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Monthly Archives: May 2011

Vaya con Dios, Sr. Don Alejandro Roces (1924-2011)

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The Filipino Spanish-speaking community, particularly the Academia Filipina de la Lengua Española, already lost two gems this year. First was Sr. Don Hilario Ziálcita. Two days ago, Sr. Don Alejandro Roces, a National Artist for Literature, followed his colleague and friend. Although he wrote in English throughout most of his journalistic career (he used to write for the Philippine Star under the long-running column Thorns and Roses), he was a champion of the Spanish language in the Philippines.

¡Por eso, una brinda para usted, Don Alejandro!

I met him only once, in an event held at Casino Español de Manila way back in 2001. I was then a part-time photographer for Señor Gómez‘s Nueva Era newspaper. I even took a photo of Don Alejandro (together with Señor Gómez and the late Señora Mita Pardo de Tavera). Too bad I wasn’t able to talk to him. But what did I know back then about Filipinismo? Not much.

To honor him, I publish here Don Alejandro’s famous short story in English:

Alejandro Roces

My brother Kiko had a very peculiar chicken. It was very peculiar because no one could tell whether it was a rooster or a hen. My brother claimed it was a rooster. I claimed it was a hen. We almost got lynched trying to settle the argument.

The whole question began early one morning, while Kiko and I were driving the chickens from the cornfield. The corn had just been planted and the chickens were scratching the seed out for food. Suddenly we heard the rapid flapping of wings. We turned in the direction of the sound and saw the two chickens fighting the far end of the field. We could not see the birds clearly, as they were lunging at each other in a whirlwind of feathers and dust.

“Look at the rooster fight!|” my brother said pointing excitedly at one of the chickens. “Why, if I had a rooster like that I could get rich in the cockpit.”

“Let us go and catch it,” I suggested. “No, you stay here, I will go and catch it,” Kiko said, my brother slowly approached the battling chickens. They were so busy fighting that they did not notice him as he approached. When he got near them, he dived and caught one of them by the legs. It struggled and squawked. Kiko finally held it by both wings and it stood still. I ran over to where he was and took a good look at the chicken.

“Aba, it is a hen!” I said.

“What is the matter with you?” my brother asked. “Is the heat making you sick?”

“No, look at its head. It has no comb or wattles.”

“No comb or wattles! Who cares about its comb or wattles? Didn’t you see it fight?”

“Sure, I saw it fight, but I still say it is a hen.”

“A hen! Did you ever saw a hen with spurs like this? Or a hen with a tail like this?”

Kiko and I could not agree on what determines the sex of a chicken. If the animal in question had been a carabao it would have been simple. All we would have to do was to look at the carabao. We would have wasted no time at examining its tail, hooves, or horns. We would simply have looked at the animal straight in the face, and if it had a brass on its nose the carabao would undoubtedly be a bull. But chickens are not like carabaos. So the argument went on in the field and the whole morning.

At noon, we left to have our lunch. We argued about it on the way home. When we arrived at our house, Kiko tethered the chicken on a peg. The chicken flapped its wings – and then crowed.

“There! Did you hear that?” my brother exclaimed triumphantly. “I suppose you are going to tell me now that carabaos fly.”

“I do not care if it crows or not,” I said. “That chicken is a hen.”

We went in the house and the discussion continued during lunch.

“It is not a hen,” Kiko said. “It is a rooster.”

“It is a hen,” I said.

“It is not.”

“It is.”

“That’s enough!” Mother interrupted. “How many times must Father tell you boys not to argue during lunch?” What is the argument about this time?”

We told Mother and she went out to look at the chicken,

“The chicken”, she said, “is a binabae. It is a rooster that looks like a hen.”

That should have ended the argument. But Father also went to see the chicken and he said.

“No, Mother, you are wrong. That chicken is a binalake, a hen which looks like a rooster.”

“Have you been drinking again?” Mother asked.

“No,” Father answered.

“Then what makes you say that rooster is a hen? Have you ever seen a hen with feathers like that?”

“Listen. I have handled fighting roosters since I was a boy, and you cannot tell me that thing is a rooster.”

Before Kiko and I realized what had happened to Father and Mother were arguing about the chicken all by themselves. Soon Mother was crying. She always cried when argued with Father.

“You know well that it is a rooster,” she sobbed. “You are just being mean and stubborn.”

“I am sorry,” Father said. But I know a hen when I see one.”

Then he put his arms around Mother and called her corny names like my Reina Elenea, my Madonna and my Maria Clara. He always did that when Mother cried. Kiko and I felt embarrassed. We left the house without finishing our lunch.

“I know who can settle this question,” my brother said.

“Tenienteng Tasio.”

Tenienteng Tasio was the head of the village. I did not think that the chief of the village was the man who could solve a problem. For the chief was the barrio philosopher. By this I mean that he was a man who explained his strange views by even stranger reasons. For example, the chief frowned on cockfighting. Now many people object to rooster fighting, their reason being either that they think cockfighting is cruel or that they think gambling is bad. Neither of these was the chief’s reason. Cockfighting, he said was a waste of time because it has been proven that one gamecock can beat another.

The chief, however, had one merit. He was the oldest man in the barrio, and while this did not make him an ornithologist, still, we have to admit that anything said always carries more weight if it is said by a man with grey hairs. So when Kiko suggested consulting the teniente, I voiced no objection. I acquiesced to let him be the arbiter of our dispute. He untied the chicken and we both took it to the chief.

“Tenienteng Tasio, is this chicken a male or a female?” Kiko asked.

“That is a question that could concern only another chicken,” the chief replied.

Both Kiko and I were taken aback by this replication. But Kiko was obstinate, so he tried another approach.

“Look, teniente,” he said, “my brother and I happen to have a special interest in this particular chicken. Please give us an answer. Just say ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Is this a rooster?”

“It does not look like any rooster that I have ever seen,” said the teniente.

“It is a hen, then,” I said.

“It does not look like any hen that I have ever seen,” was the reply.

My brother and I were dumbfounded. For a long while we remained speechless. Then Teniente Tasio asked:

“Have you ever seen an animal like this before?”

Kiko and I had to admit that we hadn’t.

“Then how do you both know it is a chicken?”

“Well, what else could it be?” Kiko asked in turn.

“It could be another kind of bird.”

“Oh, God, no!” Kiko said.” Let’s go to town and see Mr. Cruz. He would know.”

Mr. Eduardo Cruz lived in the nearby town of Alcala. He had studied poultry husbandry at Los Baños, and he operated a large egg farm. When we got there Mr. Cruz was taking his siesta, so Kiko released the chicken in his yard.

The other chicken would not associate with ours. Not only did they keep as far away from it as they could, but they did not even seem to care to which sex it belonged. Unembarrassed by this, our chicken chased and disgraced several pullets.

“There!” my brother exclaimed.

“That should prove to you it is a rooster.”

“It proves nothing of the sort,” I said. “It only proves it has rooster instincts – but it could still be a hen.”

As soon as Mr. Cruz was up, we caught the chicken and took it to his office.

“Mr. Cruz,” Kiko said, “is this a hen or a rooster?”

Mr. Cruz looked at the bird curiously and then said:

“Hmmmm, I don’t know. I couldn’t tell at one look. I have never run across a biddy like this before.”

“Well, is there any way you can tell?”

“Why, sure. Look at the feathers on its back. If the ends are round, it’s a she. If they are pointed, then it is a he.”

The three of us examined its feathers closely. It had both!

“Hmm. Very peculiar,” said Mr. Cruz.

“Is there any other way you can tell?”

“I could kill it and examine its insides,”

“No, I don’t want it killed,” my brother said.

I took the plumed creature in my arms and we walked back to the barrio. Kiko was silent most of the way. Then suddenly he snapped his fingers and said:

“I know how I can prove to you that this is a rooster.”

“How?” I asked.

“Would you agree that this is a rooster if it fights in a cockpit – and it wins?”

“If this hen of yours can beat a gamecock, I would believe anything,” I said.

“All right,” he said, “we will take it to the cockpit this coming Sunday.”

So that Sunday we took the chicken to the cockpit. Kiko looked around for a suitable opponent and finally decided on a red rooster. I recognized the rooster as a veteran of the pit whose picture had once graced the cover of the gamecock magazine Pintakasi. It was also the chanticleer that had once escaped to the forest and lured all the hens away from the surrounding farms. Raising its serpent-liked head, the red rooster eyed the chicken arrogantly and jiggled its sickle feathers. This scared me. For I knew that when the gamecock is in breeding mood it is twice a ferocious.

“Do not pit your hen against the rooster,” I told Kiko. That the rooster is not a native chicken. It was brought over the from Texas.”

“That does not mean anything to me,” my brother said. “”My rooster will kill it.”

“Do not be a fool,” I said. “That red rooster is a killer. It has killed more chickens than the cholera. There is no rooster in this province that can take its gaff. Pick on a less formidable rooster.”

My brother would not listen. The match was made and the birds were headed for the killing. Sharp steel gaffs were tied to their left legs. Kiko bet eight pesos on his chicken. I only bet two. The odds were two to one. Then I said a tacit prayer to Santa Rita de Casia, patroness of the impossible.

Then the fight began. Both birds were released at the center of the arena. The Texan scratched the ground as if it were digging a grave for its opponent. Moments later, the two fighters confronted each other. I expected our rooster to die of fright. Instead, a strange thing happened. A lovesick expression came into the red rooster’s eyes. Then it did a love dance. Naturally, this was a most surprising incident to one and all, but particularly to those who had stakes on the Texas rooster. For it was evident that the Texan was thoroughly infatuated with our chicken and that any attention it had for the moment was strictly amatory. But before anyone could collect his wits our foul rushed at the red stag with its hackle feathers flaring. In one lunge, it buried its spur in its adversary’s breast. The fight was over! The sentencer raised our chicken in token victory.

“Tiope! Tiope! Fixed fight!” the crowed shouted.

Then a riot broke out. People tore the bamboo benches apart and used them as clubs. My brother and I had to leave through the back way. I had the chicken under my arm. We ran towards the coconut groves and we kept running till we lost the mob. As soon as we felt safe, we sat on the ground and rested. We were both panting like dogs.

“Now are you convinced it is a rooster?” Kiko muttered between breaths.

“Yes,” I answered.

I was glad the whole thing was over.

But the chicken had other ideas. It began to quiver. Then something round and warm dropped on to my hand. The chicken cackled with laughter. I looked down and saw – an egg!


Pahiyás Festival 2011 (Lucbán, Tayabas)

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When he was still a Mason, Rizal once calumnied the town fiesta in his first novel. Hispanophobic elements in our educational system carried on what was but an immature satire from the national hero’s imagination. But today, who is seriously making fun of the fiesta? One could not even see such calumnies in Lucbán, Tayabas (now Quezon province) every May. In that, Rizal’s anti-Catholic clowning failed, at least in this pastoral town. Last week (15 May) was a dream come true for me. I’ve been wanting to visit this town since I was a kid. I first read about the town, particularly the fiesta that made it famous, from an uncle’s old textbook. Since then, the sights and flavor described in that textbook never left my imagination. Finally, after two decades, I was able to experience the famous Pahiyás Festival (together with my wife and my cousin and her boyfriend)! The Pahiyás Festival (“pahiyás” means “precious offering”) is celebrated every May. It signifies the end of summer and the start of the rainy season. It is in honor of Saint Isidore (San Isidro), patron saint of farmers. The people of Lucbán thank him for interceding for them for a good harvest. But according to a local (a godfather of my cousin’s boyfriend), whether or not their harvest is fruitful, they never fail to thank the Spanish saint for praying to God for them. And they express their gratitude through this colorful celebration of life and a bountiful harvest!

This landmark signifies that you're near the town of Lucbán. I have no idea what this farm produces. But the landscape is cute nonetheless.

The fiesta produced a horrendous traffic going into the town. Lesson learned: when one plans to visit the annual Pahiyás Festival, travel time from the metropolis should begin at dawn.

A backdrop of Monte de Banahaw de Lucbán seen from the entrance of the town. Professional mountaineers classify it as a Level 5/9 mountain in terms of climbing difficulty.

Monte de Banahaw de Lucbán stands 6,152 feet above sea level! Take note that this mountain is not the actual Monte de Banahaw; it is just a part of the Banahaw mountain range of which Monte de Banahaw and Monte de Cristóbal are a part of.

Southern Luzón State University is at the entrance of the town (in Barrio Culapì).

I noticed that many Filipino houses here are well-maintained. Good job, Lucbán!

Yeyette in front of the 169-year-old house of Dñª Ana María Herrera de Nepomuceno.

Municipal hall.

Lucbán town plaza. The Rizal monument (left) has the national hero's Mí Último Adiós written all over it. But it's in the Spanish original. I wonder how many Lucbeños understand it.

This colorful pancít habháb kiosk is an entrant at a local competition. Pancít habháb, a Lucbán delicacy

Old Center Pancitería, said to be the home of the original pancít habháb.

A modernized version of the pancít habháb. I didn't like it (most of the time, I always prefer original versions), but this one still tasted good!

The image of Saint Isidore on a carroza is being taken out for the famous Pahiyás parade.

The size of the people pales in comparison to that huge San Miguel Pale Pilsen replica on top of the public market!

We have the "best seat in the house"! 🙂

The best-decorated houses are given prize money ranging from ₱3,000 to ₱50,000.

Cayó ná ang mayaman. 🙂

My one and only! 😉

Scene stealer.

Back to where we began.

Carabaos were also the stars of the parade!

The pancít habháb sold outside the streets are much better than those inside local restaurants. The old-fashioned way is always the best!

I bought one!


It's nighttime already. But the throng of people didn't even lessen.

Street revelers in a street party!

Lucbán delights (the food, not them): jardinera, pancít habháb, mechado de carabáo, etc.

******* Lucbán According to popular legend, Lucbán town was named after a citrus fruit called lucbán (Citrus maxima, otherwise known as sujà or pomelo; see photo below). The town of Lucbán (just a couple of kilometers from my birthplace) was founded by missionaries from the Order of Friars Minor, otherwise known as the Franciscan friars. Like present-day Taal in Batangas, Lucbán used to be on another site. The town was transferred to its present site in 1629. ******* Lucbán Church (Church of Saint Louis the Bishop)

Lucbán Church (Iglesia/Parroquia de San Luis Obispo).

Lucbán Church, formally known as the Church of Saint Louis the Bishop, is an example of a pre-modern baroque church. As can be read in the historical marker, this church was built in 1595 but was ruined in 1629. The second church was constructed between 1630 and 1640, but a conflagration severely damaged it in 1733. The present church was completed in 1738; the convent followed in 1743.


Santíssima Trinidad.

An image of Saint Louis (1274 – 1297) at the right side of the nave. At twenty three years old, he became a very young Bishop of Toulouse, France. What was I doing back then at his age? Already a young father of one, of course.

Impressive façade — with a human head, haha!

Saint Isidore The Farmer (San Isidro Labrador)

Saint Isidore, Patron of Farmers, was born at Madrid, Spain, of a poor family at the end of the 12th century. He was named after the famous Bishop of Seville, and from an early age was employed as a laborer on a farm outside the city. He married a lovely girl, but after the early death of their son they agreed to live in continence. Isidore went to church every morning, prayed while working in the fields, and spent the holidays visiting the churches of Madrid. One time, his fellow workers complained that his religious practices caused him to be late at work. To test the truth of this accusation, his master hid himself to watch. He noticed that Isidore did actually arrive late, but he also saw several angels assisting him.

San Isidro Labrador. Not many Filipinos know that he's a Spaniard (from Madrid).

Isidore’s generosity to the poor was so great that he often reserved for himself only the scraps they left over. One a winter’s day, while carrying a sack of corn to be ground, he saw a number of birds on the bare branches of a tree. He opened the sack and poured out half of its contents for them. When he reached the destination, the sack was still full and its produce double of the usual amount of flour! Isidore died in 1130. From that time, many miracles were worked through his intercession. His wife, who survived him for several years, is venerated in Spain as Santa María de la Cabeza (because her head is often carried in procession in times of drought).

María Torribia, commonly known as Santa María de la Cabeza, the wife of San Isidro Labrador.

(Culled from my daughter’s MY FIRST BOOK OF SAINTS published by Quality Catholic Publications; minor edits are mine).

Las turistas: me (looking a bit harassed, haha!), my wife Yeyette, my cousin Joycee, and her boyfriend Jivann in front of Lucbán Church.

Lucbán Church shortly before midnight.

After enjoying the sights and sounds of Lucbán on its most special day, one will immediately know the meaning of its old Tagalog motto: ¡yanong riquít, baling gandá!

Click here for more photos of PAHIYÁS 2011!

Bora Memories (Isla de Borácay, Malay, Aclán)

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In just a few days, summer season will end. Although many parts of the country are already experiencing intermittent weather, midday is usually scorching hot. It only aggravates my hyperhidrosis, a disorder that has been tormenting me since my elementary days. That is why I tend to gulp down huge quantities of water, a feat that might even surprise regular gym enthusiasts and athletes.

I admit that I abhor this kind of weather (I’m a typhoon type of guy, I guess). But this scorching summer discomfort that I feel brings back memories of last year’s equally searing summer. Last year’s heat wave, however, was a fun one, because me and Wifey spent it in one of the world’s most famous beaches…

…our very own Isla de Borácay!

Truth to tell, I never dreamed of going to that place. I’m not a beach guy (I’m a self-proclaimed mountaineer, hehe!). It was just to please my wife who is more of a beach person. Anyway, since I’m planning to travel the whole country before reaching the age of forty, perhaps it’s unthinkable to even skip this tropical paradise from my herculean itinerary. So what the hey.

The very few who share my advocacy (on Filhispanic Identity, true Philippine History, heritage conservation) will not find much of our Filipino Identity in this island because of its internationalized look. Aside from a Catholic Church near Station 1, no bahay na bató, no historical site, and no Fil-hispanic touch could be found here. But enough about that for the moment! Borácay is all about partying!

But hey, this doesn’t mean that history is not worth mentioning in Borácay. The origin of this tropical resort’s name captures some interest. Many agree that Borácay was derived from the word borac, a local term which means cotton. Either cotton used to grow in this island in large quantities, or its powdery white sands had something to do with it.

Some say that Borácay originated from the word bora or bubbles. It is because of the foamy appearance that the waves make when it softly crashes onto the whitish sands. Aetas also claim that the island was named in part from the word sigáy, a type of seashell (could this be the rare puka shell?). Lastly, another theory says that Borácay was from the native term boay meaning vegetable seeds. It was said that Aeta tribes in the past used to plant vegetables within the island.

Borácay is not a huge island (just 10.32 km2), but small groups of Aeta tribes, then as now, inhabited it during the Spanish times. Perhaps due to Borácay’s small size, not to mention its small population of Aetas (who also had an uninviting reputation to live as highlanders), no religious mission was ever sent there. For better or for worse, the lack of a Westernized (or even Asian) community in the island’s history helped preserved its pristine beauty.

Sadly, what history did not do the island commercialization is now undoing. Various reports have been written and even broadcast about how “environmentally stressed” the island is nowadays due to an exploding number of private beach resorts and other commercial establishments. There is even a seaside mall there! Could this almost unstoppable influx of commercialization be the reason why the beach has an abnormal amount of algae every summer? Just asking.

Here’s hoping that Borácay will not be abused further by selfish profiteers. This is for the sake of future generations. Don’t we want to share this beach heaven with them?

Too bad. Me and Yeyette were planning to go back there this summer. But we have no housemaids (for about a month now!) to take care of the kids and our apartment. Oh yes, I do admit that —because of Borácay’s powdery white sands and romantic coastline— I am now a beach person, too! And I so miss Summer Place!

All I can do for now is reminisce last year’s Bora adventure.

NOTE: Please click on each photo to enlarge.


BORACAY, a set on Flickr.

Writing on putrid air

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Writing is 90 percent procrastination: reading magazines, eating cereal out of the box, watching infomercials. It’s a matter of doing everything you can to avoid writing, until it is about four in the morning and you reach the point where you have to write. —Paul Rudnick—

Seriously, writer’s block is starting to become a bore. Attempting to jump off from a 40-storey-high building didn’t even inspire me.

Will somebody puh-leaze send an ambulance? 😦

Pacman beats Mosley to retain his WBO title

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I didn’t even watch this match. I knew all along that Pacquiáo is going to win. Also, I was expecting it to be a boring match from the get-go because he was up against a boxer nearing retirement.

And I was not mistaken. Nina Calleja of the Philippine Daily Inquirer wrote:

Having used to watching Manny Pacquiáo’s opponents stumble after a few rounds, most in the crowd at a cinema in the SM Megamall were dissatisfied with the game.

In the second round when the African-American Shane Mosley fell after a strong blow from Pacquiáo, the audience grew wild, and many threw their fists up in the air in truimph.

But during the succeeding rounds, the crowd was unusually silent, many with their hands propping up their chins as though watching a regular film.

Whether it’s a boring match or not, congratulations are in order.


Oh, yes, Manny the Mexicutioner knows some Spanish because of all those Mexican ring warriors he destroyed! ¿Escuchas eso, Juan Manuel Márquez?

Read the full report here.

Tayabas Bay sunset

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Malatandáng Beach, Unisan, Province of Tayabas (Easter Sunday 2011).

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