Tuesday, April 28, 2009

KUYA (Men in Aprons)

The square and compass emblem prominently displayed in Uncle Doming’s office in the big house in Bambang might be because he is a geodetic engineer. Or that was what Abet thought. Some time later during Uncle Doming’s funeral after succumbing to an unexpected coronary thrombosis, Abet would understand that the square and compass are associated with the men in barong tagalog who lined up to pay an unusual homage to his late Uncle Doming by leaving pieces of acacia leaves in his casket. Abet also found it strange that the men were wearing aprons.

Freemasonry broadly defines itself as “a brotherhood of man under the fatherhood of God”. It traces its origins back between 7100 BC and 2500 from the Megalithic Tribes of what is now England. Its ancient history was steeped in legends: from the masons of Tyre in Phoenicia who built King Solomon’s Temple at around 945 BC; to the Enochian-Zadokite priests who were said to have hidden their scrolls and treasures under the ruins of King Solomon’s Temple after being expelled from Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 AD; and Hugues de Payens who established a military order of fighting monks in 1118 AD that became known as the Knights Templars who were said to have returned to Jerusalem in 1140 AD and retrieved the hidden scrolls and treasures. Sir William St. Clair, who in 1446 started building the Rosslyn Chapel where Sophie finally met her lost family in the Dan Brown novel and Tom Hanks movie “The Da Vinci Code”, is said to be a direct descendant of Hugue de Payens.

Beyond the legends, the history of Freemasonry as backed by solid empirical evidence has been traced back to 1390 when the Regius Manuscripts, the oldest authenticated Masonic documents, was written. In 1717, four Masonic London lodges formed the Premier Grand Lodge of England and in 1731, the first American Grand Lodge was established in Pennsylvania.

Freemasonry came to the Philippines through the “Spaniards only” Primera Luz Filipina Lodge that was established in 1856. Thirty years later, Marcelo H. del Pilar, Graciano Lopez Jaena, the Luna brothers, Galicano Apacible, Domingo Panganiban, Jose Alejandrino, Tomas Arejola, Ariston Bautista, Julio Llorente, and Jose Rizal became the first Filipinos to be admitted in a Masonic lodge while they were studying in Spain. In 1912, a single and unified Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the Philippine Islands was established but remained polarized into two main factions due to the issue of race: the Americans’ Grand Lodge of the Philippine Islands and the Filipinos’ Regional Grand Lodge. These two factions were finally united in 1917 through an agreement of electing an alternating American and Filipino Grand Masters. The first Grand Master of the united lodge was MW William H. Taylor who is an American, and was succeeded by MW Manuel L. Quezon who was the first Filipino Grand Master. After 1946 when the Philippines formally gained independence from the United States, all Grand Masters were Filipinos.

Almost 30 years after Uncle Doming's death in Bambang, his nephew Abet paid homage to him by being admitted to the Model Lodge No. 373 of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the Philippines…

PHOTO EXPLAINED: Members of the Model Lodge No. 373 of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the Philippines in Baloc, Sto. Domingo, Nueva Ecija during the second public installation of its officers for 2009.

Thursday, April 23, 2009


Junie had a restless and sleepless night. He turned ten almost 3 months ago and at that age, he must participate in Almaguer’s annual summer ritual of the kugit. And summer started 3 weeks ago.

“Get up now and eat. You should have a full stomach today so you can endure the kugit”.

That was his mother doing her 5 am ritual of banging the pots and plates while preparing breakfast, calling the chickens to eat and at the same time sweeping the yard. Junie pulled himself up reluctantly, squatted on the papag, and nursed a scalding inky cup of coffee made from boiled toasted rice that tasted like pulitipot with the generous amount of brown sugar his mother stirred in. He tried to eat but the reheated rice from yesterday’s supper and the tough broiled tinapa felt like a lump of pulped cardboard in his dry mouth.

The familiar welcome yelp of their dog Salaki announced his father’s arrival from the taltalon. A muffled conversation between his mother and father, and the sound of the panabas being tucked in the sawali wall completed this everyday habit that always culminated in his father sitting down the papag. They ate in silence.

“Go now. Wrap this around after the kugit”.

He was handed by his mother a strip of newly washed white cotton cloth with a 50 centavo hole in the middle that was torn out from what used to be his father’s old working shirt.

“Take this and give it to Lakay Carling”.

His father handed him 4 sticks of Peak menthol cigarette wrapped in plastic. Then he was off to the karayan.

Junie found 9 boys already soaking and softening their skin in the cold waters of the karayan. He nodded to his friend Abet whom he thought looked so cold and so scared. They were assigned their sequences. He was last and number 10 but Abet who was number 9 pleaded to switch places with him.

After 8 calls followed by the sound of a pukpok, it is Junie’s turn. He started chewing on the mouthful of young guava leaves he picked along the way. The unspeaking and swarthy Lakay Carling commanded him to kneel and close his eyes. He felt the foreskin of his suddenly terrified penis being positioned in a piece of wood, a thumbnail tracing the skin, then pok!.

“Spit it out!”.

But he can only manage a dribble of what remained of the chewed young guava leaves he swallowed after the pok! and the hot searing pain that followed. The first thing he saw after opening his eyes was blood soaking up the white cotton cloth and Abet running away.

Two weeks later, he learned that Abet was bodily carried by his father to the district hospital who was holding a free pakugit spree in commemoration of its anniversary, and that Abet was finally circumcised while bawling out a long playing version of “You Are My Sunshine”.

PHOTO EXPLAINED: Bulan held my hands tight while his Nanay soothed him with words of comfort only a mother could give as our oldest son goes through a symbolic rite of passage from childhood to manhood.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


Once upon not so long ago, Lenten was observed in Puncan in a not so usual way. By Palm Sunday, all the images in the old Spanish church were already draped in black for the symbolic week-long mourning of the death of Christ. Four kubols are erected in the church patio for the pabasa. Flowers and items of herbal medicine (i.e. leaves, barks, etcetera) were thrown in the air in an exultation of joy during the singing of the hosana.

By Monday morning, the marathon pabasa starts until midnight. This will be the case until Wednesday. By Holy Thursday, the pabasa will go on non-stop until the morning of Black Saturday.

But the highlight will be the ritual of the tiniblas --- the unusual Puncan way of accompanying a procession with loud claps from bamboo instruments called palakpak. The tiniblas starts with a short procession of the Nazareno bearing the cross on Holy Thursday. By Good Friday, the procession will be longer with more people accompanying the carriage of the santo bangkay on its way to the old church where a Latin mass will be celebrated led by the old cantor Cisto Sumaoay and his peers. They speak and chant together in varying tones, blending perfectly like the voices of singing angels. Twelve lights --- 11 torches and a Coleman lamp --- provided the funereal glow inside the old church. A light is taken out one after the other under the signal the Cantor Cisto following each recitation of the 12 mysteries of the cross until only the Coleman lamp is left. After this is also taken out and the old church completely enveloped in darkness, a sudden thunderous clapping of a hundred palakpaks will suddenly erupt inside the old church. The din will pervade for some time, then silence… until the next Lenten season.

But as the old church succumbed to the punishment of time, a treasure hunting folly and an earthquake, the sanctity of the tiniblas began to erode. The faithful started covering their faces during the palakpak to ward off the dirt thrown by ruffians unseen in the dark. They began covering their ears too in a fruitless effort to shut off the blasphemous shouts of drunkenness from among some of the crowd.

Perhaps from this disrespect that the old church fell down and the old cantors no longer lead the Latin mass until they too are gone. A new church was built but except for the 3 church bells, nothing remained of the past. And with the new church, the priests came and taught the “right” liturgy. The santo bangkay is no more. It has become the santo intiero.

One of my biggest regret is not being able to see the old church of Puncan when it still existed. Because it’s no longer there, I would not be going to Puncan if not for Oyet P. who asked me and Hermo, the prodigal son of Puncan, to find traces of the tiniblas. What I’ve had were stories from Nana Saling Pineda who grew up with the tiniblas, and an overview from the younger Diego Lomboy who witness its demise. Both, however, have no idea how it originated.

Then I went around shooting the old camino real of Puncan, and the motley train of penitents prostrating themselves under the burning summer sun followed by 6 drunk half-naked men with faces blackened by soot, carrying a soiled blue bagful of cuatro cantos, and beating 2 bamboo poles in an ati-atihan frenzy perhaps in a desperate remembrance of the legend and ritual of the tiniblas.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009


My elementary education culminated at the Southern Nueva Vizcaya District Multi-grade School of the Seventh-Day Adventists after going through 4 schools in 4 provinces with my itinerant missionary teacher mother and literature evangelist father. I never returned since then. Not until 26 years later on March 30 when I was invited as the guest speaker of its 2009 graduation rites. The church in Almaguer has been made over but the school building remains the same. Relatives, most of them my late mother’s contemporaries, came to see me. I kissed their hands in respect and to salute the ties that will keep us together. The poignantly familiar place and faces tugged at my heart. I almost cried…

Four days later, I met some of my former teachers at what is now the Nueva Vizcaya State University (NVSU) and acquainted myself with the places that witnessed my turbulent 6 years of high school. I started well as a freshman with a partial scholarship at the Northeast Luzon Academy in Isabela. But the stars were not with me then. There were huge frustrations. I was too young, too alone, and too angry. I got kicked out in my third year and moved to the Nueva Vizcaya State Polytechnic College (what is now NVSU) where I set some kind of a record by being among the top three passers of the NCEE and yet failed to graduate in 1987 because of academic deficiencies. I sulked and ran away. But I came back to face my shame, picked up the pieces, moved on, and finally completed my high school education in 1989. I never came back, not until 20 years later as the guest of honor and speaker of the university’s laboratory high school recognition and graduation day last April 3. It was good that there was a lengthy program before my speech. I had time to battle the creeping nostalgia and swelling emotions. Otherwise, I would have choked and cried…

Within a span of 5 days, my adolescent past went full circle and I come to terms with it. Deja vu indeed. I guess that’s what we do when we have journeyed a lot and began to get older; we get invited to speak in graduations.

On April 17 of this year, the Central Luzon State University where I did my bachelor and masters degrees will hold its commencement exercises. But I won’t be speaking there. Not just yet…

PHOTOS EXPLAINED (top to bottom): (1) Dear Mom pinning my second honors during my elementary graduation in 1983 at the Sabadista school in Almaguer where (2) I was the guest speaker 26 years later. (3) High school graduation in NVSPC (now NVSU) in 1989 that was 2 years over due and (4) coming back after 20 years as the guest of honor and speaker of the university’s High School Batch 2009. (5) That’s me about to receive my college diploma from CLSU in 1993.