Wake Up, Philippines!

Saving Bohol’s past

Posted in Cultural Heritage, Culture, Heritage, History/Origin, Tourism, Travel by Erineus on May 22, 2009

By Ambeth Ocampo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:14:00 05/22/2009

Once in the great Paris flea market, at the Porte de Clignancourt, I saw a handful of Bohol “santos” on display. Before asking for the price I innocently asked for their provenance—where were these wonderful folk images of the Virgin Mary originally from—and was told they came from Latin America! I did not argue because I was certain that if these were correctly labeled as coming from the Philippines, they would cost much less. I had a similar experience in an antique mall in New York City where Bohol “santos” were said to be South American and cost more.

The Philippine “santos” came into their own two decades ago when an Architectural Digest cover story carried pictures of Elton John’s sitting room ornamented with Philippine “santos” of wood and ivory heads. In the recent Christie’s Paris auction of the collection of Yves Saint Laurent, there were two Hispano-Philippine ivories from the 17th or 18th century. One of the ivories, a head of Christ figured prominently on YSL’s coffee table. There is belated awareness of Filipino heritage these days, helpful if only to preserve the little we have left.

Fifteen years ago, I was shown an empty niche in Dimiao church where an ancient retablo once stood. It was sacrificed to fund church repairs in the 1970s and pioneering antique dealer Nene Cortes shipped it to Manila. Is this the same one now displayed in the National Museum? If large objects like retablos, pulpits and architectural details can be moved, what more portable valuable objects like church silver and ivories? What about old books, manuscripts and archival material that are the first consigned to a fire?

I remember a fiesta in Bohol where I watched the town band perform pop hits. While everyone had their eyes on the legs of the majorettes who twirled batons seductively, my eyes spotted the drum tops covered with Gregorian chant. Someone had put these ancient pig-skin choir books in the bodega to good use: when the drums of the town band broke they replaced it with a page from the over-sized choir book. Frankly, if it were possible to convert these choir books into chicharon, these would have disappeared much earlier and Dr. William Summers would not be able to tell us about early music in Bohol, including the crude but historically important “Misa Baclayana,” a musical setting for the Mass reconstructed from old music found in Bohol churches.

While I am happy that foreigners come to study Philippine culture, one wonders why Filipinos don’t seem to care. One reason is that we see our culture every day but we rarely sit back and notice. With the exception of Bohol historians Marianito Luspo and Jess Tirol, much of what I know of Bohol heritage comes from Manila-based researchers: Regalado Trota Jose (now a Dominican), Fr. Rene Javellana (Jesuit), Augusto Villalon (secular), Romeo Allianigue (ex-Carmelite), Osmundo Esguerra (furniture expert), Ramon Villegas (antique dealer) and Esperanza Gatbonton (independent researcher). Why isn’t more research on Bohol being done in Bohol? By Boholanos? Now that is both a challenge and a wish.

Heritage awareness these days is often focused on structures at risk, those that are being torn down to make way for modern buildings, or those being renovated beyond recognition. There is much more to Bohol than churches, watchtowers and natural landscape—the draft for the pre-history of Bohol, the history of Bohol before written records, is waiting to be written up from archeological records and artifacts in the National Museum and the writings of the pioneering pre-historian of the Philippines, H. Otley Beyer. Then there is the Guthe collection in the University of Michigan Museum of Anthropology in Ann Arbor.

Carl E. Guthe headed an archeological expedition to the Philippines from 1922 to 1925, and from his base in Opon, Cebu, he excavated thousands of artifacts that now form the core of the museum’s Asia Division. These artifacts and records were brought back for future study and research, but 84 years later these material still cry out for a researcher to piece this unwritten history together.

Bohol is a success story for eco and heritage tourism, it has everything a tourist will want: beaches, Chocolate Hills, tarsier, colonial churches and watchtowers, plus a hospitable people. Loboc is a smashing success with its choir and river cruise. The Baclayon church museum is run by Baclayanons proud of their “native” delicacies: the Bohol chocolate, Baclayon broas, and Dauis torta are welcome contributions to the development of our national cuisine.

Loose tongues from narrow minds often argue that cultural heritage is a useless expense in a country with so much poverty. But in Bohol cultural heritage has generated jobs, encouraged small businesses and given Boholanos a sense of pride, self and identity. Perhaps there is truth to the saying that familiarity breeds contempt, worse, it often breeds apathy—that is why four historical markers were installed in Dauis and Maribijoc last week so that people will see and notice. That Bohol is culturally rich led to a suggestion that the National Historical Institute declare the whole province a national landmark.

At the very least it will save on historical markers from Manila, and preserve and develop what’s left of Bohol heritage.

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Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu

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Revisiting heritage

Posted in Churches, Culture, Heritage, History by Erineus on May 21, 2009

By Ambeth Ocampo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 01:14:00 05/20/2009

The past few weeks I revisited places I had known as a boy. First stop was the ruins of the Dingras church in Ilocos Norte. In my nostalgia, I would remember the church as some abandoned Benedictine abbey after Henry VIII had looted it and had its monks hung, drawn and quartered on Tyburn Square. Memory does play out its own fictions because Dingras was wild pasture made smelly by a few goats awaiting slaughter for signature Iloco dishes. (I have been corrected by e-mail, Ilocano refers to the people, Iloco is the language.) Where the pasture used to be there is a church. Creative parish priests have put the ruins to good use—as a support for the steel roof that now covers a living place of worship. However, after a recent earthquake that left the church intact, there is fear that the posts supporting the roof could fall like dominoes when the ruins move and place stress on the roof. The suggested quick fix was to dismantle the ancient church façade, in whole or in part, to keep the church usable. To cut a long story short, a public hearing was conducted there, and it was agreed that the controversial ruins would be preserved and strengthened, and that a new church would be built around the ruins. The old need not be sacrificed for the new. Following the architects’ recommendations submitted last May 15, the bishop of Ilocos Norte and the National Historical Institute (NHI) will sign an order to begin preservation work.

Next stop was Bohol province where the NHI identified, installed and transferred to the church, the government and the people of Bohol not one but four historical markers: first, the Church of Maribojoc was marked; then Punta Cruz, the ancient watchtower (also in Maribijoc) that faces a crystal clear sea, was declared a National Historical Landmark; the same day the church of Dauis was marked, and this was followed by the declaration of the Dauis church complex as a National Historical Landmark. This covers the church, the watchtower and the kumbento (convent) in this sleepy town best known for its postcard pretty views and those heavy ensaymadas made with pork lard known as “torta.”

What do all these markers mean? Simply, that these sites and structures deemed historic and historical now form part of the fabric that is slowly being woven into that unfinished tapestry we call Philippine history. These four places newly inscribed in the NHI registry are not just part of the history of Dauis and Maribojoc; they form part of the history of the nation.

I spent two childhood summers at a farm in Bohol, but I can’t remember which town it was. All I recall was that it took an uncomfortable overnight trip by boat from Cebu to Tagbilaran in those days. Halfway to the farm, I was roused from sleep to see a tree sparkling in the dark like a Christmas tree in April, as it was filled with fireflies. I rediscovered Bohol in 1995 when I made a day trip from Cebu. I took a fastcraft from Cebu, rented a tricycle in Tagbilaran and visited all the churches possible: Tagbilaran, Loboc, Loay, Baclayon, Dauis, Maribojoc, Alborquerque, Dimiao and more. I learned a lot about Jesuit and Recollect architecture in Bohol but I returned to Manila deaf after spending hours beside a noisy motorcycle engine.

My next trip was better organized as I was introduced to Fr. Milan Ted Torralba of Baclayon and to Lutgardo “Gardy” Labad, better known for his involvement in cheesy Regal films. For many Boholanos who grew up in the shadow of these churches, they are just that—old churches, everyday sights that they see but do not notice.

Why did people from Manila come all the way to see these dilapidated structures. What did the visitors find so wonderful? Historical markers are a means to direct their attention, to make Boholanos see and notice the treasure in their midst. We are fortunate Bishop Leonardo Medroso of the Diocese of Tagbilaran is sensitive to heritage and what it contributes to make liturgy more meaningful. When I saw his predecessor Bishop Leopoldo Tumulak on the plane to Tagbilaran last week, he sighed and said, “We should have started earlier, Ambeth, we could have saved more heritage.” I replied that we should not fret, for experience is a polite term we use to describe our mistakes. There was no need to regret what is past, but to rejoice in what we still have.

Visiting the churches of Bohol these days I realize how much of the moveable church art and architecture are now gone. A carved side altar from the church in Dimiao is now in the National Museum. Images of saints that used to adorn the now empty niches in church retablos and the intricately designed silver liturgical vessels and other decorations are now in private collections in posh Makati enclaves. Even religious images from private homes have been exported to Manila, the most popular of them being those hardwood images of the Virgin Mary, many of which are carved in the shape of a bell with small pin-sized heads of ivory, painted in a riot of colors: blue, yellow, red, and orange. These folk religious images came with elaborately carved and painted home altars or “urna”; and, of course, the distinctly carved cabinets, tables and chairs of molave and balayong all have been brought to Manila. Worse, many of these things have been exported to Europe and the United States where they are now lost to us.

(Conclusion on Friday)

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu


RP first book in cyber library

Posted in Books/Magazines, Heritage by Erineus on April 22, 2009

Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 07:09:00 04/21/2009

Published in 1593, the “Doctrina Christiana, en lengua española y tagala,” is the first book printed in the Philippines and the first book printed in a Philippine language. It is also the first book showing an explicit and distinctly Philippine alphabet.

The only known extant copy of the Doctrina is in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. But a copy of the 79 pages of the Doctrina is available just by clicking the image of the Doctrina’s cover page showing the image of St. Dominick.

Aside from the Doctrina, also posted in the World Digital Library is the French version of the Journal of Magellan’s Voyage, dating from 1525.

The work, attributed to Antonio Pigafetta, a Venetian scholar, details Ferdinand Magellan’s voyage around the world in 1519-22 and includes an early Western description of the people and languages of the Philippines.

A search in the digital library for “Philippines” will give six more results.

These are Aguinaldo’s Navy (created in 1900); The Attack of Manila, October 1762; Map of a Part of China, the Philippine Islands, the Isles of Sunda, the Moluccas, the Papuans; Journey to the East Indies and China, Undertaken at the King’s Command, from 1774 until 1781; Conquest of the Malukus; and Religious parade, Santa Rosa de Lima.

Inquirer Research


Hanging out at La Mesa Eco Park

Posted in Heritage, Tourism, Travel by Erineus on March 12, 2009
By Joy Jonette Chuyaco
October 11, 2008, 11:27am
Superferry boating lagoon and pavilion
Superferry boating lagoon and pavilion

It was the weekend, and my group of friends and I planned to do something other than our usual meet-ups at the mall.

Our destination: The La Mesa EcoPark. We’ve heard a lot about how relaxing and refreshing it is to be there. That’s why we pack along our foods, game cards, stories-to-tell, and of course a camera to capture every moment, then head on to the EcoPark—the forest within the city.

We arrived at the park at around lunch time, hungry and excited to see the place. On the way to the picnic grounds, we carried our things as we walked because cars are only allowed up to a certain point. Only eco-friendly vehicles roam around the area. It is one of their ways to promote the conservation of the environment.

As we walked towards our picnic table, we were surprised by how close we were to nature; the trees, the smell of fresh air, the colorful flowers, and the aura of serenity. It seemed like we were in the province, yet we didn’t even need to travel far to experience it.

After lunch, we rode the solar-powered vehicle then strolled along the park. We resumed walking while stopping from time to time to take photos. There is much scenery that’s worth taking pictures of. We saw a lot of families, friends, and lovers who were there to enjoy and relax at the park.

There are a lot of activities available for guests such as fishing, swimming, and boating, at affordable prices.

Soon it was time to go home. We turned around in the car to look back at the park. We never thought that being at a park could be so fun and memorable.

Given our so-called “mall culture,” who would have thought that going there would be a nice alternative? Hanging out at the La Mesa Ecopark gave us a totally different experience that we will surely treasure and share with others. It is definitely a must try for everyone.

What is the La Mesa Watershed?

La Mesa Watershed is 2700 hectares, 700 hectares of which is the reservoir and 2000 hectares of which is the surrounding forest. This forest is the last remaining one of its size in Metro Manila and serves as its carbon dioxide sink.

It is vital to the city, not only because it is a primary source of drinking water, but also because its forest functions as the lungs of Metro Manila, providing it with clean air.

Park for a cause:

La Mesa Ecopark envisions a better environment for Filipino children. Their mission is to spread environmental awareness through education and advocacy.

It provides a venue for healthful outdoor recreation and a true forest experience. Students are encouraged to explore the last forest in the metro in order to learn more about what it is like to be part of an ecosystem. This it is a living classroom and laboratory for environmental education.

It also aims to be a center for biodiversity conservation. All the proceeds from the park entrance fees are used for its upkeep and to preserve the natural beauty of the forest,

Where it is:

East Fairview Subdivision, Quezon City

Where to go once there:

a) Lopez Picnic Grounds: five hectares of picnic spots under trees! Grilling facilities provided

b) Superferry Boating Lagoon: Paddleboats are available here.

c) Petron Fitness and Mountain Bike Trail: Has 17 exercise stations; connects to a forested 1.2 km mountain bike trail.

d) Shell Flower Terraces: 2 hectares of flowers, it is actually the dam wall of the reservoir.

(Source: http://www.lamesaecopark.com/)


Puerto Princesa underground river makes history

Posted in Heritage, Tourism, Travel by Erineus on March 12, 2009
Official Philippine nominee for the New 7 Wonders of Nature
January 14, 2009, 1:47pm
(Photo by George Tapan)
(Photo by George Tapan)

The people have spoken: Palawan’s Subterranean River will represent the country to the world.

Winner of the national qualifiers category, the renowned Underground River will be the Philippines’ bet in the New7Wonders of Nature race. Results of the first phase of voting in the Official New7Wonders of Nature campaign were revealed today at the New7Wonders Foundation headquarters.

“We are proud to announce that the Philippine marvels have stood strong in the first round of voting. This affirms the support of Filipinos as well as other tourists in helping our natural sites make their mark on a global scale,” Tourism Secretary Ace Durano said.

Recently awarded for his efforts and advocacy in ecological tourism, he added, “With billions of supporters all over the globe, promotion of spectacular sites from all over the world has been set to greater heights. It is also very important to call on the sustainable promotion of these tourism sites, which are nature’s blessings.”

The first stage of the Official New7Wonders of Nature campaign officially ended with the old year. At midnight on December 31, 2008 on the International Date Line, all voting was suspended on the New7Wonders website until January 7 for the organizers to tally and verify all votes.

Tia Viering, head of communications for New7Wonders, says “We congratulate the successful qualifying locations from the Philippines and wish them the best of luck in the second phase of voting.”

She added, “We also at this time highlight the strong and enthusiastic participation of the other national nominees that are not proceeding—many have already benefited from a significant increase in worldwide awareness, which in itself is a recognized important benefit for all involved in the New7Wonders campaigns.”

According to the Foundation, these magnificent natural sites are among the 261 nominees now one step closer to potentially being chosen one of the Official New7Wonders of Nature by the people of the world

“The Philippines’ wonders besting the others truly give us more reasons to strengthen not only the promotion, but the preservation of our natural sites,” Eduardo Jarque, Jr., Undersecretary for Tourism Planning and Promotions, remarked.

Jarque added, “The New 7 Wonders campaign, gaining participation from numerous supporters, will inevitably translate to increased interest in seeing these magnificent places. We thank and congratulate all Filipinos who have made their voice heard through the online polls.”

The Philippines’ Underground River shares the spotlight with the Coral Triangle, a multinational participant. Spanning eastern Indonesia, parts of Malaysia, the Philippines, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste, and the Solomon Islands, the Coral Triangle is the global center of marine biodiversity and one of the world’s top priorities for marine conservation.

Of the original 441 nominees, 180, or more than 40%, were eliminated as the next stage begins, lasting from January 7 until July 7, to select the Top 77 – the pool from which the 21 Official Finalists will be chosen.

The qualified 261 national and multinational nominees from 222 participating countries feature iconic locations such as the Grand Canyon, Loch Ness, the Black Forest, and Mount Fuji, alongside the Amazon, the Danube, the Dead Sea, the Great Barrier Reef, Iguazu Falls, the Kalahari Desert, Mont Blanc, and Niagara Falls.

As with the original successful campaign that chose the Official New 7 Wonders of the World thanks to more than 100 million votes, the N7W Panel of Experts will select the 21 Finalists from the top 77, which will be announced on July 21, 2009.

At that time the third and final phase of voting will begin, and the people of the world will then

have approximately 2 years to vote among the 21 Finalists for the Official New7Wonders of Nature, to be revealed in 2011. Over 1 billion votes are expected to be cast.


Preserving the Makiling Botanical Gardens

Posted in Botanical Gardens, Conservation/Preservation, Heritage by Erineus on March 6, 2009

March 03, 2009

We have two “must” places to explore when traveling to a new destination. The first would be the local market. The botanical garden would be the second. The local market gives us a feel of a country’s daily life while the gardens give us a peek into its ecological status.

The miniscule country of Singapore could only allot 63.7 hectares to its Botanic Gardens, which is one-fifth the size of New York’s Central Park. Yet it is the only botanical garden in the world that doesn’t charge any admission fees. The Botanic Gardens sources its income from tree-orchid breeding and hybridization. It reportedly pioneered the multi-million dollar cut-flower industry, which has received recognition worldwide.

Another small country, Brunei, has 8,000 hectares of forest reserves. It also has a forestry university which sponsors international botanical and conservation studies, and dozens of well maintained parks and gardens.

Here in the Philippines, the Mt. Makiling forest reserve covers 5,900 hectares. Of this total, 300 hectares is designated to the Makiling Botanical Gardens. It is the center of forestry and botanical studies and is managed by UP Los Banos.

In terms of size, the Makiling Botanical Gardens covers less area than the gardens found in much smaller (but much wealthier) countries.   These thoughts crossed our mind when we took part in the Ecological-Cultural Festival organized by the UP Alumni (UPAA), the Mariang Makiling Foundation, and the Department of Tourism. The festival was held to drum up support for the endangered scientific reserve.

Among the events was a painting session that featured actress-singer Karylle posing as Mariang Makiling.  “We decided to put a face to the legend,” explains Dr. Feliciano Calora, a respected entomologist and head of the Mariang Makiling Foundation.

Half of Mt. Makiling has been denuded already. To prevent further destruction, the Mt. Makiling Conservation Movement last year planted 507 seedlings of flower tress and timber along the periphery of the forest reserve.

The project has obtained the support of various institutions like Calamba Water, the Embassy of Finland, Ford Motor Philippines, National Power Corp. Sto Tomas, Batangas, Phil. Wood Producers, Surigao Development, CIBA-Geigy, Novartis, and Sterling Health.

But more monetary and manpower support is needed to save this mountain, which is said to have a more diverse plant species than that of the entire USA.

Forester and education officer Ben Arisala is despondent over the turn of events. He has been with the Gardens for 27 years (he started working here immediately after graduating from the College of Forestry). In the past, he says, the garden had a staff of 36. Now, there are only 12 tasked to manage the 300 hectares.

The Gardens was opened in 1965 to support the academic and research needs of the forestry and plant sciences, as well as serve as a tourist attraction. It is a dipterocarp forest – it has a hiking trail, arboretum, a plant nursery, picnic grounds, venues of special events, and a swimming pool with water fed by the natural springs of Mt. Makiling.

Arisala gave us a virtual tour of the immediate surroundings starting with the rotonda marked by a sculpture of the Apitong tree seed framed by two towering bagtican trees. Sixty to 70 percent of the forest, he says, come from the family dipterocarpaceae to which bagtican, giho, and yakal among others, belong. They are classified according to diameter and height – small at 16 cm. in diameter  and height equivalent to a one-storey building; medium up to 45 cm. in diameter and two-storey building in height; and large at more than 45 cm. in diameter and taller than a two-storey building.

The small to medium Bitangcol is native to the Philippines and Borneo and is said to be a curative for cancer.

The medium to large trees are the Almasiga with bark producing oils for varnish; the endangered Philippine teak, which is a quality material for furniture; Molave, which grows in the limestone forest; and the Camachile from tropical America. Its bark is used as tanning dye for leather.

The highly fibrous Twai, originally from India and the Himalayas, is used for pulp and paper products and is also locally known as Tuhod since its trunk is shaped like a knee.

Malapapaya is used to make chopsticks, toothpicks, wooden teaspoons, popsicle sticks, and tongue depressors. Its leaves are used as a material to make contraceptives. The ilang-ilang flowers are a popular source of perfume.

We were also introduced to the the king of the flowering trees, the saraca under which it is believed Sakyamuni, the founder of Buddhism was born. Its orange color is the same color Buddhist monks used for their habits.

The gardens are open daily except holidays from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.