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Biography of Nick Joaquín (1917-2004)

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http://www.rmaf.org.ph/Awardees/Biography/BiographyJoaquinNic.htm

Nicomedes "Nick" Joaquín

This is the best biography of Nick that I’ve encountered so far…

The 1996 Ramón Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature and Creative Communication Arts

BIOGRAPHY of Nick Joaquín
Resil B. Mojares

He was the greatest Filipino writer of his generation. Over six decades and a half, he produced a body of work unmatched in richness and range by any of his contemporaries. Living a life wholly devoted to the craft of conjuring a world through words, he was the writer’s writer. In the passion with which he embraced his country’s manifold being, he was his people’s writer as well.

Nick Joaquín was born in the old district of Pacò in Manila, Philippines, on September 15, 1917, the feast day of Saint Nicomedes, a protomartyr of Rome, after whom he took his baptismal name. He was born to a home deeply Catholic, educated, and prosperous. His father, Leocadio Joaquín, was a person of some prominence. Leocadio was a procurador (attorney) in the Court of First Instance of Laguna, where he met and married his first wife, at the time of the Philippine Revolution. He shortly joined the insurrection, had the rank of colonel, and was wounded in action. When the hostilities ceased and the country came under American rule, he built a successful practice in law. Around 1906, after the death of his first wife, he married Salomé Márquez, Nick’s mother. A friend of General Emilio Aguinaldo, Leocadio was a popular lawyer in Manila and the Southern Tagalog provinces. He was unsuccessful however when he made a bid for a seat in the Philippine Assembly representing Laguna.

Nick Joaquín’s mother was a pretty, well-read woman of her time who had studied in a teacher-training institute during the Spanish period. Though still in her teens when the United States took possession of the Philippines, she was among the first to be trained by the Americans in English, a language she taught in a Manila public school before she left teaching after her marriage.

Leocadio and Salomé built a genteel, privileged home where Spanish was spoken, the family went to church regularly, had outings in the family’s huge European car (one of the first Renaults in the city), and the children were tutored in Spanish and piano. Salomé (“who sings beautiful melodies and writes with an exquisite hand,” recalls a family member) encouraged in her children an interest in the arts. There were ten children in the family, eight boys and two girls, with Nick as the fifth child. The Joaquín home on Herrán Street in Pacò was a large section of a two-story residential-commercial building —the first such building in Pacò— that Leocadio had built and from which the family drew a handsome income from rentals. In this home the young Nick had “an extremely happy childhood.”

Leocadio Joaquín, however, lost the family fortune in an investment in a pioneering oil exploration project somewhere in the Visayas in the late 1920s. The family had to move out of Herrán to a rented house in Pásay. Leocadio’s death not long after, when Nick was only around twelve years old, was a turning point in the life of the family.

Reticent about his private life, Nick Joaquín revealed little about his father. In the manner of fathers of his time, Leocadio must have been a presence both distant and dominant. He was already an accomplished man when Nick was born. One has a glimpse of him in the character of the proud Doctor Chávez in Joaquín’s short story “After the Picnic,” the father who lives by a strict patriarchal code and yet is all at once remote, vulnerable, and sympathetic. In an early poem, Joaquín vaguely alluded to what in his father was somehow beyond reach (“the patriot life and the failed politician buried with the first wife”). Yet he mourned the void his father’s death left: “One froze at the graveside in December’s cold, / childhood stashed with the bier. Oh, afterwards / was no time to be young, until one was old.”

The young Joaquín dropped out of school. He had attended Pacò Elementary School and had three years of secondary education in Mapa High School but was too intellectually restless to be confined in a classroom. Among other changes, he was unable to pursue the religious vocation that his strictly Catholic family had envisioned to be his future. Joaquín himself confessed that he always had the vocation for the religious life and would have entered a seminary if it were not for his father’s death.

After he left school, Joaquín worked as a mozo (boy apprentice) in a bakery in Pásay and then as a printer’s devil in the composing department of the Tribune, of the TVT (Tribune-Vanguardia-Taliba) publishing company, which had its offices on F. Torres Street in Manila’s Santa Cruz district. This got him started on what would be a lifelong association with the world of print.

Through this time he pursued a passion for reading. Sarah K. Joaquín, Nick’s sister-in-law, recounts that in his teens Nick had a “rabid and insane love for books.” He would hold a book with one hand and read while polishing with a coconut husk the floor with his feet. He would walk down a street, on an errand to buy the family’s meal, with a dinner pail in one hand and an open book in the other.

Both his parents had encouraged his interest in books. When he was around ten, his father got him a borrower’s card at the National Library (then in the basement of the Legislative Building in Luneta) and there he discovered Bambi and Heidi and the novels of Stevenson, Dumas, and Dickens (David Copperfield was his great favorite). He explored his father’s library and the bookstores of Carriedo in downtown Manila. He was voracious, reading practically everything that caught his fancy, from the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay and Vachel Lindsay to the stories of Anton Chekhov, to the novels of Dostoyevsky, D. H. Lawrence, and Willa Cather. He read American magazines (Saturday Evening Post, Cosmopolitan, Harper’s Magazine) and discovered the fiction of Booth Tarkington, Somerset Maugham, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Ernest Hemingway.

Joaquín’s choice of early readings was not exceptional. Joaquín and other writers of his generation who were schooled in the American era discovered Dostoyevsky and Hemingway before they did such Tagalog writers as Lope K. Santos and Rosauro Almario. Yet, it can be said that Joaquín never really lost his sense of where he was. He read Manila’s English-language newspapers and magazines for what Filipinos themselves were writing. (He had read the José Rizal novels in the Charles Derbyshire translation before he was thirteen, Joaquín said.) He always had a strong sense of place, a virtue that was to become a hallmark of his body of work. “When I started writing in the late 1930s,” he would recall many years later, “I was aware enough of my milieu to know that it was missing from our writing in English. The Manila I had been born into and had grown up in had yet to appear in our English fiction, although that fiction was mostly written in Manila and about Manila.”

His first short story dealt with the vaudeville of Manila, “The Sorrows of Vaudeville,” and was published in Sunday Tribune Magazine in 1937. (The editors changed its title to “Behind Tinsel and Grease.”) Earlier, in 1934, he published his first poem in English, a piece about Don Quixote. The story is told that when this poem appeared in the Tribune, Serafín Lanot, the Tribune’s poetry editor, liked the poem very much and went to congratulate the poet when he came to collect his fee, but the shy and elusive Joaquín ran away.

Very early, Joaquín was set on crafting his own voice. Writing in 1985 on his early years as a writer, he said that it appeared to him in the 1930s that both an American language and an American education had distanced Filipino writers in English from their immediate surroundings. “These young writers could only see what the American language saw.” It was “modern” to snub anything that wore the name of tradition and, for the boys and girls who trooped to the American-instituted schools, Philippine history began with Commodore Dewey and the Battle of Manila Bay. “The result was a fiction so strictly contemporary that both the authors and their characters seemed to be, as I put it once, ‘without grandfathers.’” He recalled: “I realize now that what impelled me to start writing was a desire to bring in the perspective, to bring in the grandfathers, to manifest roots.”

This was Nick Joaquín recalling in 1985 what it was like in the 1930s. Back then, the young Joaquín was just beginning to find his way into a literary life. He was gaining notice as a promising writer, publishing between 1934 and 1941 a few stories and over a dozen poems in the Herald Mid-Week Magazine and the Sunday Tribune Magazine. The literary scene was vibrant in the Commonwealth years, as writers and critics debated the role and direction of Philippine writing and formed feuding groups such as the Philippine Writers League and the Veronicans. Joaquín stood at the periphery of this scene. He probably had little time to be too reflective. He was already trying to fend for himself while quite young. He was also growing into a world that was marching toward the cataclysm of a world war.

The period of the Japanese occupation was a difficult time for the Joaquíns who, at this time, had moved from Pásay to a house on Arlegui Street in the historic San Miguel district of Manila, where Malacañang Palace is located. Like other residents in the enemy-occupied city, Joaquín scavenged for work to help support the family. The Japanese had closed down the Tribune and other publications at the onset of the occupation. Joaquín worked as a port stevedore, factory watchman, rig driver, road worker, and buy-and-sell salesman. Seeing corpses on the street, working for a wage in rice, demeaned by fear and poverty, Joaquín detested the war. He later said in an interview that the experience of the war so drained both his body and spirit that when it was over, he was filled with the desire to leave the country and go somewhere far. He dreamed of pursuing a religious vocation by going to a monastery in Spain or somewhere in Europe, “somewhere where you could clean up.”

Through the war years, he continued writing when and where he could. He finished “The Woman Who Felt Like Lazarus,” a story about an aging vaudeville star, and the essay “La Naval de Manila.” Both appeared in the wartime English-language journal Philippine Review in 1943. A monthly published by the Manila Sinbun-sya and edited by Vicente Albano Pacis and Francisco Icasiano, the Review also published Joaquín’s story “It Was Later Than We Thought” (1943) and his translation of Rizal’s Mi Ultimo Adios (1944). Readers were beginning to take notice. He cultivated a persona inaccessible and mysterious. When he was asked to fill up a biographical form for the Review, he simply wrote down: “25 years old, salesman.”

“La Naval de Manila” tells of a Manila religious celebration built on the tradition that the Blessed Virgin had miraculously intervened in the Spanish victory over a Dutch invasion fleet in 1646. Already it sets forth a major theme Joaquín would develop in the years ahead: that the Filipino nation was formed in the matrix of Spanish colonialism and that it was important for Filipinos to appreciate their Spanish past. He wrote: “The content of our national destiny is ours to create, but the basic form, the temper, the physiognomy, Spain created for us.” The article triggered an angry response in a subsequent issue of the Review from Federico Mañgahas, then a leading intellectual, who testily inquired why the Review was “building up” this young writer who would have readers believe that precolonial Philippine society was just a primeval “drift of totem-and-taboo tribes” and that Catholic saints can be the country’s unifying national symbols. Joaquín declined to reply but he had raised an issue that would continue to be debated after the war.

After the Americans liberated Manila in February–April 1945, Joaquín worked as a stage manager for his sister-in-law’s acting troupe and dreamed of getting away. In the meantime, he continued writing and publishing. He obviously did not sleepwalk through the years of the war but was writing out stories in his head. In heady years right after the war, he published in rapid succession such stories as “Summer Solstice,” “May Day Eve,” and “Guardia de Honor.” These stories have become Nick Joaquín’s signature stories and classics in Philippine writing in English.

The opportunity to leave the country came in 1947 when he was accepted as a novice at Saint Albert’s College, a Dominican monastery in Hong Kong. The story is told that the Dominicans in Manila were so impressed by his “La Naval de Manila” that they offered him a scholarship to Saint Albert’s and had the Dominican-run University of Santo Tomás award him an honorary Associate in Arts certificate so he would qualify. His stay at Saint Albert’s schooled him in Latin and the classics. He enjoyed the pleasant diversions of the scenic port city and the occasional company of his brother Porfirio (Ping) who was in Hong Kong on a stint as a jazz musician. It seemed, however, that he was too restless for life in a monastery. He stayed less than two years and returned to Manila.

Back in the Philippines in 1950, he joined the country’s leading magazine, Philippines Free Press, working as a proofreader, copywriter, and then member of the staff. At this time, Free Press was so widely circulated across the country and so dominant a medium for political reportage and creative writing, it was called “the Bible of the Filipinos.” Practically all middle-class homes in the country had a copy of the magazine.

Joaquín’s Free Press years established him as a leading public figure in Philippine letters. In its pages appeared the stories and essays that made him known to a wide national audience. The publication of Prose and Poems (1952), a collection of short stories, poems, a novella, and a play, cemented his reputation as an original voice in Philippine literature. He mined a lode of local experience that no one had quite dealt with in the way he did. He summoned ancient rites and legends, evoked a Filipino Christianity at once mystical and profane, and dramatized generational conflicts in a modern society that had not quite come to terms with its past. His was a vision that ranged through a large expanse of history in an English so full-bodied and a style sensuous and sure.

In 1955, his first play, A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino: An Elegy in Three Scenes, was premiered on stage at the Aurora Gardens in Intramuros, Manila, by the Barangay Theater Guild. He had written the play sometime around 1950 upon the urgings of Sarah Joaquín, who was active in Manila’s theater circles. Though it had been published in Weekly Women’s Magazine and Prose and Poems in 1952 and had been aired on radio, the play was not staged until 1955. It proved to be an immense success. It was made into an English-language movie by the highly respected Filipino filmmaker Lamberto V. Avellana in 1965, translated into Tagalog, adapted in other forms, and staged hundreds of times. No Filipino play in English has been as popular.

Using the flashback device of a narrator who recalls the sad fate of a prewar family as he stands in the ruins of postwar Manila, the play sets itself not only in the divide of war but that of past and present in Philippine society. Tracing the disintegration of an old and proud family in the transition from past to present, Nick Joaquín explored what had been abiding themes in his writing across the years.

He did not see the premiere of the play since, in 1955, Joaquín left the country on a Rockefeller Foundation creative writing fellowship. The prestigious award took him to Spain, the United States, and (with a Eugene F. Saxton Fellowship from the publishers of Harper’s Magazine) Mexico. In this sojourn, which lasted more than two years, he worked on his first novel, The Woman Who Had Two Navels (1961), a short and early version of which had appeared in Prose and Poems. The Woman Who Had Two Navels is a many-layered and less-than-perfect novel that teases out universal antinomies of truth and falsehood, illusion and reality, past and present, and locates them in the context of the Filipino search for identity. Though Joaquín had been criticized for a romantic “nostalgia for the past,” this novel and his other works, including Portrait, showed that he looked at the past always with the consciousness of the need for engaging the present world in its own terms.

Joaquín enjoyed his travels. He traveled all over Spain, lived in Madrid and Mallorca, visited France, stayed a year in Manhattan, went on an American cross-country trip on a Greyhound bus, crossed the border to Laredo, and had fun exploring Mexico. Spain and Mexico fascinated him (“my kind of country,” he says). He would, in the years that followed, take trips to Cuba, Japan, China, Taiwan, and Australia. Yet he was clearly in his element in his homeland and in Manila, the city that has been his imagination’s favorite haunt.

From the time he rejoined Free Press in 1957 until he left it in 1970 (during which time he rose to be the magazine’s literary editor and associate editor), Joaquin was as prominent in his persona as Quijano de Manila (a pseudonym he adopted for his journalistic writings when he joined the Free Press in 1950) as he was the creative artist Nick Joaquín. He churned out an average of fifty feature articles a year during this period. He wrote with eloquence and verve on the most democratic range of subjects, from the arts and popular culture to history and current politics. He was a widely read chronicler of the times, original and provocative in his insights and energetic and compassionate in his embrace of local realities.

One of his contemporaries remarked: “Nick Joaquín the journalist has brought to the craft the sensibility and style of the literary artist, the perceptions of an astute student of the Filipino psyche, and the integrity and idealism of the man of conscience, and the result has been a class of journalism that is dramatic, insightful, memorable, and eminently readable.”

He raised journalistic reportage to an art form. In his crime stories—for example, “The House on Zapote Street” (1961) and “The Boy Who Wanted to Become Society’” (1961)—he deployed his narrative skills in producing gripping psychological thrillers rich in scene, incident, and character. More important, he turned what would otherwise be ordinary crime reports (e.g., a crime of passion in an unremarkable Makati suburban home or the poor boy who gets caught up in a teenage gang war) into priceless vignettes of Philippine social history.

As Free Press literary editor, he virtually presided over the country’s literary scene. Free Press was the standard in Philippine writing in English because of its wide circulation and Joaquín’s editorship. Its weekly publication of short stories and poems was avidly followed. Joaquin was generous in encouraging young writers and exerted an influence on writers not only in English but in the Philippine languages. In a Filipino generation that had seen outstanding fictionists (N. V. M. González, F. Sionil José, and others), he was fondly spoken of as primus inter pares.

Since he joined the Free Press, he had been a full-time writer. The only other “job” he took was an appointment to the Board of Censors for Motion Pictures, from 1961 to 1972, under both presidents Diosdado Macapagal and Ferdinand Marcos. He took the post because, in large part, he loved the movies and practically did no cutting or banning of films, believing in the intelligence and good sense of moviegoers. He described this stint: “I was non-censoring.”

Philippine society was going through a period of deepening social crisis. The high hopes engendered during the popular rule of Ramón Magsaysay began to dissipate after Magsaysay’s death in 1957, as corruption, factional politics, and economic crisis buffeted the administrations of presidents Carlos García, Diosdado Macapagal, and Ferdinand Marcos. The Vietnam War politicized the Filipino intelligentsia, the economy floundered, a new Communist Party was established in 1969, and a new wave of militant nationalism swept through such institutions as universities and the media.

In the highly charged days leading up to the declaration of martial law on September 21, 1972, Joaquin maintained his independence as an autonomous voice in Philippine media. He wrote articles that were current, stayed close to the events, and were deeply fired by liberal sentiments. In a time polarized by ideological conflict, he continued to speak in his own voice and not in those of others. This independence had always been a signal virtue of his writing career.

In the 1930s, when he started writing, he was already a writer apart. At a time when the United States was viewed as “the very measure of all goodness,” and “history” and “civilization” in the Philippines seemed to have begun with the advent of America, Joaquin invoked a deeper past. At a time when to be contemporary was to be “secular,” Joaquín evoked the country’s Christian tradition. At a time when “proletarian literature” was the “correct” line for young writers to follow, Joaquín was the skeptic who felt it was one more instance of local literary hierarchs’ “parroting the Americans, among whom ‘proletarian’ was then the latest buzzword.” He wrote: “I can see now that my start as a writer was a swimming against the current, a going against the grain.”

He had always been a writer engaged but apart. Part of the explanation resided in his character. Engaged in a public profession, with a very public name, he was a very private person. His reclusive character was formed early. In a rare, affectionate piece his sister-in-law Sarah Joaquín wrote about him in Philippine Review in 1943, she spoke of the young Nick as a modest and unassuming young man who was ill at ease with public praise and shied away from being interviewed or photographed (“he hadn’t had any taken for fifteen years”). Even then he lived his days according to certain well-loved rites. He loved going out on long walks (“a tall, thin fellow, a little slouched, walking in Intramuros, almost always hurriedly”), simply dressed, shoes worn out from a great deal of walking (which helped him cogitate), observing the street life of the city, making the rounds of churches. “He is the most religious fellow I know,” Sarah wrote. “Except when his work interferes, he receives Holy Communion everyday.” He was generous with friends and devoted to the family with whom, even in his teens, he shared what little money he earned.

A person of habit, he scribbled about himself many decades ago:

I have no hobbies, no degrees; belong to no party, club, or association;
and I like long walks; any kind of guinataan; Dickens and Booth Tarking-
ton; the old Garbo pictures; anything with Fred Astaire… the
Opus Dei

according to the Dominican rite… Jimmy Durante and Cole Porter tunes…
the Marx brothers; the
Brothers Karamazov; Carmen Miranda; Paul’s
Epistles and Mark’s; Piedmont cigarettes… my mother’s cooking…
playing tres-siete; praying the Rosary and the Officium Parvum… I don’t
like fish, sports, and having to dress up.

Though he cut the image of one gregarious with his loud, booming voice; his love for San Miguel beer (a product that turned him into an icon for Filipino beer drinkers); and his joy in belting out Cole Porter and Frank Sinatra songs in intimate gatherings in his favorite Manila cafés, he stuck close to the company of a few friends and hated making formal appearances in public. He grudgingly gave interviews and revealed such scant detail about his personal life that there are many gaps and contradictions in his published biographies. He was not above making mischief on unwitting interviewers by inventing stories about himself. He refused to give the exact date of his birth (May 4 and September 15 in 1917 have been cited) because, he said, he hated having people come around to celebrate his birthday.

He had zealously carved out private space in his home where he wrote reams in longhand or on a typewriter. Though he gave strangers the impression of someone careless and even dissolute, Joaquín was a very disciplined writer. He woke up early to read the newspapers, took breakfast, and, from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon, retired to his library on the second floor of his house where no one was allowed to disturb him. In his clean and spare study, with books on shelves lining the walls and, in the center, a chair and a table with a manual typewriter, Nick did his work. From 1:00 to 3:00 p.m., he took a siesta and, often, his second bath of the day, and then from around 4:00 p.m. onward, he was out of the house to go to the editorial office or explore his favorite haunts in Manila.

The turbulent days of political activism, as the 1960s came to a close, did not leave this very private person unaffected. In 1970, he joined a labor union organized by the workers of Free Press and agreed to be its president. This was the first union to be organized in the sixty-two-year-old publishing company that was widely regarded as a beacon of libertarian ideas. Organized at a time when Manila was seething with civil unrest, the appearance of the union sparked a bitter fight in the company. When management cracked down on the union, Joaquín resigned. With Free Press editor-writers Gregorio C. Brillantes and José F. Lacaba, artist Danilo Dalena, and close to thirty personnel of the administrative and printing departments, Joaquín launched the weekly Asia-Philippines Leader in 1971 and served as its editor-in-chief. In the pages of the magazine he wrote a regular column, “This Week’s Jottings,” where he continued his trenchant commentaries on the Philippine scene.

Martial law closed down Philippine media, including Free Press and Asia-Philippines Leader. The Marcos government subsequently allowed the publication of a few favored periodicals controlled by the Marcoses and their cronies. Joaquín refused to contribute. Among many intellectuals, silence became a form of protest. Joaquín’s irrepressible pen, however, could not be stilled. “I was never silent during martial law,” Joaquín declared in an interview in 1980. “I’ve never been silent.” He continued to write, worked independently, and contributed to both the underground and aboveground alternative press, the small newspapers and news sheets that came to be referred to as the “mosquito press” during the martial-law period.

Ironically, there was probably no other time when there was as much publishing of Joaquín writings as in the 1970s. These publications showcased his boundless creativity and versatility. In 1977, the National Book Store started issuing popular compilations of his Free Press human-interest features and crime stories (Reportage on Lovers, Reportage on Crime) as well as articles on local icons of popular culture (Nora Aunor and Other Profiles, Ronnie Poe and Other Silhouettes, Amalia Fuentes and Other Etchings, Doveglion and Other Cameos, Gloria Díaz and Other Delineations, Joseph Estrada and Other Sketches). Such was his readership that, between 1979 and 1983, more collections of his journalistic articles were issued: Reportage on the Marcoses, Reportage on Politics, Language of the Street and Other Essays, and Manila: Sin City and Other Chronicles. A selection of his speeches and articles appeared in Discourses of the Devil’s Advocate and Other Controversies (1983). It is not disingenuous to say that such burst of publishing may have been fueled by a certain nostalgia for the colorful, rough-and-tumble years before martial law imposed an order of repression and dull conformism.

Mr. & Ms. Publishing published Nick Joaquín’s Almanac for Manileños (1979), a coffee-table book that turns the form of the old almanac into “a weather chart, a sanctoral, a zodiac guide, and a mini-encyclopedia on the world of the Manileño.” Almanac is a romp for a writer whose knowledge of the country’s capital city —from churches to brothels, politicians and criminals, fashions high and low, past and present— has not been matched by anyone. In 1978–1979, the same publisher also commissioned Joaquin’s children’s stories and modernized fairy tales and put them out as independent titles as well as in an anthology, Pop Stories for Groovy Kids. Some of these stories also appeared in a volume entitled Joaquinesquerie: Myth á la Mod (1983). He had been asked to write just one story in the beginning, but he so enjoyed doing it that more followed (“it’s like eating peanuts”). That this writer of metaphysical thrillers also had a deft hand writing for young readers is shown in his essays on Manila for young Manileños, Manila, My Manila (1990), and his retelling of the biography of José Rizal, Rizal in Saga: A Life for Student Fans (1996).

He translated Spanish works into English, something he had done intermittently for years. His most important in this field was The Complete Poems and Plays of José Rizal (1976). Nick also returned to theater. He adapted the stories “Three Generations” and “Summer Solstice” as the plays Fathers and Sons (1977) and Tatarín (1978), respectively. In 1976, he wrote The Beatas, the story of a seventeenth-century Filipino beguinage, a religious community of lay women, repressed by a male-dominated, colonial order. The subversive message of the play, in the particular context of martial rule, lent itself to a staging in Tagalog translation in the highly political campus of the University of the Philippines in 1978. These plays later appeared in the volume, Tropical Baroque: Four Manileño Theatricals, published in Manila in 1979 and in Australia in 1982.

In 1972, the University of Queensland Press in Australia published a new edition of his fiction under the title, Tropical Gothic. An important feature of this edition was the inclusion of three novellas that originally appeared in Free Press, “Cándido’s Apocalypse,” “Doña Jerónima,” and “The Order of Melkizedek.” These novellas are powerful, historically resonant narratives that probably best represent the inventiveness and depth of Joaquín as fictionist. They are among the most outstanding pieces of Philippine fiction that have been written.

He went back to writing poetry, something he had not done since 1965. El Camino Real and Other Rimes appeared in 1983 and Collected Verse, the author’s choice of thirty-three poems, was published in 1987. Ranging from light verse to long narrative pieces, these poems —robust, confident, expansive, elegant— are markers in the development of Philippine poetry. They demonstrate, says the poet-critic Gémino H. Abad, a level of achievement in which the Filipino is no longer writing in English but has indeed “wrought from English, having as it were colonized that language.”

That the Filipino writer wrote in English was a virtue that seemed self-evident when Joaquin started his career in the 1930s. English was the language of government, the schools, and the leading publications. It was, for young Filipinos, the language of modernity and the future. In the late 1960s, however, the use of the English language in such fields as education, literature, and publishing came under serious question as a Marxist-inspired nationalism sought to establish a radical, popular basis for the national culture. Those who wrote in English either switched languages or felt called upon to defend their use of a foreign tongue. Arguing out of his favorite thesis that the Filipino is enriched by his creative appropriation of new technologies, Joaquin extolled the fresh values of temper and sensibility that English had brought into the national literature. As for his own writings, Joaquin’s response to the issue was more blunt: “Whether it is in Tagalog or English, because I am Filipino, every single line I write is in Filipino.” In a more jocular vein, he had written about how the local milieu was irrevocably present in his works: “I tell my readers that the best compliment they can pay me is to say that they smell adobo and lechón when they read me. I was smelling adobo and lechon when I wrote me.”

In 1976, Nick Joaquín was named National Artist of the Philippines in the field of literature, the highest recognition given by the state for an artist in the country. Conferred in Manila on March 27, 1976, the award praised his works as “beacons in the racial landscape” and the author for his “rare excellence and significant contribution to literature.”

Joaquín had reservations about accepting an award conceived by the Marcos government as part of First Lady Imelda Marcos’s high-profile program of arts promotion in the country, but he decided to accept it on the advice of family and friends. He also felt the award would give him leverage to ask Malacañang Palace to release from prison José F. Lacaba, a close friend of his and one of the country’s best writers, who was imprisoned for his involvement in the anti-Marcos resistance. Lacaba was released in 1976.

Joaquín kept his distance from power, studiously resisting invitations to attend state functions in Malacañang Palace. At a ceremony on Mount Makiling, Laguna, attended by Mrs. Marcos, who had built on the fabled mountain site a National Arts Center, Joaquín delivered a speech in which he provocatively spoke of freedom and the artist. He was never again invited to address formal cultural occasions for the rest of the Marcos regime. He was too unpredictable to suit the pious pretensions of the martial-law government.

The fact that government had conferred on him the honor of National Artist did not prevent him from criticizing government. In 1982, he put himself at the forefront of a public demonstration to protest government’s closure of the oppositionist newspaper We Forum and the arrest and detention of its publisher and editors. The newspaper had just published a series of articles exposing Ferdinand Marcos’s fake war medals.

The street appearance was not characteristic of the man. It was in the field of writing that he engaged power. Joaquin was the provocateur who delighted in debunking what was politically and intellectually fashionable. One such “fashion” was the interest in the “ethnic” and “indigenous” during the Marcos era. A legitimate expression of post-Vietnam Filipino nationalism, the return to the “native” was appropriated by state nationalism during the martial-law period. In the attempt to clothe with legitimacy Marcos’s “experiment” in Philippine-style democracy (and authoritarianism) and blunt both the insurgent opposition to his rule and Western criticism of human-rights violations, the Marcos government appealed to “nationalism” based on an indigenous and Asian heritage. In the intellectual field, this found expression in many intersecting ways: the glorification of barangay democracy; the promotion of Tagalog as the national language and the downgrading of English writing; the “Filipinization” of scholarly disciplines; the romancing of the 1971 discovery of the allegedly Stone-Age Tasadays; and the state-sponsored Tadhanà project started in 1975, in which a group of Filipino historians wrote a “new history” of the Philippines under the name of Ferdinand Marcos.

Addressing this trend, Nick Joaquín wrote articles attacking nativism and the glorification of the indigenous and the ethnic. Describing the Filipino as a “work in progress” whose national identity is the dynamic product of the various cultural influences in his history (in particular, he stresses, the Spanish-Christian experience), he debunked the idea of a “pure” native culture and lamented the denigration of Western influence. A vigorous polemicist, he taunted the “new” nationalists with statements such as “Asia, before 1521, was conspicuous by its absence in Philippine culture” or “Those who want Philippine culture to be what it was 400 years ago are afflicted with the Dorian Gray illusion: the illusion that innocence can be frozen or that a personality can be kept from showing the effects on it of time, space, nature, society, the outside world.”

The terrain had changed but Joaquín was fighting a battle he had started to wage as early as the 1930s. Then he was reacting to an intellectual establishment that, infatuated with America, wanted to wean itself from the past much too quickly. Now he was responding to leaders and intellectuals who, desiring to break away from the West, were invoking a golden past he felt was not there. In the years of the Japanese occupation, he was writing against the grain when he wrote the seminal essay “La Naval de Manila.” Then he was responding (whether deliberately or not) to the trend, encouraged by the “Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere,” for Filipinos to return to their “Asian” and “Malayan” roots. Now, in the 1970s, he was interrogating the scapegoating of the West and the romancing of “Asianness.”

Polemical rather than academic, he simplified the terms of the debate, drew dividing lines much too sharply, and couched arguments in hyperbolic terms. He was impatient with the either/or rhetoric of indigenists and nationalists. “Why isn’t it enough to be just Filipino?” Quoting James Joyce, he declared of his own work: “This country and this people shaped me; I shall express myself as I am.” He was, as always, the writer apart but passionately engaged.

In A Question of Heroes: Essays in Criticism on Ten Key Figures of Philippine History (1977) and Culture and History: Occasional Notes on the Process of Philippine Becoming (1988), he showed himself an insightful historian and vigorous cultural critic. Addressing a general public rather than specialists, he said that it was his aim to “open up fresh viewpoints on the national process” by asking “those pesky questions which, though they seem so obvious, have somehow never been asked about our history and culture.”

In Question of Heroes, a series of articles on Filipino heroes that first appeared in the Free Press in the 1960s, he demystified the heroes associated with the birth of the nation in the late nineteenth century. He humanized them, thickened their lives with sharp and telling detail, and situated them in the living context of their times. The result was not just a critical reevaluation of historical figures but a coherent picture of a nation in formation. Culture and History offered a more varied fare of fifteen essays that developed Joaquin’s ideas on what he called “the process of Filipino becoming.” Underlying these ideas was an evolutionary and optimistic confidence in the Filipino capacity to invent himself out of the constraints and opportunities of his historical experience. Attacking the syndrome of shame over the colonial past and guilt over being “neither East nor West,” Joaquín celebrated hybridity. Attacking nativism and other forms of exclusionism, he said (quoting Oswald Spengler), “Historic is that which is, or has been, effective,” and he gloried in what the Filipino has and will become.

There are conceptual gaps in Joaquín’s view of Philippine history. He tended to be too dismissive of precolonial culture (even as it figured in his own fiction), overstressed the transformative role of technology, and was perhaps too apologetic of the Spanish and Christian influence in Philippine culture. There was no denying, however, the intelligent passion with which he embraced his people’s culture and history. Few in his time played as effective a role in the public discourse on the national culture.

The shaking loose of the structure of the martial-law regime after the assassination of Benigno Aquino Jr. in 1983, and the eventual collapse of the regime in the “People Power Revolution” of 1986, saw Nick Joaquín right in the public stream as the country’s premier chronicler of current history. A book that he started writing before martial law was declared in 1972, The Aquinos of Tarlac: An Essay on History as Three Generations, appeared in 1983. His chronicle of the People Power Revolution, The Quartet of the Tiger Moon, was published in 1986.

Twenty-two years after The Woman Who Had Two Navels, Joaquín came out with his second novel, Cave and Shadows (1983). He jokingly remarked at its appearance: “Now, I’ll be known as the man who has two novels.” Fervid and dense, Cave and Shadows was Joaquín’s “objective correlative” to the Crisis of ’72. Set in Manila in the steamy month of August 1972, just before the declaration of martial law, the novel weaves a plot around the discovery of a woman’s naked body in a cave in the suburbs of Manila. The search for answers to the mystery of the woman’s death becomes a metaphysical thriller in which past and present collide and reality is unhinged as a social order breaks down in division and revolution.

A deep fount of creative energy, Joaquín was a much sought-after biographer. From 1979 to 2000, he authored more than a dozen book-length biographies of prominent Filipinos, from artists and educators to business people and politicians. These include the biographies of diplomat Carlos Rómulo, senators Manuel Manahan and Salvador Laurel, technocrat Rafaél Salas, businessmen Jaime Ongpín and D. M. Guevara, artist Leonor Orosa Goquingco, educator Nicanor Reyes, civic leader Estefania Aldaba-Lim, and Jaime Cardinal Sin. He also wrote local and institutional histories—such as San Miguel de Manila: Memoirs of a Regal Parish (1990) and Hers, This Grove: The Story of Philippine Women’s University (1996)—and authored or edited diverse other volumes.

He was criticized for “writing too much,” producing commissioned biographies of uneven quality, and forsaking creative writing for journalism. While his Aquinos of Tarlac was a masterful interweaving of the life of a family and that of a nation, May Langit Din Ang Mahirap (1998), his biography of former Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim, seemed like a hurried, paste-up job. While his talent could be quite profligate, there was no mistaking the genuineness of his appetite for local life and drive to convert this to memorable form.

Nick Joaquín’s stature in his country is demonstrated by the numerous prizes he received for his literary and journalistic writings. His contributions to Philippine culture were acknowledged by the City of Manila with an Araw ng Maynila Award (1963), a Patnubay ng Sining at Kalinangan Award (1964), and a Diwa ng Lahi Award (1979). The national government conferred on him its highest cultural honors, the Republic Cultural Heritage Award (1961) and the title of National Artist of the Philippines (1976).

In 1996, he received the Ramón Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature, and Creative Communication Arts, the highest honor for a writer in Asia. The citation honored him for “exploring the mysteries of the Filipino body and soul in sixty inspired years as a writer.” Accepting the award on August 31, 1996, Joaquin did not look back on past achievements but relished the moment, saying that indeed the good wine has been reserved for last and “the best is yet to be.” This from a man who was about to turn eighty when he received the award.

In his 1996 Ramón Magsaysay Award lecture, Joaquín addressed what, he said, had troubled his critics as his “Jekyll/Hyde” personality as journalist and litterateur. He had never been the hothouse artist, he declared, and had always felt there was no subject not worthy of his attention. The practice of journalism nourished his populist sympathies. “Journalism trained me never, never to feel superior to whatever I was reporting, and always, always to respect an assignment, whether it was a basketball game, or a political campaign, or a fashion show, or a murder case, or a movie-star interview.” Journalism exercised his powers of storytelling. “Good reportage is telling it as it is but at the same time telling it new, telling it surprising, telling it significant.”

Though he largely played his life and career “by ear,” Joaquín relished how he had moved in the right directions. On the one hand, he could trace himself back to the times when Plato and Cervantes or the Arabian Nights and the Letters of Saint Paul were all “literature” and there were no fine distinctions as to which mode of writing was belle and not belle enough. On the other hand, he had foreshadowed current trends that had broken down the generic boundaries of fiction and nonfiction or “journalism” and “literature.”

With the mischievous glee of one who enjoyed what he was doing, he said that such Joaquín reportage as “House on Zapote Street” and “The Boy Who Wanted to Become ‘Society’” antedated the American “New Journalism” that writers such as Norman Mailer, Truman Capote, and Gore Vidal made famous. Moreover, the fiction that he wrote—from “May Day Eve” and “The Mass of St. Sylvester” to “Doña Jerónima” and “Cándido’s Apocalypse”—bodied forth “magic realism” long before the Latin American novelists made it fashionable.

While Nick Joaquín wrote in English, was published abroad, and had some of his works translated into foreign languages, he did not quite receive the high attention he deserved outside the Philippines. This was something probably of no great moment to Joaquín himself. He was firmly rooted in place and in active dialogue with his Filipino audience. This speaking to and about his people had always framed his writing life. Though he spoke from a specific location—writing in English out of Manila (he had not lived for any significant amount of time outside the capital)—his voice carried far among Filipinos.

In the Philippines, Nick Joaquín was a keeper of tradition and a maker of memory. He grew up in what he called an “Age of Innocence” in Philippine history, an era when Filipinos, seduced by the promise of America and modernity, distanced themselves from their Spanish colonial past and slipped into a kind of amnesia. He saw—having grown up in a home where his father told stories about the revolution and his mother encouraged a love for Spanish poetry—that it was his calling “to bring in the perspective, to bring in the grandfathers, to manifest roots.” In his writings, he traced a landscape haunted by the past—pagan rites in the shadows of the Christian church, legends of a woman in the cave, strange prophets roaming the countryside, grandfathers who seem like ghosts who have strayed into the present. He conjured a society stranded in the present and not quite whole because it had not come to terms with its past.

The problem of identity was central in Joaquín’s works. In an impressive body of literary, historical, and journalistic writings, Joaquín was a significant participant in the public discourse on “Filipino identity.” What marked the positions he took was his refusal of easy orthodoxies. An outsider to government, the political parties, and the universities, he kept his space to be an independent thinker on the issues confronting the nation. From the 1930s to until his death, he was consistent in his role as the critic of what passed for the politically “correct” of the day. In this manner, he opened up spaces for the Filipino to imagine himself in novel ways and act on this basis.

Nick Joaquín lived through eight decades of Philippine history and witnessed the slow, uneven, and often violent transformation of the nation—the American idyll of the prewar years, the violence and degradation of an enemy occupation, the Communist insurgency and the hard choices it confronted the Filipino with, the dark years of martial rule, the waxing and waning of hopes for a better nation. It is history that tempts many with despair. Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Nick Joaquín, the writer, was that his was always the voice of a deep, inclusive, and compassionate optimism in the Filipino.

He had always—as Joaquín himself would say, quoting one of his favorite literary lines—raged, raged against the dying of the light. This was true not only of what he had written but how he had lived his life. When many of his contemporaries had long faded into the background, Joaquín continued to speak of his craft with the verve of a young writer. Well into his eighties, with close to sixty book titles to his name, he was working on more. He also continued to practice journalism. He wrote the regular columns “Small Beer” and “Jottings” for the Philippine Daily Inquirer and the Sunday Inquirer Magazine from 1988 to 1990; served as editor of Philippine Graphic magazine and publisher of its sister publication, Mirror Weekly, in 1990; and continued to contribute to various publications until his final days. When asked once if he ever intended to retire, Joaquín was said to have responded, with typical mischief, “I’m not retiring and I’m not resigned.”

NICK Joaquín lived in the city and country of his affections and continued to write until his death in April 2004 at the age of eighty-six.

*******

Culled from the Ramón Magsaysay Award Foundation website.

The National Hero’s Crib (Calambâ, La Laguna)

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Calambâ is a lovely town in Laguna province, Luzón, the largest of the Philippines’ seven thousand islands. A crystalline river flows through the town while the hills gracefully curve against the blue sky. From these hills and from the modern highway that now runs through the town, one can see Laguna de Bay softly lapping its shores.

The traveler who passes here may pause to admire the scenic beauty of palm-covered mountains, fields green with young rice stalks, and the lake’s sparkling water.

A century ago, Calambâ must have been even more beautiful, although not equipped with modern conveniences. There were neither motorcars to raise the dust off the highways nor electric lights to disturb the tranquility of its rustic streets. It had about three or four thousand inhabitants, a tribunal, a church, a convent, a few well-constructed houses, and the so-called Casa Hacienda of the Dominicans. This was the town where Rizal was born on June 19, 1861. –Asunción López-Rizal Bantug (Indio Bravo: The Story of Rizal)–

Calambâ was a very pastoral town many years ago. I can still remember how much of it looked like whenever we pass by the place during summer vacation trips to Unisan: vast farmlands, crystal clear rivers, a vista of the picturesque mountain of Maquiling, majestic pine trees along the tollway, endless green, and the sweet smell of green and earth!

But during the years surrounding the town’s incorporation into a city on 21 April 2001, very much has changed. Gone were the vast agricultural lands, emerging industrial centers produced much pollution, the remaining pine trees along the now traffic-stricken tollway are dying, the rivers decayed, shanties here and there, envelope-wielding Badjáo beggars everywhere, prostitutes in hot springs resorts, residential subdivisions around and along the slopes of Monte de Maquiling, etc. So, this cityhood is for who’s betterment?

Oh well, “progress” will always be “progress”.

Today, Calambâ is the most populous town —or rather city— in the province of La Laguna (yes, La Laguna, and not just Laguna). And because of the place’s current economic condition, it is now considered as a first class city (this means that the town’s average annual income is 400 million pesos or more — not bad). Calambâ is perhaps the most well-known place in La Laguna mainly because it is the birthplace of the country’s national hero. Other than that, it is also the site of many hot springs resorts (like its neighbor, Los Baños) as well as the popular Canlubang Golf and Country Club in Barrio Canlubang, the biggest among Calambâ’s 54 barrios or barangáys (occupying almost a third of the city!).

According to a popular legend, the name Calambâ was derived from —again— a miscommunication between Spaniards and natives. Two guardias civiles lost their way into a nameless settlement where now stands the old town of Calambâ. They encountered a lady carrying a clay pot (bañgâ) and a wooden stove (calán). The soldiers asked the lady for the name of the place. Unwittingly, they used the Spanish language, a tongue unfamiliar to the poor lady. Thinking that the soldiers were asking what her items were called, she nervously gave their names: calán at bañgâ. The Spaniards, unable to pronounce Tagalog correctly, assumed that the place they bumped into was called “Calamba”. This legend is now immortalized with a huge clay pot in Calambâ’s plaza, just across the Church of Saint John the Baptist where Rizal was baptized. The clay pot or bañgâ is said to be the largest in the world.

For a significant point in history, Calambâ used to be a part of Tabuco. On 28 August 1742, it became a full-fledged pueblo or town. Cityhood finally followed nine years ago.

Rizal Shrine

I lost count on the number of times I’ve visited the Rizal home in Calambâ, La Laguna. Actually, the house is just a replica of the original that was burnt down during the last world war. The replica was designed by renowned architect Juan F. Nákpil (the only son of the musical-revolutionist Julio Nákpil) using an old photograph of the house as well as oral descriptions from the Rizal family and some neighbors.

So much has already been written about the Rizal Shrine in Calambâ. So I might as well just give you a pictorial tour of our visit last 19 June 2010, on the occasion of Pepe Rizal’s 149th birth anniversary.

This is Krystal's second time to visit the Rizal shrine (2006 was her first). This is just Momay's first visit.

An old map of Laguna de Bay and its environs. When I first traveled to this house with Arnaldo Arnáiz and our friend mutual friend Mike Adzuara a few years ago, I meticulously studied this map. This is where I found out that the name of that small river beside Festival Supermall in Alabang was Río Albán. It is now called Alabang River or sometimes as Mañgañgate. And it is from Albán where the name Alabang comes from.

A recipe from Narcisa Rizal de López!

=)

This well is said to be the only original remnant of the Rizal house before it was totally destroyed during the last war.

Rafaél Palma (1874-1939), the politician, journalist, and Mason who became the first Filipino president of the University of the Philippines, wrote a prize-winning biography about Rizal written in the Spanish language entitled Biografía de Rizal (Manila: Bureau of Printing, 1949). In the said book’s first chapter, Palma made a detailed description of the Rizal house. I translate it here:

The magnificent two-storey house was high and was of solid and massive construction. The upper floor was made up entirely of wood except for the roof which was made of red tile in accordance with the architectural style of such houses found in Manila. Cápiz shells adorn the sliding windows. As defense against earthquakes, the first floor was made up of thick walls of lime and stone. Francisco Mercado (Rizal’s dad), supervising the construction himself, chose only the most durable wood from a nearby forest. It took two years to build the house. Behind the house was a terrace roof (azotea) and a wide and deep well which used to gather rainwater for household purposes.

Rizal Day

A view of the shrine's museum.

The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is here!

It's not easy being green. The Rizal house as viewed from the garden.

Itatapon co sana, eh. Caso ang daming táo.

My kids with sculptures of little Pepe (not me, of course) and his dog Alipato.

Coinciding with Rizal's birthday was the oath faking, err, taking (hehe!) by local officials under Chief Justice Renato Corona.

The festive atmosphere spills outside Rizal's bahay na bató. Actually, the whole town is in merriment every 19th of June.

Soldiers in a nearby restaurant.

Vocalists.

The tall Chief Justice in the background.

Standing tall.

Above us red and blue.

¿Baquit maraming militar dito? Anyway, my kids got to experience going inside a battle tank!

Masons

Rizal never went beyond the third degree of Masonry (Master Mason). For some reason, while in Spain, he had a falling out with some high-ranking members of the craft (Marcelo H. del Pilar and, more specifically, Pedro Serrano). He spent his last years in the Philippines (Dapitan, Zamboanga del Norte) as an inactive Mason, and this he vehemently upheld during his trial in late 1896. And on his final night on earth, he signed a retraction paper and peacefully went back to the Catholic fold — a fact that is supported by an overwhelming evidence put forth by Catholics, Protestants, and Masons alike (as collected and recounted in Fr. Jesús Mª Cavanna’s Rizal’s Unfading Glory). But Masons in the Philippines are stubborn — they still refuse to believe that the world is round. So every Rizal anniversary, they still honor my tocayo as their exemplary brother. I may cry.

Some jolly members of the ancient enemies of my faith.

The Most Worshipful Brother Avelino I. Razón, Jr. of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the Philippines.

Razón and his brother Masons, honoring Rizal who they thought died as a Mason.

Speaking with the media.

Masons, the enemies of Christianity.

In the presence of my enemies.

Masonic District No. 6, Free and Accepted Masons of the Philippines, Dr. J.P. Rizal Lodge No. 270, Calambâ, La Laguna.

Iglesia de San Juan Bautista

Rizal was baptized in this church three days after he was born. As a matter of fact, the baptismal cistern which was used to baptize him is still preserved despite the tragedy which befell the church and the town (Calambâ was razed to the ground during World War II where around 2,000 people were killed). Unfortunately, when me and my kids visited the church after our tour of the Rizal Shrine, it was closed tightly shut (perhaps to avoid the noise coming from the Masons across the road?). Of course, this won’t be our last visit. Besides, we will be certified Calambeños by next year, when all plans fall into place.

Iglesia de San Juan Bautista.

Sa guilid ng iglesia.

The town

The world's biggest clay pot was completed in 1939.

This is considered to be biggest clay pot in the world. It is found in the plaza fronting the Church of Saint John the Baptist. The origin of Calambâ's name was said to have originated from a clay pot.

Calambâ still has a handful of handsome bahay na bató left.

Like many kids of my generation, I used to gather santán flowers for their sweet nectar. Fewer kids, especially in the urban areas, do that nowadays.

City College of Calambâ behind the Church of Saint John the Baptist. This used to be the municipal hall of Calambâ (when the city was still a town).

Well, he ought to be here coz he's from here.

Color of green: I love you green!

The General’s staircase

Aside from Rizal, Calambâ has another hero: Brigadier General Vicente Lim (1889–1944). He was the highest-ranking Filipino soldier under General Douglas MacArthur during World War II. Lim was a survivor of the infamous Bataán Death March. He led many secret guerrilla activities against the Japanese. He was later caught and beheaded by the enemy. But check out the photos below of how his “house” was treated by the government.

A staircase -- what is left of General Vicente Lim's once fabulous bahay na bató.

And these officials had the nerve to put up a historical marker instead of having saved the house from being destroyed (by a typhoon, says an oldtimer who I interviewed the day I took the photos). What is that — adding insult to injury?!

May tauag dian sa Tagalog, eh: cagaguhan. Abá, mabuti pá ang inútil nating policía, may budget. Tapos para sa herencia natin, ualâ. And this will become the fate of most of what is left of our country’s casas solariegas once apathy continues to hang onto our backs like monkeys.

*******

No matter how much Calambâ has changed over the years, it will always remain the “town” that I came to know of in history books.

¡Viva Calambâ!

La casa solariega de Rizal.

Saint Rose of The Lagoon (Santa Rosa, La Laguna)

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Much of La Laguna’s towns were Franciscan frontier. But among a handful of its picturesque towns, the now bustling City of Santa Rosa earns the distinction of being a Dominican haven. The hardy Order of Preachers gave it the distinguished name of Santa Rosa, named after that young and beautiful beata from Lima, Perú, Isabel Flores de Oliva (some sources say Isabel de Herrera).

Santa Rosa de Lima por Claudio Coello.

Born on 20 April 1586, her name was changed to Rosa a decade later, owing to a claim that her face miraculously transformed into a rose when she was still a child. Later on, she modeled her life to that of St. Catherine of Siena. And as a testament of her linkage to everything holy, Rosa was confirmed by another blessed hispanic: Turibius of Mongrovejo, the Archbishop of Lima.

Despite being one of the most beautiful women of her time, Rosa was often disturbed by that fact. Surprisingly, she treated her beauty to be a distraction and a magnet for temptation especially since at an early age, she had already decided to give her life only to Christ Jesus. To remedy it, she disfigured her face with pepper and lye! Like other mystics and beatas, she also practised corporal mortification and fasting, focusing her mind to prayer.

It is said that beauty invites temptations, and Rosa was no exception to it. As a woman of exceptional beauty, she did many strange things to ward of temptation — aside from rubbing her face with pepper and lye, she cut off her long hair, did manual labor to make her delicate hands rough, wore coarse clothing, etc. And to finally defeat the temptation to get married, she joined the Third Order of Saint Dominic, thus taking a vow of perpetual virginity.

After a brief life of holiness, the Lord gave her eternal rest on 24 August 1617. Fifty years later, on 15 April 1667, she was beatified by Pope Clement IX and was finally canonized on 12 April 1671 by Pope Clement X. Rose became the first Catholic in the Americas to be declared a saint.

A statue of St. Rose of Lima fronting the parish church of Santa Rosa City, La Laguna province.

The Dominican missionaries who arrived and preached in Barrio Bucol of Tabuco (later to be known as Cabuyao), La Laguna brought with them the Peruvian saint’s memory and legacy. And when the said barrio separated from Tabuco some time in the late 1600s, it was renamed after Saint Rose of Lima. But the municipality itself was formally founded on 15 January 1792.

Today, Santa Rosa is a bustling first-class city, proud of bearing the nickname “The Investment Capital of South Luzón” due to its many multinational companies and industrial estates, popular malls, as well as high-end residential communities. It is also the home of the world-class Enchanted Kingdom, a 17-hectare theme park.

Truly, this once picturesque Hispanic town –once tinged with pastoral scenes of fresh farmlands, cool forested areas, and a crystal-clear Laguna de Bay– has gone a long way. Sadly, the “curse” of cityhood which sprang forth from nearby Metro Manila (air pollution, congestion, greed and criminality, etc.) has crept up. Nevertheless, Santa Rosa still has retained vestiges of its former beauty through its remaining Antillean houses which still stand around the handsome old church of Santa Rosa de Lima.

Here are the pictures which I took of Santa Rosa’s oldest parts last Easter Sunday (04/04/2010) with my daughter Krystal.

The Santa Rosa Arch.

Iglesia de Santa Rosa de Lima.

Gusaling Museo.

Santa Rosa de Lima Parish Church, since 1792.

A jampacked Easter Sunday mass.

An image of St. Rose (holding an infant Jesus) of Lima, Perú. The town (now a city) of Santa Rosa was named after her.

Paintings of apostles at the ceiling of the church's west transept.

The handsome retablo.

Paintings of the four gospel (New Testament) chroniclers underneath the cupola.

Young choir singers behind Krystal (by the east transept).

Gravestones in Spanish. Gravestones are a usual sight inside old Philippine churches. They are installed inside the sidewalls in honor of a church's patron/donor.

At the choirloft. Many choirlofts today are no longer used for what they are supposed to be.

Inside the churchtower. I was hoping that perhaps renowned metallurgist Hilarión Sunico, who lived during the Spanish times, cast those bells. Krystal and I found out that he actually did, and that they are still in use after all these years!!!

Sunico's bell overlooking the town and the lake yonder.

More or less 75% of church bells inside old Philippine churches were cast in Sunico's home in Calle Jaboneros, San Nicolás, Manila.

Unafraid of heights!

The old municipio, now a museum.

Casa Zavalla.

Casa Zavalla.

Casa Tiongco.

Casa Perla.

Another Zavalla house.

Pahiñgá muna. =) But hey, do you see another bahay na bató casualty in the background? Adding insult to injury, campaign posters were posted on the exterior walls. Talk about double murder! Anyway, I think those Langháp Saráp peeps should pay me for this photo. Seriously!

And yes, UnionBank should pay me too, LOL!!!

But seriously, this UnionBank branch should be commended for preserving this bahay na bató. Good job, folks!

Casa Gonzales. This was the home of Basilio Gonzales, a local Katipunan leader who successfully invaded the townhall in 29 May 1898, eventually becoming the leader of the town until the American invaders arrived. What goes around comes around.

What a travesty. But that carving over the gate...

...what does it mean? Cornucopia?

That electrical post is an eyesore. So much for city planning.

An old house with another queer symbol on top of it.

SM City Santa Rosa.

Here’s hoping that the city government of Santa Rosa will also strongly focus on its town’s namesake (and how come it is not a sister city of Lima, Perú?). Although the city bears no roses nor beatas, its holy name still evokes its holy Dominican origins. Aside from Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, Saint Rose of Lima is also the Philippines’ patron saint. And may that fact bring around a multifaith sentiment among the people of Santa Rosa City.

Biñán is in the heart (Biñán, La Laguna)

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Indians brought their game-cocks to be admired, but we did not encourage the display of their warlike virtues. There was much firing of guns, and a pyrotechnic display when the sun had gone down, and a large fire balloon, bearing the inscription, “The people of Biñán to their illustrious visitors,” was successfully inflated, and soaring aloft, was lost sight of in the distance, but was expected to tell the tale of our arrival to the Magidenne in Manila Bay. Biñán is a place of some importance. In it many rich mestizos and Indians dwell. It has more than 10,000 inhabitants. Large estates there are possessed by the Dominican friars, and the principal of them was among our earliest visitors. There, as elsewhere, the principalia, having conducted us to our headquarters, came in a body to present their respects, the gobernadorcillo, who usually speaks Spanish, being the organ of the rest. Inquiries about the locality, thanks for the honours done us, were the commonplaces of our intercourse, but the natives were always pleased when ” the strangers from afar” seemed to take an interest in their concerns. Nowhere did we see any marks of poverty; nowhere was there any crowding, or rudeness, or annoyance, in any shape. Actors and spectators seemed equally pleased; in fact, our presence only gave them another holiday, making but a small addition to their regular and appointed festivals. Biñán is divided by a river, and is about a mile from the Laguna. Its streets are of considerable width, and the neighbouring roads excellent. Generally the houses have gardens attached to them; some on a large scale. They are abundant in fruits of great variety. Rice is largely cultivated, as the river with its confluents affords ample means of irrigation. The lands are usually rented from the Dominicans, and the large extent of some of the properties assists economical cultivation. Until the lands are brought into productiveness, little rent is demanded, and when they become productive the friars have the reputation of being liberal landlords and allowing their tenants to reap large profits. It is said they are satisfied with one-tenth of the gross produce. A tenant is seldom disturbed in possession if his rent be regularly paid. Much land is held by associations or companies known by the title of ‘Casamahanes.’ There is an active trade between Biñán and Manila. -Sir John Bowring-

My son Jefe looking at the busy Biñán town plaza during his third birthday a few months ago (01/13/2010). The Alberto Mansion is obscured --nay, VANDALIZED-- by colossal political campaign ads. Will Jefe and his siblings ever see this house again?

“When’s your next travel to Biñán, man?”

This Arnaldo guy never fails to tease me in this manner whenever he urges me to travel. It’s because he has traveled to many parts of the country: Luzón, the Visayan islands, and Mindanáo. My record is a measly one compared to his — I’ve only traveled mostly in and around the La Laguna provinces, and most of those travels were in Biñán.

What’s with Biñán, anyway? =)

I dunno. But Biñán is in the heart. It reminds my wife Yeyette of its public market’s bargain prices, and of Barrio Canlalay’s garden plants and flowers for sale, and of course, the famous puto biñán. For me, it reminds me of its rich history and culture when the Philippines was still an overseas Spanish province. It reminds me of the town’s sector de mestizos filled with grand Antillean houses or bahay na bató, of the incorruptible Santa Filomena de Almarínez, and of the Rizal connection. And the best part of it is that it is just beside our current home, San Pedro Tunasán, the sampaguita capital of the Philippines.

All of my visits in that municipio-turned-city were mostly unplanned, such as the first one in 2004. Napagcátuwaan lang naming mag-asawa. That is when I first saw the Alberto ancestral house. I fell in love with it immediately. That is why it is devastating and heartrending to hear about this historic house’s impending doom. Its sale to controversial businessman Jerry Acuzar created quite a stir within cultural and historical circles.

The townhall of the then Municipality of Biñán. I recently learned that by virtue of last year's Republic Act 9740, this historic municipio is now a city. But its cityhood does not even manifest in itself.

Somewhere along this river, Rizal used to swim and frolic during his youth. He even almost drowned here when a naughty cousin of his pushed him on its deeper parts. Sometimes, I wonder what would he feel if he sees this river again in its polluted state. To the people of Biñán: congratulate yourselves for a job well done!

Another old house almost as big as the Alberto's. It stands across the Alberto Mansion at the town/city plaza. Soon, it will be another casualty of cultural and historical ignorance, and I will not even be surprised when that happens.

It is as if a heavenly light that rainy afternoon (11/04/2009) was bidding the Alberto Mansion to come up to the heavens.

THE SAGA OF THE ALBERTO ALONSO ANCESTRAL HOUSE

From where I sit, the status of Teodora Alonso’s ancestral home remains unclear: will it continue staying where it has been standing for centuries or not? The last time I heard, the sale of the Alberto Mansion to Mr. Acuzar will still push through despite the valiant efforts of Dr. Rosauro “Bimbo” Sta. María and the United Artists for Cultural Conservation and Development, City of Biñán, Inc. (UACCD), to save it from being dismantled (“demolished” is what they call it) and transported to the businessman’s Bataán resort. In his Facebook account, the good doctor seemed to confirm that the good fight is indeed over; he wrote an emotional letter to the members of the UACCD, and its title: PAALAM BAHAY ALBERTO!. A part of that letter read:

To keep the Alberto House in situ would mean at least ₱150,000,000 to buy the property, restore, and maintain it for the next five years. Adaptive reuse can be in the form of a museum, but will take time for it to become self-liquidating. Neither the City nor the National Government have this enough money for a single purpose.

Finis es?

*******

Whether or not this house is related to national hero José Rizal is beside the point. It has been part and parcel of Biñán for hundreds of years, alongside other historic Antillean houses. Moreover, this same house was visited by a famous foreign dignitary at that time: Sir John Bowring (1792-1872), the fourth Governor of Hong Kong. In his A Visit to the Philippine Islands, he wrote the following about the Alberto Mansion:

The roads are generally good on the borders of the Laguna, and we reached Biñán before sunset, the Indians having in the main street formed themselves in procession as we passed along. Flags, branches of flowering forest trees, and other devices, were displayed. First we passed between files of youths,then of maidens; and through a triumphal arch we reached the handsome dwelling of a rich mestizo, whom we found decorated with a Spanish order, which had been granted to his father before him. He spoke English, having been educated at Calcutta, and his house —a very large one— gave abundant evidence that he had not studied in vain the arts of domestic civilization. The furniture, the beds, the tables, the cookery, were all in good taste, and the obvious sincerity of the kind reception added to its agreeableness. Great crowds were gathered together in the square which fronts the house of Don José Alberto.

Inside the patio of the controversial Alberto residence. This is the house's zaguán where the Alberto's carromatas and horse-drawn carriages were kept. It now serves as a decrepit bodega.

At the patio.

What was once a beautiful garden is now an untidy heap of woebogone structures.

The patio stairway from another angle.

The stone escalera from the patio leading towards where the azotea and cocina are.

There are actually two zaguanes in the Alberto patio. The zaguán, in a way, is today's equivalent of a car garage.

The empty side of this house was burned several years ago in a fire accident. The other side has since been converted to a grocery store. I wonder: if Jerry Acuzar successfully acquires the Alberto Mansion, how would he figure out the way this house looked like in its original state when he rebuilds it in his Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar?

An odd, unaesthetic mix of old and new: centuries-old stone blocks with modern concrete masonry units (or hollow blocks).

An intricate arch which survived the centuries. Will it continue surviving?

The main entrance is not through this door but at the stairway to the left.

Cápiz shells were often used as squared window panes in wooden ventana panels. This is a usual trademark of a genuine bahay na bató.

I forgot who this lady in the portrait was, but Arnaldo still remembers that she's none other than José Alberto's allegedly adulterous wife. It was said that she was the cause of Teodora Alonso's arrest and imprisonment.

The spacious caída.

The now messy balcón overlooking the town plaza.

The door yonder (behind the staircase) leads to the main part of the house which eventually burned a couple of years ago. What was saved has been converted to Gerry Alberto's small office.

A glimpse of the Biñán's public market.

¡Totoy na totoy!

Arnaldo sitting in front of José Alberto's portrait. Notice the Orden de Isabel la Católica hanging on Alberto's chest.

A view of the now cemented patio from the antesala.

Techo (ceiling).

Only a few remaining Antillean houses / bahay na bató today sport a red-tiled rooftop.

Sunlight entering a doomed house. Or is it really doomed? Heaven forbid such a travesty to happen...

The same stairway which John Bowring ascended.

Then as now, great crowds still gather together in the square which fronts this house. The only difference is that today, this throng is composed mostly of uncaring, nonchalant, and uncultured individuals. And many of them are local government officials.

As I’ve written early this month, Arnaldo and I had the opportunity to meet Gerardo “Gerry” Alberto last 11/04/2009, a direct descendant of José Alberto, an uncle of the national hero. He confirmed to us that indeed he was selling the house to a businessman. He even handed out to me a photocopied document of an email conversation between a relative of his (one of his nieces, if memory serves right) and Ambeth Ocampo regarding the impending sale of the house to Acuzar, back then an unknown person to me. Unfortunately, that paper is still missing in my library, and I’ve completely forgotten what exactly the conversation was all about.

Arnaldo and I were troubled to hear about Gerry’s plan. Too bad we did not have any right at all to convince him to change his mind. In a recent TV interview, he was correct when he said that his ancestral house is private property — it is his property. He’s paid his (real estate) taxes religiously. Thus, he can do anything he wants with it: desecrate it, enshrine it, turn it into a casino, a gay bar, a school, a private zoo, a museum, sell it, anything that pleases him. And all cultural groups and “concerned” politicians can kiss his Fil-hispanic tuckus.

But Arnaldo and I know something that many Biñenses do not know: if only Gerry had the money to maintain the house of his ancestors, he would have kept it. End of story. Furthermore, he told us that he once asked some monetary assistance from the then Municipality of Biñán, but nothing came out of it. But of course, local governments did not have any money to shell out just to help maintain the house.

So what’s all the fuss these past few weeks among local government officials of Biñán as well as other concerned groups? All of a sudden, we see them on national TV and in dailies, protesting what many of them imply to be Gerry’s historical crime against their city? But where were they when Gerry needed their help?

¿Palagui na lang báng ganitó ang mga Filipino? Abá, cumiquilos lang tayo capág hulí ná ang lahát. Qué divertido.

It should be noted that Gerry no longer lives in that house but somewhere else in Metro Manila (again, that decision of his is none of our business). Of what use should it be whenever he shells out money to maintain a house that technically no longer serves him? The guy’s just being practical. In today’s deprived economic milieu, where inflation never stops harassing even the monetary giants of the world, no person in his right mind would continue financing an already abandoned and deteriorating house. Gerry may have lots of money, but he’s not wealthy (to use financial adviser Francisco Colayco’s context). Put yourselves in his shoes, dear readers.

Do not be mistaken, though. I do not intend to be his apologist. During my many visits to his ancestral house, I met Gerry only once. We’re not friends. I am just trying to make a rational point out of all this brouhaha. The point is, none of this debacle would have happened if everybody acted much earlier.

When news broke out that the house’s dismantling had already started, and that protests against it commenced, I let out a silent, sickening chuckle filled with resentment and loathing towards the people of Biñán. Why why why is it that there is no end to this kind of stupidity…?

So, when I saw the pitiful state of the house again more than a month after killer typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng unleashed their fury all over the capital and its surrounding environs, deep down inside –MUCH TO MY MOST BITTERREGRET–, I thought it was best to take care of the house elsewhere where it will be safe…

Arnaldo and I revisited Biñán together last 11/04/2009, nearly two months after Typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng wreaked havoc in Luzón.

Dirty, unkempt, deprived of care, but still standing proudly across the ages...

Entrance to the patio.

Arnaldo with Gerry Alberto, a great grandson of José Alberto, Rizal's uncle.

Parts of the house haven't dried up yet due to the recent killer typhoons.

The cápiz shells in the window panels were rapidly deteriorating.

Rainwater seeped into the house. The interiors are no longer safe for future typhoons.

A view of the town plaza (including the San Isidro Labrador Church at the left) from the Alberto house.

Everytime I see this portrait of José Alberto, it gets worse. It was slightly damaged by rainwater caused by Typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng.

Don Zoilo Alberto and his bride (Gerry's parents). Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera had the chance to meet him many years ago. He described Don Alberto as a true Filipino of the old school. Even this portrait was damaged by typhoon rains.

Downstairs.

Un arcoiris -- ¿habrá una esperanza para este caserón histórico?

Gerry Alberto, moi, et Arnaldo Arnáiz.

RIZAL’S SCHOOL

Here’s another reason why I deplore Biñenses: the sad fate of Rizal’s school

Historically, Biñán is best known as the place where Rizal had his primary education under maestro Justiniano Cruz y Aquino.

Take a look at the hut now where Rizal spent some of his school days in Biñán. When my family visited this place in 2004, it was already fragile but still standing. We even had the opportunity to go inside. Why did Biñenses allow this to happen?

I first visited this nipa hut school in 2004. It was situated inside the huge garden of, if I remember right, the Jacobo Gonzales ancestral house (which is along Calle Gonzales, the area which was called sector de mestizos during Spanish times). Thanks to my wife’s insistence, we were allowed entry but never really got to talk with the owner. We were with Krystal and Momay (they were just two back then). We were so fortunate to have entered the premises because a few years later, When Typhoon Milenyo attacked the Philippines, maestro Justiniano Cruz’s school was to become but a stack of woods. Too bad we did not have any camera during that unplanned visit.

The hut was already on the brink of ruin when I first saw it. I was able to talk to the caretaker. He said that many people –tourists, students (mostly from UP), and conservationists– have visited the place. They took not only photos but videos of the place. Some even promised monetary assistance to help maintain it. But nothing came out of those promises.

Typhoon Milenyo gave it a deathly blow in 2006. Nobody ever cared about the school anymore. Not even historical conservationists. Not even the incredible local government.

A SEPULCHRAL DISCOVERY

Walking towards the national road on our way home from the Alberto Mansion (during our 11/04/2009 visit), we came across a queer discovery: a 19th-century structure that is either a chapel or a mausoleum…

We just chanced upon this old structure on our way home. I am still not sure if it's a chapel or a mausoleum. Around this structure is a small cemetery.

This chapel (or mausoleum) has been standing here since 1853!

And then, we saw these…

We inadvertently found the tombs of Gerry's parents!

A tomb in Spanish, housing the remains of a certain Macario Marco, possibly a family member of Gerry Alberto's mother.

Hours earlier, as I was browsing over boxes containing old stuff from the Alberto past, I came across a passport owned by a certain Pilar Alberto (Gerry’s mom?). And then hours later, we saw her tomb. Weird/creepy coincidence? Arnaldo kidded that perhaps the souls of the Alberto’s of yore were sending us a message to help them preserve their house.

For all we know…

NUESTRA SEÑORA DE LA PAZ Y BUENVIAJE

Here is another Biñense blunder: the total renovation of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage Parish Church located in Barrio de la Paz. It’s now altered beyond recognition. For what? Because it looked old?

An undated old photo of the Nuestra Señora de la Paz y Buenviaje chapel, possibly taken either during the last years of the Spanish era or during the early years of the American invasion of the Philippines.

Right after the unnecessary facelift, taken several years ago (courtesy of BJ Borja).

Unknown to many, this is the old chapel where Rizal used to frequent. It was heavily renovated and modernized, much to a historian's chagrin. This should have never happened, because changing the whole feature of any historic or heritage site is tantamount to desecration. It should have just been maintained and well taken care of. Again, why did Biñenses allow this architectural desecration to happen?

The retablo.

An image of La Virgen de la Inmaculada Concepción, the patron saint of the Philippines.

The image of the Nuestra Señora de la Paz y Buenviaje (Our Lady of Peace and Good/Safe Voyage). Although the chapel --now a parish church-- was heavily renovated, the parish priest we spoke with when this photo was taken (03/28/2008) said that this image is still the original.

A close-up of the image.

For posterity! =)

This chapel –now a church– was one of Rizal’s favorite places in Biñán. In his diary, he wrote that during his last days in Biñán, he usually walked from his place to this church (a chapel back then) to pray most of the time. Why bypass the town church (San Isidro Labrador) which was nearer to where he stayed in Biñán? Why walk several meters just to pray to that faraway chapel? We surmise that this holy place had a special affinity to Rizal’s heart because his mother, Teodora Alberto Alonso, was a devotee of Nuestra Señora de la Paz y Buenviaje in Antipolo, Morong (now called Rizal province). It should be remembered that a young Rizal once traveled to that church in Antipolo with his dad in order to fulfill his mom’s promise when he was still in her womb. And during his homesick days in Biñán, he somehow felt at home in this chapel which is the namesake of that other historic church in Antipolo which was also close to Doña Teodora Alonso’s religious heart and soul.

Today, not even a historical marker can be found in this equally historic site. And worse, if Rizal were to be transported to our era on a time machine, he would have been horrified by the altered unaesthetic look of one of his favorite haunts as a child.

IGLESIA DE SAN ISIDRO LABRADOR

Iglesia de San Isidro Labrador, Población, Ciudad de Biñán, La Laguna.

All photos of this church were taken last 11/04/2009

The church's Eucharistic Adoration Chapel.

May God forgive me, but somehow this triangular symbol gives me an eerie feeling that it is somewhat... Masonic...

The handsome altarpiece.

Among the donors of this church, we've already personally met two: Adelaida Yatco (a friend of another friend, Mayor Calixto Catáquiz of nearby San Pedro Tunasán) and Gerry Alberto.

MY FINAL VISIT TO BIÑÁN

The following photos were taken during my son Jefe’s third birthday (we did not bring Juanito because he was still an infant):

Jefe's third birthday in Jollibee, Biñán.

My family enters the mansion -- for one last time...

Ascent through time...

Time space warp!!!

¡Mi mujer linda!

My family within the eerie shadows of the Alberto house's foreboding doom...

The first time I visited this place with my family was a Sunday. And I still had only two kids. We were not able to go inside because it is open only on weekdays. Jefe’s birthday was a Monday, thus we were able to come in; Gerry was not available that time, but his secretaries still recognized me.

I happily toured my family inside. Most of the furniture were kept inside one of the big rooms; it appeared that preparations were all underway for an imminent demolition (some of the tambays downstairs and even the secretaries did confirm that). I explained to Yeyette and Krystal that it could be the last time that we’d be able to relish this piece of history in Biñán. It saddened us all.

*******

What can we learn about all of this?

Arnaldo couldn’t have put it more perfectly on his blog when he reacted to what had happened to Rizal’s school:

Here in Biñán, I found the perfect example of how our government has failed to restore and promote our national treasures. We are not being unfair with the historical giants, but to our very own children. Only in pictures will we be able to share to them what Rizal’s old school looks like.

And I couldn’t agree less.

But in fairness to Biñenses, this kind of travesty does not happen in Biñán alone (it just so happens that right now, their hometown is the center of all this unwanted attention). Almost everywhere in the Philippines, the same dookie happens. Irritatingly, concerned individuals react only when the death blow is about to strike.

Who is to be blamed?

I say, EVERYBODY in Biñán is to be blamed.

We have already tackled Gerry’s plight. According to him, he was just compelled to sell his house, implying that he had no more money to maintain a house that he no longer uses. But earlier this month, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) issued a statement on its website:

NHCP on ALBERTO HOUSE

1. The NHCP exhausted all possible means to convince the owner (Gerardo Alberto) to retain and preserve his property (the Alberto House) in its original setting in Biñán, Laguna, and to prevent its eventual demolition.

2. Two or three years ago, the NHI coordinated with Mr. Alberto on several schemes it prepared for the structure’s rehabilitation and adaptive reuse. The structure was already in a bad state of conservation, and deterioration and material losses were getting worse. The rehabilitation and adaptive re-use of the house were not pushed through by the owner for reasons beyond the control of the government.

3. The NHI prepared guidelines and recommendatory measures for the preservation of the Alberto House. These were forwarded to Mr. Alberto.

4. Several meetings had already been conducted at the Alberto House among the owner/s, Biñán local officials, Ms. Gemma Cruz, the design consultant, and NHI officials and technical staff. The owner/s repeatedly explained his/their plans for the old house and what assistance can be provided by the government if their house is declared a Historical Landmark or a Heritage House. Otherwise, Mr. Alberto reiterated that he is already quite old, and the decision that would serve the family’s best interest should be made soonest.

5. Before the controversy, the local government of Biñán was not interested in the preservation of the Alberto House. It signified its protest to the owner when it came to know that the Alberto family had already committed the transfer (dismantling and reconstruction) of the house from Biñan to Bagac, Bataan.

6. For so many years, the Municipality of Biñán allowed the proliferation of makeshift structures around the house, thus obliterating the majestic view of the old structure. If they considered the house as an important Landmark and part of their heritage, why did they not attempt to clear the area for visitors to appreciate the structure?

7. In 2004, the NHI Board approved in principle the installation of a historical marker for the house. NHI wrote Mr. Alberto regarding the proposed marker, and stipulated his compliance for the removal of obstructive and unsightly signage at the ground floor façade. The marker was not installed since Mr. Alberto did not react very positively to the conditions set by NHI.

8. The Alberto House is a private property. The Alberto family does not want the government declaration because now, the Bagac deal best serves the family’s interests and needs.

9. The Alberto House is not a declared National Historical Landmark nor a Heritage House because of its bad state of conservation (less than 70% authenticity), the owner’s non-acceptance of any declaration and installation of a historical marker, and his refusal to donate the property to the government (local or national).

10. The house cannot be 435 years old as claimed, having been built in 1575. The construction method of the original house used cut nails made of steel. Steel was first used in Europe during the Industrial Revolution. Therefore, the Alberto House could have been constructed between the late 1700s to early 1800s. The year 1575 may have referred to the family escutcheon, as the original owner’s father was decorated with a Spanish order during that time.

11. As time drags on, the Alberto House continues to deteriorate and accumulate damages, thus lessening the historical value and conservation opportunities of the structure. If no intervention/maintenance efforts are made, the house will certainly be totally lost.

12. It is not necessarily true and apropos to automatically declare any or all structures 50 years old or more an Important Cultural Property, a National Historical Landmark, or a Heritage House without passing through the established criteria. It will be very much prejudicial to the significance/quality of the structures/artifacts of historical or cultural importance, and to the best practices in selecting nationally-significant historical and cultural heritage.

13. A personal heritage may not necessarily be another person’s heritage; a family’s heritage may not necessarily be another family’s heritage; a community’s heritage may not be another community’s heritage… But we can have a national heritage whereby all citizens can claim the right to preserve and protect it. Likewise, in a world heritage, all peoples in the world have the right to preserve and protect it regardless of race, religion or ideology.

14. Some residents of Biñán approached NHI, asking if there is still a way to prevent the planned transfer of the Alberto House to Bagac. Architect Reynaldo A. Inovero advised them that if there would be any offer to fully restore the Alberto House for the family, and a place for the family’s proposed commercial establishment, perhaps the interested party can approach the Alberto family and make this proposal. Otherwise, there is no better alternative to the Bagac transfer in terms of the owner’s advantage.

15. The term used by heritage advocates is the “demolition” (Demolition of 200-year-old home of Rizal mom stopped, PDI, June 2, 2010). The correct term is dismantling, in order for the house to be transferred to Bagac. NHI does not advocate the destruction of any structure. We consider all options for a structure’s preservation, including compromises.

16. The one disadvantage of the transfer of the house to Bagac is Biñán losing one of its most important historical structures.

7 June 2010

It is hard to dispute the logic set forth by the NHCP on its statement regarding the Alberto house debacle. However, item 7 may put more heat on Gerry Alberto. It said that a few years ago, he did not react positively to the conditions set by NHCP (then known as the National Historical Institute) with regards to the installation of a historical marker for the house. What was that negative reaction all about? Here was perhaps a chance to save his house. But he apparently blew it.

ACUZAR

Acuzar then enters the picture. He has been painted by popular blogger Ivan Henares as a heartless and greedy sonofagun, shopping for cute Antillean houses that he can transfer to his seaside resort in Bagac, Bataán. Acuzar’s got good intentions, says some. He is, after all, gunning for old heritage structures that are no longer being taken care of, as is the case of the Alberto ancestral house. Rather than let it fall apart on its own, shouldn’t we rather see it safe and sound and intact, albeit in another location? Yes, it will hurt all of us lovers of heritage, culture, and history to see such architectural gems dismantled from their original sites just to be transferred to a money-making resort. But as what the NHCP said, the Bagac transfer is the only viable option right now to save what is left of the house. My museum idea is another option, but nobody would buy it.

Oh, did I say Acuzar had good intentions? Yeah. And as some clever wags say, “the road to hell is paved with good intentions…”

Indeed, if Acuzar wants to play philanthropist and/or culture hero, and if he is indeed deeply concerned on saving heritage structures, why not just donate the money to Gerry Alberto? Well, that would have been crazy. So think logically: no capitalist in his sane mind would ever want to do that. Acuzar, therefore is no financial saint. In “saving” the Alberto home, he also has to consider that act as an investment. Not just for “pogi” points, but for money points in the future.

According to fellow Círculo Hispano-Filipino member, Prof. Fernando Ziálcita, Ph. D., when Acuzar acquired the Enríquez Mansion in Quiapò, Manila, he also bought its lot. And what happened to that lot? A condominium now stands in place of the mansion! Professor Ziálcita has more to add about this:

Well, the first two ground stories form an arcade over the sidewalk. But there was no serious intent to copy closely the original look. The cornice juts out exaggeratedly in a very clumsy way. The arcade pillars of reinforced concrete now have grey, adobe garments whereas originally they were round, lime-covered, white Tuscan columns. And the arcade now serves as parking for the cars of the residents rather than as a walk-through for pedestrians.

No alternative traffic plan has been provided by him for a street that has five (5) jeepney terminals and that is always clogged at almost all hours.

Indeed, whoever approved of this condominium is today a rich man.

Aside from the fact that this condominium defies the already-worse vehicular traffic, it can also prove Acuzar’s greed. Why? He bought the age-old Enríquez Mansion not just to “save” it from Calle Hidalgo’s urban jungle but to build this money-making machine called a condominium.

So, where’s the love, Mr. Acuzar?

UNITED ARTISTS FOR CULTURAL CONSERVATION AND DEVELOPMENT, City of Biñán, Inc.

And now we have Dr. Bimbo Sta. María and the UACCD to contend with.

The whole country, and perhaps the whole of Biñán, first heard of this group only when the dismantling began of the Alberto house. But where were they before this tragedy happened? Why protest at this late hour? They’ll be quick to defend that their group just started early this year (March, if I’m not mistaken). But still, the dismantling started early this month. And if they again defend themselves that they were not privy to the Alberto-Acuzar deal beforehand, then –again– what’s with the late protestations?

Better late than never? Not quite enough. I’ve been a student activist in college, having attended several protest rallies myself. And none of them achieved anything at all except, perhaps, solidarity among the student youth going against the powers-that-be. But really, that is all what it is. All protest rallies are virtually useless and inutile except if it transforms into a rebellion such as what had happened in EDSA more than nine years ago.

Days after the dismantling of the Alberto house began (which was immediately and unceremoniously halted by the city hall), the UACCD organized “WELGA: Isang Gabi ng Dula, Awitan, Sayawan, Atbp.” on the evening of the 9th of June. It was held at the town plaza, right in front of the troubled mansion. It showcased various cultural activities courtesy of the UACCD and other artistic individuals. But do most of these kids actually know what they’re doing? The disenchanted are correct: protesting in the streets is perhaps a “fashionable” thing to do. People will think of these kids as heroes, and that is exactly what these kids wanted the people to think of them.

Using the Alberto Mansion troubles, was the WELGA, therefore, organized to formally catapult the UACCD into prominence, given that this group was founded just a few months ago?

Doctor Sta. María’s advocacy may be true and pure. How about the people around him? How about the members of the UACCD? Their WELGA is a powerless show, whether or not the number of those who attended were big, whether or not it was in a festive mood (it shouldn’t have been festive; it should have been angry). It’s not about how many attended that night; it’s about the advocacy. How sure is Dr. Sta. María about the sincerity of all his young members who strutted their stuff on stage during their p(r)etty WELGA? Their dances and poems and stuff were no match against greed and apathy.

Gerry and Jerry must have been laughing their @$$e$ off in amusement during that night (“those crazy kids oughta be drinking their milk and sayin’ their prayers already,” they must’ve been thinking). That is one reason why I didn’t join that protest rally. It’s virtually useless. Money had already exchanged hands. That is why the dismantling already began.

I reiterate (counting from experience and years of observation): most, if not all (and that is a big IF), protest rallies are but a comedic sham. It is another product of democracy which is, in turn, a product of imperialist US.

I’d rather join a revolution.

*******

The UACCD might answer me back: “so did your writing/ranting about this issue fared better than ours?”

I admit: it did not save the Alberto House. It is because no powerful dude who read what I wrote listened nor even bothered to take it seriously. I do not wish to say that my suggestion to convert the Alberto Mansion into a money-making museum to save it from being uprooted from Biñán is the only smart solution. But at any given moment, it is a viable solution, nonetheless.

I wrote too late, too. Yeah. But, frankly speaking, I should not even be troubling myself with all this. I’m not a Biñense for crying out loud. But that is where, modesty aside, my sincerity and concern (and disappointment) comes in. What about you, people of Biñán? Many years ago, my friend, the great scholar and Filipinologist, Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera, took pictures of your then town’s old houses in its sector de mestizos, fearing that one day, they’d be gone. He published those photos in his now defunct Spanish newspaper, Nueva Era. Fast forward to today, and his fears came into fruition. Look at what happened to Rizal’s school. To the church in Barrio de la Paz. The Yaptinchay Mansion. And many others that are now deteriorating. Arnaldo has written a couple of blogposts about the Alberto Mansion in the past, particularly its impending demise. And he was right, too.

Again, if nobody listened to the three of us because we’re not as popular as Ambeth Ocampo or Ivan Henares, or perhaps people think that we have no substantial things to say, then that is no longer our problem. And again, we’re not from Biñán. Cayá mahiyá namán ang dapat mahiyâ.

Besides, if nobody listened to the NHCP’s suggestions, who’d listen to a mere blogger? The likes of me are but products of an irritating and stupid society.

*******

Mahiyá namán ang dapat mahiyâ. Hmmm… At this juncture, it is virtually useless to point an accusing finger to anybody. The damage has been done. But items 5 and 6 of the NHCP’s statement regarding the Alberto Mansion just couldn’t stop me from ranting out my angry disappointment:

5. Before the controversy, the local government of Biñán was not interested in the preservation of the Alberto House. It signified its protest to the owner when it came to know that the Alberto family had already committed the transfer (dismantling and reconstruction) of the house from Biñan to Bagac, Bataan.

6. For so many years, the Municipality of Biñán allowed the proliferation of makeshift structures around the house, thus obliterating the majestic view of the old structure. If they considered the house as an important Landmark and part of their heritage, why did they not attempt to clear the area for visitors to appreciate the structure?

If we are to publicly behead all the culprits of this sickening psychodrama, we should look no further. Or, in the case of the Alberto Mansion, it should look no further. The culprits are just across the street.

Yep. Biñán’s caboodle of shiny shoed politicians should be figuratively burned at the stake (burning them literally is not a bad idea, too). The dirty trail leads to their inept offices. Anyway, one does not have to rely on the NHCP’s statement — just take a look at the house’s façade and surroundings in some of the photos above, and you’ll see these politicians’ dirty work.

Oh, I’m suddenly reminded of WWE wrestler Kane’s usual pronouncement to his foes: “Burn in hell!”

*******

So that is it. I will never ever return to Biñán, for it will only break my heart to see the población without its crown jewel, the Alberto Mansion (its absence in the población even gave me nightmares, seriously). Its polluted river, its helter-skelter streets, the rogue people on its grimy and littered streets, the worsening condition of its many Antillean houses, the disagreeable façade of the Nuestra Señora de la Paz y Buenviaje, and the sickening fate of Justiniano Cruz’s nipa hut school are the reasons why I do not want to go back. Not even puto biñán will make me go back there. I can buy some here in San Pedro.

But Biñán is still in the heart. Will always remain.

I am referring to old Biñán, still pure, still virginal, without any vestige of the American Dream. What we have now is a horrible shell of its former self.

Old Biñán will forever be etched in my heart. And that is the town that I will revisit…

¡Paalam, Casa Alberto! Hindí ca namin malílimutan. Nawá'y mahabág ang casaysayan sa mga waláng pusong lumapastañgan sa'yó...

The Filipino Identity

Posted on
Acó ba'y isáng "Pinoy" o "Filipino"? Basta ang alám có, CUTE acó.

THE FILIPINO IDENTITY
Guillermo Gómez Rivera and José Mario S. Alas

Since the Philippines is now witnessing a world full of turbulence and incertitude, trudging on a road leading almost to hopelessness (and quite possibly another world war), it is high time that we Filipinos should wake up and face the facts, and to discern the real cause behind all this farce and evil.

We Filipinos were stripped of our national identity upon the arrival here of our so-called liberators: the North Americans, particularly the Thomasites. From that time on, the Republic of the Philippines (the Anglicized translation of La República de Filipinas) has never been the same again. Everything that is Filipino was literally mangled, especially during the 1945 massacre of Manila courtesy of the Yankee soldiers (see WARSAW OF ASIA: THE RAPE OF MANILA by José Mª Bonifacio Escoda). Therefore, before anything of the same tragedy happens again, we better arm ourselves with the powers of historical research and delve into the truth amidst all the lies taught to us by some “idiotcators.” Remember that the past is our gateway to the future.

The Filipino identity is the product of the Filipino State that began to exist in Spanish on 24 June 1571. The Filipino State was founded together with Manila on that same date, with the government having Spanish as its official language (THE FILIPINO STATE by Gómez Rivera as published in emanila.com).

In 1599, the previously existing native ethnic states went into the Filipino State as co-founding members. They incorporated themselves with the Filipino State when they elected the Spanish King (Rey Felipe II) as their natural sovereign (page 23 of THE HISPANIZATION OF THE PHILIPPINES by John Leddy Phelan, University of Winsconsin Press, USA, 1959). This election was verified during a synod-plebiscite held also that year.

From that time on, and after forming part of the 1571 Filipino State, our pre-Hispanic ancestors also accepted Spanish as their official and national language with their respective native languages as auxiliary official languages. Thus, the previously autonomous Ethnic States that existed before 1599 were respectively the ones that belonged to the Tagalogs, Ilocanos, Pampangueños, Bicolanos, Visayans, Mindanáo Lumads, and the Moro Sultanates of Joló and Maguindanáo.

Aside from these indigenous or native Ethnic States, the pre-Hispanic Chinese of Mayi-in-ila Kung shing-fu, or what is now known as Manila, likewise joined the Filipino State when they accepted the King of Spain as their natural sovereign. More so, because they knew that they would become the chief benefactors of the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade that would in turn last for 215 years.

Hence, all of the above mentioned people became, ethnographically and politically, Filipinos as well as Spanish citizens or subjects when they freely accepted the Spanish King (Rey Felipe or King Philip II) as their natural sovereign in 1599, resided in the Philippines to do business, and paid taxes to His Majesty’s Manila government. It is because of this historical event that the Spanish language is an inseparable part of every Filipino’s individual, collective, and national identity. Because of this fact, Philippine education today, to be truly Filipino, must have Spanish as its medium of instruction as was the case before the Americans came, since without a notion of this language no Filipino can say that he is truly Filipino in his identity (Caviteños and Zamboangueños should, and can, start with their own Chabacano vernacular).

This is why a nationalist of the stature of Claro M. Recto declared that: “Without Spanish the inventory of our national patrimony as a people will be destroyed, if not taken away from us since Spanish is part of our flesh and blood as Filipinos.”

Teodoro M. Kálaw, another great Filipino, also said that: “The Filipino national identity, as well as what we know and recognize as Filipino culture, remains primarily articulated and manifested in Spanish because this is its original language. The Filipino Civilization is a beautiful blending of the Spanish and the indigenous civilizations. Without Spanish and its beneficial influence, we betray our own rights to dignity as a people and stop being Filipinos in order to sadly become economic slaves of another power.”

It is therefore a very condemnable crime against the Filipino people, in the words of Cebuano Senator Manuel C. Briones, to educate the new generations of Filipinos without any Spanish as, at least, one more subject in their curricula.

“More so,” added then Senator Manuel C. Briones, “because Spanish is also a world language!” And this is totally true because, at this writing, Spanish has around five hundred million primary speakers and another seven hundred million people as second-language speakers.

Should present-day Filipinos be left-out?

However, that is not the complete point. The main argument is that we Filipinos, before joining the battlefield against imperialism/neocolonialism, should very well know who the real enemy is. Moreover, we should realize that whenever we throw punches at the enemy, the only ones who we hit are ourselves due to the ignorance that we have about who we are and what we were. Our language, our culture, as well as our history and identity, were all distorted (this can be observed through the fiery writings of Recto, Kálaw, Briones, Jesús Lava, Renato Constantino, and even Nick Joaquín, regarding this matter; among those mentioned, perhaps it is Recto who divulged the most scathing truth on the agenda of the Americans and what they did to our country).

Even national hero José Rizal can be considered as an American-invented hero in some sense (see VENERATION WITHOUT UNDERSTANDING by Constantino). This is not to say that Rizal’s heroism was horseplay. Rizal was an ardent nationalist, a great writer and scholar, bar-none. He has every right to be our national hero for he instilled in his followers the importance of nationalism and national identity. However, the American regime managed to distort everything about him, and even used his tussle with the Spanish government in the Philippines when in truth, Rizal, who was a Freemason, was solely against the Spanish friars particularly the Dominicans who ordered the expulsion of his family, together with other Calambeños, from Calambâ, Laguna due to a land dispute.

The scheme of using Rizal’s “hatred” (kunô) against Spain was taught in all the schools, public and private, from pre-school up to college, little by little conditioning the minds of young Filipinos into accepting the absurd notion that the real villains were the Spaniards and that our saviors were the Americans. This alarming lie being done in our school systems still exist, quite obviously.

So now that it is made clear what a Filipino is, perhaps the question should be rephrased: should present-day Filipinos remain unconcerned about what those foreign oppressors did to us and are still doing to us?

circa 2001

*******

GUILLERMO GÓMEZ y RIVERA — is a Filipino writer, journalist, poet, playwright, historian, linguist, polyglot, and scholar of Spanish and British descent. He was appointed Secretary of the Committee on National Language for the 1970-1971 Constitutional Convention. In 1974, the Department of Education condecorated him for his work as teacher and writer with the Plus Ultra Filipinas Award. In 1975, he was awarded the Premio Zóbel, the oldest literary award in the Philippines. And if I go on, this profile of Señor Gómez would have outworded the foregoing essay. :D
JOSÉ MARIO “Pepe” ALAS — is just an ordinary blogger with simple dreams but higher hopes. :-)

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