While this popular delicacy is not an Ilocano original (It was introduced here by our Spanish colonizers), empanada has become as Ilocano as saluyot, marunggay, and baggoong. It comes from the verb empanar, meaning to wrap or coat in bread.
In the Ilocos dichotomy that is Norte and Sur, two versions emerged from two key locations: Batac and Vigan. It’s not the first time someone compared the two Ilocos empanadas, but I will be more upfront about my verdict.
This comparison results from a series of store visits, interviews with tourists and locals, online reviews, direct observation, and, of course, product tasting conducted this summer in various empanada stalls in Vigan, Ilocos Sur and in Batac, Ilocos Norte.
For purposes of this comparison, Batac Empanadas, particularly those sold at the young city’s Riverside Empanadaan, are considered as the Ilocos Norte standard. On the other hand, the Vigan standard are those sold at Plaza Burgos and stalls like Irene’s and Abuelita’s, which follow a common recipe. I have to make this clear because other variants have sprouted in both provinces, like the crispy empanada sold in Bacarra and the sweet empanada served at a stall in Laoag City, both in Ilocos Norte. Then there are the empanada variants sold at Insiang’s and Hidden Garden in Vigan City, and the Candon, Ilocos Sur version which, interestingly enough, looks every inch a poor clone of the Batac empanada.
How do we proceed with the comparison? Taste, I admit, is highly relative because one tends to prefer what she is accustomed to. This is evident in the response made by Malot Ingel, an anthropologist from Vigan.
“Kahit nag-eexplore ako sa maraming iba’t ibang klaseng pagkain. I mean, kahit foreign food, halimbawa Italian, gusto ko rin naman ‘yun. Pero pagdating sa Ilokano food, napaka-conservative ko, na kung ano ‘yung alam kong lasa, mag-i-stick ako dun. Halimbawa, ang pipian ng Vigan, very particular ‘yan. Minsan nilalagyan nila ng butter to improve the taste supposedly, nagiging unacceptable sa’kin ‘yun. In the same way, kapag empanada, Vigan empanada lang ‘yung gusto ko. I mean, maraming beses ko nang nalasahan ang empanada ng Batac, sabi nila masarap, pero di ko matanggap-tanggap ang lasa ng empanada ng Batac.”
I fully understand Malot’s point, and this preference for what one has come to call her own is why I found it important to conduct interviews with people who are from neither of the two provinces. For proper disclosure, I am from Laoag but I tried to write this feature as objectively and balanced as humanly possible.
Buying stuff, while stress-relieving for some, could get really frustrating. Sometimes it is extremely difficult to find the item you want. There’s the design you’re looking for but you don’t have the size, or maybe a size fits you but the color is so not you. Worse, you’re two minutes too late in buying the item of your dreams; the last piece was taken by another shopper who had more luck. And the saleslady, overworked and underpaid, is grouchy.
This is why I always look forward to the one event where one can choose, mix and match, and create personalized stuff. Thankfully, hapening tomorrow until Sunday (May 23-25) is the ‘Make Your Own Havaianas” event at Robinsons Ilocos. I had a great time in its first edition around the same time last year. To date, I have around 10 pairs of Havaianas slippers, all of them nice and comfortable to use, but my own creation stands out among them, to me at least.
For the sole, I chose plain black. I always prefer it without prints because I love the feel of rubber on my foot… the rubber-skin connection. Plain black because I am not drawn to flashy designs. For the strap, I chose my favourite color… red, shade of the Marcoses and of San Beda, my alma mater. For adornment, I picked two pins, one for each strap. One was an “Ilocos pride pin” on sandboarding, of which Ilocos is increasingly getting known for, while the other was on my favourite sport, bicycling.
I was desperately going through my files to show you how it was done, until I gave up searching. Anyway, here was my “creation” in last year’s Ilocos Norte MYOH, a first in this part of the country.
The fun of designing my own flip-flop was made even more exciting by the festive mood in the MYOH area. No grouchy salesladies, only helpful and jovial staff. And, oh, they are all good-looking. (They hired hot guys and gals just for the event.) It helps too, that Mary Ann Cua-Macaraeg, CEO of Visionaire, Inc. which exclusively distributes the Brazillian brand, has in her staff stellar graduates of the university where I teach. There’s Ajo Rumbaoa who was president of the Central Student Council, and, recently hired was Michael Mugas, a marketing cum laude graduate whose leadership in school orgs led him to a stint in Japan.
I learned from Blauearth that this year’s MYOH will mark the festive Brazilian street culture. Vogue posits that “Brazilians have the ability to make a party out of nothing, and then make it the most exciting night you’ve ever had.” Brazilian culture, they say, is all about self expression, and not being ashamed of how vividly you express it. Filipinos are like that, too, to some extent, but maybe Brazillians do have less inhibitions. Continue reading “If only shopping can always be this fun”
If she wins as governor, her critics warned in 2010, she will probably spend more time in Metro Manila than in the Ilocos Norte Capitol. “She will be bored here,” they said matter-of-factly. Sure, Imee Marcos had served as congresswoman for nine years but that job meant more time spent in the nation’s capital.
Four years and one reelection later, the cynics, or whatever have remained of them, are silent. Many may now even be singing a different tune. Looking at how things are going on for the province, it has become increasingly difficult not to admire Imee Marcos as a leader. Highly popular and well-loved, she has attained rockstar status never before seen in this part of the country. Here are 10 reasons why:
1. Hands-on leadership, good governance
To begin with, Imee has consistently proven, both in moments of joy and in times of disaster, that she is a hands-on governor. Even young employees at the Capitol are having difficulty keeping pace with the lady leader who is known to work long hours even on weekends. “Her energy is unbelievable,” says a colleague at the provincial press corps.
Resulting from her hard work, Ilocos Norte has been constantly identified as among the best governed provinces in the country. It also holds the distinction of being the first Philippine province to attain full ISO certification.
Around 3,000 extras took part in the filming of Himala, the 1982 Ishmael Bernal masterpiece shot in Paoay. Considering its limited budget, it was a miracle of sorts putting together what is now largely considered, both by critics and the viewing public, as the best film ever produced in the Asia Pacific. Last Saturday, May 10, the miracle happened anew, with a crowd ten times bigger witnessing the immortalization of the film’s iconic character, Elsa.
The unveiling of a fiberglass statue depicting Elsa was the highlight of this year’s Himala sa Buhangin, an offbeat outdoor arts and music festival staged in the Paoay Sand Dunes. Actress Nora Aunor, who played the lead role, graced the event to the delight of an estimated 25,000 revelers, including hundreds of die-hard Noranians from other parts of the country.
Created by visual artist Gerry Leonardo, the fiberglass sculpture depicts Elsa deep in prayer and kneeling in front of a withered tree. Erected atop one of the highest peaks in the sand dunes, the statue was unveiled with cinematic effect at around 9:00 p.m. There were bolts of lightning as music from the movie was played along with the classic line: “Walang himala! Ang himala ay nasa puso ng tao, nasa puso nating lahat! Tayo ang gumagawa ng mga himala!” As if it were a movie shooting, fans chanted, “Elsa! Elsa!”
There was joy and madness at the Centennial Arena when the winners were announced. After four years of limbo, Miss Ilocos Norte is back!
The capacity crowd was on fire, with supporters from the province’s 21 municipalities and 2 cities rooting for their respective candidates. I have not seen an Ilocano crowd—usually hard to please—so vibrant since Daniel Padilla’s mini-concert in the same venue last year.
All the candidates showed their best and glided elegantly on stage. They were trimmed down, with only the fairest surviving, from 23 to twelve, and then five. In the end, Laoag City’s Czarina Marie “Yna” Viloria Adina bagged the title.
The newly crowned queen is a real beauty: flawless, charming, smart, and this is the best part: she is really Ilocana. It is a bonus for me and other proud Laoageños that she comes from our city.
There was excitement in immense proportions. Maybe we have forgotten how such experience feels? The most anticipated and biggest funded beauty pageant in this part of the universe has been Miss Laoag, but for some reason, and in the guise of internationalization, organizers opened the pageant to everyone, and since then, most Miss Laoag winners are actually not from Laoag. We had a Miss Laoag from La Union in 2012, Miss Laoag from Isabela in 2013, and a Miss Laoag from Baguio this 2014. (Check this article: What is wrong with Miss Laoag.)
“It’s a nice feeling, noh?” says Mary Jane “Mahjang” Pascual-Leaño, who had practically reigned in all major beauty pageants in Ilocos Norte (except Pasuquin’s Sunflower Gay Festival, of course). As Miss ABC Laoag 1999, Miss Laoag 2000, and Miss Ilocos Norte 2001, Mahjang sure knows how good it feels to be supported by fellow Ilocanos. But it feels even better for me and her other faithful subjects to know that this beauty, over a decade after her reign, continues to serve Ilocandia in every good way, unlike most Miss Laoag candidates, many of whom are professional Bikini Open contestants who hop from one beach, pool, bar, town, and province to the other.
Due to the barrage of comments you, dear karikna, have made on articles I have previously written on this issue, and also on account of my conversations with various stakeholders, I am sure that most Laoageños really wish that Miss Laoag is from their city. I even say that we have a right not just to request for it, but to demand so, because the city government spends our taxes for the expensive event. I have done my share. In March last year, during the campaign period for the local elections, I personally handed to Mayor Chevylle Fariñas a printed copy of comments you left on my blog. I have also talked about this with Miss Laoag production head Randy Leaño and creative consultant Ianree Raquel—both of whom I highly respect and admire on account of their artistic genius—but the former seemed resolute in keeping the pageant open to everyone so long as they meet the physical requirements.
When the finalists were announced towards end of the Miss Laoag search held last February, the crowd was silent, unexcited. There was no loud cheering, no revelry. For how can you honestly root for anyone you don’t really know? How can you lend the distinction of being your city’s muse to some person who will leave a day or two after the pageant and who will only comeback to turn over her crown?
Yna Adina represented Laoag City though she has never donned the crown of Miss Laoag. A tourism graduate of Mariano Marcos State University, she is a real looker. “Artistahin,” is what common people say of her. Not only is our new Miss Ilocos Norte beautiful; she is also well-mannered, good-natured, and proudly Ilocano. As pageant winner, Yna is signing a one year contract with the provincial government as ambassadress of goodwill. This means we will be seeing her around for the entire duration of her reign.
Other winners were Maria Khrissa Parado (Dingras), first runner-up; Princess Raihanie Salleh (Bacarra), 2nd runner-up; Sheena Bolaños Dalo (Burgos), 3rd Runner-up; and Lyka Mari Bumanglag (Bangui), 4th Runner-up. Among them, it seems to me that Dalo has the biggest chance to make a name in modeling. I am writing a separate article about this 5’11” stunner from Burgos.
“Fast paced, finished early”
The audience, both those who trooped to the arena and homebodies who watched the television coverage, were surprised that the pageant ran for only two hours (8:30-10:30 p.m.). This is a breakthrough because other pageants could last five hours and end at near dawn.
It was a breathtaking quickie, indeed. There were no long speeches, no intermission numbers, and, true to the Miss Universe format, only the top five were subjected to the Q&A portion. The board of judges included Miss Tetchie Agbayani, a versatile actress and the first Filipina to pose for Playboy Magazine. She hails from Vintar and Dingras.
Finely crafted videos
Another revelation was the quality of the video presentations that featured each of the top 12 finalists. World-class both in form and content, the video clips showed in amusing ways the real life personas of the candidates. Miss Burgos, who is probably the most economically challenged among the candidates (she had worked as a househelp for years), was shown cleaning up the Cape Bojeador Lighthouse, a landmark of her hometown. Portrayed as a doting aunt, the audience saw Yna Adina’s caring side.
The videos, by the way, were prepared by EM Productions. EM stands for the first names of Eric Cayetano and Marianne Pasion, two persons passionate with their work, but not as much as they love each other.
It really felt good, dear karikna, to celebrate the beauty and talent that are truly our own. We hope Mayor Fariñas felt it, too.
Pasuquin is arguably one of the most backward municipalities of Ilocos Norte. It is economically slow, unprogressive, and stagnant. The town’s tourist attractions, if any, are not as well-known as the mindless bickering of its political families. Its Biscocho, though good, has never made it big on a national or regional scale. Salt-making, once a pride of this town, is no longer exactly traditional as the rock salt they use is now imported by bulk from Australia. The town could have made it big if only they supported the idea of setting up a dragon fruit farm first broached by resident Editha Dacuycuy, but she instead set up her now-famous farm in adjacent Burgos town after Pasuquin officials showed little interest.
These said, Pasuquin may not exactly be a model town, but there is, dear karikna, one thing the town is proud of. Such is little known, little emphasized, but is actually huge: its gay pride.
The Manila Pride March bills itself as the “oldest gay pride march in Asia.” Its first edition was staged in 1994. But did you know that an organized gay parade is being held in Pasuquin for forty two years now, starting in 1975?
A group of successful gay professionals formed the Sunflower Organization in the 1972. Its first project was the Sunflower Festival, a drag parade that celebrates pride in gay identity and fosters camaraderie among its members. Surprisingly, the people of this small and tightly Catholic town welcomed the idea. Mothers and fathers were supportive of their gay sons. Town folks watched the festival participants not with ridicule or contempt, but only with respect and admiration. It was such an extraordinary phenomenon that led American filmmaker Shawn Hainsworth to produce the documentary “Sunflowers” which earned critical acclaim in the 1997 Chicago Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and other film fests in North America. The film brought the Sunflower Festival in the international gay radar.
It’s a puzzle, dear karikna, how gay empowerment has become ingrained in the culture and consciousness of Pasuquenos, but Benly Agudelo Academia, current Sunflowers Organization president, offers this insight: “Sunflowers was started by successful professionals who were respected members of the community.” That is why, he said, “at the end of the day, people looked at our talents and contributions, and not on our gender.” Truly, the organization, through its yearly parade, has shown everyone that success and honor is no monopoly of heterosexuals and so no gay must be forced to linger in the dark. Aptly, the organization is named after the Sunflower which is known to face the sunlight. Members call themselves “sunflowers.”
In the absence of any record that would prove otherwise, Sunflowers is the oldest gay organization in the Philippines, if not in Asia. The University of the Philippines Babaylan, the largest LGBT student organization in the Philippines, was oranized only in 1992 while Progay-Philippines was formed in 1994.
“Sa Laoag ba nagsimula ang sabong? Taga-Laoag ba si San Pedro?” These questions were raised by one of the official commentators at the 2014 Aliwan Fiesta, the country’s biggest festival of festivals staged last Saturday at the CCP Complex in Pasay City. The commentator, who said he is also Ilocano, was bewildered when the Laoag City contingent interpreted the Pamulinawen Festival as cockfighting. Such bewilderment, dear karikna, was shared by a whole nation, or at least those who saw the event in person, through television broadcast or on the Internet.
But before I proceed with my humble observations, let me express my admiration for the 300-plus strong Laoag City contingent who gave their all in their performance. I am personally aware of how hard they labored, how much they sacrificed, and how they put their heart every step of the way to make their city proud. Kudos to their stellar production team headed by Christian Espiritu, an exceptionally talented performance artist; to all the support staff, dancers, propsmen, instrumentalists, singers, designers, sewers, cooks, architects, engineers, and other volunteers—all of whom were passionate in carrying out their respective roles. Credit also goes, of course, to the City Government of Laoag led by Mayor Chevylle Fariñas who supported the group.
Having said these, there was no question, dear karikna, about the Laoag contingent’s dedication and talent. The bewilderment comes from what is really the most important element of any authentic festival: the story. An event or ritual significant to the history and culture of a people, a particular agricultural product, means of livelihood, food, animal, or plant endemic to the place—these are highlighted in festivals. In short, they are about something a place and its people are truly proud of and thankful for.
Pamulinawen as sabong? While it is true that some Ilocanos may be involved in pallot (Ilocano for cockfighting), there is no proof either that such gambling activity started here or that we are doing it here more than anywhere else. It is questionable, too, whether among many things we can choose to celebrate, this gruesome hobby is really what we take pride in.
So why the choice of story? Inside sources say the pallot narrative was picked because it is a “winning piece.” This is because scenes inside the cockpit are really exciting and colourful. Given the lively character of more popular festivals like Cebu’s Sinulog, Iloilo’s Dinagyang, Bacolod’s MassKara, or Kalibo’s Ati-atihan, Pamulinawen organizers probably wanted something really flashy, although flashy is not really Ilocano. Continue reading ““Taga-Laoag ba si San Pedro?””
Insiders say many priests of the Diocese of Laoag are unhappy with a pet project of Bishop Renato Mayugba who has been in the diocese for only a year.
Although the clergy, especially its senior members, are open to the idea of building a seminary in the diocese, they lament that the 90 to 120 million pesos to be spent for the facility’s construction in Bacarra town is unnecessarily expensive. The priests fear that diocesan programs, particularly those for the poor and marginalized, will be sacrificed because of the ambitious project. “The college seminary is not a pastoral initiative; it’s a project of the bishop,” a senior priest said, thus revealing rocky relations brought about by Mayugba’s construction project.
There were suggestions to just improve the existing St. Mary’s Minor Seminary in Brgy. Mangato, Laoag City where the college seminary could be housed (high school seminaries are unnecessary anyway and are being closed down elsewhere), but sources say the bishop was cold with the idea. Other priests also opine that building a college seminary should not be a priority because the school only caters to a few. Established in 2011 and currently housed within the Laoag Cathedral Compound, the Mary Cause of Our Joy Seminary produced only six graduates last month while the current batch of freshmen is composed of a mere nine.
The diocese also has the option to continue sending aspiring priests to the San Pablo’s Seminary in Baguio City where most of the diocese’s priests graduated from.
Despite strong opposition, however, Mayugba, according to insiders, seems resolute in constructing a new seminary facility primarily because he wants something that people will remember him for. (“Kayatna nga adda bukodna a pakalaglagipan.”) Continue reading “Priests unhappy with bishop’s project”
First, dear karikna, let me let you realize how powerful this man is. In a church of 1.2 billion members, he belongs to the top brass. He is one of only 117 existing cardinal electors (cardinals below 80 who are qualified to elect a pope) of the Roman Catholic Church, and one of only two in this country of almost 80 million Catholics. That makes this man one in many millions. Considered a “Prince of the Church” vested by the Vatican not only with religious powers but also with political might, His Eminence Orlando Cardinal Quevedo is definitely an influential man.
Last Sunday, March 31, the 75-year old church leader visited his hometown to the grandest hero’s welcome ever seen in Ilocos, next only to the arrival of President Ferdinand Marcos’ remains in 1993. Quevedo was born in Laoag City in 1939 to parents who are both natives of nearby town Sarrat. The family later on transferred to Marbel, South Cotabato. He makes history as the first cardinal from Mindanao, and the first Ilocano, too.
Each time I lectured in that classroom, I would stare at an empty chair, asking myself if there was something I could have done to save a life.
He was a freshman engineering student from a small town. His classmates said they never noticed anything wrong with him. His parents likewise observed no unusual behavior exhibited by their only child. Everything seemed normal and usual with this boy’s life until he was seen hanging on a nylon rope fastened on a wooden beam.
As a teacher, it was my first encounter with suicide by a student. And it was not to be the last.
By all indicators, suicide cases are on the rise in the Philippines. According to the National Statistics Office, the suicide rate from 1984 to 2005 went up by 1,522% among men (from 0.46 to seven out of every 200,000); and up by 833% among women (from 0.24 to two for every 200,000).
Noticeably, there is an increasing trend of suicide among the youth, particularly in the age group 5 to 14 and 15 to 24. Most of them kill themselves by strangulation. Other means are suffocation, poisoning, and exposure to chemicals and noxious substances. The common causes are depression, love problems, academics, low income, unemployment, and medical conditions.
It is easy to blame suicide victims for being weak. Others may even criticize them for being selfish—thinking only of themselves, and not of those they will leave behind. But what really runs in the mind of a person determined to take his life?
I have some idea, for I too seriously had thoughts of ending my life when I was a teenager. It was the end of my third year in college, and I was at the height of popularity in school. That semester, I was sent to international competitions, became the most awarded student leader, and was recognized as one of the top students. Everyone was so proud of me. People shook my hand to congratulate me for my achievements. I was, to many, a model student.
But something terrible happened, suddenly. I received a failing grade in one of my major subjects. It was unexpected and I was sure I did not deserve it. The professor claimed absolute right to manipulate how grades were to be computed. It was very clear to me that it was unfair.
My world crumbled. Because of the failing mark, I was sure that I would lose my scholarship, and would miss my chance to graduate with honors. Word about my failure spread quickly around the campus, and those who were just congratulating me a few days back began looking at me with pity, if not ridicule. I was up in the clouds one moment, and down to a very dark space the next.
Night and day, I locked up in my room, stared at the ceiling, deeply convinced that life was no longer worth living. I tried to justify suicide with philosophical musings. I also thought of the professor who gave me a failing grade, and imagined how guilty he would feel about my death.
Decided to commit suicide after five days of isolation, I went to Binondo to buy the most toxic substance I could ingest (a powerful pesticide whose mere vapor could make my lungs collapse). Before going home, I dropped by a Chinese restaurant for a last meal. When I arrived at the dorm, I lay down in bed again, stared blankly at the ceiling, and imagined my impending death one last time.
My suicide plan did not materialize, and, obviously, I have lived to tell this story. Three things kept the poison bottle unopened: thoughts of my family, the graphic images of hell on my mind, but what really saved me was a persistent knock on my door by a dormmate. He sensed that something was wrong, and urged me to talk about it. He convinced me not to push through with my plan.
In the next days, I decided to pick up the pieces and live with courage. I filed an appeal for my scholarship, and, after a long process, San Beda (which was apparently more compassionate than Kristel Tejada’s UP) decided not to revoke it. As it turned out, there was no explicit rule that barred those who had failing grades from receiving academic awards. And so I graduated with honors, although they had to change the rules after I graduated, making me the school’s one and only honor graduate with a 5.0 on his transcript.
A few years after graduation, I visited my alma mater and accidentally crossed paths with my professor—that professor who led me to the brink of suicide. He said he was impressed with one of my articles published in a national newspaper, and that he required his students to read my work. He said he heard that I was offered a job in Malacañang, and that he was proud of me. This picture of my professor smiling at me and tapping my shoulder in a show of approval was the exact opposite of what I imagined on my could-have-been death bed: a professor crying in guilt in front of my coffin.
Of course, not only young people commit suicide. Military generals. Politicians. Politician’s wives. Actors. Models. Teachers. Lawyers. Farmers. We hear of them claiming their lives, and the worse part is that we are getting used to it, or, at least, have become insensitive to the suffering of others. Suicide may be a very personal thing and one could even strongly argue that society must respect an individual’s choice to end his life. But what about those who only need a listening ear and some words of hope to make them realize, the way I realized then, that life can still be beautiful?
In social networking sites, the expressions “bigti na” (#bigtina) has become popular. It is offered as an advice, though made in jest, to people who have problems. There are several Facebook “Bigti na” pages, followed by tens of thousands, created for those who are romantically problematic. Thousands of “Magpakamatay ka na lang” memes have also been going around the web.
It is appalling that, to date, there seems to be an absence of a government-sponsored program to avert suicide cases in our country which surprisingly has, according to the World Health Organization, the highest incidence of depression in Southeast Asia. But it is more appalling that a growing number of our people are making fun of a phenomenon that has caused unspeakable pain to many. Amidst mindless laughter, we might be missing out on the soft voices of suffering around us. Or we might be pushing to total silence those who desperately need to be heard.
Bigti na, friend? That joke is neither friendly nor funny.
The Tan-ok ni Ilocano (mini version) Dance Showdown was held tonight at a half-full Ilocos Norte Centennial Arena. ‘Mini’ because, unlike the full version held last December, the number of dancers are limited (only 12-16), performance time is shorter (3-4 minutes), and props are simpler and smaller. The show is also less budgeted.
The idea is to form groups that can be feasibly booked for events, including national and international gatherings held here in Ilocos Norte. All the 21 municipalities and 2 cities were expected to showcase their rich culture through dance. “Tan-ok” means great, so the contingents were tasked to highlight what their respective peoples and places are proud of and known for. All the contingents accomplished that, except one: the champion.
Laoag City’s routine, no doubt, was most entertaining. Thanks to top-caliber choreographer Christian Espiritu—whose talent I personally admire; and who we in The Ilocos Times chose as one of the Top 10 Ilocanos for 2013—the dance was well-executed, lively, and colorful. It portrayed “pallot” (cockfighting), and presented the vivid scenarios inside a cockpit. It was fun to watch.
But beyond fun and entertainment, many viewers—including Prof. Arsenio Gallego, vice president of the Dance Education Association of the Philippines—have raised the following questions: Is cockfighting the pride of Laoag City? And, is there verifiable evidence that Laoageños, or Ilocanos in general, are drawn to cockfighting more than other ethnic groups in the Philippines?
I am not, dear karikna, opposed to cockfighting and neither am I moralizing here. But is this really the story we want to creatively tell people who want to know us more? Is this really our story?
San Nicolas celebrated their pottery; Batac told their folk history; Pinili took garlic to the stage; and Vintar let out their Siwawer bird.
It is fiesta month in Laoag City, and each day is filled with activities initiated by various sectors. Naturally, politicians are everywhere grazing festivities and making themselves more visible than usual to the public eye.
It was in a beauty pageant held a few days ago (I am not, dear karikna, fond of beauty contests but I am fond of my relatives; my cousin’s daughter tried her luck in that competition) that I noticed how our city leaders have decided to package themselves.
Politicians calling themselves father or mother of a town, city, province, or the nation is not exactly unusual in the Philippines, but my city’s case is interesting. Chevylle Fariñas, the first-term mayor, succeeded her husband Michael, who was mayor for nine years and now the vice mayor. In that pageant, the welcome remarks was delivered by their daughter Mikee, the new chair of the Association of Barangay Councils and ex-officio city councilor. In her entire speech, from her customary roll call of the guests to the end, she repeatedly and proudly referred to the mayor and vice mayor, as “Mother of the City” and “Father of the City.” I felt both uncomfortable and saddened listening to that speech. And confused, too… should we now call this young councilor, Ate of the City? What about the other city officials? Do we call them Tito and Tita of the City? Who are our ninongs and ninangs?
Everyone knows that the young Fariñas is in office not really on her own merits, but because of her parents’ impressive achievements. The challenge for Mikee then is to prove that she deserves the position—that she is a good leader who just happens to be the mayor and vice mayor’s daughter. Surely, she deserves a chance to prove herself, but that would only be possible if she restrains from treating public events as family affairs. Continue reading “We elected leaders, not parents”
As fate would have it (or is it destiny?), that high school’s best bet in oratorical competitions, now a freshman in the university where I teach, became one of my debaters. He is a prized find. Very diligent. Eager to learn. Fun. Charming. And respectful.
Recently, ehem, we emerged as champion in a debate tournament with Ilocano as the main medium.
And guess who was hailed as best debater?
More than the trophy and prize, and the bragging rights that go with it, I am happy that a student, previously barred from speaking his mother tongue on campus, could shine and show the world that wisdom is no monopoly of any language. And that Ilocano could, and, in fact, should, be used for intellectual endeavors.
Congratulations, John Marvin Galat aka Jamjam. We–I, your kuyas and ate in the MMSU Debate Society–are proud of you.
Agbiag ni Ilocano! Narambak a baro a tawentayo, kakabsat.
Unlike last year’s inaugural list dominated by politicians, this year’s is a more interesting mix of personas who have made a significant dent in their respective spheres of influence. The youngest is 21 while the most senior, actually the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award which we are introducing this year, is seventy something. Among the Top Ten, there are more male awardees, 8. Nine are based in Ilocos while one is a US migrant.
As chair of the selection committee, let me invite you to meet the Top 10 Ilocanos for 2013 picked by the Editorial Board of The Ilocos Times, the oldest and most read newspaper in the North.
Thank you for accepting the noble task of sitting as judges in the Tan-ok ni Ilocano Festival of Festivals. You were, of course, chosen on account of your sterling credentials and unquestioned integrity.
I argue that no singular activity has raised awareness of and pride in Ilocano greatness more than the two-year old Tan-ok. With tens of thousands of people watching it live and many more witnessing it on television and online, it is no doubt the most witnessed event in Ilocos Norte history.
It is a wonderful activity worth every centavo (or million) spent for it, and Governor Imee Marcos is right to push for this showdown of the respective festivals of every Ilocos Norte town and city. Its return of investment cannot be quantified; in fact, it is priceless. The greatness of the performances on stage permeates the consciousness of our people, who in turn reflect and multiply greatness in their respective spheres of influence.
I have one concern though, and this is on truthfulness. Some groups have won in previous years because the performances were really artistic and entertaining though lacking in authenticity while some authentic festivals lost mainly because they were dull and unexciting.
Ilocos Norte Tourism Officer and Tan-ok organizing committee head Ianree Raquel wrote an article for The Ilocos Times when he was still an arts instructor in a state university. It was aptly titled “Awe inspiring but untruthful.” During a municipal fiesta, he witnessed a festival performance which, he observed, gave primacy to entertainment over truthfulness, artistic license over cultural integrity. His essay, excerpts of which follow, details the same words I wish to convey. Continue reading “AN OPEN LETTER TO THE TAN-OK NI ILOCANO JUDGES”
Near midnight of Oct. 28, my Uncle Gerry in Hawaii posted a lengthy note at the Labayog Clan Facebook page. There was good news for the clan. (For the curious, yes, Labayog is the La in La Yumul.) My brother was elected as chairman of Brgy. 7-A, Laoag City where his family has lived for around 25 years. I reside in nearby Brgy. 5. The following is Uncle Gerry’s post quoted verbatim.
“Wow! Again, the Labayog Clan made history. Herry Labayog Yumul is elected as kapitan.
“If you are a Laoagueño, West Riverside is like a municipality within a city. It covers Barangays 1 to 10. Barangay 7-A is like its capital, being the center of the densely populated West Riverside.”
“Herry, who has the heart of a leader, deserves the position. When I attended his graduation in Baguio City, I already saw in him the makings of a leader. When his name was called, there was a thunderous applause and standing ovation. He even captured the heart of the most beautiful co-civil engineering graduate and now his wife Gina. Sabi nga nila, may inalat si Herry.
“He practiced briefly in construction supervision. But his salary was not enough to raise a family. With 3 children to feed and send to school, his salary was not enough so he ventured in business. As a market vendor, the hundreds of vendors in Ilocos Norte were amazed of his character and personality and elected him as president of the Ilocos Norte Ambulant Vendors Association. He had represented them in dialogue with government officials for a system beneficial to both sides. He is currently president of the Laoag City Night Market Vendors Association. “In 2010, he ran as a barangay official, and was overwhelmingly elected. In this election, the outgoing Brgy. Captain made Herry his personal choice to lead 7-A. Even high-ranking provincial and city officials gave him their blessings. Thankfully, he was also endorsed by the Iglesia ni Cristo.
“In his campaign sorties, members of the Labayog clan extended their all-out support. They were with him everywhere, rain or shine. The Pink Ladies—composed of Mafae, Mafel, and Girlie (Herry’s nephews)—were even Branded as EBB or Eat Bulaga Babes. I call them Herry’s Angels.
“I laughed at one of their campaign slogans. ‘Ibotos tayo a Kapitan ni Tito Herry, naimas nga agserbi’ (Iboto natin si Tito Herry, masarap siyang magsilbi.) And they follow it up with, ‘Uray damagenyo ken Tita Gina.’ (Kahit tanungin niyo pa kay Tita Gina.) Dinamagko ken Gina, kasta unay ti katkatawana. (Nung tinanong kay Gina, sobrang tawa niya.) Continue reading “‘Naimas nga agserbi’”
When our newspaper was doing a feature on the Laoag City mayoralty candidates in this year’s local elections, I insisted on including Cesar Ventura, a former mayor who was regarded by many as nuisance. Naturally, my colleagues smirked at the idea of putting him side by side with whom they believed were legitimate candidates. I believed in fair play.
But I had respect for the man, the only politician to beat a Fariñas in Laoag City, for I grew up knowing him as a good mayor, a no-nonsense leader who made things work. He was a builder. During his term, I had a one-week stint as a junior city councilor. I was in high school then.
Even after his political glory has faded, he always had this burning desire for good governance. He would talk to me to make sumbong everytime he had the chance, and I always intently listened, and thanked him.
Last Wednesday, October 16, he succumbed to renal cancer after a long battle against the disease. He was reportedly confined for a long time at the St. Luke’s Medical Center until his family decided to bring the former mayor home to his beloved city. He died at the Laoag City General Hospital.
Farewell, mayor. Be a good citizen of heaven now.
And please make sumbong to God about the crooks down here.
In long past, some people branded Pagudpud, the famous beach town of Ilocos Norte, as Boracay of the North, because of its wide and long shoreline and its pristine white sand. Almost all write ups and promotional materials sold Pagudpud that way.
Many Ilocanos were thrilled with Pagudpud’s association with the more popular beach in the Visayas. Boracay, of course, was better known, more established, and was the place to be seen. Stargazing is also more fun in Caticlan as celebrities descend there, especially during summer.
Decades after, some still refer to Pagudpud as “Boracay of the North,” but a growing number of people are beginning not to be amused.
“Some say Pagudpud is the ‘Boracay of the North,’… But do we hear people say Boracay is the ‘Pagudpud of the South?’ Surely not,” laments Xavier Ruiz, who works with the Ilocos Norte Provincial Tourism Office. The BS Tourism cum laude graduate of Mariano Marcos State University explains that such branding is “an obvious acknowledgement that what we offer our visitors are only second best with no clear identity and are constantly clinging to more established destinations thinking it would be the best marketing strategy.” The young tourism professional says he thinks otherwise: “Our province is beautiful and astonishing.. I believe we can do better.” Ruiz’s boss, Ilocos Norte tourism head Ianree Raquel, agrees. “We always strive to give our visitors a unique taste of the North far from what they could experience in other destinations,” he says in an interview.
April Rafales, a reporter of the ABS-CBN regional station in Laoag City, shares the view of the local tourism professionals. “We cannot be a prototype of something; a place can only be its own best version, setting its own standards and offering what it can,” she says, and warns that comparing Pagudpud to other tourist spots can also set false expectations among tourists.
I share the same sentiments, dear karikna. I have been to both beaches several times, and I figured that each has its own beauty and charm. Each has its own selling points. Boracay is for bored people thirsting for excitement. Pagudpud is for the wary soul thirsting for serenity. Boracay offers an outrageous night life while Pagudpud offers intimate spaces for bonding with family and friends. It’s a choice between an overdeveloped resort and a relatively Spartan one. It’s not unlike a competition between a virgin and a hustler. Continue reading “It’s Pagudpud, NOT Boracay of the North”
My paper abstract was accepted for presentation at an international conference in Hawaii on Nov. 14-16. And the next step was to get a US Visa. I was anxious. For who among us hasn’t heard of heartbreaking, if not horrific, experiences with consuls at the US embassy?
The whole process of applying for a visa, and the mere thought of it, seemed daunting to me: bank payment, online application, setting a schedule. My journey began with an online application that was, alas, delayed by a series of unfortunate events: unsuccessful attempts to schedule a group interview (there six seven of us from our university applying together), lack of common available time among us six, adjusted schedules because of flooding in Manila, and the university staff in charge of assisting us traveling abroad for two weeks. Meanwhile, plane fares were steadily going up as days passed.
Then the schedule came: September 6, 2013, 6:30 a.m. All of us got the same appointment, but we were to be interviewed as individuals, not as a group, which I thought was unfortunate because I heard group interviews have lower casualty rates. Anyway, I made sure I had all necessary documents that may be asked: passport, appointment letter, certificate of employment, bank certificate, samples of my published works, and a draft of my research paper.
A few days before the interview, I searched on the Internet articles about actual experiences of Filipinos during visa interviews. There are a lot of tips shared online, but, aside from coming in prepared and having documents that may be asked, the greatest advice I got was to be honest. Consuls are rigidly trained to detect lies, I read. And I learned too that they have eagle eyes for inconsistencies between what you wrote in the application form and what you say during the interview.
I don’t have a problem being honest and consistent, for I know myself quite well, and I am comfortable being me. My real fear was in being assigned either to a cruel consul or to a good one who woke up on the wrong side of the bed. And so, the night before the interview, I prayed to God to give my consul a good night’s rest, and, hopefully, sweet dreams.
In Greek, “poly” means multiple, but for many Catholics in Ilocos Norte, the word is more associated with “long.” Uncomfortably, unnecessarily, unbearably long.
Fr. Policarpio “Poly” Albano, currently rector of St. William’s Cathedral in Laoag and former parish priest of Batac and Dingras towns, is known in all the parishes he has served for his kilometric homilies that are desperately wanting in coherence and organization.
Maria, a Batac parishioner who is now based overseas, laments, “Kapag nagsesermon siya, natutulog ako. Paggising ko, nagsesermon pa rin siya kaya matutulog ulit ako. Mga lagpas kalahating oras siyang salita lang nang salita. Halos wala na nga talagang nakikinig sa kanya. Napaka-monotonous niya at paulit-ulit-ulit-ulit-ulit talaga. Ang boring boring. Walang emosyon. Going around the bush. Walang pinatutunguhan ang sermon niya.”
Magenta, a Cathedral churchgoer, says she would rather skip mass than listen to Fr. Poly deliver a homily. “Kapag nalaman kong siya ang magmimisa, hindi na lang ako tumutuloy. Kasi lalo akong magkakasala kung nakaupo ako sa simbahan pero naiinis ako dahil ‘yung pari ay nakakaubos talaga ng pasensiya dahil sa napakahabang sermon niya na paikot-ikot. Torture talaga!” Magenta, not her real name, is a teacher, and thus knows the necessity of proper lesson planning and class preparation. Surely, Magenta knows that quantity never compensates quality, that length of delivery never makes up for lack of preparation.
I really can’t imagine, dear karikna, how insensitive a speaker one could be to continue to blabber and not notice that the faithful are either sleeping or squirming in their seats.
What many churchgoers lament is that Fr. Poly’s sermons just go around in circles. For instance, when he gives the cue “Kamaudiananna” (Lastly) it does not mean the homily is anywhere near its end. “Lastly,” in Fr. Poly’s case, means the homily is around one half delivered. He would proceed to repeat the same things he has tackled earlier in the homily, not for style nor emphasis, but simply for evident lack of structure.
Some well-meaning parishioners have mustered enough courage to provide Fr. Poly feedback regarding his uber-long homilies. But the good priest dismissed the comments simply by saying,
“Sir, I am in deep trouble.. you’re the one I am sharing this with because I know you are understanding.. I am not yet ready sir,” read the text message my former student Brent (not his real name) sent me.
Sensing what the problem was, I replied with a question, “How many months?” to which the eighteen year old answered, “Two to three, sir… I know it’s my fault, but I am not really ready.”
Then Brent asked me if I know any abortionist they could go to. I was shocked.
Part of the subject Sociology 1, I teach Family Planning to my students, and because I believe in free, informed, and responsible choice, I present both the natural and artificial birth control methods. But never have I encouraged abortion, fully aware of its risks and its ethical and legal implications. In fact, I always tell my students that If anyone of them unwillingly gets pregnant or impregnates anyone by chance, I will take it as my personal failure as a teacher.
I tried to talk to Brent against resorting to abortion, but he was firm and resolute. He and his girlfriend have talked about it seriously and there is really no way, and giving birth to the baby is no longer an option for them. He said they want a medical doctor to perform the procedure to make sure it’s safe, and he asked me again if I can recommend anyone.
I don’t know any doctor who performs abortion, I told him, and even if I do, I would not make any recommendation. And what self-respecting doctor would perform abortion here in Laoag City? But I assured Brent that I am not judging them as persons despite what they were planning to do, for I am sure they have really given the matter a great deal of thought leading to their firm conviction that abortion is the only solution to the biggest problem they have had to face in their teenage lives. I assured him of my prayers. He reminded me that the matter is confidential.
After three years of preparations for the entry of large BPO (business process outsourcing) companies in Ilocos Norte, one of the largest call centers across the globe is setting up a branch in the province.
Expert Global Solutions (EGS) is expanding in Ilocos Norte, and is opening at least 600 jobs for call center agents and management personnel.
The company offers a basic, entry-level monthly pay of P12,500 for call center agents and a sign-up bonus of P10,000. Employees who meet prescribed targets will also receive performance bonuses and incentives. Salaries for managerial posts start at P30,000.
Applicants, who must at least have one year of college, only need to bring a resumé at the Ilocos Norte Centennial Arena’s i-Hub Center where recruitment is in full swing. Located in Laoag City, the arena is one of the sites being considered for the call center expected to open next year. While the offices are being constructed, successful applicants will undergo training, with pay, at EGS Clark, Pampanga.
As much as possible, the company wants to hire Ilocos Norte residents for the job openings, although applicants from other provinces are also welcome. They are also encouraging Ilocanos working in their other branches to come home to the province.
EGS is the holding company for two global leaders in business process outsourcing: NCO Financial Systems, which specializes in Accounts Receivable Management, and APAC Customer Services, which concentrates on Customer Relationship Management.
The company is headed by Mr. Rainerio “Bong” Borja who has over 25 years of experience managing large-scale customer service, IT support and consulting organizations within the Asia- Pacific region. Mr. Borja, who has also served as president of Aegis People Support, is a founder of the Business Processing Association of the Philippines (BPAP)—the umbrella organization of BPO, contact center and IT-enabled services companies in the country—and was its chairman for five years. Continue reading “Finally, an honest-to-goodness call center in Ilocos Norte”
That, dear karikna, was the cry of hundreds of Ilocanos who joined the anti-pork barrel gathering held at the Aurora Freedom Park last Monday, Aug. 26. Dubbed as the Pork O’Clock March, the gathering drew representatives from various sectors to peacefully but loudly express indignation against mammoth government corruption. Incidentally, this rally for the abolition of the pork barrel was staged near the monument marking the abolition of the tobacco monopoly in 1882.
Like the Million People March in Luneta and other protest activities around the country, the Laoag event did not have any organizers, only facilitators. I and a couple of other writers met Friday, three days before the event, to talk about how the Ilocano voice can be heard in what was already looming as a nationwide day of protest. We in this part of the country are often perceived as passive on issues, but no, not this time, we said. We know that Ilocanos are as furious as the rest of our countrymen, only that there is no avenue where we could express our collective fury. Continue reading “Notes from Aurora Park”
(Statement issued on August 16 by The International Committee in Support of Bautista, Abadilla, and Respicio c/o Nakem Conferences International)
RESPONSE TO THE PUBLIC APOLOGY OF REV. DR. BRIAN SHAH
In his public apology, the Rev. Brian Shah conveys that he had already apologized to the parents of Carl Andrew A. Abadilla, Kleinee Xieriz Bautista, and Samuel G. Respicio, the three students he unjustly and unduly excluded from the Saviour’s Christian Academy (SCA) for violating its English-only policy.
While the apology may read sincere, it fell short of the more important aspect of a decent apology, i.e. the full recognition of all his misdeeds.
Firstly, Rev. Shah totally disregarded the school manual when he imposed exclusion on the 3 students for violating SCA’s English-only school policy the penalty of which calls for a mere reprimand according to the School Manual. That is gross abuse of discretion. For excluding the three students, Rev. Shah violated Sec. 135 of DepEd Order No. 88 s. 2010 which stipulates that “No disciplinary action shall be applied upon any pupil or student except for cause…AND after due process shall have been observed” and Sec. 136c which requires that “A summary investigation shall have been conducted.” Section 137 on Summary Proceedings stipulates that “Subject to compliance with the requirements of due process and school regulations the procedure for disciplinary action against a student shall be summary in nature. The student shall be assisted in the proceedings by his/her parent(s) and/or by counsel.” We believe Rev. Shah violated certain provisions of these sections of DO. No. 88 s. 2010.
Secondly, consider that Kleinee Bautista, one of the 3 students, recounted to Herdy La. Yumul, a reputable blogger, Ilocos Times columnist and professor at Mariano Marcos State University, that when Rev. Brian Shah confronted him (Bautista) on July 31, 2013, Shah was to have said in a raised voice: “You are not respecting my school!” Bautista then claims that Rev. Shah gestured as if he was going to smash his cell phone on the boy saying, “You want me to throw my cell phone at you, you bitch?” Whereupon, Shah advised Bautista to transfer out of Saviour’s Christian Academy effective July 31, 2013, ostensibly for violating the English-only school policy without giving the boy any other option or the benefit of due process. When the parents attempted to reach out to him, Rev. Shah refused to see them.
Thirdly, recall that the Rev. Brian Shah posted the following on his Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/osfi.acad) on July 30, 2013, a day before advising the students to transfer to another school effective July 31, 2013, for violating SCA’s English-only policy: “Insubordination and direct defiant (sic) among students is totally unacceptable and I don’t tolerate such nonsense. Tomorrow heads will roll. It took us many years to build the school to what it is today and just a few to destroy all our hard work.” For this reason, it is our contention that Rev. Shah’s actions against Kleinee Bautista on July 31, 2013 were premeditated.
Fourthly, Rev. Shah’s claims that the school policies of SCA, a part of which he knowingly violated, were crafted with the “best interests of our students in mind” and that their English-only policy is intended to make the students “competitive in the global village yet deeply grounded in and proud of the Motherland” are contradictory and a display of profound ignorance of the linguistic rights of students. We believe it would be in the best interest of students if their freedom of expression is fully protected, especially in schools where the medium of instruction is in English and where students’ “competitiveness in the global village”, we fear, may have been compromised at an early age.
Fifthly, that the issue has morphed into a war against “linguistic injustice and cultural disrespect” is an attempt at dilution and diversion. Rev. Shah must be told that the Ilocos Region is an exemplar of the Department of Education’s mother tongue-based multilingual education (MTBMLE) efforts and good practices for good measure. It is supreme irony that he claims to carry out initiatives to support the poor, the oppressed and marginalized while institutionalizing marginalization and oppression right in his own backyard, on the grounds of Saviour’s Christian Academy.
Last but not least, given our growing awareness of ethnic diversity and the importance of our indigenous languages as a result of recent DepEd directives to institutionalize the use of the mother tongue or dominant local/regional language or L1 as medium of instruction from kindergarten to grade 3 and the use of L1 as auxiliary medium of instruction to English and Filipino as the primary MOI from Grade 4 all the way through high school, the fact that parents and students are still overwhelmingly interested in the acquisition of English language skills to enable students after they graduate or drop out of school to qualify for local jobs in the public and private sectors and also to enable them to qualify competitively for jobs in the global community is comment on just how durable the English language is in the Philippines rather than a rallying point for language restrictions, such as English-only school policies. Besides, the imposition of restrictive English-only policies with penalties being dangled over the heads of students for violating them has the deleterious, sometimes irreversible effect of sowing in the students’ psyche low esteem or disrespect for their own mother tongue, low esteem for themselves, and low, if any, regard for their indigenous cultural heritage.
Wherefore, we respectfully call on the Commission on Human Rights and other relevant agencies to investigate and determine if a criminal case is to be brought against the Rev. Brian Shah in light of the verbal abuse and intimidating gestures allegedly committed by him based on the accounts of Kleinee Bautista and for violating the linguistic rights of SCA students. In the event Rev. Shah is found culpable for violation of any provision of DepEd Order 88 s. 2010 and other pertinent laws and regulations, we hereby strongly recommend that the Rev. Brian Shah be ordered to immediately relinquish control of Saviour’s Christian School and transfer same to a more reasonable, level-headed and culturally sensitive administrator who is a firm believer in inclusive democracy and education.
The International Committee in Support of Bautista, Abadilla, and Respicio
With a deep sense of humility, allow me to express my sincerest apologies to everyone who has been caused pain and offense by the recent turn of events at Saviour’s Christian Academy. Personally, I have apologized to the families of the three students—Carl Andrew A. Abadilla, Kleinee Xieriz Bautista, and Samuel G. Respicio—during a dialogue held on August 8 at the office of the Department of Education – Divison of Laoag City.
As proper authorities are now looking into this controversy, I will refrain from discussing details of the issue, except to say that the policies we craft and implement in the school are well-intentioned and have the best interests of our students in mind. Through academic excellence and Christian formation, we have, in the past 24 years, laboured hard to help the youth become responsible and productive members of society, competitive in the global village yet deeply grounded in and proud of their Motherland.
It saddens me immensely that this issue of campus discipline has morphed into a war against “linguistic injustice and cultural disrespect” where I am pictured as chief enemy. I came to the Philippines in 1987 and have, since then, served as pastor, friend, and family to countless Ilocanos from all walks of life. I could never thus intentionally and willfully do anything that will demean Ilocanos—they who have accepted me as one of their own. Moved by their unparalleled hospitality, I always try, in the best ways I can, to carry out initiatives supporting local communities, especially the poor, oppressed, and marginalized. As a missionary, I fully realize the importance of the vernacular in getting the message across, and so majority of our church services are conducted in Iluko. At SCA, we take pride in a vibrant multicultural environment that has attracted students coming from various ethnolinguistic, religious, and socioeconomic backgrounds.
Again, I apologize to everyone who may have been offended by the issue even as I reassure the public that all steps will be taken to review our school policies and our student handbook to seamlessly comply with existing government regulations and to be further sensitive to the cultural sensibilities of our people. We acknowledge this humbling experience as a learning opportunity that will allow us to serve our students in better ways.
We welcome the rich public discourse this issue has generated, and hope that at the end of the day all these will translate to courses of action we can collectively take in the pursuit of a truly responsive and nationalist education agenda.
This year, 2013, has no doubt been a roller coaster ride for Rev. Brian Shah, president of Saviour’s Christian Academy in Laoag City. Just last February, he was awarded as one of the Most Outstanding Laoagueños. Today, he is an object of national wrath, and moves are underway to have him deported to his home Singapore.
Shah is currently embroiled in a controversy that has angered Filipinos here and overseas—the expulsion of 3 students from his school on the sole ground of speaking in Ilocano.
A blog post I made last Tuesday morning went viral in a few hours, and prompted the media to cover it. Various groups have issued statements of support for the three kids while an online petition for Shah’s ouster as school president and deportation from the country is gaining steam.
So far, most people know only three things about Reverend Brian Shah: president, pastor, and Singaporean.
And this is because he has denied all requests from us in the media to get their side. That, they say, was upon the advise of their lawyer who eventually spoke for SCA in media interviews. Thus, we know so little about Shah’s version of the story.
Last Friday, Shah, through an emissary, requested to talk to me so he can air his side. The interview happened yesterday, Aug. 9, in his office at the Saviour’s Christian Academy. It was a holiday so only Shah and his wife May who serves as the school’s administrator, were in the campus, aside from the security guards stationed at the gate.
I was a bit afraid to the do the interview but I went anyway. The couple welcomed me warmly. Pastor Shah sat down with me in his office, Ms. May would later join us after serving coffee.
The moment we sat, Shah looked at me, his eyes already wet. “It has been a very painful week for me, Herdy,” he said as his tears fell. I did not expect the scene; it was not the Pastor Brian Shah I imagined.
Almost sleepless the past days, Shah has been at the receiving end of phone calls from angry individuals and groups here and abroad. “The moment I say hello, they would start yelling foul words, and some would even threaten me with harm.”
I told him I would listen to anything he would like to share. The 59-year old pastor then began by recalling why he came here to Ilocos Norte. In the mid-80’s, he was a rising executive in a multinational company in Singapore, and has been offered the a tempting offer to head marketing operations in Southeast Asia. However, he felt God’s strong calling for the missions, and decided to come here to the Philippines instead.
In 1987, he was initially assigned in Dilavo, a fishing village in Pasuquin, one of Ilocos Norte’s poorest towns. There, he immersed with the villagers. He said worked with them and embraced the people’s way of life.
The following year, they moved to Laoag City to start their ministry and built the Church of Our Saviour in a rented space at A. Castro Avenue. They constructed a small chapel and, behind it, a small preschool. It was, in fact, a makeshift structure that people referred to as “Kusina School.” For four years it was for free. Later on, rich students were asked to pay so they can subsidize the poor.
Through the years, they established other centers: an orphanage in Abra, a shelter for sexually abused children in San Nicolas, and a free medical and dental clinic. They have also been active in disaster relief operations.
In 2000, the school transferred to its current location in D. Samonte Street. The compound occupies almost a whole block and houses several buildings. Tuition fee per student now ranges between P22,000-P24,000, inclusive of books and other materials. But the couple have also sponsored scholarships for poor students, some of whom are now working as professionals. They currently have four scholars at SCA.
The English-speaking policy at SCA began around 10 years ago when Shah noticed that even Grade 5 pupils could not speak basic English. “How come our students are paying for their education, and yet they have not learned basic English?” he wondered. He said he wanted to equip students linguistic skills that will make them globally competitive. Shah said he has always emphasized to the students the value of excelling at what they do, and to dream big. “You should not only aspire to be a lawyer or a doctor, but a good lawyer or a good doctor.” He said he believes that proficiency in English would open up doors of opportunities for them.
Still, he said, he recognizes the importance of the vernacular, citing that in their Church, half of the worship services are in Ilocano while the other half are in English. He shared that SCA provides a vibrant multicultural environment. Of their 670-strong student population, 20 are Muslim while 10 are Hindu. Moreover, many of their teachers are Catholics and members of Iglesia ni Cristo. He also said that some of their teachers are homosexuals, and are not discriminated against. “What is important to us is their talent and their passion to help the kids.”
Moreover, Shah clarified that the school is fully compliant with the Mother Tongue Based Multilingual Education, and that Ilocano is being used as medium of instruction in Grades 1 and 2.
On the dismissals
Shah said he has received many complaints from Grade school pupils and their parents as to why high school students have been violating the language policy. “How come we in Grade school are speaking in English while many high school students continue to speak in Ilocano?” Shah quoted the pupils as saying.
He said the original punishment was to make the violator write a thousand times that he will not speak Ilocano. But Shah, a hands-on administrator, felt the need to be stricter in imposing the language rule. So, on July 30 in the afternoon, he went to all the classes in the high school level to warn them not to violate the English-speaking policy. “I have given you a lot of warnings in the past but you continue to violate. I am giving you this last warning. Please, I really want you to learn English, so please follow the rule.” Shah told the students.
However, just a few hours later, he received a report that the three kids (who, Shah says, were inseparable) spoke Ilocano. “I was upset,” he said, “and that to me was more of a defiance thing, and not much of an Ilocano thing. They were defying school authority.” That very afternoon, he told Samboy Respicio who he said, “is like a son to me,” and whose parents have been his co-pastors for 25 years, that he will be asked to transfer to another school.
That night, Shah posted on the school’s official Facebook page, “Insubordination and direct defiant (sic) among students is totally unacceptable and I don’t tolerate such nonsense. Tomorrow heads will roll. It took us many years to build the school to what it is today and just a few to destroy all our hard work.”
The next day, Shah informed the other two students, Kleinee Bautista and Carl Abadilla, about his decision, that they will be advised to transfer to another school. Shah denies having gestured like he was about to hit one of the expelled boys. He also denies having said a foul word. “But I admit that I raised my voice because I was overcome by my emotions,” he said.
In an interview with GMA Ilocos news, Atty. Jaime Agtang, counsel for Saviour’s Christian Academy, said the issue—that of 3 Grade 8 students kicked out of school for speaking Ilocano—is closed. However, parents of one of the kids have denied this.
“How can it be closed when they have not even acted on our formal complaint?” wonders Lamar Abadilla, mother of Carl. She said they filed on Thursday (Aug. 8) at the Department of Education Division of Laoag City a letter of complaint addressed to Superintendent Araceli C. Pastor. The six-page complaint presented the details of the case, and sought for administrative sanctions on Shah. The parents are also demanding for a public apology.
Meanwhile, DepEd Assistant Secretary for Legal and Legislatve Affairs Tonisito Umali is keeping a close eye on the issue. In a television interview yesterday, he categorically stated that speaking in the vernacular is not a valid ground for expelling students. “Mali po talaga yun. Walang batang dapat patalsikin dahil nagsalita lang naman ng Ilokano kahit may English-speaking policy,” he told ABS-CBN’s Anthony Taberna. Moreover, Umali said expulsion of a student is a penalty that must be approved by the Office of Education Secretary Armin Luistro.
“You are not respecting my school!” yelled the school president. Then, gesturing like he was going to smash his mobile phone unto the boy, he exclaimed, “You want me throw my cell phone at you? You bit*h!”
This, a teary-eyed Kleinee Bautista recalls, is what happened when Reverend Brian Shah, president of Saviour’s Christian Academy, talked to him in his office Wednesday last week, July 31. Already devastated by the harsh words, the 13-year old boy’s world crumbled when the pastor-president handed a decision: he is dismissed from the school.
Kleinee’s offense? He, along with two other Grade 8 students, spoke Ilocano inside the campus.
Located in Laoag City, Ilocos Norte, SCA has an English-speaking policy that bars everyone—parents, teachers and staff, and students—from speaking in Philippine languages, be it Filipino or Ilocano, within the campus. Their student handbook says speaking in the vernacular is punishable by a reprimand. The handbook also lays out the guidelines in dealing with alleged violations of school codes. The due process includes giving a warning first, and then a conference with parents.
Why and how Shah could get away with due process and arbitrarily ‘kick out’ students is something the family of Carl Abadilla, another dismissed student, could not understand. His mother sent two letters appealing for reconsideration, both of which Shah ignored.
The experience has been traumatic for both kids. Kleinee did not eat for days and could not sleep. Carl felt very hurt and “nawalan na ng gana.” At a young age, they bear the stigma of being kick-outs.
Kleinee has studied at Saviour’s school since prep. That school is the only one he has ever attended. It has really become his second home. Together with his friends, he has kept memories and shaped dreams in that school.
Meanwhile, Carl has been at Saviour’s for only a month and a half. A victim of bullying at St. Mary’s Seminary during his freshman year in high school, he transferred to SCA, expecting to find refuge. “Little did we know,” Carl’s mother said in an interview with The Ilocos Times, “that our child will be bullied by the school president himself.
Samboy, the third student who was kicked is the son of a pastor. Both his parents are working at SCA, and are under Shah, so they opted to just accept the decision silently. But one can imagine how difficult it is for the boy, too, to be kicked out from the very school served devotedly by his family.
Classes have been going on for two months, and it is difficult to find a school that will accept the “dismissed” students. Fortunately for Carl, Divine Word College of Laoag accepted him with wide open arms. As of this writing, Kleinee is still an out-of-school youth.
According to SCA teachers who spoke on condition of anonymity, the three students have been performing well in school and have exhibited proper behaviour until they were dismissed from the school for speaking Ilocano.
“Speaking Ilocano is a crime,” some students quote Shah as saying. “But does that make all Ilocano speakers criminals?” wonders Carl’s mother, a regional trial court employee.
The issue has come out on radio, but Shah has consistently veered away from media interviews. Asked for a reaction, he declined to comment by saying, “No thanks, I’m busy” before he hurriedly hung up the phone. Instead, it was Ms. Cristeta Pedro, SCA’s high school principal, who has spoken for the school. She stands by the school policy and justifies the punishment meted out on the students. What the parents of the kids lament, however, is that Pedro claims there was due process when the parents claim there was none. After some students reported hearing the three speaking in Ilocano, and Shah immediately dismissed them in the absence of a thorough investigation and trial and without conferring with the parents. Whether the supposed offense is commensurate to the punishment—that of being dismissed during the school year—is, to say the least, questionable to many.
In an interview with Mr. Michael Lomabao, who is currently the high school’s officer-in-charge (Ms. Pedro is on leave and is said to be in the United States), this is not the first time the school dismissed students for violating the language policy. Lomabao also confirmed the punishment specified in the handbook for the violators: a mere reprimand.
JF, an SCA alumna, attests to this. She shared, “We were talking casually in the canteen when Pastor Brian heard two of my friends speak in Filipino; they were almost kicked out by Pastor Brian. He was very angry.”
“This is a form of linguistic injustice and cultural disrespect,” opines Dr. Alegria Tan-Visaya, president of Nakem Conferences Philippines, and chief of the Ilocano-Amianan Studies Center at the Mariano Marcos State University.
This observation is shared by Eugene Carmelo Pedro, a Philippine languages activist and currently a law student at the University of the Philippines Diliman.
“I admire that they want their students to be fluent in English in words and in thought, but I think their policy is foolish and dated,” says Eugene, who is not related to SCA’s high school principal. “Immersion is really one of the best ways to become fluent, but it doesn’t really work when the school shames students for speaking their native language,” he adds.
Even poor teachers are victims of Shah’s linguistic dictatorship. Teachers have been warned not to use Ilocano or Filipino in conversing with students in social networking sites (even if they are using the Internet in their own homes.). If Shah finds out, they were informed, the punishment is forfeiture of a month’s salary.
Indeed, one wonders, dear karikna, why all these had to happen at a time when today’s thrust of basic education is the strengthening of our mother tongue, a measure meant to fortify the linguistic foundations of a child.
Research done in various developed countries show that proficiency in one’s mother tongue or first language will increase one’s chances of being good at other languages, both local and foreign. In short when one is good in Ilocano, our first language—not only in conversational use but in formal reading, writing, and speaking—one is better prepared to learn Filipino, English, and other languages.
With this in mind, the Department of Education is now on its second year of implementing the MTBMLE or the Mother Tongue-Based Multilingual Education. According to Mr. Lloyd Rosquita, education supervisor for private schools (DepEd Laoag City), although SCA is a private school, it is still under the supervision of DepEd. Moreover, SCA is also considered as a regular private school. Meaning, it is not an international school accorded more autonomy in terms of school curriculum and operations. SCA is thus not exempted from implementing MTBMLE.
And though Reverend Brian Shah and his wife May, the school administrator, are Singaporean nationals, they are not over and above our laws, especially not our Constitution.
Article XIV Section VI of the 1987 Philippine Constitution mandates the Government to “take steps to initiate and sustain the use of Filipino as a medium of official communication and as language of instruction in the educational system.”
Some parents, however, while feeling strongly about the issue, have expressed doubts if any case to be filed against the couple will prosper. They are perceived to be chummy with a top provincial politician and a top DepEd Laoag City official. They are believed to be “untouchable.” It doesn’t matter, say parents of the affected children. “We will still pursue justice for our kids.”
But of course, dear karikna. The parents should. No, we should. For these foreigners have obviously abused our hospitality. We welcomed them warmly. We allowed them to establish their church and school in our land. We have entrusted our children to them, and then this. This disrespect. This injustice. This unparalleled arrogance Shah fittingly exhibited at the best time possible: the eve of Agosto, the month of Philippine languages.
Though supposedly a modern-day Christian, Shah puts to shame the decrepit men-of-the-cloth in the middle ages. And this reflects in the way he manages the school. This reflects in the way he wants their students to learn English. This shows in his strong belief in a world where fear and punishment are more powerful than inspiration and role modeling.
You want students to be good in English? You show them how that language can be useful to them. You let them realize how it can help make them better persons. You inspire them to be as good as you are, or even better, in its use. That is a real educator’s way. That, I say, is a real Christian’s way, that of love and compassion. For all his language tyranny, it is common knowledge that Shah’s English is terribly painful to listen to. And it is not because he is Singaporean. It is simply because his English is terrible.
So how can Shah, this Singaporean, do such cruelty to those kids and their families who share the pain? Is it because he looks lowly at Ilocanos? Can you imagine a school in Singapore kicking out students simply because they speak Chinese? Not there. Not in Shah’s home country which has embraced a vibrant multiculturalism.
Supporters of the school can say that those who do not want SCA’s language policy should not enroll their children there. But that is not the point. For, by the same logic, I could say, if Shah hates the Ilocano language that much and treats its use inside his kingdom-of-a-campus as a crime, then he should not establish a school in Ilocos. He should instead do to his countrymen what he has the misplaced balls to do here. And let’s see if he can dare smash a cell phone on a Singaporean kid the way he tried to do so on one of our own here.
I am, dear karikna, grieving. Grieving for the kids. Grieving for the disrespect on our language. Grieving the fact that bit***s now come in the form of pastors and school presidents.