The presidential secret of Magdalena Church

Did you know? The 164-year-old “Iglesia de Santa María Magdalena” in Magdalena, La Laguna is famous for being the favorite filming location of the late, great Fernando Poe Jr. In fact, he made a movie there together with my dad’s cousin, beauty queen Marilou Destreza (you may watch their movie Sanctuario right here). Many other movie outfits also had their period films shot there due to the town’s vintage look. Remember the sleeper hit Heneral Luna? Antonio Luna‘s death scene was filmed there.
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My wife Yeyette at the entrance to the church. The church door itself is almost two storeys high.

But wait! There’s more! This is also the church where Katipunero rebel Emilio Jacinto sought refuge when he was wounded in battle (his blood stains are even preserved on the spot where he had hid, encased in glass).

But wait! There’s even more! The priest who supervised the final years of this baroque church’s construction was Fr. José Urbina de Esparragosa, a Spanish friar who was said to be the “abuelo” of almost all the original residents of Baler, Tayabas (now part of Aurora Province)! But wait! There’s even a lot more! Did you know that Fr. Urbina was the grandfather of a famous politician?
The politician that I speak of is none other than Manuel L. Quezon. 😉
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Nagcarlán Underground Cemetery: a burial ground filled with sacred art and song

La imagen puede contener: nubes, cielo, hierba y exterior

Last month’s History Month concluded with a conference on colonial period cemeteries which was held at the Nagcarlán Underground Cemetery. It is unfortunate that it was the only history conference that I was able to attend, but I think that it was still worth it since I was with two like-minded individuals who were highly knowledgeable with Catholic art.

Since I had been to the place numerous times, I was thinking of wowing both Maurice Joseph Almadrones and Rafael Vicho with whatever interesting stuff that I know of the place. But it was the other way around: they astounded me with their vast knowledge of sacred art, architecture, and music that I didn’t even know existed in the said heritage site. Sometimes, history is not just about dates, events, and personalities. It can also be about art and song.

Please welcome this blog’s first guest blogger, my friend Maurice, as he explains to us his survey of the place. Mao’s observations are perhaps the most detailed descriptions one would encounter on the Internet regarding this unique cemetery. Frequent visitors ⁠—including the NHCP itself⁠— might be in for a delightful surprise.

All photos on this blogpost also belong to Mao, except for the last one at the bottom which was taken by Rafael.

Without further ado…

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

Nagcarlán Underground Cemetery: A Burial Ground Filled With Sacred Art and Song
Maurice Joseph Almadrones

Last August 31, a rainy Saturday, was my first time to explore Nagcarlán. Despite my bouts of sickness, I really needed to give myself some time to relax. While touring the mountain town, my knee was hurting like there’s no tomorrow. But I had no choice but to walk, right?

When I was a boy, we always passed by the underground cemetery whenever we were to go to Liliw, but I never really gave much thought to see it. So I took the chance to explore it when I attended a lecture there by Asst. Prof. Michelle S. Eusebio on “Colonial Period Cemeteries as Filipino Heritage”. Since the conference was part of History Month, it was hosted by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines (NHCP).

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Here are my observations on the Nagcarlán Underground Cemetery:

1. Besides it being a picturesque place (I’m looking at you, plain tourists), and of course a historical witness to the schemes of the rebellion against Spain, there is much artistic, religious, and socio-cultural value to the place.

a. The cemetery is made from bricks that were most likely produced outside the southern Tagálog region. This testifies to the wealth of the parochial community of the area. Notice that places to the northwest of Banajao have more brick structures compared to the southeast starting from Majayjay to Lucbán and down to Lucena which has more adobe.

b. The cemetery is octagonal (ochavado) in shape. Now, before anyone starts commenting that the octagon “is a testament to our multiculturalism citing Chinese influence” which is also a factor, it is also a Christian symbol of perfection, alluding to the creation and resurrection or “Octava Dies” or “octave” which is actually the full circle of a feast or of creation and life itself. The ancients constructed their baptismal fonts and baptistries in this shape.

c. The mortuary chapel, being preserved compared to many other examples in the region, has an ample seating capacity. Its walls are adorned with azulejos (blue-colored tiles) and baldosas (floor tiles) which were usually imported. Same tiles are seen finishing off the mensa (table) of the stone altar attached to the retablo designed for when Mass was still offered facing God with the people (sorry, Pampanga liturgists). The very same tiles are seen in the nearby parish church.

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d. The walls have wooden trims, moldings, and cornices, sometimes mixed in with the masonry trimmings. The ceiling is of a hardwood arched frame with painted panels.

e. The ceiling and the walls were painted in bright colors of orange, gray, cobalt/Prussian blue, yellow, green, and purple, perhaps to contrast the trend of parish churches sporting trompe-l’œil in monochromatic tones. Or maybe to add some color to contrast with the somberness of the rites of the Requiem Masses and Absolutions done in the chapel. The same trompe-l’œil palette is employed to create a faux vaulting in the crypt, also brandished in azulejos.

f. The painted trompe-l’œil false windows inside the chapel have fragments of verses from the Office of the Dead (technically Divine Office / Liturgy of the Hours) for the commemoration of the faithful departed. The fragments are of “Domine, quando veneris judicare terram, ubi me abscondam a vultu irae tuae? Quia peccavi nimis in vita mea” (O Lord, when thou comest to judge the world, where shall I hide myself from the face of thy wrath? For I have sinned exceedingly in my life).

The opposite wall must have contained the next part which reads: “Commissa mea pavesco Et ante te erubesco, Dum veneris judicare, noli me condemnare, Quia peccavi nimis in vita mea” (I dread my sins, I blush before thee: When thou comest to judge, do not condemn me, For I have sinned exceedingly in my life). These were taken by Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina himself for a composition.

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g. The retablo quaintly frames a niche made from masonry and painted simply which contains space for the Santo Entierro (Holy Burial) which is still there. The crucifix on top looks as if it is not the original one intended for the retablo. It seems like the retablo also has a missing top to it; perhaps it may have been overestimated so the top was never realized since it was too tall for the ceiling.

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The wooden gradas (gradines) or steps on the altar are devoid of any flourish compared to the retablo sporting Corinthian columns. The retablo itself is reminiscent of the neoclassical style in vogue during the 19th century. The floral detail is crowned by a palm (symbol of victory) and roses / passion flowers (symbol of love / the Passion of Our Lord) intertwined. The gradas have lost the original metal candeleros (candlestick holders).

h. The altar of the chapel, as mentioned earlier, is finished off by azulejos on the mensa. It is still perfect for traditional Latin Mass to be offered. However, as inquired from the curators, the chapel has nearly zero chance of being granted such Mass, thus weaning it from its original function as a place of prayer, which is sad for most heritage places outside churches. They just become display pieces.

2. Going down the portal to the right of the chapel is the stairwell to the crypt. The wall above the stairway’s second landing has fragments of a poem. Sadly, it has deteriorated like much of the artwork found throughout the chapel due to natural humidity, rainwater seepage, vandalism, and of course, human body heat and flash photography, exactly the same problems that the Catacombs in Rome is experiencing. Historian Pepe Alas has tediously researched the poem which reads:

Ve espíritu mortal, 
lleno de vida
hoy visitaste felizmente este refugio.
Pero después que tu te vayas,
Recuerda que aquí tienes un lugar
de descanso preparado para tí.

No hay ninguna descripción de la foto disponible.

(Translation:
Go forth, Mortal man, full of life
Today you visit happily this shelter,
But after you have gone out,
Remember, you have a resting place here,
Prepared for you.)

No trace of the author exists, but we can only theorize that perhaps a local poet or the parish curate himself may have composed it. It is a very consoling thing to read as one accompanies the dead to be buried in a place of eternal peace.

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3. The crypt chapel features:

a. A stone retablo and altar which has a mensa finished off in brown baldosa and has a niche for an image, or perhaps a tall crucifix. Gradines are absent, hinting perhaps that the candeleros, a pair usually rested on the mensa itself. Evidently someone bore a hole on the body of the altar, perhaps in search of some “treasure” inside, out of curiosity, or because of the testimonies of locals that a tunnel underneath exists which connects the chapel to the parish church of San Bartolomé which is about a kilometer away.

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b. Some prominent Nagcarleños are still buried inside including two priests nearest the altar who died in the early part of the 20th century. The others have markers or lápidas that feature art nouveau and neoclassical designs of the early 20th century. The best lápidas in the embossed style of carving seem to come from the talleres (studios) of Manila.

We have not found any marker from the 19th century. Maybe it’s because up until recently the niches were reusable, or maybe the Katipunan rebellion and the American Occupation as well as grave robbers swept away all vestiges of older markers, including the dead.

c. The walls and the vaulted ceiling are painted in the same palette as the chapel above. Although the plaster and paint are deteriorating slowly. We were able to take a couple of photos before an NHCP caretaker approached us informing us that photography was no longer allowed in the crypt ⁠— either for the art’s safety OR perhaps our own. 👻

d. The elevated floor of the crypt altar and the stairs were decked in azulejos.

e. To the right facing the altar is a 3×4 meter space, like another side chapel but with no graves and no evidence of a liturgical function. However, the floor contains a 1×1 meter bare area devoid of azulejos. We suspect that it might be a blocked entrance to an ossuary for the disinterred dead (taken out of their plot or niche after dues were not renewed, or to free space for new bodies), or another structure or chapel might be underneath, or perhaps it is an entrance to the rumored tunnel.

f. To the left of the altar is a seemingly blocked up arched doorway hinted by the color difference of the plaster or palitada, and in older photographs, mildew take the shape of the arch. This might be an entrance to another chapel or perhaps the rumored tunnel leading to the parish church. Mr. Alas related that he got the testimony of one of the parish church’s caretakers who allegedly found a way to the tunnel starting from behind the altar but did not pursue finishing the length because it was too dark.

g. The stairwell is lighted and ventilated by one big window, the crypt by two small ones (the putrefying dead needed air too to help speed up decay).

4. The circumferential wall of the cemetery is unique for being a mostly decorative wall with grilled windows compared to other colonial cemeteries where walls double as niches. The windows allow fresh mountain air from Banajao to pass through to the grounds. The wall has detail on top all around akin to stone lacework or the parapets/roof detailing of Buddhist pagodas. There’s your oriental connection.

The outside niches and the chapel were featured in the 1976 film “Ganito Kami Noon, Paano Kayo Ngayon?” where the opening scene shows the burial of Nicolás ‘Kulas’ Ocampo’s (played by Christopher De León) mother complete with funeral procession flowing out of the chapel, and the parish priest in black stole, cope, and a biretta for the internment at a niche to the left of the chapel (Kulas’ mother must have saved much to afford a niche!).

Thank you Professor Nick Deocampo for putting this film to our pedagogic canon.

5. The gate echoes the chapel’s fachada (façade) sans the espadaña (bell wall).

6. The chapel’s façade is in the baroque style with two levels. The second level has scroll designs and, of course, the espadaña designed to support a bell usually tolled when a burial procession enters. It also has two ocular windows; probably for ventilation purposes back in the day. The gate and the chapel have exterior niches however the statuary is missing.

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All in all, this mortuary chapel is of adobe and brick much like the nearby parish church.

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7. Of course, upon entering, we were greeted by a lush lawn with hedges, but perhaps underneath are the remains of people too since even the grounds were meant for the burial of people. Back in the day, the center of the field might have possessed an atrial cross (a requirement in the building of cemeteries and in the ritual of blessing the grounds for burial).

La imagen puede contener: 4 personas, incluido Maurice Joseph Maglaqui Almadrones, personas sonriendo, exterior y naturaleza

After the conference. Left to right: Rafael Vicho, Pepe Alas, Maurice Almadrones (author of this blogpost/article), and Dr. Michelle S. Eusebio (event lecturer).

Fame or family?

From time to time, I look at my list of Facebook friends and it impresses me. In that list are many renowned people. Not just renowned but even famous in their respective field/career. Some are distinguished writers, bloggers, athletes, musicians, celebrities, entrepreneurs, public servants, scholars, etc.

I have to be honest: many times, I feel jealous of them. In a world filled with ambition, I couldn’t help but feel so inadequate whenever I’m with accomplished people, whenever I see them rise to the top each moment as I sit here in this balmy apartment unit of ours, contemplating on when will the moment arrive that I could finally make my friends and family members proud of me.

Why do all of us, in varying degrees, want to become famous or popular? Probably to make us feel that we really exist, so that we will not be belittled in a world filled with injustice and inequality. Or maybe to savor the fruits of self-worth. Or to find a spot in a world that is oftentimes obsessed with dignity. Or to avoid being devoured by rankism.

The only talent I have (or I think I have) is writing, blogging in particular. I try to create my own voice, but it always gets drowned out by louder and better ones. And I fear that I could no longer accomplish much from what I am passionate about especially since I now have five children to take care of; we have no household help, and my wife has long retired from employment to fully take care of our growing brood. Writing and scholarly research is never an easy task. It requires full attention and concentration, and one’s surroundings should be conducive to scholarly work — I do not have that kind of convenience, and it irritates me to no end. To complicate things, I’ve been suffering from physical pain for years already (regional complex pain syndrome), not to mention that I’m always being bothered with this burdensome and unceasing “calling” to protect and defend a once glorious past that is now being calumnied by ignorant ingrates.

And to add to my frustrations, I am still a clock-punching nightly wage slave.

Nevertheless, whenever I see my family together, inside this ramshackle place that we have learned to love, all my vexations subside. Suddenly, I realize that I have accomplished what (sadly and surprisingly) few people today have attained: a loving family that I can call my own, a loving family centered in Christ. We may not be a perfect family, but we are a family intact in spite of all the tribulations brought about by increasing utilitarianism and Miley Cyrus.

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Well, I guess there’s no need for me to be covetous of other people, after all.

¡Enaltecer la familia para la gloria más alta de Dios! 

From excited foreword to grateful afterthought

A couple of years back, I excitedly announced in my now defunct Spanish blog that I was chosen to write for a coffee table book about the history of La Laguna Province. After almost two years of sleepless nights writing and doing field research, incurring trouble at the office because of several absences and tardiness, and capped by a press release on my accidental discovery of the province’s foundation date as well as defending it from the National Historical Commission of the Philippines’ “board of academic censors”, nothing came out of the said project. The publisher and I had a falling out while the provincial governor who was supposed to fund the project was  unceremoniously booted out from politics. That book was supposed to be my big break to become a well-known writer-historian. But it seems that bad luck is an unwanted twin of mine. Whenever my dreams are within arm’s reach, they start slipping right from my hands and crash down to the floor like fine chandelier.

When publication was nearing, I had my mentor, Señor Guillermo Gómez Rivera, write the book’s foreword. I couldn’t think of nor imagine anyone else to write one for me. He is, after all, the epitome of an authentic Renaissance Man: a journalist, historian, poet, playwright, fictionist, linguist, folklorist, cartoonist, recording artist, and Spanish language teacher as well as instructor of Spanish dances (considered as the only “maestro de flamenco” of Filipinas). Few people may know this, but he is also a polyglot: aside from his mastery of Spanish, Hiligaynón, Quinaráy-a, English, and Tagálog, he also has a working knowledge of Chabacano Zamboangueño, Cavitén (Chabacano Caviteño), French, Hokkien, Cebuano, and Portuguese. In spite of his personal problems and health issues, he still manages to continue the difficult fight for the recognition of our true national identity. A great man like Don Guimò only comes once every one hundred years. That is why I call him as the GREATEST FILIPINO alive today.

La imagen puede contener: Pepe Alas y Guillermo Gómez Rivera, personas sonriendo, selfie

Unfortunately, my coffee table book will no longer see the light of day. So I thought of just publishing here Don Guimo’s foreword for that book. I am not a decorated writer nor historian, but his words for me are worth all the medals of the world.

     Having known José Mario “Pepe” Alas since his college student days at Adamson University, we never expected him to be capable of writing a history book with such serene impartiality and with the taught discipline of a seasoned historian. And more so the complex history of La Laguna, a province that means so much to the development of this country. We always thought that only a Nick Joaquín would be able to do that considering the uniqueness and the vastness of the latter’s accumulated knowledge and profound understanding of Philippine history, the Spanish language, the Filipino national identity, and the Filipino culture that encompasses all these intellectual disciplines.

     But Pepe has somehow been able to acquire the necessary conocimientos which is more than knowledge, to grasp and reproduce what is Filipino. He did take for granted, as is the case of many Filipino college students, his Spanish language subjects at Adamson University, but after he graduated and was faced with the challenges of survival, he accepted the casual job of a typist and was given the assignment to type a whole book in Spanish on the history of the Primera República de Filipinas, a thick compilation of documents, with their respective comments, by Spanish language academician, novelist, historian, and professor, Antonio M. Abad from Barili, Cebú.

     Although we know that this is not the only book in Spanish that he was forced to read, because he had to type it, Pepe must have had read some other books in Spanish on what is Filipino aside from those available in English. To our surprise, Pepe could speak to us in Spanish about Philippine History after going through this old Abad book and the other books, works, and literary pieces in this language that were found in our library.

    As an old teacher of the Spanish language, we know that the student, to acquire this language, needs to master four basic skills: the skill to read it, the skill to understand it, the skill to write in it, and, later, the final skill to speak it. And Pepe Alas from Parañaque City had sufficiently mastered the four enumerated skills. To top it all, he also mastered to a high degree the literary, historical, and cultural content of Spanish in the Philippines which, as a culmination, has formed his firm conviction as a Filipino, free from the current maladies of a colonial mentality vis-à-vis the present colonial master lording it over our country.  In short, Pepe is no longer a stranger in his own country which is expectedly miseducated, therefore ignorant of its true culture and true history. Pepe has freed himself from these maladies and anomalies of the mind and soul, and, because of this newfound freedom of his mind and his soul, he now loves his country in a much deeper way than most other Filipinos of his generation ever did or do.

     As he advanced in the field of employment, he settled in San Pedro Tunasán, La Laguna, with his wife and children and immediately identified himself as a native born lagunense interested in the history and prosperity of his adoptive province. From there, he realized that he had a new world to know and write about which is La Laguna. His research on the history of his adoptive province led him to discover the real founding date of La Laguna. He went through all the old and pertinent Spanish documents with great ease and discovered that La Laguna started as a Spanish encomienda under conquistador Martín de Goití in the sixteenth century.

     What is funny, if not something to be highly indignant about, is that the government office that supposedly works on the history of this country flatly denied and rejected this discovery because of an old U.S. WASP induced prejudice against the Spanish encomienda. Some employees in that government office on history had this prejudice against the encomienda because of the falsities taught to them in their history classes by an Americanized history teacher that never learned to see through the 1900 American sectarian propaganda against what is Spanish and Filipino in these islands. These de-Filipinized elements wrongly labeled an encomienda as a system of slavery and oppression when it is in the encomienda that our native Indio forefathers learned not only the predominant religion of Filipinos today but also learned a more advanced system of agriculture, a sophisticated cuisine, basic arts and trade, and all that a people needed to later form a pueblo and a municipio as we know them today.

     But the La Laguna Provincial Board, being open minded, quickly saw that this Alas discovery was logical and, therefore, correct. It eventually approved and recognized the date of the founding of La Laguna as a Spanish encomienda to be also the beginning of the legal entity that is this province today. An Inquirer article called Pepe an achiever who, as a young historian, discovered what others blindly ignored for so long. Kudos to the provincial governor and the La Laguna Provincial Board!

     Reading Pepe’s general history of La Laguna is a pleasure. The language is easy and all that is historical data are neatly interwoven to give an accurate picture of how La Laguna developed and how its people progressed through the years in spite of the vicissitudes that would disturb such advances. Credit is given to whosoever deserves it. As an historian, Pepe will never say, like Teodoro A. Agoncillo says on his “History of the Filipino People”, that it is “difficult, if not impossible, to define what a Filipino is”.  Pepe gives us the sensation that he exactly knows what is Filipino and that it is neither difficult nor impossible to define what it is. Because of his mastery of Spanish, Pepe Alas agrees with Teodoro M. Kálaw’s definition of what is Filipino, a definition that is, evidently, not “politically correct” nowadays, but which is accurate anyway you put it. Wrote Kálaw, and we quote him in his own language to avoid any mistranslation:

“Cuando se discute la capacidad de una raza para la autosuficiencia, todos los elementos y factores que intervinieron en su cultura, todas las generaciones anteriores, se someten a prueba. Y entrelazadas en esa exégesis está la obra de España y la obra de Filipinas indígena, dos civilizaciones que han venido uniéndose en una misma civilización que llamamos filipina sobre este suelo por casi cuatro siglos para luego constituir una vibrante nacionalidad, la que dio espíritu a la revolución y a la primera República de Filipinas.”

     La Laguna is, indeed, one of the oldest provinces of the Philippines because many of its original families have branched out to other places in this country. As a mere example and modesty aside—, this writer’s family, on both the paternal and maternal sides, traces its roots to La Laguna. Gómez comes from a 17th-century Spanish alférez from Pagsanján, Francisco Gómez, who married a Tagala named María Dimaculañgan, while Rivera traces its roots to nearby Pila. Upon a recent visit to the parish church of Pagsanján, this writer saw, from a list of donors, individuals that carried both surnames: Gómez and Rivera. There is always that inclination to come to Pagsanján and upon viewing the old and majestic arch at the beginning of what was Pagsanján’s Calle Real, a sensation of having been there becomes overpowering.  And then, there is the now almost abandoned Gómez mansion near the river while it is also at the rear of the old Church of Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe, the advocation of the Virgin Mary that merited the Pontifical titles of “Emperatriz de las Américas, Reina de México, y Patrona de Filipinas”. Aside from the famous Pagsanján Falls, the arch, the old bahay na bató houses, and the parish church are also tourist attractions.

     The attraction of La Laguna in general is great, and tourism is not a new phenomenon for Pagsanján. There is this bilingual sing-song of long ago that attests to what we say:

Muy bienvenidos
Sean ustedes
A nuestro pueblo
De Pagsanján.
Aquí tenemos
La maravilla
De veinte saltos
En un bancal.
Sobresaltante
Pero seguro
Es el paseo
En un raudal;
Porque las bancas
Son de arbol duro
Y los banqueros
De mucha sal.

–o–

Maganda nawâ
Ang ‘yong pagdayo
Dito sa amin
Sa Pagsanján;
Magarang arco,
Magandang bahay
Gawá sa tabla
At sa bató.
Ñgunit ang tunay
Na pañghalina
Ng bayan natin
Ay ang talón
Casama’ng daloy
Ng mananañgcang
Sanáy sa tulin
At sa tinô.

     La Laguna, as a center of Filipino culture, as expressed in song, dance, ritual, poetry, cuisine, and hospitality, is bound to advance. More so with the new crop of leaders it presently has to steer this vision onward.

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Of devotions and desecrations

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The modernized façade of the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Paz y Buen Viaje during my family‘s visit there five years ago.

As a young boy who lived in Biñán for a time, José Rizal frequented the church of Nuestra Señora de la Paz y Buen Viaje (Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage) —then just a chapel/visita during his day— instead of the much nearer parish church of San Isidro Labrador at the población (town proper). This puzzled me years ago because during his brief stay in Biñán, he lived at the house of his Mercado relatives at the “sector de mestizos” (now known as Calle Jacobo González) which was just a few steps away from the parish church. But why did he choose to bypass the nearby parish church and opted to walk for about a kilometer or two just to reach the said chapel to attend Mass or to offer his personal prayers?
After much musing, a realization struck me.
Doña Teodora, Rizal’s mother, was a devotee of Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage in faraway Antipolo. During childbirth, it was said that she had suffered so much because of baby Rizal’s unusually large head. For a safe delivery, she pledged her son to the Virgin of Antipolo, vowing to one day bring him in a pilgrimage to that mountain shrine to the north. It would take seven years for that pledge to be fulfilled: Don Francisco, Rizal’s father, was the one who took the young José to the Virgin of Antipolo as thanksgiving for that safe delivery (Rizal would later write a least-known poem titled A la Virgen de Antipolo in honor of Our Lady of Peace).
Shortly afterwards, Rizal, against his will, was sent to Biñán for schooling. He didn’t want to go to Biñán as he didn’t want to be separated from his dear mother. But he didn’t make the decisions.
Could it be that a homesick Rizal was imitating her mother’s devotion to Our Lady of Peace? My friend Arnaldo Arnáiz also concluded the same when we traveled there many years ago. Rizal, who was very close to his mother, was barely an adolescent when he was sent to Biñán. Traveling all the way to that faraway chapel bearing the title of his mother’s patroness must have been solace for him, a place to heal his homesickness. We could imagine the deep devotion of young Rizal to Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage in Biñán replicating his mother’s deep devotion to Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage in Antipolo.
It is quite unfortunate, therefore, that in spite of the years Filipino students have spent studying Rizal’s life and works, his Catholic devotion is always left out. Focus is given more on his belligerent writings and political activities. Had our educational system paid more attention to teaching Filipinos about Rizal the Poet —for he was essentially a poet from crib to grave— none of the following stupidity would have happened…
This travesty occurred just recently, right inside the very sanctum that a young Rizal had come to love. While this is not the first time that sacristans were caught disrespecting the altar, it is starting to become frequent as time goes by. Worse, most of these sacristans you see in the photo are minors. Many of them are of the same age as Rizal.
I can’t help but think of Pepe Rizal, kneeling fervently in front of that altar, with tears streaming from his eyes, praying for the day that he’d be able to go home to the loving arms and caresses of his mother. And then I see those misguided sacristans on the photo, desecrating the very altar to which Rizal’s young eyes had laid upon.
“The altar is not a backdrop or a background,” says Seminarians’ Musings (the Facebook page that released the above photo), “but an echo of Calvary, nor are your vestments fashion statements, but they are garbs of servants.”
To reiterate: these sacristans are minors, as young as when Rizal used to frequent the same church. Neither sense of history nor sense of spirituality, these kids. But we could only blame Fr. Raúl C. Matienzo for their impudence and ignorance.

Robinsons Galleria South and mall culture

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Yesterday was my first time to witness the grand opening of a major mall, Robinsons MallsRobinsons Galleria South, the 52nd Robinsons Mall and only the third in its flagship Galleria brand (the other two being Robinsons Galleria Ortigas and Robinsons Galleria Cebú). I’m not exactly a fan of such establishments but I thought of checking out the event because it’s just a stone’s throw away from our place here in San Pedro Tunasán (other than the fact that I’m chronicling our city’s history). Besides, it’s not every day that one gets to witness how a major mall opens to the public for the very first time.

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The four-level Robinsons Galleria South sits on a 3.8-hectare property which was once owned by a popular soft drinks manufacturer. Robinsons Land Corporation, the parent company behind Robinsons Malls, had been planning to put up an ordinary mall on the site. But former Mayor Calixto Catáquiz, in a meeting with officials of Robinsons back in 2012, insisted that the corporation should instead put up a bigger Galleria brand owing to the fact that San Pedro is a dormitory area for thousands of workers in southern Metro Manila and northern La Laguna. In fact, many nearby malls such as SM Center Muntinlupà, Ayala Malls South Park, Festival Alabang, and SM City Santa Rosa are patronized by throngs of San Pedrense residents on a daily basis.

(As an aside, it was on that same 2012 meeting where Mayor Calex last saw Jesse Robredo, former Secretary of the Interior and Local Government, for the last time [They were once colleagues in the Mayors League of the Philippines]. Robredo was also wooing Robinsons for a mall to be setup in his home city. He died in a plane crash a few days after that meeting, but his efforts brought forth Robinsons Place Naga which opened five years later).

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As per observers, the above-mentioned malls, plus many others nearby, are in danger of losing profitability because of this new major player. And according to the grapevine, SM Center Muntinlupà, the smallest of them as well as the nearest to Robinsons Galleria South, might end up becoming a mere warehouse for SM. But if these hugely popular malls are to be adversely affected, what more the smaller establishments all around them? For sure, they will be displaced as consumers would rather troop to malls where there are hundreds of smaller establishments to choose from in an air-conditioned setting. This is what many economists and other concerned sectors have been complaining about with regard to the proliferation of malls. Nevertheless, it will then be the responsibility of stakeholders involved (particularly the local government units) on how to protect the smaller players from economic marginalization. It will also, of course, test the resiliency of these smaller entrepreneurs. After all, in a capitalist economy, it’s a dog-eat-dog world. Mátira ang matibay.

I remember years ago what a former officemate of mine, a resident of San Pedro for many years, told me about the day when the first Jollibee outlet appeared at the población (town proper). This happened sometime in the late 90s. It was like a huge event for months on end especially since San Pedrenses were still of rural folk demeanor. It was then when people started to realize that their town was starting to progress. Actually, fast food giants such as Jollibee are almost always the measuring stick of a municipality’s economic robustness.

I have interviewed a lot of seniors in our city. Through those interviews, I was able to picture how San Pedro Tunasán —now called the City of San Pedro— looked like in the past. Despite its proximity to Metro Manila, it was a bucolic Lagunense town, no different from my wife’s hometown. It used to be surrounded with farm lands and sampaguita plantations. Its coasts by the lake teemed with ducks, quails, and vegetable plantations.

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Laguna de Bay and the mountains of Rizal Province as seen from the topmost floor of the newly opened Galleria South.

Today, all these appealing rural features are almost wiped out by modernization. However, this phenomenon is happening not only in San Pedro but in almost all rural areas where there are cities nearby. Malls have a lot to do with all these changes. Whether they are good or bad is still up for debate. What cannot be denied is that it also changed behavioral patterns in once rural societies. For instance, they have taken people away from parks and plazas. Even museum visits have been left in peril.

Through the years, malls have evolved from being mere shopping centers into something bigger, with far-reaching consequences to the Filipino social psyche. Today, one can virtually do almost anything in a mall other than shopping and eating. A myriad of activities could be done here like watching a concert or a flick, paying one’s bills, booking flights, working out, holding a family reunion or celebrating birthdays (in fact, we are going to celebrate my eldest daughter’s 19th birthday there today), playing electronic games, a rendezvous for a casual breakup, and even attending Mass (Robinsons Galleria South has a chapel at the fourth floor dedicated to Mother Teresa of Calcutta). Some have even built their own parks and museums. Other bolder ventures have malls with condominiums and office spaces (such as call centers) attached to them. Due to their massive number of patrons, terrorists have since targeted malls (don’t wonder anymore why security has become super tight). And quite recently, not a few broken souls have chosen malls as a place to take their own lives. Love them or hate them, malls have become a crucial part of the Filipino way of life.

 

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Has anyone written a scholarly article yet regarding the social and even cultural impact that malls have towards Filipinos?

Captain Remo

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Abelardo Remoquillo (1922-1945), known among his peers, war enemies, and admirers as “Captain Remo”, was a young guerrillero from San Pedro Tunasán, La Laguna (simply known today as the City of San Pedro, Laguna) who fought against the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II. He is known only as a local hero. But I contend that he be declared a national hero. Why? At a very young age, he joined the Hunters ROTC guerrillas not to defend his hometown but to help defend his country. He fought against the invaders from different fronts of Southern Luzón and even participated in the famous Raid at Los Baños.
 
He died not in San Pedro Tunasán but in faraway Bay, La Laguna while attacking a Japanese garrison.
 
When he joined the Hunters ROTC, that is when his being a San Pedrense ended, and the exact moment when he completed his being a Filipino, a Filipino warrior to be exact.
 
Today is his 74th death anniversary.

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

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