¿Bakwit ba?

As one of our city‘s consultants for historical and cultural matters, yours truly was invited last month to a meeting of top city hall officials who were preparing various activities for the month-long Buwan ng Wika (language month) which is celebrated every whole month of August. This year’s theme is “Filipino: Wikang Mapagbago” or Filipino: a language that changes (or causes change).

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Image: DepEd LP’s.

One of the activities that was being prepared was an essay writing contest for city hall employees. Me and my partner Tita Linda Sietereales (the Tagálog translator for my first book “Captain Remo: The Young Hero“) concocted several possible topics related to the language month’s theme as well as formulated the criteria for judging. We then passed it on to the department concerned for review and approval. I came up with three to four topics which Tita Linda then polished, she being an expert writer in Tagálog (she and her famous novelist friend Lualhati Bautista were colleagues in Liwayway magazine many years ago).

While I was conjuring up possible topics for the essay writing contest, the theme for the language month kept playing on my mind. Wikang Mapagbago. A language that causes change. Suddenly, the first word that popped into my head was a novel one which I heard only recently from TV reporters and broadcasters who have been reporting about the Battle of Marawi for the past three months.

I am talking about “bakwit“, a Tagalized form for an evacuee.

Since the terrorist attack on Marawi (or should I say Dansalán) in Lanáo del Sur Province, thousands of residents have evacuated to various parts of Mindanáo and beyond. Reporters speaking in Tagálog keep on referring to them as bakwit instead of evacuees. Perhaps these reporters refuse to use Taglish and found it appropriate to just Tagalize an English word that is often used in times of crisis. Much like the word “suspek” which was derived from “suspect” or a person who is suspected to be guilty of a crime or offense.

However, journalist Asunción David Maramba insisted that bakwit is not new. It is actually an old word that has been used since the end of World War II. In fact, he even used the word in a column that he wrote way back in 1991. This simply shows that the word has been with us all along for years, thus its usage as a Tagálog word should no longer be frowned upon. Besides, words like bakwit, suspek, and the like do not sound English anymore; apologists for Taglish (yes, there are such people) will say that they have become as Filipino as adobo.

Nevertheless, is the usage of such words correct? Are these neologisms even allowed by the Komisyon sa Wikang Filipino (KWF) or the Commission on the Filipino Language? It seems like it as this official regulating body of the Filipino language (based on Tagálog, if I may add) hailed last year a new Tagálog word called “fotobam” which is but a new English word form derived from photobomb. However, it can also be argued that while such neologisms can be deemed correct, they are not readily embraced by many who are still conscious and sensitive about deliberate language changes, evolution, and degradation. Many years ago, former Senator Francisco “Kit” Tátad found time to comment about this language phenomenon, nay, problem in his political book “A Nation on Fire: The Unmaking of Joseph Ejército Estrada and the Remaking of Democracy in the Philippines“. In it, he wrote that:

Filipino itself has not grown. On the contrary, it has been bastardized. The result is Taglish — an awkward and artless combination of street Filipino (which is Tagálog-based) and street English, unworthy to sit in the company of other national languages.

The good senator, himself a litterateur during his younger years before he dabbled in politics, had good reason for saying this as such (although consciously he may not have had it in mind). It is because Tagálog is a phonetic language, while English isn’t. For starters, a simple explanation would be this: Tagálog is written as it is pronounced, and vice versa. Cung anó ang sulat ay siyá rin ang bigcás, at cung anó ang bigcás ay siyá rin ang sulat. The same cannot be said for English.

So, mix them up together —a phonetic and unphonetic language— and what do you get? A linguistic abomination called Taglish.

As mentioned, Taglish apologists would be quick to defend this by saying that such a linguistic phenomenon is natural. They have a term for it: code-switching. But there is a flaw. Code-switching occurs when a speaker alternates between two or more languages, or language varieties. But one has to note why a speaker has to do so. In our case, we were colonized by the United States for almost half a century, and have been neocolonized by them afterwards. This only goes to show that this code-switching called Taglish is a by-product of colonialism and/or neocolonialism. I might not have any problems with code-switching had the U.S. WASP neocolonialist invaders themselves also speak Taglish (or Engalog for that matter) in their own turf. But they don’t. And they won’t.

One might question Tagálog’s purity (or impurity) even without having been invaded by the U.S. After all, there are more than five thousand Spanish root words in Tagálog. And we haven’t even tackled all the other indigenous languages —all of which are phonetic like Tagálog— that were also influenced by the Spanish tongue. In this regard, isn’t this Spanish-influenced Tagálog that we have been using for centuries also a form of code-switching? Not at all. First of all, Tagálog, which is phonetic, is a perfect match for Spanish for the simple reason that the latter is also phonetic. Both, therefore, are like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that reveals a beautiful picture upon completion. This is one of the reasons why in the introduction to my defunct Spanish-language blog, I wrote that the meeting between España and Filipinas in 1521 (then later on in 1565) was “una fuerza mayor increíble, una obra milagrosa de Dios.” It seems both nations, at least linguistically, were really destined to meet to fulfill some quirk of history that is beyond human understanding.* Secondly, Spanish words have been entrenched into our linguistic psyche more than English words ever did. That is why Spanish words such as aparador, barrio, Dios, pantalón, and thousands more sound very native to us compared to Taglish or English words. Finally, there is this sub-branch of linguistics called phonaesthetics which deal with the aspects of art and beauty in a language. Chabacano, said to be derided during its early years, cannot be considered as a mere pidgin or another form of code-switching. It is a Spanish-based creole language, another product of our country’s “phonetic identity” which has the blessings of phonaesthetics. Chabacano has produced its own body of literature that is respected and valued through the years. Taglish doesn’t (with the very rare exception of some of Bautista’s socio-political novels). What passes off today as Taglish literature is derided as gayspeak, if not salitáng canto (street language). And it will remain so for good.

Humorously, one should find it odd how some English nouns become Tagálog verbs in Marawi (“ina-armalite“, “sina-sniper“, etc.).

So what now with bakwit? If it is so phonaesthetically inappropriate for a Filipino to use it as a substitute for evacuee, then what should be the linguistically acceptable alternative? This is the rule: if no Tagálog equivalent is readily available, do not invent new ones (remember those awful words “hatinig” and “salipawpaw” of the 1940s?) nor Tagalize unphonetic words. Simply use that word’s Spanish counterpart. For bakwit, see below:

evacuado if the evacuee is male (evacuados for plural)
evacuada if the evacuee is female (evacuadas for plural)

If we aspire for a language that changes, we have to make sure that it changes for the better. And it changes not just for its own sake but for the betterment of the people that uses it. After all, a language is used not merely as a tool for communication but also as a means to elevate a people’s intellect. Language should evolve naturally, not deliberately. We are a phonetic-speaking people. As such, words derived from an unphonetic language (bakwit, suspek, most especially last year’s fotobam, etc.) will never effect any positive change that will augment our intellect.

*It should be noted that before 1521, our country was not yet formed as a state. It was only during the so-called Spanish colonization period beginning on 24 June 1571 that our country began to exist as a political entity. I simply wrote the above in such a way so as to prevent further confusion.

Racial classification during the Spanish times

Mestizo is probably one of the most abused words in our country today because many use it without really knowing what it really means. The word is often used to refer to white-skinned Filipinos. The likes of 80s actor Ian Veneración, who is currently enjoying a career comeback, is a perfect example of what a mestizo is in the eyes of Filipinos. On the other hand, Bea Alonzo, his leading lady in a popular soap opera in ABS-CBN, is the perfect model for a mestiza, the mestizo’s feminine counterpart. Filipinos also tend to relate mestizos to having Spanish blood. But little does anybody know that mestizo and mestiza technically mean more than just skin color. They have something to do with racial mixture, and it’s not necessarily just Spanish blood.

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Ian Veneración and Bea Alonzo are the stereotypes of a mestizo and a mestiza, respectively (photo: Bandera).

During the Spanish times, our country’s population was classified according to the following racial structure (in alphabetical order):

1. CHINO CRISTIANO — Christianized full-blooded Chinese. Example: Co Yu Hwan (許玉寰), the ancestor of President Benigno Simeón “Noynoy” Aquino III and the rest of the Cojuangco clan. He changed his name to José when he was baptized.

2. ESPAÑOL INSULAR — Full-blooded Spaniard born in Filipinas. Also known as “Filipino”. Best example is Luis Rodríguez Varela of Tondo Manila, the first man to use the term FILIPINO. He even called himself “El Conde Filipino“.

3. ESPAÑOL PENINSULAR — Full-blooded Spaniard born in Spain. Example: Governor General Ramón Blanco and Miguel Morayta.

4. INDIO — Full-blooded native (Austronesian). Examples: Cali Pulaco (popularly known as “Lapu-Lapu”) and Apolinario Mabini.

5. MESTIZO ESPAÑOL — Half Spaniard, half native. Also known as “criollo”. Example: Fr. Pedro Peláez, one of the first priests who supported secularization (he died when the Manila Cathedral collapsed upon him during the devastating earthquake of 1863).

6. MESTIZO SANGLEY — Half Chinese, half native. Example: Saint Lorenzo Ruiz.

7. MESTIZO TERCIADO — Part Chinese, part native, part Spanish. Also known as “tornatrás”. Best examples are Dr. José Rizal and Fr. José Burgos.

8. NEGRITO — Aeta.

As can be gleaned above, there are actually three types of mestizos, and one of them, the mestizo sangley, doesn’t even have Spanish blood.

The reader should be cautioned that this racial classification system had no disciminatory undertones whatsoever. This was used for taxation purposes only. When I first blogged about this three years ago, I made the mistake of using the title Racial caste system during the Spanish times. Upon seeing the word “caste”, a Spanish blogger angrily castigated me and even went so far as to call me a racist. He thought that I was making similarities to the caste system in India which was the one that was truly discriminatory and endogamous.

Despite the racial classification, racism in Filipinas was almost non-existent during the Spanish times. John Bowring, then Governor of Hong Kong who visited our country, was impressed with the lack of racial barriers:

Generally speaking, I have seen at the same table Spaniard, mestizo and Indian—priest, civilian and soldier. No doubt a common religion forms a common bond ; but to him who has observed the alienations  and repulsions of caste in many parts of the Eastern world—caste, the great social curse—the blending and free intercourse of man with man in the Philippines is a contrast worth admiring.

Whatever discrimination that existed during the Spanish times had little or nothing to do with race but with social status. In Spanish, this is called clacismo, or rich vs poor. So ingrained was clacismo to the Filipino psyche that it has become the usual plot in many memorable films, whether they be romance, action, or comedy. The poor-boy-falls-in-love-with-rich-girl and vice versa has been a tried and tested formula. Its most recent reincarnation was on TV and even became a global phenomenon: AlDub.

Today, racial classification among Filipinos is already difficult to determine as the world is fast becoming populous, cosmopolitan, and multinational. Unlike during the Spanish times, when people were still few, Filipinos have intermarried not only with Europeans but with virtually all races all over the world. New intermarriages have produced new breeds. We now have Fil-Australians, Fil-Nigerians, Fil-Colombians, Fil-Nepalese, etc. Alonzo, therefore, cannot be typecast as a mestiza because she has British blood. I’m just not sure about Veneración, but I heard that he does have ample Spanish blood to be called a mestizo. However, he’s already generations away from the time the above classification was set, and his Spanish forebears who had lived closest to his time must have had intermarried with varied other races, as with many other Filipinos who also look as “mestizo” as him, in which case the term mestizo should already be rendered obsolete.

La visita del ARM Cuauhtémoc conmemora el Galeón de Manila

Hace unos días recibí una llamada de larga distancia de un argentino. Resulta que es uno de los lectores de mi bitácora desaparecida Alas Filipinas, y me llamó sólo para informarme que un buque mexicano está a punto de visitar Filipinas y se quedará aquí durante los primeros días de agosto. El bondadoso argentino dio el nombre del buque — es mexicano nativo y es un poco difícil de pronunciar. Incluso le pedí que me lo deletreara.

El nombre del buque es ARM Cuauhtémoc, un buque escuela que lleva el nombre del último emperador azteca.

Apodado como el “Embajador y Caballero de los Mares”, ARM Cuauhtémoc arribó el viernes al Puerto de Manila (South Harbor) para una visita de buena voluntad y actualmente está anclado en el muelle número 15. Marca su primer viaje a Manila ya que rinde homenaje al histórico Galeón de Manila, el nombre de las naves comerciales españoles que realizaban viajes de ida y vuelta una o dos veces al año a través del Océano Pacífico desde el puerto de Acapulco, Nueva España (hoy México) hasta Manila en Filipinas. Este primer comercio global existía por casi 250 años y ha producido cambios culturales que ayudaron a dar forma a la identidad nacional filipina.

La visita del ARM Cuauhtémoc también conmemora dos eventos significativos este año: su 35° aniversario (el buque fue asignado el 29 de julio de 1982) así como el centenario de la promulgación de la constitución mexicana.

ARM Cuauhtémoc permanecerá en nuestro país hasta el lunes y zarpará el dia siguiente. Todo el mundo está invitado a venir a bordo mientras que el buque todavía está atracado en nuestra bahía más famosa:

El día de hoy (6 de agosto): 10:00-20:00
Mañana (7 de agosto):         10:00-20:00

La visita de este buque es un gesto de bienvenida, un símbolo de nuestro rico pasado histórico con México, hermana de Filipinas. Hijas de Madre España.

The Battle of Alapán

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Premiere of Alen de la Cruz’s “Bago Ang Kalayaan” at the Imus Sports Complex (photo: MAYOR Emmanuel MALIKSI Facebook page.)

The only thing that warmed up the air-conditioned stadium that windy evening of July 7 in Imus was the cordial smiles of its smartly dressed crowd. Frocked in Filipiniana attire, the guests were huddled to their seats by courteous ushers who themselves were dressed to the nines. Near the entrance, a four-piece orchestra filled the already festive air with classic Filipino favorites. Beside them were dioramas and artistic sketches of the Katipunan, the seditious group that ignited our country’s eventual breakup with Spain in 1898.

All corners of the stadium were covered with black drapes to keep the entire stadium as dark as possible. At the farthest end of the stadium, the focal point of the seated audience was a wide screen. The entire Imus Sports Complex was virtually converted into a gigantic movie theater as a culmination of the city’s week-long cityhood anniversary. They were all anticipating their local government’s “labor of love” — the premiere of a docudrama recounting Imus’s celebrated Battle of Alapán.

“Today, I just want to say that this project has been a long-awaited dream of yours truly,” City Mayor Emmanuel Maliksi beamed proudly during the brief press conference preceding the film showing. The young city magistrate has been planning for this for a long time. The fifth cityhood celebration of his beloved city was the perfect event to turn that dream into reality.

Before independence

Ask anyone where our flag was first unfurled and waved, and he will give you an immediate answer: in Kawit (Cauit), Cavite. That is the standard reply.

Unless the person you ask is an Imuseño.

To the natives of Imus, what is common knowledge to us is for them fable. Imus is not called the “Flag Capital of the Philippines” for nothing, for it was there where our national flag was first unfurled and waved. Mayor Manny’s film project sought to fight the fable. And to non-Imuseño visitors who attended the film showing, the press conference gave light as to why the city bears the flag capital tag. It was there, particularly in Barrio Alapán, where the flag was first waved, but as a war ensign.

Imus in revolutionary history was a foretelling of the climax that was the Declaration of Independence. The docudrama, titled “Bago ang Kalayaan: Imuseño sa Kasaysayan ng Pilipinas“, sought to retell the importance of Imus and its place in Filipino History. Produced by the City Government of Imus and Infinidad Entertainment, the docudrama, helmed by fledgling director Alen de la Cruz, paid tribute to the city’s local heroes (José Tagle, Licerio Topacio, Hipólito Saquilayan, etc.) who participated in the rebellion against Spain as well as to introduce the Battle of Alapán to a much wider audience.

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Image: City Government of Imus.

It is not widely known that, two weeks before Emilio Aguinaldo’s declaration of independence from Spain on 12 June 1898 in Cauit, the Filipino flag was first waved, in fact had its baptism of fire, in Imus. It was first used rather fortuitously in a grassy field just outside the población. This site was part of the sylvan barrio of Alapán. Historian Alfredo Saulo described Alapán as forested, but the name itself, an old Tagálog word which means a place where cows feed on grass, aptly describes how the barrio looked like at the time of the battle: it was then grazing grounds for cattle.

As the story goes, the flag, freshly arrived from Hong Kong, was in the hands of Aguinaldo’s revolutionary army when it clashed with Spanish troops stationed at Imus on 28 May 1898. The battle lasted from late morning to mid-afternoon. Armed only with bamboo cannons and Mauser rifles, the Filipino troops engaged the Spanish army in a close-range fight. The flag was used as a war ensign, thus earning its literal baptism of fire even before it was unfurled in Cauit. After an intense five-hour battle, close to 300 Spanish soldiers surrendered and were taken as prisoners of war to Cavite Nuevo (now Cavite City).

But is this claim accurate? Was the flag really unfurled or even used as a war ensign during the Battle of Alapán?

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The first Filipino flag is conserved by the Emilio Aguinaldo Foundation in Baguio, Benguet (photo: Philippine Daily Inquirer).

Wave of contention

No less than our country’s eminent historian, Ambeth Ocampo, acknowledges this as fact. “It was first used in the Battle of Alapán in May 1898,” wrote Ocampo about the flag in his Philippine Daily Inquirer column “Looking Back“. Even before that, former President Diosdado Macapagal in 1965 issued Proclamation No. 374 where it is stated that “our flag was first raised and received its baptism of fire and victory in the battle of Alapán, Imus, Cavite, on May 28, 1898”. That proclamation has since declared May 28 to be our country’s Flag Day.

In 2008, the city government of Imus celebrated its very first Wagayway Festival (Flag-Waving Festival) to commemorate the first time that the Filipino flag was unfurled during the Battle of Alapán.

The problem is that this was contested by Augusto V. de Viana, former chief history researcher at the National Historical Institute, now the National Historical Commission of the Philippines. “One of the historical errors being perpetuated in history textbooks and commemorative rites is the place where the Philippine flag was first displayed,” wrote de Viana in an article for the Manila Times many years ago. “One signboard in Cavite claims that the national standard was first raised in Alapán, Imus, Cavite, on May 28, 1898.”

De Viana said that in Exhibit No. 71, Vol. 1 of the Philippine Insurgent Records, Aguinaldo himself revealed that the first unfurling and waving of the flag happened in Cavite Nuevo. Aguinaldo said that right after the battle, as the prisoners were being brought to Cavite Nuevo, they were met by an “immense multitude, with cheers of delirious joy and great hurrahs”. This prompted him to unfurl the flag for the first time, to reciprocate the euphoria of victory. He made no mention that he did the same during the Battle of Alapán. Even the old historical marker at the site of the battle is also clear on this — the flag was first unfurled in Cavite Nuevo:

However, in Saulo’s biography of the first president, he cited John R. M. Taylor’s The Philippine Insurrection against the United States (Pásay City: Eugenio López Foundation, 1971) as his source that indeed the flag was a major participant in the battle:

The flag that Aguinaldo personally brought home from Hong Kong lent color to the Battle of Alapán, a forested barrio of Kawit (sic), on May 28. It was unfurled to commemorate the victory of the Filipino forces over 270 officers and men of the Spanish Marine Corps in a five-hour firefight.

In writing the above, Saulo used Vol. 3, Exhibit 2 (pp. 7-8) of Taylor’s Philippine Insurrection as his source. But he failed to make it clear where exactly the flag was unfurled, even if just to fend off criticisms of vagueness. Further research is needed to compare the contents of Exhibit No. 71, Vol. 1 of the Philippine Insurgent Records against Vol. 3, Exhibit 2 of Taylor’s Philippine Insurrection.

Until then, this leaves us with which flag fable should be unfurled and fought, to be finally forgotten.

Culture complex

The belief that the Filipino flag was first raised in Imus has been enshrined in the hearts and minds of the Imuseño for years, so much that it has become an inseparable part of the local identity. The entire floor of the city plaza, for instance, is painted with a huge symbol of the waving flag which can be perceived perfectly from the air. At the exact site where the battle of Alapán had been waged stands a 90-foot pole where one of the largest Filipino flags is waving mightily against the rural breeze. Citywide festivities compel Imuseños to display flags in front of their homes.

So fervent is this Imuseño zeal towards the national emblem that, minutes before Bago Ang Kalayaan was to be shown, everybody immediately stood up when the national flag appeared on the screen. With their right hands upon their breasts, they patiently waited for the national anthem to blurt out from the speakers. About a minute later, everybody was chuckling back to their seats. It turned out that what was being shown at that moment was just a short video for the Flag and Heraldic Code of the Philippines.

Pretending to be from Imus, I joked aloud to my wife: “This is how we Imuseños show our love and respect for the flag!” That the mere sight of it compels Imuseños to stand in salute.

Most, if not all, municipalities and cities in our country bear distinct nicknames that reflect their unique identities and histories. Usually, such nicknames are rooted on a particular place’s prominent environmental features (Puerto Princesa: The Eco-Tourism Capital of the Philippines), economic renown (Macati: The Financial Capital of the Philippines), cottage industry (San Pedro Tunasan: Sampaguita Capital of the Philippines), successful tourism branding (Bacolod: The City of Smiles), and so on and so forth. It appears that the  so-called search for national identity has permeated each and every unit of local government. Each city, every municipality, even barrios and sitios, wanted to showcase its own uniqueness, not for the sheer desire of becoming famous but simply to let the world know that it exists, that it has an exceptional story to tell, that it is not just another place that one passes by or mentions dispassionately. Because a dispassionate reception from outsiders makes its people all the more passionate —to the point of zealousness— to burst out from the flames of existence itself, that it is its own being, as if distinct from the very country that cradles it.

Is this zeal, borne out of that national identity crisis, a curse or a blessing to our local government units?

One man’s hero is another man’s villain

De la Cruz’s docudrama itself is reflective of that zeal. Imus, clamoring for its own identity, that it is as historic as Cauit and Manila and Malolos, showcases its local heroes who participated in and contributed to the flowering of the uprising against Spain. The Battle of Alapán is its climax; its denouement, that the raising of the flag in Cauit was all but anti-climactic. But even before all the action had unfolded in de la Cruz’s dramatic structure, the documentary’s exposition itself was “anti-expository” in the sense that it made a simplistic approach to what had caused the Katipunan revolt.

At the start of the story, we see actors portraying Spanish soldiers and Filipino peasants, the former physically mistreating the latter. This clearly sets the tone of the whole narrative: the waving (no pun intended) of the leyenda negra. To a non-historian viewer, this brings him back to classroom and textbook fodder that has proselytized the execrable black legend for decades. The expository didn’t expose anything new that would have raised the standard of quality historical documentaries. Although Bago Ang Kalayaan introduces something generally novel, that of the first unfurling of the flag, it would have been developed further had the story strayed away from emotional appeals and have instead given much justice to the Katipunan’s raison d’être: that its predecessors —from Luis Rodríguez Varela and his Hijos del País all the way to Marcelo del Pilar’s propaganda movement— have lost all hope on the reforms that they were trying to push. After all, the Katipunan, for all its faults and good intentions, was born out of a lingering disappointment on Spanish political policies over the islands. To show that a Spanish soldier beating up a Filipino peasant in a docudrama was too simplistic a cause for the Katipunan’s founding and is far from being political (not that such a thing ever happened, but if it ever did, it would had been isolated at best and would still not had been a major cause for revolt). While the polo y servicios and the bandala —both of which were not entirely malevolent— were mentioned, they were not enough to justify the dispiriting opening scenes of Bago Ang Kalayaan. Indeed, there is much to be unraveled about the Katipunan, how and why it came to be. But since de la Cruz is no historian, we only have her film’s scriptwriter to blame.

During the Spanish times, we have to consider the fact —and I am speaking from a legal standpoint— that the Katipunan, the wheel upon which Aguinaldo’s revolution against Spain (and later on, against Uncle Sam) rode on, was a criminal organization. It doesn’t matter if they are considered as heroes and patriots today, and whether or not their motives were noble. But if we are to deal with historical events, we have to keep our minds in tune to the semantics of the age in which those events had occurred, and not how present society would have received them. If we consider the Katipunan purely as heroes and the Spanish colonial government purely as villains, what keeps us from saying that the Islamic extremists in Mindanáo are not heroes? Aren’t they fighting for their Bangsamoro that we Christians “stole” from them?

Love of country should not stand on a pedestal of hatred built from a loathing of an oft-misunderstood past.

The secret of my name

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Image: TEXTGIRAFFE.

I. THE STORY BEHIND THE GIVING OF MY NAME

My real name is José Mario Alas y Soriano, but like everybody else, I prefer using my nickname Pepe. Pepe is a nickname for José, and I have zero idea as to why.

When I was born 38 years ago today, my parents were to give me the name Jomar. It was a portmanteau of Jo, taken from my father’s name Josefino, and mar from María Teresita, my mother. But my paternal grandmother (my father’s mother) interfered and suggested that I just be baptized as José Mario. I do not know my abuela‘s reason why she chose that name for me. I was thinking, perhaps, that she found the name Jomar odd since she comes from a Hispanic background. Her name, as well as the names of her parents, siblings, husband, and children were all in Spanish. Jomar just didn’t fit right.

Looking back, I am thankful that my beloved grandmother (que descanse en paz) did interfer. Jomar ended up as a childhood nickname which I dumped later on when I started to become conscious of my Filipino Identity (close friends and relatives still call me Jomar, though). Another nickname of mine, Mómay, didn’t survive that long. It was how I was called by my mother’s family members when I was still a baby. Mómay eventually became the nickname of my eldest son, José Mario Guillermo II Alas.

When I got older, I realized that my grandmother named me after the earthly and saintly parents of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Perhaps in the hopes that she’d get to have a saintly grandson? 😇

II. THE MEANING/S (ALL THE POSSIBILITIES) OF MY NAME

To what I’ve gathered, José was derived from the name Joseph which originated from the Hebrews (יוֹסֵף). It means “the Lord shall add” or “the Lord gives”. On the other hand, Mario was derived from the Latin name Marius which in turn gave birth to the variant feminine name Mary. In Hebrew (מרי), Mary means “bitter” or “bitterness”.

My middle name Soriano pertains to Soria, a province and city of Spain or its inhabitants. Soriano, therefore, means someone who is from Soria.

My surname Alas is Spanish for wings. But for the indigenous Filipinos (Tagálog, Bicolano, Cebuano, etc.), they use Alas for playing cards (pronounced as /aˈlas/). Finally, in the English-speaking world, Alas means an expression of great grief, anxiety, and the like.

III. ONE OR TWO FAMOUS PERSONAGES WITH WHOM I SHARE MY NAME

Propagandist José Mª Pañganiban, singer José Mari Chan, and Mexican politician José Mario Wong are the famous names that I share my name with and the only ones I could think of.

IV. CREATIVE COMBINATIONS/RECOMBINATIONS OF THE MEANINGS OF MY NAME

José Mario: the Lord shall add bitterness.
José Mario Alas: the Lord shall add bitterness which will cause great grief, pain, anxiety, and sorrow.
José Mario Alas: the Lord shall add winged bitterness.

Based on my 1996 essay “The Secret of My Name” as partial fulfilment of the requirements to pass the subject Philosophy of Man under Michael Ian Lomongo.

What I think of “Pinoy purists”

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Filipinos???

Those who have a deep-seated hatred of their Spanish past should stop calling themselves Filipino (not excluding its two twisted derivatives: Pilipino and Pinoy) because, historically and culturally, the term implies that one is a subject of the King of Spain (Felipe II de España). After 1565, our archipelago’s various ethnolinguistic groups, each with its own distinct culture, creed, and form of governance, were gradually homogenized, a process that took three arduous centuries. In due time, these varied peoples eventually became “Felipenos” or those who saw King Felipe II as their rightful sovereign, in the same vein that the vassals of King Carlos XI of Sweden (1655–1697) were called “Carolinos“, the vassals of King Fernando VII of Spain (1784–1833) were called “Fernandinos“, and so on and so forth.

In other words, a “Felipeno”, which later on became Filipino (because most of the natives here originally only had “a“, “i“, and “u” in their vowel sounds), means a person who pays tribute (taxes) to the King of Spain.

Therefore, due to a severe dimness of historical observation, I suggest that these ungrateful “puristas” who foolishly think that culture is static should simply call themselves “Taong Bundok“, “Taas Noo Tumbong Ko“, or anything similar to that to further emphasize their native pride that is free of cultural dissemination… which is a natural anthropological phenomenon in the first place.

🤣 Mabuhay ang Pinoy? 😆

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Filipinos!!!

América y los Estados Unidos de América: entérense de la diferencia

Image: Funpicc.

América es el segundo continente más grande del mundo. Pero debido a su gran tamaño y sus características geográficas, este continente se divide tradicionalmente en América del Norte (Canadá, los Estados Unidos de América, y México), América Central (Belice, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, y Panamá), las Antillas (Antigua y Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Cuba, Granada, Dominica, Haití, Jamaica, República Dominicana, San Cristóbal y Nieves, San Vicente y las Granadinas, y Santa Lucía, e incluye también el estado libre asociado de Puerto Rico), y América del Sur (Argentina, Bolivia, Brasil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, el Perú, Surinam, Trinidad y Tobago, Uruguay, y Venezuela).

Por otro lado, los Estados Unidos de América (EE.UU.) es una república federal constitucional compuesta por cincuenta estados y un distrito federal que se ubica en el centro de América del Norte.

El gentilicio para los ciudadanos de este continente, desde el océano Glacial Ártico por el norte hasta el Cabo de Hornos por el sur, se llama “americano”. Pero hoy en día, ¿por qué se limita estrictamente este gentilicio sólo para la gente de los EE.UU.? Aquí en Filipinas, cuando se menciona la palabra “americano”, los filipinos piensan de inmediato del pueblo de los EE.UU. Estoy seguro que es lo mismo caso en muchos otros países. En realidad, no se debe olvidar que América es el nombre de todo el continente — y todos los que lo habitan son americanos.

Salvo la gente de los EE.UU., todos los americanos del norte hasta al sur, a pesar de ser americanos, tienen su identidad propia, con su propia cultura única. Por ejemplo, un americano de México se llama mexicano. Un americano de Bolivia se llama boliviano. Un americano que vive en Honduras se llama hondureño. Un americano también en Cuba se llama cubano. Hasta los canadienses son americanos. Etc, etc, etc…

Pero el ciudadano de EE.UU., un país que está conformado por varios estados, unos de los cuales fueron robados de México, ¿cuál es su propia identidad además de ser americano? ¿Cómo los llamamos?

Nada.

¿Y si “estadounidense”? Es algo artificial, usado con menor frecuencia. Es preferible pero el problema es los EE.UU. ya es crisol de muchas poblaciones: asiáticos, europeos, latinos, etc. Los blancos, el estereotipo de “americano” en la mente de mucha gente, forman parte de una minoría.

Sin embargo, esta minoría tiene la audacia de apropiarse para sí mismo el gentilicio “americano”. Y estos blancos ejercen tanto poder no sólo en los EE.UU. sino en muchas partes del mundo.

¿Quiénes son estos blancos en particular?

Se llaman WASP, el acrónimo en inglés de “blanco, anglosajón, y protestante” (White Anglo-Saxon Protestant). Ellos son los que detentan el poder neocolonial en el gobierno de Filipinas así como en muchos países en todo el mundo. Ellos son nuestros verdaderos enemigos.

Tenemos que poner un alto a esta simpleza “americana”.

Originalmente publicado en Alas Filipinas.

English translations of Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo

I always tell friends that reading translated Filipino history could be dangerous at times because it robs the essence of what the texts truly mean. Take for example the founding of the city of Manila on 24 June 1571. Old documents and books (in Spanish and even in French) will tell us that Manila was founded not just as a city but as a capital city (that of the Capitanía General de Filipinas), effectively making our country a state despite its status as an overseas province (provincia ultramarina), but such fact is always ignored. Old texts will tell us that the real name of that intrepid chief of Mactán who defeated Fernando Magallanes (more popularly known as Ferdinand Magellan) and his crew was Pulaco, not Lapu-Lapu. A mastery of Spanish will tell us that La Loba Negra, a novel that has been attributed to Fr. José Burgos, is filled with errors and deficiencies in style, thus its impossibility to be the work of a highly educated priest with Spanish parentage (and I should add that Fr. Burgos was fair-skinned, not moreno as he is always pictured in our minds).

Even Filipino literature (most especially), a body of written works that was originally in Spanish, is not spared from translational errors. One best (or worst) example is the fictional character of Fr. Dámaso Verdolangas, one of the antagonists in José Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere. Poor Fr. Dámaso is always portrayed in media as a balding, aging, unappealing, and pot-bellied friar. But is this how he was described by Rizal in the original Spanish?

“A pesar de que sus cabellos empezaban a encanecer conservábase todavía joven y robusto. Sus duras facciones, su mirada poco tranquilizadora y hercúleas formas le daban el aspecto de un patricio romano disfrazado…”

Rizal clearly described Fr. Dámaso as young and robust, with a slight reassuring gaze, and even had herculean features. Rizal’s Fr. Dámaso was ‘macho’. Surprised?

That is why the need for Filipinos to learn Spanish because much of our country’s history and the bulk of past literature was written in it. And since they are not supposed to be considered as trifle subjects, all the more that Spanish should be brought back to our educational system. But for the meantime, while this problem that we have regarding the use of Spanish has not yet been sorted out, then the only recourse is to rely on the most faithful translations available. While there are already many translations of Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo (Charles Derbyshire, Virgilio Almario, Harold Augenbraum, etc.), I really recommend only two: those of León Mª Guerrero III and Soledad Lacson viuda de Locsín.

León María Guerrero III. Image: Poklat.

Both Guerrero and Locsín’s cradle language was Spanish. And both of them, most especially Locsín, lived at a time that hewed closer to Rizal’s era. That is why they knew exactly what Rizal was talking about, more than any other translator of Rizal’s novels. And since they were born at a time closer to the Spanish era, they had had the privilege of having lived in Rizal’s tradition, a tradition that was Hispanic, that was still authentically Filipino.

But between the two translators, Locsín’s translations are more helpful because they have explanatory notes at the end of each book that define the semantics of Rizal’s time. For example, in describing Teniente Guevara in the first chapter of Noli Me Tangere, Rizal compared his appearance to the Duke of Alba. The ordinary reader will surely scratch his head as to who this duke was. In Locsin’s note, it is revealed that this duke was in fact Fernando Álvarez de Toledo (1507—1582), a celebrated Spanish noble and general during the reigns of Charles V and Philip II. He was said to be bloodthirsty and cruel that his name was used to frighten children.

Soledad Lacson-Locsín. Image: PinoyLit.

Locsin’s translations also help us see and recognize places that are no longer around, or have drastically changed. In chapter three of El Filibusterismo, when the steamship Tabo was entering Laguna de Bay from the Pásig River, readers are treated to a breathtaking view of the surroundings:

“Before them lay the beautiful lake circled by green shores and blue mountains… to the right extended its lower shore, forming small bays with graceful curves, and there, far away, almost hazy, the hook of Sugay…”

Yes, during Rizal’s time, Laguna de Bay was still beautiful and circled by green shores that are no longer around (at least, in areas that have been urbanized). And those blue mountains? They are now dotted with houses and other unsightly structures.

But what is this “hook of Sugay” that he was talking about? Locsin’s explanatory note at the final pages of the book helps solve the mystery:

Sugay, Suñgay: Mountains seen in the background as one enters the Laguna de Bay, leaving the Pásig River.

To the uninformed, Sungay (actually, it should have a tilde above the letter n for a more precise pronunciation: Suñgay) is none other than the site of People’s Park in the Sky, one of my family’s favorite places in Tagaytay, Cavite.

Situated at the peak of Mount Suñgay, People’s Park in the Sky is located at 2,351 feet above sea level (FASL). According to early accounts (including that of Rizal’s), its peak was shaped like a carabao’s horn, hence its name. In the book Philippine Islands Sailing Directions (Bureau of Printing, 1906), Mount Suñgay was one of the visible landmarks used by early navigators when sailing to and around Manila Bay (if the mountain was visible from that distance, what more from Laguna de Bay). It was, therefore, previously much higher (recorded at 2,467 FASL). Unfortunately, former President Ferdinand Marcos had it leveled down during the late 1970s to construct a guest house that was meant for his friend Ronald Reagan (who was to become the 40th President of the United States of América) who didn’t even arrive. Perhaps the only compensation is that tourists now have a 360° view of Tagaytay’s environs and beyond. And yes, Bahía de Manila (Manila Bay) and Laguna de Bay (Lake of Bay) are in full view on a clear day.

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Mount Suñgay as seen from the east near Calambâ, La Laguna. Its peak no longer displays its horn-like features due to a Marcos environmental blunder.

The study of the past is truly an engaging activity as it gives us many reasons as to why the present is like what it is today. Readers of Rizal who do not yet know Spanish should be thankful that Guerrero and Locsín sacrificed a lot of their time so that today’s readers would no longer be alienated with the many nuances of Rizal’s novels.

Filipinas, España: more than friendship

Today, June 30, marks the fifteenth time that we celebrate the annual “Día de la Amistad Hispano-Filipina” or Philippine–Spanish Friendship Day. Former Senator Edgardo Angara, a Hispanista, sponsored the bill which later on became known as Republic Act No. 9187 (An Act Declaring June 30 of the Year as Philippine–Spanish Friendship Day) which was approved on 5 February 2003. As stated in section 1 of the said law, the aim of the celebration was to “strengthen the relationship between the Philippines and countries with which it has shared history, values and traditions.” In this case, Spain —the country that, as observed by National Artist Nick Joaquín, gave Filipinos “the basic form, the temper, the physiognomy,”— was a good choice especially since it is that country alone that “did give birth to us — as a nation, as an historical people”.

Continued Joaquín: “This geographical unit of numberless islands called the Philippines — this mystical unit of numberless tongues, bloods and cultures called a Filipino — was begotten of Spain, is a Spanish creation.”

June 30 was chosen since it was a historic event that put that friendship to a test. On that day, then President Emilio Aguinaldo commended the few remaining Spanish soldiers who were holed up for almost a year inside the Iglesia de San Luis Obispo in Baler, Tayabas (now a part of the province of Aurora which used to be a territory of Tayabas) for their loyalty and gallantry in battle. After their defeat, instead of arresting or even executing them, Aguinaldo sent them home. They were accorded safe passage to Manila en route to their return voyage to Spain. To mark this memorable event in our history, Angara thought of a national holiday to give honor to the act of benevolence which has paved the way in bridging better relations between Filipinas and the former mother country.

But I respectfully question the use of the term “friendship” because Filipinas and España were more than friends. They are in fact blood relations by virtue of history, faith, and cultural dissemination of which our country benefited from, not the other way around. Spain never became wealthy at our expense. And throughout Filipino Literature, Spain has been immortalized and personified as our mother. As already shown earlier, no less than Joaquín, the greatest writer and Filipino thinker our country has ever produced, expounded on this subject. “For three and a half centuries we lay within the womb of Spain”, wrote Joaquín.

In his narrative poem Filipinas a España, Manuel Bernabé (1890—1960), a well-known littérateur, academician, Premio Zóbel awardee (he won the prize twice: in 1924 and 1926), and politician from Parañaque (former Mayor Florencio M. Bernabe, Jr. is a descendant of his), described the motherly bond that Spain had with our country:

¡La dulce Hija, postrándose de hinojos,
dice a la Madre, a tiempo que sus ojos
leve cendal de lágrimas empaña:
—Dios ha impuesto el término del plazo,
y ya es la hora de romper el lazo
que nos unió tres siglos, Madre España!

The sweet daughter (“La dulce Hija“) referred to in this poem is Filipinas; the mother is already conspicuously addressed. Although the poem may have started on a sour note (“ya es la hora de romper el lazo que nos unió tres siglos” refers to the Tagálog rebellion of 1896), Bernabé extolled the deep love between mother and child —Spain and Filipinas— through the centuries, and even longed for that love to return: “En el curso del tiempo desenvuelto, / tú, España, volverás. ¿Qué amor no ha vuelto / presa en la red del propio bien perdido?” Bernabé ended his masterpiece by giving eternal praise to Mother Spain: “¡Gloria a la Madre España en Filipinas! / ¡Loor eterno a ti! Tú, no me olvides.”

Jesús Balmori (1887—1948), famous for his poetic jousts with Bernabé and for his prize-winning poems, including a Premio Zóbel in 1926 in which he was tied with his rival, described an even deeper bond between Mother Spain and her daughter Filipinas in his poem Canto A España: “¡Oh, España! ¡Porque en tu alma nos enlazas, / que te troven su amor todas las razas!

In an effort to rally the campaign for independence from the US imperialists, Rafaél Palma (1874—1939), the fourth President of the University of the Philippines, one of José Rizal’s early biographers, and elder brother of poet José Palma (the one who wrote the immortal poem Filipinas which eventually became the lyrics of our national anthem) wrote an essay that was published in 1900 which underlined the profound influence Spain had in our country in spite of the glaring presence of US troops all over the archipelago. In that essay entitled El Alma De España, Palma went as far as to say that Spain’s blood has been transfused into our veins. We merely took away from her her queenly cape so as to metaphorically use for a merry banquet to celebrate of our freedom:

Se nos ha trasvasado en las venas la sangre de aquella España decadente que nosotros despojamos aquí con un supremo de esfuerzo de ira, de su ancho manto de reina para tendernos sobre él a disfrutar del anchorozado festín de la libertad.

Realizing the debt of gratitude that we have towards Spain, the great Fernando Mª Guerrero (1873—1929), “el Príncipe de la poesía lírica filipina” (Prince of Filipino lyric poetry), wrote a laudatory poem entitled A Hispania.

¡Oh, noble Hispania! Este día
es para ti mi canción,
canción que viene de lejos
como eco de antiguo amor,
temblorosa, palpitante
y olorosa a tradición…

Guerrero’s daughters, themselves accomplished poets, also personified Spain as our mother. Like their illustrious father, Evangelina Guerrero de Zacarías (1904—1949) also wrote a laudatory poem to Spain entitled A España (“veinte naciones bravas, en concierto armonioso, / con los brazos del alma tus playas buscarán”) while her sister Nilda Guerrero de Barranca wrote ¡España, Madre Mía! (“Noble España, madre mía Desde estos mis patrias lares brindo a tu santa hidalguía la oración de mis altares.“).

In A España, Emeterio Barcelón y Barceló-Soriano (1897—1978), another internationally acclaimed poet in the Hispanic world, described Filipinas as a confused daughter who taught that she was enslaved by her own mother. But upon departure, Mother Spain made it known to her daughter Filipinas that she was leaving everything behind for her:

La hija se emancipó; sintióse esclava
de su madre que, al irse, le decía:
“Ahí te dejo entera el alma mía”
Y su habla y religión aquí dejaba.

When it comes to Rizal, our country’s most acclaimed national hero, there is a different take on how our country was referred to. In the first stanza of José Rizal’s famous A La Juventud Filipina, the word patria alluded to is Filipinas, not Spain:

¡Alza tu tersa frente,
juventud filipina, en este día!
¡Luce resplandeciente
tu rica gallardía,
bella esperanza de la patria mía!

It should be noted that during Rizal’s time, the concept of patria meant two things: the patria chica and the patria grande. The patria grande immediately refers to Mother Spain. On the other hand, the patria chica denotes one’s locality: this may refer to the barrio, province, or region of one’s birth. For example: the Basques, the Valencians, the Catalans, etc. all considered their respective provinces/regions as their patria chica. The Mexicans, Peruvians, Filipinos, etc. all considered their respective overseas provinces as their patria chica. But for all of them, there was only one patria grande — Spain.

How then do we know that the patria in this poem referred to Filipinas and not Spain? The answer is in the final line of the fourth stanza:

Ve que en la ardiente zona
do moraron las sombras, el hispano
esplendente corona,
con pía y sabia mano,
ofrece al hijo de este suelo indiano.

“Suelo indiano“, or native soil, is self explanatory. Nevertheless, the fourth line of the same stanza refer to the Spanish friars, those indomitable warriors of Spain, who were in charge not only of the Filipinos’ spiritual matters but also took care of their education and well-being. The “pía y sabia mano” (pious and learned hand) refer to the Spanish friars. And to those with an ear for history, it is easy to catch Rizal’s allusion to the escuelas pías, our country’s first public schools (it is not true that the US introduced public schooling to our shores). One such escuela pía, located within the walled city of Intramuros, even became the forerunner of the Ateneo Municipal, the hero’s alma mater which is now known as the Ateneo de Manila University.

While Rizal’s patria in this poem may point solely to his patria chica, i.e., Filipinas, it should be noted that his patria grande was not left out. In the final stanza of A La Juventud Filipina, Rizal used a common nickname for Spain, particularly its monarchy, during those days — Potente which means powerful. Here Spain was described as sincerely desiring the happiness  and comfort of Filipinas:

¡Día, día felice,
Filipinas gentil, para tu suelo!
Al Potente bendice,
que con amante anhelo
la ventura te envía y el consuelo.

 

And in his homage to Juan Luna and Félix Resurrección Hidalgo for having won international recognition for their paintings, Rizal called Spain point blank as our mother:

“Si la madre enseña al hijo su idioma para comprender sus alegrías, sus necesidades o dolores, España, como madre, enseña también a Filipinas…”

Even our bards in Tagálog were aware of Spain’s status as our mother country, as evidenced by poet Hermenegildo Flores’s Ang Hibic ng Filipinas sa Inang España (Filipinas’ Lament to Mother Spain). In this poem, Filipinas was speaking as an oppressed daughter, complaining and appealing to Mother Spain to get rid of those whom the poet, being a propagandista, believed were the cause of his patria chica’s deprivations: the friars.

España y Filipinas by Juan Luna (oil on canvas, 1886). Even in the visual arts, the deep regard that our forefathers had for Spain as a mother was not wanting.

I could go on and on with several other Filipino greats who all paid their respects to Mother Spain in spite of the Tagálog rebellion of 1896. But the point is this: whatever the results of that rebellion, we have to get rid of this warped view that Spain, or España, was merely a former colonizer, and that España is now just a friend. We were never colonized. Before the Spaniards arrived, there was no Filipinas yet. It was they who made us into becoming the three-stars-and-a-sun-loving people that we are today (Luzón, Visayas, and Mindanáo wouldn’t have been united if not for the Spanish advent). Between España and Filipinas lies a much more deeper bond than international relations, something that is beyond friendship. As has been clearly sung by our time-honored artists (“the antenna of the race”, said Ezra Pound), España is our Mother, not just a friend. Ella es sangre de nuestra sangre y carne de nuestra carne.

Documental “El Idioma Español en Filipinas”

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La Asociación Cultural Galeón de Manila ha producido un documental de TV titulado “El Idioma Español en Filipinas“, escrito y dirigido por Javier Ruescas. El video recorre la historia y situación presente del español en Filipinas mediante unas entrevistas a filipinos de habla española residentes en Manila, cuyos testimonios representan la parte central del documento, enmarcados en la historia de las islas, que fueron administradas por España desde el siglo XVI hasta finales del XIX. Las entrevistas se rodaron en la Biblioteca de la Academia Filipina de la Lengua (situada en el Casino Español de Manila) en octubre del año 2011. Unos meses más tarde, en marzo de 2012, se grabaron imágenes de recurso en los barrios manilenses de Quiapo, San Miguel e Intramuros.

El documental es una obra de interés sociológico, histórico y lingüístico por analizar la situación actual del español filipino, una versión poco conocida de nuestro idioma, la de un país asiático de carácter hispánico, donde sin embargo el castellano ya no es oficial. La obra se estrenó el 13 de marzo de 2013 en el Instituto Cervantes de Madrid, y desde entonces se ha proyectado en distintos foros (ver abajo). También está previsto que se emita en una cadena de televisión española.

Próxima proyección:

Fecha: viernes, 30 de junio de 2017
Hora: 19.45h
Lugar: Pequeño Cine Estudio
Dirección: calle Magallanes, 1 (Madrid)

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ENTREVISTAS (en orden de aparición)
Gemma Cruz de Araneta
Mª Rosario “Charito” Araneta
Guillermo Gómez Rivera
Macario Ofilada
Trinidad San José Reyes
Benito Legarda
Isabel Guevara
Alberto Guevara
Teresita Tambunting de Liboro
José Mario “Pepe” Alas
Eduardo Ziálcita
Teresita U. Quirino
Fernando Ziálcita y Nákpil
Mª Rocío “Chuchie” Atienza de Vega
Mary Anne Almonte
José Mª Bonifacio Escoda
Georgina Padilla y Zóbel
Maggie de la Riva
Manuel Morató

Dirigido por Javier Ruescas Baztán
Producido por la Asociación Cultural Galeón de Manila

(publicado originalmente aquí)