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.

La imagen puede contener: texto

 

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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.

La imagen puede contener: 2 personas, multitud

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).

La imagen puede contener: una persona, multitud e interior

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.

Amihan

Hace mucho frío en este momento aquí en nuestro lugar (San Pedro Tunasán, La Laguna). ¡Ciertamente han llegado el “amihan”, y me encanta!

¿Qué es amihan? Se refiere a la estación dominada por los fríos vientos alisios o los “easterlies” en inglés porque vienen del noreste. Se dice que es la temporada en que el hielo en Siberia al norte comienza a derretirse, y el aire frío viaja hacia Filipinas. Normalmente ocurre esta actividad climática desde los fines de octubre hasta los primeros días de marzo. Los días más fríos ocurren desde diciembre hasta principios de febrero.

La palabra amihan se deriva de la mitología filipina prehispánica, estrictamente entre los tagalos si no me equivoco. En la dicha mitología, Amihan es una deidad (dios menor pero sin género) que representa como un pájaro y es la primera criatura que habitó el universo, junto con los dioses principales Bathalà y Aman Sinaya. Según el folclore de los tagalos, fue Amihan quien rompió el enorme bambú que contenía los primeros seres humanos, Malacás (significa “fuerte”) y Magandá (significa “hermosa”). Malacás y Magandá son la versión tagala de Adán y Eva. Pero todavía tengo que descubrir la conexión entre Amihan el ave divina y los fríos vientos alisios que originan en Siberia.

Una imagen satelital del archipielago grabada el pasado 5 de octubre, por cortesía de PAGASA, el acrónimo tagalo del “Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical, and Astronomical Services Administration” que en español significa la Administración de Servicios Atmosféricos, Geofísicos, y Astronómicos de Filipinas. El acrónimo en sí es también una palabra tagala que significa “esperanza”. Los hilillos y delgados y grises en la parte superior de esta imagen son los fríos vientos siberianos.

En realidad, la frialdad de amihan ya comenzó el mes pasado, en el norte de Luzón, pero es sólo ahora que se siente aquí en el sur de Luzón.

Soy un amante del frío. De hecho, la temporada de amihan es mi favorita. Me produce una emoción silenciosa, una emoción que generalmente se siente desde la infancia. Pero con razón, porque la llegada de amihan es una clara señal de que se acerca rápidamente la temporada navideña en Filipinas. Estoy seguro que muchos otros filipinos sientan la msma emoción que yo siento. 😃

Nubes

PEPE ALAS

Nubes encima de nuestro apartamento, cerca de la Laguna de Bay (14/09/2010).

La ciencia nos enseña que el propósito de los nubes son para contener la lluvia y envolver la tierra del calor extremo del sol. Es verdad. Pero hay otro propósito…

Tenemos los nubes entre nosotros para placer los ojos cansados de la humanidad, cansados debido a muchas tribulaciones, inundaciones, y presiones que esta realidad codiciosa nos inflige. Al mirar a estas raras blancuras en el cielo (por supuesto, es necesario usar gafas de sol cuando hace sol), se puede encontrar un tipo de comodidad que tal vez sólo una poesía pueda exponer en detalle. Es como una visión breve de la vida eterna.

Estos nubes de todos los tipos, de mechones juguetones, algodones gigantescos, como mecanismos de un sueño, complacen no sólo los ojos sino la mente agotada. Es triste que mucha gente toma los nubes un poco a la ligera.

La naturaleza no es sólo para sustentar la vida sino para animarla.

Did Fernando Mª Guerrero just talk to me?

I just woke up about an hour ago, past 10 PM. I then went to one of my bookshelves, grabbed a collection of poetry by Fernando Mª Guerrero (1873-1929), opened up the book (titled Aves y Flores)… then lo and behold! Something strange just happened!

Watch my Facebook Live video here to find out why!

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Aves y Flores, a collection of poems by Fernando María Guerrero (Image: Biblioteca Virtual Miguel de Cervantes).

And to think that just a few weeks ago, I was wondering if he ever died as a Freemason or not. Incredible. What are the odds?

Correct demonyms for Lagunenses

Correct Demonyms in La Laguna Province / Gentilicios Correctos en La Laguna

Official seal of Laguna

LA LAGUNA = LAGUNENSE

1. Alaminos = Alaminense
2. Bay = Bayeño
3. Biñán = Biñense (Biñanin may be acceptable since the name of the town is not Spanish)
4. Cabuyao = Cabuyeño
5. Calambâ = Calambeño
6. Calauan = Calaueño
7. Cavinti = Cavinteño
8. Famy = Calumpañguin (the town’s original name is Calumpang)
9. Kalayaan = Loñgoseño (the town’s original name is Loñgos)
10. Lilio/Liliw = Lilioeño/Liliweño
11. Los Baños = Bañense
12. Luisiana = Luisiense
13. Lumbán = Lumbeño
14. Mabitac = Mabitaqueño
15. Magdalena = Magdalense
16. Majayjay = Majayjayin
17. Nagcarlán = Nagcarlañgin
18. Paeté = Paeteño
19. Pagsanján = Pagsanjeño
20. Pañgil = Pañgileño
21. Páquil = Paquileño
22. Pila = Pileño
23. Rizal = Paulino (the town’s original name is Paulî)
24. San Pablo = San Pablense
25. San Pedro Tunasán = San Pedrense
26. Santa Cruz = Santa Cruzense
27. Santa María = Santa Mariense
28. Santa Rosa = Santa Rosense
29. Sinilóan = Siniloeño
30. Victoria = Victoriense