Monday, March 31, 2014

Enjoying a nostalgic kalesa ride around Old Manila and in Ilocos and Cagayan cities

Note:  This photo essay appeared in the 28 Mar-03 Apr 2014 issue of FilAm Star, "the newspaper for Filipinos in mainstream America."  This author/blogger is the Special News/Photo Correspondent in the Philippines of the said paper.

Before he was declared National Artist for Music and Literature, I had a couple of memorable conversations with popular composer and lyricist Levi Celerio (1910-2002), during his breaks from playing the piano during lunch hours at one of the restaurants on Morato Ave.  He regaled me with anecdotes about his life as a music man and I liked it when he’d play a tune with a leaf, a feat that had earned him a citation in the Guinness book of records. He easily comes to mind when I see horse-drawn vehicles of various structural designs plying around Rizal Park and Intramuros. He penned the lyrics of the popular song Kalesa that our choral ambassadors bring to the ears of overseas Pinoy during their concert tours abroad.

In this musical tribute, Celerio endowed the kalesa with nationalistic and romantic attributes. The kalesa, he wrote, has its own charm and beauty to appreciate; and it is a comfortable pambayang sasakyan (public transport).  In this song, he recalled kalesa rides that his generation and their loved ones took when they went out in the evening.

 “The horse is not a problem,” Sylvia La Torre continues to sing in Pilipino from her records, “molasses and grass are enough to make the vehicle run at comfortable speed, and there’s no need for gasoline.” Choirs echo this ecological message from YouTube videos of their choreographed renditions of the song.  

The cochero (kutsero) in Metro Manila no longer goes out to harvest the green grass to feed his horse.  Grass supplies are sold by zacate gatherers from the nearby provinces like Laguna.   

The song evokes historical memories.  “Kalesa ay panghatid tuwina/Nang panahon nina Maria Clara/ Mga bayani nitong bayan / Sa kalesa idinuduyan;” the country’s heroes swayed with it when they rode the horse-drawn carriage during the Spanish colonial times.

During the 19th century, it was the carruaje (karwahe) that plied the provincial 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.  Artist Jose Honorato Lozano included a painting of this carriage drawn by two horses with passengers in colorful attires in his 1847 album of Philippine views and costumes.

The guidebooks for American and other foreign visitors in the early 1900’s contained information on public vehicles that they could use in visiting places around Manila.  Kemlein’s handbook of 1908 described three classes:  carruajes drawn by two horses; the quilez drawn by one horse and can seat four people; and the carromatas drawn by one horse and can accommodate two people.  Another source described a carruaje as being four-wheeled, and the rest have two wheels.

The local government of that period fixed the fare rate for each public carriage calibrated according to the number of passengers (one up to four) and time of use (during the first half or first hour plus the succeeding hours).   The brackets for “carriage for two horses” were more expensive than those of the “calesa, carromata, quilez or other vehicle for one horse”.  A lone passenger or a pair paid 50 centavos for a 30-minute ride in a carruaje, for example, but cheaper at 30 centavos in a calesa (kalesa).

Travellers were warned of cocheros or drivers who often demanded excessive fees, and were advised to insist on paying the regulated fare.  Times apparently have not changed.  Today, many taxi passengers often report of similar encounters with cab drivers who want to negotiate the price instead of the metered fare.

The carretela (karetela) was the term for the kalesa in my town when I was growing up.  It was described in a 1926 Hispanic-Tagalog dictionary as two-wheeled with seats for four.  The cheaper version of this carriage, according to another source, is the lighter and “box-like” carromata.

Long before lahar came down from Pinatubo, high school boys like us learned how to ride a horse from the cocheros of our town.  If one was an officer of the Preparatory Military Training corps of cadets, he led his platoon or company in the fiesta parade on horseback.   Horses were borrowed or hired from the karetela owners because the cocheros do not work during the town fiesta.

The horse-drawn vehicle is still very much around today when the jeepney/taxicab/tricycle drivers have become the kings of the road, a title held by the cochero for a very long time, from as far back as the Spanish colonial times until some years after the Second World War.

During my journeys in northern Luzon, I saw the kalesa plying the streets of Tuguegarao, Laoag and Vigan.  Each time I go to the archives on Kalaw St. or on Arzobispo St., I see plenty of variations of the traditional horse-drawn carriages bringing tourists around Luneta, Intramuros and Fort Santiago.

The Tuguegarao carriage has been dubbed the Ibanag kalesa.  It is made of wood and galvanized iron sheets, and has a pair of rubber wheels, similar to those of a motorcycle.  It can seat as many as eight persons. While there are jeepneys and tricycles crowding on the streets, many residents apparently prefer taking the kalesa when they do business around the city. I learned that tourists can take the kalesa to visit the city’s attractions at very affordable fare, around Php50-100 (a little over USD 1-2), almost the cost of one serving of their noodle delicacy called batil patong.

The Laoag kalesa is also used for tourism and public transportation. Like in all places today, it adds to the traffic of jeepneys and tricycles on town and city streets.   According to a traveller’s report, short rides cost around PhP10, well below a dollar.

In Vigan, only the kalesa is allowed to traverse Crisologo St., the cobbled heritage thoroughfare hemmed on both sides by antique houses. It competes with the tricycle in bringing tourists to other sites of interest quite far from the city proper like the pottery making factory, loom weaving houses and the Baluarte, a private zoo.  The kalesa
fee is fixed at PhP 150 (roughly, USD 4) per hour. 

For sightseeing around Fort Santiago, Intramuros and Rizal Park or Luneta, one can pick the type of kalesa from among the four-wheeled and two-wheeled variations parked by the entrance of the Fort or the standard karetelas in front of the recently reconstructed Ayuntamiento, left of Plaza Roma and opposite the Palacio de Gobernador. The tour fee ranges from PhP250 to PhP300 (about USD6-7) for 30 minutes.
In Chinatown in Binondo and around Divisoria in Tondo, the kalesa remains the vehicle of commerce for many in transporting goods and marketing, and the preferred conveyance of stall owners and residents there.  

Touristic kalesa rides in Tuguegarao, Laoag and Vigan, and around Intramuros are not expensive compared to the price one pays for a horse-drawn carriage tour of Central Park in New York City.  A walk-up ride there costs USD50 for a maximum of 20 minutes with additional fees for extra ten minutes.

Horse-drawn vehicular transport gets a thumbs-up from green advocates. These vehicles are environment-friendly since no pollutants are emitted when cocheros drive passengers around a town or city.  Horse-y solid wastes are very well managed through the use of portable toilets hang by the rear of the animals although they may take a leak anywhere, which explains the whiff of urine along the usual kalesa routes. 

Kalesas are arguably eco-friendly alternatives to petroleum fuel guzzlers and polluters that would contribute greatly in reducing the carbon print of the Philippines in the worldwide environmental map.  Definitely, they can spell more fun in a nostalgic balikbayan trip of overseas Pinoys to their native land.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Adding some colorful distractions to the Visita Iglesia of Maundy Thursday

Note:  This photo essay  appeared in the 21-27 March 2014 issue of the FilAm Star, a weekly newspaper published in San Francisco, CA 'for Filipinos in mainstream America.' This blogger is the Special News/Photo Correspondent in the Philippines of the paper.

The Holy Week is a month away.  It’s time to prepare for the long vacation, which, my hometown experiences tell me, is capped by family and class reunions on Black Saturday after the religious rites of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday.

The folk rituals of Holy Week among Roman Catholics, local or Pinoys living in foreign soils, include visiting seven churches, a tradition called Visita Iglesia, on Maundy Thursday.  Many faithful go on excursions to neighboring towns in the provinces, so it’s not surprising to see jeeploads of city folks visiting churches in Laguna and Rizal, or Bulacan and Pampanga. 

I have not gone on a Visita Iglesia in all my life although I have visited many churches for their historical and cultural heritage values at other times of the year.  I can in fact help balikbayan friends and relatives choose seven churches in Metro Manila for their visita on Maundy Thursday.  My mind tells me that there should be certain colorful enrichments along the pilgrimage route from the first to the seventh church.   After doing the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Holy Rosary, and the fourteen Stations of the Cross, an enriching break between churches may do wonders both to body and soul of the local and balikbayan pilgrim.

In my list are three churches built during the last century:  the UP Church of the Holy Sacrifice at the University of the Philippines in the Diliman campus, and the Santo Domingo Church on Quezon Avenue, both in Quezon City, and the Redemptorist Church in Paranaque City, more popular as the Baclaran Church.

The UP Church of the Holy Sacrifice, a round chapel with a thin shell concrete dome, still astounds me even if I still see it often after graduating from the university many years ago.  The altar is at the center, a double-sided crucifix hangs above it, and all around are wall panels painted with murals depicting the passion of Jesus Christ.  The creative geniuses who put all these together in 1955 later became National Artists: Leandro Locsin, Arturo Luz, Napoleon Abueva, Vicente Manansala and Ang Kiukok.  The church was recognized as a national historical landmark and a cultural treasure in 2005 by the National Historical Institute and the National Museum.

The pilgrim may not be able to escape the lure of the standard food fare of UP Diliman: banana cue or turon, available any time at the university shopping center a short walk across the church.  A leisurely stroll under the canopy of giant acacia trees on the academic oval up to the Oblation monument can be conducive for meditations before proceeding to the next church in the visita route.

The Santo Domingo Church is the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary of La Naval de Manila.   According to historical accounts, the most magnificent of several Santo Domingo churches rose in Intramuros after the severe earthquake of 1863, but this was levelled to the ground by the Japanese bombs of December 1941.  The present structure built in Quezon City and inaugurated in 1954 is the sixth church.   This is where the image of Our Lady of the La Naval that survived the Second World War is enshrined.

When he recites the visita prayers, the pilgrim is surrounded by Stained-glass windows depicting the original 15 mysteries of the holy rosary by Galo Ocampo, and the colorful murals on the life of St. Dominic painted on the overhead cupolas by National Artist Botong Francisco.

From there is a short distance to Banawe St., teeming with restaurants for a quick snack or simple meal.  The Ma Mon Luk is still around for the mami and siopao of the good old days before moving on to the next church.  

The pilgrim may want to have the Baclaran Church last in the visita.  This church was consecrated in December 1958; earlier in January, it was declared the National Shrine of the Mother of Perpetual Help.  Devotees come here on Wednesdays to pray the novena before the picture of the Mother of Perpetual Help not the typical sculptured Marian image.   

Baclaran’s other popularity comes from the stalls of garments that can match those of Divisioria in terms of variety and prices.  Thus, a pilgrim’s journey to the next church may be broken by a quick trip to the clothes market.

Our next set comprises historical and popular places of worship:  San Sebastian, Quiapo and Sta. Cruz churches.  Depending on one’s capacity to walk, the pilgrim may want to traverse Ongpin St. of Chinatown to get to the Binondo Church and further on through Divisoria to the Tondo Church. 

This group already makes up five.  The pilgrim may however opt to divert from Sta. Cruz to Intramuros for the San Agustin Church and the Manila Cathedral.   Or, the pilgrim may consider another alternative for the visita: the Marian churches of Ermita and Malate.

The gothic architecture of the San Sebastian Church or the Minor Basilica of San Sebastian continues to stun visitors.  It is the only pre-fabricated all-steel church in the country; the steel sections came all the way from Belgium and were assembled on site.  Historical accounts say that the church was declared a minor basilica in 1890, and it was inaugurated the following year. 

The antique image of Our Lady of Carmel graces the center of the main altar, which tapers into a spire where the image of St. Sebastian is enshrined. 

The San Sebastian leg gets the pilgrim pass by Mendiola, the favorite culmination point of protests rallies before and after martial law, subjects of dissent seemingly the same, if he is old enough to remember.  Claro M. Recto or Legarda is not far behind for cool refreshments before hitting Quiapo.

The Quiapo Church is the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene, center of worship on Fridays of the devotees of the antique life-sized image of the Poong Nazareno, and the hub of intense veneration every 9th of January during the long procession of the image around the Quiapo district.  

The main door of the basilica opens into Plaza Miranda, site of miting de avances of political parties until the last election of 1971, and of protest rallies and demonstrations until the declaration of martial law in 1972.

Pilgrims to and from Quiapo church can be distracted by the commerce on Carriedo St.: Nazareno t-shirts and towels, colorful praying candles, flower garlands, native delicacies, medicinal herbs and anting-antings.   They may also get detoured to Quinta Market on Echague St. for mangoes and other fruits of the season, or to Excellente store for a large chunk of ham to feast on after the meatless Holy Week.

The Sta. Cruz Church, recently renovated, was completed in 1957. Like most of the churches of old Manila, the original stone church one sees in history books was totally destroyed during the Second World War. 

Today, there is just the rotunda with a running old fountain between it and the entry gate to Chinatown.  The pilgrim may find plenty of distractions on Ongpin St. on the way to Binondo Church:  lucky charm bracelets, jewelry, varieties of hopia, and carts of fresh fruits and vegetables. 

To me, Binondo Church and the Plaza San Lorenzo nearby comprise the focal point of Chinatown. The church is formally Marian being the Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary Parish Church, but because the Filipino saint was born here, it was declared the Minor Basilica of St. Lorenzo Ruiz. The present church was rebuilt from the old structures that survived the American bombs of 1944.

The pilgrim may opt to walk the distance from Plaza San Lorenzo to the Tondo Church past the tempting distractions of the new mall on Reina Regente and the Divisoria stalls on Claro M. Recto.

The Manila Cathedral had been under structural reinforcements for some time, and may open in time for Holy Week.  The cathedral was declared the Minor Basilica of the Immaculate Conception in 1981. Since the Spanish times, it has been the seat of the Archdiocese of Manila.

The first cathedral was built in 1581. The fifth, built after the earthquake of 1880, was reduced to rubble during the liberation of Manila from the Japanese.  It was rebuilt in 1954 to 1958.

San Agustin Church, the oldest church in the country, survived the bombs that razed Intramuros to the ground during the battle of Manila.   UNESCO designated it a World Heritage Site in 1993.

 A pilgrim can take a stroll on top of the walls around Intramuros, or tour the walled city on board a horse-drawn cart or calesa.  There is Casa Manila across the San Agustin Church where a museum, souvenir stores and restaurants are located for the refreshment of tired minds and bodies.

The Ermita Church is the Parish Church of Nuestra Senora de Guia, the oldest Marian image in the country.  The story goes that one of the men of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi found the local people worshipping the image on a trunk surrounded by pandan leaves.       

Roxas Boulevard is the scenic connection between the Ermita Church and the Malate Church, where another Marian image is enshrined: the image of the Nuestra Senora de los Remedios, brought from Spain in 1624.

The Malate Church is also a short walk from the light railway station on Quirino Avenue and the fruit stalls on San Andres St. can be an inviting distraction for the hungry soul. 

Jeepneys plying the Mabini and MH Del Pilar routes may take the pilgrim from one church to the other passing through the entertainment and commercial areas of Ermita and Malate. 

Thus, the pilgrim may actually find some reinvigorating distractions when he goes through the spiritual experiences of Visita Iglesia of Maundy Thursday:  local histories, cultural views, and food tripping.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Going wild for sea turtles during the inaugural World Wildlife Day

Note:  This photo-essay appeared in the 14-20 Mar 2014 issue of the weekly FilAm Star in San Francisco, CA with the title: "Celebrating inaugural World Wildlife Day 2014 / Going wild for sea turtles in Zambales, Bataan, Batangas".  The author is the Special News/Photo Correspondent-Philippines of the said paper.

 Our non-government organization (NGO) chairperson asked me if I am joining the trip home during the weekend to release baby turtles (they’re called hatchlings) on Monday, 03 March, and she said a representative of the Biodiversity Management Bureau (BMB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) would be coming with us.  
 Our  Katimpuyog Zambales, Inc., together with eighteen volunteer fisherfolks who call themselves La Paz Rangers organized our town-based PawiCare San Narciso, a pawikan (sea turtle) protection and conservation program.  PawiCare stands for pawikan care that would involve a diligent sea turtle watch by the rangers: monitoring sea turtles nesting onshore, tagging them before they return to the sea, protecting the eggs by transferring them to the hatchery we built, and releasing hatchlings to the sea, all these to help conserve the marine species and thereby helping maintain ecological balance in the fishing grounds.

The rangers went on patrol from nightfall until the wee hours of the morning, scouring the four-kilometer coastal stretch for adult sea turtles who come to nest, measuring and tagging them before they’re released back to the West Philippine Sea, recovering the eggs with extreme care and re-nesting them at the hatchery.  They tell about the night when four pawikans landed. Two patrols had to deal with four simultaneous nestings, and they could not assist each other because the nests were so far apart!

In the past, eggs were hunted for the market and the dining table.  Poaching has now ended in our town, thanks to these volunteers and the support of the barangay council and the town government. 

The nesting season is from October to March.  We thought the season has ended with the release of the last batch of hatchlings on 03 March.  Two days later, however, the rangers found a nester with 90 eggs, which they will care for at the hatchery until hatchlings emerge from their sand nest in 45 to 70 days.

During the season, especially when the eggs started hatching, friends and visitors flocked to the hatchery to see how baby turtles look like.  If they came early morning or around sunset, they possibly had a chance to release hatchlings to the sea.  It’s from them that PawiCare depended partly for material and financial support.

All in all, there were 53 adult sea turtles that laid 3,490 eggs from which 3,384 hatchlings emerged.  This was part of around 23,000 hatchlings released to the sea that DENR-EMB reported in their annual report for 2013.

Our La Paz coastal area is the favorite nesting ground of the Olive ridley sea turtles (Lepidochelys olivacea). There are four other species that nest in other places in the country, one is critically endangered, the Hawksbill (Eretmochelys imbricata) , and the others including the Olive ridley are endangered: Green turtle (Chelonia mydas),  the Loggerhead (Caretta caretta) and the Leatherback (Dermochelys coriacea).   

On that Sunday trip to Zambales, I was told that the next day’s fun-filled event at our La Paz hatchery area was part of the inaugural World Wildlife Day celebration around the globe, in the 179 countries signatory to the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The Philippines would have celebrations also in three other coastal areas.   Hatchlings would be released at our site and at the pawikan center in Nagbalayong, Morong, Bataan.  Juvenile and sub-adult species would be released at Tali Beach in Nasugbu and in Anilao, both in Batangas province. San Juan, La Union could have been another site, but the season is really over and there were more hatchlings to release.

As an aside:  Nagbalayong had their 13th Pawikan Festival on 30 November, while our La Paz group held our 1st Pawikan Festival on 28 December, in 2013.

The chairman of an inland barangay of our town came with his family to join our coastal event.  They brought a juvenile Olive ridley that they had kept as a pet for four years. This long domesticity had made the turtle disoriented, and it was obvious when it was brought to the sea, and it had become too friendly with people.  We thought it better to bring it to the Ocean Adventure in Subic for rehabilitation.  The attending veterinarian said it may take quite some time for it to learn how to get familiar with the deep sea and how to hunt for food before it could be liberated at sea.

In Tali Beach, Nasugbu, three Green sea turtles were released, one of them a rescued sub-adult, and two were juveniles turned over by concerned citizens and rehabbed at the Manila Ocean Park (MOP) since August.  In Anilao, two juveniles were released, a Green and a Hawksbill from MOP.

All these coastal events were conducted jointly by the local community, friends of sea turtles, and representatives of DENR-BMB, the national leader for the inaugural celebration, which carried the theme “Everybody has a role in wildlife conservation.” 

At the Ninoy Aquino Park and Wildlife Center in Quezon City, the day’s programme organized by the DENR-BMB included a forum on wildlife research development focusing on the state of Philippine birds, herpetology, mammal research, barcoding of life, and Philippine flora.

These were our country’s response to the call of United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to “go wild for wildlife, protect diversity, halt trafficking,” in his first World Wildlife Day message.   He reminded that “[f]or millennia,people and cultures have relied on nature’s rich diversity of wild plants and animals for food, clothing, medicine and spiritual sustenance. Wildlife remains integral to our future through its essential role in science, technology and recreation, as well as its place in our continued heritage.”

The UN General Assembly proclaimed 03 March as World Wildlife Day on 20 December 2013 during its 68th Session.  It’s now a special day in the UN calendar. That also marked the day the CITES was signed 41 years ago in 1973.

The inaugural celebration gave the international community opportunity to “celebrate the many beautiful and varied forms of wild fauna and flora; raise awareness of the multitude of benefits that wildlife provides to people, and of the urgent need to step up the fight against wildlife crime, which has wide-ranging economic, environmental and social impacts.”

While John E. Scanlon, CITES Secretary General, invited everyone to the celebration, he reminded also that wildlife today suffers from habitat loss and is gravely threatened by illegal trade.  He spoke of “collective responsibility - as citizens and consumers - to bring the illegal wildlife trade to an end.”

Netizens worldwide were mobilized under the hash tag #WorldWildlifeDay and the slogan “let’s go wild for wildlife.”  People heeded the call, and special events were organized in the 179 CITES signatory countries.

China was reported to have started mobilizing their first Word Wildlife Day celebrations as early as January 2014 in schools, zoos and nature parks, and in public and private venues.  There’s an interesting account about the launch of a campaign in Liaoning Province to have restaurants there take away the names of exotic animals from their menus. In the CITES news updates, former NBA star Yao Ming, a member of Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, was reported to have proposed that China should make ivory sales illegal.

Thailand promoted public awareness programs on wildlife conservation in the non-hunting area of Chonburi Province to protect endangered species and restore forest areas.  In India, they held several village-level awareness programs about wildlife in tiger reserves to stop wildlife crime. 

The main event in Zimbabwe was held at the Hwange National Park, its largest protected area, with the theme “Wildlife Protection for Community Empowerment and National Economic Development”.   They could not forget that last year, 115 elephants were lost in Hwange and vicinities due to wildlife cyanide poisoning.

Kenya had “Our Wildlife, My responsibility, My Heritage” as theme, and their focus was to stop illegal wildlife crime.  Last year, they lost 50 rhinos and 300 elephants to poachers.

Peru launched the national campaign on illegal wildlife trafficking.  The country is one of 12 mega-diverse countries in the world with more than 25,000 flora species, about 10 percent of the world’s diversity. Some 400 species including the huge Andean condor are facing extinction.

“Everybody has a role,” our DENR-BMB strongly reminds, “in conservation.”  The agency has listed threatened Philippine flora and fauna, which can be critically endangered species (like the popular tamaraw, dugong, Philippine eagle, Hawksbill turtle, Philippine crocodile, among others), endangered (like the four other sea turtles), vulnerable (like the Philippine eagle-owl); other threatened species like the Philippine tarsier; and other wildlife species, non-threatened but may become threatened due to causes like predation or loss of habitat.

The CITES list contains all the threatened species of wildlife in the world.  “While the threats to wildlife are great,” Ban ki-Moon said, “we can reduce them through our collective efforts. ... I urge all sectors of society to end illegal wildlife trafficking and commit to trading and using wild plants and animals sustainably and equitably. Let us work for a future where people and wildlife coexist in harmony. Let’s go wild for wildlife!”