo is why do we have to wait for an Acuzar to enter the picture before we TRULY act? Now, it’s almost too late.

I would like to stress out that I am not against movements such as the UACCD. It’s just that their protestations came out a little too late. And although I am saddened by the thought that the spot where the Alberto house still stands might become vacant soon, I admit that I have now become somewhat soft against Acuzar’s ancestral-house purchases because to date only he has provided the most viable solution against the destruction of Filipino ancestral homes. Sometimes, unwanted methods had to be used for the sake of heritage conservation. Such are the methods of Acuzar. So let me make this clear once more: what I dislike about this heritage controversy is the apparent tardiness of Filipinos. They usually make noise only when the trouble has started to make serious damages.

I received some flak against members of the UACCD for my rather unfriendly remarks against their protest rally last year. One member even dared me on my sentiment about not writing anything about Biñán anymore. But let bygones be bygones. Right now, what is important is for all people concerned to save Doña Teodora Alonso’s ancestral house in situ. Besides, Dr. Sta. María himself revealed to me that he and his group has finally made some “strategic plan” to save the Alberto ancestral house. I have yet to interview him to know more about this. It is still worth a try. It might save not only the Alberto Mansion but also all ancestral homes in San Nicolás as well as those found all over the country.

But if this proves to be another failure, then let us all leave Jerry Acuzar alone.

Lastly, if P-Noy is really sincere in attaining everything good for our country’s sake, then may he be able to transfer the still existing military slush funds into saving the Alberto Mansión. With political will, he can do that in just a snap of a finger. Turn bad money into good.

Heritage conservation should not rest solely on non-governmental institutions such as the UACCD. It should be one of our government’s top priorities. Conserving our patrimony will help us map out our future because through it, we will be able to catch a glimpse of our future by reflecting on images of our beautiful past. And glimpses of our beautiful past are still within our midst.

Not everything is lost yet. Just look around; you might be able to see a bahay na bató “shimmering” alone on a street corner…

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