Hoy en la Historia de Filipinas: el nacimiento de Máximo Viola

HOY EN LA HISTORIA DE FILIPINAS: 17 de octubre de 1857 — Máximo Viola, conocido entre los historiadores y Rizalistas como el mejor amigo de José Rizal en Europa, nació en San Miguel de Mayumo, Provincia de Bulacán. Fue propagandista, escritor, y médico.

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Dr. Máximo Viola y Sison.

Viola terminó sus estudios de medicina en la Universidad de Santo Tomás y luego se fue a España a estudiar en la Universidad de Barcelona donde obtuvo un título en medicina en 1882. Fue allí donde conoció a Rizal por primera vez y se involucró en el movimiento de Propaganda. Por invitación de este último, Viola viajó por Europa, particularmente a Alemania, Austria-Hungría, y Suiza de mayo a junio del año 1887.

Viola es mejor conocido como el financiero de Noli Me Tangere, la primera novela de su amigo Rizal. Durante ese tiempo, el primero último teniendo dificultades financieras; pensó que ya no podría publicar su novela. Viola le proporcionó ₱300, lo que le permitió al patriota publicar 2,000 copias en 1887. Como agradecimiento, Rizal le regaló a su amigo Viola la prueba de galera y la primera copia publicada de Noli Me Tangere. Esto significa que Viola fue la primera persona en leer la novela.

Proveniente de una familia acomodada, Viola también apoyó a otros propagandistas como Marcelo H. del Pilar, a quien ayudó económicamente.

En ese mismo año de 1887, Viola regresó a Filipinas para ejercer su profesión de médico. Tuvo una breve reunión con Rizal en Manila a fines de junio de 1892. Se sospechaba que ambos tenían vínculos con el Katipunán de Andrés Bonifacio. Las autoridades coloniales españolas continuaron sospechando de Viola hasta la rebelión tagala que fue instigada por los katipuneros. Con sus dos hermanos, se quedó en Biac-na-Bató, el ahora famoso barrio de su pueblo natal, durante la rebelión contra el gobierno español en Filipinas.

Si bien Viola era famosa por haber ayudado a Rizal a publicar su novela, lo que la gente no sabe sobre él es que los invasores estadounidenses lo llevaron a una prisión militar en Malate, Manila por negarse a colaborar con ellos. Viola sólo fue liberada por un médico estadounidense, un cierto Dr. Fresnell, que solicitó su asistencia ya que el segundo carecía de conocimientos sobre enfermedades tropicales que infligían a los soldados estadounidenses.

Viola estaba casada con Juana Roura con quien tuvo cinco hijos. En sus últimos años, terminó como un negociante dedicado a la fabricación de muebles hechos de camagong (Diospyros discolor), una especie de madera dura filipina. Murió en su pueblo natal el 3 de septiembre de 1933. Tenía 75 años.



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. 😉

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.
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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.

Nagcarlán Underground Cemetery: a burial ground filled with sacred art and song

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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.

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).

From “Nuestra Patria” to “Bayan Ko”

DID YOU KNOW? The popular protest song “Bayan Ko” (My Native Land) was originally written in Spanish. Titled “Nuestra Patria“, the lyrics were written by Gen. José Alejandrino (the former propagandista from Pampanga who later in his life fought against the US WASP invaders) with music by Constancio de Guzmán. It was written as a protest song (specifically for a modern rendition of a satirical Spanish-era zarzuela) against the US WASP invaders who grabbed the country from the Spanish Empire and, later on, from the República de Malolos. It was translated to Tagálog by poet José Corazón de Jesús and has since become a popular political protest song.

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The Tagálog version gained further popularity during Martial Law. It has since been considered by many as the country’s second national anthem. Last year, the original version in Spanish (piano performance) was made available in YouTube by fonsucu (Fonso Velázquez).


For sale: Rizal’s Unfading Glory

Hello everyone. I am selling this super rare and highly controversial book titled RIZAL’S UNFADING GLORY: A DOCUMENTARY HISTORY OF THE CONVERSION OF DR. JOSÉ RIZAL by Fr. Jesús María Cavanna (1961). This is a must-have for all Rizalist historians especially those who are interested on the Rizal Retraction issue. This book contains several photographs of documented evidence as well as interviews proving once and for all that Rizal really retracted from Freemasonry. It is already out of print, but I still have several copies. I am selling each copy for only ₱1,100.00. For more details, please send a message to my Facebook and Twitter accounts. Hurry! This offer is good while supplies last. 😇

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CNN Philippines Quiz Night: The Philippine History edition

Good news to all history buffs! CNN Philippines has just come up with a wonderful quiz bee for all aficionados of Filipino History — the CNN Philippines Quiz Night: The Philippine History edition. They also have a hashtag for it: #CNNPHQuiz. Click on the image below for more details.

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Aside from the fact that this quiz bee perfectly fits History Month, it is also a good avenue to further popularize interest on Filipino History. Good luck to all!