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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.

Accelerating Philippine Economic Growth (Pananaw Magazine)

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It’s no longer 2011, but this has to be published. Sayang namán casí.

It appears that Pananaw magazine will forever remain in limbo. So I will publish another important article that was supposed to appear on that magazine’s maiden issue but didn’t, and is now long overdue.

During the rush for the said magazine’s supposedly first issue (for January 2011), editor-in-chief JB Lazarte gave me the task of soliciting an article on economics from a prominent person. Coincidentally, I was reviewing a textbook on the same subject at that time. The book is something that is very familiar to many a college student — Economics: An Introduction, authored by the country’s foremost economist, Dr. Bernardo M. Villegas (currently Vice President of the University of Asia and the Pacific). The idea is that a scholarly article will be published on our magazine vis-à-vis an interview with a fortune teller regarding the latter’s economic forecast for the rest of 2011. The technique was to entice readers to become interested in matters of national economics.

I immediately sought Dr. Villegas through his email and asked if he would be so kind to furnish us a brief article about the subject we had in mind. I honestly never expected him to reply; I was just pushing my luck. But to my utter surprise, he obliged!

Unfortunately, just like many startup publications and businesses, Pananaw’s maiden issue was not able to see the light of day. And Dr. Villegas’ precious article remained in my email inbox for the rest of the year.

Until now.

So without further ado, below is the it-should-have-made-them-sit-up-and-take-notice article written exclusively for Pananaw Magazine by the Harvard-educated economist, Dr. Bernardo M. Villegas. You be the judge, dear reader, if his economic forecast for last year came into fruition.

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

ACCELERATING PHILIPPINE ECONOMIC GROWTH
Dr. Bernardo M. Villegas

In economic management, the new competitive advantage of the Philippines is good governance. The upbeat mood of both consumers and investors is clearly due to a perception that the leadership of the country is in the right hands. This perception is being backed up by reality as some early economic wins have been registered by the new Administration of President Benigno Aquino III in less than six months since it came into power.

There have already been two months of budget surpluses, despite the continuing difficulties stemming from the global economic crisis. These surpluses came partly from improved collections as tax evaders were prosecuted with vigor. For the first time in eleven years, the budget was signed by the President in the same year it was passed. Despite an austerity program, the 2011 budget contains large appropriations for infrastructures, education, and other social services. Led by a highly experienced management team, the Development Bank of the Philippines (DBP) has announced that it will support an investment-led growth by making available a total of P200 billion to jumpstart the national government’s Public-Private Partnership (PPP) initiatives.

Just before the Great Recession, the Philippine GDP grew in 2007 at 7.1%. Like all the East Asian economies, the economy suffered a slowdown in the next two years, 4.8% in 2008 and 1.2% in 2009. Its resilience was once again tested (as in the 1997-1998 financial crisis when it was the least adversely affected among Southeast Asian countries) when it was only one of three (with Indonesia and Vietnam) that did not experience a recession in 2009 (excluding China). Like its two ASEAN neighbors, it still managed a positive GDP growth rate in 2009 because of its large domestic market of 93 million of whom at least 60 million are already part of the middle class, a strong foundation for a consumption-led growth.

In the first half of 2010, GDP grew at 7.9% bolstered by elections-related spending in the first four months, remittances from overseas Filipino workers (OFWs), a government stimulus package that frontloaded the budget for 2010 and a 40% growth in exports resulting from a strong recovery of the U.S. economy in the last quarter of 2009. This export recovery was especially boosted by the electronics sector that recovered the volumes they lost in 2009.

The strong recovery of electronics and semiconductor components helped the industry sector to grow at 16% during the first semester, making up for the poor performance of agriculture and fisheries that actually declined at -3% because of poor weather conditions. Services—propelled by the BPO, telecom and logistics sectors—grew at 6.7%.

For most of the second half of 2010, growth came from continued strength in exports, from increased OFW remittances that could break the US$20 billion mark for the whole year and from rising investments especially in infrastructure and energy, housing and real estate, mining, BPO, tourism, logistics and agribusiness. These investments started to replace the elections-related spending and pump priming that disappeared during the second half of the year.

There is a significant improvement in investors’ confidence after a relatively peaceful and successful election. Inflation has been controlled at less than 4%, despite the very liquid financial system. The savings rate is at an all-time high of 30% of GDP while the investment rate is still only 17%, leaving room for big ticket projects in the high growth sectors to be funded by local money. In fact, a peso-denominated bond issue was oversubscribed by 13 times. Secretary Cesar Purisima announced in mid-December 2010 that another peso-denominated bond issue is in the offing. As one of the emerging markets of Asia, the Philippines has attracted large flows of portfolio investments, sending stock market prices to unprecedented levels. Dollar inflows have grown rapidly so that the peso has appreciated from P45 to $1 at the end of 2009 to P43-P44 in December 2010, prompting the Central Bank to build its reserves to an all-time high of 9 months of import coverage so as to prevent further peso appreciation. There is a high likelihood that the balance of payments surplus for the whole year of 2010 will top $10 billion.

The downside risk is a slowdown of exports as its major markets, the U.S., the EU and Japan succumb to a double-dip recession or at best stagnant growth at less than 2% in 2011. If exports, especially of electronic components, slow down and quick money flees the Philippine capital market in the worst-case scenario of an escalation of the foreign currency war among the giants, the peso may return to the P45-P46 range in the first half of 2011.

An investment-led growth is getting strong support from the foreign investment community. The Joint Foreign Chambers presented to the Government last December 13, 2010 a roadmap dubbed “Arangkada Philippines” which described in great detail how a 7 to 9% universal growth in GDP can be achieved in the next five to six years. Seven key industries were identified as potential enablers for the Philippine economy to move twice as fast. They are agribusiness; business process outsourcing; creative industries; infrastructures; manufacturing and logistics; mining and tourism, medical travel and retirement.

What is encouraging is that these are the same “sunrise industries” in which the local taipans are investing heavily. The likes of San Miguel Corporation, the SM Group, the Metro Pacific Group, the Ayala Holdings, First Philippine Holdings and the PHINMA Group, among others, are leading the way to an investment-led recovery. The abundance of local financing is helping the recovery. Foreign Direct Investments (FDIs) will strongly complement the local investors who have been first in regaining confidence in the Philippine economy.

As both India and Vietnam had accomplished over the last ten years or so, the Philippines is finally poised to grow at 7% or more in the next six to ten years. This growth will be made possible by significant improvements in governance and infrastructures, the two key factors for the high growth of 7% or more, completely indispensable for reducing the poverty line from 30% to 15% of the population in the next ten years.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Dr. Villegas for this enlightening article. Also, to apologize to him, because he took the time and effort to write a laudable 2011 economic forecast for a magazine that he has not heard of before, but nobody got to read it but me and my editor. Special thanks also to his secretary, Ms. Louella Orque, for mediating between me and his esteemed boss. ¡Muchísimas gracias a ustedes!

The Corona Impeachment Trial: one positive historical note to consider

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A positive note to consider in the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona is the investigation of the income tax returns of his family members. Because of this, Filipinos are now beginning to learn that there are SO MANY TAXES that they have to pay (aside from the withholding tax levied against them if they are employed). But during the Spanish times, which many Filipinos today loathe so much, there were only FIVE (5) forms of taxation whereas the Filipino under this US WASP neocolonial government has over TWENTY (20) or more taxes to pay. “The Reign of Greed” is happening today and not during the Spanish times. Charles Derbyshire is a complete hispanophobic cretin.

Why Spanish?

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WHY SPANISH
Jorge Domecq

Señor Don Jorge Domecq, Spanish ambassador to the Philippines.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*******

This article was first published in Inquirer.net.

Road Map 2020 – San Pedro, La Laguna

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

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

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

Sustainable development: the key to protecting the environment

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Aside from fighting the preposterous leyenda negra by attempting to bring back the Spanish language in order to redeem our Filipino Identity, I have another advocacy: environmentalism. But so much has been written about it already. Any views from me will be a mere drop of water in a filled bucket. All I can say is this: much of the Philippines before, especially during the supposedly “exploitation-filled” Spanish times, was a haven for nature fauna and flora. This beauty inspired the creativity of many a poet and artist. But many of these natural wonders today are either gone or polluted. All this in the name of capitalism inspired by US WASP greed and avarice.

The desecration of our natural resources is a major factor for my travels. My travels are fueled not solely by my passion to search for traces of our country’s Hispanic past, nor are they spurred exclusively by a responsibility to document maltreated Fil-Hispanic heritage sites. I feel an urge to visit our country’s natural wonders because I fear that one day, any time soon, these natural wonders will soon disappear. Or that they might meet the same fate as the Pásig River or once lush forests that are now commercial centers. That is why I keep on taking pictures of beautiful sceneries. Those photos are for my children. When they grow up and these natural beauties are gone, they would still be able to see them, at least through my eyes in all the pictures that I took.

I fear not for myself but for my children. Let me just borrow a few lines (written in original Tagalog spelling) from Filipino folk band Asin to explain this fear:

Ang mğa batang ñgayón lang isinilang,
¿May hañguin pa cayáng matiticmán?
¿May mğa puno pa cayá siláng aaquiatín?
¿May mğa ilog pa cayáng lalañguyán?

Right now, it’s not enough to be simply “environmental” in order to save our natural resources. Protecting the environment nowadays is not just about throwing one’s waste in a designated trash bin or turning off electrical appliances that are not in use. It is not just about tree planting events. This is not just about hating illegal logging. Environmentalism is something that “needs to be done”, and without harming the economy.

The keyword here is sustainable development. The International Institute for Sustainable Development explains this much better:

All definitions of sustainable development require that we see the world as a system—a system that connects space; and a system that connects time.

When you think of the world as a system over space, you grow to understand that air pollution from North America affects air quality in Asia, and that pesticides sprayed in Argentina could harm fish stocks off the coast of Australia.

And when you think of the world as a system over time, you start to realize that the decisions our grandparents made about how to farm the land continue to affect agricultural practice today; and the economic policies we endorse today will have an impact on urban poverty when our children are adults.

We also understand that quality of life is a system, too. It’s good to be physically healthy, but what if you are poor and don’t have access to education? It’s good to have a secure income, but what if the air in your part of the world is unclean? And it’s good to have freedom of religious expression, but what if you can’t feed your family?

The concept of sustainable development is rooted in this sort of systems thinking. It helps us understand ourselves and our world. The problems we face are complex and serious—and we can’t address them in the same way we created them. But we can address them.

Click here and here for more information about sustainable development.

Act now.

Pananaw Magazine, the magazine that never was

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here it is!

EL GALEÓN ANDALUCÍA
Pepe Alas

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Welcome back!

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

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

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

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

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

About three or four bored souls.

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