The story behind the assassination of Fernando Manuel Bustamante

A few years ago, in Palacio de Malacañán‘s official Facebook page, the below post was published:

#todayinhistory — On August 9, 1717, Fernando Bustamante y Rueda assumed his post as the Spanish Governor-General of the Philippines. He stirred trouble with the religious orders and also with the archbishop, which lead to his assassination by mob.

I just find it irritatingly odd that instead of commemorating the reforms and projects of the Bustamante administration since today is the anniversary of his installation as Gobernador-General de las Islas Filipinas, Malacañán’s Facebook handlers found time to instead harp on the governor-general’s assassination. Shouldn’t they have, instead, posted the above info on the anniversary of his death which falls every 11th of October (1719)? Because it’s more timely that way. And is the assassination the only thing our historians remember about Bustamante? Furthermore, how much do we even know about his character?

The said Facebook post (which is no longer available) garnered several shares when it was first published, not to mention eliciting another round of those now classic “frailocracy at its finest” and “Padre Dámaso” comments. Open-minded people will then start to wonder if the said post was meant to make people not really to remember but to  “keep on hating”. And when you ask these anti-Catholic bashers (deplorably, many of them are Catholics themselves) what’s the real score behind the assassination, they will not be able to provide a decent answer.

So what’s the real story behind this infamous scene in our history? Let us now hear it from historian extraordinaire, Nick Joaquín:

What’s often cited against the 18th century are grisly happenings like the killing of Governor Fernando Manuel Bustamante — happenings that seem to indicate a priest-ridden society still groping about in the Dark Ages.

Bustamante was a reform governor (1717-1719) with good intentions but a violent temper. He used the militia to terrorize the public. He filled the jails to overflowing but his prisoners were not all government crooks he had caught; some were people who merely disagreed with him. When he jailed the archbishop of Manila, it provoked a demo.

Angry mobs marched to the palace waving banners and crucifixes and yelling: ‘Church, religion, and king!’ They were met on the palace stairway by Bustamante, who wielded a gun in one hand, a sword in the other. ‘Death to the tyrant!’ shouted his visitors, rushing up the stairs. The governor plunged his sword into the first body to approach him and then could not pull out the sword fast enough to drive back those who were surrounding him. He was cut down with dagger and spear. A son of his who came to his rescue was likewise stabbed to death.

The mob then stormed Fort Santiago and released the imprisoned archbishop. The prelate would assume the governorship, as interim head of state. He decreed a pension of a thousand pesos for the family of Bustamante but the widow rejected it.


Me, Juanito, and Krystal (photo taken on 30 October 2012 by my wife Yeyette) at the foot of the massive “El Asesinato del Gobernador Bustamante y su Hijo” at the National Museum. This oil on canvas was completed in 1853 by Félix Resurrección Hidalgo.

Out-of-school Nick had poured over first source materials and had made researches in various libraries and archives. He had spent so much of his time in such places more than any schooled historian that I know of. And since Spanish was his language, it was easy for him to decipher the “encrypted stories” about our country’s oft-misunderstood past. That is why the PhDs and the MAs of the world fear and respect him. And that is why I trust him more about the Bustamante story more than anyone else’s version of it, most of which are twisted anyway.

To continue, the cause of Bustamante’s assassination was not exactly done out of religious sentiments. In a time when there were still no senators nor congressmen, when the political climate was still different, it was actually the Church who served as the “opposition” against a form of governmental setup that had all the potentials of turning into a dictatorship. Although violent and bloody, the demo against Bustamante was our country’s first dealings with democracy.

The happening is ugly but what caused it can be equated with the system of checks and balances, a beautiful feature of democracy. Because of the distance of Manila from Madrid, the Spanish kings were persuaded to grant their Philippine royal governors almost absolute powers. In effect, the executive was also the legislative and the judiciary. He headed army and navy. And he was answerable only to the king.

Against this potentate, the only checks and balances were provided by the Church, principally the friars, who served as the opposition. The opposition was sometimes “holy”, as in the friars’ campaign against the abuses of the encomenderos, and sometimes “unholy”, as in this killing of Bustamante — though we should remember that, before the fatal demo, the governor had called out and sicked his vigilantes in public.

So much slur has been thrown at those hated Spanish friars. Bashers don’t even think that if such events did not happen, who would have stopped potentially abusive government leaders? To wit: it was the opposition (friars) who acted against the majority (encomenderos) on the continued implementation of the corrupted encomienda system. And how come I don’t see anyone praising the friars for this? Why the double standard?

Anyway, good ‘ol Nick concluded Bustamante’s assassination story with this…

…the point here is not interference between Church and State, but the natural feud between government and opposition. It’s like the clash between King Henry II of England and Archbishop Becket, with the difference that in the Philippine case it was the King Henry who got slain.

Just a piece of advice: read widely and think critically to avoid bashing benightedly.

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My close encounters with Manila’s “Dirty Harry”

I voted for Mayor Lim when he ran for president back in 1998. In fact, he was just seated right in front of me. I was then 18 years old, my first time to vote. I chose him because, aside from being coaxed by my maternal grandmother (they were friends and neighbors in Tondo), I was drawn to his philosophy that a crime-free country would be followed by a good economy. His tough stance against crime earned him the monicker “Dirty Harry” during his early years as Mayor of Manila.

“The law applies to all. Otherwise, none at all”. It was his campaign slogan. I even bought his biography written by none other than my favorite writer, Nick Joaquín. It was my first Joaquín book.


Nick Joaquín’s biography of former Manila Mayor Alfredo Lim.

The experience of voting for the first time, and in the same room with none other than the presidentiable that I was rooting for, was an unpleasant one. All the excitement that should’ve been there was robbed from me because there were dozens of reporters pushing each other around us. A cameraman even rudely stepped on my desk –and on my ballot– just to get a good shot of the candidate (my ballot had a shoe mark when I slid it inside the ballot box — perhaps portents of things to come).

The next and last time that I met him was during the summer of 2002 when I was an intern at DZMM. He used to have a radio program there. When I was introduced to him, he shook my hand tightly and gave me one of the warmest smiles I had ever seen. I forgot to tell him about that first voting experience.

Requiescat in pace.

History Month 2020

This August, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines will lead in the celebration of History Month with the theme “Pagkakaisaysayan sa Paglaban at Pagbañgon” (History of Unity in Struggle and Recovery). Click here for the schedule of activities.

The truth about the encomienda


I didn’t know that my accidental discovery of La Laguna province’s foundation date many years ago was going to dance with controversy. Instead of receiving magnanimity from the powers that be, it was, sadly, received with vehement opposition.

First, the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP) contended that 28 July 1571 should not be recognized because on that date, La Laguna was founded not as a province but as an encomienda. I told them that it should not be made an issue. There is no question that La Laguna —now referred to simply as Laguna— did not begin as a province on that date, but the NHCP had overlooked what a foundation date really is. My argument is simple: when La Laguna came into being. Not as a province per se, but as La Laguna itself.

Up to now, nobody knows exactly when La Laguna became a province. The editor of that aborted history-laced coffee table book project that I wrote under then Governor E.R. Ejército theorized that it could have been 1581 when Bay was made the first capital of La Laguna (many in the provincial capitol, including yours truly, agree with him). But the problem is that there is no exact date. Nevertheless, whether we have an exact date or not, it will NEVER negate the fact that La Laguna already existed prior to 1581. Oddly, concerned individuals over at the NHCP either fail to understand this or they simply don’t want to accept it.

In the end, when they could no longer withstand the strength of the logic of what a foundation date really is, one of them found a loophole: that it would be unpatriotic if Lagunenses will choose La Laguna’s foundation as an encomienda simply because this system connoted slavery! Yes, this gentleman mentioned the word slavery. And he crumbled right before my very eyes.

But did the encomienda really connote slavery? Let us first study the background of the problem.

What is an encomienda?

In elementary and high school classes, Filipino students are generally taught that an encomienda was a piece of land given to a Spaniard for a certain period of time. Included on that land are the indios (natives) who were the original settlers. The receiver of the encomienda is called an encomendero. The encomendero had the right to exploit the natives for labor but without enslaving them.

Unfortunately, it is hardly taught that an encomienda was a quid pro quo affair. What is hardly taught these days is that it was the duty of the encomendero to:

1) protect the natives from tribal enemies
2) to educate them, i.e., to teach them the Spanish language, and
3) to indoctrinate them into the Christian faith.

To wit, an encomienda was a legal system employed by the Spanish crown during the colonization of the Americas to regulate Native American labor. And this system was later applied to Filipinas.

Hardly slavery.

In this scheme, the Spanish crown grants the encomendero a specified number of indios (for a limited time period) for whom they were to take responsibility by accomplishing the aforementioned duties. That is why it is called an encomienda in the first place: it is from the Spanish verb “encomendar” which means “to entrust”. In return, the encomendero could extract labor from their wards in the form of labor, gold (if available), or other products (mainly agricultural produce). There was, therefore, a mutual obligation from both encomendero and indio.

What should be firmly noted in this system is the existence of the aforementioned mutual obligation between the encomendero and his subjects. In the first place,there would be no encomienda at all without either of the two parties involved. At the onset, pre-Filipino societies were not yet organized into township communities, i.e., they were not yet set up in a way the Spaniards had wanted them to be. These communities were small and scattered. Many were forest dwellers. And those living in river and lakeshore communities were not as compact as well. Naturally, it took some time and effort for an encomendero to organize the indios in his encomienda in order for the mutual obligation to materialize. Thus, it is safe to say that the encomienda served as the prototype (or it laid the groundwork) for the reducción, at least in these islands.

Important note: this is not to say that the encomienda preceded the reducción. In the early years of Spanish rule, both encomienda and reducción have taken place at the same time. But in La Laguna, this seemed to have been the case.

To wit: the distribution of land during the early years of Spanish rule had to start somewhere, and that was done through the encomienda system. The encomendero was also required to support the missionaries and to train the indios assigned to him how to grow various crops and raise farm animals. Through the encomienda system, the indios learned modern farming methods. Through the encomienda system, the carabao was imported from Vietnam to facilitate rice farming. All this stimulated modern agriculture.

This is not to say that the encomienda system was perfect. Did it become corrupt? Yes, but not to the extent which ultranationalist hispanophobes wanted it to appear in our minds. True, abuses and corruption did take place (that is why the friars later on opposed it). But which regime at any point in history was considered falutless? Nevertheless, if we are to compare the encomienda system to our modern political landscape, the encomenderos of yore would have looked like saints compared to our politicians today.

For the sake of argument, let us say that the encomienda was filled with nothing but hardship and suffering for our indio ancestors. Should we still consider 28 July 1571 as La Laguna’s foundation date? Of course. In the case of La Laguna and 28 July 1571, the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur should come to mind. “The thing speaks for itself.” It doesn’t matter anymore if the encomenderos were drunkards or rapists. What is written on paper (i.e., the chart where the foundation date of La Laguna appears) should still be recognized and respected and should not be mixed with opinionated bull.

It’s like this: suppose that a man was the product of rape, why should he be disallowed to celebrate his birthday?

Anyway, back to the encomienda. The creation of provinces did not happen overnight. It had to evolve. And it did evolve from the encomienda. And even if the encomienda system did not become corrupt, it would eventually have been abolished, nay, replaced to give way to a much developed system of governance. The encomienda was the basis for the creation of provinces. If not for the encomienda, there would have been no provinces in the first place.

In closing, subscribing to the leyenda negra will never do us anything good at all. Hating everything that Spain did to us only harms all the more. Ultranationalism is the problem here. It leads us to blind hatred. Attacking our Spanish past is tantamount to shooting ourselves in the foot. For good or for worse, the encomienda is part of our history, and is already history. It helped create modern Filipino society.

But to those NHCP historians whom I encountered in my early 30s, the encomienda system was bad, bad, and bad. The Spanish colonization of Filipinas was bad, bad, and bad. It makes me wonder why one of them still uses the surname Encomienda. He should change it to, perhaps, Lapu-Lapu or Gat Páñguil. Or Datu Putî.

Happy foundation anniversary to my beautiful adoptive province of La Laguna!

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My baptismal anniversary


Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de Lourdes, Lucena, Tayabas.

Forty-one years ago today, four days after my birthday, I was baptized right here, in this small church located in a reticent corner of busy Lucena City in Tayabas Province (I imagine the place wasn’t as colorful and as well-lighted as it is now). I visited it last 8 August 2013, the first time since my Christianization to get my baptismal certificate as it was a wedding requirement (Yeyette and I were then busy preparing for our traditional Catholic wedding).

My principal godparents were Amador Alas, my father’s younger brother, and Elizabeth Soriano, my mother’s eldest sister. There were two other sponsors: a male friend of dad, and one of his female cousins. But none were able to attend. Instead, it was my grandmother, Norma Évora de Alas, who carried me all throughout the ancient rite. My sixteen-year-old mother wasn’t even at the church as she was busy helping out my dad’s aunties for a post-baptism feast in a relative’s house. My father was in another country. The priest who officiated the christening was Rev. Fr. Pedro Urtola.

I was supposed to be given the name “Jomar”, a portmanteau of my parents’ names: Josefino and Maritess. But my grandmother intervened. Instead, it was she who gave me the name José Mario, a combination of the names of the blessed parents of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Jomar ended up becoming my childhood nickname (relatives and close friends still call me by that name). I’m quite glad for that interference because I didn’t end up having an alien-sounding name (no offense meant to the Johns and the Susans of this country). Only a few of our compatriots today have Filipino names like mine, much more bearing a sweetheart nickname such as Pepe. 😂 Up to now, I have no idea why my dear grandmother —may she rest in eternal peace— chose to name me after San José and the Virgen María. As per tradition, she could have named me after San Federico de Utrecht or Santa Marina de Aguas Santas or any other saint whose feast day falls on the date of my birth (July 18). But she chose instead to name me after the premier saints of our faith. Her choice of appellation for me was fascinatingly deft as it hewed closely to the names of my parents.

Although my principal godparents did not attend my baptism, they became a huge part of my life later on, particularly when I married at an early age. When my parents gave up on me because of my immaturity and hardheadedness, it was Uncle Ador and Mama Beth who led me through those difficult years, providing me and my young family financial help, lots of understanding, and plenty of guidance and life lessons, with some tough love on the side. Marrying at a time when one is not yet ready is, of course, not a wise thing to do. But instead of chastising me and my wife Yeyette about our youthful misstep, they made us clean up our act and wise up for our family’s sake. For that, we’re forever thankful and grateful. ☺️

I found out later on that Fr. Urtola already passed away, but he was already carrying the honorary title “monsignor” when he left this sorrowful world. I also discovered that he was an educator and, to my knowledge, had authored two books: one on theological questions and the other a history of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Gumaca (also in Tayabas Province).

The priest who had baptized me in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, was also a writer.

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Snippets from my past

I’ve been straining to recall what my earliest childhood memory was. I have many.

Was it in Unisan, my father’s hometown, where my grandmother used to sneak me out from the house so that I could play by the beach because my grandfather forbade me to go there?

Was it in Tondo where I used to watch my mother’s exasperated parents assisting her younger brother —a hooligan who died by the knife— who was painfully excreting his ordure straight from his numerous stab wounds?

In these both snippets of my past, I am sure that I was then a preschooler. I started studying when my father’s siblings adopted me for a while (particularly by an elder sister of his) in BF Homes Parañaque. It was there where I spent some of the happiest days of my childhood, where Christmases were the coziest, and the food was tastiest as my grandmother was an excellent cook. Christmas always reminds me of that house in BF Homes. It was sold last year, and I went into grieving, as if a close family member had died (it pains me up to now)…


My first photograph, taken on 22 July 1979 at Lucena City, on the day of my baptism. Not sure if this was taken before or after the sacrament took place. I was just four days old.

But then I am suddenly reminded of some photos that I used to cherish — it was during a short vacation in Baguio City, the only trip I ever had to the City of Pines. I was with both my parents, just the three of us. We were atop a scenic viewpoint. There was greenery beyond. And lots of people. My mother was seated on a wooden railing, and I was terrified at how she posed because across the railing was a steep cliff. She was bidding me go near her so that she could teach me how to throw some coins at woven baskets attached to long sticks that were held by strangely clad people at the edge of the cliff far below the railing.

Much later during that same day, my parents were again calling me for a pictorial beside some scary-looking statues at a nearby park. With them are those same strange-looking people that I saw at the cliff who were begging for coins. The statues and those people look exactly the same. My father was getting irate at me as I was already throwing a hissy fit. There was simply no way that they could force me to go near those scary-looking folk. The photo op went on without me.

Years later, as an adolescent, my mother told me that she was then three months pregnant with my brother. I never gave much thought about it until now. I did the math just a few weeks ago: my brother was born on 30 January 1981 (he shares the same birthdate as our father who was born in 1952). Since I was born on 18 July 1979 (exactly 41 years ago), and my mother was three months pregnant during that Baguio trip, then that only means that that trip occurred sometime in July of 1980! That means I was a year old during that time!

I now strain to recall the details of those photos because they no longer exist — they all perished in Unisan during 2014’s Typhoon Glenda, eerily during my birthday week. But I now recall that the viewpoint was Mines View Park, and the place of statues was Imelda Park (now known as Baguio Botanical Garden). And those scary-looking people and the statues depicting them? Those were the Igorots.

Even at an early age, I already had an abhorrence for the indio.

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My latest Spanish article is now available on Revista Filipina


Good news: my latest Spanish article (La Sed Innata Por El Idioma Español Entre Los Filipinos) is now available on Revista Filipina’s latest edition (volume 7, number 1, winter of 2020). Click right here to read my article. 

This edition also features articles from other well-known champions of the Spanish language cause in Filipinas such as the venerable Guillermo Gómez Rivera (Premio Zóbel awardee of 1975 and current president of the Academia Filipina de la Lengua Española), Prof. Fernando Ziálcita of the Ateneo de Manila University, poet and journalist Marra PL. Lanot, poet Edwin Lozada, Martín Echavez Jung of the Defensores de la Lengua Española en Filipinas, Chile-based author Elizabeth Medina, former Filipino Ambassador to Italy Virgilio A. Reyes Jr. and the late priest-poet Fr. Gilbert Centina III, OSA among many others.

Revista Filipina is a semiannual online journal of Fil-Hispanic language and literature founded by Edmundo Farolán (Premio Zóbel awardee of 1982) and is currently edited by Andrea Gallo and Esther Zarzo. Click on the image above to read the whole edition.

¡A Dios sea toda la gloria y la honra!

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My musical confession

Close friends and family members know that I’m a huge rock music fan. Back in high school and college, I worshipped Kurt Cobain and know all Nirvana songs by heart. My day was never complete without tuning in to LA Rock 105.9 and NU 107.5 FM, both of which, sadly, are no longer around. I could even imitate the voices of Beavis and Butt-Head (not anymore). But the truth is I enjoy all kinds of music. And when I say all kinds, I really mean it.


I love Metallica’s energetic “Battery” as much as I enjoy listening to Rachel Alejandro’s nostalgic “Nakapagtátaka“. The built-in playlist inside my head ranges from Rage Against The Machine’s “Bullet in the Head” to Thalía’s “Piel Morena“, from Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” to the Gypsy Kings’ “A Tu Vera“, and from Chenoa’s “Todo Irá Bien” to Beyoncé’s “Love On Top”. I am also fond of listening to classics such as The Platters’ “The Great Pretender”, ABBA’s “The Winner Takes It All”, and Frankie Valli’s “Can’t Take My Eyes Off You”. Whenever urged to sing during karaoke sessions, I usually belt out Tom Jones’ “Green, Green Grass of Home” to break the ice.

Did you know? My wife and I chose “Endless Love” by Diana Ross and Lionel Richie to be our theme song, haha (it’s the first song we sang together in a karaoke bar when we were still college classmates); for Tagalog, our theme song is Celeste Legaspi’s “Gaano Ko Ikáw Kamahál“. We are also planning to record ourselves singing that beloved Filipino Catholic anthem “No Más Amor Que El Tuyo” by Simeón Resurrección and Manuel Bernabé.

Believe it or not, I have nothing but respect for Justin Bieber especially when I hear his relaxing acoustic pop song “Love Yourself”. And I really don’t see (or rather hear) anything funny with April Boy Regino’s “Di Ko Kayang Tanggapin“. All songs by LANY are pure gold.

Don’t say I’m “badúy” just because I listen to Willie Revillamé’s “I Love You”, because The Prodigy and Tom Morello‘s “One Man Army” as well as Stone Cold Steve Austin‘s WWE ring entrance music are my personal war songs.

I can easily switch from Pantera’s “I’m Broken” to Gerardo Matos Rodríguez’s “La Cumparsita“. I don’t understand anything at all with K-pop group BLΛƆKPIИK’s “Kill This Love” but I should say now it’s one of the most badass songs I’ve ever heard. I will also never tire of listening to Ludwig van Beethoven’s immortal “Klaviersonate Nr. 14” (popularly known as “Moonlight Sonata”). I can even tolerate Kim Chiu’s “Bawal Lumabás“; as a matter of fact, I’m having LSS from that accidental novelty song these past few weeks.

And of course, the soulful ancient Catholic chant “Anima Christi” will never be left out.

Am I normal?

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COVID-19: ¿interruptor de un sistema malvado?

El capitalismo es el orden social que resulta de la libertad económica en la disposición y usufructo de la propiedad privada sobre el capital como herramienta de producción. Pero según Daniel de León (periodista socialista estadounidense, político, teórico marxista, y organizador sindicala, 1852-1914), el capitalismo ataca y destruye a todos los sentimientos más sutiles del corazón humano. Se barre despiadadamente las viejas tradiciones e ideas que se oponen a su progreso, y lo explota y corrompe las cosas una vez consideradas sagradas.

Y es verdad en nuestro caso. Los estadounidenses introdujeron el capitalismo a Filipinas. Desde entonces, el progreso sólo ha sido disfrutado por unos pocos elegidos, no por todo el mundo. Lo que antes era sagrado para nosotros (las tradiciones, la cultura, la fe) ya no es valioso. Y nuestros recursos naturales han sido devastados. La Madre Naturaleza no es rival contra el capitalismo, la economía del mal.

El capitalismo y su fase superior, el imperialismo, se desenvuelven y prosperan muy bien en un ambiente democrático. Esta es una de las razones por la cual ya no soy un aficionado de la democracia, el escudo político de las economías capitalistas. Es una farsa, una mafia regla. No ha hecha nada buena para mi, para Filipinas. Y como un estudiante ardiente de la historia filipina, yo he fijado que nosotros filipinos nos estábamos en mejores circunstancias bajo la monarquía de Madre España — es decir, la España de antaño, no la España de hoy.

Pero en un giro sin precedentes de los acontecimientos, la pandemia en curso, el del COVID-19, ha roto de alguna manera la avalancha de siglos de avaricia capitalista. La economía global está al borde del colapso debido a los numerosos cierres/cuarentenas que han ocurrido y siguen ocurriendo en muchas partes del globo, como el caso aquí en Filipinas. Con muchas personas encerradas en sus hogares para evitar el mortal coronavirus tipo 2 del síndrome respiratorio agudo grave, las economías capitalistas, particularmente en los Estados Unidos de América que ahora es el centro de la pandemia, están paralizadas hasta el final. Varias empresas a diestro y siniestro están anunciando recortes o su cierre completo.

Al final, las promesas del capitalismo terminaron llenas de promesas sólo para aquellos que tienen poderes corporativos. Sólo ellos están a salvo de la caída económica.

Pero los más emprendedores terminaron usando el Internet, particularmente los medios sociales como Facebook, para vender sus productos. Muchos de ellos incluso regresan a la tierra, es decir, producen su propia comida. Después de todo, la comida es la necesidad más básica, no las ropas de diseños exclusivos, bolsos lujosos, perfumes caros, y todos esos otros lujos inútiles. Los cierres causados por la pandemia nos han hecho darnos cuenta de que somos mortales, después de todo, no simples títeres de la política democrática, que tenemos hambre de estar vivos, que no importa que el capitalismo se vuelva absolutamente inútil en nuestras vidas mortales.

COVID-19 es el gran ecualizador. Ha vuelto a “square one” o al principio para la mayoría de nosotros. Me siento a la vez asustado y emocionado por lo que depara el futuro.

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