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Category Archives: Provincia de La Laguna

Baby Catáquiz vs Norvic Solidum: the Battle for San Pedro!

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Despite the lack of conclusive and official judgment, it is already common knowledge that the late actor and Filipino cultural icon Fernando Poe, Jr. was cheated during the 2004 presidential, legislative, and local elections. Having lost faith in democratic politics, that was the last time I exercised my right to suffrage. Turning apolitical, I swore to myself never to participate in elections ever again.

Incidentally, it was on the same day when I relocated my family from BF Homes Parañaque to Barrio San Vicente in San Pedro, La Laguna. A female cousin of mine who was married to a native San Pedrense (from the well-known Igonia clan) helped us in finding an apartment unit. Having lived most of my life in urban Parañaque City, I was somehow elated with the idea that me and my family will become provincianos and enjoy a rural lifestyle. I’ve been an urban kid for years. That’s why rural life always revs up the sentient patterns of my behavior toward society. Summer vacations in my father’s rustic hometown during my childhood made the thought even more nostalgic. But I was disappointed with what I saw.

As an aficionado of nature and culture, I was expecting farmlands, tranquility, more of nature, more rustic imagery, and more bahay na bató houses in San Pedro. But upon entering it from Muntinlupà City, what greeted me was a vandalized bridge and welcome arch, a garbage-filled estero, pro-promiscuity Sogo Hotel, smoke fumes from numerous tricycles, boorish traffic on potholed and littered roads, and a motley assemblage of unaesthetic establishments reminiscent of dirty Quiapò, Manila in the 80s and 90s. Simply put, the then Municipality of San Pedro was an exuberance of poor municipal planning. I promptly blamed the current town leader, Felicísimo Vierneza. My reason: command responsibility, if not inept leadership. It was but unfortunate, in my opinion, that he won during the said elections.

In 2007, businessman Calixto Catáquiz —half Tayabeño, half San Pedrense— again entered the scene as San Pedro’s chief executive. I said “again” because he has already managed San Pedro before, starting in 1986, when he was first appointed by the late President Corazón Aquino as Officer-In-Charge, all the way to 1998. 2007 was the year that I truly noticed CHANGE in San Pedro.

One more challenge

I’ve been hearing about Mayor Calex since I was a kid because he is actually a family friend; his father and my father are both from Unisan, Tayabas Province. In fact, one of my uncles is a very close associate of his. And whenever I spend my summer vacations  in Unisan as a young boy, I do remember seeing him in the Rural Bank of Unisan (now Entrepreneur Bank) which was owned by his family (he used to manage the bank). It was just pure coincidence that I transferred my family to San Pedro that has been the home of a fellow Tayabeño.

But that is all I know. I never knew Mayor Calex on a personal level until 2008. During that time, my friend and fellow history buff Arnaldo and I were pondering on how we could make it to the publishing scene. We maintain blogs that deal with Philippine History and Filipino Identity. But we believed that the only way we could make it into the big league (or for our body of work to be seriously noticed) is to get published. Publish or perish, as noted authors will always say. But really, we have no idea how to start.

And then it hit me: why not write a history book for San Pedro? That could be a good start. After all, my nose for history compelled me to read everything that I could regarding my family’s adoptive hometown since 2004. I was confident that me and Arnold could write one. But we needed support. I thought of using my connection to be able to reach out to Mayor Calex. And so one day, I contacted my uncle, and he setup a meeting between us (me and Arnaldo) and the Mayor at the old municipal office (fronting the town plaza and the historic Church of San Pedro Apóstol). But like everyone else, we had to wait for our queue (there were many people who had wanted seek an audience with him that day, and he was also officiating a civil marriage for about ten couples or so). Then came our turn to speak to him. We were led to his desk by his stern but polite staff. The mayor turned out to be a nice guy after all, very accommodating, hearing us out well, and not menacingly intimidating (because of my activist background, I then had reservations of dealing with politicians). And despite his tall stature, Mayor Calex was a soft-spoken man, even showing qualities of timidity that I think is unusual for a politician. I immediately liked him.

We never talked about our Unisan connections. We immediately told him our plans: a history book for San Pedro. But much to our dismay, he revealed that there were already two books published about San Pedro’s history. The most recent was made during the incumbency of his predecessor entitled San Pedro, Laguna: Noon at Ngayon (San Pedro, La Laguna: San Pedro Historical Committee, 2007) by Amalia Cullarín and Sonny Ordoña. Prior to that is the now rare Kasaysayan ng Bayan ng San Pedro Tunasán (Manila: Liberty Press, Co., 1963) by Anastacio Olivárez. However, Mayor Calex did not immediately dismiss us. Little did we know that he was actually planning to have his own biography. He was inspired to have one after having read the best-selling biography of his good friend, the late Comedy King Dolphy (Hindi Ko Ito Narating Mag-isa by Bibeth Orteza, Quezon City: Kaizz Ventures, Inc., 2008). He and Dolphy made a movie together, Home Along da Riber, in 2002. Mayor Calex was then the General Manager of the Laguna Lake Development Authority (LLDA), and he conceptualized the said movie to promote environmental efforts for Laguna de Bay, the Philippines’s largest lake.

A book is a book. An opportunity is an opportunity. So we grabbed the chance. And that is how my close association with Mayor Calex started. And I got to know him better.

From municipality to cityhood

While doing research for his biography, we found out that during his first two years as OIC of San Pedro, Mayor Calex was able to accomplish a staggering 110 major projects! It must be noted that the number of projects that Mayor Calex was able to accomplish was already outstanding for a first-time “accidental” politician. Accidental, because he never even planned of becoming Mayor despite his parents’ ties with the late strongman President Ferdinand Marcos. Another remarkable feat: in less than a decade, from his OIC years up to 1995, he was able to raise the coffers of the municipal treasury from ₱6.41 million to a staggering amount of ₱70 million! In 1992, he was able to make San Pedro a 1st class municipality. He could have done more. But in 1998, Vierneza replaced him. And this new leader took hold of San Pedro’s mayoralty seat up to 2007. It was during these years that San Pedro retrogressed into the disappointing municipality that I found it to be in 2004.

In retrospect, how was Mayor Calex able to do such accomplishments even without any formal training in political leadership? He was not from a political family. They were more into business (the Catáquiz family is, in fact, one of the wealthiest —if not the wealthiest— in all of San Pedro). And so with this, he invented a formula: his “50-50″ scheme which means that he had to be a 50% politician and 50% administrator. Using the “banker” side of his character, or his being a 50% administrator, he turned San Pedro’s financial woes into financial gains.

So fast forward to today. For the past few years, Mayor Calex has been working extremely hard for the cityhood of San Pedro. His hardwork finally paid off when, on 27 March 2013, Republic Act 10420 was signed, effectively converting San Pedro into La Laguna province’s newest city.

The failed municipality of San Vicente

Thankfully, this act was signed in due time. Because if not, San Pedro would have fallen into a downward spiral.

In a blogpost that I published last month, I wrote about the selfish plans of Mayor Calex’s political rival, Vice Mayor Norvic Solidum. It turned out that Solidum and his partner/protégé Allan Mark Villena were petitioning the provincial government to split San Pedro into two by having Barrio San Vicente converted into a new municipality. If that ever happened, San Pedro’s income class would have gone down to 3rd class, thus making impossible San Pedro’s bid for cityhood. And as main petitioners, either Solidum or Villena would have been the mayor of this failed municipality of San Vicente.

Such schemes are a pet peeve of mine, for I do not believe in the splitting of towns/cities. Why? Because I always subscribe to this Nick Joaquín dictum, which is logical and highly principled:

Philippine society, as though fearing bigness, ever tends to revert the condition of the barangay of the small enclosed society. We don’t grow like a seed, we split like an amoeba. The moment a town grows big it becomes two towns. The moment a province becomes populous it disintegrates into two or three smaller provinces. The excuse offered for divisions is always the alleged difficulty of administering so huge an entity. But Philippines provinces are microscopic compared to an American state like, say, Texas, where the local government isn’t heard complaining it can’t efficiently handle so vast an area. We, on the other hand, make a confession of character whenever we split up a town or province to avoid having of cope, admitting that, on that scale, we can’t be efficient; we are capable only of the small. The decentralization and barrio-autonomy movement expresses our craving to return to the one unit of society we feel adequate to: the barangay, with its 30 to a hundred families. Anything larger intimidates. We would deliberately limit ourselves to the small performance. This attitude, an immemorial one, explains why we’re finding it so hard to become a nation, and why our pagan forefathers could not even imagine the task. Not E pluribus unum is the impulse in our culture but “Out of many, fragments”. Foreigners had to come and unite our land for us; the labor was far beyond our powers. Great was the King of Sugbú, but he couldn’t even control the tiny isle across his bay. Federation is still not even an idea for the tribes of the North; and the Moro sultanates behave like our political parties: they keep splitting off into particles.

Setting aside his selfish ambitions, it is safe to conclude that, based on the above, Solidum fears bigness and thinks like an amoeba, therefore not fit for public service. Anything large intimidates him.

And because he’s intimidated, he sought to play dirty.

¿Daáng Matuwíd ñga bá talagá?

During the fiesta of Barrio San Vicente last month, a strange document started circulating in various Facebook accounts, pages, and groups concerning San Pedro. The document, dated 5 April 2013, is purportedly from the Office of the President of the Philippines, ordering Mayor Calixto Catáquiz “to vacate his office immediately”:

The strange thing is that these papers first appeared on the internet, that is why it was considered dubious at best. And for many days since the papers first appeared on the web, Mayor Calex still had to receive the hard copies. News of this also reached the major dailies and some radio stations. So upon hearing the news, thousands upon thousands of supporters, many of whom were native San Pedrenses, trooped to the new municipal hall and to the town plaza to show their support for the mayor.

Why these documents first appeared on the web still remains a puzzle. But it is already clear that it is a form of black propaganda to discredit the mayor. It should be noted that Mayor Calex belongs to the Nacionalista Party whereas Solidum is being carried by President Noynoy Aquino’s powerful Liberal Party. Noynoy is known to hate everyone who used to be allied with former President Gloria Macapagal de Arroyo (just ask Renato Corona). And Mayor Calex was an appointee of the former president.

The ghost of LLDA: the real score

The order to vacate the mayoralty seat stems from Mayor Calex’s case with the LLDA. In 2001, ex-president Arroyo appointed him as LLDA General Manager (prior to this, he was already a member of its Board of Directors from 1992 to 1998). One of his well-known achievements as its administrator was securing for Laguna de Bay the “Living Lake” honor from the prestigious Living Lake network, winning the distinction over Brazil’s Pantanal, the world’s largest wetlands, and Poland’s Milicz Pond.

Nothing is too small or too big for Catáquiz as the GM of LLDA. During his administration, he made studies about the feasibility of tapping Laguna de Bay as a source of potable water for Metro Manila, citing that having this as an option would greatly reduce water utility costs. His vision was reinforced by his observance of the Singapore model in which part of used water is recycled. Before leaving LLDA, he had already made this recommendation to the Office of the President.

He was also bent on changing the office culture into a more productive environment the moment he stepped in as its GM. But when he found out about employees playing computer games during office hours, he issued an intra-office memo banning and removing all computer-based games within office premises, much to the dismay of some lazy employees.

This very trivial matter was actually the start of his troubles with the LLDA employees. He was a strict boss, but fair in all his dealings. Corruption? An impossibility. He was already a millionaire even on the day he was born because of his parents banks and other profitable businesses. To put it more bluntly, he never needed the GM job nor any political seat just to enrich himself, as is the practice of many politicians who are not as financially fortunate as him.

Sadly, his strictness was not received well by these employees. Later on, these same employees would join the clamor made by a militant fishing group (whose members lost their illegal fishing fences within the lake courtesy of GM Catáquiz) to replace the GM. Perhaps they were looking for a leader who could tolerate their laziness and other unfair dealings?

GM Catáquiz reasoned out that he always had the employees’ welfare in mind. But he was unwilling to tolerate unprofessional deeds. He was fully expecting that everyone would subscribe to the idea that they would have to abide by the law and that they should have the focused willingness to serve the poor people.

Due to graft charges unfairly hurled against him by some LLDA employees who had personal grudges to bear, Catáquiz parted ways with the organization on a sad note.

NOT convicted

His enemies inside the LLDA prevailed. In 2003, Catáquiz was dismissed as GM “on the grounds of corrupt and unprofessional behavior and management incompetence”. But this is the real score: he was NEVER CONVICTED in a court of law. Instead, he was found guilty of administrative misconduct by a tribunal by the Office of the Solicitor General. Two years later, a resolution from the Office of the President that was based on the findings of the Presidential Anti-Graft Commission imposed the penalties of “disqualification from reemployment in the government service and forfeiture of retirement benefits” on Catáquiz. But he never pursued that anymore because it was already moot and academic.

In simple words, the Supreme Court merely acknowledged that an administrative case was filed against Catáquiz, that it was uncontested, and so that the penalties attached to the case were applied. That was all to it. There was no conviction at all. After this setback, Catáquiz simply went back to private life and just supported his wife Lourdes “Baby” Catáquiz’s political career who was then serving as the town’s Vice Mayor. Eventually, he returned as mayor of San Pedro in  2007.

Simply put, his troubles with the LLDA had NOTHING to do with his being mayor of San Pedro. Therefore, the recent order from Malacañang, signed by Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa, Jr., is ILLEGAL.

The problem now is that during Solidum’s campaign sorties, his group continuously trumpet that Catáquiz was convicted by the Supreme Court when the truth is that the high court took no action at all with the mayor’s past (and questionable) troubles with the LLDA.

Cracks in the Solidum-Almoro tandem?

But in a twist of fate, as mentioned earlier, thousand of angry residents of San Pedro trooped to the city hall to show their support for Mayor Calex, something that Solidum’s camp never anticipated. And it happened for several days last month. Could this overwhelming (and probably unexpected) show of support one reason why the dubious Malacañang order for Mayor Calex to vacate his position never materialized?

And could this also be the reason why Solidum’s camp was rattled? According to a very reliable source, Solidum’s running mate, Sheriliz “Niña” Almoro, already broke away with him. Not only her but two others who are running for councilors under the Solidum bandwagon:

Ina Olivárez, Niña Almoro, and Kim Carrillo reportedly broke away from Solidum’s camp. How true?

The three, however, have kept mum on the issue.

COMELEC unreliable

Nothing happened with the questionable Ochoa papers. So out of desperation, and realizing that Mayor Calex was still popular inspite of the smear campaign against him, the enemy camp made one final blow.

With just a few days left before May 13, the Commission on Elections (COMELEC) suddenly decided to disqualify Mayor Calex from seeking reelection:

In a resolution dated May 7, the COMELEC first division granted the petition filed by Catáquiz’s rival, San Pedro Vice Mayor Norvic Solidum, and two others to disqualify the local chief executive, who was also recently ordered by Malacañang to step down.

The COMELEC ruling, signed by Commissioners Lucenito Tagle, Elias Yusoph, and Christian Robert Lim, cited Section 40 of the Local Government Code, which bars “from running for any elective local position … those removed from office as a result of an administrative case.”

Catáquiz, a member of the Nacionalista Party, said he has yet to receive a copy of the COMELEC order but vowed to seek “legal remedies” from a higher body to stop his disqualification.

“With three more days to go (before the elections), this is just a strategy of my opponents to discredit me,” he said in a phone interview Thursday.

But COMELEC decisions are highly unreliable these days. It will be remembered that just a few days ago, they implemented COMELEC Resolution No. 9688 which prohibits the “withdrawal of cash, encashment of checks and conversion of any monetary instrument into cash from May 8 to 13, exceeding P100,000 or its equivalent in any foreign currency, per day in banks, finance companies, quasi-banks, pawnshops, remittance companies and institutions performing similar functions.” But the Supreme Court put a stop to it, declaring it unconstitutional. So how can one rely on COMELEC’s wisdom?

Norvic then made a mad scramble and trumpeted the news. Last Friday, an old yellow model pick-up truck (take note: the plate number was covered) was driving all over the municipality declaring, with its megaphone blurting out that Mayor Calex was already disqualified, and that all who would vote for him will no longer be counted.

But Norvic, party’s not over when it’s really over.

Enter Baby Catáquiz

Just when Solidum et al. thought that they had won (especially since another mayoralty bet, Berlene Alberto, is not really well-known), Cataquiz’s wife Lourdes filed her certificate of candidacy last Friday at the COMELEC office (almost at the same time that Mayor Calex received his copy of the COMELEC resolution that disqualified him from the mayoralty race). The move is legal.

Let it be known that under COMELEC rules:

“The substitute for a candidate who died or is disqualified by final judgment, may file his COC up to mid-day of election day, provided that the substitute and the substituted have the same surnames.” (see COMELEC Resolution No. 9518).

So to all registered San Pedrense voters, please be informed that all votes for Mayor Calex will still be counted. And all of them will be automatically accounted for his legal substitute: Mrs. Lourdes “Baby” Catáquiz.

In less than 24 hours, it’s election time! Let it be known that this blog is not supposed to be a political blog. However, I now feel concerned with the elections in my adoptive hometown, San Pedro Tunasán, La Laguna especially since this has been our home for the past nine years. Despite my rather apolitical stance (I’m not a registered voter), I feel I had to do this because it is a civic duty, and not out of political friendship or bias. And I feel the need to endorse and support Mrs. Baby Catáquiz not out of political ties (they never instructed me nor paid me to write this blogpost, believe it or not). Because I know that it is the RIGHT and JUST thing to do.

Yes, Mayor Calex is a friend of mine. And to my observation, I honestly do find Mr. Solidum as an inept and unfit and uncouth public servant (many witnessed how Solidum made a slit-throat gesture yesterday when his motorcade met Mrs. Catáquiz’s). But I never thought of putting myself in the midst of their rivalry by writing a blogpost in support of Mayor Calex (who am I to do that in the first place? I’m just another blogger).

Nothing really personal with Mr. Solidum. But had he not attempted to divide San Pedro, then this blogpost wouldn’t have existed. During the last elections, in 2010, I never wrote any article/blogpost in support of Mayor Calex. Nor did I attack his challenger (Vierneza) back then.

So to my fellow San Pedrenses, you now know where you stand.

And what of Mayor Calex? His story has not yet ended.

His biography is still in progress. :-)

Breaking news for the upcoming coffee table book “LA LAGUNA The Heart of the Philippines”…

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It’s now official: renowned historian, scholar, and linguist, Señor Guillermo Gómez y Rivera, will write the foreword to my debut book, LA LAGUNA The Heart of the Philippines!

Meeting last Sunday night (04/07/2013) at J.Boy Japanese Fast Food Shop in Macati City. Man, their noodles there are almost as thick as my fingers! (L-R: me, Ronald Yu of In-Frame Media Works, and Señor Gómez).

To those who do not know yet, Señor Gómez— as he is called by friends, students, admirers, and critics—is currently one of the board of directors of the prestigious Academia Filipina de la Lengua Española, the oldest state institution in the Philippines. From 1971 to 1973, he was the secretary of the National Language Committee of the Philippine Constitutional Convention. For many years, he taught Spanish language and grammar as well as Philippine History, Geography, and Philosophy of Man at Adamson University (my alma mater). In 1974, the Department of Education condecorated him for his work as a teacher and writer with the Plus Ultra Filipinas award. The next year, he won the Premio Zóbel for his play El Caserón, but primarily in recognition for his efforts in preserving the Spanish language and culture in our country. He has since been a longtime master of ceremonies for the said award-giving body until its demise in 1999. Prior to this, Señor Gómez won second place in the Premio Manuel Bernabé for an essay on the historical and nationalistic value and import of the Spanish language in the Philippines.

Señor Gómez has authored many books, among them El Conflicto de Soberanía Territorial Sobre las Islas Malvinas, Georgias, y Sándwich del SurThe Conflict Over Territorial Sovereignty on the Malvinas, Georgias, and Sandwich Islands of the South (Manila, bilingual edition, 1984), FilipinoOrigen y Connotación, y Otros Ensayos (Manila: Ediciones Solidaridad Filhispana-El Maestro, 1966), and various textbooks on Spanish grammar and history such as Español Para Todo El Mundo and Texto Para Español 4-N: La Literatura Filipina y Su Relación al Nacionalismo Filipino (both used in Adamson University and Centro Escolar University). He is also active in Filipino dance and music. He is currently an instructor of various Spanish dances, particularly flamenco (he is in fact considered as the undisputed maestro of Flamenco in the Philippines).

Aside from sharing his knowledge of Flamenco, he has made several researches on Philippine songs, dances, and costumes, especially those of Hispanic influence, which he was able to contribute to the internationally acclaimed Bayanihan Philippine National Folk Dance Company. In fact, most of the Spanish-influenced native songs and dances choreographed by the said group can trace their origins from Gómez’s researches, which earned him an advisory role for Bayanihan. He also released an LP back in 1960 when he was still the producer of La Voz Hispanofilipina, a radio program of DZRH. He made research about “lost” Filipino songs that were originally sung in Castilian during the Spanish colonization of the Philippines. He reintroduced the songs through recording. The successful LP was entitled Nostalgia Filipina. He was the one who sang in all of the songs, accompanied by the late Roberto Buena’s rondalla (on 14 August 2006, he relaunched a digitally mastered version of this album at the Instituto Cervantes de Manila through financial support from the Spanish Program for Cultural Cooperation).

In 1997, he was a segment host of ABS-CBN‘s defunct early morning program Alas Singko Y Media. In the said show, he hosted a five-minute Spanish lesson.

In addition to his contributions to Philippine literature, culture, and history, he was also a journalist; he used to publish and edit the El Maestro magazine which served as the organ of the Corporación Nacional de Profesores Filipinos de Español, Inc., and also contributed to various newspapers, magazines, and websites (Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Philippines Free Press, Revista Filipina, etc.). Aside from the weekly newspapers The Listening Post and The Tagalog Chronicle, he also edited Nueva Era, the only existing Spanish newspaper in the Philippines in modern times (these three, owned by the late Batangueño publisher and businessman Emilio M. Ynciong, were accessible only via subscription; I used to be Señor Gómez’s editorial assistant for these papers, now out of print, from 2001 to 2003).

Señor Gómez is also an accomplished linguist and polyglot. He speaks and writes fluently in his native Hiligaynón as well as in English and Tagalog. Aside from being an acclaimed master of the Spanish language in the country, he is also conversant in Italian, Portuguese, French, Quiniráy-á, Cebuano, Hokkien, and has made an extensive study of the Chabacano and Visayan languages (he was crowned Diutay ñga Príncipe Sg Binalaybáy sa Binisayà at the age of 13).

It is a little known fact that Señor Gómez, although a Bisayà, can also be considered a Lagunense: he traces his Gómez Spanish ancestor to Pagsanján, and has many Rivera relatives in Pila.

Indeed, the writer of the book’s foreword is a virtual heavyweight compared to the lowly writer himself. But hey, I am humbled with all of this. I admit now that is difficult for me to imagine somebody else writing the foreword to my very first book. And if I’m not mistaken, this would be the fourth time that Señor Gómez will write a foreword/introduction for somebody else. The first time he did so was for multi-awarded multilingual poet Federico Espino (Premio Zóbel awardee, 1978) for his bilingual collection of poetry, Ave En Jaula Lírica / Bird in the Lyric Cage (Solidaridad Filipino-Hispana, 1970). The second was for Conchita Huerta (another Premio Zóbel awardee, 1965) for her Arroz y Sampaguitas (Ediciones Fil-Hispanas, 1972), a collection of essays and short stories. And the last he did was for Perspectives in Politics: Public and Foreign (UST Publishing House, 2005) by UNESCO Commissioner and international political analyst José David Lápuz.

This is truly a huge dream come true for me. :D

LA LAGUNA The Heart of the Philippines is a collaboration between the historic Provincial Government of La Laguna (Gov. E.R. Ejército) and In-Frame Media Works (Mr. Ronald Yu).

Book launching will be announced soon! :D

Norvic Solidum, Mayor of San… Vicente?

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Two days ago, the Manila Times ran a rather disturbing story about a political “tug of war” that is happening in the erstwhile municipality of San Pedro in La Laguna province:

Tug of war over La Laguna town seethes

Published on 03 April 2013
Written by ROSELLE AQUINO CORRESPONDENT
SAN PEDRO, La Laguna: Machinations by políticos and their minions seeking to carve their turf in a huge section of this highly urbanized municipality has stirred residents and old-timers into a furor.

Frantic San Pedro residents are begging Malacañang to speed up the conversion of their municipality into a city to thwart attempts at chopping off a large portion of their town.

Officers and members of the San Pedro Chamber of Commerce and Industry and Rotary Club of San Pedro, who asked not to be named for fear of political reprisal, expressed apprehensions over ongoing attempts to slice off Barangay San Vicente —a big portion of San Pedro— and convert it into another municipality.

“San Pedro has a lot of economic potentials that are waiting to be harnessed and a key to unlocking these potentials is the conversion of this booming municipality into a city,” the concerned leaders said, adding that San Pedro’s neighbors Biñán, Santa Rosa, Cabuyao, and Calambâ have turned into booming cities.

Behind the alleged move to split San Pedro into two municipalities is a group led by Vice Mayor Norvic Solidum and his erstwhile political protégé, San Vicente barangay chieftain Allan Mark Villena.

The two successfully swayed the entire Sangguniang Barangay of San Vicente to approve Barangay Resolution No. 11-33 on August 12, 2011 asking La Laguna Governor ER Ejército and the Sangguniang Panlalawigan to create the new San Vicente town. The one-page Resolution 11-33 was signed by Villena and barangay councilors Vicente Solidum, Jr., César Caísip, Vicente Facundo, Wilfredo Álvarez, Lolito Márquez, John Dell Blay, and Alfredo Flores.

Solidum and Villena then teamed up in arguing their case before the La Laguna Sangguniang Panlalawigan in a hearing on September 19, 2011. Records released by the SP legislative staff of the La Laguna SP showed that they formally presented their case to the Joint Committee on Laws and Procedures and Barangay Affairs, presided by La Laguna board member Benedicto Mario “Bong” Palacol. Also in attendance during the hearing were board members Floro Esguerra, Gab Alatiit, Rey Parás, and Juan Único.

But there is obviously no tug of war happening. Vice Mayor Norvic Solidum —if the merits and motives of Resolution 11-33 are indeed true— does not appear interested in wresting the whole of San Pedro from his rival, San Pedro Mayor Calixto “Calex” Catáquiz. He is only interested in slicing off a piece from the cake. And that tasty slice, according to the said report, is Barrio San Vicente. At 665 hectares, it is San Pedro’s second largest barrio (or barangay). Before becoming Vice Mayor, Solidum was its capitán del barrio. His brief stint as the head of that barrio must have inspired him to come up with such an ambitious plan.

Or had it?

Reading the news report further:

Homeowners associations leaders, led by Rosario Complex president Ding Latoja, and barangay leaders led by Santo Niño barangay chair Nap Islán, said that should Solidum and Villena succeed, San Pedro will not qualify as a city and would revert and be doomed to a third class municipality status.

San Pedro electorate deplored Solidum and Villena’s attempt to sabotage the town’s cityhood bid via a “backdoor move” to separate San Vicente from San Pedro.

Resolution 11-33 was filed with the La Laguna SP after La Laguna 1st District lawmaker Dan Fernández has filed on August 22, 2010 with the Committee of Local Government of the House of Representatives House Bill No. 5169 entitled “Converting the Municipality of San Pedro in the Province of La Laguna into a Component City to be known as City of San Pedro”. The filing of Resolution 11-23 was suspiciously timed to pre-empt approval by the House Committee of the bill which had scheduled a public hearing on December 2011. The Committee unanimously approved the San Pedro cityhood bill in that hearing.

San Pedro Mayor Calixto Catáquiz vehemently opposed Solidum and Villena’s proposal in a letter to the La Laguna provincial board on September 19, 2011, arguing that the Sangguniang Bayan of San Pedro was bypassed because it “was not notified and given opportunity to be heard”. The Local Government Code requires that all barangay resolutions and ordinances should be submitted to the Sanggunian for review.

Both the House and Senate has passed the cityhood measure which has been submitted to the President for enactment.

A plebiscite will be held upon the President’s approval of the bill. San Pedro’s conversion into a city is expected to further spur its development and further enhance delivery of basic social services to its people, particularly in public health, social welfare, education, employment and infrastructure.

So there. If we are to believe the veracity of this news report, then what do we San Pedrenses make of Vice Mayor Solidum?

Unfortunately for his supporters, it is difficult to doubt this news report. Aside from the fact that it’s not coming from the “Balanced News, Fearless Views” camp, the report made mention not only of the resolution number but also members of the provincial board who participated in the public hearing to hear it out. If this plan of making Barrio San Vicente as a new Lagunense municipality was merely hearsay, then Manila Times has just placed itself in the lion’s den where there are no big cats but big libel charges ready to pounce on it (that is, if Mr. Solidum is the kind of man who does not allow anyone to trample upon his dignity).

So what if you chose San Pedro? No disrespect, but are you some kind of a gem that we should be proud of? My golly. Vice Mayor, your campaign slogan reeks of egomania if you haven’t noticed it yet. Better fire all of your PR staff.

The Manila Times, however, failed to disclose the text of the controversial Solidum-Villena resolution. What was really the motive behind this wretched plan? I say wretched, because there is really no need to make San Vicente into a new town, whether its revenues are increasing or not. And if the the barrio”s internal revenues indeed have risen, then why separate it from the town matrix? Is that reason enough? What kind of greed is this? And how about the people? Walk through the streets of San Vicente and ask around; they will certainly say no to any plans of separating their beloved barrio from their beloved San Pedro.

In view of the above, I am reminded of the late National Artist Nick Joaquín’s observation regarding this immature practice of slicing up towns to create new ones:

Philippine society, as though fearing bigness, ever tends to revert the condition of the barangay of the small enclosed society. We don’t grow like a seed, we split like an amoeba. The moment a town grows big it becomes two towns. The moment a province becomes populous it disintegrates into two or three smaller provinces. The excuse offered for divisions is always the alleged difficulty of administering so huge an entity. But Philippines provinces are microscopic compared to an American state like, say, Texas, where the local government isn’t heard complaining it can’t efficiently handle so vast an area. We, on the other hand, make a confession of character whenever we split up a town or province to avoid having of cope, admitting that, on that scale, we can’t be efficient; we are capable only of the small. The decentralization and barrio-autonomy movement expresses our craving to return to the one unit of society we feel adequate to: the barangay, with its 30 to a hundred families. Anything larger intimidates. We would deliberately limit ourselves to the small performance. This attitude, an immemorial one, explains why we’re finding it so hard to become a nation, and why our pagan forefathers could not even imagine the task. Not E pluribus unum is the impulse in our culture but “Out of many, fragments”. Foreigners had to come and unite our land for us; the labor was far beyond our powers. Great was the King of Sugbú, but he couldn’t even control the tiny isle across his bay. Federation is still not even an idea for the tribes of the North; and the Moro sultanates behave like our political parties: they keep splitting off into particles.

“The moment a town grows big it becomes two towns,” Nick astutely quipped. This is especially true in San Pedro’s case. It has really been growing these past few years, so now outside forces wanted it to be split. However, San Pedro’s growth was already unstoppable; just last month, March 27, it was proclaimed a city by virtue of Republic Act No. 10420:

Republic Act No. 10420

If Solidum still has plans of continuing his political adventurism in San Pedro, it is rather too late. San Pedro is now the newest city in the prosperous province of La Laguna. :D

In his campaign posters spread all over the city, Solidum proudly states: “San Pedro ang Bayan Ko, Ito ang Pinili Ko!” (San Pedro is my town, it is what I chose). It should be noted that Solidum is a native of Romblón. He is not a native San Pedrense like Mayor Calex but has been living here for about three decades already. But still, he wishes to show his adoptive people of his supposedly genuine love and concern for San Pedro. Well and good. If that is true, which at this point is highly doubtful, then why does he want San Vicente to be taken off from San Pedro’s map? Is it merely to embarrass Mayor Calex’s cityhood efforts for San Pedro? And as respect for his adoptive hometown’s history and heritage, shouldn’t Solidum instead create plans of keeping San Pedro intact and united and progressive? San Vicente has been a part of San Pedro since Spanish times. It took centuries and a time-honored history for it to bloom into a thriving San Pedrense community that it is today. And now it will take only a single (and immature) action of just one ambitious OUTSIDER to uproot it from its stronghold?

There is also speculation of a lust for power on Solidum’s part. As main petitioner, he would have automatically become mayor of San Vicente in case the divisive Resolution 11-23 has come into fruition. This is reminiscent of Nagcarlán’s case during the early 1900s. Fortunato Arbán, a municipal councilor, led two of his colleagues in filing a petition to separate the barrios of Antipolo, Entablado, Lagúan, Maytón, Paúlî, Poóc, Tuy, and Talaga to form a new municipality. Their petition was granted which gave rise to a new municipality: Rizal (of Tayak Hill fame). And as main petitioner, Arbán became its first municipal president (or town mayor). This kind of setup has also happened in other towns inside and outside of La Laguna.

Was this Solidum’s plan all along?

With the 2013 Philippine general election just a month away, Vice Mayor Solidum has a lot of explaining to do.٩(•̮̮̃̃)۶

*******

Incidentally, today is the fiesta of Barrio San Vicente. The barriofolk of San Vicente should have a double celebration: to honor its Spanish patron saint San Vicente Ferrer, and; of its continued status as a proud barrio/barangay of La Laguna province’s newest City of San Pedro!

¡Feliz fiesta al barrio san pedrense de San Vicente Ferrer! ¡Viva!

Easter Sunday 2013 is the 492nd anniversary of the first Mass in the Philippines!

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DID YOU KNOW? Today, Easter Sunday, is the 492nd anniversary of the first Mass in our country that was celebrated in Isla Mazaua! It happened on 21 March 1521 which was also an Easter Sunday!

The traditional “salubong” between our Lord Jesus Christ (left) and His Mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary (right). Photo taken early this morning by Yeyette Perey de Alas at our town plaza.

It was Fernando de Magallanes, otherwise known as Ferdinand Magellan, who ordered the celebration of the Holy Mass in Mazaua. It was officiated by Fray Pedro de Valderrama (O.S.A.). It is sad to note that Magallanes, a devout Roman Catholic and a kind-hearted gentleman, is one of the most vilified and hated characters in Philippine History today when, ironically, he was the catalyst for the birth of Christianity in our country.

Something is just not right. Something is obviously twisted. We are a Christian —a Catholic— nation. Yet we hate the medium that brought our beloved faith to our shores.

It is the bitterness that was taught to us in US-centric schools that inhibits us from discovering the truth about ourselves. Indeed, “those years cry for a fresher appraisal“. I pray that Easter Sunday 2013 will be the commencement of the “resurrection” of our buried but glorious past.

Happy Easter everyone!

Almost done with the final edits!

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The final editing of my first book, LA LAGUNA The Heart of the Philippines, is nearing completion! Yay!

Photo by Yeyette Perey de Alas

 

Remember the Maine

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Later investigations have shown that the reason why the USS Maine (ACR-1) exploded was because of either spontaneous combustion of the battleship’s coal bunker or an explosion of its forward magazines. It is now safe to conclude that the sinking of the Maine was purely an accident. At any rate, speculation won over reason, and it was probable that warmongers used this horrific incident to precipitate war against Spain.

—Culled from my debut book “LA LAGUNA The Heart of the Philippines“, coming very soon!—

My Tagalog translation of Lope de Vega’s “Varios Efectos del Amor

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This is my Tagalog translation of Lope de Vega’s “Varios Efectos del Amor” which I read in last Friday’s LIRIKO Musika+Salaysay, a cultural program that was held in Kape Kesada, Paeté, La Laguna.

Photography by Ronald A. Yu.

IBÁ’T-IBÁNG EFECTO NG PAG-IBIG
Pepe Alas

Pagcaualán ng malay, mapañgahas, magalit,
magaspáng, banayad, malayà, mailáp,
pagcagana ng loób, sucat macamatáy, patáy, buháy,
tapát, sucab, duág, masiglá,

Capág di mahanap ang náis, ualáng catahimican;
Nagmúmuqhang masayá, maluncót, mapagpacúmbabâ, mapágmataas,
nagagalit, matapang, palatanan,
nasísiyahan, nasásactan, naguiguing cahiná-hinalà,

Ang pagtalicod sa malinao na pagcacámalî,
uminóm ng lason na tila ba’y minatamís na alac,
ang pagcalimot sa paquinabang, at pagcaguilio sa pinsalà —

Ang maniuala na ang calañgitan ay maaaring pagcásiahin sa infierno,
Ang pag-alay ng buhay at cáloloa sa isáng malíng acalà,
Itó ang pag-ibig; ang sínumang nacalasáp nitó, alám ang sinasabi có.
.

Copyright © 2013
José Mario Alas
Manila, Philippines
All rights reserved.

Pardon my usage of “archaic” Tagalog. I am against useless and deliberate revisionism of languages and orthography.

Happy Valentine’s Day everyone!

Pascuhan sa La Laguna

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Opening their gifts! This is an age-old Filipino custom that my family is conserving every 6th of January. Some far-flung barrios of La Laguna are still doing this (particularly those in the eastern part). But it appears that we’re the only ones who are celebrating this old Filipino tradition here in San Pedro.

 

Aside from the lively Three Kings festivities in Mabitac, some parts of La Laguna still celebrate the centuries-old custom of Christmas gift-giving on that date (6th of January). A few remote barrios in Liliw, Mabitac, Nagcarlán, Pagsanján, and Santa Cruz still practise the old “pascuhan” tradition wherein children visit their godparents for Christmas freebies, and parents surprise their children with gifts. This custom is obviously of Hispanic origin and is still being practised by many Spanish-speaking countries. The gift-giving commemorates the famous Nativity scene wherein the Three Wise Men from the Orient (popularly known as the Three Kings, a Catholic tradition) visited the child Jesus and gave him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh, thus recognizing Him as the newborn King of the world.

Culled from my debut book, LA LAGUNA The Heart of the Philippines. Coming very soon! Happy Three Kings everyone! :D

Let us all save the Alberto House of Biñán

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PRES. BENIGNO AQUINO III: Save the historic Alberto Mansion in Biñán, La Laguna.
Dr. Bimbo Santa María

The house is almost 200 years old. It was built by Lorenzo Alberto Alonso, father of Teodora Alonso and grandfather of Dr. José Rizal. The house was in almost perfect shape until the current owner, a descendant of Alberto Alonso, sold it to a resort owner in Bagac, Bataán. The local government opposed it and did not grant the dismantling permit. However, in May of 2010, the house was dismantled from the inside.

A campaign to save the house was launched spearheaded by local heritage advocates called the United Artists for Cultural Conservation and Development (UACCD). With the help of the print and broadcast media together with netizens, the issue gained public interest.

A new law on heritage conservation was approved by then President Gloria Arroyo on March 2010 stating that structures 50 years and above have to be conserved if it has cultural importance. The National Historical Institute (now National Historical Commission of the Philippines or NHCP) was ready to put a marker in the house recognizing it as historical since the 90s but was refused by the owner. Since then, and in spite of the public clamor to save the house, the NHCP till the present has reiterated it was never declared as an important cultural property, at the same time saying that they do not have the funds to save the house.

The house is the only remaining original structure on site in relation to Dr. Rizal. The Rizal Shrine in Calambâ is only a replica built from its foundation and floor initiated by then Pres. Elpidio Quirino through funds coming from donations of schoolchildren in the 1950s.

Many would say that it is not that important since it is “just” the house of Rizal’s mother. Not realizing that without Teodora Alonso, there would be no Pepe Rizal. Teodora was Rizal’s first teacher and was the one who moulded his character of love of country. The house is the living soul that reminds us of the memory of this great woman and her contribution to Philippine history.

The destruction of this house is man-made. They took away the ceiling, the floor, and even dug the foundations, leaving only the shell of the house. A part of the roof caved in last week. A call for help ran in the internet for the government to immediately intervene before the whole house collapses, but it fell into deaf ears. On 22 October 2012, 75% of the roof went down along with a big part of the façade.

But the house can still be saved. It took one president in the past to rebuild the Rizal Shrine in Calamba. Now, we call on our president to step in and help save and reconstruct this irreplaceable part of our history in Biñán. A fitting honor for a mother of a national hero.

PLEASE SIGN THE PETITION BY CLICKING HERE!

Church ruins of Lumangbayan in Nasugbú, Batangas

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To many Metro Manileños, Nasugbú, Batangas is a place that is synonymous to family and barcada beach outings. The first time I was here was way back in college together with my neighborhood friends. And since then (until now), that is the only thing I know about Nasugbú: its famous beaches.

During our 12th-year anniversary at Muntíng Buhañgin Beach Camp, Inc., Násugbu, Batangas last year, 13 September 2011. Yep, that’s beach-addict Mrs. Alas.

The second time I visited it was last year, during me and my wife’s 12th-year anniversary last year (13 September). After a drizzly afternoon of swimming at picturesque Muntíng Buhañgin Beach Camp, we visited the old población, like what we usually do whenever we go out of town, to take pictures of ancestral houses and the center of activities in each Filipino town during the Spanish times: the town church.

We got a bit confused when we started asking around for the location of the town church, especially when we did see the towering structure of the town’s Saint Francis Xavier Parish Church.

Iglesia de San Francisco de Javier, Nasugbú, Batangas. Its interiors, albeit humble, is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen.

The tricycle driver whom we asked for directions insisted that it was not the town’s original church. I was starting to believe him, especially since the structure is indeed very modern. He led us to someplace else, outside the town proper. We had no idea what church was this guy talking about, nor where he was taking us. But we felt that we’re off to another adventure.

And I was right.

My wife (wearing orange) examining the ruins in Barrio 6, Lumangbayan.

Upon seeing the ruins, I felt a bit ashamed of myself. Here I am, parading myself as a passionate online history buff, but how come I haven’t even heard of this?! Fail.

Inside the structure.

Spanish-Filipino war? There was no war. Rebellion is the correct word.

I learned that the name of this church was Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Escalera or Our Lady of the Staircase (probably in reference to the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, Nuevo México, but I could be wrong). According to stories from the locals, this church was burned by the Spaniards at the height of the Katipunan rebellion (the so-called Philippine Revolution).

Huh? Something’s quite wrong with the picture.

The Spaniards burned their own structure? A structure they considered holy?

I began to realize that the site has become yet another perfect example of the notorious, malicious, and twisted leyenda negra.

This 19th-century church was said to have been destroyed during the skirmish between the Spanish troops and the Filipinos (Katipuneros). In the Nasugbú Tourism Quarterly (April-June 2000 issue), Francisco Villacrusis wrote that after imprisoning the townsfolk inside this church, the Spaniards burned it down, killing the people inside. But Villacrusis did not cite any reference. And his claim is preposterous. Here are my reasons:

1) The Spaniards, being devote Catholics, would never have done such an atrocity.
2) There were only a few Spaniards in the Philippines, from start (1565) to finish (1898). As a matter of fact, during that time, the only “white face” that one usually encounters in far-flung villages is that of the friar.
3) To the best of my knowledge, there was no other instance of “church-burning” that was instigated by the Spanish troops in other places in the country outside of Násugbu.

The only church-burner that I know of are the Katipuneros themselves. Andrés Bonifacio was a church-burner himself. As a matter of fact, he attempted to burn the church in nearby Indang in Cavite province. And he did considerable damage to the church.

In view of the foregoing, all accusing fingers should point to the Katipuneros, not the meager Spanish troops.

And many of these so-called “Spanish troops” were native Filipinos, by the way…

Click here to view the whole album.

Meanwhile, in my adoptive province of La Laguna, there’s another church left in ruins, and it’s in Calauan…

Iglesia de San Isidro Labrador y San Roque (1860-1925?), Calauan, La Laguna. Photographed by Ronald A. Yu during our visit there last weekend (18 August 2012).

But that’s another story (coming very soon!).

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