Friday, December 28, 2007


Christmas is not what it used to be. Sure, the blinking Christmas lights and pricey parols and almost real plastic pine Christmas trees and the shinny gift wraps underscores the merriness of the season. The noche buena spread now includes ham and apples and oatmeal cookies and Pad Thai noodles to go with the red wine and imported whiskey. But somehow, I missed the oily pansit bihon and the sugar-sprinkled margarine sandwich washed down with an anemic fruit juice chilled by the biting mountain wind.

Many years ago in the magical village of Almaguer, there lived a boy whom everybody called Abet. The holidays for him is when everybody seemed to be kinder and more generous, and his Mom would bring in a guava branch shorn of its leaves which Abet and his younger brother will help coat with imitation snow made from grated Perla detergent soap dissolved in water, and decorate with tiny plastic toys and pieces of White Rabbit, Viva and Candy Mint. The parol too was homemade: pieces of flat bamboo sticks shaped like David’s star tied together back-to-back then inserted with 4 pieces of bamboo plugs where the grids meet to create the body before being covered with colored cellophane (usually red). The frame ribs where the pasted edges show were then hidden by paper trimmings and the tails made from layers of 2 or 3-colored papel de hapon skillfully scissored with cut-out designs on all sides. “The sun will take care of the wrinkles,” Abet’s mom would say.

Christmas for Abet is also waking at 3 am and jogging with his friends the 5 kilometers to the ili for the simbang gabi then back. It was the time when they dressed stateside with the naphthalene scented huge and thick winter overcoats that came with the used yellow Sheraton Hotel blankets courtesy of relatives from the States, and the Baguio bonnets that cover everything in their heads except the eyes. It sure kept the cold away.

Christmas carols then was a serious business. They would start from the amianan then sing their way back to Purok Singko in the abagatan. People really paid attention to the songs and “Patawad po!” is unheard of. Their repertoire would start with a popular Ilocano Christmas song “Daytoy a balay ti naturong mi / Balay yu Nanang nga am-ammo mi / Daytoy ngatan tay pakagulpian mi / Ti nawadwad nga aginaldo mi…” followed by “Soooopas da boys op an eeeengel…” before the concluding and obligatory “Tenk yu / Tenk yu / Tenk yu mister en misis / tenk yu!”.

One of the season’s highlights will be the Christmas program in the Sabadista school where Abet and his classmates will recite Christmas greetings in different languages (his favorite was the Hawaiian “Meli Kalikimaka”), form a line with each child holding a letter from the MERRY CHRISTMAS AND A HAPPY NEW YEAR greeting then each one jumping on cue and explaining the meaning of each letter. Christmas songs were also sang in between presentations by an impromptu choral group followed by a boring balagtasan where Abet was the Lakandiwa before the program culminates in the reenactment of the Nativity. The show was not much and delivered mostly in English that even the school children don’t understand but the people of Almaguer came to watch until the end of the program. The important thing is adda ti mabuya.

On the 24th, the whole barrio converged at the plaza suddenly brightly lighted with dozens of hasag. Each purok makes a presentation. That for Abet’s Purok Singko was a skit on why women washed the dishes. He acted the husband and the wife was Sabing who now spends Christmas in wintry Canada. Uncle Ilyo who just came from Saudi Arabia put up a P200 prize for a danniw competition which Abet’s younger brother won it with his rendition of “No Other Love”. The young mayor came to give Amang Lakay’s P500 prize for having the cleanest and most productive bangkag in Almaguer. Then everybody went home for the Christmas Eve feast of oily pansit bihon and the sugar-sprinkled margarine sandwich washed down with an anemic fruit juice chilled by the biting mountain wind.

Abet received his gifts the next day. He always had small boxes of Curly Tops from his Ninang across the street and Lola Senang in Bambang. And yes, there was also a chocolate covered marshmallow from Auntie Angeling and assorted candy from a cousin. His younger brother who only had one box of Curly Tops and would not let him forget the P200 he won the other night would die of apal, Abet smirked.

It was a simple Christmas but a great time.

PHOTOS (top to bottom):

(1) Luisiana was formerly known as Ibabang Nasuno and its first parochial building is a chapel that was built in 1838. (2) Luisiana's Iglesia Filipiniana Independiente or Aglipayan Church was established in 1904. Its church was probably built afterwards just beside the Roman Catholic church. (3) Abet the Lakandiwa during the Balagtasan portion of the Sabadista school’s annual Christmas program in Almaguer. (4) Amang Lakay (left) receiving his cash prize of having the cleanest and most productive bangcag from Bambang Mayor Benjamin “Boyie” Cuaresma. Mayor Boyie’s father, the former Mayor Benjamin “Herodes” Cuaresma, lives just across Amang Lakay’s house in Almaguer before moving to the ili. Mayor Boyie was killed by NPA guerillas during the 1989 election campaign and was replaced by his wife who served the maximum 3 terms, was Nueva Vizcaya vice-governor for another 3 terms, and is now in her second term as the province’s governor. Their eldest son, Benjamin “Jamie” Cuaresma, has just been elected as the new mayor of Bambang.

Friday, December 21, 2007


I was born a lagalag.

This has been pre-ordained by Lakay Burik’s generation who fled Piddig and found haven in Bayombong; and confirmed by Lolo Porong’s nomadic search for the holy grail of the good life that brought him to Obando, Umingan, Santiago, Sta. Ana, Guam, and Davao before finally coming to a dead end in Bambang. And I who was born out of their itinerant loins have been marked with the memories of distant places where I grew up: the big river in Naguillian and the image of Rosendo rafting down in a bunch of water lilies, Angalakan Beach in Mapandan and the joys of a thousand forbidden swims, a piece of broken glass in a creek in Paniqui shredding my sole as we forage for sugarcanes, our refuge under the bridge in Alicia where we spent our Sabbath days away from the self-righteous enforcers of the faith. And of course the magical barrio of Almaguer where our story merged with that of the bassit and dacquel nga carayan.

Today, I am in a continuum of these travels as I swing from one old church to another having been, to date, to 513 towns and cities in 43 provinces of the Philippines and 9 countries of the world . I will be forever grateful to my employer, the Philippine Rural Reconstruction Movement (PRRM), who unknowingly nurtured my passion as it sends me to assignments across the country; and to Social Watch-Philippines (SWP), the Rice Watch and Action Network (R1), and the Alternative Network of International Financing Institutions (INAFI) who have been the generous but unknowing sponsors of my most interesting trips.

And as I look back into my personal Book of Travel Records, two significant entries of this unending saga jumped at me. The first one extended my journey to the sea, and the second one to the sky.

I was selected to represent PRRM’s Nueva Ecija Branch sometime in 1995 to participate in the Education for Life Foundation’s DAUPAN --- a gathering of popular educators from all over the Philippines held in the coastal town of Gasan in Marinduque. The ferry trip from Lucena City to Boac was slow and uneventful. In Gasan, I hooked up with a comrade from the Bukluran para sa Ikauunlad ng Sosyalistang Isipan at Gawa and stayed in an old house with lots of old things. “The children have decided to settle either in Lucena or Manila,” our foster parent told us. I saw Mayor Vicky Lao Lim leading a clean up the next day. We later had a big solidarity party where I recited some lines from a Tagalog poem of the brokenhearted as part of the Central Luzon presentation. I smelled of the roasted beef in my pockets that I smuggled from the kitchen for our pulutan.

Diarrhea hit me during the ferry boat ride back to Lucena. It was not seasickness; it’s the sugpo our foster parent prepared for our send-off lunch. Having no tissue paper for sale at the ship’s store and bottled water still many years away from being a fad, I bravely scooped the water from the bottom of the toilet bowl and placed it in a plastic bag. I washed myself with it but it was not enough. I smelled of shit. Then we rode on a painfully slow air conditioned bus to Manila where every stopover is paradise for my constricting insides. We finally reached the city by dusk. By then, I have egested all the shit I have. I was back in Marinduque this year where I had the chance of shooting its colonial churches in Boac and Sta. Cruz. And I again met reelected Mayor Vicky Lao Lim of Gasan last July during PRRM’s 55th anniversary celebration.

It was I think 1997 when I had my first plane ride from Manila to Davao City to attend a PRRM program conference. Before that, God knows how close I am to punching our Assistant Branch Manager in the eye for playing on my emotions. He knew how excited I am on the trip and joked that I would not be coming after all. In Davao City, we stayed in a resort near the dirty beach in houses that looked liked concrete mushrooms. The bar has a videoke with a giant screen where I sang John Lennon’s “Jealous Guy” and Radiohead’s “Creep” after 8 bottles of beer. I tasted my first durian and brought 2 boxes of Davao fruits (durian, pomelo, marang, mangosteen) for the girlfriend back in Nueva Ecija (she will eventually marry me).

The flight back was delayed so we have some more beer. I was drunk, it was cold, and very dark during the plane ride back to Manila. But I did not sleep. After that trip, I will return to Davao City many times and this year, I went looking for Jacinto Street where Kid Buntal and Uncle Andring stayed sometime in the 1950s in a place where the earth trembled every now and then. I found a wide and concrete street. I gave P200 to a trisikad driver to take me back and forth from both ends of the street until the sun set and the rain started to fall.

These are two of my most memorable journeys. But they won’t be making it to the Lagalag Notebook.

PHOTOS (top to bottom):

(1) BOAC, MARINDUQUE. The church was first built in 1792 and has served as a fortress against the raids of Moro pirates' attacks.

(2) STA. CRUZ, MARINDUQUE. The evangelization of what is now the town of Sta. Cruz started in the 17th century. It was established as an independent town in 1790. The church was probably built afterwards.

(3) DAVAO CITY. The first church was built in 1847 upon the arrival of the Spanish colonialists led by Don Jose Uyanguren. This has been replaced by the modern structure but the original altar has been preserved and displayed at the right wing of the cathedral.

Davao City’s San Jacinto Street from the (4) corner of Magsaysay Avenue and (5) from the trisikad perspective.

Friday, December 14, 2007


Andiyan ka pala
Hi, hello, good evening, kumusta
Impit na mga tula
Nanghuhuli ng himala.

Pa’no na nga ba ulit?
Ang alam ko’y uminom ng gin
At magpasyon ng tahimik.

Saan uumpisahan
Ang awit ng ulan
Sa panahon ng tag-araw?

Ewan ko
Basta sasayaw ako ng El Bimbo
At iipunin ang maalat na balat
ng butong pakwang kinukukot mo.
Baka sakali
Mapansin mong kumakanta ako
Kahit na wala sa tono.

(30 Mayo 1997, Central Luzon State University)

Saturday, December 08, 2007


I was (and still is) a point-and-shot digital camera photographer. So the day I had my Nikon D40, the next thing I wanted to do was (1) get a better education on photography and (2) understand the complexities of a DSLR. But photography is not yet a hot thing in my province and among my circle; and getting a formal training in Manila is almost impossible because of the distance, the unpredictability of my schedule, and the demands of my work.

There is of course the flickr Philippine Group whom I turned to for help in organizing a photography workshop in Nueva Ecija. I will be forever grateful for the immediate and many responses to my SOS but again, the project was stalled when I realized that it would require some resources that were not readily available at that moment. That’s how it was when me (flickr name: My Visita Iglesia) and Joey (flickr name: Biyaheng Gloria) met up with fellow Novo Ecijano and former co-worker Lenard (flickr name: Village Idiot).

So one night, we came together in the penthouse of the PRRM national office in Quezon City to discuss our photography and drink some beer. It was my initiation into the realm of DLSR photography. Later, Lenard would link us with the SURFACING project that would take my photography to another level.

SURFACING is an advocacy project initiated by a group of amateur and professional photographers that intends to help in raising the public’s awareness on the issue of enforced disappearances. It aims to “give a human face to the stories and struggles of the families of the disappeared or desaparecidos”. Towards this, SURFACING held a series of output-based photo essay/workshops from October to December “to develop the participating photographers' skills in creating compelling photo essays/stories…”.

The workshops included integration with the families of the desaparecidos to enable the participating photographers to feel the emotion of the struggle in coping up with the pain of forcibly losing a loved one. Aside from helping capture more compelling and powerful images, the integration also ensures that the families become part of the project instead of being mere subjects. Veteran photojournalists Gil Nartea, Luis Liwanag, Jes Aznar, and Bogsi Panaligan lent their time and expertise to the project which is being coordinated with the Free Jonas Burgos Movement and Desaparecidos.

According to the International Convention for the Protection of all Persons against Enforced Disappearance, enforced disappearance is “committed by government officials or by organized groups acting in behalf, or with the support, consent or acquiescence of the government”. The term desaparecidos is a Spanish word which means “the disappeared” that was coined in Latin America during the continent’s tyrannical regimes of military dictators. Today in the Philippines, enforced disappearances has dramatically increased under the regime of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Joey and I were able to attend the first SURFACING workshop held at the PRRM national office. Aside from our desire to help expose the blatant commitment of enforced disappearances and the pain it leaves behind, we have our own stories to share. Manong Johnny Orcino and Leonor Ayroso, husbands of 2 former co-workers from PRRM’s Nueva Ecija Branch, were abducted in 2002 and have never been seen. I also experienced how it is to live in fear during Gen. Jovito Palparan’s reign of terror in our province. And there were Maricel and George Vigo, formerly of our North Cotabato Branch, who were gunned down last 2006 by still unknown assassins leaving 5 orphaned children.

Our continued participation in the workshops was however again frustrated by distance and work. But SURFACING is a continuing project and we hope to link up soon with our own images to share. It is open to all photographers who share the belief in the sanctity of human life, the freedom guaranteed by our democracy, and the rage against the injustice of it all.

PHOTOS (top to bottom):
(1) BOCAUE, BULACAN. The Franciscans built the first church of light materials in 1578 that was replaced by Fr. Pedro Delos Santos (PFM) with a stronger structure in 1606. Afterwards, the church underwent a series of rebuilding and improvements until it was destroyed by fire in 1868. It was rebuilt and razed again during the Philippine Revolution of 1898. It has been rebuilt and restored/repaired/improved several times since then. I dropped by the Obando church on my way to the SURFACING workshop.
(2) The Burgoses (younger brother JL on the left and mother Edita on the right) opened the start of the SURFACING workshop series.
(3) Fellow flickristas marct and Hiraya working on a camera, (4) curious bingbing, (5) GeProks and fellow maninimbahan estan.
(6) Pansit for merienda.
(7) Learning from the masters: (left to right) Bogsi Panaligan, Gil Nartea, Luis Liwanag, Jes Aznar.
(8) PASIG, METRO MANILA. Fr. Juan de Alva (OSA) built the first parochial buildings of light materials after what is now Pasig was accepted as an Augustinian mission. The beginnings of what may be the present church was started to be constructed before 1639. Either the building continued until 1762 or a new structure was built that was damaged in 1764 when the invading British converted the church into a horse stable. The church was restored by Fr. Simon Barroso in 1879 and has been restored/repaired several times since then. I made a quick visit to the church during a workshop break.

Friday, November 30, 2007


Abet never saw him wearing slippers or shoes except on Saturdays when he attend the Sabadista church on top of the hill beside Apong Ino’s big house.

Most of the time, he goes walking barefoot around Almaguer with his crooked bamboo cane, as if in an eternal journey, his presence announced by the sudden escalation of frightened howls and yelps from the barrio’s canine population who seemed incapable of liking him.

It may be the way he looked --- the leathery wrinkled skin, a pronounced stoop, bowed legs, and a blind milky white right eye --- which has earned him second spot behind the kumaw as the favorite boggart used to force Almaguer’s children into their noontime siesta.

He just don’t like children it seems with Abet and what would be the Samahang Dilim having their fair share of being chased away and threatened with that crooked bamboo cane for no apparent reason.

Perhaps because he and his elfish wife never have children running around their small but neat bungalow-type house nestled on the slope of the hill just below Apong Ino’s big house; or his frustration and anger of not having a son who will carry on his name, or a daughter who will look after them in their golden years.

But what really made him a barrio legend, at least among the children of Almaguer, is his galing-galing.

He is said to be able to drink gallons of water and is so heavy that cars and tricycles will suddenly have flat tires once he rides on them.

Abet heard that his favorite prank is to ask for a sip of water that those who go to work in the fields carry with them in orange or red plastic kerosene containers, which he will drain in one drinking leaving nothing for the flustered host/s who have to fetch a new supply in the barrio which is a good walking away; or asking for a ride from the tricycle drivers who will later wonder why all 3 tires went flat at the same time.

The legend has grown to a point where those in the fields would politely decline his request for water and the tricycle drivers his request for a ride.

And it seems to be a good joke he shared with them as indicated by the smiles and laughter that would punctuate every request and denial.

The last time Abet saw him was during Amang Lakay’s wake.

Apong Liwliwa died shortly after.

Then his elfish wife too.

Bertong Langis noticed that their house on the hill slope is gone the last time he dropped by in Almaguer.

He wondered where Apong Liwliwa’s galing-galing was passed on…

PHOTOS (top to bottom):

CAINTA, RIZAL: The town was established in 1571 and its church completed in 1715 by the Jesuits. The church was seriously damaged during World War II and has been rebuilt with only the outer walls remaining of the old structure. It underwent a restoration process after the war which lasted until 1968.

TAYTAY, RIZAL. The first church was built of light materials in 1579 along the coast of the Manila de Bay. Because of threats from frequent floods, the church was relocated to its present site by Fr. Pedro Chirino (SJ) in 1591where another church was probably built 8 years later. This was replaced in 1603 by the first stone church to be built outside Manila. A new and bigger church was built by Fr. Juan de Salazar in 1630. This was damaged by a typhoon in 1632 and repaired by the seculars in 1768 then by the Augustinian Recollects in 1864. The church was burned down in 1899 during the Filipino-American War, probably rebuilt, and enlarged in the 1970s during which the remnants of the previous structures were incorporated into the fa├žade.

Saturday, November 24, 2007


The house is a 2-storey affair: galvanized iron roof with patches of earthy red where the rust has set; unpainted wooden planks grayed by time and exposure to the elements; the ground floor hollow blocked much later, added as an afterthought like the protruding extension for the kitchen. It was much like Amang Lakay’s and all the middle class houses in Almaguer. It is tucked in a street corner beside the small church, a huge mango tree standing guard in the front yard, which Abet and the Samahang Dilim always passed by when they go roaming in the laud.

Napigsa ti gamud na, Insan”, RR of the Samahang Dilim told him one day, referring to the small old woman with graying hair and Chinese eyes in the house-beside-the-church-with-a-big-mango-tree-in-front, while they were lolling in Manong Van’s covered banauang bridge, passing a single stick of Hope menthol cigarette between them. Abet stared at the house. There’s nothing sinister about it. The old woman may look like a witch but she ain’t one as far as he is concerned. No, he don’t believe in gamuds and silently sneers at the neighbors who place thorny potted plants in their front yards and bullets in their pockets to ward away the evil of the manggagamud. Not until Sergeant A came along.

Auntie Ibang brought Sergeant A to Almaguer from Fort Magsaysay. The medium-built, fair skinned, and almost brooding sergeant is supposed to be an expert in exorcising the spell of manggagamuds. The hollow blocked ground floor of Amang Lakay’s GI-roofed and wooden planked house served as the exorcism room. Sergeant A would place something between the toes of his patients and they would blabber away, supposedly possessed by the manggagamuds who jinxed them. That is how the manggagamuds get caught.

JD of the Samahang Dilim and his sisters were supposedly jinxed by their own aunt. So is Manang Baning --- sister-in-law to the aunt --- who then went around Almaguer after the supposed exorcism, carrying with her a sefia photograph of her child who died supposedly because of her hipag’s gamud. And there was that unforgettable episode with JD’s father.

Ukinnam Patupat, aramidek nga camel diyay bakam!”, that’s JD’s father (or Patupat which is his birnas) cursing himself while under the spell of Sergeant A. The voice is supposedly that of Manong Milo, a bachelor who lives with his brother and sister in a small house behind the small church that is beside the house-beside-the-church-with-a-big-mango-tree-in-front, and whom Manong Patupat entrusted a cow as a pataraken. Manong Patupat later rushed to Manong Milo’s house after the exorcism session but he is not there.

A day after, Manang Liming who is JD’s aunt, Manang Baning’s hipag, Manong Patupat’s sister, and Abet’s capidua came to see Sergeant A in Amang Lakay’s house. The sergeant supposedly commanded her to come during yesterday’s exorcism rites so he can cure her. They spent time cloistered with Auntie Ibang inside the kamalig where Abet saw egg yolks being thrown out. When they came out, Auntie Ibang happily told those anxiously waiting in Amang Lakay’s compound that Manang Liming’s power of the gamud has been exorcised.

These proofs made Abet a believer (he is sure his cabagyans and capiduas could not have been acting during the exorcism rites). But he still has his doubts. Perhaps it is because Manong Lito, despite his faults, just does not fit in as a manggagamud. And Manang Liming, snakelike eyes that seem to bore and all, is a close family relative. During the last night wake for Abet’s mother, Manang Liming came and hugged him tightly. It was a cold night but Abet felt the warm and true emotions of his capidua. He hugged her back.
Many years later, Abet was invited as a resource person on campus journalism in Fort Magsaysay and would again meet Sergeant A. “I’m trying to get a college degree. Para pa-promote naman,” Sergeant A told him. Abet forgot to ask the sergeant how many gamuds and manggagamuds he has healed since their Almaguer meeting.

PHOTOS (top to bottom):

BAGABAG, NUEVA VIZCAYA. The town was first established in 1743 as an ecclesiastical mission for the Dominican’s attempt to subjugate the proud Ifugaos. By 1746, parochial buildings were reported to be existing and probably replaced by bigger and stronger structures between 1777 and 1794 by Fr. Alejandro Vidal (OP) then Fr. Juan del Rey (OP). These were razed by fire in 1839 and rebuilt, including the unfinished bell tower, by Fr. Raimundo Gonzalo (OP) and Fr. Remigio del Alamo (OP).

KIANGAN, IFUGAO. Kiangan’s American colonial era UCCP church was built by the American missionary Myrtle Metzger in 1926 upon the establishment of the nearby Ifugao Academy --- the first high school in the province. (3) Its St. Joseph’s church is the oldest Roman Catholic church in Ifugao and was built in 1910 by Fr. Jerome Moerman.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


He reached Ouidah after an hour of travelling from Cotonou. It is an old settlement having been established in the 15th century by Ahoho who worship Dangbe the python. The air and relics speak of the legends from the past; of a shameful history that enriched the colonial powers of old Europe at the expense of millions of Africans. Ouidah was a slave trading post.

While the tourist bus wandered and the driver and the tour guide argued on where to go, he feasted on the flashing images of Ouidah: colonial designed houses with whitewashed walls of packed red earth, cobbled streets and neat little shops, ramrod straight and bare breast women walking and balancing heavy loads on their heads, the occasional Caucasian tourist in shorts and sandals and de rigueur camera. Then it popped out from nowhere, a beautiful anomaly in the movie he was watching.

The dominant and elegant Basilica of Ouidah is definitely French in the style of the Rheims Cathedral. He never knew it was there, and the suddenness of its appearance transformed the next moments into a surreal experience punctuated by the maniacal clicking of his Nikon D40. Until a hissing sound woke him from his moment of stupor. He felt the dry wind prodding him, outside the churchyard, across the street, to a decrepit enclosure. He found himself in an ancient Vodoun temple which the imposing Basilica failed to exorcise.

That is when he saw them: a bare young boy huddled in a dark corner with his almost naked mother and father. They started walking down the street, the man carrying his son and followed by his wife. He started walking too, amused at the eerie and light feeling that suddenly enveloped him but confused by his helplessness. He was led into the market where those that he followed disappeared into the maze of humanity before showing themselves again as they enter the gate of the Portuguese fort. He was drawn inside too, enjoying a moment of sanity in the shadows of an old chapel before going into a burst of fleeting exhilaration which transported him to a giant tree where he saw them again --- the man and his wife --- walking around, as if lost, as if in a soulless trance.

Then they picked the sleeping child and went their way, disappearing for moment in a patch of complete darkness, reappearing like ghosts, and continuing their journey until coming to another tree where they again performed the odd ritual of going around it. He was about to ask about the child who is no longer with them but a thousand tiny pythons came off his mouth as he tried to speak. That is when he saw the heavy manacles bruising their wrists and ankles, and the silent tears that poured from their empty eye sockets. They walked to the sea behind an invisible door that slammed the past behind them. Forever. The salty water parted to take them in. He strained his eyes to their journey until they disappeared. He felt cold…

PHOTOS (top to bottom):
(1) The Basilica of Ouidah was built in the early 20th century in front of (2) the Temple of Pythons where a Vodoun priest regularly commune with the spirit of Dangbe. The voodoo practice of the
Caribbean was introduced by slaves originating from what is now the Republic of Benin
(3) The chapel of the old Portuguese fort was built in 1856. The fort is one of the 5 that were built by the Portuguese, the French, English, Dutch and Danes as their slave trade posts. Only the Portuguese fort remained and when the newly independent state of Benin asked for a discussion of the fort’s status, the angry Portuguese burned it to the ground in 1961 during Benin’s first independence day celebration. It has been restored and is now the Historic Museum of Ouidah.
(4) The slaves would circle the Tree of Hope 3 times in the hope of coming back. It is the fifth stop in Ouidah’s La Route des Esclaves (The Route of Slaves) that commenced in the slave market where the slaves are sold, then the forts where they stayed in dark rooms called Zomais to prepare them for their sea journey to the Americas, then the Tree of Forgetfulness where they went around 9 times (7 times for the women) to symbolically forget everything about their origin. Those who will not survive are buried in the mass grave before the Tree of Hope.
(5) The Door of No Return leads to the ships that took the slaves across the Atlantic Ocean. (6) A voodoo temple now stands guard in the hallowed grounds of the Door of Nor return that has been declared as a UNESCO heritage site. Slavery was proposed by a priest and adviser to the Spanish court, Fr. Bartholome Las Cassas, to provide the labor for developing the New World of the Americas and was authorized by Pope Nicolas V on 08 January 1454. It was abolished in all of the English colonies in 1833, in all of the French colonies in 1848, in the United States in 1865, in Cuba in 1886, and in Brazil in 1888.
(7) A Beninese in a pensive mood along the Atlantic coast of the Door of No Return, as if waiting for those who went and never came back many years ago.
(8) Petrol or gas is sold on street stands like this beside a colonial era Beninese house in Ouidah.
(MAIN REFERENCE: Martin de Souza’s “Ouidah: A Bit of History”)

Sunday, November 11, 2007


Finally, a non-Asian visa.

I was invited to attend the Africa and culminating round of the International Network of Alternative Financing Institutions’ (INAFI) global conference on microfinance, migration and development on 4-13 November of this year in Cotonou, Benin. I was also a participant in the previous Asian round that was held in Tagaytay, Philippines in 2006, and would have given a foot to attend the Latin American and first round that was held in Zacatecas, Mexico in 2004.

I did not sleep much on the eve of my departure and have to perk (and treat) myself to a despedida lunch of soya chicken mami on my way to the airport the following day. It is a special occasion for me having fulfilled 3 longstanding wishes: (1) to be out of country at least once a year, (2) a non-Asian visa finally pasted in my passport, and (3) going to Africa. (These are actually a great leap from my single pre-2002 wish of having my passport marked before expiring, which I upped to having a visa because all my travels before 2005 were in southeast Asia that do not require one, which led me to my non-Asian travel wish. Yeah, I just upgraded my wish list to include travels to Europe and North/Latin America and Australia and Antarctica because the aim now is to have the bragging right of having been to the 7 continents). The mami did not fit for the occasion but it is pansit so it will do.

It was a long and sleepless flight. Manila to Hongkong is almost 2 hours and we have to kill 3 hours at the Chep Lap Kok airport for the connecting flight to Paris. Which is a good thing because we stumbled on the Taiwan Beef Noodle restaurant, self-proclaimed King of Beef Noodles with a prominently displayed 2006 King of Catering medallion, where my boss treated me to a huge bowl of beef spare ribs noodles. Then a 13-hour haul shooting across 7 time zones which tested the flexibility of my body clock. The Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris was a disappointment because the restaurant in our terminal do not have noodles in its menu. And we have 7 hours to count off before the plane to Cotonou.

There is not much in Cotonou but Hotel Du Lac where we stayed is along the Oueme River as it empties into the Atlantic Ocean offering a great view on all sides. The Cotonou time zone (-7 hours to Manila time) is yet to sink into my psyche so I pulled through my first night surfing the French language TV programs, counting the lights of the ships moored in the Atlantic coast, reading Harry Potter’s encounter with Sirius Black, and answering the crossword puzzles I brought along. At 5 am, I went down to the al fresco restaurant and took my first photo of a fisherman in a boat crossing the river mouth. The buildings across the river are still asleep and the lights of the Ancien Pont Bridge is faintly etched on the water.

The next nights are not any better but the daily 10-minute nap during the ride from the hotel to the Palais des Congres where the conference was held is enough to recharge me. Perhaps it is the energy of the century-old Notre Dame des Apotres across the bridge, vibrant and noticeable in its alternating red and white color, pulsating through my sleeplessness every time I passed through. Or the pansit that was served on the second day of the conference which tempered our protein-heavy fare.

My body clock finally adjusted to the Cotonou time. But then, it’s time to go home…

PHOTOS (top to bottom): (1) Soya chicken mami at the NLEX, (2) my boss working on a bowl of noodles at Hong Kong’s Chep Lap Kok airport, (3) the sun rising at Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, (4) the mouth of the Oueme River and Atlantic Ocean as seen from Hotel Du Lac, (5) pretty Beninese mademoiselles who served as conference ushers, (6) Beninese lunch with pansit, and (7) Cotonou’s 105-year old Notre Dame des Apotres.

Thursday, November 01, 2007


As a child growing up in Almaguer, undas for Abet is that part of the year when roasting tupig pervades the air and every house has a kankanin to give. He envied his cousins who would go to the municipal cemetery on a mountain slope in the ili to clean and paint the tombs of those who passed away. He would always tag along.

Abet’s family have their share of deaths but they seem not be so much enamored in that undas thing. Perhaps it was the Sabadista in them. When he was older, he and his brother Eric would search for the almost forgotten tomb of their younger sister who died when they were practically babies and paint it with what’s left of the white latex they were given (and paid for) for somebody else’s nitso. They would badger Precy to pay Manong Rolly for the lettering work --- the name of the dead plus the date of birth and death at one peso per letter/number with an ornamental cross drawing (there is a bunch of flowers sometimes) and the usual R.I.P. initials as bonuses.

They tried looking for Lola Senang’s middle class tomb too but there was somebody else inside. The nitso has been sold and they don’t know where the bones were moved. Then Lolo Porong’s pauper grave but they can’t remember where he’s been buried; the markings on the wooden crosses sticking from the sticky red earth in disorganized tilts have faded with time and forgetfulness.

In Mapandan, Abet once escaped from the Saturday church service to collect molten wax to sell and hawk candles in the cemetery near the Sabadista complex where they lived. “Kandel! Kandel! Kandel!” he was shouting dressed in his church finery when Precy found him. He got a good whipping for that.

Much later, he would be a regular at Manong Ireneo’s splendid army tomb with his cousins and Samahang Dilim cohorts Ruben and Junie (6 foot tall and talented basketeer Manong Ireneo died in an ambush in Patikul, Jolo at the age of 19). But really, he was drawn there more by the military emblems that attract the attention of the ballasitangs and babbalasangs.

In 2004, Precy died of colon cancer. A vault was built on top of Kid Buntal’s tomb in Almaguer’s own cemetery (Amang Lakay was the first to be buried there). There she was interred along with the remains of her daughter from the ili’s cemetery. The nitso was covered with a tile finish. There will be no annual paint jobs. And the names and dates with a very Sabadista “See You in the Resurrection Morning” epitaph were carved in a granite slab. Manong Rolly have migrated to the States.

This year’s undas is the second in a row that Abet missed after the death of his parents. He was in Japan the last time. This year, he is busy preparing for a trip to Benin. He ain’t forgetting though. He always drops by during every trip to the North. But he misses the tupig terribly. Pansit has become the undas staple.

PHOTOS (top to bottom): (1) Eric at Amang Lakay’s tomb; the top portion would be later occupied by Uncle Kidlat. (2) Inang Baket’s tomb before the great flood of 2005. (3) Manong Ireneo's military tomb in the ili. (4-5) Cousins Balong (left) and Anong (right) atop their grandparents and tita’s tomb. (6) Ghosts in a playful mood at the terrace of our house in Bacal 2 on the night of Halloween 2005 (from left): Tita Em-em, Bulan, Balong, Bokyo, Tita Tess, Nana (partially hidden).

Sunday, October 28, 2007


Although I officially became a churchophile in October 27 of 2004 with a pilgrimage to Obando, I have been in the shadows of churches all my life. Piddig is of course the watershed that created a river of tales which after traversing Cabugao, Pasuquin and Bayombong and intersecting with the down streams of Obando in Umingan, Tayug, Santiago and Sta. Ana emptied in a magical place called Almaguer.

But before my visita iglesia were 4 magnificent colonial churches that heralded my initiation into churchography. During that time, I have always wondered why I seem to be naturally drawn to churches. I am not religious and I don’t go to church but on the road, these magnificent structures would beckon irresistibly. It would be later before I realized why.

I got the chance of visiting Bohol in July of 2003 when I attended a program conference in Panglao Island. Our gracious hosts must have realized that it will be the only chance of seeing the province for most us and dedicated one full day for a “field trip”. Chocolate Hills was of course the first destination then a trip back via the Loboc River in a floating restaurant where we got to see some tarsiers. We also went down Alona Cave (said to have been named after Alona Alegre who once shoot a movie there with FPJ) and dropped by the Sandugo Site where Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and Datu Sikatuna did their blood compact. Tired but happy, we were on our way back to the resort when we passed by the Baclayon church. I insisted that we stop. My companions don’t want to but finally relented when I told them that it was where Cesar Montano proposed to Sunshine Cruz.

In 2004, I accompanied Ka Tolits Tambalo --- chair of the national farmers’ group SAKAHAN --- to a trip in southern Philippines for a series of consultations with their provincial affiliates. It was Ka Tolits’ first trip to Cebu City (mine too) and he asked me to show him around. So I found a map and walked our way to the Cebu City Museum, Pres. Sergio Osmena Museum, Casa Gorordo which is said to be the oldest house in the city, and Calle Colon which is the oldest street in Philippines. I planned the route so it will culminate in 2 magnificent colonial era churches: the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral and the Basilica del Sto. Nino Minore. Nearby is what is said to be the original wooden cross planted by Ferdinand Magellan when he arrived in Cebu in 1521; and Fort San Pedro which said to be the oldest, the smallest and the most well preserved colonial era fort in the Philippines.

From Cebu, we took a brief plane ride to Bacolod City. And while Ka Tolits was having his meeting, I slipped out and found my way to the old cathedral. We had a pala-pala dinner that night on my account as my atonement for “escaping”.

PHOTOS (top to bottom):

BACLAYON, BOHOL. Before Sugbu, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi first landed in Bohol in 1565 where he made the famous Sanduguan or Blood Compact with Datu Sikatuna in what is now the town of Baclayon. Thirty years later, Fr. Juan de Torres (SJ) and Fr. Gabriel Sanchez (SJ) came back, established a Jesuit ecclesiastical mission, and built the first parochial buildings. The present church was built by the Jesuits in 1727. The Augustinian Recollects later conducted improvements (or retouching?) between 1768 and 1801 when they took over the mission.

METROPOLITAN CATHEDRAL, CEBU CITY. Cebu was made into a diocese in 1591 three years before being elevated as the first Philippine city. It was one of the first 3 Philippine dioceses along with Nueva Caceres in Naga and Nueva Segovia in Lal-lo. Another church was probably built for the diocese aside from that dedicated to the Sto. Nino. This might be the 2 churches that were reported to have been successively destroyed in the early years of the 18th century. The present church was built between 1730 and 1734.

STO. NINO BASILICA, CEBU CITY. The mission of the Sto. Nino de Cebu was established in 1565 right on the day that the expeditionary forces of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and the Augustinian Fr. Andres de Urdaneta set foot on the island. This makes Cebu the first Spanish ecclesiastical mission in the Philippines and probably in Southeast Asia as well. It was elevated as a city in 1594 making it the oldest Philippine city too. In 1561, a Spanish soldier named Juan Camus found an image of the Sto. Nino (that was probably a gift from Ferdinand Magellan to Cebu’s Queen Juana) being venerated by the natives. Fr. Diego de Herrera (OSA) probably built the first church on the site where the image was found. This was razed by fire in 1566, continuously rebuilt between 1605 and 1626 by Fr. Pedro Torres, burned down again in 1628, until Fr. Juan Medina (OSA) finally replaced it with a brick-and-stones building. The church was probably damaged in 1729, defectively repaired in 1731, then probably torn down and replaced by the present structure by Fr. Juan de Albarran (OSA) in 1735. The construction was completed in 1739 with the venerated image of the Sto. Nino finally installed a year later. The church was improved in 1782 and again in 1889 by Fr. Mateo Diez (OSA).

BACOLOD CITY, NEGROS OCCIDENTAL. The mission of Bacolod was probably established by Bishop Mariano Cuartero (OP) in 1756. It was elevated as a city in 1848 making it the 4th in the whole of Negros island at that time. After being assigned to Bacolod in 1871, the Augustinian Recollects built the present church between 1876 and 1882. The church was declared as a cathedral in 1933 and underwent repairs/improvements in 1936.

Monday, October 22, 2007


On the road, I always make it a point to feed only on the local (or regional) cuisine. Why go to Jollibee for lunch in Cagayan de Oro when I can have Chicken Joy back home anytime I want? This sometimes miffs my traveling companions who have to endure walking with me looking for the perfect lunch at 1:30 in the afternoon.

But this is usually the case for lunch and dinner. Finding a breakfast on the road is more difficult because the turo-turo and carinderias where local food is usually served opens up late in the morning (except the 24-hour bus and truck stops). And since I usually start my travel early in the morning when traffic is light and the sun more forgiving, there is no choice but fast food breakfast fare for me. But it better be Chowking or its brunch.

I don’t really like the Chowking fare because it’s too greasy for my taste. I go there for their classic beef-wanton noodles and asado siopao. I eat it Chinese style with bamboo chopsticks, slurping the soup straight from the bowl after every bite of siopao sopped in their wonderful sarsa. In the city, I go for Pan de Manila’s filling pandesal in lieu of the siopao. And sometimes, I can’t resist indulging myself with a bowl of Fiesta Halo-halo for the finale. At 8 o’clock in the morning.

A Taste of Thailand

Wife once asked me if Thai noodles are really good. So we went hunting for a Thai restaurant and found Oody’s at the Market! Market! Mall in Taguig. We ordered Phad Thai.

“How was it?” I asked.

Masarap”, she said while picking on her Thai noodles. “Pero mas masarap pa rin ang pansit canton ko”, she added.

I agree.

PHOTOS (top to bottom): (1) My Chowking protocol of classic beef-wanton noodles, siopao and iced tea. (2) The heavenly hot pandesals of Pan de Manila. (3) Phad Thai’s main ingredient is stir-fried rice noodles garnished with tokwa, hipon, manok strips, fried scrambled eggs, and toge and flavored with patis, sampalok juice, crushed chili, ground mani, a slice of lime, and a leaf that my friend Ponga has described as “lasang putang-ina”.