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161st birthday anniversary of Plaridel

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prop·a·gan·da /ˌprɒpəˈgændə/ [prop-uh-gan-duh] (noun)
information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.

Finally, we have fulfilled a promise to Lola Bening by visiting her grandfather’s shrine in Bulacán. And we did so during a timely event.

Last month, August 30, the town of Bulacán commemorated the 161st natal day of its most celebrated son, Marcelo H. del Pilar, aka Plaridel. For his nationalistic writings mostly published in La Solidaridad and various pamphlets, del Pilar is widely regarded as the Father of Philippine Journalism. Many sectors also add another title to Plaridel’s hallowed name: the Father of Philippine Freemasonry.

For this year, the theme was “Talas ng Panulat at Talino, Inspiración ng mga Filipino” (Sharpness of Pen and Mind, Inspiration of all Filipinos). In a speech given by Bulacán Governor Wilhelmino M. Sy-Alvarado, the provincial leader made mention of the media killings and harassment during the past administration (Arroyo’s), noting that while it continues, the power of journalism then as now will always prevail against the forces of evil.

In such speeches celebrating historic milestones of our national heroes, understandably borne out of subtle “mind-conditioning” in schools, there is always an almost unconscious temptation of painting the past in a darker picture, as if the very air that our heroes’ breathed at that time were smothered in smoke deadlier than the smoke fumes we have today from factories and vehicles. That the sharpness of Plaridel’s pen cannot be denied. That his patriotism can even be at par with that of José Rizal’s, or even far greater, more sublime, deeper and more profound.

But it should be understood thoroughly: what did Plaridel really fight for? How did he put to good use the talas of his panulat?

To simply say that Plaridel “fought against Spanish abuses and tyranny” is mere elementary school talk, very shallow, a premise totally unacceptable in scholarly conversations. An unbiased reassessment of the past will clearly show that the Bulaqueño native belonged to the second wave of the “Propaganda Movement” (the first wave included creoles such as Padres Pedro Peláez and José Burgos, Miguel Rodríguez Varela, etc.), a movement strictly anti-clerical not so much that they were anti-Catholics but that the movement, inspired by a wave of revolutions in Europe, particularly France, saw in itself as carrying the cudgels of reform for a modernized/liberalized Filipinas. In the eyes of these intellectuals —”Europeanized” due to their language, Spanish—, the Philippines was very left behind in terms of economy and technology, arts and culture.

On a side note: if the propagandistas were alive today and then noticed at how that “backward culture” they loathed so much produced, ironically, renaissance men such as themselves —an endangered species in our supposedly modernized/liberalized milieu— I’m sure that they would have been laughing at their follies. Del Pilar would have been roaring the loudest out of sheer disappointment and despair: his nationalism cost him years of precious fatherhood.

Since the intellectuals of that time knew that the friars held prestige and influence on government affairs, these hapless men of the cloth became the main target of attack in the propagandistas‘ campaign for societal changes. Del Pilar was among the first to fire a salvo of anti-friar attacks, writing and distributing defamatory pamphlets and organizing rallies among students who have read liberal writings from Europe. On 1 March 1888, del Pilar helped organize the strongest anti-friar rally ever held during that time: the protesters marched to the office of José Centeno, the civil governor of Manila at that time. Their petition? To ask for the expulsion of Manila Archbishop Pedro Payo as well as all the friars in the Philippines. In the words of historian-priest Fr. Fidel Villaroel, “never before had Manila watched such a bold demonstration against the religious institutes and their Archbishop.” Steeped in knowledge of Church laws, the rallyists’ manifesto (strongly believed to be authored by del Pilar) quoted heavily from the Canon Law and the Leyes de Indias to support accusations against the friars: that they were hostile to authority, ambitious, despotic, etc.

This massive anti-friar protest —probably the first in Philippine History— was the main reason for del Pilar’s escape to Spain, for he was afterwards branded as a filibustero and even anti-Spanish. A legal action was subsequently filed against him, prompting the Commissioner Judge of the legal case to deport del Pilar (probably to faraway Marianas or elsewhere). To escape legal persecution, del Pilar opted to leave Manila for Spain on 28 October 1888, leaving his wife and two daughters behind.

He never saw them ever again.

But in Spain he still continued to fight for whatever reforms he had in mind. Still bitter on his apparent loss against the friars in the Philippines, del Pilar joined their ancient enemy, the Freemasons.

In an interview last year, Lola Bening told me that the main reason why her grandfather affiliated himself with Freemasonry was out of convenience. For a reformist during those days, joining Freemasonry was the most logical thing to do. Del Pilar joined Freemasonry not because he hated Christianity (although later on, estranged for too long from the faith of his forefathers and family, he did become a deist). Del Pilar did so because in Spain he saw an “atmosphere of freedom”, the very same atmosphere he had been yearning for for his beloved country.

During Spanish times, the friars were not just influential over the course of government affairs; the friars were also very much a part of every Filipino family. Unlike today, the cura párroco made it a point to literally look after the lives of his flock by visiting their homes every now and then and as much as possible. Strict Christian ideals and discipline were imposed in every home. Probably “choked” by all this for centuries, and seeing that it was no longer the norm in Spain (for the liberals were already winning during that time), del Pilar et al. called it quits and yearned for “more freedom” from a “stifling” religious life.

For the Freemasons, it was a win-win situation to have del Pilar, a very talented writer in both Tagalog and Spanish, join their ranks. For Freemasonry, nothing more can be sweet but to see the Church of Christ, i.e., the Catholic Church, to be laid to waste.

While in Spain, del Pilar rose through the ranks in Freemasonry quite fast (I do not doubt that he could have been a Freemason already while still in the Philippines). In La Solidaridad, a newspaper that is still very unfamiliar and misunderstood today because it is in Spanish, he wrote scathing essays and even more defamatory articles against the friars in the Philippines. He and his allies continued the “pamphleteering” (hence the name “propaganda”). But unprecedented events and in-fighting within the propagandistas, particularly between del Pilar and Rizal, proved to be fatal for the reform movement in Spain. In the end, an embattled and frustrated del Pilar wrote to his brother-in-law, Deodato Arellano, to organize a more radical group in the Philippines to finally overthrow the Spanish government and not just the friars anymore. Arellano took action and formed the underground movement known as the Katipunan, erroneously known to be a brainchild of Andrés Bonifacio. This fact, therefore, makes del Pilar the indirect founder of that group which directed the destiny of the nation. But that’s for another blogpost.

And since the Propaganda Movement was wasted in the end, the Freemasons saw no more use for del Pilar. In the end, they left him on his own to die on a lonely hospital in Barcelona. But the Freemasons abandoning him was fortuitous, for it allowed del Pilar to have silent moments with God. It is always said that only during the last hours of a man’s life does he take into account all the good and bad things that he has done throughout his existence, and to realize the “existential insignificance” of this ethereal life of ours.

He took the Holy Communion shortly before he died, thus reconverting to the faith of his fathers.

Taking note of all this, it is somehow disappointing to see Freemasons during special days held in honor of both del Pilar and Rizal and hear them lay claim to still having a brotherhood with both heroes in spirit. To a logical person, it should not be difficult to accept cold, hard facts: that both del Pilar and Rizal swallowed their pride and died as Christians. There lies their greatest heroism that should be emulated by all Christians and prodigal sons, an action that is sung not only on Earth but as it is in Heaven. If it is not ignorance from the the part of these Freemasons, then it is sheer desperation to continue acknowledging that Rizal and del Pilar are their brothers. To quote Fr. Villaroel, “what is important is to establish the historical facts and arrive at the truth, whether it pleases or not.

Familia del Pilar (left to right): Rev. P. Vicente Marasigan, Leticia Marasigan de Balagtás, Doña Marciana del Pilar (Plaridel's wife), Antonia Marasigan de Gadi, Sofía H. del Pilar (Plaridel's eldest daughter), Marcelo Marasigan (the baby), Anita H. del Pilar de Marasigan (Plaridel's youngest daughter and mother of Lola Bening), Josefina Marasigan (Madre Mª Aurora of the "Order of Pink Sisters"), Benita Marasigan de Santos (Lola Bening).

El Santuario de Marcelo Hilario del Pilar y Gatmaitán (Marcelo H. del Pilar Shrine). Lola Bening (del Pilar's granddaughter) told me that the original house was torn down. This house is just a replica of the original (much like the case of Calambá's Rizal Shrine). On this very site stood the original. This is where Plaridel was born and where he spent his youth. The whole property was reacquired later on by Lola Bening. It measures 4,027 square meters, but she had no qualms of donating it to the government for the sake of national patrimony. The shrine is now under the custody of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines.

Mrs. Sylvia Santos de Pineda, daughter of Lola Bening and great granddaughter of Marcelo Hilario del Pilar y Gatmaitán.

Bulacán Mayor Patrick Meneses, Bulacán Provincial Governor Wilhelmino M. Sy-Alvarado, Senator Aquilino "Koko" Pimentel III, Plaridel's great granddaughter Sylvia Santos de Pineda and husband Patricio Pineda, and Bulacán Vice-Governor Daniel Fernández

Click here to view more photos and details of del Pilar’s 161st birthday!

The Filipino eScribbler, Patricio Pineda, Sylvia Santos de Pineda, and Vicente "Bong" Enríquez (manager of Bulacán-based VSE Productions, a private theater ensemble).

Visiting our Lady of Assumption and del Pilar’s turf (Bulacán, Bulacán)

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Every August, the town of Bulacán commemorates two very important events: the feast day of its patron, Nuestra Señora de la Asunción on the 15th (which is today!), and; the birth anniversary of the anti-friar Propagandista Movement, Marcelo H. del Pilar. Stark contrast: two events with contrasting ideologies commemorated on the same month.

A handsome ancestral house along Calle Real.

Monument of General Gregorio del Pilar. Not many Filipinos know that Goyo was a nephew of Marcelo H. del Pilar.

Cupang Bridge. Cupang was the small barrio where Marcelo del Pilar was born. It is now a part of Barrio Maysantol.

Walking along Calle Real towards the Marcelo H. del Pilar Shrine.

When me and Yeyette visited the town of Bulacán a few weeks back (07/25/2011), we had Lola Bening in mind. It was to fulfill a promise that we will visit her grandfather’s shrine soon. Unfortunately, when we got there, we found out that the Marcelo H. del Pilar shrine is closed on Mondays (just like when we visited the Apolinario Mabini Shrine. Guess we’ll have to visit again.

In front of the Marcelo H. del Pilar Shrine. Unfortunately, the shrine is closed.

The municipality of Bulacán —sharing the name of the Tagalog-speaking province where it is located— is one of the provincial towns that is very near Metro Manila. It can be reached, in fact, in just an hour from the City of Manila via the Municipality of Obando — but only if traffic is cooperative. When we went there, however, we rode a bus that passed through world-class North Luzón Expressway since we’re not accustomed to trips north of Manila (the Southerners that we are). We dropped off at Bigaá (now Balagtás) then rode a jeepney going straight to Bulacán.

According to sources, the town’s name was derived from the Tagalog word bulac which means “cotton” which apparently used to grow abundantly in the area. But Bulacán today does not cultivate cotton; farming, fishing, garments, and food processing are its major industries today. What I am still unsure of is whether this town was named after the province, or if the province was named after the town. But surely, Bulacán is one of the country’s oldest; it was founded by the Augustinian Order in 1572, just a year after the country was founded by the Spaniards. In fact, its church, Nuestra Señora De La Asunción, is the province’s oldest. But the stone structure and convent was built in 1762, the same year when the British invaded Manila. From there, the invaders went to as far as Bulacán and burned the church. Fray Gaspar Folgar had the church repaired in 1812. But it was damaged again by the deadly Corpus Christi earthquake of 1863. Another earthquake in 1869 tilted the belfry, but Fray Marcos Hernández renovated it in 1877. Restoration work was done by Fray Patricio Martín in 1885; it was completed by Fray Domingo de la Prieta in 1889.

Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción. Notice that the whole façade is standing on a plinth.

The upper part of the square pillars are designed with bricks in chevron pattern.

A slight renovation to strengthen the structure. The church is well taken cared of. Kudos!

The church's original flooring, exposed via an excavation, can be viewed on the right side of the church's main entrance.

The church's original floor, excavated but protected by glass.

The image of Our Lady of Assumption (Nuestra Señora de la Asunción).

My wife has become freakish for ancient bricks (the red-colored ones slightly covered by a modern finish).

Yeyette beside an old Santíssima Trinidad wooden cross at the church's garden.

Romanesque design of corbeled arches underneath the raking cornice. The upper part of the square pillar is designed

Bulaqueño goodies!

Afterwards, it’s lunchtime at Sizzling World!

People say that Sizzling World is quite popular here.

Some celebrities who have visited Sizzling World (this outlet and in other branches).

True, the food is good!

After lunch, we immediately resumed our walkathon.

The church's bell tower at the background.

Mag pan de sal muna tayo.

Casa Delgado

After our lunch and some pan de sal, we walked a few more streets to look for more ancestral houses. Thankfully, we chanced upon this beautiful architectural gem…

Yeyette inquiring about the unoccupied house from bystanders.

It was obvious from the outside that the house is already abandoned. But we had to make sure. Yeyette asked around for confirmation. The house actually was “semi-abandoned”. Nobody lives there anymore but it is still owned by one Jack Rodrigo who just lives a few paces from the house. After receiving directions, we set for his house.

He’s a gentleman who appears to be in his late 40s. Yeyette introduced ourselves and told him that we’re bahay na bató aficionados, and that we just want to take photos of the house’s interiors. The kind sir, however, prohibited us from going inside the house due to “paranormal” reasons.

In the past, Mr. Rodrigo said that he allowed his ancestral house to be photographed from within. Some movie companies have also rented it. In fact, scenes from the classic Pancho Magalona film Luis Látigo were shot inside that house. However, he started receiving reports that people who go inside the house to take pictures and film movies have noticed strange things happening to them. Bad luck and other unfortunate incidents followed them home. Some of them got sick. The more unfortunate ones were even possessed (assumedly by evil spirits).

It sent shivers up my wife’s spine; I took it all in stride. But when Mr. Rodrigo mentioned that he reported these strange occurences to the local priest, I have to admit that it got into me somehow. If the Church is involved, then this has got to be serious and not just mere “tacután” talk from people who are fans of urban legends and creepy stories. Mr. Rodrigo himself has not gone inside that house —the very house where he grew up— since his college years.

He said that the house had been blessed once or twice, but nothing happened. The hauntings continued, especially when the house is disturbed by tourists. I asked Mr. Rodrigo for the name of the house (Filipino houses usually bear the last name of the family who owns it). The name is Casa Delgado, the family on his mother’s side.

The name Delgado rang a bell. I asked him if it was the home of Francisco Delgado, and he confirmed it.

“Yes, it is the ancestral house of former Senator Francisco Delgado, my great grandfather. The house was built in 1886. Senator Delgado was also a cousin of former Philippine Ambassador to the Vatican,” informed Mr. Rodrigo.

Senator? Cousin? Something was wrong….

“I’m also related to another senator…”

“Yes, I think I know,” I butted in, remembering his surname. “Senator Francisco ‘Soc’ Rodrigo.” Wifey was impressed. She then proceeded to tell Mr. Rodrigo that I’m a historian. I should have corrected her: I’m no historian, just a history buff. I got no PhDs or MAs.

In the end, Mr. Rodrigo allowed us to go through the gate to take pictures of his great grandfather’s ancestral house.

An old carroza for the santos.

1886, the year when this house was built.

Since we were not allowed to go inside, I just took a photo of the interiors from the window beside the main entrance. My camera caught nothing eerie.

The grass around the house was very high, and snakes abound. The place is impassable without the proper tools to ward of the grass and the snakes.

Talk about creepy...

A stone post above Casa Delgado's ancient walls.

*******

On our way home, I kept on thinking about that conversation we had with Mr. Rodrigo. There was something amiss. Francisco Delgado? Senator?

I did some research online and in my library. And then it hit me.

The Delgado I had in mind was not Francisco Delgado, after all. It was José Mª Delgado. I got both persons all mixed-up in my mind. Francisco Delgado y Afán was a Resident Commissioner 2 to the 74th United States Congress during the American Occupation of the Philippines from 1935 to 1937. He was a Freemason. On the other hand, his cousin, José Mª Delgado, was a soldier of God: he was the first Filipino to be appointed ambassador to the Vatican. The Freemason senator is from Bulacán town; the Christian cousin is from Malolos.

Cousins with different ideologies: one Freemason, the other, Christian. Another stark contrast.

Is the late senator’s affiliation with Freemasonry the reason why his house remains uninviting and unsafe to mortals?

*******

The people we talked with were hospitable, and even invited us back for the town fiesta. To bad we couldn’t be there today. Anyways, happy fiesta, Bulacán!

Wisdom of the ages: la Señora Doña Benita Marasigan vda. de Santos

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With the granddaughter of national hero Marcelo H. del Pilar, la Señora Doña Benita Marasigan vda. de Santos

“Anó ang nangyari sa buhay có? Namulubi lang ang familia co. Ualáng nangyari sa mañgá guinauá co…” thus said a dying and remorseful Marcelo H. del Pilar, as relived by his 92-year-old granddaughter, Atty. Benita Marasigan-Santos.

Del Pilar died for country and principles. But precious time that was supposed to be for his wife and two young daughters Sofía and Anita went with him to the grave. Despite of it all, Lola Bening was still proud of his Lolo Celo for his patriotism.

Last 5 September, I had the rare opportunity to “speak with history” when a cousin of my dad, Paul Évora III, happened to read the article that I wrote about del Pilar which coincided with the national hero’s 160th birth anniversary. He was the one who arranged my lunch meeting with Lola Bening. And since, to the best of my knowledge, I have never met Uncle Paul all my life (I found him only through this wonderful online creature called Facebook), little did I know that his partner, Corina Unson, is actually the youngest daughter of Lola Bening.

We were welcomed by Uncle Paul and his gracious better half at their homely enclave within the bustling party district of Malate. For me, it was a queer sight to see such a handsome bahay na bató in highly urbanized Manila, still standing proudly and mysteriously behind a youngish narra tree (the house sometimes spooks the wits out of unknowing passersby, Uncle Paul told me).

The Marasigan-del Pilar ancestral house. At the gate are Uncle Paul, Yeyette, and Auntie Corina.

Lola Bening, despite her old age (she was born on 4 April 1918), was still sharp of mind. Very sharp. Like her grandfather, she used to be a writer. In fact, her English translation of her grandfather’s Spanish letter to her Tía Josefa landed a spot in Dr. Celedonio G. Aguilar’s Readings In Philippine Literature (Rex Book Store, Ciudad de Quezon, 1994). Trained as a laywer, she wrote numerous articles but mostly about her favorite subject: Philippine History.

“When I was a student at the University (of Santo Tomás), I befriended the librarian there. Once, I asked her if I could gain access to the archives to read the works of my grandfather, “La Frailocracía Filipina” and “La Soberanía Monacal en Filipinas“. I was hoping that I could translate them (from Spanish into English). When I was not allowed access, I spoke with the rector who explained to me that ‘the times have already changed’, that it is really not necessary to read them anymore.” I immediately understood the reason why she was denied access. I explained to her that due to the anti-Catholic content of the two essays, the Catholic university thought it best not to have them exposed to a new generation of Filipinos who no longer deserved a useless war between the religious and secular thought. But I assured her that translations are now available everywhere, including the internet.

If not for her blindness, I am quite certain that Lola Bening would still be writing.

Lola Bening also recounted how her family lost their fortune due to her grandfather’s costly eight-year self-exile in Barcelona, Spain. Whenever they could, the family sent del Pilar money to sustain himself as well as to keep his anti-clerical activities up and running. Although a devout Catholic, Lola Bening seemed not to be ashamed of her grandfather’s stance towards the friars because she believed that what del Pilar did was right and was for the benefit of the masses.

After del Pilar’s death, the family was somehow able to rise from the ashes of poverty due to the hero’s youngest daughter’s marriage to businessman Vicente Marasigan.

“On the day of my mother’s marriage, she was crying the whole time because she never wanted to marry my father,” said Lola Bening. The reason? “It was a planned marriage. And besides, my mother preferred to study than get married.” She then bade us to a sepia photo hanging on the sala wall to examine the countenance of her then young mother who was with her father. The photo was taken shortly before the marriage.

Portrait of Lola Bening's parents: Anita del Pilar and Vicente Marasigan.

“Take a good look. Notice the sadness in her face. She was crying before that picture was taken,” Lola Bening added.

The downcast countenance of Marcelo del Pilar's youngest daughter.

The wedding rings of Lola Bening's beloved parents, made of pure gold. They were married on 12 March 1912. The date is engraved in Anita's ring (the one with the name of Vicente engraved on it).

The couple's wedding rings with 13 gold coins or arras dating back to the Spanish times. The custom of giving 13 arras originated from Spain.

Fortunately for the rest of the family, Anita learned to love Vicente in the course of the marriage (Auntie Corina said that she and her siblings used to call them Lola Tâ and Lolo Tê respectively). The marriage produced nine children. As a testament of Anita’s background of grief, their first two children died. But as compensation —and quite ironically for the “Father of Philippine Masonry”— the Marasigan brood grew up to be god-fearing individuals. They were never influenced by their grandfather’s reputation as a high-ranking Mason. In fact, there were two religious among Vicente and Anita’s children: Ateneo de Manila University’s Fr. Vicente Marasigan, S.J., and; Sr. Mother Mary Aurora Marasigan of the Holy Spirit Adoration Sisters (she globally headed the “Pink Sisters” a record four times). Lola Bening herself had her schooling in two Catholic institutions: the University of Santo Tomás (which was then in Intramuros) and Saint Paul University Manila. She eventually took up law, but was never able to practice it fully; she taught law and history at Saint Paul and also served time as a corporate lawyer. However, her husband, the late Justice Arturo B. Santos, took her place in the practice of law and served as judge of the Court of First Instance of Tarlac, Branch II.

Lola Bening proudly said that her father once owned a handsome house along Calle Isaac Peral (now United Nations Avenue in nearby Ermita) which eventually became the model of and setting for Nick Joaquín‘s Portrait Of An Artist As Filipino (even the Marasigan last name Nick adopted into that play’s main characters, but in no way do the fictional Marasigan players reflected the lives of the real ones, said Auntie Corina). They had another house near the Remedios Circle. It was there were Lola Bening spent her earlier years before transferring to their present home (built in 1929) in Calle Miguel Malvar (first known as Tennesse street; renamed Mindoro Street during the Japanese Occupation).

At the height of the controversial snap presidential polls of 1986, Lola Bening was one of the leaders of the National Citizen’s Movement for Free Elections. During that stint, she was interviewed by a then struggling correspondent who later on became an Emmy-Award-winning journalist: Jim Clancy of CNN International.

During our lunch meeting, I was actually expecting to learn more about del Pilar (the man, not the hero) that I have never read nor heard before. Quite embarassingly, I was told of the anecdote of “Ang Piso Ni Anita“, something quite famous in the academe but was totally unfamiliar to me. However, I learned more about Anita and her pains throughout her life. Throughout her childhood, she was yearning for fatherly love. Lola Bening said that as a child, her mother used to look at photos of her dad, contemplating on how he looked like in person, asking her elders more about how her father’s physical appearance beyond the photos.

As history had taught us, Anita and her Ate Sofía (whom Lola Bening took care of during her final years) never saw their father again when the latter left for Spain in late 1888. All for the love of country. They saw him one last time, though — inside a coffin on a cold December day in 1920 amidst cheers from Masons and government leaders at the Manila pier. Then many years later, just as when Anita had learned what love is with Vicente, the latter was dead set on offering his services to join the struggle against the 14th Imperial Japanese Army. All for the love of country. A dramatic confrontation ensued, as witnessed by Fr. Marasigan (Auntie Corina shared that —fortunately for Anita— Vicente’s love of family prevailed over him).

Anita’s death was perhaps as painful as her depressing moments in life. In 1955, she suffered a stroke and was in comatose for 40 days before Death finally took pity on her.

Anita’s life was a revelation. Something about her story made me love my wife and kids more and more, for they never had to endure the sufferings of a sorrowful wife and fatherless children.

Lola Bening continued sharing her thoughts not only about her grandfather and Philippine history (she even knows the controversial and delicate issue of “Le Fableux Doña Ysidra” but was careful not to mention any name), she was also up to date with current events. A few years ago, at the height of the much-publicized Subic rape case, she advised close friend Fr. James Reuter, S.J. to be cautious in the issue that was then confronting American Lance Cpl. Daniel Smith. And wisely so because the much-beloved Jesuit became spiritual adviser to the accused and their respective families. His task indeed should be more spiritual than mundane. Fr. Reuter thus avoided the controversial political aspects where he would have been up against a much powerful force: the radical feminist groups who were behind Smith’s “victim”.

“In the end, to settle the issue out of court, they (the US government) gave her (Nicole, Smith’s purported rape victim) a US visa which appeared to be what she wanted in the first place,” said Lola Bening, “because, strangely, her relatives got to the US ahead of her!”

She also asked us about what we thought of Noynoy. I wisely decided not to comment since it’s too early into his presidency to do so. But she was an anti-charlatan when it comes to opinion. She was, after all, basing her viewpoints on account of her age and experience throughout the decades. She wisely observed that our country, throughout its sad history, has been led too much by the elite (Auntie Corina kidded her on this comment, pointing out as if she’s in a glass house throwing stones!). She observed how our country’s natural resources have been exploited by outsiders, and how the WASPs have thrown their weight around our national leaders. Classic features of neocolonialism, I commented. To which she replied:

“Maybe it’s time that we recover our identity.”

Indeed it is time.

I would have asked her more about Intramuros and the Spanish language during her heyday. But out of courtesy, I didn’t — the family invited me mainly because of what I wrote about Marcelo H. del Pilar, so it was expected that I ask more about the propagandist. Hopefully, I’d be able to talk to her again to learn more about my beloved Walled City which she saw before the last war destroyed it.

Throughout the end of the visit, Lola Bening exhorted me and Yeyette to visit the 4,027-square-meter Marcelo H. Del Pilar Shrine in Bulacán, Bulacán, the land of which she donated to the government in 1983. She was beaming with pride on how she had helped build the shrine together with the government, and contributed to its many modifications for the sake of national posterity.

As we said our goodbyes while promising her that we will visit her dear grandfather’s shrine very soon, my mind was somehow drifting towards that lonely Barcelona room where a tubercular propagandist, more in pain from being away from his wife and daughters than from his ailment, was quietly weeping while writing letters to his loved ones. And as my mind drifted, I dreamily promised Lola Bening that “we will visit the Mabini Shrine very soon.”

The 92-year-old lady, still sharp of wits, corrected this absent-minded 31-year-old blogger of his unforgivable mistake:

“Del Pilar Shrine! Not Mabini, Pepe!”

Undoubtedly, Lola Bening’s grandfather would have been as alert as her if only he had reached his 90s. But such is the grand design of our history.

Uncle Paul, Auntie Corina, Lola Bening, Yeyette, and del Pilar's mascot.

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