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For whom the bells toll: unity against government corruption

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A few days before last Friday, I saw this announcement on my Facebook timeline:

I haven’t been joining protest marches since my forgetful days as a young student activist. Truth to tell, I no longer believe in the power of mass protests, especially in our times when the powers-that-be are at their strongest. Anyway, I had half a mind attending the nationwide pealing of all church bells although our parish church is just a safe walking distance from our apartment. I thought of maybe just listen to the pealing of the bells from our balcony and utter a short prayer to help combat government abuse of the pork barrel.

Friday arrived and it was dark and drizzling, all the more reason to completely cancel my plans of witnessing the pealing of the bells. But for some inexplicable reason, something stirred me from my laziness to attend. So I took up my camera and told Yeyette that I had to cover the event, maybe take a short video of it then go home immediately.

Upon arrival at the church, the drizzle became all the more incessant. I looked up towards the bell tower, but saw nobody up there. I looked around for any sort of activity pertaining to the ringing of bells against government corruption.

Nada.

I went inside the church and saw only carpenters and stone masons (our church is currently under renovation). Perhaps there are people already in the campanario? I decided to have a look and see, introduce myself as a local blogger and one of Mayor Baby‘s writers (more on this in a future blogpost), and ask permission if I could record what they were about to do.

I’ve climbed up our bell tower numerous times already. It wasn’t easy this time because of a lot of construction materials being hoarded in there at the moment. Upon reaching the top of the bell tower, I was dismayed to find out that nobody was there. And it was less than five minutes till 1:00 PM.

Probably nobody in the parish office heard about this call for holy solidarity against a secular evil that is currently besetting the country. Or perhaps they already knew but they didn’t care at all? Really, I dunno.

I looked down towards the parish office. It was closed, and nobody seemed to come out towards the bell tower to ring its old Sunico bell. I harkened in the cold air, straining hard to listen if other nearby parishes were already ringing their respective bells — nothing but vehicular traffic noise. There was no more time to go down to the parish office and inquire. Using my initiative, I had no other recourse but to ring the bell myself.

It was my first time to ring a church bell, so pardon me if I was tolling it lightly. Besides, I was a bit nervous that the people overseeing the parish office might come out and climb angrily towards me. But then I already thought of a justifiable excuse that what I was doing was all over the news, and that they should update themselves once in a while. Surprisingly still, nobody went up to check. It’s either I was really tolling it lightly and they didn’t hear it, or maybe they did but they never cared at all.

I just tolled it for a few minutes, especially since it wasn’t safe for one’s ears to ring a church bell at a very close distance (stupid me, I should have pulled the rope connected to the bell which is right below the campanario).

Did the tolling of church bells against the pork barrel made any difference? Since I myself have already believed in the ineffectiveness of street protests against government iniquities, what difference does the harmless pealing of bells make? Not much. But I think the Church in this country needed to have a voice to speak out against the pork barrel scam. Just last August, news broke out that retired Monsignor Josefino S. Ramírez was renting a posh property owned by controversial Janet Lim de Nápoles for a whopping ₱280,000 a month, making everyone think where does he get all that cash. And even before that, there were already reports that some priests were in the payroll of Nápoles via her dubious company.

The CBCP commented on the issue, even releasing a strongly worded statement last September 5 against pork barrel misuse. But everybody, most particularly the very meek anti-Catholic kiddos in social media, were too busy condemning the priests in particular and (quite laughably) the Church in general. They were, indeed, having a field day.

The tolling of the bells, at least to my mind, was supposed to be another Church statement against thievery in the government. Last Friday’s church protest was more palpable. And if I may add: just in case those priests connected to Nápoles did err, it was just them, not the Church as a whole.

I just hope that if ever there will be another call for unity like this, there would really be a show of unity. Not to mention coordination. I’m trying hard to remember the last time that all the church bells in the entire archipelago were tolled; I couldn’t remember any event.

*******

On another note, ringing those bells myself made it all the more enjoyable as I already have a personal connection to the San Pedro Apóstol Church because that is where I was wed during last month’s Friday the 13th…

Oh shucks… the WEDDING!!! I haven’t even written anything about it yet here on this blog!

OK, up next: OUR FILIPINIANA WEDDING! Stay tuned, folks! :D

Palm Sunday 2010

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Today marks the beginning of this year’s Holy Week…

My daughter Krystal, with a palaspás in hand, is about to enter the church.

Click here for more photos and my Palm Sunday article (in Spanish)…

The importance of organized religion

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After much contemplation, I decided to heed Arnaldo‘s months-long advice and attended the Holy Mass for the first time (except last Valentine’s Day) in such a long time. I attended an afternoon English-language mass in nearby San Pedro Apóstol; humorously, the sermon was conducted in Tagalog (but that matter is for a future blogpost).

Anyway, I would like to reiterate that my haughty contempt for the Novus Ordo Missae still remains. Regrettably, there is nothing much I can do about it at the moment. And as I wait for the opportune time to act for the return of the Tridentine Mass –the mass of all time–, why should I not attend my Faith’s congregation anymore?

The above case is what I scribbled about in a previous blogpost. An online friend of mine, Roberto, a frequent visitor to this humble blog, wrote a comment there that oganized religion should not matter anymore as long as I have faith in Jesus. However, this has been the belief of many a deist and a few agnostics for many centuries. It is understandable that these kind of people are fed up with religious strife in all parts of the globe. That is why John Lennon fancied a peaceful world without organized religions in his celebrated song Imagine. Marcelo H. del Pilar et al. lived proudly as a deist for years in Spain. Young freethinkers guising themselves as intellectuals have decreed that organized religion and faith are but for desperate fools and ignoramuses.

But, by shunning religion from their lives, did they find true peace and contentment that everyone has been yearning for ages? No. For a brief period of time, I myself eschewed the idea of a god and an afterlife many years ago. Trust me, it was the gloomiest part of my existence.

People who believe in God but do not believe in religious groups are like spiritual orphans, believers of God but without direction because without a community. And the danger lies in the fact that uniquely individual concepts about God will only lead to further division instead of unity. Now, if they say that organized religions usually lead to religious discord, it is not the fault of religious organization’s fault per se. All organizations are made up of humans, and we know that humans are not perfect creatures corporally and mentally. As such, it is not unusual to find cracks or dents in a seemingly well-fortified organization. Such people are what we call fanatics or extremists, unmindful of dialogue but advocates of jingoism and war. Worse, some founders and leaders of religion tend to be warmongers themselves by writing pugnacious remarks and decrees against nonmembers.

Be that as it may, religious discord should not be made as an excuse not to affiliate one’s self into a certain congregation. Becoming a member of a certain religious group does not mean that a person has already downplayed spirituality. Religion and spirituality complement each other. One should take note that the word religion originated from the Latin infinitive verb religare which means “to bind together” or “to reconnect”. It is because religion is what “binds us together” and “reconnects” us to God.

We have a duty to praise God and not to merely pray nor talk to him. God is not simply a “spiritual friend”. Realistically speaking, God is not a friend for the simple reason that he is God (you do not praise your friends nor do you pray to them, do you?). In a congregation, one can find himself in a community praying to God. There is a sense of belongingness, that the people around you believe what you believe. And that is what God wants; that is what is written in the Holy Bible. So why should it be defied in the first place?

In addition, I do not claim that salvation is a monopoly of the Catholic Church. Regarding the salvific fate of members of other religions, only God should know.

Organized religion is not the cause of wars. It is caused by men who do not understand their religion, as long as that religion does not exhort its members to wage an all-out war against other groups.

The Future “Shrine City” of Southern Tagalog (San Pedro Tunasán, La Laguna)

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Welcome to San Pedro, the gateway to La Laguna province!

I’ve been a San Pedrense for close to six years already.

We moved to San Pedro, La Laguna last 2004 at the height of the infamous 2004 Philippine General Elections (where FPJ won in the voting but lost in the counting). My wife was then pregnant with our second child (Momay). I was then working in SPI Technologies in my hometown, Parañaque City. Thus, I had to travel for almost two hours from San Pedro to Parañaque’s Barrio Santo Niño where SPI was located. A female cousin of mine, who is married to a native San Pedrense (from the Igonia clan), helped us find a place to stay. I chose San Pedro because the apartment units there were considerably cheap. Although it’s just beside Metro Manila (via Muntinlupà City), the rates of apartment units there are provincially cheap.

As a history buff, I was very excited to see San Pedro town for the very first time. I was expecting something rural, like that of my dad’s hometown of Unisan, Quezon. I was disappointed to see a rather urbanized place fuming with smoke from countless tricycles, roads teeming with junk food wrappers and assorted litter, and a huge Sogo Hotel at the entrance to the town from Metro Manila. Back then, I haven’t been traveling much. So my expectations were doused cold. Also, I noticed a scarcity of classic Filipino houses which we call bahay castilà or bahay na bató. Only a few remain. I even doubt if those surviving houses date back to the Spanish times. But there are still a couple of postwar houses which somehow resemble the bahay na bató which I adore so much.

We first lived in a small, one-room apartment unit in Sitio Pitóng Gatang in Barrio San Vicente. In late 2007 (I was already working for APAC Customer Services for three years), we moved to a larger apartment building in the same barrio (now called a barangáy).

We’ve befriended a lot of San Pedrense folk. Especially my very amiable wife who knows almost everybody in our barrio: tricycle drivers, various street and market vendors, canto boys and street toughies, elderly folk, etc. She really has that masa attitude in her which I’m so proud at.

Me, I befriended the upper echelon of San Pedro, hehe! I had the privilege of cowriting (with Arnaldo Arnáiz) current Mayor Calixto Catáquiz’s biography (still unpublished, though). I also befriended San Pedro’s official historian, Sonny Ordoña. He cowrote the history of the town with Amalia Cullarín Rosales entitled San Pedro, Laguna: Noón at Ngayón.

This year or next year, we’ll soon be leaving San Pedro. We’ll soon be moving to Calambâ, La Laguna, where we have purchased our own home. But six years is six years. So many things have happened to us here in San Pedro. This is the place where we have totally become independent and slowly built our “little empire”, i.e., our family; before, we had to seek financial support from immediate family members. All my children began their childhood here. My daughter Krystal is a pioneer student of nearby Santa Hideliza Montessori (formerly known as Asturias Angel Montessori School) where she is a consistent first honor student (it’s all in the blood, hehe!). Momay has just started his schooling in the same school. We’ve built friendships. It is here where I discovered and became a devotee of the miraculous Santo Sepulcro. One midnight, as I was headed for work, I even got to beat up a huge street toughie who tried to harass me (seriously)!

For better or for worse, San Pedro Tunasán, La Laguna has become part of us.

Enjoy the pictures which I took of the town (my daughter Krystal and I had an afternoon stroll last 29 December 2009)… =)

St. Peter The Apostle

Banál na Cruz ng San Pedro Tunasán

A view of the urbanized población from the church tower.

The only municipal hall that I know where the mayor's office is located right above a multi-purpose town plaza stage. Unique.

Messy wires mar this view of the town's enormous church.

The road going up to San Pedro Bridge (my daughter Krystal's at the onset).

Naty's Tourist Lodge / Restaurant. However, what is interesting for tourists to see in San Pedro? This is what the next administration should work on. Tourism is also important economically.

Tanghalang F.A. Vierneza, a waste of public funds if you ask my opinion.

Going up the bridge, further south of San Pedro.

San Pedro Bridge

The semi-polluted river of San Pedro. The river still teems of fish and other river creatures. There is still hope to save this body of water. A sincere environmental effort from the local government is direly needed.

Mount Maquíling from afar.

Suki Wet & Dry Market

Iglesia de San Pedro Apóstol

The altarpiece.

The Nativity scene (all these photos, by the way, were taken last 12/29/2009).

Liceo de San Pedro (San Pedro High School)

Very few Antilean (bahay na bató) houses remain in San Pedro, which is quite sad. The one in this photo has been converted into a commercial establishment.

Many streets in the oldest parts of San Pedro look like this. Good thing these pink bougainvilla flowers beautify the place a bit.

One of my favorite flowering plants: the eye-catching bougainvilla!

Typhoon Ondoy floods were already subsiding when this photo was taken. But this dirt road leading to the lakeshore was still soft and very muddy. Thus, Krystal and I didn't push through with our lakeshore trek.

A fishpond a few meters away from the lake. It was also damaged by Typhoon Ondoy.

San Roque Elementary School in Barrio San Roque.

Ducks raised near the lake. San Pedro used to have huge balót and iticán industry which rivaled that of Pateros.

Water lilies fill the banks of Laguna de Bay in this part of Barrio Landayan.

Flowering water lilies!

Black birds flying excitedly over the lake! Are they crows?

Seashells embedded inland, meters away from the lake.

The modern church tower of the mysterious Santo Sepulcro Church in Barrio Landayan.

Iglesia de Santo Sepulcro

An ancient acacia tree in front of the Santo Sepulcro Church.

My daughter, Jewel Krystal Rose, when she was four years old (on my 25th birthday). I didn't allow her to be baptized at a much earlier date because I was an atheist before. This miraculous church further reaffirmed and strengthened my belief in God. =)

Light.

Dark.

The Holy Sepulchre which houses the iconic icon of Jesus Christ, known all over San Pedro Tunasán as the miraculous Lolo Uweng.

A busy part of the town.

Vegetables, fruits, and spices being sold out on the streets, a usual Latin-American activity.

¡Caramba! He's everywhere!

Bibingca and puto bumbóng vendors; all pictures were taken during the 2009 Christmas Season.

Puto bumbóng

Bibingca

Sampaguita buds in the town plaza. San Pedro Tunasán is also known as the country's Sampaguita capital.

Missed the whole name, haha! The bus was moving fast... and I was moving slow!

Krystal buying a Sampaguita collar.

La flor de la sampaguita, una flor filipina.

The massive façade of the San Pedro Apóstol Parish Church.

The statue of the Virgin Mary on top of the church which can be seen from miles around.

Not sure if this house is prewar or postwar. But it's definitely vintage.

Calle San Vicente goes through a tunnel beneath the San Pedro Bridge.

Another Filipino-style house.

This one's a charm!

This railroad goes all the way to Ciudad de Legazpi, Albay in Bícol province.

Coconuts!

Santa Hideliza Montessori School, where Krystal and Momay study.

Capilla de San Vicente de Ferrer

A neighbor leading us to one of San Pedro's last few remaining Sampaguita plantations. The town used to have huge plantations everywhere. Many of the townsfolk relied on the sampaguita trade for a living. But that was long ago.

¡Ang manóc ni San Pedro!

Today, the once flourishing sampaguita farms have been relegated to a mere backyard industry.

Bamboo (not the band).

Our San Pedro Tunasán walk ended at dusk.

A FEW THINGS YOU MAY WANT TO KNOW ABOUT SAN PEDRO TUNASÁN, LA LAGUNA’S PAST AND FUTURE

The former name of San Pedro was San Pedro Tunasán. San Pedro is from one of Jesus Christ’s apostles. Tunasán comes from the word tunás which is a medicinal herb that used to grow along the western banks of Laguna de Bay where the said town is now situated. Significantly, this herb was actually brought here by the friars from México.

San Pedro was inhabited by Tagalog tribesmen before the Spanish arrival. Spanish friars (Franciscans) assembled many Tagalog tribes in what is now known as La Laguna province through a process called reducción a pueblo, creating what we now know as a town or pueblo/municipio. San Pedro Tunasán is a product of this complex process.

San Pedro Tunasán during the Spanish period produced considerable quantities of rice, mangoes, coconuts, native oranges, lemons, buyô (betel leaves), and even sugar cane. And according to the Diccionario Geográfico-Estadístico-Histórico de las Islas Filipinas (Fr. Manuel Buzeta, O.S.A., and Fr. Felipe Bravo, O.S.A), there used to be a big house made of brick and tiled-roof which was a silk factory. Unfortunately, it’s not stated in the book where this old bahay na bató was situated, thus I have no idea if it still stands.

San Pedro was also owned by the Jesuits and was used as an estate (or hacienda) to fund their projects and other activities, particularly the Colegio de San José in Intramuros (where José Rizal’s father, Francisco Mercado, studied). It was the Jesuits who built a chapel (ermita) dedicated to St. Peter the Apostle (now known as the Parish of San Pedro Apóstol).

San Pedro Tunasán used to be a part of Tabuco (an old Tagalog term which means “the end part of a river”), a large town which was also then comprised of what are now the towns of Bíñán, Santa Rosa, Cabuyao. It officially became a town when it was detached from Tabuco on 18 January 1725 upon the request of San Pedrense principalía led by Alonzo Magtibay, Francisco Santiago, and Ignacio de Guevarra. Their request was granted by the last Spanish Habsburg king himself, King Charles II. Santiago subsequently became the first town mayor. Therefore, the real foundation day of San Pedro Tunasán should be celebrated every 18th of January and not on any other dates.

Many years later, a large northern chunk of the town was sold to Muntinlupà. That chunk of land is now Muntinlupà City’s Barrio Tunasán (where many lechón stalls abound). That is why the town today is simply called San Pedro. But I refuse to call it as such. I always prefer the original, giving due respect to history: ¡San Pedro Tunasán, La Laguna!

The city’s incumbent mayor, Calixto Catáquiz, who’s running for reelection this May, plans to make San Pedro a “Shrine City”, as written in his still unpublished biography, A Date With Destiny (One More Challenge!) The Life Story of San Pedro:

“Mayor Catáquiz is a visionary,” says Sonny Ordoña, the town’s resident historian and the municipal hall’s consultant for cultural affairs. “Once he asked me for a unique nickname for the town. Since we have a couple of shrines here, particularly the miraculous Santo Sepulcro Shrine in Landayan, I suggested to him, ‘well, why not dub it as a Shrine City?’ His eyes beamed with the idea. The next thing you know, he’s telling everyone that he’s planning to create a 30-storey high bronze statue of Jesus Christ! He wants it installed up in the mountains of San Pedro!”

The feet of this gigantic statue ala Cristo Redentor of Rio de Janeiro would stand on four chapels. These chapels will serve as monumental pedestals. An incredible concept that is already being planned!

“This chapel would be in full view from Alabang and possibly from Parañaque,” says the mayor. “Aircraft will easily discern it from atop.” Certainly, this future landmark will place San Pedro on a national scale!

Shrine city or not, San Pedro Tunasán is all worth it. All it needs is full and sincere cooperation between the local government and its inhabitants.

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