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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.

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Learn Spanish from a master!

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

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

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

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

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

Where to learn

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

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

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

Learn Spanish as a native language!

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

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

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

¡Vamos a hablar español pronto!

Traditional Catholic baptism of Junífera Clarita Alas

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

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

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

¡Gracias, Papa Francisco!

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As of this writing, Papa Francisco is already airborne on his way back to Vatican City after staying in our country since Thursday evening.

It was a momentous event not only for the more than 80% Catholics in the country but for all Filipinos who shared the same goodwill and call to peace and unity. It was also historic because last Saturday morning in Tacloban, the beloved pontiff celebrated what was described as “the most moving Mass of our generation” as it was attended by victims and survivors of Supertyphoon Yolanda, “the storm of the century”, and it happened during a raging storm, with everyone cold, wet, and shivering — including the pope himself. It was, in a way, symbolic of the tragedy which has finally found closure with the Pope’s arrival.

Me and my family were glad that we were able to attend one papal event in which Pope Francis celebrated his first Mass in the country (at the Manila Cathedral last Friday morning). However, we missed yesterday’s Papal Mass at the Luneta because the same storm that disturbed the Pope’s Mass in Tacloban had already reached Manila. We didn’t put to risk our children getting sick because of the stormy weather, especially our five-month-old baby girl.

It turned out that yesterday’s Mass at the historic Luneta became the most attended papal event in history, with more than six million faithful braving the storm!

Me and my family simply tuned in to the Internet for the live proceedings. Scenes of the mammoth crowd amazed us. If there was no storm, the throng would have been far bigger. And we would have been there, too.

This morning, while browsing the net for more news about the papal visit, a video from the Papal Visit – Philippines 2015 Facebook page that was becoming viral caught my attention. It was from yesterday’s record-breaking Mass at the Luneta wherein the people are already singing “Tell The World of His Love”, the same song which was used during the 1995 World Youth Day that was held in the same area. This time, the musical arrangement was a bit better compared to the original. It was grander and more emotional. But that was not the reason why the video caught my attention. It was the people themselves, people from all walks of life, singing in unison under the dark skies, holding candles in the rain. I was left in tears at that I N C R E D I B L E show of unity and diversity! And to think that people outside the Faith chide such events as unruly and lacking in solemnity! Not even the storm was able to stop the more than six million faithful who trooped to Luneta for that moving Papal Mass!

Typhoons, earthquakes, famines, heresies and anti-Catholics holding Dámaso placards, economic and political instabilities, wars, brimstone and fire, etc… BRING IT ON! But Christianity/Catholicism in this country will NEVER die and will CONTINUE to grow! It is this Faith which created the Filipino in the first place. So we will continue carrying the torch passed on to us by our grandparents! Yes, we Catholics may not be perfect and falter from time to time, but we will continue to declare that JESUS IS LORD, and we will continue to tell the world of His LOVE — the GREATEST LOVE the world has known!

¡Gracias por la inspiración, Papa Francisco! ¡Qué le veamos de nuevo!

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!

An unpublished book and some throwback “Thank Yous…”

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It was nice to hear former Mayor Calixto Catáquiz’s friendly voice again.

This charismatic political veteran, now known as San Pedro Tunasán‘s “Living Legend”, was the man who helped put my trust back into politics. I haven’t seen nor talked to him for months because I’ve been busy trying to sort out financial problems brought about by Yeyette’s delicate and life-threatening childbirth. This afternoon, I received a phone call from him. The line was terrible, but his reassuring voice still went through. From what little I understood, he said something about going to Ángeles City tomorrow to check out some rare wood carving or something like that. I would have agreed to go with him but I couldn’t because I accompany my daughter Krystal every Saturday afternoon to her flamenco class in Rockwell under the tutelage of another living legend, the great Señor Gómez (tomorrow’s only her sixth session, yet she has already learned three dances!).

Although Mayor Calex is a family friend for years, I only started to learn more about him and his life’s work back in 2008 when Arnaldo and I started to work on his biography in the hopes of breaking it into the publishing scene (every writer’s dream). But Mayor Calex’s biography still remains in developmental hell — due to personal reasons, Arnaldo completely left the project to me; Mayor Calex faced several political controversies which led to his unjust disqualification from the mayoralty race last year; and I, for years, have been struggling to keep awake every day just to read and write because of my nightly corporate appointments. Sad.

Anyway, I’m glad that Mayor Calex called because he also reminded me about the book project. He is still keen on having it published. And I’m 90% done with it. 90%, because I have to add the recent events that had transpired in his life as an effective public servant who catapulted a once obscure Lagunense town into one of CALABARZON‘s strongest cities today. I am now reblogging Arnaldo’s recent post wherein he published beauty queen-historian Gemma Cruz Araneta’s brief review of the book’s first few chapters. The ageless Gemma, a fellow hispanista (she used to be a member of the Círculo Hispano Filipino where I was once its youngest member), had our manuscript reviewed and was kind enough to publish it in “Landscape“, her column in Manila Bulletin. Gemma also told me that he already met Mayor Calex many years ago to transact some realty business. Small world.

Mayor Calex with the Alas kids. Taken last February 22 (Sampaguita Festival).

By the way, in Arnaldo’s blogpost (which I am reblogging now), he also included clippings of that Landscape column which Gemma wrote. Excerpts from chapter 1 of Mayor Calex’s biography appears there. It deals mainly with San Pedro Tunasán’s early beginnings. I would just like to add that I have already edited chapter 1. So if you see any errors regarding historical fact, don’t worry; I’ve already corrected them.

Without further ado, here’s Arnaldo…

With one's past...

I took part in writing a biography a few years ago. It was about the longest serving town mayor of San Pedro Laguna, Calixto Cataquiz, an unpretentious local politician who became a friend during the course of the project.

I would have not agreed to write the bio if my friend, Pepe Alas, was not on board. I was a supervisor at a BPO in Alabang; Pepe, a Spanish speaking agent under my program. I assumed the writing task would be easier working with someone I knew personally. We often times wrote while we’re both in the office.

We had a great time writing. Of course, there were a few bumps and misses but nothing we couldn’t handle. The only frustration was that the book remained unpublished.

The last time I caught up with Mayor Cataquiz was during Pepe’s wedding. He told me of a few political issues that made…

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¡Agradecemos a todos los que nos ayudaron!

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Aunque soy cristiano, tengo una tendencia a ser pesimista. Pero los acontecimientos recientes han restaurado completamente mi fe en la humanidad.

Tantas personas respondieron a mi petición de ayuda la semana pasada, y algunos de ellos ni siquiera hemos conocido aún en persona. Es la hora para mostrar mi humilde gratitud.

 

Yeyette en el hospital, un día después de su parto e histerectomía. Las flores son de mi hermana Jennifer.

 
Más de una docena de personas, de una u otra forma, nos ayudaron durante este episodio más difícil de nuestras vidas. De parte de mi mujer Jennifer “Yeyette” Perey de Alas, me gustaría dar mi agradecimiento especial a estos ángeles: mis hermanas Jennifer y Jessica, mi suegra Teresa Atienza de Perey y su paisana Jene Alfaro, mi suegro Jaime Perey, la Familia Catáquiz de San Pedro Tunasán (la srᵃ alcaldesa Lourdes Catáquiz, su marido Don Calixto Catáquiz, su hijo Aris Catáquiz, y su sobrino León Buenavista), mi tío Ramón Alas, el gran filipinista Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera, Antonio Marques Sans (salimos del hospital principalmente a causa de él), Shee-Ann Meneses, Diego Pastor Zambrano, José-Rodaniel Cruz, Luis María Cardaba Prada, nuestra vecina Flor Junio de Pérez (por cuidar de nuestros otros niños durante nuestra estancia en el hospital), Ronald Yu, Sylvia Santos de Pineda (bisnieta de Marcelo H. del Pilar), Jennalyn Carmona y Jingky Sumañga (respectivamente del departamento de facturación y una enfermera de St. Clare’s Medical Center), y mi mejor amigo Arnaldo Arnáiz.
 
Gracias también a los médicos que trabajaron arduamente para salvar la vida de Yeyette: la ginecóloga obstetra Drᵃ Catherine Pujol de Azores y su cirujano marido Dr. Rouel Azores, el anestesiólogo Dr. Gerald Vita, y otra ginecóloga obstetra Drᵃ Orpha Montillano de Corrado.
 

Junífera Clarita en el cuarto del bebé del hospital.

 
Y por supuesto, mil gracias también a todos los innumerables y valiosos amigos y parientes nuestros que oraron por la seguridad y recuperación de mi mujer y nuestra nueva bebé, Junífera Clarita. ¡Muchas gracias a todos ustedes! Gracias por el apoyo y el aliento espiritual y moral. Yeyette ahora disfruta de su segunda vida en la Tierra con nuestros cinco hijos hermosos. Somos muy afortunados de tener a todos ustedes en nuestras vidas.
 

¡Hogar, dulce hogar!

 
¡Enaltecer la familia para la gloria más alta de Dios!
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