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.