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Santacruzan sa Unisan 2011 (Unisan, Tayabas)

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The Philippines may have lost the Spanish language to some extent, but it has not lost contact with its Hispanic past. Our country’s Latin spirit has been kept alive by our culture itself as represented by numerous town fiestas and other Catholic events held almost every week.

Suffice it to say that Catholicism is almost synonymous to Hispanidad, at least, perhaps, in our country. After all, it was the Spaniards who brought the Catholic faith to these once heathen islands. But it can also be said that it was the Catholic faith which spurred the conquistadores (inspired by the zeal of the Catholic Spanish crown) to win new souls in Christ the Lord’s name.

In modern slang, the Catholic-Spanish influx to these islands which we now call the Philippines was a “double whammy” of sorts.

Take the month of May, for instance. Filipinos celebrate the famous Flores de Mayo with much pomp, grace, and grandeur. It has been deeply embedded in the Filipino psyche that it is not even considered Hispanic anymore. But it was and still is. Flores de Mayo is a true testament of what Hispanidad really is, aside from a linguistic point of view.

My cousins Jam Alas (Reina de las Flores) and Kevin Alas (escort).

Flores de Mayo (translated as “Flowers of May” in English) is celebrated in honor of the Virgin Mary. At the end of the month, a religio-historical beauty pageant called the sagala, commonly known as the Santacruzan, is held in many towns all over the country. This Catholic tradition (perhaps endemic only to our country) can be traced to the epic journey of Saint Helena of Constantinople, the mother of Saint Constantine the Great (the first Roman Emperor who converted to Christianity), to locate the Vera Cruz (True Cross) of Jesus Christ. Actually, according to Catholic tradition, Saint Helena discovered the cross on 14 September 325; why the Santacruzan is held every May remains a puzzle to me.

The people of Unisan, Tayabas (now Quezon) may have not noticed it (particularly the younger generation), but these prying eyes did. The colorful mix of the procession, the devotees’ singing of Dios Te Salve María and other church songs in Latin, and the town’s various ancestral houses (bahay na bató) made the whole scene very Hispanic, indeed. After having attended Unisan’s Santacruzan and witnessed the Rigodón de Honor, I remarked that the only thing lacking to make the picture complete was the Spanish language.

But even without the Spanish language, for as long as the Philippines remains Christian, i.e. Catholic, complete with her traditions that were brought here by the friars, we shall continue living as a Hispanic country.

Santacruzan sa Unisan

Last 29 May, my cousins Josephine “Jam” Alas y Láus (one of Magic 89.9‘s youngest disc jocks) and up-and-coming basketball superstar Kevin Louie Alas y Platón (of Colegio de San Juan de Letrán Knights and PBA D-League‘s Cebuana Lhuillier Gems; son of famous multi-titled basketball coach Francisco Luis “Louie” Alas y Évora) participated in the annual Santacruzan, the culmination of the month-long Flores de Mayo. Jam represented the queen of May flowers, La Reina de las Flores; Kevin was her escort. Typhoon Chedeng was threatening to ruin the event all week. Surprisingly (or should I say miracurously), the typhoon suddenly veered its course, and that afternoon procession was greeted by sunny skies instead!

Below are photos of each queen with brief historical descriptions, but not wanting in criticisms. It is hoped that subsequent Santacruzan processions will strictly adhere to tradition, and that each representative queen must first be “indoctrinated” on the meaning and significance of this holy procession even before they participate. This is not merely a pagandahan affair. Each queen has meaning. That must be squarely emphasized so as not to forget the true value of this summertime Catholic procession.

¡Gracias a la Virgen María, la reina verdadera de las Flores de Mayo!


Reina de los Ángeles. Traditionally, this queen has a branch of white flowers.


Young girls clad in white carrying the letters A-V-E M-A-R-Í-A.


Reina Banderada.
Traditionally, this queen is a young girl dressed in a long red gown. She carries with her a triangular yellow flag. She represents the arrival of Christianity. But where is the yellow flag in this photo?


Buán (Moon) at mğa Bituín (Stars). Buán represents the Moon which is the throne of the Virgin Mary.


Another representative for Reina de los Ángeles.


Reina de la Fe symbolizes Faith, the first of the Theological Virtues. This queen should carry a crucifix (but the lady pictured above doesn’t have one).


Reina Esperanza symbolizes the second of the Theological Virtues: Hope. This representative should carry an anchor, the Christian symbol for Hope.


Reina de la Caridad symbolizes Charity, the last of the Theological Virtues. And this queen should carry an image of a red heart (Christian symbol for the virtue she represents). But instead of that, what she carries in this photo is an abanico (a local fan).


Reina Luwalhatì represents the Glorious Mystery of the Holy Rosary.


Reina Hapis represents the Sorrowful Mystery of the Holy Rosary.


Reina Tuwâ represents the Joyful Mystery of the Holy Rosary.


Reina Abogada (in front) represents the defender of the poor and the oppressed. Traditionally, she carries a large book and wears a toga similar to those worn during graduation ceremonies. Behind her is Reina Sentenciada. Traditionally, her hands are tied by a rope. She represents the First Christians, particularly the virgins who were martyred in the name of the Christian Faith.


Reina de la Justicia. She represents the “Mirror of Justice”, a personification of the Virgin Mary which is one of her titles in the Litany of Loreto (Letanías Lauretanas). Her symbols (again not shown in this procession) are the familiar images of justice: a weighing scale and a sword.


Reina Samaritana represents the biblical lady with whom our Lord Jesus Christ had a conversation with at the well (John 4:13-30). Her symbol is a water jug which the representative queen should carry on her shoulders. (not apparent in this photo).


Reina de Saba represents the queen who had a special friendship with the famous King Solomon (I Book of Kings 10:1-13).


Reina Esther (sometimes spelled Ester) was a Jewish queen of Persia who saved her people from certain death at the hands of Haman the Agatite through her timely intervention. At the Flores de Mayo/Santacruzan procession, this queen is supposed to carry a scepter.


Reina Judit is the widow who saved her city from the Assyrians under the cruel general Holofernes. Her symbols: the severed head of Holofernes that she is supposed to carry in one hand and a sword in the other. Again, these props were not used.


Reina Elena III. There are usually three representatives for Reina Elena during the Santacruzan procession. But the escort particularly for Reina Elena III is traditionally a young boy, representing a young Emperor/Saint Constantine the Great.


Reina Elena II.


Reina Elena I.


Reina Elena, the mother of the emperor-saint, Constantine the Great. In Catholic tradition, she was the queen who looked for the relics of the Vera Cruz, or the True Cross, of our Lord Jesus Christ. Curiously, Vera Cruz is also a surname of one of the oldest families in Unisan.


Reina Emperatriz is actually the mother of Emperor/Saint Constantine the Great, none other than Reina Elena. The title emperatriz is derived from the Latin words Augusta Imperatrix, an honorific title given by the emperor to his mother.


The young escorts of the Reina de las Flores. The girls (left to right): my cousin Carmela and my niece Amber. Behind them are my cousins Rafaél (Carmela’s brother) and Joseph (Jam’s brother).


My cousins Jam and Kevin as the Reina de las Flores and her escort, respectively. La Reina de las Flores is considered the “Queen of Flores de Mayo“. From my observation, it seemed that Jam was the only queen who strictly continued the Santacruzan tradition that afternoon — because the Reina de las Flores should carry a bouquet of flowers in the procession, which she did. To paraphrase Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson — FINALLY… something went right! :-)


Imagen de la Virgen María, la reina verdadera de las Flores de Mayo al regresar a la iglesia después de la procesión.


At the Rigodón de Honor in Parque de Tamesis. Kevin and Jam are at center.


Seated in front of me is family friend Mayor Calixto Catáquiz y Ramírez of San Pedro, La Laguna (his late father is from Unisan). To his right (in green shirt) is Tayabas/Quezon province’s 3rd district representative Danilo Suárez.


My dapper don dad (Sr. Don Josefino Alas y Évora) preparing for the Rigodón de Honor.


Capitana Gloria Alas (at the podium) giving a speech of acknowledgment.


The colorful and lively Rigodón de Honor. At photo is my cousin, Ate Mª Cecilia Alas de Órgano and her dance partner. This dance event was participated by many of my relatives (including dad) and former congresswoman Aleta Suárez (wife of incumbent congressman Suárez).


Left to right: Kevin, our niece Lía, Jam, Lía’s brother RR, and the preferred escort of all Flores de Mayo queens (who else?).


Alas Bratpack (left to right): RR, Kevin, Joycee, Lía, Jam, my wife Yeyette, Ate Glen, Emperor Pepe the Great, and Laiza.


Goofing around with Wifey (but lovely still). :D

*******

All photos in this article were taken by myself and my cousin Ate Lilet Alas de Fernández.

Filipinization: a process

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Whenever I pass by the tianguê-filled streets of Baclaran or Divisoria, I am reminded of those that are in South America. Fruit vendors found in almost all parts of the country —even in posh Macati City— are no different at all from their Latino counterparts with regards to the manner of selling, the bodily movements in conducting trade.

The similarities are striking.

Whenever I visit my dad’s hometown of Unisan, I am astounded by the población’s network of roads: they horizontally and vertically crisscross each other. And at the heart of the small town itself is the old church. Indeed, the architecture of Unisan’s población is a perfect trademark of the Spanish friar-engineer’s ingenuity. And almost all old towns all over the archipelago follow this “square-shape” pattern.

Fiestas, the wheel, town cemeteries, plowing, spoon and fork, social graces, the guisado, rondalla, potato, papaya, camote, La Virgen María, paper and book culture, la mesa, la silla, painting, old street names and our family surnames, Holy Week and Simbang gabí, the bahay na bató, the calendar that we use, the name of our country, our nationality, etc. All these items, techniques, and concepts that were once foreign to us are now considered endemic. Without these, it is unthinkable for a Filipino to even exist. But these things that are crucial for our everyday existence are taken for granted like the the clouds in the sky.

There are two simple ways to determine what a Filipino is: by his name and by what he eats. Like most Filipinos, I have a Spanish name (José Mario Alas), but my diet is Asian (I eat rice). These determinants make me a unique product of a Western-Eastern symbiosis. This blending is what makes me a Filipino. I recognize both sides, but what surfaces the most is my Hispanic side for it completes my Filipino national identity. But Fr. José S. Arcilla, S.J., couldn’t have said it better:

Even if we peel off our Asian traits, we will remain “Filipino”. Remove our Hispanized ways and local idioms and we could no longer be recognized as Filipino.

"España y Filipinas" por el pintor famoso, Juan Luna.

The heritage bequeathed to us by Spain is not only ubiquitous: they are part of our lives. They are, in fact, our very lives. Our hispanic traits are what make us true Filipinos. This claim does not intend to glorify Spain, neither should it be misunderstood as a “longing to become a Spaniard,” which is very ridiculous to say the least (frankly speaking, I care less about today’s Zapatonto-led Spain). This is merely an acknowledgment of facts regarding our true Filipino Identity which is based on our Hispanic heritage. Also, to acknowledge our Hispanic past doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to negate everything that came before it. That can never be undone in the first place. This is just a matter of calling a spade a spade.

Indeed, if we strip away everything Asian from our identity, the Hispanic attributes will still remain. And these attributes are the same ones that the whole world can see in each and every Hispanic country scattered around the globe. But if we take away everything Hispanic in us to give way to purist nationalist dictates, then we will cease to become Filipino. We will disintegrate back to what we were before the conquistadores came: disunited; separated into a myriad of tribal kingdoms; perpetually aggressive towards one another.

In other words, if we remove our Hispanic traits, it will not harm the Hispanic world one bit. What will remain is the “Malay” or “Austronesian” in us that never made us Filipinos in the first place. The pre-Filipino Malay/Austronesian is composed of many tribes (Tagalog, Ilocano, Tausug, Ilongo, Pampangueño, etc.) that were never one, never united as a compact nation. The scattered Malay/Austronesian tribes in this archipelago which we now call our own before the Spaniards came never aspired into uniting with one another to become a much bigger nation because each tribe already thought of itself as a nation. To a pre-Filipino Bicolano’s mind, why should they unite with the pre-Filipino Cebuanos just to become another nation?

This they never thought of. And it took a foreign power for us to realize this Filipinization that we treasure to this very day.

This is the importance of reassessing our nation’s history. I always claim that ours is perhaps the most unique in the world because it is so mangled, so distorted. We continuously badmouth the nation (Spain) who virtually created us, complaining all the time that they “raped and destroyed our culture” even though we use cuchara and tenedor during meals while eating adobo or any guisado-based dishes, look at the calendario everyday, check out the time with our relój, say para to the jeepney driver, celebrate the Holiday Seasons, plan to visit Spanish Vigan to see the fantastic houses there, etc. But why continue this baseless, foolish, and counterproductive hatred? The Spaniards are no longer here. And we continuously deny the strong fact that without Spain, the concept of what a Filipino truly is as we know it today would have never existed. And by attacking our Spanish past, we are only harming ourselves, not Spain.

Rather than focus on personages, dates, and places, Philippine History teachers should focus more on the process of Filipinization. The word “history” comes from the greek verb historeo which means to “learn by inquiry”. So that is what teachers of Philippine History should do: inculcate into the minds of their students to inquire about the past, their past. History should not be about memorization of dates, places, events, names, etc. History is not a memorization contest. Although it is understandbale that, as much as possible, we should just leave historical facts to speak for themselves, it could not be feasible if our educators themselves continue to condition the minds of our young students into hating a past that should not be hated at all. In our particular situation, we all must learn how to reassess and inquire about the process of Filipinization. Why? Because of this so-called crisis of national identity which many scholars today erroneously claim we have.

As I have argued before, our national identity never left us. It has been with us all this time. A systematic false teaching of Philippine History just made us think that we do not have one.

“Ang hindí marunong lumiñgón sa pinangaliñgan ay hindí macacaratíng sa paróroonan”, says an old Tagalog proverb. But how can we move forward, how will we be able to determine where we are going if we do not know where we have come from? We always look into a mythical pre-Hispanic past, yearn for it, but that era of our lives was never us. It was only the catalyst to Hispanization which was really Filipinization. And this process gave birth to who and what we are today. The “pre-Hispanic Filipino” was never us. We have to calmly accept that fact, the way we have to accept natural disasters as part of our reality.

Más mabuti siguro tayo ñgayón cung hindí tayo sinacop ng mğa Kastilà. This is a very defeatist observation that has been prevailing for about a century already, for it has no basis most especially if we are to review our country’s economic history. Why aspire of “reverting” to a pre-Filipino past that never was?

The Philippines is such an ungrateful nation. We deserve to be poor. Thus, for all the unfounded badmouthing that we have thrown against her, we owe mother Spain an apology, and not the other way around.

It is time that we Filipinos should go back to our roots. Our real roots. That way, we will be able to steer the course of our national destiny.

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