Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Davao high school girls: grand awardees at the Intel ISEF 2017

The winners in their national costume
during the judging interview day.
They proved that the acacia bark extract is an effective organic insecticide against the adult black rice bug. For this outstanding science investigatory project, Rubeliene Chezka Gloria, Myrelle Angela Colas and Nadine Antonette Obafial of the Davao City National High School brought home the second grand award of US$1,5000 in the plant sciences from the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) held in Los Angeles, California on May 14-19, 2017.

The trio will be in Grade 10 when schools open in June. They will have the next three years until they graduate from senior high school to hone their research skills with new projects that can be of great benefit to the country.

They brought honor and pride to their school and country, and they also earned a place in the galaxy. Their names will be given to three asteroids discovered by the  MIT Lincoln Laboratory’s Near Earth Asteroid Research Program (LINEAR).

The Gloria, Colas and Obafial asteroids will join the main-belt asteroids previously named after Filipinos under that program:  28439 Miguelreyes, 11697 Estrella, 12088 Macalintal, 12522 Rara and 13241 Biyo. The first was named after Miguel Arnold Reyes, a grand awardee for his materials and bioengineering project in the 2011 ISEF. The other three were those of awardees in the 2002 ISEF: Allan Noriel Estrella and Jeric Valles Macalintal for their physics team project, Prem Vilas Rara for his microbiology study, and Dr. Josette Biyo for excellence in teaching.

The Davao team was part of this year’s ISEF Team Philippines, which included Ricky Dave Mercado of Nabuslot National High School, Pinamalayan, Oriental Mindoro and Maries Ann Silvestre of Juan R. Liwag Memorial High School, Gapan, Nueva Ecija.

ISEF Team Philippines 2017 at work during their mentoring sessions before going to LA.

ISEF Team Philippines was consolidated from among the top winners in the life and physical sciences competition in the National Science and Technology Fair of the Department of Education held in Tagaytay City in December 2016.

The Davao girls extracted their potential insecticide from chipped-off acacia bark. They set up experimental houses with rice plants and black rice bugs. They tested varying concentrations of acacia extract on the bugs for one week to determine which is more effective in killing them. 

Mercado examined the morphology of agricultural wastes—coconut husk, banana pseudo-stem and sugarcane husk—and he found that coconut husk fibers, which have more diverse microporous cells, have better noise and hear reduction properties. He competed in the environmental engineering category.

Silvestre investigated the neuroprotective potential of coconut leaf extract using a transgenic worm in a search of a cure for Alzheimer’s Disease and Inclusion Body Myositis. The study competed in biochemistry.

The Department of Education is looking at the victory of the young scientists from Davao National High School as an inspiration for the students who will pursue their science research plans as soon as the schools open in June.

This year, around 1,800 finalists from 78 countries, regions and territories were in the ISEF in Los Angeles to vie for grand prizes in twenty categories. From the best of each category, the three ‘bests of the best’ went home with the Dudley E. Moore award of $75,000 and the two runners-up, Intel Foundation Young Scientist awardees, winning $50,000 each.

Top winner Ivo Zell from Germany got the Moore award for his design of a small flying wing based on a bell-shaped lift distribution.  Runner-ups Amber Young fromFlorida worked on a technique to predict the orbits of space junk circling the earth, and Valerio Pagliarino from Italy addressed how to get internet service to remote areas by using lasers to transmit signals between large high-voltage power transmission towers.


Photo credit:  Mr Joseph Jacob of DepEd for the picture of the girls in national costume.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

An encounter with the Holy Week traditions of Balayan, Batangas

Balayan church, a national cultural treasure.

Good Friday in Balayan, Batangas was a totally different experience. 

We were there two years ago to cover the much-hyped 'Parada ng mga Lechon’ on the feast day of St. John the Baptist, 24th of June. We expected to get doused, of course, and we took care that we, not our camera, would get the drenching. Seeing only the heads of roasted pigs on parade even if these were dressed up in various character configurations was a big let-down.
 
Paintings on the dome ceiling of Balayan church.

We spent Maundy Thursday and Good Friday at a new resort a short walk away from Balayan Bay. Thursday lunch was still meat while we listened to various sopranos of senior women chanting the life and death of Jesus Christ. Our hosts were strict on keeping Friday meatless and they served Balayan’s version of the danggit (not salty), and, of course, the famous Batangas sinaing na tulingan with an array of vegetable dishes on the side. Then there was this bottle of preserved dark lilac calumpit fruit, already sweetened by two years of fermentation, a twist to the desserts of ripe mangoes, bananas and sago’t gulaman.

Interior of Balayan church.

On Good Fridays, our hometown church and churchyard would be beehives of decorators adorning the many carrozas for the early evening procession. But not at Balayan’s antique Immaculate Conception Parish Church, a national cultural treasure. It was bereft of carrozas of dioramas depicting scenes from the passion, agony and death of Jesus Christ, and of life-size images of santos, santas and other characters in the pasyon story.

We saw a few carrozas later in the afternoon, all assembled at the church yard. We were told that the images owned by families depicting the passion story were borne in the Holy Wednesday procession.

Subli folk dancers strewing flower petals around the cross.

The mass before the Good Friday procession featured the veneration of the cross through a folk dance: Subli. This is a tradition in Batangas. In this instance, high school students performed the dance which included strewing flowere petals around the cross.

The Good Friday procession in Balayan is called 'pagbuburol', hence, the central figure is the Santo Entierro (Dead Christ). Only the Marias were in attendance--Magdalena,Veronica, Betania, Jacobe and the Mater Dolorosa--plus St. Peter and St. John the Evangelist.  The procession was long with throngs of people lighting the way with candles. 

The pasyon chanters provided the music for the procession. One group were all seated in a trailer provided with a sound sytem, microphones and loud speaker. In most towns, there would be brass bands. In our town, each carroza owner provided canned music (pasyon, hymns, etc).

The Santo Entierro of Balayan.

In our hometown, the Santo Entierro is honored with rituals: it is fetched from the house of the caretakers/family owners after the afternoon siete palabras, brought to the church for veneration, and later becomes the highlight of a procession of some 50 carrozas. 

When we were young, my mother and other women in the neighborhood would attend the ‘funeral’ of the Dead Christ by 10 o’clock in the evening. He was borne in procession from the church to the house of the caretaker, usually a descendant of the original owners of a century ago.

Pabasa chanters provided the musical accompaniment of the Balayan procession.

They have a similar final 'pagbuburol' in Balayan. The folks there say that this is a continuation of the earlier procession.

There is another image that Balayanese venerate, that of a fallen Christ, prone on the ground on his knees. We were able to take a glimpse of it when the procession passed by its shrine. We thought it looked like the typical fallen figure without the cross on his shoulder.

The Black Saturday religious rites, according to our hosts, are long tests of faith and endurance: the fire and candle and holy water ritual, the baptism mass, and all these culminating in the midnight Easter Service with the salubong of the grieving Mary and the Risen Christ.


As the Balayan midnight service was happening, we were getting into our hometown to witness the traditional early Sunday morning salubong rites: an angel inside a giant flower hoisted above the carrozas of Mary and her resurrected Son, and she would lift the black veil as she sings to Mary the good news of the resurrection.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Santo Entierro (Holy Burial)

Santo Entierro is also taken to mean the Dead Christ. In our town, we do not use the Spanish term, We refer to the image of the Dead Christ as "Apo Natay," which can be translated as "Dead Lord."

We were in San Agustin Church this Holy Wednesday afternoon, There were two Santo Entierros that were drawing the fervent attention of people doing their visita iglesia: a reposeful image whose body is covered by a gold-embroidered white shroud, and the other, a dark antique image covered with an ornate red shroud.

Reposeful Santo Entierro at the San Agustin Church
Dark antique Santo Entierro originally from Lemery, Batangas.


According to the explanatory caption, the antique image was the 'crucified Christ' acquired by the Medina-Morales family in the 18th century. Before World War II, it was used in Lemery, Batangas during the re-enactment on Good Friday of the crucifixion and burial of Christ..

The wooden image is described as having moveable hands. This reminds us of the "Senyor Sepulcro" of Paete, Laguna whose hands and feet can be bent at the joints. Six years ago, we witnessed how the image was made to sit under a tent of linen and smoked, which was very similar to the ritual of the dead practiced by the Cordillera people until recent times.

Paete's Senyor after the ritual of the dead.
                                           
The "Senyor Sepulcro" was dressed in white and covered with an ornate red shroud for the burial: the men carry the senyor in his glass coffin to the church in choreographed rhythmic steps.

In Lucban, Quezon, the men also carry the Santo Entierro but the journey through the procession route takes hours: the ritual is almost similar to that of the Nazareno of Quiapo with the barefoot male devotees struggling with the ropes and clambering to touch the glass-covered sepulcher, The Senyor here is richly garbed with jewels and a golden shroud.

Lucban's "Santo Senyor Sepulcro"

I remember that at ten o'clock in the evening of Good Friday, a good two or three hours after the customary procession, my mother would tell us that she and her friends in the neighborhood were going to the "funeral" of "Apo Natay." It would be much later when we learned that they were actually accompanying the "Apo" from the church to the "burial ground," meaning the house of the caretaker of the image until the next Holy Week.

That is no longer practiced. What is significant in my hometown is that the "Apo Natay" of the Aglipayan church is the unifying icon of the descendants of Don Timoteo Fernandez and Dna Isabel Ramos, their rallying symbol for gathering all of them in a grand reunion. 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Skimboarding in my neighborhood by the beach in Zambales



Lyric Farala, 10, is top of the grom class in barangay La Paz, San Narciso, Zambales.

Almost everyday since November, I have been watching skimboarders riding the waves close to the shore near my bamboo house by the West Philippine Sea in barangay La Paz, San Narciso, Zambales. They can be as young as five years old or in the early '30s.

Skimboarding is the water sport of choice of the young men in the southern part of the coastal barrio. In the northern part, it is surfing: the local boys teach the neophyte surfers from Metro Manila and other parts of the country the rudiments of this sport at the Crystal Beach Resort.

The skimboarders have shorter boards than the surfers, and they ride the waves or swells nearer the shore, Skimboarding is a fast game on shallow waters. The surfers do the waves farther out, and bigger and finned boards allow them longer and more stable rides on the waves surging to break on the shore..

Both are imported sports: surfing from Hawaii and skimboarding from California.

But both have become native to our provincial haven; hence, we're claiming that San Narciso is the 'surfing and skimboarding capital of Zambales.'


These three A players, Angelo Ceneta, Peter Pagar and Jay Agagas competed in Tiwi, Albay last December.

In a local skimboarding competition event this month, there were competing groups: groms, Class B and Class A.

A grom (derived from grommet) is a skimboarder 14 years old or younger. Their seniors are either B or A, the A being the top players.  Veteran A players did not compete in the recent event, they instead judged in the three categories.

Champion in the groms category was Lyric Farala, a 10-yeat old pupil of the barangay elementary school. His father, uncles and cousins are skimboarders too. One of them teaches surfing at Crystal Beach.

Among those who judged in that January event were the three Class A players who represented the town in the skimboarding competition in Tiwi, Albay last December (2016): Angelo Ceneta, Peter Pagar and Jay Agagas.  Pagar won the top price in the individual category. The two others went into the qualifying rounds but did not make it to the cut for the final rounds.

Pagar has joined the labor force in Manila, and he skimboards when he comes home to take a breath. Ceneta may also give up his boards as soon as he is done with his marine transport education. Agagas does construction jobs to earn his keep, but he's still very much around the beach front with other skimboarders.

Typical skimboarding sights.

All these young sportsmen belong to the San Narciso Shorebreakers Skimboarding Group managed by Mia Casal, who takes time out from her potter's wheel and clay to watch their routines on the surging and swelling waves of the nearby sea.




Monday, January 23, 2017

The first droga war killed a government revenue source

The first droga war in the Philippines took place more than a century ago. It happened soon after the American conquest of our country: their war against opium, an addictive drug .

It was part of the American military government's efforts “to reform the public morals of Manila’s inhabitants” although it was primarily intended to protect the American soldiers. They regulated prostitution and alcoholic beverages; they banned cockfighting; they closed lotteries and gambling houses; and contracts for the sale of opium to the Chinese were discontinued.  One American writer considered these as attempts to remake the Filipino in their own (American) image.

Those reform measures were 'costly'. They killed the sources of revenue during the Spanish colonial period.

“The exclusive right to sell opium, which was farmed out in 1849, yielded five hundred thousand pesos per annum,” Charles Elliot (c1916) wrote. “Cockpits were also sources of government revenue. A royal order of March 21, 1861, provided for the regulation of this popular amusement. The privilege to operate cockpits was sold to the highest bidder and yielded the government from one hundred thousand pesos to two hundred thousand pesos per year. In 1891 this source of revenue was relinquished to the local governments. Lotteries were encouraged and from 1850 to the American occupation they brought in about eight hundred thousand pesos per year. Three-fourths of the receipts were distributed in prizes, and all unsold tickets were "played" by the treasury.  …. The trade in quicksilver, salt, playing cards and, in later times, spirituous liquors, explosives, opium and tobacco, was reserved to the government and the profits were large.” 

The Spanish colonial laws forbade Filipinos to use the drug, but they allowed the Chinese do it in duly licensed smoking establishments. The contracts for the sale of opium were revenue sources of the Spanish government.

In the Noli me Tangere of Jose Rizal, Capitan Tiago, surrogate father of Maria Clara, and a Chinese exploited the opium contract for rich profits.

In 1903, the Americans found that the opium habit was spreading across the country even up to the Muslim south. Initially, they wanted to enforce regulations patterned after the Spanish laws but this was opposed especially by what was called the “Evangelical Union” of non-Roman Catholic clergy. The Philippine Commission decided to investigate first and sent a committee to visit neighboring countries and study their opium laws. When they returned, they recommended a measure to completely suppress this vice, modelled after the Japanese law in effect in Formosa.

The Commission enacted the Opium Law (Act No. 1761) in October 1907 with the view of finally suppressing the opium traffic. It came into effect on 01 March 1908: opium importation was prohibited except by the government and for medicinal purposes.

In its report in 1909, the Bureau of Customs said,“The importation of opium for any except medicinal purposes having been prohibited March 1, 1908, by Act No. 1761, the legitimate entry of this drug during the past year amounted to but a little over 52 kilos. upon which only $215 in duty was collected. The effect of this legislation upon the treasury has been the elimination of a source of revenue averaging some $300,000, gold, per year. The restriction also resulted in an enormous increase in the local value of the drug, and the high premium on any that could be smuggled in has proved an incentive to many [people] to engage in the illicit traffic. ... Some idea may be gained of the extent of this traffic from the fact that nearly one and one-half metric tons were seized during the year in attempts at illegal importation, mostly by Chinese. ..."

To replace opium, and to thwart that law, there were attempts to smuggle a replacement: cocaine. 

Thus, through the years, drug laws evolved to regulate/prohibit addictive substances that appear in the market. 

Heroin was the menace of the 1960s. It was either smoked or injected. The noted journalist Rodolfo Reyes of the Manila Times penetrated a 'dope den' in Malabon and exposed a drug syndicate. His story earned him awards including the Ten Outstanding Young Men (TOYM).

The current menace - shabu - has created an underground world of its own: users, pushers, dealers and drug lords, and, protectors. The audible/visible scenarios are gleaned from House and Senate hearings, reportage in the print and social media, on the purported "who's who" in that underworld and the money that's involved. There's no money that goes to the coffers of government, but there's money that allegedly pays for the protective cloak over the underground.





Sunday, December 25, 2016

The coming of Jesus and his genealogy in sculptures at Trinity Church, New York City

Today, Christmas Day, we remember the times we dropped by the neo-Gothic Trinity Church of the Episcopalian diocese in New York City on our sundry walks around lower Manhattan.

The construction of Trinity was completed in 1846 and has received endowments from the rich and the famous like the Astors, and the powerful, the British royalty, through the years. 

There are three things that keep us tarry at Trinity: the bronze doors, the magnificent interior with its altar reredos and stained glass chancel window, and the burial ground at the churchyard.

The doors date back to 1893 and were gifts of William Waldorf Astor (now we know from where Waldorf Astoria was derived). They comprise panels that depict scenes from the Bible, history of the church, and of New York City.

While there is no sculpted nativity scene on any of the two leaves of the door at the main portal, the beginning and the end of the life of Jesus are presented. They come as a pair of panels in the middle of the left and right leaves. 

The Annunciation, a panel in the left leaf of the bronze main portal door.

On the left leaf is the Annunciation - angel Gabriel announcing to Mary that she would conceive and be the mother of Jesus, and its counterpoint in the right leaf is an empty tomb - the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. 

The lowest pair depicts scenes from the Old Testament: expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise, and the dream of Jacob, while the topmost pairs are interpretations of two visions from the Apocalypse.

The churchyard is an old burial ground. The tomb of Alexander Hamilton is in the southern yard.

What is striking in the northern yard is the Astor Cross, erected in 1914 in memory of Caroline Webster Schermerhorn Astor, wife of William Astor. 

The Astor Cross at the northern churchyard.

The Cross carries sculpted figures to illustrate the genealogy of Jesus Christ according to St. Luke.

Around the four-sided obelisk are the following familiar characters: on the front side, going upwards - Adam and Eve, Shem and Judah; and on the other three sides, (a) Noah, Jacob and David; (b) Enoch, Isaac and Jesse; and (c) Seth, Abraham and Ruth, in the other sides,  And at the top of the structure is the Crucifix.

Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, at the doors and the churchyard cross at Trinity Church.

Adam and Eve.
Noah.



Thursday, December 22, 2016

A belen remembrance, thanks to Belenismo of Tarlac

Belen 2016 near Camp Sevillano Aquino, San Miguel, Tarlac.

For the past couple of years, we've been wanting to make a trip to (a) San Fernando, Pampanga for a look at their renowned giant lanterns from the different barangays during their 'ligligan ng mga parol' competition, and (b) Tarlac province to check what's this belenismo event all about: an annual inter-town competition as to who makes the best nativity scene.

On 21 December, we left traffic-bedraggled Metro Manila in mid-afternoon hoping to get to Tarlac just as soon as the belens get lit up. We thought we'd be able to finish San Miguel, Tarlac and Tarlac City early enough to get to watch the giant parols at the back of Robinson's in San Fernando, Pampanga.

We were late for the giant lantern show, and there's not much chance we'd be able to see the 'ligligan this year'.

After the ride through NLEX-SCTEX and the dark stretch of McArthur Highway through the Luisita estate, we got rewarded with an awesome sight: a giant peacock made out of colorful fans and winnowing baskets and 'feathers' of bamboo strips with the bird's bosom cradling the manger scene, and the star fixed on its head.

The nativity scene with the Magi. There were sheep but no shepherds.

This peacock belen won the top prize in this year's Belenismo of Tarlac, a competition among the towns as to who would create the best nativity scene.  We read in the papers that President Digong DU30 himself was the guest during the awarding ceremony. The poster announcing the event said it's 'free admission.'

The bird's head served as the star.

We saw two other belens in Tarlac City that used indigenous materials.

That of SM Tarlac City used dangling bamboo poles all around the traditional images of the nativity; the heads of Mary and Joseph though were moving.

Belen of SM Tarlac City.

The non-traditional belen across the street fronting the Cathedral made use of bamboo mats in configuring the images of Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus and the Three Kings.

Belen in the plaza across the cathedral, Tarlac City

All these reminded us that once when we were a math teacher in a Catholic high school in the old hometown, we were tasked to construct the belen in the church.

Together with one of my students who would become an architect, we made use of all the cut branches of the mango tree that got torn up during the storm some months before. We assembled them to make the platform for the nativity scene complete with kings and shepherds around the holy family, and hooked the angel above them with a long wire to the ceiling.

Our American Columban parish priest did not object when we constructed the belen a few meters from the entrance, and it was the first and last (we think) that the church belen was not located at its customary place at the right or left side of the altar. The traditionalists did not directly chide us, but we got plenty of 'why there?' inquiries. Our safe retort was, 'so that you'd see it in full right away, and not hidden by heads in front of you during the mass.'

The footnote to the "belen" story in the letter of Fr. Pedro Rosell on 17 April 1885, found in Blair and Robertson (vol, 43),  indicates that the word is derived from "beleno", which means "birth, in the sense of representing that of our Lord Jesus Christ (Echegaray's Diccionario etimologico), Hence, it was the representation of a manger."

Fr, Rosell wrote about a simple belen made inside the church. Then as now, there was not much religious ceremony that attended it: it merely illustrated the Christmas story.

His letter reflects how the people of that time celebrated Christmas and the joy expressed through the pealing of the bells and the singing of Christmas carols. Today, one can hardly hear church bells, and yes, carols (and their derivatives) are still sung, but not so many people practice the adoration of the Holy Child.

Here's Fr. Rosell telling about one Christmas day in his parish to his Father Superior:


"And now you shall see, Father Superior, the religious ceremonies with which we managed to honor the birth of our Blessing, Jesus. As a preparation for the feast [of Christmas] the [feast of the] expectation of the delivery of our Lady was celebrated one week beforehand, and a daily mass of the Queen [i.e., of the Virgin] which a moderate number of persons attended. On the last day or the vigil of the feast, a pleasing, although simple Belen was made at one side of the presbytery in which were placed the images of the Child, Mary, and Joseph. Christmas eve came, and at eleven o'clock the bells were rung loudly, and from half past eleven until twelve, a continual ringing of bells two at a time announced to the people that the mass called Gallo was to be celebrated in memory of that holy hour in which the eternal Son of God the Father, made man in the most pure entrails of the Virgin Mary willed to be born on that poor and abandoned manger threshold [portal de Belen]. Hence when twelve o'clock had struck, the missa-cantata was said, which was followed by the adoration of the holy Child. That was made enjoyable by the singing of some fine Christmas carols. The twenty-fifth dawned bright and joyful. At eight o'clock in the morning solemn mass was celebrated, which was chanted according to custom by the choir of singers of the church, with the accompaniment of two flutes and a tambourine. About one hundred persons took communion at it. There was a sermon, and at the end of the mass, there was another adoration of the Child Jesus. At the end of the function, the authorities and chiefs of the village came to visit us as they are wont to do during all the great feasts of the year. After that the musicians and singers congratulated us for the good Christmas from the hall of the convent, with toccatas according to the custom of this country, and Christmas carols. After them followed a crowd of people of all classes. What arrested my attention most was the liberty with which they went up and down stairs, hither and thither, and addressed the fathers and begged for what they needed. I will say it: the convent appeared nothing more nor less than a Casa-Pairal.  Since the ceremonies of the morning were so long, nothing was done in the afternoon except to have the adoration of the holy Child, a thing which those excellent and simple people enjoy greatly and never tire of doing. With that the feast of the nativity of our Lord ended." 




Reference: Blair, E.H. and Robertson, J.A. (1903-09).  Letter from Father Pedro Rosell. Caraga, April 17, 1885. [From ut supra.] The Philippine Islands, 1493-1803. 1:43(225-228). Cleveland, Ohio: The A. H.Clark Company.