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2011 Filipino Of The Year — The Filipino People!

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For the second time, FILIPINO eSCRIBBLES and ALAS FILIPINAS have unanimously chosen the Filipino People to win the 2011 FILIPINO OF THE YEAR! The decision is very simple: because once again, the Filipino people has joined hands in helping out their fellow Filipinos in Northern Mindanáo (Cagayán de Oro and nearby towns such as Iligan) who were victimized by the flash floods caused by Typhoon Sendong (and deforestation) last December 16. Thousands of people lost their lives. Countless more lost their homes and properties. Northern Mindanáo was almost an apocalyptic scene right after the typhoon left. Hopelessness seemed to reign supreme.

But like what happened two years ago, almost the whole country immediately came to rescue their southern brothers through various donations online as well as online petitions and campaigns seeking for more assistance. This is a proud moment for the Filipino, known for its bayanihan spirit.

Nevertheless, more help is still needed. Northern Mindanáo is still reeling from the devastation of the flash floods. More help should pour in. Can we revive the region? Yes we can! And we are already working on it!

Please click here on how to help the typhoon/flash floods victims.

Congratulations to the Filipino people! May we all have a happy and prosperous new year!

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2010 FILIPINO OF THE YEAR
2009 FILIPINO OF THE YEAR

More Hispanic than we admit

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Is it possibe to be Filipino if we (get) rid of the Spanish influence? No.
—Fr. José S. Arcilla, S.J.—

Why Spanish?

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WHY SPANISH
Jorge Domecq

Señor Don Jorge Domecq, Spanish ambassador to the Philippines.

On Wednesday, November 23, language teachers and experts from all over the region will assemble in the Instituto Cervantes de Manila for the Second Conference of Spanish as a Foreign Language in Asia and the Pacific which will be inaugurated by Speaker Feliciano Belmonte. Many will remember the common heritage and the historical bonds between our two countries but wonder why reviving the Spanish language is an issue of interest in the Philippines as we enter the second decade of the 21st century.

Way back in 1937, President Manuel L. Quezon, referring to Spanish, said that “the Latin-American people believe and feel that we Filipinos form part of that vast family, the children of Spain. Thus, although Spain ceased to govern those countries many years ago and although another nation is sovereign in the Philippines, those Latin-American peoples feel themselves as brothers to the people of the Philippines. It is the Spanish language that still binds us to those peoples eternally if we have the wisdom and patriotism of preserving it.”

However, the 1987 Philippine Constitution abolished Spanish as an official language of this country. Although this decision could have been avoided, the truth of the matter is that the majority of Filipinos then no longer used Spanish in their daily lives and therefore the constitutional reform only represented a statement of fact.

It makes no sense to look back on the Spanish language just as an element of our common past, which is no longer there in our efforts to enhance our bilateral relations, to get to know each other better and to better understand our history and culture. We must admit, and we would be foolish not to do so, that there is so much about the Filipino culture that can only be understood fully if we have knowledge of the Spanish language.

Without forgetting Rizal, we can affirm that the “Golden Age” of Philippine literature (which paradoxically coincided with the American period in the Philippines and as Spanish began to disappear from all official communications) produced first-class writers like Pedro Paterno, Isabelo de los Reyes, Apolinario Mabini, José Palma and Fernando Mª Guerrero, who wrote all their works in Spanish. We must note that more than 20 percent of Tagalog words are of Spanish origin, although many of the popular expressions have a slightly different meaning. The oldest and some of the most important documents found in the National Archives of the Philippines or in the archives of the University of Santo Tomás can only be best understood and interpreted if one is fluent in Spanish. I am happy to say that we are working closely with Filipino authorities and some private institutions in the country to reverse this situation, among other things, by providing language training to the archivist who will have to ensure that the history that is there will continue to benefit future generations. All these efforts are commendable and need to be continued.

However, that is not the real reason why we are obliged to preserve and promote Spanish among the young and future generations of Filipinos.

Spanish must not be viewed as some archaic and dead language like Latin, that most Filipinos above the age of 50 remember as a compulsory subject in school, which they did not like and which for them was just a waste of time. Spanish should not be regarded either as a language of the elite spoken among Spanish mestizo families or as a legacy of a past that no longer exists. Spanish, along with the English language, is one of the only two global means that exist for communication (even if Chinese is the largest spoken language in the world). Today, more than 500 million people speak Spanish. It is also the second most studied language and the third most used on the Internet.

Furthermore, as far as the Philippines is concerned, Spanish can be a fundamental tool for many young Filipinos seeking employment in call centers or BPO businesses in this country or trying to get a better employment abroad as seafarers, nurses, social workers, etc. The United States is the main land of promise for the citizens of this country, and there are nearly 50 million North Americans who speak Spanish as their mother tongue. In addition, many Latin-American countries are notably increasing their trade and investment relations with Southeast Asian countries, gradually shifting their economic focus toward the Pacific.

If only Spanish were commonly spoken in the Philippines, along with the English language, the Philippines would become the next unbeatable business hub in Asia.

Since I arrived in Manila less than a year ago, I have been constantly asked about the relevance of Spanish in the Philippines of today. I would always reply by saying that I am very confident that Spanish is under no threat of disappearing. Manila has the third biggest Instituto Cervantes in the world in terms of number of students (an annual enrolment of 6,500) and at present, it can hardly take in more students. The real issue is whether we are ready to face the challenge of providing the young generations of Filipinos with the necessary academic backing that will enable them to study Spanish as a language of choice that will open for them a wealth of opportunities in employment. To this end, I hope to work closely with the Department of Education and the Commission on Higher Education.

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This article was first published in Inquirer.net.

Road Map 2020 – San Pedro, La Laguna

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Too bad we won’t be here in San Pedro by 2020 anymore. But we’ll definitely pay this future city a visit when that time comes.

I have one complaint in this video, though. The demonym for the people of San Pedro is San Pedrense, not San Pedronian. I think I have to discuss this with the good mayor the next time we meet.

Here’s hoping that the people of San Pedro will help the mayor achieve these goals. The local government of San Pedro cannot do all this by itself. The people’s support and active participation are a major factor in fulfilling the goals of San Pedro Road Map 2020. The future looks bright. San Pedrenses should keep this momentum going.

Ambeth Ocampo on Tomás Pinpín

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Everybody’s favorite scholar and today’s foremost historian, the very friendly Ambeth Ocampo, shares with us some tidbits of a great Filipino, culture hero Tomás Pinpín, to commemmorate Día de la Hispanidad which happens tomorrow (or just a few minutes from now as of this writing).

October 12, 1492 is the day Columbus set foot on America. This was an event once commemorated as the “discovery” of America but in 1992 was celebrated and repackaged as the “encuentro de dos mundos” or the encounter of two worlds, the meeting of the Old World (Europe) and the New (the Americas). When I was in college, we had 12 units of Spanish in our curriculum and each year on Oct. 12, students celebrated the Spanish National Day or Día de la Hispanidad with song, dance, and food. After college, I looked forward to the annual reception in the Spanish ambassador’s residence in Forbes Park to meet old friends and partake of the largest paellas in Manila.

Día de la Hispanidad for me is better associated with T. Pinpín, a narrow forgotten street in downtown Manila named in honor of the 17th century engraver Tomás Pinpín. Unfortunately, not much is known about him, not even basic information, date of birth and date of death — however Pinpín’s name lives on, at least in Filipiniana bibliographies, for the wonderful books he printed, many of them rare today. He is also remembered for a bilingual Spanish-Tagalog book he wrote and printed that resulted in his being conferred the title of “Prince of Filipino Engravers” that makes me wonder who is “the King” of Filipino Engravers. His other textbook title is “Patriarch of Filipino Printing” that again makes me wonder if the printing profession was exclusively male in the past because many book companies or publishing houses today were established or run by women: Esther Vibal, Socorro Ramos, Gilda Cordero Fernando, Gloria Rodríguez, Reni Roxas, Karina Bolasco, Cristina Pantoja Hidalgo, Maricor Baytión and many more. So if Tomás Pinpín is the “patriarch” of Filipino Printing, we have to determine the “matriarch.”

Tomás Pinpín was active in his profession from 1610, when his name first appeared in Blancas de San José’s “Arte y reglas de la lengua tagala” (the first Tagalog grammar ever published), to 1639, when he published the “Relación de la Vida y Martirio del Jesuita P. Mastrilli” (Report on the life and martyrdom of the Jesuit Fr. Mastrilli). While Pinpín’s name does not appear in books after 1639, no one is sure whether this is due to death, retirement, or the passing of his printing press to his son Simón.

Bas relief of Tomás Pinpín.

Read the rest of the article here.

Pananaw Magazine, the magazine that never was

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Special pre-launch issue of Pananaw Magazine (December 2010).

When netrepreneur and writer extraordinaire JB Lazarte contacted me late last year for a magazine gig, I was so excited and overwhelmed. Finally, the realization that I might just accomplish all of Cuban hero José Martí’s three-fold mission of what a man ought to do in his life was to become a reality: to “plant a tree, write a book, have a son”. I haven’t fed Mother Earth any seedling yet, but that would be too easy, anyway. And I already have three sons. So probably the most difficult to accomplish among Martí’s real-macho-man attributes is to publish a book.

I haven’t published a book yet. I was commissioned three years ago to co-write a biography of San Pedro, La Laguna’s town mayor (a family friend), but it’s still in developmental hell (and since the good mayor is very busy working for the town’s cityhood, and my writing partner has lost all interest, his biography might not get published anymore). But to write for a magazine is the closest to publishing a book as one could get.

As they say in the world of writing, “publish or perish”.

Blogging today is the in thing. But even in a world that is ever dominated by the Internet, nothing can topple the worth and value and weight and authenticity and command that the contents of a physical book can hold. Thus this ache of getting published. The last time I was published was back in college. But those were verses that were published in our school journal. Seeing one’s writings published in a book or, for this matter, on a national daily or magazine beats all that.

It’s not just the feeling of being known that bites me, or of becoming famous even. It’s this ache of wanting others to know that you do exist, and for some lofty reason.

So back to my story. JB Lazarte is a multi-awarded writer. And he has more contacts to whatever writing gigs there are available for a craving and trying-hard scribbler like me. He contacted me late last year to contribute for a magazine of which he will become one of its editors (the other editor is Palanca awardee Omer Oscar Almenario).

The magazine’s name is Pananaw (Opinyon ng Bayan) published by the “Makabagong Pananaw Foundation, Inc.”, a group allied to the present administration. JB The Magus found my travels published in this blog cute. So he thought that such articles were a good addition to the magazine. Pananaw was also meant to promote agribusiness in the Philippines.

Editorial box with a list of the board of directors of Makabagong Pananaw Foundation, Inc. as well as the magazine's editorial staff.

The first article I’ve contributed was my coverage of the Día del Galeón last year, 6 October 2010. It was published in Pananaw’s special pre-launch issue last December and was chosen as its feature article!

Here it is!

EL GALEÓN ANDALUCÍA
Pepe Alas

To see a Spanish-era galleon ship docked in Manila Harbor’s Pier 13 amidst modern steel ships is not just surreal — it is downright weird (one could not help but be reminded of Walt Disney Picture’s The Pirates of the Carribean film series). And that weird feeling was what exactly my wife and I felt that hot afternoon of 6 October when we visited the visiting Galeón Andalucía! The coming of the said galleon was actually the highlight of the recently concluded Día del Galeón celebration.

No, Andalucía was not a galleon straight out of the past, preserved and renovated. It was only a replica of what a typical 17th century galleon used to look like during the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade (1565-1815). But the Andalucía holds the distinction of being the only actual replica of a Spanish galleon that has ever been built in modern times.

According to Fernando Ziálcita, professor of Cultural Anthropology in Ateneo de Manila University and one of the organizers of the said event, it was Spanish historian Pedro Luengo who informed him last year of the Andalucía’s planned voyage from Seville to Shanghai, China. Professor Ziálcita thought that as the Philippines was the focal point of the Galleon Trade, the said ship should naturally have a stop-over in Manila. Earlier this year (February), Prof. Ziálcita and other concerned individuals had a meeting with the Philippine Academic Consortium for Latin American Studies in Cavite City. Mr. César Virata, former Prime Minister during Ferdinand Marcos’ regime and is now the president of the Cavite Historical Society, was present in the said meeting. He expressed interest in sponsoring an event that will feature the coming of the Andalucía Galleon.

The galleon trade may have a soft spot in Mr. Virata’s heart: aside from Manila Bay, (and occasionally Puerto Galera in Mindoro island), Cavite City used to be a port and construction site for the galleons.

But what really made things official was when Prof. Ziálcita proposed to the national government to sponsor the said event. They were very excited, he said. Thus, through the assistance and efforts of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and Senator Edgardo Angara, a hispanista, the event was made possible. So this past June, the government launched initiatives to celebrate the first international Día del Galeón Festival on 8 October. No less than the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared that the said date should be celebrated annually as the Day of the Galleon in commemoration of the Galleon Trade.

Although the event’s name is called Day of the Galleon, it was actually a month-long affair. The event’s official website (http://www.diadelgaleon.blogspot.com/) lists down a schedule of various lectures, cultural showcases, stage plays, and other cultural showcases, stage plays, and other cultural programs related to the galleon trade. My wife and I were able to attend only one event: the day when the Galleon Andalucía —the main event— “returned” to our shores.

As we were on our way to Manila Bay that afternoon to welcome the galleon, I was briefing my wife about what the event —and the galleon trade— was all about in order for her to appreciate our visit. Admittedly, her knowledge of galleons and of the galleon trade was minimal as is the case, sadly, with many Filipinos today (an ex-office mate of mine even pronounced it as a “Galileo” ship, much to my annoyance). Yearly, Filipino students are given a few hours’ rehash of what had transpired during the galleon trade for more than two centuries; an important epoch not only in our country’s history but in world history as well.

It is never enough to say that the galleon trade was merely a part of Philippine History, nor should it be limited to the retelling of Spanish History in Asia and the Pacific. Such scenario would have been too trifle to say the least. Rather, the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade should stand side by side with “the glory that was Greece” and “the grandeur that was Rome”. It should have equal status to that of the Industrial Revolution or the epic telling of survival during the Age of Depression and other economic revolutions. This would be no exaggeration for, truly, the galleon trade literally turned the world into a global village.

To put in simpler terms, it was the world’s first foray into globalization. Scholars and historians agree today that, although the trade was “limited” between Manila and Acapulco, México, it was in fact global in scope. Good from major markets in Asia, such as China and India, traveled to Amoy and Canton where they were shipped to Manila. From Manila Bay (just across Intramuros, which was then the original Manila) and/or Puerto de Cavite (today’s Cavite City), Asian goods, such as silk, spices, jewels, chinaware, and ivory, traveled across the globe through the Pacific in a perilous journey towards the other side of the world. From there, these goods were both sold and traded for Mexican silver and other goods coming not just from all over the Americas but from Europe as well (which were shipped over from the Atlantic).

The journey indeed was perilous because sea navigation today was different from that era. Lacking modern equipment in maritime affairs, the trip from Manila, which usually began from July or August, could last for six months and a half. The galleons followed the North Equatorial Current that had been discovered by Fray Andrés de Urdaneta on his return trip to México. During that time, it was the only safest route back across the Pacific to México and the rest of the New World (they could not travel eastward due to the Treaty of Tordesillas). Indeed, Spain could not have colonized the Philippines without this oceanic current.

It should be emphasized that it was not a simple sea voyage; as mentioned earlier, maritime voyages were not as sophisticated compared to modern sea navigation. Countless sailors perished out of hunger, thirst, and illness during the galleon trade due to miscalculation in logistics and supplies. As such, mutinies were not uncommon. Also, many a galleon ship perished in ferocious typhoons. Other galleons even met a more tragic fate — they were captured by vicious English buccaneers. Four of them were taken: Santa Ana in 1587; Encarnación in 1709; Covadonga in 1743, and; Santíssima Trinidad —the largest ship during that era— in 1762. Due to poor navigation, some were lost at sea, never to be seen again. Other galleons sank due to overloaded cargoes.

The return trip to Manila was as equally perilous as the voyage to México, but it was shorter: the galleons left Acapulco either in February of March and reached Manila in more or less 90 days. The return trip passed south of the North Equatorial Current, docking briefly in what is now known as the Marshall Islands and Guam.

The Galleon Trade allowed the participation of all Filipinos. An individual or organization must have a boleta (ticket) in order to engage business in the Trans-Pacific trade. The cargo space of a galleon was usually divided into 4,000 units. Each unit was represented by the said boleta. Thus, if the individual has, say, five boletas, he could ship an amount of merchandise to fill five units of cargo space. The government, however, had the privilege of owning over a thousand units (other groups who share such privileges are church leaders and businessmen). However, some individuals would choose to sell their boletas to wealthy businessmen for a higher fee (they were the precursors of today’s scalpers outside the Araneta Coliseum).

The galleon trade was truly epochal for Philippine existence. Through it, our country received different kinds of crops such as camote, sincamás, tomate (tomato), cacahuete or manî, lechugas, corn, avocado, pineapple, tobacco, and countless others. Virtually all the vegetables mentioned in the popular Tagalog folk song “Bahay Kubo” were brought over by the galleons from México and nearby Asian countries. Thus, we could be singing a different version of “Bahay Kubo” today without the galleon trade!

The said trade also gave the Filipinos the piano, the guitar, the violin, the cubiertos (fork, spoon, knives), plates, drinking glasses, cups and saucers; clock and calendar; various complex and simple machines, such as the printing press, the plow, the wheel, hammer and nails, books, pens, and other scholarly materials, etc.

It was not just inanimate things and tools that the galleons brought to our country. They also gave us livestock such as cattle and horses and poultry. Farming techniques written in various papers and books were also brought by these ships. The idea of arts and architecture were not excluded. Friars from various religious orders sailed through the galleons. Also, various laws and edicts and royal letters, as well as the occasional monetary assistance from the Spanish monarch were channeled through these enterprising ships.

The provinces of Lanáo del Norte and Lanáo del Sur in Mindanáo, by the way, were named after these galleons (la nao is another Spanish term for el Galeón).

There was also an exchange of peoples. Some Mexicans who joined the voyage to the Philippines never returned to their native land, and vice-versa. Therefore, sans the Clavería decree of 1849, there are Filipinos today who have Mexican last names such as Aguilar, Álvarez, Carrillo, Cruz, Flores, Guerrero, López, Pérez, del Río, Santibáñez, etc. And here is a shocking fact: there is a 200-year-old clan in México whose surname is Magandá which is the Tagalog word for beautiful!

The cultural exchanges that occurred between the Philippines and México were quite enormous; I might even end up in weeks enumerating everything. But it is safe to conclude that the galleon trade virtually created the Philippines. And almost everything that we Filipinos savor up to this very day we have to thank the galleon trade for. These facts my wife, who is not a history buff like me, discovered on her own during that 6 October visit to the galleon ship because, happily, one of Pier 13’s multi-purpose halls was converted into a temporary waiting area where visitors were able to view various exhibits, murals, and very helpful information and lectures about the Galleon Trade. It helped her and other visitors to the Andalucía to at least have a clearer idea of how the trade went about during those truly gaudy days of Spain in the Philippines, aside from the cultural gifts that we received.

As we stepped on board the Andalucía (it was named by the way after the place where it was constructed: Andalusia, Spain) together with a noisy crowd, I tried to imagine how the sailors fared a long time ago. Observing the Andalucía’s
middle deck, it was indeed amazing how some 4,000 units of cargo space could have fitted there, aside from the provisions for the sailors and the sailors themselves. Looking at the modern ships around the galleon, Andalucía seemed smaller and looked quite fragile. It’s made entirely of hardwood, a clear indication of the ship’s faithfulness to the original galleons.

Also, as I was looking down on the murky waters of Manila Bay softly lapping at the ship’s bow and stern, a stark realization dawned upon me: the last galleon that arrived in the Philippines was in 1815 (fortuitously, it was named Magallanes). That means it has been 195 years since a galleon last visited our shores!

Welcome back!

Those who were able to enjoy and fathom the Andalucía experience will never look at the galleon trade the same way again.

The pre-launch issue never made it to the newsstands. It was distributed only to selected government offices. The first issue was supposed to be on sale last January of this year (where I wrote a short essay about the importance of agribusiness). I also solicited a brief article from leading economist Dr. Bernardo M. Villegas for an economic forecast of the Philippines for the year 2010.

But the publication of Pananaw kept on stalling due to problems unknown to me. Like that biography I’m working on, it appears that Pananaw is still in developmental hell. And it’s almost a year since the pre-launch issue.

Sometimes I am tempted to believe a relative of mine who belittled me several years ago. Hinahabol yata talagá acó ng malas, ¡hahaha! :D

So I thought it wise to publish online what I wrote for that magazine. Because I am confident that whoever received a copy of it, nobody read my galleon trade article. Sayang namán. At least here in FILIPINO eSCRIBBLES, I have a fanbase…

About three or four bored souls.

Mindoro’s nature-filled Port of the Galleys (Puerto Galera, Mindoro Oriental)

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Stormy days such as what we’re having right now (due to tropical storm Pedring) sometimes make me want to reminisce a couple of memorable sunny days of my life. Puerto Galera immediately comes to mind.

I’ve been to Puerto Galera many times that I already lost count (it’s just beside my wife’s hometown of Abra de Ilog in Mindoro Oriental). But each time I visit the place I never fail to find new things to discover, explore, and enjoy. People go there mostly for the whitish sands and crystal clear waters. My family visits the place for the beach and more. Suffice it to say that there can never be a dull moment when one is in Puerto Galera, the poster town for environmental sustainability aside from simply being a tourist haven.

While the more internationally renowned island of Boracay boasts of three beaches —in reality, only one of its beaches, White Beach, is famous— Puerto Galera is host to not just one but several coastlines, pocket beaches, and romantic coves (some tinged with fresh mangroves) that can be enjoyed by all types of nature lovers, not just beach goers. Due to the municipality’s perpetually curving coastlines, particularly the lovely cove-filled bay nestled between the green terrains of Isla de Boquete, Isla de San Antonio, Muelle (at the town proper), Palañgan, and the small peninsula of Sabang, Puerto Galera landed a spot in the list of the world’s most beautiful bays.

Puerto Galera’s beaches may not be at par with Boracay‘s powdery white sands and almost-invisible waters. But still, no one can ever deny Puerto Galera’s pristine beauty especially when we consider its proximity to polluted Metro Manila (the island is a mere four- to five-hour commute from the capital!). Like Ciudad de Tagaytay in Cavite, Puerto Galera relies heavily on tourism all year round. Thus, sustainable development is an imperative in this nature-filled municipality. I learned from the people there, particularly from talks with entrepreneur and Puerto Galera native Captain Peter Manalo of White Beach’s famous Peter’s Inn, Bar, & Restaurant, that the local government works doubly hard with resort owners on how to conserve the beauty of Puerto Galera.

During the early 80s, said Captain Manalo, the scenery at White Beach (Puerto Galera’s most popular beach front) was postcard-perfect, a true island paradise. Back then, there were no resorts to be found. One had to live there like Robinson Crusoe. But the beach was already a turf of regular white visitors aka foreigners (mostly rich Europeans). Ironically, it was they who first saw the potential of Puerto Galera to become the next international summer sensation in the Philippines. Captain Manalo even told me that these white beach goers served as the first guides to Filipinos vacationing from Metro Manila. Laughable but true. I think it was the same case with Boracay.

Captain Manalo was actually one of the pioneers of setting up a commercial establishment in White Beach. But in the following years, especially during the 90s, Puerto Galera became so popular to local and foreign tourists that several capitalists who are not even from town took advantage of the situation. They setup several bars and hotels. The imminent danger of congestion soon followed, and so Captain Manalo, together with other concerned locals and resort owners, took up the cudgels of doing environmental activism, perpetually disturbing the Municipal Hall to come up with environmental projects and viable solutions to curb the ballooning number of resorts. So the last time I heard, the municipal government of Puerto Galera now prohibits the establishment of additional resorts. That is why the eastern part of White Beach remains vacant to this day. Also, the municipal government has written various ordinances protecting the beach, the mangrove forests, etc. One instance: it has ordered resort owners to maintain their establishments from a certain distance from the coastline.

Now that’s sustainable development at work. Kudos!

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In case the people of Puerto Galera do not know yet, their lovely municipality will turn 200 years old two years from now. Although the place was first explored by Martín de Goiti and Juan de Salcedo in 1570, the town of Puerto Galera was created through a superior decree only on 23 August 1813. I try to imagine how the Spanish friars who built the población felt when they saw the site for the first time. Having lived in cold Europe, their adventurous hearts must have surely been energized by a surge of excitement, joy, and awe while planning to build a parish there. If Puerto Galera’s beauty continues to mesmerize people today, what more when it was first visited by the indigenous and the Europeans hundreds of years ago? Certainly, in the minds of those friars, building a parish there was tantamount to building a paradise on Earth. There was nothing like it in Europe or perhaps even in the Americas.

When Puerto Galera was founded on that date as a religious mission (all original Philippine towns were), Isla de Mindoro was not yet divided into east (Oriental) and west (Occidental). During those days, the jurisdiction of Puerto Galera was very large: it used to encompass much of the island, stretching as far as the towns of Sablayan and the old parish of Mangarin (now San José), both of which are now in Mindoro Occidental; Puerto Galera itself remained oriental since 1950.

Port of Galleons?

Puerto Galera’s name also deserves attention because it has been said many times in numerous websites and printed articles that the town’s Spanish name was derived from its English equivalent, the “Port of Galleons”. It implies the notion that Puerto Galera’s safely tucked bays and coves provided safe anchorage for the historic Manila-Acapulco galleon ships in times of typhoons. Indeed, de Goiti and Salcedo first explored the place aboard a galleon ship called San Miguel, and that there is a record of another galleon ship that took anchor there during the early 1600s (the Almiranta 2). But those two were not the reasons why Puerto Galera was named as such. It is because Spaniards visited the place, as well as other smaller islands throughout our archipelago, via smaller galleys. Docking bigger galleons in shallow waters were usually cumbersome, time-consuming, and even perilous. Logically, smaller ships are needed. One usually sees this in today’s movies depicting the days of European conquests like in Walt Disney Animation Studios’ Tarzan (1999) and the arrival of the Spaniards in Mel Gibson’s Apocalypto (2006).

Let us also study the meanings of the words galeón and galera as well as differentiate them from one another. As can be gleaned from the preceding paragraph, a galleon and a galley are not the same. In Spanish, a galleon is translated as galeón, not galera. A galleon was a large 15th- to 17th-century sailing vessel which was used as a merchant ship for trade and, occasionally, as a warship in times of threat from the Dutch, Chinese, and Muslim pirates. A galleon was square-rigged on the foremast and mainmast and generally lateen-rigged on one or two after masts. On the other hand, a galley is much smaller compared to a galleon; it is a seagoing vessel propelled mainly by oars (sometimes with the aid of sails).

Galeones were used to cross large oceans. They were transpacific as well as transatlantic. These were what the Spaniards used to travel to faraway lands and transport huge and multiple cargoes as well as passengers. But galeras were inter-island vessels, meant only for short voyages (thus the usage of oars).

That being said, let us then move to an 1871 map of Puerto Galera that was published years ago in Spain. That map’s title? Plano [inédito] del Puerto de Galera y Ensenada del Varadero en la Isla de Mindoro. In English, it means “Map (unpublished) of the Port of the Galley and the cove of the drydock in the Island of Mindoro”.

Go figure why the Spanish language is very important to us Filipinos of today. :-)

More than just a beach

Puerto Galera is more than just a beach destination. Aside from beaches and water sports such as diving, snorkeling, and parasailing (I tried that one! it was an exhilirating experience!), Puerto Galera offers several activities for various types of adventurous people: one can go mountain climbing at Monte Malasimbo; there’s high-altitude golfing at the Ponderosa Golf Club situated about 2,000 feet above sea level (also at Monte Malasimbo); in nearby Barrio Baclayan, one can visit a Mañguián (or Mangyán) village and observe how life would have been today in the Philippines had not the Spaniards arrived — static, indigenous; for spelunkers, they can visit Cueva de Pitón (Python Cave) near Barrio Tabinay (I’m just not sure if there are pythons there for I haven’t been to the cave yet); one can go explore the lush forests around the town and near the beaches, or go off-road biking there; have saltless-water fun at Cáscada de Tamaráo (Tamaraw Waterfalls) and Cáscada de Talipanan (Talipanan Waterfalls); and so much more!

The Excavation Museum

Even culture lovers won’t be left out. At the town proper, within the vicinity of scenic Iglesia de la Concepción Inmaculada (because it’s on top of a hill overlooking the small cove of Muelle), there’s the Excavation Museum dedicated to the memory of Fr. Erwin Thiel, S.V.D. (1902-1982), a German friar much loved by the parishioners.

The small museum (which we learned from then curator Merly Javier) said that The Excavation Museum was under the auspices of the National Museum in Manila. It is sad to note that this small museum was in poor condition, considering the fact that it contains a vast array of artifacts dating to the time before the arrival of the Spaniards. Clay jars, burial jars, plates, cups, soup bowls, and other fragile objects made of porcelain were on display. All these treasures were recovered by archaeologists through the efforts and sponsorship of the late German priest (thus the dedication to him).

But instead of focusing on the artifacts, I couldn’t help but notice the myriad of eyesores in the small, rather cramped up one-storey structure: the museum was not in a good condition; the walls were stained with dirt; there were holes in the roof where rain drops fall (I saw an old map already damaged because of this); there were many red ants taking ​​refuge within the walls of the museum; worse of all, it was very hot inside. And smoke fumes from vehicles plying a nearby road could easily enter the museum All those ancient artifacts, I believe, have to be air conditioned.

But all this was in 2008. I fervently hope that things have already changed there for the better. Fr. Thiel worked very hard to collect these artifacts for posterity. So if the people of Puerto Galera want to honor Fr. Thiel, they should do more than just attaching his name to that of the Excavation Museum.

*******

Personally, I prefer Puerto Galera over Boracay. Budget wise, Puerto Galera is the more viable alternative. As enumerated above, more activities can be done here, not just swimming. And with the recently opened (and very scenic!) Star Tollway, this island resort has become very near Metro Manila. Puerto Galera is simply put, la perla de la Isla de Mindoro.

Below are some photos of our unforgettable Puerto Galera sojourn (21 to 23 May 2008):

On top of White Beach Hotel!

Enjoying the sea together!

Visiting the población.

Hundura Cove.

Iglesia de la Concepción Inmaculada.

Inside the Excavation Museum.

At the municipal hall.

Snorkeling at the crystal-clear waters of the Coral Garden.

With Captain Peter Manalo, owner of Peter's Inn Bar & Restaurant.

This time with the whole family (24 May 2010).

Click here for more photos and text of our 2008 visit (but in Spanish).

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