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.”