Category Archives: Arts and Culture

Fathers in fiction

Observed on the third Sunday of June by a number of countries, including our own, Father’s Day is an occasion for us to salute our fathers for their efforts, to reflect on how they have shaped and sustained our lives, and to celebrate fatherhood in general, including your own, if applicable (the jury is still out on owners of virtual pets, though).

The list that follows below was prompted by a writing assignment for Father’s Day in which I sought to follow a line of inquiry that seemed to me suitable for the event: how are fathers represented in our fiction? While the assignment ended up being shelved, I found the results of my research—which, owing to time constraints, must be understood as highly preliminary and provisional—to be intriguing: in three major works of Philippine literature, the father, even if acknowledged as heavily influential, is a present absence, invoked only in thought and speech by the other characters. Whether this is a symptom of a more general condition in our landscape of letters remains to be seen, but it is certainly worth mulling over, both as a phenomenon unto itself and as an indication of how fathers and fatherhood are made sense of in the larger arena of Philippine culture. (Elsewhere in the world, the novelist Andrew Martin explored the same issue in the realm of British fiction when he was asked to write and present the BBC documentary Disappearing Dad, and found that, in his survey of the English literary tradition, fathers are often missing or quickly done away with, as in children’s stories: “In the course of filming, I looked at a whole library-shelf full of children’s books, and dad had been killed off in almost every one.”)

Aeneas' Flight from Troy (1598) by Federico Barocci. Oil on canvas. Courtesy of
Aeneas’ Flight from Troy (1598) by Federico Barocci. Oil on canvas. Courtesy of

Duke Briseo
in Florante at Laura (1838) by Francisco Balagtas

Brought to life by way of the recollections of his son Florante, who for a good part of the poem is tied to a tree in a dark forest, bemoaning the cruel fate that has befallen him and those whom he loves, Duke Briseo is characterized as a father who practiced what might be known today as “tough love”. Florante declares that parental love involves ensuring that a child must not be indulged, spoiled, or cocooned in pleasure away from the world, for—in line with the long-held notion that suffering leads to improvement—he will be unable to develop the necessary fortitude to withstand the trials and tribulations of life otherwise, citing his own experience of growing up in what are arguably some of the darkest lines in Baltazar’s metrical romance:

“Pag-ibig anaki’y aking nakilala,
‘di dapat palakihin ang bata sa saya;
at sa katuwaa’y kapag namihasa,
kung lumaki’y walang hihinting ginhawa.”

“Sapagkat ang mundo’y bayan ng hinagpis,
namamaya’y sukat tibayan ang dibdib;
lumaki sa tuwa’y walang pagtitiis …
anong ilalaban sa dahas ng sakit?”

“Ang taong magawi sa ligaya’t aliw,
mahina ang puso’t lubhang maramdamin;
inaakala pa lamang ang hilahil
na daratni’y ‘di na matutuhang bathin.”

“Para ng halamang lumaki sa tubig,
daho’y malalanta munting ‘di madilig;
ikinaluluoy ang sandaling init;
gayundin ang pusong sa tuwa’y maniig.”

“Munting kahirapa’y mamalakhing dala,
dibdib palibhasa’y ‘di gawing magbata,
ay bago sa mundo’y walang kisapmata,
ang tao’y mayroong sukat ipagdusa.”

“Ang laki sa layaw karaniwa’y hubad
sa bait at muni’t sa hatol ay salat;
masaklap na bunga ng maling paglingap,
habag ng magulang sa irog na anak.”

“Sa taguring bunso’t likong pagmamahal,
ang isinasama ng bata’y nunukal;
ang iba’y marahil sa kapabayaan
ng dapat magturong tamad na magulang.”

Florante reveals that at one point, Briseo risks the grief of his wife Floresca to send his son, then 11 years old, to faraway Athens in order to study under the eminent and kindly teacher Antenor for nearly a decade. Floresca passes away before Florante can return, but, in spite of this unfortunate incident, Florante does not seem to resent his father’s decision, and in fact hails Briseo for the lessons that he has imparted, as well as mourns his beheading at the hands of the treacherous Count Adolfo.

Don Rafael Ibarra
in Noli Me Tangere (1887) by José Rizal

Don Rafael Ibarra, the richest man in the town of San Diego, is widely known to be just and honorable, and so it is a shock to his son Crisostomo when he comes home from Europe after seven years and finds out from Señor Guevara, an old lieutenant, that Rafael died in prison, accused, among other things, of being a subversive and a heretic. Worse, Crisostomo eventually discovers that Rafael was denied a proper place for his final rest: though initially placed in a grave, his body was later ordered exhumed and transferred to the Chinese cemetery, but ended up being tossed by the gravedigger into the river, on account of the weight of the corpse and the inclement weather. Determined to continue his beloved father’s good work, Crisostomo strives as best as he can to avoid trouble, even when he learns that Father Dámaso, the former curate of his hometown, had precipitated the persecution of his father, and considers him an enemy as well. Crisostomo finds that he cannot help himself, however, when, at a dinner hosted by Captain Tiago, which follows the ill-omened laying of the cornerstone of the schoolhouse that Crisostomo orders built for the village, Dámaso, “getting fat from so much scolding and so many beatings”, appears  and makes a point of insulting not only him, which he already did from the pulpit earlier that day, but also his father: outraged, Crisostomo pounces upon the portly Franciscan and takes up a sharp knife as if meaning to kill him, condemning the friar for insulting “what is to a son the most sacred of memories”, and challenging the members of the gathering to do the same:

“You who are here, priests, judges, could you see your aging father go without sleep for you, separate himself from you for your welfare, die of sadness in prison, sighing just to hold you, seeking one person to console him, alone, sick, while you are abroad… Could you later hear his name dishonored, could you find his tomb empty when you wanted to pray over it? No? You say nothing! Then condemn him!” (From the translation by Harold Augenbraum)

Don Lorenzo Marasigan
in A Portrait of the Artist as a Filipino: An Elegy in Three Scenes (1952) by Nick Joaquin

Also referred to as “el Magnifico”, the same epithet associated with Lorenzo de’ Medici, the ruler of the Republic of Florence during the Italian Renaissance and patron of such notable artists as Michelangelo Buonarotti and Sandro Botticelli, Don Lorenzo Marasigan is a scholar, a patriot who fought in the war for Philippine independence from Spain, and an artist who is said to have been a rival to no less than Juan Luna. While he never appears onstage during the performance, which is set in a house in Intramuros just before World War II, his presence, indexed by the titular painting that hangs on the fourth wall and thus is invisible to the audience, exerts great power. The great canvas, painted about a year before the narrative present of the play, depicts a scene described in the Roman epic Aeneid by Virgil: Aeneas carrying his father Anchises on his back as they flee the doomed city of Troy (Ascanius, the son of Aeneas, is, curiously, not included). What makes the picture a striking and—for most of the characters—disturbing sight is that both figures bear the face of Lorenzo: one as a young man, and the other as an old man. Because of Lorenzo’s reputation, the dual self-portrait provokes fierce competing interests: Candida and Paula, the daughters who live with Lorenzo, refuse to sell the work despite the poverty that creeps upon them day by day, while their siblings and the other characters urge them to give it up, together with the decrepit family house and the once-glorious days that it represents. As their lives slowly unravel, Candida and Paula struggle to hold fast to their values, and they become estranged from one another for a time. Finally, Paula realizes that the painting reveals a path to emancipation, albeit not the kind that the people around them keep urging them to seek, and sets her feet firmly upon it, taking her sister with her—a bold, if not reckless choice that reunites them with Lorenzo:

CANDIDA: May God forgive me for ever having desired the safeness of mediocrity!

PAULA (rising and drawing her sister up): Then stand up, Candida—stand up! We are free again! We are together again—you and I and father. Yes—and father too! Don’t you see, Candida? This is the sign he has been waiting for—ever since he gave us that picture, ever since he offered us our release—the sign that we had found our faith again, that we had found our courage again! Oh, he was waiting for us to take this step, to make this gesture—this final, absolute, magnificent, unmistakable gesture!

CANDIDA: And now we have done it!

PAULA: We have recognized our true vocation!

CANDIDA: We have taken our final vows!

PAULA: And we have placed ourselves irrevocably on his side!

CANDIDA: Does he know?

PAULA: Oh yes, yes!

CANDIDA: Have you told him?

PAULA: But what need is there to tell him?

CANDIDA (rapturously): Oh Paula!

PAULA: He knows, he knows!

CANDIDA: And he has forgiven us at last! He has forgiven us, Paula!

PAULA: And we will stand with him?

CANDIDA: Contra mundum!

Piling up the (Philippine) Indie Landfill?

image credit:

If Ian Urrutia of the blog site Vandals on the Wall is to be believed, 2012 marked the year in which aspiring tech savvy Filipino musicians discovered and uploaded their music on to Bandcamp. He provides compelling evidence for this by selecting from among them the top ten EPs and top sixty tracks for the year.

Considering the impressive collection assembled, a curious onlooker might conclude that the local independent music scene is vibrant and bursting at the seams. It is not just the volume but the breadth that strikes one when confronted with this cacophony of musical talent. And Ian does a fine job of establishing his hold on the jargon needed to review such work.

There is literally something for everyone’s musical palette and tastes. As the website boasts, whether it’s mainstream or independent, we surely got your music covered. Choice now seems to be endless, when it was not too long ago, that you could count with your fingers the number of acts that were genuinely into this type of music. The scene has indeed come a long way. The problem though is with this much on offer; a listener could get lazy, which perhaps creates a role for curators like Ian. The quality of their work could either help or hinder the cause.

If, as Simon Reynolds in the British daily newspaper The Guardian said, the start of the noughties was a time when indie was regarded as “the rubbish dump of contemporary music”, then could the start of this decade (the teenies?) be one in which the Philippines starts to produce its own version of “indie landfill” with the proliferation of heaps of local acts? As Reynolds noted

Once upon a time, long long ago, the shitness of indie actually had a point. Back in the 1980s – the days of Bogshed and Beat Happening, the Membranes and June Brides – indie was about defiant amateurishness and naivety. Its defects – shaky rhythm sections, weak voices, clumsy playing – were a refusal of the perfectionism and professionalism of 80s rock and pop. The awkwardness and abrasiveness reaffirmed the “anyone can do it” principle that many at that time saw as the crucial element of punk ideology. Indie’s flailing substandardness (as measured in conventional terms) could thus be felt by its fans as liberating and confrontational.

By the late 1990s and on into the noughties, though, indie wasn’t crappy for a purpose. In fact, it wasn’t especially inept or ramshackle anymore, so much as drearily adequate. Instrumentally, there was just a sustained absence of flair in the playing. This guitar-based music didn’t rock, but equally the songcraft wasn’t sufficiently strong, or forcefully sung enough, for it to make the grade as proper pop music. What was it for then? A vague aura of superiority to the commercial mainstream clung around it still, but really only as a hangover from the past: a set of received assumptions adopted by each new generation of the indie demographic, which kept on reconstituting itself in the same way that every year a fresh crop of first years arrive at uni. That inherited sense of undefined alternativeness crumbled on close scrutiny, since the music was not innovative by any stretch, and only rarely was it artistically adventurous in terms of its lyrical content, or expressive of bohemian values. A lot of indie wasn’t even released via independent labels. [emphasis mine]

He concluded by saying that by the end of the decade, the indie landfill had cleared somewhat in that

Looking back over the noughties, then, you’d have to say that indie produced a good proportion of the decade’s least impressive music. Yet indie also produced some of the most. Even on its traditional terrain – the songful guitar band with “interesting” lyrics, “attitude” and a decent shot at an NME front cover – there was a series of indie heavyweights, starting with the Strokes and the Libertines, who jolted the scene out of the dismal post-Britpop slough of the late 90s. And once you strayed beyond that narrow strip of indie-as-commonly-understood, there was a steadily accumulating ferment of activity that shredded the indie stereotype to the point where, by the decade’s end, the word was virtually meaningless. [emphasis mine]

Could local indie bands be taking the Filipino penchant for imitation to a whole new level? If in the 1980s, Filipino bands proved their musical worth by sounding what in the vernacular was termed placado or like an exact replica of the song they were covering, then at present, are musicians trying to earn their chops by hopping on to the indie bandwagon, and composing music that resembles what they have come across on Pitchfork, Stereogum or the like?

Contacted for comment, Toti Dalmacion of Terno Recordings who could be credited with starting the whole local indie scene from the early-90s with his radio show, Groove Nation Sessions through to the noughties with the development of such acts as Up Dharma DownEncounters with a YetiSleepwalk Circus and The Charmes under his label, says that the current state of play is good and usually bad at the same time. The man, who has seen everything before and worries that the scene he has helped nurture could become discredited, says the terrain could very easily be characterised as

a landfill when people accept everything “indie” as good and amazing… You have to remember “indie” here can mean Cynthia Alexander to Up Dharma Down and most of the time it’s the “process” and not the “sound”. While post-punk, post-rock and other age old terms are bandied about by these young-uns who want to show that they’re eclectic, I question the liking to just about anything as long as there’s some edge to it… It is inevitable though because of too many bands sprouting left and right due to technology and the web so you just need to sift through the landfill. [emphasis mine]

It’s a word of caution worth heeding. The scene could very easily resemble a pseudo-modernist rendition of post-modern pastiche. Luminaries like Toti can’t blame these indie acts though. Not really. As comedian Fred Armisen, whose impression of Ryan Schreiber the founder of Pitchfork in the show Portlandia was the topic of conversation, said to a reporter from that outfit, at least they were trying. But could there be such a thing as trying too hard?

Reprinted with permission from The Scenester. Read the rest of the article here.

Philippine Festivals You Should Not Miss

The Philippines is known as a country that is rich in culture and heritage so it is no longer surprising that various colorful and unique festivals are being held in different parts of the country all year round.

The tradition of fiesta came from the many Spanish religious practices that is why most Filipino festivals are celebrated in honor of it’s patron saints or any major events in the life of Jesus Christ and His Mother Mary.

So when planning your next travel in the Philippines, book a flight or schedule a road trip to your province of choice during its festival so you will be able to be hit two birds in one stone. To give you a taste of the diverse culture ad traditions in the Philippines when celebrating fiestas, I suggest you start first with the following Philippine festivals that should top your list to see and experience.


Moriones Festival
Image Source: Liz Reyes

1. Moriones Festival. Moriones Festival is being celebrated in the “Lent Capital of the Philippines“, Marinduque, every lent season. This whole week celebration starts on Holy Monday and ends on Easter Sunday.

Morions are men or women in costumes and masks replicating the biblical Roman soldiers during Christ’s time. They can be seen roaming around the streets of Marinduque for a week like normal people. Dressed in colorful tunics, scary faced masks and helmets, the mere sight of a morion is already enough to send kids scrambling back to their homes.

But don’t be deceived, morions may look snotty in the outside but they are not. In fact, these centurions are very much willing to join you for a picture taking. They also love engaging in antics or surprises to draw attention of tourists. So don’t be scared or surprised if you are walking in the town proper and see a morion coming near and trying to scare you.

Aside from them being a pleasant sight to see in the streets of Marinduque’s town capital Boac, the morions, as part of the Moriones Festival, also plays a crucial part in the Senakulo during Holy Week.

The Senakulo, a lenten play that depicts the life, suffering, and death of Christ, starts staging on the evening of Holy Wednesday and ends late evening of Black Saturday. Aside from Jesus Christ, one of the main characters in the senakulo is the Roman soldier Longinus, who also happens to be a centurion. When in Marinduque during Holy Week, be sure to specifically, look for Longinus. He’s easy to spot–he’s blind on one eye and is the most famous morion off all.

Aside from the afternoon lent processions, senakulo, Battle of the Morions and “pugutan” (reenactment of the beheading of Longinus), the main highlight of the Moriones Festival is actually the Via Crucis or the Way of the Cross which starts as early as 8:00AM of Good Friday. You have the option to go along with Christ, the other penitents, and morions or simply watch–though it is highly suggested that you go with the Way of the Cross since it is actually a one of a kind experience seeing every step of Christ’s suffering. Better be ready to endure the heat of the sun though and just consider it as another form of penitence. The Via Crucis ends with a “crucifixion” before lunch.


Image Source: Sinulog Website

2. Sinulog Festival. The Sinulog Festival is probably one of the grandest, popular and colorful festival in the Philippines. Sinulog’s main festival is held every year on the third Sunday of January in the province of Cebu to honor the Santo Niño, or the child Jesus, who used to be the patron saint of the whole province of Cebu.

Sinulog comes from the Cebuano adverb “sulog” which is “like water current movement,” as this is the best term to describe the forward-backward movement of the Sinulog dance.

The nine day celebration of Sinulog features participants in bright-colored and garbed costumes while dancing to the rhythm of drums and native gongs. Aside from the famous street dance, fluvial parades and SME trade fair which features Cebu export quality products are also some of the activities to watch out for.

Every year, Cebu is flocked with thousands of tourists from around the world just to witness this one of a kind celebration. In fact, getting a hotel to stay in Cebu City is actually a feat since most accommodations are fully booked already. Thus, if you are planning to street dance with the Cebuanos during the Sinulog Festival, be sure to book your flight and hotel a year before.

For more information on Sinulog Festival, please visit


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Building Capacities with Armi Millare of Up Dharma Down

Reposted with permission from our friends at The Scenester an online fanzine that has been covering the local music scene since the mid-90s.

Image courtesy of Chico Limjap at

ca·pac·i·ty /kəˈpasitē/ n. pl. ca·pac·i·ties

1. The ability to receive, hold, or absorb. 2. The maximum amount that can be contained. 3. a. Ability to perform or produce; capability. b. The maximum or optimum amount that can be produced. 4. The power to learn or retain knowledge; mental ability. 5. Innate potential for growth, development, or accomplishment; faculty. 6. The quality of being suitable for or receptive to specified treatment. 7. The position in which one functions; role.

To these definitions, we can now add: title of the soon to be released and much anticipated third album of Up Dharma Down under Terno Recordings.

The Scenester’s chief contributor, Kristo Babbler recently “sat down” with Armi Millare, keyboards and lead vocals for Up Dharma Down to take stock of the band’s evolution to date, their creative process in the lead up to their third outing, and Armi’s personal journey all throughout. A rather revealing exchange ensued.

Kristo Babbler (KB): Judging from Turn it Well (see video below), Capacities sounds like a very different album from Bipolar or Fragmented. I sense a more upbeat feeling from it, more life affirming, is that true of the rest of the album? And if so, was that by design, or did it just evolve that way over a period of time?

Armi Millare (AM): It’s part of our evolution as music-makers. I think we’ve consciously tried to re-interpret some things in a different way. Not because the theme is wrist-cuttingly sad, doesn’t mean it can’t be upbeat. There are ways around expression that we can toy with. I used to have the impression that anger was expressed with a lot of high register singing, but there is pent up anger, there are passive aggressive episodes and there are hopeful moments that don’t necessarily have to reflect into a fast beat.

KB: It’s been four years since you released Bipolar. Many of your followers are actually second and even third generation ones. Are you concerned that with this third album, your followers might not “get it”? Or are you fairly confident having road-tested the first track?

AM: We also wanted to explore new heights, always trying to do something new. We perform these songs at least three times a week and on a technical aspect, and so we want to keep ourselves inspired by creating new things (that) we haven’t done before. I don’t think that’s a crime. This is all we’ve got, so (we) might as well give it our best shot; might as well enjoy it. You can’t please everyone. And that’s been our mantra all these years. I think the reason why we stuck together was mainly because of that.

I realize that most people forget that even if we have not released a record in 4 years, we were relentlessly gigging since 2004 and a little before that. We were living the life of a performing band that hardly took any breaks because that’s how we want to spell out our commitment. In those 4 years before the actual CD was pressed, we have released tracks that kept us going. Most of them are only being heard now by a wider audience. Capacities has become a compilation of those 4 years and I would like to make sure that those singles do not go to waste when the album had always been on our minds soon after Bipolar was released.

We truly appreciate our listeners and we show that by interacting with them a lot. We feel grateful for their support, but I think the reason why they like the music is exactly because we don’t try too hard to please them. We’re pleased with our work, we’re mighty proud of it, because we wrote them from experience and there’s not one bit of a half-truth in this record. I bet all my chips on this one. Because in the next life, I’m going to be an anthropologist!

KB: There was a rumoured collaboration with Paul Buchanan of the Blue Nile, the Scottish band from Glasgow that UDD has been compared to. Did that actually materialise?

Read the rest of the interview here.

Statement of the YCC Film Desk on the disqualification of Emerson Reyes’s entry from the 8th Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival

We, members of the Film Desk of the Young Critics Circle (YCC), join the film community in condemning the recent disqualification of Emerson Reyes’s entry, MNL 143, from the 8th Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival.

The organizing committee of Cinemalaya, composed of competition chair Laurice Guillen-Feleo, festival director Nestor Jardin, and monitoring head Robbie Tan made the move following a dispute with Reyes over his insistence on casting Allan Paule and Joy Viado as his leads in a love story—these choices, the committee claimed, “were not suitable to the material” and allegedly ran afoul of its concern with “competence, suitability to the role, and greater audience acceptability”.

Given that Tan has stated in an interview that he believes Paule and Viado to be “very competent” actors, the decision he reached with his fellow committee members registers as idiosyncratic at best and disingenuous at worst: Surely persuasive performances would garner precisely the “acceptability” sought after?

The strength of the indignation against Cinemalaya that Reyes’s disqualification has caused would seem to indicate that a number of grievous problems have been festering, unaddressed and unresolved, long before the current conflict.

Run by The Cinemalaya Foundation, a non-stock, non-profit, private entity that professes to be “committed to the development and promotion of Philippine independent film”, the annual Cinemalaya Independent Film Festival supposedly aims to stimulate the creation of “works that boldly articulate and freely interpret the Filipino experience with fresh insight and artistic integrity”. The matter at hand serves to strain the credibility of such projection, illustrating as it does the sad fact that the deplorable, cynical practices of commercial cinema, exercised with an eye on the bottom line, are hardly exclusive to it, regardless of what the legion of evangelists of independent cinema would have us believe as gospel truth.

What this unfortunate incident points up is just how fraught the endeavor of “independent” filmmaking is: production outside the dominant studio system—the main, and sometimes the sole, marker of independence—does not mean production in a space of pure, absolute freedom where lofty artistic aspirations are realized. And certainly it does not mean production that is somehow exempt from being contained and disciplined by the complex matrix of funding organizations, competitions, festivals, and awards, the mechanisms of which can guarantee the makers of a film continuous, ever-increasing flows of prestige and largesse—provided, of course, that the film advances specific agendas, colludes with particular interests, or follows pernicious habits purveyed by reactionary quarters who have managed to cling to power.

In view of the foregoing, the inability of much independent cinema at present to proffer a plurality of viable visions for remaking both cinema and society may well be telling.

Lest the situation devolve into unproductive name-calling and hate-mongering, as it has already begun to in social media, the YCC is calling for thoughtful, informed, self-reflexive engagement with the issues so that the necessary and arduous process of change can begin to take place. Cinemalaya as an institution must find the will to hold itself to the highest standards of transparency, integrity, and accountability if it wishes to remain relevant, but it is not indispensable to filmmaking. Neither does the responsibility of transformation belong to it alone: rather, it belongs to all of us who care about cinema and wish to cultivate an environment where emergent filmic and critical practices can flourish with vigor.

Established in 1990, YCC is composed of members of academe who, through the years, have become attentive observers of Philippine cinema.  Coming from various disciplines, they bring an interdisciplinary approach to the analysis of film.  Current members are from the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila University and De La Salle University.

Members of the Film Desk include Eloisa May P. Hernandez (President), Tessa Maria Guazon (Vice President),  Romulo P. Baquiran Jr., Flaudette May V. Datuin, Noel D. Ferrer, Patrick D. Flores, Eulalio Guieb III, J. Pilapil Jacobo, Skilty Labastilla, Nonoy L. Lauzon, Eileen C. Legaspi-Ramirez, Gerard R. A. Lico, JPaul Manzanilla, Jema Pamintuan, Choy Pangilinan, Jerry C. Respeto, Jaime Oscar M. Salazar, Neil Martial R. Santillan, and Galileo S. Zafra.

The Tyranny of Bad History and the Unmaking of EDSA

Destruction by Thomas Cole, 1836.


“So, while the Filipino has not the sufficient energy to proclaim, with head erect and bosom bared, its rights to social life, and to guarantee it with its sacrifices, with its own blood…while we see them wrap themselves up in their egotism and with a forced smile praise the more iniquitous actions, begging with their eyes a portion of the booty – why grant them liberty? With Spain or without Spain they would always be the same, and perhaps worst! Why independence, if the slaves of today will be the tyrants of tomorrow?” – Jose Rizal

In many ways, the Philippine historical experience is subsumed under an avalanche of perverted and subverted history. In other words, our understanding of self and past is controlled by bad history. Margaret MacMillan in her work “The Uses and Abuses of History” warns of history controlled by vested interests and describes the dangers of ‘bad history': “Historians, however, are not scientists, and if they do not make what they are doing intelligible to the public, then others will rush into fill the void. Political and other leaders too often get away with missing or abusing history for their own ends because the rest of us do not know enough to challenge them. Already much of the history that the public reads and enjoys is written by amateur historians…Bad history tells only part of complex stories. It claims knowledge it could not possibly have, as when, for example, it purports to give the unspoken thoughts of its characters…Bad history can demand too much of its protagonists, as when it expects them to have had insights or made decisions that they could not possibly have done…Bad history also makes sweeping generalizations for which there is not adequate evidence and ignores awkward facts that do not fit…Bad history ignores such nuances in favor of tales that belong to morality plays but do not help us consider the past in all its complexity. The lessons such history teaches are too simplistic or simply wrong.”

There should be little doubt about the importance of history. History is the foundation upon which the present is built, it is the guiding hand that dictates how the future will flow. The examples of bad history in Philippine historiography are numerous, from the joke that was the Code of Kalantiaw, to the carefully crafted and edited American-era histories, to the political screes of Renato Constantino.

Now, we are faced with the specter of forgotten and grossly misrepresented history with the remaking of Ferdinand Marcos as some sort of misunderstood anti-hero and the unmaking of EDSA as ineffectual and unimportant. As MacMillan noted above, rigorously researched and crafted history is important in public discourse. It provides an understanding of today, it challenges erroneously held assumptions, and it helps in understanding the personal and national self. The use and abuse of history in the Philippine context can be understood through two examples, one provided by Jose Rizal and the other by the regime of Ferdinand Marcos.


Reclaiming vs Rewriting the Past: A Cautionary Tale

The forgotten work in Rizal’s oeuvre is his annotated edition of Antonio de Morga’s 1609 Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas. Surprising since the image of a diasporic Rizal, hunched over a writing table in the middle of the British Museum, painstakingly copying Morga’s work by hand, is almost romantic. It speaks to the scholar within Rizal, as well as a man driven to unearth his country. If Noli Me Tangere was about the present circumstances of the Philippines in his time, and El Filibusterismo spoke of one future path that would lead to failure, then Morga was his attempt at remaking the Philippine past. He took Morga’s Sucesos, a well-known work on Philippine history at the time, and basically tore it to pieces. In doing so, Rizal attempted to undermine the very foundation upon which colonialism rested. Spanish intellectuals at the time pointed to their ‘humanizing’ and ‘civilizing’ mission in the Philippines to substantiate their presence; a tactic that the United States would also use to defend their presence in the Philippines. By unearthing a new ‘nationalist’ Philippine history, Rizal was attempting to demonstrate that Spain was no longer necessary. By unmaking Morga, he remade the Philippines.

Rizal’s Morga speaks to the power of history. From a political and social perspective was daring and important at the time: A colonial subject was asserting the primacy of their indigenous culture over that of the colonizing power. In a sense, it was the first shot fired at orientalism. In combination, Rizal’s three books create what Father John Schumacher called a “road to nationalism.” The hope of the past, the iniquities of the present, and the potential of the future are all writ within the three works of Rizal. In essence, Rizal gives truth to the idea that he who controls history, controls the present and the future.

Frontispiece of Morga's Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas.


Taking that idea, it is then no surprise that one of the first acts of any dictator is to first eradicate public knowledge and rebuild it in his own image. History is knowledge, it is contextualizing and empowering. By controlling knowledge dictators and totalitarian regimes can control how people think; they can influence the way people think. In place of the complexities of history, those in power who desire that power will substitute simplistic tales of derring-do and self-aggrandizement. Heirnrich Heine famously wrote: “That was but a prelude; where they burn books, they will ultimately burn people also.”

At the outbreak of Martial Law one of Ferdinand Marcos’ first acts was to muzzle the press. Journalists were rounded up, editors jailed, many who were not capture fled or went underground. Marcos went after knowledge. He well understood the power of the flow of information and the role of history in myth-making. One of the most notorious of Marcos’ rewriting of history was his forged guerillero record, complete with fake medals and all. One of the little remarked aspects of Martial Law was how Marcos embarked on a comprehensive rewriting of Philippine history. He infused the fabricated Code of Kalantiaw into history books and used it to support his Bagong Lipunan. Marcos even went so far as to hire Serafin D. Quiason to ghostwrite a massive nineteen volume historical encyclopedia; the sole purpose of which to demonstrate the Philippines must be ruled by a strong-man, like the fictional Datu Kalantiaw then and Marcos at the time. Marcos well understood that controlling history, rewriting it, would allow him to substantiate his role as undisputed and unquestioned leader of the Philippines. Sadly, many in the academe at the time collaborated in the endeavor. Marcos almost succeeded. He almost gained control of our past and present, the future naturally would have followed.

Rizal and Marcos understood the power of history and the importance of reclaiming it to guide the future. The difference was one wanted to harness that power to create a new society, one free from the shackles of tyranny and oppression. While the other attempted to rewrite history to institutionalize tyranny.


Remaking EDSA

“The people do not complain because they have no voice, do not move because they are lethargic, and you say that they do not suffer, because you have not seen their hearts bleed. But one day you will see and you will hear, and ah! Woe unto them that build their strength on ignorance or in fanaticism; woe unto them who are engaged in deception and work in darkness, believing that all are asleep!” – Jose Rizal

Today is the twenty-sixth anniversary of EDSA I and the war for the historical soul of the Filipino still rages. Recent history remains under attack and the tools being wielded are familiar ones: bad history, propaganda, simplistic narratives, and a reliance on half-truths and base innuendos. That is the allure of bad history, just how easy it is to follow. Bad history plays on emotions, it relies on the reader, or listener, being ill-equipped knowledge and skills wise to combat the gross exaggerations and blatant misrepresentations contained within. Taken in a vacuum, Marcos declaring himself a World War II hero is acceptable. However, studying World War II, reviewing the war records and reports, and being able to critically analyze the claims, leads to a simple conclusion: Marcos lied.

EDSA lies at the center of most ‘historical’ attacks these days, from bully pulpits in the Senate to online forums that thrive on half-truths and creating ideology bound visions of the past. Videos, blog posts, and declarations from the family circulate throughout the public sphere. In a history starved nation, they are all too quickly taken as truth. One of the most popular, even warranting a mention by PCIJ and rapid dissemination by various ‘legitimate’ blogs, was produced by “PinoyMonkeyPride.” The narrative is simple, the premise rudimentary, and the ‘history’ reductive. The video preys on emotions by presenting a simplistic tale of ‘good vs evil,’ playing up rumors and innuendo, while decontextualizing quotes and historical events. Deconstructing the video is outside of the scope of this essay, but historian Michael Chua does a fairly effective job of that. While sources like Chronology of a Revolution: The Original People Power Revolution by Angela Stuart-Santiago takes the reader through EDSA and dispels much of the egregious myth-making that is extant. Manuel Quezon III offers a comprehensive list of EDSA I remembrances, along with his own insightful essays. While historians like Alfred McCoy have unearthed the numerous human rights violations of Martial Law. Like Rizal’s house of cards, bad history is easily dismantled. All it takes is a little knowledge. All it takes is a little research and the tools to needed to critically analyze PR declarations.

The subversion of EDSA for vested interests remains a serious concern. No matter what Marcos loyalists try to claim, or doddering old men who had to beg for civilian intervention to save their lives will assert, or ex-military men who failed at grabbing power for themselves like to say (as Anding Roces at the time called them “toy soldiers playing at war…” asking for ‘civilians to save their asses’), EDSA was of the people. That being said, our understanding of EDSA is flawed, it is limited by our historical knowledge of the period. By failing to understand the iniquities extant during the Marcos era, we are being to lose to importance of EDSA. That is bad history in and of itself. But the response is not to critique public understanding by peddling outright lies. It requires the rigorous application of historical methodology to expand our understanding of the past.

EDSA is and always will be of the people. It was the culmination of twenty-years of civil society struggle against the Marcos-military hegemony. That struggle ebbed and flowed, it took different forms, and remade itself at different turns. At one point it was a noise barrage, at another it was the fight for free elections, at another it was an angry roar over a daylight assassination. EDSA can not, should not, be reduced to and encapsulated in those four days in February 1986. EDSA was a process, an unfinished one at that. Curiously enough, its importance is probably better understood abroad than here. Our example touched off a firestorm of people power uprisings around the world; EDSA’s echoes are still heard today in the Arab Spring of last year.

The power of well-written and researched history, by professional historians aware of their vast responsibilities, is that provides the tools needed craft a better future for all. In Margaret MacMillan’s conclusion in The Uses and Abuses of History she wrote “…a citizenry that cannot begin to put the present into context, that has so little knowledge of the past, can too easily be fed stories by those who claim to speak with the knowledge of history and its lessons.”  That is the situation extant in the country today. It is a situation that fuels many of the social, cultural, and political problems that we still face. Because of the things that history teaches is to challenge dogmatic and sweeping generalizations, especially those that purport to have all the answers, to be the one true interpretation of the past.  History provides us with the tools necessary to question and question some more, while bad history (and its application) does little more than mislead and obscure; usually for purely political or selfish interests.

EDSA is one of those historical moments that can easily be abused, as we have seen. An understanding of EDSA that tries to incorporate its complexities and context can only help inform who we are as a people and how we can grow together. Last year I offered one potential interpretation of EDSA: The importance of EDSA is not found during those fiesta tinged four days, but on the fifth day. Anding Roces once said that it was one the fifth day that a miracle happened: Filipinos came out en masse, into the streets, and began cleaning up the detritus left behind. Maybe that is historical lessons that has resonance today. EDSA becomes less about changing a government and more about a people demonstrating the will to clean up a nation. Considering where we are today, it behooves us to stop looking for short term fixes and start thinking about sustainable long-term solutions. To accomplish that a firm and well-founded grasp of our history is paramount.


Image sources:

Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas, courtesy Wikipedia

The Course of Empire Destruction, courtesy Wikipedia.

Rare exhibit of 100 Filipino self-portraits on view until March 3

It is a rare occasion to find a Juan Luna piece on display at a private gallery–let alone a Luna self-portrait–and even rarer to find a Luna and a Damian Domingo piece in the same exhibit. When you put these alongside even more self-portraits of masters such as Fernando Amorsolo, Victorio Edades, Fernando Zobel, Arturo Luz, Ang Kiukok, Jose Joya, Federico Alcuaz; contemporary artists such as Manuel Ocampo, Elmer Borlongan, Geraldine Javier, Lyra Garcellano, Maria Taniguchi, Christina Dy; and post-EDSA babies such as Liv Romualdez-Vinluan and Jeona Zoleta, what you will get is a groundbreaking exhibit of historical proportions–the kind that every art-loving Filipino must take the time to see.

"The Self in Art" (METRO Society, February 2012) Words by Nina Terol-Zialcita, images courtesy of Finale Art File, art direction by Butchie Pena
"The Self in Art" (METRO Society, February 2012) Words by Nina Terol-Zialcita, images courtesy of Finale Art File, art direction by Butchie Pena

The name of the exhibit is “Imagining Identity: Self-Portraits of 100 Filipino Artists“, and it runs until March 3 at Finale Art File, Chino Roces Avenue (Pasong Tamo), Makati City. In this feature published in the February 2012 issue of METRO Society, I take a closer look at the art and artists, and the generous souls who have made such a show possible. Here is an excerpt of the piece:

“Few works are as intriguing as an artist’s self-portrait, for here, an artist–who is mostly hidden or disguised by his works–finally reveals himself to the public. The revelation may be literal, almost photographic and matter-of-fact as in the case of Rembrandt, or it may still be laden with layers and symbolism, as in the case of Frida Kahlo and her monkeys. In any case, the art of self-portraiture itself begs closer examination because, through it, a society can glean how its people have perceived themselves and their environment through the ages.

“Finale Art File’s latest exhibit, ‘Imagining Identity’, presents Manila art lovers precisely with this opportunity. Through 100 Filipino self-portraits made available to the public from the Paulino Que collection, arguably the most important art collection today, the exhibit reveals the faces of some of the most important artists this country has ever known. In the process, it also reveals the movement of Philippine art through the ages and how artists have found themselves within the heady mix of art-making, surviving, politicking and jostling for public attention, and self-actualizing…

“… It is fascinating to see what is practically a historical timeline of Philippine art brought together in and through a single collection. As [Dr. Patrick] Flores [, curator of the University of the Philippines' Vargas Museum] writes, “In the history of art in the Philippines, the Que Collection is able to deftly mark the turns in the fraught demands of modernity foisted on a country, a post-colony, a potential nation, a nation in pieces: to be critically aware of being in the world in time with others.”

* * *

According to official releases by Finale Art File:

The exhibit is an extensive survey of both history and identity, featuring works produced from 1826 to 2011. The oldest artist featured in the collection is Damian Domingo (b.1796-d.1833), the first Filipino painter to depart from the tradition of religious art under Spanish colonization; the youngest is Maria Jeona Zoleta (b.1989).

The first self-portrait acquired by Que is among the oldest works in the show: Juan Luna’s Indio Bravo in 1886. Other historical works are Domingo’s 1826 miniature portrait on ivory; works by both master genre painter Fabian dela Rosa and Modernist champion Victorio Edades in the 1920s; a 1950 work by printmaking pioneer Manuel Rodriguez, Sr.; and the 1968 self-portrait of Federico Alcuaz, who passed away last February 2, 2011.

Works from the late 70s’s to 80’s include an early portrait by Social Realist Jose Tence Ruiz and Nena Saguil in Paris. The exhibit also shares David Medalla’s 1984 self-portrait and Manuel Ocampo’s portrait of self as a little fairy in 2003. Younger artists such as Lyra Garcellano, Troy Ignacio, Mark Justiniani, Yasmin Sison-Ching, Tatong Recheta Torres, and Liv Romualdez-Vinluan are also included.

The show also spans the entire range of ways that artists—who have altered our ways of seeing the world— represent themselves: from traditional self-portraits, such as Fernando Amorsolo’s graphite on paper sketch, to more concept-based works, such as Bea Camacho’s digital print of body circumference data graphs.

* * *

About Mr. Paulino Que (another excerpt):

“A businessman by profession, art collector by vocation,” Paulino Que is perhaps the Philippines’ most important and most comprehensive art collector, having acquired a collection that rivals that of any museum or gallery standing in town today…

… Described as a ‘very passionate art collector,’ Que is known to be one of the leading supporters of the Philippine art scene, often lending his collections to various local and international exhibits and showing audiences the best that Philippine art can offer.”

* * *

Imagining Identity: Self-Portraits of 100 Filipino Artists will be on view from February 8 to March 3, 2012 at Finale Art File, located at Warehouse 17, La Fuerza Compound, 2241 Chino Roces Avenue (Pasong Tamo), Makati City. 

NCCA launches National Arts Month, celebrates 25th anniversary

MANILA, Philippines – The National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) formally opened Philippine Arts Month (February) in colorful festivities held on January 29 at the Rizal Park, Manila.

With an overall theme on “Tradition and Innovation”, the afternoon was devoted to free workshops representing the seven arts: “Origamic Architecture” for Architecture, “Drawing for Animation” for Cinema, a dance workshop for Dance, a poetry-writing workshop for the Literary Arts, an “Aquadrums and Gongs & Bamboo Workshop” for Music, and a kite-making workshop for the Visual Arts. No workshop was conducted for the seventh art, the Dramatic Arts.

Philippine Arts Festival - Visual Arts/Kite-Making Booth
Philippine Arts Festival - Visual Arts/Kite-Making Booth | Photo by NTZ
A boy shows off his just-made kite at the Philippine Arts Festival, Rizal Park, Manila | Photo by NTZ
A boy shows off his just-made kite at the Philippine Arts Festival, Rizal Park, Manila | Photo by NTZ
Percussionist Paul Zialcita gives a workshop on
Percussionist Paul Zialcita gives a workshop on

Just before sunset, different performing arts groups converged by the Lagoon Area and paraded around the park for a colorful display of music and artistry. The parade was followed by the formal opening of the Philippine Arts Festival (PAF) 2012 at Concert at the Park, Rizal Park’s open-air auditorium which has played host to numerous state-organized musical performances throughout the decades.

The Rizal Park's Dancing Fountain serves as the perfect backdrop for the opening of the Philippine Arts Festival | Photo by NTZ
The Rizal Park
Colorful dancers graced the afternoon parade (Philippine Arts Festival) | Photo by NTZ
Colorful dancers graced the afternoon parade (Philippine Arts Festival) | Photo by NTZ
A "Higante" participates in the parade, too (Philippine Arts Festival) | Photo by NTZ

A light shower threatened to wash out the whole program just as the evening concert was about to start, but as soon as the rains were over people started heading back to the open-air auditorium’s stone benches to enjoy the show. The concert formally opened just before nightfall with a series of performances depicting the four elements–earth, wind, fire, and water–by dance groups Halili-Cruz Ballet Company, Sinukwan Performing Arts, Lahing Batangan, and PNU Kislap Sining.

Interpreting the Seven Visual Arts

The meat of the concert was a series of interpretations of the seven visual arts, beginning with a comedy skit representing the Dramatic Arts entitled “Alayb Pa Si Lolo” by Artists, Inc., about a young man who wants to commit suicide but is dissuaded by his grandfather by doing so. Next up, for the Visual Arts, was a collaboration between visual artist Nemi Miranda and the Quezon City Ballet, who delivered an interesting interpretation of British singer Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.” By the time the dance was over, Miranda had produced a fresh piece of abstract art–paint still wet and all–inspired by the dance.

Another highlight of the show was the series of percussion performances, representing Music, by Armor Rapista and the Starglow Cultural Group, who performed using bamboo instruments and gongs, and Paul Zialcita and Aquadrumz UnLimited, who performed using five-gallon water bottles and other experimental musical instruments. Some of the performers from that segment were part of the workshops that were held just that afternoon.

The next juxtaposition to hit the stage was that of folk and neo-classical dance, with the PNU Kislap Sining Dance Troupe performing a traditional dance from the Cordilleras, followed by the Halili-Cruz Ballet Company performing a colorful classical ballet number.

Poetry was up next both onstage and off, as the voice and poetry of Teo Antonio resounded around the auditorium under a crescent moon and the first few stars of the night. After Antonio’s “Barong Tagalog” and “Ako’y Ibigin Mo”, Joseph Erwin Valerio of Talentado Pinoy fame rendered what seemed to be a commentary on over-development vis-a-vis the serene beauty of pastoral lands, all through a three-minute sand art presentation.

A quarter-century of creativity

At the close of the program, NCCA Chairperson Prof. Felipe “Jun” de Leon, Jr. spoke in Filipino about the 25 years of the NCCA in “bringing to life the Filipino imagination.” He spoke of art as the “mirror of the soul, the mind, and the emotions of the Filipino”, and of the NCCA’s efforts to bring art closer to the Filipino people through a regular series of workshops, forums, shows, and events that will be held around the country. He used the tagline, “Galing Sining, Galing Pinoy” to encourage the audience to “not only watch or view art, but participate in it.”

The NCCA was created through Executive Order No. 118 of the late President Corazon C. Aquino, who created the Presidential Commission on Culture and the Arts. Five years later, in 1992, the PCCA became the NCCA through Republic Act 7356 authored by Senators Edgardo Angara, Heherson Alvarez, Leticia Ramos Shahani, and Congressman Carlos Padilla.

The annual celebration of National Arts Month started in 1991 with Presidential Proclamation 683 declaring February as National Arts Month.

With information from the NCCA press kit

Disclosure: The author is married to percussionist Paul Zialcita.

CSC bares seemingly contradictory views on NCCA Exec. Dir. post

Former National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) Executive Director Malou Jacob was removed from her post and replaced by an Officer-in-Charge while she was out of the country on official business, following a Civil Service Commission (CSC) notice that it was disapproving the renewal of her temporary appointment.

Upon being queried via e-mail about this decision, Director Azucena Perez-Esleta of the CSC Personnel Policies and Standards Office explained that the post of NCCA Executive Director is a career service, or tenured, position that requires, among others, a bachelor’s degree, three years of supervisory experience, and eligibility as a career service professional, the last of which Jacob did not have. Her lack of eligibility was the main reason for the disapproval.

When asked why the Executive Director did not have a fixed term, per Section 10 of Republic Act No. 7356, the NCCA charter, which states that “non-ex-officio members of the Commission shall serve for a term of three (3) years, and shall not serve for more than two (2) successive terms”, Perez-Esleta said that “the NCCA Executive Director is an ex-officio member of the Commission” and therefore “does not have a fixed term”.

These responses would seem to indicate contradictory views about the nature of the Executive Director position.

The Supreme Court has defined the meaning of “ex-officio” in the 1991 case Civil Liberties Union v. Executive Secretary: “The term ex-officio means ‘from office; by virtue of office.’ It refers to an ‘authority derived from official character merely, not expressly conferred upon the individual character, but rather annexed to the official position.’ Ex-officio likewise denotes an ‘act done in an official character, or as a consequence of office, and without any other appointment or authority than that conferred by the office.’ An ex-officio member of a board is one who is a member by virtue of his title to a certain office, and without further warrant or appointment.”

Given, however, that the Implementing Rules and Regulations (IRR) of the NCCA provide that the Executive Director is “appointed  by the Commission based on open nominations”, and that any interested party does not appear to be required to hold a different, principal office in order to become Executive Director in the first place, it is not clear how the position has come to be classified as ex-officio.

Civil Service Commission (CSC) Strategy Map. Courtesy of the CSC web site.
Civil Service Commission (CSC) Strategy Map. Courtesy of the CSC web site.

The NCCA had appointed Jacob, a multi-awarded writer and director and veteran administrator, as Executive Director on March 12, 2010 for the period of one year, and had initially sought the renewal of her appointment for another year in spite of her ineligibility. It received notice of the CSC disapproval on September 22, 2011.

Perez-Esleta stated that, as a general rule, “the services of appointees with the disapproved appointment shall be terminated upon disapproval by the [CSC]“, but the appointing authority has a period of 15 days within which to file an appeal. The records of the CSC show that the the NCCA did not submit any appeal regarding Jacob’s case.

Based on materials obtained by The Pro Pinoy Project, the NCCA does not appear to have acted until a special meeting of the Board of Commissioners on October 4, during which the Board dismissed Jacob and designated Adelina Suemith as Officer-in-Charge for the Executive Director post.

Jacob had received her travel kit for the 5th World Summit on Arts and Culture in Australia, which included official travel authority documents signed by Malacañang and NCCA Chairman Felipe de Leon, Jr., on September 30.

Regarding the timing of Jacob’s removal, Suemith said that, “It may appear that there was not enough time given to her since she was abroad, but she was aware of what could possibly happen after the CSC letter [and] was verbally cautioned that her trip abroad might no longer be ‘official’.” Jacob later disputed these claims, and stated that while she respects the decision of the Commissioners, she has “no idea” why they acted the way they did.

Jacob also circulated a statement addressed to her fellow artists online, asserting that the qualifications for Executive Director should not be based on civil service eligibility, but rather on a set of equivalency criteria, and on whether one was an artist and cultural worker respected by one’s peers and rooted in the artistic community.

Perez-Esleta said that, so far, the CSC has received no request for approval from the NCCA regarding their list of equivalency criteria. Suemith said that perhaps the NCCA could begin to attend to this “in the near future, when the new [Executive Director] is in place”.

A culture of mendicancy

When I was growing up, the gift giving of Christmas Eve usually extended to Christmas Day, but without the expected exchange.

Almost as soon as the fireworks and lights settled from the night before, people would start knocking on our door for “Christmas greetings”. I thought this was rather thoughtful in the beginning until I realized that these visits came with an expectation of money or Aguinaldo for the kids as some visitors would bring their entire family. Sometimes even the adults expected a gift for themselves.

On one particularly busy Christmas, after the incessant chiming of the doorbell was beginning to sound like a musical melody of sorts, my mother raised her arms in surrender, scoped all of us kids and dragged my father to drive us to the mall.

We had wanted a nice quiet Christmas Day, but it soon became evident that going away to the mall would be the only escape from this mild form of extortion.

Another year saw a distant relative of my father wandering from the living room to the kitchen to look at our appliances.  Our new refrigerator caught her eye. The shiny gleaming icebox was a necessary purchase after the old one simply gave out after years of use. I remember my parents grudgingly digging into their funds for this unexpected expense.

She asked what we did with the old ref. My father replied that he had given it to another one of their distant cousins “kasi kawawa naman sya” [because I felt sorry for him]. To which, this women without shame or hesitation replied, “Dapat binigay mo na lang sa ‘kin, mas kakawawa naman ako [You should have given it to me. I’m in a much more sorry state],” she said in a sugary sweet tone.

Her statement about her destitution was attached to another question: Was there anything else we could give her? Like an old stove, old pots and pans?

I was filled with both pity and disdain. Didn’t she have any pride? Any dignity? I asked my mother.

In my eyes, she may not have been on the streets in tattered clothing, but she was no different from the street urchins who begged for scraps.

Eventually, I moved out of my parents’ home, into my own escape. But it didn’t keep the mendicancy away.

It continued to be everywhere.

During the months before school opening, colleagues would borrow money from me for tuition because as a single person, I was sure to have some to spare. (How could the ever pay me back when tuition was yearly expense? Where would they get tuition money next year?)

I would catch noontime TV and see people spilling out their guts on national television, openly crying and declaring how poor they were. It was the only way to win the game show, it seemed; the more sympathy, the more forlorn you appeared, the more money you got.

Sometimes the plea for pity came at the most unexpected places, from the most unexpected people, which I only found to be more infuriating.

Once, landing at the airport from a trip to Europe, I decided to make a stop at the Duty Free Shop to finish off the last 10 Euros I had in my wallet. I couldn’t very well exchange it for pesos, I thought.

When I left, one of the porters, came up to me from nowhere, lightly touched my arm and in a gentle, singsong manner asked me something if he could have some of my Euros as pasalubong.

I didn’t understand at first, his tone of voice betrayed his purpose for approaching me. “Kapatid, pahingi naman ng konting Euro, pasalubong.”

I jerked my arm away from him, and stormed away. What made him think he could so blatantly ask me for money? How had he known I had Euros? It made me feel like I was being stalked by a vulture.

On another occasion after giving a talk at a leading university on financial literacy and wellness, a number of students asked me if I could also speak at their school and asked from my contact information.

The next day, a very long text came in from one of the attendees. It started off with the usual platitudes that quickly turned into her mini-bio of how sad she was that her mother could no longer support them, how her father deserted them and how she didn’t know if she could continue going back to school.

I wondered if she was one of the students who had their picture taken with me using their Blackberry or iPhone. I resisted the urge to suggest pawning her phone and not wasting her money sending out text message solicitations to raise money for school.

Everywhere, there were pleas, there were solicitations, there were favors, there were loaded greetings of  “Merry Christmas”. And it was not limited to the beggars on the streets. There were mendicants who were dressed as office employees asking for spare change to go home or students who wanted tuition money. It only made it harder to distinguish them from their street alley counterparts.

Someone once told me that being poor was not a financial status, it was a state of mind. I didn’t understand at first. Now, I think I do.

It is not about being stripped of money. It is about being stripped of hope and having it replaced with desperation.   It is being devoid of the pride and dignity that would otherwise prohibit you from begging and from exploiting someone’s compassion and turning it into pity.

It is a delusional sense of entitlement that those who seemingly have more owe it to—are obliged to–help anyone who asks them for help, just because they seemingly have more.

No what makes us poor is not our lack of money. What makes us poor is our deeply rooted culture of mendicancy.


Courtesy,  oh snap,  Some rights reserved.