Thursday, July 26, 2007


Oyet P. read us a poem during NE Branch’s Christmas party of 1993. I heard he went to work in Bangkok after that.

He was heady with that Nora Aunor thing the first time he came home. I got a bottle of Absolut Vodka for a pasalubong and he filled me in with his trip to Sta. Maria, Ilocos Sur where his ancestors from the father side originated, showing me a photocopy of his great grandfather’s birth certificate written in flourishing old Spanish script. We went hiking and spelunking in Minalungao before he went back to Bangkok.

In 2003, I finally broke the jinx of being one of the few in PRRM who never got to use the “out-of-country” alibi. I was in Thailand for almost 3 weeks that year and on my first night in Bangkok, Oyet P. gave me a hurried city tour. He showed me the Temple of the Dawn and the nearby night flower market, walked through bustling Simlong Road and seedy Pat Pong, and snacked on deep fried scorpions and bamboo worms in Khaosan Road. Later on our last week in Bangkok, me and Ponga (i.e. Egay Paraguison) cooked him a dinner of sinigang na ulo ng salmon and sisig. We had Singha beer while watching his “Dara ken Lasag” family documentary and learned how the Americans bribed a little boy with candies who innocently ratted where the great Apolinario Mabini was hiding in Cuyapo. That boy is the brother of his great grandfather.

Oyet P. attended a lot of creative writing workshops after that (one is something like a loaf of bread in New York) although I thought there was no need for him to do so being the great writer that he is. Then his essay on Nora Aunor won him a Palanca grand prize. We gave him a bash and held an impromptu poetry reading in his honor at the garage of the NE Branch office. That was when he really got us going on creative non-fiction.

I really didn’t think much about creative non-fiction. I had long come to terms with the mediocrity of my writing skills despite Oyet P.’s insistence that I can really write. Sure I am better than the average guy but I’m not that good enough to win a Palanca or earn a living writing stories. It’s safer to stick on writing those stupid reports, case studies, project proposals, and what you got. I even write love letters for a few bottles of beer.

Anyway, my odd Hispanic family name really fascinated me and decided to find out something about it someday. I did on one of those trips to Manila, taking the McArthur Highway instead of NLEX, and dropping by the Obando church. I started visiting relatives and dropping by familial places like Umingan, Cabugao, Baguio City and Manila’s Sta. Ana district. Slowly, the dots began to connect and surprising new information emerged. I was able to fill in most of the gaps from the multitude of relatives who came when our mother died in 2004. Now, I have a story.

My first blog article was posted exactly one year ago. It is a short narrative about my trip to Obando and what I’ve found there. Like my forgotten poetry and will-do-won’t-do attempt at creative non-fiction, Oyet P. inspired the blogger in me. My theme is old colonial churches because I like visiting them and their past although this is something that floored my friends being the self-declared agnostic that I am. And pansit of course for the simple reason that there must be something to break the monotony of those creepy and batty old churches.

There’s not much fan mail but the few that came blew me away. Like Manong Ben Guadiz from Colton, California whom I exchanged several interesting emails on Almaguer and NELA; book editor Cecile Pastrana from Makati who gave me the ultimate compliment of “bahagi rin ng kasaysayan ng ating bansa ang iyong mga itinatala”; and several more who either gave their encouraging compliments or were inspired to embark on their own search. So far, my cluster map has recorded more than 7,000 visits to my blog since 26 July 2006.

Being a citizen of blogsphere, I have my own blogging family. Numero Uno of course is the master and my maestro Oyet P. There’s future ex-Palanca winner, funky story teller, and just-turned-freelance Jun Lisondra who introduced me to Technorati, Picasa and other instruments of blogspace; will-be-a-nurse-and-go-to-the-states Meg Manubay of Pugad Baboy; fellow NGO worker Amy Salazar who’s the much, much better half of my Pareng Zos; haiku and tanka master Romy Halabaso of OPAPP; and shutterbug and salagubang collector Stan Cabigas.

There’s also what I called the exorcist bloggers who have the uncanny power of driving my demons away by just reading through their blogs: witty and prolific Frank Cimatu, the mysterious but insanely entertaining Maui Pacquiao and Mandaya Moore, and the intriguing Sarah Grutas.

Early this year, I linked my blog to flickr and was later gifted with a pro account. I decided to upgrade and retire my Olympus Camedia and got myself a Nikon D40. Jun Lisondra told me that my theme of churches and noodles are too limited for the stories I have to tell. Oyet P. on the other said something about finally finding my voice. After a year, this blog is changing title.

PHOTOS (top to bottom):
(1) Apo Oyet P, (2) Oyet P. and Ate Guy in New York.

(3) CHURCH OF SANTA CATALINA (ARAYAT, PAMPANGA). Arayat is named after its majestic mountain. Like the Macabebes, its people are known for their loyalty to Spain. It was accepted by the Augustinians as a mission in 1590. The first parochial buildings were made of light materials. There are no records on who built the succeeding churches including the present one. In 1706, the Chinese population of Bangabong, Carranglan, and Pantabangan were relocated to Arayat upon the orders of Governor General Domingo de Zabalbaru allegedly to prevent them from spreading their bad influence. In 1858, Fr. Jose Torres (OSA) had the present church restored. This was continued during the term of Fr. Juan Tarrero (OSA) and completed under the supervision of Fr. Urbano Beduya in 1892. Several renovations have been conducted since then.
(4) Rowen’s (of Agrarian Justice Fund) birthday pansit, (5) Pugad Baboy members (from left to right) Doro, Meg Manubay, Jun Lisondra, Zos, Lolay), (6) me playing with my new Nikon D 40.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007


55 years ain’t no laughing matter. Especially for an NGO.

So when PRRM commemorated its 55th year in rural development work, it was fittingly held at the historic Club Filipino. More so because it is having a new president and a new chair, and dear Sen. Helena Benitez who have nurtured PRRM over the years has passed on the daunting task of carrying on the tradition. A mixture of important and controversial people, all of them somehow associated with being against the illegitimacy of the GMA presidency, came to show their solidarity.

For me, however, the most heartwarming commemoration was that at PRRM’s National Training Institute in San Leonardo, Nueva Ecija 3 days before Club Filipino. Those who paved the way for us came to relive the past, share their stories, and thank God for being together again. In many ways, it reminded me of the ties that bond the Nueva Ecija Branch together.

The most ominous is the Alumni Homecoming a day after Club Filipino. Comrades and friends came to celebrate and renew ties --- something which has not happened in a long time. I know some who promised (literally and figuratively) not to set foot on PRRM again but were there. It’s a homecoming for all of us, and somehow bodes of the good things ahead for PRRM. That is, if the call for building a cathedral will be led well and heeded.

PRRM has gone through a lot since July 17, 1952 when it was established with only a table and a chair in a corner for an office. It is the Philippines’ first rural development NGO, and the first to deploy its personnel in the rural areas and reach out to the poorest of the poor. In 1954, PRRM braved the Huk insurgency to initiate a governance project in the war torn and abandoned town of San Luis, Pampanga --- the lair of Huk supremo Luis Taruc. A simple attempt of gathering people together to ask them what they want and how to do it become the basis for the recognition of the barrio or barangay as the basic unit of governance in the Philippines. PRRM’s pioneering work in community health and livelihood creation has spawned the inspiration for today’s rural health units and farmers’ cooperatives, respectively. And its education work was a pioneering attempt in adult education.

That was the glorious past. What about us? What have we done?

Not as great but outstanding I must say. PRRM’s work in sustainable agriculture, coastal resource management, and renewable energy are recognized best practices in the realm of sustainable development. It is among the few NGOs who first tinkered with micro-finance, engaging the millennium development goals, sustainable mining, critically working with the government, and international advocacy when these things were not yet cute and sexy. There are a lot more: stories that PRRM must tell, and some that will just be part of its folklore.

Yes, PRRM has its faults. Plenty of it. But these are for us to learn and move on, and not a baggage that that will condemn us in a rut.

As for me, I have long found my cathedral. It is a church where I was allowed to attend despite being different. The parishioners can celebrate the mass, and have the chance of becoming bishops, cardinals and popes if they work hard. More than that, the church believed and gave us the winds to fly on.

PRRM is not just a job for us. It is our home.

PHOTOS (top to bottom): (1) PRRM marker at its National Training Institute in San Leonrado, Nueva Ecija; (2) PRRM’s new prexy is former DAR Undersecretary Conrado S. Navarro on the left side with outgoing chair and Chairperson Emeritus Sen. Helena Z. Benitez in the center, and new PRRM chair Sen. Wigberto E. Tanada on the right side; (3) the names of saints engraved in San Leonardo as a tribute to PRRM volunteers; (4) NE Branch alumni singing their theme (i.e. Buklod’s “Buhay at Bukid”) during the alumni homecoming.
(5) SAN LUIS, PAMPANGA. Cabagsa or Cabagsac was probably founded in 1740. Its name is a contraction of the Kapampangan words cabag and bagsac that means “the place where plenty of fruit bats are caught”. It was said to be renamed after Dona Luisa --- the wife of a lawyer who represented the town during a land dispute with the town of Pinpin. Construction on the present church of San Luis Gonzaga was finished in the late 18th century but there are no records who had it built. Fr. Francisco Diaz (OSA) supervised the improvement of the convent in 1877. Fr. Isidro Bernardo (OSA) had the church restored in 1883. It is one of the few remaining Spanish-built Philippine churches that had retained an aura of authenticity.
(6) A workshop on participatory technology development for sustainable agriculture in San Jose; (7) relief operation is Carranglan in the aftermath of the 1990 earthquake; (8) a safe water project in Pantabangan; and (9) a light moment with PRRM partners in Guimba.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


PRRM’s NE Branch has always been a close family. Diverse but tightly knitted. There are people who got/gets irritated by this camaraderie that sometimes border to being parochial. But that’s just being them. They mean no harm.

Definitely a sentimental lot, they tell their stories based on the milieu of their respective times: at the research office of CLSU for those who came first in 1989, the Pulido building during the SRDDP nascent years, Joenga building for the young Turks, then finally settling down at the Bantug compound for those who survived the traumatic streamlining process. Even the company vehicles have names like Cinense whom many have not met but have heard so much, the great Nissan, sleek Strada, Egay 1 (i.e. Honda TS 100), Wating 1 and 2 (i.e. a pair of Honda scooters), and the macho Yamaha DT 125. Each has their own stories to tell too.

The thing is those who spent time in the NE Branch never forgot. Doc Danny, who was the first Branch Manager in 1989, still regularly sends invitations to research projects and workshops. Magdalo lawyer Roel Pulido dropped by one mid-afternoon for an inuman while on his way to a bista in Santiago, Isabela. Emma who now spends most of her time in Spain assembles a team of mostly NE Branch alumni for a game of “badminton” every now and then. She was deployed in Cavite then Camiguin after suceeding Loudette (who was Field Operations Manager at the same time) as NE Branch Manager.

One day, Doods sent some moolah from Canada. His instructions were to spend half on something good (eyes still get misty recalling that moment in a public hospital with the family of an indigent sick girl where the money went) and the other half for the boys. Then Mama Butch who was the NE Branch’s “Ina ng Laging Saklolo” visited from the US and cooked a big lunch for those that can be gathered for an instant reunion. “Sagot ko lahat, huwag kayong gagastos!” he said. Some months later, NE Branch again came together at Sir Marlon’s Guimba resort to partake of a huge package of goodies Mama Butch sent from the States.

If the sun did never set on the British Empire, the same can be claimed by the NE Branch which has contributed Branch Managers in almost every PRRM program area. Al Carasco (a legend still being told about him is his frequent trips to Bicol from Nueva Ecija riding the DT 125) was re-assigned to Camarines Sur and Buboy Velasco to Negros Occidental after brief stints as NE Branch Managers. Then Sir Marlon established the record of being the first homegrown manager, was assigned to Ifugao and Palawan, before being kicked upstairs as Assistant Vice-president. His INAFI office at the PRRM National Headquarters is unofficially today’s “tambayan ng mga tiga-NE”.

Sir Marlon paved the way for a host of homegrown talents that later became managers, the most number coming from a single Branch. There’s Joey for Pampanga then North Cotabato where he is now Assistant Director for Mindanao and the Visayas; Upeng (i.e. Randy Dacanay) in Bataan, and Kalinga (i.e. Sir Tolits) in Nueva Ecija then Marinduque; Machete (i.e. Rolly) in Palawan and Dondon in Camiguin; Nini, Irene and Shubert in Nueva Ecija; and Amor in Quezon. Doc Aidee was a volunteer in the 1990 Carranglan earthquake relief operations when she was hired as the NE Branch resident health analyst, redeployed to Bataan, then to the central office to manage PRRM's health program. Coming in also as GFMC Provincial Project Officers were Elgie in Isabela and Tatang (i.e. Noel, the chief operating officer of Among Ed’s successful gubernatorial campaign) in Zambales. Mikoy (i.e. Mickey) also served in various times as officer-in-charge of the Bulacan and Quezon Field Offices, while Wating (i.e. Arden) is now the General Manager of KOOL NE.

Today, they still come together to relieve the glorious days of the NE Branch. Those in Nueva Ecija are in a continuum as members of the provincial PRRM Chapter whose meetings are like the genstaps of old that the great Dofong (i.e Sir Marlon) presided. They were good and they tried to be the best. NEthing, NEwhere, NEtime. They do not gloat on this but they are proud of it.

Profile: The Church of Ibaan and the Lipa City Cathedral in Batangas

The mission of Ibaan was established by Fr. Manuel Grijalbo (OSA) in 1832. The building of the present church of Santiago Apostol was started in 1853 during the administration of Fr. Manuel Gonzales (OSA). It was continued during the term of Fr. Bruno Laredo (OSA) in 1865 and finished under the supervision of Fr. Vicente Maril (OSA). Fr. Francisco Alvarez (OSA) had the church repaired from 1891 until 1896 after it was damaged during the 1880 earthquake.

In 1581, Fr. Diego Mojica (OSA) had the first church of Lipa built along the shores of the Bombon Lake. What was probably the second church was built in 1601 that was probably improved or rebuilt from 1682-1721 wherein the convent was added. This was destroyed during the 1754 eruption of Taal Volcano. The church was relocated to a new site where the present structure was probably built from 1779 1865 under the successive supervisions of Fr. Ignacio Pallares (OSA), Fr. Manuel Galiana (OSA), Fr. Pedro Cuesta (OSA), Fr. Manuel Diez Gonzalez (OSA), and Fr. Benito Varas (OSA). The church was the matrix from which the Diocese of Lipa was created in 1910, was declared as a Basilica Minor in 1948, and a cathedral during the administration of Rufino Cardinal Santos.

PHOTOS (top to bottom):
(1) Magdalo lawyer Ruel Pulido as NE Branch Manager; (2) Emma (left), Manong Edmund (center), and Irene (right); (3) clockwise: Tatang, Mama Butch, Manok, and Roma during Mama Butch’s NE Branch homecoming; (4) Mama Butch sent a package and NE Branch had a reunion at Sir Marlon’s resort; (5) the 2 guys on the left side (clockwise) are Buboy Velasco and Sir Marlon; (6) Amor (standing with toy gun) and Sir Tolits (right); (7) A younger Dondon (with bigote) with a younger Ka Satur in a Bayan symposium in Cabanatuan City; (8) the church of Ibaan; (9) and the spire of the Lipa City Cathedral.

Thursday, July 05, 2007


First Try

It was the month of the first rain when Kimat T. Amianan left Hogwarts. Among the few precious items in his meager luggage is a parchment proclaiming him a wizard. His mind still throbbed from 3 days of a just concluded challenge to prove that he is indeed one. Soon the mushrooms will sprout, but he is still unemployed.

Well, almost unemployed. Kimat T. Amianan still has that scribing work with his friend EBAK. But it does not pay much. He needs another job.

Perhaps he can teach a few tricks in potions and incantations at the school near where the great general died. A big guy (the umpire who was ganged up by the Big J and company) looked over Kimat T. Aminan’s credentials and was impressed. He was told to come back. He did and was promptly dismissed by a dark spirit in a white habit.

Second Try

Kimat T. Amianan heard from somebody that a sect of Prophets and Dreamers are looking for apprentices. He was told that although the color of their skin is green, their blood and heart and brain is deep red. He presented himself nevertheless and was sent to a corner to conjure a set of mysteries. He was uncomfortable. There is something in the senior apprentice he supposed was sent to keep an eye on him. It happened a few years back. In the forbidden land of the Kabayong Bakal.

He was the guardian of Lady Barnacle’s castle!

A few days later, the Prophets and Dreamers called him for an interview. There were four of them: a dark Jedi with a beautiful nose, a prophet with clearly defined lines running down his cheeks giving him a perpetual smile, a witchy twitchy expressionless petite lady, and a bellicose hobbit who he presumed to be the most powerful of them all.

Puede bang gawing kendi ang talong?,” that’s him with the beautiful nose.

Pag bibigyan ka ng pagkakataon na maging hayup, ano ang gusto mong maging?,” added smiley.

Anong pangyayari sa buhay mo ang hindi mo kailanman makakalimutan?,” butted the lady.

On the 19th of July almost a decade and a half ago, Kimat T. Amianan was officially incorporated by the Prophets and Dreamers. He was assigned to FT 1 where --- together with an almost priest, a nun once, Lady K, a Norton Utilities addict, and Bad Boy L --- he practiced the art of catching dreams and chasing prophecies.

Those days were almost ethereal. The pay day (or any other day) beinte-beinte is legendary. Chess games were to die for. Tong-its dragged well into the wee hours of early morning. One day, he woke up with Bertong Langis as his name…

Profile: The church of Iriga City, Camarines Sur

The first church was burned in 1585. The second church was damaged by a typhoon and destroyed by fire. The third church, constructed in 1727, was also burned in 1841. The present church, together with the two belfries, was constructed shortly afterwards (Philippine Historical Committee, 1939).

PHOTOS EXPLAINED (top to bottom): (1) now Assistant Director Joey Gloria on the left engrossed in what used to be the national past time; (2) a typical general staff meeting of the Nueva Ecija Branch; (3) the pay day beinte-beinte concert where everybody must render a cultural performance; (4) our regular team building; (5) MPP’s farewell before being deployed to Ifugao; (6) a Branch presentation when anniversary celebrations were really anniversary celebrations; (7) the legendary Nueva Ecija Green Warriors; and (8) the church of Iriga City in Camarines Sur.