Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Dear Almaguer,

Forgive me for not coming home again this Christmas. My journey is not yet over and the stories that I wanted to tell remained locked in the vaults of my memories.

I have found transcribed in the old books of the Obando church the evidence that yes, half of our story originated from there. And in your behalf, I lighted candles of forgiveness in the ancient church of Piddig, praying for the ghosts of the past to exorcise a crime committed in its hollowed grounds in the name of justice more than a hundred years ago that sent a generation of our family fleeing to the land beyond the mountains.

You should be happy to know that I have solved the riddle of your being. It was difficult searching for bits of the puzzle as they were scattered in the parochial ruins of Pasuquin, hidden in the recesses of the massive Cabugao church, withering in the dry air of Tayug and Umingan, planted among the rows of corn in Alicia and Roxas, and lost in the urban jungle of Sta. Ana and Davao City. There was a big piece missing and I was ready to give up until I realized you have it ready for me. It is you that will complete the whole picture.

But no, please keep it for me still while I untangle the threads of my past. Perhaps this will atone for the hurt I caused for trying to flee and forget. I thought you have been unkind, that you didn’t want me. Yet you persisted and followed me through the rivers I crossed and swam. It will be many years before you have proven me wrong. But that’s because I have not forgotten.

How is the small church on the hill? I heard relatives from States have endowed it with funds for its improvement. I just hope that they keep its soul intact because it is where the angels hide. I have never seen them but Mom told me they are always around us. Yes, I believed her because I have felt them. They were the nice young man who rescued me from a persistent pimp in Bangkok, the bus driver who picked me when I got lost in Singapore, and the baggage counter lady who chased me from Bogor to Jakarta to give back my bag with my passport and plane ticket. They were in Islamabad too to ensure that I got on the last plane out of the rowdy airport to catch a connecting flight, and in finding my way to a pilgrimage in Kyoto’s amazing temples. The last time I felt them was in Cotonou when they thwarted a voodoo spell by an angry boy on crutches, and in the airports of Paris and Hong Kong where they caught me a sleep that would not come. I have not seen their wings but I’m sure they are the angels from our small church on a hill.

Will you please greet for me everybody who will be in the noche nuena tonight. Tell them to leave me some of Amang Lakay’s ingkiwar, and the lubi-lubi too that we used to make every Sunday night. I missed the river where the tiny mushrooms we gather and the sibbaweng we caught converge as if on cue every month of May. We spent much of our childhood there.

I will be coming home soon. I don’t know when but I will. You have always been home to me and I have never slept so soundly just like in your nights. When I do, you will see the hundreds of churches I passed through as I searched for your story. And I will cook you some of the pansit recipes I learned along the way.

The House Near the Church and the School
Bacal II, Talavera, Nueva Ecija

24 December 2007

PHOTOS EXPLAINED (top to bottom):

(1) I linked up with kabukiph at the National Bookstore along Quezon Avenue on 20 December 2007 for the handover. He works just across and I a short walk away from Mother Ignacia Avenue. (2) That night during our Christmas party, Notebook 2 passed from nationalist former senator Wigberto “Ka Bobby” Tanada, to rural development technocrat and former DAR undersecretary Conrado “Ding” Navarro, and poet-warrior and one-time political detainee Isagani “Gani” Serrano. (3) The notebook went home with me to Nueva Ecija the next day in a symbolic homecoming to perhaps where it all started (at least for Wilfredo Pascual and me).

(4) Arnel “Kuya Oning” Coronel was an established comics illustrator before hard times brought the industry down. Two of his works --- Vic Poblete’s “Duplikado” and Cely Barria’s “Angelika” --- have been made into movies. He went to work as a domestic helper in Italy in 1998 where 4 years later, he won in a comics illustration competition --- the 3rd Edizione Cartoomics – Categoria Coco Bill. He was never able to claim his prize --- a scholarship at the Instituto Europeo di Design --- because he can’t leave his work. He came back to the Philippines in 2005, brought a farm, and is now starting to write the stories he wanted to tell, and shoot his digital camera. Kuya Oning dusted up his drawing pen to oblige me with an illustration of the Piddig church for my Lagalag Notebook 2 page.

My Lagalag Notebook 2 pages: (5) a letter to Almaguer tucked among thumbnails of the Philippines’ national and world heritage sites (baroque churches); (6) a photo of the Obando church where my journey began and also the first official photo of my visita iglesia taken in October 2004; (7) Kuya Oning’s illustration of the Piddig church, and; (8) the plane ticket folder of my latest trip abroad where (8) mementos from my travels were collaged.

POST SCRIPT: Wilfredo Pascual instructed me to keep Notebook 2 while waiting for Notebook 1 to catch up. Both will then be handed to DaphneOP, its final destination, before being sent back to where it originated. As such, I have the privilege of having the notebook during the holidays and my 38th birthday during which it traveled with me to Ifugao and went to a homecoming in Almaguer.

Sunday, January 20, 2008


In Almaguer, I learned to kill hangovers with the bungar. That is, if you feel queasy early the next morning after last night’s to-death drinking session, the best way to get rid of the web of spiders is to have a quick shot of rawnpos or gulp a shivering bottle of Red Horse all the way down. Bungar (or sundot to the Tagalogs) may seem odd but I swear on the many hangovers cured that it works.

Sinadag, on the other hand, is a small feast before next day’s big one. I was introduced to it in Bacal II and it is, as I understand it, preparing parts of the animal butchered for tomorrow’s fiesta/wedding/birthday lunch usually for guests who checked-in early and those who are helping prepare the handa. It is supposed to be just a dinner but plenty of leftovers always justify a bottle of Emperador.

I just turned 38 and as always for the last 4 years, I blew my imaginary candles on the road. I don’t really care because birthdays don’t matter much as far as I’m concerned. I become older by a year and this for somebody like me who wishes to be 30 forever is no reason to celebrate. My friends believe it’s the Ilocano in me (and therefore kuripot) so they take the initiative to prepare something for my behalf. The most memorable would be my first birthday cake when I turned 35 during a conference in Tagaytay City. I got two when I turned 36 and last year, I have former Senator Bobby Tanada presenting me my cake. Not bad for non-birthday celebrating me.

The day before my 38th year found me in Kiangan as a training facilitator. Former colleagues from PRRM’s Ifugao Branch would not let this pass so an impromptu birthday bash was held on the 3rd deck of Manang Peda’s house (our former Ifugao Branch Manager and a dear friend) who laid down a feast of thick slabbed Ifugao barbecue and 2 cases of San Mig Lights. I shared a rawnpos and two-by-two with former mayor Albert Indunan and quietly drank my hinyebra while listening to an animated debate on why the DILG should be abolished. The cold Ifugao air collected into dews on the empty and half-full beer bottles as my sinadag went through the night.

I was off early the next morning after texting my training buddy to fill in for me. It was not planned. It was more for the Lagalag notebook I have with me. I should find a suitable background for documenting its Ifugao trip. And since I would be passing by my hometown, I dropped by Almaguer, paid my respects at the tomb of my departed parents, and introduced the notebook to the church on a hill where my journey to the past and back evolved.

It was 2 pm when I hit Nueva Ecija. Well, a birthday drink would not hurt so I texted those who I think can come on short notice to meet me at the kambingan. The kabagises were represented, so are my PRRM family who came in full force. Pugad Baboy missed one due to the side effect of a facial. The Hanks, my drinking middle class buddies from Bacal II, came in later with 3 big balloons and a cake that was inscribed with “Happy Birthday Mr. True Man”. “Totoong tao ka kasi,” they explained when I asked what is with the “True Man” tag. I was so touched.

Since I made painom to The Hanks, I must have another one the next day for the Kamatsile Gang --- my “friends in low places where the whiskey drowns and the beer chases…”. They would drink anything but I indulged them with Fundador and Tres Cepas. They will remember this birthday for a long time and I will always be grateful for the pinangat na hito and tiim na itik. By 10 pm, we moved our bungar to The Boundary to wash the brandy with beer and flirt with painted ladies who smelled like hospitals.

On my 38th birthday, Almaguer’s bungar connected with the sinadag of Bacal II.

PHOTOS (top to bottom): (1) Sinadag in Kiangan; (2) Lagalag among the Bulols of Ifuago and (3) meeting the church on top of a hill in Almaguer. (4) My birthday cake from The Hanks and (5) my birthday pulutan (clockwise from left lower corner: kalderetang kambing, kilawing kambing, adobong bibe, tapang kabayo). (6) From Kamatsile Gang came a gift of pinangat na hito and (7) a total performance from Estong.

Friday, January 11, 2008


Every 9th of January for more than 200 years now, the wooden image of a suffering Christ is brought out of the Quiapo Church for a 10-hour procession that ignites a frenzy of almost maniacal devotion. The desire to touch the image or have a piece of cloth wiped on it or just have a brief tug at its caroza is so great that devotees got injured and killed.

This devotion to what became known as the Black Nazarene is said to be unique among Filipinos. But the image is actually an import from Mexico, the work of an unknown Aztec sculptor, and brought to the Philippines by Augustinian Recollect missionaries in 1606. During the sea voyage, a fire that hit the galleon almost burned and blackened the image. The Recollects then successfully promoted devotion to the image with the help of papal sanctions from Innocent X in 1650 then later from Pius VII in the 1800s. On January 9 of 1787, the Black Nazarene was moved from the Recollect church in Intramuros to the Quiapo Church. This day which is known as the translacion is what is being commemorated now. The image has survived several destructions of the Quiapo Church but the frenzy generated by its annual procession has inflicted damages. Because of this, a replica was used for the processions starting in 1998.

Hundreds of kilometers away in the south is another venerated Black Nazarene enshrined in the church of Capalonga, a sleepy almost forgotten town tucked in a strip of the Philippine Sea coast in the province of Camarines Norte. This one was made in the Philippines, said to be sculpted from driftwood on top of a rocky mountain called Punta de Jesus during which it shed real blood. Capalonga’s Black Nazarene is one of 6 pilgrimage churches dedicated to Jesus Christ from the first 14 shrines mentioned by Regalado Trota Jose in his red book “Simbahan: Church Art in Colonial Philippines, 1565-1898”. Its feast day is celebrated every May 12-13 when multitude of devotees and pilgrims line up throughout the night to kiss the image’s feet. It is especially venerated by Chinese businessmen.

Capalonga is an old town having been colonized by Juan de Salcedo in 1572. Its first stone church was built at around 1634 by the Franciscans and probably replaced by another structure. In 1810, the church was destroyed by fire and might not have been rebuilt. The present church which serves as the Shrine of the Black Nazarene is of contemporary period.

But the first Camarines Norte church that I have visited is that of Vinzons town. It is acknowledged to be the oldest colonial era church in the province that was started to be built at around 1611 or 1624 when the town was still known as Indan. The town was later renamed Vinzons in honor of its most famous son --- Wenceslao Q. Vinzons who was the youngest delegate to the 1934 Constitutional Convention at 23 years old, Camarines Norte governor in 1940 and its representative to the Philippine Congress and 1941, and a guerilla leader who was captured and killed by the Japanese during World War II. The student center of the University of the Philippines in Diliman was also named after him. Vinzons is also known for its many citizens who entered the service of the Roman Catholic Church as nuns and priests. One of them is an old friend, the late Bishop Sofio Balce from the Diocese of Cabanatuan, who gave his support and lent his name to our advocacies in my province of Nueva Ecija.

A short distance away is the capital town of Daet who’s old St. John the Baptist Church was built in the 16th century by Don Manuel dela Estrada, the so called Marquis de Camarines who is credited with developing Daet into a modern town. The church has been probably rebuilt/repaired several times but remnants of the old structure are still visible. Just across the street is an obelisk that was erected from December 1898 to February 1899 and is now recognized as the Philippines' first and oldest monument to Dr. Jose P. Rizal.

PHOTOS (top to bottom): (1) Capalonga’s Black Nazarene enshrined in the (2) contemporary Capalonga church. (3) The pilgrims of Capalonga (from left: me, Ka Tolits, and Roma) and (4) Vinzons church. (5) The old St. John the Baptist church, (6) the first monument to Dr. Jose Rizal, (7) and the contemporary Holy Trinity Cathedral in Daet.

Friday, January 04, 2008


The last images he remembered were 2 shadows darting out of the darkness. He saw the Bigger J fall and take down the moldy bamboo fence with him. Then an angry face, a spurt of profanity, and a series of blows. When he came to his senses, he is in the middle of a cold nowhere. His chest throbbed with pain, his trembling hand feeling a thick and dripping wetness. “I’m bleeding!” he realized and frantically tried to stand up only to fall down as the mud sucked back his feet. He crawled, the sharp edges of leaves lashing at his face, until he reached the dirt road. He looked back and saw people milling near the house where the shadows attacked them moments ago. There were explosions and he thought he heard them coming after him. He ran…


Smaller J’s Tatang butchered a pig for the New Year feast. Abet and the Bigger J helped along until the meat has been blanched in boiling water and hanged in bamboo poles for the next day’s cooking. While Abet went out to buy a cuatro cantos, the Bigger J prepared the pulutan from pig parts called para kenni gobernador (i.e. the silit or small intestines) and para kenni kongresman (i.e. the testicles). The silit was also blanched in boiling water, sliced thinly, mixed with minced onion and ginger, flavored with suka ti basi and salt, and kicked a notch higher with a handful of chopped red sili. The testicles were pinulpugan until the blackened skin cracked and the white milky matter inside was pushed out, chopped, rinsed with vinegar to take the slimy smell out, and mixed with the silit.

Everything went fine until only the Js (both the small and the big one) and Abet remained. They claimed the bragging rights of being the strongest drinkers at that moment. Then both Js started arguing who among them can have the most drink and remain standing. They agreed to settle it by playing a game of basketball that went this way: it will be a mano-mano where both sides narrate how they will attack the basket and make a shot; each basket made is equivalent to 1 shot of gin for the defender; free throws were ½ shot each; Abet will be the referee.

And so the game was played with no missed baskets and a foul coming with every shot made. It was more like the perdigana mode of dama with the fast pace the shot glass made its way back and forth. By 10:30 pm, both Js were drunk and asked the referee to drink their baskets for them. By 11 pm, Abet was drunk too. They decided enough and went to prowl and cool out. The Smaller J passed out as they reached his Apong Baket’s house. They carried him to a wooden bench where the grandmother showered them with curses as she poured talc powder on her dead drunk grandson.

“Let’s go have some aroskaldo in our house,” said the Bigger J. They passed by Lakay Pulipol’s house on the way to purok siyete y media. “Let’s drop by my girl”, the Bigger J said and went inside. Abet saw the dagger looks of Lakay Pulipol and his nephew. “Let’s go now,” he told the Bigger J who seemed not to hear him. At five minutes before midnight, the shadows attacked…


Lakay Pulipol have 7 daughters and the third youngest is Amelia. She is short and little bit plump but Abet likes her fullness and curves. And he knew she likes him back. So on the night it was her older sisters’ turn to host the lubi, Abet volunteered to do the cooking. His heart leapt when Amelia also volunteered to help him.

So while they mind the boiling kamoteng kahoy and as the older ones play a game of “Truth or Consequence”, Abet took out a piece of paper and asked Amelia, “I have a puzzle here. Would you like to solve it?”. “Sige,” Amelia replied as she reached for it. She turned red and smiled shyly as she read what’s written on the paper: I love you. “Here’s the pen. What’s the answer?” asked Abet who was suddenly juiced up by adrenaline. The puzzle solving went on until midnight when the remaining nilubian was divided among them to take home. By then, Amelia had solved the puzzle.

It was supposed to be a secret relationship but somehow, Lakay Pulipol got wind of it. And he did not like Abet. Not only him but the entire family. Its because Abet lives in a house that leaks like a mango tree during rains; that Abet goes out with a gang called the Samahang Dilim who likes to steal ducks, smoke grass and drink gin; and that they have better and bigger plans for Amelia. These Abet heard from somebody else. Then Amelia stopped sending him notes. One day, a tricycle stopped as he was idling in the coconut trunk in front of the Smaller J’s house and Amelia without getting out and uttering a single word handed him a piece of paper. It was the puzzle they solved during the nilubian. That was 3 months before the shadows attacked…


Somehow, Abet reached their house. He heard his mom and some visitors. He would not want them seeing the bloody him. So he washed himself in the banauang. There was no blood. The thick and sticky dripping was muddy water. And there were young rice grains sticking on his muddy clothes. He was in a rice field. Then he realized that people were not shooting at him. The explosions were firecrackers for the New Year’s Eve. He began to laugh. He laughed so hard that he fell into the banauang. That was when he saw 3 bewildered faces looking at him. The first one was the familiar “I will hit you with a hammer” expression of his mother. The second was The Girl from Purok Kuatro. He heard she likes him and will soon convince her mother to like him too. But the third unbelieving face of her mother quickly turned into a shadow and told him it won’t be so…

PHOTOS (top to bottom):

SARIAYA, QUEZON. Earthquakes attributed to the volcanic activities of nearby Mt. Banahaw and the recurring pirate raids destroyed the first parochial structures in 1743. The present church was started to be built in 1748 probably on the ruins of the old church where an image of the Cristo de Burgos was found intact wrapped in a white cloth after the church was razed by the pillaging pirates.

SAN JUAN, BATANGAS. San Juan de Bolboc was first established as a visita of Rosario. The first church was made of light materials. In 1845, Fr. Damaso Mojica had a stone church built. This was submerged during a flood in 1883 and was subsequently relocated to its present site where a new church was built from 1892 to 1898 during the administration of Fr. Celestino Yoldi (OAR). The mission was handed to the Capuchins in 1904. The town was renamed as San Juan de Boboc in 1914 and as San Juan de Nepomuceno in 1920. Fr. Bernabe Pena, Fr. Domingo Carceller, Fr. Inocencio Pena, and Fr. Daniel Ayucar initiated improvements, repairs, and renovations from 1922 until 1959.

SAN JOSE, BATANGAS. Fr. Tomas Canon (OSA) built the first parochial buildings at around 1788 that were replaced by Fr. Luis Blanco (OSA) in 1812. The church was razed in 1847 and subsequently underwent a restoration/improvement process until 1896 under the successive supervisions of Fr. Ramon Sanchez (OSA), Fr. Vicente Martil (OSA), and Fr. Victorino Perez.