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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…

The great migrations

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Early this month, the National Geographic Channel launched the “Great Migrations“. It’s a “global television event” that featured a seven-part series about the “powerful stories of many of the planet’s species and their movements, while revealing new scientific insights with breathtaking high-definition clarity and emotional impact. The beauty of these stories is underscored by a new focus into these species’ fragile existence and their life-and-death quest for survival in an ever-changing world.”

This reminded me and Yeyette of a couple of photos that I took during one of my final days as a corporate slave. Yeyette fetched me that morning. We stayed for a while at my ex-company‘s pantry, twenty four storeys high. The glass windows had a wonderful view of Laguna de Bay (obstructed by some buildings), spectacular sunrises, and the busy City of Muntinlupà. One morning, while gazing at the lake and the city, I noticed something peculiar by the glass panels…

Spiders outside our building's glass panels! How could they survive this height (twenty four storeys from the ground)?

I didn’t know that there were spiders that could survive this height. Well, in the mountains, yes. But outside tall buildings such as Insular Life (it has more than 30 floors) exposed to the harsh elements? Wow. It really came as a surprise. One cold, smoggy morning, we even saw a praying mantis clinging on to the glass’s smooth surface! Sometimes, there are even moths.

But then I realized that these spiders, just like the rest of the animal kingdom, are losing their natural habitat faster than you can spell the words “Peter Parker picked a peck of pickled spiders”. Skyscrapers are not the natural habitat of these poor arachnids. But since they are losing their original homes (Alabang was heavily forested just a few decades ago), they have no other choice but to adapt to an ever-changing world. This reminded me of the first amphibians that were actually fishes to a certain extent. During the Devonian Period, these fishes were forced to migrate to dry land when much of the planet’s waters were drying up. In order to adapt, they evolved multi-jointed leg-like fins, enabling them to crawl on the ground underwater rather than swim. Later on, as the waters of the earth (particularly rivers and streams) were heating up and drying out, they learned how to crawl out of the water and breathe (this evolutionary process took thousands, or perhaps even millions, of years).

In modern times, there is the peculiar case of Britain’s peppered moth. It’s a white-colored moth with small black speckles. Over time, due to Britain’s industrial pollution, it was forced to evolve itself rather than die out: its white color became almost entirely black! Many scientists regard this as a classic example of Charles Darwin’s natural selection theory.

Could this be the case with these Alabang spiders? Perhaps. The nights and early mornings are cold, and when the sun rises, it’s sure torment for these web spinners. But somehow, they are able to adapt to their environment. Those who did not “choose” to die out gradually “accepted” change. So when the forests of Alabang gave way to the asphalt jungle, these spiders moved in with humans to their skyscrapers (yung ibá nga lang, nasa labás nacatirá). This change, however, is a kind of change that is not natural (like what had happened to those Devonian fishes) but is motivated by profit (Britain’s industrial smoke).

Pre-Magellanic/pre-Philippine cultures also adapted to a natural change, a change that is called by anthropologists as “cultural dissemination”. Thus, these numerous cultures belonging to various islanders “adapted” to a new kind of change instead of dying out. Besides, this change was positive as it enhanced their way of life. And that is the reason why we Filipinos still exist today. We pray inside churches. We eat using spoons and forks, plates and drinking glasses. We learned how to dress up like modern men (i.e., Europeans). We learned advanced concepts of time and space, of age and grace. We began to have a cultural swagger of our own, something distinct, something that we now call Filipino. This kind of change is acceptable.

However, when the minds of those men who we now consider as our heroes were engulfed with subversive and novel ideas such as liberté, égalité, et fraternité, a new change set in. Before, our nation was living in the realm of the supernatural, i.e., of spirituality, filled with love and hope. But when some of these heroes allowed themselves to become agents of change, a new era began of which unprecedented changes occurred. To the betterment of the Filipino? Look around you: you decide.

These agents of change brought about the downfall of spirituality. We now live in a consumer society, a society driven mad by profit. We Filipinos, as well as other nations whose sovereignty were grossly raped by the neocolonials, are like these poor spiders hanging on to dear life. These great migrations are also happening to cultures and nations.

Tía Isabel’s response to a hispanophobic “Asian”

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Arnaldo’s blogpost about my dad’s hometown received all sorts of commentaries. There was one comment that I just could not ignore: one coming from someone with a Japanese-sounding name. Actually, it’s not really his anti-Filipino/hispanophobic comment that made me stop and read: it’s the response that he got from Chile-based Filipina scholar, Elizabeth “Tía Isabel de Ilocos” Medina (also a distant relative of Arnaldo and a very good friend of our mentor, Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera).

The bone of contention? That Filipino culture is Asian. Is it? Read below to find out.

Dear Rijuku,

“Asian” is a misnomer, first of all. It’s a label invented by the West, based on geographical location and racial groupings. But the Japanese don’t consider themselves Asian. They are Japanese, period. And they consider themselves superior to the rest of the “Asians”. They consider that only the Germans follow them in superiority.

Human beings are social and historical beings. We are not racial beings. Race is just color of skin. It says nothing about the spirit and worldview. You see lots of Eastern Europeans with slanted eyes but they don’t consider themselves Chinese, Korean, Japanese or Eskimos or Mongols or Tibetans. The Indians of India are Aryans by race but they don’t consider themselves Germans or Europeans.

Filipinos are not the same as Indonesians, Koreans, Thais, Vietnamese, Cambodians, Indians, Malayans, Japanese, Singaporeans, even if we are all classified as “Asians”. We are all very different. Now, in terms of religion, a lot of these so-called Asians share religious practices like Buddhism and varieties of ancestor worship like Shintoism and others practice Islam which arrived in the “Asian” countries through the Arabian Peninsula and so forth.

The archipielago of St. Lazarus, as Magellan called our archipelago, was slowly being converted to Islam but the Spanish defeated the Muslim rulers of Maynilad and spread Catholicism to the Visayans and Luzonianos from the 16th to the 19th centuries, as well as in Mindanáo in the cities where they established colonial rule or in the outposts where they maintained forts.

Because of our Christianization, which was much more widespread than in China or Japan or in the neighboring countries colonized by the Dutch and the British, we developed a culture that was a mix of indigenous monotheism/ancestor worship/animism and Christianity — much like the mix that developed in all of the Spanish colonies of Mexico, Central and South America. So because of this, we Filipinos are much more similar in culture and belief system to the Hispanic American nations, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, than to our “Asian” neighbors. But even the Thais are very different from the Malayans and the Indonesians and the Vietnamese and the Cambodians and the Indians. You can’t put them in the same bag and just call them Asians.

It’s the Filipinos who have accepted this label because we became a North American colony, and our Hispanic Filipino culture and memory were destroyed.

We accepted that label “Southeast Asian” because we became totally subjugated by the U.S. Turned into psychological vassals. And we accepted the new self-image the U.S. imposed on us as The Little Brown Brother.

Are the Indonesians, the Indians, the Thais, the Malaysians the “Little Brown Brothers” of the U.S.? If as you say there is no difference between us “Asians” — realize how racist you are being, how dismissive of our uniqueness — then they should also consider themselves as such. But they don’t. They don’t consider themselves copies of each other. And they don’t read their history books in English like we do.

I won’t convince you of anything, but consider this: 100 years ago, your great-grandparents hated the idea of the Americans making the Philippines their colony. They did not want to stop reading, speaking and studying or teaching Spanish, to study, read, speak and write in ONLY in English.

But since you were born when — in the 1980s? — and there are no writings in your family of the rejection that your forefathers felt for all things American, and you were born in a Philippines that was already TOTALLY re-engineered to be a bad copy of the U.S., then you believe that you are merely “Asian”. That Filipinos are “Asians”. It means, basically, that Filipinos are nothing. Because what is “Asian”? It’s just a sociological term coined in U.S. universities, probably after 1900.

Regards,
Tia Isabel

P.S. A quote from my unpublished ms., Thru the Lens of Latin America: A Wide-Angle View of Philippine Colonial History:

Once implanted, a first colonizer culture, already fused or syncretized with the original local one (i.e., Spanish culture), will resist the advent of a subsequent colonizer culture (U.S. culture). However, with the passage of time, the new generations — who did not experience the moment of cultural transition and its accompanying resistance to a new transculturation (in other words, the [Hispanic Filipino] people’s resistance to adopting a new transplanted dominant [U.S.] culture, due to the inertia of the preceding cultural process) — will have no awareness that such a phenomenon ever occurred. They’ll simply assume that what is now there has always been there (North Americanized Filipino culture), and has always been universally embraced. The younger generations will accept the (North Americanized Filipino) culture they were born into, notwithstanding their parents’ or grandparents’ having once perceived it as invasive and alien, and perhaps even having sworn to resist assimilating it at all costs.

Without the Galleon Trade, there would have been NO Bahay Kubo

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♫ Bahay kubo, kahit munti
Ang halaman doon ay sari-sari.
Singkamas at talong, sigarilyas at mani
Sitaw, bataw, patani.
Kundol, patola, upo’t kalabasa
At saka mayroon pang labanos, mustasa,
sibuyas, kamatis, bawang at luya
sa paligid-ligid ay puro linga. ♪

Did you know that the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade (1565-1815) virtually introduced all these vegetables into Philippine soil?! Therefore, without the Galleon Trade, there would have been no ♫ bahay cubo, cahit muntî… ♪. And worse, our Filipino diet today would have been found severely wanting.

The above stunner is just but one of the Galleon Trade’s countless blessings to our country! And because of these blessings, the Philippines was created, was given life, was given identity. The Philippines was given POWER. It was at the very center of the world’s first foray into globalization.

“How can anybody bad-mouth a medium that brought us such bounty?” (Nick Joaquín)

¡FELIZ DÍA DEL GALEÓN!

After almost 200 hundred years, a galleon ship docked on our shores once again! Behind us is the galleon ship Andalucía which arrived at Pier 13, Port of Manila (10/06/2010).

Biography of Nick Joaquín (1917-2004)

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http://www.rmaf.org.ph/Awardees/Biography/BiographyJoaquinNic.htm

Nicomedes "Nick" Joaquín

This is the best biography of Nick that I’ve encountered so far…

The 1996 Ramón Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts

BIOGRAPHY of Nick Joaquín
Resil B. Mojares

He was the greatest Filipino writer of his generation. Over six decades and a half, he produced a body of work unmatched in richness and range by any of his contemporaries. Living a life wholly devoted to the craft of conjuring a world through words, he was the writer’s writer. In the passion with which he embraced his country’s manifold being, he was his people’s writer as well.

Nick Joaquín was born in the old district of Pacò in Manila, Philippines, on September 15, 1917, the feast day of Saint Nicomedes, a protomartyr of Rome, after whom he took his baptismal name. He was born to a home deeply Catholic, educated, and prosperous. His father, Leocadio Joaquín, was a person of some prominence. Leocadio was a procurador (attorney) in the Court of First Instance of Laguna, where he met and married his first wife, at the time of the Philippine Revolution. He shortly joined the insurrection, had the rank of colonel, and was wounded in action. When the hostilities ceased and the country came under American rule, he built a successful practice in law. Around 1906, after the death of his first wife, he married Salomé Márquez, Nick’s mother. A friend of General Emilio Aguinaldo, Leocadio was a popular lawyer in Manila and the Southern Tagalog provinces. He was unsuccessful however when he made a bid for a seat in the Philippine Assembly representing Laguna.

Nick Joaquín’s mother was a pretty, well-read woman of her time who had studied in a teacher-training institute during the Spanish period. Though still in her teens when the United States took possession of the Philippines, she was among the first to be trained by the Americans in English, a language she taught in a Manila public school before she left teaching after her marriage.

Leocadio and Salomé built a genteel, privileged home where Spanish was spoken, the family went to church regularly, had outings in the family’s huge European car (one of the first Renaults in the city), and the children were tutored in Spanish and piano. Salomé (“who sings beautiful melodies and writes with an exquisite hand,” recalls a family member) encouraged in her children an interest in the arts. There were ten children in the family, eight boys and two girls, with Nick as the fifth child. The Joaquín home on Herrán Street in Pacò was a large section of a two-story residential-commercial building —the first such building in Pacò— that Leocadio had built and from which the family drew a handsome income from rentals. In this home the young Nick had “an extremely happy childhood.”

Leocadio Joaquín, however, lost the family fortune in an investment in a pioneering oil exploration project somewhere in the Visayas in the late 1920s. The family had to move out of Herrán to a rented house in Pásay. Leocadio’s death not long after, when Nick was only around twelve years old, was a turning point in the life of the family.

Reticent about his private life, Nick Joaquín revealed little about his father. In the manner of fathers of his time, Leocadio must have been a presence both distant and dominant. He was already an accomplished man when Nick was born. One has a glimpse of him in the character of the proud Doctor Chávez in Joaquín’s short story “After the Picnic,” the father who lives by a strict patriarchal code and yet is all at once remote, vulnerable, and sympathetic. In an early poem, Joaquín vaguely alluded to what in his father was somehow beyond reach (“the patriot life and the failed politician buried with the first wife”). Yet he mourned the void his father’s death left: “One froze at the graveside in December’s cold, / childhood stashed with the bier. Oh, afterwards / was no time to be young, until one was old.”

The young Joaquín dropped out of school. He had attended Pacò Elementary School and had three years of secondary education in Mapa High School but was too intellectually restless to be confined in a classroom. Among other changes, he was unable to pursue the religious vocation that his strictly Catholic family had envisioned to be his future. Joaquín himself confessed that he always had the vocation for the religious life and would have entered a seminary if it were not for his father’s death.

After he left school, Joaquín worked as a mozo (boy apprentice) in a bakery in Pásay and then as a printer’s devil in the composing department of the Tribune, of the TVT (Tribune-Vanguardia-Taliba) publishing company, which had its offices on F. Torres Street in Manila’s Santa Cruz district. This got him started on what would be a lifelong association with the world of print.

Through this time he pursued a passion for reading. Sarah K. Joaquín, Nick’s sister-in-law, recounts that in his teens Nick had a “rabid and insane love for books.” He would hold a book with one hand and read while polishing with a coconut husk the floor with his feet. He would walk down a street, on an errand to buy the family’s meal, with a dinner pail in one hand and an open book in the other.

Both his parents had encouraged his interest in books. When he was around ten, his father got him a borrower’s card at the National Library (then in the basement of the Legislative Building in Luneta) and there he discovered Bambi and Heidi and the novels of Stevenson, Dumas, and Dickens (David Copperfield was his great favorite). He explored his father’s library and the bookstores of Carriedo in downtown Manila. He was voracious, reading practically everything that caught his fancy, from the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay and Vachel Lindsay to the stories of Anton Chekhov, to the novels of Dostoyevsky, D. H. Lawrence, and Willa Cather. He read American magazines (Saturday Evening Post, Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Magazine) and discovered the fiction of Booth Tarkington, Somerset Maugham, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway.

Joaquín’s choice of early readings was not exceptional. Joaquín and other writers of his generation who were schooled in the American era discovered Dostoyevsky and Hemingway before they did such Tagalog writers as Lope K. Santos and Rosauro Almario. Yet, it can be said that Joaquín never really lost his sense of where he was. He read Manila’s English-language newspapers and magazines for what Filipinos themselves were writing. (He had read the José Rizal novels in the Charles Derbyshire translation before he was thirteen, Joaquín said.) He always had a strong sense of place, a virtue that was to become a hallmark of his body of work. “When I started writing in the late 1930s,” he would recall many years later, “I was aware enough of my milieu to know that it was missing from our writing in English. The Manila I had been born into and had grown up in had yet to appear in our English fiction, although that fiction was mostly written in Manila and about Manila.”

His first short story dealt with the vaudeville of Manila, “The Sorrows of Vaudeville,” and was published in Sunday Tribune Magazine in 1937. (The editors changed its title to “Behind Tinsel and Grease.”) Earlier, in 1934, he published his first poem in English, a piece about Don Quixote. The story is told that when this poem appeared in the Tribune, Serafín Lanot, the Tribune’s poetry editor, liked the poem very much and went to congratulate the poet when he came to collect his fee, but the shy and elusive Joaquín ran away.

Very early, Joaquín was set on crafting his own voice. Writing in 1985 on his early years as a writer, he said that it appeared to him in the 1930s that both an American language and an American education had distanced Filipino writers in English from their immediate surroundings. “These young writers could only see what the American language saw.” It was “modern” to snub anything that wore the name of tradition and, for the boys and girls who trooped to the American-instituted schools, Philippine history began with Commodore Dewey and the Battle of Manila Bay. “The result was a fiction so strictly contemporary that both the authors and their characters seemed to be, as I put it once, ‘without grandfathers.’” He recalled: “I realize now that what impelled me to start writing was a desire to bring in the perspective, to bring in the grandfathers, to manifest roots.”

This was Nick Joaquín recalling in 1985 what it was like in the 1930s. Back then, the young Joaquín was just beginning to find his way into a literary life. He was gaining notice as a promising writer, publishing between 1934 and 1941 a few stories and over a dozen poems in the Herald Mid-Week Magazine and the Sunday Tribune Magazine. The literary scene was vibrant in the Commonwealth years, as writers and critics debated the role and direction of Philippine writing and formed feuding groups such as the Philippine Writers League and the Veronicans. Joaquín stood at the periphery of this scene. He probably had little time to be too reflective. He was already trying to fend for himself while quite young. He was also growing into a world that was marching toward the cataclysm of a world war.

The period of the Japanese occupation was a difficult time for the Joaquíns who, at this time, had moved from Pásay to a house on Arlegui Street in the historic San Miguel district of Manila, where Malacañang Palace is located. Like other residents in the enemy-occupied city, Joaquín scavenged for work to help support the family. The Japanese had closed down the Tribune and other publications at the onset of the occupation. Joaquín worked as a port stevedore, factory watchman, rig driver, road worker, and buy-and-sell salesman. Seeing corpses on the street, working for a wage in rice, demeaned by fear and poverty, Joaquín detested the war. He later said in an interview that the experience of the war so drained both his body and spirit that when it was over, he was filled with the desire to leave the country and go somewhere far. He dreamed of pursuing a religious vocation by going to a monastery in Spain or somewhere in Europe, “somewhere where you could clean up.”

Through the war years, he continued writing when and where he could. He finished “The Woman Who Felt Like Lazarus,” a story about an aging vaudeville star, and the essay “La Naval de Manila.” Both appeared in the wartime English-language journal Philippine Review in 1943. A monthly published by the Manila Sinbun-sya and edited by Vicente Albano Pacis and Francisco Icasiano, the Review also published Joaquín’s story “It Was Later Than We Thought” (1943) and his translation of Rizal’s Mi Ultimo Adios (1944). Readers were beginning to take notice. He cultivated a persona inaccessible and mysterious. When he was asked to fill up a biographical form for the Review, he simply wrote down: “25 years old, salesman.”

“La Naval de Manila” tells of a Manila religious celebration built on the tradition that the Blessed Virgin had miraculously intervened in the Spanish victory over a Dutch invasion fleet in 1646. Already it sets forth a major theme Joaquín would develop in the years ahead: that the Filipino nation was formed in the matrix of Spanish colonialism and that it was important for Filipinos to appreciate their Spanish past. He wrote: “The content of our national destiny is ours to create, but the basic form, the temper, the physiognomy, Spain created for us.” The article triggered an angry response in a subsequent issue of the Review from Federico Mañgahas, then a leading intellectual, who testily inquired why the Review was “building up” this young writer who would have readers believe that precolonial Philippine society was just a primeval “drift of totem-and-taboo tribes” and that Catholic saints can be the country’s unifying national symbols. Joaquín declined to reply but he had raised an issue that would continue to be debated after the war.

After the Americans liberated Manila in February–April 1945, Joaquín worked as a stage manager for his sister-in-law’s acting troupe and dreamed of getting away. In the meantime, he continued writing and publishing. He obviously did not sleepwalk through the years of the war but was writing out stories in his head. In heady years right after the war, he published in rapid succession such stories as “Summer Solstice,” “May Day Eve,” and “Guardia de Honor.” These stories have become Nick Joaquín’s signature stories and classics in Philippine writing in English.

The opportunity to leave the country came in 1947 when he was accepted as a novice at Saint Albert’s College, a Dominican monastery in Hong Kong. The story is told that the Dominicans in Manila were so impressed by his “La Naval de Manila” that they offered him a scholarship to Saint Albert’s and had the Dominican-run University of Santo Tomás award him an honorary Associate in Arts certificate so he would qualify. His stay at Saint Albert’s schooled him in Latin and the classics. He enjoyed the pleasant diversions of the scenic port city and the occasional company of his brother Porfirio (Ping) who was in Hong Kong on a stint as a jazz musician. It seemed, however, that he was too restless for life in a monastery. He stayed less than two years and returned to Manila.

Back in the Philippines in 1950, he joined the country’s leading magazine, Philippines Free Press, working as a proofreader, copywriter, and then member of the staff. At this time, Free Press was so widely circulated across the country and so dominant a medium for political reportage and creative writing, it was called “the Bible of the Filipinos.” Practically all middle-class homes in the country had a copy of the magazine.

Joaquín’s Free Press years established him as a leading public figure in Philippine letters. In its pages appeared the stories and essays that made him known to a wide national audience. The publication of Prose and Poems (1952), a collection of short stories, poems, a novella, and a play, cemented his reputation as an original voice in Philippine literature. He mined a lode of local experience that no one had quite dealt with in the way he did. He summoned ancient rites and legends, evoked a Filipino Christianity at once mystical and profane, and dramatized generational conflicts in a modern society that had not quite come to terms with its past. His was a vision that ranged through a large expanse of history in an English so full-bodied and a style sensuous and sure.

In 1955, his first play, A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino: An Elegy in Three Scenes, was premiered on stage at the Aurora Gardens in Intramuros, Manila, by the Barangay Theater Guild. He had written the play sometime around 1950 upon the urgings of Sarah Joaquín, who was active in Manila’s theater circles. Though it had been published in Weekly Women’s Magazine and Prose and Poems in 1952 and had been aired on radio, the play was not staged until 1955. It proved to be an immense success. It was made into an English-language movie by the highly respected Filipino filmmaker Lamberto V. Avellana in 1965, translated into Tagalog, adapted in other forms, and staged hundreds of times. No Filipino play in English has been as popular.

Using the flashback device of a narrator who recalls the sad fate of a prewar family as he stands in the ruins of postwar Manila, the play sets itself not only in the divide of war but that of past and present in Philippine society. Tracing the disintegration of an old and proud family in the transition from past to present, Nick Joaquín explored what had been abiding themes in his writing across the years.

He did not see the premiere of the play since, in 1955, Joaquín left the country on a Rockefeller Foundation creative writing fellowship. The prestigious award took him to Spain, the United States, and (with a Eugene F. Saxton Fellowship from the publishers of Harper’s Magazine) Mexico. In this sojourn, which lasted more than two years, he worked on his first novel, The Woman Who Had Two Navels (1961), a short and early version of which had appeared in Prose and Poems. The Woman Who Had Two Navels is a many-layered and less-than-perfect novel that teases out universal antinomies of truth and falsehood, illusion and reality, past and present, and locates them in the context of the Filipino search for identity. Though Joaquín had been criticized for a romantic “nostalgia for the past,” this novel and his other works, including Portrait, showed that he looked at the past always with the consciousness of the need for engaging the present world in its own terms.

Joaquín enjoyed his travels. He traveled all over Spain, lived in Madrid and Mallorca, visited France, stayed a year in Manhattan, went on an American cross-country trip on a Greyhound bus, crossed the border to Laredo, and had fun exploring Mexico. Spain and Mexico fascinated him (“my kind of country,” he says). He would, in the years that followed, take trips to Cuba, Japan, China, Taiwan, and Australia. Yet he was clearly in his element in his homeland and in Manila, the city that has been his imagination’s favorite haunt.

From the time he rejoined Free Press in 1957 until he left it in 1970 (during which time he rose to be the magazine’s literary editor and associate editor), Joaquin was as prominent in his persona as Quijano de Manila (a pseudonym he adopted for his journalistic writings when he joined the Free Press in 1950) as he was the creative artist Nick Joaquín. He churned out an average of fifty feature articles a year during this period. He wrote with eloquence and verve on the most democratic range of subjects, from the arts and popular culture to history and current politics. He was a widely read chronicler of the times, original and provocative in his insights and energetic and compassionate in his embrace of local realities.

One of his contemporaries remarked: “Nick Joaquín the journalist has brought to the craft the sensibility and style of the literary artist, the perceptions of an astute student of the Filipino psyche, and the integrity and idealism of the man of conscience, and the result has been a class of journalism that is dramatic, insightful, memorable, and eminently readable.”

He raised journalistic reportage to an art form. In his crime stories—for example, “The House on Zapote Street” (1961) and “The Boy Who Wanted to Become Society’” (1961)—he deployed his narrative skills in producing gripping psychological thrillers rich in scene, incident, and character. More important, he turned what would otherwise be ordinary crime reports (e.g., a crime of passion in an unremarkable Makati suburban home or the poor boy who gets caught up in a teenage gang war) into priceless vignettes of Philippine social history.

As Free Press literary editor, he virtually presided over the country’s literary scene. Free Press was the standard in Philippine writing in English because of its wide circulation and Joaquín’s editorship. Its weekly publication of short stories and poems was avidly followed. Joaquin was generous in encouraging young writers and exerted an influence on writers not only in English but in the Philippine languages. In a Filipino generation that had seen outstanding fictionists (N. V. M. González, F. Sionil José, and others), he was fondly spoken of as primus inter pares.

Since he joined the Free Press, he had been a full-time writer. The only other “job” he took was an appointment to the Board of Censors for Motion Pictures, from 1961 to 1972, under both presidents Diosdado Macapagal and Ferdinand Marcos. He took the post because, in large part, he loved the movies and practically did no cutting or banning of films, believing in the intelligence and good sense of moviegoers. He described this stint: “I was non-censoring.”

Philippine society was going through a period of deepening social crisis. The high hopes engendered during the popular rule of Ramón Magsaysay began to dissipate after Magsaysay’s death in 1957, as corruption, factional politics, and economic crisis buffeted the administrations of presidents Carlos García, Diosdado Macapagal, and Ferdinand Marcos. The Vietnam War politicized the Filipino intelligentsia, the economy floundered, a new Communist Party was established in 1969, and a new wave of militant nationalism swept through such institutions as universities and the media.

In the highly charged days leading up to the declaration of martial law on September 21, 1972, Joaquin maintained his independence as an autonomous voice in Philippine media. He wrote articles that were current, stayed close to the events, and were deeply fired by liberal sentiments. In a time polarized by ideological conflict, he continued to speak in his own voice and not in those of others. This independence had always been a signal virtue of his writing career.

In the 1930s, when he started writing, he was already a writer apart. At a time when the United States was viewed as “the very measure of all goodness,” and “history” and “civilization” in the Philippines seemed to have begun with the advent of America, Joaquin invoked a deeper past. At a time when to be contemporary was to be “secular,” Joaquín evoked the country’s Christian tradition. At a time when “proletarian literature” was the “correct” line for young writers to follow, Joaquín was the skeptic who felt it was one more instance of local literary hierarchs’ “parroting the Americans, among whom ‘proletarian’ was then the latest buzzword.” He wrote: “I can see now that my start as a writer was a swimming against the current, a going against the grain.”

He had always been a writer engaged but apart. Part of the explanation resided in his character. Engaged in a public profession, with a very public name, he was a very private person. His reclusive character was formed early. In a rare, affectionate piece his sister-in-law Sarah Joaquín wrote about him in Philippine Review in 1943, she spoke of the young Nick as a modest and unassuming young man who was ill at ease with public praise and shied away from being interviewed or photographed (“he hadn’t had any taken for fifteen years”). Even then he lived his days according to certain well-loved rites. He loved going out on long walks (“a tall, thin fellow, a little slouched, walking in Intramuros, almost always hurriedly”), simply dressed, shoes worn out from a great deal of walking (which helped him cogitate), observing the street life of the city, making the rounds of churches. “He is the most religious fellow I know,” Sarah wrote. “Except when his work interferes, he receives Holy Communion everyday.” He was generous with friends and devoted to the family with whom, even in his teens, he shared what little money he earned.

A person of habit, he scribbled about himself many decades ago:

I have no hobbies, no degrees; belong to no party, club, or association;
and I like long walks; any kind of guinataan; Dickens and Booth Tarking-
ton; the old Garbo pictures; anything with Fred Astaire… the
Opus Dei

according to the Dominican rite… Jimmy Durante and Cole Porter tunes…
the Marx brothers; the
Brothers Karamazov; Carmen Miranda; Paul’s
Epistles and Mark’s; Piedmont cigarettes… my mother’s cooking…
playing tres-siete; praying the Rosary and the Officium Parvum… I don’t
like fish, sports, and having to dress up.

Though he cut the image of one gregarious with his loud, booming voice; his love for San Miguel beer (a product that turned him into an icon for Filipino beer drinkers); and his joy in belting out Cole Porter and Frank Sinatra songs in intimate gatherings in his favorite Manila cafés, he stuck close to the company of a few friends and hated making formal appearances in public. He grudgingly gave interviews and revealed such scant detail about his personal life that there are many gaps and contradictions in his published biographies. He was not above making mischief on unwitting interviewers by inventing stories about himself. He refused to give the exact date of his birth (May 4 and September 15 in 1917 have been cited) because, he said, he hated having people come around to celebrate his birthday.

He had zealously carved out private space in his home where he wrote reams in longhand or on a typewriter. Though he gave strangers the impression of someone careless and even dissolute, Joaquín was a very disciplined writer. He woke up early to read the newspapers, took breakfast, and, from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon, retired to his library on the second floor of his house where no one was allowed to disturb him. In his clean and spare study, with books on shelves lining the walls and, in the center, a chair and a table with a manual typewriter, Nick did his work. From 1:00 to 3:00 p.m., he took a siesta and, often, his second bath of the day, and then from around 4:00 p.m. onward, he was out of the house to go to the editorial office or explore his favorite haunts in Manila.

The turbulent days of political activism, as the 1960s came to a close, did not leave this very private person unaffected. In 1970, he joined a labor union organized by the workers of Free Press and agreed to be its president. This was the first union to be organized in the sixty-two-year-old publishing company that was widely regarded as a beacon of libertarian ideas. Organized at a time when Manila was seething with civil unrest, the appearance of the union sparked a bitter fight in the company. When management cracked down on the union, Joaquín resigned. With Free Press editor-writers Gregorio C. Brillantes and José F. Lacaba, artist Danilo Dalena, and close to thirty personnel of the administrative and printing departments, Joaquín launched the weekly Asia-Philippines Leader in 1971 and served as its editor-in-chief. In the pages of the magazine he wrote a regular column, “This Week’s Jottings,” where he continued his trenchant commentaries on the Philippine scene.

Martial law closed down Philippine media, including Free Press and Asia-Philippines Leader. The Marcos government subsequently allowed the publication of a few favored periodicals controlled by the Marcoses and their cronies. Joaquín refused to contribute. Among many intellectuals, silence became a form of protest. Joaquín’s irrepressible pen, however, could not be stilled. “I was never silent during martial law,” Joaquín declared in an interview in 1980. “I’ve never been silent.” He continued to write, worked independently, and contributed to both the underground and aboveground alternative press, the small newspapers and news sheets that came to be referred to as the “mosquito press” during the martial-law period.

Ironically, there was probably no other time when there was as much publishing of Joaquín writings as in the 1970s. These publications showcased his boundless creativity and versatility. In 1977, the National Book Store started issuing popular compilations of his Free Press human-interest features and crime stories (Reportage on Lovers, Reportage on Crime) as well as articles on local icons of popular culture (Nora Aunor and Other Profiles, Ronnie Poe and Other Silhouettes, Amalia Fuentes and Other Etchings, Doveglion and Other Cameos, Gloria Díaz and Other Delineations, Joseph Estrada and Other Sketches). Such was his readership that, between 1979 and 1983, more collections of his journalistic articles were issued: Reportage on the Marcoses, Reportage on Politics, Language of the Street and Other Essays, and Manila: Sin City and Other Chronicles. A selection of his speeches and articles appeared in Discourses of the Devil’s Advocate and Other Controversies (1983). It is not disingenuous to say that such burst of publishing may have been fueled by a certain nostalgia for the colorful, rough-and-tumble years before martial law imposed an order of repression and dull conformism.

Mr. & Ms. Publishing published Nick Joaquín’s Almanac for Manileños (1979), a coffee-table book that turns the form of the old almanac into “a weather chart, a sanctoral, a zodiac guide, and a mini-encyclopedia on the world of the Manileño.” Almanac is a romp for a writer whose knowledge of the country’s capital city —from churches to brothels, politicians and criminals, fashions high and low, past and present— has not been matched by anyone. In 1978–1979, the same publisher also commissioned Joaquin’s children’s stories and modernized fairy tales and put them out as independent titles as well as in an anthology, Pop Stories for Groovy Kids. Some of these stories also appeared in a volume entitled Joaquinesquerie: Myth á la Mod (1983). He had been asked to write just one story in the beginning, but he so enjoyed doing it that more followed (“it’s like eating peanuts”). That this writer of metaphysical thrillers also had a deft hand writing for young readers is shown in his essays on Manila for young Manileños, Manila, My Manila (1990), and his retelling of the biography of José Rizal, Rizal in Saga: A Life for Student Fans (1996).

He translated Spanish works into English, something he had done intermittently for years. His most important in this field was The Complete Poems and Plays of José Rizal (1976). Nick also returned to theater. He adapted the stories “Three Generations” and “Summer Solstice” as the plays Fathers and Sons (1977) and Tatarín (1978), respectively. In 1976, he wrote The Beatas, the story of a seventeenth-century Filipino beguinage, a religious community of lay women, repressed by a male-dominated, colonial order. The subversive message of the play, in the particular context of martial rule, lent itself to a staging in Tagalog translation in the highly political campus of the University of the Philippines in 1978. These plays later appeared in the volume, Tropical Baroque: Four Manileño Theatricals, published in Manila in 1979 and in Australia in 1982.

In 1972, the University of Queensland Press in Australia published a new edition of his fiction under the title, Tropical Gothic. An important feature of this edition was the inclusion of three novellas that originally appeared in Free Press, “Cándido’s Apocalypse,” “Doña Jerónima,” and “The Order of Melkizedek.” These novellas are powerful, historically resonant narratives that probably best represent the inventiveness and depth of Joaquín as fictionist. They are among the most outstanding pieces of Philippine fiction that have been written.

He went back to writing poetry, something he had not done since 1965. El Camino Real and Other Rimes appeared in 1983 and Collected Verse, the author’s choice of thirty-three poems, was published in 1987. Ranging from light verse to long narrative pieces, these poems —robust, confident, expansive, elegant— are markers in the development of Philippine poetry. They demonstrate, says the poet-critic Gémino H. Abad, a level of achievement in which the Filipino is no longer writing in English but has indeed “wrought from English, having as it were colonized that language.”

That the Filipino writer wrote in English was a virtue that seemed self-evident when Joaquin started his career in the 1930s. English was the language of government, the schools, and the leading publications. It was, for young Filipinos, the language of modernity and the future. In the late 1960s, however, the use of the English language in such fields as education, literature, and publishing came under serious question as a Marxist-inspired nationalism sought to establish a radical, popular basis for the national culture. Those who wrote in English either switched languages or felt called upon to defend their use of a foreign tongue. Arguing out of his favorite thesis that the Filipino is enriched by his creative appropriation of new technologies, Joaquin extolled the fresh values of temper and sensibility that English had brought into the national literature. As for his own writings, Joaquin’s response to the issue was more blunt: “Whether it is in Tagalog or English, because I am Filipino, every single line I write is in Filipino.” In a more jocular vein, he had written about how the local milieu was irrevocably present in his works: “I tell my readers that the best compliment they can pay me is to say that they smell adobo and lechón when they read me. I was smelling adobo and lechon when I wrote me.”

In 1976, Nick Joaquín was named National Artist of the Philippines in the field of literature, the highest recognition given by the state for an artist in the country. Conferred in Manila on March 27, 1976, the award praised his works as “beacons in the racial landscape” and the author for his “rare excellence and significant contribution to literature.”

Joaquín had reservations about accepting an award conceived by the Marcos government as part of First Lady Imelda Marcos’s high-profile program of arts promotion in the country, but he decided to accept it on the advice of family and friends. He also felt the award would give him leverage to ask Malacañang Palace to release from prison José F. Lacaba, a close friend of his and one of the country’s best writers, who was imprisoned for his involvement in the anti-Marcos resistance. Lacaba was released in 1976.

Joaquín kept his distance from power, studiously resisting invitations to attend state functions in Malacañang Palace. At a ceremony on Mount Makiling, Laguna, attended by Mrs. Marcos, who had built on the fabled mountain site a National Arts Center, Joaquín delivered a speech in which he provocatively spoke of freedom and the artist. He was never again invited to address formal cultural occasions for the rest of the Marcos regime. He was too unpredictable to suit the pious pretensions of the martial-law government.

The fact that government had conferred on him the honor of National Artist did not prevent him from criticizing government. In 1982, he put himself at the forefront of a public demonstration to protest government’s closure of the oppositionist newspaper We Forum and the arrest and detention of its publisher and editors. The newspaper had just published a series of articles exposing Ferdinand Marcos’s fake war medals.

The street appearance was not characteristic of the man. It was in the field of writing that he engaged power. Joaquin was the provocateur who delighted in debunking what was politically and intellectually fashionable. One such “fashion” was the interest in the “ethnic” and “indigenous” during the Marcos era. A legitimate expression of post-Vietnam Filipino nationalism, the return to the “native” was appropriated by state nationalism during the martial-law period. In the attempt to clothe with legitimacy Marcos’s “experiment” in Philippine-style democracy (and authoritarianism) and blunt both the insurgent opposition to his rule and Western criticism of human-rights violations, the Marcos government appealed to “nationalism” based on an indigenous and Asian heritage. In the intellectual field, this found expression in many intersecting ways: the glorification of barangay democracy; the promotion of Tagalog as the national language and the downgrading of English writing; the “Filipinization” of scholarly disciplines; the romancing of the 1971 discovery of the allegedly Stone-Age Tasadays; and the state-sponsored Tadhanà project started in 1975, in which a group of Filipino historians wrote a “new history” of the Philippines under the name of Ferdinand Marcos.

Addressing this trend, Nick Joaquín wrote articles attacking nativism and the glorification of the indigenous and the ethnic. Describing the Filipino as a “work in progress” whose national identity is the dynamic product of the various cultural influences in his history (in particular, he stresses, the Spanish-Christian experience), he debunked the idea of a “pure” native culture and lamented the denigration of Western influence. A vigorous polemicist, he taunted the “new” nationalists with statements such as “Asia, before 1521, was conspicuous by its absence in Philippine culture” or “Those who want Philippine culture to be what it was 400 years ago are afflicted with the Dorian Gray illusion: the illusion that innocence can be frozen or that a personality can be kept from showing the effects on it of time, space, nature, society, the outside world.”

The terrain had changed but Joaquín was fighting a battle he had started to wage as early as the 1930s. Then he was reacting to an intellectual establishment that, infatuated with America, wanted to wean itself from the past much too quickly. Now he was responding to leaders and intellectuals who, desiring to break away from the West, were invoking a golden past he felt was not there. In the years of the Japanese occupation, he was writing against the grain when he wrote the seminal essay “La Naval de Manila.” Then he was responding (whether deliberately or not) to the trend, encouraged by the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere,” for Filipinos to return to their “Asian” and “Malayan” roots. Now, in the 1970s, he was interrogating the scapegoating of the West and the romancing of “Asianness.”

Polemical rather than academic, he simplified the terms of the debate, drew dividing lines much too sharply, and couched arguments in hyperbolic terms. He was impatient with the either/or rhetoric of indigenists and nationalists. “Why isn’t it enough to be just Filipino?” Quoting James Joyce, he declared of his own work: “This country and this people shaped me; I shall express myself as I am.” He was, as always, the writer apart but passionately engaged.

In A Question of Heroes: Essays in Criticism on Ten Key Figures of Philippine History (1977) and Culture and History: Occasional Notes on the Process of Philippine Becoming (1988), he showed himself an insightful historian and vigorous cultural critic. Addressing a general public rather than specialists, he said that it was his aim to “open up fresh viewpoints on the national process” by asking “those pesky questions which, though they seem so obvious, have somehow never been asked about our history and culture.”

In Question of Heroes, a series of articles on Filipino heroes that first appeared in the Free Press in the 1960s, he demystified the heroes associated with the birth of the nation in the late nineteenth century. He humanized them, thickened their lives with sharp and telling detail, and situated them in the living context of their times. The result was not just a critical reevaluation of historical figures but a coherent picture of a nation in formation. Culture and History offered a more varied fare of fifteen essays that developed Joaquin’s ideas on what he called “the process of Filipino becoming.” Underlying these ideas was an evolutionary and optimistic confidence in the Filipino capacity to invent himself out of the constraints and opportunities of his historical experience. Attacking the syndrome of shame over the colonial past and guilt over being “neither East nor West,” Joaquín celebrated hybridity. Attacking nativism and other forms of exclusionism, he said (quoting Oswald Spengler), “Historic is that which is, or has been, effective,” and he gloried in what the Filipino has and will become.

There are conceptual gaps in Joaquín’s view of Philippine history. He tended to be too dismissive of precolonial culture (even as it figured in his own fiction), overstressed the transformative role of technology, and was perhaps too apologetic of the Spanish and Christian influence in Philippine culture. There was no denying, however, the intelligent passion with which he embraced his people’s culture and history. Few in his time played as effective a role in the public discourse on the national culture.

The shaking loose of the structure of the martial-law regime after the assassination of Benigno Aquino Jr. in 1983, and the eventual collapse of the regime in the “People Power Revolution” of 1986, saw Nick Joaquín right in the public stream as the country’s premier chronicler of current history. A book that he started writing before martial law was declared in 1972, The Aquinos of Tarlac: An Essay on History as Three Generations, appeared in 1983. His chronicle of the People Power Revolution, The Quartet of the Tiger Moon, was published in 1986.

Twenty-two years after The Woman Who Had Two Navels, Joaquín came out with his second novel, Cave and Shadows (1983). He jokingly remarked at its appearance: “Now, I’ll be known as the man who has two novels.” Fervid and dense, Cave and Shadows was Joaquín’s “objective correlative” to the Crisis of ’72. Set in Manila in the steamy month of August 1972, just before the declaration of martial law, the novel weaves a plot around the discovery of a woman’s naked body in a cave in the suburbs of Manila. The search for answers to the mystery of the woman’s death becomes a metaphysical thriller in which past and present collide and reality is unhinged as a social order breaks down in division and revolution.

A deep fount of creative energy, Joaquín was a much sought-after biographer. From 1979 to 2000, he authored more than a dozen book-length biographies of prominent Filipinos, from artists and educators to business people and politicians. These include the biographies of diplomat Carlos Rómulo, senators Manuel Manahan and Salvador Laurel, technocrat Rafaél Salas, businessmen Jaime Ongpín and D. M. Guevara, artist Leonor Orosa Goquingco, educator Nicanor Reyes, civic leader Estefania Aldaba-Lim, and Jaime Cardinal Sin. He also wrote local and institutional histories—such as San Miguel de Manila: Memoirs of a Regal Parish (1990) and Hers, This Grove: The Story of Philippine Women’s University (1996)—and authored or edited diverse other volumes.

He was criticized for “writing too much,” producing commissioned biographies of uneven quality, and forsaking creative writing for journalism. While his Aquinos of Tarlac was a masterful interweaving of the life of a family and that of a nation, May Langit Din Ang Mahirap (1998), his biography of former Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, seemed like a hurried, paste-up job. While his talent could be quite profligate, there was no mistaking the genuineness of his appetite for local life and drive to convert this to memorable form.

Nick Joaquín’s stature in his country is demonstrated by the numerous prizes he received for his literary and journalistic writings. His contributions to Philippine culture were acknowledged by the City of Manila with an Araw ng Maynila Award (1963), a Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan Award (1964), and a Diwa ng Lahi Award (1979). The national government conferred on him its highest cultural honors, the Republic Cultural Heritage Award (1961) and the title of National Artist of the Philippines (1976).

In 1996, he received the Ramón Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature, and Creative Communication Arts, the highest honor for a writer in Asia. The citation honored him for “exploring the mysteries of the Filipino body and soul in sixty inspired years as a writer.” Accepting the award on August 31, 1996, Joaquin did not look back on past achievements but relished the moment, saying that indeed the good wine has been reserved for last and “the best is yet to be.” This from a man who was about to turn eighty when he received the award.

In his 1996 Ramón Magsaysay Award lecture, Joaquín addressed what, he said, had troubled his critics as his “Jekyll/Hyde” personality as journalist and litterateur. He had never been the hothouse artist, he declared, and had always felt there was no subject not worthy of his attention. The practice of journalism nourished his populist sympathies. “Journalism trained me never, never to feel superior to whatever I was reporting, and always, always to respect an assignment, whether it was a basketball game, or a political campaign, or a fashion show, or a murder case, or a movie-star interview.” Journalism exercised his powers of storytelling. “Good reportage is telling it as it is but at the same time telling it new, telling it surprising, telling it significant.”

Though he largely played his life and career “by ear,” Joaquín relished how he had moved in the right directions. On the one hand, he could trace himself back to the times when Plato and Cervantes or the Arabian Nights and the Letters of Saint Paul were all “literature” and there were no fine distinctions as to which mode of writing was belle and not belle enough. On the other hand, he had foreshadowed current trends that had broken down the generic boundaries of fiction and nonfiction or “journalism” and “literature.”

With the mischievous glee of one who enjoyed what he was doing, he said that such Joaquín reportage as “House on Zapote Street” and “The Boy Who Wanted to Become ‘Society’” antedated the American “New Journalism” that writers such as Norman Mailer, Truman Capote, and Gore Vidal made famous. Moreover, the fiction that he wrote—from “May Day Eve” and “The Mass of St. Sylvester” to “Doña Jerónima” and “Cándido’s Apocalypse”—bodied forth “magic realism” long before the Latin American novelists made it fashionable.

While Nick Joaquín wrote in English, was published abroad, and had some of his works translated into foreign languages, he did not quite receive the high attention he deserved outside the Philippines. This was something probably of no great moment to Joaquín himself. He was firmly rooted in place and in active dialogue with his Filipino audience. This speaking to and about his people had always framed his writing life. Though he spoke from a specific location—writing in English out of Manila (he had not lived for any significant amount of time outside the capital)—his voice carried far among Filipinos.

In the Philippines, Nick Joaquín was a keeper of tradition and a maker of memory. He grew up in what he called an “Age of Innocence” in Philippine history, an era when Filipinos, seduced by the promise of America and modernity, distanced themselves from their Spanish colonial past and slipped into a kind of amnesia. He saw—having grown up in a home where his father told stories about the revolution and his mother encouraged a love for Spanish poetry—that it was his calling “to bring in the perspective, to bring in the grandfathers, to manifest roots.” In his writings, he traced a landscape haunted by the past—pagan rites in the shadows of the Christian church, legends of a woman in the cave, strange prophets roaming the countryside, grandfathers who seem like ghosts who have strayed into the present. He conjured a society stranded in the present and not quite whole because it had not come to terms with its past.

The problem of identity was central in Joaquín’s works. In an impressive body of literary, historical, and journalistic writings, Joaquín was a significant participant in the public discourse on “Filipino identity.” What marked the positions he took was his refusal of easy orthodoxies. An outsider to government, the political parties, and the universities, he kept his space to be an independent thinker on the issues confronting the nation. From the 1930s to until his death, he was consistent in his role as the critic of what passed for the politically “correct” of the day. In this manner, he opened up spaces for the Filipino to imagine himself in novel ways and act on this basis.

Nick Joaquín lived through eight decades of Philippine history and witnessed the slow, uneven, and often violent transformation of the nation—the American idyll of the prewar years, the violence and degradation of an enemy occupation, the Communist insurgency and the hard choices it confronted the Filipino with, the dark years of martial rule, the waxing and waning of hopes for a better nation. It is history that tempts many with despair. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Nick Joaquín, the writer, was that his was always the voice of a deep, inclusive, and compassionate optimism in the Filipino.

He had always—as Joaquín himself would say, quoting one of his favorite literary lines—raged, raged against the dying of the light. This was true not only of what he had written but how he had lived his life. When many of his contemporaries had long faded into the background, Joaquín continued to speak of his craft with the verve of a young writer. Well into his eighties, with close to sixty book titles to his name, he was working on more. He also continued to practice journalism. He wrote the regular columns “Small Beer” and “Jottings” for the Philippine Daily Inquirer and the Sunday Inquirer Magazine from 1988 to 1990; served as editor of Philippine Graphic magazine and publisher of its sister publication, Mirror Weekly, in 1990; and continued to contribute to various publications until his final days. When asked once if he ever intended to retire, Joaquín was said to have responded, with typical mischief, “I’m not retiring and I’m not resigned.”

NICK Joaquín lived in the city and country of his affections and continued to write until his death in April 2004 at the age of eighty-six.

*******

Culled from the Ramón Magsaysay Award Foundation website.

On the term “pre-Hispanic Philippines”

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When we say “pre-Hispanic” or “pre-Spanish”, it pertains to a period in a particular nation’s history that was not yet colonized by Spain. In the phrase “pre-Hispanic Philippines”, pre-Hispanic is the adjective while Philippines is the proper noun. Looking into the term more closely, the adjective pre-Hispanic is composed of two words: the prefix “pre” (meaning “before”) and the adjective “Hispanic” which relates to, is characteristic of, or is derived from Spain (or Spanish-speaking nations).

In scholarly circles and (most especially) history classes, the term pre-Hispanic Philippines is a by-word. It ascribes to the period either before 16 March 1521 (the coming of Fernando Magallanes) or 27 April 1565 (the coming of Miguel López de Legazpi).

In both dates, historians contend that prior to the advent of the Spaniards, we already have our own culture, our own civilization. They speak as if we were already a nation, as if the concept of the term Filipino was already in existence. That is not even half-truth but a total falsity. The nominative plural pronoun “we” is used here in a rather anachronistic sense. This is because before the coming of the West, there was no Philippines nor Filipinos to speak of. The concept of the Filipino Identity had not yet been perceived (by Philippines we mean the country which we know and speak of today, i.e., all the political and geographical attributes that are comprised of by the Luzón, Visayas, and Mindanáo regions). What the Spaniards found or discovered in this part of the world which we speak of right now was but a multitude of islands whose inhabitants had been in perpetual war against each other (or either that, had been distrustful of one another). In short, there was no Philippines yet to speak of.

A bigoted nationalism

The trouble with the term pre-Hispanic or pre-Spanish is that it is commonly used by hispanophobic nationalist purists to forward their claims of a mythical and blissful past that was halted and stunted by Spain. The coming here of the West they keep on negating as not Filipino at all, thus the need to come up with such terms as pre-Hispanic and pre-Spanish to describe what they claim as a time when our nation was not yet “invaded” and ruled by a “foreign” nation.

But then, if the Tagalogs, Pampangueños, etc. all migrated here from neighboring Malay islands (using ancient boats called barangáy or balañgáy), then aren’t they considered foreigners, too? It is because this archipelago we speak of is not their native soil anymore if they are from other lands. In this case, the definition of the term “foreign” fades into oblivion. But that is another story.

When the Spaniards arrived in this part of the world, they forged the myriad of islands which they discovered into one, single, and compact nation. Thus, it is also safe to assume that their incumbency here, including everything else they disseminated into our culture (as astutely observed by Arnaldo Arnáiz), ceased to be Spanish but Filipino. Take, for example, the stately architecture of the bahay na bató. Misled nationalists claim that it is merely a Spanish-style house or —worse— a colonial house, but it is not. Although it has influences from Western architecture, it is rudely incorrect to deny that it is not a product of Filipino architecture. Cultural anthropologist Fernando Z. Ziálcita, a fellow member of the Círculo Hispano-Filipino, pointed out that it is first important to distinguish between two types of nationalist discourses in order to appreciate (and eventually realize) Filipino architecture: dialectical and reductionist. Applying his observations (based on undisputable analogies from various cultures), it is best, if not imperative, that we utilize a dialectical approach in studying Philippine history in order to comprehend the nature of our identity.

Thus, when Spain brought here, say, the cuchara and tenedor, they ceased to become anything Spanish but Filipino. When the Spaniards brought here the cooking technique called the guisado, it ceased to become Spanish; it became Filipino. Even Christianity was Filipinized. And so were the Spaniards who were born here — the insulares or creoles, although purely Iberian, were naturally more loyal to their patria chica (Philippines) compared to their patria grande (Spain). In short, although still Spaniards (albeit being born here), they ceased to become Spaniards but Filipinos. And that is why they are called —and should be regarded as— the First Filipinos.

This could go on and on.

In the words of José Miguel García, what Spain bequeathed to us has become part of our so-called “national developmental code”:

Can we exist as a nation without having been born acquiring a unique identity? Could we as a nation have been born without having been conceived? Could we as a nation have been conceived without having parents undergoing through a process of developmental intercourse? There are the Iberians, the natives of a group of islands now known as Filipinas, the North Americans, the Chinese, and the Japanese. Who among these entities could have engaged in a developmental intercourse that resulted to our conception and, finally, birth as a nation as Filipinas? If based on information, we have come to know WHO we really are; if based on information, we have come to know that WHO we really are has been lost; if based on information we know that WHO we really are is our inheritance as part of our national developmental code; then it is our birth right to recover it. But based on information, where can we find our inheritance?

Obviously not from our bleak and dark “pre-Hispanic past”.

Pre-Philippine, not pre-Hispanic

Here then lies the predicament surrounding the term pre-Hispanic Philippines.

If we delete the prefix “pre” from “pre-Hispanic”, what will remain solely is the adjective Hispanic (Hispanic Philippines). But, using Professor Ziálcita’s dialectical approach towards Philippine History as an analogy, there should be no such thing as Hispanic Philippines. It is but incorrect to impose the adjective Hispanic to a nation that had just been born. Although it is true that Spain created our country, upon inception it was not Hispanic anymore but simply Philippine.

Therefore, it is high time we get rid of the term pre-Hispanic Philippines from our historical vocabulary. It should be replaced with the more correct term PRE-PHILIPPINE whenever we refer to events before 1565 or 1521, an obscure era when we were still but a scattered group of heathen islands.

And may we all stop degrading ourselves by looking for a past that was never there.

Tabuco (Cabuyao, La Laguna)

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After our Santa Rosa Easter Sunday walk, Krystal and I proceeded to nearby Cabuyao town.

A handsome bahay na bató across Saint Polycarp Church's south transept.

A long time ago, the northern part of La Laguna province was once a very huge town. It used to comprise what are now known as San Pedro, Biñán, Santa Rosa, Cabuyao, Rizal’s beloved Calambâ, and perhaps areas of today’s Santo Tomás town in Batangas province. This large lakeshore town was then known as Tabuco (usually spelled as Tabuko).

Like in many parts of the pre-Philippine era, Tabuco was then inhabited by people who originated from Malay nations. When Manila was possessed by Miguel López de Legazpi in 1570, he sent his grandson, Juan de Salcedo, to explore these parts of La Laguna de Bay. But the first indio settlement conquered by capitán de Salcedo was the lake’s eastern portion known today as Taytay and Caintâ in the province of Morong (now Rizal province). Afterwards, he and his men crossed the lake and Acherón at Barrio Pinagsañgahán (now known as Pagsanján, La Laguna). They continued inland and conquered the nearby settlements of Nagcarlán and Majayjay, also in La Laguna.

Since the place was already mountainous, the party of de Salcedo went back to the Lake of Bay (or Ba-í) and continued to conquer the lakeshore’s northern settlements. Later on, they anchored along the shores of Tabuco. Just like the settlement of Bay, the Spaniards discovered that Tabuco had large plains and thick forests. Among them who were knowledgeable with agriculture agreed that Tabuco’s climate was also suitable to farm crops.

On 16 January 1571, Miguel López de Legaspi converted Tabuco into an encomienda or a town under the helm of Gaspar Ramírez. The barrios of Malabanan (Biñán), Santa Rosa, and other territories was placed under the administration of the Tabuco government. The boundary to the north was: San Pedro Tunasán (which was also a part of Tabuco; it is now simply known as San Pedro; Tunasán is now a mere barrio or barangáy of Ciudad de Muntinlupà); to the south was the town of Bay (a stone’s throw away from Los Baños); west was Suñgay (now divided into two barrios of Ciudad de Tagaytay, Cavite: Suñgay del Norte and Suñgay del Sur), and; to the east was the Lake of Bay (or Laguna de Bay).

A couple of years later, the barrios which made up Tabuco became independent from the local central government. Barrio San Pedro (my current residence), for instance, became a separate town on 18 January 1725. Biñán, Santa Rosa, etc. followed suit. All that is left of that local government is what we now know as the Municipality of Cabuyao, the town that is sandwiched by the cities of Santa Rosa and Calambâ.

Up to 1997, the people of Cabuyao celebrated 16 January as their town’s feast day. But former Santo Sepulcro (in Landayan, San Pedro) parish priest Monsignor Jerry Bitoon changed it to 23 February which is the feast day of Saint Polycarp.

Inside a jeepney, on our way to Cabuyao from Santa Rosa (04/04/2010).

A Nestlé Philippines plant along Mahárlica Highway is one of Cabuyao's industrial engines. A dear uncle of mine was a top-ranking manager here before he transferred to Malaysia.

National Road/Mahárlica Highway.

True Brown Style!

When Tabuco was transformed into an encomienda, The Order of Missionaries of the Augustinian Recollects arrived. This is, of course, due to the fact that the receiver of the grant (which, in this case, was Ramírez) had the responsibility to protect the indios from warring tribes (and from warring against each other), to teach them the Spanish language, and to Christianize them. A little later, the Augustinian Recollects handed Tabuco over to the Franciscans.

Like most towns, Cabuyao also has its share of legends as to how its name originated. It is said that when the Franciscans arrived by boat, they saw women washing clothes along the lakeshore. They asked these women the name of the place. Due to language barriers, the ladies thought that the friars were asking for the name of the fruit extract that they were then using to wash their clothes. These fruits were from the nearby cabuyao (or cabullao) trees. And so these unknowing ladies replied “cabuyao” to the friars. Another similar version says that the women thought that the friars were asking for the names of the trees growing around the wharf where they first docked.

In compliance to Spain’s Christianization mission, the friars started building a stone church for the indios in the second half of the 1700s. It was actually the second church to be built since the first one was destroyed by floods and strong waves. The church was finally finished some time in 1771. It was dedicated to Saint Polycarp — bishop, martyr, and titular head of the Catholic Church in Asia.

Thankfully, the church has retained its original feature throughout the years. It is also famous for having the controversial secular priest Father Mariano Gómez of the GómBurZa as its parish priest from 1848 to 1862. Together with the town’s alcalde, José Deasanta Rivera, Fr. Gómez built a cemetery in front of the church on the right side of the tribunal. Eerily, this site is now the home of the Monastery of Saint Clare.

During the American era, The Church of Saint Polycarp was witness to the town’s single bloody event in its history: the Sakdalista attack of 1935. The Sakdalista was an anti-American movement founded by Senate employee Benigno Ramos (the same man who, together with Artemio Ricarte, organized the infamous MAkabayan KAtipunan Ñg Mg̃a PILIpino or Alliance of Philippine Patriots, more popularly known in its abbreviated form MAKAPILI). When Ramos’s opposition to the Tydings-McDuffie Law failed (because he demanded for the Philippines’ absolute independence from imperialist US), his 20,000-strong group attacked 14 towns in various provinces. One of the ill-fated towns was Cabuyao, La Laguna. Today, one can still see bullet marks within the vicinity of the church.

Crossing a road to get to Cabuyao's parish church.

Iglesia de San Policarpo de Esmirna.

Behind the calachuchì.

Shrouded by an acacia tree.

St. Polycarp, the martyred Christian bishop of Smyrna (in parts that is now covered by the Republic of Turkey).

Liceo de Cabuyao, located within the vicinity of the Church of Saint Polycarp.

The church's nave is not that long.

The simple yet appealing altarpiece.

Cupola.

The good news on Easter Sunday (04/04/2010).

A painting of Saint Polycarp being martyred (somebody get rid of that wall clock, hahaha!).

A chapel dedicated to the Saint Polycarp, located inside the church's north transept.

The church's old bell, dating back to the Spanish times. No longer in use due to a crack, it is now on display outside the church. I wasn't able to figure out if it was made by Hilarión Sunico of San Nicolás, Manila because the bell was protected by a steel fence.

At the choirloft.

Church tower.

Krystal just loves church towers!

A wall painting at the choirloft, probably of a saint. I asked the choirmaster who she is, but he didn't know.

A holy water stoup with Spanish inscription.

Krystal with the young choir.

The choirmaster did not allow us to go further up the church tower.

The entrance to the Monastery of Saint Clare fronts the church and the town plaza.

A wide chapel within the monastery grounds.

The town plaza is in front of the monastery and beside the town church.

It's tocayo again.

Only a handful of Antillean houses or bahay na bató is left here in Cabuyao. Fortunately, they are well taken care of by the owners.

Nestlé break. A show of support for Uncle Amador Alas y Évora who helped my family dearly many years ago. =)

I had a hard time taking a picture of this house, whether near...

...or far.

Commercial boon/bane.

Like the UnionBank branch in Santa Rosa whose photo I took, this bahay na bató is now known as Rose Pharmacy.

Going home.

I just love taking pictures of roads (especially the smooth ones) while inside vehicles!

It is sad to note that Cabuyao has somehow lost its touch of rural charm, something that the Philippines is known for, and something which still sparks our generation’s childhood delights and memories. The curse of cityhood is slowly creeping into the municipality. Gone are the large farmlands and thick forests, and its share of the lake is not fit anymore for swimming nor frolic like it used to be in the glory old days of Spanish Philippines. But the unchanging Church of Saint Polycarp and the few remaining bahay na bató still stand as living testaments to this town’s hispanic past.

Biñán is in the heart (Biñán, La Laguna)

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Indians brought their game-cocks to be admired, but we did not encourage the display of their warlike virtues. There was much firing of guns, and a pyrotechnic display when the sun had gone down, and a large fire balloon, bearing the inscription, “The people of Biñán to their illustrious visitors,” was successfully inflated, and soaring aloft, was lost sight of in the distance, but was expected to tell the tale of our arrival to the Magidenne in Manila Bay. Biñán is a place of some importance. In it many rich mestizos and Indians dwell. It has more than 10,000 inhabitants. Large estates there are possessed by the Dominican friars, and the principal of them was among our earliest visitors. There, as elsewhere, the principalia, having conducted us to our headquarters, came in a body to present their respects, the gobernadorcillo, who usually speaks Spanish, being the organ of the rest. Inquiries about the locality, thanks for the honours done us, were the commonplaces of our intercourse, but the natives were always pleased when ” the strangers from afar” seemed to take an interest in their concerns. Nowhere did we see any marks of poverty; nowhere was there any crowding, or rudeness, or annoyance, in any shape. Actors and spectators seemed equally pleased; in fact, our presence only gave them another holiday, making but a small addition to their regular and appointed festivals. Biñán is divided by a river, and is about a mile from the Laguna. Its streets are of considerable width, and the neighbouring roads excellent. Generally the houses have gardens attached to them; some on a large scale. They are abundant in fruits of great variety. Rice is largely cultivated, as the river with its confluents affords ample means of irrigation. The lands are usually rented from the Dominicans, and the large extent of some of the properties assists economical cultivation. Until the lands are brought into productiveness, little rent is demanded, and when they become productive the friars have the reputation of being liberal landlords and allowing their tenants to reap large profits. It is said they are satisfied with one-tenth of the gross produce. A tenant is seldom disturbed in possession if his rent be regularly paid. Much land is held by associations or companies known by the title of ‘Casamahanes.’ There is an active trade between Biñán and Manila. -Sir John Bowring-

My son Jefe looking at the busy Biñán town plaza during his third birthday a few months ago (01/13/2010). The Alberto Mansion is obscured --nay, VANDALIZED-- by colossal political campaign ads. Will Jefe and his siblings ever see this house again?

“When’s your next travel to Biñán, man?”

This Arnaldo guy never fails to tease me in this manner whenever he urges me to travel. It’s because he has traveled to many parts of the country: Luzón, the Visayan islands, and Mindanáo. My record is a measly one compared to his — I’ve only traveled mostly in and around the La Laguna provinces, and most of those travels were in Biñán.

What’s with Biñán, anyway? =)

I dunno. But Biñán is in the heart. It reminds my wife Yeyette of its public market’s bargain prices, and of Barrio Canlalay’s garden plants and flowers for sale, and of course, the famous puto biñán. For me, it reminds me of its rich history and culture when the Philippines was still an overseas Spanish province. It reminds me of the town’s sector de mestizos filled with grand Antillean houses or bahay na bató, of the incorruptible Santa Filomena de Almarínez, and of the Rizal connection. And the best part of it is that it is just beside our current home, San Pedro Tunasán, the sampaguita capital of the Philippines.

All of my visits in that municipio-turned-city were mostly unplanned, such as the first one in 2004. Napagcátuwaan lang naming mag-asawa. That is when I first saw the Alberto ancestral house. I fell in love with it immediately. That is why it is devastating and heartrending to hear about this historic house’s impending doom. Its sale to controversial businessman Jerry Acuzar created quite a stir within cultural and historical circles.

The townhall of the then Municipality of Biñán. I recently learned that by virtue of last year's Republic Act 9740, this historic municipio is now a city. But its cityhood does not even manifest in itself.

Somewhere along this river, Rizal used to swim and frolic during his youth. He even almost drowned here when a naughty cousin of his pushed him on its deeper parts. Sometimes, I wonder what would he feel if he sees this river again in its polluted state. To the people of Biñán: congratulate yourselves for a job well done!

Another old house almost as big as the Alberto's. It stands across the Alberto Mansion at the town/city plaza. Soon, it will be another casualty of cultural and historical ignorance, and I will not even be surprised when that happens.

It is as if a heavenly light that rainy afternoon (11/04/2009) was bidding the Alberto Mansion to come up to the heavens.

THE SAGA OF THE ALBERTO ALONSO ANCESTRAL HOUSE

From where I sit, the status of Teodora Alonso’s ancestral home remains unclear: will it continue staying where it has been standing for centuries or not? The last time I heard, the sale of the Alberto Mansion to Mr. Acuzar will still push through despite the valiant efforts of Dr. Rosauro “Bimbo” Sta. María and the United Artists for Cultural Conservation and Development, City of Biñán, Inc. (UACCD), to save it from being dismantled (“demolished” is what they call it) and transported to the businessman’s Bataán resort. In his Facebook account, the good doctor seemed to confirm that the good fight is indeed over; he wrote an emotional letter to the members of the UACCD, and its title: PAALAM BAHAY ALBERTO!. A part of that letter read:

To keep the Alberto House in situ would mean at least ₱150,000,000 to buy the property, restore, and maintain it for the next five years. Adaptive reuse can be in the form of a museum, but will take time for it to become self-liquidating. Neither the City nor the National Government have this enough money for a single purpose.

Finis es?

*******

Whether or not this house is related to national hero José Rizal is beside the point. It has been part and parcel of Biñán for hundreds of years, alongside other historic Antillean houses. Moreover, this same house was visited by a famous foreign dignitary at that time: Sir John Bowring (1792-1872), the fourth Governor of Hong Kong. In his A Visit to the Philippine Islands, he wrote the following about the Alberto Mansion:

The roads are generally good on the borders of the Laguna, and we reached Biñán before sunset, the Indians having in the main street formed themselves in procession as we passed along. Flags, branches of flowering forest trees, and other devices, were displayed. First we passed between files of youths,then of maidens; and through a triumphal arch we reached the handsome dwelling of a rich mestizo, whom we found decorated with a Spanish order, which had been granted to his father before him. He spoke English, having been educated at Calcutta, and his house —a very large one— gave abundant evidence that he had not studied in vain the arts of domestic civilization. The furniture, the beds, the tables, the cookery, were all in good taste, and the obvious sincerity of the kind reception added to its agreeableness. Great crowds were gathered together in the square which fronts the house of Don José Alberto.

Inside the patio of the controversial Alberto residence. This is the house's zaguán where the Alberto's carromatas and horse-drawn carriages were kept. It now serves as a decrepit bodega.

At the patio.

What was once a beautiful garden is now an untidy heap of woebogone structures.

The patio stairway from another angle.

The stone escalera from the patio leading towards where the azotea and cocina are.

There are actually two zaguanes in the Alberto patio. The zaguán, in a way, is today's equivalent of a car garage.

The empty side of this house was burned several years ago in a fire accident. The other side has since been converted to a grocery store. I wonder: if Jerry Acuzar successfully acquires the Alberto Mansion, how would he figure out the way this house looked like in its original state when he rebuilds it in his Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar?

An odd, unaesthetic mix of old and new: centuries-old stone blocks with modern concrete masonry units (or hollow blocks).

An intricate arch which survived the centuries. Will it continue surviving?

The main entrance is not through this door but at the stairway to the left.

Cápiz shells were often used as squared window panes in wooden ventana panels. This is a usual trademark of a genuine bahay na bató.

I forgot who this lady in the portrait was, but Arnaldo still remembers that she's none other than José Alberto's allegedly adulterous wife. It was said that she was the cause of Teodora Alonso's arrest and imprisonment.

The spacious caída.

The now messy balcón overlooking the town plaza.

The door yonder (behind the staircase) leads to the main part of the house which eventually burned a couple of years ago. What was saved has been converted to Gerry Alberto's small office.

A glimpse of the Biñán's public market.

¡Totoy na totoy!

Arnaldo sitting in front of José Alberto's portrait. Notice the Orden de Isabel la Católica hanging on Alberto's chest.

A view of the now cemented patio from the antesala.

Techo (ceiling).

Only a few remaining Antillean houses / bahay na bató today sport a red-tiled rooftop.

Sunlight entering a doomed house. Or is it really doomed? Heaven forbid such a travesty to happen...

The same stairway which John Bowring ascended.

Then as now, great crowds still gather together in the square which fronts this house. The only difference is that today, this throng is composed mostly of uncaring, nonchalant, and uncultured individuals. And many of them are local government officials.

As I’ve written early this month, Arnaldo and I had the opportunity to meet Gerardo “Gerry” Alberto last 11/04/2009, a direct descendant of José Alberto, an uncle of the national hero. He confirmed to us that indeed he was selling the house to a businessman. He even handed out to me a photocopied document of an email conversation between a relative of his (one of his nieces, if memory serves right) and Ambeth Ocampo regarding the impending sale of the house to Acuzar, back then an unknown person to me. Unfortunately, that paper is still missing in my library, and I’ve completely forgotten what exactly the conversation was all about.

Arnaldo and I were troubled to hear about Gerry’s plan. Too bad we did not have any right at all to convince him to change his mind. In a recent TV interview, he was correct when he said that his ancestral house is private property — it is his property. He’s paid his (real estate) taxes religiously. Thus, he can do anything he wants with it: desecrate it, enshrine it, turn it into a casino, a gay bar, a school, a private zoo, a museum, sell it, anything that pleases him. And all cultural groups and “concerned” politicians can kiss his Fil-hispanic tuckus.

But Arnaldo and I know something that many Biñenses do not know: if only Gerry had the money to maintain the house of his ancestors, he would have kept it. End of story. Furthermore, he told us that he once asked some monetary assistance from the then Municipality of Biñán, but nothing came out of it. But of course, local governments did not have any money to shell out just to help maintain the house.

So what’s all the fuss these past few weeks among local government officials of Biñán as well as other concerned groups? All of a sudden, we see them on national TV and in dailies, protesting what many of them imply to be Gerry’s historical crime against their city? But where were they when Gerry needed their help?

¿Palagui na lang báng ganitó ang mga Filipino? Abá, cumiquilos lang tayo capág hulí ná ang lahát. Qué divertido.

It should be noted that Gerry no longer lives in that house but somewhere else in Metro Manila (again, that decision of his is none of our business). Of what use should it be whenever he shells out money to maintain a house that technically no longer serves him? The guy’s just being practical. In today’s deprived economic milieu, where inflation never stops harassing even the monetary giants of the world, no person in his right mind would continue financing an already abandoned and deteriorating house. Gerry may have lots of money, but he’s not wealthy (to use financial adviser Francisco Colayco’s context). Put yourselves in his shoes, dear readers.

Do not be mistaken, though. I do not intend to be his apologist. During my many visits to his ancestral house, I met Gerry only once. We’re not friends. I am just trying to make a rational point out of all this brouhaha. The point is, none of this debacle would have happened if everybody acted much earlier.

When news broke out that the house’s dismantling had already started, and that protests against it commenced, I let out a silent, sickening chuckle filled with resentment and loathing towards the people of Biñán. Why why why is it that there is no end to this kind of stupidity…?

So, when I saw the pitiful state of the house again more than a month after killer typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng unleashed their fury all over the capital and its surrounding environs, deep down inside –MUCH TO MY MOST BITTERREGRET–, I thought it was best to take care of the house elsewhere where it will be safe…

Arnaldo and I revisited Biñán together last 11/04/2009, nearly two months after Typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng wreaked havoc in Luzón.

Dirty, unkempt, deprived of care, but still standing proudly across the ages...

Entrance to the patio.

Arnaldo with Gerry Alberto, a great grandson of José Alberto, Rizal's uncle.

Parts of the house haven't dried up yet due to the recent killer typhoons.

The cápiz shells in the window panels were rapidly deteriorating.

Rainwater seeped into the house. The interiors are no longer safe for future typhoons.

A view of the town plaza (including the San Isidro Labrador Church at the left) from the Alberto house.

Everytime I see this portrait of José Alberto, it gets worse. It was slightly damaged by rainwater caused by Typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng.

Don Zoilo Alberto and his bride (Gerry's parents). Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera had the chance to meet him many years ago. He described Don Alberto as a true Filipino of the old school. Even this portrait was damaged by typhoon rains.

Downstairs.

Un arcoiris -- ¿habrá una esperanza para este caserón histórico?

Gerry Alberto, moi, et Arnaldo Arnáiz.

RIZAL’S SCHOOL

Here’s another reason why I deplore Biñenses: the sad fate of Rizal’s school

Historically, Biñán is best known as the place where Rizal had his primary education under maestro Justiniano Cruz y Aquino.

Take a look at the hut now where Rizal spent some of his school days in Biñán. When my family visited this place in 2004, it was already fragile but still standing. We even had the opportunity to go inside. Why did Biñenses allow this to happen?

I first visited this nipa hut school in 2004. It was situated inside the huge garden of, if I remember right, the Jacobo Gonzales ancestral house (which is along Calle Gonzales, the area which was called sector de mestizos during Spanish times). Thanks to my wife’s insistence, we were allowed entry but never really got to talk with the owner. We were with Krystal and Momay (they were just two back then). We were so fortunate to have entered the premises because a few years later, When Typhoon Milenyo attacked the Philippines, maestro Justiniano Cruz’s school was to become but a stack of woods. Too bad we did not have any camera during that unplanned visit.

The hut was already on the brink of ruin when I first saw it. I was able to talk to the caretaker. He said that many people –tourists, students (mostly from UP), and conservationists– have visited the place. They took not only photos but videos of the place. Some even promised monetary assistance to help maintain it. But nothing came out of those promises.

Typhoon Milenyo gave it a deathly blow in 2006. Nobody ever cared about the school anymore. Not even historical conservationists. Not even the incredible local government.

A SEPULCHRAL DISCOVERY

Walking towards the national road on our way home from the Alberto Mansion (during our 11/04/2009 visit), we came across a queer discovery: a 19th-century structure that is either a chapel or a mausoleum…

We just chanced upon this old structure on our way home. I am still not sure if it's a chapel or a mausoleum. Around this structure is a small cemetery.

This chapel (or mausoleum) has been standing here since 1853!

And then, we saw these…

We inadvertently found the tombs of Gerry's parents!

A tomb in Spanish, housing the remains of a certain Macario Marco, possibly a family member of Gerry Alberto's mother.

Hours earlier, as I was browsing over boxes containing old stuff from the Alberto past, I came across a passport owned by a certain Pilar Alberto (Gerry’s mom?). And then hours later, we saw her tomb. Weird/creepy coincidence? Arnaldo kidded that perhaps the souls of the Alberto’s of yore were sending us a message to help them preserve their house.

For all we know…

NUESTRA SEÑORA DE LA PAZ Y BUENVIAJE

Here is another Biñense blunder: the total renovation of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage Parish Church located in Barrio de la Paz. It’s now altered beyond recognition. For what? Because it looked old?

An undated old photo of the Nuestra Señora de la Paz y Buenviaje chapel, possibly taken either during the last years of the Spanish era or during the early years of the American invasion of the Philippines.

Right after the unnecessary facelift, taken several years ago (courtesy of BJ Borja).

Unknown to many, this is the old chapel where Rizal used to frequent. It was heavily renovated and modernized, much to a historian's chagrin. This should have never happened, because changing the whole feature of any historic or heritage site is tantamount to desecration. It should have just been maintained and well taken care of. Again, why did Biñenses allow this architectural desecration to happen?

The retablo.

An image of La Virgen de la Inmaculada Concepción, the patron saint of the Philippines.

The image of the Nuestra Señora de la Paz y Buenviaje (Our Lady of Peace and Good/Safe Voyage). Although the chapel --now a parish church-- was heavily renovated, the parish priest we spoke with when this photo was taken (03/28/2008) said that this image is still the original.

A close-up of the image.

For posterity! =)

This chapel –now a church– was one of Rizal’s favorite places in Biñán. In his diary, he wrote that during his last days in Biñán, he usually walked from his place to this church (a chapel back then) to pray most of the time. Why bypass the town church (San Isidro Labrador) which was nearer to where he stayed in Biñán? Why walk several meters just to pray to that faraway chapel? We surmise that this holy place had a special affinity to Rizal’s heart because his mother, Teodora Alberto Alonso, was a devotee of Nuestra Señora de la Paz y Buenviaje in Antipolo, Morong (now called Rizal province). It should be remembered that a young Rizal once traveled to that church in Antipolo with his dad in order to fulfill his mom’s promise when he was still in her womb. And during his homesick days in Biñán, he somehow felt at home in this chapel which is the namesake of that other historic church in Antipolo which was also close to Doña Teodora Alonso’s religious heart and soul.

Today, not even a historical marker can be found in this equally historic site. And worse, if Rizal were to be transported to our era on a time machine, he would have been horrified by the altered unaesthetic look of one of his favorite haunts as a child.

IGLESIA DE SAN ISIDRO LABRADOR

Iglesia de San Isidro Labrador, Población, Ciudad de Biñán, La Laguna.

All photos of this church were taken last 11/04/2009

The church's Eucharistic Adoration Chapel.

May God forgive me, but somehow this triangular symbol gives me an eerie feeling that it is somewhat... Masonic...

The handsome altarpiece.

Among the donors of this church, we've already personally met two: Adelaida Yatco (a friend of another friend, Mayor Calixto Catáquiz of nearby San Pedro Tunasán) and Gerry Alberto.

MY FINAL VISIT TO BIÑÁN

The following photos were taken during my son Jefe’s third birthday (we did not bring Juanito because he was still an infant):

Jefe's third birthday in Jollibee, Biñán.

My family enters the mansion -- for one last time...

Ascent through time...

Time space warp!!!

¡Mi mujer linda!

My family within the eerie shadows of the Alberto house's foreboding doom...

The first time I visited this place with my family was a Sunday. And I still had only two kids. We were not able to go inside because it is open only on weekdays. Jefe’s birthday was a Monday, thus we were able to come in; Gerry was not available that time, but his secretaries still recognized me.

I happily toured my family inside. Most of the furniture were kept inside one of the big rooms; it appeared that preparations were all underway for an imminent demolition (some of the tambays downstairs and even the secretaries did confirm that). I explained to Yeyette and Krystal that it could be the last time that we’d be able to relish this piece of history in Biñán. It saddened us all.

*******

What can we learn about all of this?

Arnaldo couldn’t have put it more perfectly on his blog when he reacted to what had happened to Rizal’s school:

Here in Biñán, I found the perfect example of how our government has failed to restore and promote our national treasures. We are not being unfair with the historical giants, but to our very own children. Only in pictures will we be able to share to them what Rizal’s old school looks like.

And I couldn’t agree less.

But in fairness to Biñenses, this kind of travesty does not happen in Biñán alone (it just so happens that right now, their hometown is the center of all this unwanted attention). Almost everywhere in the Philippines, the same dookie happens. Irritatingly, concerned individuals react only when the death blow is about to strike.

Who is to be blamed?

I say, EVERYBODY in Biñán is to be blamed.

We have already tackled Gerry’s plight. According to him, he was just compelled to sell his house, implying that he had no more money to maintain a house that he no longer uses. But earlier this month, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) issued a statement on its website:

NHCP on ALBERTO HOUSE

1. The NHCP exhausted all possible means to convince the owner (Gerardo Alberto) to retain and preserve his property (the Alberto House) in its original setting in Biñán, Laguna, and to prevent its eventual demolition.

2. Two or three years ago, the NHI coordinated with Mr. Alberto on several schemes it prepared for the structure’s rehabilitation and adaptive reuse. The structure was already in a bad state of conservation, and deterioration and material losses were getting worse. The rehabilitation and adaptive re-use of the house were not pushed through by the owner for reasons beyond the control of the government.

3. The NHI prepared guidelines and recommendatory measures for the preservation of the Alberto House. These were forwarded to Mr. Alberto.

4. Several meetings had already been conducted at the Alberto House among the owner/s, Biñán local officials, Ms. Gemma Cruz, the design consultant, and NHI officials and technical staff. The owner/s repeatedly explained his/their plans for the old house and what assistance can be provided by the government if their house is declared a Historical Landmark or a Heritage House. Otherwise, Mr. Alberto reiterated that he is already quite old, and the decision that would serve the family’s best interest should be made soonest.

5. Before the controversy, the local government of Biñán was not interested in the preservation of the Alberto House. It signified its protest to the owner when it came to know that the Alberto family had already committed the transfer (dismantling and reconstruction) of the house from Biñan to Bagac, Bataan.

6. For so many years, the Municipality of Biñán allowed the proliferation of makeshift structures around the house, thus obliterating the majestic view of the old structure. If they considered the house as an important Landmark and part of their heritage, why did they not attempt to clear the area for visitors to appreciate the structure?

7. In 2004, the NHI Board approved in principle the installation of a historical marker for the house. NHI wrote Mr. Alberto regarding the proposed marker, and stipulated his compliance for the removal of obstructive and unsightly signage at the ground floor façade. The marker was not installed since Mr. Alberto did not react very positively to the conditions set by NHI.

8. The Alberto House is a private property. The Alberto family does not want the government declaration because now, the Bagac deal best serves the family’s interests and needs.

9. The Alberto House is not a declared National Historical Landmark nor a Heritage House because of its bad state of conservation (less than 70% authenticity), the owner’s non-acceptance of any declaration and installation of a historical marker, and his refusal to donate the property to the government (local or national).

10. The house cannot be 435 years old as claimed, having been built in 1575. The construction method of the original house used cut nails made of steel. Steel was first used in Europe during the Industrial Revolution. Therefore, the Alberto House could have been constructed between the late 1700s to early 1800s. The year 1575 may have referred to the family escutcheon, as the original owner’s father was decorated with a Spanish order during that time.

11. As time drags on, the Alberto House continues to deteriorate and accumulate damages, thus lessening the historical value and conservation opportunities of the structure. If no intervention/maintenance efforts are made, the house will certainly be totally lost.

12. It is not necessarily true and apropos to automatically declare any or all structures 50 years old or more an Important Cultural Property, a National Historical Landmark, or a Heritage House without passing through the established criteria. It will be very much prejudicial to the significance/quality of the structures/artifacts of historical or cultural importance, and to the best practices in selecting nationally-significant historical and cultural heritage.

13. A personal heritage may not necessarily be another person’s heritage; a family’s heritage may not necessarily be another family’s heritage; a community’s heritage may not be another community’s heritage… But we can have a national heritage whereby all citizens can claim the right to preserve and protect it. Likewise, in a world heritage, all peoples in the world have the right to preserve and protect it regardless of race, religion or ideology.

14. Some residents of Biñán approached NHI, asking if there is still a way to prevent the planned transfer of the Alberto House to Bagac. Architect Reynaldo A. Inovero advised them that if there would be any offer to fully restore the Alberto House for the family, and a place for the family’s proposed commercial establishment, perhaps the interested party can approach the Alberto family and make this proposal. Otherwise, there is no better alternative to the Bagac transfer in terms of the owner’s advantage.

15. The term used by heritage advocates is the “demolition” (Demolition of 200-year-old home of Rizal mom stopped, PDI, June 2, 2010). The correct term is dismantling, in order for the house to be transferred to Bagac. NHI does not advocate the destruction of any structure. We consider all options for a structure’s preservation, including compromises.

16. The one disadvantage of the transfer of the house to Bagac is Biñán losing one of its most important historical structures.

7 June 2010

It is hard to dispute the logic set forth by the NHCP on its statement regarding the Alberto house debacle. However, item 7 may put more heat on Gerry Alberto. It said that a few years ago, he did not react positively to the conditions set by NHCP (then known as the National Historical Institute) with regards to the installation of a historical marker for the house. What was that negative reaction all about? Here was perhaps a chance to save his house. But he apparently blew it.

ACUZAR

Acuzar then enters the picture. He has been painted by popular blogger Ivan Henares as a heartless and greedy sonofagun, shopping for cute Antillean houses that he can transfer to his seaside resort in Bagac, Bataán. Acuzar’s got good intentions, says some. He is, after all, gunning for old heritage structures that are no longer being taken care of, as is the case of the Alberto ancestral house. Rather than let it fall apart on its own, shouldn’t we rather see it safe and sound and intact, albeit in another location? Yes, it will hurt all of us lovers of heritage, culture, and history to see such architectural gems dismantled from their original sites just to be transferred to a money-making resort. But as what the NHCP said, the Bagac transfer is the only viable option right now to save what is left of the house. My museum idea is another option, but nobody would buy it.

Oh, did I say Acuzar had good intentions? Yeah. And as some clever wags say, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions…”

Indeed, if Acuzar wants to play philanthropist and/or culture hero, and if he is indeed deeply concerned on saving heritage structures, why not just donate the money to Gerry Alberto? Well, that would have been crazy. So think logically: no capitalist in his sane mind would ever want to do that. Acuzar, therefore is no financial saint. In “saving” the Alberto home, he also has to consider that act as an investment. Not just for “pogi” points, but for money points in the future.

According to fellow Círculo Hispano-Filipino member, Prof. Fernando Ziálcita, Ph. D., when Acuzar acquired the Enríquez Mansion in Quiapò, Manila, he also bought its lot. And what happened to that lot? A condominium now stands in place of the mansion! Professor Ziálcita has more to add about this:

Well, the first two ground stories form an arcade over the sidewalk. But there was no serious intent to copy closely the original look. The cornice juts out exaggeratedly in a very clumsy way. The arcade pillars of reinforced concrete now have grey, adobe garments whereas originally they were round, lime-covered, white Tuscan columns. And the arcade now serves as parking for the cars of the residents rather than as a walk-through for pedestrians.

No alternative traffic plan has been provided by him for a street that has five (5) jeepney terminals and that is always clogged at almost all hours.

Indeed, whoever approved of this condominium is today a rich man.

Aside from the fact that this condominium defies the already-worse vehicular traffic, it can also prove Acuzar’s greed. Why? He bought the age-old Enríquez Mansion not just to “save” it from Calle Hidalgo’s urban jungle but to build this money-making machine called a condominium.

So, where’s the love, Mr. Acuzar?

UNITED ARTISTS FOR CULTURAL CONSERVATION AND DEVELOPMENT, City of Biñán, Inc.

And now we have Dr. Bimbo Sta. María and the UACCD to contend with.

The whole country, and perhaps the whole of Biñán, first heard of this group only when the dismantling began of the Alberto house. But where were they before this tragedy happened? Why protest at this late hour? They’ll be quick to defend that their group just started early this year (March, if I’m not mistaken). But still, the dismantling started early this month. And if they again defend themselves that they were not privy to the Alberto-Acuzar deal beforehand, then –again– what’s with the late protestations?

Better late than never? Not quite enough. I’ve been a student activist in college, having attended several protest rallies myself. And none of them achieved anything at all except, perhaps, solidarity among the student youth going against the powers-that-be. But really, that is all what it is. All protest rallies are virtually useless and inutile except if it transforms into a rebellion such as what had happened in EDSA more than nine years ago.

Days after the dismantling of the Alberto house began (which was immediately and unceremoniously halted by the city hall), the UACCD organized “WELGA: Isang Gabi ng Dula, Awitan, Sayawan, Atbp.” on the evening of the 9th of June. It was held at the town plaza, right in front of the troubled mansion. It showcased various cultural activities courtesy of the UACCD and other artistic individuals. But do most of these kids actually know what they’re doing? The disenchanted are correct: protesting in the streets is perhaps a “fashionable” thing to do. People will think of these kids as heroes, and that is exactly what these kids wanted the people to think of them.

Using the Alberto Mansion troubles, was the WELGA, therefore, organized to formally catapult the UACCD into prominence, given that this group was founded just a few months ago?

Doctor Sta. María’s advocacy may be true and pure. How about the people around him? How about the members of the UACCD? Their WELGA is a powerless show, whether or not the number of those who attended were big, whether or not it was in a festive mood (it shouldn’t have been festive; it should have been angry). It’s not about how many attended that night; it’s about the advocacy. How sure is Dr. Sta. María about the sincerity of all his young members who strutted their stuff on stage during their p(r)etty WELGA? Their dances and poems and stuff were no match against greed and apathy.

Gerry and Jerry must have been laughing their @$$e$ off in amusement during that night (“those crazy kids oughta be drinking their milk and sayin’ their prayers already,” they must’ve been thinking). That is one reason why I didn’t join that protest rally. It’s virtually useless. Money had already exchanged hands. That is why the dismantling already began.

I reiterate (counting from experience and years of observation): most, if not all (and that is a big IF), protest rallies are but a comedic sham. It is another product of democracy which is, in turn, a product of imperialist US.

I’d rather join a revolution.

*******

The UACCD might answer me back: “so did your writing/ranting about this issue fared better than ours?”

I admit: it did not save the Alberto House. It is because no powerful dude who read what I wrote listened nor even bothered to take it seriously. I do not wish to say that my suggestion to convert the Alberto Mansion into a money-making museum to save it from being uprooted from Biñán is the only smart solution. But at any given moment, it is a viable solution, nonetheless.

I wrote too late, too. Yeah. But, frankly speaking, I should not even be troubling myself with all this. I’m not a Biñense for crying out loud. But that is where, modesty aside, my sincerity and concern (and disappointment) comes in. What about you, people of Biñán? Many years ago, my friend, the great scholar and Filipinologist, Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera, took pictures of your then town’s old houses in its sector de mestizos, fearing that one day, they’d be gone. He published those photos in his now defunct Spanish newspaper, Nueva Era. Fast forward to today, and his fears came into fruition. Look at what happened to Rizal’s school. To the church in Barrio de la Paz. The Yaptinchay Mansion. And many others that are now deteriorating. Arnaldo has written a couple of blogposts about the Alberto Mansion in the past, particularly its impending demise. And he was right, too.

Again, if nobody listened to the three of us because we’re not as popular as Ambeth Ocampo or Ivan Henares, or perhaps people think that we have no substantial things to say, then that is no longer our problem. And again, we’re not from Biñán. Cayá mahiyá namán ang dapat mahiyâ.

Besides, if nobody listened to the NHCP’s suggestions, who’d listen to a mere blogger? The likes of me are but products of an irritating and stupid society.

*******

Mahiyá namán ang dapat mahiyâ. Hmmm… At this juncture, it is virtually useless to point an accusing finger to anybody. The damage has been done. But items 5 and 6 of the NHCP’s statement regarding the Alberto Mansion just couldn’t stop me from ranting out my angry disappointment:

5. Before the controversy, the local government of Biñán was not interested in the preservation of the Alberto House. It signified its protest to the owner when it came to know that the Alberto family had already committed the transfer (dismantling and reconstruction) of the house from Biñan to Bagac, Bataan.

6. For so many years, the Municipality of Biñán allowed the proliferation of makeshift structures around the house, thus obliterating the majestic view of the old structure. If they considered the house as an important Landmark and part of their heritage, why did they not attempt to clear the area for visitors to appreciate the structure?

If we are to publicly behead all the culprits of this sickening psychodrama, we should look no further. Or, in the case of the Alberto Mansion, it should look no further. The culprits are just across the street.

Yep. Biñán’s caboodle of shiny shoed politicians should be figuratively burned at the stake (burning them literally is not a bad idea, too). The dirty trail leads to their inept offices. Anyway, one does not have to rely on the NHCP’s statement — just take a look at the house’s façade and surroundings in some of the photos above, and you’ll see these politicians’ dirty work.

Oh, I’m suddenly reminded of WWE wrestler Kane’s usual pronouncement to his foes: “Burn in hell!”

*******

So that is it. I will never ever return to Biñán, for it will only break my heart to see the población without its crown jewel, the Alberto Mansion (its absence in the población even gave me nightmares, seriously). Its polluted river, its helter-skelter streets, the rogue people on its grimy and littered streets, the worsening condition of its many Antillean houses, the disagreeable façade of the Nuestra Señora de la Paz y Buenviaje, and the sickening fate of Justiniano Cruz’s nipa hut school are the reasons why I do not want to go back. Not even puto biñán will make me go back there. I can buy some here in San Pedro.

But Biñán is still in the heart. Will always remain.

I am referring to old Biñán, still pure, still virginal, without any vestige of the American Dream. What we have now is a horrible shell of its former self.

Old Biñán will forever be etched in my heart. And that is the town that I will revisit…

¡Paalam, Casa Alberto! Hindí ca namin malílimutan. Nawá'y mahabág ang casaysayan sa mga waláng pusong lumapastañgan sa'yó...

Feast of St. Vincent Ferrer (San Pedro Tunasán, La Laguna)

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It’s ironic, therefore, that those who look back with such reverence to our pre-Hispanic culture should be the loudiest sneerers at Christianity in the Philippines as being mere folk Catholicism, or superstition. They mourn for being lost what they attack for surviving. When they decry the town fiesta they are decrying the old pagan harvest festival, which, as may be observed in the highlands of the North, also entailed open doors, loaded tables and a lot of conspicuous consumption. –Nick Joaquín, IKON, FRIAR AND CONQUISTADOR

We woke up this morning to the tune of marching bands and jolly voices. Outside our apartment, San Vicente Road is filled with vehicular and human traffic caused by today’s festivities. Our barrio (or barangáy) is celebrating the feast day of its namesake and patron, Saint Vincent Ferrer of Valencia, Spain.

Barrio San Vicente is the second largest barrio/barangáy in the Municipality of San Pedro Tunasán, La Laguna (the largest being Barrio San Antonio). San Vicente covers an area of around 665 hectares. But in terms of population, it is the town’s largest: it has more or less 97,000 residents. San Vicente also has a few plantations dedicated to mangoes and sinigüelas. Many residents here also raise fowl and cattle. There are also a few remaining sampaguita backyard farms which made San Pedro the Sampaguita Capital of the Philippines.

Capilla de San Vicente Ferrer

Chapel of Saint Vincent Ferrer.

According to a brass marker, the current site of this chapel was donated by the Oliver Family in 1902. The chapel was then made of wooden materials and was only used during Holy Week and the town fiesta. The chapel got burned down in a fire accident, and was rebuilt in 1965. The current church was designed by Architect Isidro Pili; it is now made of stone and adobe and is actually quite large for a chapel. Since then, even Flores de Mayo festivities were held there, as well as Anticipated Masses (or Saturday night Mass) administered by Santo Sepulcro Parish Administrator Msgr. Jerry V. Bitoon.

Historical marker of the chapel dedicated to Saint Vincent Ferrer.

Saint Vincent Ferrer
He was a Spanish Dominican missionary from the Kingdom of Valencia. Saint Vincent was born on 23 January 1350. He entered the Dominican Order during his late teens where he studied philosophy and theology. There he lived the life of a hermit, reading nothing but Sacred Scripture (which he eventually memorized!). As a philosopher, he published a treatise on Dialectic Suppositions after his solemn profession. He then became a Master of Sacred Theology. He was then sent to Barcelona and eventually to the University of Lleida (Catalonia, Spain) where he earned his doctorate in theology.

Later in life, he traveled to different parts of Europe preaching the Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ and converting many people into Christianity. Many attested that the Lord God blessed him with the gift of tongues.

Vincent Ferrer died on 5 April 1419. Since then, that date has become his feast day (and that is why our barrio is full of merriment today). More than three decades after his death in Brittany, France, Ferrer was canonized by Pope Calixtus III.

A town fiesta is not complete without marching bands!

My kids (Momay, Krystal, and Jefe) in front of the century-old chapel.

The image of Saint Vincent Ferrer.

Inside the bell tower.

My kids watching the tolling of the bell. The afternoon mass dedicated to the barrio's patron saint is about to start. After the mass is the night procession.

The festivities always cause too much traffic along the narrow San Vicente Road. But the people understand.

The night procession begins. Various carrozas of Saint Vincent Ferrer belonging to well-off San Pedrense families are being paraded.

Good Friday

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Good Friday commemorates the death of Christ our Lord and Savior.

In the predominantly Roman Catholic Philippines, the day is commemorated with street processions, the Way of the Cross, and a Passion play called the Cenáculo. The Church keeps the day solemn by not tolling the church bells, and no Mass will be celebrated. In some communities throughout the country (most notably in the island province of Marinduque or in the San Fernando, Pampanga), the processions include devotees (termed Moriones) who self-flagellate and sometimes even have themselves nailed to crosses as expressions of penance despite health issues and strong disapproval from the Church. After three o’clock in the afternoon of Good Friday (the time at which Jesus is traditionally believed to have died), noise is discouraged, some radio and television stations sign off, businesses close, and the faithful are urged to keep a very solemn and prayerful disposition through to Easter Sunday. Yet other television networks are still on air making way for some religious programming related to the solemn celebration.

In Cebú and other Visayan Islands the locals usually eat Binignít and Bico as a form of fasting. The elders also discourage taking a bath after 3 o’clock on Good Friday.

Major television networks such as SVD Communication Ministry, and the Dominican Fathers of the Philippines, and others broadcast events at Roman Catholic parishes . These events include the reading of the Seven Last Words, the recitation of the Stations of the Cross, and the service of the Commemoration of the Lord’s Passion.

SOURCE: Wikipedia

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