Monday, July 27, 2015


Pancakes --- them tasteless fluffy pieces of fried batter seasoned with butter and syrup --- tided me during my tectonic shift to semi-vegetarianism as I desperately scrambled for options from the traditional Filipino breakfast meat of oily tocino, tapa, daing, fried eggs, and sinangag.

I rode my bike many times for pancake breakfasts in San Jose City's McDonald's or Jollibee at the Science City of Munoz, but really more for burning gastronomic excesses that gave me a 36-inch waistline than eating those miserable pieces of junk pretending to be food.

I was never a pancake lover, but I did liked those chewy thin pancakes dabbed with margarine and sugar that were once cooked and sold at the entrance of the Mapandan public market, that lunch of ice cream-topped Dutch pancake and beer in Amsterdam, and a really to-die for crumby version from the breakfast buffet of the Collector's Lord Nelson Hotel in Stockholm.

Somehow, it gets into the system as a consequence of habit and I got used to pancakes but not when served for the morning snack after having  it for breakfast, which is evil of the highest form!

Pancakes were not fortunately on the menu at Max's Restaurant so I had a halo-halo breakfast for a change before obliging Gene and Ping for a photo in the secured grounds of the Malacanang Palace, finally. Nor is pancake served in PRRM where those who are lost and adrift pondered on the way forward as the pansit malabon for snack cooled in the presidential table.    

Pancake was the first dish Bulan, and then Balong, learned to cook. Biking seems to be the only sport Bulan enjoyed, and perhaps Balong too. And I will be missing Bulan who will be gone to college soon, and will be teaching Balong to ride the bike Bulan will be leaving behind. 

I was almost tempted to have pancakes the day AGT changed tires in Guimba but decided I still have much to burn from PRRM's anniversary fete, and then in San Jose City the next day but opted instead to try the new lugawan stand in Munoz. 

I say God bless all the bikers in the world, and thank the pancakes too for the relief from the processed meat that has defined Filipino breakfast!

Monday, July 20, 2015


Through the Sto. Nino was the Visayas catholicized.

Magellan first landed in the Philippines on March 16, 1521 in the island of Homonhon which is now part of Guiuan in Eastern Samar. The first Catholic mass was held 15 days later in the island of Limasawa which is now a municipality of Southern Leyte, and the first Christian baptism in Cebu 14 days later where Magellan presented an image of the Sto. Nino as a baptismal gift to Humamay, wife of Humabon, ruler of Cebu, who was said to have requested Magellan to subdue Lapu-Lapu, ruler of Mactan, the acknowledged conqueror of Magellan, after which Humabon poisoned the surviving Spaniards for raping some of the local women [Wikipedia].

The Spaniards returned to Cebu 44 years later in 1565, burned some houses, found Humamay's Sto. Nino in one of the burned houses, built a church on that burned house which today is the Basilica Minor del Sto. Nino which of course housed Humamay's Sto. Nino that as of today is the oldest Christian image in the Philippines [Wikipedia].

The Augustinians of Cebu brought the Sto. Nino veneration to Tacloban in 1768 after the expulsion of the Jesuits, and with them a likeness of Humamay's Sto. Nino which the locals called El Capitan. The image was sent for repairs to Manila in 1889 but got lost when the ship carrying it back to Tacloban caught fire and sank, so a borrowed replacement was used for the fiesta procession who became the lesser El Teniente.

Six months later, the Military Governor of Leyte was informed of a boy waving from a box found by fishermen floating near the island of Semirara, which when opened contained the image of El Capitan. It was brought back to Tacloban but without the boy who vanished, and paraded to exorcise a cholera epidemic.

A church built by the Franciscans in 1860 houses the image of El Capitan today.

Tacloban is of course the image that portrayed Super Typhoon Haiyan's ferocity to which the world descended, in planes and ships and the marked SUVs that zip across desolate swatches of the coastal road between Guiuan and Tacloban as the displaced watched from their temporary residences, and waited to be moved to their permanent and uncertain future.   

El Capitan's house has been repaired for the Pope's visit and Tacloban today is rising from the devastation of Haiyan. With the blessing of its patron and the lesser El Teniente and El Sargento, Tacloban is on recharge mode.

Saturday, July 18, 2015


Sa pinakamahabang tulay ng Pilipinas nagtatakbo si Vivian Velez upang pigilan ang Hari ng Stunt sa pagtalon sa pinakamakitid na kipot ng bansa.

"Dante, huwag!," ang sigaw ng Original Betamax Queen.

Lumingon si Dante, huminga ng malalim, 'tsaka tumalon.

Slow motion, tatlong frame, paulit-ulit.

Wasak ang damit niya nang lumutang siya, dumudugo ang ilong, pati yata tenga.

Pagkatapos n'un ay sumikat ng todo si Dante Varona at nagplano pang tumalon mula sa Golden Gate Bridge.

Pero hindi na 'yun natuloy.

Akala ko, hindi din ako matutuloy na kunan ng maayos ang San Juanico Bridge.

Hindi kasi puedeng huminto sa gitna ng tulay at hindi ako nakahandang lakarin ang 2.16 kilometrong haba nito sa katanghaliang tapat.

Nagkasya na lamang ako sa isang talikod pose.

Akala ko, 'yun na 'yun.

Hanggang sa maimbinta kaming sumakay ng bangka papunta sa isang resettlement site.

Hindi ko maipagmamalaking tumalon din mula sa sa San Juanico Bridge.

Pero maipagyayabang ko na isa ako sa iilang turista na dumaan sa ilalim nito...

Friday, July 17, 2015


Basey is a town in Eastern Samar made famous by its tikog mats. It was established by the Jesuits in 1591 but supposedly got its name its name from Elizamond Basye --- an Englishman turned pirate who in the early years of the 1700s was marooned in the Philippines, eloped with a local princess, and settled in what is now Basey [Wikipedia].

But I did not come for the mats, or for Elizamond Basye. I came for the Church of St. Michael which officially is the first colonial church I've ever visited in the Eastern Visayas. The church is Eastern Samar's oldest surviving Spanish-era church having been first built by the Jesuits in 1663. It was probably rebuilt by the Franciscans in 1804, again in 1880 after being damaged by a typhoon, but generally survived the ferocious winds of Typhoon Haiyan.  

Basey came during my first trip to Eastern Visayas on our way to Guiuan from Tacloban. So is Balangiga, that town made famous by its looted bells, which I made sure to drop by on our way back to Tacloban from Guiuan. 

In 1901, Filipino revolutionaries dressed as women ambushed American troops garrisoned in the town as they were having breakfast. The church was burned down in retaliation with Gen. Jacob Smith issuing his famous order to turn Samar into a "howling wilderness" and to shoot any Filipino males above 10 years old for which he was court martialed and retired. The church bells were taken by the Americans as war trophies. Two are currently on display at the Warren Air Force Base in Wyoming, while one is at Camp Red Cloud in South Korea. The Philippines has been trying to repatriate the bells since 1995.   

Back in Basey, we went looking for the tikog mat weavers of PKKK in Basiao and stumbled on a makeshift shrine inside a cave where human remains found in the area were kept. We were told that the remains belong to Japanese and American soldiers who died during World War II, and even of Spanish soldiers from the Philippine War for Independence era. The caretaker told us that people come to pray over the remains, to ask the spirits to intervene in times of illness, and maybe seek for divine intervention for anything else. 

On the other side of the shrine is where Basiao's tikog weavers create their mats under a limestone overhang that maintains the cool temperature required for the brittle dried tikog reeds not to break. Further in Basey town proper, another group of women, also affiliated with PKKK, embroider the mats from Basiao into beautiful pieces of art.    

And that was how 287.6 kilometers from Tacloban and back turned out. There was a bridge too but that will be another story... 

Wednesday, July 15, 2015


Guiuan's Church of the Immaculate Conception has always been on my bucket list, then among the last four [with Jimenez in Misamis Occidental, Lazi in Siquijor, Mahatao in Batanes] of the 26 baroque churches initially listed by the National Commission on Cultural and Arts as National Heritage Sites that I vowed to visit in my lifetime.

But Guiuan is the tip of the Easter Visayan finger pointing to Minadanao and is too far. Going there will cost me and the chances of a "subsidized" trip is remote. So finally setting foot in Guiuan is a lingering itch scratched, but under circumstances less desired. Almost two years ago, Super Typhoon Haiyan made landfall in Guiuan and blew the town off the face of the earth, including the church.

I was finally in Guiuan, after a sleepless early morning flight from Manila, a two-hour logistical black hole in Tacloban, and almost 3-hours of a speed-regulated bumpy ride. The church is just a walk away from the office I was told, which I could have easily taken, if not for the circumstance, because everything else usually has to wait until I shoot my churches. Instead, I went to bed early to catch on sleep and soothe a lingering cold, and woke up the next day to a tranquil seascape from my hotel window. It was that and the overnight recovery from a feverish sleepless journey that made me decide to cancel a field visit. I am going to church... 

I took a tricycle to the office, walked to the church from there, and stumbled into an open-air morning mass. It was a bit past 6 am, the golden hour of photography, but I would not want prancing around and distracting the unfolding religious solemnity, so I took a pew seat in the rear, camera in ready in case something comes up. The homily was in Waray, more traditional, with stampitas worn like necklaces and veils covering the heads of most of the women. There was a Latin hymn and a stirring Waray closing song about "Reina senora" as the priest bade goodbye to the altar and walked back to the convent signaling the end of the mass. Then I started shooting.    

Guiuan was founded by the Jesuits in 1595 who built the first wooden church. A more permanent structure was started to be built in 1630 and again in 1718 which was probably continued by the Augustinians when they took over in 1768. The Franciscans came in 1804 and renovated the church in 1844, adding the bell tower in 1854. The church was renovated in 1935 and again in 1987. Guiuan's church was listed by the National Museum as a National Cultural Treasure in 2001, and nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site until it was destroyed Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.

I was finally in Guiuan but the church is not there anymore. What remained is a rubble of an empty shell, the intricately carved main door extant but smashed, the painted ceiling blown away. The sakristan came to watch me. No he said, the National Museum forbids anyone from entering the ruins. But I just want to take a look at the seashell ornamented baptistery, I said. It was destroyed he said, but a portion remained. Can I see it, I persisted. No, he said, unless I have permission from the National Museum. He did allowed me to climb up the base of the bell tower where I got a peek of what used to be a richly decorated interior. Pieces of the wooden roof trusses were stacked and strewn around a forlorn statue. I can feel his agony, and I'm sure he felt mine.    

I said goodbye to the sakristran and went to the plaza to take one last panoramic shot of the ruined church, including the rebuilt convent beside it and the temporary church in front. I can't get myself to agree with the paint color of the new structures but support the priest's decision not to demolish the old church. I hope the National Museum will be able to restore the church, or turn it into a park if restoration is no longer possible. I was mightily drained and I miss my bike, so I took a pedicab ride back to the office.

I breakfasted on fried danggit and eggs on my last day in Guiuan. Leyte Gulf was as calm as a mirror. Nearby, a pig was being butchered by three men. It will be a slow and bumpy ride back to Tacloban... 

Monday, July 13, 2015


Isa na akong expat.

Na-obligang manirahan mula Lunes ng umaga hanggang Biyernes ng hapon sa Kamaynilaan.

Napilitang maghanap ng matutulugan sa gabi.

At nagkasya sa mga mapanglaw na hapunan sa kung saan-saan.

Aroskaldo sa may Timog n'ung Lunes at sisig na pusit sa Crossings n'ung Martes.

Daing na bangus naman sa may Mother Ignacia n'ung Miyerkules at KFC Twister sa may EDSA n'ung Huwebes.

Ang almusal ay kung saan abutan sa paglalakad, katulad ng sa Pan de Manila n'ung Martes.

Ang pananghalian ay madalas sa opisina na lamang at depende sa dalang paninda ni Manang.

Iba't-ibang lugar, ibat'-ibang lamesa, iba't-ibang plato.

Parang masaya, nakakatuwa, nakakagulat, katulad ng pagkakatuklas namin ni Kairos ng lechon ice cream sa Davao.

Pero ang totoo, mahirap kumain nang mag-isa, nang malayo sa pugad, kahit gaano kasarap at kakaiba ang nakahain.

Sa dulo, ang pinakamasarap na hapunan ay ang ulo ng tilapiya na sumobra sa pagkakaprito, ang ginisang repelyo na nakalimutang lagyan ng patis, at ang nagtutong na bagong sinaing. 

'Yan ang parati kong pinakaaabangan pag-uwi ko sa Nueva Ecija tuwing Biyernes ng hapon...  

Monday, July 06, 2015


Noong unang panahon ay kasing laki ng pandesal ng Pugon de Manila ang butil ng bigas sa Davao, hugis puso, at kasing sarap ng humbang pata ng baboy.

Nang lumaon ay lumiit ang butil, naghugis luha, at naging lasang NFA bilang pagtatampo sa lumalalang kapusukan ng mababangis na panahon sa Mindanao.

At nung nakaraang linggo ay nalagas ang ilang talulot ng forget-me-not mula sa korona ng mga hindi pa naililibing, bumagtas sa sinaing ng mga nagsisipagbalikan sa bukid, na siyang iginayak sa hapunan ng mga naglalako ng mga panaginip.

Pumanaw na ang magiting na mandirigma...

Kaya't nagluksa at umiyak ang langit, naglasang vetsin ang tinolang tulingan at pritong manok sa Digos, habang naggigitgitan ang mga asul na traysikel sa GenSan.

Ang kapanglawan ay sinubukang ituwid ng mga anak ni Haring Solomon ngunit sila'y dinaig ng matapang na amoy ng pormalin na nagtangka pang panisin ang mga inialay na pansit sa mga nagluluksa at makikikain.

Mula doon, sa bukid sa ibabaw ng burol na pinagpala ng mga karpintero, sa 40 kph speed limit ng Polomolok, ay sumirit ang panawagan ng panalangin na sinalubong ng mga alay na saging at kamote sa Kabacan, ng paksiw na bangus at lumpiyang gulay sa Midsayap, ng mainit na tsokolate sa Pinagcawayan.

Organic ba ang asul na kanin? O itinubog sa jobos ng pagpapanggap?

Matatagpos ba nito ang balakid ng mga paghamon? Ang mga mga pandaraya ng mga pinagpala sa mga walang-wala? 

Mahihigitan kaya niya ang mga pantas ng siyensiya, at maituwid ang nagkabuhol-buhol na kalsada ng BBL?

Maaaring oo, maaaring hindi.

Ang mahalaga ay may mga magpapatuloy sa alamat ng asul na kanin, magkulay dilaw man ito o pula o itim. O berde katulad ng mabango, bagong ani, bangong sangag, at bagong bayo na pinipig...