Taal is a supervolcano

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It boggles me as to why Taal Lake is not generally considered as a supervolcano. All the characteristics of a supervolcano (collapsed caldera, gigantic ridges, etc.) are inherent in her. The breathtaking landscape of Tagaytay ridge, for instance, is actually the enormous rim of that ancient supervolcanic crater.

If I’m not mistaken, Taal Lake is the only supervolcano that still has an active crater in its center. Therefore, this makes Taal Volcano as the most dangerous in the world. To say that it is just one of the most dangerous is already false humility.

After reading Thomas R. Hargrove’s famous little book about Taal Lake and its mysterious volcano, I am finally convinced that people should get out of the danger zone… PERMANENTLY. The Spanish friars tried their best to take the native Batangueños away from the volcano. But now that they’re gone, their flocks’ stubborn descendants keep on returning to where they shouldn’t be in the first place.

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When Taal Lake was not yet a lake

That the towns of Taal and Lemery are starting to display volcanic fissures due to the recent phreatic eruption of Taal Volcano last January 12 should not be surprising had their people known their violent geological history.

Before the mid-18th century, Taal Lake was technically not a lake because it was connected to Balayán Bay via a wide channel (encircled in red). Subsequent eruptions buried this channel, creating what is now a large part of the Municipality of Lemery (named after José Nicolás Francisco Pablo Lemery, the Governor-General who ruled the country at the time of Rizal’s birth). One old Spanish newspaper (the name escapes me at the moment) even reported that a huge chunk of a mountain called Malaquíng Bintî —otherwise known as Binintiang Malaki, that picturesque little cone that we all know from postcards— was flung all the way to where Lemery is now situated due to a violent eruption. That closed the channel, blocking the waterway. Thus Taal Lake was born. That cataclysmic event also trapped several sea animals, including bull sharks, inside the lake. When the lake’s salinity subsided due to years of rainfall, these sea creatures learned to adapt to it instead of dying out (unfortunately, the bull sharks did not survive the notorious #BobongPinoy mentality; they were totally wiped out sometime in the 1930s). Today, what is perhaps a remnant of that ancient channel is now the Pansipit River which divides Lemery from the heritage town of Taal. Both towns, especially Lemery, sit on fragile grounds.

And even as we speak, it appears that the volcano is again trying to take away that last, small outlet that connects its lake to the sea.

No hay ninguna descripción de la foto disponible.

This map is from the famous 1734 Murillo Velarde map, the so-called “Mother of Filipino maps”.

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Himno al Volcán de Taal

Hi there. I thought of sharing this century-old Filipino poem (in Spanish, of course) because it’s very timely. It’s written by none other than Claro M. Recto (1890–1960), one of the greatest Filipino nationalists who had ever lived. Millennials and many other unlettered peeps will easily recognize the name only as that busy, infamous road in Manila where one can obtain fake diplomas and other doctored documents. It should be made known that Recto was not all about that. He was a prodigy in poetry, a forceful playwright, a brilliant lawyer, a fiery senator, a just jurist, a clear-cut and consummate constitutionalist, and a champion of the so-called Identidad Filipina or Filipino Identity which is based on our Spanish past.

Surprisingly AND laughably, he was also the grandfather of incumbent Senator Ralph Recto, but let’s not go there anymore. 😂

Due to time constraints and other tasks at hand (and it’s my son Jefe’s 13th birthday today), I am not able to translate this poem in its entirety. But let me just share to you a brief backgrounder and other interesting tidbits about it. Titled Himno al Volcán de Taal, Recto composed this poem shortly after the cataclysmic Taal Volcano eruption that occurred on 30 January 1911 and took the lives of more than 1,300 people. He dedicated the poem to journalist Fidel A. Reyes (1878–1967), a fellow Batangueño (both are from Lipâ) who years earlier was entangled in a highly controversial libel case because of an editorial that he wrote for the newspaper El Renacimiento (The Renaissance) titled “Aves de Rapiña” or “Birds of Prey”. The editorial made references to a US official who allegedly took advantage of his position to exploit the country’s resources for his own personal gain.

Taal Volcano a day before it erupted on 30 January 1911 (photographed by Charles Martín for the National Geographic Magazine, volume 23, 1912).

No names were mentioned in the editorial, but Dean C. Worcester who was then the Secretary of the Interior of the Insular Government of the Philippine Islands felt alluded to. He sued Reyes as well as El Renacimiento’s editor (Teodoro M. Kalaw) and the publisher (Martín Ocampo). El Renacimiento lost the case, was heavily fined, and subsequently closed down. Nevertheless, the editorial team was considered as heroes by Filipino nationalists, including a young Recto who was then only in his teens when the celebrated libel case was ongoing.

Already an ardent nationalist at a young age as can be gleaned from many of his poems, the Aves de Rapiña editorial and libel case must have had surely made an impact on Recto’s young mind, thus the dedication of Himno al Volcán Taal to Reyes who was twelve years his senior. A connection should now be made between the poem in question and the libel case involving Reyes — Himno al Volcán Taal was not all about the 1911 eruption. Recto cunningly used the disaster to subtlely attack the whole Insular Government. He declaimed his composition two weeks after the disaster, on February 15 (or shortly after his 21st birthday), during a soiree held for the benefit of the victims of the aforementioned eruption. In his poem, Recto described Taal Volcano’s greatness by personifying it as a giant Greek statue (Colossus) and a powerful Titan from Greek mythology (Prometheus), and as a symbol of his “race”, i.e., the Filipino people, who were meek and humble but can become aggressive against the “adventurous vulture” who is the “thief of liberties”: Eres tú todo un símbolo del alma de mi Raza: | manso y humilde pero agrede y despedaza | al buitre aventurero, ladrón de libertades; Clearly, he was referring to the US colonial invaders, the birds of prey (personified by the “buitre aventurero”), who took upon themselves to conquer us in 1898 without our willing consent.

Recto also decried why Taal killed its own people during the previous month’s explosion: ¿Por qué fueron tus víctimas los hijos de tu tierra, | los mismos paladines del triunfo de mañana? But he immediately shrugged off his own question when he concluded that the explosion was a punishment for the Filipinos’ complacency (angrily calling it “suicidal apathy”) toward their US colonial masters: Castigaste del pueblo la suicida apatía, | porque no predicamos la santa rebeldía | ante el feroz empuje de la ambición humana.

But the nastiest attack against the US colonial government can be found in this poem’s penultimate stanza, which is my favorite part because of its striking imagery and very moving message. Here he belittled the light coming out from the “torch of New York” (the Statue of Liberty, another famous US symbol), saying that its weak light can never reach our shores, and that may the high column of fire coming out from Taal Volcano be our brilliant torch during our “long night” (years under colonial yoke): Sea la alta columna de fuego que vomitas | en nuestra noche larga la tea refulgente; | la antorcha neoyorquina iluminando el mundo | es tan débil y exigua que su brillo infecundo | no llega á las comarcas de esta Perla de Oriente. Although sarcastic, Recto was still benign in this poem if we are to compare it to an earlier poem of his titled “Oración al Dios Apolo” (Prayer to the God Apollo, October 1910) wherein he implored that both the volcanoes of Taal and Mayón explode (que… revienten sus cráteres el Taal y el Mayón) in order to vanquish those “voracious eagles” who came to our shores in droves (vinieron Águilas voraces en tropel, a clear allusion to the US invaders’ other famous symbol: the bald eagle).

With Recto’s persistent use of buitres and águilas to corroborate Reyes’s editorial, Dean C. Worcester could be correct with his suspicion all along: he and the government he represented were indeed birds of prey.

Taal Volcano’s phreatic explosion at 18,000 feet from the ground taken yesterday by Tito Johnny On, a family friend who is a pilot.

–Claro M. Recto–

Para Fidel A. Reyes

Coloso encadenado, invicto Prometeo,
que enseñas hoy al mundo el inmortal trofeo
de tus hazañas trágicas de tirano sañudo:
llegue á tí, como un himno de encarnizada guerra,
como un coro de truenos, como un temblor de tierra,
este salmo que emerge de mi salterio rudo.

Son ingentes tus triunfos, son grandes tus hazañas
porque un nuno maléfico alienta en tus entrañas,
fabricante de rayos de vengadoras furias;
hechura del malayo, alma del pueblo nuestro,
legatario de todas las iras del Ancestro,
bizarro é inexorable castigador de injurias.

Hay en tu seno puestas por la Naturaleza
energías que guardan tu secular grandeza
de las profanaciones de las garras voraces.
Y así cuando te violan, tus iras se desatan,
é incendian y aniquilan, y destruyen y matan,
ante el espanto mudo de todos los rapaces.

Ante tí nada pueden los bárbaros cañones,
con que de las inermes y débiles naciones
tan descaradamente se burlan las más fuertes;
porque las fuerzas hijas de la Naturaleza
son fuerzas absolutas, cuya ruda braveza
neutraliza las balas cuando fulmina muertes.

Eres tú todo un símbolo del alma de mi Raza:
manso y humilde pero agrede y despedaza
al buitre aventurero, ladrón de libertades;
por eso te estremecen mortales convulsiones,
cuando los ambiciosos, que ingentes aluviones
de Conquista han traído roban tus heredades.

Tus cráteres lanzaron fuego de cien mil fraguas,
lavas abrasadoras, ceniza, hirvientes aguas,
en una anunciación de hecatombe suprema;
porque ha sido violado tu mágico tesoro,
aquellos encantados gemelos toros de oro,
por los Shylocks que ostentan la explotación por lema.

¡Oh! Aquella tu ira santa lección sublime encierra.
¿Por qué fueron tus víctimas los hijos de tu tierra,
los mismos paladines del triunfo de mañana?
Castigaste del pueblo la suicida apatía,
porque no predicamos la santa rebeldía
ante el feroz empuje de la ambición humana.

Ejemplo de energía, valor y patriotismo,
ha visto el pueblo nuestro en ese cataclismo
que sembró con delirio tu saña despiadada
Tú enseñaste al pasivo morador del terruño
a abrir la boca airada y enseñar rojo el puño
a los esquilmadores de nuestra tierra amada.

Maldices la Conquista, odias el coloniaje,
pides la autonomía para el propio linaje,
porque te pesa mucho el extranjero yugo.
Y así siempre que vienen nuevos dominadores,
descargas con fierza tus rayos destructores,
como un reto de muerte al extraño verdugo.

Hace ya muchos años, á raiz del arribo
de la progenie hispana á tu solar nativo,
sembraste una catástrofe muy digna de tu historia.
Y hoy repetiste tu obra de destrucción y muerte,
para decir al amo que nuestro pueblo fuerte
no requiere tutores para vivir con gloria.

Fuiste siempre rebelde, osado, diestro y bravo.
Tú prefieres el caos á vegetar esclavo.
Diríase que alientan en tu seno las almas
de los Burgos, Zamoras, Bonifacios, Rizales,
y de todos aquellos gloriosos Ancestrales
que en lides conquistaron inmarcesibles palmas.

Fuiste siempre, ¡oh Coloso!, hostil á los tiranos,
como el Mayón y el Apo, tus augustos hermanos,
Menos también, muy llenos, de vengadora saña.
Sed como aquí Samsón, heroe de Palestina.
Arrojad vuestras lavas, que antes la propia ruina
que el vergonzoso pacto con la Conquista extraña.

Brindad á Filipinas una ilustre epopeya
que no podemos darla. Igualadla á Pompeya,
inmortal en los fastos solemnes de la historia.
Más bella es Filipinas bajo ceniza y lava,
que Filipinas paria, de otra nación esclava,
y de la gran familia humana, vil escoria.

¡Hurra, egregio coloso de glorias infinitas!
Sea la alta columna de fuego que vomitas
en nuestra noche larga la tea refulgente;
la antorcha neoyorquina iluminando el mundo
es tan débil y exigua que su brillo infecundo
no llega á las comarcas de esta Perla de Oriente.

Más unión, ciudadanos, porque nos aniquilan.
¿No veis que por un lado cañones nos vigilan
y por otro las fuerzas de la Madre Natura?
Que se unan fuertemente todos nuestros esfuerzos,
que formen un sólo haz los vigores dispersos,
y alcemos nuestra enseña sobre tanta tristura……

Febrero, 1911.
Declamada por su autor en la velada literario-musical celebrada el 15 de febrero de 1911 en el «Opera House» á beneficio de los damnificados de Batangas.


¡Ha entrado en erupción el Volcán Taal!

El Volcán Taal en la Provincia de Batangas ya ha mostrado signos de una erupción inminente en los últimos meses, pero fue sólo esta tarde cuando estalló (freática). Este volcán, singular porque se encuentra en medio de un lago, se considera el más pequeño del mundo. Pero en realidad, su parte inferior está sumergida bajo el agua. Sólo el cráter es visible. Debido a esta peculiaridad, este volcán batangueño se ha convertido en uno de los lugares turísticos más famosos de mi país.

Esta foto impresionante fue tomada desde el Monte Maculot en Cuenca, Batangas por Anthony Matúlac (primo de mi amigo batangueño Emil Geronilla).

Pero no dejéis que su belleza os engañe: este volcán tiene un pasado mortal. Desde 1572, ha habido más de treinta erupciones registradas, y hubo cientos de muertes (su última erupción registrada fue en 1977, o dos años antes de mi nacimiento). De hecho, al menos dos ciudades de Batangas, Lipâ y Taal, se han mudado a varios sitios porque fueron devastadas por varias erupciones. Muchos no saben que los sitios actuales de Lipâ y Taal no son sus sitios originales.

Una de sus erupciones más devastadoras fue en 1911 (también ocurrió en el mes de enero), donde murieron más de mil personas.

La Ciudad de Tagaytay en la Provincia de Cavite es sin duda el mejor lugar para ver el volcán batangueño porque está situado en la cima de una cresta o barranca muy alta. La cresta en sí fue creada por una explosión taaleña masiva hace miles de años (el nombre  de Tagaytay se deriva de una antigua palabra tagala que significa cresta o barranca).

La última vez que experimenté una caída de ceniza volcánica fue cuando tenía once años durante la explosión mundialmente famosa del Volcán Pinatubò. Ahora, más de veintiocho años después, lo experimenté nuevamente, esta vez como un padre de familia. Por extraño que parezca, hay una sensación de emoción (y nostalgia) a pesar del peligro que conlleva.

La imagen puede contener: cielo, nubes y exterior

La explosión freática del Volcán Taal se puede ver desde la isla de Mindoro. Esta foto fue tomada esta tarde en Abra de Ilog, Mindoro Occidental (pueblo natal de mi mujer Yeyette; esta foto es de Jemar “Balong” García, un amigo de sus primos).

Grabé cuatro vídeos breves de la caída de ceniza volcánica en nuestro lugar (San Pedro Tunasán, La Laguna está más o menos a 40 km de Tagaytay). Haced clic aquí para verlos.

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A review of Brother Andrew González’s “Language and Nationalism: The Philippine Experience Thus Far”

I am reposting an undated book review written many years ago by the late chemist-historian Pío Andrade Jr. He was a researcher and regular contributor to the Filipino-Chinese weekly magazine “Tuláy” published by Teresita Ang-See in Binondo, Manila. Andrade was the author of the best-selling and controversial book “The Fooling of América: The Untold Story of Carlos P. Rómulo“. In this book review, Andrade countered the claim that Spanish was not widespread in Filipinas during the US colonial period.

Pío Andrade Jr.

Brother Andrew González’s treatise “Language and Nationalism” was praised in the foreword by Cecilio López as “the most exhaustive and up-to-date treatment of the language problem in the Philippines”.

It may have been up-to-date when it was published, but by no means could it be described as exhaustive. One look at the list of references shows the absence of very important sources such as the following:

1.) The Official Census of 1903.
2.) The Ford Report of 1916, which shows that the use of Spanish was more widespread than commonly admitted.
3.) Pío Valenzuela’s History of Philippine Journalism.

There are many big and important facts on the language question that are not mentioned at all in Brother Andrew’s book, such as the fact about Spanish being the language of the Revolution, the role of Spanish in effecting the unity of the various Filipino ethnic groups which made the 1896-1899 Revolution possible, the role of the Chinese Filipinos in disseminating the language of Cervantes all over the country due to the fact that the Philippines was the most thoroughly educated Asian colony in the last decades of the 19th century, and the fact about the much higher circulation of Spanish language dailies than either the Tagálog or English dailies in the 1930s.

Brother Andrew González, FSC, uncritically accepted the figure of 2.8% as the percentage of Filipinos who can speak and write in Spanish at the turn of the century given by Cavada Méndez y Vigo’s book. This book was printed in 1870, just seven years after the establishment of the Philippine Public school system in 1863 by Spain.

Surely by 1900, more than 2.8% of the Filipinos were speaking and writing in Spanish and there was incontrovertible proof behind this assertion.

Don Carlos Palanca’s Memorandum to the Schurman Commission listed eight Spanish-speaking provinces in the islands in addition to the 9 Tagalog-speaking provinces which, according to him, are also Spanish-speaking. To this total of 17 Spanish-speaking provinces, Don Carlos added that there were only five other provinces where “only a little Spanish is spoken”. Don Carlos Palanca was the gobernadorcillo of Binondo and the head of the Gremio de Mestizos (Chinese Christians were the ones referred to as mestizos since the Spanish half-breed was called criollo).

William Howard Taft’s 1901 statement after his tour of the Philippines clearly says that Spanish was more widespread than Tagalog.

This fact about Spanish being even more widespread than Tagalog in the entire archipelago is further attested to by the well-documented fact that American soldiers during the Fil-American war had to speak bamboo Spanish to all Filipinos —not bamboo Tagalog— in order to be understood without any interpreter. There is still that other fact about the early occupational government of the American Military in the Philippines having to publish in Spanish, not in Tagalog, all its official communications in order to be understood by the Filipino people. An English translation was appended whenever necessary for the consumption of the Americans themselves.

This official use of Spanish by the Americans themselves went on up to 1910 when they started to issue communications in English but still followed by a corresponding Spanish translation of the same. In view of this fact, if a Filipino national language needed to be established other than English, the correct choice should have been Spanish, not Tagalog.

A big fault of Brother Andrew’s book lies in his uncritical acceptance of Teodoro Agoncillo’s “The Revolt of the Masses: The Story of Bonifacio and the Katipunan”. Agoncillo’s history book has already been proven to be heavily distorted by omission of facts, false interpretation of events and documents, and by outright lies. The omission of these other facts was done because the same could not be reconciled with Mr. Agoncillo’s own personal bias in the narration and teaching of Philippine history. An example of Brother Andrew’s fault with regard to his uncritical acceptance of Agoncilo’s distortion of history is the conclusion that the founding members of the KKK (Katipunan) were Filipinos of lowly origin. The founding Supremo of the KKK is Andrés Bonifacio and it is not so that he is of lowly origin. Bonifacio was definitely not a poor man when he got into the Katipunan.

Nor were the other Katiputan charter members. Agoncillo also failed to mention that the Philippine economy was booming during that decade and that Bonifacio, unlike most other Filipinos, approved of the torture of a captive friar.

The years 1900 to the Commonwealth period (1935-1941) were not well researched by Brother and Doctor Andrew González. Thus, the language issue affecting the Filipinos then was not well discussed. Had Brother Andrew researched more on the language issue of that period, he would have found out that as late as the 1930s, Spanish dailies outcirculated either the Tagalog or English language dailies.

He would have found out also that the use of Spanish during the following decade of 1940 was bound to even get stronger had it not been for the devastating 1943-1945 war.

The strength of Spanish is evidenced by the majority of cinema films shown between 1900 and 1940. These films, even if made in Holywood, were in Spanish subtitles and talkies. And several of the Philippine produced full-length films had all-Spanish talkies.

Another important fact not found in Brother Andrew’s book is the role of the Spanish language in assimilating and integrating the Chinese emigrants into mainstream Filipino society. The 100,000 Chinese in the Philippines at the turn of the century spoke Spanish in varying degrees of proficiency. The Philippine Chinese Chamber of Commerce since its establishment in 1904 wrote its minutes in Spanish until 1924. When they ceased using Spanish in their official meetings and minutes, they reverted to Chinese, not English. Today, strange as it may seem, the last bastion of whatever Spanish language is left are the Chinese Filipinos, and not those of Spanish descent except the Padilla-Zóbel family that maintains the annual Premio Zóbel.

Finally, Brother and Doctor Andrew González treated very superficially the question of nationalism and language. There should have been more discussions on the point that adopting a foreign tongue, or using foreign words, are not per se against nationalism. If nationalism is love for one’s country and foreign words and language can best help literacy and communication, it is nationalistic doing so.

Neither did Brother and Doctor Andrew González realize that nationalism in the question of language can be destructive as has been the case in the Philippines. Doing away with Spanish orthography and the cartilla, the educational authorities did away with a very inexpensive and very effective method for teaching reading skills to the young. Exterminating Spanish in the schools made the Filipinos today estranged to their Hispanic past and made Filipinos prey to nationalist historians who misled several generations of Filipinos in the sense that Spain had done the Philippines very little good when the contrary is true.

What is the prime purpose of language? Is it not to make us understand one another better? Yet, Brother and Doctor Andrew González’s book gives the impressions that showing nationalism is the prime purpose of language.

To be fair to Brother Andrew González, we want to think that he is a victim of too many distortions found in Philippine History including the history of language among Filipinos. Thus, the remark of Cecilio López in his introduction to Brother Andrew’s book “Language and Nationalism”, that it is “the most exhaustive and up-to-date treatment of the language problem in the Philippines”, is only true in the sense that the very few books on the same subject are mostly superficial.

Perhaps it will be correct for us to recall a Spanish saying that says: En el país de los ciegos, el tuerto es rey.

DEFENSORES DE LA IDENTIDAD FILIPINA. History blogger Arnaldo Arnáiz (left) and the late chemist-historian Pío Andrade Jr. (right). Behind Arnaldo is eminent historian Fr. José Arcilla, S.J. (photo taken on 26 June 2009 at the Instituto Cervantes de Manila‘s former site in Ermita, Manila).

We are now 25,000 strong!

“Prize the past | the counterclockwise ticks”
Federico Espino

Good news to all members of the Facebook history group PHILIPPINE HISTORY 101 : Nostalgia: We now have 25,000 members! What a way to end 2019!

On behalf of the group’s founder, Ms. Carmen Floirendo, I would like to thank all members in making this group a huge success! The group also boasts of distinguished names in Filipino History and Culture such as Ambeth Ocampo, Guillermo Gómez Rivera, Gemma Cruz Araneta, Jim Richardson, and Xiao Chua among many others. Even Jaime Fábregas is there! This makes the group very unique and special compared to other FB groups about Filipino History.

Click here to join!

We now look forward to an exciting new decade! 🥳

La imagen puede contener: montaña, cielo, nubes, texto, naturaleza y exterior

Image: Diamond Fist.

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Rizal’s retraction (full original text)

No hay ninguna descripción de la foto disponible.

Me declaro católico y en esta Religión en que nací y me eduqué quiero vivir y morir.

Me retracto de todo corazón de cuanto en mis palabras, escritos, impresos y conducta ha habido contrario a mi cualidad de hijo de la Iglesia Católica. Creo y profeso cuanto ella enseña y me someto a cuanto ella manda. Abomino de la Masonería, como enemiga que es de la Iglesia, y como Sociedad prohibida por la Iglesia. Puede el Prelado Diocesano, como Autoridad Superior Eclesiástica hacer pública esta manifastación espontánea mía para reparar el escándalo que mis actos hayan podido causar y para que Dios y los hombers me perdonen.

Manila 29 de diciembre de 1896.

José Rizal


I declare myself a catholic and in this Religion in which I was born and educated I wish to live and die.

I retract with all my heart whatever in my words, writings, publications and conduct has been contrary to my character as son of the Catholic Church. I believe and I confess whatever she teaches and I submit to whatever she demands. I abominate Masonry, as the enemy which is of the Church, and as a Society prohibited by the Church. The Diocesan Prelate may, as the Superior Ecclesiastical Authority, make public this spontaneous manifestation of mine in order to repair the scandal which my acts may have caused and so that God and people may pardon me.

Manila 29 of December of 1896

–José Rizal–

Rizal’s retraction was signed shortly before his execution. Many years later, his handwriting and signature on it were examined and confirmed to be legitimate by handwriting experts at the National Bureau of Investigation. End of debate.

* E * L * F * I * L * I * P * I * N * I * S * M * O *

Estoy seguro de que ya estás perdonado, tocayo. No es fácil mostrar la humildad de uno. Pues, tu humildad profunda en reconocer tus errores ya es suficiente para que celebremos tu gloria imperecedera. Descansa en paz eterna.

–José Alas–