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].