Tuesday, December 23, 2014

APO closes 2014 with its Great Oblation Run at UP Diliman

Note: FilAm Star, the weekly 'newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America' featured one picture I took during the subject Oblation Run in the front page of the 19-25 December edition, which also carries my photo-essay on the Lantern Parade at UP Diliman, The online pdf copy can be downloaded from http://www.filamstar.net/images/stories/pdf/301.pdf.

Picture cured for 'general patronage'

The Alpha Phi Omega Fraternity (APO) held their traditional Great Oblation Run at the Palma Hall of the University of the Philippines Diliman campus on 12 December 2014. This is the 37th year when members of the fraternity run naked as a symbolic protest action to issues presently confronting the nation. APO calls this Run their Ritual Dance of the Brave.

In a public statement, APO called for "accountability and sustained action on the part of those in power to respect the rule of law."

It called attention to the "latest addition to the still-existing pork barrel system" particularly the "insertion of various lump allocations in the 2015 budget." In this regard, it said, government leaders should "comply with the Constitution, respect rather than challenge its authority on this matter, and strike down such policies that will violate our country's dignity."

Original picture.

APO also urged government "to address the culture of impunity" in the country today, citing several manifestations like the case of the slain transgender Jennifer Laude involving an American service man, the squalor of evacuation camps in Zamboanga City, the plight of Yolanda victims who have yet to achieve normalcy in their lives, the millions of farmers who are still denied right to own lands they till, struggles of workers for better wages, the lives of more than 300 political prisoners, and the lack of progress in the Maguindanao Massacre trials.

In hoping for a better future, APO called Filipinos to work together towards restoration of the rule of law, to take action towards the legislation of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, Genuine Agrarian Reform Bill, and the Genuine Freedom of Information Bill. 

Lantern Parade: a living tradition of the University of the Philippines

Note: This photo-essay is the filam special feature of the 19-25 December 2014 edition of FilAm Star, the weekly 'newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America' published in San Francisco, CA. There are more pictures in the paper, the pdf copy of which is available online at http://www.filamstar.net/images/stories/pdf/301.pdf

This "Kalesa" was judged the best of the 12 lantern floats
from the College  of  Fine Arts.
The 15th of December was the last day of final examinations week, hence, the last day of classes of the first semester in the new academic year of the national university that started in August.  This coincided with the day of the traditional annual Lantern Parade around the Diliman campus. To avoid disturbance to those taking the final hurdles in the afternoon, the university authorities had the festive parade start at six o’clock, two hours later than was customary.

The Lantern Parade sort of kicked in the synchronized Christmas holidays and semester break that will make up a month-long vacation for the UP academic community, the students and faculty.

The mid-afternoon was rainy but as soon as the rains stopped and the skies cleared, the festive participants, many of them costumed, from the different academic units, offices and organizations started assembling at the University Avenue with their colorful lanterns and floats.  The usual crowd of spectators also began spilling into their favorite viewing sites like the steps of Melchor and Palma Halls or behind the barricade fronting the reviewing deck of Quezon Hall.

This lantern float of the Institute of Islamic Studies was deemed
the best in the competition: a house of clear plastic bottles with
Muslim Southern Philippines decorative motifs.
This year’s December theme is “Pasundayag Diliman: Pag-uugat at Pagyayabong.”  The term “pasundayag” is a Cebuano word which means “celebration”.   The month started with the Pagiilaw sa Pasko at the Oblation Plaza on December 1 when the lights of the white lanterns of the University Avenue and the Plaza were turned on.  On December 13, Karolfest 2014, an inter-college choral competition for students and faculty/staff, was held at the UP Theatre. 

The Paligsahan ng Mga Parol, the popular Lantern Parade, of course, was the climax of the Pasundayag.

When it started in 1922, the Lantern Parade reflected the folk tradition of carrying lanterns to light the way to the dawn masses during the Spanish times.  Thence, it has evolved into an annual event shaped by the changing social and political climate in the university and the nation.  The use of modern technologies has likewise greatly altered the creation of lanterns and floats as well as the manner of visually presenting the themes or messages of the participating groups. 

Fine Arts lantern floats (clocwise from top left): Pandango sa Ilaw; Sitsiritsit Alibangbang;
Leron Leron Sinta; and Pen Pen De Sarapen.

The parade may be a collective expression for peace, harmony and understanding in the spirit of Christmas; definitely, it is a multi-sectoral celebration regardless of religion, political ideology and sexual orientation.  For many advocacy groups, it has become another platform for voicing protests against or concerns on issues affecting the university and the nation.

Thus, seeing Christians, Muslims, people of other faith, political groups like Kabataang Makabayan, labor unions like the Philippine Airlines Employees Association, UP Babaylan transgenders  from the LGBT sector, etcetera, did not pull surprises anymore in this year’s Lantern Parade.

Fine Arts lantern floats(clocwise from top left): Ang Pipit; Sarung Banggi; O Ilaw ;
and Bayan Ko.

The lanterns were up for competition, and the most creative made out of recycled materials were judged on originality, imagination and appropriateness to the parade theme.  Four prizes were at stake: the first prize worth Php25,000; the second at Php20,000 and the third at Php15,000.

The lantern floats of the participating units depicted their unique interpretation of the Pasundayag theme. The College of Arts and Letters highlighted palo-sebo, the Center of Women’s Studies palayok breaking, both for children at play during fiestas.  The lantern float of the Institute of Islamic Studies was deemed the best -- a house made of clear recyclable plastic water bottles with decorative motifs from southern Muslim Philippines.  The College of Engineering had a technology-driven lantern float depicting renewable energy; the sunflower bud bloomed fully to rotate as solar panels. This garnered the second best prize.

Fine Arts lantern floats: Tinikling (top) and
Tong Tong Pakitong-kitong (bottom).
For many years now, the College of Fine Arts has become Hall of Famers with their creative lanterns. They are exempted from competition; hence, their thematic lantern groupings now serve as the exciting finale of the grand parade. 

For this year, their twelve lanterns were interpretations of Filipino folksongs and kundimans like “O Ilaw”, “Pandanggo sa Ilaw”, “Tinikling”, “Leron, Leron, Sinta”, “Sitsiritsit, Alinbangbang”, “Ang Pipit”, “Kalesa” and “Sarung Banggi”, nationalistic anthems like “Bayan Ko” and “Alerta Katipunan”, and children chants like “Pen Pen De Sarapen”, “Tong Tong Pakitong-kitong”. The “Kalesa” was judged the best among them, and was awarded a special cash prize of Php25,000.

After all the prizes including those for the Karolfest (choral competition among musical groups in the campus) had been announced and awarded to the winners, the medley of “Pasko Na Naman” has been sang by the winning choirs, and the parting message from UP President Alfredo Pascual has been heard, the fireworks display from the Beta Epsilon Fraternity lit up the UP Diliman skies with loud cheers from the celebrators.

Fine Arts interpretation of Alerta Katipunan using puppet lanterns.
The fun did not actually end after the last burst of the colorful fireworks. Many trooped to the Sunken Garden for partying at the Maskipaps 2014.

‘Twas the eve of a long vacation for the UP community.

Maligayang Pasko, everyone!

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Marian procession as typhoon Hagupit threatened

Aftermath of Hagupit in Catbalogan, Samar village.
Photo by Rommel L. Rotor.
Its international name was Filipino for whiplash; thus, “Hagupit” already invoked sharp excruciating pain when this typhoon was forecast to surpass the ferocity of Typhoon Yolanda/Haiyan that claimed thousands of lives in Eastern Visayas last year.  Fortunately, when it became “Ruby” inside the Philippine Area of Responsibility (PAR), it weakened as it made several landfalls starting in Samar.

The alerts on possible flash floods, landslides and storm surges went out as Hagupit/Ruby moved towards the Eastern Visayas.  Most threatened were the Samar provinces. The Public Storm Warning Signal (PSWS) escalated from number 2 to 3 from December 4 to around midnight of the 5th. 

Catarman, Samar folks crossing flood waters.
Photo by Gabriel Nabong Caalim.
Certainly, the victims of Yolanda are still suffering, and many prayers could have been said for the typhoon to dissipate before landfall or digress from its projected path so that they are spared from another traumatic experience. Definitely, government went on full preparation, the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Mitigation Council (NDRRMC) mobilized all counterparts in the local governments to avoid a Yolanda scenario, and President Benigno Aquino III warned that he would be unforgiving for any failure unless it’s force majeure.

Morning of the 5th, our friend Charo, fellow history researcher and netizen from Samar, posted that she was packing her archival documents and books in plastic for storage, hoping that no storm surge will reach them. Their house in Catbalogan is about 40 meters from the sea, and they would be evacuating to a safer house far from the coast.

Procession passing by replica of Spanish-era house.
Signal #3 remained hoisted over the Samar provinces on the 6th. Charo posted that the authorities went house to house that morning in their area for forced evacuation.  She said that all 17 evacuation centers of Catbalogan were packed, all hotels fully booked, and the churches and convents were also occupied by evacuees, some coming from Borongan town and the islets of Rama, Cinco, Bagongon,Darahuwat, Basiao, Mahaba and other coastal barangays as early as Friday. According to her, even in Dolores, Eastern Samar, where landfall was expected that evening, people from the islets fronting the town were also in the evacuation centers.

For sure, residents of Metro Manila monitored Hagupit/Ruby through the PAGASA Weather Bulletins, social media postings and the TV weather reports. 

The typhoon was hardly felt on the 6th.  Even then, many prayers could have been said for the protection of communities under siege by the fierce winds and heavy rains of Hagupit/Ruby. It can be said that the Marian devotees included pleadings that the procession of the 7th honoring the  Blessed Virgin Mary in Intramuros, Manila be not spoiled by rains.

Hooded Marian procession participants.
On Sunday, December 7, signal number 3 over the Samar provinces reduced to #2 late in the afternoon when Hagupit hit Masbate.  

Netizens posted that the Catbalogan City DRRMC and Coast Guard confirmed that there was no storm surge in the city, that there was flooding but this was caused by the extremely heavy rains. The posts also identified coastal and island municipalities of Samar that were hit hard: Talalora, Sta. Rita, Villareal, Zumarraga and Daram where majority of houses were completely damaged. 

From our friends Facebook posts, we learned that the small town of Dolores survived the biggest typhoon so far that had hit the area although there were three casualties. The mayor of Daram had a more detailed report from 46 barangays of what had been washed out or partially/totally destroyed: farms, houses, schools, wharves, motorized boats and bancas, but there were no casualties.

Marian procession participants.
Metro Manila had gloomy skies the whole of Sunday, but no rains fell. With much rejoicing, pomp and ceremony, did the grand procession of around 90 icons and statues of the Blessed Virgin Mary went around Intramuros in celebration of the feast of the Immaculate Concepcion. 

Undaunted by the prospect of rains, thousands of Marian devotees joined the procession, many of them accompanying the popular images of the Nuestra Señora (Our Lady) with various titles from provincial towns like the Pilar of Imus, Cavite; Aranzazu of San Mateo, Rizal; Fátima of Valenzuela, Bulacan;  Ina Poon Bato of Botolan. Zambales; Divina Pastora and Soledad, both from Nueva Ecija; Salambao from Obando City, Soledad de Porta Vaga, Merced and Remedios, both from Pampanga, Casaysay from Lipa, Batangas, among many others. There were brass bands like the Obando and Pakil town bands playing anthems associated with particular icons.

It’s the large delegation from Pakil, Laguna, seemingly almost all the Catholics of the town, which has captured our admiration in the past years. Just as they do in their town during her fiesta in September, they come to sing and dance the turumba on the streets of Intramuros in honor of their Nuestra Señora de los Dolores (Our Lady of Sorrows).

According to Pakil folklore, the first turumba dates back to 1788, and the term is derived from “natumba sa laki ng tuwa,” meaning rolling down from joy.  The first two lines of the turumba song goes:  “Turumba, turumba Mariangga, Matuwa’t tayo’y magsaya / Sumayaw sa tu-turumba, Puri sa Birheng Maria (Singing and dancing to honor the Virgin Mary).”

Five of around 90 Marian images from different parts of Luzon.

The rains came to Metro Manila on Monday, 8th December; signal number #2 was raised in the morning but reduced to #1 before midnight. The rain was moderate, and there were no accompanying gusty winds.  Tuesday, 9th December, was still wet but Hagupit/Ruby was already moving out to the West Philippine Sea.

We read from Facebook posts of the Catbalogan City mayor's post-Hagupit/Ruby statement. “Another miracle!", she said, We survived Yolanda, we survived Glenda and now we survived Ruby!”  She spoke of the city as a ship that has finally docked after a very rough journey. As ship captain, she said, she was very much fortunate and thankful that her passengers were very cooperative during that night sailing.

She could very well be speaking for all the villages, towns and cities that suffered heavily from Hagupit. They’re starting all over again, picking up the pieces with assistance from government and non-government organizations, from friends and town mates here and abroad.

No rains fell on the jubilant devotees of Mary who lit candles, sang or dance in her honor during the procession around Intramuros.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Two young voices: protest and celebration

Note: This photo-essay appeared in a slightly different format in the 05-11 December 2014 issue of FilAm Star, the weekly 'newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America', published in San Francisco, CA. This author/blogger is the Special News/Photo Correspondent in the Philippines of the paper.

Protest. We listened to the voice of protest from young Manobos during two occasions: the Manilakbayan ng Mindanao Para sa Pagkain at Kapayapaan demonstration at Gate 2 of Camp Aguinaldo on 26 November, and the Annual Honoring of Martyrs and Heroes at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Center two days later.

According to reports, the Manilakbayan, a contingent of around 800 peasants, indigenous peoples and urban poor from Mindanao, travelled by foot and by caravan for 14 days, and arrived in Metro Manila on 21 November. 

Young Manobo girls in the Manilakbayan rally.
They are here to inform the public of the human rights situation in the different regions of Mindanao, and to press for action on their urgent demands for food and peace there.  They will be here for protect actions until 10 December, International Human Rights Day.

The young Manobos, who are of high school age, explained that they are from the federation of villages called Salugpungan Ta Tanu Igkanugon, which means “unity in defense of ancestral land”, specifically from Talaingod, Davao del Norte.   One of them is a young datu, which is explained by his beaded head covering.

“We want green farmlands,” one protest placard read, “not the [green] camouflage uniform of the soldiers.”  They want the military to stop camping in their schools and communities.   They’ve added their voices to the call to resist Oplan Bayanihan, the counterinsurgency program of the government aimed at all the internal security threats to the nation being implemented by the Armed Forces of the Philippines.

“Save our Schools” is their urgent call. They explained that ever since army troops occupied their Salugpungan Ta Tanu Igkanugon Learning Center (STTILC), they have stopped schooling.  They stressed that “Edukasyon ang aming kailangan, hindi mga sundalo sa aming eskwelahan (education is what we need, not soldiers in our school).”

Presentation of grievances using Manobo cultural
forms: chant and dance.
The young Talaingod Manobos have learned to draw public attention to the plight of their lumad through theatrical presentations, which incorporate elements from their traditional culture, on the street and on stage.

In the 26 November rally, for example, they dipped their feet in a thick blood-red liquid before doing a traditional round dance at the conclusion of the program. 

At the Bantayog ng mga Bayani, they recited, chanted and presented in dance the violation of their human rights using both their traditional cultural and the modern theatrical idioms.  They presented in song and dance the diaspora of the Manobos from their ancestral domains, harassment of women and killings that they attribute to the militarization of their villages.
Some social media reporters posted pictures of mass actions in Liwasang Bonifacio and Mendiola to commemorate Bonifacio Day. The Manillakbayan contingent participated too and the young Manobos in their traditional attire also used this protest platform to call attention to their demands.

The battle is for the hearts and minds of Filipinos in the countryside, which include indigenous peoples comprising diverse ethno-linguistic groups. In Mindanao, the ancestral lands of the lumads like the Manobos are in the mineable forested mountainous areas. Displacement from their homes breeds contempt for authorities because they attribute this to the protection of vested interests of big business, local and foreign, like the mining companies, who are thought to be after the rich mineral resources there.

Manobo round dance with feet dipped in blood-red liquid.
The AFP Internal Peace and Security Plan (IPSP) dated 2010 with an implementation timeframe until 2016, available from the internet, includes military environment as one of the ‘significant characteristics of the area of operations’.

 “The greatest hindrance to stronger civilian-military cooperation,” it says, “is the continued perception of human rights violations allegedly committed by military personnel. Also needing to be addressed are perceptions and allegations that some misguided members of the military are embroiled in political and even parochial concerns in localities they are assigned to.”

How the military carries out the IPSP’s strategic courses of actions should overcome these negative perceptions and eventually win the hearts and minds of people in their areas of operation.

Celebration. The date was 30 November, the 151st anniversary of Andres Bonifacio.  It was also the Annual Pawikan Festival, the ninth since its inception in 2006, in barangay Nagbalayong in Morong, Bataan.

Body painting competition with pawikan as motif.

The village was in fiesta mood and the majority of celebrators were young. There were no protest banners, no demonstration, nothing political. There was a parade that ended at the celebration venue, the pawikan conservation center where turtle eggs are re-nested for hatching. The center has released about 70,000 hatchlings through the years. During the opening program, the provincial governor spoke of environment protection, in general, and the pawikan conservation, in particular, in relation to the Bataan economic development plan. 

A very well-trained choral group of Ayta schoolchildren from Abucay town sang the national anthem and another musical number during the opening program.

Well-trained choral group of Ayta schoolchildren of Abucay, Bataan

There were twelve contingents of elementary and high school students in colorful costumes for the street dancing competition with the theme of pawikan conservation.  Some groups were garbed as marine turtles and danced the ritual of laying eggs. There were poachers too who come to steal them for the market and the dining table, but their efforts are thwarted by the protectors who collect them for the hatching in the conservation center.

Streetdancing with pawikan conservation as choreographic theme.
While the street dancing was going on, another competition was in progress: body painting with marine turtles again as motif. Young ladies served as the canvasses of the artists.

It was evident that environmental protection and pawikan conservation has become part of the consciousness of the young citizenry of Bataan province. In this instance, they understand why it is important to protect an endangered wildlife species.

Protest and celebration -- two diverse portraits of young Filipinos today: the young Manobos representing the youth participants in street parliaments, and the young from Bataan representing those who declare their advocacy for other causes through street dancing. May lasting peace be achieved within their lifetimes.

Monday, December 1, 2014

On the Maguindanao massacre 5th anniversary: “58 dead, 5 years, 0 justice”

Note:  This photo-essay was the special feature of the 28 Nov-04 Dec 2014 edition of FilAm Star, the weeky 'newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America.'  This blogger/author is the Manila-based Special News/Photo Correspondent of the paper.

Message of the IFJ-NUJP to President Aquino: "58 Dead, 5 Years, 0 Justice"

Five years ago, on 23 November 2009, 58 men and women were gunned down in Barangay Salman of Ampatuan town in Maguindanao province.  They were on a convoy to the Commission on Elections office in the provincial capital town of Shariff Aguak to file the certificate of candidacy of then Buluan vice-mayor Esmael “Toto” Mangudadatu for governor of the province.

The victims of what is now considered the worst election-related violence in Philippine history included, among others, Mangudadatu’s wife and 32 journalists and media workers. Some of them were dumped in a pre-dug mass grave using a backhoe of the provincial government.

The alleged masterminds behind the massacre -  Andal Ampatuan, Sr., Andal Ampatuan, Jr. and Zaldy Ampatuan  - and 109 of their followers have been arrested and charged.  The trial has been going on since 2010 with hearings conducted twice a week, but it is slowed down by postponements of hearings.

Banner of the NUJP at Bantayog ng mga Bayani.
“58 dead, 5 years, zero justice,” the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NJUP) rated the country’s judicial system during their press conference at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani Shrine in Quezon City on 23 November,

The IFJ is representing more than 600,000 journalists in 134 countries.  It has conducted several missions to the Philippines with regard to the Maguindanao massacre and had made recommendations and requests to the government.

Last week, the IFJ with an international delegation and NJUP conducted a mission in the country on the occasion of the 5th anniversary of the massacre.   Their purpose was to investigate the government’s effort to secure justice for the victims. The mission visited the massacre site; and spoke to families of the victims, members of the local media community in southern Mindanao, the police, justice and government representatives including Justice Secretary Leila De Lima.

Banner of the UP College of Mass Commucations in the campus.
The IFJ-NUJP mission will issue a full report on December 23  on these key concerns:  (a) a climate of fear continues to pervade southern Mindanao, and has led to self-censorship and safety fears for local media; (b) media organizations have failed to address the safety issues affecting their staff; (c) witnesses in the case remain vulnerable with one being killed in the past week taking to at least four who have been murdered before giving evidence in the trial; and (d) five years on and the families of the victims continue to suffer financially and psychologically and more must be done to support them particularly as they have been subject to offers of bribes to drop their civil actions in the case.

“The Philippines is undoubtedly an epicentre of impunity,” said Jane Worthington, IFJ Asia-Pacific acting director, “and this massacre puts the world’s attention on the inability of governments to investigate crimes against journalists. This was the single largest slaughter of media workers and five years on not a single conviction has been recorded.” 

Australian representative Mike Dobbie, who has led all IFJ missions since 2009, said: “It’s clear there has been little progress in ensuring justice for the massacre victims, while the suspects in the crime continue to make efforts to stall the case at every turn.”

Philippa McDonald, vice president of the journalists union in Australia (the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, MEAA) and a director of Oceania’s Media, Safety and Solidarity Fund expressed how heartbreaking it is to witness the grief and the trauma of the families of the victims all this time. “Children are growing up without a breadwinner, families are facing dreadful financial hardship and they’re suffering enormously,” she said. “Their faith that justice will be delivered is severely shaken.”

Editha Tiamzon, widow of Daniel
Tiamzon, one of the media workers
killed in Ampatuan.
The lingering grief and the trauma were strongly felt from the recollection of Editha Tiamzon, wife of Daniel Tiamzon, a media worker of UNTV, who, she said “was the last one to be dug up from the mass grave.” 

When she walked around the art installation recreating the dead bodies of the massacre victims in various arrangements of disarray, she could not help but cry especially when she was reading the names of murdered journalists and media workers, one of them being her husband.  

The art installation was composed of representations of the dead bodies of media workers: dismembered or in gestures of pain and suffering.  They were made of newspapers signifying their kind of work. 

Mrs Tiamzon cried when she went around the art installation recreating
the massacre scene littered with dead bodies.

Taking off from the Maguindanao massacre, Schave De Rozario, the General Secretary of the National Union of Journalists Malaysia and representative of the South East Asia Journalists Union (SEAJU) spoke of the “the coldblooded murders of journalists seem to be a growing solution resorted to by politically linked groups, the powerful and corrupt in the South-East Asian region”. 

“The scourge of impunity across the region as a result of this massacre indicates that these forces in the region believe that it is OK to kill journalists and for politicians to do nothing,” he said. “The region needs action and governments must move to protect media freedom.”

Nonoy Espina, director of the NUJP, spoke of the climate of fear that is still very strong in Maguindanao and the rest of the region.  He expressed concerns about the safety of journalists.  He cited journalists in Davao being accused of being sympathizers of the New People’s Army, of being placed under surveillance, and also of journalists in Quezon and southern Tagalog provinces being threatened.

The art installation with the remembrance wall of the
Bantayog ng mga Bayani as background

During these more than four years of President Aquino’s term, 33 journalists have been killed.  “Most of the murdered,” Espina said, “received threats first.”  He mentioned that of the 177 murders of journalists, there had been 10 convictions so far of look-outs, drivers, etc. but zero of masterminds.

The IFJ-NUJP mission said that Justice Secretary De Lima acknowledged the failings of the judicial system. According to the mission, she told them that “there is still a culture of impunity and that is something that we’re trying to address and eradicate.”

The mission is encouraged by her remarks that financial support for the families of the victims on her agenda and she is intending to raise it with President Aquino.

Art installation representations of victims.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

A weekend with Higantes and Botong Francisco in Angono

Note:  This photo-essay appeared in the 21-27 November 2014 edition of FilAm Story, the weekly "newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America" published in San Francisco, CA. This author/blogger is the Manila-based Special Photo/News Correspondent based of the paper.

A typical Angnuno figure in the Angono landscape.
The town’s name Angono is said to have been derived from “Angnuno” or “Ang nuno”, the mythical dwarf of Filipino folklore.  Thus, it does not surprise that sculptures of a small bearded man with a conical hat can be found all over the place as decorative pieces in buildings, yards and pedestals of barangay or street markers.

The higante (giant) is the other iconic Angono figure, which slightly derives from the fearsome towering creature of the Pinoy folkloric underworld.  The town’s higante though has human features.  The head is made of papier mache and the face is shaped to resemble a familiar character of the community, may be a neighbor, a government official, or even a National Artist like painter Carlos ‘Botong’ Francisco or musician Lucio San Pedro.

The body construct is of bamboo. The lower half is a cylinder around four to five feet in diameter made up of bamboo loops and strips, and curved at the top to make the waist. Thus, whether male or female, the higante is made to wear a colorful skirt, which hides the man inside who provides the higante’s feet.  The skirt has an inconspicuous peeping hole for the man to see where he is going.  

The ornate retablo altar of the Angono church
All in all, the higante may be as tall as twelve feet although some are now smaller and lighter for young boys to carry.

The higante has its bamboo hands built in akimbo, and the explanation is historical. According to town historians, Angono used to be a hacienda during the Spanish past. The giant effigy was crafted by the farmers as their satirical symbol of protest against the cruelty of their landlords. Thus, it was a caricature of the hacenderos or hacenderas who had their hands high up on their hips when they went around bossing the tillers of their farmlands. 

The tradition started with only a family of higantes – the trio of a bearded father, his wife with hair tied in a knot and wearing dangling earrings and their young son -- heading the procession honoring the town patron saint San Clemente during his fiesta day on November 23. 

The traditional higantes father, mother and son (top photo),
and the Jollibee tatay, nanay, ate and kuya (bottom).
Through the years, the number of higantes in the religious procession grew bringing more colorful fun to the fiesta celebration from the way they walk, dance, turn around, and bend or bow to each other or to the viewing public. It’s said that they used to scare the children too.

 They have ceased to be the old protest symbols. They are now artistic expressions of the Angono people. Popular accounts say that the Higantes Festival came about in the late 1980s upon the suggestion of one of the town artists, the late Perdigon Vocalan, who also put up the very well known Balaw-Balaw Specialty Restaurant where so called exotic dishes are the culinary centerpieces.

The Higantes Festival this year came a week earlier (November 16) than the town fiesta (November 22-23). The Festival was thus socio-civic, obviously designed to pursue Angono’s tourism agenda. 

Higantes with familiar faces: Mayor and
vice-mayor (top left), National Artists Botong
Francisco and Lucio San Pedro (bottom).
The religious celebration is a wet tradition. On San Clemente’s day, revelry includes dousing with water although people dressed up on their way to work may be spared the wet treatment as decreed in a municipal ordinance, which reportedly penalizes ‘offenders’.   Visitors are advised beforehand to get prepared for the wetting when they go around town, watch the street and fluvial processions, and also for getting a douse of muddy water from Laguna de Bay when the fluvial procession returns.

This water element could have been considered by the Angono tourism officials when they set the Festival apart from the fiesta proper. Most of the higantes population will still participate in the religious procession with the higante family still leading the way.  

In the old days, the higantes depicted the farmers, fishermen, vendors and other familiar characters that made up this rural town of Rizal. In the November16 festival this year, the characters we saw among the many tall and small higantes, many in traditional Filipino costumes and some in modern attire, included representations of the mayor and vice-mayor, and possibly other local officials, a Muslim effigy, a Jollibee higantes family comprising tatay, nanay, ate and kuya, and the National Artists Botong Francisco and Lucio San Pedro advertising a laundry soap.

Parade of higantes included Manny Pacquiao (top left) and a
Muslim representative (bottom right).
Our visit to Angono was completely memorable because of the visit to the house of the real artistic giant Carlos ‘Botong’ V. Francisco, proclaimed National Artist for Painting in 1973. The restored house cum studio is now a museum. Our fraternity brod Jay-r Pinpino arranged this Sunday visit with Carlos Francisco II, grandson of the National Artist, an artist himself, and ‘Totong’ to his friends.

We took a look at the various awards and citations that Botong received, reproductions of his famous mural paintings hanging in the National Museum, Manila City Hall, or in private collections, and pictures showing him at work on his “Bayanihan” mural, as a Boy Scout leader, among others. 

We were curious about the whereabouts of studies he made for his mural paintings, sketches of his set and costume designs for the classical Filipino movies like Siete Infantes de Lara, Ibong Adarna and the Juan Tamad series, etc.

Totong told us that when his grandfather died, his daughter who lived in America brought with her the collection of Botong’s works. Upon her death, her brother (Totong’s father) brought these back to the Philippines. They are now being evaluated and indexed before they go into a conservation depository. There are several companies interested to take custody of this collection of art works, and one of them is Iglesia ni Cristo. Good news is that a special exhibition is coming very soon. 

Relief sculptures on "The Art Gallery of the Streets" based on
Botong's illustrations in Serafin Lanot's book of poems (top
photo), and Lucio San Pedro's famous song "Sa Ugoy ng Duyan"
Botong and Lucio San Pedro lived on the same street: Doña Aurora in Barangay Poblacion Itaas. Parades and processions pass this way. It leads to the church.

The marker says that the barangay hosts “The Art Gallery on the Streets”, open for free viewing any time, comprising relief sculptures mounted on walls along streets, principally on Doña Aurora. These are all based on Botong’s drawings, paintings and murals executed by Angono artists Charlie Anorico, Gerry Bantang, Atoy Apostadero, Alex Villaluz and Edwin Moreno.

These relief sculptures translate Botong’s painterly interpretation of historical events such as the martyrdom of Rizal or the first mass at Limasawa to visitors. They also recreate tradition, customs and practices such as bayanihan, orasyon, harana and the fiesta in visible forms for the modern sightseer.

Sculptures based on Botong's 'History of Medicine'
 (top photo) and 'Juego de Prenda' (bottom).

This “Art Gallery on the Streets” is indeed a fitting tribute to the real higantes Botong and Lucio.

There’s a new term we learned as we went down Doña Aurora Street: endramada. Pairs of bamboo poles are planted on opposite sides of the street, and between each pair, across the street, an endramada is hanged bearing symbolic objects, may be representing the livelihood of the town, barangay or house owner.

We were looking at a fish between “Viva” proclamations of Cristo Rey and San Clemente, colorful shirts, big cut-outs of colorful muffins, a net with a mermaid and fish figures, jersey t-shirts of different colors, and, because Christmas is approaching, stars and Christmas lights.

This endramada tradition could have died with the changing times and lifestyles if not for the intervention of Botong Francisco. The story goes that he invoked the importance of Doña Aurora Street to their lives and he asked the men to pledge that they will keep this tradition alive even if the other streets would cease to do so.

Thus, if we dare wake up again so early in the morning to make the trip to Angono on November 23, fiesta day of San Clemente, we will pass under the canopy of endramadas, possibly soaking wet, in the company of the colorful higantes as the procession wends its way from the church to banks of Laguna de Bay.

Endramadas on Dona Aurora Street.

By the way, we’ve been warned too. It’s not only water that will keep flowing.  Shots of distilled spirits will come every which way.  Douse and souse!

Monday, November 17, 2014

Typhoon Yolanda commemoration: survivors rising through tears and lingering fears

Note: This photo-essay was featured in the 14-20 November 2014 edition of FilAm Star, the weekly 'newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America' published in San Francisco, CA. The author/blogger is the Philippine-based Special News/Photo Correspondent of the said paper.

Candle-lit sharing of messages to the public during the 'Rise Up for Abundant Life'
liturgical commemoration of Yolanda at the St. Andrew's Theological Seminary.

It's been a year since Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda with its 155 mph winds and seven-meter high storm surge flattened towns and cities and snuffed out lives in Eastern Visayas, The National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC) is still validating the number of casualties although it had set its body count at 6,300. Observers claim that this may go up to more than 10,000 if the casualty or missing lists from all affected barangays are tallied.

While there were lives lost, there are the survivors coping with the terrible loss of loved ones, and trying to move on despite the anguish and lingering fears.

Ferdinand ‘Nick’ and Doris ‘Chai’ Quieta of Tanauan, Leyte lost all their four children: the eldest, a young lady of 11, and the youngest, a little baby, just a year-old.  Both are agriculturists, alumni of the Visayas State University.  Before the storm struck, Chai brought her kids to the safety of her mother’s concrete house. Seventeen perished in that house - the Quieta children, their cousins, and their grandmother.

Wena Sanchez and Cha Escala, young women filmmakers from Leyte, tell their heartbreaking struggle to live on through their documentary ‘Nick and Chai’. Sanchez came to know about their despair through her sister-in-law, who happen to be the couple’s classmate and close friend, and godmother of one of the children.

Chai tells that she felt that with the loss of their children, they had no more need for planting. She found a packet of seeds though in her bag, and she thought that if these sprout in a few days, she will take that as a sign for them to move on, and they did. Pretty soon, they were encouraging their neighbors for everyone to set up a communal garden and show the world that they can stand on their own.

The documentary ‘Nick & Chai’ by Cha Escala & Wena Sanchez is
about a couple who lost all their children.
For six months, from March to September 2013, the filmmakers captured the despair and hope, tears amid little joys, prayerful and playful moments, daily trips to the mass grave, planting and sharing the harvests from the garden, and being parents to the neighborhood children.

Nick says, "Everything reminds us of our children. When we see plants, we see them. When we see chickens, we see them. When we look at the moon, the stars ... We've accepted everything. It's just the longing that's hard to deal with." When he spoke before a gathering of his fellow alumni, he asked them to put their right hand over the heart, and loudly proclaim with him and Chai that "life goes on."

'Nick and Chai' won the Best Picture award in the Quezon City International Film Festival on 05-11 November, just in time for the Yolanda commemoration. It could very well be the message of hope to the world when it goes to various film festivals abroad.

The story of Nick and Chai was amplified by testimonies of two other survivors during the “Rise Up for Abundant Life” Typhoon Haiyan Commemoration organized by the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) at the Saint Andrew’s Theological Seminary in Quezon City.

Meriam Rosario of Estancia, Ilo-ilo and Toto Cajes of Baje,Samar showed other slices of life after Yolanda in various communities.

Rosario lamented that up to now they have not yet received the attention of government. They were moved from the coastal areas to the bunkhouses provided by the NCCP and built on hilly grounds.  She grieved about harassment of women, and how DSWD denied relief benefits to people like her who joined groups advocating faster response to their plight. “Hindi pa kami okay,” she said, “isa ako sa di pa nakabangon.”

Survivor Toto Cajes speaking about the death his loved ones
On the other hand, Cajes could not help but cry as he recalled how his family desperately clung to the ceiling during the surge but they felt like they were in a washing machine with the waters churning around them. He lost his wife and two children. One survived because he clung to branch of a mango tree.  He said they have not received any assistance yet from government.

The “Rise Up” commemoration gave a view of the response of religious organizations to the relief, recovery and rehabilitation needs of the people after Yolanda.

Just like in any disaster scenario, many individuals, non-government organizations and government agencies particularly the DSWD immediately organized relief operations to distribute basic food items and other primary needs of the survivors.

Generally, the NCCP member churches embarked on rehabilitation programs after their relief missions.  Some of them like the Board of Women’s Work of the United Methodist Church provided psycho-social support to the survivors. Skills training was also a component of their rehabilitation projects.

Display on post-Yolanda rehabilitation work of the NCCP.
The ‘Anglican Relief for Typhoon Yolanda Survivors’ had men and women working together in the housing project.   In Palo, Leyte, people were taught the natural farming system and organic feeds formulation for hog and poultry raising using resources found in the community. Their approach asks the community to use their resources and capacities instead of highlighting their needs and problems. They also want the community to pay back so that other communities can use the fund for similar ventures, say, housing.

The DAMBANA ( Damayang Simbahans sa Panahon ng Disaster) response is embodied in the PrayFastBuild concept. The ‘Fast’ asks the donor to give up a meal or snacks so that he can help in raising funds. Thus, relief materials went to various provinces, shelter and livelihood for families in Capiz, and agricultural seedlings, implements and fishing boats to Western Samar.

The United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) captured their rehabilitation-in-action through these programs: (a) aerobic rice planting; (b) solar lights beyond borders; (c) pig raising, pay it forward style; and (d) returning life, uplifting hopes.

‘Rise Up for Abundant Life’ symbols: coconut seedling, water, lighted candle, Bible and cross.

With regard to government, the word is out that President Benigno Aquino III has approved the Comprehensive Rehabilitation and Recovery Plan (CRRP) for areas hit by Yolanda.

According to the Office of the Presidential Assistant for Rehabilitation and Recovery (OPARR) headed by Secretary Panfilo Lacson, “the lives of Typhoon Yolanda victims shall be restored and built-back-better [using] Php170.92 billion, allocated for the four primary rehabilitation areas:  Infrastructure (Php35.15 B), Social services (Php26.40 B), Resettlement (P75.68 B), and Livelihood (P33.68 BT).

The infrastructure allocation is for the repair, rehab or reconstruction of national roads and bridges, airports, ports, classrooms, school buildings, LGU halls, public markets, among many others.

Social services cover college scholarship grants, textbooks, health services and medicines, forest land rehab, agroforestry development, shelter assistance, assistance to LGUs in the formulation of Comprehensive Land-Use Plan (CLUP), among others.

The resettlement fund for the victims is for housing units, safe and suitable resettlement sites, sustainable livelihood opportunities in new settlement sites, and other related projects.

The livelihood allocation is for, among others, expansion of food and income base, and capacity development in local employment promotion and local economic development.

The government committed to complete the 25,000 projects under the CRRP in 2016. President Aquino grumbled about doing things right in reply to criticisms on the slow response of government to disaster. The question nags: will government deliver within that tight timeline?

Photo-grab of an IBON Foundation slide showing government assistance to affected families

Then there are the foreign donors, whose pledges or actual contributions can be viewed online at the Foreign Aid Transparency Hub (FAITH) through http://www.gov.ph/faith/full-report

The latest posting tells that foreign aid pledged is USD 1,643,038,277.66, comprising cash (USD 1,011,033,311.26) and non-cash (USD 632,004,966.40) pledges.

The foreign aid received is USD 386,590,532.07. The total cash received by government is USD 26,788,176.68, and the non-cash is USD 28,459,720.94. The total received by NGOs, multilaterals and others is USD 330,836,632.01.

According to reports, OPARR refers LGUs or national government agencies to foreign donors, or the foreign diplomats and international agencies go to OPARR to look for projects they can finance. In most cases, foreign donors and governments are the ones that implement their projects.

The European Union, for example, has provided humanitarian assistance and early recovery interventions. Lately, it spoke of the high vulnerability of the Philippines to climate change, and it is offering its assistance under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

Roses for the liturgical commemoration of Typhoon Yolanda.

NCCP also stressed “Climate Justice” as the underlying theme of the “Rise Up” commemoration because Yolanda/Haiyan showed the country’s vulnerability to climate change.  Their continuing prayer is for “people [to be] prioritized over profits – clean energy instead of monopolized fossil fuels, rehabilitated and protected forests instead of large-scale mining, lives and livelihood of the people over big businesses.”

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Dayaw: celebrating the rich cultures of Philippine indigenous peoples

Note: This photo-essay was featured in the 07-13 November 2014 issue of FilAm Star, the weekly "newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America" published in San Francisco, CA. The author/blogger is the Philippines-based Special News/Photo Correspondent of the paper.

The Philippine indigenous population is estimated to be between 10 and 20 percent of the official total population of about 92 million in the national census of 2010, which reportedly included an ethnicity variable for the first time.

We have yet to see an official figure but roughly, the higher estimate would be around 19 million indigenous Filipinos from Batanes to Tawi-Tawi. It’s for them that Presidential Proclamation 1906 of 05 October 2009 declared October every year as National Indigenous Peoples’ Month. 

In December 2009, the first Indigenous Peoples’ Festival was held in Roxas City. Tagged Dayaw in October the next year, it became the official festive celebration of Philippine indigenous cultures led by the Subcommission on Cultural Communities and Traditional Arts (SCCTA) of the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) in partnership with other government agencies, private companies and non-government organizations.  Dayaw connotes respect in Ilokano, a sense of pride in Hiligaynon, and praise in Waray.

Dayaw 2014 carries the theme “Katutubong Filipino para sa Kalikasan at Kapayapaan (Indigenous Filipino for the Environment and Peace)” to three festival venues: Baguio City in October, Bacolod City and Zamboanga City, both in November. 

Indigenous Peoples (IPs) from Luzon, Mindoro and Palawan came together at the convention center in  Baguio City for two days, 22 and 23 October, and showcased the richness of their respective cultures and heritage:  Ibaloy/Kankanaey, Bikolano, Bolinao/Pangasinense, Bugkalot, Iloko, Ivatan/Itbayat, Kalanguya/Ifugao, Kalinga, Kapampangan/Tagalog/Sambal, Kasiguranin, Mangyan cluster, Palawani/Molbog/Jama Mapun, Tagbanua/Pala’wan/Batak, Tinggian/Itneg, Agta/Ita/ Kabihug, Apayao/Isnag, Ayta of Tarlac, Pampanga, Bataan and Zambales, Balangao/Bontok/Applai, Gaddang/Isinay, and Ibanag/Yogad/Itawit/Malaweg.

Their Dayaw was a kaleidoscope of colorful traditional costumes, headgears and accessories, alongside those that bear heavy influences of colonial and modern fashion styles.  Ears listened to a symphony of indigenous musical rhythms from gongs and other ethnic instruments of the Cordillera and other ethnic groups, and the lilting dance tunes of the Ilocano, Tagalog, Pangasinan, Quezon and Bicolano lowlanders. 

The cooking demos provided a tasting binge of exquisite ethnic cuisines like the Ifugao tangbul of cattle hide and meat cooked for an hour over hot coals in a bamboo tube, the Ivatan version of arroz Valenciana, the fried rice cake called Jaa of the Jama Mapun,  and dishes of buting and kurapan sea shells from Casiguran, Quezon,  among others.  

The big hits in the demonstration of traditional games were the Zambales Aytas’ basketball, where players shoot the ball into a basket at the back of a running opponent, and the wrestling match of the Bugkalots, which is intended to test the strength and endurance of their menfolk. Foursomes or more of Bontoks intertwine their legs and hop around in a game called pakpakaak. The Jama Mapuns have the batin, which is similar to the patintero. Some games are common like the ‘tatsing’ or hitting of targets (shells to the Ivatans, large lipay seeds to the Tinggians) out of an encircled area.

Demonstrations of traditional crafts such as mat and cloth weaving elicited great attention; likewise, the products displayed or sold. Schools of Living Traditions (SLT) help preserve these crafts and other cultural forms for the next generations.

A flagship program of the SCCTA, the SLT is intent on “perpetuating knowledge on traditional performances, crafts, oral traditions and indigenous language .... [in] a venue where a “culture specialist/master” of a particular traditional art form imparts to a group of interested youth the skills and techniques of such form .”  There are now more than 600 SLT benefitting  around 18,000 young people who learn traditional crafts – mat/basket/cloth weaving; making musical instruments, traditional medicine, pottery making, dancing, music and chanting, traditional cuisine, affirming “mayamang kultura ng katutubo”.

In the Baguio Dayaw, twelve elderly  SLT Cultural Masters were honored:  Rosa B. Fianza and Meriam Garas (for making of tradional attire called daoit with patda embroidery); Sebia Bucok , Emilia Bangibang and Carina Amsiwen (for cloth weaving and accessories making); Cornelio Cafayan (for history and culture and playing of Gaddang traditional instruments like the tongatong and barembeng);Rebecca Mataba, Teodoro Tillema, Michael Kiwas and Modesta Batiller (for music and dances); Nurmida Abubakar Jamili (mat weaving); Sublito Tiblak (tabig and tingkop making).

In pursuit of the festival theme, the IPs had an indoor campfire-like round of information exchange on the initiatives of their communities to protect the environment, and on their indigenous methods of keeping peace among themselves.

Planting trees and protecting forests, sustaining soil fertility, and water resources management were common threads in their interactive discussions. These indicate their strong attachment to their ancestral lands and all the resources contained within their territories.  In this regard, tenurial security is a major concern of the IPs, and the processing of their Certificates of Ancestral Domain Titles (CADTs) remains a priority task of the National Commission for Indigenous Peoples (NCIP).

As to conflict resolutions, many of these communities still resort to the traditional peace pacts and the mediation of the councils of elders although small town politics sometimes adversely affect the ages-old peacekeeping processes.

Their rights are recognized by the Constitution, amplified by Republic Act 8371 or the IPRA, “The Indigenous Peoples’ Act of 1997”, which recognizes, protects and promotes these rights, and the National Commission  on Indigenous Peoples (NCIP) was created for these purposes.

Zambales Aytas playing their version of basketball.
According to the IPRA, Indigenous Cultural Communities/Indigenous Peoples refer to  “a  group of people or homogenous societies ... who have continuously lived as organized community on communally bounded and defined territory, and who have, under claims of ownership since time immemorial, occupied, possessed and utilized such territories, sharing common bonds of language, customs, traditions and other distinctive cultural traits, or who have, through resistance to political, social and cultural inroads of colonization, non-indigenous religions and cultures, became historically differentiated from the majority of Filipinos.”  Also included are “ peoples who are regarded as indigenous on account of their descent from the populations which inhabited the country, at the time of conquest or colonization, or at the time of inroads of non-indigenous religions and cultures, or the establishment of present state boundaries, who retain some or all of their own social, economic, cultural and political institutions, but who may have been displaced from their traditional domains or who may have resettled outside their ancestral domains.”

These legal definitions somehow provided context to the address of Dr Al Anwar Anzar, NCCA Commissioner for the SCCTA, during the opening program. He told his audience of indigenous groups that “you are the true maharlika because you did not succumb to colonization.”

The people of the archipelago during the pre-Hispanic times were independent communities or villages of tribes or clans.  Many were “reduced” or settled into towns under the church bells by the Spanish colonizers. But there were also communities who remained independent with their own political governance, socio-cultural and justice systems.   

Anzar reminded that colonization resulted in the categorization of the Filipino people into cultural minorities or majorities.  He emphasized that we should not allow history to repeat itself by setting Filipinos apart.
Wrestling is a test of strength among the Bugkalots.

“Let’s not forget that indigenous peoples are not tourist attractions,” he also counselled, “they are part of our history, the color of the nation.”

His hopeful vision is of Dayaw all in one place, and all the indigenous peoples from Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao achieving a higher level of understanding and peace, which can happen if they have full trust with each other.

“We must value our heritage,” he said, “and Dayaw is an effective strategy to strengthen our culture.”