Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Learning from the Aytas: beneficial and edible plants in the mountain forests

We went trekking to the Palacapac Falls in Omaya, the mountainside barangay of our hometown San Narciso in Zambales recently since this is the best time to go there, being the rainy season. Palacapac dries up in the summer although the rock basins below it are good for cool dips.

We followed a kilometer stretch of the bed of Veto River, clambering over big rocks and balancing on mossy, slippery submerged ones as we sloshed through the shallow waters. The Ayta children were fast on this rocky trail, swimming on pools under mini-falls of crystalline water through the gaps between giant rocks when they wait for the slow trekking party.

Before we got to the river, we passed through fields thick with tall grasses, shrubs and trees. Our Ayta guides were ahead of us cutting a trail through the grasses, and overhanging branches of shrubs and trees.

The Ayta women were quick to point out plants that are beneficial to them:

Marita shows the edible tuber of the lagyaban plant.


  • the lagyaban plant whose tuber can grow as big as singkamas (Pachyrhizus erosus, Mexican turnip). The tubers are fully grown, and thus usually gathered, in September. These are dried, grated and cooked for the eating, or as a source of 'gawgaw' (stiffening starch) for the laundry.

Ripe alagat fruits.

  • the alagat plant whose edible red ripe fruits are sweet. 

Unripe arosip fruits.

  • the arosip, which bears clusters of round fruits, sour when green, and taste like the familiar bignay (Antidesma bunius). Probably, the plant name is derived from the similarity of the fruit clusters with the edible green ar-arosip (Tagalog lato) seaweeds.
In our first trek to the top of Palacapac Falls two months ago, Dante, the husband of the leader of the Ayta community, was apologetic that he was not able to show me the forest plant they call togatoy. We asked what was so outstanding about it, and we were stunned to hear it was viagratic. 

He described this plant be like orchids or ferns anchored on tree trunks. It's the roots that are 'erectile', he said, that are cut, immersed in hot water for the stimulant drink.

The Ayta couple have eight children, and Dante attributed this to the power of togatoy. In this latest excursion to the falls, he was telling me that he and his wife each have to take a glassful of the potion for intense and prolonged lovemaking.  

We will have to find the scientific identities of these plants from the National Museum botanists. 

Some kudet mushrooms gathered from the forest.

An added feature of our mountainside excursion during this rainy season is the sighting of profusions of edible giant mushrooms under the clumps of bamboo trees. The Aytas call them kudet. The stems are tough and they have to be discarded. The cap is also a bit tough, but for easier cooking, this has to be torn into narrow strips along the gills. We found it suited for chicken broth with ampalaya leaves.

We told Dante that the next time we climb the mountainside, we will look for plants that are of value to them: for timber, medicine, or food. And he had to show me the togatoy plant for documentation purposes.

These plants and fungus are part of the life of the Ayta community. Certainly, these should be included among the cultural properties of our town when we do our cultural mapping project, which local governments are enjoined to do in partnership with the National Commission on Culture and the Arts (NCCA). 

Friday, July 28, 2017

No effigies burned on DU30's SONA 2017 afternoon

For the second time, the parliamentarians on the avenue leading to the Batasan Pambansa did not burn the effigy of President Rodrigo Roa Duterte (DU30). Last year was honeymoon time for the chief executive and the so-called Left. He had appointed leftists to the Cabinet; hence, a cordial mood prevailed on Commonwealth Avenue.

After he delivered his long SONA 2017--scripted and ad libbed--before the joint session of the Senate and the House, the diplomatic corps, and the slick crowd in the galleries, and viewed live on TV by the common people, DU30 surprised the rally crowd by appearing on their entablado. He spoke briefly (around 13 minutes in the YouTube video) but hecklers interrupted him every now and then.

DU30 according to the Socialistas.

There were two effigies of DU30. The Socialistas, who did not mix with the Bayan (Bagong Alyansang Makabayan) groups, spoke on their own entablado and displayed their DU30 effigy in military camouflage with sidearms, tagged 'pasista' on his cap. Aside from the large hardboard cut-out of DU30 as Hitler look-alike, Bayan also had effigies of the president held by the claws of the eagle Uncle Sam, with Finance Sec. Carlos Dominguez and DND chief Delfin Lorenzana on the side.


DU30 according to the Bayan bloc.

One fellow hugged his own democratic space in front of the Batasan, right beside the Bayan assembly. In his placard, he described himself as a 'nuissance candidate' during the last presidential elections. He called DU30 a Hitler.

DU30 dubbed as Hitler.

The BlockDuterte group focused on the EJK or tokhang killings. They had sacks of old, junked shoes to display on a large swath of Commonwealth Avenue, past the St, Peter's Church but far from the entablados and red flags of the Socialistas and the Bayan groups. The shoes were intended to represent the missing, the victims of the illegal killings associated with the droga war.

We always tend to gravitate to the lumads participating in protest events in Manila: Lakbayan or the the SONA. The Manobos usually represent the lumads, the schoolchildren and adults with the leaders in their beaded takulong headgear. They lend ethnic color to the mass rallies.

Lumad schoolchildren in protest front line .

In this SONA, the lumad children brought to the fore their schools. They got the ire of DU30 who threatened to bomb these schools. He did not like the children joining anti-government demonstrations, and he alleged that the schools were illegal, not authorized by DepEd, and were being used for leftist indoctrination.

It was a sunless afternoon altogether with slight showers breaking up huddling groups every now and then. The police just watched the rallying crowd, the anti-riot shields stacked far from the entablados.

The surprise visit of DU30 was preceded by barong clad PSG members surveying the Bayan entablado area while he was delivering his SONA. Nobody suspected that he would be coming down here,. But may be Bayan Secretary Gen. Renato Reyes, Jr. and Saturnino Ocampo knew it before hand. There was an amiable exchange of words between them and the police general while the security survey was being done.


Tuesday, July 18, 2017

'Nokanshi': the Japanese 'art' of preparing the dead for cremation



Image result for Masahiro Motoki AND Departures
Publicity photo in the internet.

We simply had to catch the last two movie features of the Eigai Sai Japanese Film Festival at the Shang Cineplex on EDSA: The Long Excuse/'Nagai Iiwake'  (Miwa Nishikawa,2016) and Departures/'Okuribito' (Yojiro Takita, 2008).  Eigai 2017 is the 20th festival, and in celebration, the Japan Foundation offered 20 films. That means we missed 18. We were in perfect attendance in the previous Eigais.

Death was the underlying theme of the two movies. And incidentally, Masahiro Motoki was the lead actor in both films. He performed characters who had to deal with issues of death in different contextual frameworks.

In The Long Excuse, Motoki is the popular writer Sachio Kinugasa whose wife Natsuko died when the bus she rode with her friend for a holiday in an ski resort crashed into a frozen lake. 

The movie delineated how Sachio coped with the loss of his wife of twenty years vis-a-vis his personal and professional circumstances. He stepped into the life the inconsolable husband of his wife's friend and his children, and in the process, all of them were able to move on. 

It was not part of the movie, but in real life, Sachio would engage a nokanshi to prepare Natsuko's body for cremation.

In Departures, Motoki is the cellist Daigo Kobayashi who  became a nokanshi in his old town where he and his wife settled down after the symphony orchestra of an urban city was dissolved. He was looking for a job and responded to an ad from what he thought was a travel agency. It was a mortuary; and a typo error indicated a task of attending to  the 'departed' not travel 'departures.'

The closest meaning of a nokanshi is "encoffiner or encoffining master" one who prepares the body before it is laid on the coffin and brought to the crematorium. Japanese law requires cremation, and usually the nokanshi is called while the dead body is still warm. 

As depicted in the movie, the family of the deceased watches the process, but the ritual is so practiced and refined that no one will see a bare body even if it is undressed for the donning of new clothes. The face is made up to look alive similar to the picture displayed in the memorial altar. In one scene, Daigo asked for the favorite lipstick of the departed.

Daigo the cellist brought to his job a musician's sense of control. His movements were elegant, almost theatrical, but showed compassion to the departed, and respect for those in grief.

The deliberate carefulness with which he cleansed and clothed the bodies--the transgender, the young girl who died in an accident, the grandmother, the operator of the baths, and his own father--reminded one of the Japanese art of gift wrapping. There was some sense of pattern, for example, in the way the hands were made to clasp together sometimes with Buddhist beads around them. Or, in the way of folding and arranging the sleeves of the kimono on the sides of the body. 

Certainly, the movie created some culture shock to the Filipino audience familiar with the business of dying in the country. There is no equivalent of the Japanese nokanshi; everything is left to the funeral parlor.

For his performance in the movie, Masahiro Motoki won four best actor awards in 2009: Asian Film, Japanese Academy, Blue Ribbon and Kinema Junpo. That year, Departures won the Oscar for the Best Foreign Language Film in the 81st Academy Awards, and ran away with ten of that year's Japanese Academy Awards including Best Actor and Best Director. 



Saturday, July 8, 2017

Women in the Philippine Merchant Marine Academy Class of 2017


Sandiglayan 2017 in parade formation.

The Philippine Merchant Marine Academy (PMMA) Class of 2017 is still male-dominated: of the 216 graduates, 17 are women. They received their Bachelor of Science degrees in Marine Transport (BSMT) and Marine Engineering (BSMarE) during the 196th Commencement Exercises at the Academy grounds in San Narciso, Zambales on 06 July 2017.

Two women graduated BSMarE cum laude: Kim Melody B. Canet and Agiebel P. Dulatre.

Of the 17 women, seven (7) were in the marine transport, and ten (10) in the marine engineering, degree programs.

The women among the 91 BSMT graduates were Bernadette S. Addun, Karen G. Alcoser, Shaira Marie D. Alzate, Maria Theressa D. Cabrera, Francine Gyneth P. Galino, Christine N. Genotiva and Charlotte S. Pelaez. Cabrera received an efficiency medal from the Department of Naval Science and Tactics.

And the women among the 125 BSMarE graduates were Mira Liza Balabag, Evan Royce A. Bautista, Theya Marie A. Bumanglag, Rizza Mae D. Cabrera, Chinnie Lhen I. Calba, Kim Melody B. Canet, Agiebel P. Dulatre, Kloise Floreca C. Opena, Zaira Margarette M. Rubia and Hazel Gayodan Tallongan. 



Zaira Margarette Rubia receiving the Philippine Coast Guard Sword.

Canet and Rubia were in the Top 10 in the MarE program. Rubia was the most awarded of this batch of women graduates. She was presented the Philippine Coast Guard Sword, the 'Iron Woman' award from the Department of Naval Science and Tactics, and Leadership and Discipline Medals from the Department of Midshipmen Affairs.

This is the 10th year ever since PMMA accepted women into the long blue line in 1997. Of the women graduates since then, two graduated valedictorian and magna cum laude of their respective classes: the first, Zulaika Mariano Calibjo in 2006,  and the second, Laarni Grace Pangilinan in 2014.

This year's batch named their class Sandiglayan, which means "Samahan ng Mandirigma at Manlalakbay ng Karagatan sa Kaunlaran ng Bayan."

Razor Dave C. Samortin, BSMT, magna cum laude, in his valedictory address, profusely thanked, on behalf of his classmates, their families and the Academy for their support and guidance as they sailed the course in the academy, and invoked courage when they face the rough seas in their chosen fields. Arjan Lyndl E. Flores regaled everyone when he recounted how he became stronger by overcoming his academic failures, and thus succeeded to earn the distinction of being 'Anchorman,' the guy with the lowest weighted average grade in their class. 

Samortin, Flores and their classmates entered the Academy through a rigid selection process. PMMA says that about 5% of around 6,500 applicants from all over the country pass the screening and get accepted as midshipmen in two academic programs of their choice: marine transport and marine engineering.


Eight of the 17 women members of Sandiglayan 2017.

Sandiglayan had four-year residency courses: the first, second and fourth years for academic studies on campus, and the third for a one-year internship training as deck or engine cadets on board commercial vessels plying the international ocean lanes. The fourth, the graduation year, is the professional stage where they learn the additional knowledge and skills to qualify as third mates and fourth marine engineers.

They were all government scholars who enjoyed free tuition, board and lodging, and an assured shipboard training on board international vessels with stipend. 

The famous painter Juan Luna y Novicio of Spoliarium fame preceded Sandiglayan by 143 years. He was 17 when he graduated Piloto de Altos Mares (Pilot of the High Seas) from the Escuela de Nautica de Manila in 1874. 

The Escuela was established in 1820 and through the years evolved into the PMMA as we know today.

After sailing for thirty months, Luna quit seafaring, even if he was called el marino atrevido (the daring seaman) by his shipmates, and went to study fine arts.

In the case of Sandiglayan, three career paths were opened for them: enlisting with Philippine Navy and the Philippine Coast Guard, and joining the Merchant Marine.

The PMMA stamp virtually assures them 100% employability with  immediate hiring by more than 30 partner international and manning companies of the Academy. Their promising careers include being master mariners, chief engineers, shipping executives, naval or coast guard officers, educators, trainers in maritime-related industries/institutions, etc.

The Philippine Coast Guard has already inducted 22 of Sandiglayan Class earlier on 03 July 2017 as Probationary Ensign, two of them are women. 

Valedictorian Samortin and Anchorman Flores are now P/ENS of the Philippine Navy.

"Our graduates," VAdm Richard Ritual, PMMA Superintendent, said, "constantly serve as Ambassadors of Goodwill, for they circle the different parts of the globe on board various international seagoing vessels bringing with them the positive tenets inculcated upon them during their Academy days: Kawastuhan, Kababaang-loob, Kagitingan (Righteousness, Humility, Courage)."

Sandiglayan tossing their caps in the air after the ceremonies.


Saturday, July 1, 2017

More are graduating summa cum laude in UP Diliman


Thirty six (36) of 4,610 students graduated summa cum laude (with highest honors) from the schools and colleges of the University of the Philippines Diliman (UPD) Diliman campus during the 106th General Commencement Exercises on 25th June 2017.

This is the highest number of topnotchers since the university was founded in 1908. To earn the summa distinction, a student must earn a weighted average grade (WAG) between 1.0 and 1.20. 

In his opening remarks, UP Diliman Chancellor Michael Tan recalled his year's in the university when there one or two or none at all who graduated with this highest honors, although there were those who earned the distinction of magna cum laude or cum laude.

Alumni wonder how easy it seems now to graduate summa. Could it be that there are no more 'terror' professors who can kill aspirations to get grades better than 1.5 in one's subjects? The most plausible is that the wealth of information available to students is within reach of the fingers from the world wide web unlike before when they had to dig into books in the library. Information technology has boosted chances to get to the top of one's classes.

Getting a 1.0 in a subject then was a great struggle. Thus, one gets awed by students who graduate with a weighted grade average (WAG) of just a bit close to that magic number like Williard Joshua D. Jose and Rangel DG. Daroya, who both graduated with Bachelor of Science in Electronics and Communications Engineering (BS ECE) degree from the College of Engineering: WAGs of 1.058 and 1.074, respectively.

Arman Ali Ghodsinia, who delivered the valedictory address, graduated BS Molecular Biology and Biotechnology (BS MBB) from the College of Science, earned a WAG of 1.173.

The 36 top honors came from 10 degree-granting units of the university’s four clusters: science and technology (S&T), social sciences and law (SS&L), management and economics (M&E), and arts and letters (A&L).

The S&T cluster topped the number of summas with 17 (COE: 9, CS: 6, SS: 2). 
  • Following the cited topnotchers Jose and Daroya were these seven others from the College of Engineering (COE): John Ian V. Baytamo (WAG 1.115, BS Mechanical Engineering), Jeynald Jeyromme L. Endaya (1.133, BS Computer Science/CS), Johntee T. Tantuco (1.152, BS Industrial Engineering/IE), Quirby Angelo S. Alberto (1.154, BS IE), Marco Angelo DP. Samonte, 1.166 (BS ECE), Clare Feliz S. Tan (1.166, BS CS), and Ian Christian B. Fernandez (1.177, BS Computer Engineering).

    Eight of the nine summas from Engineering with Chancellor Tan and UP Pres. Concepcion.

  • Aside from Ghodsinia, there were five others from College of Science (CS): Philip Christopher S. Cruz (1.163, BS Physics), Christian Cariño (1.169, BS Chemistry/Chem), Kristine Larissa B. Yu (1.169, BS Chem), Jan Patrick C. Tan (1.174, BS MBB), and Ryan Timothy D. Yu (1.179, BS MBB). 

    The six summas from CS. Arman Ali Ghodsinia (4th from right) 
    delivered the valedictory addreess.

  • The two from the School of Statistics (SS): Paollo Deo R. Reyes (1.102, BS Statistics/Stat,) and Teod Carlo C. Cabili (1.196, BS Stat), 

The two summas from SS with university officials.

This was followed by eight from the SS&L cluster, all coming from the College of Social Science and Philosophy (CSSP).
  • Patricia S. Sy (1.089, Bachelor of Arts/BA in Sociology), Victor Carlo G. Irene (1.101, BA Philosophy), Stephanie Ann B. Lopez, (1.102, BA Psychology/Psych), Angelica Cielo B. Gozar (1.157, BA Psych), Arla Mae Nicole T. Salcedo (1.159, BA Psych). Krizzia Elyse B. Mañago (1.163, BA Linguistics), Corinna Victoria C. Martinez (1.177, BS Psych), and Marly Vea Clarisse L. Elli (1.182, BA Lingguistics).

It was almost all-women summas except for one from CSSP.


There were six from the M&E cluster (VSB: 4, AIT: 1, SE: 1):

  • The four from the Cesar E.A. Virata School of Business (VSB):  John Alexander O. Soriano (1.131, BS Business Administration and Accountancy/BAA), Christine Darla A. Bautista (1.171, BS Business Administration/BA), Marco G. Del Valle (1.173, BS BA) and Erica Camille U. Lau (1.193, BS BAA). 

The four summas from VSB with university officials.

  • From the Asian Institute of Tourism (AIT): Jennifer B. Rucio (1.173, BS Tourism). She is the first summa graduate of the institute.

Ms Rucio (inset, photo from UPD Information Office).

  • From the School of Economics (SE): Angelo Rafael E. Arcilla (1.183, BS Business Economics) 

The sole summa from SE with university officials.

The A&L cluster had five (CAL: 3, CHK: 1, CFA: 1).
  • The four from the College of Arts and Letters (CAL):  Martin Anthony M. Salud (1.104, BA European Languages), Jose Monfred C. Sy (1.166, BA Comparative Literature), and Mary Anne Balane (1.183, BA English Studies).

Sulud (top left), Sy (bottom left) and Balane. [The men's photos from UPD Information Office.]

  • From the College of Human Kinetics/CHK):  Katherine Adrielle R. Bersola (1.180, Bachelor of Sports Science). She is the first summa in the history of the college.

The first summa from CHK with university officials.

  • From the College of Fine Arts (CFA): Kamille Anne U. Areopagita (1.197, Bachelor of Fine Arts [Visual Communication]).

The sole summa from the College of Fine Arts with university officials.


In addition to the cited 36 summas, 337 received the Latin distinction of magna cum laude while 1,016 graduated with the honor of cum laude.

In our own recollection, it used to be that the magna cum laude graduates, like the few summas, were honored on stage during the general commencement exercises. 

With the growing number of summas, there may come a time when their acclamation will be confined in the recognition rites of schools and colleges.

I attended a graduation event in the New Hampshire in the US five years ago, and I noted the big number of summa graduates. They were not called on stage; it sufficed that their names in the program were followed by that Latin phrase of distinction. 


Note: Unless credited to the UP Diliman Information Office, all the photos are from the author.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

UP summa sets "Pagmamalasakit" as mantra for UP Diliman Class 2017


Summa cum laude graduate Arman Ali Ghodsinia delivering the message of UP Diliman Class 2017.

"Pagmamalasakit" was what Arman Ali Ghodsinia, the 'first Maranao to graduate summa cum laude from (the University of the Philippines),' asked his fellow Iskolars ng Bayan to give to the Filipino people when they step out of the academe into the city and the world. 

"Tayo'y mga kabataan na nagmamalasakit para sa bayan. Tayo’y mga kabataan na nagmamalasakit para sa mga kapwa natin – lalo na ang mga kapwa natin na nalugmok sa kahirapan o naiipit sa matinding kaguluhan.

"Dahil sa pagmamalasakit para sa kapwa at bayan, tayo’y mga kabataan na nagsisikap hindi lamang para sa pansariling interes kundi para sa interes ng nakakarami."

Ghodsinia, who earned a weighted grade average of 1.173 for his Bachelor of Science degree in Molecular Biology, represented the 4,610 members of UP Diliman Class 2017 in speaking before their families and the university community during the 106th Pangkalahatang Pagtatapos at the Diliman campus on 25th July 2017. 


Ghodsinia received his medal with his parents,

He said he was also speaking as 'an advocate of peace and unity.' He traced his maternal roots to Marawi, a hometown he described as 'belong(ing) to one of the top 5 poorest provinces in the country' where 'access to quality education and healthcare is still low.'

As he spoke Marawi has been under siege for more than a month with the military in offensive drive against the terrorist group led by the Maute brothers. 


"Today," he said, "marks another day of hardship and chaos faced by our Filipino brothers and sisters in Mindanao. ... we witness an ongoing crisis back home. Filipinos, both Muslims and Christians are forced to flee from their homes. Our Muslim brothers and sisters fast not in their homes but in evacuation centers [Note: It was the last day of the Ramadan]. This crisis is just another addition to the long historical narrative of injustice and inequity faced by many minority groups in Mindanao."


He presented himself as 'proof that members of minorities like us Maranaos can also do well; excel and contribute effectively to societal growth if given the same opportunities and rights. I am speaking to you as proof that anyone, regardless of religion, socioeconomic status, or ethnic ties, can excel if equal opportunities are available to all."


The six summa cum laude graduates from the UPD College of Science
 with Chancellor Michael Tan and UP President Danilo Concepcion. 

"Kahit tayo ay magkaka-iba, tayo ay magkaka-pareho pa rin."  He flashed back to molecular biology to describe the microcosm of our society: 

"I know that everyone is made of up the same building blocks of DNA – adenosine, cytosine, guanine, and thymine. Underneath all the external differences, we are all made the same molecules that aggregated to form a human body.

"If we want to build an inclusive society, we should first have a strong national identity wherein no one is left behind. And we need to start early. As much as subjects like science, math, and the languages are important, then so are subjects that build on greater social cohesion among Filipinos of different ethnic groups, regions and religions."


Sunday, June 11, 2017

No news of Philippine independence in Spain in June 1898


This picture appeared in the 20 June 1898 issue of Ilustracion Artistica of Barcelona, which is accessible from the online digital library of Biblioteca Nacional de Espana (BNE).

The Cronica de Guerra (Chronicle of War) in that issue was still talking about the 'tagalog insurrection' and the ongoing war with the Yankees, no mention yet of the Kawit declaration of independence on the 12th. The caption of this photo: "In December 1897, he was shouting 'Long Live Spain!,' and in May 1898, he was allied with the Yankees against Spain."

We expected to see news items on the defeat of the Spanish fleet on Manila Bay by the Yankee naval forces of George Dewey, and of the Kawit event, which the American general snubbed, but the Spanish press was relying on telegraphic reports, primarily military updates, from the command in Intramuros to the authorities in Madrid. There were no embedded journalists as we know today doing real-time reportage in various media.

From 1896 to 1899, the war photos in the Barcelona press were of the Spanish military defenses and deployments, and there were more of typical 'Islas Filipinas' scenes: churches, streets of Manila and a few cities and towns, 'indigenous' people and activities. In 1899, pictures of the celebration of the inauguration of the Malolos republic, and a page of portraits of military officers of the Philippine revolution (like Gregorio del Pilar in his iconic pose) appeared in Ilustracion Artistica.

Going back to the 20 June issue, the author of the war chronicle, identified as "A" at the end of the article, wrote:

"We must not comment on the behavior of the infamous Aguinaldo; he was a traitor to his people and has now been to the Spaniards. He has therefore made the office for which he has predisposition and special aptitudes. As to the conduct of the Yankees by aiding the Tagalog insurgents, it will cause real repugnance to all civilized peoples.

"This shameful connotation is admirably and graphically qualified in the following paragraph that we copied from a correspondence in Madrid:

"“That miserable (Aguinaldo), allied with the Americans, has landed in the Philippines and has managed to stir the whole country to revolt against Spain. The Yankees have also achieved part of his infamous work, to destroy the sovereignty of Spain in all the island of Luzon at very little price. It has been enough for them to surprise an almost defenseless city and to give the rebellious children of Spain the means to commit the horrendous crime of betraying their country. It is the only victory that has been achieved so far by this so-called great republic over us, destroy a squadron of old ships by surprise, and dismember our territory by assisting a treason.”" 

We found a modern-day humor in the Aguinaldo photograph: a photo-bomber. Careless photographer and photo editor, dah!