Sunday, December 30, 2012

It wasn't called sin tax yet when they smoked a Rizal cigarillo or cigar

On the 20th of this month, President Benigno Aquino signed into law the so-called sin tax bill, which was previously a subject of heated debate in Congress.  While the goal of government is increased revenue, projected at some 20 billion pesos from those who smoke and drink alcoholic beverages, the law, on the other hand, may spell economic doom to tobacco farmers and employees of cigarette manufacturers.

What has this got to do with Rizal Day, this being the centenary of the interment of the remains of the national hero at the Luneta where his iconic monument stands? 

Package label of cigarillos with the portrait of Jose Rizal. Source:  Protocolo Manila 878, National Archives of the Philippines.

It's just that during the early years of the American regime, Rizal became a brand name of tobacco products. In the Navy guide to Cavite and Manila (1908), intended as a 'practical guide and beautiful souvenir' of American service men posted in Cavite,"Jose Rizal" brands were considered one of the few special cigar brands available from the market.

A popular cigar manufacturer at that time was the Germinal where important visitors in Manila were toured around and entertained by the company officials. 

Germinal employed 1,300 men, women and girls to produce a daily output of 100,000 cigars. Cigarettes were made by machines; cigars were hand made.

The company paid a daily internal revenue tax of P4,000 on cigarettes and cigars made for home consumption.  Import duties on cigars and cigarettes were very high at that time.

The Navy guide had a back-to-back advertisement spread for "Jose Rizal" cigars to welcome navy men arriving at the Cavite port, and a map of Manila rimmed with these slogans:  '"Jose Rizal" cigars are liked by eveybody;'  'the best that money can buy "Jose Rizal" cigars;' and '"Jose Rizal" cigars, no other cigar spells like it, smokes like it or is like it."

If Jose Rizal cigarettes/cigars are in the market today, they could be more of 'it's more fun in the Philippines' souvenir items considering that the sin tax bill would make them more expensive.  Lighting up Jose Rizal cigars though could very well fit in celebrating the birth of the first baby (a boy especially) in a new family.


No recorded author. (1908).  Navy guide to Cavite and Manila.  A practical guide and beautiful souvenir.  Manila.   Retrieved from;idno=sea189

MSS. Protocolo Manila 878. National Archives of the Philippines.

Friday, December 28, 2012

2012: Our Year of the Kalesa/Karitela

Kalesas take a break on UN Avenue, Manila to wash the carriages and feed the horses.

During our journeys in northern Luzon this year, we saw the kalesa (or the popular karitela among Ilocanos) still plying the streets of Vigan, Laoag and Tuguegarao.  While doing historical research at the National Archives on Kalaw and at the Archdiocesan Archives on Arzobispo in Manila, we also saw plenty of them bringing tourists around the Luneta/Rizal Park, Intramuros and Fort Santiago with their variations from the traditional kalesa/karitela box design making them very interesting photo subjects.

Thus, in our personal timeline, we were inclined to tag 2012 as our Year of the Kalesa/Karitela.  This is also in line with our green advocacy, this horse-drawn transport vehicle being environment-friendly because no pollutants are emitted as the cocheros drive passengers down the town or city streets.  We noted that horse-y solid wastes are very well  managed through the use of portable cloth toilets hang by the rear of the horses.

Northern Luzon kalesas.  The Vigan kalesas (top left) cater to tourists mostly while the Tuguegarao type with rubber tires provides an alternative to tricycles for public transport.  The Laoag karitela is both for tourism and public transport.
Some digression:  kalesa and karitela are not indigenous Pinoy terms.  These are our derivatives of the Spanish words calesa (feminine form of cales), a 'two-wheeled calash, chaise,' and carretela, also a calash or stagecoach.  For that matter, kariton, for the carabao or cow drawn vehicle, is not also native being derived from the Spanish carreton, a cart.

The kalesas that ply around Intramuros and Fort Santiago are of different make and design. The one at bottom right has its sides made of recycled capiz windows.

Of course, there's also the carruaje,horse-drawn carriage, that one associates with royalty or the noble classes depicted in European period movies.  It's the carriage for those who want leisurely rides around Central Park in New York, New York.  In our home province Zambales these days, the carruaje is the most expensive alternative to the funeral limousine for the last mile of a dearly departed one to the memorial park.

In our boyhood, the karitela driver (kutsero) was king of the road.  Those who lived in the town proper walked to school, plaza, church and market.  The karitela was for trips to the barrios outside town.  The young girls in our family often joined an aunt on board a karitela looking for a pig to buy and butcher for her Sunday market stall.   In high school, we boys who were PMT (Phil. Military Training) cadet officers did not find it difficult to find a horse to ride on for the town fiesta parade.  The fiesta day was 'off' day for karitelas but not for horses we either hired or borrowed for the parade.

Before the second world war, the jeepney wasn't yet a Pinoy innovation.  'Peacetime' generations moved around their towns and cities using the horse drawn vehicle. In the YouTube video (below) from PhilClassic on the popular tune Kalesa composed by A. del Rosario and performed by the Juan Silos, Jr. rondalla, we can see that the the traffic of old Manila comprised these horse drawn vehicles.  In his original lyrics, superimposed on the video, national artist Levi Celerio endowed the kalesa with nationalistic and romantic attributes.

Going farther back to the 19th century, it was the carruaje that plied the provincial carreteras or highways.  To ensure public transportation between towns in Zambales, for example, the provincial civil government conducted tenders for carruajes de alquiler [carriages for hire] among the big businessmen of those times.

One of the dibujos of Jose Honorato Lozano in his album Vistas de las islas Filipinas y trajes de sus habitantes (1847), which can be found at the Biblioteca Nacional de España, is an open carruage [sic] de alquiler drawn by two horses with passengers in colorful costumes.

Dibujo DIB158425 by Jose Honorato Lozano (1847) available online from the Biblioteca Digital Hispanica.

We'd like to think that bringing back the kalesa / karetela in barangays and towns, and in touristic sites, to provide eco-friendly alternatives to petroleum fuel guzzlers and polluters would greatly reduce the carbon print of the Philippines in the worldwide environmental map.


Cassell's Spanish English English-Spanish Dictionary. (1978).  Gooch, Anthony & Garcia de Paredes, Angel, Rev.  New York: MacMillan Publishing Co., Inc.

Lozano, Jose Honorato. (1847). Vistas de las islas Filipinas y trajes de sus habitantes. Retrieved from the Biblioteca Digital Hispanica of the Biblioteca Nacional de España at

Philclassic video. Kalesa.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

A misa de aguinaldo with cultural touches

We did not know that the traditional early morning misa de gallo and the misa de aguinaldo (Christmas eve mass) have become Christmas events at the Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) all these years. 

The cast of Simbang Gabi@d'CCP included the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philippine Madrigal Singers, the Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group, and the Our Lady of Sorrows parish.

Until we discovered these only last month when we saw a stage play there during the National Theater Festival.  We thought that the misa de aguinaldo at CCP would certainly be a great cultural departure from the ones we've attended at the open-air services at the military parade grandstand at Camp Aguinaldo, traditionally concluded with a message delivered by the Chief of Staff of the AFP himself.  For almost a decade, we've been spending Christmas at the camp with our brother-in-law, a Philippine Army official, and his family who were in residence there.  He retired early this year; hence no more simbang gabi in the military camp.

The misa at the main Nicanor Abelardo Theater of the CCP was indeed exciting, and it started very early too at 7:30 in the evening.  For several years now, it has been held at 9 or 10 o'clock depending on the preferred schedules of churches throughout the archipelago.  Well, it used to be 12 midnight when we were still in high school.
The Madz led the singing of the hymns during the misa de aguinaldo. Mary and Joseph of the Panunuluyan would later appear at the round niche at the backround, which in this picture is still covered by the big silver lighted lantern.

It began promptly with live music from the Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra.  The full house of adults and children enjoyed listening to their rendition of familiar Christmas carols for half an hour.

The pregnant Mary and husband Joseph, portrayed by Ramon Obusan Folkloric troupers, sang their pleas for a lodging in the reenactment of the popular Christmas story about their search for a lodging place.

The mass goers were treated to something theatrical next.  The Ramon Obusan Folkloric Group performed the Panunuluyan -- with dialogues in both Pilipino and a Visayan dialect -- reenacting the search for an inn by the pregnant Mary and her husband Joseph in Bethlehem town.  The couple sang their request for lodging, and denied them by house owners posted in several places around the theater and onstage.  The couple appeared later with the iconic image of the baby Jesus when the big silver star moved away from the round niche at the stage background as the celebrant read the Gospel.

The couple appeared with the baby Jesus image as the celebrant read the Gospel.

The Philippine Madrigal Singers (the Madz!) led in the singing of the hymns during the mass. During the finale, they were joined by other choirs distributed around the theater in the singing of the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah, accompanied by Philippine Philharmonic Orchestra.

As the mass ended, Mary and Joseph with the baby Jesus image came down to the stage and were joined by the rest of the Obusan troupe as the Magi and shepherds to form the familiar belen tableaux. The adoration of the baby Jesus followed with the Madz singing carols in the background.

The adoration of the baby Jesus image.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Remembrance of Christmas past

This is a Filipinized version of the belen (Bethlehem, nativity scene).  The lechon view reminds that Christmas in the Philippines is an occasion for family reunions and a roasted pig is a center piece of the food table. [This belen is one in a collection on exhibit at the Arzobispado de Manila.]

More than half a century ago, Paskua (Christmas) to us kids in the old hometown seemed to take too long in coming.  When we learned to reckon its approach with the onset of the '-ber' months, we have already lost the pure, innocent joy of waiting.  

We can’t remember exactly what our great expectations were while the nights were turning colder, and we would need to wear a pranela (sweater) when we go caroling or simply prowling around with the neighborhood kids. 

We were told to behave properly so that Santa Claus would bring us gifts come Christmas.  We have no recollection if Santa Claus ever came at all through the windows or the galvanized iron roof of our house of buho walls and bamboo stairs, but there would be something inside the socks we were asked to hang before we went to sleep on Chrismas eve.

Our memory tells us that we always wore a white polo shirt on Christmas.  Inang took care, we now think, to shield us from the usual taunts, no matter how friendly these were, of older relatives that loud colors do not seemingly match our earth-brown skin tone.

In those days when we went to school in wooden clogs, and later in rubber sandals, Christmas was the only occasion when we had to wear shoes despite our loud protestations.  Many a time did we suffer blisters at the back of our feet just because we had to look our angelic best on Christmas day. The shoes could have been ill-fitting because they were bought based on the patterns traced around our feet on paper.  

In our six Christmases at the San Jose-Patrocinio Elementary School, our Christmas tree, just like in most of the pupils’ homes, was the lowly kuribetbet (a.k.a. pandakaki) shrub shorn of all its leaves.   Bands of green crepe paper cut in such manner as to yield a leafy effect were wound around the stem and branches producing an evergreen tree on which to hang colored, usually red, paper balls and bells.   

At home, we'd ask our Inang why we couldn’t have an aru-o (aguho, false pine) branch for a tree, just like in other houses.  We soon found out she didn't like the needles turning brown even before the Misa de Gallo or dawn masses have started.

In later years, the bare kuribetbet would be painted all white, probably as a matter of fashion rather than as tangible proof of one’s ‘dreaming of a white Christmas.’  In high school, we did this as a matter of convenience; it did not take long to finish it.

Industrial arts projects in December invariably would be a parol (lantern), usually the simple bamboo star.  We would cover our projects with colored Japanese paper or cellophane and attached the rayos (rays) made of the same paper at two adjacent points of the star.  Sometimes, we would put a rim attached to all five points of the star.  Some would put a belen picture at the middle, or some other decorative paper cut-outs all over.  When schools closed for the Christmas vacation, we would bring home our lanterns to be hung by the window.

The belen (nativity scene) was not yet a common Christmas home decoration during our growing up years.  We saw them only in the church without the baby in the manger until the misa de aguinaldo or midnight mass on Christmas eve.  Many times did we fail to keep awake for the midnight (yes, at twelve o'clock exactly) mass when the church was dimmed at some point and a lighted parol moved above us from the choir loft to the nativity scene by the altar.

Our generation started schooling with English as medium of instruction.  Our first Christmas song was “Silent Night.”  We were already in the university when we learned “Ang Pasko ay Sumapit.” Thus the Christmas jingles that came with the early evening air in our childhood days were the strains of ‘ol is cam, ol is brayt’ as we, the neighborhood kids, went house-to-house caroling about the oli impan (holy infant).   We could be happy with a five-centavo token from each house.

Stingy house owners would get a musical rapping from us --

            Bulong ti apatot,                                   Leaves of apatot plant,
            Paskuayo a naimot.                              Gifts to stingy people.
            Umulog ti makarurod                           Come down if your angy,
            Ta narnaran ti dandanog.                    And we’ll beat you with our fists.

-- as we ran away, scared that they would come down and face our dare. 

When we taught at a hometown high school in the early 70s, we sang with the Saint Cecilia’s Choir of our Roman Catholic parish. This was when we learned to sing an antique Ilocano carol, simply called 'Rambakan' (Celebrate).   Most probably, it was the popular song among the town folks before they began to love the carols that they learned from the Americans during what they reminisced as peacetime before the second world war. 

Some words in the lyrics are archaic Ilocano.  The chorus of the indigenous carol is an invitation to celebrate the Lord’s birth and to proclaim his power and glory –

Rambakan tay a pada-pada                     Let us all celebrate

Panakay-yanak to Dios  ditoy daga           The birth of God on earth.
Umadani tay met kenkuana                       Let us all go to Him
Idir-i tay tan-ok ken gloriana                     proclaiming his power and glory.

The two narrative stanzas speak of His humility and mercy --

Ay dimtengen a ti Dios Apo                      Ay, the Lord God has come
Simnek kaasi na kadatayo.                       Because of His mercy to all of us.
Ti Mesias manipud ngato                         The Messiah from above
Immay nga'd la makipagbiag                        came down to live with us.

Maysa a rukib a paglinungan                     A cave that serves as shed
Ti kinayatna nga makapanganakan,           He preferred to be born in;
Ket kuloong met laeng piman                      And merely a manger
Ti inna pinili a nagid-daan.                        He chose to sleep in.

Before “Ang Pasko ay Sumapit” became the de rigeur anthem at the close of the nine-day Christmas masses, churchgoers sang the “Rambakan” in cheerful chorus as they troop out of church, greeting each and everyone along the way with “Naimbag a Paskuayo!” 

Early morning of Christmas day, children went around town greeting household owners with Paskuami, apo! (Our gifts, sir!)  Those were the days when they give candies so we had pockets full of them by mid-morning. We also expected but we dreaded receiving native suman, too bulky to carry around even if one had a paper bag. We were asked to go and greet our godparents but we were too shy to do that. On a few occasions we met them, we got a few centavos (a peso was a fortune before) with instructions to save them for tomorrow.

For all the years we had a Christmas lunch with our mother's siblings and their families, there was always lechon. And arroz valenciana, an aunt's specialty.  We didn't have fruit salad, but we had grapes, apples and oranges that another aunt, widow of an American serviceman, had the privilege to buy from the US naval base commissary.

Horses are part of our remembrance of Christmas past in our old hometown.

One event we used to love watching was the juego de anillo during the fiesta of barrio San Jose on Christmas day.  The competitors raced on horses to get to the rings hanging at the finish line. 

Christmas in our town ended on January 6, feast of the Magi, fiesta day of barrio Alusiis, when three of their menfolk dressed up as Melchor, Gaspar and Baltazar, who led the parade around town astride horses.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Scarborough Reef, 1862

China has included the disputed Spratlys in a map printed in their new e-passport. The Philippines, India and Vietnam have strongly denounced this. China has also been claiming the Scarborough Reef, also known as Bajo de Masinloc, which is120 miles off the Zambales town of that name. 
The Carta General del Archiepelago Filipino (section of it shown here), printed in Madrid in 1862, shows that 'Bajo Masing/Scarborough' (which we encircled in red in the picture) has always been part of Philippine territory.
Outline of Zambales province at the right side.
Obras Publicas,1848-1895.  Carta General del Archiepelago Filipino (Madrid, 1862). National Archives of the Philippines [SDS-16801, S-102]. 

Friday, May 18, 2012

Philippine young scientists also went for the Moore at the international science & engineering fair

Team Philippines 2012.  Front row (l-r):  Julian Paolo Biyo, Elson Ian Nyl Galang, Carla Beatriz Lazara, Paul Caesar Flores, & Hazel Anne Hernandez.  Holding the Philippine flag (l-r): Lanz Gabriel Jabla, Bryce Abraham Anos, & Ven Gabriel Tan.

Around 1,500 high school students from around the world including our own Team Philippines 2012 of eight young science researchers departed for the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair (Intel ISEF) held recently (May 13-18) in Pittsburgh, PA all dreaming of the Moore.

The Gordon E. Moore award of $75,000 from Intel and the Society for Science & the Public (SSP) "recognizes the Best of the Best among outstanding students from around the world who participate in the Intel ISEF."  The next two Bests get the Intel Foundation Young Scientists Award of $50,000 each.  The candidates for awards can be an individual researcher or a team of at most three members.

Before they could qualify for the three Best of the Bests, the young scientists vie for four grand awards and the Best of Category in 17 science research categories. The Philippine young scientists were in four:  environmental sciences (EV), environmental management (EM), engineering-materials & bioengineering (EN), and medicine & health sciences (ME).

Directory Listing of Team Philippines 2012 in the Intel ISEF Program.

It may not be the first grand or Best of Category award, but the fourth grand prize in environmental sciences that Hazel Anne Hernandez, Julian Paolo Biyo and Paul Caesar Flores of the Philippine Science High School-West Visayas Campus won is recognition enough for the difficult work they put into 'regenerating coral fragments on bamboo artificial reefs.'   The Consortium for Ocean Leadership also lauded them for this outstanding work with a certificate of honorable mention.

Prior to the Intel ISEF, these young marine scientists won the Outstanding Young Scientists Award, the top prize in the SEAMEO (South East Asian Ministers of Education Organization) 8th Regional Congress held on March 6-9, 2012.

The three had the Banate Bay in the southeastern part of Panay Island as their marine laboratory. But first, they had to go through rigorous SCUBA diving training before they could dive for and recover broken Acrophora and Stylophora coral fragments from the dense coral reef in the Hibotkan Rock Marine Reserve area.  They had to transport these by boat four kilometers away to the Anilao waters where they deployed concrete and bamboo artificial reefs (CARs and BARs).  This is an area where "no coral assemblages are found."  They've actually started building a reef there, hopefully  to become a new fishing ground esp. for local fishermen who helped them deploy the artificial reefs.

 YouTube video showing Hazel, Julian and Paul receiving their award.

Hazel, Julian and Paul had to dive every month from February to December 2011 to check if the coral 'transplants' could survive and grow on the artificial reefs, measuring their growths as well as the water quality obtaining there.  

"Acropora and Stylophora coral fragments can be transplanted on both concrete and bamboo artificial reef," they reported, "[although] Acropora showed low survival and growth."  They're enthusiastic about the use of bamboo as a material for an artificial reef construction because it is abundant and easily obtainable in the area.

Their 'marine laboratory' has been declared a marine protected area, a no-fishing ground by the local government of Anilao town.  In their dive before flying to Intel ISEF, they already noted an increasing diversity of marine life there.

The other members of Team Philippines 2012 may not have come home with grand awards but they too had outstanding research studies to show off at the Intel ISEF. 

Elson with his 8-m sample eco-fabric and his display poster at the ISEF. (Photo from Team Philippines).

Elson Nyl Galang of PSHS-Southern Mindanao campus (Davao City) brought with him eight meters of what he calls 'eco-fabric from fragrant screw pine (Pandanus amaryllifolius) leaf fibers.'   In his study, he was looking for a natural fiber to replace polyester to blend with cotton in producing a Philippine Tropical Fabric (PTF). 

He had the full support of the Philippine Textile Research Institute (PTRI) where he did his project while he was in summer internship there.  His product, a blended cotton-pandan fabric (80-20%), was found "to have the fabric weight ideal for blouses and pants, good breaking strength, exhibits shrinkage, has low pilling resistance, good colorfastness and non-staining ability."

Elson's pandan fibers have now joined four natural fibers that are being used to produce PTFs: Musa textile (abaca), Musa paradisiaca (banana),  Ananas comosus (pina), and silk. 

Ven Gabriel Tan from Marinduque National High School was intrigued by the proliferation of common herbal plants in a mine brownfield, an area that has been abandoned because the soil is heavily polluted by heavy metals, and in this case, copper ions, Cu+2 . He thought of studying the 'potentials of [these] common herbal plants in sequestering copper in former mine brownfields.'

Ven in front of his project display in Pittsburgh.  (Photo from Team Philippines).

He chose to study four plant species, namely, Amaranthus spinosus (local urai, Eng.pigweed), Desmodium heterophyllum (Desmodium), Ruellia tuberose (meadow weed) and Stachytarpheta jamaicensis (local kandikandilaan), planting them on three soil set-ups--plain garden soil, garden soil amended with high level of copper in solution, and actual soil from the former mine site.  

"All the plant species can hyperaccumulate Cu+2 within the range of 2 to 100 ppm," Ven reported. "They can be used in phytoremediating these ions in mine fields."  During the experimentation period, he noted that the plants did not wilt nor the leaves turned yellow; indications that they could tolerate the high concentration of Cu+2 in the soil.

Ven said their local government has taken interest in his research.  He hopes that his study could help local officials craft policy guidelines for environmental management there.

Bryce, Carla and Lanz with their display poster. (Photo from Team Philippines).

 A marine creature, the sea hare ('donsol' in Sarangani) or Dolabella auricularia was the subject of scientific interest to Carla Beatriz Lazara, Lanz Gabriel Jabla and Bryce Abraham Anos from the PSHS-Southern Mindanao campus.  They were particularly intrigued by the purple ink that it secretes to ward off predators.  They thought this secretion "may contain substances with pharmacological applications."

Thus, their 'bioprospecting for active compounds of Dolabella auricularia (sea hare) ink secretion' had them perform tests to characterize this substance.  The genotoxicity assay told them that the ink enhances mitosis in the Allium cepa (onions), which was evident in the proliferation of long roots during the experimentation period.  They found out however that the ink has cytotoxic effect on Artermia salina (brine shrimp).  They were able to confirm the presence of secondary metabolites in the sea hare ink, which include flavonoids, leocoanthocyanins, saponins and tannins.

Carla, Lanz and Bryce wrote that "isolation, identification and characterization of the bioactive compounds ... may be explored to determine components with therapeutic benefits," and that further cytotoxicity studies "may provide better use of the sea hare ink in the development of pharmaceutical products."   

On judging day, our participants wore national costumes. (Photo from Team Philippines).

All except Ven Gabriel will be university freshmen when school opens.  Ven will be in his senior high school year, and with his exposure in the Intel ISEF 2012, he may yet come out with a winning project to bring to the Intel ISEF 2013 in Phoenix, Arizona in May next year.

Videos featuring Team Philippines 2012:

Asia Pacific "Shout Out" featuring Team Philippines showing off the country poster they crafted for the opening ceremony.

The 1,500 participants in the Intel ISEF are given opportunity to meet new friends through a pin exchange as shown in this video.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Ay, ay, malunggay!

Malunggay flowers. (Photo by the author.)

We've tried the marunggay/malunggay ice cream, a culinary venture in the Ilocos (where else could it be?). Some weekends would see us buy from the organic veggie market stalls a dozen malunggay pandesal and malunggay bihon noodles for breakfast pancit.

Our NGO,Timpuyog Zambales, once looked at the feasibility of a malunggay powder project but a kilo of dry product would require considerable tonnage of green inputs (and therefore a big plantation) to make a profitable venture. 

Malunggay powder has been used in the supplemental feeding program for children in famine stricken African countries.  In our Pinoy households, this could also be added to kiddie meals, may be mixed with the cereals, porridge, and the lugaw or congee, especially for those who absolutely hate to see vegetables on their plates. 

These days, we drink a cup of malunggay 'tea' with a dash of lime juice before bedtime. We produce the healthy 'tea' using bunches of green fronds from our backyard trees hanged inside the house for air-drying. 

The marunggay (Moringa oleifera, formally) of childhood memory has grown from being the popular trees in our yard where neighbors and relatives go for the green leaves and the seasonal fruits for the dinengdeng (an Ylocano ratatouille like pinakbet) of lunch or dinner.  A relative's Igorot househelp named Berta came very often for this lowly vegetable, and thinking about it now, our moringa trees provided very rich nourishment for our growing brood of cousins. Those days, backyard vegetables were free for the asking. Today, a bundle of five malunggay fruits would cost Php20! 

From those same trees did our grandmother pick the dark green leaves for the chicken tinola she dutifully cooked for our lactating mother as my four sisters came into the world one after the other in the 1950's, and our youngest in ’60.  Pinoy baby boomers like us did not know it then when we were suckling our natural food; it was the marunggay broth that helped sustain the milk supply from our breastfeeding mothers. 

Studies dating back to the American occupation of the Philippine islands discoursed on the medical and nutritional value of the Moringa oleifera. Today, breastfeeding is being greatly encouraged by various child-care advocates, hence moringa is also getting back into the baby food picture.   

In folk medicine, tradition has it that the roots be chewed and applied to the bite of a snake to prevent the poison from spreading. A decoction of the roots is also considered a cure for scurvy; it is likewise used to calm down delirious patients.  Everyone is familiar with the leaves being chewed and applied to wounds to hasten blood clotting.   Asian-American high school students from California won a prize at the Intel Science and Engineering Fair a few years ago for their study using moringa extracts as blood coagulant.  

Some literature in the 1920's called the malunggay seed oil ben oil, reported to be good for salads and for other culinary uses.  At that time when oil lamps were still used for lighting, the ben oil was considered comparable to the best of Florence oils in the market.  Because it’s tasteless, colorless and odorless, it was considered a good material for use in the process of extracting perfumes.  Ben oil however did not grow to be as popular and commercial as the ylang-ylang oil.

It’s the green movement, the search for alternatives to OPEC oil (a matter of economics actually), that’s resurrecting the ben oil in other usable energy forms.

There’s a reason why we put the moringa flowers in the illustration. For the past several years, our scientist friend has been involved in hush-hush project, which he could not help tell - producing a high end product, an organic Viagra, as he put it, from some compound in the plant that’s most abundant in the flowers and the still limp and thin young fruits. It seems they have already successfully tested the product on experimental mice.

Our friend says the moringa’s ‘viagratic’ element affects both male and female but that could only be felt probably if there is a big intake of malunggay leaves and flowers, although in our hometown we don’t really eat the flowers.  We can gather the flowers at blooming time and convert these into some envigorating flower power potion, a salad with tomatoes and onions. Eventually, we we may yet see malunggay fruits disappear in the market when this organic viagra becomes a menfolk remedy, straight from the tree, for some embarrassing dysfunction. 

Source:  Brown, W.H. (1920).
Because we see it almost everywhere, we think that the malunggay is native to the Philippines. Linguists would tell us though that the name gives away its Sanskrit origin - marungi.  Experts say that, with a few exceptions, plants with Sanskrit origin were introduced from India or Malaysia, or probably from Java and Sumatra during the Sri-Vishaya and Madjapahit periods.  The Philippines belonged to those empires; what was left included floral souvenirs like malunggay, lasona, patola, champaka and lagundi, which were already native Philippine and thriving all over the archipelago when Magellan set foot on Sebu soil.

The Sanskrit veggie name morphed into different forms wherever the plant was grown. Thus, Moringa oleifera Lam. (horse radish tree to the English) is known as arunggai in Pangasinan; balunggai, Cuyo Islands; kalamunggai in Misamis and kalunggai in Camarines; kamalunggai, Mindoro and kamalunggi, Pampanga; malugai in Culion Island; malunggai in Tarlac, Bulacan, Zambales, Bataan, Rizal, Laguna, Manila, Batangas, Tayabas, Mindoro, Capiz, and Zamboanga; marunggai in Ilocos Norte and Sur, Abra; and maronggai in Zambales.

Thus, your name for moringa gives away your promdi-ness! [Promdi, from the, province.] 


Brown, W.H. (1920).  Wild Food Plants of the Philippines. Bulletin No. 21. Bureau of Forestry, Dept. of Agriculture and Natural
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Merrill, E. D. (1926).  An Enumeration of Flowering Plants. Vol. 4.  Bureau of Science.  Manila: Bureau of Printing.