Yuletide Perspectives

December 26, 2009

I used to sit alone on top of the Cebu City mountains on moonlit nights just to immerse myself in the vastness of nature. When the terrain is bald, you see the rough hillsides gradually fall down to the darkness that are the rivers and creeks and then rise up again going up to the other peaks. The mystery deepens with the gray of the surrounding.

Above you, the stars, millions of them, assert themselves even with the moon lighting up the usual brooding blue of the sky. The white orb looks flat at first glance, but becomes three-dimensional once probed deeper. The moon has been there through time, titillating limited minds with the inscrutability of its existence. Mine was no different.

Man has always been puny but often wallows in the illusion of power created by its communities. When you are in the metropolis surrounded by man-made structures and gadgetry, you lose sight of the ethereal and the universal. That is why I always cherish the moments when I commune with the earth and the heavens and be other than human.

One of my better recollections of Christmas happened in one of the mountains overlooking the city. In the village called Patayng Yuta nights take over early and the farmers immediately fall prey to its spell, even on Christmas eves. One time, I just decided to climb the hilltop to watch ignited pyrotechnics rise above the city lights.

I could not recall now how long I sat there. The midnight air was biting despite my thick jacket and my alone-ness added to the coldness that permeated the thick mix of grasses, bushes and trees. But time seemed to fly by as my thought drifted from the man-made—the family left behind, city life, etc.—to the profound—nature, God and creation.

I grew up spending my Christmases in the comfort of home and neighbors. In Sitio Kawayan where I grew up, we children would go caroling, light firecrackers or just watch our elders in their festive mood. In that kind of celebration, the communal is the props. And often, the Christ in Christmas is lost in the passing, though we don’t admit it.

At the back of our present home is a hill topped by towers of two telecom firms. I haven’t climbed the hill at night and don’t intend to do it now. Spending a moment alone in the yard tonight and feeling the cold air on the face while watching the stars would be enough to put in perspective this age-old celebration. A Merry Christmas to one and all!

(I wrote this for my December 24, 2009 Candid Thoughts column in Sun.Star Cebu)


Misa de Gallo

December 16, 2009

I miss the Misa de Gallo. Every Christmas, I promise to attend at least one of these dawn masses but always end up short. No way could I force myself now to wake up at 4 a.m. when I sleep past 12 midnight. But I have fond memories of the ritual, etched in my mind when I was young and when work and family had still to be my preoccupation.

In an age of change, people of my generation may have to be thankful that the Filipino version of the Misa de Gallo has not yet been taken over by commercialization and twisted by foreign influences, like what is happening to the celebration of the Kalag-kalag in large urban centers of the country. I dread to see my kids talk Halloween instead.

One of my early Cebuano short stories published in the old Sun.Star Weekend was on the “sungkaan.” It was about a father who tried teaching his children the rudiments of the game and to enjoy it like he did when he was younger. Eventually, though, his kids found computer games more exciting. Signs of the times, actually.

My recollection of the very early misa de gallo I was in is hazy, but I reckon it was in Argao town where we lived for a few years when my father was assigned there as a Pepsi-Cola salesman. I remember the church, the people and the delicacies (puto or budbod and sikwate) after the mass. And, yes, the darkness of dawn in a rural milieu.

It was while growing up in Sitio Kawayan in Barangay Sambag 2, Cebu City where I developed a better understanding of the ritual and the peripheral feelings that celebrating it evokes. That was when our place was still under the Redemptorist Parish and the priests and parish workers were active in drawing us kids into church activities.

Waking up early was always a struggle, more so walking in the cold dawn air from our place to the church which was, I think, more than a kilometer away (from B. Rodriguez Ext. down to B. Rodriguez proper, crossing to Fuente Osmeña going to Mango Ave. down to Baseline, St. Theresa’s College and finally the church). We did it anyway.

This Christmas, I promise again to attend the Misa de Gallo and fulfill it. I don’t want my two boys to grow up losing a feel of a practice that partly shaped the lives of their parents when they were younger. I know that change is inevitable and eventually the future generations will chart their own paths. But some things need to be handed down to our kids if only to help them grow up to become good Christians.

(I wrote this for my December 17, 2009 Candid Thoughts column in Sun.Star Cebu)

Colon at Night 2

December 14, 2009

I like the inputs of some readers of this blog to the article about Colon. This just means this blog attracts educated and profound readers that makes discussion of subjects interesting.

Near that strip at the corner of Colon and Osmena Blvd. is the corner of Colon and Pelaez Sts. and a few meters away the corner of Pelaez and Sanciangko Sts. In that part of Pelaez are two hotels and some night spots. I usually pass that area to and from Colon.

Pimps and prostitutes are regular fare there at night. At the night spots you often see Caucasians who are most probably clients of the hotel. They can be mostly seen with local women, obviously picked up from among the prostitutes in the place.

I sometimes see a few of the Caucasians at certain times making conversation with young boys that looked like street children. My worry, of course, is that these kids would be victimized by pedophiles.

It was in Pelaez at night that I saw for the first time this cart pushed by a man that sold a kind of seafood in a shell. It must be already cooked and the hard portion had to be broken before the meat could be eaten or brought home. I reckon that it was expensive, but the enticement could be that it was an aphrodisiac.

Colon and its neighboring streets have the look that gives strangers the creeps at night. But that is only on the surface. Tarry longer and the uneasiness disappears.

Pier Uno

December 6, 2009

I finally set foot inside the JSU-PSU Mariners Court at Pier 1 for the San Miguel Corp. party for media people on December 4. Going there triggered memories of my early days in the profession.

I was still in college when I started working part-time for radio station dyLA. I think that was in 1979 after I trained at the now defunct Broadcast Production Training Center. The dyLA studio was at the Arellano Boulevard site in the Associated Labor Union’s Ybarrita Hall.

DyLA later transferred in the early ’80s to the Vimcontu Building at the other side of Pier 1 near the Waterfront Police Station. I worked there in 1981 starting as a news transcriber and later as reporter and finally news director. I quit when I had a conflict when then station manager Emil Fortuna.

The JSU-PSU building stands in the area that was once partly a tennis court. That means that it drastically changed the landscape of the compound. The Vimcontu building already looks incongruous in this setup. DyLA has transferred to the JSU-PSU building.

The third floor window had a good view of a portion of the pier. I was reminded that I used to spend a good amount of time traveling to my home place Camotes. I miss those days. I miss the salty smell of the sea and miss just watching the waves roll.

Simala Shrine experience

September 24, 2009

I didn’t know about the Marian Shrine in Simala, Sibonga town until relatives of my wife Edizza asked both of us to go with them there. That was a couple of years ago, a few months before my mother-in-law was diagnosed with lung cancer. We went there Sunday morning and brought with us food for lunch. We used two vehicles for the trip.

The shrine is in Upper Lindogon, a hilly area that can be reached using a gravel road that branched off from the national highway in Simala. You know you are near the shrine because of the people. Then you espy the cathedral-like structure on a hillside. The road does not reach the shrine, so you have to walk some 100 meters to reach it.

Where the popular places of worship are, expect business to be brisk. Near the entrance of the shrine a convenience stores and eateries have sprouted, and they are not the make shift ones that mushroom during rural tabo (market day). A vacant lot has been designated by enterprising people as pay parking area. Around it are nipa huts for rent.

The Marian Monks of the Eucharistic Adoration are doing well in “selling” the place to the faithful. A billboard a few meters from the entrance tells the story of the “miracle” attributed to the Marian image in the shrine. I could not recall the details of the story, but I think it was about an epidemic whose spread the Marian image prevented.

An article in a Manila daily erroneously attributed the popularity of the “Birhen sa Simala (also, Our of Lady Lindogon) to a claim that it “shed tears of blood.” I don’t think such incident happened. Rather, word-of-mouth stories about illnesses cured, petitions given, etc. attracted devotees to far off Simala (Sibonga is 48 kilometers from the city).

When we went there, the hillside structure looked complete from afar. But once inside, I found that it was still a work in progress. What the monks did was expand what I thought was a Marian chapel. But the expansion work was immense. Scaffoldings were visible at the sides. That didn’t bother people forming a line to get to the Marian image.

The project is big, so this must be where the monks poured the millions of pesos they have received from donors, some of them from abroad. The pathway leading to the shrine (one uses a concrete pathway and has to cross a bridge) is landscaped and has gardens that are well-tended. That means the monks were doing their work that time.

I am not easily swayed by “miracles” (the cynicism comes from my Marxist past), but the faith of the devotees was amazing. The saying of the novena (the monks could not celebrate mass) was continuous, as newly arrived devotees replaced those who left in the pews. A monk interrupted the prayers to allow a woman to give a healing testimony.

I no longer joined my wife and her relatives when they went back to Simala months later to accompany to my already wheelchair-bound mother-in-law there. I had to tend to the kids who had to be left behind by their mother. It must have been a difficult trip for my very ill mother-in-law but I reckon that her faith strengthened her resolve.

My mother-in-law was deeply religious and she leaned on the power of prayer until the end. (She had one of her daughters bring an image of the Virgin Mary to our house where she breathed her last). That is why I consider it unfortunate that the monks in Simala are embroiled in a controversy. It is a disservice to people whose faith in the Virgin Mary is genuine and boundless.

(I wrote this for my September 25, 2009 column in Sun.Star Cebu)

Forgotten Sea

February 25, 2009

I jogged last Monday and, for a change, steered clear of the Minglanilla Sports Complex and went straight ahead to the Minglanilla Fishport in Tulay. I had missed the sea and the view of the mountains from the shoreline.

As I jogged to the tip of the newly constructed wharf extension, I espied to my left seashell gatherers (it was a low tide morning) and to my right around ten boats floating languidly on the shallows. The scene reminded me of William Henry Scott’s “Barangay” and his summation of the description of Spanish chroniclers of pre-Spanish Philippines.

In the old days the sea was both a source of food and a wide highway, that is why the villages were mostly near the shorelines. Some shores were also the areas where Chinese and Arab merchants, or native traders selling goods from the Orient and the Middle East, exchange goods with the villagers.

When I was a child vacationing in Tudela in the Camotes group of islands, my Tiyo Eleazar one time asked me to accompany him to Barangay Matin-ao, which was some four kilometers from the Tudela poblacion. Instead of riding a bicycle, we got into his baroto and used it in our trip to and from Matin-ao.

Islands in the pre-Spanish days didn’t have roads or highways in the interior, and there was no indication that wheeled vehicles (karitons?) were extensively used for travel and movement of goods. The sea and boats provided that function.

I therefore find it unfortunate that this old setup has been forgotten by local government officials, especially in shoreline localities. They should have encouraged the use of small pumpboats or barotos for travel and movement of goods by providing small piers or landing areas so people and commodities won’t get wet once they are ashore.

Industrialized countries like Japan and the United States encourage government to get loans for infrastructure projects like roads, so people will be dependent on the motorized vehicles that they sell. In the process, they inculcated a road-dependent mindset, resulting in the people forgetting the function and importance of the sea.

Learning from Tudela’s History

February 9, 2009

Vicente Solante can be considered one of the folk heroes of Tudela town during World War II. That was, of course, before he became a politician and one of the allies of Ramon Durano Sr. in the fifth congressional district where Tudela belongs. The association with Durano diluted people’s knowledge of him as a war hero.

Tudela Poblacion from the Sea

Tudela Poblacion from the Sea

I wanted to enlarge the details of the story of his hiding in the caves of Tudela to escape pursuing Japanese forces and his eventual surrender. Japanese soldiers looking for Solante reportedly ended up committing atrocities, one of the reasons why the place became a ghost town before the liberation of Camotes by the Americans.

Unfortunately, Solante’s son Vic, a lawyer, refused to cooperate fearing the history book I am writing would be, in his words, “commercialized.” I didn’t want to go into an argument with him on that so I let it go. But until now I still rue over the missed chance of writing Solante’s World War II story for Tudelanhons to appreciate. Sad, really.

My only consolation was that Vic Solante told me my father Timoteo (Tiyong) was his classmate in the elementary, together with Demetrio Granada, who would later on become Tudela mayor. He told me my father was the brightest in the class. That was an information that made me appreciate my father even more.

I know my father possessed good intellect; he spoke English when he got inebriated. He was politically inclined and well-informed. Unlike Vic and Noy Demet, however, my father came from a poor family and had to work after he graduated from high school. Had he pursued his studies, he would have probably become a lawyer, and an elected official.