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Pananaw Magazine, the magazine that never was

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Special pre-launch issue of Pananaw Magazine (December 2010).

When netrepreneur and writer extraordinaire JB Lazarte contacted me late last year for a magazine gig, I was so excited and overwhelmed. Finally, the realization that I might just accomplish all of Cuban hero José Martí’s three-fold mission of what a man ought to do in his life was to become a reality: to “plant a tree, write a book, have a son”. I haven’t fed Mother Earth any seedling yet, but that would be too easy, anyway. And I already have three sons. So probably the most difficult to accomplish among Martí’s real-macho-man attributes is to publish a book.

I haven’t published a book yet. I was commissioned three years ago to co-write a biography of San Pedro, La Laguna’s town mayor (a family friend), but it’s still in developmental hell (and since the good mayor is very busy working for the town’s cityhood, and my writing partner has lost all interest, his biography might not get published anymore). But to write for a magazine is the closest to publishing a book as one could get.

As they say in the world of writing, “publish or perish”.

Blogging today is the in thing. But even in a world that is ever dominated by the Internet, nothing can topple the worth and value and weight and authenticity and command that the contents of a physical book can hold. Thus this ache of getting published. The last time I was published was back in college. But those were verses that were published in our school journal. Seeing one’s writings published in a book or, for this matter, on a national daily or magazine beats all that.

It’s not just the feeling of being known that bites me, or of becoming famous even. It’s this ache of wanting others to know that you do exist, and for some lofty reason.

So back to my story. JB Lazarte is a multi-awarded writer. And he has more contacts to whatever writing gigs there are available for a craving and trying-hard scribbler like me. He contacted me late last year to contribute for a magazine of which he will become one of its editors (the other editor is Palanca awardee Omer Oscar Almenario).

The magazine’s name is Pananaw (Opinyon ng Bayan) published by the “Makabagong Pananaw Foundation, Inc.”, a group allied to the present administration. JB The Magus found my travels published in this blog cute. So he thought that such articles were a good addition to the magazine. Pananaw was also meant to promote agribusiness in the Philippines.

Editorial box with a list of the board of directors of Makabagong Pananaw Foundation, Inc. as well as the magazine's editorial staff.

The first article I’ve contributed was my coverage of the Día del Galeón last year, 6 October 2010. It was published in Pananaw’s special pre-launch issue last December and was chosen as its feature article!

Here it is!

Pepe Alas

To see a Spanish-era galleon ship docked in Manila Harbor’s Pier 13 amidst modern steel ships is not just surreal — it is downright weird (one could not help but be reminded of Walt Disney Picture’s The Pirates of the Carribean film series). And that weird feeling was what exactly my wife and I felt that hot afternoon of 6 October when we visited the visiting Galeón Andalucía! The coming of the said galleon was actually the highlight of the recently concluded Día del Galeón celebration.

No, Andalucía was not a galleon straight out of the past, preserved and renovated. It was only a replica of what a typical 17th century galleon used to look like during the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade (1565-1815). But the Andalucía holds the distinction of being the only actual replica of a Spanish galleon that has ever been built in modern times.

According to Fernando Ziálcita, professor of Cultural Anthropology in Ateneo de Manila University and one of the organizers of the said event, it was Spanish historian Pedro Luengo who informed him last year of the Andalucía’s planned voyage from Seville to Shanghai, China. Professor Ziálcita thought that as the Philippines was the focal point of the Galleon Trade, the said ship should naturally have a stop-over in Manila. Earlier this year (February), Prof. Ziálcita and other concerned individuals had a meeting with the Philippine Academic Consortium for Latin American Studies in Cavite City. Mr. César Virata, former Prime Minister during Ferdinand Marcos’ regime and is now the president of the Cavite Historical Society, was present in the said meeting. He expressed interest in sponsoring an event that will feature the coming of the Andalucía Galleon.

The galleon trade may have a soft spot in Mr. Virata’s heart: aside from Manila Bay, (and occasionally Puerto Galera in Mindoro island), Cavite City used to be a port and construction site for the galleons.

But what really made things official was when Prof. Ziálcita proposed to the national government to sponsor the said event. They were very excited, he said. Thus, through the assistance and efforts of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts and Senator Edgardo Angara, a hispanista, the event was made possible. So this past June, the government launched initiatives to celebrate the first international Día del Galeón Festival on 8 October. No less than the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) declared that the said date should be celebrated annually as the Day of the Galleon in commemoration of the Galleon Trade.

Although the event’s name is called Day of the Galleon, it was actually a month-long affair. The event’s official website ( lists down a schedule of various lectures, cultural showcases, stage plays, and other cultural showcases, stage plays, and other cultural programs related to the galleon trade. My wife and I were able to attend only one event: the day when the Galleon Andalucía —the main event— “returned” to our shores.

As we were on our way to Manila Bay that afternoon to welcome the galleon, I was briefing my wife about what the event —and the galleon trade— was all about in order for her to appreciate our visit. Admittedly, her knowledge of galleons and of the galleon trade was minimal as is the case, sadly, with many Filipinos today (an ex-office mate of mine even pronounced it as a “Galileo” ship, much to my annoyance). Yearly, Filipino students are given a few hours’ rehash of what had transpired during the galleon trade for more than two centuries; an important epoch not only in our country’s history but in world history as well.

It is never enough to say that the galleon trade was merely a part of Philippine History, nor should it be limited to the retelling of Spanish History in Asia and the Pacific. Such scenario would have been too trifle to say the least. Rather, the Manila-Acapulco galleon trade should stand side by side with “the glory that was Greece” and “the grandeur that was Rome”. It should have equal status to that of the Industrial Revolution or the epic telling of survival during the Age of Depression and other economic revolutions. This would be no exaggeration for, truly, the galleon trade literally turned the world into a global village.

To put in simpler terms, it was the world’s first foray into globalization. Scholars and historians agree today that, although the trade was “limited” between Manila and Acapulco, México, it was in fact global in scope. Good from major markets in Asia, such as China and India, traveled to Amoy and Canton where they were shipped to Manila. From Manila Bay (just across Intramuros, which was then the original Manila) and/or Puerto de Cavite (today’s Cavite City), Asian goods, such as silk, spices, jewels, chinaware, and ivory, traveled across the globe through the Pacific in a perilous journey towards the other side of the world. From there, these goods were both sold and traded for Mexican silver and other goods coming not just from all over the Americas but from Europe as well (which were shipped over from the Atlantic).

The journey indeed was perilous because sea navigation today was different from that era. Lacking modern equipment in maritime affairs, the trip from Manila, which usually began from July or August, could last for six months and a half. The galleons followed the North Equatorial Current that had been discovered by Fray Andrés de Urdaneta on his return trip to México. During that time, it was the only safest route back across the Pacific to México and the rest of the New World (they could not travel eastward due to the Treaty of Tordesillas). Indeed, Spain could not have colonized the Philippines without this oceanic current.

It should be emphasized that it was not a simple sea voyage; as mentioned earlier, maritime voyages were not as sophisticated compared to modern sea navigation. Countless sailors perished out of hunger, thirst, and illness during the galleon trade due to miscalculation in logistics and supplies. As such, mutinies were not uncommon. Also, many a galleon ship perished in ferocious typhoons. Other galleons even met a more tragic fate — they were captured by vicious English buccaneers. Four of them were taken: Santa Ana in 1587; Encarnación in 1709; Covadonga in 1743, and; Santíssima Trinidad —the largest ship during that era— in 1762. Due to poor navigation, some were lost at sea, never to be seen again. Other galleons sank due to overloaded cargoes.

The return trip to Manila was as equally perilous as the voyage to México, but it was shorter: the galleons left Acapulco either in February of March and reached Manila in more or less 90 days. The return trip passed south of the North Equatorial Current, docking briefly in what is now known as the Marshall Islands and Guam.

The Galleon Trade allowed the participation of all Filipinos. An individual or organization must have a boleta (ticket) in order to engage business in the Trans-Pacific trade. The cargo space of a galleon was usually divided into 4,000 units. Each unit was represented by the said boleta. Thus, if the individual has, say, five boletas, he could ship an amount of merchandise to fill five units of cargo space. The government, however, had the privilege of owning over a thousand units (other groups who share such privileges are church leaders and businessmen). However, some individuals would choose to sell their boletas to wealthy businessmen for a higher fee (they were the precursors of today’s scalpers outside the Araneta Coliseum).

The galleon trade was truly epochal for Philippine existence. Through it, our country received different kinds of crops such as camote, sincamás, tomate (tomato), cacahuete or manî, lechugas, corn, avocado, pineapple, tobacco, and countless others. Virtually all the vegetables mentioned in the popular Tagalog folk song “Bahay Kubo” were brought over by the galleons from México and nearby Asian countries. Thus, we could be singing a different version of “Bahay Kubo” today without the galleon trade!

The said trade also gave the Filipinos the piano, the guitar, the violin, the cubiertos (fork, spoon, knives), plates, drinking glasses, cups and saucers; clock and calendar; various complex and simple machines, such as the printing press, the plow, the wheel, hammer and nails, books, pens, and other scholarly materials, etc.

It was not just inanimate things and tools that the galleons brought to our country. They also gave us livestock such as cattle and horses and poultry. Farming techniques written in various papers and books were also brought by these ships. The idea of arts and architecture were not excluded. Friars from various religious orders sailed through the galleons. Also, various laws and edicts and royal letters, as well as the occasional monetary assistance from the Spanish monarch were channeled through these enterprising ships.

The provinces of Lanáo del Norte and Lanáo del Sur in Mindanáo, by the way, were named after these galleons (la nao is another Spanish term for el Galeón).

There was also an exchange of peoples. Some Mexicans who joined the voyage to the Philippines never returned to their native land, and vice-versa. Therefore, sans the Clavería decree of 1849, there are Filipinos today who have Mexican last names such as Aguilar, Álvarez, Carrillo, Cruz, Flores, Guerrero, López, Pérez, del Río, Santibáñez, etc. And here is a shocking fact: there is a 200-year-old clan in México whose surname is Magandá which is the Tagalog word for beautiful!

The cultural exchanges that occurred between the Philippines and México were quite enormous; I might even end up in weeks enumerating everything. But it is safe to conclude that the galleon trade virtually created the Philippines. And almost everything that we Filipinos savor up to this very day we have to thank the galleon trade for. These facts my wife, who is not a history buff like me, discovered on her own during that 6 October visit to the galleon ship because, happily, one of Pier 13′s multi-purpose halls was converted into a temporary waiting area where visitors were able to view various exhibits, murals, and very helpful information and lectures about the Galleon Trade. It helped her and other visitors to the Andalucía to at least have a clearer idea of how the trade went about during those truly gaudy days of Spain in the Philippines, aside from the cultural gifts that we received.

As we stepped on board the Andalucía (it was named by the way after the place where it was constructed: Andalusia, Spain) together with a noisy crowd, I tried to imagine how the sailors fared a long time ago. Observing the Andalucía’s
middle deck, it was indeed amazing how some 4,000 units of cargo space could have fitted there, aside from the provisions for the sailors and the sailors themselves. Looking at the modern ships around the galleon, Andalucía seemed smaller and looked quite fragile. It’s made entirely of hardwood, a clear indication of the ship’s faithfulness to the original galleons.

Also, as I was looking down on the murky waters of Manila Bay softly lapping at the ship’s bow and stern, a stark realization dawned upon me: the last galleon that arrived in the Philippines was in 1815 (fortuitously, it was named Magallanes). That means it has been 195 years since a galleon last visited our shores!

Welcome back!

Those who were able to enjoy and fathom the Andalucía experience will never look at the galleon trade the same way again.

The pre-launch issue never made it to the newsstands. It was distributed only to selected government offices. The first issue was supposed to be on sale last January of this year (where I wrote a short essay about the importance of agribusiness). I also solicited a brief article from leading economist Dr. Bernardo M. Villegas for an economic forecast of the Philippines for the year 2010.

But the publication of Pananaw kept on stalling due to problems unknown to me. Like that biography I’m working on, it appears that Pananaw is still in developmental hell. And it’s almost a year since the pre-launch issue.

Sometimes I am tempted to believe a relative of mine who belittled me several years ago. Hinahabol yata talagá acó ng malas, ¡hahaha! :D

So I thought it wise to publish online what I wrote for that magazine. Because I am confident that whoever received a copy of it, nobody read my galleon trade article. Sayang namán. At least here in FILIPINO eSCRIBBLES, I have a fanbase…

About three or four bored souls.

Without the Galleon Trade, there would have been NO Bahay Kubo

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♫ Bahay kubo, kahit munti
Ang halaman doon ay sari-sari.
Singkamas at talong, sigarilyas at mani
Sitaw, bataw, patani.
Kundol, patola, upo’t kalabasa
At saka mayroon pang labanos, mustasa,
sibuyas, kamatis, bawang at luya
sa paligid-ligid ay puro linga. ♪

Did you know that the Manila-Acapulco Galleon Trade (1565-1815) virtually introduced all these vegetables into Philippine soil?! Therefore, without the Galleon Trade, there would have been no ♫ bahay cubo, cahit muntî… ♪. And worse, our Filipino diet today would have been found severely wanting.

The above stunner is just but one of the Galleon Trade’s countless blessings to our country! And because of these blessings, the Philippines was created, was given life, was given identity. The Philippines was given POWER. It was at the very center of the world’s first foray into globalization.

“How can anybody bad-mouth a medium that brought us such bounty?” (Nick Joaquín)


After almost 200 hundred years, a galleon ship docked on our shores once again! Behind us is the galleon ship Andalucía which arrived at Pier 13, Port of Manila (10/06/2010).

A local yet global style

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The following article was written by a contertulio of mine (in Círculo Hispano-Filipino), the erudite scholar Fernando Ziálcita y Nákpil.

He is a professor of Cultural Anthropology at the Ateneo de Manila University and is also the director of the Cultural Heritage Program of the said school. Professor Ziálcita has written several articles and books, namely Notions Of Justice: A Study Of An Ilocos And A Bulacán Barangay, Nick Joaquín: a portrait of the existentialist as Filipino, and Philippine ancestral houses (1810-1930). He specializes in the encounter between indigenous culture and Spanish influence.

This article, A Local Yet Global Style, was first published in the book Endangered: Fil-Hispanic Architecture which is actually a compilation of selected papers which were presented at the 1st International Congress on Fil-Hispanic Architecture that was held in Manila (27-29 November 2002). The book was published by the Instituto Cervantes de Manila five years ago.

Remember that “architecture is another form of language” (Guillermo Gómez Rivera).

The author, Fernando Ziálcita y Nákpil (third from right), with members of the Círculo Hispano-Filipino (from left to right): José Ramón Perdigón, Alberto Hernández Miño, Guillermo Gómez, Ziálcita, Atty. Cirilo Lubatón, and me.

Fernando Ziálcita

During the 16th-19th centuries, new architectural styles using timber and stones emerged in Luzón, Visayas, and Northern Mindanáo. My interest centers on what I call the “Wood-and-Stone style” of urban dwellings. I have tried to show that it should be called “Filipino” rather than either “Spanish” or Antillean (Ziálcita 1980; 1997; 1997B). There is more public interest in these structures at present than there was previously. Still, a number of architects continue to deny that there is any Filipino architecture other than the bahay kubo (the farmer’s house-on-stilts). One who has built many mansions for the rich has commented that these houses and churches, shown in a traveling exhibit organized in 2000 by the National Commission for Culture and the Arts to draw attention to Filipino architectural heritage, were “colonial impositions”.

In this article, I would like to point out the following:

• It is important to distinguish between types of nationalist discourses.
• To appreciate the complexity of the Filipino’s architectural heritage, we need a dialectical rather than a reductionist discourse.
• When viewed properly, the Wood-and-Stone style is both a unique local product and a product with multiple international connections.

Assimilation versus Exclusion

Nationalism is a discourse that crystallized during the 1789 French Revolution. It proposes that members of a large extended group “imagine” themselves as a sovereign, political “community” that transcends ethnic, religious, and class divisions because of a shared history, heritage, and mission (Anderson 1983). Nationalism thus excludes outsiders even as it defines criteria for membership. But who are the members? And what is the heritage that unites them? I distinguish between two types of nationalism. The first I call “reductionist”; the second, “dialectical” nationalism.

Reductionist nationalism uses “race” as the criterion for membership and “indigenous culture” as the substance of the shared heritage. It assumes that race, an inherited set of biological characteristics, determines how you think and feel. If you do not look like the majority, or if you are not of the same “race” as them, then you cannot share their feelings. This nationalism also yearns for a mythical past that was supposedly more authentic because it was truly “indigenous” — that is, it had no foreign admixture. Its static perspective has no room for mutually transformative encounters between cultures. It thus ignores what 20th century anthropologists say, namely: 1) that no empirical data can support the notion that race shapes ability, 2) that racism fosters the persecution of minorities, and 3) that culture, being a set of symbols, values, and practices that is socially learned, is therefore permeable and changeable.

In contrast, dialectical nationalism believes that feelings transcend race. By joining a community and imbibing its ideals, you become loyal to it. Sympathy has nothing to do with looking like the majority. Dialectical nationalism can thus regard as local what was once imported: 1) if it has been assimilated to local symbols, values, and practices, or 2) if it has a positive contribution to the local. A dialectical view sees the world as consisting of forces that may oppose each other at particular points in time and space, but may also modify each other and fuse into one.

German nationalism of the late 19th century down to 1945 was reductionist. Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803) extolled the Volksgeist and the need to build institutions that emanated from it. Every people (Volk) have their own ethos (Geist) which is manifest in its language, literature, and law. A people should think and act according to its Geist, for it is unnatural to ape foreign fashions (Ergang 1966: 100-1). Herder inspired nationalists all over the world, like our own Rizal and Isabelo de los Reyes, to study popular songs, dances, architecture as manifestations of the folk’s lore. His “Volksgeist” anticipated the notion of “culture” that British anthropologists would popularize in its present form, starting in the last decade of the 19th century. However, according to Wolfgang Welsch (1995: 195), Herder’s notion has serious deficiencies. It ignores the fact that modern societies are multicultural. Moreover, its insistence on purity leads to political conflicts and wars. Carriers of a Volksgeist are supposed to experience “insensibility, coldness, blindness” and even “contempt and disgust” towards outsiders.

Meanwhile, during the late 19th century, another development took place. Since the Germans lived in many small states that were independent of each other, German nationalists argued for blood as the determinant of nationality. Anyone of German ancestry, regardless of residence, was German. This included even those who had migrated to other Eastern European countries centuries ago. In the 1930s, the Nazis equated Germanness with belonging to the “Aryan race”. Nazi policies were junked after their defeat; contemporary Germany is an open and tolerant society. But even today, migrants, who are born in and educated in Germany, face hurdles in applying for citizenship if their parents are non-Germans (Brubaker 1992: 75 ff.).

In contrast, French nationalism has generally been dialectical and assimilationist. Being French has more to do with sensibility than with genes or skin color. To be French is to embrace the ideals of the 1789 Revolution (Brubaker 1992: 35 ff.). Thus the French call their patrie a “Terre d’asile” — a land that shelters all migrants who believe in liberty, equality, and fraternity. To be French is also to appreciate the achievements of French civilization. French citizenship is thus open to Africans, Indians, Caribbeans, Indochinese, or anyone who participates in French culture.

Moreover, anything created on French soil that either contributes to France’s glory or carries the imprint of the French sensibility is French, even if the creator is a foreigner by birth. The 20th century Ecole de Paris, which invented modern painting and sculpture, was the creation of Frenchmen (Matisse, Braque, Leger), Spaniards (Gris, Picasso, Miró), Russians (Chagall), Germans (Hartung), Italians (Modigliani), Romanians (Brancusi), and others living and working in Paris. These non-Frenchmen are often classified as “French” by French authors. A work of art can be French yet cosmopolitan. French identity is thus not something determined once and for all by race and ethnicity. Writing on the diversity and conflicts between French regions, Braudel (1986: 94) says that “France” had to be “invented”. We can infer that, for it to remain flexible and open, it must be reinvented today.

Mexicanness is likewise a sensibility that is the product of tradition rather than biology. During the 20th century, following the 1910 revolution, which was both economic and spiritual, Mexicans came to appreciate the diversity of their traditions. While they affirmed their once-despised Amerindian tradition (Olmec, Zapotec, Aztec, and Maya), they also claimed that the Spanish tradition constituted an integral part of their culture. Likewise the Afro-American. The magic word was “mestizaje” or the fusion of cultures (Fuentes 1992). Thus “baroque” in Mexico is Mexican rather than Spanish.

How should we characterize the discourse of Filipino nationalism? Is it reductionist or dialectical? I believe it is in-between. On the one hand, textbooks and the press say that Filipino culture is diverse. It has “Malay, Chinese, Japanese, Spanish, Arabic, and American influences”. Our folk dance troupes showcase the diversity of the archipelago’s dance traditions in each performance. Nick Joaquín, in his novels and essays, has shown how to approach history as a process that assimilates the diverse influences, especially the Hispanic, upon the Filipino (1989). On the other hand, however, the educated casually talk of either a “Filipino race” or a “Malay race”. For instance, in preparation for the second millennium AD, the Philippine Daily Inquirer ran a daily series of short articles on its front-page on the achievements of the “Filipino race”. From anthropology’s perspective, the better term would have been “Filipino culture”, for values and world-views are acquired by anybody who commits himself to a group. But physical characteristics, such as skin and hair color, are inherited genetically. Moreover, “Filipino race” would exclude Negritos, Chinese, and Euroamericans who consider themselves Filipinos. Unfortunately, anthropology’s clarifications about “race” are ignored by the current discourse.

The permanent exhibit on the Filipino people at the National Museum has a wonderful English title, “History of the Filipino People”. But the Tagalog translation is an unacceptable “Kasaysayan ng Lahì” (History of the Race). Ignored likewise by many nationalists is anthropology’s concept of “culture” as a permeable, changeable set of symbols, values, and practices. I have heard many educated Filipinos characterize Filipino achievements in cookery, dances, and sculpture as “bastardized/mongrel/derivative/imitative”. They imagine that a culture has to be “pure” and free of outside influences in order for it to be respectable.

Renato Constantino exerted much influence on the nationalism of the 1970s to the present. While he does not idealize pre-Hispanic culture, he has nothing positive to say either about Hispanized Filipino culture. He characterizes both the masses and the elite during the Spanish period as suffering from a “relative ignorance” brought about by the colonizer’s values (Constantino 1978:52-54). Those reading him must therefore conclude that Spanish influence in any form is cause for embarrassment.

A preoccupation with race stumbles when confronted with figures like Fr. José Burgos. Born of a Spanish lieutenant and of a mestiza from Vigan, Burgos spearheaded the Filipino clergy’s demands for equal treatment with Peninsular priests (Villaroel 1971). His execution in 1871, together with Frs. Gómez and Zamora, shocked the public into discovering that they were being oppressed by peninsular interests. But the highly influential historian Teodoro Agoncillo wondered if Burgos, because of his ancestry, can be called “Filipino” (Nolasco n.d.:2). On the other hand, Marilou Díaz-Abaya, in her film on Rizal, depicted Burgos as a brown-skinned Indio. In effect, nationalism became skin-color.

I sympathize with the concerns of Filipino nationalists. The Philippines is indeed a society that continues to be colonized by outside forces. Moreover, it is highly stratified with widespread poverty. But, as I have shown (Ziálcita 2000), exploitation and stratification antedate the Spanish conquest. Our national honor is not diminished by admitting that the Spaniards did positive things like eliminating slave raiding for sacrifice. Also, there are two things to consider: 1) The Philippines is a multi-ethnic society. Many Filipinos, especially in the major cities, are descendants of foreign migrants, some of whom sacrificed much on behalf of the Philippines (Nolasco 1970-71:178 ff.). Surely, they are no less Filipino than the purely indigenous; 2) Our country has to assert its presence in the world forum, and attract more interest in its culture and its products. To respond to both, we need a nationalism that can deal with complexity and multiple connections.

Filipino Modern

The Philippine has diversified its exports by selling high-quality furniture and home accessories. Designers like Ched Berenguer-Topacio, Budji Láyug, Jeanne Goulborn, Kenneth Cobonpue, and others have projected contemporary Filipino design internationally. But what is “Filipino modern”? Why has it attracted rave reviews and orders? If we examine their best sellers carefully, we shall see that some combine the indigenous with imported traditions.

For instance, a fashionable chair pioneered in by Filipino designers combines an exposed metal frame with rattan weaves that form a seat and a backrest. Sometimes the metal frame evokes a boxy armchair; at other times a curvaceous lounging chair. Always, however, the textured rattan weaves give these chairs a relaxed tropical feel. Two traditions meet in these chairs: the indigenous, which skillfully manipulates rattan for basketry, and the Spanish, which makes wrought iron furniture and lamps. The Spanish baroque tradition also shows in the generous S-curves of some of these chairs. Or, consider another example: wall hangings and shades. Filipino wall hangings made of silk have a translucent quality that evokes the Japanese, which currently is the vogue. At the same time, they have playfully inserted pieces of bamboo and rattan, for added texture. Filipino modern reinterprets international styles using skills and preferences inherited from once-foreign but localized cultural traditions.

Together with Alice Reyes and Paulo Alcazaren, I worked on a book on the best of the contemporary Filipino house designs (Reyes 2000). The staff of the Singapore-based publishing firm that produced the book was enthused by the varied forms exhibited in contemporary Filipino architecture. While some villas had strong affinities with Italian-Spanish-Mexican houses, others had rooms that, because of their shell-paned panels, recalled Japanese interiors. Other villas, though modern, had a more indigenous feel because of their imaginative local materials. As a whole, regardless of their stylistic orientation, the various houses had a common denominator: interior spaces dialogued with the surrounding gardens.

A reductionist approach accepts only the “indigenous” as Filipino. This cripples the Filipino’s options in a competitive global market. In contrast, a dialectical approach appreciates the variety of both our contemporary designs and our 18th-early 20th-century urban houses, because it looks at history as a process.

Distinct yet many-sided

I have discussed the history of the Wood-and-Stone House (Bahay na bató at cahoy) in previous writings. Rather than repeat this, I would like to highlight particular points in order to show how the style is both local and global.

1. The indigenous style of architecture prevailing in the 16th century Luzón and Visayas was suited to a rural but not to an urban environment. The indigenous dwelling was essentially a frame construction where the heavy roofwork was supported not by the walls, which were either of timber planks or of bamboo sidings, but by many wooden pillars dug deeply into the ground. This type of structure thus merely swayed during an earthquake. The floor was elevated above the ground as protection against floods and insects. The steeply pitched roof made of thatch shook off the heavy downpour and allowed hot tropical air to circulate upwards.

But this style had a disadvantage when used in an urban environment where buildings press against each other. Its materials were flammable. The first Spanish Manila, whose cathedrals and dwellings were built of bamboo and thatch, was consumed by an accidental fire in 1583. This prompted a shift to construction in stone, using the deposits of volcanic tuff (locally called “adobe”) that were newly discovered in Macati along the Pásig River.

Similar shifts had occurred earlier among other Southeast Asian peoples. Bas-reliefs I have seen on the temples of Prambanan (9th century), in Central Java, depict houses-on-stilts. However, during the heyday of the Majapahit Empire in the 13th-14th centuries, the Central Javanese shifted to all-brick dwellings resting directly on brick platforms (Schoppert 1997: 32-34). This continues to be the norm today in that region which is Indonesia’s cultural heartland.

The famous bronze drums of Dong-son from Vietnam (5th century AD) likewise reveal longhouses-on-stilts with steeply pitched roofs, which are still common today among the upland peoples of Vietnam. But the Chinese, who incorporated what is now Northern Vietnam into their empire from the first century BC to the 10th century AD, brought in houses whose plastered brick walls stood on stone platforms a few meters above the ground (Bezacier 1955; Taylor 1983). These one-story, tile roofed dwellings of brick continue to be the norm both in rural villages and in the town centers of Vietnam.

I mention these shifts because many Filipinos reduce Filipino architecture to the house-on-stilts; they do not accept subsequent developments as relevant. Also, they reject Spanish-influenced architecture as an obstacle to an Asian identity. They believe the house-on-stilts to be more Southeast Asian, being more indigenous. The truth is that some of our neighbors long ago shifted to more durable houses, partly in response to urban environments with limited land.

2. Spanish architectural styles, which are many and varied, may have been suited to an urban environment, but not necessarily to a tropical, earthquake-racked environment. Spanish urban styles are the product of a long process reaching back to at least 1000 BC, to Celtiberian towns and urban settlements established by Phoenician and Greek colonists on Spain’s Mediterranean seaboard. With their thick walls of cut stone or brick, and their roof of tile, these dwellings protected against fire. Their rigidity posed no threat in a land where earthquakes were uncommon. Their relatively small windows gave better insulation against cold.

However, these advantages failed them in the Philippines. In 1630, the Augustinian Juan de Medina ([1630] 1903-1909: 242) remarked that Manila was cooler and healthier when the buildings were made of wood, rather than stone, for this allowed the wind to blow through.

3. In 1645, 1658, and 1677, severe earthquakes collapsed Manila’s tall stone dwellings. Following these earthquakes, two contrasting traditions —the Spanish and the indigenous— fused into a major synthesis. A wooden framework to carry the trusses and rafters of the roofwork extended all the way to the ground. Thick stone walls tended to be confined to the first floor, though brick walls were used in the second story for some partitions. Wooden curtain walls enveloped the second story. But these were opened up by an ensemble of three windows. On the exterior transom was an immovable opening (espejo) covered with shell panes. Between the windowsill and the floor sill was another window: the ventanilla, which was protected by a screen or either wooden balusters or a metal grille and by sliding wooden panels.

This Wood-and-Stone style was called arquitectura mestiza by the end of the 17th century, not because it was for mestizos, but because of its mixture of wood and stone (Alcina [1668] 1980). Mestizo, like the English word “mixed”, comes from the Latin word “mixtus”. The new style was one major response to Philippine conditions. However, it is not the only possible response.

Ilocos, particularly Vigan, developed a house, starting probably in the 1970s, that used brick on both stories (Ziálcita 1997A) but had no wooden framework (Manalo 2003). Most likely this was in response to the fire that struck the city in the late 18th century (King 2000). Despite the absence of a wooden framework, the Ilocano All-Brick-House-with-Pilasters has survived the earthquakes that have struck the coast over the past two centuries. During the 20th century, new technologies, such as the embedding metal frameworks in concrete, entered the Philippines. These have opened new possibilities for urban constructions.

When I speak of the Wood-and-Stone house as “Filipino”, I claim that it was a reasonable response at a point in time, given the knowledge and skills then available, to a particular set of environmental challenges that remain with us. Surely it is not the only possible Filipino style. I like the French and the Mexicans as well. I prefer to dwell on their positive contribution to our culture, rather on how indigenous their makers were.

4. Components of the Wood-and-Stone house connect it to other traditions in particular countries. This opens intercultural bridges that should help us when projecting our country.

The house on stilts was widespread among Austronesians (the peoples of Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines; some upland peoples in Vietnam like the Jarai), Austroasiatics (Cambodians and most Vietnamese), and the Thais before the entry of Chinese, Indian, Arabic, and Western influences. The irony is that the Wood-and-Stone house of Hispanized Luzón and Visayas exhibits greater continuity with this millennial Southeast Asian tradition than do the one story stone dwellings of Lowland Vietnam, post-Chinese conquest, or of Central Java, post-Majapahit.

The Wood-and-Stone style likewise connects with the several versions of the longhouse that continue to be built in Borneo as houses-on-stilts. A Sundanese graduate of mine from West Java, Budi Gunawan, made a highly significant remark before a print of a 19th century Tagalog Wood-and-Stone house. “It looks like a Bornean longhouse,” he said. The house had a tile roof, it was horizontal in orientation with sliding shell windows, and had a cantilevered wooden second story over a stone first story. I thought he might have been referring to the pronounced horizontal orientation of the Wood-and-Stone house and its use of the second story as opposed to the preference by both Sundanese and Central Javanese for one-story stucco brick dwellings.

But a visit to the Dayak country in the Four Lakes District of Eastern Borneo clarified what he meant. During that visit, another Indonesian student, Martinus Nanang, and myself went to a longhouse that was still in use. The main entrance was on the long side: a log with notches led to a verandah with a series of wooden arches and fretwork. Here was the main door. The two-story house was on stilts with wooden boards for both stories. The roof was of wooden shingles. The house’s ambience was not Javanese. Save for the notched log, the house exterior evoked 19th-century Visayan plantation mansions.

A common feature of houses in the Arabian peninsula, Iraq, and Western India is the screened wooden balcony. The Arabs call it mashrabiyya, also rowshan this three-meter-high balcony is supported by wooden consoles embedded into stone walls protruding 60 cm from the building. It has its own roof; its roof line is decorated with entablature. This balcony protects the occupants’ privacy while permitting the air to circulate through the adjoining room through grilles (Earls 1997A, Earls 1997B, Earls 1997C). The Arabs brought it to Spain where it acquired the ajimez, two windows that share a common column in-between.

The screened wooden balcony acquired a different configuration in the various localities that adopted it in the Hispanic World. According to the Spanish art historian Dorta (1973:403), the screened balcony’s evolution attained its final stage in the galería volada (jutting gallery) of the Filipino house of the Spanish period. It was neither open as in the Caribbean, not closed with lattices as in Lima. Instead, it was enclosed with shell-paned window panels.

The galería volada connects the Philippines not only with Spain and with Spanish America, but likewise with the Near East and India. This hanging gallery became commonplace in Manila by the last decade of the 17th century (Ziálcita and Tinio 1980: 8, 244 ff.). A topic for research should be the routes by which this gallery reached the Philippines. Was it only via Mexico? Or also via Indian merchants who came here during the Galleon Trade?

A particular house type that developed in Java during the Dutch period was the Rumah Gedong. This literally means the “office house”, perhaps because it was originally associated with offices. Unlike the conventional Javanese house, it has two stories: stone below, wood above. It recalls our Wood-and-Stone house except that the windows are different. As is the case throughout Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand, the wooden shutters that protect the windows hang from the façade like wings. They open outwards. The window itself is a vertical opening that extends from lintel to the floor and has a protective wooden railing and balusters. It looks like a modified French window.

The Rumah Gedong is widespread in South Sumatran villages near Palembang. Is there any connection between them and our own Wood-and-Stone houses? I do not think the Rumah Gedong influenced the development of the Wood-and-Stone house in 17th-century Manila. Based on existing documents available, the phases in the emergence of the latter do not suggest influences coming from Java. Could it be that the Rumah Gedong may have been influenced by our Wood-and-Stone house? This deserves investigation.

I mention these similarities between our 17th-19th century house and the Rumah Gedong to underline once more that what may seem so “Spanish” and so alien to Southeast Asian converges in fact with parallel developments in the region. Outside Palembang, I did see bamboo-and-thatch houses-on-stilts scattered among the fields. But in towns and even the tiny village where I stayed, the preference was for solid materials which, in the South Sumatran case, meant using stone below and wood above, with a roof of flat tiles.

Finally, there is Chinese-Japanese influence. There were only a few Chinese in Tondo when the Spaniards came in 1570. Their numbers soared to 8,000 by 1600 because the Galleon Trade exchanged Chinese silks and porcelains for highly coveted Mexican silver coins (Scott 1977: 207). Among the Chinese who settled in Manila were artisans. The Galleon Trade also attracted the Japanese who came in, though in smaller numbers.

While Chinese migration has been continuous to the present time, Japanese migration ended in 1624 after the shogun limited foreign contacts (Hedinger 1977). However, after the opening of Japan to world trade in the 19th century, the Japanese began coming again as migrants. Among them were carpenters.

In some Wood-and-Stone houses, the roof’s corner eaves curl upwards. An example is the Constantino house in Balagtás (Bigaá), Bulacán. But the more substantive Chinese-Japanese contribution may be in the framework and the openings. Both Chinese and Japanese use a wooden framework to carry the roof. The Chinese combine this with non-load bearing brick walls (Knapp 1990: 37). The Japanese raise all-wood walls (Yoshida 1954). Moreover, both of them like to expose their beams and pillars, including twisted ones.

While this was also the case in indigenous Filipino tradition, this practice’s persistence in the Wood-and-Stone style may have been encouraged by Chinese-Japanese builders. The use of translucent material as windowpanes may have come in from these northerners that paste rice paper on window frames. In the Philippines, the flat shell of the cápiz, abundant in shallow waters, substituted for paper. Filipino wooden frames use a plain checkerboard pattern. A similar window pattern is universal in Japan, and in some areas in Southeastern China.

The Japanese signature is evident too in that Filipino window panels slide in a sill whereas in China, they push out. Because of these translucent panes, Filipino interiors have a parchment-like glow, which Japanese visitors say recall their own. During the late 19th century, the transforms in the interior partitions were opened with tracery, which permitted more light and air to circulate while providing decoration. These cutwork panels are found in Chinese and Japanese dwellings. Japanese called these ramma. They can feature either fine wooden latticework or a wooden panel with a variety of patterns (Yoshida 1954: 156).

In some Filipino houses, Chinese motifs, like the peony, are present. In others, like the Festejo house in Santa Lucía, Ilocos Sur, the interlocking diamond-shaped frames reveal a Japanese hand. In general, however, the motifs in these cutwork panels are inspired by the Filipino’s preferences, for instance lyres and flowers — poetry and romance. These cutwork panels, though with different motifs, are also found in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Perhaps originally Chinese and Japanese, they create another bridge between us and our neighbors.

The Galleon Trade (1565-1815) was the first trade network to encompass three continents: Asia, the Americas, and Europe. Aside from Chinese goods, products from all over Asia were purchased in Manila with coined Mexican siliver. Traders from other Asian countries came here, bringing ideas as well. For the French economic historian, Pierre Chanau (1960: 18), the Philippines was where cultural currents originating in the Atlantic and the Mediterranean and flowing in opposite directions met each other again, for the first time in world history. They also met currents from China and Southeast Asia. The Philippines is thus “the only true end-point of the world” (le seul vrai bout du monde).

The music scholar John Summers (1998: 208, 213) says that Manila’s musical life was truly cosmopolitan. In 1611, entries to a citywide poetry contest were in “Latin, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Basque, Castilian, Mexican, Tagalog, and Visayan”. Non-Spanish dances and Tagalog-speaking residents formed part of the festivities. If I am correct, the story of the hanging gallery further illustrates how globalization became a reality in Manila. The gallery may have come in from two directions, from Mexico and from India and Arabia. Here it met the Austronesian preference for constructing dwellings on piles and the Chinese-Japanese tradition of woodworking, and merged with them.

Local Yet Global

Filipinos find themselves in an international environment where, on the one hand, they are expected to affirm an artistic style that is uniquely theirs. On the other hand, they are expected to show commonalities with their Asian neighbors. We should be careful of discourses on identity that imprison. A more dialectical, rather than a reductionist, approach can better show how the initially foreign can become localized. Imported Spanish traditions in stone construction had to be modified to suit the unstable Philippine floor. A dialectical approach can also disclose paradoxes. Though influenced by a non-Southeast Asian tradition, Filipino houses retain continuities with the Southeast Asian house-on-stilts that traditional Vietnamese and Central Javanese houses do not.

Finally, a dialectical approach is more open to surprises in the empirical data. The cantilevered wooden second story of the Filipino house connects in fact with traditions of both East and West. Because of the Galleon Trade, 17th-century Manila became a meeting place for different cultural currents. The Philippines developed a distinct local, urban style, from the 17th-early 20th centuries, that resonates globally. It continues to do so, as shown by its current success in furniture and furnishings.


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