Friday, October 17, 2008

The Nanay Chronicles #2 - Comfort Food

Ours was a very large family. With nine kids to feed and host of workers in her small garments business, Nanay was an expert in whipping up meals good for an entire battalion. I could not remember having small cookware in the old house - everything was big. We have a pretty big kitchen that opens up to the backyard where food was cooked during big celebrations.

Of course, I will never forget the food - glorious comfort food that Nanay would prepare for the clan.
  • Sinigang na Ayungin - this small fish is caught in Laguna Lake and is best cooked in sour broth made from either ripe guavas or Kamias. Garnished with sili leaves, it is perfectly complemented by patis.
  • Ginataang Biya - Nanay chose biya that have eggs and would use the "dilaw" variety of ginger for that unique tangy taste.
  • Menudong Bato-bato ng Manok - I don't see this in the market now, but Nanay used to buy chicken gall bladders from the Pasig Market and cooked them menudo style - with tomato sauce, soy sauce, and potatoes.
  • Ukbo - a true-blue Pateros delicacy, Ukbo is actually aborted duck embryo that did not fully developed into balut. Pretty much like a day-old chick, it is cooked either as adobo or kaldereta. Nanay would use 7-Up and pickles to give it a different twist. I love the egg yolks especially.
  • Kare-kareng Bituka ng Baka - When I was younger, I hated it when Nanay cooks this version of the kare-kare. The sebo would fill my mouth even before I am halfway through my meal, and I had to rinse my mouth with hot water after the meal. But my Nanay's kare-kare is tops!
  • Menudo - Nanay cooks the dry version of the menudo, tasty and especially great with hot pan de sal. On special occasions, she would throw in some raisins for that sweet-tangy taste.
  • Kinilaw na Puso ng Saging - Nanay's version is not raw, although it was still made with vinegar. She used pork sauteed with shrimp and then garnished with sotanghon.
  • Pinakbet na Isda - Nanay would use either fried labahita or grilled bangus for her version of this Ilocano favorite. I would pick out the ampalaya and kalabasa from the many vegetables. Then as now, I still hate the okra!
  • Sinuwam na Baboy - Better known as batchoy to many people, Nanay always partnered this meal with fried galungong. She would boil fresh galungong in vinegar, crushed garlic and peppercorn before frying them to a crisp. For the sinuwam, she used pork tenderloin, liver, kidney and spleen. The exotic flavor was courtesy of fresh pig blood, lots of ginger and kimchay. The sinuwam broth was made even better when taken with a sprinkling of patis with calamansi and siling panigang.
  • Almondigas - I loved helping Nanay cook this meal, as I get to do the meatballs and dunk them into the pan. The meatballs are made up of ground pork, minced onion, pepper and eggs. Then she would do a sautee of garlic, onions and ginger and uses the second washing of rice for the broth. Of course, Nanay's broth will not be complete without patis. After the meatballs have been cooked, she finishes it off with misua and kasuba.
  • Paksiw na Pata - one of my all-time favorites! Pork knuckles boiled in water, vinegar, soy sauce and banana flowers until succulently tender.
  • Paksiw na Bituka - Only Nanay can prepare this dish perfectly. She knows how to pick the right intestines and clean them. I especially like the part where that is also used for chicharon bulaklak. She cooks this with dried oregano and whole peppercorns. As usual, great with patis - and I eat and eat and eat until my lips turn white because of the vinegar!
  • Tinolang Manok - I used to tag along with Nanay when we buy the live chicken and would watch as she slits the throat and let the blood pour in a saucer with uncooked rice. She would only use manibalang na papaya and lots of ginger, giving the broth a wonderfully sweet and tangy flavor. Great with patis and calamansi as well.
  • Boiled Eggs in Catsup - The first time I cooked this for friends, they were incredulous. Nanay would boil the eggs, cut them in halves and make a sauce by sauteing garlic, onion and catsup with a bit of water.
  • Sinuwam na Itlog - another egg dish that I only get to eat in our house. Nanay would saute garlic, onions and ginger strips, then add water. When the water starts boiling, she would break the eggs and drop them one by one into the boiling broth. She would then add patis and misua to the poached eggs.
  • Fried Pork Chop - I tried and tried but could not even approximate how Nanay prepares one of my favorite baons. She would boil the meet in vinegar, garlic and peppercorns until dry and then let it fry in its own oil.
These are just a few of the food that I remember Nanay cooking for us. In future posts, I will devote a whole series for these culinary delights.

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Nanay Chronicles #1 - Maria Went to the Market

One of my earliest memories of my childhood were my frequent trips to the market with Nanay. Although already busy with her small home business, she was hands-on when it comes to going to the market - be it in Pasig for our food, or in Divisoria to buy materials for her garments business or to deliver finished products. I remember only very few instances when she would tag me along to Divisoria, but I have many vivid memories of market trips to the public markets of Pasig.

Divisoria was a long trip back then, when the only way to go there in comfort was the TPT bus. Comfort then means sitting on wooden benches, with no aircon, and inhaling all the smoke and dust along the way. But who's complaining? If the conductor happens to be Mang Itoy, or anyone who knows Nanay, we get a free ride. It was always a long ride - TPT was not known as Takbong Pagong Transit for nothing.

The market in Divisoria, then and now, was a maze of stalls and stores. Nanay would navigate through the maze in a breeze - she knows its ins and outs like the back oh her hand. She walks fast, makes sure she gets the seller's attention and bargains hard. She was a real pro! As for the little pesky kid she had in tow, when I could not keep up the pace anymore, she would leave me with an Indian couple (or at least that's how they looked to me) who owns a stall, and then come back for me when she's done. So while other children would shudder in fear when old folks tell them to behave or otherwise be given to Indians (called Bombays in olden days) carrying sacks where they put misbehaving children, I was happily playing with them in Divisoria.

Other than a few occasions, I do not have much memories of Divisoria - much unlike the many happy, although sometimes embarrassing, memories of Nanay in the Pasig Public Market. I used to dread Saturdays, when Nanay would drag me out of bed early in morning to go to the Pasig public market. Pateros folks, for some strange reason, prefer to take the jeepney ride all the way to Pasig instead of going to the small market by the river. Well, maybe that's the reason - there are more choices in Pasig compared to the almost empty stalls in the Pateros market.

Nanay would always ask me to sit on her lap on the jeepney, even when there was enough space for me to sit on, so that we only have to pay for one seat. Nanay calls everyone in the Pasig Market "Suki", be it the meat, fish, vegetable or dry goods vendor. Much later when I was older and understood better, I learned that calling them "Suki" gave her the license to ask for embarrassinly huge discounts. I always cringed when she would ask the vendors to sell to her at more than half the price. But as a testament to her bargaining prowess, she would almost always get her way anyway. She even perfected the art of pretending to walk away from a deal if she did not get her discount, with the vendor almost always calling her back and giving in to her price.

In fact I learned my first business lesson from her right in the market. When I would tell her that "kawawa naman yung tindera, baka nalulugi na", she would assure me that vendors will not sell anything without at least a decent profit, if not from her, then from someone else. That made an impression on me. and had always been in my mind when dealing with contractors and suppliers, or with clients if I happen to be the one selling. Business is always give and take - you give to some, you take from the others but always leave something for yourself.

Me and Nanay would hie off to the market at least once a week for many more years until I went to Baguio for college. She would always have the week's menu in mind, and would methodically and systematically comb through the huge market - starting with the meat section, then chicken, fish and vegetables. When she and Tatay finally decided to settle in the US, I would go to the same market on my own. As I pass from one stall to the next, the vendors would ask me where Nanay was, and how she was doing. It was then that I realized that she really did cultivate real relationships with the people in the market. She knew each one of them personally, and her relationship with them went beyond the bargains.

Looking back now, little did I know that those market trips to Divisoria and the Pasig would have a lasting and significant effect on how I now deal with my business associates and clients. Nanay was my first and most influential business mentor, and whatever business lessons I put into good use all started in those trips to the market.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

The Nanay Chronicles

On 08 November 2008, our family will commemorate the 10th year of the passing of our dearly missed mother, Maria Enriquez Concepcion. Nanay, as she was fondly called by everyone, including her grandchildren and friends of her children, was a woman of fortitude, courage and grit. Her simple life left extra-ordinary marks on people whose lives she had touched.

In honor of this extra-ordinary human being, I am running a series of personal recollection and reflection on my beloved Nanay. I may never be able to do justice to her life's achievements, but hopefully through this series of reflections, I can perpetuate her memory and the lessons of her life for generations of my family.

To my dearest Nanay, wherever you are now, allow me to indulge you on this humble tribute. For my Tatay and the rest of the family, thank you for always keeping Nanay's memory alive in our hearts and our lives. Her presence in our lives keeps this family together, even as we faced the many challenges in life.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Dying Young

This will be a quick post. I have actually started a couple of other posts the past months, but all have remained as drafts. Some were on the early stages, a few need only a paragraph or two to wrap up. Much as I wanted to, I could not bring myself to put the final touches and publish them. Perhaps my muse had left me?

I sit in front of my computer today, a Muslim holiday marking the end of Ramadan. I am thinking, maybe I should also stop my abstinence from writing on my blog and start anew. Maybe I should go back to the drafts of my unpublished entries and finish them once and for all. Or maybe I should write about something new on my mind?

In a month's time, my family from the US will be descending on our little town for my mother's 10th death anniversary. We will also celebrate my father's 83rd birthday, and my brother's 50th. Throw in the November 1/2 observance of All Souls and All Saints, and it will indeed be a celebration of life and death - the inevitable cycle for all of us.

So why the melodramatic title of this post?

A little over a week ago, I got a text message from a good friend from San Francisco, in sunny California. He was using his Philippine number, which made me suspect that he was actually in the Philippines. Well, turned out he really was. He came home, rather abruptly, to attend to a very sick sister. He did not see her alive anymore. She died one day before his scheduled flight, and she was only 44 years old.

If you asked me twenty years ago, I would say that would be a good age to pass on - in fact a bit too late. In my younger years, I would fancy dying before the age of forty. I thought there's just too many problems in the world, and by the time I reached that age I would have achieved what I needed to accomplish, plus some more - good or bad. There is no need to plod on and see my skin all wrinkled. That would not have looked good on me as I lay on an open casket. All those movies about dying young and leaving everyone bereaved and devastated had the hopeless romantic in me all fired up. I imagined myself in the peak of my life, shining brightly in a firmament full of stars dimmed by my brilliance - and then suddenly disappearing in a burst of luminous shower in the sky. Talk about drama!

But here I am, all of 43 years old and looking forward to growing old gracefully - never mind the wrinkles and aching joints. Well, it helped that the Church is now more open to cremation, and I do not have to worry about people talking about my wrinkles as they view my remains. They would be raving about my Photoshopped portrait instead! I have seen the light.

Over recent years, I have grown fond of reading through the obituaries and found special interest on people who died young. When I am in the memorial park, or when I had to attend wakes in chapels or funeral parlors, I would look around and check for people who died young. I would imagine how they died, and what could have been of the people they left behind. Did they die of accidents? Or did they die of lingering illnesses? Could there have been foul play? Or maybe they took their own lives?

How did those they left behind cope with their early departure? What if they have a young family, with kids deprived of a parent? As the youngest in the brood, if fate would take its natural course, I will have the unpleasant task of burying my parents and my siblings. I already went through burying my mother 10 years ago, and it was such a painful experience that the melancholy still lingers up to this time. I dread the day of the inevitable.

Maybe that was partly the reason for my fascination for dying young. Subconsciously, I may have wanted to escape that dreadful task. I want people to cry for me, to pine for my presence, to wax eloquent about my worthy life in a heartfelt eulogy during my memorial service. My fate is otherwise. If I would be blessed with a long life, I would be standing by the coffins of all those dear to me, crying for them, pining for them and feeling all alone. Dying young would have been more dramatic - romantic even.

But the years weave its magic on weary souls like mine. Warts and all, life has been good to me. As we add numbers and digits to our ages, we acquire a different appreciation for our lives. As we mature, we start looking at mistakes as lessons, challenges as opportunities and failures as just another reason to try harder next time. Love gained and lost through the many colorful episodes of our lives give a different dimension to the endless cycle of sleeping and waking up. The days when we look forward to waking up to a new day, and the forlorn days when we hope the morning never comes - all these makes life such a wonderful and joyful journey into the unknown. And it can all end in a snap.

I always say yes whenever people ask me if I am ready to go. But the truth is, I am not. Not that I am not ready, but its just that I do not want to go. Not yet anyway. In fact, I am enjoying life so much I want to live forever if I can. Maybe God designed it that way, that our lives can be taken from us at anytime - even at the least expected time, so we can learn to appreciate each day and each moment. So we can take time to look at the scenery as we travel through life, talk to people, love them - even hate them if we must. Each day, each experience, each person bring lessons that enrich our own lives, and each new day is more exciting than the previous day - if only for the fact that you are still alive. Who would want to die young?

Like power, life is addictive the longer we have it.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Magaling! Magaling! Magaling!

For this post, allow me to borrow that catchy phrase from the Neozep commercial: Magaling! Magaling! Magaling!

I held off from commenting on the clearing operations recently done on the Pateros Bridge. When I first saw people clearing the bridge of illegal vendors, I told myself "there goes another ningas-kugon project..."

But wonders of wonders, it's been weeks since that day and I still do not see any vendors on the bridge - at least on the Pateros side. Just like magic - they all disappeared on the wave of a magic wand. Now, I don't know who waved the magic wand. It could be the young wizard of Pateros or the wise old man of Makati, but no matter who made this possible - they deserve our applause!

Here's hoping the next time the magic wand is waved, it will make all those zig-zagging tricycle drivers behave for a change. The miracle of the Pateros bridged proved it can be done, and the effect is immediately felt. Imagine our roads cleared of illegal vendors, with pedestrians walking safely on the sidewalks and vehicles keeping to their lanes and loading and unloading passengers at designated places only. Imagine how it is if only town and barangay officials will enforce dicipline!


Thursday, May 29, 2008

Bite Me!

Some pleasant surprises.

Today, I had my last shot of anti-rabies vaccine. I had to leave a conference call at a little past three in the afternoon to catch my 4:30PM appointment at the RITM in Alabang. There was traffic near Magallanes, as usual, and it was almost four when I got into the SLEX. Surprise, surprise... there was no traffic all the way to Alabang and I made it to my appointment with the last needle.

So off to Window Number 2 again, to see Ms. Grouchy Nurse. She was all smiles today, and even managed a jolly "Good afternoon!". I smiled back, returned the greeting and handed her my Orange Card. She wrote down the usual stuff on the prescription paper.

"You will pay only the consultation fee of fifty pesos. The vaccine is free.", and with the sweetest smile she asked me to proceed to the cashier, and then to the pharmacy.

After paying and submitting the prescription, I returned to the now transformed Ms. Sweet Nurse of Window Number 2. She handed me my number card. I was Patient Number 75. And so the final wait officially commenced.

In less than a few minutes, the voice on the loudspeaker blurted out, "Number 75!" I, Dennis E. Concepcion, nearing 43 years old, had become but a number in this facility. I surrendered my number card and entered the injection room for the last time. Another surprise await me. There were quite a few more doctors around, with nameplates saying "Participant" dangling from their necks.

"Wow, am I now Specimen Number 75?" I must have looked at them with curious stares, so Ms. Alpha Nurse offered an explanation.

"You are so lucky. There is a seminar today and your vaccines are free. Doc here is going to set up a bite center in their place." That explains the discounted fees. And I thought Ms. Grouchy Nurse turned Ms. Sweet Nurse was just glad to send me off after my last shot, never to be seen again in that facility.

I glanced at the middle-aged man with old-fashioned eyeglasses, checkered shirt and perma-pressed pants. I wanted to ask Ms. Alpha Nurse if she was sure Dr. Checkered Shirt was a real doctor and not a veterinarian. I crossed my fingers and prayed he learned enough in the seminar not to prick me in the wrong places.

First needle on the left arm, the second on the right. It was all over in a couple of minutes. Ms. Alpha Nurse told me not to lose my Orange Card, as if it was a badge of honor - or a Purple Heart for being wounded in combat.

"Your vaccination is good for three years. You can have yourself bitten by dogs as much as you want!". With that, she sent me off, reminding me to hang around for a while to make sure there will be no allergic reaction.

Three years of immunity. I felt like a Survivor castaway earning the immunity talisman for winning the challenges. Over a month of regular shots, no alcohol, and driving all the way to Alabang to catch my late afternoon appointments - all because of a tinnie-winnie dog bite gone awful. But all that is behind me now, and I can look forward to three years of worry-free dealings with dogs. I wonder if they have similar vaccines for annoying people?

So bite me. I'm 100% rabies-free.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Of Dog Bites And A Boy Named Kelly - Chapter 2

Our little story continues.

Kelly is a six-year old boy I met at the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Alabang, where I went to for my anti-rabies and anti-tetanus injections. I came in a little past ten on a Monday morning, and the place was simply chaotic. The amiable guard at the front entrance explained that people may not be aware that the facility is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for new patients, thus people who got bitten by animals during the weekend tend to wait until Monday to go there.

It was already past the 11AM cut-off time when I got through the initial registration process. There were three of us - me, Kelly with his grandmother and a little girl with her mommy, daddy, auntie and grandmother. We were told to take our lunch and get back before 2PM. Since RITM sits on an isolated hill, we have no other choice but to wait it out in the facility's spacious compound. Not a bad option after all, as it overlooks the Ayala-Alabang Golf Course and the sprawling Filinvest City.

That was when I met Kelly and his Lola. We filled out and submitted our patient's registration at just about the same time. When we were told that it was already cut-off time, I and his Lola tried to convince the nurse to accommodate us before they close for lunch, but to no avail. This common predicament started off our conversation.

Kelly, I found out, was bitten by his own pet dog. He was staying up late at night playing computer games when he went out of the room to take a pee. Unfortunately, he stepped on his sleeping dog, a huge Labrador, and the startled dog bit him on reflex, with it's fangs lodging on his back side. According to their story, the dog quickly withdrew when it realized that it was Kelly he had attacked. Moral of the story: even pets can be dangerous.

We decided to take our lunch together at the canteen in the adjacent building. It was a huge hall overlooking rolling hills and the golf course - not bad for a government hospital canteen. The food was not bad either, and considering the cost, it's a good bargain. It was during lunch, with the magnificent view of the rolling hills and the gentle breeze on our hair, that I got to know more of Kelly's story through his Lola.

Kelly's mother was her eldest child, the pride and joy of her parents - a school achiever who graduated with a degree of Foreign Service. She got married early though, with her childhood sweetheart. When Kelly was barely a year old, she progressively lost her eyesight. After hopping from one hospital to another, their world came crumbling down when it was confirmed that both her kidneys were deteriorating abnormally fast.

The failing eyesight, it turned out, was because her high blood pressure had burst the blood vessels of her retina. Both her kidneys soon stopped functioning. From then on, she had been in and out of the hospital, with blood transfusion and hemo dialysis becoming a daily routine. Their story was all too familiar for someone whose own mother had to contend with kidney problems.

She spoke about how she had to learn how to administer peritoneal dialysis, how her daughter slips in and out coma, of the endless wait for a kidney donor. She spoke of the emotional distress, of not knowing how it will all end, of just wanting to do anything - try anything to save her daughter's young life. Tears fell from her eyes when she spoke of their final surrender, when her child, her frail body on the verge of giving up, asked that she be allowed to go and rest.

She was tired and guilty that she had caused so much distress and suffering - emotionally and financially, to her family. Kelly was there anyway, he will take her place. She just wanted to give up the fight. It was a valiant fight - but one they could never hope to win. Even if as a daughter and a young mother, she was not ready, she surrendered everything to God's will, and asked that her parents do the same.

Suddenly, there was a connection between me and the woman across the table. As she was telling me her story, her daughter's story, I recalled my own mother's struggle with diabetes and all its complications. She was telling my own story from another perspective! If I were devastated with losing my mother, there is nothing more heartbreaking than a mother burying the child she bore in her womb and nurtured through the years.

I remembered our own struggles as a family when our dear Nanay was admitted to the hospital for the last time. Sometimes, in our desire to hold on to our love ones for as long as we can, we tend to overlook the pain and suffering that they have to go through. When Kelly's mother died, it took years for those she left behind to recover and accept the fact that she is gone. I remember my own struggles, the many regrets for lost opportunities to express love and gratitude, the many "if only" that kept playing in my mind.

We found ourselves sharing our experiences during those difficult days after the passing of loved ones. Hers was a firsthand experience of a mother seeing her daughter slip away right before her very eyes. Mine was of a son, many miles and oceans away, trying to hold unto a fading hope of recovery for a mother who gave so much for her family. The scene was surreal, with both of us looking far into the horizon even as we spoke with tears streaming down from our eyes. I had tried to hold back the tears, but eventually had to let it go.

But it felt so good. I felt a certain lightness in my being just talking with her - a total stranger who shares a common experience of loss. It was only after five years that she was able to bring out again the pictures of her daughter, and she had come to accept her untimely departure. After all, she has two other children, and Kelly, to take care of. Kelly's father had gone abroad and started a new family, although he still keeps in touch. She had no ill-feelings about his decision. He is still young, and she does not take it against him to find happiness of his own. She said she makes it a point to explain to Kelly why his grandparents have to raise him as their own son. He seemed to understand, even at a very young age.

At a little past 1PM, we went back together to the Animal Bite Center. There were already many people waiting at the reception area, even more than there were in the morning when we first came in. Kelly's name and mine were called one after the other at around 3PM. We sat across each other while waiting for the nurses to prepare the syringes to be used for the skin test, two each for both of us.

He asked me, quite nonchalantly, "Are you afraid?"

Wanting to be honest and to somehow assuage his fear, I replied to him, "A little bit. Are you?"

"No, not all. My Lola said it will just be like the bite of a little ant." Enough of assuaging the fears of a little kid. I had clearly underestimated his guts.

We were both secretly throwing glances at each other when the nurses finally pricked the skins on our arms and injected the serum. If it was supposed to be like an ant's bite, as Kelly's Lola had claimed, it sure was an ant the size of a dog. The serum was painful! But Kelly stood his ground and his face was without any trace of fear or hurt.

What choice do a grown up man have against such a show of grit? I have to step up to the plate and pretend as if I did not feel any pain myself. The skin tests produced two small humps on our arms, and the nurses drew circles around them with labels and the time we have to come back to have it examined prior to the actual injections. We went out of the room together, and decided to wait out the time outside the building.

While his Lola busied herself with talking with another woman who accompanied a neighbor's rather unkempt kid, Kelly sat down with me on the porch by the building's driveway. We compared the needle pricks on our arms and he asked me what the labels were for. I told him it was to determine if we will have any allergic reactions to the injections that will come later.

Fear. I finally saw a glimpse of fear on his face. He thought the two test injections were just about it, and then he can go. He called for his Lola and asked if they can just go home. He said he is tired and sleepy, and besides, the wound has healed. His Lola prevailed upon him to stay put, assuring him that the injections will be less painful that the skin tests. When his Lola left to resume her conversation with the other woman, Kelly turned to me again.

"You know, my dog had vaccines. And the wound is already healing. I'm okay now. Do you think I still need to get injections? Can I go home now?" Kelly, the little brave boy, was betrayed by fear in his eyes.

"Are you afraid now? You were a brave boy a while ago. You did not cry like the others."

Looking down on his slippers, he said softly, "It actually hurt a lot, a lot more than the dog bite itself. I did not cry because I told you I will not. And you did not cry either, so I just pretended it did not hurt."

"It is okay to cry if it really hurts. You do not have to worry about me or the others. Did you see the other kids? They were all crying and shouting like pigs being slaughtered." He then lifted up his face, looked at me, then let out a faint smile.

"Are you rich? You have a car, you must be rich." I told him I am not, that I need the car for my work and to get around.

"My Lola said I should study hard so I can get rich and buy my own car. I am an honor student! Maybe I can be like you when I grow up?" Then he rattled off his grades - very impressive. I would have been proud if I were his father.

"Do you have a family? Why did you come here alone? Do you also have a son?" The questions are shooting out from his mouth one after the other.

"Yes, I have a family - my father and my brothers and sisters. But I do not have a wife and children. " I was struggling with the right words to say. I was not ready for a father-and-son type of conversation. They do not teach this in management school!

"Oh! Like me! I don't have a mama and papa, but Lola and Lolo love me very much. And I have my aunties and uncles. My mama died when I was a baby." His voice was happy. but I can see the sadness in his eyes.

"You are one lucky boy! Your Lola is great. I'm sure she loves you very much."

"Yes, but I wish I have a mama too, like my classmates. Why is your mama not with you now?"

"My mother also died almost 10 years ago." Suddenly, it seems like I was talking to myself as a little boy. "Like your mama, she had problems with her kidney."

Nanay would have been there with me had she been around, as she had always been.

When I was in fifth or sixth grade (don't ask me why I can't remember correctly now - blame it on three-letter word that starts with "a"), our school organized a 3-day Boy Scout's Camp-out. The camping ground was not very far from where we live, but it required us to stay for two nights and 3 days. As such, we were required to undergo a medical examination by the school doctor to make sure we are fit enough for the activities.

After the doctor had examined me, he had a worried look on his face when he spoke with my teacher. He had detected a murmur in my heartbeat and suspected symptoms of rheumatic heart disease. I cannot be allowed to join my fellow scouts, classmates and friends all, for my first ever camp-out. Me and my friends were frustrated as we were all looking forward to this event. Everyone passed the medical examination, except me.

I was crestfallen. I cried all the way back home. I told my Nanay about what the doctor said. I pleaded for her to ask the doctor and my teachers to allow me to join my classmates. She went back with me to the school. The doctor told her that he was worried I may not be fit enough for the physical activities. My mother spoke with my teachers as well. I do not know how she did it, but she managed to convince them to let me join my troop. I was overjoyed.

I had a wonderful time camping out with my friends and other boy scouts from different schools. I can't recall now if she stayed at the camp the entire time, but I do remember that Nanay would always be around during those 3 days, staying with teachers at the faculty tent. She stayed out of sight most of the time though, but I knew she was just there, always making sure that she was around in case anything went wrong with me. She was my angel then as she is now that she is in heaven.

My Nanay loved me enough to protect me and make sure no harm will come my way, but she loved me even more by allowing me space to grow and discover the world on my own.

"Do you remember her? I only saw my mama in pictures. But I love her very much. Lola said my mama loves me very much too." I looked at Kelly and wish he would always remember his own words when he grows up.

"Have you been a good boy?"

"Yes!", he quickly said, then let out an impish smile. "Well, sometimes I am not. Is that why I got bitten by our dog and had to be injected?"

"No, of course not. Sometimes things happen even if we do not want to. But you have to learn from them, so they will not happen again." He nodded, then fidgeted with his fingers.

Just then, the street kid accompanied by the woman speaking with Kelly's Lola came out of the facility and played around the driveway. He was dirty, barefoot and malnourished. He was oblivious of the warnings from the guard and other people. Apparently, he was attacked by the woman's dog when he taunted it. The kid was eleven years old, but was only as big as six-year old Kelly.

"Will I be like him because of the dog bite?" He had a worried look on his face, throwing glances at the other kid. He thought the kid had gone sick and crazy because of rabies.

"No, you will not end up like him because many people love you. Your Lola will always take care of you."

He let out a wide grin on his face. "And my mama too! Lola said mama is always watching over me. I do not see her, but she is my angel in heaven." I smiled back at him, and remembered my own angel in heaven.

When it was time to have the injections, he went in first. I was expecting a loud cry from him, like all the other kids who had theirs. There was none. After a few minutes, my name was called and I was asked to come into the injection room. I met Kelly on his way out. He asked that I stoop down so he can whisper something to my ear.

"It really hurts. But its okay. I'm a grown up now. Don't cry when it's your turn, ok?" With that, he waved goodbye to me.

As I sat through the seven injections for that initial session, I had Kelly on my mind. The little boy who loved his mother even if he could not even remember how she looked like, the little boy who was not afraid of anything because he put all his trust in the unconditional love and protection of his mother.

As the nurse buried each needle deep into my muscles, I took the pain as little Kelly did - bravely and without fear. He did his mother proud. I was not about to fail my own.

Postscript: This blog entry is dedicated to the mothers in my family, most especially to our dear Nanay. It's been almost 10 years since she passed on and left us bereaved, but her memory lives on. On this Mother's Day, I pay tribute to her and all the women who made all of us possible.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Of Dog Bites And A Boy Named Kelly - Chapter 1

This is a story about dogs and a little boy named Kelly.

First, the dogs.

As far as I remember, I've always had dogs for pets. My last pet dog, Jasper, passed away last February 14, Valentines Day. I used to play around with him a lot when he was younger, but when he got older, his thin coat of sharp fur caused an allergic reaction on my skin. For a dog who loves to stand on his two rear legs and wrap the other two around me, I needed to keep my distance. I generally get along very well with dogs, except for those that roam the streets and who would bark at and threaten everyone who would pass by. With these dogs around, I would call on the intercession of San Roque for protection.

Over the weekend, Sunday to be exact, I got invited to a birthday dinner for a friend. I was pleasantly surprised to see many dogs in the house. One dog in particular, a Japanese Spitz, freely mixed with the guests. We sat around in the living room, munching on finger foods and birthday noodles. I did not notice the dog beside me and had carelessly dropped my right arm by the side of the sofa chair I was sitting at. My arms must have startled the dog and he let out a sharp yelp and then snapped at my hands. In one instant, my hand became the finger food.

It was not painful at all, or maybe my hand just got numbed as blood flowed freely from the deep wound on my palm. I washed the wound with flowing water and let it bleed, alternately washing it with soap. Betadine completed the first-aid routine, and in no time at all, I was enjoying the party again. It somehow eased my apprehensions knowing that the dog had it's anti-rabies vaccination just six months before. But at the back of my mind, I knew I could never be sure. Visions of dogs roaming aimlessly, with mouth foaming and eyes bloodshot red kept my mind off the conversations. Worse, what if i get infected?

The morning after, the wound was visibly swollen. When my brother, who is a doctor, saw it he immediately sent me to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Alabang. The doctor who examined me was relieved that the dog was vaccinated, but she was worried about the swelling. I had not started howling, but what she just said sounded like bad news for me. My worst fear came true when she started scribbling not just one, but several prescriptions. And as if adding insult to injury, I was told that the dosage is based on my weight. How cruel can this world be?

We started with two shots on the right arm for skin tests against allergies. Though the needles were relatively smaller, the serum definitely had a bite! After a few minutes, when they were sure I will have no allergic reactions, we started with the real thing.

Watching the nurse prepare the syringes, I tried convincing myself that they were not all for me. I am to receive a total of seven shots in different parts of the body in one session. Tough luck. They were all for me. All seven of them. With most of the patients being kids, I needed to put up a brave front. I can't have my screams drown out the cries of the little kids in the injection room. So for a few moments of glory, I steeled myself and prepared to take on the shots one after the other.

We started with the left arm, then on the right. By the time she went for the left leg, then the right, and then lunged into my left buttock before giving the coup de grace in the wounds on both sides of my right hand, my body had somehow responded with a rush of adrenalin to help me cope with the pain. It was all over in less than ten minutes.

But the pain was not on the needles pricking deep into my body parts. It was more of the what ifs that have been playing on my mind on that fateful night of the bite. What if I had not gone to the party? What if I had not sat down on that chair? What if I just stuck to singing out of tune on the karaoke box instead of munching on the foods on the table? What if they just kept the dogs out of the house? What if I just took antibiotics and observed the dog before going through all these needle-pricking business? So many what ifs!

But the truth is, life is simply too precious to take for granted. Boring as it may be most of the time, it still feels wonderful to wake up each morning. And so, I am not about to take any chances when it comes to making sure life will be always beautiful for me and those around me. I do not want any of my families or friends worrying about a crazy old fat man getting out of his mind. No way, I will not leave this world in such ignomous exit.

Allow me then to stop my what ifs and do my civic duty instead. Part of the treatment is educating people on the dangers of rabies infection. First, some basic facts that we need to be aware of:
  1. Rabies are not the exclusive domain of dogs. Most animals, including cats and most mammals, have rabies.
  2. Rabies are not transmitted by bites only. An animal infected with the rabies virus can also infect a person through scratches or if saliva gets in contact with an open wound.
  3. Rabies can remain dormant, or in latent state, for months or years. If you do not show signs of infection right after a suspected transmission, it does not mean you did not get the rabies.
  4. When bitten or attacked by an animal, let the wound bleed by itself. Wash the would with soap on clean running water. When the bleeding had subsided, apply Betadine on the wound and proceed to the nearest Animal Bite Center in your area. Better yet, go to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) in Alabang. They have excellent facilities and great doctors and nurses.
  5. DO NOT put garlic on the wound, as old people will ask you to do. Garlic will stunt the healing of the wound.
  6. DO NOT kill the animal that bit you. If the animal does not belong to you, make sure you make arrangements for the owner to observe the animal for at least 14 days. Things that you need to look out for:
    • sudden change in behavior
    • urge to bite into anything
    • frothing in the mouth due to excess saliva
    • restlessness and agressiveness
    • running without direction
    • loss of appetite for food and water due to difficulty in swallowing
  7. If the animal shows any of the above signs, it will be better to bring it to a veterinarian to be examined. If the animal dies, DO NOT eat or bury it. Chopped off the head and secure it in a plastic container with lots of ice to prevent decomposition. Bring it right away to RITM for examination.
  8. DO NOT take chances. There is no wound or scratch that is too small for an infection. If you get bitten or scratched, proceed to the nearest Animal Bite Clinic, or to the RITM where I went to, and get your anti-rabies and anti-tetanus shots.
  9. DO NOT drink any alcohol, or take steroids and medication for malaria while getting shots for anti-rabies. Be mindful of what you feel. Report any excessive itchiness of the skin, or fevers that would not go away.
  10. DO NOT be afraid of needles - all sizes! You will deal with them all throughout the treatment sessions. As your momma would tell you - it's just like a bite from a small ant...
There you go - the ten commandments of dealing with dog bites, from someone who learned it the hard way.

Now, you may ask me, "What about the little boy named Kelly?". That would be in Chapter 2.

Meantime, stay safe and healthy. Awwwwwwoooooooooooo!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

May Palengke sa Ibabaw ng Tulay

Wala daw illegal vendors sa Pateros.

Maaliwalas daw ang mga bangketa.

Maayos na daw ang daloy ng trapiko.

Nilagyan pa ng MMDA ng bakod.

May nakapaskil pang bababala na bawal ang vendors.

Ang tao daw ay dapat maglakad sa bangketa.

Paano? Tatapakan ang mga gulay?

Lilipad? Di naman kasi pwedeng lumangoy sa tuyong ilog.

Kaya ang mga tao sa kalye namimili at naglalakad.

Ang mga jeep at FX sa ibabaw ng tulay nagbababa at nagsasakay.

Pati cutting trip duon ginagawa.

Lahat na yata ng kabalbalan sa ibabaw ng tulay ginagawa.

Di kaya dapat si Mayor sa ibababaw na rin ng tulay mag-opisina?

Monday, April 21, 2008

Thank You Mayor Medina!

The news article today, 21 April 2008, in the Metro Section of the Philippine Daily Inquirer is a most welcome respite in this hot summer season. Mayor Medina made the right step in bringing into national attention the plight of the Pateros River. The death of this river will bring about disastrous effects on Pateros, especially because we are a low-lying area that is prone to flooding. This early, we can already see and feel the ill-effects of the abuse people have heaped on this once-useful river.

The article articulated the need for a concerted action to save the river, through the Pateros River Basin Organization. It re-affirmed the need for the support of the cities of Pasig, Taguig and Makati. I hope we can intensify this information campaign, as bringing this issue to national attention is an effective way to put subtle pressure on our bigger neighbors to help in the clean-up and restoration of our river. After all, they all contributed significantly on the deterioration of this vital waterway.

Let us all support this endeavor. Our town deserves no less.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Awit Para sa mga Mamamalakaya

Tinig ng dagat ay awit
haplos ng alon ay gabay.
Saan nga ba patutungo
yaring paglalakbay sa buhay?

Malalayong lupain ay tinanaw
kapalaran sa kanila ay isinugal.
Bakit ang sariling dalampasigan
ay naging maramot sa kasaganahan?

Sa kalawakan ng karagatan
lambat ay tila walang katuturan.
Paano nga bang makikibahagi
sa yaman kundi sa pagpupunyagi?

Malupit na unos ay di alintana
sa Poong Maykapal ay manalig.
Dito sa ating pamamalakaya
tanging sandigan ay pananampalataya.

Sa kadiliman ng kalawakan
mga bituin tila nagmamatyag,
umagang kay gandang bukang-liwayway
sa dalampasigan doon ay naghihintay.

Sulong mga mamamalakaya!
Kirot ng braso’y di alintana
ang paglalayag sa karagatan
hatid ay mithing kasaganahan.

Ang tula o awit na ito ay aking nilikha bunsod ng ala-ala ng ilang mga kaibigan at kaanak na ngayon ay namamalakaya sa ibang bansa. Batid kong di nila nilisan ang ating bayan upang ito'y takasan at tuluyan ng talikuran. Mapanglaw at makirot sa damdamin ang mga unang araw at gabi sa ibang bayan. May mga pagkakataon na sasagi sa isipang mas mainam pa na talikuran na lamang ang mga pangarap at pangangailangan at magbalik sa piling ng mga minamahal.

Mapalad ako na magkaroon ng pagkakataon na makapagtampisaw sa malinis na ilog ng Pateros nuong aking kamusmusan. Kasama ng aking dalawang kapatid na babae, madalas kaming dumalaw sa bahay ni Ti' Leony sa Aguho, sa may pangpang ng ilog. Duon ay naliligo kami at naglalaro. Kung minsan ay lulan ng bangka, binabaybay namin ang kahabaan ng malinis at malawak na ilog. Ang dako ng Fort Bonifacio ay isang malawak na bukid, di gaya ngayon na siksik ng kabahayan at nagtatayugang mga gusali. Ang dako naman ng Pateros ay may mga itikan at munting taniman ng gulay. Sa isang mababaw na bahagi ay maaaninag ang mga isdang kumpol-kumpol. Malinis, masagana at kaaya-aya ang ilog.

Ngunit sa paglipas ng panahon ay nagbago ang lahat. Masikip, marumi at sa ibang bahagi ay tuyo na ang ilog. Wala na ang mga isda, at wala na rin ang mga itik. Wala ng namamangka, bagkus ang ilog ay maaari ng lakaran. Sa halip na tubig, basura ang makikita sa ilog. Saan pa ba tutungo ang mamamalakaya? Katulad nila, ang mga mamamayan ay sa ibang dako na sumusulyap ng pag-asa. Nililisan ang ating munting bayan upang hanapin ang kapalaran sa ibang karagatan. Kasama ng milyong-milyong Pilipino, ang mga taga Pateros ay sumubok ng kanilang kapalaran sa lahat ng sulok ng daigdig. Tulad ng ating ilog, ang ating bayan, ang ating bansa, ay unti-unting natutuyo, dumurumi at namamatay dahil sa ating kapabayaan. Sana, ang mga naiwan ay magpursiging maibalik ang buhay at sigla, at sa pagbabalik ng mga kababayan ay di na sila makasumpong muli ng dahilan upang lumisan at mangulila sa ibang karagatan.

Naging maramot ba ang sariling bayan? O tayo ba'y nagpabaya sa ating kinabukasan?

Friday, April 11, 2008

Abnoy! Abnoy!

Smells like hell, tastes like heaven!

Nope, I am not referring to Davao's famous Durian. A true son of Pateros will only have one thing in mind when you say these words - ABNOY!

If balut is the "famous" delicacy of Pateros, abnoy may lay claim of being the "infamous" counterpart. If the uninitiated finds eating duck embryo revolting, wait till they hear what we do with rotten duck eggs.

Rotten. That's what it is. Abnoy is made from fertilized duck eggs that did not fully develop. As it begins to rot from the inside, it emits an odor most foul. But trust the people of Pateros to come up with the most fascinating foods even out of rotten eggs. Thus was born the bibingkang abnoy.

So, if you are ready for a Fear Factor experience, head for Pateros and get yourself raw abnoy eggs from any of the friendly balutans in our town. Once safely home, start your gastronomic adventure. Here's my favorite recipe for bibingkang abnoy:

Bibingkang Abnoy

What you will need:
  • abnoy eggs from Pateros
  • minced onion
  • chopped tomatoes
  • chopped kimchay
  • ground pepper
  • rock salt
  • banana leaves - optional
How to prepare:
  1. Break the eggs and pour contents on a bowl. Be warned that the eggs will smell - and smell really bad. Don't say I didn't warn you on this.
  2. After you have recovered from the initial shock, or if your nose had adjusted to the pungent smell (whichever comes first), beat the eggs as you would for an omelet.
  3. Mix in the rest of the ingredients. Set aside.
  4. Heat an omelet pan lined with banana leaves wide enough to spread over the cooking area. Pour cooking oil and let stand for a few seconds, or until hot enough.
  5. Pour the mixture into the pan, over the banana leaf until about 1/4 inches thick. Let stand under moderate heat until the top portion is slightly cooked, then flip over. Let stand until both sides are brownish.
  6. Poke with a fork to check if the inside is already cooked.
  7. Take out from the pan and serve warm, with spicy vinegar on the side. Great with steamed rice or as bar chow. Some people from Pateros would prefer it with bahaw na kanin, or cold rice from yesterday.
  8. A variation on cooking the abnoy mixture would be to steam it as you would a puto or siopao. Still another delicious way is to go unconventional by baking it in a traditional bibingka table top clay oven, with embers from charcoals on both the bottom and top sides. Now, think twice before trying this outside of the Philippines (that is, if you can find a stateside abnoy), as your exotic-food-challenged neighbors could find its differently abled aroma quite offensive. Too bad there's no other way to eat it other than straight from the pan.
And Harry Connick thinks eating balut is weird?

* Photo of bibingkang abnoy courtesy of, while that of slices being sold in Pateros is from the collection of Elmer Nocheseda.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Indak para kay Sta. Marta!

Mula nang aking nakamulatan, ang mga mamamayan ng Pateros, pati na ng mga karatig-bayan at kahit ng malalayong lugar tulad ng Laguna, Rizal, Quezon at Bulacan, ay buong pananabik na hinihintay ang ikalawang araw ng Linggo tuwing buwan ng Pebrero. Sa araw na ito ay ipinagdiriwang ang kapistahan ni Santa Martha, pintakasi ng mga ina at ng mga maybahay. At sa mga deboto nya sa Pilipinas lalo na sa bayan ng Pateros, siya ang tagapangalaga at tagapagtanggol ng mga mag-iitik at magbabalut.

Hindi na siguro malalaman pa kung paano at kailan nangyari na ang pintakasi ng barrio ng Aguho ay siyang ipinagdiriwang ng buong bayan ng Pateros gayung ang parokya ay nasa pangangalaga ni San Roque. Marahil siguro dahil sa ang pag-iitik at pagbabalot ay di lamang sa Aguho ginagawa. Marahil ay dahil sa mas makulay ang mga alamat at kuwento ng himala na pumapaligid kay Santa Martha, at mas masaya ang pagdiriwang ng kanyang kapistahan kung ihahambing sa taimtim na prusisyon para kay San Roque. Kung anut-ano man ang dahilan, di maikakaila na napamahal na si Santa Marta sa mga taga-Pateros, at ang kanyang kapistahan ay naging masayang bahagi na ng ating kasaysayan bilang isang bayan. Sa mahabang panahon, ang Pateros ay naging tanyag ng dahil sa tatlong bagay – ang balut, ang tsinelas na alfombra at ang pista ni Santa Marta.

Ngunit sa pagdaan ng panahon, nagbago ang anyo ng bayan ng Pateros. Dumami at lumaki ang mga gusali, naglipana ang mga sasakyan at nagmistulang kumipot ang mga lansangan bagaman ang karamihan sa mga ito ay niluwagan pa man din. Dumagsa ang mga tao galing sa ibat-ibang lugar. Sa kabila ng mga pagbabagong ito, ang Pateros ay nagsumikap na mapanatili ang kanyang mga nakagisnang tradisyon. Ngunit sadyang mapanukso ang pagkakataon, at ang mga salin-lahi ay unti-unti ng nakalimot sa nakaraan. Kasabay ng pagsikil sa daloy ng tubig at tuluyang pagkamatay ng ilog ng Pateros, ay unti-unti na ring naglaho ang mga nakagisnang tradisyon – mga tradisyong nagbigay ng karakter sa ating bayan at kulay sa ating kalinangan.

Marami ang nagsikap na sa kabila ng nakatambak na basura at ng maitim at mabahong tubig, ay maisakatuparan pa rin ang pagoda sa ilog. Naaalala ko pa ang di mabilang na pagtatangka na hukayin muli at palalimin ang ilog, ang paghawan sa mga mapanupil na water lilies upang mairaos ang pagoda. Sa huli ay wala ring nangyari, dahil na rin sa ningas-kugon na pagkilos ng pamahalaan at ang pagwawalang bahala ng mga mamayan. Pinatay natin ang ilog na nagbigay kabuhayan sa ating mga ninuno at nagbigay ng malaking katanyagan sa ating munting bayan.

Dahil na rin sa pagsisikap ng simbahan na maituwid ang sa palagay nila ay di angkop na pagdiriwang ng kapistahan ng bayan, ilang kura-paroko at mga pinunong layko na ang nagtangkang baguhin ang paraan ng pagdiriwang. Ngunit ang lahat ng mga pagtatangkang maituwid ang pamamaraan ng pagdiriwang ay nauwi lamang sa pagkalito at pagkakanya-kanya ng mga barrio sa kanilang pagdiriwang ng pista. Nakalulungkot mang isipin na sa halip na ang mga pagbabagong hinangad ay magbunga ng kaayusan at pagkakaisa, ito ay nauwi sa di pagkakasundo at pagkalimot sa ating mga tradisyong kinamulatan.

Nuong Sabado, ika-9 ng Pebrero 2008, ay muling binuhay ng gating mga pinuno ang tradisyon ng pagoda. Ngunit dahil sa ang ilog ay di na dinadaluyan ng tubig, ang pagoda ay idinaos sa lansangan. Sa halip na mga bankang naglalayag sa ilog Pateros, mga sasakyang pinalamutian na animo’y magagarang bangka ang pumalaot sa mga pangunahing lansangan ng Pateros. Di iilan ang natuwa sa pangyayaring ito, at kitang-kita sa mga nanood ang kaligayahan sa nasaksihang kakaibang parada. At lalo akong nasiyahan ng bago mag-umpisa ang Pandangguhan nung gabi ring iyon ay inihayag ang pagkakatatag ng Pateros River Basin Organization. Ayon sa pahayag, ang samahang ito ay magbubuklod sa ibat-ibang sektor ng bayan upang bumalangkas ng mga palatuntunang naglalayon na buhayin muli ang ilog ng Pateros.

Dapat papurihan ang mga namuno sa hakbangin na ito, sapagkat ito ay magandang panimula upang maisaayos ang ating bayan. Ang ilog ng Pateros ay simbolo ng ating bayan, ang nagbigay ng kabuhayan sa kanyang mga mamamayan at nagsilang at nagkanlong sa kanyang mayamang kultura at tradisyon. Ang muli nitong pagkabuhay ay magsisilbing inspirasyon at hudyat tungo sa magandang pagbabago sa ating bayan. Sa pag-agos muli ng tubig sa ating ilog ay babangon muli ang Pateros. Dahil sa pangyayaring ito ay nagkaroon ng mas malalim na kahulugan ang pagdiriwang ang nakaraang pista. Naniniwala ako na sa pagtutulungan ng pamahalaan, ng simbahan at ng mga mamamayan, matutunghayan muli ang pagoda sa ilog sa darating na panahon.

Sayang nga lamang at nuong nagpirmahan ay hindi naihayag ang kabuuan ng Memorandum of Agreement para sa Pateros River Basin Organization. Sana ay magkaroon tayo ng pagkakataon na makakuha ng sipi ng kasunduan upang mailahatla dito. Mabuting ang kaalaman tungkol sa palatuntunang ito ay maipamahagi sa nakararami upang mahimok ang lahat na aktibong makilahok sa pamamagitan ng kanya-kanyang paraan. Ang anumang hakbangin na gagawin ay kailangan ng pakikilahok ng mga karatig bayan ng Pasig, Taguig at lalo ng Makati. Ang pagdami ng tao at kabahayan sa pangpanging sakop ng Makati, at ang pagtatayo ng talipapa sa may tulay ng Pateros ay isang malaking kadahilanan sa pagkamatay ng ating ilog. Marapat lamang na ang pamunuan ng Makati ay makilahok sa muling pagbuhay nito. Kung hindi sila makikipagtulungan ay tiyak na maaantala ang muling pagsasaayos ng ilog.

Bilang mga mamamayang nagmamalasakit sa bayan, katungkulan nating makibahagi sa anumang paraan sa pagtataguyod ng magandang hangarin ng bagong samahang ito. Bilang mapanuring tagapagmasid sa mga nangyayari, katungkulan din nating suriing mabuti ang palatuntunan at ihayag ang anumang mga katanungan at agam-agam. Sana nga ay ito na ang simula ng pagtutulungan ng lahat ng kinauukulan tungo sa maayos, malinis at maunlad na bayan ng Pateros.

* You-Tube video of Pandango ni Sta Marta is from the post of Elmer Nocheseda, while that of the Pagoda sa Daan is from the post of Charmaine Camilo.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Filipino Holocaust

It is pathetic that a lot of people would rather let Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and her cabal of tradpols continue their merry plunder of this nation for the reason that "eh sino naman ang papalit?" It is the same reason used by those who kill themselves - that the future does not hold anything for them anymore. But do we really know what the future holds for us? Kick out GMA and her gang of thieves now and we can have either a better government or another bad one, even worse. But at least we have a 50-50 chance of getting a good government. Let her continue her remorseless and guiltless reign of plunder and Bangladesh will be far better off than us by the time they are through raiding our national coffers. Give her until 2010 and she can use all the resources of government and the military to make sure the next regime will be friendly to her. That is, if she will not find a way to perpetuate herself in power. She did it in 2004, what's stopping her from doing it again in 2010?

Even more pathetic are government officials and other sycophants daring critics of the wrongdoings of this administration to go to court and show proof. My foot! Where do they expect us to go to? To the Ombudsman who is the classmate and good friend of the First Gentleman? To the Department of (in)Justice whose Secretary is the president of the GMA For President Forever Movement? Or to the Supreme Court whose majority members do not mind being the laughing stock of the entire legal profession just so they can please the president who appointed them? So pray tell me, where do we run to for succor? And what evidence are we talking about here? If you are stealing US$130 million from the government, will you knowingly leave evidences on your trail? If I planned for months to murder someone and finally got to do it, will I walk around with the death weapon on my hand? Will I leave my fingerprints on the crime scene? These people think we Filipinos are a bunch of nincompoops who will take their web of lies and deceit line, hook and sinker. I beg to disagree!

GMA and her accomplices may be having their cake and eating it too as of now. But they will not escape the judgment of history. Just as they are robbing the next generation of their future, the next generation of their children and their children's children will bear the memory of their misdeeds like the mark of Cain on their foreheads. The dreaded Holocaust had three major players - the persecuted Jews, the murderous Nazis, and those who saw nothing wrong with what the Nazis were doing and did nothing to stop the genocide. The Jews stood their ground, kept their faith and fought to the very end. The rape of our treasury, the pillage of our future and the corruption of our government institutions is our Filipino Holocaust. Our dignity as a people and the future of our country are being systematically and completely destroyed by the very people who are supposed to protect them. The choice is ours - we can be the defiant Jews, or the murderous and remorseless Nazis or apathetic fence-sitters. What role are we playing in this carnage?

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Ika-108 Taon ng Bayan ng Pateros

Isang malaki at masayang pagdiriwang ang inihanda ng pamunuang bayan para sa ika isang daan at walong kaarawan ng pagkakatatag ng bayan ng Pateros. Tulad ng mga nakaraang taon, ang kahabaan ng Kalye B. Morcilla as isinara sa lahat ng uri ng sasakyan, at sa magkabilang dulo nito ay nagtayo ng mga entablado. Sa gabi ng Sabado, ika dalawamput-siyam ng Marso, ay maghahalinhinan ang mga sikat na banda sa pagtugtog para sa ikaaaliw ng mga mamamayan at mga bisita. Naglagay din ng mga mesa at upuan sa kahabaan ng kalsada, at may mga kubol kung saan makakabili ng mga pagkain na sa Pateros lamang matatagpuan.

Syempre pa, hindi mawawala ang sikat na produkto ng Pateros, ang balut. Bukod dito, mayroon ding penoy at ang mabaho ngunit napakasarap na abnoy. Para sa mga hindi nakakaalam, ang abnoy ay gawa sa mga itlog ng itik na sana ay gagawing balut ngunit sa kasamaang palad ay nasira bago pa umabot sa kaganampan. Dahil sa ito ay maitutuling ng bugok, mabaho at maalisangsang ang amoy ng hilaw na abnoy. Ngunit maparaan ang mga taga-Pateros, at di hahayaang masayang ang itlog kahit ito'y bugok. Matapos haluan ng kamatis, sibuyas at kimchay, ang bugok na itlog ay naging bibingkang abnoy. Sa saliw ng maanghang na suka, ito ay masarap na ulam sa mainit na kanin, o di kaya'y kakaibang pulutan. Maaring di nyo magustuhan ang amoy sa unang pagkakataon, ngunit sa minsang pagkakataong inyong masubukan ay tiyak na di na malilimutan!

Pagkakataon na rin upang matikman ang ibat-ibang kakaibang pagluluto ng itik sa Pateros. Bukod sa piniritong itik, ito ay ginagawa ding adobo sa gata at kaldereta. Ang adobo sa gata ay hinahaluan ng maraming bawang, at pagkatapos as pinakukuluan ng matagal gamit ang marahang apoy hanggang ang sa gata ay halos matuyo na. Samantala, ang kaldereta naman ay hinahaluan ng sili, kinatas na kamatis at binurong pipino (pickles). Ang aking paborito ay yaong mga lutuing sinahugan ng maraming lamang loob gaya ng atay at balun-balunan. Ngunit, hindi lahat ay maaring makapagluto ng itik, dahil kinakailangan ang matiyagang paghahanda nito upang maalis ang lansa ng karne. Medyo may kakunatan din ito, kaya kailangan pang palambutin. Subalit sa oras na ito ay maluto na at inyong matikman, tiyak na hahanap-hanapin kahit na sumakit pa ang inyong batok dahil sa kolesterol.

Mayroon pang isang pagkain na katutubong Pateros ngunit bihira ko ng makitang iniluluto. Ito ay ang Ukbo. Ang ukbo ay mga sisiw at pulang bahagi ng balut na sumobra sa araw. Kapag masyadong malaki at buo na ang sisiw, ito ay di na maaring gawing balut. Ang sabi ng mga matatanda, ang ukbo ay di maaring ipagbili ng mga magbabalut, bagkus ito ay ipinamimigay sa mga kaanak at kaibigan. Dahil may kamag-anak na may balutan, ay nagkaroon ng maraming pagkakataon na makapagluto ng ukbo ang aking Nanay. Iniluluto ito na parang menudo, at ang maliliit na bahagi ng katawan ng sisiw ay nahahalo sa mga pula ng itlog. Maaring di magustuhan ng mga maseselan ang hitsura nito, ngunit para sa akin ito ang isa mga pinakamasarap na niluluto ng aking Nanay na hanggang ngayon ay nasa aking ala-ala.

May ngiting namumutawi sa aking mga labi tuwing maaalala ko ang isang pangyayari sa aking kabataan. May nagbigay ng ukbo sa aking Nanay at ang mga itlog ay kanyang inilagay pansamantala sa reprigereytor. Nung ako ay bata pa ay nakatoka sa akin ang paglalagay ng inuming tubig sa mga bote na inilalagay naman sa reprigereytor upang lumamig. Nang aking buksan ang reprigereytor, nakarinig ako ng mahinang "tik! tik! tik!" mula sa loob. Hinanap ko sa paligid ang pinagmumulan ng munting ingay at ito ay natunton ko sa bungkos ng mga itlog na nasa bandang ibaba ng reprigereytor. Sinipat ko ang mga ito at inilapit ang aking tainga upang matukoy ang pinagmumulan ng ingay. Laking gulat ko nang ang isa sa mga itlog ay mag-umpisang mapisa at ang "tik!, tik!, tik!" ay napalitan ng "kwak!, kwak!, kwak!"

"Nanay! Nanay! Nanay! May sisiw sa loob ng reprigereytor!" Kinuha namin ang itlog at hinayaang makalabas ang bagong silang na itik. Nanlaki ang aking mga mata habang masusing binantayan ang pagsubok ng munting itik na tumayo at maglakad. Napansin kong hirap itong tumayo, at lalong hirap na humakbang. Ito pala ay may kapansanan. Pilay ang aking sisiw. Ngunit sa kabila nito, siya ay nakalakad pa rin, kahit na iika-ika. Naging mas kakatuwa nga ang kanyang paglalakad at pagtakbo dahil wari'y lagi itong umiindak. Maraming araw ang aming pinagsamahan ng aking ukbong nakaligtas sa kawali, at kahit na ito'y may kapansanan ay naging bahagi ng isang makulay at masayang yugto ng aking kabataan.

Isang-daan at walong taon na pala ang aking bayan. Bawat salin-lahi ay may kanya-kanyang ala-ala ng bayang nagkanlong sa amin. Magmula ng ito ay isa lamang nayon ng Pasig, o ng Taguig, o bilang isang bayang may kasarinlan, mag-iba man ang hugis at anyo ng kanyang kasaysayan ay mananatili itong kumukupkop at nagkakanlong sa kanyang mga mamamayan. Marami ng nagdaang mga unos - bagyo, baha, lindol, sunog, mga himagsikan at digmaan, ngunit ang maliit na bayan ng Pateros ay buong giting na pinangangalagaan ang kanyang kasarinlan, kultura at tradisyon. Sa kabila ng malawakan at mabilis na pagbabago at pag-unlad, nawa'y manatili itong mapayapa, maayos at hitik sa kultura at kasaysayan.

Isang masayang pagpupugay sa iyong ika-108 na kaarawan, mahal kong Bayan ng Pateros!

* Image of an early Pateros Seal when the town was still part of the Province of Manila is from the photo collection of Elmer Nocheseda.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Endings and beginnings...

Many years ago, when people only had geocities and angelfire instead of blogs, I put together an online journal and called it “Sojourn”. I had to learn HTML basics to be able to give it a semblance of a web site, not like the push-button publishing that blogs offer today. Sojourn was my soul mate on the net. I poured out my thoughts on it through both prose and poetry. It became the journal of my life, a record of my travels, of my adventures, of the people I met, of the food I cooked and ate, of my hopes, dreams and political angst.

Then along the way something happened to my life, and my cyber world stopped on its track. I stayed away from the net and let my Sojourn disappear into oblivion. It was as if there never was. Like Atlantis forever lost in the ocean depths, my cyber-extension disappeared into the bits and bytes of the virtual universe.

Age, the advanced stage or somewhere near it to be specific, has a way of reminding us that we too will someday disappear into the sunset. Our bodies, frail and fleeting as they are, will eventually find its way back into the bosom of our Mother Earth. But long after we are gone, people will remember the words we spoke or wrote, the things we did that mattered to them, and the things we failed to do that could have mattered to them. It will always be about us and them, and how we affected each other's lives.

Thus it came to be that one night during the recent Holy Week, my fingers led me to that new Shangri-la of the Internet Universe – After a few minutes of feeling myself around like a little lost boy in a huge toy supermarket, I officially became one of the zillions of bloggers on the net. I chose to be the little voice of my quaint little town of Pateros, because it is the only home sweet home I know in my entire armchair life. It is the town that cradled my forebears and nourished my parents. Warts and all, it will always be my quaint little town. Always.

* Images are from the photo collection of Elmer Nocheseda. Original poetry by Dennis E. Concepcion.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Bangon Pateros E-Group

It all started when I sent an open letter to the local leaders of Pateros. This was prompted by a front page article on the Philippine Daily Inquirer about a raid on an alleged drug and sex den right in the middle of the Poblacion. I mean, we all know that things have been going a bit downhill the past several years, but I did not think it would have gone that low. It was also out of frustration at the seeming helplessness of local authorities to put order on our streets, and the slow but sure deterioration of the environment - especially the Pateros River.

A few days after I posted the letter in the official website of the Municipal Government, I got a response from Congresswoman Lani Cayetano, then from Mayor Joey Medina almost a month after. In between these two responses, copies of the letter somehow found their way into email boxes of concerned kababayans. The feedback I got was overwhelming, and very positive. I was elated to realize that there are many other former and current residents who share the same sentiments, the same hopes and aspirations for positive change and transformation for our beloved town.

Thus was born the idea of an e-group for people who care for Pateros. I created the Bangon Pateros E-Group and invited friends to join. This email group is dedicated to providing an open and democratic forum for the people of Pateros, to discuss the various issues and concerns about our beloved town. In so doing, we hope to bring these issues to the attention of our leaders, be able to discuss solutions and encourage members to be active participants in efforts to help our town get back on track.

If you want to be a member of this e-group, you can visit the group site at or send a blank email to No effort is too small if done together. We can all make a difference!

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Harry Connick, Jr. Eats Balut!

Pateros will always be associated with Balut. Always.

When people ask me where I live and I tell them I stay in Pateros, they would always ask “Where is that? Is that in Novaliches?” Or any other place up north, down south, or even the far east or the wild wild west. Anywhere except Pateros.

"It’s that little town that makes the best tasting balut." After hearing this from me, finally you see their faces light up. The magic word just opened their minds to the reality that there is indeed a town named Pateros. One wonders if Pateros gave birth to the balut, or if it was balut that gave birth to Pateros. However one looks at it, the fates of Pateros and Balut are forever intertwined.

And yes Kulasa, the famous singer/actor from New Orleans did eat a whole balut on stage during his recent concert here in Manila. Harry Connick Jr. must have been watching too many episodes of The Fear Factor to make balut-eating the cornerstone of the intermission spiel for this one-night-only concert. People actually paid handsome money - even obscene during these difficult times, to see him do this. Fortunately, a friend who works at MTV gave us free tickets - bless his good soul.

And you read it right, he ate one whole balut. The yolk, the duck embryo and that hard white portion that everyone calls the “bato” – he shoved it all into his mouth in one go. It must have taken him more than 5 minutes to finally swallow the entire thing. He paced back and forth on the stage, even going down and taking a seat on the front row. He finally downed the balut with the help of 2 cans of Coke.When he sat down and played the piano, he gave out a loud burp in the middle of a song. The audience was in stitches. The white man has earned his right to be an adopted Pinoy.

However, not everything in that intermission was amusing. There were some patently embarrassing lapses, especially when a Filipina lady from the front row was called on stage to teach Harry the correct way to eat balut. They should just have called in the balut vendor outside the PICC if they wanted to do it correctly.

So, let us get some things straight about this famous Pateros delicacy:

  1. Only duck eggs can be made into Balut. More specifically, it is the egg laid by the local duck variety called the “pato”, sometimes more commonly referred to as "itik". They should not be confused with the common white-colored duck, which we call "bibe". The eggs laid by itiks can be distinguished by its hard shell. In the olden days, these ducks were raised in the Pateros River, where abundant shellfish were conducive for ducks to produce these hard-shelled eggs. But now the river is dead and the ducks are gone, thus Pateros imports the eggs it uses to produce balut from Laguna. Some towns have tried to imitate balut by using chicken eggs. Believe me, you will not like what you will see when you crack open those bogus baluts. So make sure the shell is hard enough before buying that balut.
  2. Fresh duck eggs are called “sariwa”, which literally means fresh. This can be boiled like ordinary chicken eggs and eaten with salt, or made into delicious omelets. The “sariwa” is also the base for another famous Pateros product – the red egg. The fresh duck eggs are immersed into a salty concoction for some time, then boiled and colored red to distinguish it from its more famous cousin. The best “maalat” or "itlog na pula", as the red eggs are called by locals, are those that have yolks oozing with natural oil. Definitely yummy, especially with fresh tomatoes and rice, or as filling for hot pan-de-sal.
  3. Those that are selected to become balut are put into large drums made from bamboo strips filled with dried rice husks and kept in warehouses called “kamalig”. This is the native and completely organic version of an incubator used to keep the eggs warm. The counting of the days need to be precise, or else you may end up with embryos that are either too small or too large. Monitoring is done through “pagsisilaw” or putting the eggs against a small hole carved out of a wooden box with a high-wattage bulb inside working pretty much like an x-ray machine. The ideal incubation days would be between 16 to 17 days for a perfect “balut sa puti”.
  4. When an egg fails to fertilize during this period, it becomes another incarnation of the balut, the “penoy”. Remember, your friendly balut vendor always shout “balut! penoy! balut!” as immortalized in that catchy folk song. The Penoy is a Balut that failed to fertilize, and is boiled like an ordinary egg and can become either a “higupin”, meaning it is creamy and can be sucked from the shell – literally, or like an ordinary hard boiled egg but with the yolk and the white already mixed together – imagine scrambled egg but still inside the shell. There is also the “heko-heko”, which is a bit blackish and had a slight pungent smell. Definitely not for the faint of heart.
  5. As in any pregnancy – which is what balut is all about anyway, things can go wrong along the way. The fertilized egg can “die” before it reaches the ideal maturity date – a miscarriage if you may call it. The embryo stops developing and start to rot inside the shell. Ordinarily, these rotten eggs will be thrown away, or put into better use by being thrown towards the direction of rotten politicians. But in Pateros, we have a special name for this – the “abnoy”. It is a delicacy that requires an acquired taste. It is not for everyone, especially if you do not relish eating a rotten egg. But like the durian, its connoisseurs swear that it might smell rotten like hell, but it sure does taste like heaven. I will provide a recipe for the abnoy in a later post, in case you want to be adventurous with what you put in your mouth.
Harry asked an impeccably dressed lady from the audience to teach him how to eat the balut. Unfortunately, the lady must have not even eaten a balut in her entire sheltered life. So, all she could offer were half-hazard guesses on the “how-to” of eating a balut. So how does one eat a balut? There is actually a time-honored ritual for this favorite pinoy gastronomic past-time. If you want to be a true-blue balut worshipper, read on…

  1. Take the warm balut (yes, it has to be warm!) in your hands and look for the larger end of the egg.
  2. Strike the larger end against any hard surface (including your head if it is hard enough) until a small hole is cracked open. Peel off just enough broken shells to expose the egg's membrane. Make a hole in the membrane big enough to peek into the inside of the balut. Be careful not to spill the precious fluid inside!
  3. Put the egg into your mouth and take a sip from the small opening. The amniotic fluid will prepare your taste buds for the next gastronomic experience, if you're still not throwing up, or fainting - whichever comes first at this point.
  4. After the fluid had been fully drained in your mouth, start peeling off the rest of the shell until the inside of the egg is exposed halfway. Now, first timers are allowed to look away at this point, as the sight of the duck embryo may not be that appealing to a lot of people, especially if it is already well-developed with feathers, legs, beak and all very much identifiable. Sprinkle some rock salt on the balut and start biting into it. Some people will take 2 to 3 bites to finish off the egg, while some will take it all in one go, like Harry. I personally prefer eating the yolk first, then the embryo – if I’m in the mood. You are not supposed to eat the “bato”, which is the hard whitish part. Leave the "bato" for Darna and Ding.
  5. Recently, I see a lot of people pouring vinegar into their balut. This is not all proper as the vinegar dilutes the delicate flavor of the egg. This is sacrilege! Balut is eaten warm and with rock salt, nothing more and nothing less. Stay with the basics and you will experience the full savory and delicate taste as it was intended to be.

So this is Balut 101 in a nutshell. Next time you feel like doing a Fear Factor, or if you are a seasoned balut eater already, keep these facts in mind. And while you are at it, remember that the fate of the balut is tied to the fate of the Pateros River. Please help our town revive the Pateros River. Years of neglect and apathy have virtually killed the once pristine river, and are now threatening to kill the balut industry itself. Once the source of duck eggs of the highest quality, Pateros now have to buy its eggs used for balut-making from Laguna. It is pathetic, even bordering on the insane. Pretty much the same as our situation with the country's rice supply.

I do not know the details of the recently launched Pateros River Basin Project, but if it aims to save and revive the Pateros River, I am all for it. Let us save our river, it is the soul of our beloved Pateros. It will be a shame if future generations will not be able to have the experience of eating Balut. Ask Harry Connick, Jr.

(Photo of Harry eating balut is taken from the MTV Philippines Website. Photo of "abnoys" is from the collection of Elmer Nocheseda.)

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Gourmet Dinner for less than P100, Bah!

For lack of anything more worthwhile to do, me and two of my friends decided to do some bonding - which usually means eating, eating and eating. In deference to Lent, we decided to be creative with what used to be the symbol of a poor man's meal - canned sardines. So with less than one hundred pesos, we bought six eggs and 2 cans of Ligo sardines. Here's 2 ways to make something new out of this once lowly dish:

Spicy Sardine Omelet (as deliciously prepared by Pierre)


1 can of red label Ligo Sardines
1 pc onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, crushed
1 pc native chili, chopped
3 pcs eggs, beaten
2 pcs tomatoes and whole native chilies.

How to:

1. Heat cooking oil in an omelet pan.
2. Pour the beaten egg evenly on the pan and wait until the top is cooked.
3. Remove the cooked egg from the pan and put on a round dish. Set aside.
4. Saute the garlic, onion and native chili, then add the sardines.
5. Crush and mix the sardines until flaky. Let stand for a few minutes, but do not overcook.
6. Add salt to taste, as desired.
7. Pour about 3/4 of the sardines into the middle of the omelet, then fold both ways before turning on its back.
8. Spread the remaining sardines on top of the omelet and garnish with tomatoes and chilies on the side.
9. Serve warm.

Sardine Omelet Spanish Style


1 can red label Ligo Sardines
3 eggs, beaten
dash of dried basis leaves

How to:

1. Separate the sardines from the tomato sause. Set aside.
2. Sprinkle a dash of dried basil leaves on the beaten egg. Add salt to taste, then beat again until pluffy.
3. Heat cooking oil in an omelet pan and pour the beaten eggs evenly.
4. When the top part is slightly cooked, put the sardines in the middle to form a line across the pan.
5. Fold the omelet from both sides to form a roll, then turn it on its back.
6. Turn the omelet roll until both sides are golden brown, then remove from pan and put in a serving dish.
7. Pour the tomato sauce on the omelet and serve.

Both dishes are best served with piping hot steamed or fried rice.

Now, you can have your sardines two more ways. Yummy!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Semana Santa in Pateros

I was not able to see the Wednesday procession this year. Got stuck in office work and came home quite late. When I was growing up, I distinctly remember that there were four processions during Holy Week - the first was on the morning of Palm Sunday; second was on the night of Holy Wednesday; third was on Good Friday; and the last was the dawn procession for Easter Sunday. I miss those days. Sigh!

Palm Sunday Procession

Young girls and their families look forward to this one. Makeshift balconies were set up in selected places in the procession route. Little young girls dressed up like angels threw flower petals and sang the alleluias as the priest passed by their dainty towers. People followed the priest and waved their palm fronds in the air, while the manangs laid their veils on the pavement - never allowing the priest's feet to directly touch the ground. All these were the re-enactment of the biblical narrative on how the Lord triumphantly entered Jerusalem.

I remember one year in particular, when this event was especially more poignant for the family of my mother's elder sister. Her youngest daughter, Amy, just passed away. She was diagnosed with leukemia and bravely fought for her life. She was excitedly looking forward to her eldest daughter's turn to mount one of those balconies and sing praises to the Lord. It was always an honor for a daughter to take on the role of one of the angels, an honor that she missed by a few days. So while her mother lay in state, the little girl did her part - with a faint smile but tears in her eyes. It was a fitting tribute to a mother who loved her children till the very end, and scene that left tears in the eyes of not a few who knew the story behind that day's event.

Sadly, we lost that tradition along the way. I cannot remember when the last alleluias were sung by the little angels. While walking along the town proper, it suddenly dawned on me that the balconies were gone. Gone were the little girls, with their eyes still droopy and sleepy, as they gingerly await the arrival of the priest. How could have we lost such a tradition so steep in meaning and drama? In other towns, bigger and more progressive, they even get the priest to ride horses or donkeys for some added reality. Please tell me this tradition will be back next year!

Holy Wednesday Procession

This procession presents the tableau of the Lord's ministry and suffering, specifically from the time he entered Jerusalem. The life-size saints are presented in their fineries, with the symbols that represent their role in the greatest story ever told. Thus we see St. Peter holding a key and with a rooster beside him; St. Mary Magdalene with a perfume bottle and holding her long hair; St. Veronica with a large handkerchief with three impressions of the face of Jesus; and the beloved disciple St. John holding a book and a quill. Jesus is also portrayed while praying in the garden, while being whipped in the pillar, while carrying the cross or while being crowned with thorns.

In the eighties, this procession was done away with. Instead, I remembered that all the carrozas were made to join the Good Friday procession, which of course swelled the number of people joining the procession. Thus, we had the spectacle of the first carozza already entering the church after navigating the entire procession route while the Mater Dolorosa, the last image in the procession, was still waiting for its turn to leave the church patio! It just does not make sense for a town so small to try and get all those carozzas into the streets. Fortunately, the Church has brought back the Holy Wednesday procession.

Good Friday Procession.

The piety is gone, gone, gone. In the days gone by, a hush would fall on the entire town at three o’clock of Good Friday. Then people flocked at the church for the evening procession, often leaving their shoes and slippers at home or in stores near the church. Yes, people walk the entire route barefoot, just like the many women dressed in black, with faces covered in black veil capped by imitations of the crown of thorns. They carry symbols of the Lord’s passion and death on the cross. Yes, it looks eerie, but it does evoke solemn emotions that befit the commemoration.

These days, we don’t see barefoot people on the procession anymore. Gender equality has allowed men to join the previously all-women group of what we fondly call “mumos” (ghosts), albeit still donning the all black long dresses and veil. I wonder why they can’t wear black shirts and pants instead. They have breached the gender divide anyway, so why not go all the way? They have nailed women on the cross in barrio Cutud in Pampanga, haven’t they?

This year, I also noticed some of the old images have been replaced by newer ones, such as that of Maria Magdalena. I did not see the Wednesday procession, so I do not know if the older image was used in that procession. They say that the number of images in Holy Week processions indicates the wealth of the families in the town. Does that mean that our town economy is actually improving? In other towns, families who have converted to other religions adverse to catholic traditions destroys their centuries old images so that they could no longer be a cause for people to commit the hideous sin of idolatry. Different folks, different strokes!

Easter Sunday Salubong

This dawn procession can be well considered as a good barometer of the town’s economic condition. The early salubongs I remember were simple. The images of the Virgin Mary, now in resplendent white but with the head still covered in black veil, and the Risen Christ starts off in separate ways. One would go around half of the town through Barrio Aguho, and the other one taking the other half through Barrio Tabacalera. They would then meet again at the church patio where a little angel lifted the veil off the Virgin’s head to reveal a tear-less face. The women joined the Virgin’s entourage while the men joined the Risen Christ.

At sometime during the 70’s they made some changes so that the other barrios can be involved. The starting points for both the Virgin and the Risen Christ were rotated among the different barrios. Then later on, even the place were the salubong will take place was also moved from one kapilya to another. Then in the nineties, a grand tradition was started, that of building a grand tableau in the church patio, with each year depicting a chosen theme. The salubong then took on the identity of a grand theater production, complete with lights, sounds and smoke. Each year was different from the last and people actually looked forward to the grand spectacle even if they had to wake up early to see it. The downside is that less people were joining the procession because they wanted to get good positions on the patio to get a better view.

This year, I noticed just a simple wooden stairway leading to a balcony from where I presume the little angel will lift the Virgin’s veil. It is a stark contrast to the grand designs of years past, so times must be really bad these days. Or maybe the organizers had been struck with conscience for spending obscene amounts of money on a one-day affair while many of the parishioners could not even afford to have more that one meal a day.

However we celebrate the Holy Week, I am still glad my little town has somehow managed to retain its many traditions, albeit with some changes here and there. The hopeless optimist in me still dreams of a time when we can go back to the old traditions that has given our town its character, but as progress marches on it has become increasingly difficult to do so. But the memories will leave on, if only to remind the future generations of the faith and piety of their forebears.

Happy Easter to all!