Friday, October 21, 2011

The Masacre of the Filipino Soul

The righteous indignation of people on the Basilan Fiasco should not only be tolerated. Indeed it is what every right-thinking Filipino should be feeling now. Let the authorities investigate, let the peace panel call for sobriety, let the MILF pontificate about the actions taken by their combatants. The fact remains that 19 soldiers lay needlessly dead after an ambush.


1. The AFP is the legitimate armed organization of the Philippines. Last I heard, all of Mindanao is still part of the Philippines. Our AFP does not need to get approval to serve a lawful warrant of arrest to a fugitive from the law,

2. Let us leave religion or God out of this. This is not about Muslims or Christians. This is not about addressing the plight of our minority brothers. Their plea for justice and right to self-determination remains a valid issue. This is all about terrorism and lawlessness - and the need to deal with them decisively and permanently now. Get terrorism out of the picture and it will be easier to talk about, and actually realize, peace and development. We may even be able to achieve it in our lifetime,

3. Let us stop sugar-coating the Peace Talks. Let us call a spade a spade. The MILF did not even bother to deny the attack, and appears to be justifying it even. I must agree with those that call for the suspension, not abandonment, of the peace talks until the MILF deliver on their end of the bargain. How can we talk peace with people who wait for every opportunity to pounce and stab us in the back? It's like talking with someone with our hands tied while they hold a sword in their back. Let the MILF walk the talk first, then we can talk peace again.

I am a peace-loving person, but fight if we must if that is what is needed to achieve it. Like a masterful surgeon, the AFP must learn to remove these "cancers" without adversely affecting the healthy parts of the body - our country. Our military strategists are not without blame either. They ovbiously failed to see ahead and plan for this incursion into enemy territory. There is a lot of room for improvement. Our AFP cannot be always the villains, and perceived to be stupid and incompetent at that.

There is no easy way towards peace, and we cannot just sit by the sides while all these killings slowly but surely desensitize our sense of right or wrong. When the culture of impunity merges with the culture of indifference, there is no way to go but the pits.

I mourn the most for my Pilipinas. Our Pilipinas.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Bragging Rights

It was one piece of real estate in my little town that was worth watching out for as I pass through the Pateros bridge on my way home. While our richer neighbors use state-of-the-art electronic billboards to communicate with their citizens, our little town by the dead river uses tarp posters to do this. But I must confess that I find the posters quite interesting, and is a welcome respite from the boring monotony of the chaos on the streets.

Each time the tarp changes, I would spend a little more time to read the new message, or appreciate the artwork like when they had the twin feasts of Sta Marta and San Roque. Just recently, the latest announcement did not just deserve a cursory glimpse. I must have caused the other drivers to let out a good amount of expletives as it took me longer to digest what I read on the tarp. My elementary school, Captain Hipolito Francisco Elementary School (or CHFES) was on the tarp - not just once, but twice. Wow-wow-wee!

CHFES was in the tarp because it emerged on top of the list of primary schools in the Pateros-Taguig area in the just concluded National Achievement Test. It's annex placed some notches lower, but still in the top ten. Why am I bragging about this? Because my little school had always been considered as a "saling pusa" compared to the older and more established schools in Pateros. It brings me immense pride because our family has a special connection to this school. It was established while my father was secretary of the barrio council. There are four of us in the family who graduated from this school, where my mother was the treasurer of the Parent Teacher Association for the longest time - even when I already graduated. My parents also allowed the school to use part of our garage as a classroom, and I literally would sit in on classes because the dining hall window directly opens up to the classroom.

I was admitted to CHFES after just turning 6 years old, 1 year ahead of the 7-year-old requirement. My mother was not PTA Treasurer-for-life for nothing, hahaha! My grade 1 teacher was Mrs Cagadoc, a prim and proper lady who taught us to read and write with books about Nilo, Nena, and Bantay. I have very fond memories of this teacher, may her soul rest in peace, as she demoted me several sections lower in Grade 2. Maybe it was because at such a tender age, I showed streaks of rebellion. After being reprimanded for a minor infraction that I could no longer remember, she asked me to stand in the corner. I refused, and instead of following her order, I took my bag, walked out on her and went home.

It was a very small school, with only 3 school buildings and a small canteen at that time - the fourth building being the Barrio Hall. There was another 1-room building across the street, and the garage-cum-classroom in our house about 200 meters away. The building I remembered most was the two-story structure in the center of the compound. The slightly sunken ground floor was for the Practical Arts classes for boys, while the second floor was a classroom that doubles as a stage during programs. How do they do it? The wall facing the open space of the compound can be removed in its entirety and the building becomes a huge stage. That ingenuity really amazed me! Unfortunately, by the time I graduated the building had been torn down and we had to mount a cemented stage in its place.

I have a lot of fond memories of this school, and I should write about them at another time. But for now allow me to brag about its achievement. It is no small feat, and is testament to its loyal and hardworking teachers and administrators. Like my little town, it is a small school with a big heart.

Sunday, June 19, 2011


I had attempted to write about Tatay many other times in the past. Each time, I would go as far as two paragraphs, and then stop. Not that I do not have anything to write about him, it's just that I could not seem to find the right words to accurately present a true picture of him. Tatay is such a complex character, one that could not be easily boxed into a stereotypical father image.

Until just recently, we knew very little of his young life. It was as if history only began when he started a family with Nanay. We knew very little about our paternal grandparents. Our interaction with them, posthumous at that, was limited to the annual trek to the cemetery during All Souls Day. Even their graves were simply marked by their names and dates of death. The only paternal relatives we knew were the families of Ate Auring who was his first cousin, and those from Tanay, Rizal. Beyond that, there were so little of family history that we knew of.

It was only very recently that Tatay started sharing with us snippets of his childhood and young life. He has always been the type of person who would rather talk about many other things other than himself. He was very knowledgeable, and can discuss almost anything under the sun. He was well-read and well-traveled and loves intellectual discourses. But he was typically silent about much of his young life.

When I was a young lad, I have only three main chores in the house. The first was to make sure there were bottles of drinking water in the ref. The second was to make sure that the garage and the front yard were swept of dirt and dust before Tatay comes home from work. The third was to make the daily walk from our house to bayan (poblacion) to buy peanuts from Aling Idad, his favorite accompaniment to his one bottle of beer after dinner. The latter two were daily rituals that proceeded with clockwork accuracy. I should have been done with the sweeping before his big motorbike would roar in at five in the afternoon. After dinner, he spends the rest of the night in his garage cum workshop. He tinkers with his motorbike or with television and radio sets that need repairs. He was and still is a master in electronics. Friends, now almost all gone, would drop by for small talk and the de rigour one bottle of beer and peanuts. A few times, he would ride his bike and drive off to visit his best friend, Tia Oreng, in Barrio Aguho. On other times, Tia Oreng would come and visit and have dinner with us.

In all those years, Tatay was the typical padre de familia – the provider and disciplinarian of the family. All that changed when Nanay got sick.

Nanay’s condition progressively deteriorated through the years and in later stages of her illness required more care and attention. It was during those years that we saw the transformation of Tatay from the family man to a loving and caring husband. From the time he retired from work and when they migrated to the United States, they were inseparable. When Nanay had to undergo peritoneal dialysis, he took it upon himself to learn how to administer it. He meticulously kept records and monitored her medicines. He made sure that Nanay was always comfortable and her needs taken care of.

When Nanay was hospitalized and fell into a coma, he refused to leave her side. He was there when she awoke from her coma, and was at her side during her therapy. When the situation got worse, he was at her bedside at all times. When Nanay passed away, he was inconsolable even if he knew her death was already inevitable. I remember vividly how tears flowed down from his eyes when he brought home Nanay’s remains, saying how sorry he was because he could not do anything more to ease Nanay’s pain. It was the first time in my life that I saw him cry and it was for the woman he loved and faithfully cared for. Tatay is not a demonstrative person. People who do not know him might even say that he is cold. But in the years following Nanay’s passing, he continues to amaze us with his absolute love and devotion to her.

Tatay is now nearing eighty-five years old. He is healthy and sprightly, and saved for the gray hair, he can pass off for a sixty year old. He still loves to travel, and make sure that he goes out of town whenever he comes home to visit. He keeps himself busy by tinkering around the house. He is now more relaxed, and more generous in sharing anecdotes of his childhood and young life. Little by little we are now able to learn about his family, his growing up years and his struggles when he became an orphan at such an early age. Sometimes, it makes me guilty for all those times that I misunderstood him, knowing now what he had to go through to see to it that we are what we are now.

But as most people his age, his memory is beginning to fail him. He has become irritable when he could not remember where he put things, or could not recall names and places. Tatay has always been a frank and straightforward person, sometimes even tactless. He would say whatever is in his mind. His jokes are satirical, and more often than not can ruffle some nerves. At the same time, he has become more sensitive, and can easily get offended by what he hears or perceives. It is a challenge that we will increasingly have to deal with as he advances in years.

As we grow older ourselves, we tend to think that we are entitled to live our lives on our own, and that parents are done with their jobs. Sometimes we perceive them to be intruders in our lives. Admittedly, we hurt their feelings with our words and actions just as they can hurt us with their stubbornness and unreasonableness – whether intended or not. Living under one roof can be complicated and compromises can indeed have their limits. It will take a lot of patience and understanding, mostly coming from our part, to maintain harmony in our relationship with our parents at their age. This can be easier said than done.

In one of our most recent conversations, there was one thing that struck me the most. Many times, I had often wondered if my parents, especially Tatay since Nanay is no longer around, love some of their children more than the others. In that conversation, he told me something to this effect, “Maybe my children think that I have favorites. The truth is, I treat all of you equally, but that does not mean I will always give you equal shares. As a parent, I will always give to each one of you based on what you need even without you asking for it. I love you all equally, and it will pain me to see that some of you will not be as successful in life as the others. If that means giving more to those who have less, and less to those who have more, so shall it be. No one should be left behind.”

As the young generation would say, that's my Tatay, epic!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Happy Easter!

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! The Lord is risen!

The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us,

He lived, ate, cried, laughed, suffered and died as we all do.

And then He rose from the dead not for Himself but for us,

so that we too can rise above suffering and death,

above human arrogance, above indifference and selfishness.

Let this Easter remind us that whatever good we do,

we do not do it for ourselves but for others.

Only then can we truly meet with the Lord and sing,

Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! My Lord has raised me up!

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Pambansang Libingan ng Pilipinas

Nine days after the self-inflicted death of Angelo Reyes, many are still doubting if it was really appropriate that he was buried at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani. The Bayani in its name demands the highest standards of heroism from people who are privileged to call it their final resting place. While many of those who are interred there are authentic heroes by their own rights, either because they lived heroic lives or because they died as martyrs for the motherland, a claim to heroism is something that is always subject to debate and public perception. Unfortunately, Angelo Reyes' claim to heroism will be subject to debate for many years to come.

More unfortunately, the Marcos family and their loyalists are now using the decision of the government to allow the burial of Angelo Reyes at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani to resurrect their demand to have Ferdinand Marcos buried there as well. True, both men served their country for most of their lives, but their claims to heroism are also both not universally accepted. This is not the first case, and will definitely not be the last, of burials in this hallowed place being questioned. If it is the time of Gloria Arroyo to go, will she also be entitled to her own plot at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani as a former president even if the trails of massive corruption during her presidency lead to her very doorsteps?

These arguments can be stopped once and for all by splitting the current Libingan ng Mga Bayani into two separate cemeteries. Uniformed men and women who died in the line of duty and martyrs who gave up their lives for the country should be interred at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani because by their very death, they have irrevocably and unquestionably earned the nation's gratitude as true heroes. They are bayanis who deserve their place of honor at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani.

Presidents, Chiefs of Staff, National Artists, Chief Justices, Senate Presidents, Speakers of the House, War Veterans and other important public figures can be buried in a separate Pambansang Libingan ng Pilipinas (National Cemetery of the Philippines) where the criteria for entitlement can be more objective. A law can be passed defining who are entitled to interment at the Pambansang Libingan, and the deceased can be spared the judgment of public perception.

If Ferdinand Marcos is interred at the Pambansang Libingan, it will not be because of his claim to heroism but because he was a President of this country and the position alone entitled him to a burial in the national cemetery - nothing more, nothing less. In the United States, there is little debate, if any at all, about burials at the Arlington National Cemetery because it does not lay any claim to having only heroes being laid to rest there. We should do the same here to stop all needless squabble on who deserves to be laid in a hero's tomb.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Chicken Binakol for less than P200.00!

I'm taking a break from my Fiesta Series to share with you a new recipe - albeit a borrowed one from the Visayas. Chicken Binacol is the equivalent of Tinolang Manok in Bacolod, Ilo-ilo and other southern regions. The sweet-creamy-salty-tangy taste of its broth is a result of the fusion of its ingredients. I have tasted several versions of this soup/dish in my travels down south, but so far the best is the one I had in Ilo-ilo. I have been reading a lot about this soup/dish in magazines and newspapers but never got around to cooking one myself.

This morning I happen to wake up very happy and decided to do some work in the kitchen, something I have not done so in a very long while. For some reason, the first thing that came to my mind was to experiment with Chicken Binacol. I wanted to try something new, something that I am not really familiar with - virgin territory. Since it is the first time that I am cooking this dish, I had to go back to my memories of eating this dish to be able to come up with the ingredients I need.

So here's my take of this savory comfort food from down south.

Ingredients for 3 to 4 people:

3/4 kilo chicken cutlets
1/2 green papaya cut into 2-inch slices
Lemongrass (Tanglad), bundled into small pieces
1 young coconut (buko), with both flesh and juice
1/2 cup coconut milk (kakang gata)
Fish sauce (Patis)
Crushed garlic, sliced onions and ginger strips
Whole pepper corns

Quick Cooking Tips:

1. Heat pan and cooking oil.
2. Saute ginger, garlic and onion. Put in the ginger first until golden brown to extract the zesty flavor and fuse it in with the oil. Then put in next the garlic and the onion.
3. Put in the chicken cutlets and mix with whole pepper corns until everything in the pan is well-distributed.
4. Drop the lemongrass bundles into the mixture and pour in fish sauce, then cover the pan. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Mix the chicken in 2-minute intervals to make sure cooking is evenly distributed.
6. Add the Green Papaya slices and simmer for around 1 minute. Mix as needed.
5. When chicken is already brownish, pour in the buko juice together with the buko strips. Mix well once then cover again. Add a little water if juice will not be able to cover all the chickens.
6. Simmer for another 5 minutes, then add the 1/2 cup coconut milk while stirring continuously. Add 1 tablespoon at a time if you want a creamier taste.
7. Add more fish sauce if you want it a little bit more salty. Drop a couple of long sili before serving hot.

I did my first foray into cooking this wonderful dish for less than P200.00 (or roughly P50.00/person), so this should be an affordable and easy to prepare comfort food especially on a rainy day.

Happy eating!

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Pateros Fiesta Cuisine Series #2 - Meat Rolls

For this posting, I would like to introduce you to a group of fiesta food that can be prepared days in advance. This saves the hosts some time so they can concentrate on dishes that must be prepared on the eve or the day of the fiesta itself. Considering that visitors are expected as early as around ten in the morning, these time-saving food can come in very handy.

Lumpiang Shanghai (Fried Meat Rolls)

First on my list is the ever-reliable Lumpiang Shanghai. This is a dish that is an all-time favorite in restaurants, fast food and even as a street food. For my version of this dish, the filling is a mixture of egg, ground pork, minced onion, carrot, bell pepper and kimchay. These ingredients are mixed together in a bowl and sprinkled with rock salt and ground pepper. If you want some crunch, you can add chopped water chestnuts into the mixture. Small portions are then wrapped in fresh lumpia wrappers and then fried until golden brown.

The lumpia can be chopped into bite size pieces to make it easier for the guests to munch on these yummy rolls. Dipped in either catsup or sweet and sour chili sauce, lumpiang shanghai is great both with rice or as pulutan (bar chow) while drinking.

Embotido (Meat Loaf)

Next on my list is the bigger cousin of the Lumpiang Shanghai. The Embotido has almost the same ingredients as the lumpia, except for a few differences. It is technically a meat loaf, made from finely grounded pork, chopped onion and bell pepper, minced carrots, raisins and sliced boiled eggs. For special occasions, I would pour evaporated milk into the mixture for a more creamy taste. The ingredients are mixed together until they attain a consistency that will allow it to be rolled into 6-inch logs.

For a more authentic Embotido, the log is wrapped in a membrane taken from a pig's stomach cavity. This whitish membrane is strong enough to keep the mixture together during cooking, and is edible so there is no need to unwrap the embotido before serving. Cooking the embotido is a two-step process. First, the meat logs are wrapped either in aluminum foil or the more traditional katsa (cheese cloth) and then steamed. Although it can already be eaten after being steamed, the logs can also be sliced and then fried. This dish can be dipped either in catsup or mayonnaise, or a combination of both.

Hamonado (Filipino Pineapple Ham)

Another pork dish that can be kept in the refrigerator until needed is the Hamonado. This dish does not require a lot of stuffing, in fact it can do without any. It relies mainly on the sweet-salty flavor of the meat. The lean pork is carefully cut into thin sheets that can be rolled into logs. The meat is marinated overnight in a mixture of pineapple juice, salt, sugar, and beer. And may I hasten to add, it has to be San Miguel Pale Pilsen.

When the meat is ready, it is spread out in a large flat dish and then finely sliced strips of Chorizo de Bilbao is spread out on the surface before it is rolled into a log. The log is secured by running a string around it to secure the edges. The meat logs are then arranged in a saucepan together with the remaining marinade. The meat is then boiled using the marinade until almost dry. The Hamonado is cut into medallions and served topped with the pineapple tidbits.

Morcon (Beef Rolls)

I saved the best for last. Morcon is one dish that ages gracefully. The longer I keep it in the ref, the more delicious it becomes. This is why this dish is better prepared the day before it is to be served. Like the Hamonado, this is a rolled meat but using beef instead of pork. The meat is marinated overnight in soy sauce and calamansi. For special occasions, red wine can be added into the marinade.

When the meat is ready, strips of carrots, celery and red pepper are spread over the meat - and then topped with slices of Chorizo De Bilbao, olives and boiled eggs. Then the meat is rolled into a log and secured by running a string around it. The meat logs are put into a pressure cooker with the marinade and tomato sauce added to it. Water may also added so that all the meat logs are submerged into the mixture. Laurel leaves can also be added for an exquisite flavor. The meat is then boiled until tender and the sauce becomes thick. Chopped carrots, bell pepper, celery and olives can be added to the sauce for added flavor. Like the hamonado, the meat log is sliced into medallions before the sauce is poured over it.

These meat dishes are my so called "after-fiesta" food because they can be kept in the ref, then heated or fried as needed. Totally not recommended for those with hypertension!

Monday, January 31, 2011

Pateros Fiesta Cuisine Series #1 - Introduction

The feast day of Sta. Martha is just around the corner, on February 13 to be exact. Since time immemorial, Pateros folks celebrate this joyous occasion every second Sunday of February instead of the Church-sanctioned official feast day on July 29. However, as true sons and daughters of the Church, the people of Pateros still hold a nine-day novena and a dance-procession every July 29. Back when there was still a Pateros River, the “Pagoda” or fluvial procession was also held on both feast days.

Although much has been compromised to progress and exigency, my little town has managed to keep most of its traditions in place, if not intact. The river may have dried up and turned into a garbage dump, but we hold on to our riverine traditions by holding the pagoda on the streets using motorized floats instead of boats. The brass bands have either disappeared or have become too costly, so we now used loudspeakers to blare out the catchy Pandango music. The route of the procession may change every year, but the people managed to follow where the music and the dancing are.

I have dealt extensively on the customs and traditions that make our fiesta unique and enduring through the years. So for this series of posts, I will try to concentrate instead on the fiesta food that made these annual feasts worth the wait and anticipation. I remember that my mother and her father would prepare food for our guests using big kawalis, talyases and kalderos over wood-fired cooking pits in our backyard. When my eldest brother married, my sister-in-law joined the kitchen crew in whipping up these delectable dishes. These foods trace their progeny from the rich culinary traditions of Marikina, Pasig, Taguig and Pateros. They have strong influences of both Spanish and Chinese cuisine, while the desserts are mainly indigenous.

The irony is that I was not taught how to cook at home. Growing up in big household, I was always on the receiving end when it comes to meals. I first experimented with cooking when I started cooking sauteed sardines for our midnight snacks back when hot pandesal was the craze. When I went to a boy scout camping when I was 14, I cooked my first tinolang manok based on my recollection of how it was prepared at home. Using my recollection of home-cooked meals, I started my passionate love affair with the kitchen when I lived on my own in Baguio City during college. I remember the incredulous reaction of my Nanay when she tasted my Chicken Afritada for the first time. From then on, Nanay relinquished the kitchen to me. My posts, therefore, are recollections of my personal experiences with these foods in our home. They are not meant to present recipes and culinary secrets, but hopefully, by keeping their memories alive we can keep them in our kitchens as living testaments to our great culinary traditions.

Since my town is famous for its riverine traditions, let me start this series with fish-based dishes.

When it comes to the bounty of the sea (or the river, or the lake, or the fishpond, or whatever...), there are three dishes, called “putahe”, that I remember from our family spread during fiestas. These are the steamed fish with mayonnaise and vegetable dressing, fried fish with sweet and sour sauce (also called "escabeche")and my favorite rellenong bangus (stuffed milkfish).

Steamed Fish with Mayonnaise

There are many varieties of fish that can be steamed, but the bigger ones such as Apahap and Talakitok are preferred as fiesta fare. This dish has to look grand on the table, and they are usually presented on a big dish called “bandehado”. The fish itself is steamed without much seasoning, perhaps only a dash of salt and pepper. However, some prefer to steam the fish with ginger and onion leaves for a more tangy taste. But the secret really is on the garnish.

Garnishing may include finely chopped hard-boiled egg, pickles, bell pepper and carrots. The steamed fish is laid out on the bandehado and smothered with mayonnaise. Then, the garnishing will be artistically sprinkled on top of the mayonnaise-covered fish separately in alternating stripes, or any design. The designs are limited only by your creativity, so let the fish be your canvass. Tastes good as it looks good!

Escabecheng Isda

When it comes to Escabeche or Sweet and Sour Fish, the preferred variety is the Lapu-lapu. Its tender and delicious meat is ideal for this dish of Chinese progeny. The ideal size of the fish is about 1kg in weight, which is fried whole until the outside is crispy and the inside still juicy (think of Chickenjoy...). The sweet and sour sauce is prepared separately by combining tomato sauce, vinegar, sugar and salt (or soy sauce) in a sauce pan over slow fire. In some cases, I would put in pineapple juice and chunks for variety. Garnishing would include onions, bell pepper, carrot, spring onion leaves and ginger. The sauce is poured over the fried fish just before being served so the sweet tangy taste of the sauce will complement the contrasting crispiness and juiciness of the fish.

However, preparing the sauce need a deft hand and perfect timing, as the improper use of vinegar can spell disaster on the brew. If not done properly, the sourness induced by the vinegar can be too strong for comfort ("buhay ang suka", as the old folks would say) . A perfect sweet and sour sauce should have your tongue alternately savoring the sweet, sour, tangy and salty flavors playing on your mouth as you chew on the crunchy fish meat. And a word of caution: it is a mortal sin to use catsup instead of tomato sauce. It’s like using catsup for Italian pasta. If you want an all-natural recipe, then fresh tomatoes cooked long enough to attain the consistency of tomato sauce can be used as an alternative. No short-cuts for this dish!

Rellenong Bangus

One of my favorite fiesta dishes is the Rellenong Bangus. Although it is very convenient, and deliciously satisfying to eat, the preparation involved is very tedious. The fish needs to be prepared carefully, with the meat separated from the skin without damaging it. The whole skin is marinated using soy sauce and calamansi to give it a distinctive flavor. Then the meat is boiled, deboned, flaked and then sauteed with green peas, carrot, bell pepper, onions and garlic. For variation, potato and raisins are added to the mixture. The mixture is then stuffed into the marinated skin and sewed up. The stuffed fish is wrapped in banana leaf and then fried in a big “kawali”. The relleno is then served on a bandehado with garnishes of sliced tomato, native lettuce and onions. This time, feel free to indulge in catsup as it is the preferred condiment for this very Filipino dish.

We'll explore more fiesta fare on the next installments of this series. Kain na po!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Sapientia Edificat?

We were in 4th year college when St. Louis University (SLU) celebrated its 75th founding anniversary during the school year 1985-86. Young as we were then, it was one celebration that we were mighty proud of. Twenty five years after we left SLU to face life in the real world, we were beckoned again to relive those happy memories - this time to celebrate the SLU Centennial. One hundred years is definitely worth a grand celebration, and I would not miss it for the world.

So off to Baguio I went together with 4 other college friends. I have not been to the SLU campus since I graduated 25 years ago, even if I have been back to Baguio a couple of times after graduation. The organizers did a good job in hyping up the event. It was supposed to be a grand celebration – after all, we would have to wait another 100 years to be able to have a celebration of such grand scale again. I was excited to see my former teachers and schoolmates. I wanted to see what had changed, what had the seeds of activism and reawakening we sowed during the waning years of martial law had grown into. We were looking at almost 300 kilometers of grueling land travel, trekking through dark winding roads enveloped in fog and mist. But we were undaunted.

We left rain-soaked Manila around 9 in the evening of Friday, and it was almost 3 in the morning of Saturday when we arrived at the guest house where we stayed. We knew we had to be up early so we can join the morning activities, but we can’t seem to sleep at all. We were conjuring up images of thousands of SLU alumni crowding Session Road, of hotels and inns enjoying brisk business with the influx of visitors. We felt lucky to have traveled at the most unholy hour so we can avoid the traffic. It will be a grand celebration just as they said it will be.

Disappointed - that is the most charitable word that I can think of to describe how it felt when we finally went to SLU early Saturday morning for what was supposed to be the first day of the 2-day Grand SLU Centennial Alumni Homecoming. It was anything but grand. Where were the happy, excited alumni who would fill the streets leading to SLU? We were late for the first event, the Centennial Mass at the SLU Chapel, so we parked at the Baguio Cathedral thinking that the campus grounds would be full of cars as there must be thousands of alumni coming for this once-in-a-hundred-years event. We would not want to be stuck in traffic and be late for the events.

We then walked through the Boys High compound and exited to Assumption Road so we can enter the SLU Campus through the Sacred Heart Hospital. This was our regular route when we were young students on a shoestring budget. It was therefore so strange to see very few people on the road and on the campus itself. People were going about their business as if there was nothing special happening that day. I was even joking with my friends that maybe we got the dates wrong. Surely, there should have been a more festive atmosphere. We went to the chapel and caught the tail-end of the Centennial Mass - where only a handful of people attended. I felt bad, but consoled myself with the thought that people might have traveled far like us and they will be late. Or maybe they skipped the Mass and were already waiting in the gym for the program to start so they can get better seats. Maybe... hopefully...

After the Mass, we went up to the Burgos Gym, passing the grandstand by the parking lot where we held many protest actions which eventually led to the rebirth of the Student Council and an independent student publication in the early 80's. It felt good standing on those historical steps, reliving the days when there was more idealism, when we were willing to risk our dreams and aspirations to fight for what we believe was right and just. Unfortunately, when we reached the homecoming venue, our elation and nostalgic trip back to our younger days easily turned into disappointment and frustration. There were very few people in the cavernous hall of the gym, and not a few people were turning away and leaving. Where were the alumni? The Facebook site said almost 600 have signed up. I was pretty sure there are a lot of SLU faculty and employees who are alumni themselves. Baguio City and Northern Luzon is SLU country, so where were the Louisians?

When I first heard that the registration fee was ONE THOUSAND PESOS, I thought it was a big joke. Surely, the organizers would want to have as many alumni to be able to attend this momentous event. They would not keep them away with such an expensive registration fee. When it dawned upon us that we would really have to cough out 2-days worth of minimum wage to be able to become part of this important milestone, it became clear to us why there were so very few alumni who actually came despite the historical significance of this event. Yes, all 5 of us may be able to afford the thousand-peso registration fee – but it was just so WRONG. It simply means that those who cannot part with their hard-earned thousand bucks are not welcome. Obviously, the event was meant for those who have the money to spare. The 2-day Centennial feast that the organizers prepared for the Alumni requires a P1,000.00 fee on the first day, and another P2,500.00 fee if you want to play golf on the 2nd day. Only the Centennial Mass did not involve a fee - and we missed it. We decided to skip the event altogether and joined the others who left disappointed.

What did the organizers hope to achieve with this event? Isn’t it to gather the alumni to commemorate this historical and momentous milestone, regardless of what had become of them since they left SLU? Or is it to raise funds even if it means the exclusion of those who will not be able to afford to shell out the registration fees? And since the election of the officers was done during this exclusive event, what happened to the principles of democratic participation when only those who can afford the one thousand pesos registration fee were able to cast their votes? This is like saying only those who pay their taxes can vote during elections. Would it have been better to have an Alumni Homecoming that welcomes everyone, and then have a separate fund-raising event for those who can afford and who want to help the association’s projects?

The Organizers squandered a golden opportunity to gather together the school’s alumni wherever they may be now, or whatever they may have achieved in life. The homecoming should not have been just for those who have succeeded and made good in life and can afford to financially help the Alumni Association in its projects. SLU was established so that it can be the light that shines for all those who would otherwise find it hard to attain higher education in Manila and other centers of education. SLU provided the golden opportunity for the youth of the Cordilleras and Northern Luzon to have access to quality education. The elitist centennial homecoming was everything that SLU NEVER stood for.

It could have been a defining moment for the Alumni Association, when it could have been the instrument by which SLU can gather as many alumni as possible to celebrate our school’s legacy of education that transforms and builds. It could have been the spark, the catalyst that will inspire the alumni to participate more actively in future activities and projects. We let go of that once in a hundred years chance. But all is not lost. Louisians from all walks of life must come together and reclaim the proud legacy that our Alma Mater has entrusted to us. We are the Alumni of SLU. We are the light that can transform. Let us build again.

Monday, January 17, 2011

A Birthday Tribute to Nanay

She would have turned 83 today. She is an ordinary woman who had an extra-ordinary life. She was, and will always be my mother, my Nanay.

It is amazing how Nanay turned out to be the mother that she was, when she had lost her own mother when she was just 7 months old. She had wanted to be a teacher, but she had her first child when she was barely 20, followed in succession by 8 more. She did not make it to a classroom, but she taught valuable lessons in life to her 9 children.

Nanay was far from perfect. She had her moods, her ups and downs. She gets angry, she cries when she feels bad. But she was never haughty, she kept her feet firmly on the ground. She was fair to her workers and to everyone else she dealt with. She knows the dignity of labor, and made sure that her children know this as well early on.

She earned her own keep, but never considered the fruits of her labor as her own. Whatever she earned, it was shared with her family and those who came to her for help. She was a doting daughter to her father, and a loving and solicitous sister to her brothers and sisters. Her father remarried even before she can walk, and she was left to the care of her aunts. But she never showed any resentment towards him. She adored him, and was devastated when he passed away. Her best friend was her elder sister Ate Mely, and was fiercely loyal and protective of her Kuya Rusty. Yet, she also loved her younger half brothers and half sisters as if they had the same mother.

Nanay loved Tatay the best way she knew. She was not showy, but she supported him in all that he did. She was an entrepreneur extraordinaire, but remained a full-time mother and wife at the same time. When Nanay got sick in her later years, Tatay took care of her and never left her side. I did not see it then, but only a love so deep, so intense and so passionate could have seen them through those difficult years.

It’s been 12 years since Nanay passed on, but her spirit lives on in the people whose lives she had touched. Her accomplishments lay not in what she had achieved in life, but what we had become in life because of her.

Happy Birthday Nanay!