Wake Up, Philippines!

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


History in the eyes of women

Posted in History, Women by Erineus on April 22, 2009

Each term I assign my students to visit the microfilm section of the library and dig up the newspaper on the day they were born. I know students hate being sent to the library to physically handle a book that unfortunately is not available on the Internet. But the visit is a chore most of them actually enjoy. The aim of the exercise is to make them experience historical research and writing. Students are also asked to interview their parents to find out what they remember so they end up learning an important lesson—that parents can be an unreliable source of information!


For this column I go back in time like my students, except that I travel at least a century back to see how much we have changed or not. Some people think that history is biased in favor of men because most of the primary sources being used by historians were written for and by men. Thus a feminist school of thought tries to remedy the situation by trying to let us see history from a different point of view, from historical sources for and by women. Rabid feminists even want to change his-tory which they claim is unfairly masculine, into something current and politically correct. They insist we should remember her-story instead. As if that wasn’t enough, the so-called “third sex” wants equal space in the past, thus causing yet another paradigm shift they call “Queer-story.” The only problem is that gays and lesbians are quite invisible in history. One can only wonder what new school of thought will come next.

One of the her-story accounts of the Philippines is “An Ohio Woman in the Philippines” by Emily Bronson Conger (1904) who spent time in Jaro, Iloilo. Although her impressions of the country and its people are over a century old, these are not stale but surprisingly current and engaging. The 23rd chapter of the book is on domestic life and begins:

“The houses are made of bamboo; some of them are pretty, quite artistic; the plain ones cost about seventy-five cents each; no furniture of any kind is needed. The native food is rice, or as it is called in the vernacular, ‘sow-sow.’ It is cooked in an earthen pot set upon stones with a few lighted twigs thrust under it for fire. When it is eaten with nature’s forks, the fingers, with a relish of raw fish, it is the chief article of diet.

“House cleaning is one thing that I never saw in practice or evidence. I took a supply of lye with me and it was a huge joke to see the natives use it in cleaning the floors.

“The windows are made of oyster shells which are thin and flat; these, cut in three-inch squares, make a window particularly adapted to withstand the heavy storms and earthquakes; it transmits pleasant opalescent light.

“Coffee is raised, but not widely used by the natives; they prefer chocolate. After many unsuccessful attempts, I gave up trying to have my dishes washed in my way; I soon discovered that the servants used the tea towels on their bodies. This convinced me, and I let them wash mine as they did their own, by pouring water on each dish separately, rinsing and setting to dry on the porch in the sun, the only place where the vermin would not crawl over them.

“The irons used for pressing clothes are like a smooth, round-bottomed skillet, the inside is filled with lighted sticks and embers. The operator who sits on the floor, presses this smoking mass over the thing to be pressed. The article, when finished, looks as if it had been sat upon.”

Unlike most expatriates who did not adapt and complained a lot, Conger was more flexible and seemed to have enjoyed her stay in Iloilo even if you get a sense that the Philippine-American War was always in the background. She had to take an interpreter and an armed guard when she travelled about to protect her against the “insurrectos.” The irons she described are not in use today and can be found in antique shops where they are sold as either plant holders (large ones) or ashtrays (small ones). You will find capiz shell windows only in old houses and nowhere will you find a hut that costs 75 cents today. Coffee shops abound throughout the country for a people whose tastes have shifted from thick Spanish chocolate to frapuccinos. We are slowly being warned against the dangers of smoking tobacco and some places like Makati have no-smoking ordinances for public spaces. Yet in Iloilo, Conger found children smoking:

“Nearly all little children are naked. One day I saw a little fellow, about three years old, who was suffering severely from the smallpox. He was smoking a huge cigar of the kind the natives make by rolling the natural tobacco leaf and tying it with a bit of bamboo fiber. He did look ridiculous. A native teacher told me that they all begin to smoke when [they are] about two years old; poor, little, stunted, starved things, fed on half-cooked rice and raw fish.”

Of course, Conger brought to her writing her Ohio background and saw the Philippines from her American viewpoint. But what is striking in her book is the sympathy for the poor. Much of the things she described in the early 1900s are no more but the poor remaining the same.

We often think that the Philippines has changed a lot in the past century, reading travel accounts like that of Conger’s makes us realize how much it remains unchanged.

Comments are welcome at aocampo@ateneo.edu

Gomburza Martyrdom Anniversary February 17, 1872

Posted in Heroism/Martyrdom, History by Erineus on February 17, 2009

“WITHOUT 1872,” Dr. Jose P. Rizal wrote his friend Don Mariano Ponce, “there would not be now a Sanciangco, Plaridel, Lopez Jaena… Without 1872, Rizal would now be a Jesuit and, instead of writing the Noli Me Tangere, would have written the opposite.”

To highlight further the impact of the Cavite Mutiny and the execution of Fathers Gomez, Burgos, and Zamora, Dr. Rizal dedicated his novel El Filibusterismo to the memory of the three priests, thus: “The Church, in refusing to degrade you, has placed in doubt the crime imputed to you; the Government, in shrouding your cause with mystery and obscurities, creates belief in some error committed in critical moments; and the whole Philippines, in venerating your memory and calling you martyrs, in no way acknowledges your guilt… May your blood be upon the hands of those who, without sufficient proof, assail your memory.”

Many vital details about the martyrdom of Fathers Gomez, Burgos, and Zamora remain hidden to most Filipinos. Foremost of these details is the extraordinary courage of the three martyrs in combatting theocracy in colonial Philippines. When the friars put up in 1868 the newspaper La Verdad and printed article after article vilifying the natives of the Philippines, Father Burgos put up the newspaper El Eco Filipino. Father Gomez kept the funds for the newspaper, while Father Zamora solicited contributions for its support. El Eco Filipino fought for the rights and honor of the Filipino people.

When Don Carlos Maria de la Torre became the governor-general of the Philippines in 1869, Father Burgos and several liberal Spaniards and Filipinos honored De la Torre with a serenade and dinner at the latter’s official residence in Intramuros. In turn, De la Torre publicly praised Father Burgos, declaring: “Hail! Father Burgos, Pride and Honor of the Philippines.” The friars seethed with anger against all these happenings.

Implicated in the January 19-20, 1872, Cavite Mutiny and condemned to die by the garrote, the three priests were confined at Fort Santiago. There were attempts to save them. On the eve of the execution, Srta. Clarita Rubio de Celis recruited 60 men to carry out a suicidal mission – attack all colonial posts in Intramuros and spirit away the three priests. They were blocked by several native priests who feared a general backlash against the native population.

Asked to whom they would like to make a confession, Father Gomez replied: “To any of our most vociferous enemy so that they should know the purity of our conscience.” Going up the scaffold, Father Gomez saw Major Boscasa, the prosecutor who condemned them to death, and said: “May God forgive you the way we have forgiven you.” A friar replied: “Forgive them, Father Gomez, for they do not know what they did.” Father Gomez turned to the friar and said: “Why should we forgive them if they did nothing wrong against us?”

Even colonial historians concluded that the execution of Fathers Gomez, Burgos, and Zamora was a blunder on the part of colonial government. The Cavite Mutiny of 1872 nourished Filipino nationalism.1872 produced 1896 which, in turn, produced June 12, 1898.

Our observance of the anniversary of Fathers Gomez, Burgos, and Zamora’s martyrdom will make our youth aware that the freedom they enjoy today was nourished by the blood and sacrifices of their forefathers.

Opinion and Editorial
Manila Bulletin

Philippine Veterans Bank updates history panels at Lingayen Veterans Park

Posted in Cultural Heritage, DOT, History, PHI, Tourism by Erineus on February 16, 2009

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MANILA, Philippines – As part of the 64th anniversary of the Lingayen Gulf Landing, Philippine Veterans Bank (PVB) in partnership with the Pangasinan Provincial Government and the Veterans Federation of the Philippines updated the history panels of the Veterans Memorial Park located at the Pangasinan Capitol Grounds, Lingayen. The new feature was inaugurated during the Lingayen Landing event led by Gov. Amado Espino Jr. (rightmost) The National Historical Institute (NHI), represented by deputy executive director Emelita Almosara, supervised the updating of the historical panels.

The new panels, 12 in all, contain photographs and maps about the Lingayen Landing and other World War II vintage photographs mostly featuring various locations in Pangasinan such as Dagupan, San Fabian and others.

Updated February 13, 2009 12:00 AM

‘Not for publication’

Posted in American Occupation, History by Erineus on February 12, 2009

COLONEL Cornelius Gardner, an 1869 West Point graduate, veteran of the American Indian Wars (he fought Cheyennes and Apaches), commandant of Fort Wayne, Michigan was strongly opposed to the USA war with Spain in 1898. The year after, 1899, Gardner was put in command of the 13th United States Infantry and sent to the Philippines to quell what American politicians called “Philippine insurrection.” A reformer at heart, Col. Gardner saw the perils of American imperialism.

In a letter to his friend, Michigan Governor Hazen Pingree, which he ended with “not for publication,” he made a frank assessment of the Philippine situation: “The educational problem is probably the most difficult one of all. Heretofore it has been entirely in the hands of the church. The text books were all of a religious nature, and only such things were taught as would assist the clergy in easily robbing and domineering the people.”

With regard to teaching English, observed that “English is gradually becoming the language of the Orient. It is now spoken in India, the Strait settlement, Chinese treaty ports and considerably in Japan” and concluded, “I can see no advantage hereafter in teaching in the primary schools any language but Tagalog and English. Tagalo is a language of too great a poverty of words, except for elementary instruction; higher education should be in English….” Curiously, he referred to Tagalog as Tagalo, like any Spaniard.

Wary of the Protestant onslaught in this country, Gardner said only “religious enthusiasts” can bear living in the Philippines and remain long enough to teach, but Filipinos do not want nor need missionaries of any other kind because the Catholic church had already made Filipinos “moral and temperate” so it is best that they “be left alone.” He added that “…the introduction of Protestantism in its varied forms and different creeds would produce chaos, where now simplicity and order reigns.

He believed that: “The clashing of the clergy proselyting [sic] each for his own sect and all against the present religion of the people would be exceedingly unfortunate for these people.” Gardner described Filipinos as “already far more religious than we Anglo-Saxons” directly opposing William McKinley’s cynical policy which insisted the USA had to “Christianize and civilize” the Filipinos. Gardner said Filipinos had “to be taught not religion but science and art and modern knowledge of things tangible. Modern machines for sugar refining, for cording hemp, for refining cocoanut [sic] oil …” In a way, he defined the role of Filipinos in America’s economic master plan as mere suppliers of raw materials.

By far, the most revealing assertions of reformist Gardner in his “not for publication” letter to Gov. Pingree are about the persistent Independence issue. “Hope for independence is too deep-seated, it can never be eradicated, except by a destruction of the population.” While he wrote, the Filipino-American War was raging with such brutal intensity. “Unless we govern wisely and humanely with a view to improve the conditions of the people here, and not with a view to make money out of them, we will have continual revolutions…” a rather prophetic warning for Filipino politicians who took over after 1946. (gemma601@yahoo.com)