Rizal in quarantine

The title of this blogpost refers not to the Province of Rizal (which encompasses a small part of the Luzón-wide enhanced community quarantine to halt the spread of COVID-19) but to Dr. José Rizal. Not many Filipinos today know that the national hero also endured what many of them are experiencing right now. But this happened to him in faraway San Francisco, California.

I was reminded of Rizal’s quarantine episode when United States President Donald Trump a few days ago described the 2019 novel coronavirus as a “Chinese virus”, sparking outrage and debate (mostly from journalists, actually).

Trump was accused of being racist. But in his defense, there was no racism at all. His smug reply: “It comes from China”.

Could he be right? Perhaps. The MERS-CoV outbreak of 2012 which death toll reached almost a thousand worldwide was caused by the MERS-CoV virus, and it’s an acronym for “Middle East respiratory syndrome-related coronavirus” because it originated from the Middle East. The scarier Ebola virus was named after a Congolese river near the village where the outbreak was first reported. The Spanish flu of 1918, although not from Spain, was named as such because it was then thought that Spain was the country that was hardest hit by the pandemic. In all mentioned accounts, there were no racist undertones thrown.

But in Trump’s case, some say there is. Remember that even before the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, China and the US have been in a stiff trade war since Trump announced tariffs on solar panels, washing machines, steel, and aluminum in 2018 (the US is a large importer of the said products from China). And from his own words, it was China that first accused US soldiers of spreading COVID-19. There seems to be a vendetta.

US xenophobia against the Chinese is nothing new. And this Rizal reported first hand. In early 1888, he was on his second trip to Europe via the US. Upon arrival at San Francisco, California, Rizal’s ship was not allowed to dock and was immediately placed on quarantine on account of halting the spread of cholera. But apparently, cholera was just an excuse for something else. Wrote Rizal on his diary:

Nos pusieron en cuarentena. A pesar de llevar patente limpia dada por el Cónsul americano. A pesar de haber estado cerca de un mes en el mar, a pesar de no ocurrir ningún caso de enfermedad a bordo, a pesar del telegrama del Gobernador de Hong-Kong, declarando el puerto limpio; nos pusieron en cuarentena, porque llevábamos 800 chinos, y como entonces se hacían en S. Francisco las elecciones, el Gobierno, para tener votos, alardeaba de adoptar medidas rigorosas contra los chinos para captarse las simpatías del pueblo.

My translation: We were quarantined. Despite having a clearance issued by the American Consul, despite having been at sea for nearly a month, despite no case of illness occurring on board, despite the telegram from the Governor of Hong Kong declaring the port clean (the ship he boarded departed from Hong Kong -Pepe-), they still placed us on quarantine because we had 800 Chinese. And since elections were to be held in San Francisco, the government, in order to gain votes, boasted of taking rigorous measures against the Chinese to win the people’s sympathy.

He also wrote about this same experience to his friend Ferdinand Blumentritt:

Facsimile of Rizal’s letter to his best friend Ferdinand Blumentritt in German. Spanish equivalent follows below (with my English translation as caption). This appears in “Epistolario Rizalino” (Correspondence with Blumentritt).

We are anchored in this port under quarantine. We do not know how long this will last, despite not having sick people on board and the ship not having come from any dirty port. The cause of this is the 643 Chinese who boarded with us. Americans do not like the Chinese. And since the elections are about to take place, the government wants to ingratiate itself with the people. We raise protest but it is useless because it is, as the Spaniards say, like exercising the right of kicking.*

Whether or not President Trump was right with his China virus opinion, suffice it to say that it is still not the right time for political polemics and other similar innuendos in times of international crises; his wording comes out strong since the trade war between his country and China is far from over. It might even surpass the ongoing pandemic.

Truth be told, xenophobia —or Sinophobia to be more precise— is also a pandemic. And in view of the foregoing, it appears that, sadly, no amount of historical quarantine was able to contain it.

*A Spanish idiomatic expression that has no English equivalent. It means a last and vain attitude of protest that is adopted or can be adopted by those who feel defeated in their rights.

Rest in peace, Tita Sylvia

One tragedy after the other. And it comes in a time when the whole world is burning with anxiety and fear… 😞

It is with great sadness and pain to announce that my auntie, Sylvia Santos-Pineda, the direct great-granddaughter of Marcelo H. del Pilar, passed away early this morning at the Cardinal Santos Medical Center. She was 72.

Tita Sylvia was one of the first who responded when news about my wife’s cancer broke out. In fact, she was one of those who contributed the most (I am actually disobeying her now because she didn’t want to be acknowledged about this [Matthew 6:4]; but she had to be, she deserved it). And this at a time when she was in great physical pain (she was suffering from an autoimmune illness). Sending financial aid to my cancer-stricken wife in spite of her health was probably one of her last acts of charity.

She was one of my beacons of hope.

I even imagine that she must have somehow, in deep prayer, offered her life to save my wife’s. She was a very prayerful person, much like her late mother, Lola Bening, her uncle Vicente (Fr. Vicente Marasigan, S.J.), and her auntie Josefina (Mother Mary Aurora). A very esteemed Catholic family in sharp contrast to their Masonic ancestor.

How could I even attend her wake? Metro Manila is in total lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic. And even if there is no lockdown, I wouldn’t be able to visit her because of my weakened lungs; I am highly susceptible to the virus. So harrowing.

Please pray for the eternal repose of her kind soul. She has shown my family great love.

One of her last messages to me.

“I shall return”

TODAY IN FILIPINO HISTORY: 20 March 1942 — An escaping General Douglas MacArthur who arrived at Terowie, South Australia makes his famous speech regarding the fall of Filipinas to the Imperial Japanese Army in which he says: “I came through and I shall return”. That declaration has become one of the most iconic lines from World War II and in all of World History.

On a personal note, this speech reminds me not of MacArthur but of another historical figure who is almost forgotten in our country’s history: Simón de Anda, the irrepressible Spanish Basque Governor-General of Filipinas from 1770 to 1776.

De Anda was then an oidor or member judge of the Audiencia Real (Spain’s appellate court in its colonies/overseas provinces) when the British, on account of the Seven Years’ War, invaded Filipinas in 1762. While many high-ranking government officials, including then interim governor-general and Archbishop Manuel Rojo del Río, already surrendered to the invaders, de Anda and his followers refused to do so. Instead, he established a new Spanish base in Bacolor, Pampanga and from there launched the country’s first-ever guerrilla resistance against the British. He thus proved to be a big thorn on the side of the British until the latter left the archipelago two years later.

During those tumultuous two years under the British, de Anda made no promises and neither did he leave Filipinas. He stuck it out with Filipinos through thick and thin and gave the enemy an armed resistance that they more than deserved. But “Dugout Doug” was all drama when he said “I shall return”, leaving the Filipinos to fend for themselves against the Japs. And when he did return, it was a disaster: the death of Intramuros, the heart and soul of the country.

Update on my wife’s cancer situation

Buenos días, amigos y parientes.

Yeyette’s breast cancer surgery was successful. Thanks be to God. 😇

I am now making an accounting of all the financial help we received for my wife Yeyette‘s hospitalization (I will post it only on my Facebook account, not here on my blog). Hope to finish it today. Also, her severed right breast is undergoing lab tests to find out if the cancer cells have totally been eliminated from her system, and to determine if she would still need chemotherapy or not. We will receive the result within a week. So yes, this is not yet over. Fervent prayers are still needed for her full recovery. May she no longer go through that torturous procedure.



La imagen puede contener: una persona, de pie, gafas de sol, sombrero y primer plano

Selfie with the Sacred Heart of Jesus at the ground floor of ManilaMed on our way home last night. This hospital is the most Catholic health institution I have ever visited. The building’s penthouse has a neat-looking chapel and even has an office for the clergy. My eldest son Mómay took this photo. He came in handy during my wife’s confinement.

La imagen puede contener: 3 personas, personas de pie

We made it home before the lockdown! No social distancing here! ¡Gracias a Dios!

I have also received feedback about my Facebook post last Friday in which I shared a photograph of my wife’s severed breast tissue. When I did that, I was in a daze, filled with frantic confusion, wonderment, and joy (because the surgery was successful) mixed with sleeplessness and exhaustion. I also had in mind Rizal’s vertebra and Aguinaldo’s appendix (you know, for posterity and stuff, hehe). But looking back, I didn’t realize that what I did was offensive and elicited disgust among some people. My profuse apologies.

I would also like to apologize to the many people whose offer of help and assistance were not heeded. Please know that you were not ignored. While there may be many solutions to her breast cancer, we can afford to choose only one. I had to respect my wife’s decision no matter how stubborn it may seem to some. Nevertheless, I am truly grateful for your show of concern and eagerness to help out.

I would also like to extend my gratitude to those who were not able to provide financial assistance (due to unavoidable circumstances) but still took time to pray for my wife’s recovery.

Again, from the bottom of my heart, I would like to thank each and every one of you who prayed for my wife and showed their incredible generosity. I really felt like Captain America in Avengers: Endgame’s now-famous portals scene. I thought I was all alone. I didn’t know that all of you were there right behind me, ready to fight with me. ¡Gracias, gracias, muchísimas gracias!

Yeyette will reach out to all of you soon. Just give her time.

Keep safe from COVID-19


Pepe Alas

Captain Remo (75th death anniversary)

La imagen puede contener: una persona

Abelardo Remoquillo (1922-1945), known among his peers, war enemies, and admirers as “Captain Remo”, was a young guerrillero from San Pedro Tunasán, La Laguna (simply known today as the City of San Pedro, Laguna) who fought against the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II. He is known only as a local hero. But I contend that he be declared a national hero. Why? At a very young age, he joined the Hunters ROTC guerrillas not to defend his hometown but to help defend his country. He fought against the invaders from different fronts of Southern Luzón and even participated in the famous Raid at Los Baños.

He died not in San Pedro Tunasán but in faraway Bay, La Laguna while attacking a Japanese garrison.

When he joined the Hunters ROTC, that is when his being a San Pedrense ended, and the exact moment when he completed his being a Filipino, a Filipino warrior to be exact.

Today, we commemorate the 75th death anniversary of his heroic death.

Copies of my bilingual biography* of Captain Remo are still available at the San Pedro City Hall. For inquiries, please contact the San Pedro Tourism, Culture, and Arts Office.

*The Tagálog translation is by Linda Sietereales. Her dear friend, famous novelist Lualhati Bautista, has a blurb for the book. This book is a project of the San Pedro City Historical Council headed by Mayor Lourdes Catáquiz.

A desperate call for help

I already did this before. Now I’m compelled to do it again… 😳

Dear friends. Jennifer “Yeyette” Perey de Alas, my dear wife of 21 years, was diagnosed with breast cancer, stage 2. Initially, it was thought that her cancer was only on its first stage. But after undergoing a very painful biopsy, it was found out that it is already on its second stage.

No hay ninguna descripción de la foto disponible.

In order for the cancer cells to stop spreading, she needs to undergo mastectomy on her right breast on or before mid-April. The whole procedure will cost us more than ₱300,000 (including post check-ups, medications, and possible chemotherapy sessions which we hope will no longer be necessary).

Getting a second opinion is not an option at the moment as the biopsy alone already cost us close to ₱30,000.

As a disclosure (and clarification to doubting Thomases): close friends and some family members are aware of my salary and how astounded they are with it. However, please note that I am the only one employed. Yeyette has since stopped working after giving birth to Junífera Clarita in 2014; she also almost lost her life during the whole process. And with five kids to feed and to send to school, that salary of mine, to be honest, is barely enough. My economic status, therefore, is no different to most Filipino workers today. 😔

So here I am now, shamefacedly pulling at your heartstrings, to do one of the things that I truly hate the most: publicly asking for financial assistance. But I’m doing this to save my wife’s life.

All I’m asking is just a minimum donation of ₱200. I believe that it would be more of a drag for many people if I ask for more. I currently have 788 Facebook friends. I was thinking that if each of them would donate the same amount, I would garner ₱157,600. Still not enough (and I’m sure not all of my Facebook friends will heed my call). So I asked my kids who have Facebook accounts to do the same scheme. Yeyette has already asked her relatives in Mindoro to do the same (Facebook already deleted her account for reasons unclear to us).

Should you wish to help us, you may send your donation to my bank account:

Bank of the Philippine Islands account number: 9829-0918-41
Account name: José Mario S. Alas
BPI branch: Ortigas Emerald (Unit 101 G/F Jollibee Plaza Condominium, F. Ortigas Jr. Road, Brgy. San Antonio, Ortigas Center, Pásig City 1605)
Swift code: BOPIPHMM

You may also dial/text 09613501787 if you want to know more details about Yeyette’s dilemma.

I understand that many people are very cautious when it comes to letting go of money these days as they are already fed up with corruption and various scams. Trust me: I am as cynical as you are when it comes to random individuals asking for monetary assistance online. But God knows this is not a scam. And I am vouching for whatever reputation I may have as an online Filipino historian. Tarnishing that reputation, no matter how small, is not even one of the last things I’d want to do even at gunpoint. Having said that, if you wish to see any accounting of the funds that we might be able to collect, feel free to ask me. I’d be glad and very willing to share it to you.

Also, after sending your donation, please show me the receipt via Messenger or my email address (pepe.alas@gmail.com) so that I would know from whom the money had come from.

To collate more than ₱300,000 in a month’s time is not a walk in the park for people like us. And we are working against time. Please don’t let my writings, social media engagements, or my knowledge of Filipino History and the Spanish language fool you: I really am as poor as a rat, always filled with secret glee whenever there’s free pizza around at the office. And the seven of us live in a cramped apartment that looks more like a topsy-turvy children’s toys warehouse than a normal-looking home. Truly, life had become extremely difficult ever since Yeyette was forced to stop working six years ago.

With all the personal misfortunes that had bedeviled me through the years, from being a battered child to a trying hard, mediocre writer chained by the system to a dejected, inutile son whose estranged parents are currently embroiled in a court case against each other, it comes as no surprise why I feel that I am always on the brink of heeding what the French call as “l’appel du vide“. This in spite of my daily Rosaries (been reading too much assorted philosophies, I guess). But hey, enough about me. This is not supposed to be about me. The only reason I’m sharing this now is to inform people what a positive-thinking person my wife is. Because I am her complete opposite. That is my character, and I’m just being brutally honest. I think that is why our children adore her more. She cries a lot, especially when pushed to the limit, but she always remains hopeful. She trusts in the kindness of people. And she is made of sterner stuff, not the type of person who easily surrenders. That is why she is the strongest person I have ever met. My family cannot afford to lose her. She is the pillar, the heart of our home. Not me.

If she’s gone, that is the end of my family as we all know it.

That could even be the end of me.

Feast of the Chair of Saint Peter: a clarification

La imagen puede contener: exterior

Iglesia de San Pedro Apóstol.

Today, the City of San Pedro Tunasán, our adoptive city for the past 16 years, celebrates the feast day of the Chair of Saint Peter, its namesake saint. February 22 is also the date when our city usually celebrates the Sampaguita Festival, a week-long festivity that aims to promote tourism as well as to revitalize the dying sampaguita industry. But this year, there is no Sampaguita Festival due to the coronavirus scare (a precautionary directive from the Department of Interior and Local Government).

A few years ago, I heard from the grapevine that there were plans to move the Sampaguita Festival on May 3, the original town fiesta of San Pedro Tunasán. May 3 is the traditional feast day of The Exaltation of the Holy Cross (now celebrated every September 14). The Vicariate of San Pedro Apóstol, to which our parish belongs, and our local government unit headed by Mayor Lourdes S. Catáquiz, decided to bring back the original feast day of May 3. I was told that (if I remember correctly) the town fiesta was transferred from May 3 to February 22 during the 1960s. When the Sampaguita Festival was launched in 2003, its organizers decided to coincide it with the feast of the Chair of Saint Peter. This year, the Sampaguita Festival will now be celebrated together with the city’s original feast day.

The decision to return our city’s traditional feast day from February 22 to May 3 is a good move as it a sign of reverence toward religious history. While it is true that The Exaltation of the Holy Cross has nothing to do with our city’s name, as it is usually the practice of many Filipino towns and cities named after saints to celebrate their fiestas after their respective namesake saints’ feast days, it should be noted that San Pedro Tunasán is the home of one of our province’s most famous icons: the Cross of Tunasán. It was mentioned by no less than José Rizal in his Noli Me Tangere.

Now that we have cleared that up, let us now clarify another confusion regarding today’s liturgical feast day. For centuries, the Chair of Saint Peter was celebrated twice a year: first on the 18th of January and second on the 22nd of February. However, these two feasts differ from each other. The January feast day commemorates the day when Saint Peter the Apostle evangelized in Rome, Italy while the February version pertained to his evangelization in Antioch, Greece. Sometime in 1960, for reasons I could not comprehend, Pope John XXIII removed the January 18 celebration, making February 22 the only feast day for the Chair of Saint Peter the Apostle. With all due respect to the Vatican, this should not have been done because the fact will always remain that the January 18 feast day pertained to the “Chair of Saint Peter at Rome” and the February 22 feast day pertained to the “Chair of Saint Peter at Antioch”.

One should also take note that San Pedro Tunasán was founded on 18 January 1725, exactly on the feast day of the Chair of Saint Peter in Rome. Besides, all images of Saint Peter the Apostle inside the Church of San Pedro Apóstol are attributed to his papacy in Rome, not in Antioch. And whenever one talks about Saint Peter’s papacy, Rome always comes to mind, not Antioch. In our province, the local government of the City of San Pedro Tunasán based its 18-year-old Sampaguita Festival on the February 22nd feast day. I hope that one day, our church leaders will put back the original feast day as it is heavily intertwined with San Pedro Tunasán’s history.

La imagen puede contener: una persona, de pie

Image of Saint Peter seated on his throne as the first Pope of the Roman Catholic Church.