Concepción the dying kitten

The roads of San Pedro Tunasán were still wet from the previous night’s heavy rainfall when I arrived early in the morning from my night shift. In fact, I arrived an hour too early for the 9:30 AM Mass, and my stomach was already rumbling with hunger. I haven’t eaten anything since my shift, but I still had sixty pesos left. I was contemplating on whether or not I should spend it for “dinner” (night shifters’ equivalent for breakfast) or just pass away the time at the old town plaza fronting the church. I may have a thin frame, but my appetite is Asgardian. So imagine the struggle that I had to go through by attempting not to eat before Mass. I was thinking of imitating what our Filipino forefathers did during the Spanish times: they had to fast after midnight before taking the morning Eucharist. Afterwards was the only time they were able to eat.

I had another option left: continue reading William Pomeroy’s The Forest at the town plaza. However, I was drawn by the speaker phones coming from the church. Fr. Paul Búgay was officiating an early morning Mass for the students of Liceo de San Pedro in celebration of today’s feast day, the Immaculate Conception. I even saw my son Jefe among the young faithful.

But that Mass was far from over, in fact had just started. So I was compelled to wait somewhere else for the next Mass. At the second floor of the parish hall building was a Marian exhibit featuring images that represented some of the most famous titles of the Virgin Mary. I stayed there for a few minutes, then went out for a walk at the old town plaza which I have not visited for months.

Image result for san pedro laguna

A view of the old town plaza of San Pedro Tunasán taken from the belfry of San Pedro Apóstol Church many years ago (Photo: Filipino eScribbles).

Our city is currently holding its annual Paskuhan sa San Pedro, a nightly presentation of reverie in celebration of Christmas month. That’s why the town plaza looked festive. The thought that my first book was launched here a few months ago, albeit a simple ceremony, still dazes me up to now.

There was no place to read. All the benches were wet because of last night’s rain. So I turned my back from the stage and started to troop back to the church. But there on the wet concrete floor, between the plaza’s unappealing monolith and sampaguita bushes, lay a dead kitten, its black and white fur matted.

Or so I thought; I saw it shiver a bit.

Were my eyes playing tricks on me? I was feeling a bit weak and lightheaded due to lack of sleep and hunger, so I wasn’t really sure if it was dead or not. Only one way to make sure: just go check it out. But I had to fight off man’s natural disgust of being near a dead animal. And as I came nearer, I noticed no stench. And lo, the little furball shivered again!

I imitated a purr (I was quite good at it years ago) just to elicit some response from it, just to make sure that it was really alive. Its wobbly head responded, and it looked at me with very weak-looking and half-opened eyes.

It was still alive!

The poor thing surely bore the brunt of the previous night’s downpour. Now it was dying! I looked around me, looking for help as I was helpless in helping the poor kitten. There were a couple of street sweepers around cleaning up the plaza for tonight’s Paskuhan. One elderly sweeper brushed past near me. I pointed towards the kitten for him to see, hoping that he might take pity on it. But he muffled out something gibberish which translated to me as “just leave that li’l tomcat alone to die on its own”.

Bringing it home with me was not an option. There’s no spot in our small apartment unit for the kitten to stay, and my wife is not fond of keeping pets. Then I saw a girl, aged four or five. She looked like an indigent (there are many of them at the plaza). I talked to her and tried to goad her to take the poor kitten home, pleading to her heartstrings that the kitten will die if not attended to. The girl just stood there, gaping at the kitten. Then suddenly I remembered that I have something in my pant’s pocket: Junífera Clarita‘s folded tank top! I’ve been using it for the past few days in lieu of a hankie, just so that I had something to wipe off my sweat (I suffer from hyperhidrosis, thus an ordinary handkerchief is not enough).

Without hesitation, I covered the poor kitten with it, and it shivered all the more when I did so. Darn, I thought. The kitten was really suffering from cold! And it must be as hungry as I was too. I talked to the girl some more. “Why don’t you just take it home and make it your new pet? You will be able to save its life.”

Then she went near the kitten, lifted her small, right foot, and toyed on its head.

OK, that’s enough. Giving it to the indigent girl was not a good option after all. Besides, her mother arrived a few minutes later and I saw her scolding the girl while making unfriendly side glances at me. She probably thought I was some pedophile junkie. Can’t blame her. All moms, whether they be rich or poor, should never allow their little girls on their own out in the streets.

I thought of just leaving the kitten to die. It was dying, anyway. There’s no way I could save it. Besides, I already did my part. I’ve covered it with my baby daughter’s clothing. At least it would die in warmth.

I stood up and started to leave, then gave it one last look…

But I just couldn’t leave it to die! 😞

Suddenly, something came to mind. I do remember having seen a pet store near the back of the church past the road tunnel several times. I wasn’t sure if it was a veterinary clinic or some pet shop because each time I pass by the place I never gave it a hard look.

The kitten was shivering weakly. Time’s running out. I have to save the poor thing. But I didn’t have the heart to carry it. So I sprinted like mad from plaza to store which was several meters away, hoping against hope that somebody there would come with me to the plaza. I never minded the people who were looking at me as I ran. They were probably wondering why in the world was I running so fast. I thought about the 9:30 AM Mass as I was sprinting towards the pet shop. Today is a Holy Day of Obligation for us Catholics. I had to attend Mass instead of attending to a dying kitten. But I’m sure God in His infinite mercy will forgive me if I were just a few minutes late, I thought to my tired self. Besides, I’m doing this to save His forsaken kitten.

When I got to the shop, I was sweating all over. Through its huge mirror, I saw an attendant combing a small, white dog’s fur. And then I saw the shop’s big signage. Its name was like a humorous slap in the face: the shop was a pet parlor, not a veterinary clinic!

This freaking town has no veterinary clinic!

I felt like crying. I sprinted back, hoping against hope that the kitten was still there, that it was still alive, that the little indigent girl with her grumpy mother didn’t come back, that the street sweepers didn’t dispose of it. I took pity at the kitten’s fate. I cursed under my breath at both our fate, then cursed again because I cursed on a Holy Day.

I was almost out of breath when I got back to the plaza. The kitten was still there, but it was no longer shivering. I thought that it already died while I was away. But its weak eyes were still looking at me.

I looked up at the church, the voices of the young faithful blurting out from its thick, beige-painted walls. I covered the kitten much carefully and, after  conquering my hesitation, carried it towards the church. I felt the clothing, already wet in my hands. The kitten started to purr and move about weakly. I couldn’t tell if it was purring or crying. But it was obviously afraid. I saw the claws come out from the paws and took extra caution not to be scratched lest I get infected with potential rabies. I had to cross that part of the road between church and plaza where one is not supposed to cross. But I was desperately in a hurry. And where was I to bring the kitten? To the church. To whom should I bring it? I had no idea. Probably to Fr. Paul? But I have to wait for the Mass to end.

At the north transept, where the entry towards the sacristy was located, I saw a group of altar boys preparing for the 9:30 Mass. Fr. Paul was still officiating the first Mass which I noticed was about to end. I hurriedly went to the boys and, with dying kitten in hand, told them about my predicament. Actually, the kitten’s predicament which became mine as well. Somebody call an ambulance! Somebody call 911! Somebody call somebody! This kitten is in dire need of help! But even the sacristans were unsure of what to do. They looked at each other, murmuring, looking for options.

I softly placed the frightened and weak kitten, still covered with my daughter’s tank top, beside a wall where I deemed it was safe. I went to the parish hall to look for some adult help. I’m not sure who to speak to as I was afraid they might think me as some odd fellow. Because in this cruel world where we live in today, almost nobody cares for homeless animals. Has anyone ever thought of the birds and fireflies during a cruel night storm? How were they faring while you and your furry pets are warmly cozying up taking selfish selfies inside the comfort of your homes?

I was able to speak to some young women from Liceo de San Pedro. Students in shirts and jeans. I didn’t know what activities they were doing at the parish hall building, but what’s on my mind at that very moment was nothing more than to save the kitten before it was too late.

A newly arrived lass had a first aid kit in hand, but was taken aback when she learned that the patient was not human. I was about to suggest to them to feed it because it must certainly be hungry, but the kitten looked just like a few days old. It cannot be fed even bread. And it must already be looking for its mother’s milk. Then like a flash of light, it suddenly occurred to me to buy it some milk to drink.

So that’s why I was hesitant in spending all of my money for my own “dinner”! Thanks be to God!

I rushed to the nearest convenience store. All their milks in tetra packs were ice cold. There’s no way a shivering kitten would be able to drink it. So off I went to other stores. I found one from a 7-Eleven outlet fronting the city jail. After paying for it, I rushed out the store like a burglar pursued. I’m mighty glad that the policemen who were all over the place didn’t take me for a thief.

When I came back, a small crowd of high school kids from Liceo have already gathered with the sacristans who were looking at the kitten, and it gladdened my heart. More people, more chances of saving it. When they saw me with the tetra packed milk, they started looking for a bowl or anything to hold the milk. No bowl could be found. So one of them improvised: a plastic cup was cut down with a pair of scissors to make it look like a bowl.

The milk was poured into the bowl. A young lady from Liceo who was holding the poor kitten drew its mouth near the improvised bowl filled with milk. But the kitten was too weak to even stick out its tongue. And when we removed the kitten from Junífera Clarita’s tank top so that it could feed freely, it weakly crawled towards the cloth — it was still feeling terribly cold and was searching for warmth! So one of the girls took a much bigger and thicker cloth for the kitten. I didn’t know where she got them, but it looked like a yellow- and orange-colored flag.

We then tried to feed it some more, and at last it stuck out its tongue and took a small lap at the milk. It was shivering less and less. At least, it was a good sign that the kitten was recovering. I was able to chat with the kids too, telling them that if not one of them would be able to bring the poor thing home, then at least they could take turns of taking care of it within church premises. I even suggested that we give it a name: Concepción, because she was found and saved on the feast day of the Immaculate Conception. They all started mentioning the name when referring to the kitten.

But Concepción is a girl’s name. What if the kitten was male after all? Then I thought that it didn’t matter, because I suddenly remembered that even males can carry Concepción as their name. Yes, I was thinking of Ate Shawie‘s former lovey-dovey. 🤣

A few minutes later, Fr. Paul appeared from the sacristy and was joking around with the students and sacristans. And then he saw me, all wet with sweat and a total mess.

Buenos días, padre” I said, as I took his hand.

¡Oh, buenas, buenas! ¿Cómo está?” he said, while placing his right palm over my head. Then I told him all about the kitten. Fr. Paul said that it’s a common occurrence in church premises, that kittens are often abandoned by their mothers. He then directed the young teens to just bring the kitten to somebody who’s name I wasn’t able to hear anymore. At least, the kitten will be in safe hands. I hope.

I went back inside the church, the first batch of Mass goers already leaving. Wearily, I went to the historic Cross of Tunasán to say a prayer of thanks. And when the 9:30 AM Mass was about to start, I gaped by the stained glass window to look for the young lady carrying Concepción in her arms. They were gone. I prayed to Our Lady to have mercy on her namesake kitten.

“But what was the meaning of all this cat caper this morning?” I asked myself. Perhaps none. But that’s just me, trying to connect unusual occurrences and find meaning in them most of the time.

Mother cats are notoriously known for abandoning their litter. If you scare it away, it will be the first to run, leaving its kittens behind. Such phenomenon, if you may, has transferred to some human mothers. We are at a time and age when mothers no longer care for their children — just think of the growing number of abortion cases all over the world, or cases of child prostitution, or those who are left to fend for themselves as child laborers. But the Immaculate Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ never abandoned her only begotten Son, even if He was accused of so many things. And even up to His last moments on the cross, she was there.

May she never abandon her faithful children in Christ.

¡Feliz fiesta de Inmaculada Concepción, Santa Patrona de Filipinas!

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Was Unisan really founded in 1521?

Resulta ng larawan para sa unisan quezon

Welcome arch leading to the población or town proper (photo: Zamboanga.com).

Unisan, Quezon Province, formerly known as Calilayan, Tayabas Province, is the seaside hometown of my dad and my maternal grandmother. I didn’t grow up there, but I got to enjoy the place during summer vacations as a kid.

Unisan prides itself as the oldest town in Filipinas, having been founded in 1521! Searching for it in the Internet, one will always encounter the information below:

Unisan, originally called Kalilayan, is perhaps one of the oldest towns in the Philippines. As early as 1521, the town of Kalilayan was founded by Malayan settlers. All other towns in the country were established not earlier than 1565, when Spain formally occupied the Philippines as a colony.

But was Unisan really founded on that year?

First of all, the real name was Calilaya (or Calilayan in some accounts), not Kalilayan. Secondly, the creation of townships commenced only after the arrival of the Spaniards. Record keeping before that, particularly with the use of specific years or dates, was not yet in use for the simple reason that it was the Spaniards who introduced the Gregorian calendar. How then could have those “Malayan settlers” known that they established a town on that particular year? Lastly, the first settlers of Unisan were not Malayans but Malayo-Polynesian peoples.

What is on record is that Calilaya (now known as Unisan) was founded in 1578 by two Franciscan friars: Fr. Juan de Plasencia and Fr. Diego de Oropesa. But due, perhaps, to economic reasons, it subsequently became a barrio of Pitogo. In 1874, it became a town once again, but with a different name: San Pedro Calilaya, or simply San Pedro (that is why the parish there is dedicated to Saint Peter the Apostle). What I have not yet discovered is how San Pedro Calilaya became known as Unisan (even the uni sancti story one finds in Wikipedia is the stuff of a very creative imagination).

Sometimes, I am tempted to think if there is any strange link to the fact that my roots are from San Pedro Calilaya, Tayabas and here I am living with my family in faraway San Pedro Tunasán, La Laguna for the past 13 years. Wonder no more if my family has chosen Saint Peter the Apostle to be our patron saint.

San Pedro Apóstol Parish Church, 2:00 P.M.

SAN PEDRO APÓSTOL PARISH CHURCH, 2:00 P.M.
Pepe Alas

It has always been pallid
this sordidness of lethargy.
I seek solace within
this dark cavern
of columns and chandeliers
leading to an altared brightness
of promise, of hope.

              I try to cultivate an effort
              of versifying feelings
              of caging emotions as golden
              as this altared brightness
              right before me. But only
              shadows confront me. Empty
              pews widen the cavernous
              sordidness of pallor
              scented solely by sampaguitas
              wafting sadly,
              mocked by wall fans that
              shouldn't even be there.
              They are hung dryly
              like Christ, like Christ
              right before me. But
              the supposed holiness
              of my yearning is a
              dark cavern of hopes
              and promises to keep.
     
                                  It has always been like
                                  this: pallid, sordid
                                  lethargic, yet faithful.
Derechos de reproducción © 2016
José Mario Alas
San Pedro Tunasán, La Laguna
Todos los derechos reservados.

Originally posted here.

What the true “Wikang Filipino” really is in accordance to its name

Several weeks back, I received an invite from the City Government of Santa Rosa through Ms. Gemalin Batino to be a guest speaker for their Buwan ng Wika celebration. The event, held in Solenad 3, Nuvali last Monday (August 6), was graced by Santa Rosa City Mayor Danilo S. Fernández, La Laguna province 1st District Representative Arlene Arcillas, Director General of the Film Academy of the Philippines Leo G. Martínez (in character as “Congressman Manhik Manaog”), officials of Enchanted Kingdom, and others.

A culture heroine of Santa Rosa, Gemalin, whom I first met five years ago during my first speaking engagement, is also a consultant for her city government’s heritage, arts, and cultural affairs, particularly for its “Heritage and Museum Development”. She was tasked to iron out last Monday’s event and was thus instrumental for making me as a guest speaker. The topic centered on this year’s theme, “Wikang Mapagbago”.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m more of a writer than a public speaker. But the topic is about national language, a subject in which I’m very comfortable with. So when I received the invitation from Gemalin, I gave no second thoughts. I felt it was the perfect time to “hijack” the Buwan ng Wika in front of a multitude and say what needed to be revealed: the true national language in accordance to its name.

I was allotted only 15 minutes, so not much was explained. But I was able to share the basics. And my point was to tickle the minds of people, to give them an “oo ñgâ, anó” moment, to make them think and to question critically the inexactitudes that have been fed to them from the very start.

So without further adieu, click on the screengrab below to view the video of my speech (yes, it’s in Tagálog, not in “Filipino”)…

Screengrab from my wife’s video.

Special thanks to my wife who recorded my speech in its entirety. I didn’t tell her to take a video. I was even upset because she did not take a single photo. ¡Te amo, mi única amor!

Even established historians make mistakes

That Batangueño historian I alluded to in a previous blogpost used to be my FB friend. We parted ways when I criticized his favorite historian, a fellow Batangueño of his, for failing to define what a Filipino is, something that really gets into my nerves. For if one can chronicle the history of his people, how is it that he could not even define their national identiy?

I was expecting a scholarly response to elicit debate not so much as to show him that I know more than him but to obtain his perspective. Because that is how knowledge is developed: a synthesis of logical elements from both sides of the fence will emerge to form a new thesis (logicians call this the dialectical method). For all we know, his favorite historian’s difficulty in defining what a Filipino is could be the answer to our country’s problems. But to my surprise and disappointment, he went on a diatribe, prompting me to unfriend him. When he found out that I removed him from my friends’ list, he sent me an enraged private message filled with personal attacks. My golly, I thought. And to think that this guy prides himself as a scholar.

There is nothing wrong with idolizing one’s favorite person, especially if that person has a profound influence on his career. We all have our own idols. But I have observed that many historians today treat their mentors as if they’re demigods who are free from fault. However, once their demigods have been proven to be false idols, they still cling to them steadfastly. That should not be the case. The people we idolize, no matter how accomplished they are, are humans too. We praise their achievements and calumny their follies.

Not too long ago, as I was rereading Gregorio F. Zaide’s José Rizal: Life, Works, and Writings of a Genius, Writer, Scientist, and National Hero (Centennial Edition), I spotted a glaring error. In citing an entry from Rizal’s journal during the national hero’s trip to the United States in 1888, Zaide concluded that the waterfall the hero was referring to was Pagsanján Falls when it was clear on the entry that the waterfall in question was located in Los Baños. Below is Rizal’s journal entry, translated by Encarnación Alzona from the original Spanish, which was cited —and “corrected”— by Zaide (emphasis mine):

Saturday, May 12. A good Wagner Car — we were proceeding in a fine day… and we shall soon see Niagara Falls… It is not so beautiful nor so fine as the falls at Los Baños (sic Pagsanján — Z.); but much bigger, more imposing…

As we can see here, Zaide corrected what seemed to be an error from Rizal’s part when in fact Rizal was being precise. What made Zaide conclude that the unnamed waterfall in Los Baños was Pagsanján is beyond me. Rizal clearly indicated in his diary that it was in Los Baños. He did not even mention Pagsanján at all. Being a Pagsanjeño, Zaide was probably unfamiliar that Los Baños has a waterfall that was popular during Rizal’s time. Me and my family have even visited it twice.

I am referring to the slender cascades of Dampalít.

Related image

While Rizal may have not named Dampalít in that journal entry of his, one should take into account that it was the nearest waterfall to his hometown of Calambâ. For sure, he must have had visited it a lot of times. And while he did not mention it by name during his US trip, he did mention it in his second novel, El Filibusterismo:

Así es como S.E…. ordenó la inmediata vuelta a Los Baños… Los baños en el Dampalít (Daán pa liít)… ofrecían más atractivos…

In Soledad Lacson-Locsín‘s English translation of the said novel, she offers an explanatory note:

Dampalít: A spring, which with the water coming from seven falls or talón in the locality, formed a river bed with crystal-clear water, to which many went to bathe.

Rizal had a penchant of inserting places that he had visited in his novels. In addition, it should be noted that during Rizal’s time, Pagsanján Falls was almost unknown. The most famous waterfall back then was Botocan Falls in Majayjay, and it was even cited by no less than Juan Álvarez Guerra and John Foreman, personages that Filipino historians should know very well. If Rizal had indeed been to Pagsanján Falls, there is no doubt that he would have written about the experience considering that the arduous trip towards the falls and shooting the rapids afterwards were an exhilarating experience.

This Zaide error may be a minor one, but the message I’m trying to convey is this: even established historians make mistakes.

When I discovered the long-lost foundation date of La Laguna Province in 2012, I was met with both praise and criticism. The criticism was due largely in part to my credentials: I have no formal training in historical research. Humorously, a group of local historians from Batangas —obviously the type of people who have nothing to do with La Laguna’s history— were the most vocal online. I told them that I am open to peer review. If established historians can make mistakes, so can ordinary people like me. Finally, I challenged my detractors that if they really think that the foundation date of my adoptive home province was erroneous, all they had to do was to write a formal antithesis to refute it. All in the spirit of scholarly debate. Should they succeed, then so be it. Congratulations. But so far —and it has been almost five years— none has dared to do so.

Even if a historian has all the primary sources at his disposal, or no matter how many TV appearances he has done, his findings or declarations are all deemed useless if he lacks the necessary reasoning or even field experience to justify them. And then of course there is also the issue of carelessness, as already demonstrated by this blogpost. In the end, it appears that the final arbiter of historical conclusions is logic, not primary sources alone.