Thursday, October 31, 2013

Tourist-ing at the Manila North Cemetery before Undas

Undas is the Pinoy term for All Saints’ Day, 1st of November, a national holiday, when families visit their dearly departed in public cemeteries, private memorial parks, and, of late, columbaries where they say prayers, light candles, adorn graves and tombs with flowers, and have a picnic, this one a matter of convenience or a borrowed Chinese custom. 

In Manila and other cities, people who hate traffic jams around burial grounds make their visits on the eve of undas or Halloween, when pranksters spook every one with ghoulish costumes to remind of ghosts and supernatural elements that prowl in the night, or on the day after, the All Souls’ Day, the religiously correct undas because in the Roman Catholic liturgy, this is the “Commemoration of All Faithful Departed.”  In Latin American countries, All Souls’ is their Day for the Dead, a national holiday.
Flower & candle stalls before the entrance to the Manila North Cemetery

October 28, elections day was traffic-light, so we decided to visit the Manila North Cemetery, one of the oldest and biggest cemeteries in Manila. In comparison, undas traffic here is super-heavy, and we’re speaking of hordes of visitors to a burial ground of 54 hectares.  It was an afternoon visit, so it was quite hurried, there was not much time to tarry, and the light was getting insufficient for the camera.

We returned on the 29th and 30th, but early enough in the afternoon and we had time to read inscriptions and take photographs of interesting places, people and things.  Motor vehicles were still allowed to get, tricycles were ferrying visitors who do not like to walk under the shady trees.

This was our first time visit to Manila North as tourist; we've come here before for the funeral of a friend.  We relied on residents here for directions and locations of gravesites of interest. They know the place like the face of their palms. They are caretakers of mausoleums, homes to their families throughout the year except on undas, when they store their household goods (some have washing machines too) in a temporary shelter and take leave for the visiting owners. 
We went visiting tombs of historical, political and popular figures.
The memorial to the 24 Boy Scouts.

 The memorial monument to the 24 boy scouts who died in a plane crash in 1963 on their way to Marathon, Greece for the 11th World Jamboree is found at the entrance, before the gate.  We met a priest who said he was to have been part of the delegation but he got sick.  He pointed out who among them were his classmates and friends after offering prayers and blessing the site. 

Presidents Sergio Osmena, Manuel Roxas, Ramon Magsaysay and Diosdado Macapagal are buried here, but we missed Macapagal's gravesite.  

Magsaysay's tomb has a Philippine flag representation and a wall inscribed with one of his quotable statements. “The president should set the example of a big heart, an honest mind, sound instincts, the virtue of healthy impatience and an abiding love for the common man,” he continues to implore from his grave.   Visitors today may want to check if the incumbent executive comes up to these measures.
In memoriam: Ramon Magsaysay.
Statesman Claro M. Recto's tomb also has a background wall containing his words, which are more philosophical:  ‘I am like the old man who plants a tree in his yard knowing that he may not sit in its shade.  I shall be content if future generations shall repeat with Tasio the philospher in the Noli Me Tangere: “No todos dormian en la noche de nuestros abuelos”[Not everybody slept in the  night of our forefathers].’ 

In memoriam:  Claro M. Recto.

The tomb of Gatpuno Antonio Villegas has also a background wall that contains his prayer.  The nearby tombs of two other mayors, and that of Arsenic or Arsenio Lacson, which is in another site, do not have statement walls.
Prayer of Gatpuno Antonio J. Villegas.

Heroes are entombed in the Mausoleo de los Veteranos de la Revolution (Mausoleum of the Veterans of the Revolution), which we found very colorful amidst several Philippine flags draped from poles on both sides. This was designed by Arcadio Arellano, and built by the Manila city government and Asociacion de los Veteranos de la Revolucion in 1915. The remains of several veterans of the 1896 revolution and of the Philippine-American war are entombed here like those of Comandante Tomas Arguelles, Gen.  Pio del Pilar and Gen. Mariano Noriel.

Mausoleo de los Veteranos de la Revolution

One would not miss the Bautista-Nakpil gravesite with an beautifully sculptured obelisk.  This is where the remains of Gregoria de Jesus (d. 1943) and her husband Julio Nakpil (d. 1960), heroes of the revolution, were buried. She was the widow of Gat Andres Bonifacio, and he was a Katipunan military commander and well-known musician-composer. 

This is where Gregoria de Jesus and her husband Julio Nakpil were buried.
 Heroes too were the first American teachers in the Philippines, collectively called Thomasites, who were at the forefront of the public school system that the Americans introduced upon the departure of the Spanish colonial masters.

In memoriam:  the first American teachers in the Philippines.
The American Teachers’ Memorial was erected in 1918 in “memory of the American school teachers whose mortal remains lie beneath this hallowed ground known as the American little teachers plot and those others who rest in unknown and unmarked graves in various parts of the country, as a token of the Filipino people’s esteem of their dedications and self-sacrifices.  The first group of American teachers numbering about 48 arrived in the Philippines on board the SS Sheridan in July 1901. The succeeding 540 educators arrived on August 21, 1901 on SS Thomas leaving behind their homes and family and worked tirelessly for the education of the Filipino people and the improvement of the educational system in the country.”

In memoriam: Francis Burton Harrison
Harrison Street and Harrison Plaza may just be place names to many Filipinos today.  They do not know that these are memorials to Francis Burton Harrison, the American Governor General of the Philippines from March 1913 to September 1921.  He was known to be pro-Filipino, an advocate of Philippine independence.

He willed to be buried in the Philippines. Hence, when he died in 1957, his remains were brought back to the Philippines; he was buried at Manila North Cemetery.

In memoriam: Pancho Villa
The name Francisco V. Guilledo does not ring a bell to Filipinos, but Pancho Villa certainly sounds like a knock-out bell.

His grave lies along Main Street of Manila North.  It cannot be missed because it features his bust, ‘Pancho Villa’ clearly etched below it, and behind is an angel figure holding a belt proclaiming he is the world flyweight champion.  He was the first Filipino boxer to gain that title. 
The historical marker tells us that he was 24 when he died on 14 July 1925.  He started as a handyman in the stable of Francisco Villa, and he first won in a boxing match in 1918 at the age of 17. He gained world fame in December 1921, and was champion from 1922 to 1925. Ring Magazine added his name to the Hall of Fame in 1961.

The Poe mausoleum may be far from the cemetery gate, at the last loop from Main Street, but one can walk for the exercise rather than take a tricycle ride. 

In Memoriam: Fernando Poe, Jr.
This is where popular movie actor Fernando Poe, Jr, better known as FPJ and Da King, is entombed.

In the Pinoy’s recent memory of Philippine politics, he was cheated in the presidential elections of 2004.   If it was an appeasement, Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo granted him posthumously the National Artist of the Philippines for Film award in May 2006.  It was confirmed by Pres. Benigno Aquino III and the family received it in July 2012.

To Filipinos who will visit his resting place on undas, Ronald Allan Kelley Poe or FPJ will always be the King of Filipino Movies.  To them, as inscribed on his tomb, he will always be alive in their hearts and memories (lagi ka sa aming puso at alaala).

That’s the same spirit that makes the Filipino spend a day with their faithful departed: a loving memory.  Happy Halloween, everyone!

October in Quezon City! A La Naval experience

Viva La Virgen!

October in Manila! The exclamation was Nick Joaquin's who left us historical portraits of the old Manila, the walled city in Intramuros, before the bombs of the American liberation forces of 1945 leveled it to the ground.  What comes to mind was that last scene in his elegiac play A Portrait of the Artist as Filipino when the old generation proceeded to the balcony of the Marasigan house to watch the grand procession of the La Naval de Manila.

It's now 'October in Quezon City!'  The Santo Domingo Church of yore moved to Quezon City after the second world war. The iconic ivory image of the Nuestra Señora del Rosario de la Naval de Manila, or Our Lady of the Rosary, popularly called the La Naval, survived the bombs, and is now in residence here.
The sculptural triptych at the facade of Sto Domingo: a historical vignette.

The religious devotion--steeped in culture and history--lives on every second Sunday of October. Many devotees may not know it but when they raise their mobile phones or digital cameras to snap pictures of the antique images of Mother and Child with their jewels and in rich garments, they are capturing a piece of our history. After all, their devotion to La Naval dates back to 1646 when the inferior Filipino-Spanish naval forces sent the invading powerful Dutch armada to the bottom of the sea, a triumph that was attributed to the intervention of Our Lady.  To the Spaniards, their veneration of La Naval dates back much earlier to the Battle of Lepanto of 1571, when Christian soldiers stopped the spread of Islam in their country.  

We've photo-covered the La Naval grand procession years ago.  This year, we tried to attend the rites from the enthronement of the image on October 3 until the grand procession on the 13th, and that includes the nine-day novena-masses between those dates too, but we missed the first two novenas.

The enthronement of the antique ivory image of La Naval de Manila.

There was much anticipation as devotees awaited for the enthronement.  The niche above the altar was vacant, and as soon as the image emerged, the people became jubilant, and pretty soon almost everyone with a camera trooped to the front to take a picture of the Nuestra Señora, while others knelt to pray.    

To us, the highlight of the daily novena prayers was the beautiful rendition of the Regina Sacratissimi Rosarii  with the Tiples de Sto. Domingo, the oldest existing boys’ choir of the Philippines, singing the solo parts, and the Grand Choir of Sto. Domingo leading the choral response of ora pro nobis. 

The daily novena prayers culminated with the celebration of the Eucharist.  The early evening masses had different celebrants including Archbishop Socrates Villegas, and the novenas also had various organizations leading the rosary.  The masses were sung, some days in Latin and some in Pilipino.  It was a matter of sacrifice to stand for quite some time as the choir sung the Kyrie to the Gloria of the Latin missas.  It was nonetheless a joy to listen to different musical versions of the Ave Maria rendered by several sopranos during the Communion.  

The novena-masses were always brought to a thunderous finale with the mass singing of the Despedida a la Virgen.  This is the same song that closed the feast of the La Naval when the image was once again enthroned after the grand procession.

The besamanto, an opportunity to get a close look of the La Naval.

Three novena-masses were followed by the besamanto (roughly, kissing the cape). The image was brought down again for the veneration of the faithful.  Instead of the cape, devotees kissed encased relics from her old garments and medallions tied to the image by ribbons.  The queues were long, even if there was a separate one for seniors and the physically handicapped, and took until about ten in the evening.   

Rain or shine! The grand procession emerged from the church at four o'clock on feast Sunday.  The image of Our Lady of the Rosary was preceded by 27 others--those of San Lorenzo Ruiz, the saints and the blessed from the Dominican community, and of St Joseph, in that order.

The La Naval in procession.

 The procession was interrupted by a brief rain, not more than five minutes, we estimated.  The caretakers of the images had always been prepared. As soon as the first raindrops fell, the raincoats were up to shelter the images.  We caught the La Naval still with her raincoat when the procession on its way back to Santo Domingo passed under the pedestrian overpass where we were perched to take photographs.

Detail from the banderetta.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Never Porkget and other anti-pork rallies of September

The Million People March to Scrap Pork Barrel has become the official announcement and update Facebook page for individuals and groups in the Philippines or abroad who are organizing anti-pork mass actions.  It posts these in a calendar with the details of the protest activity in a particular date and location.

The Never Porkget/Level Up rally on September 21 was the fourth rally after the August 26 Million People March event.  The morning saw the rallyists at the Luneta, who later marched to Mendiola in the afternoon. Of course, Mendiola reverberates with recent political memories -- the student protests of the First Quarter Storm.

This was organized by the Abolish Pork Movement, a coalition of 32 multi-sectoral groups such as Bayan, Gabriela,  Anak Pawis, Kabataan, All UP Workers Union and Alliance of Health Workers, Artista Kontra-Korapsyon, National Council of Churches in the Philippines, among others, working together to push for the abolition of the pork barrel system; the prosecution of those involved in the PDAF scandal; and the allocation of pork barrel funds to social services.

September 21 is the day forty-one years ago that activists of martial law vintage will never forget.  The pun Never Porkget virtually connects the plunder during the 14-year Marcos dictatorship and the various guises of pork barrel under the post-People Power regimes.  

“The reason why we are protesting today is because all succeeding regimes after Marcos failed to stamp out bureaucrat plunder and government abuse,” Dr. Carol Pagaduan-Araullo said when she opened the program. “The pork barrel scam reminds us how little has changed from the time of the dictator.”

Rally speakers included National Artist for Literature Bienvenido Lumbera, Archbishop emeritus Oscar Cruz and celebrity activist Mae Paner more popularly known as Juana Change. 


Lumbera recounted to the younger generation how it was during the dictatorship and urged everyone to never forget the lessons of martial law.

Archbishop Cruz expressed hope to see when the guilty will go to prison and when the money will be returned.  In jest, he told the crowd to remember his pick-up lines:  “Ano ibig sabihin ng pork barrel? Kababuyan. Ano ibig sabihin ng pork barrel scam? Pambababoy. Ano ibig sabihin ng ayaw kong alisin ang pork barrel? Baboy ako.

On the other hand, Juana Change challenged the protestors to bring friends to the next rally.  “We need to level up,” she said, urging everyone to be politically conscious to effect changes in the government.  She was in costume:  orange prisoner garb with a ball chain, and a saw printed with ‘Guilty’ on her head.

Musical artists provided inspirational and patriotic songs:  singer and theater actress Monique Wilson, The Ryan Cayabyab Singers, Jograd dela Torre (his ‘Kawatan’ is a crowd favorite in all the four rallies since August 26), Daryl Shy, Jess Santiago, the Pak Yaw duo, and the Redemptorist seminarians.

While the rally was going on in Mendiola, the Good Samaritan United Methodist Church in Quezon City had their Pork Barrel Forum, where former Chief Justice Reynato Puno spoke of the pork barrel as an “evil” that should be abolished.  The College of Bishops signed a paper titled “God Will Guide the Nation: A Call for Righteous Governance,” asking everyone to “walk the path of righteousness” where -- 

  •  "Righeousness requires humility, transparency and accountability.  For we are simply stewards of the riches of God and of our nation, not absolute possessors or owners.

  • "Righteousness requires vigilance, serious search for truth, and enactment of laws that ensure free access to information and compel those in office to make public their administration of funds.

  • "Righteousness requires doing what is right, punishing the guilty but freeing the innocent, whether they are powerful and mighty or meek and lowly.

  • "Righteous governance should be the plumb line for all those who seek public office. Public service is a public trust as well as a God-given responsibility."

Other protest actions were organized by various groups for the rest of the month. On September 25, there wase an interfaith gathering for peace in Mindanao and the abolition of the pork barrel at the Quezon Memorial Circle, which is being organized by the National Ulama Council of the Philippines, National Council of Churches in the Philippines, and the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches. 

On September 29, there was a “Ride to Abolish ALL Pork!” from the People Power Monument through EDSA, and in Cebu, the Coalition against Pork Barrel System will have an interfaith prayer and anti-pork program at Fuente Osmeña.

“As long as the pork barrel system remains, the protest rallies will continue,” Bayan Muna Partylist Representative Neri Colmenares said when he closed the Never Porkget event at Mendiola.