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Walk Back in History: The San Nicolás-Binondo Heritage Tour

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Walk Back in History: The San Nicolás-Binondo Heritage Tour is a historical and architectural walk on the world’ s oldest chinatown. Walk the streets of historical San Nicolás and cosmopolitan Binondo. Explore their history and the evolution of their architecture. Learn the historical, social, political, and economic factors that gave rise to the unique architecture of the area. Apart from learning history and architecture, learn also another Philippine devotion to the black Christ, the Santo Cristo de Loñgos
—Mª Cecilia Sunico—

This unique tour, probably a first of its kind to be conducted in the ancient arrabales of Binondo and San Nicolás, will be launched on May 3rd, a Sunday. The tour begins at exactly 8:00 AM in front of Binondo Church. Make sure to wear casual summer attire and sandals or sneakers as this tour will require plenty of walking. The tour will be facilitated by my friend Cecille Sunico, a well-known heritage activist in Manila who is also a descendant of the famous Hilario Sunico; chances are, the bells ringing from your población‘s old church belltower were cast from Sunico’s San Nicolás foundry (see photo above)

The fee is only ₱500 per person (exclusive of meals). Click here to join!

Nature and tourism: think about it (Earth Day 2015)

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Undated aerial view of old Sariaya. © Saint Joseph’s Academy Student Canteen.

Look at all this extensive forest cover behind the town of old Sariaya in Tayabas Province! Do we even still have such scenery in that province, let alone in the rest of the country? The photo’s in sepia, but I could imagine how awed the photographer must have been to see a world blanketed in and endless sea of green at the foot of Monte Banajao.

Sadly, this scene is no more.

I only get to see scenes of towns standing beside huge forests in movies filmed abroad. But in our country, it’s deplorable. I remember scaling one mountain in Batangas years ago and was aghast to find a ramshackle house in the middle of an upland forest there being maintained by a family with kids who still go to school every day. And the house’s surroundings have been cleared off for farming. That was almost a decade ago; I start to wonder if they have neighbors there now. Our country has lost so much forest cover because of capitalist activities. Back then, one could really say that our country was really paradisiacal. But when rapid commercialization crept in at an alarming pace, only a few places, many of which are now privately owned, are left to enjoy.

In my opinion, nature is what attracts tourists the most. All else is secondary. Therefore, aside from tangible heritage, our natural surroundings are what our country should value the most. Our government should learn how to strike a balance between industrialization and environmental protection. A well-conserved forest cover side by side with built heritage will definitely bring our country to places in the tourism scene.

¡Feliz Día de la Tierra!

Lights out: doing our small share for the environment (Earth Hour 2015)

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Earth Hour 2015 has just concluded. For one hour, from 8:30 PM to 9:30 PM, people all over the world were encouraged to turn off their non-essential electric lights as a symbol for their commitment to the environment, particularly in combating climate change. My family chose to turn off everything: lights, electric fans, etc. Our kids were thrilled to see our humble apartment unit lit up only with candles because it’s not every day (or every night for that matter) that they get to experience a modicum of flickering light in the darkness.

Moments after turning off the lights, I looked out the door and saw that our neighbors’ houses were still all lit up. I was amused to find out how apathetic our neighborhood was toward calls for environmental activism. Either that, or me and my family were simply well-informed (one concerned neighbor even rushed to check us out to see why we were in the dark), not to mention very engaged in environmental issues.  We are indeed true blue netizens after all.

So I’m dressed up like an 80s guy with my very short shorts. Cute.

We haven’t had our dinner yet when the time to turn off the lights was about to begin because Krystal and I arrived late (I always had to fetch my daughter in San Pedro Macati from her Saturday flamenco class). There was no other choice but to eat our dinner in a romantic candlelight setting with dancing shadows all around us. And one good thing led to another because Yeyette had time to reminisce and share to us her childhood memories in her idyllic hometown of Abra de Ilog in Mindoro Occidental.

During her youth, Abra de Ilog had no electricity. The municipality began to receive electric power only in 1987. So that means that she and her family endured many years of gas-lamp-lit evenings. But those were happy nights spent with her beloved grandparents —both deceased— and sister (their Caviteño father was a traveling DAR officer while their young mother was still finishing her studies in Batangas City). As do most of their town mates, they ate their supper quite early: between 6:00 PM and 7:00 PM. Those were usually hearty dinners because their grandfather was a happy farming fellow and their grandmother was the loudest at the dinner table. They all shared stories about what had transpired during the day, about what Yeyette and her sister Kathleen did in school, how their Tatay Baríng’s farm was doing, how their friends and neighbors were faring, etc. Occasionally, they frighten each other with ghost and asuáng stories to complement the cold air (much of Abra de Ilog is forested). Amidst all the happy talk, shadows produced by the gas lamp at the table and candles in other parts of the house were dancing all around, the shrilling calls of the cicadas outside was an orchestra, and the occasional tokay gecko (tucô) blurts out its nocturnal croaking.

My wife’s family did not immediately go to sleep after dinner. They still had time to enjoy the cool forest breeze coming from the mountains in front of their ancestral home. They enjoyed chatting with neighbors. And sometimes, Yeyette and her sister played patintero with their friends. The best part of all those peaceful evenings is when they gaze upwards to the sky lit up with countless stars, their población‘s only source of light.

My wife had an awesome childhood. And I always remind her of that. Our children never got to enjoy such moments because we’re now living in a different part of the country where it’s highly urbanized. Heavy fumes from vehicles and factories shield our view of God’s marvelous starlit sky. Earth Hour reminds all of us to value not only our environment but also to remember and cherish the simplicity of bygone days.

Ultranationalism: what does it really mean?

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It has been observed that the term ultranationalism has become a pejorative description for nationalists who display an extreme fervor to or advocacy of the interests of their country. Those who claim to be “citizens of the world” are the ones who are quick to calumny nationalists, often accusing them of being this so-called ultranationalism.

But what, really, does ultranationalism connote? Legendary nationalist Claro M. Recto had this to say:

It is evident that our brand of nationalism is different from that of our accusers. We have no desire and we have never attempted to deny the national self-interest of other peoples in their own countries. We merely want to defend our own, in our own territory. We are nationalists but we can live in harmony with other nationalists, because all nationalisms can work out a plan for coexistence which will not detract from the sovereignty of any one nation. Those who are bent on carrying their nationalisms beyond their national frontiers in order to overrun other nationalisms have ceased to be true nationalists and have become ultra-nationalists, which is another word for imperialists. Ultra is a Latin word which means beyond in space, as in the terms plus ultra and non plus ultra. An ultra-nationalist, therefore, is one who wants to be first not only in his own country, but also in other countries to which he is a foreigner; that is, an imperialist.

We would rather take the meaning of ultranationalism from a master of words and an expert in etymology (many critics in literature regard him as our Filipino version of Miguel de Cervantes) than from those with shallow understanding of the true import of nationalism. Nevertheless, we have to admit that there really are nationalists who do show an extreme kind of nationalism to the point that they have disregarded or neglected the interests of other countries. But such people are a minority and do not really represent the lofty ideals of nationalism. The kind of nationalism they adhere to can be classified as bigoted or chauvinistic. But it doesn’t really matter. What matters the most is placing ultranationalism in its proper etimological perspective, that ultranationalism is imperialism after all. Period.

And speaking of bigotry or chauvinism, there are actually no “ultranationalists” (to borrow from anti-nationalists’ twisted definition of the term) in Filipinas. What we have are regionalists who claim that their province or region or town/city or ethnicity is better than the rest. Take this photo, for instance:

Photo taken at the border of Tagaytay, Cavite and Nasugbú, Batangas last 13 September 2011.

“Welcome to the Province of the Brave”, says this welcome arch, signifying that travelers are about to enter the Province of Batangas. Aside from the “warm welcome”, what does the message really want to imply? That Batangas is the only province of the brave? And what does that say of the other provinces? You see, there are many ways to promote provincial or regional pride without overdoing it or putting others down. Regionalism is not only anti-nationalist but anti-Filipino as well. We have to remember (and treasure) that the concept of the Filipino is what united our once divided and warring ethnolinguistic groups.

Other than the parochial message, this arch is a total waste of tax payer’s money. As if the arch behind it is not enough (they could’ve just added the name Batangas with that of Nasugbú).

Noynoy’s sense of gratitude and loyalty (or the apparent lack of it)

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Much has been said for and against incarcerated senators Juan Ponce Enrile, Jinggoy Ejército Estrada, and Ramón “Bong” Revilla, Jr. Despite alleged evidence against them regarding their double-dealing relationship with pork barrel queen Janet Nápoles, we have to face the sad fact that they are yet to be proven guilty. Same thing goes with the much-hated Bínay father-and-son tandem.

No, I am not trying to exonerate these people. For all we know, they could really be guilty of the accusations hurled against them. But like what I said, they’re still considered innocent until proven as crooks. And I’m inclined to give them the benefit of a doubt because if there’s one thing that we can really be sure of, it is this: they are all opponents of the Liberal Party of the Philippines, the political team of President Noynoy Aquino. It is the same party that had a hand, directly or indirectly, in tormenting its political rivals in the local government unit. The party’s name was palpable in the removal of Emilio Ramón Ejército as governor of La Laguna Province last year, in the disqualification of Calixto R. Catáquiz for his final bid as mayor of San Pedro Tunasán during the 2013 elections, and in the suspension of Cebú Governor Gwendolyn García during the final days of 2012. It was also the same party that tried to remove Manila Mayor Joseph Ejército Estrada not too long ago, but failed.

The funny thing here is that the mentioned LGU personalities were victimized by an obvious witch hunt not because of corruption in office but mainly because of their rivalry with their LP counterparts. But the part that hurts the most is that these political casualties, with the exception of the Ejércitos, Revilla, and García, all risked their lives, careers, and even reputation in EDSA back in 1986 when an emotional crowd was protesting against a dictator whose main rival at that time was none other than President Noynoy’s mother who was not even there (one instance: a young Calex Catáquiz was kicked out from his home by his own parents who were friends with Marcos upon learning that their son was supporting the People Power Revolution). Those politicians who gave their all-out support to the mother have instead gotten the shorter end of the stick from the son.

Has the president forgotten?

This bizarre sense of gratitude coming from President Noynoy comes into question now that his presidency is being beleaguered by reproach, nay, anger from the same voting public which catapulted him to power five years ago on account of his (covert) involvement in the Mamasapano tragedy. And this national anger is being fanned all the more by his seeming loyalty towards the selfish cause of a known terrorist group toying around with the word “revolution” despite this group’s manifest participation in the aforementioned tragedy. Where does his loyalty really belong, to the Filipino people who has supported him and his family throughout the decades, or to those troublesome pre-Filipino savages in the south?

Time and again, the president has beamingly declared that we are his bosses, and he our faithful servant. But looking back to how he has been walking on the tightrope that is contemporary history, it appears that the balance pole he is using has been carved out from the forests of Malaysia.

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Noynoy Aquino’s inspiring college yearbook message

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Somebody got hold of President Aquino’s college yearbook profile and released it recently on the Internet. It has since been spreading like wildfire on social media much to the delight of an enraged Filipino nation in the light of the Mamasapano tragedy two months ago. But delight is too tame a word. The netizens in fact were amused, if not flabbergasted, with the president’s seemingly hard-to-decipher message. Here’s why:

It is not unfamiliar to many how the president’s critics love to make fun of his psychiatric prowess even when he was still campaigning for the presidency years ago. Because of some poorly made decisions, I have since disliked this president myself. But I do not approve of how people make fun of him. It’s too personal already. I think we are starting to become too judgmental of the president. Take how Filipino netizens make fun of his collegiate message, for example. Just because the message made use of highfalutin phraseology to weave his thoughts doesn’t necessarily make him guilty of poetic pompousness. One must read his message not once but many times, and with constant care, in order to fathom the deep recesses of President Simeón Benigno III Aquino’s brilliant intellect.

Once digested with an open mind and a heart free from any form of rancor, only then will people realize the enormous inspiration that a younger Noynoy had to offer for the Filipino people. I myself am greatly inspired by his misunderstood message (as evidenced by this humble blogpost). There seems to be a tendency for the anti-Aquino camp to attack him whenever they could without realizing the hidden truths in many of the president’s pronunciations. This collegiate message of his is not really difficult to understand, neither is it cryptic. It is a literary gem in each and every angle. What he wrote was true: to be understood or misunderstood is not so much a struggle as it is with a burger stand in upstate New York where he allegedly had a psychiatric consultation decades ago. You see, everything else is connected — his almost insane passion for world peace and his support for the Bangsamoron Basic Flaw, his republican repulsion for a Nobel Peace Prize award, his deep respect for the wisdom of the ages, the magnanimity of video game characters that he has been using during spiritual moments, his rather tumescent opposition towards those who criticize sports cars in times of economic crises, and everything else. This does not even discount the afterbirth of nationalistic principles in each and every patriotic mall scattered throughout the archipelago. But what really matters is our struggle against those that oppose truth, justice, and the much-coveted American way of life found in the hearts of the people we admire and desire. And he hit the nail correctly in Frankenstein’s ponderous head when he submitted his motion for consideration that our sincerity towards life should not go against or above or below the law because, according to the ancient Greek mathematicians of the Industrial Revolution, “the law applies to all, otherwise, cottonball”. And that is what President Aquino precisely meant: in high altitudes, a moment’s self-indulgence may experience political hypoxia, if not turbulence. For through the thick, interlocking branches of alchemical nationalism, we too shall emerge victorious like Godzilla dancing to the tune of Sia’s cannibalistic “Chandelier” in the icy parts of Puerto Princesa. That is, in fact, the only reason why whenever we have to remember the president and his bombastic DILG secretary in our symbiotic thoughts, we should all pause for a few minutes to meditate about the mortality rate of cockroaches deep within the sewage system of EDSA corner Shaw Boulevard. So verily, I say unto you: wear yellow-colored curtains during the “Moment of Truth” which was one of the songs of Survivor and was included in the soundtrack of the movie “The Karate Kid”, another inspirational stuff of the Ysidra Cojuangco kind. Together we shall struggle through the rubble and the bubble. With a telescope called Hubble.

So next time, don’t immediately criticize our workaholic president. Look for ways on how President Aquino will inspire you. I even call for this college yearbook message of his to be incorporated in textbooks throughout the country. And lastly, don’t be too “KJ”. Maciado casí ninióng binobola si Getulio Napeñas, eh.

Tagayan at hagbóng

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Tayabas/Quezon Province is my roots. I grew up in Parañaque and have been connected to La Laguna Province for the past decade, but Tayabas will always be a part of me. I was born in Lucena and, as a child, have spent many happy summer vacations in Unisan, my dad’s hometown (my mom grew up in Tondo but her mother is also from Unisan). That’s why I feel very honored to have been invited to join the Quezon Province Heritage Council, Inc. (QPHC) upon the recommendation of Gemma San José of Talólong/López. It’s like a homecoming of sorts. I still am a Tayabeño.

I attended the group’s meeting last week in San Antonio, Tayabas (it was just their third since the group was conceived only recently). The meeting was held in charming Fil-Am Garden Resort owned by another member, inspirational author Julie Cox who is a native of the said town.

Clockwise from top right: Municipal hall, San Antonio covered court, San Antonio Rural Bank, and the town church, “Iglesia del Sagrado Corazón de Jesús”.

The meeting, moderated by interim president Danny de Luna, was very organized that we were able to tackle everything on the agenda, even wrapping up ahead of schedule. Being a new organization, much of what was talked about revolved on how to structure QPHC into a fully legal entity, including future activities and a possible merger with the Quezon Historical and Cultural Society which, at least to me, seems to have been inactive for a long time.

LEFT SIDE —> Seated, front row from left: Laila Armamento (San Antonio), Maricel de la Cruz Martín (Lucena) and Julie Cox (San Antonio) | Middle row from left: Wini Dagli (Sariaya) and Antonio Salumbides, Jr. (Lucbán) | Back row from left: Juanito Ike Martín (Lucena), Gilbert Macarandang (Macalelon), and Emerson Jemer Jumawan (Sariaya). RIGHT SIDE —> Seated, front row from left: Tina Decal (Kulinarya Tagala), Reina Manoñgsong (Sariaya), Jojo Cornelio Rañeses (Lucbán), and Danny de Luna (Sariaya) | Standing, second row from left: yours truly (Unisan), Eric Dedace (Sariaya), Dyun Abanador (Sariaya), Lexian Losley Aragones Avestruz (Lucena) ,and John Valdeavialla (Tayabas).

Also, during the meeting, the group took advantage of showing its appreciation to Ms. Cox for graciously hosting the event. The entrepreneur/philanthropist celebrated her birthday a few days prior, so it’s only fitting for her to be honored, and in a rare manner. Tina Decal of Kulinarya Tagala fame presided over an ancient Tagalog “vin d’honneur” for the hostess. Fellow QPHC member Eric Dedace described what we had witnessed and experienced:

…everybody prepared for the traditional “tagayan” ritual of drinking lambanóg facilitated by the Sariaya food heritage aficionado Ms. Tina Decal who acted as the “tanguera”. She properly enunciated its symbolic nature as a great expression and gesture of local warmth and welcoming hospitality by saying: “¡Ang init ng pagdaán ng lambanóg sa lalamunan ay tandó ng init ng pagtangáp ng mg̃a Tayabasin (Tayabeños) sa mg̃a visita!

¡Na’ay po!

Incorporated within the ritual was the “hagbóng”, a traditional Tayabeño ceremony given to a lady on the eve of her birthday. As such, two bouquets of flowers, individually brought by Ms. Decal and Ms. Maricel Martín, were handed over to Mr. de Luna and Architect Juanito Martín, who stood at both sides facing Ms. Cox who had her back to the center backdrop. Ms. Decal, who stood behind the center table, then presided over that very distinctive tradition by raising her hand holding the lambanóg in a wine glass, and offering the drink with the words “¡Na’ay pô!” (Here is my drink!). And, as previously instructed, everyone replied with a “¡Paquinabañgan pô!” (Make use of your drink!). Afterwards, Mr. de Luna and Architect Martín, one after the other, raised their toasts as well to Ms. Cox in the same gallant manner, and completed the one-of-a-kind ritual by handing her the flower bouquets amid much applause. Ms. Martín then handed the gracious host her very own black QPHC T-shirt as well.

Many of us today relate the Tagalog words “tagay” and “tanguero/a” to informal drinking sessions, usually rowdy drinking sessions out in the streets or in a local sari-sari store with buddies (“baricán” is what they call it), not knowing that such words have loftier origins and usage. And who would have thought that such a ritual still exists, or at least, that the Tagálogs have very sophisticated social norms? That is why the study of history, culture, and heritage is significant not only to scholars but to ordinary citizens as well. Because much of what we do in our daily lives is rooted to our past. And knowing and understanding our past strengthens our resolve about who we are and helps us value our society even more.

I am thankful and fortunate to have witnessed this ancient ritual among like-minded people in the Quezon Province Heritage Council, Inc. I am sure that I have much to learn about Tayabas. This province is so rich in both tangible and intangible heritage, much of which are in danger of being erased by careless modernity.Our group has a lot of job to do.

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