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DMCI’s Torre de Manila and Laudato si’

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Three days before the 154th birth anniversary of Dr. José Rizal which falls today, Filipinos were treated to glad tidings. The construction of the Torre De Manila condominium, rightfully dubbed by concerned Filipinos as “Terror de Manila” for photobombing the scenic background of the Rizal Monument at the Luneta, was issued a temporary restraining order (TRO) by the Supreme Court (SC).

“SC issues TRO against further construction of Torre de Manila; orders oral argument on June 30 at 2 PM” the SC Public Information Office said in its official Twitter account.

While this may just be a temporary victory, it was still welcomed with glee, especially by heritage advocates. It is still a victory nonetheless, considering the fact that this eyesore of a building by DMCI Homes keeps on growing and growing each day, conveniently ignoring the cease and desist order issued by the National Culture for Commission and the Arts (NCCA) last January that was based on existing heritage laws.

Don’t we all miss this scene? © John Tewell

This blogpost will not attempt to discuss the ins and outs of this issue as it has already been exhausted by several media outlets, opinion makers, and blogs since tourist guide and heritage activist Carlos Celdrán revealed this heritage crime to the public three years ago. As an ordinary netizen myself, I’ll just content myself to reading comments online (as usual) about this positive turn of events.

This so-called “Terror de Manila” is as unpopular as the more terrifying Bangsamoro Basic Law. The stream of comments expressing rage against the construction of this condominium as well as the joyful comments when news of the SC’s TRO broke out is overwhelming  so much that to encounter a comment expressing sympathy towards the building is simply too jarring not to ignore. One such comment in the Philippine Daily Inquirer caught my attention:

“The fact remains that the building was approved by the Manila Zoning Board. Now that the construction is stopped and probably not be restarted, I would like to ask those responsible for the demise of this building-1. Who is going to feed the workers and their families whose sole employment is probably this construction? 2. Who is going to reimburse those who already paid for the condominiums, money earned from blood and sweat? 3. Who is going to reimburse the expenses of DMCI ( DMCI is not privately owned. There are a lot of stockholders, myself included.)? I would appreciate very much if the senator, Knight of Columbus, Carlos Cedran, NCCA and so called conservationist answer those questions. Can we feed the hungry with the statue of Rizal or his image. We have more urgent problems than disfiguring the view of a statue.”

The issues raised by the commenter seems representative of everything that is pro-DMCI/Torre de Manila. Although acceptable to some quarters (and there are very few of them), all his points are still invalid. And this is the objective of this blogpost: to answer this comment point by point (let Celdrán and the NCCA tackle DMCI themselves because I’m way out of their league anyway):

1) “The fact remains that the building was approved by the Manila Zoning Board.” — But the fact also remains that the Manila Zoning Board violated Republic Act No. 10066 (National Cultural Heritage Act of 2009) on the grounds that “it mars the sightlines or visual corridors of the Rizal Monument, a declared National Cultural Treasure of the Philippines and a sublime symbol of the Filipino nation.”

2) “Who is going to feed the workers and their families whose sole employment is probably this construction?” — Didn’t the commenter realize that the Torre de Manila project does not offer permanent employment to the masons, carpenters, and other laborers involved in the construction of the said building? In case the construction pushes through and the building gets done, so is the employment of those lowly laborers. After the project, DMCI will have totally forgotten them for sure.

3) “Who is going to reimburse those who already paid for the condominiums, money earned from blood and sweat?” — DMCI of course. It was their fault from the very beginning. They can afford to make several more torres de Manila and make them disappear with a snap of a finger, considering the fact that they are one of the country’s top conglomerates (2014 total revenue in millions: ₱56,561.0 | 2014 gross profit in millions: ₱18,265.7).

4) “Who is going to reimburse the expenses of DMCI” — Same answer: DMCI can pay itself for its misdeeds, and for all we care. Even with the downfall of Torre de Manila, and DMCI eventually declaring a loss because of it in their annual reports, the reality remains that DMCI will still be around for the next couple of decades… that is, if people will only listen to Pope Francisco’s recently released Laudato si’, a powerful encyclical tackling the destruction of the environment caused by senseless consumerism… pretty much what DMCI has been doing for years (re: Isla Semirara), don’t you think?

In closing, the commenter ended his refutable questions with a more valid one: “Can we feed the hungry with the statue of Rizal or his image. We have more urgent problems than disfiguring the view of a statue.”

True, heritage conservation cannot put food on the table for the hungry poor. It cannot directly solve economic problems. But do we always have to forego heritage for profit? Is it always money above heritage, money over culture? And whose benefit would all this profit be for, anyway? Progress for whom? For the stockholders of DMCI, of course. It is obvious to the discerning reader that the commenter is concerned more about his stocks and was simply mentioning the plight of the Torre de Manila laborers to gain sympathy. And mind you, heritage has been in dire straits for the past few years. Left and right, tangible heritage buildings are fast disappearing (remember last year’s “September Massacre“?), all in the name of profit. In spite of that, did it even alleviate the sorry conditions of our less fortunate fellow Filipinos? No, it did not.

Speaking of economy, the Aquino Government has been harping this 7% growth in GDP for the longest time now, but it has not even trickled down to the most downtrodden in society (the Pantawid Pamilyang Pilipino Program should not even count because it is an outright bribe for future votes for the Liberal Party). In the same vein, will Torre de Manila’s completion benefit its construction workers for the long term? The answer is a confident no.

And since I mentioned Laudato si’, this encyclical of Pope Francisco could have never been so timely because DMCI perfectly fits in its scathing statements against consumerism, about the “relentless exploitation and destruction of the environment” (its Semirara Island project), “apathy” (its arrogant insistence of continuing Torre de Manila), “the reckless pursuit of profits” (violating existing heritage laws in exchange for big moolah), “excessive faith in technology” (fast-tracking the completion of the building inspite of NCCA’s cease and desist order), and “political shortsightedness” (former Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim and/or current Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada allowing its construction in the first place).

What will this nation become of one day? A nation of malls and condominiums?

As aptly stated by Senator Pía Cayetano: “It is high time that we, as a people, take the protection of our history, culture and heritage more seriously as these make up the intangible ideals that bind us as Filipinos and define our national identity.”

It should be remembered that the Turkish government was able to demolish the multi-million Onalti Dokuz buildings because they were rising right behind the minarets of picturesque Süleymaniye Mosque, a major tourist attraction. So what is stopping us from doing the same: apathy, greed, or both? Just tear down Terror de Manila already. It will be the perfect birthday gift for the National Hero.

The medium is the key

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I’ve been noticing a lot of new and younger historians today, giving lectures, interviews, and tours here and there, working extra hard to multiply their followers in their respective social media accounts. Many are probably looking forward to becoming “the next Ambeth Ocampo​”, or something to that effect. And even more are willing to become iconoclasts, eager to rewrite historical canon when opportunity knocks. Nothing wrong with that. But Filipino History is a complex study. It is incomparable to the histories of other nations. Our history is more about discovering new data and thrashing out the older ones. Because ours is a sad case, is in fact tainted with lies and absurdities (“leyenda negra“, hispanophobia, regionalism, etc.). Our history does not need a simple rewrite. It requires effort for self-justification of the Filipino. It needs an interpretation based not on nationalistic emotions but on hard data. Because our country’s history, to put it more bluntly, offers salvation of identity. This identity is power for it will return the dignity and swagger that we once wielded. It is the kind dignity that will enable ourselves to FIGHT all elements that dare trample on our beaten and tired souls.

Our true identity is locked away inside the forgotten chest of history. Today’s new breed of historians need not destroy it, for doing so will only do more harm to our already damaged culture. All they need is a key to unlock it. That should be their sole purpose (today. Historians should not act like celebrities. Rather, and modesty aside, they should behave more like superheroes loser by day, crime fighter by night). In reality, they really are. The Filipino Historian has a far more nobler purpose. He does not merely dig through sheets of yellowing paper to uncover hitherto unknown data and simply write about it. No. The purpose is to unravel and expose in order to help the Filipino self to recogize who he really is.

However, the Filipino Historian, who is also a writer, is not spared from the travails and hardships brought about by economic realities. More often than not, this reality serves as a hindrance to that noble purpose we speak of. But let not these deprivations discourage the Filipino Historian, for the fruits of their labor is for the betterment of their patria.

But where is that key? It’s not difficult to find: our forefathers who used pen and paper to elucidate and express their thoughts and ideas in aspiring for a better Filipinas left us just that — a medium in which to disseminate what was on their minds. That medium is the key to interpret our muddied history.

© Español al Día

Was Indang Church… attacked?

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Earlier today, a netizen from Indang posted several photos in his Facebook account of a horrendous accident inside the Saint Gregory the Church of Indang, Cavite.

© Dino Carlo Callejas Rolle

The impact destroyed one of the antique stoups (to the left) and barely missed the gravestones of Agustín de las Alas (left) and Severino de las Alas (right), a close associate of Emilio Aguinaldo. @ Dino Carlo Callejas Rolle

What’s left of the antique door and the stand of the broken stoup. It was the stoop I used before I stepped outside the church last March 22. @ Dino Carlo Callejas Rolle

At first, shocked as I was, I really thought that it was just a freak accident. Until my daughter Krystal reminded me that this “accident” might have something to do with the quarrel between parish priest Fr. Von Arellano and Mayor Bienvenido Dimero. It’s because the latter entered into a questionable water supply project that sought to supply Tagaytay City with 10,000 cubic meters of potable water to the detriment of Indang’s residents. Just last year, thousands of people from both Indang and nearby Náic gathered in front of this church to protest this unpopular and dull-witted project. And the last time I talked to my father-in-law about this subject, he did confirm to me that Indang is having problems with its water supply since then.

The evidence against the mayor regarding the unpopular water supply issue is just too glaring to ignore. @ La Familia Viajera

@ La Familia Viajera

@ La Familia Viajera

In other words, Tagaytay, a major tourist spot in Cavite Province, now has more water supply than Indang even though the former sources its supply from the latter. The irony of it all.

Because of my daughter’s heads-up, I started to examine the photos of the accident. Now I have a hunch that she could be right. Besides, I’ve been to this church a couple of times already especially since my father-in-law still resides there. I am familiar with the church’s surroundings. The church itself is SEVERAL meters away from the road, and the narrow pathway leading towards the church’s antique doors is surrounded entirely by a cemented raised-bed garden. The driver could have easily skidded his vehicle against this raised platform to put a halt to it, or at least to slow it down. But he didn’t. Other than that, this “accident” happened at around 1:00 AM this morning, when the steel gates to the church grounds are already closed. Ramming straight into those gates would have slowed the vehicle down. But it didn’t.

How uncanny it is that the raised cemented garden-bed on either side of the narrow pathway remain unscathed! @ Dino Carlo Callejas Rolle

The driver had a choice to either swerve left or right and just ram his vehicle on either post of the projecting porch (a latest addition, anyway). But he didn’t. Instead, he opted for a more perilous choice: the antique church’s wooden door. This photo was taken last March 22. @ La Familia Viajera

That is why I do not believe that this was an accident.

Fr. Arellano, by the way, is an officer of the Save Waters of Indang Movement, the group opposing Mayor Dimero’s unpopular move.

Sayang.Me and my family were at this church just last March 22. We, most especially my wife, marveled at the antique and stylish interiors of this Caviteño heritage site. And now this recklessness happened. I remember when, in 1897, Andrés Bonifacio allegedly attempted to burn this House of God should government forces recapture the town from his fellow Tagalog rebels. Even in the past, this church already figured in political controversy. Then as now.

Is this church, now led by an implacable priest hostile against the local government’s (alleged) greed and stupidity, under attack? I’m inclined to think so, but I honestly hope that I’m wrong.

From what I have gathered, the owner of the jeepney is willing to pay for the church’s damages. And the good news is that the door can still be rebuilt. But I doubt if it would be put back to its former condition. As a friend of mine shared on her Facebook: “Sorry means nothing when you hurt someone. And you hurt me bad… ” Photo taken last March 22. @ La Familia Viajera

Learn Spanish from a master!

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“…La batalla por el hispanismo en Filipinas se presenta desde el mismo hogar donde se tiene que hablar en castellano a los hijos; se presenta en las aulas donde se lucha por enseñar el español a los alumnos filipinos; se presenta en las emisiones de radio donde se inserta un programa, un número de canto o de declamación en español; se presenta en la televisión donde se inserta algún baile español, o unas canciones o toda una película; y se presenta, al fin, en la misma calle donde se le tiene que advertir al ordinario Juan de la Cruz de la hispanidad en su ser como indivíduo, como  sociedad y como nación integrada…” Guillermo Gómez Rivera

Time and again, yours truly have asserted that to be a complete Filipino, one must inculcate in himself at least a basic knowledge of the Spanish language since it had a major role in the creation of the Filipino National Identity. Acquiring this linguistic knowledge opens up secrets about our country’s past due to the fact that much of our unadulterated history is recorded in that language (take note that our national hero himself, José Rizal, clearly and deftly expressed his thoughts solely in Spanish). Once these secrets have been unlocked, a stark realization will dawn upon him that Spanish is indeed part and parcel of the Filipino spirit, that Spanish is truly indispensable, especially if we are to assert our “Filipinoness”.

However, we are not blind to the (sad) fact that not all Filipinos are interested in nationalistic talk. Many Filipino language students consider Spanish as just another language to learn. Many study it for the economic opportunities it offers. In my opinion, that is OK because the language will still lead the Filipino student, wittingly or unwittingly, towards that stark realization of nationalistic self. With the thousands of Spanish words and rootwords  that we use in everyday speech (regardless if you are Tagalog, Bicolano, Cebuano, etc.), there is virtually no escaping the Spanish language because it is truly “blood of our blood and flesh of our flesh“. It is in us already. All we need to do is to tap it to its full potential.

Going back to economics, it’s been observed that there has been a surge of interest in the Spanish language in recent years especially during the previous decade. This is because many BPOs and back office companies (such as APAC Customer Services, Genpact, Accenture, Mærsk Global Service Centres, and Convergys to name a few) are always on the hunt for Spanish-fluent workers to fill hundreds, if not thousands, of vacancies in their offices all over the country. The best part of this is that they usually pay Spanish speakers a much higher salary. In fact, ₱30,000 for rookies is already considered very low. Furthermore, there seems to be no stopping this huge demand for Spanish-speaking employees. More and more investors from Latin America and other Spanish-speaking countries have set their eyes towards Filipinaw. And as an added bonus, the Spanish language also prepares the student to easily learn other Romance languages (of which Spanish is a part). Companies such as Hubwoo in Alabang and Sunpower in Biñán are always on the lookout for people who are fluent in either French or Italian. And the pay is even higher. Since Spanish, being a Filipino language, is easier to learn, it can be used as a stepping stone to learn these Romance languages. That’s why it should come as no surprise why Rizal learned Italian in just a few days, and that he and his contemporaries were able to master French with relative ease. Also, one’s proficiency in English will be enhanced since Spanish is its linguistic cousin (both are cognates). That explains why a Spanish-speaking Manuel Quezon learned English in about two weeks, and a Spanish-speaking Claro M. Recto mastered it in only three months.

And let’s not forget Spanish-speaking Nick Joaquín, the greatest Filipino writer in the English language.

Where to learn

In Metro Manila, there are two well-known institutions that offer comprehensive Spanish language lessons. The most popular among students, of course, is Instituto Cervantes located in Ermita, Manila. Locally known as Instituto Cervantes de Manila (ICM), it is not just a school but a cultural center as well. Every month, ICM has several activities in store for both students and the general public such as film viewings, literary and art exhibits, and scholarly symposia to name a few. These activities, aside from supplementing the grammar classes, intend to familiarize Filipinos with myriad versions of Hispanic culture which exist all over the globe, from Europe to the Americas. As such, those who are enrolled are wonderfully exposed to the cultura hispánica.

The other school offering Spanish is Berlitz which has two branches in Macati and one in San Juan. Berlitz is famous for utilizing a unique kind of teaching methodology which it calls the Berlitz Method®. This technique teaches students Spanish in the same manner one learned his own native tongue — through conversation. Both the ICM and Berlitz, however, teach Spanish to Filipinos only as a foreign language. This should not be the case because Spanish is not…

Were Rizal, Marcelo del Pilar, Graciano López Jaena, Recto, etc.  foreigners?

Learn Spanish as a native language!

There is one teacher, however, who is now opening the doors to his home to Spanish language students who wish to learn the language the Filipino way, and in a manner which is homely, more personal, and guaranteed to be more effective. Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera, renowned scholar, linguist, maestro flamenco, historian, and 1975 Premio Zóbel awardee offers Spanish language classes to interested individuals. His classes, located near Chino Roces corner Vito Cruz extension in Macati City, are divided into four levels (1, 2, 3, and 4), with each level consisting of 30 hours. Tuition is only ₱7,000 nett per person (₱9,000 if one on one). The maximum number of students per class is up to four, thus ensuring intensive care towards the learning of each student. Classes run every Tuesday and Thursday evenings, from 7:00 PM to 9:00 PM, but other schedules may be arranged.

To those who have not yet heard of Señor Gómez, please take note that he is not just one of those many language instructors who teach for merely profit. The spread of the Spanish language in Filipinas has been his lifelong passion and advocacy. Other than that, Señor Gómez is the leading authority of the Spanish language in Filipinas. A veteran teacher of language of Cervantes, he was once the head of Adamson University’s now defunct Spanish Department for many years as well as a simultaneous interpreter (he was Thalía’s interpreter when the Mexican sensation visited our country many years ago) and translator of legal documents. He has also published various books and magazines on Filipino History and was the editor-in-chief of Nueva Era, the last Spanish-language newspaper in Filipinas. More importantly, Señor Gómez is the most senior academic director of the Academia Filipina de la Lengua Española (a local branch of Spain’s Real Academia Española), the country’s only Spanish-language regulating body.

True enough, there is probably no other authority on the Spanish language in Filipinas but Señor Gómez. It’s a guarantee that you will be able to speak Spanish on the first day of class! Enroll now and in a few weeks time, you’ll be able to understand part of Señor Gómez’s Premio Zóbel acceptance speech posted at the beginning of this blogpost. For inquiries, please call 895-4102 or (0930)665-9156 and look for Mr. Hermie Manongsong.

¡Vamos a hablar español pronto!

Traditional Catholic baptism of Junífera Clarita Alas

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After yours truly was married in traditional Catholic rites last 2013 (a first in Southern Tagalog after many decades), local ecclesiastical history has once again been made when, on April 18 of this year (just two Saturdays ago), my daughter Junífera Clarita was solemnly baptized “according to the use of the islands of Filipinas” (Rito Mozárabe) at the Holy Family Parish Church in Roxas District, Cubáo, Quezon City. The last time this ancient baptismal ceremony was held in our country was more than four decades ago! And since the rites were traditional, all the prayers were done in Latin and Spanish.

Rev. Fr. Joe Michel “Jojo” Zerrudo, the renowned exorcist who officiated our traditional Catholic wedding, was once again the officiating priest. Junífera Clarita’s principal godparents were none other than my esteemed friends Gemma Cruz de Araneta (Miss International 1964 who is also a historian and heritage activist) and José Ramón Perdigón (a Spanish historian who manages the Círculo Hispano-Filipino). Click here to read the story!

Welcome to the Christian world, my dear daughter! Always remember: in this part of the world where we live, to be Catholic is to be Filipino and vice versa!

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!

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