Sharing with you the thoughts of Commissioner James Ceasar Ventura of the National Youth Commission regarding Pagudpud’s Paloma beauty pageant that the town’s SK willingly got involved in, and in general how SKs around the country have been doing by far. Note though that here he is giving his personal position as a young leader, and his statements should not be taken as the position of his agency. It would be worthy to listen to his thoughts because James is sincerely one of those who truly want the SK to succeed.
“At a personal level, Sir, I don’t believe we really need pageants right now. It’s too costly for entertainment. Waste of resources. That’s regardless of SK man yan o Buwan ng Wika, Tourism, whatsoever.
“Plus there are too many things we need to prioritize. In Ilocos, it would be teenage pregnancy, jobs, access to quality education, life skills kung kabataan ang pag-uusapan.
“I appreciate the SKs for helping their LGU implement its programs and activities, but I would have appreciated them more if they opposed the Paloma pageant for these reasons:
“1. They could have asked LGU to give them the funds which could be used for a scholarship or a training on crime or illegal drugs prevention.
“2. By supporting the activity, even without paying for it using the SK funds, the SK officials consented on inefficient budget use, and tolerated the culture of reducing gender issues as a laughing matter.
“I’d be honest, Sir. Many SKs are at a loss hanggang ngayon. They do not know what to do while they are also under pressure to do something ASAP. Hence, they become welcoming to proposals such as pageants and sports activities. Templated na kasi at madali nang gawin.
“I hope there were more of us at NYC to really guide them on the ground. I pray that their Youth Development Officer, their LGU and other youth leaders are already sitting down to plan for their kabataan. If that doesn’t happen, I don’t look forward for another SK election by 2020.”
I thank James for making me believe in youth power despite my cynicism. I was hoping the reformed SK would produce more noble young Filipinos like you, but what we have now, as in the past, are many SK officials and federation presidents elected not on the basis of their skills and zeal to serve, but on the strength of their blood relations. Trapo manipulation of the youth remain strong. And, as you said, SK officials are at a loss on what to do.
My humble advice to them is to carefully craft relevant, high-impact, and sustainable programs instead of falling to the allure of tokenism and Instagram fame. SKs have been in the position for only a few days and there have been activities done here and there and more lined up in the coming weeks. Coastal clean-ups, blood letting activities, sports programs are good, but they must be a part of honest-to-goodness programs and not turn out as sporadic activities that only look good on Instagram.
I don’t believe in the necessity and relevance of SK, not anymore at this time in our national life, as it was a bane in the past two decades. It was a nice idea that belonged to another era. It’s a dead intervention that should have remained peacefully in the grave of our collective political memory. But because the SKs are here and they are given public funds, let us, with all we can help them succeed. If this be the last batch of SK, may they build good memories before we bury this idea back to the grave of ignominy.
THE REFORMED SK is back. It’s officials in Philippine barangays assumed office on July 1.
Much has been said about the reforms made in the new edition of the Sangguniang Kabataan, through Republic Act 10742 or the SK Reform Act,especially on how youth leaders have been empowered to better contribute in national development, thereby erasing the reputation it has sadly earned in years past—that it is irrelevant, corrupt, and a bane to an already bloated bureaucracy. Bringing SK back to life was a big challenge, but its believers, including my friend James Ventura, who is commissioner-at-large of the National Youth Commission, are holding their hopes high.
It seems like the youth leaders of Pagudpud town here in Ilocos Norte are up to the challenge. In their first days in office, they got themselves busy with their first assignment, their baptism of fire: a beauty contest. The town is celebrating its 64th Founding Anniversary, and SK officials in the different barangays were in charge of scouting for candidates and preparing them for competition, and in serving as ushers and production staff during the competition proper. I learned from my interview with Rex Benemerito Jr., the SK Federated President of Pagudpud, that these assignments were given to them by the Municipality’s Tourism Office. What kind of competition did they get busy with?
It’s actually the brainchild of the town mayor. Straight males get dressed and made up as women, inspired by the Paloma character in the epic television soap, Ang Probinsiyano. Ten contestants from different barangays vied for the title, Miss Paloma 2018. While the competition is already on its third year, Kevin Riveral, the SK chair of Brgy. 2 explained, “Kami po yung partner ng LGU para maging possible ulit ang Miss Paloma 2018.” (As the partner of the LGU, we—the SK—made possible the restaging of Miss Paloma 2018.) Kevin said he is “so happy a naisabak kamin uray katugtugawmi pay laeng.” (We are so happy that we got to work immediately even if we have just assumed office.)
The event was a crowd drawer. Expectedly there was a lot of laughter as it’s an old, tried-and-tested formula to get Filipinos entertained by male cross-dressing. But what actually did Pagudpud achieve with this? Well, organizers say, it gave men the rare opportunity to experience what a woman goes through. But isn’t it lame to have that mindset? Being a woman is certainly more than wearing heavy make up and high heels. You could, in fact, be a woman even if you have a different sense of fashion.
If at all, the pageant only perpetuates gender stereotypes. “It doesn’t promote gender sensitivity because the candidates are being a laughing stuff,” PJ Quitoriano, a well-distinguished young transgender from Pagudpud, notes. He also lamented that the show fell short of promoting neither the empowerment of women nor the LGBT. The same sentiment was echoed by the Head of the Committee on Gender and Development of the nationally acclaimed Sirib Ilokano Kabataan Association: “It only promotes the culture of domination because participants are reduced to being objects of laughter.”
I will leave it to you, dear reader, to assess the merits of the first activity Pagudpud’s youth leaders embarked on. I will be cruel if I don’t give them credit for their effort. Some of them (and I know this because I was their speaker on Public Service ethics during their mandatory SK training held in May) may actually be truly eager to serve and make a difference.
But they started on the wrong foot.
While SK is back to life, I maintain that there are things that should have remained dead.
Laoag City could be one of the most LGBT-friendly cities in the Philippines. A third of its elected councilors are openly and proudly gay. There’s Rbee Ablan who comes from a prominent political family, businessman Handy Lao, and Mikee Fariñas who happens to be a daughter of the power couple—the city mayor and vice mayor. All three city councilors ran on a platform of gender equality and promised to promote gender-sensitive legislation. True to their promise, they pushed for the passage of The Comprehensive Anti-Discrimination Ordinance of Laoag City which is currently under review by the Sangguniang Panlalawigan. Moreover, Mayor Chevylle Fariñas is known to be friendly with the LGBT community, and gay people are highly placed under her administration. Gender discrimination was unheard of at the Laoag City Hall…
Until lately. It comes as a surprise that there is much resentment among members of the local LGBT community at this time because of an issue surrounding an event spearheaded ironically by Councilor Lao—the Mister Laoag pageant.
One aspirant is believed to have been rejected on account of his suspected relationship with a gay person. The basis? A photo of him in an intimate pose with a transgender. Note that the picture showed no nudity or any taint lewdness, but did give event organizers a hint that the aspirant could be in a same-sex relationship. During the interview held open to the public, the controversial aspirant (CA) was asked by the seven-member panel if it is true. Out on the spot, he denied it. The panel also felt at liberty to ask CA what roles he played in bed. Note that these questions were not asked all candidates.
Thirty-six applicants vied for 16 slots, and CA did not make the cut. In an interview, Councilor Lao explained to me that every aspirant was assessed holistically and that total personality of each aspirant was assessed. While Lao belived that CA was not rated based on one issue alone, the councilor did not deny that the issue could have, indeed, hurt his chances. It was a split-hair decision. Of the seven members of the selection panel, 4 voted to reject CA while 3 wanted him in. Lao was with the minority.
According to insiders, the organizers were worried at how having CA would affect the reputation of the show. Lao said they also wanted to protect the candidate from possible bashing and ridicule. They felt it was not time to have a candidate like CA in Mister Laoag.
There was outrage among LGBT members in Ilocos. Feeling insulted and rejected, they cried foul. They were quick to point out about hypocrisy and double standards. They felt betrayed by the bigoted act, especially because it was committed by friends. Those friends send the messages loud and clear: Having a same-sex relationship will deny you opportunities; LGBT relationships ruin credibility.
Lao was well-aware of the outrage, and, in an interview with me, he confessed to have shed tears over the controversy. While he stands for the collegial decision of the screening panel, he accepts that shortcomings and excesses may have been committed. These, he said, will be seriously addressed in the next editions of Mister Laoag. As of our time of interview, the councilor is yet to reach out to CA or the members of the LGBT community. He said he was still collecting his thoughts and planning how to proceed.
“Needless to say, yes, something like that happened,” remarked Councilor Fariñas, promising to look closer into the matter. As an advocate for equality and respect that is due all human beings in the city, the councilor says he is disturbed by the issue. “I don’t think anybody should be judged based on their relationships because acceptance and respect inspire human persons to perform better and do well.” He said that the mayor is bent on gathering parties concerned to shed light on the unfortunate controversy.
Councilor Ablan, for his part, stressed that he will never tolerate discrimination. “I, for one, suffered from discrimination almost all my life. I know how it feels and I know what a person in this situation goes through,” he shared before asking, “Do we all have to have the same lives to enjoy the same rights?”
Aian Raquel, provincial tourism officer, makes this sad note, “Everybody knows what’s happening. No amount of sugarcoating and euphemism can hide homophobia even within the bakla circles.”
It is my fervent and sincere hope, dear karikna, that this issue is properly addressed so that we can honestly advance the right of individuals to freely affirm their sexual orientation, gender identity, and expression.
As for Laoag City and its illusions of LGBT advancement, the bubble has been burst. Only if we successfully shrug off the medieval, parochial, bigoted tendencies of people—especially those who make decisions that bear an impact on our collective consciousness—can we truly move forward.
We wish the Mister Laoag pageant well, and its pure, immaculate, unsullied reputation, and I seriously pray that this issue is settled in the soonest time. There should be no place for hate and hurt, not only because we will be celebrating the Laoag City Fiesta and Ilocos Norte’s bicentennial in the next days, but more because everyday we struggle in a world already filled with manmade misery and conflict, to live and let live.
BY A resounding vote of 8, the Sangguniang Panlalawigan of Ilocos Norte in their regular session on June 27 declared Rudy Fariñas as persona non grata. The congressman was expectedly piqued, but he was right to point out in his statement that referring to someone as persona non grata is to say that “he or she is ostracized, and that such a person is for all intents and purposes culturally shunned, so as to be figuratively non-existent.” That exactly is what board members have done to him.
The term “persona non grata” is Latin for “a person not appreciated.” It was originally meant for diplomats and foreigners who have been deemed undesirable or unwelcome, but it is not the first time a Filipino citizen has been declared non grata in his own country.
Ramon Bautista was declared persona non grata by the Davao City Council for his hipon jokes in a party in the city during the celebration of Kadayawan Festival in 2014. Bautista joked that many women in the city are “hipon” which is a derogatory term for a person with a sexually appealing body but with a less attractive face.
Last year, the Sagguniang Panlalawigan of Pangasinan also declared Dr. Dexter Buted, president of the Pangasinan State University (PSU) as persona non grata after he snubbed the board’s three invitations to him and other university officials to appear before an inquiry.
Going to Sarrat is usually fun and relaxing. We’ve had countless family picnics in the town’s charming river resorts, visits to President Marcos’ birthplace, or just strolls around the sleepy town. Each journey is memorable, but it’s the one we made on August 4, Tuesday, I will never forget.
That trip was the saddest I have taken in my whole life. Seated on my passenger seat was fellow writer and office mate, Reynaldo Andres. We were headed to the morgue to see the body of a slay victim Sir Rey would later confirm is his only child.
That morning in our office, Sir Rey looked worried and upset. He received a text message from his daughter Mai-mai, saying that she is in Cebu and that she needs money for her return fare. Sir Rey was surprised, for she thought his only child, a graduating student, was just working on a group project as she occasionally does with trusted classmates she has treated as sisters. The text message said money should be sent to a certain “Francis Domingo Ortega” with an address in La Union because her daughter’s identification card is not with her. She said they were in the Waterfront Hotel.
Sir Rey immediately went out of the office to send his daughter P15,000 through a money transfer outlet in Batac. That was around 9:00 a.m. I, too, went out of the office to attend my classes. When I returned for lunch at past twelve, Sir Rey was doubly emotional and nervous. When he called his daughter to say that the money has been deposited, the phone can no longer be reached.
Then came a phone call from another office in our university. The caller informed Sir Rey that she saw a Facebook post referring to her daughter: RIP. Sir Rey immediately went out of the door. After a few seconds trying to absorb the turn of events, I and our colleagues in the office–Ma’am Kat and Sharon–joined him. And thus our trip to Sarrat where radio reports say a body of a woman, with a bullet wound on her head, was found at dawn.
As it turned out, many already knew about the identity of the victim a couple of hours before Sir Rey was informed. Her classmates who earlier identified Mai-mai at the morgue did not know how to tell Sir Rey, but they immediately gave their statement to the police.
The travel took at least forty-five minutes. I could have sped up so we can get there soonest, but I was extra careful as my knees were wobbly and I was feeling cold all over. Sir Rey, the tough guy and brilliant Ilocano writer Bannawag and Agriculture Magazine readers are very familiar with, was on my side weeping… weeping for her daughter and also for himself.
“She is the joy and hope of my life,” he said as he shared stories about Mai-mai: how the English language major was very good at writing poems and how proud she was about inheriting her father’s writing skills, how she dreamt of going to Law School, how her charming and jolly personality brought cheer to friends and family, and how happy she was turning nineteen just a few days ago.
Mai-mai was my student in Logic when she was a sophomore. Hands down the most stunning in class, she was also the most convivial. As her friends attest, she can brighten up a dark day with her ready smile and jolly disposition. But I only discovered only a year after that semester, that she is the daughter of Sir Rey, an institution in Ilocano literature and one of the country’s top science writers. The free-spirited Mai-mai was proud of her father but she wanted to establish her own name.
Sir Rey’s stories kept us all teary eyed. I would have cried with him, but all of us had to show some semblance of strength and hope. Maybe it was not Mai-mai. May be it was a mistaken identity. But then calls came one after the other. Some offered very clear clues. On the victim’s tattoo was the word “Jem” and Roman numerals that translate to July 28, 1996. Is that her nickname? Is that her birthday? “Yes,” said Sir Rey who was losing whatever hope he still held on to. “Nagulpiten ti tao..”, he said sobbing, wailing, and without propagating gender stereotypes, I say it struck me so hard to see a typical macho like Sir Rey weep unrestrained. He cried for justice even as the suspect was initially believed to be related to a powerful political clan.
Indeed, the trip to Sarrat was a crash course for me on the society we live in today: the value of family (Sir Rey narrated both the joys and hardships of fatherhood), the power and responsibility of the media and the Internet (and how Sir Rey, also a media practitioner, was among the last to know), the weight we give to education (Mai-mai was determined to graduate in April next year), our strong faith in God (“Dios ti makaammon,” said Sir Rey as he immediately called their church pastor who also immediately proceeded to the funeral home), and the impacts of politico-economic imbalances (that feeling of powerlessness when the suspect is believed to be influential).
When we arrived in Sarrat, we decided to go to the police first before proceeding to the funeral home. At the morgue, Sir Rey confirmed what we hoped was just a confusion, a bad dream, or just a distasteful joke. Jemima Keziah Andres, our beloved Mai-mai, is dead.
What we know about the culprit so far.
The suspect, who is in his mid-20s, was initially named as “Francis Domingo Ortega” and was believed to be from La Union province and a relative of the provincial governor, but the name turned out to be an alias. Said to be charged with estafa and in running, he created a false persona for himself, creating a fake Facebook account.
When the suspect’s picture was widely circulated in social media, concerned Netizens revealed his true persona.
Victorino “Jay Ar” Mangabat Jr is his real name. Originally from Cauayan, Isabela, he has also lived in Gapan, Nueva Ecija. He has three Facebook accounts by the name Jay Ar Mangabat. One account indicated that he studied at the Ateneo de Manila University while two other accounts listed his schools as University of Sto. Tomas and Our Lady of the Pillar College, Cauayan City, respectively.
He is engaged and has a three-year old son. Mysteriously, his fiancé is said to have been missing for around a year now under mysterious circumstances.
The suspect, together with his son and mother, rented an apartment in Barangay Aglipay, Batac City on July 3. They hurriedly left the place at around 3:30 a.m. on August 4. A source said they stayed in a lodging house in Laoag City for three days in June.
He is driving a white Montero with a fictitious plate number.
Those who have met the suspect describe him as the silent type, haggard, had unkempt hair, and “lutang”, a term specifically used for drug users. He pretended to be rich, but it was not clear what work he did.
If you have any information leading to his arrest, please contact the authorities immediately. The NBI Laoag Hotline is (077) 771-3885.
May we, my dear friends, altogether pray for the eternal repose of Jemima, fight for justice, and work for a society where no person, man or woman, will have have to suffer the same fate, and that no father will have to take the same sorrowful trip to Sarrat or elsewhere.
ILOCOS NORTE has definitely made a mark as one of the Philippines’ top travel meccas, given the province’s amazing natural, cultural, and historical attractions, plus fun activities to boot. But, given the influx, how are our hotels meeting the demands of guests?
Many tourists depend on Internet-reviews to check the quality of hotels, restaurants, and other travel-related establishments. The most popular site is TripAdvisor.com which allows reviewers to provide both quantitative ratings and qualitative information based on their actual experience. Guests rate the establishment on a scale of 1-5 based on the following criteria: location, sleep quality, rooms, service value, and cleanliness. The written reviews are very useful for people planning their trip. One would not pay a budget price and demand five-star accommodation, but would expect decent services and facilities. In the same breath, expectations and demands run high when the price paid is high. At the end of the day, value for money weighs heavily.
I will write about the best and average hotels next, but let me devote this post to the bad and the worst.
(This is the second of a series of articles comprising my critique on the Tan-ok ni Ilocano Festival of Festivals 2014 held Nov. 29 at the Marcos Stadium in Laoag City. Read also the article Why I am proud of Laoag this time.)
Not a few people are concerned about Batac’s apparent downfall in their Tan-ok performances as shown by their skidding rankings. They were champion in the Festival of Festivals’ debut in 2011, 2nd place in 2012, 3rd place in 2013, and fourth this year.
It’s easy to believe in these numbers and hastily conclude that Batac is losing its artistic prowess, but I strongly contest this. They, in fact, won not just trophies, but even more for themselves and Ilocos Norte for doing what they do best.
The best thing about Batac folks is their healthy dose of insanity which I think is good because human civilization advances not because of those who blindly conform but on account of men and women who bravely challenge the status quo, and dare to be different. After all, this Home of Great Leaders is not known for people who remain comfortable with the world as usual.
Last Saturday, they landed only fourth, but did you, dear karikna, realize that Batac made history that night by staging the grandest musicale Ilocos Norte has ever seen?
On the Tan-ok stage where many of the contingents are still infected by the Visayan fever (ala Sinulog and Dinagyang), Batac dared enough to present something fresh, and excel in it. Let me discuss in detail my observations not only from the show but during some of their practices which I had the chance to watch.
The empanada was shown in response to the shifting tastes of the Spanish-era Ilustrados. Immersed in the lifestyle of their colonial masters, the tastes and preferences of these educated elite were strongly influenced by the West, but time came when their palates looked for something novel. They wanted a fusion between the Western way of cooking and rich native flavors. Thus, the Batac Empanada which is one reason why Ilocos Norte today is known as a gastronomic mecca. This was shown in the well-executed Kitchen Musicale where, in a party hosted by a Señora, Ilustrados refused to eat the usual fare (e.g.hamon, paella, lechon, embutido), moving the servant Indios to serve the Batac Empanada. Continue reading “Batac a genius… no loser!”
It’s November and all 23 cities and municipalities of Ilocos Norte are in full swing with their respective preparations for this year’s edition of the Tan-ok ni Ilocano Festival of Festivals happening on the 29th.
I highly anticipate this year’s Tan-ok as organizers have given premium on what I, together with well-meaning Ilocano culture advocates, have been wishing for in previous editions: faithfulness to the Ilocano story. Indeed, any self-respecting festival should have at its core the true story of its people who are celebrating greatness, be it of an object, food, event, or any phenomenon.
Last October 24, your karikna was invited by Aian Raquel, the event’s creative director, to serve as resource speaker in a story workshop participated in by choreographers from the various towns and cities. With the exception of a few who failed to attend, I was glad with the receptiveness of the participants.
I delivered a brief lecture on the history and culture of Ilocanos but not after making a clear caveat that everything that I was to say in the workshop was my own insights as a fan who happens to have some knowledge of Ilocano culture and history, and not of the Tan-ok management. I also said that they are not obliged to heed my humble recommendations.
At the onset, I stressed to the participants that artists like them are powerful personas. They, in fact, could even be more influential than politicians, for they shape their people’s consciousness, help them define their identity, and empower them to preserve their heritage while embracing evolution and change. Any artist who sees his value only by the trophies he has won is underestimating, even insulting, himself.
In the course of making the presentation entertaining and winnable, overeager choreographers either in the guise of claiming artistic license or sheer arrogance and plain ignorance, twist and alter the story to the extent that it is rendered unrecognizable by the people who supposedly own it.
Most notorious, of course, in fictionalizing stories is Laoag City’s Pamulinawen Festival. Ironically, it has, over the past four years, brought home 3 championship trophys, lording over the competition since 2012. Over the years, Pamulinawen has been portrayed as blacksmith trade (2011), courtship (2012), and songwriting (2013). In the Mini Tan-ok Dance Competition last February, Pamulinawen was interpreted as cockfighting.
In terms of wealth, both in terms of financial and human resources, Laoag, the city I live in and love over and above any place on earth, arguably has the upper hand. I wish that choreographers will finally zero in on a proper story which will properly shape and define the Pamulinawen Festival which still badly pales in comparison, mainly on account of lack of consistency and character, to more established festivals across the nation. Unfortunately, Laoag was the only group which decided not to talk about their storyline during the workshop.
Two Cebuanos are in my consciousness these days. One brings forth inspiration; the other, indignation.
Let’s talk first about the good one.
When I was growing up, my dad used to tell me that he is not particularly fond of the Sto. Niño. “Why pray to the child Jesus when you can pray to the adult one?” he asked rhetorically. My mother, a daily communicant, thinks otherwise. Not only does she have images of the child Jesus prominently displayed on our home altar, she actually had me dress up like a Sto. Niño during a novena mass at Church: I held a sceptre on my left hand and a globe on my right. I barely remember other details of that event, but I do recall my mom telling me that she prays that I may become a good boy like the child Jesus. From then on, Sto. Niño and I became faithful friends.
That friendship was fortified when I attended college at San Beda where the community has a special devotion to the Sto. Niño of Prague. Dedicated to him, our annual college fair and frolics is highlighted by a procession in the Malacañang vicinity, and a grand mass at the football field. Even after I graduated and began working, I’d go back to Mendiola every third Sunday of January to join the Pista ng Sto. Niño sa San Beda. Also, I’d go to the feast of the Sto. Niño in Tondo where the family of my good friend Weng de Jesus lives. The Tondo fiesta is the liveliest I have been to, with processions, parlor games, and drinking sprees happening in every nook and corner of the district. I have also been fortunate to visit the Sto. Niño in Cebu and in Iloilo where the country’s grandest festivals are held.
It is always a joy being in the company of my beloved friend who constantly makes me feel loved and at peace. During times of great trouble, I visit him and feel comforted. I am assured by his gentle smile that everything is going to be okay; after all, he’s got the whole world in his hands.
Last week, as the pilgrim image of Sto. Niño de Cebu visited various towns of Ilocos Norte, I was amazed by the very strong devotion Ilocanos have for the child Jesus. The queues to the image were constantly long as people from all walks of life came to pay homage. At the St. William’s Cathedral, I was particularly struck by a couple who stood in line behind me: they are probably in their seventies. The old woman man walked very slowly while her husband was aided with a cane. They politely asked if I could take their picture. I took the camera and did as asked, the Sto. Niño smiling in the background. Then I asked them if I could also take their picture with my own camera, for I wanted to capture that touching moment, and probably share the story of their piety with others. They graciously agreed.
Both the old and young venerate the Sto. Niño. But why pray to the child when you can go directly to the adult Jesus? Our special affinity to the Sto. Niño is probably because we see the best qualities of humanity in childhood: that of innocence and purity, of carefree fun and adventure, of meekness and humility, and, ultimately, of pure and unadulterated love. Never mind that the cruel and oppressive Spaniards brought the historic image here and forced their religion to us. It is interesting to note that the image of a spiritual child runs across Oriental religions, specifically in Hinduism’s Krishna.
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!”
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.
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.
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”
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”
“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.
(The Ilocos Times and riknakem.net are embarking on a voter information campaign dubbed “Keddeng ti Umili 2013”. In this issue, we are featuring the mayoralty candidates in Laoag City. News articles on the interviews, conducted mainly by your karikna, are published in the paper.)
She is sugar, spice, and everything nice. She answers even the most controversial questions but knows how to get though them unscathed. She pledges to speak ill of no one, even if her main political opponent is having a field day throwing mud.
He is stiff and stern. It is not difficult to be afraid of him. And having a reputation of literally slapping people, which he does not categorically deny, is of no help. But he came prepared for the interview, bringing with him documents proving that the current administration led by his nephew is anything but sugar, spice, and everything nice.
It has happened elsewhere, family members torn widely apart by politics, but we did not see it coming here in Laoag City. The Fariñas Family has always seemed close-knit and formidable until now. There was hope against hope that they would resolve their issues among themselves, but in politics, dear karikna, hope has its limits. And so it has come to this.
Roger accuses the couple—Mayor Michael and ABC President Chevylle—of corruption and ill-gotten wealth. He cites a newly constructed house, which he values at 80 million pesos, condominium units in Manila, and luxury cars, among others, as proof of shenanigans. He decries the deterioration of peace and order, overpriced but losing government ventures such as the Laoag City General Hospital, and dirty public spaces which was unseen of during his term when the Laoag first gained fame as the Philippines’cleanest and greenest component city .
To all these, Chevylle has ready answers. In her husband’s nine-year stint, she says, Laoag City has reaped various recognitions, including the ‘Seal of Good Housekeeping’ from the Department of Interior and Local Government. She argued that “If there was corruption, it would have been known because the ‘seal’ guarantees efficiency and transparency in governance.” She says their house, located at Brgy. Vira in the city’s outskirts, costs only eight million pesos at most while denying other properties Roger asserts they have amassed. While enumerating their various businesses which contribute to their family income, this advertising graduate of Miriam College says she is not materialistic and is content with a simple lifestyle. She proceeds to show a crucifix pendant, a gift from his late father, which she says is her main piece of jewelry. Continue reading “Battle for Laoag: Roger the Crusader vs ‘Sweet’ Chevylle”
NO, she did not wear a neck brace, and, no, she was not out on bail. It was the better Gloria I have previously written about who joined Ilocanos, mostly young people, at the foot of Gilbert Bridge last August 6 for a candle lighting ceremony in support of the Reproductive Health Bill.
It was a crucial moment for the controversial piece of legislation which has stagnated in Congress in the last one and a half decades, no thanks to the opposition of the Roman Catholic Church hierarchy. (I have to say “hierarchy”, dear karikna as all national surveys say a great majority of Filipinos, the Catholic faithful included, strongly support the RH Bill.) Congress was to vote whether to proceed with the prolonged and circular debates or to terminate the interpellations and push for the bill’s second reading in the Lower House.
It was a crucial moment, and the significance of the activity was not lost on Gloria Portela Valencia, 55. Taking time off from her many chores as a house help in Laoag City, she joined well-meaning citizens, composed mostly of young people, in the silent activity for the RH Bill.
Frail and shy, Gloria came in a red shirt she usually wears when attending mass. She lit a candle, stood there, and joined the group in the brief gathering. But Brigette Mayor, a field reporter of GMA’s Balitang Ilocos noticed Gloria among the crowd and interviewed her. “Manang, apay supsuportam ti RH Bill?” asked the young journalist who may have been expecting a generic answer, but hit a pot of gold in her interviewee’s moving response.
“Agsaksakripisyoak ta kayatko laeng a magun-odda ti ar-arapaapenda ngem saan met ta sabali met ti napaspasamak. Nasakit unay ti nakemmo a nagannak ta kasta met ti nagbanagan dagiti annakko.” (I sacrificed because I wanted my children to realize their dreams, but something else happened. As a parent, I feel sad about what my children had to go through.)
Gloria hails from Barangay Bacsil in Dingras town. Manong Rolando, her “First Gentleman,” is a tobacco farmer who tills less than a hectare of land that is not theirs. The eldest among her siblings, she started working as a kasambahay at age 13. When she got married and bore kids, this devoted mother quit her job and stayed home to take care of her growing family. She gave birth to six kids. Eight years ago, however, when two of her daughters started going to college, Manang Gloria decided to stage a comeback as a househelp so she can help send them to school.
A few years ago, Gloria’s world crumbled when she found out that one of her daughters, already in third year college, got pregnant by a married man. When that happened, she could not sleep at night though tired from the day’s work. She would stare blankly at nothingness, mulling why things went wrong. She did her part, she sacrificed, she prayed hard, but why? Two months after, as if her troubles were not enough, this mother discovered that her other daughter, also in her junior year in college, was pregnant, too. Both of her girls had to quit school to take care of their young, and Gloria was totally devastated.
I received a text message from someone thanking me for an article I wrote the other week. It read, “Herdy, my son showed me your post, ‘Senator Fariñas.’ I am humbled by your kind words. Thank you so much! All in God’s time!!”
I did not know how to respond to the message. Should I have said, ‘You’re welcome, sir’? But I was only expressing my thoughts, speaking out loud about the best senator today we should have. So I put off sending a reply, and then I got busy with a lot of things, including the opening of classes and the reprinting of The He(a)rd Mentality which is now sold out in bookstores.
But the other day I got a call from a Capitol staff, asking me if they got my number right. The congressman wanted to confirm, I was told. Then I received another call from the politician’s son, checking if I received his dad’s message. Shortly after, the congressman sent another message of thanks, to which I finally decided to reply: “My pleasure, sir. Will you kindly inform us when your schedule is not so tight so we local writers and bloggers can host dinner for you soon?” It was three in the afternoon. He replied right away, inviting us for dinner that very night, and insisting that he hosts it. He said he’d invite our colleagues from radio as well, lest he be “accused of favoritism.”
So we found ourselves at the Golden Cow Restaurant in Laoag (original location was at their house in Brgy. Barit, but there was a paint job going on) for a night of spirited storytelling and sharing of insights by arguably one of the most revered politicians in the country today: Congressman Rodolfo “Rudy” Castro Fariñas, he of the Corona impeachment fame.
Apparently, it was the first time Fariñas was talking to the local media regarding his experience in the successful removal of the chief justice from office. There were, dear karikna a lot of amusing “off the record” tidbits I could not share with you, but based on them, I could surmise the following: Continue reading “As Rudy as it could get”
Sometimes, as a writer, a title for an article pops in my mind before I write the piece. And that was the case when I went to the “Himala sa Buhangin” event of the provincial government at the Paoay Sand Dunes last May 10.
It was not just that there were a lot of activities that day: a sand castle building contest, 4×4 race, zorb ball rides, installation art, sand boarding, fire and belly dancing, a free concert featuring Up Dharma Down and Wolfgang, and endless stargazing up the sky and down the sandy earth where celebrities set foot. It was the way the activity was conducted and its magnitude.
There were free rides to and from the venue. Portable toilets were available and sufficient. Security was well maintained. Stalls served delectable food. And more. I felt that preparations were really painstaking and were executed with a lot of class and much love. That’s it, dear karikna. That is what makes the difference in any event. When you feel loved and valued by the people behind it… when you feel that they went the extra mile. It was the same feeling I had in Bohol each time I went to their tourist sites’ comfort rooms that were air-conditioned and spic and span.
Capitol Media Head Jun Gudoy put the crowd at 3,000-5,000 though I could believe there was more. I observed that 70 to 80 percent of those who attended the event were local government officials and employees, barangay and SK officers, and students who were doing summer jobs in government offices. Around 20 to 30 percent, many of whom are from Paoay, went there on their free will, and that, of course, includes me and two of my cousins who were on vacation from Manila.
Cultural activist Carlos Celdran was there. And he was amazed at how much the people were enjoying the activity. He said “Himala sa Buhangin” was a true festival of the people, unlike meaningless festivals that have sprouted left and right. He offered an interesting insight, “If it is good for the people, then it must be good for the tourists,” the famous tour guide said. And I agree. Any festival must have its own people in mind. If tourists come, it must only be because they are drawn to partake in a revelry that has evolved to celebrate what is best about their community. Of all the activities organized by the province, Himala sa Buhangin has, so far, the best potential to beef up arrivals. We are gifted with a beautiful desert which we find some use for only once in a while when filmmakers shoot movies. Now, we have seen its promise. And wow!
The PBA All-stars, who added glitter to the event, surely enjoyed every bit. And the masses had a field day meeting their favorite cage players, both the veterans and the upstarts. My personal favorite was Arwind Santos who I have come to know since his FEU days. Even with fame and fortune, he has remained humble and courteous. “Very cute at mabango,” was how my niece Tintin found the beefcake. She also had a photo with ace model Borgy Manotoc.
Speaking of meat, one of the night’s surprises came from the Fort Ilocandia Chinese Restaurant booth where food was sold at insanely low prices: chicken feet (8 pcs.), one of their specialties, was priced at only 50 pesos; dumplings at 35; sushi and maki, 55; two pieces siopao, 35, and other delicacies and breads that would normally cost an arm and a leg at the five-star hotel. Plaza del Norte’s Mongolian Rice, priced at 50, was also a good deal, given its generous portions of seafood and spices.
And there was beer. It’s good when cold, and even better when free. My former student, Pinili Vice Mayor Rommel Labasan, who was in a group of officials from their town, extended me a warm handshake and a bottle of SanMig Light. Later that night, Bombo Radyo boss Tony Casimiro and officers of our local chamber of commerce headed by New India’s Dilip Mansukhani, also invited me to their table for barbecue.
Wholesome families came, too, like that of eyebrow goddess Shirley Felipe who was with her lovely kids Crystal, Edward, and Dominic. I am sure karikna loyalist and bff Tita Lita Chestnut would have enjoyed the night, too.
Governor Imee Marcos thus has all the reasons to be happy. Himala sa Buhangin was a smashing activity. In our brief chat, she joyfully mentioned her Moroccan inspiration (She studied studied French and Dialectical Arabic in Morocco) which showed in how the tents were ornately and magically designed. It was like a dream… a dreamy Arabian night.
So, we tried to take pictures at the tent’s couches occupied hours earlier by PBA players. It was already empty by then. We were having a fun time just silently taking pictures with our creative poses. But, oh, some things were too good to be true. Police officers arrived and shooed us away. It was quite embarrassing because it felt like we were doing something illegal, and in public. No, I did not do a Claudine or a Raymart, we just silently left. By providence, though, the governor happened to pass by and instructed the men in uniform, “Hayaan niyo sila, dun lang kayo sa gilid.” And then she even suggested that I lay on the couch like a sultan, which I did.
We would later learn that the police came under the instructions of a non-elective Capitol officer whose first name is similar to that of a feisty lady senator and whose surname means grass in Filipino. Some Capitol people say the lady really has some air and a tendency to be rough, mainly because she has been a powerful fixture for a long time.
But that was a forgettable incident. Still, my only regret is that I only have two thumbs, four including my toes, for I would have given ten thumbs up, or more, for that event that was really, really something.
I brought my kids to the Open Capitol activity held Feb. 2 in celebration of the 194th Founding Anniversary of the Province of Ilocos Norte. Eighty Accountancy Students enrolled in Sociology 1 (Society and Culture, which I teach) formed part of the estimated 7,000 visitors who trooped to the Capitol that day. The tour to the province’s seat of power was timely as we were just about to begin our classroom discussions on government as a social institution.
Ten years ago, I wondered in an essay why this Catholic Nation has produced only one saint so far while Thailand, Japan and China–all non-Christian countries–have more. Maybe, unlike Filipinos, I said then, people from those nations have more sensible things to do than creating miracles by desperately looking for images in the stains of tree trunks and forcing statues to shed bloody tears.
Recently, an image of a woman, believed by many as Mama Mary, reportedly appeared at the midsection of the Laoag City Sinking Bell Tower. With pictures of the ‘apparition’ circulated on Facebook, the phenomenon generated public interest, especially after it was featured on national television evening news.
Make no mistake, I love Mama Mary, and I always turn to her for guidance and protection, but, on a personal level, and with all due respect to anyone who does, I don’t believe the image is extraordinary. The blurry figure is obviously a product of stain and discoloration which any old structure, such as the 400-year old Laoag Bell Tower, would have. You can find stains anywhere and assume them to be something, anything. My friend Luvee from Pagudpud says there are also a lot of stains in their toilet wall, and, as a child, it was her hobby to spot them and identify certain images, some of them religious. Rizal Javier, a retired philosophy professor from Batac, is obviously no longer a child but he still spots some images in their restroom and has actually considered publishing those in his Facebook account. There was one problem though: he does not have a Facebook account. Continue reading “Nuestra Señora de la Mantsa: The Case of the Laoag City Bell Tower ‘Apparition’”
The bell tower of Paoay Church is defiled by a man named Michael, or by someone deeply in love with a Michael. That this graffiti has been there for over a year disturbs me. Now, there are at least two other names “inscribed” at the base of this tourist attraction. What person in a healthy state of mind would do this to a Unesco World Heritage Site?
TRIVIA: The three-storey coral stone bell tower which stands to the right of the church served as an observation post in 1896 for the Katipuneros during the Philippine revolution against the Spaniards, and again by the Filipino guerillas during the Japanese occupation in World War II.
According to historians, the bell tower also served as a status symbol for the locals. The bell would ring more loudly and more times during the wedding of a prominent clan that it would during the wedding of the poor.
I ARGUE, dear karikna, that the Ilocos Norte Tourism Office folks are the busiest bees in this part of the world. And I argue further that their queen bee, Governor Imee Marcos is Awesome with a capital A. After the successful staging of the Sineng Pambansa here in Ilocos, they initiated a series of events for Halloween, the most notable being the Parada Iloca-locana held last October 31 in Laoag, from the cemetery down to the centro.
Viewers, including my dad who sits on a wheelchair, were so happy with the event. He was even doing the high five with zombies, white ladies, and elementals. I heard others who saw the event murmur, “First time detoy aya? Nagmayat.” (This is the first time, right? Beautiful.) Beautiful, however, may seem an inappropriate term, because the parade participants were no doubt at their scariest best. But really, the event is very uplifting. It makes you feel that something good is really happening in Ilocos. Day after that, it was the eerie Tumba Festival’s turn to paint the town black in Paoay.
Did tourists come because of these recent events? No, not yet. But we are definitely moving in the right direction. We must continue to make Ilocos a fun place so guests would be enticed enough to hit the long road up North. There must always be a show to go to, a spectacle to marvel at, an experience to try, and temptations that are impossible to resist.
Okay, the title may sound hard sell at first, but you just have to talk to people who saw her in action when Typhoon Mina pounded Ilocos to believe this is apt.
“Ma’am, pahinga naman po kayo, hindi po kayo Superwoman,” a young staff had to remind Ilocos Norte Governor Imee Marcos who had a maximum two hours of sleep in the two days Mina unleashed her wrath in the Saluyot Republic.
She would be in one town talking to municipal and barangay officials one minutes and, faster than you can say “I love you, Imee,” she would be seen in yet another town consoling a widow. And these are not just photo-op visits. Manang Imee personally made calls to coordinate with various government agencies, inspected damaged infrastructure and crops, and made sure relief goods reached the intended recipients.
But believe me, dear karikna, her presence alone was even more valuable than relief goods. When Manang Imee visits a place, observes a media colleague, “people feel no longer alone and neglected… somehow, they feel safe.” Oh, yes, the lady radiates sunshine in the middle of a storm and a nasty tornado.
Young and dynamic, the Capitol’s media staff were quick to post pictures and updates on Facebook to reassure Ilocanos, here and in diaspora, that government is responding well to the situation. Deeply moved, Ilocanos in Hawaii and elsewhere showered Manang Imee’s facebook page with messages of gratitude and admiration. Continue reading “Super Imee”
SHE’S got to be today’s most loved lola in the Saluyot Republic. Many wept, some smiled. Many wept and smiled. Many wanted to hug the lady, others wished to join her for coffee. Everybody prayed for her good health. While many wanted to help the lady, the wiser ones knew that Matilda “Gretchen” Mandac, just by living a life of bliss and serenity amidst harsh realities, has already helped them.
Last week’s “The (other) Lady at the Capitol” elicited heartwarming reactions from thousands of netizens who read, liked, and shared the article posted in this blog and circulated heavily in social networking sites.
“This is tragic and yet inspiring. I have to admit my tears were flowing while reading the story. Some people have everything and yet they want more. This amazing lady is an angel. Thank you, Nana Gretchen, for opening my heart,” says Passerby, member of a famous rock band. I didn’t know he can be that cheesy. Carla Tayag, another blog visitor, had a similar sentiment, “..And here I am, whining that I can’t even buy myself a new pair of flats. I think learning about her story already helped me a lot… In fact, more than I can ever help her.” Indeed, many readers admired Nana Gretchen for her indomitable faith and strong character. To many, she exemplifies the best in the human spirit.
The bulk of reactors were young students. Kristian Ranjo, I learned, have had coffee dates with La Greta even before I wrote the story. Icko shared that part of him “died” when he learned about Nana Gretchen, but Michelle Fuerte, who saw joy in the lady’s story, wrote, “Thumbs up Nanay Gretchen, isa kang magandang modelo sa mga tao na dapat tularan at ipagmalaki. Love You.”
“I Love You, Nanay Gretchen,” actually reverberates in a number of comments. Many said their newfound hero reminds them of their departed grandparents. Those who still have their lolos and lolas pledged to love their elders even more. Continue reading “Outpour of love for La Greta”
Matilda Ricardo Mandac, 63, is a truly powerful woman, and it’s not because she has stayed and worked at the Ilocos Norte Provincial Capitol, and has seen 5 governors in a span of over three decades.
Nana Gretchen, as Mandac is popularly known (it is said that a tricycle driver named the lady, for reasons unknown to her, after actress Gretchen Barretto), has been selling cigarettes and snacks at the vicinity of the Capitol since 1980, during the term of Governor Elizabeth Marcos Keon. Over the years, she has endeared herself to a lot of people. A former governor once regarded her as “anting-anting ti kapitolyo” (amulet of the capitol).
When she still had a small stall inside the perimeter fence of the Capitol, Nana Gretchen had gross sales of around three hundred pesos a day, from which she had a net income of less than fifty pesos. However, when the Capitol had a major facelift last year, the fence had to go, and she was displaced. Today, she sits in front of the Dap-ayan, a food center near the Capitol. Left without a stall, she carries three bags: one bayong contains a couple of cigarettes packs she sells, another is filled with empty plastic bottles she gathers and later on sells at the junk shop, while a third one—a shoulder bag—contains other personal effects.
But she does not really have a lot. Not now when her daily sales have fallen to below a hundred pesos, as no one, except her old clients, knows that she is selling cigarettes. She brings out her wares when someone buys, and keeps the container immediately after. She scrambles when rain comes as she does not have a shade. She owned a broken umbrella, but lost it.
Nana Gretchen used to live with relatives in Brgy. 4, Laoag City, but was displaced by maternal kins in 2004, leaving her homeless. While she tried to seek help from the Public Attorney’s Office, she could not pursue the claim in the absence of a land title. Efforts to negotiate with her relatives failed.
And so Nana Gretchen stays at the vicinity of the Capitol, whole year round, and that includes cold Christmas Nights and New Year’s eves. She would take daily baths at a faucet in an inconspicuous part of the Capitol garden. Note, dear karikna, that it is not at all a public scandal as she does it at 3:00 a.m., when almost all of us are in deep slumber. And with her clothes on.
Nana Gretchen looks neatly dressed, but don’t get confused. With only two sets of clothes—blouse and slacks—she uses each pair every other day. It is not unusual that her clothes won’t dry enough, so she would end up sporting a wet outfit.
Buying ten pesos worth of Pan de Sal at Town Bakery every morning, the store is kind enough to pour hot water on her coffee cup (actually a reused plastic container of instant noodles). A sachet of instant coffee costs her five bucks. When her purse allows it, she would have budget lunch at a carinderia. For dinner, what dinner? She spends the long nights with an empty stomach eagerly waiting for next morning’s pan de sal.
Living in the streets comes at the cost of safety, but we already know that. And I am not only talking about typhoons and other calamities that she has to contend with. Nana Gretchen has been mauled by a mentally deranged man five times already, and counting. Her head would ache with the man’s powerful jabs, but Nana Gretchen is thankful the injuries she has sustained have not warranted a trip to the hospital.
She has not, in fact, been hospitalized all her life, and thank God. But, at her age, one could not help but worry how she would cope in the face of a serious disease. In the dark corners where she spends the night, mosquitoes abound. And it just takes one bite from a dengue vector to send anyone, rich or poor, to harm’s way.
Meantime, she nurses herself when faced with illness, aided only by a large dose of faith, which she nurtures by attending Sunday services at the Christ the King of Glory Fellowship. Holding no resentment towards God, she says she is just thankful to be alive. While Nana Gretchen admits to occasionally crying in her lonesome, she appears to have a very positive attitude. She tells herself, “saan met siguro kanayon a kastoy.” (Maybe it will not forever be this way.)
Year 1987 was a particularly trying year for Nana Gretchen. In June, she gave birth to her only child Lucky Marjorie. But the baby girl was born prematurely and lived only a few minutes. Three months after, her husband Dominador was murdered. Those two deaths in a year punctuated her chance of belonging to a family. Lone child of Simeon, a farmer, and Guillerma, housewife, Nana Gretchen is a product of a dysfunctional home. Her parents, now both deceased, parted ways when she was a baby. With her mother suffering from a mental ailment, she was then left in the care of an aunt in Dibua South, a barangay in the outskirts of Laoag City. Her aunt saw her through grade school.
Nana Gretchen has to be strong, and it is not a choice but an imperative in the urban jungle where she lives. Maybe this is the reason why some people get the impression that she is “mataray,” an impression I also had before I talked to her. And so while hers is one of my dream interviews, I dilly-dallied in doing it. But then I finally found myself one afternoon sitting a few meters away from her in front of the Dap-ayan. Looking at her, I felt intimidated. While I have done interviews with people of prominence, I was clueless how to approach the lady. Noticing my stare, she responded with a warm smile. What a joy! It did not take long before I warmed up to the lady, and, before I knew it, she began talking about life.
The reason I am drawn to Nana Grechen is that, unlike Christopher Lao—the bratty UP alumnus who blamed government for his failure to realize that his car is not a submarine that can traverse deep bodies of water—Nana Gretchen does not feel that anyone, her government included, owes her anything. Not demanding help, she just quietly strives to earn a living for herself. All that she has formally claimed from government is a senior citizen’s card that she does not really find any use for. As for Governor Imee Marcos whose renovation project consequently affected her livelihood, Nana Gretchen only has respect and admiration. She concedes that the Capitol lawn, without the fence and her stall in it, looks better. “Personal sacrifice for the public good,” is a principle she understands more than most politicians I know. The Dap-ayan is also expected to be renovated soon, but that is another problem she wants to face on another day.
Her toothless smile may conceal it, but I know how difficult it must be to be in her shoes. My heart breaks when I see old people live in miserable conditions. People who have toiled all their lives deserve the pleasure of simply enjoying the good life—say, play mahjong and bingo while waiting for pension, or, for the religious, like my mom, spend as much time as they want in church. Yet Nana Gretchen harbors neither bitterness nor envy. And no, not pride. While she does not beg, she would not refuse a sandwich when offered by a kind stranger.
“That kind of fulfillment is something that I envy. I wish I have that kind of bliss and serenity,” says my friend Jun during a few rounds of SanMig Light on a Friday night, and I couldn’t agree more.
Nana Gretchen reminds us of sheer pleasure in little things—of owning an umbrella, of wearing dry clothes, and of simply being able to take a bath in naked glory.
At the end of the interview, I gave her a tight hug, and I felt power and wealth that could only come from the inside.
Hindi ako mahilig makinig sa mga talumpati ng mga pulitiko. Karamihan kasi sa mga ito ay nakakabobo, nakakatorta ng utak. ‘Yung iba nga, mukhang maging sila ay hindi naiintindihan ang pinagsasasabi; malamang ay ipinagawa lang nila ang kanilang speech sa pipitsuging ghost writer na nangongopya lang naman mula sa Internet. At madalas, halos kalahati ng speech ay pagbati sa mga ibang opisyal at VIP na dumalo sa okasyon, walang patumanggang paghihimuran ng puw*t.
Subali’t busog na busog ako sa aking pagdalo sa State of the Province Address (SOPA) ni Manang Imee noong nakaraang Miyerkules, June 29, sa Ilocano Heroes Hall. At nabusog ako bago pa man inihain ang meryenda.
Napakahusay ng pagkakasulat ng pinakaunang SOPA dito sa Ilocos Norte, at binigyang buhay ito ng flawless na pagbigkas ng minamahal na punong lalawigan.
Alam niyo naman, mahal na karikna, at ‘di ko itatanggi na lubos ang aking pagmamahal at paggalang sa gobernadora, gaya ng pagmamahal ng isang uugod-ugod na Noranian kay Nora. Continue reading “Imeemadness”