The truth about the encomienda

 

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

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

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

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

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

What is an encomienda?

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

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

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

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

Hardly slavery.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Was Rizal an accidental hero?

Here’s something to ponder over for Rizal’s birth anniversary which falls today…

In a manifesto issued while awaiting his trial, Rizal condemned the very rebellion that Filipinos today exalt to the highest heavens. In fact, he tried to run away from it by volunteering his services as a doctor for the Spanish army in Cuba which was also up against an insurrection. He did not want to be associated with the Katipunan.

Simply put: Rizal died for that rebellion which he had spurned. His loyalty remained with his “patria grande” — Spain. Why is it that nobody calls him a traitor in the same manner in which the memory of Aguinaldo is being tarnished today? Between Rizal and Aguinaldo, it was the latter who was more of a revolutionary for he adamantly fought for our country’s independence from Spain. And when Filipinas started to crumble after Spain had left, it was he who strived for its continued unification under one anthem and one flag.

¿Tapos siyá pa ang traidor?

Lest you forget, Aguinaldo as President decreed in 1898 that Rizal’s death anniversary be remembered as a national day of mourning. This move antedated by a period of about three years the US colonizers’ declaration that Rizal be made a hero.

Had Rizal joined the Katipunan, or at the very least, approved of its actions, his “martyrdom for independence” would have been valid.

In view of the foregoing, why is Rizal still a hero to you? 🤔

PS: I am in no way questioning Rizal’s heroism. To my mind, he should still be regarded as our country’s foremost national hero (and I have valid reasons). I simply wanted you, dear reader, to think, hehehe! Tama na munà ang gadgets. Gamitin ang utac at bacá mapanis. 😂✌️

BAPTISM

Photo of Rizal’s reproduced ancestral house: Tsambaproductions.

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Dr. Nilo Valdecantos: “El Patrón de las Artes de La Laguna

Ang La Laguna ay isáng nápacagandang lugar.
Mayaman sa calicasan, cultura, at casaysayan.
Daluyan ng macasining na camalayán at mg̃a obra.
May auit ang bauat diuang malayà.
Nilo Valdecantos

NILO VALDECANTOS

We easily clicked the first time we met in his cozy, bahay na bató inspired café-slash-art-gallery. At least, that was how Dr. Nilo Valdecantos made me feel upon welcoming me to Kape Kesada Art Gallery, a popular cultural nook tucked in the heart of artistic Paeté, La Laguna Province.

Dressed in short pants and a tee (what we Filipinos endearingly call a pambahay), I found him in his art gallery seated by a customized wooden table, laughing vociferously with another gentleman. After the formalities of introduction, I nervously took my seat in front of him. But at that very instant, he bade me —no, ordered me— stand up again.

Tumayo ca ñga muna, p’re,” he said, to which I complied. No sooner had I stood up when he suddenly asked me this question: “¿anó’ng height mo?” I was stunned by the seeming irrelevance but was already trying to remember measurements in my head when he suddenly shrieked in laughter, prompting the gentleman with him and my companion who was also his friend to laugh along with him. Little did I know that I was the victim of some sort of classic Doc Nilo prank. Apparently, the two gentlemen with us were also unknowing victims of the same question when they first met the jolly dentist.

That was eight years ago. The companion I was with was the one who brought me to Kape Kesada to introduce me to the rather eccentric dentist. Doc Nilo was then a cultural consultant under former La Laguna Governor E.R. Ejército. During that time, I was commissioned to write a history book for the province, a project which was later aborted when Ejército was unceremoniously kicked out of office due to an election campaign case.

The main reason I was introduced to him was to familiarize myself with the arts and culture of Paeté as part of the mentioned book project. Little did I know that it was going to be the beginning of a friendship that was anchored in our mutual love and respect for the arts and for La Laguna’s history.

During the course of my research on the history of our province, I stumbled upon its long-lost foundation date which, I’ve been told, has long been sought after by many other historians and provincial administrations before me. In my impromptu quest to have the date officially recognized, I received stiff opposition from various individuals and from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines itself. Doc Nilo was one of the very few who supported me. He always accompanied me to meetings regarding the recognition of the date. He even organized the first public celebration of the province’s founding anniversary at his Kape Kesada Art Gallery without any prodding from me, and even before the date was officially declared to be canon (La Laguna’s founding anniversary has since been celebrated officially beginning 2015 when Ramil Hernández already took over the governorship of the province Ejército).

NILO VALDECANTOS

Since then, Doc Nilo has never failed to invite me to Kape Kesada’s major events, and apologizing for those rare moments that the invitations failed to arrive. He even made me the main speaker in an arts event that he sponsored at the University of Asia and the Pacific. Indeed, he was both an admirer and a friend.

A funny thing that I notice in him is that during media interviews (as éminence grise of Paeté’s arts and culture scene, he was always the town’s representative), he is a man of praise, a glorious spokesman in the mold of Tagalog statesmen of yore. But among friends he was riotous and loud, the typical drinking buddy with guitar in hand and a drunken voice ever-ready to belt out Louis Armstrong tunes and other folk songs. Only among loved ones can one see the real Nilo Valdecantos: a jovial person, full of mirth. He was that fun to be with.

Sometime in 2017, tragedy struck the Valdecantos household when Doc Nilo was diagnosed with cancer: non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. He then underwent months of grueling chemotheraphy (the upside was that he lost a lot of weight, including his signature pot belly). After surviving the ordeal, he immediately organized a fund-raiser for the benefit of poor cancer patients, gathering La Laguna’s best artists in an art exhibit for a cause that was held at the LRI Design Plaza. It was the last major event that he had organized. Several months later, the cancer came back to take him away.

 

When it comes to the town’s arts and culture scene, Doc Nilo was the go-to-guy. While Paeté is known throughout the country for its visual artists (the Department of Tourism markets it as the “Woodcarving Capital of the Philippines”), Doc Nilo was no sculptor, neither did he sketch nor paint. But he served as the picturesque town’s patron of the arts. Through his Kape Kesada Art Gallery, he had helped launch and sustain the careers of many wood carvers and painters of Paeté, among them Dominic Rubio, the Cagandahan siblings, Fred Baldemor (Doc Nilo dubbed him as our country’s Michaelangelo), the late Patricio “Peping” Balquiedra (he died just a few months ago), and many others. Even artists from outside of town were welcomed and treated as family. For Kape Kesada is home to kindred soul, whethere Lagunense or not.

Kape Kesada Art Gallery is hands down the de facto cultural center of Paeté. It is thus a haven for both art aficionados and coffee lovers. Its founder, the poetic and ever jovial Dr. Nilo Valdecantos, was undoubtedly La Laguna Province’s most loyal and staunch patron of culture and the arts. His altruism towards the province’s artists is genuine, pure, something to marvel at. He and his café-slash-art gallery is the beating heart of the province’s culture and the arts, and thus should be recognized and honored by all art institutions in the country.

NILO VALDECANTOS

Doc Nilo’s final message to me…

I have yet to meet another kind soul whose love for La Laguna is as ardent and as deep as Doc Nilo’s. I doubt if that love could be equaled in the coming years.

I miss him dearly.

Sabi nung ibá, “hindi ca mapapacáin ng cultura”. Pero ang nasa isip co, sinagót co sa canilá: “pero caya tayong buhayin ng cultura.”

–Dr. Nilo Valdecantos–

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Our last photo together at the LRI Design Plaza, one of the events he organized. Behind us is famous folk musician Joey Ayala, another friend of Doc Nilo.

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Four waterspouts over Laguna de Bay

Four waterspouts were spotted yesterday afternoon over Laguna de Bay, in the area between our city (San Pedro Tunasán, La Laguna) and Binañgonan, Rizal. I didn’t see the watery vortices, but there was a thunderstorm when it was happening. I was a bit alarmed not because of the heavy rain but because of the color of the sky — it looked like mud, exactly the same color as what you’ll see in the video below (recorded by Gene Hettel, former head of Communication and Publications Services at the IRRI). It was the first time I saw our sky like that, so I made a recording of it too. But I decided not to share it anymore because the outcome didn’t do much justice to what is in this video. Anyway, I knew immediately that yesterday’s mud-colored twilight downpour was out of the ordinary. This video confirmed it.

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Yeyette on breast cancer awareness

My wife Yeyette guested last night in a local radio talk show wherein she discussed her ordeal against breast cancer. The name of the show is “Usapang Popcorn” which is broadcast over 103.5 FM and 91.5 FM based in Majayjay, La Laguna. The program is hosted by Raymond Kaibigan with co-hosts Mejean Peña-Magboó, Mark Castillo, and Cheryl Andal. It was done via Zoom which was then streamed live on Facebook.

USAPANG POPCORN

USAPANG POPCORN

 

The untold story behind the Laguna Copperplate Inscription

The saga of La Laguna, my family’s adoptive province, begins not with the coming of the Spaniards. History was already thriving there as far back as 900 A.D. And this is recorded in a small copperplate that was discovered in the rustic town of Lumbán.

Sometime in 1986, at a time when democracy in the country was at the crossroads, Ernesto Legisma, a Lumbeño sand laborer who was part of a dredging team working at the mouth of the Lumbán River, chanced upon a small, thin piece of folded metal sheet from the muddy riverbed. It measured only 20 x 30 cm and has a strange inscription on it. Mang Ernesto had been aware that many centuries-old items have been found in that area of the river. Suspecting that he must have discovered something valuable to sell, he brought it home with him. This happened about a decade after “the great Laguna pot rush” era wherein many ancient artifacts, usually ceramic pots, have been found along the coasts of Laguna de Bay’s eastern bay. Many antique dealers profited form this.

The Legisma family had possession of the curious metal inscription for about three years before it was passed on to different hands (Ambeth Ocampo once wrote that it was offered to him, but he ignored it, a move which he later regretted). It was Mang Ernesto’s wife, Aling Romana, who unrolled and flattened the small piece of metal. She was surprised to see that there are strange markings on it that she could not understand as it shows unfamiliar characters. Curious, and feeling sure that the inscription contains something very significant, Aling Romana attempted to decipher it by comparing the characters to the Baybayin script that was printed in one of their children’s textbooks, but nothing matched. Unable to make anything out of this metal sheet, the Legisma couple decided to bring it to Albert Dealino, an antique dealer from nearby Sinilóan, to have it deciphered. This was in August of 1989. Dealino then sold it to William Elwell, a coin dealer in Manila who then sold it to Venancio Magbuhos. It was Magbuhos who offered the artifact to the National Museum of the Philippines where it is now on display (specifically at the National Museum of Anthropology). That find, later to be known as the Laguna Copperplate Inscription (LCI), became the country’s greatest archaeological discovery in recent years.

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Flanking the famous Laguna Copperplate Inscription with my wife at the National Museum of Anthropology (30 October 2012).

Unfortunately for the poor sand laborer from Lumbán (who already passed away in 2010), it was Dealino who received all the credit as the source of the LCI. That is why when it was first introduced to the public, it was initially known as the Sinilóan Copperplate, named after Dealino’s hometown. But the fact remains that it was poor Mang Ernesto Legisma, not wealthy Mr. Albert Dealino, who discovered the LCI.

Ernesto Legisma (1947–2010), the Lagunense who gave our country the LCI . I think it’s time that the National Historical Commission of the Philippines give him due recognition that he deserved a long time ago (photo furnished by his daughter Claudette Legisma-Ballestero).

Much later, the National Museum tapped the services of renowned Dutch anthropologist Antoon Postma (1929–2016) to make further research on the strange inscription (he was chosen for his outstanding work on the Hanunó’o language). After thorough analysis, he was able to decipher it. Meanwhile, Héctor Santos, a US-based history enthusiast, was able to exactly calculate the date written on the inscription: 21 April 900 A.D. Prior to this, the oldest known recognized documents in Filipinas were not even from the country. These are Antonio Pigafetta’s “Relazione del Primo Viaggio Intorno al Mondo“(Report on the First Voyage Around the World) and various Chinese records pertaining to the island of Mindoro as “Ma-i”.

But what was the script all about?

Postma’s studies have revealed the LCI to be written in Kawi, a language that was widely used in Indonesia during that time. The transliteration reads:

Swasti. Ṣhaka warṣatita 822 Waisaka masa di(ng) Jyotiṣa.

Caturthi Kriṣnapaksa Somawāra sana tatkala Dayang Angkatan lawan dengan nya sānak barngaran si Bukah anak da dang Hwan Namwaran dibari waradāna wi shuddhapattra ulih sang pamegat senapati di Tundun barja(di) dang Hwan Nayaka tuhan Pailah Jayadewa.

Di krama dang Hwan Namwaran dengan dang kayastha shuddha nu diparlappas hutang da walenda Kati 1 Suwarna 8 di hadapan dang Huwan Nayaka tuhan Puliran Kasumuran dang Hwan Nayaka tuhan Pailah barjadi ganashakti.

Dang Hwan Nayaka tuhan Binwangan barjadi bishruta tathapi sadana sanak kapawaris ulih sang pamegat Dewata [ba]rjadi sang pamegat Medang dari bhaktinda diparhulun sang pamegat.

Ya makanya sadanya anak cucu dang Hwan Namwaran shuddha ya kapawaris dihutang da dang Hwan Namwaran di sang pamegat Dewata.

Ini grang syat syapanta ha pashkat ding ari kamudyan ada grang urang barujara welung lappas hutang da dang Hwa…

LCI

I heard a story once about Mang Ernesto’s children visting the museum and gazing at the LCI which was once in their possession. They feel so sorry for their late father who did not receive any recognition at all. I hope that this blogpost will do him and his family justice and recognition.

Basically, the gist of the text of the Laguna Copperplate Inscription is that it is an official document which was issued to clear a certain Namwaran (including his family and all their descendants) of a debt he had incurred. The pardon was issued by the chief of Tundun (Tondo, Manila) who was of higher rank than the other chiefs who witnessed the document and whose names and respective areas of jurisdiction are listed. The last sentence on the copperplate, however, is incomplete. At any rate, the LCI confirmed the belief that a certain degree of civilization already existed in ancient La Laguna even before the Spaniards arrived, and that this civilization somehow connected the place and the nearby tribal “kingdoms” in one way or another to the rest of ancient Southeast Asia.

The LCI, however, does not prove of an already united and homogeneous pre-Hispanic (or to be more precise, pre-Filipino) archipelagic state that we can claim to have superseded Spanish sovereignty over the islands that we now call our country. Nevertheless, it is still something that we Filipinos can be proud of as it is part of our ancient past, a past much earlier than the Filipino state which began on 24 June 1571.

This was culled from my unpublished book “Laguna: The Heart of the Philippines“. I thought of publishing this piece as my contribution to the International Museum Day as well as to give recognition to Mr. Ernesto Legisma’s discovery of the LCI. Follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

Today in Filipino History: the birth of anniversary of Francisco Rizal Mercado

Era de cuarenta años, sólido de hombros, de constitución recia, más bien alto que bajo, rostro serio y reflexivo, frente abombada, ojos oscuros y rasgados: un filipino de pura cepa. Su nombre era Francisco Mercado Rizal.

–Rafael Palma–
(Biografía de Rizal, 1949)

TODAY IN FILIPINO HISTORY: 11 May 1818 — the birth of Francisco Engracio Rizal Mercado y Alejandro.

La imagen puede contener: una persona, de pie

Don Francisco was a “mestizo sañgley” (Chinese mestizo) who was born and reared in Biñán, La Laguna. His great grandfather, Lam-Co, was a Chinese immigrant from Fújiàn in China. His parents were Juan Mercado and Cirila Alejandro. He studied in Colegio de San José, a grammar school in Manila (what is now Intramuros) where he studied Latin and Philosophy (later, in 1875, the school became a part of the Universidad de Santo Tomás).

At the age of 29, he married Teodora Alonso Realonda of Santa Cruz, Manila. They had 11 children: nine girls and two boys, one of whom was Dr. José Rizal, our country’s foremost national hero. In 1849, the family adopted the additional surname Rizal in compliance with the Clavería Decree.

The family resided in Calambá, La Laguna where the Rizal patriarch became a wealthy “inquilino” (tenant) of the Dominican-owned Hacienda de San Juan Bautista. He, together with the aid of his eldest son Paciano, was able to rent almost 380 hectares, one of the largest leased lands of the hacienda. In order to gain more profit, Don Francisco partitioned the lands and leased them out to lesser tenants. This enabled the family to live a prosperous and comfortable life, thus giving the Rizal children more time and focus toward education.

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Exaltation is the norm

During the Spanish times, Filipinos were usually named after the feast day of saints whom, or religious events that, they share their birthday with. It was, in fact, the usual practice throughout all Hispanized/Catholicized territories (note: it was not a strict religious norm). For example, girls who were born on September 4 were baptized as Consolación because the feast day of Our Lady of Consolation falls on that date. Those who are named Rosario have October 7 for their birthdate, the feast day of Our Lady of the Rosary. Andrés Bonifacio was named as such because he was born on November 30, the feast day of Saint Andrew. Long even after Spain had left our islands, or during the US occupation, Filipinos still followed the practice.

My paternal grandfather, Godofredo Alas, was born on 8 November 1925, on the feast day of San Godofredo, Bishop of Amiens, France. My name, which is even loftier because it was taken from the parents of our Lord and Savior, was given to me by my grandmother, Norma Évora-Alas. Today, May 3, is her birthday. Which led me to think: is there a connection between her name and today’s feast day?

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Norma Évora vda. de Alas (3 de mayo – 30 de enero de 2011).

May 3 is the traditional feast day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross which commemorates the cross used in the crucifixion of our Lord and Savior. The name Norma is Spanish for rule or norm. Hardly any connection, one might say. However, while browsing for gospel readings in connection to today’s feast day, I stumbled upon Saint Paul’s letter to the Galatians (6:14-16):

14 But as for me, it is out of the question that I should boast at all, except of the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

15 It is not being circumcised or uncircumcised that matters; but what matters is a new creation.

16 Peace and mercy to all who follow this as their rule and to the Israel of God.

The above verses are better read with 2:19 – 3:7 and 13–14 for more context.

Of course, I could be wrong. Perhaps my grandmother’s parents (Paulo Évora and Rafaela Bonilla) must have had other ideas in thinking up of a name for her. But I couldn’t stop teasing myself of the Biblical connection. After all, the Epistle to the Galatians dealt with the controversy between the laws (norma) of Moses and that of our Lord and Savior as well as an emphasis on the Holy Cross (1:1–10 and 6:11–18).

Furthermore, Filipinos of yore were deeply devout Catholics. Unlike today, many of their activities were always hinged upon things spiritual, including the naming of children. Such a practice was not done out of a whim as Filipinos today tend to do. It is now common to Anglicize the first names of their children. Worse, many parents today give some of the most bizarre names to their children just to make people think how uniquely creative they are.

Moving on. Today’s date, incidentally, is also the traditional feast day of my family’s adoptive city, San Pedro Tunasán, La Laguna, now referred to by its Anglicized and coarse appellation: the City of San Pedro, Laguna. When we first moved here in 2004, San Pedro, then still a municipality, was already celebrating its feast day every February 22, and it had been that way for many decades. But when I started delving into its history, I found out (through interviews with its senior citizens) that its grandest fiesta was celebrated every May 3, the traditional feast day of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross. It only makes sense because our young city’s most prized historico-religious relic is none other than the fabled Cross of Tunasán, a huge wooden cross made popular when José Rizal made it a victim of his anti-Catholic sarcasm in his novel Noli Me Tangere. The cross was said to be miraculous — it used to be a small crucifix but grew big overtime (could that explain the metal bars attached to all its three upper points, to keep it from growing any further?).

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La antigua Cruz de Tunasán (que se encuentra dentro de la iglesia de nuestra parroquia) es uno de los íconos más famosos de mi ciudad adoptiva.

In the past, the Cross of Tunasán was visited in droves by devotees far and wide every May 3, and the old town plaza fronting the parish church was in merriment from sundown to sunset. The town’s best and brightest were also recognized and awarded during the festivities. I just haven’t figured out yet as to why the devotion to this cross suddenly dwindled, and when exactly.

In 2018, for the first time in many years, San Pedro Tunasán’s traditional fiesta was highlighted once more when the city government under Mayor Lourdes S. Catáquiz and then parish priest Fr. Pablo Búgay decided to move the city fiesta (its secular name is Sampaguita Festival) from February 22 to May 3. Hopefully, this calendarial revival would resuscitate old pieties and devotion.

As for me, my heart is gladdened that the feast day of my family’s place of exile is somewhat connected to my beloved grandmother’s name. Because of that, I am reassured that I am at home with her, at least in spirit.

Qué su alma descanse en paz eterna. ¡Feliz fiesta de la exultación de la Santa Cruz (de Tunasán)!

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Forever grateful

Hi. I have made a list of all the kind-hearted people (in alphabetical order) who had reached out to my desperate call for help last March 4 and made the extra effort to share their hard-earned money, offer special Masses and fervent prayers, as well as technical/medical assistance and advise for my wife’s battle against breast cancer.

Leigh Abaña
Camilla Abatecola
John Paul Abellera
Ishmael Ahab
Amador Alas
Gloria Punzalán-Alas
Coach Louie Alas
María Rubia Alas
Maurice Almadrones
Angel Alon
Walter Ian Along
Claudette Álvarez-Alonsabe
Pía Alpaño
Lorna Cruz-Ambas
Aris Andaluz
Leonardo Atienza & Diane Genosa-Atienza
Fátima Autor
Nicole Baes
Chara Chávez-Banaag
Fritz Barredo
María Anna Berroya-Báky
Tere Belardo
Atty. Ceferino Benedicto Jr.
Jing Bolaños
May Bolígao
María Grace Brobson
Giselle Cabrera
María Christina Capacete
Chel Carandang
Angelo Joseph Carcallas
Dan Carmona & Ann Luz-Carmona
Meng Casácop
Councilor Aaron Catáquiz
Abraham Catáquiz & María Ángela Catáquiz
Calixto Catáquiz
Mayor Lourdes Catáquiz
Amboy Cortez & Chámeng de la Cruz-Cortez
Anna Cosio
Julie Cox
María Victoria Cristi
Mark Anthony Cristi
Jennifer Amanda Cruz
Jennifer S. de la Cruz
Gilda Atienza-Custodio
Ai Chua
Audrey Kerstin Dánac
Sheila Déximo
Kathleen Perey-Diezon
Dennis Dolojan
Elizabeth Palmos-Dolor
Gayle Emeterio
Alex Évora
Angelito Évora & Cora Évora
Ceres Fe Évora
Paul Évora III & Corina Unson
Rafaelita Évora
Raymond Évora
Jaime Fábregas
Ángela Alas-Feasey
Lelanie Alas-Fernández
Karen Joyce Fiel
Fr. Paul Martín Gápuz
Guillermo Gómez
Guillermo Felipe Gómez
Thelma Isaac-Grey
Olive Guiao
Heide Hildebrandt
Rosey Patricio-Israel
Tonette Izon
Ivan José
Nenè Junio
Sem. Anthony Koa
Hanna Aranda-Lara
Joe Bert Lazarte
Jeanette Sy-Leocadio
Hanz Lombos
Jeity Macalálad
Maylene Macandog
Miguel Madárang
Jordan Maderada
Merry Jean Peña-Magboo
Bing Santillán-Mago
Baby Marie Malabanan
Christian Málig & Mary Ann Antazo
Aprille Manalo
Dave Arjie Manandeg
Anmie Samson-Martínez
Jorge Mojarro & Jem Balúyot-Mojarro
Shenna Kudo-Monroy
Katrina Napigkit
Mª Kresna Navarro
Mark Hugh Neri
Ambeth Ocampo
Jaynie Ocampo
Divina Olivárez
Richard Órgano & María Cecila Alas-Órgano
Buenafé de Padua
Yesa Polínag-de Padua
Kristin Cruz-Palacol
Carlos Antonio Pálad & Estie Santos-Pálad
Myles Parás
Myla Irene Penson
Ría Peñarubia
José Perdigón
Jaime Perey
Teresa Atienza-Perey
Jameela Pérez
Orion Pérez
Jemuel Pilápil
Greg Quimado
Jhoncent Quiocho & Sheng Barrameda-Quiocho
Riah Ramírez
Radney Ranario
Ederlyn Revilla
María Corazón Ribón
Von Rosales & Marie Grizelle
Marco Salonga
John Ly Santos
Henry Siy
PCPT Jervies Soriano & Jennifer Ann Soriano
Joy Soriano y Évora
Michelle Dimaculañgan-Tarriela
Antonia “Nonia” Tiongco Joanna Tscharntke
Anthony Clark Uy
Antonio Saturnino Velasco
Liza Villagarcía
Arlene Villaluz
Cheryl Villapando
Jaira Marie Amuráo-Villavicencio
Malou Villegas
William Wolf (Guillermo Lobo)
Roseflor Ygar
Diego Pastor Zambrano
Fr. Jojo Zerrudo
Irish Zoleta

And of course, special thanks to Dr. Rouel Azores for the splendid job he did during the mastectomy (he is, by the way, the same surgeon who had operated on all of Yeyette’s five caesarean deliveries, with the last one involving a fatal placenta percreta).

There are those who sent us financial help but sent word that they do not want to to be acknowledged. Still, there are others who, because of various predicaments, couldn’t help out financially but instead sent messages of prayers and support. Thank you, thank you, thank you. But please note that the abovementioned people did not request to be acknowledged as well. This show of gratefulness is my call, not theirs.

Some of our friends and relatives apologized for not being able to send money. Dear people, there is no need to apologize. We fully understand that everybody has money problems, even those in the upper class. It’s the thought and concern that always count.

But Yeyette’s ordeal is not yet over. A month after her surgery, it was discovered that her breast cancer has progressed from stage 2 to stage 3. She will need to undergo a six-month chemotherapy. More prayers and financial support are needed for her full recovery. But because of the coronavirus pandemic, we are not pressuring anyone.

Bank of the Philippine Islands account number: 9829-0918-41
BPI 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

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My wife has read all your messages (including Facebook reactions) sent to us through various social media and SMS. She is forever grateful for the overwhelming support and love. All of us in the family are. Gracias por vuestra caridad. Maraming, maraming salamat pô. 😇

Sobre nosotros sólo el cielo

Mis fosas nasales son sensibles a la calidad del aire debido quizás a mis batallas respiratorias pasadas y mi profundo amor por el campo (como los de Unisan y Abra de Ilog). Realmente puedo sentir que la calidad del aire aquí en San Pedro Tunasán, una ciudad joven justo al lado del contaminado Metro Manila, está llegando a niveles de campo una vez más. A pesar de la estación seca, el viento es refrescante durante el día y por la noche es sorprendentemente frío. Estoy seguro de que esta condición está sucediendo en muchas áreas urbanas no sólo en nuestro país sino en todo el mundo también. Este es uno de los resquicios de esperanza que la cuarentena prolongada ha sacado. Después de la pandemia, espero que los gobiernos del mundo puedan encontrar una manera de preservar este estado refinado de nuestro medio ambiente.

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Vista desde mi umbral de la puerta.

My nostrils are sensitive to air quality due perhaps to my past respiratory battles and my deep love for the countryside (Unisan and Abra de Ilog). I can really sense that the air quality here in San Pedro Tunasán, a young city just beside polluted Metro Manila, is nearing countryside levels once more. Despite the dry season, the wind is refreshing during the day; at night, it’s surprisingly chilly. I’m sure this condition is happening to many urban areas not only in our country but around the world as well. This is one of the silver linings the prolonged quarantine has brought forth. After the pandemic, I hope world governments would find a way to preserve this refined state of our environment.

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