A thousand words for a house in Balangiga

September 3, 2013 by  
Filed under article, features


A famous house in Balangiga, Eastern Samar. Photo by Gloria Esguerra Melencio

By Hernan S. Melencio

(philippinehistory.ph publishes this article in memory of the Samareños who died during the Balangiga Encounter in September 1901)

An old wooden house sits at a street corner like an aging man silently waiting the passing of time and helplessly watching his remaining strength slip from grip. The shutterless windows of the upper floor, the falling doors below, the dilapidated walls that are barely clinging to its sides indicate the absence of human habitation, or the complete surrender of whoever lives there to the ravages of time, much like the relatives of a poor cancer patient staring at each other in indecision, wishing for somebody to pull the plug.

It is a cold September day in 2009 and the late afternoon sun casts a long shadow through a gray sky. Judging from the painted concrete houses in the neighborhood, the street is in a middle class community. It is empty of kids and people doing errands at this particular time. You can tell by the materials used and the corner where it stands that the house, despite its present squalid condition, was once owned by a person of modest wealth. Such house in the early 1900s could have been painted in bright colors and sported windows of wood and capiz shells. You could see such old houses in various places and in various stages of degradation.

It could just be any house in any town in any province in the Philippines. But this one is not just any house. It’s the house of Valeriano Abanador of Balangiga town in Eastern Samar.

Yes, Balangiga. The “howling wilderness” and the home of the famous church bells the Americans took as war booty during the Filipino-American War of 1899-1902.

This photo was taken the same month 108 years ago in 1901 when Valeriano Abanador, the police chief of Balangiga, led a surprise attack on 74 American soldiers, killing 48 of them. Of the 26 who survived, only four came out without severe wounds. Many of the Americans were veterans of the Boxer rebellion in China and the officers were graduates of West Point. So imagine the humiliation the American occupiers felt after the defeat, which the US press described as “terrible.”

At this time, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo had already sworn his allegiance to the United States following his capture in March 1901. This act supposedly ended the war with the Americans but many Katipunan members refused to surrender and continued the revolution; among them Gen. Vicente Lukban of Samar and Leyte. However, Lukban had nothing to do with the Balangiga attack as it was an independent plot by the residents of the town pissed off by the presence of abusive Americans.

The following month after the Balangiga attack, the Americans retaliated in what would go down in history as – you guessed it – the “Balangiga Massacre.” In October 1901, a red-faced and irate US general named Jacob Smith ordered his men to turn Samar into “a howling wilderness” and kill everyone over ten years old. Of course, the rebels had already fled into the mountains, leaving only the civilians in the area.

General “Howling Jake” Smith’s order went thus: “I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn; the more you kill and burn, the better it will please me… The interior of Samar must be made a howling wilderness.” – Wikipedia, downloaded 20 June 2013, 1:57 pm, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balangiga_massacre

Nobody knows the exact number of people killed in the massacre; an American researcher says 2,500 Filipino males were killed (not accounting for women and children) but Filipino historians put the death toll at 50,000 men, women and children. Animals, like carabaos and chickens, were not spared during the American rampage.

Of course, for the Americans, Balangiga massacre was the slaughter of their own soldiers who were having breakfast by “Balangigaons” in the morning of September 28, 1901. Filipino historians, however, call this the “Balangiga incident” as the real massacre happened after this.

The Balangiga incident was an act against the atrocities committed by the American occupiers on Filipinos, like forced labor, detention, seizure of food supply and molestation of women. The night before the incident, according to historians, a funeral procession was held by women carrying a number of small coffins. An American sentry was said to have become suspicious and opened the first coffin. Finding a dead baby and hearing the women crying “cholera,” he immediately closed the coffin, let the women go and watched them enter the church.

It turned out the “women” were men in disguise. Had the soldier inspected the rest of the coffins he would have found guns and bolos inside.

“About 500 in seven attack units would take part. They represented virtually all families of Balangiga, whose outlying villages then included the present towns of Lawaan and Giporlos, and of Quinapundan, a town served by the priest in Balangiga,” wrote Prof. Rolando O. Borrinaga. – Dumimdin, Arnaldo (2006) Philippine-American War, 1899-1902, http://philippineamericanwar.webs.com/balangigamassacre1901.htm

They made women and children leave the town after midnight before the attack for safety, according to Borrinaga. A US soldier noticed the strange activity and reported it to his superiors but he was ignored.

The church bells rang to signal the attack (which may explain the US soldiers’ desire to later take the bells as war trophies).

News of the Filipinos’ “savagery” reached the US, prompting President Theodore Roosevelt to order his generals to adopt the “most stern measures to pacify Samar.” US newspaper editors called the Balangiga incident the biggest defeat suffered by the US army since the Battle of the Little Big Horn, also known as Custer’s Last Stand, in 1876.

Abanador, the leader of the Balangiga attack, survived Smith’s “kill-and-burn” Samar campaign and died of old age in late 1950s.

The house in the photo must have been built shortly after General Lukban’s surrender to the Americans in 1902, paving the way for the leaders of the conflict to surface. A statue of Abanador now stands at the municipal plaza of Balangiga. The town mayor had said there were plans to renovate Abanador’s house and turn it into a museum.


Armstrong’s small step a giant leap for humanity

August 27, 2012 by  
Filed under News

When man first harnessed fire, no one recorded it. When the Wright Brothers showed man could fly, only a handful of people witnessed it. But when Neil Armstrong took that first small step on the moon in July 1969, an entire globe watched in grainy black-and-white from 400,000 kilometers away.

We saw it. We were part of it. He took that “giant leap for mankind” for us.

Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, in undated photo provided by NASA. His family says he has died at age 82.

Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk on the moon, in undated photo provided by NASA. His family says he has died at age 82.

Although more than half of the world’s population wasn’t alive then, it was an event that changed and expanded the globe.

“It’s a human achievement that will be remembered forever,” said John Logsdon, professor emeritus of space policy at George Washington University. Those first steps were beamed to nearly every country around the world, thanks to a recently launched satellite. It was truly the first global mass media event, Logsdon said. An estimated 600 million people — 1 out of every 5 on the planet — watched.

The two historical events likely to be long remembered from the 20th Century are the moon landing and the first atomic bomb, said Smithsonian Institution space curator Roger Launius.

“There is no way to overestimate that significance in human history and he is forever linked to that,” Launius said of Armstrong, who died Saturday at age 82.

Just as the voyage of Christopher Columbus split historic eras 500 years ago, so will Neil Armstrong and Apollo 11, said Rice University historian Douglas Brinkley, a specialist in 20th Century history.

“We may be living in the age of Armstrong,” said Brinkley, who conducted oral histories for NASA, including sessions with Armstrong.

The late science fiction author Arthur C. Clarke wrote that the Apollo 11 moon landing was “one of the great divides in human history; we are sundered from it forever by the moment when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin stepped out on to the Sea of Tranquility. Now history and fiction have become inexorably intertwined.”

Since that day, there’s been a common phrase: “If we can send a man to the moon, why can’t we … ?” with the blank filled with a task that seems far less difficult.

SOURCE: AP on gulfnews.com


Images of Calle Colon: Evoking Memories of a Cebuano Street

November 10, 2010 by  
Filed under article, features

By Rhodalyn C. Wani

Calle Colon, c. 1910. (Photograph courtesy of Cebuano Studies Center.)

Calle Colon, c. 1910. (Photograph courtesy of Cebuano Studies Center.)

Within the heart of the downtown district of Cebu City lies Calle Colon, a street that continually evokes memories in the minds of many Cebuanos. In this street, which has been home to aging yellowish and gray buildings, the hustle and bustle of everyday life is evident in the persistent blaring of horns from jeepneys, the infernal haggling of vendors and their customers over articles such as belts, shoes, and other ornaments, and the excited giggles and laughter of students walking towards their schools. In this street that has borne witness to the city’s long history, various nooks and crannies speak softly of rich and colorful narratives of the Cebuano and his urban identity.

As a child, I had walked down this street, clinging dearly to my mother’s arm as she warned me against sly pickpockets or the more blatant snatchers. I had watched fascinated at the seemingly deft expertise shoe shiners and jewelry cleaners poured into their crafts. Not far away, an occasional tartanilla clip-clopped along the street capturing the attention and amazement of a young and curious mind such as mine. This was my first memory of Calle Colon.

Through the years, Calle Colon continued to exist in my mind as a vivid image of a street with dark back alleys riddled with prowling pickpockets or snatchers. Little did I know that my own image of Colon was only one amongst many others that Cebuanos had of this historic street.

Much more than this, my succeeding re-acquaintance with the street would lead me to realize that these various images evoked through individual memories not only provided a glimpse of Colon’s rich and colorful history but helped weave a story of the Cebuano coming to grips with his urban identity as well.

This paper attempts to explore the various images of Colon as illustrated in the memories of individual Cebuanos have of this street. Fourteen in-depth interviews conducted from the period of December 2005 to October 2007 will be examined in detail. Primary and secondary literature will also be used to supplement existing data found in the interviews.

Community of Chinese Traders

Calle Colon is located within the district of Parian,  and thus, the former’s early history is inextricably linked with the latter. The earliest account we have on the existence of Parian comes from a Jesuit priest, Pedro Chirino, assigned to administer missionary activities in Cebu during the late 16th century and early 17th century. Writing in 1595, Chirino described the formation of three distinct communities in Cebu: a community of Spaniards located near the pier, a community of locals found in the southwest, and a community of approximately two hundred Chinese (“two hundred souls”) living to the north of Fort San Pedro.  Although by no means the first group of Chinese to have disembarked in Cebu, this group is distinguished for being among the first to establish a permanent settlement in the area.

Much similar to their predecessors, the Chinese in Parian lived primarily through the trade they conducted while traversing the length of the Parian estero. Early maps of Cebu show the Parian estero flowing from the northeast at Tinago, gently lolling to the west, swooping down south to an area near Ermita and San Nicolas, and finally returning to the sea. Interestingly, Calle Colon runs parallel to the Parian estero and although early Spanish accounts fail to mention a specific street in this area, it is not hard to imagine the existence of a primitive pathway used by the Chinese as they fared along their day-to-day trading activities.

Although the Parian estero has since silted up, the memory of it being once navigable and used by Chinese traders has remained to this day. Cebuano folklorist, Abellana, for example, mentioned the commerce that abounded on this estero in his search for the pre-Spanish Cebuano. This market place (Parian) was bounded by the Parian and Tinago esteros which were navigable before. At Parian estero, Sampans or flat-bottom boats which were loaded with different merchandise were able to be flowed up to the vicinity of the Oriente Theater today.3

Another vivid portrayal comes from a former resident of Colon, who once remembered this flowing estero, no doubt reliving a memory passed down to her from older generations. Centuries ago, the Estero de Parian was wide and deep, its water flowing constantly. Sailing vessels loaded with merchandise from such exotic places as Siam, Arabia, and China navigated the waterway that snaked west to east, traversing the three streets of Old Parian.

It is this same image of active Chinese traders in Parian that has been carried over to describe Calle Colon’s early history. A more recent Asean Summit held in Cebu in 2007, for example, portrayed Colon as an early community for the Chinese. Bold, large and red lanterns were strewn up carefully along the buildings, while dancers dressed in Chinese costumes eagerly paraded the length of the street.

This image of Colon as a community of Chinese traders has lived through the times.

Sometimes pushed out of the spotlight to make room for more contemporary images of Colon, it has nevertheless resurfaced time and time again to aid the Cebuano in his search for the early beginnings of Calle Colon.

Home of the Chinese Mestizo Gentry

Teatro Oriente before the outbreak of World War II. (From Mojares, Casa Gorordo, p. 31.)

Teatro Oriente before the outbreak of World War II. (From Mojares, Casa Gorordo, p. 31.)

Trade in Cebu, however, was not a continuous process of progression and it had its fair share of ups and downs. By the end of the 16th century and for approximately two centuries thereafter, trade in the island had noticeably decreased as the lucrative galleon trade in Manila increased in dominance. A short-lived attempt by the Spaniards in Cebu to engage in the galleon trade from 1594 to 1604 temporarily stimulated trade, but ended dismally as several decrees on what type of goods could be trafficked heavily restricted merchants from benefitting fully from the trade.

The effect of the trade stagnating during this time had drastic effects in Cebu. Many Spanish merchants, looking for better opportunities, opted to move to Manila and engage in the galleon trade there. In fact by 1738, there were only one or two Spaniards left living in Cebu who were not priests or administrators.  In addition to the weakening trade in Cebu, a series of decrees propagated in 1760 expelling the Chinese from the Philippines also brought the number of Chinese living in Parian down to 18 to 25. Cebu, relegated to becoming an “economically depressed backwater” at this time, was observed by 18th century travelers as a “small village” or an “assemblage of a few miserable huts.”

Meanwhile, by the 19th century, Parian and its surroundings began to go through a transformation of its own. The Parian estero, once a flowing waterway used by enterprising merchants, began to silt up and make transportation of goods more and more difficult. Hence, as the commercial value of the area began to decrease with the drying up of a major waterway, Parian transformed into a predominantly residential area for a new growing class of Chinese mestizos who would later play an integral role in the economic boom experienced by the city in the late 19th century.

Our next image of Colon primarily comes from this period of Colon’s history when Parian’s geographical transformation marked the beginnings of a Chinese mestizo gentry residing in the area. Distinct Cebuano families with Chinese-mestizo backgrounds such as the Osmeñas, Climacos, Velosos and Gantuangcos to name only a few, made their homes in large houses lining up Colon and created a community of close-knit members affiliated by blood or marriage.

The Chinese mestizos’ balay na tisa, a house built with a combination of wood and stone, exemplified the quintessential Filipino house. Typically two-story in structure, the main living area was found on the upper level of house, while the lower level served as a work or storage space for the family. Windows were made of wood and capiz shells and lined up below with ventanillas, or small shuttered windows instrumental in making the insides of the houses breezier.

A former resident of Colon once described the houses found in the area: Parian’s old houses had a dignity all their own (…) These ancestral homes were made of limestone blocks, enormous posts of durable molave, likewise molave walls, and attractive red-tile roofs (…) The windows of Colon houses were of sturdy wooden frames and pretty lampirong or capiz panes. The sliding panels of wood were easily opened and closed. It was very cool within our homes… Most, if not all, houses in Colon had an open and roofless space called the azotea. Although usually found as an extension of the main house, the azoteas of Colon’s houses were found on the rooftop of the house itself. Newly-washed clothes were often hung up to dry in these azoteas, but aside from this practical purpose, the azoteas served as a space for entertainment.

Just as the houses in Colon gave the street a unique appearance, its residents, too, played a unique role in shaping much of Cebu’s affairs in the late 19th century. Many Chinese mestizo families engaged in several commercial activities connected with the production of cash crops such as sugar, abaca, and cotton, while others went on to form successful business firms and served as agents for a burgeoning number of foreign commercial houses in Cebu.

By the turn of the century, Colon was home to a distinct community of Chinese mestizo gentry who played integral roles in shaping much of Cebu’s modern society. Dotting the historic street with their lavish and luxurious houses, these homes have come to epitomize another rich image of Colon, a portrait of times when life was much simpler yet more bountiful.

Flourishing Center of Cebuano Theaters and Cinemas

Along with an increase in economic activities in Cebu came a greater appreciation for the theater arts. The early 20th century marked another point in Colon’s history as numerous theaters flourished in the street. Showcasing several Cebuano talents in play-writing and acting, Cebuanos visited Colon primarily to watch and enjoy the increasingly popular dulaang binisaya. With the advent of “talkies” during the 1930s, the theaters in Colon slowly transformed into cinemas, and although the outbreak of World War II in 1942 wrought massive destruction in the area, these cinemas rose from the ashes and continued to proliferate well into the 1980s.

One famous theater found at the junction of Colon and Osmeña Boulevard at the turn of the 20th century was the Teatro Junquera (or Teatro Oriente as it was came to be known later on). Built in 1886 by Inocencio Junquera Huergo y Sanchez on a lot formerly owned by Rafael Veloso, the theater has changed ownership from Pedro Rivera-Mir, Leopold Falek, until finally falling into the hands of Jose Avila. Most famous for having staged the first modern dulaang binisiya, “Gugma sa Yutang Natawhan” by Vicente Sotto in 2 January 1902, the theater has since then become home to the works of famous Cebuano playwrights such as Piux A. Kabahar and Buenaventura Rodriguez.

Another theater standing close to the corner of Colon and Osmeña Boulevard was Cinema Royo, which was built on a former cockpit owned by Pedro Royo. Although considered as the cheapest theater in its time (each ticket was priced at 5 centavos, while other theaters charged 20 centavos per ticket), its seats, unfortunately, had no back support and were uncomfortable.

Nevertheless, the theater still became a favorite venue for much-awaited boxing matches. Vision Theater was another distinct structure found in Colon during this time. Built by Agustin Jereza, its famous facade of naked women sculpted by Italian artist Dante Guidetti proved controversial upon its inception. Most famous now for being the only pre-war building left standing in Colon, its walls have borne witness to other historic events. In 1938, for example, the first Cebuano talking motion picture,“Bertoldo-Balodoy,” was premiered in this theater. A few years later, with World War II looming over the archipelago, the USAFFE forces set their headquarters here as well. At the heyday of its existence, Vision Theater proudly hailed its status as the “reyna sa mga sinihan sa Kabisayaan ug Mindanaw.”

As World War II broke out in Cebu in 1942, fleeing Americans bombed several parts of the city. Fires razed buildings in Colon to the ground and the only structure that remained standing was the Vision Theater. Residents rushed to gather their belongings for what many believed to a be a few days of intermittent battling with the Japanese forces, but proved to be a three-year long exodus into the northern and southern towns. Many returned to Colon after the war not to rebuild their homes, but instead to lease their lots to several businesses. The war ended Colon’s predominantly residential character of the former years and paved the way open to a purely commercial district in later years.

The period after the war saw the continued proliferation of numerous cinemas in Colon. In addition to pre-war theaters such as Teatro Oriente and Vision Theater, as many as twenty cinemas were built in Colon during this time. With cinemas such as Cebu Theater, King Theater, Lane Theater, Majestic Theater, Star Theater, Venus Theater, Premiere, President, Cinema, Eden, Superama, Cinerama, Ultra Vistarama, Seven Arts and Victor, Cebuanos acquired a taste not only for Hollywood and Chinese films, but local films as well.

At a time when entertainment could only be found in cinemas, Colon served as an avenue for Cebuanos seeking a few moments of enjoyment. The theaters and cinemas flourishing in Colon constitute another image of Colon reminisced fondly by many Cebuanos. As one Cebuano journalist aptly put it, “The theaters were the lifeblood of Cebu City in the past. Because entertainment alone before was only in theaters. Wa gyu’y lain.”

Bustling Business District

The changing nature of Colon after World War II was also marked by a significant growth in business establishments in the street. In fact, from 1950 to 1985, more than one hundred establishments were noted to have been found in the street. Ranging from restaurants and bakeries to shoe shops and pawnshops, Cebuanos went to Colon to do most of their shopping. Colon’s commercial role during this period rose to such a point that one journalist observed, “The greater postwar city shifted her business core to modern Calle Colon.”

One famous establishment found in Colon at thistime was the Elite (e-läyt) Bakery. Situated at the corner of Colon and Osmeña Boulevard, the bakery was popular for its tasty French bread and ube jam. Until well into the 1980s, the bakery continued to be managed by the Osmeñas.17

La Madrid Cafe was another establishment popular with the Cebuanos during the post-war years. Standing in between the Teatro Oriente and Majestic, it began as a small “nook” selling popcorn to moviegoers. Cebuano politicians and journalists of the post-war years also found their own haven in a restaurant known as Chocolate House. Situated in front of the Reynes’ home near the corner of Colon and Pelaez, these personalities were often seen chatting and debating the night away while digging into the restaurant’s specialties, tsokolate and waffles.

By the 1970s, department stores such as Gazini Plaza, Metro Gaisano, Gaisano South, Gaisano Main, Fairmart, Gaw, and Rositas began sprouting in Colon and marked a significant point in the Cebuano’s shopping lifestyle. For the first time, the convenience of being able to shop in a single building came within the grasps of Cebuanos and this made the department stores along Colon not only popular but successful as well.

The decades from the 1950s to the 1980s witnessed an increase in commercial activities in Colon. In fact, Cebuanos have often pinpointed Colon’s “glory” to this period. Bustling with commercial activity with shoppers moving to and fro, this image of Colon’s commercial dominance holds a unique place in the Cebuano’s memory. As one businessman described: ‘Tong una. Wa, it’s like a big mall. Oo, puno ug tawo. Rich and poor maglakaw sa Colon. Labang-labang. Like musulod didto sa Gaisano, after that, mubalhin na pud ngadto sa pikas. Mubalhin na pud another mall. Balhin na pud another store. Like Hong Kong. Then, kaon ko’g restaurant. Tan-aw ko’g sine. Everything was here. Naa gyud sa Colon.”

“Declining” Center of Commerce

By the late 1980s and early 1990s, Calle Colon once again went through a transformation. The previous decades of bustling commercial activities seemingly began to take its toll on the street as buildings began to take on a worn-out look and sidewalks slowly became dirtier. Vendors made their appearance more permanent during this time as they peddled their wares in various spots along the street. Petty crimes began to rise as several reports of theft began to proliferate. Traffic, which was previously never a problem in Colon, suddenly gave the city government much to worry about as they shuffled back and forth between policies on making traffic on the street one-way, two-way, or one-way once again.

On the commercial sphere, a noticeable change in the nature of businessmen and clients arose as well. Larger businesses moved to uptown areas as the process of “suburbanization” began to take place in the city, while smaller businessmen remained to open shop in Colon. Shoppers from the higher brackets of society also visited Colon less and less as larger malls outside the downtown district gained immense popularity. Colon, by this time, continued to enjoy patronage, but mostly from shoppers who were now searching for a “good buy for less money.”

This period has often been referred to as a point of “decline” in Colon’s history and it is this image I had of Colon as I was growing up. Others, though, have expressed disagreement to such a view and have instead described a “changing nature” in Colon. Proponents of this latter view have pointed out that commerce still continues to thrive in Colon, albeit on the aspect of selling raw goods or selling goods wholesale. In other words, Colon continues to be alive with activity, only of a different sort from those seen in the previous decades.

Nevertheless, the image of degradation and “decline” in Colon continues to be a strong one up to the present, and it is an image that current heritage workers in Colon wish to change. Groups such as the W.I.L. Hapsay Sugbo Foundation and the Cebu Downtown Revitalization Project both gaze back sentimentally on a “long, lost glory of Colon” and through heritage projects and commercial activities, have taken the first bold steps in fostering a deeper appreciation for the historic street. Much has still to be done, yet given Colon’s long history of resiliency, the future can only hold infinite possibilities of change.

Symbol of Cebuano Heritage

From a community of Chinese traders, a home for the Chinese mestizo gentry, a flourishing center of theaters and cinemas, a bustling business district, to a “declining” center of commerce, Calle Colon has undoubtedly transformed itself time and time again. The various images of the street distinguished not only from its long, drawn-out history but also from the numerous narratives told and retold, echo deeply of a heritage shared by generations of Cebuanos.

Aging yellowish and gray buildings may characterize our Colon of today, yet all around are signs of life steadily pulsating, reminiscent of age-old yet modern values, raw and beautiful at the same time, as Cebuanos continue to immerse themselves in the sights and sounds of altering states of urbanity.

(Published in Philippine Quarterly of Culture and Society, Vol. 37, March 2009 No.1, Cebu City: University of San Carlos Publications, Pages: 1-18)



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Savellon, Romola. Interview by author, 23 April 2007, Cebu City.

Segura, Manuel S. Interview by author, 17 March 2006, Cebu City.

Sotto-Yuvienco, Suga. Interview by author, 30 December 2005, Cebu City. Tape recording.

Surban, Nita. Interview by author, 15 February 2007, Cebu City.

Tomalabcad, Henry P. Interview by author, 24 April 2007, Cebu City.


Asocena: History of Dog Meat-Eating in the Philippines

October 1, 2010 by  
Filed under article

Asocena: History of Dog Meat-Eating in the Philippines
(For the human family members of Spot, White Fang, Dikdik, Mutya, Thunder, Popsy Puppy, Dots, Isis, Bulak and other dogs)

By Gloria Esguerra Melencio

Warning: Some parts of this article are graphically violent. The author has to write it the way it was described by those who witnessed it.

Curiosity does not kill
Who, when, where, and why did the dog meat-eating in the Philippines start? What is its cultural background? What is its implication in the identity of the Filipino nation? What are its effects on human beings? These are only some of the questions this paper will address along the way.

Some peoples of Latin America, China, Taiwan, Korea, Vietnam, Thailand and the Philippines eat dog meat as some peoples of Belgium, France and other European countries regard horse meat as a delicacy.

Various cultures view dog meat-eating in different ways. While it is said that famous actress Brigitte Bardot had accused the Koreans as “barbarians” because of their penchant for dog meat, Professor Yong Geun Ann of the Chungcheong College in Korea retaliated back with his pointing fingers at the French for dog meat-eating during the Franco-Prussian War.

Americans and other western cultures are shocked at viande de chevaline of Belgium and at the boucheries chevalines of France. They are as terrorized at the Philippines’ asocena or at Korea’s bo-shintang and boekum .

Besides Asians, some peoples of Latin America also eat dog meat. The ancient Aztecs of Mexico domesticate a hairless breed of dog called Xoloitzquintli for their food consumption. This breed has become extinct nowadays.

Brigitte Bardot’s ceaseless campaign against horse meat-eating until her death was extremely difficult because its eating has already spread worldwide: Italians have the pastissada (boiled) and pizzeti di cavallo (pressurized horse feet); Japanese have the basashi (spread on bread), yakiniku (barbecue), and baniku (skewed horse meat); Dutch have paardenrookvlees (smoked horse meat for breakfast); Swiss have the fondue bourguignonne ( ice cream from horse meat); and the Germans have the sauerbraten (sweet-sour braised horse meat as its traditional ingredient).

Debates in the Philippines as to the correctness of eating dog meat caught media attention when the Animal Welfare Act (Republic Act 8485) prohibiting killing of dogs and eating dog meat was passed into law in 1998.

The issue has become murky that even President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo unknowingly asked Baguio City Mayor Braulio Yaranon while hosting a state dinner in her Baguio official residence The Mansion in 2006 New Year’s day:”Dog meat keeps you warm, does it?”

Dinner discussion strayed to dog meat when Mayor Yaranon was explaining how to grill gigantic one meter-winged bats in La Union. The President who hails from Pampanga known for exotic foods such as fried locusts, fermented crabs and roasted lizard, among others, apparently has no knowledge of the intricacies of eating dog meat and has even defended it based on her question.

Who, when and where did dog killing start in the Philippines?

Felix M. Keesing in his book Taming Philippine Headhunters traces dog killing from 6,000 to 8,000 years ago more or less in the Cordilleras. He says:

“Perhaps six to eight thousand years ago, according to Professor Beyer’s estimate, there came by sea in canoes a folk to whom he gives the rather formal name “Type A Indonesian” (page 43) …The dog seems to be their only domesticated animal, and was apparently used – as it is today – for religious sacrifices and ceremonial feastings (page 45).

Long before Spain colonized the Philippines, our Malay ancestors had already been domesticating dogs for their personal needs. Another exposition reads:

“Culturally, the Malays were more advanced than the Negritoes, for they possessed the Iron Age culture. They introduced into the Philippines both lowland and highland methods of rice cultivation, including the system of irrigation; the domestication of animals (dogs, fowls and carabaos)…”

Blair and Robertson’s Philippine Islands says that the natives had killed dogs during 17th century Spanish colonization. According to their book:
“..they get some gold, though in very small quantity, and with what they get in one way or another, they descend in peace to the towns nearest them to barter cows or cattle, and these are the ones they eat in their public gatherings with the aforesaid solemnity, since neither for these gatherings nor for their sustenance do they breed any kind of cattle or other living things whatsoever except some very wretched little dogs which we have often had a chance to see.”

William Henry Scott in his book Discovery of the Igorots, however, made no mention of dogs during rituals up north. He only mentions pigs, carabaos and cows that the Igorots slaughtered for offerings. They were a symbol of wealth. The more skulls of animals stuck on sticks or hang outside of houses, the wealthier the Igorots.

What Igorots most often slaughtered as offering in rituals were chickens and pigs in the recent past. Insides of opened up animals were analyzed intently based on the shapes of the internal organs and directions of the intestines. From this reading, they make a conclusion whether they will win or lose the battle.

However, Filipino American Historical Society founding president Dr. Virgilio R. Pilapil wrote in his essay Dogtown USA: An Igorot Legacy in the Midwest disclosed how the Igorots started to be known to eat dog meat in St. Louis World’s Fair 1904.

This world fair was also called Lousiana Purchase Exposition to commemorate the 100th anniversary of USA’s purchase of Lousiana from France. It was the biggest and longest of all expositions that occurred in the world during that time. Joining the seven-month exposition were 45 countries with representatives from 50 tribes who lived in 1,500 buildings that were built on 1, 275 acres of land for six years.

Dr. Pilapil wrote that 1,100 Filipinos joined the Philippine Exhibit. Members of the Philippine delegation were Igorots who wore beautifully colored G-strings and later became known not only for their exotic dances with their gong beats but for their believed habit of eating dog meat. Dr Pilapil further discloses:

“The head-hunting, dog-eating Igorots were the greatest attraction at the Philippine Exhibit, not only because of their novelty, the scanty dressing of the males and their daily dancing to the tom-tom beats, but also because of their appetite for dog meat which is a normal part of their diet.

The city of St. Louis provided them a supply of dogs at the agreed amount of 20 dogs a week, but this did not appear to be sufficient, as they had also encouraged local people to bring them dogs which they bought to supplement their daily needs.

The poaching of dogs became so common in the area near the Igorot Village such that the neighborhood was warned to watch for their dogs; even then, many dogs were disappearing in this neighborhood, angering and upsetting many people.

There were obviously many people who objected to the supplying of dogs to the Igorots, particularly the St. Louis Women’s Humane Society, but there were also many people, perhaps much more, who sympathized with the Igorot’s need for dog meat.

As one Missourian, who had been to the Philippines and realized the difficulty of not being able to eat the food that one is used to, noted, “Every dog has his day, and every man his meat.” He donated 200 fat Missouri dogs to the Igorots!”

After this world fair experience, a small village in the southern part of Forest Park where the exposition in St. Louis, Missouri was held came to be known as Dogtown. This was later burned but another place, also in St. Louis, was renamed Dogtown.

High school students of Wydon Middle School in Dogtown baptized their annual yearbook as the Igorrote Yearbook in 1937. The Igorrote Football Team was also formed in 1974.
Dr. Pilapil likewise revealed that the word hotdog came from dog meat eating of the Igorots during the world fair. He further states in his essay:

“It first appeared at the St. Louis World’s Fair among several other firsts such as the first ice cream cone, the first iced tea, the first Olympic Games in America (Third World Olympics), the first sliced bread, and the first coin changer. Even though many people will claim that the hot dog has been known for a long time before the St. Louis World’s Fair, it is not so.

What was known, even as early as the late Middle Ages in Europe, was the making of sausages and it was a German butcher, Johann Georg Lahner, who developed prototypes in Frankfurt and later in Vienna, that were called frankfurter and wiener.

These franks, along with other types of sausages, were later brought to America by German immigrants in the nineteenth century. In New York, in 1900, a concessionaire sold a Lahner-type frank tie called a “Dachsund sausage” that was later sketched by a cartoonist in the form of a dachsund in a roll.

However, it was not until the St. Louis World’s Fair that a sausage-on-a-bun was made up to be called the “hot dog” for the first time. It is evident that sausages were known for a long time and were called by various names, but it was the St. Louis World’s Fair that gave the name “hot dog” to America.

Why was it called a hot dog instead of the already known names with which it has been associated? Was it because the sausage was made of dog meat? No, certainly not. The American public would just be horrified at the time to think of eating dog meat.

Was it then because the sausage was crafted to look like a dog or the bun shaped into the form of a dog? Again, the answer is no. Then why was it called a hot dog when there is nothing that could be associated with a dog in a hot dog? To me the answer is simple.

We have said earlier that St. Louis World’s Fair was the greatest of expositions that there ever was. We also said that the Philippine Exhibit was the largest one at the Fair and was considered as a Fair within a Fair.

Then we also said that the Igorots were the top attraction at the Philippine exhibit, not only because of their primitive skimpy attire and their constant dancing, but also because of their dog-eating custom.

The city supplied them with dogs and they also bought dogs from the neighborhood, in addition to receiving donations of dogs from other sources, for their food supply. The people in the neighborhood near the Igorot Village were concerned, upset, and angered at times because of the disappearance of dogs in their neighborhood.

The people in the city of St. Louis and surrounding areas were engaged in an on-going debate about the use of dogs by the Igorots. This was evident in the newspapers of the day which carried regular news, letters, and comments concerning the eating of dogs by the Igorots.

In short, the atmosphere in and around the Fair and in the newspaper media was saturated by the thoughts of the dog-eating custom of the Igorots. Their dog-eating activities at the Fair had been referred to as the “Bow-Wow Feast” and we may look at it now as the first “Bow-Wow Feast” in America by the Igorots.

I have no doubt that the name “hot dog” was picked as a label for the sausage-on-a-bun to attract the attention of potential customers at the Fair by riding on the popularity of the eating of dogs by the Igorots, which had inspired the creation of the name.

Thus, it would appear that in the hot dog, the sausage is German, the sausage-on-a-bun is an American label inspired by the dog-eating custom of the Igorots.”

“We are Igorots but we do not eat dogs”

Philippine tinseltown analysts say that the victory of Marky Cielo of Mountain Province as the Ultimate Star struck Survivor of GMA’s Channel 7 in March 2006 can be traced to his pride in saying “Igorotak!” ( I am an Igorot). Endearingly called Marky by his friends and Buknoy by his family, Cielo got the highest number of votes in the history of this television contest.

His being an Igorot was applauded but created a question among many Filipinos and people around the world: “Does he eat dogs?” Buknoy’s father, artist and educator Avelino Cielo gave a straightforward answer: “Hindi kami kumakain ng aso” (We do not eat dogs).

Earlier, Bing A. Dawang, Igorot editor of The Junction, a newspaper in Mountain Province, said not all Igorots eat dog meat. According to her article Dog Eating and my Culture:

“As an Igorot, I vehemently do not accept dog eating as my culture. I was not raised to eat dogs. Dog meat is not a part of my diet, nor has it ever been. I find it insulting that Igorots are branded as dog-eaters, not only in the Philippines but abroad. It is a shame, and because Igorots are Filipinos, dog-eating is a Philippine national shame. ”

Dawang further explained that Igorots slaughter dogs for spiritual practices done in solemn rituals much like the early pagans. Contrary to the present-day “pulutan” that goes with beer or wine because of the general belief that dog meat gives heat to the body, this is only done when a life-and-death situation arises such as during battles or conflicts.

Dawang disclosed: “It is true that in ancient times some Igorot tribes butchered their dogs before going to war. It was the belief of the then pagan Igorot that the spirits of the sacrificed dogs would guard them in battle. At times of tragedy, the family dog might also have been sacrificed to appease the spirits, and to assign the soul of the dog to guard the spirits of the living family members.”

Proof that the Igorots love their dogs is their great mourning when they offer their dogs in the solemn ritual. They deem their dogs as a sacrificial offering to cleanse the clan of foreboding death. Dawang continued:

“Dog sacrifice always connoted bad luck, tragedy, or death. When a family butchered a dog, who had to be the family dog, not just any dog bought from nowhere, the family was not feasting but either mourning, in extreme pain, or involved in some other activity connected with death.

Dogs were not butchered as drinkers’ fare, nor as a daily or regular part of the Igorot diet. Igorot families much preferred to avoid the circumstances which might lead them to sacrifice their dog.”

Another Igorot, Reverend Moreno Tuguinay, a former priest in Sagada, calls the ritual dog offering daw-es. He affirms Dawang’s claim and says that Igorot ancestors sacrifice their family dogs in time of tribal wars because they have to cleanse the warrior’s body spluttered or dirtied by the enemies’ blood.

Kankanaey and the Ibaloi tribes of Benguet also do the same. The number of tribal wars and internal conflict in the Cordilleras is directly proportional to the number of slaughtered family dogs: The more tribal wars in their areas, the higher the number of killed family dogs, according to Taguinay.

Mountain Province Vice-Governor Wasing Sacla in his book Treasury of Beliefs and Home Rituals describes dogs as “sacrificial animals” in a healing ritual called tomo. The Kankanaeys in the northwestern part of Benguet perform this ritual to prevent the spirit of dead enemies in the battlefield from following or haunting the living. In this process, the living can go home straight to their waiting tribes. Sacla notes:

“Since blood was spilled, the tomo was performed to cleanse or purify those who participated directly or indirectly in the battle. For the tomo, the ritual animal is the dog on the belief that it barks and, therefore, can drive away the haunting spirits.”

To perform the tomo, five men are chosen to wear weaved bamboo crown decorated with feathers and then arm themselves with itak or bolo and spears. The manbunong or mambunong, a native priest, instruct the five men to go on an expedition – in drama form – and hack the enemies represented by pine trees. The supposed to be head of the expedition strikes his spear through the trunk of pine tree. Other four representative men cut the branches of the pine tree to symbolize cutting the enemies dead.

How to cook asocena

The term asocena first came to use in the 1980s. The word became popular when a movie entitled Asucena written by Enrique Ramos and directed by Carlos Siguion-Reyes was shown in 2000. The film is about a pet dog brought to a butcher by a child’s father. It is also a popular word among the low strata of the Philippine society as men without jobs locally called istambay (from English word stand-by) usually cook asocena as their main fare to go with ice-cold beers or gin along street corners or stores by the road.

Through the years, asocena became a specialty in Baguio City, Pampanga, Iloilo and other parts of Luzon and Visayas – despite its being illegal as enshrined in Republic Act 8485 or Animal Welfare Act. Dog-meat eaters describe it as red-whitish meat with thin fats that does not look like beef, neither pork nor chicken. A Baguio restaurant discreetly has asocena written in its menu. Filipino istambays usually cook asocena this way:23

1. Strangle the dog from behind by surprise. Do this swiftly to prevent the dog from biting. Gag its mouth. Throw the dog in a waiting jeepney, tricycle or van. Drive as fast to avoid apprehension. When accosted though, bribe the barangay tanod or police with your crispy Php 500 bill. Should you bought the dog from a nearby area from an owner who is in dire need of money, put the dog in a sack. Carry the sack on your back.

2. Remove the dog from the sack. Tie the dog in a post. Do not hear its barks, cries and howls for dear life. Hit its head with a two-by-two inch piece of lumber with a nail at the end. Do this several times until it is dead.

3. Hang the lifeless dog on a tree branch or post upside down. Slit its throat. Place a basin underneath to catch blood. Sprinkle rice and salt on blood until it solidifies. (Blood of black dogs is a potent medicine against tuberculosis, says a folk belief in Negros.)

4. Burn the dog coat with a flame thrower. Release the lifeless dog from the post. Shave until its smooth white skin shows.

5. Slice to pieces. Wash.

6. Put the dog meat in a kawa or a big pan. Boil in vinegar for an hour.

7. Add a little water and sprinkle salt. Do not mix yet. Let it stand for a few more minutes.

8. Cook again in low, cooking fire. Add potatoes, soy sauce and sprinkle with black pepper.
9. Pour tomato sauce, tomato paste, yellow and green peas and garnish with plenty of laurel leaves.

10. Serve with plenty of ice-cold beers or gin.

Call it scary, violent or embarrassing for local governments – but mere words cannot express how inhuman and undogly, rather ungodly, this dog killing that has been going on for years. It has spread widely not only in Ilocos, Pangasinan, Pampanga or Bulacan but has also reached Batangas to as far as Iloilo.

This time, however, dog killing is no longer a solemn offering to drive away avenging spirits but has become an every weekend way of life that feeds on man’s greed for pleasure.

Despite the promulgation of Animal Welfare Act that prohibits violation of animal rights including killing and eating dogs, the wet section of Baguio City Market remains to sell dog meat though discreetly. A law in 1920 declaring dog meat as “hot meat” for the rabies it may have did not deter dog meat eaters from continuing to violate it.

Dog killing has been done openly with even the supposed authorities to implement the law such as local village officials and policemen violating it during their drinking sprees with istambays and local people.

Linis-Gobyerno (Clean Government), an NGO in the Philippines, estimates that 290,000 dogs are being killed in the country for asocena yearly. It is a multi-million peso business that earns dog meat traders an average of Php 174 million annually.

Conclusion: Cultural evolution, health and poverty

The concept of dog meat-eating during this 21st century has been corrupted and in most cases no longer in accordance with the intention that our early Igorot ancestors had. Through the years, the solemnity of the ritual has lost among those who have a penchant for meat eating combined with convenient excuses such as ‘dog meat goes well with beer or gin”, “it is cheap” or that “it keeps the body warm.”

Commercialism has obscured its traditional meaning as dog meat profiteers and eaters sell and kill dogs for money and pleasure.

Nita Hontiveros-Lichauco, president of Philippine Animal Welfare Society (PAWS), says the Cordilleran people love their dogs because they guide them in their hunting in the mountains. There have been many instances of pet dogs saving their humans and have the intelligence of a three-year old human being, according to studies. Dogs can feel, hear and smell 50 times more than humans can and that they save humans most of the time.

“The sacred tradition of the Cordillerans has been commercialized in the past 20 years,” observes Linis-Gobyerno, an NGO based in Baguio City.

Bing Dawang, an Igorot editor, emphasizes that this kind of “cultural evolution” has implications to the Filipino citizenry as a whole. She likens dog killing to headhunting as she explains:

“Igorot culture has greatly changed since 1904. Headhunting, for example, was also part of the Igorot culture and way of life a hundred years ago. We now recognize and reject that practice as murder. This is adaptation. This is cultural evolution.”

Dog meat traders also capitalize on poverty as they sell dog meat cheaper than pork, beef and chicken. A whole carcass of dog being sold from Php 300 up to Php 500 can feed 20 drunkards and their unsuspecting families. It may even be gotten for free when the dog is stolen in the neighborhood, accidentally went curiously out of the gate or totally gone astray. Dog meat eaters are usually poor people who cannot afford to buy the more expensive kind of meat, according to a general impression.

In Baguio City that has become a melting pot of many cultures, however, the cold temperature is made as a reason for eating dog meat. This was perhaps the reason why the Igorots ate dog meat at St. Loius World’s Fair in 1904 not knowing of the implication they will create in the future. Or maybe food had been scarce during their seven-month stay in that US territory. It was recorded that two Filipino exhibitors died because of extreme cold and undisclosed disease during this world fair.

The western and local media reported on this dog meat-eating at the exhibit essentially drumbeating what they perceive as exotic from the point of view of strangers who do not know the intricacies of the Igorot culture. On the other hand, dog meat eaters who do not know the real meaning and sanctity of the tradition made a counter attack branding those who pick on them for their dog meat eating habit as cultural imperialists. This “cultural imperialism” , dog meat eaters defend, has been another western imposition using as vantage point their own experience, standards in food habit and limited environment.

Unbeknownst to many – Filipinos and other nationalities – Igorots perform dog killing as a solemn ritual to save their lives, a cultural tradition that was misinterpreted to be just dog meat-eating per se stripped of its sanctity and depth by greed for profit and pleasure of and for the flesh.

Cultural tradition of foot binding in China is no longer practiced nowadays freeing girls and women of this age-old bondage; Clitoridectomy had already been banned in African and nearby influenced regions saving many girls of extreme pain and agony; Forced or arranged marriages or widow burning was also prohibited in India and other Asian countries; Same with the Igorots and other Filipino groups’ headhunting tradition that was stopped decades ago. If this headhunting had stopped, dog killing may also be stopped through time.

Some dog killers and dog eaters whom police apprehended falsely hide under the cloak of cultural tradition or guise of poverty. But they cannot hide the fact that while the number of tribal wars and Igorot conflicts has gone down in the past years, dog meat consumption has jumped up high not only in Baguio but also anywhere around the country.

It has been affecting how Filipinos relate to their families, to the people in the community, to the animals- dogs in particular, and to the environment in general. An egging question that can guide people in choosing the food to be eaten is: What is our intention in eating dog meat or any other food for that matter?

There are concepts and principles – and long forgotten history – in every food served on the table.
1. Blair and Robertson. Philippine Islands 1493-1803 (Volume 20), pp. 276-279
2. Felix M. Keesing, Taming Philippine Headhunters, A Study of Government and of Cultural Change in Northern Luzon (London: George and Unwin Limited, 1934), pp. 45
3. Virgilio R. Pilapil. Dogtown, USA: An Igorot Legacy in the Midwest. (Heritage, June 1994, Volume 8, Issue 2), p.15, p. 4, 3bw
4. Bing A. Dawang. Dog Eating and My Culture. The Junction, June 2004, p. 2
5. Vincent Cabreza. President Arroyo Defends Dog Eating. Philippine Daily Inquirer, 1 January 2006, p. A1.

6. Nita Hontiveros Lichauco. Telephone interview, 45 minutes (New Manila: 20 January 2005)
7. Juliet Corazon Patiño. Interview, 30 minutes ( Quezon City: 16 January 2005)
8. Women witnesses. Interview, 60 minutes (San Jose Del Monte City, Bulacan: 27 December 2004)
9. Avelino Cielo. Text Message on 12 March 2006
10. www. linisgobyerno.org
11. Dog,The Other White Meat@Everything2.com
12. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Horse_meat
13. An online guide of Philippine History. www. geocities.com/College Park/Pool/1644/precolonial.html
14. http:// wolf.ok.ac.kr/-annyg/english/e6.htm
15. Sacla, Wasing. Treasury of Beliefs and Home Rituals.
16. http:// new.inq7net/regions/index/ph/index 2 & story_id63272
17. Cultural imperialism in the Ban of Eating Dogs. Inq7.net (2 February 2006). www. google.com.ph/search?hl=tl&q=dog+eating+philippine+cultural+imperialism&btnG=Hanapin&meta=

(Gloria Esguerra Melencio wrote this paper in Filipino as a requirement in Kasaysayan 10 in March 2006. The same author translated this paper to English for the philippinehistory.ph in June 2009.)


Nameless storm in 1897 had been as furious as Ondoy and Pepeng

October 18, 2009 by  
Filed under article, features

baseychurch-imgBy Gloria Esguerra Melencio

A long time ago — 112 years to be exact — when storms were nameless and Filipinos labored to erect sturdy Catholic churches made of thick adobe, a strong storm had destroyed towns in Samar and tidal waves washed hundreds of corpses ashore.

Tropical storms Ondoy (pronounced Undoy in the Bicol region) and Pepeng (Piping in Samar and Leyte) devastated Marikina, Pasig, Cainta and many more in Metro Manila as well as Bicol, Laguna, central and northern Luzon, and the Cordillera region – in two succeeding weeks in September and October 2009.

The number of deaths, mostly by drowning and mudslides, is nearing 500 as of this writing.

Father Cantius Kobak’s Samar and Leyte Collection kept at the Franciscan Archives records of a strong typhoon in 1897 that left all the people of the town of Basey homeless as it destroyed all the houses leaving only some posts standing.

The record likewise speaks of how said storm did not spare even the friar’s convent and the parish archives in Guian town. Books and documents had been wet and were beyond saving aside from the furniture made from exotic wood the Spanish priests regard as precious.

balangiga-seaWriting from Guian on October 11, 1897, Reverend Father Fray Juan de Dios Villajos reports the situation in a developed and rich town that was completely ruined and “fatally hopeless for many years.” Much like in the present-day movie, the friar describes how the storm unleashed its fury during his time:

“The church is totally roofless; half of the belfry fell; the convent is completely destroyed; the roofs flew away; the walls outside and inside were torn.… There is no refuge in this town.”

Other nearby towns had also been as devastated. Fray Bernardo Tilebras reports this time from Basey, also in Samar.

He laments that 83 people were given burial on October 13, 1897 out of the 102 bodies found floating on water. It is quite surprising that these Samarenos who were good swimmers, they being born and raised close to the sea, died of drowning.

Tilebras graphically describes how the tidal waves had rose drowning people inside their huts by surprise and the flood carried the bodies everywhere. He says in his letter:

“The sea rose in frightening level bringing ships, botes, cascos and balotos which in turn struck against the houses.”

Even good swimmers like the Samarenos were no match to the deadly, nameless storm that brought floods to the province. They failed to save their own lives.

This brings to mind how the Metro Manila flood victims of typhoon Ondoy had all scampered to higher places recently when floods rose to as high as their rooftops. Or how the residents of Pangasinan, Tarlac, Nueva Ecija and Bulacan among others, swam desperately when the floodgates of dams had been opened after the rains of typhoon Pepeng filled them up almost to the brim. While the skill in swimming may be advantageous, floods spare no one. It was water everywhere.

Filipinos living in the Philippines’ 7,107 islands are used to be surrounded by water but when storms and floods – or even high tides and tidal waves – come, we all are just as vulnerable as our ancestors in 1897.


Straight from the hearth

October 17, 2009 by  
Filed under blogs

Retrieving memories after the storm

By Gloria Esguerra Melencio

The most painful part of disasters – aside from deaths and destruction of property- is losing one’s memories written on diaries, pictures, certificates of appreciation, yearbooks, birth certificates, diplomas and other souvenir items kept as mementos.

Written on papers which could easily get wet and swept away by flood, these mementos are one’s tangible connections to the past that flash back easily once the material item is retrieved from the shelf, closet or cabinet.

They were all gone, however, when typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng devastated more than five million families around Metro Manila, from down south up to northern parts of Luzon. Flood washed them away or mud buried them underneath forever leaving a gap between past and present.

Left are fond memories that will forever be etched in family history. With the absence of the tangible mementos, we Filipinos always go back to the oral history we have been used to since time immemorial. We tell stories of yore which we may never own but are assured of immortality once passed from one person to another.

Come to think of it, sociologists say Filipinos have no sense of permanence as explicitly shown in our nipa huts that never stand time but it is in this impermanence that we easily accept that our lives are only temporary. It is in this acceptance of mortality that we readily accept things the way they are.

And so retrieving the written mementos after the storm may be impossible but we hold onto it even during this lifetime momentarily by telling our stories to our children and future grandchildren who bask in the glory of our past.

Stories of experiences during the storms are never-ending. We tell them over and over again with ourselves as heroes – to the delight of the children but to the consternation of the adults who have heard of them a thousand times.

Nevertheless, we lost the mementos but we remember the memories and the feeling that goes with every piece of what was lost in the flood and mudslide.

It is in this mortality that we rise.


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