Lucena turns 140

This coming Sunday, November 3, on the occasion of the 140th anniversary of Lucena City’s establishment as an independent town of Tayabas Province, the Konseho ng Herencia ng Lucena will hold a week-long series of cultural activities. See the images below for the schedule and venues. Everyone is invited.

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.
La imagen puede contener: cielo y exterior

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. 😉

Want to ace English? Then learn Spanish

I found this textual meme in the Facebook group Oficialización del Español en Filipinas (Officialization of the Spanish Language in Filipinas). It compares the various inflections of the English verb do to that of its Spanish counterpart hacer. As you can see, the verb forms in English are not as numerously expressive compared to their Spanish versions.
La imagen puede contener: texto
This is just one example why learning English is a piece of cake among native Spanish speakers. Picture this…
José Rizal, a native Spanish speaker, taught himself English. And he aced it.
Manuel L. Quezon, a native Spanish speaker, learned English in only about three weeks. He learned it on a steamship while traveling to the United States for the first time.
Claro M. Recto, a native Spanish speaker, mastered English in only three months.
The first Filipino short-story in the English language was written by a native Spanish speaker, Paz Márquez de Benítez of Lucena, Tayabas (where I was also born). That story, “Dead Stars”, was composed during the early years of US occupation. And when you read her story, its masterful language will make you stop and think how today’s Filipino fiction in English pales in comparison to hers. And to think that we’ve been learning English for more than a century while the English of Benítez’s era was still quite young.
José García Villa, our first National Artist in Literature who is also considered as one of the finest (if not indeed the finest) our country has ever produced when it comes to poetry, was another native Spanish speaker. He was highly acclaimed by critics not just here but also those in the United States.
And of course, there’s the one and only Nick Joaquín, the greatest Filipino writer in the English language, hands down. And, you guessed it, he was also a native Spanish speaker. A fact not known to many.
Why is this so? Because Spanish and English are both cognates. They have so many words that are similar or even identical. In layman’s terms, Spanish and English are “cousins”.
It is no wonder why our grandparents and great grandparents who received good education during the US occupation of our country spoke and wrote better English than us. And that is also why most of our literary greats in the English language (Joaquín, Villa, N.V.M. González, Trinidad Tarrosa, Paz M. Latorena, etc.) usually come from that epoch when Spanish was still the language.
Had we allowed the teaching of the Spanish language to continue in our curriculum, and had our government supported its usage, we would all be writing and speaking English much better than our North Américan invaders.

Que será, será

I was with Mayor Calixto Catáquiz yesterday. Well, he’s no longer mayor here in our place (his wife is), but we still call him Mayor. Anyway, that’s how it is here in Filipinas: you address ex-politicians by their former designations.

I showed to him the final chapter that I added for his biography. He assigned it to me last April, but I only got to finish it yesterday. It was only four pages. For a span of four months, I only got to write four pages! That’s how horrible my state of mind has become. I’ve been battling a lot of personal issues lately, both health and mental. I’m always vocal on my regional pain complex syndrome, but not on my depression-induced writer’s block. Depression, I think, has become too stale a word these past few years. So many people on social media have been confessing that they are suffering from depression that I suspect many of them are only fishing for sympathy.

Anyway, enough about me. Going back to the biography (hey, that rhymes!). It’s been more than 10 years since I started it with Arnold — my golly, more than a decade, and it’s not yet even finished! Even Arnold gave up on it already and left the whole project to my sole care (he has since been holed up in Singapore, together with his family). Why the horrible delay? Aside from the above-mentioned personal troubles, one contributor to the delay is that each time I’m done with the biography, Mayor Calex wanted to add more to his personal timeline. Understandable. A politician’s life, after all, is dynamic, even after his career is over. And his is no ordinary career as he was not spared from controversy. Other than that, my abnormal schedule (coupled with an inhumane daily commute) doesn’t permit me to live the full life of a writer-researcher, thus adding up to my depressive state.

Anyways, yesterday I received good news from him. We were in one of his vans, and he was on his way to one of his meetings (he is still active after retirement, acting in behalf of his wife). It was there where he scrutinized what I wrote for him. After reading the additional chapter, I saw that he was very pleased with it. In fact, I think it was the happiest that I saw him with regard to his biography (I guess the four-month delay paid off well). He then told me that he wishes to see his biography published by next year. Finally.

We then proceeded to nearby Biñán to visit a car repair shop. He wished to show me something: two vintage cars that he had bought from friends. The first one he showed me was a 1957 Chevrolet, bought about a decade ago, and for a bargain: ₱100,000. The parts had to be purchased in the US since there are no service centers here for the said model.

La imagen puede contener: una o varias personas, personas de pie y texto

Mayor Calex, second from left, checking the progress of his vintage Chevy that was bought from a friend.

The second one he showed me was a 1969 Ford Mustang, also bought a couple of years ago. The original owner was actually former Parañaque Mayor Pablo Olivárez (he was the mayor when I was still a skinny little runt living in the said city). This car cost him only ₱10,000 since the last owner had to migrate to the US and was raring to dispose of it the soonest.

La imagen puede contener: coche y exterior

1969 Ford Mustang.

The original cost of these cars, of course, was equivalent to that of a fully-furnished house big enough for a family such as mine. While the value of a car immediately goes down once it leaves the car shop, these two vintage cars should still be pricey enough because of their prestige. One might say that Mayor Calex really got lucky with the price that he had to pay for these two, and he will readily agree to such observation.

Nevertheless, these cars are already costing him aplenty during the rehabilitation process since the spare parts had to be purchased from the US. But he’s a well-heeled fellow, anyway, even before politics invaded his privacy (he never intended to run for public office, but hey, I’m going ahead of his unpublished biography). Collecting vintage cars has been his hobby. His first car was a 1968 AMC Javelin, a gift from his parents. Although it was a gift, the Javelin wasn’t exactly fully paid when it was given to him. Straight out of graduation, young Calex had to work in one of his parents’ business firms so that he could continue paying for the car’s monthly amortization; he had to shell out ₱5,000 from his ₱10,000-per-month salary. This event proved that young Calex was already being trained by his parents to be self-sufficient, to be able to fend for himself, and to be able to prove that whatever he gets in life, he must prove himself worthy of it.

La imagen puede contener: una persona, sonriendo

My wife Yeyette posing in front of Mayor Calex’s prized Javelin. The car still runs to this day and is used only during special occasions. This photo was taken six years ago.

All that training that he got from his parents was all worth it because he can now afford all the vintage cars that he wants, especially now that he’s retired from politics. He told me that he wants to make it his hobby from now on. It’s what he has always wanted to do in the first place, politics just kept him away from it. He confided that he had to maintain a hobby to keep his mind off all kinds of stress, especially at his age (he’s turning 71 this December). And he’s diabetic, too.

Going back to the van after checking those two cars, we then started talking about health problems, and how stress factored in them. I relayed to him that one of the main reasons why I contracted pneumonia and tuberculosis more than a year ago was because of stress (coupled with lack of sleep and missed meals). Too much stress weakens the immune system. And when that happens, you know what comes next: the bugs will start attacking you.

He then told me that he’d been to Unisan recently (his late father and my father are from there) to attend the wake of the wife of that town’s former mayor who had died of cirrhosis of the liver (the ex-mayor is his friend and political ally; ironically, that same ex-mayor is my dad’s rival). The wife was also diabetic, said Mayor Calex. He was a bit puzzled as to why Unisan’s former first lady succumbed to a disease that is often attributed to too much liquor. She didn’t even have any vice, he wondered. I surmised that maybe it was a complication of diabetes.

But despite all that talk about health and death, I’m still not exactly your health-conscious type of guy. When I was a teener back in Parañaque, a childhood friend of mine had a nonagenarian grandmother who smoked several sticks of Philip Morris daily. She’s been like that since her younger years, according to my friend. An office mate has a family member who is health conscious, a semi-vegetarian who recently suffered a stroke. Another childhood friend who was athletic and well-built died a few years ago while playing basketball. Just last month, the vocalist of my former band (yes, I was once a rock star) died in his sleep. I’m even older than him. Too bad he wasn’t able to reach his 40s.

I’m sure you’ve heard so many uncanny stories like the ones mentioned above.

We could even go to the next level beyond health. There are many people who are so conscious about safety and well-being, but not me. I remember a wealthy neighbor of my auntie, also in Parañaque. That neighbor has a huge house with very high walls that are fenced up with barbed wires. Even the gates are electrified. The house had several security guards. I used to think that they are willingly ready to wage war anytime against the whole neighborhood. But one day, the neighborhood received shocking news that the house was robbed. When the police arrived at the scene, they found all the guards and maids tied up like Christmas presents; luckily for them, they weren’t butchered (looking back, I was wondering what kind of treasure that supposedly heavily secured house had to hide). Aside from security issues are safety concerns. For example, there are instances of pedestrians who had been very mindful and extra careful in crossing roads but still end up as victims of hit-and-runs.

This is not to say that I’m promoting recklessness, or that I am reckless myself, but it is what it is: if shit’s gonna pounce at you, no matter how careful you’ve been, there’s nothing much you can do. That is why I no longer mind my wife who never tires in warning me to always look behind my back. She is always worried that one day, a hired goon by either Eugenio Ynión Jr. or his insane brother Rommel might successfully put a bullet in my head. But worrying will only stress me out. There’s a saying in Tagálog for this: “Capág horas mo na, horas mo na“. If your time’s up, then that’s it. I’d rather have fate or providence dictate the course of whatever actions or decisions I choose. Let those two be my own Chevy and Mustang. Que será, será.

I don’t wish to end this blogpost on a morbid note. Mayor Calex told me that he plans to launch his biography next year. If possible, this coming March. And he wants to coincide it with the launching of his revitalized vintage cars.

Our time has come. This will be it.

Foundation date of Lucena City: when was it, really?

Although I’ve known about it for sometime, it was only two years ago when I started to seriously explore the Portal de Archivos Españoles (PARES) or the Spanish Archives website, an online project of Spain’s Ministry of Education, Culture, and Sports whose aim is to disseminate the former empire’s historical documentation heritage in which our country is a part of. I randomly searched for digitized archival documents of various towns, especially those that have become a part of my life. And since I was born in Lucena, it is no longer a question for me to explore PARES in search of anything interesting that might come up from my place of birth.

Surprisingly, there was (I used surprisingly here because there are still many towns whose archival history has not yet been uploaded on the website). With the right key words, I stumbled upon a 65-page bundle of documents titled Sobre erección en pueblo civil independiente de su matriz Tayabas en el nombre de “Lucena” which roughly translates to the history of how today’s Lucena City was established as an independent civil town from its mother town Tayabas.

No hay ninguna descripción de la foto disponible.

As a former member of the Quezon Province Heritage Council (QPHC), I thought it best to notify the other members regarding the find. This I did by uploading the digitized documents to my Facebook wall, then tagging the other members whom I personally know so that they would be able to access them. They did acknowledge the find, but it was lukewarm. Back then, it appeared that the digitized documents were of no importance to them. This all happened in late 2016.

But a few months later, or early in 2017, Vladimir Nieto, another member of the QPHC who is also president of the Konseho ng Herencia ng Lucena (KHL) or Lucena Heritage Council, discovered those documents that I uploaded through mutual friends. We started communicating. Little did I know that there was some controversy going on regarding the foundation date of my place of birth.

Lucena City has been celebrating its foundation date every August 20th. The observance is glaringly incorrect because that date serves as Lucena’s cityhood (it became one in 1961). Others contend that the city’s true foundation date is 1 June 1882 without any strong basis. But through some old books, KHL already had an idea that the city’s true foundation date is 3 November 1879. The only problem is that they still had to find the archival documents to prove their claim.

After months of online communication with the KHL, the latter decided to hold a modest program on 3 November 2017, on the exact same date when Lucena was founded as a town. I was invited to deliver a speech at Pacific Mall to explain the importance of these digitized documents that I discovered from PARES. During my speech (attended by students, educators, heritage advocates, local media, and government officials of Lucena), I reminded everyone that, although a modest affair, that day was a historic one because we were commemorating for the first time the city’s true foundation date. And we have the documents to prove it. The only question that still remains is this: when will the city government of Lucena accept and recognize this historical fact?

This is the second time that this serendipity game happened between me and Filipino History. The first time was in 2012 when I was commissioned to research and write on the history of La Laguna Province. The discovery of the date was somehow accidental while I was nonchalantly browsing through my collection of rare Filipiniana, hoping to find early events that might have any mention of the province. I wasn’t even looking for the province’s foundation date. But I stumbled upon it (sadly, the project has since been aborted).

Going back to Lucena’s foundation date. The documents that I have uploaded on Facebook were just 15 pages. But those were incomplete. As mentioned earlier, the digitized bundle comprises 65 pages. I was supposed to translate everything from Spanish to English to present our case to the Provincial Government of Tayabas (renamed Quezon in 1946, a move that I resent) and even promised to blog about it the soonest. Unfortunately, my health was already failing during that time, ultimately leading to tuberculosis and pneumonia a month later. After being released from the hospital, I spent the next couple of months regaining my health back. It’s just now that I’m slowly getting the hang of it, and given a small luxury of time to write about this event. I cannot let it pass right now especially since today is the anniversary of Lucena’s foundation.

Yes, I do confirm that the correct foundation date for Lucena City is 3 November 1879, not 1 June 1882, and certainly not 20 August 1961. It’s high time that the Provincial Government of Tayabas correct this. So without further ado, I present for the first time —and with profuse thanks to PARES’s gracious efforts— the complete digitized documents establishing the facts behind the creation of the town of Lucena as a separate and independent town. Click here to view them.

¡Feliz fiesta a mi ciudad de nacimiento! 😇 ¡A Dios sea toda la gloria y la honra!



The origin of the word “undás

Each time All Saints’ Day draws near, we usually hear the word “undás” to pertain to it. Many people are puzzled as to the meaning of the term. Some who are well-versed in etymology say that it was derived from the Spanish word “honrar” meaning “to honor”, and it is associated to All Saints’ Day because we honor our dearly departed dead during this event.

But how did honrar become undás?


I Precursori Di Cristo Con Tutti I Santi Ed I Martiri Del Paradiso (The Forerunners of Christ with Saints and Martyrs), tempera on poplar wood by Fra Angelico.

When you conjugate the word honrar to the second person in present tense, it becomes “honras” (you honor). Filipinos back then tend to mispronounce many Spanish words, and through time, such words have evolved: “pared” became “pader“, “jabón” became “sabón“, “cebollas” became “sibuyas“, etc. In linguistics, this phenomenon is called sound change.

In some parts of Southern Luzón such as Batangas, Tayabas (now Quezon), and Mindoro Island, undás is pronounced as “undrás” (with an “r”). As you can now see, honras and undrás sound the same (by the way, the letter “h” has no sound in Spanish).

Now let’s go back to the Spanish word honrar. It is said that the use of the term undrás to pertain to the triduum of All Hallows’ Eve (October 31), All Saints’ Day (November 1), and All Souls Day (November 2) came first before it further got corrupted to undás through time. But we could even go back further and trace its roots to the Spanish term “honras fúnebres” which means “funeral honors”. This should close any doubt that undás or undrás originated from honras.

Follow me on Facebook and Twitter.

Filipinization: a process

Whenever I pass by the tianguê-filled streets of Baclaran or Divisoria, I am reminded of similar flea markets that are in South América. Fruit vendors found in almost all parts of the country —even in posh Macati City— are no different at all from their Latino counterparts with regards to the manner of selling, the bodily movements in conducting trade.

The similarities are striking.

Whenever I visit my dad’s hometown of Unisan, I am astounded by the población’s network of roads: they horizontally and vertically crisscross each other. And at the heart of the small town itself is the old church. Indeed, the architecture of Unisan’s town center is a perfect trademark of the Spanish friar-engineer’s ingenuity. In fact, nearly all Spanish-era towns all over the archipelago follow this “square-shape” pattern.


La población de Unisan, Tayabas.

Fiestas, the wheel, town cemeteries, plowing, spoon and fork, social graces, the guisadorondalla, potato, papaya, camote, La Virgen María and the rosary, paper and book culture, la mesala silla, painting, old street names and our family surnames, Holy Week and Simbang gabí, the bahay na bató, the calendar that we use, the name of our country, our nationality, etc. All these items, techniques, and concepts that were once foreign to us are now considered endemic. Without these, it is unthinkable for the Filipino to even exist. But these things that are crucial for our everyday existence are taken for granted like the clouds in the sky.

There are two simple ways to determine what a Filipino is: by his name and by what he eats. Like most Filipinos, I have a Spanish name (José Mario Alas), but my diet is Asian (I eat rice). These determinants make me a unique product of a Western-Eastern symbiosis. This blending is what makes me Filipino. I recognize both sides, but what surfaces the most is my Hispanic side for it completes my national identity. Fr. José S. Arcilla, S.J., couldn’t have said it any better:

Even if we peel off our Asian traits, we will remain “Filipino”. Remove our Hispanized ways and local idioms and we could no longer be recognized as Filipino.

“España y Filipinas” por el famoso pintor filipino, Juan Luna.

The heritage bequeathed to us by Spain is not only ubiquitous: they are part of our lives. They are, in fact, our very lives. Our Hispanic traits are what make us true Filipinos. This claim does not intend to glorify Spain, neither should it be misunderstood as a “longing to become a Spaniard,” which is very ridiculous to say the least (frankly speaking, I care less about today’s Sánchez-led Spain). This is merely an acknowledgment of facts regarding our true Filipino Identity which is based on our Hispanic heritage. Also, to acknowledge our Hispanic past doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to negate everything that came before it. That can never be undone in the first place. This is just a matter of calling a spade a spade.

Indeed, if we strip away everything Asian from our identity, the Hispanic attributes will still remain. And these attributes are the same ones that the whole world can see in each and every Hispanic country scattered around the globe. But if we take away everything Hispanic in us to give way to purist nationalist dictates, then we will cease to become Filipino. We will disintegrate back to what we were before the conquistadores came: disunited; separated into a myriad of tribal kingdoms; perpetually aggressive towards one another.

In other words, if we remove our Hispanic traits, it will not harm the Hispanic world one bit. What will remain is the “Malay” or “Austronesian” in us that never made us Filipinos in the first place. The pre-Filipino Malay/Austronesian is composed of many tribes (Tagalog, Ilocano, Tausug, Ilongo, Pampangueño, etc.) that were never one, never united as a compact nation. The scattered Malay/Austronesian tribes in this archipelago which we now call our own before the Spaniards came never aspired into uniting with one another to become a much bigger nation because each tribe already thought of itself as a nation. To a pre-Filipino Bicolano’s mind, why should they unite with the pre-Filipino Cebuanos just to become another nation?

This they never thought of. And it took a foreign power for us to realize this Filipinization that we treasure to this very day.

This is the importance of reassessing our nation’s history. I always claim that ours is perhaps the most unique in the world because it is so mangled, so distorted. We continuously badmouth the nation (Spain) that virtually created us, complaining all the time that they “raped and destroyed our culture” even though we use cuchara and tenedor during meals while eating adobo or any guisado-based dishes, look at the calendario everyday, check out the time with our relój, say para to the jeepney driver, celebrate the Holiday Seasons with our loved ones, plan to visit Spanish Vigan to see the fantastic houses there, etc. But why continue this baseless, foolish, and counterproductive hatred? The Spaniards are no longer here. And we continuously deny the strong fact that without Spain, the concept of what a Filipino truly is as we know it today would have never existed. And by attacking our Spanish past, we are only harming ourselves, not Spain.

Rather than focus on personages, dates, and places, Filipino History teachers should focus more on the process of Filipinization. The word “history” comes from the greek verb historeo which means to “learn by inquiry”. So that is what teachers of Filipino History should do: inculcate into the minds of their students to inquire about the past, their past. History should not be about memorization of dates, places, events, names, etc. History is not a memorization contest. History is not about hero worship. Although it is understandable that, as much as possible, we should just leave historical facts to speak for themselves, it could not be feasible if our educators themselves continue to condition the minds of our young students into hating a past that should not be hated at all. In our particular situation, we all must learn how to reassess and inquire about the process of Filipinization. Why? Because of this so-called crisis of national identity which many scholars today erroneously claim we have.

As I have argued before, our national identity never left us. It has been with us all this time. A systematic false teaching of Filipino History just made us think that we do not have one.

“Ang hindí marunong lumiñgón sa pinangaliñgan ay hindí macacaratíng sa paróroonan”, says an old Tagálog proverb. But how can we move forward, how will we be able to determine where we are going if we do not know where we have come from? We always look into a mythical pre-Hispanic past, yearn for it, but that era of our lives was never us. It was only the catalyst to Hispanization which was really Filipinization. And this process gave birth to who and what we are today. The “pre-Hispanic Filipino” was never us. We have to calmly accept that fact, the way we have to accept natural disasters like typhoons as part of our lives.

Más mabuti siguro tayo ñgayón cung hindí tayo sinacop ng mğa Castilà. This is a very defeatist observation that has been prevailing for about a century already, for it has no basis most especially if we are to review our country’s economic history. Why aspire of “reverting” to a pre-Filipino past that never was?

Filipinas is such an ungrateful nation. We deserve to be poor. Thus, for all the unfounded badmouthing that we have thrown against her, we owe mother Spain an apology, and not the other way around.

It is time that we Filipinos should go back to our roots. Our real roots. That way, we will be able to steer the course of our national destiny to a much better future.