Two faces of the police (my tenth Nazarene attendance)

Last night, my childhood friend Ian Acena and I attended the Nazarene festivities in Manila (it was my 10th if I may add; 23rd for him). We were unable to proceed to Quiapò because Mayor Isko Moreno organized a queue that led to the Basílica Menor del Nazareno Negro which houses the centuries-old miraculous image of the Black Nazarene. The queue in Calle Carriedo was very long, and Quezon Bridge was closed. So we had to make do with nearby Santa Cruz Church (Nuestra Señora del Pilar) which was celebrating hourly Masses to accommodate devotees who couldn’t go to Quiapò.

Santa Cruz Church was the farthest we could go last night since all roads leading to Quiapo Church were heavily guarded, rendering long queues.

During Mass, I was approached, nay, disturbed many times by various policemen questioning my attendance. Their apprehension was understandable because I was garbed in full-gear PPE from head to foot. But one of them annoyed me when he said “Bawal po casí iyán” (That is not allowed).

But we have a pandemic for crying out loud!

I didn’t want to argue anymore that the government, particularly the Department of Health, is highly recommending PPEs. I was attending Mass. That’s not a good time to argue about it. I just told them that I am protecting my already weakened lungs from COVID-19 (which is true anyway). One of them asked me for IDs which I readily presented. I even showed them my Facebook account for good measure. 🤣 But it didn’t sit well with Ian who angrily argued on my behalf. Mabuti na lang at natapos co pa rin cahit papaano yung mg̃a hinaíng có sa Poóng Nazareno.

To their credit, they were very respectful. One of them even noticed that I was slouching and clutching my belly; it’s because I was suffering from severe stomach pains yesterday. The police offered to bring me to a medical van. I declined because I said that I had to finish the Mass. Besides, I was already planning to go to the hospital later on.

Afterwards, it was time to eat. While approaching the foot of historic Jones Bridge, we encountered a group of policemen who heckled my attire.

¡Bacá mahauaan mo camí!” (You might infect us!), one of them shouted. There was a spurt of hot anger that almost made me show them my gloved middle finger, but I think the Nazarene intervened. Who knows what would have happened had I failed to control my temper? Thoughts of Jonel Nuezca flashed through my mind. I thought of reporting them to my cousin who is a police captain. He was also in that area last night. But I’m not the type who abuses my connections.

So there you have it. Two types of policemen in last night’s “traslación” that has no traslación (probably a historic first).

As an aside, while eating at a fast food in SM Manila (my stomach pain was not getting any better, but I had to eat; I had already shed my PPE at this point), Ian, who I had not seen since my 2013 wedding, lauded me for being a changed man. It’s because he knew how a hothead I was, having witnessed many fisticuffs back in high school. There was a tone of disappointment in him because I did not retaliate. I told him that we have to mellow down as we age. People change. I’m more into books now than guitar and rock records. I also told him to learn to forgive: if someone slaps you in the cheek, offer the other cheek. He blurted out a laughter. I was half-serious, half-joking. I cannot carry my “Tondo Boy” image with me forever (my childhood friends in Parañaque knew me that way). That’s not really me.

As soon as we stepped out of the mall, I noticed that my seven-hour stomach pains have disappeared!

¡Viva Señor Jesús Nazareno! 😇

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A reflection on the first Mass controversy

I just want to share this reflection, a reflection that I find very strange, at least to me (and this I’ve already shared to Fr. Joesilo Amalla over the phone a few days ago)…

Painting: Ayala Museum.

I was wondering why the site of the first Mass in Filipinas is filled with controversy, confusion, and even strife despite the plethora of evidence to point its location (I’d rather not include the word “exact” to avoid raised eyebrows). Some, if not most, of the evidence are almost difficult to discern/decipher, as if they have become riddles instead of helpful clues. Just check out my erratum from yesterday (on my Facebook account) to see what I mean. And then there is of course the many variant spellings of Mazaua, several navigational coordinates, differing memoirs, etc.

Is God sending us a message? Shouldn’t He, in His infinite grace, be helping us point where the exact location of this crucial event in our history is? After all, we are still a Christian nation. We are still His. That is why this matter is very important for us.

No, I am not blaming Him, but I find all this quirkiness in our history almost humorously baffling. This issue refuses to die and has even reached a crescendo just a few months before the quincentennial of Christianity in our archipelago. I could almost hear God laughing at us in spite of our ardent desire to ferret out historical truth about this one moment in time (shut up, Whitney) whence we as a people can no longer turn our backs from.

In spite of countless evidence, why did it have to come down to this? Is He hiding the true site from us until such a time comes that we will all be worthy of seeing it once again? Or did the God of History did this on purpose to send some kind of encrypted message to historians concerned?

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I survived 2020!

The past year will go down in history as one of the most catastrophic, particularly for our country. We were ravaged not just by the ongoing pandemic but by a multitude of other disastrous episodes, both natural and political/economic. On a personal level, 2020 was as closely devastating. It should have been my year, but it never materialized. If not for the global lockdown, the previous year would have cemented my “career” as a published historian, not just an online historian and an occasional paleographer/translator. I was already prepping up to write not just one, not just two, but THREE history books! I was to research, write, and publish the respective histories of Imus in Cavite as well as Biñán and my family’s very own San Pedro Tunasán here in La Laguna. Despite my full-time job (a night shift, mind you), I have already gathered enough materials for the three planned books and a couple of drafts to start writing them. Doing the one for Biñán would have been a breeze since I had the full support of its culture, history, arts, and tourism office. And the interviews needed for San Pedro Tunasán had already been compiled three years prior.

Actually, I should add a fourth book: the biography of our city’s former mayor whose life I’ve been chronicling for more than a decade already. It should have been published last year. Unfortunately, things didn’t turn out as planned when it was revealed earlier on that that my wife Yeyette has a life-threatening disease, thus putting my family on the brink of financial ruin. Following that, half of the world’s population went on lockdown because of the “Chinese virus“, thus hampering my already immunocompromised movement; I couldn’t go out to do library and field research as well as conduct more interviews. My old nemesis, myofascial pain syndrome, has started to become a real obstacle, a worrisome botheration. By the middle of the year, PLDT joined the fray and gave me months of stress. And to make matters worse, more than half of my family members were stricken with COVID-19! There are also other more debilitating personal problems that would have made yours look more like a birthday party if compared to mine, but I would rather not talk about it out of respect for the persons involved.

Nevertheless, looking back at the past year, being “imprisoned” at home for more than nine months (and counting) wasn’t all that bad. After all, I got to spend that confinement with my wife and five kids, and I’m happy to observe that we have bonded strongly than ever before. I also got the chance to work from home after going through years of horrid commuting, thus putting my commute-battered body more time to heal and rest. Thankfully, the owner of our apartment unit has not kicked us out yet despite months of being behind payment. We are still able to eat three full meals a day due to generous friends and family members who went out of their way to extend help. My three boys were supposed to stop schooling in order for my salary to be able to add up for their mom’s chemotherapy sessions, but one friend of hers turned out to be the owner of an international school in my de facto hometown, Parañaque; he gladly offered to take in Mómay, Jefe, and Juanito for free. Toward the end of the year, my company laid off more than 2,000 employees. I was one of those who were spared, and I even got to celebrate my 10th anniversary there just a few weeks ago. I was able to choose a much better replacement for PLDT (yes, dear readers, please shift to Converge!) such that listening to Fr. Jojo Zerrudo’s online Masses were no longer problematic.

The best part of all this is that we got to pray the Rosary regularly (we do this in Spanish, if I may proudly add).

And yeah, I still get to blog about history from time to time.

So instead of griping about the lost months that were gobbled up by the lockdown, why not count those few precious moments that made us survive 2020? Count your blessings, then you will feel all right about the future.

¡A Dios sea toda la gloria y la honra! ¡Feliz Año Nuevo!

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Retana’s Rizal

Late last year, I received a couple of books from Chile-based Filipina writer Elizabeth Medina, one of which was authored by her: Rizal According to Retana: Portrait of a Hero and a Revolution (1998). The book, a summarized presentation / annotated translation of Wenceslao Retana’s biography of our country’s foremost national hero, was supposed to have been one of the publications of the National Centennial Commission. For some reason, the commission wasn’t able to publish it, so Tía Isabel (as the author is fondly called by friends) published it herself in a limited edition of 1,000 copies. I’m glad that, after more than two decades, I was fortunate enough to receive not just one but two copies, and straight from the author herself!

As a backgrounder, Retana is best known as Rizal’s first biographer… and a former adversary (Rizal once challenged him to a duel; he declined). Unfortunately, since nobody in Filipinas reads in Spanish anymore, Retana’s Vida y Escritos del Dr. José Rizal (Life and Writings of Dr. José Rizal) has been largely ignored save for a few times that his name is included in various history exams and Rizal quiz bees. Nevertheless, many scholars agree that his biography is one of the best in the ever-growing compendium of Rizaliana material.

Surprisingly, Tía Isabel got acquainted with Retana’s work in faraway Chile where she has been living since 1983. On her sixth year there, she decided to go back to university. Her Spanish literature teacher lent her a book which is a collection of Miguel de Unamuno’s unpublished letters. The book made mention of Retana.

I was immediately riveted by the references in it to his correspondence with unnamed Filipinos, most of all by a letter dated January 1, 1906 to a friend named Mugica, which said: «In ‘Nuestro Tiempo‘ (Our Times), Retana is publishing some articles on Rizal which deserve to be read. They show how we lost the Philippines….»

After I was accepted by the Catholic University of Chile, I requested a copy of the articles from Madrid through the University’s Reference Library. This was how I obtained a fat package of photocopies of «Vida y escritos del Dr. José Rizal, Materiales para un libro» (The Life and Writings of Dr. José Rizal, Materials for a Book) by Wenceslao Emilio Retana y Gamboa.

From the moment I began to read it, I was mesmerized. Shortly before reading Retana, I had decided to embark on a book project about my experience of rediscovering Philippine history through my studies of Chilean history, and what I felt as a need for Filipinos to recover our lost cultural memory of the centuries under Spanish rule in order to clarify our identity. After reading Retana, I decided to translate his work and make it available to other Filipinos.

The result was a 200-page book of what could very well be the only existing in-depth analysis of Rizal’s first biography.

Tía Isabel’s Rizal According to Retana is a must-read not only for Rizal fans and history buffs but also for lovers of literature; aside from giving a fresher perspective into the life of Rizal through her annotated translation, Tía Isabel wrote in one of the most exquisite and flawless English that I have ever encountered, compelling me to declare to history blogger Arnaldo Arnáiz last year that hers is one of the finest written books out there. I even told him that had Tía Isabel been a little more prolific (as far as I know, she has authored only four other books), she would have been the female counterpart of our favorite author, National Artist Nick Joaquín, who had produced mountains of written works (this is not to say that Tía Isabel is not in a class of her own).

As usually is the case with Rizal biographies, Rizal According to Retana wouldn’t be complete without a discussion of the national hero’s controversial retraction. Retana believed that Rizal retracted his religious errors, and Tía Isabel echoed this sentiment, but not without philosophical explanation.

I have read Austin Coates’ assertion in his biography of Rizal that the retraction was a fraudulent claim by Father Balaguer and the marriage between Rizal and Josephine Bracken never took place. However, the purpose of this translation is to present Retana’s biography of Rizal to the Filipinos, not to debunk other biographers’s claims or to defend Retana as the ultimate authority. I will state my good faith in Wenceslao Emilio Retana and my personal inclination to believe that he truly believed in the accuracy of what he wrote and that he exercised thoroughness and judiciousness in choosing the information he presented…

…Rizal knew that death was now inevitable and accepted it as the destiny he was born to fulfill. Knowing he would die, his only concern was to safeguard those he was leaving behind: his family and the woman he loved. He was a deeply religious man, as well as a supremely rational one, and his religiousness is patent in all his writings and acts. Rizal was not only scientist and rationalist, he was equally —if not above these two things— poet and mystic. Moreover, he was consistent: he retracted to the Jesuits, whom he loved and whose moral rectitude he believed in. By retracting, he would protect his family from further persecution from the religious establishment, and by marrying Josephine he would raise her status in the eyes of his family and assure that they would all open their arms to her and protect her after his death.

Finally, as a man facing death, the Jesuits were his only palpable source of support and comfort in those last hours, since his family could not accompany him. His self-perceptions of smallness and insignificance were ontologically correct as well. He would die, but he was only one among over six million, and what he had done, he knew, the rest of his countrymen were perfectly able to replicate, each in his or her own way — this was his final legacy and message. If one insignificant man could achieve what he had done, then what were we incapable of achieving? Nothing would be beyond our powers to change.

It is curious to note that Tía Isabel is not a practicing Catholic. In fact, we have had several heated arguments regarding my Catholic points-of-view on Filipino History. Therefore, her assessment of Rizal’s retraction is one of the most impartial there is, if not the most.

On the same day that the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 as a pandemic, Arnaldo also announced in his blog that Tía Isabel’s earlier book, Sampaguitas In the Andes: Discovery in Chile, has been made available as an eBook through Kindle. The book is actually her English translation of her essays in Spanish titled Sampaguitas en la Cordillera: Reencuentro con Filipinas en Chile (2006). Here’s hoping that Arnaldo will convert Rizal According to Retana into eBook form as well so that it would reach equally widespread prevalence. But on a more positive note, of course.

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Corruption in the Indio

Although they cannot prove it, we usually hear from hispanophobes that corruption was inherited by Filipinos from the Spaniards. But the Corpus Christi earthquake of 1863 revealed a character in the indio (native/indigenous Filipino) that seems to speak of the opposite. And not only were they corrupt — they also had total disregard for the environment.

After the said earthquake, which destroyed many homes in Intramuros and Southern Luzón and took with it four hundred lives while injuring two thousand more, the government was compelled to allow the public to freely gather as much timber as they could from the mountains to rebuild their dwelling places. The locals, particularly those in Unisán, Tayabas (now Quezon), took advantage of the situation by cutting off trees from the forests and selling them to those in need at exorbitant prices.

The result of this massive and free-for-all logging was especially damaging to the forest mountains, not to mention to the government since it didn’t earn any income from the said activity. And it is irritating to note that many of those logs were unsold and were left to rot along the beaches of Unisán. We are speaking here of the 1860s, folks, at a time when our country was only a few hundred years old.

Embarrassingly, I trace my roots to Unisán. But such is the duty of a historian: to expose the truth about the past no matter how damning it is to anyone, even to himself.

In relation to this, you might want to read my blogpost “The indio is the enemy of the Filipino“. And please don’t forget to follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more about Filipino History.

“Los grandes terremotos que con intervalos más o menos son siempre funestos para los montes, no precisamente por los daños que en ellos producen dichos fenómenos sino por las talas a que dan pretexto. La Autoridad superior, deseosa facilitar la pronta reconstrucción de los edificios arruinados, y apremiada por los clamores de los que alegan una necesidad de maderas más o menos cierta, declara siempre en suspenso en tales casos, por un plazo determinado, las dispociones reglamentarias del ramo, autorizando a los habitantes de las localidades castigadas por aquel terrible azote, para cortar y extraer libremente de los montes públicos las maderas que quieran. Excusado es decir que se cometen grandes abusos. Los indígenas menos acomodados son precisamente los que menos necesidad tienen de la franquicia, porque generalmente sus casas son de caña y no de madera. Por su parte, los proprietarios más acomodados, precisados a reconstruir inmediatamente sus viviendas, y no pudiendo hacer cortas por su cuenta, pues para esto tendrían que invertir mucho tiempo, se ven obligados a acudir a los madereros, los cuales, aprovechándose de las circunstancias, venden las existencias de sus almacenes a precios exorbitantes y hacen, al propio tiempo, nuevos acopios al amparo de la franquicia. La libertad que en tales casos se concede ni resulta, pues, beneficiosa para los dueños de los edificios destruidos, ni viene en realidad a favorecer más que a los traficantes en maderas, privando en cambio al Estado de cuantiosos ingresos. A mayor abundamiento, sucede con frecuencia que muchas piezas son abandonadas después de la corta, pudriéndose en el mismo monte o en las playas. En corraboración de esto, puedo decir que yo mismo he visto en 1880 en la costa de Unisán, provincia de Tayabas, muchas piezas de grandes dimensiones cortadas después del gran terremoto de 1863 y que estaban ya, naturalmente, en estado de completa inutilidad.”

(Estudio Forestal Acerca de la India Inglesa, Java y Filipinas. Jordana Morera, Ramón, Imprenta de Moreno y Rojas, 1891, pp. 252-253)

Navidad 2020

La Navidad de este año pasará a la historia como una de las más tristes en mucho tiempo, y por razones obvias. Mucha gente se enfermó y murió por culpa de la pandemia de COVID-19 en curso. Debido a esta plaga, gran parte del mundo aún se encuentra en varias formas de cuarentena. Y ¿la peor víctima de la cuarentena mundial? La economía global que se ha derrumbado, dejando sin trabajo a millones de personas.

Sin embargo, ninguna cantidad de coronavirus en el aire detendrá el evento anual más emblemático y más celebrado del mundo. Como dicen en inglés, “Tis the season to be jolly!” (¡Esta es la temporada para estar alegre!). Después de todo, estamos hablando del aniversario del nacimiento de nuestro Señor y Salvador Jesucristo. Y ya que sólo llega el cumpleaños del Cristo Rey una vez al año, qué mejor manera de celebrarlo junto con el resto de nuestra querida familia que han estado encerrados con nosotros desde marzo.

Si algo bueno salió de esta pandemia, ha acercado mucho a las familias. ¡Sí, ciertamente la Navidad de este año es el momento perfecto del vínculo afectivo! ¡Feliz Navidad!

From Luna to Nuezca

The act of a father killing people in front of his child is rare but nothing new. And if you delve further into Filipino History, you will find out that what had happened yesterday in Paniqui, Tárlac was a bit tame compared to what famous painter Juan Luna did to his wife (uxoricide) and mother-in-law (matricide)… right in front of his own son in faraway Paris!

María de la Paz Pardo de Tavera and Juan Luna (photo source: Ambeth Ocampo).

On 22 September 1892, or two months after Rizal’s banishment to Dapitan, Luna was already in a murderous mood. His relationship with his wife María de la Paz Pardo de Tavera was already on the brink of ruin due to an alleged extramarital affair on the part of the latter. Paz had been receiving severe beatings from Luna, and her terrified mother couldn’t do anything. To make a long story short, on the morning of that fateful day, Luna killed his mother-in-law Doña Juliana with a cold-blooded headshot. Afterwards, he went to his wife and did the same… and their son Luling (Andrés Luna de San Pedro who was later on to become a well-known architect) saw it all.

Compared to PSMSgt. Jonel Nuezca’s little brat of a daughter, Luling was only five years old when he saw his father murder his mother and grandmother! And the killings hit closer to home (no pun intended) since the victims involved his own flesh and blood.

The extramarital accusation, by the way, was said to have no basis, according to historian Rachel AG Reyes. This is seconded by another historian, Guillermo Gómez Rivera, who went further to say that the murder was prompted by something else. “There’s a reason why Luna shot the mother-in-law first,” he once told me. This is according to his grand auntie Soledad Vital who was Luna’s second wife… but that’s for another controversial blogpost. For now, we mourn the deaths of Sonya Gregorio and her son Frank Anthony Gregorio. Qué descansen en paz eterna.

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Today in Filipino History: The MV Doña Paz tragedy

TODAY IN FILIPINO HISTORY — 20 December 1987: The deadliest peacetime maritime disaster in world history occurred in Tablas Strait (between Marinduque and Mindoro Oriental) when passenger ferry MV Doña Paz collided with oil tanker MT Vector shortly before midnight. Doña Paz was overcrowded; reports say that it carried more than 4,000 passengers, way beyond what was declared on the manifest. On the other hand, Vector, with a crew of only 13, carried 8,800 barrels of petroleum products from Caltex Philippines. During the collision, Vector’s cargo ignited and caused a fire that spilled into the water and rapidly spread to Doña Paz, causing an explosion. Most of the passengers died due to burning and suffocation rather than drowning. Only 26 survived from Doña Paz while another 2 made it from Vector.

Click here to watch an interesting videographic overview (in Tagalog) of the tragedy.

MV Doña Paz berthed at Tacloban port in Leyte, taken on 25 June 1984 (photo: Lindsay Bridge).

Please take a moment of silence to pray for the victims’ souls. May they all rest in eternal peace. ✝️🙏🙏🙏✝️

This is my 400th blogpost. Please follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. A Dios sea toda la gloria y la honra.

From one Gerónimo to another

An 1899 photograph of Major General Henry W. Lawton (photo source: Alden March). Manila-bound travelers who usually drop off near city hall will immediately recognize his last name because jeepney drivers and bus conductors phonetically shout it upon arrival: “¡Loton! ¡Loton! 😆

Whenever I hear Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic” hit the airwaves, US Major General Henry Lawton is one of the few individuals that comes to mind. Lawton, together with his B Troop, 4th Cavalry, became famous for his participation in the Apache Wars in the Southwestern United States against the legendary Gerónimo. In fact, he was instrumental in the surrender of the notorious Bedonkohe Apache leader.

Gerónimo (photo source: Archivo General de la Nación Argentina).

Years later, we see Lawton again in another war, this time in faraway Filipinas during the US invasion. However, he was not to be victorious this time around because he was shot and killed by a sniper under the command of (gasp! 😱) another Gerónimo: 44-year-old General Licerio Gerónimo.

And isn’t it ironic, don’t you think?

Licerio Gerónimo’s troops defeated the US invaders at the Battle of San Mateo on 19 December 1899, resulting in the shocking death of Major General Lawton (photo source: Gen. Licerio Gerónimo Elementary School Alumni Association).

Suddenly, I feel a sudden urge to hear Sarah Gerónimo sing her rendition of Morissette’s hit 90s song. It would be nice if she holds a mini-concert at Plaza Lawton, the Manileño site that was named after the hapless US invader who was killed exactly 121 years ago today.

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The Immaculate Conception in Filipino History

L’Immacolata Concezione” (oil on canvas, 1767–1768) by Giovanni Battista Tiepolo is my favorite Marian painting. Our Lady here is INCREDIBLY BEAUTIFUL AND MAJESTIC!

There’s something locally historic about today’s holiday that just might give Filipino history buffs a couple of “Divine Goosebumps”…

The Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception (commonly known as the Feast of the Immaculate Conception) has been recognized and celebrated for centuries throughout the Catholic World. While it was first conceived by theologians at the onset of the Middle Ages, it was not until the 18th century when it was first solemnized as a Holy Day of Obligation. This was when Pope Clement XI issued the papal bull Commissi Nobis Divinitus on 6 December 1708 extending the said feast day to the entire Catholic Church.

More than a century later, on 8 December 1854, Pope Pius IX defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary in explicit terms in his apostolic constitution Ineffabilis Deus.

But prior to all this, Pope Gregory XIII issued a papal bull consecrating our very own Manila Cathedral to “La Purísima Inmaculada Concepción de María” (The Most Immaculate Conception of Mary). This happened in 1581 — 127 years before Commissi Nobis Divinitus, and 273 years before Ineffabilis Deus! No wonder we Filipinos are so subconsciously attached to the Solemnity of the Immaculate Conception that even our blatantly anti-Catholic President had to sign it as a legal holiday three years ago. 😂

And as an added bonus —this time for K-pop fans—, be it known that South Korea and Filipinas share the same feast day. You got it right, South Korea’s patroness is also the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception! 원죄없는 잉태의 행복한 향연! ^o^