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Happy Birthday, Lord Jesus Christ!

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Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.
~Luke 2:14~

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Image courtesy of xcntrc mind.

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The AlDub phenomenon, and why Filipinos have gone crazy over it

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No matter how much we complain or give praise about it, it is a fact that stares us hard right in the face: our country is fixated with showbiz. It has become part of our culture — Filipino pop culture to be precise. From advertisements to philanthropy to politics, celebrities are almost always a focal point. Since the departure of strongman Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, who during the Martial Law years suppressed freedom of the press due to (alleged) circumstances beyond his control, emerging media moguls (led by ABS-CBN) somehow tinkered with the newly satiated freedom of many anti-Marcos Filipinos whose civil liberties were intentionally excluded by military rule. As emotions were running high during that time, new expressions of TV freedom (this includes TV Patrol’s rather controversial “on-air tabloid” style) were suddenly introduced to minds that had just been freed from years of media suppression. Not much later, Kris Aquino, the daughter of Marcos’ successor herself, became its prized darling and has been so for close to three decades already. Post-Marcos media’s coddling of suppressed liberties using glitz and glamour as well as appeal to emotion, including the enthronement of political daughter Kris as the “Queen of all Media”, is probably one of the reasons why celebrities from both TV and film have been treated by Filipino masses as if they’re demigods. The masses adore them more than anyone else, especially since the characters they portrayed on screen somehow mirrored real-life scenarios of the ordinary Juan de la Cruz. That is why their fame has even been used as a gauge for political readiness.

But fame, of course, is not without its repercussions. With fame getting into their heads, many showbiz personalities throughout the years have become notorious for acting like their Hollywood counterparts: their lavish lifestyle, foul behavior off camera, and personal scandals have been fodder for the very same ratings-hungry media which takes advantage of both them and their followers.

With the growth of Internet usage at the close of the last century, many have observed that TV and film appreciation may have reached a saturation point. Social media now provides a healthy avenue for Filipino netizens to look for new alternatives as against overexposed media brats. In fact, today’s revered media darlings (Charice Pempengco, Arnel Pineda, Bogart the Explorer, etc.), not to mention indie film breakthroughs, originated from the Internet.

But what happens when both TV and Internet personalities were put together?

“We’re moving towards the direction where both [social and mainstream media] have no choice but to co-exist,” observes TV host and talent manager Boy Abunda. And the first stop towards that direction is currently materializing on noontime TV.

For close to three months now, Filipinos all over the world via cable TV and the Internet have been glued to Eat Bulaga!‘s “Juan for All, All for Juan” (JAAJ) segment to witness an ongoing series that began in accidental fashion. The longest noontime variety show in the country has hit a goldmine with the unplanned formation of an unconventional love team between matinee idol Alden Richards and Internet sensation Maine “Yaya Dub” Mendoza. Eat Bulaga! since then has capitalized on the hugely popular tandem by creating what they call a “Kalyeserye”, much to the detriment of rival networks and to the amazement of pop culture observers, social media pundits, and even sociologists. Alden and Maine’s huge following has even given their love team a nickname which trends on various social media (particularly on Twitter) every single day: AlDub, a portmanteau of Alden and Yaya Dub.

And just how wild is this latest Filipino pop culture craze?

Worldwide phenomenon

AlDub brings back reminiscences of our fanaticism over Mexican actress Thalía brought about by her “Marimar” telenovela during the early 90s. Since AlDub’s accidental inception last July 16, social media have been pregnant with reports about office workers who miss or adjust their lunch breaks just to catch the ongoing AlDub drama, with some arriving late or not reporting for work at all. School children have been vocal about their wish for class suspensions (one provincial governor took time to answer such clamor). TV sets inside malls, restaurants, and other related establishments are being flocked by customers during noontime. Bus, jeepney, tricycle, and train terminals with TV sets have waiting passengers tuned in to them, unmindful of waiting for the next ride. Many sari-sari stores and bakeries shut down operations whenever Kalyeserye is about to begin. A video of a little girl crying because of AlDub’s star-crossed situation became viral in YouTube. One militant solon unashamedly professed his support for the love team. Fellow showbiz personalities like Judy Ann Santos, Ai-Ai de las Alas, and many others confessed that they are fans of the love team. Even people from ABS-CBN, the  heated rival of Eat Bulaga!’s studio GMA Network, were not spared from the AlDub fever.

Former President and now Manila Mayor Joseph “Erap” Estrada enjoying his “AlDub break”.

OFWs are not spared from the craze. As in the case here in Filipinas, many AlDub fan clubs from other countries have sprouted like mushrooms, keeping themselves abreast of each episode. And speaking of other countries, US film giant Walt Disney Studios stunned its Filipino fans when it posted on its Facebook page two characters from one of its popular animated films commenting on the AlDub fever!

AlDub has also been breaking Twitter records. Last September 24, its #ALDubEBforLOVE hashtag drew an astonnishing 25.6 million tweets! A week earlier, #ALDUBMostAwaitedDate was tweeted and retweeted more than 10 million times in a span of 14 hours (the final tally was 12.1 million). Guinness World Records is reportedly considering awarding the latter with the “Fastest Rising Worldwide Trend” Award.

No part of the world is spared from the AlDub craze.

How this love team is embraced by people from all walks of life, from a wide range of demographics, is certainly unprecedented and astounding. It would be thoroughly surprising to meet anyone who is not familiar with today’s most recognizable faces on both TV and social media. But for the sake of those who are still stuck in some kind of antimatter universe, here’s something to fill you in (and for the millions who already know, a reminiscence)…

Dubsmash Queen

It all began when Dubsmash, a video messaging application for mobile devices, captivated the interest of local netizens early this year. With the application, users can choose an audio recording of a well known recorded quote from an uploaded list and record a video of themselves in which they dub the quote. Usually, the uploaded quotes are lines from a movie or a TV program.

Enter Nicomaine Dei Mendoza, or simply Maine, a pretty twenty-year-old lass from a petite bourgeoisie family in Santa María, Bulacán. She graduated from an exclusive school where she took up culinary arts and had her on-the-job training in New York. As such, it’s unlikely for a pretty young lady with intimidating credentials to make fun of herself online, least of all distort her face for everybody’s amusement. But that’s what exactly Maine did to herself. Just a few months ago, her Dubsmash parodies of various people, most notably presidential sister Kris Aquino, have gone insanely viral, this because of her expressively creative ways of dubbing those persons’ lines, complete with body movements, make-up, and props to boot. Her facial elasticity and the preciseness in which she dubs made it appear as if she’s not dubbing at all, as if she really owned the uploaded voices. Because of her dubbing creativity, her Dubsmash videos became viral, with her rendition of Kris Aquino last summer earning more than a million views overnight.

Since then, any mention of Dubsmash will immediately bring Maine Mendoza to mind, at least in our country. Netizens now call her the “Dubsmash Queen of the Philippines”. And the buzz which she has inadvertently created caught the attention of Eat Bulaga! who then recruited her via Facebook. She was given the role of Yaya Dub which is short for Divina Úrsula Bukbukova, and her last name would be Smash, an ingenious homage to the video messaging application that made her an Internet sensation; yaya is Tagálog for nursemaid. Her responsibility as Yaya Dub is to be the girl Friday to comedian Wally Bayola’s snobbish and supercilious Doña Nidora Esperanza y Zobeyala vda. de Explorer, or Lola Nidora for short. Together, they join José Manalo and Paolo Ballesteros in JAAJ doing comedy vignettes in various barrios in Luzón while helping out less fortunate families (drawn through a lottery from the studio) by giving them food, cash, and other prizes from Eat Bulaga!’s wide array of sponsors.

Struggling actor

Let’s face it: it is already common knowledge that GMA Network is behind its rival, media giant ABS-CBN. While some of GMA’s shows have proven themselves to be more successful over their rivals (this includes Eat Bulaga!), mainstream media popularity is being enjoyed by a majority of ABS-CBN programs. As such, many of the former’s talents are considered by many as second-rate compared to the latter’s stars. A marquee with the name “Alden Richards”, a GMA Network contract star since 2011, has less appeal if it were to be placed vis-à-vis ABS-CBN matinee idols such as Daniel Padilla or Enrique Gil or James Reid. So despite his string of successes in his mother studio, Alden seems to be “still struggling” when it comes to the mass appeal being enjoyed by Padilla, Gil, and other ABS-CBN male stars, as if he is still carving his own niche in local showbiz — all this, of course, was before the AlDub craze that is currently sweeping the Filipino community worldwide by storm.

Nevertheless, Alden has everything a matinee idol needed to have in order to succeed: good looks, good build, and admirably good manners. But the impression remains that his seemingly goody two-shoes image is just that — another good-looking fellow who will soon fade away from GMA’s supposedly lackluster limelight. Whatever fame Alden has couldn’t seem to go toe to toe against that of his more popular counterparts in ABS-CBN. One write-up even called him the “John Lloyd Cruz of GMA” (Cruz is one of ABS-CBN’s top stars), a comment which, of course, complements Cruz more than Alden.

Recently, Alden was given the chance to be launched as a major actor when he was given the weighty role of national hero José Rizal in the epic docudrama “Ilustrado”. Surprisingly, despite the name Rizal and the historicity attached to it, the drama series was not warmly received. It lasted for a mere 20 episodes, immediately forgotten.

The birth of a phenomenon

As many fans already know, Alden was hired by Eat Bulaga! in May this year as one of its many co-hosts, but only for a month-long trial period. He was followed by Maine a few weeks later. But they were not put together since Alden’s duties are studio-based, hosting a contest for attractive young men. Maine, on the other hand, is always on the road together with her JAAJ colleagues. The only interaction that JAAJ cast had with their studio colleagues, particularly Eat Bulaga!’s main hosts Tito, Vic, and Joey (popularly known as TVJ), was via split screen communication.

The magic began when Eat Bulaga!’s staff found out that Maine had a real-life crush on Alden who she has yet to meet. The staff then thought of pulling a soft prank on her by having Alden sit with the audience at the studio while Maine was doing her grumpy Yaya Dub routine (JAAJ was somewhere in Olóngapo). Then this happened:

And just like that. Sparks flew on their first split screen meeting. Local netizens immediately noticed the delightful interaction between Alden and Yaya Dub and were tickled pink with how the latter unintentionally broke character. Yaya Dub’s masuñgit demeanor was shattered beyond her control. For the first time since her TV debut, Eat Bulaga! fans saw grumpy Yaya Dub’s genuine smile. More “kilig” moments between her and Alden transpired in the following days. On social media, particularly on Twitter, netizens were on a frenzy, demanding more screentime for the two. It was during those early days when somebody thought of coming up with the catchy nickname AlDub which spread like wildfire. Eat Bulaga! management took notice of the well-received split screen flirtations which seemed to have overtaken the segment itself. And then there’s that huge spike in the ratings, of course. Noontime viewing habits have never been the same since that unexpected July 16 episode. Kalyeserye (a Joey de León coinage) was born and has been on a nonstop rampage both in the ratings and in social media.

Because of the craze, Alden’s career was rejuvenated like never before! Both he and Maine have become instant media darlings and endorsement favorites. Just recently, fastfood giant McDonald’s Philippines and cellular service Talk N Text have also capitalized on AlDub’s huge popularity by making both Alden and Maine as their endorsers. And even before their commercials were premiered for the first time (especially in McDo’s case), netizens were already abuzz with excitement. It can even be said that McDo’s AlDub TV advertisement has become the most anticipated TV commercial in local media history. Now they have more lined up.

But what made AlDub in particular and Kalyeserye in general tick among an overwhelming majority of Filipinos?

Explaining the craze

It can be argued that while AlDub is the centerpiece of the so-called “teleserie parody”, it’s the whole Kalyeserye itself that has captivated millions of Filipino viewers all over the world. Wally’s superb breakthrough acting as the strict Lola Nidora hilariously complements the eccentric nonspeaking Yaya Dub of Maine who merely “dubsmashes” as a way of communicating. And as Kalyeserye took flight to stardom, Manalo and Ballesteros followed suit in the zany acting, eliciting hordes of laughter and tears wherever they go.

Many have attempted to explain the reason for this phenomenon. One sociologist claimed that “Cinderella complex” is the underlying factor behind the craze, It holds water since Filipinos have been exposed to “clacismo” conflict (poor boy/girl falls in love with rich girl/boy) in local romance movies for many years, a phenomenon that can be traced to our Spanish colonial past since it was the Spaniards who introduced feudalism here. And that’s the core of the story of Eat Bulaga!’s Kalyeserye: a matinee idol and a nanny falling in love — split screen style, though. But the twist here is that the nursemaid’s rich boss (who is later revealed to be related to her) is against the blossoming love affair for reasons not yet clearly known (in the story, the reason is written in Lola Nidora’s diary, but it was stolen by a mysterious riding-in-tandem).

Hispanic elements

Eat Bulaga!’s Kalyeserye is deemed by many as a parody of telenovelas or teleseries (hence the name). But if you look at it closely, it is more than that. Teleseries are rehearsed and taped whereas Kalyeserye is delivered spontaneously. As already revealed in various interviews, the actors don’t have a script. They merely follow a storyline. In drama circles, this is called “improv acting”. And since it’s improv comedy, the actors are given the license to break the fourth wall from time to time, that’s why it’s not unusual for televiewers and studio audiences to see them trying hard to control their laughter whenever a fellow actor (or other Eat Bulaga! hosts on the studio) blurt out one-liners or rib them with other hilarities.

Kalyeserye’s improv acting adds up to the charm. However, it is but another ingredient to what makes up the whole picture. To put it more bluntly, Kalyeserye is essentially a zarzuela. In fact, we see several elements of it: comedic acting with matching colorful costumes, drama and romance, and much dancing and music — “Dubsmash” music, that is. And it’s all done on live TV, hence the “modern-day” tag. AlDub is a reincarnation of this now rare Spanish lyric-dramatic genre. The zarzuela, in fact, is an important component in our national identity because it has been a major part of our history for more than a century. As a Hispanic people, it is already in our genetic memory, in our DNA, Deep within the Filipino psyche is a nostalgic longing for this theatrical art form which has endeared generations of Filipinos since 1879.

(Incidentally, Vicente Sotto, the grandfather of Tito and Vic Sotto, 2/3 of Eat Bulaga!’s TVJ triumvirate, was one of the first writers of the zarzuela. In 1902, Sotto wrote “Maputi ug Maitum” or “Black and White”, a zarzuela in the Cebuano language).

Zarzuelas of old were also known to tackle and include social issues of the day as well as to impart values. These we see in Kalyeserye whenever the riding-in-tandem appears (the prevalence of riding-in-tandem crime incidents), whenever Alden and Yaya Dub show their split screen “lambiñgan” right in front of a very upset Lola Nidora (impetuous juvenile relationships), whenever Lola Nidora cautions Yaya Dub to act like a “dalagang Filipina“, and a whole lot more. And speaking of values, Kalyeserye has also been earning both praise and support from various sectors, most notably the local Catholic Church, for subtly imparting traditional Filipino values and customs that, sadly, are rarely practiced by Filipinos nowadays. As a matter of fact, we can boldly claim that Kalyeserye has Filipino values written all over it. We see this whenever Alden writes “pô” and “opò” in his fan sign communications with Lola Nidora and her two sisters Lola Tidora (Ballesteros) and Lola Tinidora (Manalo). We see this whenever Yaya Dub performs the “mano pô” gesture, bowing her head towards the offered hands of Lola Nidora, Lola Tidora, and Lola Tinidora as she presses her forehead on their hands. And that only strengthens our claim that, indeed, this show is a modern-day zarzuela because it imparts the appreciation of Filipino culture, customs, values, and even spirituality (Alden making the sign of the cross before a Catholic image as he enters Lola Nidora’s mansion in episode 63).

In Kalyeserye we see more of this Hispanic genetic memory of which we spoke of earlier. Remember the first time Yaya Dub broke character when she couldn’t control her smile towards Alden? She immediately covered her face with her abanico. Wittingly or unwittingly, she mimicked the Filipinas of olden times who covered their faces with abanicos each time their faces revealed their emotions. Her now famous “pabebe wave” is, in fact, a modest/demure way for a Filipina to wave towards her admirer. And need we mention that this novelty word is rooted in Spanish? “Pa” is a Tagálog prefix while “bebe” is Spanish for “baby”.

We all laugh at the “asaua ni” jokes being thrown around by cast members when, unbeknownst to many, it is a nod to the Spanish language’s gender rules. And need we remind everyone that the word Kalyeserye is derived from Spanish (calleserie)? And of course, there’s Lola Nidora whose name was inspired from that famous Hispanic American cartoon character called Dora The Explorer. Lola Nidora herself speaks (broken) Spanish from time to time.

Magical realism

But how come Lola Nidora seems to have never aged in spite of the fact that she’s already 150 years old? All her three bodyguards are named “Rogelio”. The riding-in-tandem seems to come out from nowhere. In many episodes, we see Alden from one part of the screen hand out flowers and other gifts to Maine who’s at the other screen (in one hilarious episode, Alden hands out a glass of water to Lola Nidora; but when the latter, who is on the other end of the screen received it, it became a cup of coffee with a drowned fly in it). How come Yaya Dub (prior to episode 58) couldn’t speak? And who could ever forget episode 24 when Yaya Dub participated in Eat Bulaga!’s celebrity contest “Dabarkads Pa More”? After her performance, she was threatened by Lola Nidora, in the form of a witch, to immediately flee Broadway Centrum or she would turn into a fat pumpkin.

And the most bizarre yet most interesting part of all this is that the cast of Kalyeserye are able to interact with TVJ or whoever else is sitting on the JAAJ table, thus blurring the lines between fiction and reality.

There are lots of questions in Kalyeserye which nobody even bothers to ask not because the show is just a parody but because such questions don’t really need any answers. Or to be more apt, many weird occurrences in Kalyeserye just don’t require any explanation at all. Kalyeserye is simply out of this world and at the same time it is not because the segment still has to co-exist with the goings-on of Eat Bulaga! (Yaya Dub’s participation in the grand finals of “Dabarkads Pa More” in episode 75 best exemplifies this). This strange mix of fiction and reality is called magical realism.

Magical realism traces its roots to Latin American Literature, another Hispanic creation.

#KiligPaMore

But it can never be ignored that the major selling point of Eat Bulaga!’s Kalyeserye is its so-called “kilig” factor between Alden and Yaya Dub. Kilig is a modernized spelling for the word “qilig“. Many say that it has no direct translation to any language. So let’s go back to history to find out more about its meaning.

On page 265 of the book “Vocabulario de la Lengua Tagala” (published in Manila in 1860 by Spanish friars Juan José de Noceda and Pedro de Sanlúcar), we see that qilig is defined as “temblar el cuerpo por picado de culebra” which means “the shaking of the body as caused by a (poisonous) snakebite”. That is why today, we associate kilig/qilig to that shaking, inexplicable feeling whenever one is infatuated or falls in love. The split screen antics of Alden and Yaya Dub have given their fans an overload of kilig/qilig not only to the young but across all age groups, including married couples. Surprisingly, even the “baracos” are not spared!

What in the world could have caused this strange occurrence, that even full-blooded males are swooning over AlDub?

Aside from the clacismo conflict that was explained earlier, one telling reason is the fact that Alden and Maine (prior to the September 5 episode and all succeeding Saturdays after that) had never met or communicated in real life. The only communication they had for most of the time was through split screen and fan signs. To some, this setup endeared netizens towards the show because Alden and Maine’s situation reminded them of long-distance relationships that are linked only by the Internet. Many of them use Skype, FaceTime, and other related video chat applications to communicate with their long-distance love interests. However, not all netizens use such software. Therefore, we still have to dig deeper into the Filipino psyche…

We go back to Intramuros, the blueprint of all towns in Filipinas.

During the days when the sun had not yet set on the Spanish Empire, houses inside the Walled City were built so close together that neighbors could see the interiors of each other’s houses through their large windows. This set-up was taken advantage of by young lovers who surreptitiously communicate through windows at night. This romantic practice by young Filipino lovers during the Spanish times spilled over to other towns across the country whose houses were similarly built like those inside Intramuros — close together.

The above facts remind us of this once popular tale of two lovers in old Quiapò who communicated with each other only through the windows of their respective houses. They have never spoken outside of their homes; only through their windows. The boy once attempted to come close to his wooed who was then walking outside the church but hesitated especially when he saw his lover’s parents with her. This went on for a while until, no longer able to bear her emotions, the young lady challenged her lover to formally court her and to present himself to his parents. Their courtship eventually gave birth to the traditional habanera Filipino song La Flor de Manila, now known as Sampaguita (more about this story in a future blogpost).

During that time, Filipino suitors touching even just the hands of Filipinas were considered taboo. The only time that they were allowed to come in close contact to each other was during the day of their wedding. And that adds up to the thrill which we now call qilig/kilig. In modern times, however, all of this has been lost. The Filipino youth, Anglo-Saxonized to the core, have engaged in premarital sexual relationships in wild abandon, debasing love of its purity and truest form. That is why Alden and Maine’s first appearance together in split screen last July 16 woke up in us our latent Hispanic romanticism. The split screen were, in a way, the windows of those old houses where lovers of yesteryears whispered either puppy love frivolities or their undying love for each other.

Bae Alden and Yaya Dub’s first eye-to-eye contact last September 5 is now considered as one of Filipino TV’s most iconic moments.

AlDub with Eat Bulaga!’s “Dabarkads” together for the first time at Broadway Centrum last October 3.

Lastly, AlDub is not your ordinary love team. Unlike all love teams we have, they’re not what most showbiz-loving Filipinos call “pa-tweetums” or “pa-cute“. They are weird and wacky, making their tandem somewhat revolutionary. But most of all, they subtly spread Filipino CATHOLIC Values. That is why they have touched base to our latent Hispanic soul. AlDub has inadvertently reconnected us to our past selves.

Like many other pop culture phenomena, Kalyeserye will one day run its course. But the positive effect it has on Filipinos about rekindling their time-honored values will be for keeps. Let’s enjoy and cherish it while it lasts.

The Indio is the enemy of the Filipino

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© Rasta Livewire

“Spanish friars mercilessly flogged Filipinos.”

This modern concept of the Indio being flogged by a Spanish friar under the hot tropical sun is what keeps the motor of hispanophobia running. There is no more need to expound what an indio means; simply put, indio is a Spanish word for “native”. The so-called “insulares” or Spaniards who were born in Filipinas were the first Filipinos. Through time, however, hispanization further blurred this. Indios/natives who were Christianized, who started learning and talking in Spanish, and who imbibed the culture from the West began referring to themselves not as indios but Filipinos as well. And this posed not a problem to the insular. As a matter of fact, the insular never considered themselves as “Spaniards” in the strictest sense of the word. They, as well as the Hispanized indios, simply referred to themselves as FILIPINOS. Filipinas is where they were born and where they grew up (patria chica).

To continue, those indios —whether they belonged to the Tagálog race, Ilocano race, Bicolano race, etc.— who were Hispanized in effect lost their “indio” identity (but not completely, of course) when they assimilated themselves to an influx of cultural dissemination coming from the West. There is nothing wrong with this. During those days, it was perfectly normal, as the influx of a foreign culture had no hint of any personal profit and even promoted cultural osmosis in the local scene (contrary to popular belief, Spain NEVER became rich when they founded and colonized our archipelago).

Anyway, because of cultural dissemination, the Hispanized Tagálog ceased to become Tagálog: he became Filipino. The Hispanized Ilocano ceased to become Ilocano: he became Filipino. The Hispanized Bicolano ceased to become Bicolano: he became Filipino. In other words, the term Filipino is not a race but a concept (there is no such thing as a Filipino race because our country is composed of several races). But this concept put a premium over our collective identities, giving us a patriotic “swagger” to refer to ourselves under one homogeneous identity: EL FILIPINO.

To Hispanize, therefore, is to Filipinize. And to put it more bluntly, our “Spanishness” is what makes us Filipino, not our “indio” identity (which is merely a substrate). If we take away our indio identity in us, our Hispanic identity will still continue to flourish. But if we take away our Spanishness, we will go back to becoming savages, and go back to the mountains as “cimarrones“.

Take for example Cali Pulaco, popularly known today as “Lapu-lapu”. This fellow, an indio ruler from Mactán, virtually resisted change. His neighbor, Rajáh Humabon, did not. Humabon accepted change, was baptized into the Christian faith, and received a Christian name: Carlos (named after then Spanish King Carlos I). Remember that culture is not static, should never be static. His men accepted the Santo Niño (and the icon’s culture) as part of their own. Those who were baptized with him died as Christians; Lapu-lapu and his people died as heathens.

And even up to now, Cebuanos celebrate the feast of the Santo Niño with frenzied fervor. Because the Santo Niño has become part of them as Cebuanos, and part of us as Filipinos.

During the Spanish times, there were many other ethnic groups who resisted change — the Ifugáos up north, the Aetas of the mountains, the Mañguianes of Mindoro, the Muslims of the south, etc. And because they resisted change, they missed the opportunity to become “one of us”. Technically, they are not Filipinos. They are only Filipinos by citizenship. But in a socio- and historico-cultural sense, they are not. And look at them now: no disrespect, but they look pathetic and backward because they resisted change. The mountain tribes of the Cordilleras still wage against one another. The Aetas continue to be forest dwellers. The Muslims still raid and kidnap Christians for a ransom and to have their turfs seceded from Filipinas. Etc etc etc. Because, then as now, their culture remains static. They still remain as INDIO as ever before.

Let us accept the fact that our Spanish past is what made us Filipinos in the first place. it is this identity which removed us from the backwardness of a static culture that refused to accept change. Let us accept that we are Filipinos because we are Christians (Catholic), we use cubiertos whenever we eat, we STILL SPEAK Spanish (uno, dos, tres, lunes, martes, miércoles, enero, febrero, marzo, silla, mesa, ventana, polo, pantalón, camisa, etc etc etc.), we eat adobo and pochero, we have Spanish names, we practice and value “amor propio“, “delicadeza“, “palabra de honor“, our town fiestas are the most festive and lavish in the whole world, we enjoy the “tiangues” of Divisoria, etc.

No soy indio. Porque soy filipino.

Originally published here, with slight edits. Special thanks to Arnaldo Arnáiz for the title which was actually a catchy notion that he conceptualized when we were still office mates a few years back.

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.

Baybayin is not Filipino

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As per the research of scholar Trinidad Pardo de Tavera.

At the 4th Baybayin Festival Rizal held at the Ynares Center in Antipolo City last November 22, Senator Loren Legarda announced that she filed Senate Bill No. 1899 which calls for the use of Baybayin in all official logos of government agencies, departments, and offices.

While her bill will impact only official government logos, the fact remains that the good senator is still campaigning for its eventual general usage. This became evident when, on the same event, she said:

Marahil ñgayón ay hindí na maunauaan ng caramihan ang cahalagahán ng Baybayin dahil sanáy na tayo sa sistema ng pagsusulát na ating nacagisnán. Ñgunit capág binalicáan nátin ang ating casaysayan, ang baybayin ang símbolo ng civilización ng mga sinaúnang Filipino, bago pa man táyo mapasailálim sa pamumuno ng mg̃a dayuhan. (Perhaps today, many no longer understand the importance of Baybayin because we are already accustomed to the current system of writing which we have been using. But when we look back at our history, Baybayin is the symbol of civilization of the first Filipinos, right before we were subjugated by  foreign rule.)

This statement only implies her full support for Baybayin.

More than one Baybayin

Baybayin, as many of us all know, is an ancient pre-Filipino script that was used by major ethnolinguistic groups in the country such as the Tagálogs, Cebuanos, Ilocanos, etc. It has always been taught to us that the Baybayin (mistakenly referred to as Alíbata years ago) was the original Filipino system of writing. This is, of course, a false notion. For one: before the Spaniards arrived, our country was not yet created. Hence, there were still no Filipinos during that time (the first Filipinos were actually criollos or insulares; the term “Filipino” itself was coined by one). Second, and more importantly, there are several variations of Baybayin.

As can be seen from the chart above, there are more than one version of Baybayin. The Baybayin of the Visayans is not the one used by the Bicolanos, the Baybayin of the Ilocanos could neither be read by the Pampangueños, and so on and so forth. Even Tagálog has five versions! So how can Senator Loren Legarda incorporate the usage of this ancient script when it varies according to linguistic region? Will she do an eeny, meeny, miny, moe? Or will she arbitrarily use Tagalog since it is the basis of the national language? But again, WHICH Tagalog Baybayin? And if she chooses a different script other than Tagalog, that will make the other ethnolinguistic groups feel left out as well.

At this early stage, we can already feel the ineffectiveness of Baybayin. It will only espouse more division than unity other than confusion to an already uneducated Filipino studentry.

From Baybayin to Abecedario

We do, however, understand the nationalist stance of Senator Legarda. It is the same sentiment shared by many other nationalists, particularly those from UP Dilimán. But it is a kind of nationalism that is twisted and not rooted to historical reason and analysis. Had the good senator and those supporting her bill looked beyond their textbook knowledge as basis for this ancient script’s usage, they would have realized its inefficacy (eventually realizing their misplaced nationalism). Baybayin was actually scrapped not because the Spanish friars thought of it as the “workings of demons”, as we are wont to hear from hispanophobic historians, but for the simple fact that it was not an effective medium in disseminating novel thoughts and ideas to a people who were about to be taught the rudiments of contemporary literacy — book culture.

We can point out to Tomás Pinpín, our country’s first typographer and printer, as the culprit behind the disuse of the Baybayin. But he did it for practical reasons. When Pinpín was commissioned by the Dominicas to print the first Christian booklets for each native language, different typographical sets of Baybayin had to be manufactured. It was a very tedious process considering the fact that during his time (late 16th to early 17th century), wooden letter chips which were used to form each word that had to be printed were then handmade. It dawned upon Pinpín that it would take a lot of time, possibly years, to complete so many sets of Baybayin even before he could begin printing a book.

The archaic xylographic method of printing was a tedious process. Just imagine your first book being published in this manner using just one writing system. What more if it will be published in other systems of writing? You would have lost more hair by then compared to this guy in the picture.

But being of Chinese origin, Pinpín was aware that mainland China also had many languages. The difference, however, is that the Chinese always had one common system of writing, something which our country didn’t have at that time. And so this gave our first typographer and printer a marvelous idea: why not standardize the system of writing of all indigenous groups in Filipinas? Instead of using the various kinds of Baybayin, Pinpín (with the blessings of the Dominicans) decided to adopt for all the native languages the writing system that the Spaniards have been using — the Roman alphabet.

Not only did this move save Pinpín tons of time and labor in printing the first set of books meant for religious missions. It also gave the several groups in the archipelago, from Aparrí all the way to Joló, a sense of unity, of oneness, and of identity. And that is also the reason why up to now, we are still using the same system of writing.

Hardened nationalists who despise the present use of the Roman alphabet and yearn for the return of the Baybayin should take note that Pinpín’s decision to discard the latter not only gave him and future printers the ease of work. Inadvertently, it also paved the way for the introduction of two new vowel sounds: the “E” and the “O” (before the Spaniards arrived, the natives only had three vowel sounds: “A”, “I”, and “U”). It also assisted the natives into learning not only the Spanish language but also other European languages using the same alphabet. In the long run, the Filipinos developed their own alphabet, different but somewhat similar. It was called the Abecedario Filipino.

Bring back the Abecedario Filipino

If Senator Legarda’s intention of bringing back the Baybayin from obscurity is to instill nationalist pride among Filipinos, then she’s barking up the wrong tree. If one were to analyze it, Baybayin will only foster regionalism rather than nationalism. This alarming observation is already evident in local Pampangueño historian Michael Raymon Pañgilinan‘s patronization of the Culitan, the Capampañgan term for their version of Baybayin. Pañgilinan and his followers’ preoccupation for the Culitan did not instill in them love of country but love of region. As a result, Pañgilinan himself disdains of being called a Filipino and is obsessed with talks of a fairy tale “Kingdom of Luzón“.

What Senator Legarda and other leaders in government tasked to handle cultural and heritage issues is to bring back instead not the Baybayin but the 32-letter Abecedario Filipino, the true Filipino orthography which developed from Pinpín’s ingenious move to use the Roman alphabet instead of the awkward Baybayin.

Having 32 letters (five letters more than its Spanish counterpart), the Abecedario Filipino is clearly one of the longest alphabets in the world. Most of its consonants are read with the Batangueño inflection “eh”:

A (ah), B (be), C (se), CH (che), D (de), E (eh), F (efe), G (he), H (ache), I (ih), J (hota), K (ka), L (ele), LL (elye), M (eme), N (ene), NG (nang), Ñ (enye), ÑG (ñga), O (oh), P (pe), Q (ku), R (ere), RR (erre), S (ese), T (te), U (uh), V (ube), W (doble u), X (ekis), Y (ih griega), Z (seta)

As mentioned earlier, the introduction of the Roman alphabet by Pinpín which paved the way for the development of the Abecedario Filipino augmented the phonemes of the local languages with the addition of new vowel (“A”, “I”, and “U”) and consonant (“F”, “Ñ”) sounds. The Abecedario Filipino is also the same alphabet utilized by Francisco Balagtás when he wrote his now classic Florante at Laura. It was the same alphabet used by our forefathers, and that included Rizal and his contemporaries, in writing literature and in corresponding among themselves. Whether a Filipino back then spoke a different native language, his usage of the Abecedario Filipino is one proof that he has assimilated himself into the Filipino cosmos,

The Abecedario Filipino is thus the orthography that must be put back to full usage because of its unifying characteristics. Other than that, the Abecedario Filipino will prove once and for all that Tagalog, Cebuano, Capampañgan, Bicolano, etc. are not inferior to English.

This obsession for a mythical glorious past should stop because it is retrogressive and very un-Filipino. But if Senator Legarda still insists of having her worthless bill passed into law, then she might as well push for all Filipinos to go back to writing on banana leaves and tree barks.

The Baybayin NEVER united our archipelago. It never did. And it never will. On the other hand, the Abecedario Filipino has already proven its effectiveness in strengthening our collective identity as Filipinos.

La Laguna Lakeshore Tour (dry run)

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FILIPINO eSCRIBBLES & WITH ONE’S PAST present: La Laguna Lakeshore Tour (dry run)! Image design by NCCA’s León.

We prayed for sunny skies. And we got more than what we bargained for. The weather wasn’t just fine during the dry run of our La Laguna Lakeshore Tour venture last November 16 — it was literally dry. So dry it was I thought summer swapped months with the cold season! Nevertheless, we were thankful for the cooperative weather because we were able to enjoy fully our walkathon of our selected lakeshore towns.

As discussed in a podcast two Sundays ago, me and Mr. With One’s Past are planning of making a guided tour of La Laguna Province. To start the ball rolling, we thought of doing a dry run scheduled for November 16, another Sunday. And since the only marketing tool we have at the moment is social media, we thought of publicizing about the dry run in Facebook and Twitter. Arnaldo doesn’t have a personal Facebook account, so I did most of the announcing (with some help from wifey). Those I had in mind were our former colleagues from APAC Customer Services (Los Ángeles Times account). I wrote a post about it on my wall, then tagged people left and right as I was not really expecting a lot to join. Surprisingly, many showed interest, even those outside of our LAT circle of friends. Even some members of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts confirmed their attendance which was a positive sign.

The only problem is that we were unprepared for that overwhelming reception. Logistics became a problem. Arnaldo wasn’t able to find a cheap but comfortable ride. So we had to content ourselves with his car which could only fit a maximum of four to five passengers. Good thing that one of his friends, a former subordinate of his, volunteered to bring his own car which could carry five more. We then had to limit our number of guests, trimming them down to eight (which included a five-year-old girl). Grudgingly, we had to turn down many others who had wanted to join.

On the eve of the tour, Arnaldo dropped by our place to make more plans on how we are going to conduct the tour. It was drizzling the whole day; we were so thankful that, on the next day, we woke up to sunny skies. Our prayers were answered.

Meeting place was at Alabang, Muntinlupà (at the firestation near Festival Supermall). The exciting part is that all of those who were to meet us do not know each other. And me and Arnaldo do not know all of them, either. Three were from the NCCA: Rei, León, and Myra (well, she used to be). The other one is Cuya Joey, a former colleague of mine from APAC’s Unicare account who blogs at Manila Labyrinth. The one who brought a car was Jemuel. Jemuel brought with him two friends of his: former colleague Teng who in turn tagged along her little daughter Amara, and Ruel who is also a history buff.

After some quick introductions and debriefing about the tour, we boarded our rides. Me and Krystal (who served as our photographer) rode in Jemuel’s car with his group while the rest joined Arnaldo’s. We all left at around 8:00 AM and then arrived at the Rizal Shrine in Calambâ in less than an hour. What greeted us there was unexpected from a usually slow Sunday morning at the town proper — hordes of high school students delivered by huge buses! It somehow dampened my momentum because I was already revved up for what I was about to say during the tour of the house. There was a quick change of plan; we proceeded to the town church first to show them where exactly the National Hero was baptized.

Iglesia de San Juan Bautista (Calambâ).

We returned to the shrine a few minutes later, but the hundreds of students who were still lined up towards the entrance were crammed like MRT passengers during rush hour. Since we were not part of the field trip, we gained easy access. But the noise, not to mention the heat because of so many people, made me dizzy and uncomfortable. I’ve never seen so many people at the Rizal Shrine, even during those Rizal Day ceremonies that I have attended in the past. Fortunately, we survived. I was still able to explain to them the parts of a bahay na bató, with Arnaldo pitching in from time to time. Outside the shrine, both of us gave more interesting historical tidbits about the “Hometown of the National Hero“.

José Rizal Shrine (Calambâ). From left to right: Ruel, Jemuel, Teng with her daughter Amara, León, Arnaldo, me, Myra, Rei, and Cuya Joey.

Our next stop was for lunch. Surprisingly, traffic was a breeze at the national highway near the UPLB area. Then we realized that it was a Sunday. We arrived at Victoria and dined at the curiously named Itlog Ni Kuya. The theme of this quaint restaurant by the sleepy highway complements the town’s nickname as the “Duck Raising Center of Filipinas” since they serve Victoria’s delicacies: ducks, duck eggs, quail, and related products. Here one can find the best-tasting salted eggs (itlóg na pulá): not too salty nor greasy, but tasty still.

Itlog Ni Kuya (Victoria).

Hearty lunch stopover at the country’s duck raising center.

After a nice meal and some pleasantries, we drove straight to “La Noble Villa de Pila“, the only Lagunense town declared as a National Historical Landmark mainly because of its well-preserved and conserved picturesque ancestral homes and baroque church, all left unscathed —in somewhat miraculous fashion— during the last war which heavily damaged many other towns in the province (thus one reason why Pileños proudly proclaim their town as “Bayang Pinagpalà“).

Both Victoria and Pila have a shared history because the former used to be a part of the latter. In fact, the original town of Pila used to be located in present-day Victoria. The ruins of the original church of Pila can still be seen in Victoria’s Barrio Pagalañgan. All this I explained to them like a boss. Kinda.

Giving a brief background about the beautiful heritage town of Pila.

Iglesia de San Antonio de Padua (Pila).

The NCCA folks and Teng are so amused by Casa Hipólito Rivera’s creative attempt on adaptive reuse. Almost all ancestral homes in Pila are well-preserved, many of which have been turned into business establishments, but without any major alterations done to the houses’ physical features.

After a fun photo-ops around Pila’s picturesque town plaza, we proceeded to nearby Pagsanján, the “Tourist Capital of La Laguna“, so-called mainly because of Bumbuñgan River’s exciting rapids that lead towards the world-famous Pagsanján Falls (which is actually within the territory of Cavinti). But there are more reasons as to why Pagsanján merits this lofty title. One of them is this antique stone arch.

That’s me, Jemuel, and Ruel by the Puerta Real (Royal Gate).

Known as the “Puerta Real” (Royal Gate), this stone arch is made entirely out of adobe with carabao milk and lime used for mortar. It was constructed from 1878 to 1880 and was inaugurated in 1894 by Pedro Paterno, a contemporary of Rizal, who wrote the first Filipino novel entitled “Nínay”. Paterno later became the province’s representative (first district) to the first Philippine Assembly from 1907 to 1909.

The last time I gave this arch a closer look was almost three years ago. It still looked OK back then. But last Sunday, while inspecting the arch with Jemuel and Ruel, I sensed that something was wrong with it. After checking it out closely, I noticed that it was recently coated with cement finish! This unwise move appears to have just happened recently.  This is not good because cement is harmful to adobe. And worse, the historical marker was no longer there!

My golly. Whoever ordered this double desecration of Puerta Real ought to be poured with fresh cement.

Anyway, after that sad discovery, we drove past the arch and slowly passed through “Calle Real” (Royal Road), another one of Pagsanján’s gems. Left and right are handsomely preserved ancestral homes, many of which are older than one’s great grandparents. At the end of that engaging road is the white-painted town church. But before visiting it, Arnaldo thought it best to first visit the semi-abandoned house of the ancestors of our esteemed historian friend, Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera.

At the rooftop of the semi-abandoned Casa Gómez, familiarizing our guests with Pagsanján’s geography. One of the earliest settlers, if not the founder, of this house was Francisco Gómez, a 17th-century “alférez” (sub-lieutenant) of Pagsanján who married an india (native) by the name of María Dimaculañgan. Two of their descendants were Premio Zóbel winners: Guillermo Gómez Windham (the first person to have won the prestigious award) in 1922, and our personal friend Guillermo Gómez Rivera in 1975.

It was Arnaldo’s idea to include this in the itinerary, something which I agreed to. Admittedly, this bahay na bató is not tourist material. While some of its old features are still intact, most are already dilapidated. The stairway’s balustrade was said to have been stolen, which I doubt (I suspect it was sold). The “yacál” flooring is already in bad shape. The window panels were no longer in place. The ceiling was a mess. Several informal settlers already live within the house, having made a home out of each “dormitorio“. The purpose of the visit was to instill awareness or an “awakening” among our guests about how today’s generation treat their ancestral homes. Because this kind of treatment often happens in many ancestral houses, most especially in Metro Manila and in surrounding provinces. Such a house in this condition seems out of place in a beautiful heritage town like Pagsanján whose many ancestral houses remain intact and livable.

Afterwards, we walked towards the town church. It’s just nearby since Casa Gómez is right behind it.

Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe (Pagsanján).

After exploring the interiors of the church, we walked towards the riverbank which is just a few steps away. The area we went to is where the terminal of the “banqueros” (boatmen of the Pagsanján Rapids) are located. It is the perfect spot to bring tourists in order for them not just to know but to see the origin of the town’s name.

The name Pagsanján originated from the word “pinágsañgahan” which means “branching out” because, coming from Laguna de Bay’s eastern bay to the north, the Lumbán River branches out (“nagsásañga“) into two: Bumbuñgan River to the left which leads straight to the world-famous falls, and Balanac River to the right which goes through the town of Magdalena (see photo below). Before the Spanish advent, Chinese traders often landed in this area where they traded their wares with the natives.

Pagsanján is actually a “bonus” to our lakeshore tour because it is not situated beside Laguna de Bay. It is a landlocked municipality, surrounded by Lumbán to the north, Cavinti to the east, Santa Cruz to the west, and Magdalena to the south.  Its only direct connection to the lake is Lumbán River which it shares with the Municipality of Lumbán. In history, Pagsanján was a mere visita or barrio of Lumbán during Spanish times.

Speaking of Lumbán, “The Embroidery Capital of Filipinas” was next on our itinerary. It was already past three in the afternoon, little Amara was weary, and we were way behind our itinerary. That’s why we decided to stay at Lumbán’s town proper only for a short time. In fact, the impromptu plan was to just drive by the church. But Arnaldo decided to drop off altogether. At the grassy town plaza between the church and the Lumbán River, we gave our guests a brief historical background of the town as well as other interesting tidbits (the lumbán tree, the Laguna Copperplate Inscription, etc.).

Iglesia de San Sebastián el Mártir (Lumbán).

When I shared to them that my kids had an exciting time at the rooftop of the church last January, Cuya Joey wanted to climb as well. Unfortunately, we were running out of time. We really had to leave for the next town. Maybe next time, Cuya Joey. But by then, you will have to pay us and sign that very important waiver so that I can finally push you off from any bell tower we’d climb (insert evil laughter here). 😀

Arnaldo and myself sharing historical tidbits about Lumbán. Although we do not employ theatrics and comedy in our tour, we try our best to make what we share as interesting and as accurate as possible but with occasional wit and laughter.

Hurriedly afterwards, we went to Paeté, “The Carving Capital of Filipinas“. Our first stop was the town church. We parked in front of the municipal hall (Teng had to be left behind because Amara was already taking a nap). While walking towards the patio to view the church’s renowned façade, I told the guests to follow me and not to look at the façade just yet. They were wondering why. Several meters away from the façade, I climbed a concrete planter box (a note to environmentalists: no plants or animals were harmed during the dry run of our tour). I told the rest to join me. Upon climbing, I then told them that they can finally turn around to look at the church. They were all astounded with the view…

Iglesia de Santiago Matamoros (Paeté).

I always recommend that very spot whenever viewing the church of Paeté. When I brought Krystal here last November 2, I bid her to do the same. She’s been hearing so much from me about this spectacular view of the churchc. That’s why she was excitedly obedient when I told her not to look at the church until she had climbed the concrete planter box. She couldn’t contain the excitement and glee on her face when she finally saw the splendid vista. Indeed, Paeté Church is best viewed from this distance because it includes Monte Humaráp behind it, thus giving out a picturesquely breathtaking effect.

The centuries-old paintings of José Luciano Dans inside Paeté Church.

At Paeté Church, we had time to climb the bell tower since that town was our penultimate stop, anyway. Jemuel and I accompanied bell-tower freak Cuya Joey up the campanario (it was just my second time up there). From the bell tower, one can have a 360° view of the town. Up there, the vista of the town’s multicolored houses, of Mount Humaráp’s lush greenery, and of Laguna de Bay’s sparkling eastern bay, coupled with a strong, fresh breeze, is simply indescribable. It makes you want to scream and be stoic at the same time.

Photo courtesy of Jemuel.

However, it is not advisable to climb up the tower without proper supervision — my supervision to be exact, haha. But seriously, the wooden ladder inside the bell tower is already ancient and rickety. And outside the dome, the terrace is very low, making it scary to walk or even stand upright. That is why if you want to experience the euphoria that this height offers, you will have to book a tour with us.

Only boring people will get tired of visiting Paeté’s cultural landmark: Kape Kesada Art Gallery. This place also serves coffee, including the expensive Kopi Luwak. With us is Bevs, the friendly owner‘s trusted assistant.

We also passed by the popular Kape Kesada Art Gallery where we had some freshly brewed coffee. Too bad our friend Dr. Nilo Valdecantos, the owner of the place, was away to attend to some urgent matter. I was hoping that he would deliver a Tagalog ode to our group, hehe. But his trusted girl Friday Bevs was there to attend to us. Some of the group also strolled around Calle Quesada to shop for some woodwork. A lady vendor selling quesong putî (a delicacy of Lumbán and Santa Cruz) also dropped by to sell her wares. Two woodcarvers were working on a bulky piece of wood, trying to fashion out of it perhaps a dog. We also saw two caucasians who sat in front of the gallery drinking beer. Culang na lang si Vice President Bínay.

During our coffee break, we had an open forum and asked our guests about their opinion of this La Laguna Lakeshore Tour that we are planning to launch sometime in January 2015. We asked them if they have any complaints, suggestions, etc. It was a lively discussion which helped us see avenues for improvement. For instance, Arnaldo opened up an interesting question to the group: should we still include Casa Gómez in the itinerary? Many in the group honestly find it uninteresting. But Ruel pointed out that if we could only tour future guests in a live ancestral house, i.e., not “artificial” like the Rizal Shrine in Calambâ, prior to entering Pagsanján, then that might add more interest towards our objective (instilling concern towards ancestral homes). Our guests should be able to enter a living ancestral house prior to entering a dying one in order to stir in them the sentiment that we want them to realize. Ruel said that he heard of a house in Pila that is open to tourists, but he couldn’t recall which house. Me and Arnaldo will have to trouble ourselves about that in the coming weeks.

Everybody pitched in their suggestions, possible scenarios, tour rates, etc. Even Bevs gave her thoughts about the tour. We are so grateful to all of you guys!

My daughter Krystal embracing a giant pencil, probably carved out from coco lumber. There are more or less 80 woodcraft factories in Paeté, with the more famous ones found along Calle Quesada at the town proper. The industry provides 70% of the population’s livelihood.

After Paeté, our last stop was Páquil (even at gunpoint I will never spell it as Pakil). Teng had to wake up Amara since it was our last stop. Besides, everybody in our group should see the marvelous façade that was designed by Bartolomé Palatino, the same Paeteño who designed the façade of nearby Paeté Church.

Páquil is known as the “Home of the Turumba Festival“, the longest fiesta in the country and probably in all of Christendom. This festival is held seven times a year, beginning on a Friday before Holy Week up to the seventh Sunday after Easter as well as during the town’s fiesta on May 12 (Fiesta Paquileña) and the feast day of Our Lady of Sorrows on September 15, the same date when the first Turumba was held (15 September 1788).

The church was filled when we got there (at half past five). Before some photo-ops, Arnaldo gathered all of our guests at the plaza fronting the church. There I explained to them that the central figure of the Turumba Festival is a painting of the Virgin Mary locally known as Nuestra Señora de los Dolores de Turumba. This mysterious work of art (9″ x 11″ oil painting on canvas) is now enshrined in its own chapel on the second floor of the convent. I said mysterious because its origin is up to now shrouded in mystery. According to local legend, the framed painting was seen floating in Laguna de Bay by fishermen. They were able to tow it towards the shore but the framed painting was so heavy, the locals could not even lift it. News of this discovery immediately spread throughout town. They called the parish priest who was surprised to recognize that the natives have just discovered a painting of Our Lady of Sorrows. The priest then cited the Litaniae Sanctorum as the people started singing and dancing out of joy and awe around the mysterious painting. Miraculously, after another attempt of lifting it, the people at last were able to do so. And as they triumphantly carried the painting towards the church, they were singing songs of praise while dancing, with the ladies joyfully clacking their “baquiâ” (wooden clogs) along the way. Thenceforth, the image was referred to as “Turumba”.

NCCA’s Rei asked a good question: what in the world does “Turumba” mean? I told him that according to the late National Artist Alejandro Roces, it could have been derived from two words: “turò” which means “to point”, and “umbáy” which is a dirge sung by sick people. I added, though, that this may all be just an etymological speculation on the part of Roces. In short, nobody really knows what Turumba means.

Iglesia de San Pedro de Alcántara (Páquil).

The façade turns into reddish-gold as the rays of the setting sun envelops it.

Before leaving Páquil, Arnaldo and I directed their attention towards the façade of the church not just to marvel at its intricate designs of Renaissance and Egyptian influences but also to see the splendid reddish-gold glow caused by the setting sun. Probably no amount of photography would be able to capture this effect. But we’re willing to bring you here just to experience it!

We left a few minutes before six in the evening, weary but satisfied. It was a fulfilling experience, at least for my part, to share knowledge about the province I love, and to tour them around it. I’ve been to these beautiful towns many times in the past. But to revisit these places this time with many people who have never been there is something else. I never dreamed of speaking in front of a group, most of all tagging along many people to a place unfamiliar to them. Actually, I can do some public speaking so long as I have a prepared speech, or maybe if I were tipsy (as I always say, I’m a writer, not a talker). So what happened last Sunday was a revelation. Many thanks to Arnaldo’s insistence and encouragement.

One more thing: all of us made new friends. At the start of the tour, not everyone in the group knew each other. A little later, we were all laughing at León’s nostalgic “Labs Ko Si Babe” story about Pila! So this is another bonus when you join our tour — you will gain new friends!

Click here to view all the photos of our educational/familiarization tour of my beloved adoptive province!

Even this church’s side entrance is not spared from artistry! It could even rival the façade of other churches!

Arnaldo and I will be announcing more updates about our “La Laguna Lakeshore Tour” in the coming days to those who are interested to explore our beautiful province by the lake. Also, a “La Laguna Mountain Tour” is in the works. We also have in mind a food tour of the province as well as a heritage tour in other provinces. Therefore, and whether we like it or not, we will be needing a new blog for this venture. And if this project works out and becomes profitable, we will be setting up a Filhispanic foundation catering to Filipino studies and even flamenco dances (as envisioned by Señor Gómez). Later on, we’ll conceptualize a Filipino-themed restaurant. Then we’ll buy more land and property and build Filipino-style condominiums and villas, setup beach resorts, buy more land and property, and eventually, establish a huge mall. We’ll probably call it La Solidaridad Mall or something to that effect.

But first thing’s first. This La Laguna Lakeshore Tour should work out fine. Qué Dios nos bendiga.

Stay tuned for further announcements. You may follow me and/or Arnaldo on Twitter as we discuss the progress of this tourism project. You can even join us in the discussion and provide us some inputs that might be of valuable help to us. ¡Hasta entonces!

Travel with us to La Laguna Province!

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In early in 2012, I was invited to write a coffee table book for La Laguna Province. It was one of former Governor E.R. Ejército’s priority projects for the province’s culture and tourism sector. It took me more than a year to finish it, having had many sleepless moments (taking forty winks usually inside a provincial bus) because I had to juggle wage slavery, household responsibilities, and painstaking research and travel in between. I even developed varicose veins on both of my hands and forearms due to overtyping (and it pains me every single day up to this very moment). Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond my control, the book project did not come into fruition. I am not even informed of its status anymore.

On the bright side, I was able to tour the whole province and got to meet many important people there and even got to befriend some of them. Probably the best part of that experience was that I was able to discover the province’s long-lost foundation date without even trying (and without being given proper recognition, haha). But still, my dream of becoming a published writer remains unfulfilled. And worse, all that hardwork I poured for what could have been my very first book was all for naught.

Or so I thought.

At the Rizal Shrine in Calambâ.

Several days ago, my good ol’ buddy Arnaldo broached to me this idea of his about us becoming tour guides. Actually, he already suggested the idea to me months ago. I flatly declined, telling him that I’m just a blogger, that the only people I can tour without my knees shaking out of nervousness are my family. But Arnaldo’s the resilient type of guy. He was finally able to convince me by saying that I’m no different from him, that he’s just a blogger too. And he added that the edge that we have over other tourist guides is our background in Filipino History. We’re not just history buffs but citizen historians (gracias por introducirme a esta terminología, Señor José Perdigón). While some tourist guides are doing what they’re doing for the sake of, perhaps, fame or money (or both), we intend this venture to be an extension of our respective blogs’ advocacy: to raise awareness on the true being of our national identity by providing a correct interpretation of our country’s history.

A scenic farm in Victoria.

We had “quinulób na itic“, salted eggs, and rice during a lunch stopover at “Itlog Ni Kuya” in Victoria. This town (once a part of Pila) is known as the “Duck Raising Center of Filipinas”.

Of course we have to admit the fact that earning millions of bucks from this tourism venture every month is enticing. And because of the exposure we’d be getting, Arnaldo and I will certainly receive lucrative offers from Star Cinema, Viva Films, ABS-CBN, GMA, and all those media giants to become their contract stars. But that’s beside our true objective and is only secondary. Believe it or not. Anyway, you will fully believe this more once you learn how much we will be charging our guests (it’s guaranteed to be a bargain)!

Ang Bayang Pinagpalà.

At first, the idea was to provide a tour within the Metro Manila area. But I cautioned Arnaldo that Metro Manila has been toured to death and is somewhat crowded with tour guides already (Carlos Celdrán, Ivan Man Dy, and Bryan Ocampo to name a few). They may not be as good-looking as the two of us, but still, the metropolis playground’s already filled. So why not do it somewhere near the National Capital Region? And then it hit me: why not La Laguna, a place which I am very familiar with? Arnaldo himself, being a resident of nearby Muntinlupa City, has also traveled extensively in La Laguna and has blogged many of its towns and cities numerous times. Besides, we are not aware of any regular tour guides covering the province. And more importantly, so many Filipinos have yet to know and experience the charming beauty of La Laguna’s rustic scenery, history, culture, and heritage. Many people know the province usually because of its hot springs (“¡Tara ná sa Pansol!“), Enchanted Kingdom, and being the birthplace of José Rizal, a reality which I find unfair and a bit demeaning because La Laguna has a lot more to offer other than hot spring resorts, national shrines, or carnivals.

The “Puerta Real” (or “Arco Real”) in Pagsanján has been standing on this road since 1878.

My interest with this tourism project grew each time Arnaldo drops by at our place to discuss about it. Even my wife Yeyette has high hopes for it. The two of them are damn sure that this will work out. But I really don’t know. Not that I’m a pessimist (actually, I am), but whenever I remember my failures as a writer, I feel so frustrated. Good thing that their positive attitude is contagious.

That’s why I’m now blogging about it. 🙂 Really, I think it is worth a try!

Completed in 1600, the church of Saint Sebastian the Martyr in Lumbán town proper is the first stone church in the whole province. Lumbán was also the “matriz de todos pueblos” or the mother town of all Franciscan-founded communities in the area.

So, when I was fully convinced to accept this project, Arnaldo trusted me with the liberty to choose which towns we should tour since I was more familiar with the place. It wasn’t that easy — I guarantee you that each and every town in La Laguna has something interesting to explore (yes, there are also noteworthy sights to see even in urban San Pedro Tunasán or in obscure Rizal!). But we had to face the fact that it is not possible to tour the whole province within a day or two. And we needed to tour guests for only a day. So after much thought and deliberation, I told him that we should do “two packages”. Package A would be a lakeshore tour, or those towns located right beside Laguna de Bay. Package B would be a mountain tour, or those towns located upwards Monte Banajao. In order for the tour to push through, we should have a minimum of 15 guests. Arnaldo said that he will take care of the logistics (particularly the vehicle) and much of the talking, hehe! Because I’m more of a listener than a speaker. However, in the event that we will have Spanish-speaking guests, then I will have to take over.

For now, our focus is on Package A. And the tentative itinerary for it is:

Calambâ —> Pila —> Pagsanján —> Lumbán —> Paeté —> Páquil.

As can be seen from the photos on this blogpost, me, my daughter Krystal, and Arnaldo already made an ocular  inspection of these places last November 2.

Paeté’s “Living Legend” Dr. Nilo Valdecantos of Kape Kesada teaches my daughter how to grind expensive Kopi Luwak beans into fine powder. Yes, we had the rare chance of savoring the most expensive coffee in the world for free! Thanks for this, Doc Nilo! You’re the best!

The Church of Saint Peter of Alcántara in Páquil. Both Arnaldo and I concur that this is the most handsome church in the whole province of La Laguna. And I bet many will agree with us! Probably even that dog behind me! This will be our tour’s final stop.

“Everything happens for a reason”, Arnaldo reassured me, saying that all the sacrifice that I did for that shelved La Laguna book project really had to happen. Because it was bound to open a new door for us, after all.

I hope he’s right. Hágase la voluntad de Dios. 🙂

Click here to view all photos of our La Laguna road trip last November 2! And for more details of our tour, you may contact us here for the meantime!

¡Viajemos a La Laguna!

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