Showing posts with label The Journalist within. Show all posts
Showing posts with label The Journalist within. Show all posts

Tree Doctor

The Industrial Revolution heralded the beginning of a new age in the history of humankind. It promised the advancement of science, technology, production and the various industries of the time. It was a pivotal era for humanity. However, it wasn’t just the turning point of progress, it, too, was the springboard of destruction. While the world’s consumption of coal, oil and fuel dramatically increased, the carpets of nature, from the polar ice caps to the Amazon jungle, severely suffered the consequences.
Dr. Isidro D. Esteban talked with passion while he explained the dilemma of our world, trapped between the blessing of scientific progress and the worsening environmental condition. “People like me”, he says, “We work like doctors. We cure sick trees, teach people how to trim their crowns properly, educate students about the plight of forests and the environment. It’s not easy especially with the meager budget the government provides. But I know, dedication can augment the lack of financial support.” He showed us pictures to prove the world’s indifference. Most of them weren’t new to me because they could be accessed easily through books and the internet—sick trees, denuded mountains, smog, oil spills, melting ice caps. In fact, we didn’t need those pictures to refresh us of the situation. The situation was already etched permanently in our minds.
The lecture, though focused primarily on trees, was a wake up call for all of us. We might have not experienced the worst yet, but inevitably, it would come. We might still consider the technological advancements more relevant than environmental protection, but a century or so from now, the balance might make a different turn. We would not know the value of something unless we lose it. I fear that we were living out this statement through the years, for our apathy was so evident in the way we viewed nature’s degradation. Experience, perhaps, would be our teacher once more.
Dr. Esteban shared a Chinese saying to us which went, ”If you want to become famous, do three things. Sire a son; write a book; plant a tree.” More and more we could feel the pressure from our planet. It was sooner than we thought but nature couldn’t postpone her groaning. For our share? It’s too early to have a son, too difficult to write a book, perhaps, we can all plant a tree.

Midnight Snack: Dormers’ hunger survival plan

He stood beside the door frame, his hands clutching the cold iron grills. A yellow wall clock told him it was 11:20 p.m., still early for dormers of Ipil Residence Hall. He scanned the street lined with night lamps, searching for a familiar figure—a plump woman wearing a cap, and driving her signature yellow motorbike.
Kiall Francis Suazo fiddled with his straw purse, the clinking coins signaling his growing impatience. Then, a beam of light emerged from the street corner, flooding the gloomy sidewalk. It turned towards Ipil, casting a pool of yellow light on the side steps. The roaring of engine followed the beam of light, and behind the handle bar, sitting on a yellow motorbike was Ate Bermonts.
“Who owns the foot-long and cheese fries?” Ate Bermonts asked as she carried her plastic box full of orders wrapped in red and white plastic bags. A chubby dormer paid her and took the order.
Kiall squeezed himself through the crowd and approached Ate Bermonts. “Mine’s cheese burger and barbeque fries,” he said, stretching his hands to reach his order. She handed it to him, just on time to catch the coins from another customer.
Several dormers jostled one another, so Kiall had to slither his way out, his midnight snack safely nestled on his hands. He sighed as he entered the lobby, and behind him was Ate Bermonts struggling to appease a hungry mob.
To dormers in the University of the Philippines Diliman, midnight snacks are silent witnesses to long hours of review and paper writing. It is common to see greasy burgers, flavored fries, foot-long hotdogs and bottles of soft drinks on midterms and finals nights. These are students’ secrets to keep themselves awake while digesting chapters of equations and concepts.
Such market of nocturnal dormers in UP has become a loyal customer of a university-based food company—Bermonts Food Inc. Bermonts is one of the first things freshmen learn in Kalayaan Residence Hall, and the last memory graduating students have of dormitory life. To students, it is the cheapest and fastest way of satisfying a churning stomach. They just text their order and wait for Ate Bermonts’ confirmation. After 30 minutes, they find themselves competing with other dormers to get their order, which is delivered free.
“In Kalai, we found a receipt in the drawer of a floor mate which also looked like a menu. There’s a price list, and a contact number’s on top so we tried to order. That’s how I discovered Bermonts,” Kiall said, munching his cheese burger while he flipped the pages of his Biochem readings.
He said their entire floor ordered every night, so they made a Bermonts Committee, in-charge of getting orders and payment. The duty rotated among themselves with at least a pair working for the floor each night. The Bermonts men hopped from room to room to record individual orders. They text the collated list to Ate Bermonts and start collecting payment after she confirms. When the order arrives, they get it and distribute the food to the floor. They get the free foot-long hot dog and cheese fries that come with orders above 300 pesos.
Kiall crumpled the plastic wrapper of his cheese burger and threw it on the giant trashcan outside his room. He looked satisfied as he tucked the receipt on his cabinet door; it joined over 50 others, fluttering because of his electric fan. He scanned the piece of paper as if deciding what to order next—tacos, ham and egg sandwich, foot-long sandwich, fries, cheeseburger, hamburger, mojos, soft drink, tuna sandwich, chicken sandwich or spaghetti. He took his purse and peeked inside. He still had 50 pesos, more than enough for another round of Bermonts.
He grabbed his cell phone and typed “spaghetti” on the keypad. After less than five minutes, his phone beeped. It was Ate Bermonts confirming his order. She said it might take her longer than usual because she still had to deliver orders in Kamia Residence Hall. Kiall told her he would wait.
After 40 minutes, his phone beeped and Ate Bermonts said she was on her way. Kiall took his 50 pesos and dashed out of his room to get his order, leaving his cell phone on his desk. After a few minutes, a second message appeared on the screen: “I’m already outside Ipil. Please claim your order. Thank you very much. –Ate Bermonts :)”

Conversations: When she lets her guard down

She sorted several keys in a plastic box, separating the old from the new. It was her second night in Ipil Residence Hall, but she said she will soon get used to it. A ceiling fan creaked above the counter, its artificial wind brushing her long hair. She wore a grayish sweater over her signature navy-blue uniform, and peeking from the left collar is her nameplate—Editha L. Piedad, 168 Security and Allied Services, Inc.
Edith, a nickname she had since elementary, had just been assigned to the co-ed undergraduate and graduate dormitory after serving more than four years in Kalayaan Residence Hall. The reshuffling of dormitory security guards placed her in Ipil, a stark contrast to Kalayaan which housed the newest faces in the University of the Philippines.
“I have less work here than in Kalayaan. I don’t need to whistle every now and then to call the attention of a noisy group. But the happy atmosphere is missing,” Edith said after labeling the last key Rm. 129 E.
A native of Tugegaro, Edith has been working in NCR for more than 20 years. She has been among the first batches of clerks and cashiers in SM City North Edsa after the fall of the Marcos dictatorship in 1986. When her contract expired, she applied and became a regular employee in Uniwide for three years, until it closed because of bankruptcy. Uniwide paid its employees for compensation, but Edith again found herself hunting jobs in the streets and offices to survive the city.
“I graduated AB Economics but never got to practice my course. Those were difficult times, especially in the province. You get hold of whatever available job, even the low-paying ones,” Edith said.
The closest she got to being an economist was her secretarial work in the provincial capitol of Cagayan Valley. She had to leave that job, however, to join the flock of Ilocanos trying their luck in the city.
In 1997, Edith’s wanderings led her to a security firm in Cubao, Quezon City. She enrolled herself in a 2-week security guard training course, giving her a first taste of the industry that has sustained her for nine years. They were taught self-defense and firearm handling, and were subjected to a rigorous physical fitness program. After two weeks of crunches, push-ups and joggings, she was given her first post—the Sucat Branch of Banco de Oro.
“It’s not my first post that’s memorable. It’s actually the resident guard at my first post,” Edith said with a smile, referring to her husband, Dante Piedad, whom she met in Banco de Oro’s Sucat Branch.
Edith opened the counter’s drawer and took a makeshift key holder containing about a dozen keys of varying sizes. She strode past the counter to the iron door of the dormitory, the jiggling of keys following her footsteps. She had opened and locked dormitory doors countless times, but Edith still remembered her first night in the university at Molave Residence Hall.
March 22, 2003, 7 p.m.—Edith was a reliever guard at Molave. A reliever is a contractual guard with a six-month cycle of work and rest, she explained. Molave is rumored haunted by dormers and guards because of its rundown condition. Some university legends also say the dormitory was once a hospital with the basement serving as morgue.
Despite the warnings and taunting from her fellow security guards, Edith said the noisy and nocturnal students of Molave were more bothersome than the supposed ghastly occupants of the dormitory’s basement.
“They said strange sounds are heard from Molave’s basement. When I guarded the place, I only heard cats and students,” Edith said with a laugh.
After Molave, she was stationed to several other buildings around the university including the College of Law and Yakal Residence Hall. Edith stayed longest in Kalayaan, taking the night shift and once in a while the morning one. She was partnered to a senior guard and one or two relievers.
Edith took her white ceramic mug from the counter’s cabinet, tore a sachet of San Mig Lite Coffee, and paced the lobby to the graduate wing to get hot water. She walked back to the guard’s counter, wisps of coffee aroma trailing her and filling the room. A whirlpool of coffee was visible while she stirred. She took a sip but her face contorted as if to say the coffee was too hot for her tongue.
“A guard’s main enemy is sleep. In Kalayaan, I was allowed to take a nap but Ipil is different. I need to stay awake because there is no curfew,” Edith said.
Her night duties in the dormitory begin at 7 p.m. She takes the post from her partner and starts by making rounds, one wing at a time. Edith takes care of Ipil’s eight wings, housing more than 300 residents from different provinces all over the country. She checks corridor windows and light, function rooms, electric fans, the kitchen and the students.
Edith said her unholy hours start around 2 a.m. when students begin to sleep and only a handful stay in the lobby to watch action or anime series. Around this time, too, she starts her waking routines. She drinks coffee, soft drinks or other caffeinated drinks, listens to rock music, walks around or even sweeps the floor. She said her secret is constant movement, aside from caffeine, to keep herself from falling asleep. She also sleeps at home before her shift to store energy.
“When the world is awake, I sleep. And when everyone’s asleep, I am wide awake,” Edith said with a tone of irony. “I guess being a night shift guard demands a different lifestyle. I have no regrets, except that I don’t get to be with my children when they’re awake.”
Edith’s duty ends after 12 hours at exactly 7 a.m. During this time, her two daughters are preparing to go to school. She usually reaches their house in Balara on time to bid them farewell. After sending them off, it is her time to enjoy the comfort of her bed and pillows.
“A guard’s life? It’s not so interesting. We guard buildings and walk around with batons, a flashlight, arnis stick, keys, a pistol sometimes, and a lot of courage and self-defense skill,” Edith said between yawns.
“Not so many are interested to find out what we do or how we work, so I’m happy when one or two students chat with me until the wee hours in the morning. They get to know a guard better, and all the more, I see my job’s purpose.” Edith wheeled out of the counter; a resident was knocking at the iron door. She had to open it to let him in, and close the door again like she had done countless times in different UP dormitories.

Design and Evolution

The year 1859 is significant in the story of life. It was the year the British scientist Charles Darwin published a book, answering one of the greatest questions of all time—Where did life come from?

Entitled, “On the Origin of Species,” his book proposed that all living creatures may have descended from a single cell or organism that evolved through time. By means of natural selection, the organism acquired new traits and lost others to be better suited for its environment. In the end, the fittest of the lot survived.

Today, as the world celebrates the 150th anniversary of the Origin’s publication, its critics are more vocal than ever. More significantly, however, they are coming not simply from religious institutions but from within the academe, even from biologists themselves.

“Evolution per se needs a lot of evidence to convince me,” Dr. Anacleto Argayosa Jr. said, his voice in a crescendo as he explained.

“In terms of life coming from inanimate objects, the odds are basically zero. That everything came from chance and given enough time became plants and animals… does not make sense to me,” the 42-year-old biology professor from the University of the Philippines (UP) said bluntly.

The Biology Teacher

Dr. Argayosa has been teaching in UP-Diliman for the past 16 years, handling, among others General Education (GE) and Higher Biology subjects.

Though his institute did not give him the specific course on evolution, the light-mannered professor shares his views to an auditorium packed with students taking up Math-Science and Technology (MST) GE subjects.

In class, he teaches both evolution and an alternative view which, in recent years, has been called many names including the Intelligent Design Theory and Creation Science. Different from other professors, Dr. Argayosa presents the arguments of the alternative view not simply from a religious perspective. Instead, he includes recent scientific breakthroughs that support the theory.

“It is mandated in the curriculum that we teach the origin of life so I teach both. And I think it’s good for students to also hear what they can’t find in ordinary literatures…I consider them as models, and because we can’t replicate them in the lab why not present both as possible explanations?,” he argued.

Natural Science 2 (Earth Science and Biology) is among the GE subjects Dr. Argayosa handles, usually with a teaching fellow from the UP Institute of Geology. At least a hundred students from different colleges and year levels take the GE every semester.

At the College of Science auditorium, he would open the course with the controversial debate on the origin of life, and immediately gets mixed reactions from his students. Not once did he get negative feedbacks from atheists enrolled in his class. He said some would argue with him while others just walk out of the room.

But there are also students who appreciate the two-pronged approach the professor uses in teaching the origin of life.

“Because he presented both [creation and evolution] and was neutral in handling them, I felt balance in the way he taught the subject,” Arnold Sanchez, a graduating Broadcast Communication student said.

Sanchez added that he liked how the professor attempted to reconcile faith and science by using the latter to explain a number of Biblical passages presented in class.

Another student, Carl Cedric Celera from the College of Home Economics, said he was impressed with the new ideas from Dr. Argayosa’s class. He added that the lecture on the origin of life was a fresh take from the conventional Darwinian perspective.

A Christian and a Biologist

Earning his undergraduate degree in Biology from a Catholic university, the University of Sto. Tomas, Dr. Argayosa does not deny that he is a Protestant Christian. But unlike Fundamentalists who threatened evolutionists with condemnation and hellfire, the professor said Biology itself showed him the flaws of Darwin’s theory.

“If you crack a cell,” Dr. Argayosa said, his hands trying to visually represent a cell, “and you extract its DNA (Deoxyribonucleic Acid) or its protein , isolate the protein, purify it and check its function, you will soon realize a pattern that makes things work.”

He added, “Honestly, when you crack a cell, you know that by chance it will not become another cell. When you crack a cell and leave it behind it’s going to decompose. So I don’t believe in chance.”

Dr. Argayosa drives his point further through his research on infectious diseases and genetic disorders. He said his study shows that changes and abnormalities in genes confuse the body, causing genetic diseases, even cancer.

This runs against the idea that organisms change in order to adapt to their environment. He said the genetic mutations or changes do not make “better humans,” instead, they cause diseases.

“Genes that control cell growth, repair DNA damage, those that allow the cell to multiply, and stop cells from growing—if there’s a mutation in these genes, it can lead to cancer. So that observation gives you some glimpse that there might be a right order and this damage is causing these diseases,” he said.

When the professor talked about the “right order” he said the “deeper mechanism” which Physicists, Chemists and Biologists have so long sought to understand but failed keeps the world’s “living systems” alive.

“if you study Biology and you study it seriously—how it works—it would be no surprise that you begin to ascribe to a Creator because of how complex life is,” he paused with a smile in his face before nodding and saying, “Truly.”

Dr. Argayosa added that his consideration of creation and suspicion of evolution allowed him to advance his research on a fish protein as a possible immunity booster. Evolutionary thought would have ruled out the fish protein because it belonged to a supposedly “less complex” organism.

Complexity, however, is appreciated in Creation as a “stamp of design,” thus giving scientists who ascribe to it better insight on complex natural processes, functions and structures, he said.

This idea is shared by proponents of the Intelligent Design Theory and even elevates it into the concept of “irreducible complexity.” That is, certain biological structures are too complex to have evolved from a less complicated predecessor. The eye is the most cited example. Scientists of Intelligent Design say the biochemical reactions that allow the eye to function cannot be traced to simpler antecedents.

Keep on telling your story

In the end, Dr. Argayosa concedes that in the academe, the way you tell your story makes a difference. When a professor chooses to present the origin of life through evolution, he brings with it all the implications of the theory. The heaviest, perhaps, is the denial of God.

On the other hand, when professors choose to present the story through Creation, they may have to stand up against accusations of promoting pseudo-science, which is also a legitimate argument. But, at the same time, they also promote underlying claims of the theory like the “purpose of existence.”

“If you subscribe to creation, it’s very sensible for me to walk around the earth viewing myself as its steward. That I should take care of it and not abuse it for I am commanded by my Designer,” he said.

150 years after Darwin’s book, the debate rages on. For Dr. Argayosa, however, the more he teaches both perspectives, the more he becomes true to science. He says, science, after all, is in pursuit of truth.

When the rooftops come to life

When typhoon Ondoy dumped a month’s worth of rainwater in the country’s capital, it triggered widespread flooding that submerged as high as two-story structures.

Environmentalists say the capital may have been spared if less of its surface area had been covered with concrete. The soil and plants would have helped absorb the rainwater.

But poor planning and inefficient building designs made an Eden in the heart of Manila unlikely. That is until the “green roof” came to the country.

Watch a rusty roof come to life with lush vegetation. Turn a barren rooftop into a botanical wonder. Recycle rainwater for a sky garden. In a “green roof,” the traditional tile and galvanized iron roofing are no more. Instead, layers of rocks, soil and plants provide a living, breathing cover for buildings and homes.

The soil mixture and vegetation are integrated into the roof, turning the structure’s crown into a giant plant pot.

“The green roofs act like sponges. The vegetation and soil retain part of the rainwater so that the run-off will be less,” engineer John Leslie Regio from the University of the Philippines explained.

Regio said the only difference with green roof structures is the fortified frame carrying the weight of the soil, plants and rainwater.

Aside from flood-control, green roofs insulate buildings and regulate city temperatures by not trapping heat, absorbing carbon-dioxide and releasing oxygen. They provide habitat and rest spots for migratory birds and insects.

Just this June, Quezon City passed an ordinance granting tax exemptions to green roofed homes, and mandated new buildings to dedicate 30 percent of their rooftop to natural landscape.

Though still in its infancy, the omens look good for a green roof revolution in the country. Much of Manila’s surface area is covered in concrete, but no one said rooftops can’t come to life.

Remembering Sta. Clara

AS some of my friends opted to go to Marikina, I am stuck in the dorm, praying for their safety. The recent events brought back memories of my flashflood experience last year. Read it here.



Cover my friends with Your protection.

Empanada: Batac’s bet for progress

The background music was a mixture of folk and rock. Students from local high schools and universities performed what appeared to be a cross between Ilocano cultural dances and metropolitan cheerdance routines.

They started slowly, bending their torsos to mimic farmers during the rice-planting season in Batac, Ilocos Norte. They call this, panag-raep iti pagay or literally, “planting of rice.” The music paced up and the dancers quickly formed a circle, fanning an invisible fire with giant anahaw leaves. They were pretending to cook a local delicacy. In their vernacular they call the dance move panagluto (cooking).

Then, the performers descended from the stage one by one, handing out purse-shaped goodies to the audience. It was time for the most awaited part—pananngan (eating)—where everyone had their share of the famed Ilocano Empanada.

Now on its second year, the dances and songs of Batac’s Empanada Festival highlight the preparation of the Filipino version of the Mexican tacos.
The late Ferdinand Marcos’ hometown reinvented its image in 2007 after becoming the second city of the province. Batac now calls itself the home of the original Ilocano
Empanada, ending the claim of its biggest rival, Vigan City in Ilocos Sur.

The uniqueness of the Empanada Festival lies in the dances, songs and activities inspired by the half-moon, orange-colored snack. Its influence is seen in the color, shape and overall feel of the costumes, the decorations and the posters of the festival. More than being a yearly celebration, however, Batac’s Empanada, is first and foremost, a local delicacy.

In Batac City, there is only one original Empanada. Tourists and locals flock to one of the riverbank stalls near the Imelda Cultural Center where they find Manang Glory’s Empanadahan—claimed to be the first successful Empanada business in Batac owned by the aging Glory Cocson.

Manang Glory, 60, was in her mid-20s when she decided to start a small food stall in Batac’s town plaza. Forty years after, her empanadahan became a part of the locals’ daily activities, not to mention, their diet.

“Madik nga amu man. Basta minanak laengen diay panagluto ti Emapanada (I don’t remember. All I know is I inherited the empanada recipe and cooking style),” Manang Glory explained how she came up with her Empanada business.

Students from nearby schools, government and office workers enjoyed their afternoon merienda in Manang Glory’s stall. Tricycle drivers even decided to transfer their terminal near the empanadahan for easier access to their favorite snack.

In fact, even if giant fast-food chains like Jollibee and Chowking had been set up just a few meters from the riverside empanadahan, Manang Glory said they never felt a decline in order or customer. On the average, they earn around 10,000 pesos daily.

If one asks Manang Glory’s customers why they keep coming back, they usually give the same answer. The Empanada is worth it. It is naimas (delicious) and nalaka (affordable).

The success of Manang Glory’s business led to the opening of her daughter’s own empanadahan stall. Glomalyn Rigonon put up Glomy’s Empanada but still adopted her mother’s recipe. Instead of being business rivals, the mother-and-daughter tandem became partners. What used to be solely Glory’s is now Glory and Glomy’s Empanada.

Customers can watch as their orders are cooked by the experts. The preparation is simple and the ingredients are easily found in the market. The empanada has two main parts—the crust and the filling.

Batac’s Empanada has a thicker and brighter crust compared to Vigan’s. The dough is made of rice or corn flour, achuete for the natural orange food coloring, salt and oil. It is kneaded as thinly as possible with banana leaves or wax paper to achieve the crisp texture after frying.

Several ingredients are mixed to make the filling. In Batac, they use Laoag’s longanisa (sausage), grated green papaya, pre-boiled mongo sprouts or beans, pepper, salt and egg. These are stuffed in the crust and deep-fried in a giant frying pan.

In Manang Glory’s stall, they offer several varieties of the empanada like the special and double special, special egg-less or mongo-less, ordinary egg-less, double egg, and double-double. The difference basically lies in the quantity of the ingredients stuffed in the crust.

To distinguish one variation from the other, Manang Glory’s cooks assigned specific folds for the crusts. The double-double for example has double folds while the ordinary has a smooth edge without folds.

The Empanada is served either on a plate or in a brown paper bag for take-out. The locals said the best way to eat their empanada is to munch it with sukang Iloko or the Ilocano vinegar. One order is big enough to take the place of a full rice meal.

The magic of Batac’s empanada is in its distinctiveness. “It is the distinctive that attract human attention and interest anywhere,” Prof. Felipe de Leon writes in his article, “Culturally-rooted definition of attractions.”

Of the seven facets of Cultural Worth, a Tourism concept that determines the attractiveness of a place, a product or a service, Batac’s Empanada embodied four—originality, indigenousness, authenticity and magnitude.

The product is the first of its kind in that part of the country. It is also native to the place, having been developed and transformed by the locals to suit their taste and culture. Lastly, because it has become part of their diet and daily activities, it has given them a sense of identity, a “soul.”

Allan Bermudez, owner and tour guide of the Arts and Nature Tour added that food is always a destination because Filipinos really love eating.
“We will try everything—exotic, local, foreign. We are adventurous when it comes to food,” he said.

It is no wonder why Batac’s Empanada, the Ilocos bagnet or desiccated pork, sinanglao or the Ilocano beef stew have been included in the itinerary of many Ilocos Tourism packages.

Other than the cultural aspect, the success story of Glory’s Empanada can be traced to the “One Town, One Product (OTOP)” marketing strategy adopted by the government in 2004.

Taking the cue from foreign tourism strategies like in Taiwan, OTOP became the Philippine’s main action plan to develop small and medium scale enterprises nationwide.

At its core, OTOP aims to showcase the best products and services of every town in the Philippines, focusing promotions and tourism development around that product or service for completion rather than competition in the local tourism industry.

Instead of towns with similar products competing for tourists, OTOP envisions a variety of distinctive tourist destinations, products and services that will fascinate local and foreign visitors, and entice them to come back for more of the local culture.

Since the inception of the OTOP strategy, seven possible areas of focus were identified for Batac—multiplier onion, goat, meat or food processing, bamboo, cotton, tobacco, and information and communication technology.

The Batac Empanada falls under food processing, and the vigorous advertising has since made it more famous than its counterpart in Vigan. Though a seeming rivalry exists between the two cities, it has in fact helped the promotion of the product. Tourists are made to decide which is better by giving them the chance to taste both empanadas. Curiously, the verdict is not unanimous.

Some find Vigan’s thin crust better while others delight in the abundance of the mongo and papaya in Batac’s empanada. Still others think both are the same.
Besides the OTOP strategy, the Department of Science and Technology’s drive to make the presentation of the local product globally competitive led to the “packaging improvement project.”

Glomy’s empanada was among those benefited by the program. Now, she packs the Empanada neatly in a box of twelve bearing her stall’s name, contact numbers and a short description of the product, including its ingredients.

To preserve the Empanada, Ate Glomy deep fries it longer than usual to make sure that the egg and longanisa get thoroughly cooked. The Empanada can last up to two days
without refrigeration.

Before Batac officially adopted it as its flagship product, the people recognized the Empanada as a local and tourist favorite. Today, it has become even more as the local government’s support made it a source of livelihood to the Ilocanos of the city. The cuisine is now part of tourism, of the city’s industry, of small-scale development and the empowerment of local entrepreneurs.

After all the presentations, the parade and speeches, queues of people waited to be served the Empanada prepared by the city’s best cooks. Though the festival lasts only a day, no one is stopping them from enjoying the Empanada year round. All they need to do is to go to the riverside empanadahan where Manang Glory and Glomy’s cooks are waiting to take their orders.

Abdulmari Asia Imao in the crossfire of ideologies

Photo from

The legend of the Sarimanok lives on among the Muslim inhabitants of Mindanao in Southern Philippines. To them, this mysterious bird is a messenger, swooping down from the heavens to catch fish which it delivers to the Sultans as words from Allah.

There are many versions of the story. One tells of a beautiful and kind daughter of the Sultan of Lanao who was taken by a majestic bird. According to this version, Sari, a well-loved princess of the Maranaos, won the heart of a deity-prince who transforms into a giant rooster with glittering feathers of varying shades.

Unlike the ordinary fowl, however, the creature rules the sky like an eagle and has magical powers. The prince, in the form of a bird, appeared before Sari and all the people of Lanao on her 18th birthday. Speaking to them in their native tongue he said, “I have come to take the maiden whom I love.” As if in a trance, Sari approached the creature and they disappeared into the skies.

The Sultan missed his daughter so much that he commissioned the best artists of the kingdom to make a replica of the bird. He ordered the people to look at the monument with reverence so that they will never forget Sari. In honor of his daughter and the magnificent creature (which in their local tongue is called a
manok), he called the woodcarving, Sarimanok.

Sari lives on among the Moros, and with her the cultural and artistic symbol that is the Sarimanok. Yet there is an unusually low appreciation of this national heritage.

In fact, even the recognition as National Artist of a sculptor who devoted his art to the Sarimanok took years to happen because of a gulf in perception of what is considered art between the people of the urbanized Christian centers and the Islamic outskirts of Mindanao.

In 2006, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts (NCCA) awarded Dr. Abdulmari Asia Imao the National Artist Award for sculpture, the first Muslim to be given the country’s highest recognition for artistic and cultural achievement and contribution since its creation in 1972.

This happened only after the intervention of Pres. Gloria Macapagal Arroyo which, according to political analysts, was a strategy to gain favor from the Muslims who comprise majority of Southern Philippines. In fact, without the president’s hand, Imao had no chance of the award after he failed to make it in the first shortlist prepared by the NCCA.

As to his skills in sculpture, no doubt Imao is a master. But he is also highly trained in painting—being an apprentice of National Artist Napoleon Abueva— and in metal casting and photography. He graduated Bachelor of Fine Arts in Sculpture in 1959 at the University of the Philippines, and three years after, he earned his Master of Fine Arts in Sculpture at the University of Kansas.

Compared to other sculptors, however, Imao’s fusion of Islamic art, design and culture in his oeuvre make him standout as an artist who employs techniques of the West to make unmistakable Eastern Islamic works.

But the 73-year-old artist admits that his decision to focus on his native culture came only after he has travelled the United States, Columbia and Europe, seeing with his own eyes the works of Picasso, Van Gogh, Matisse and Dali, among others.

Returning to the country in 1963, he determined to master Moro culture and arts, observing and learning from the Maranaos and T’bolis; at the same time, teaching them about modern bronze casting techniques.

Imao describes his art as bearing three distinct motifs—the Sarimanok, the fish, and the okir, or aesthetic curvilinear designs. As an artform, the okir, ukit in Filipino—meaning “to carve” or “make designs upon”—can be feminine or masculine in execution usually on wood which is abundant in Mindanao or in brass.

The overall sculpture takes the form of either the Sarimanok or the fish, or a combination of both and is adorned with elaborate okir patterns and designs. Some of Imao’s works bearing this style are displayed in the Vargas Museum in UP Diliman and at the National Museum.

The artist is also a researcher and a professor, documenting photos of the Sulu people, tribes and art for local universities like UP and the Ateneo de Manila, as well as for international fellowships.

With such contributions to Muslim art through sculpture and paintings, and the Moro people through his researches, why did Imao fail to make it in the NCCA shortlist in the first place?

UP Prof. Felipe de Leon was among the panel of judges at the NCCA on the year Imao was recognized a National Artist, and he offers this simple answer: Majority of those who adjudicate in the National Artist Awards belongs to subcultures with Western orientation that do not appreciate the Moro or Muslim art.

“The lumad, Moro and folk subcultures are the most Asian. They are the least Westernized. Unfortunately, those who run the National artist awards belong to the pop and academic cultures which are the most Westernized!” De Leon said.

Focusing on the academe, he added that the university culture which is undoubtedly a colonial legacy, espoused the concept of “individualistic art” or “art for art’s sake.” This is contrary to indigenous art which is “communal,” “participatory” and “extemporaneous.”

“The indigenous craftsman is not known as an individual artist. He is the community’s artist. That’s how communal Filipino art is. But the more you belong to this culture, the less likely 
you’ll be hailed a National Artist,” he lamented.

De Leon even revealed that the judges’ Western taste goes beyond art and is sometimes directed towards the artists themselves. He says that they are Western in the sense that if the artist is not articulate or fluent in English or if he is not formally educated in an art school, or if he uses unorthodox media, they consider them pseudo-artists and their works inferior.

For Dr. Abraham Sakili, among the authors of Imao’s nomination papers for the National Artist Awards, culture plays a big role in the delay.

“You cannot isolate the judges’ cultural belongingness in their choices…Culture is the primary influence in their decisions,” he said.

Sakili added that because of cultural imprints on people, objectivity is a myth in the entire selection process. And he also believes that one reason has something to do with Imao’s affinity.

“We cannot deny it. There is a negative stereotype against Muslims in the Philippines,” he said.

Because of these attitudes some members of the NCCA have lost hope on the National Artist Award and instead turned to the “Manlilikha ng Bayan Award” which specifically recognizes the contributions of indigenous artists.

If he were to judge, De Leon said Imao is deserving of the National Artist Award, but he said there are also several other Muslim artists who match or even surpass his craft and contributions that will never be called National Artists because they embody an art concept that is foreign to most NCCA judges.

For Dr. Sakili, the variety and the level of expertise in Imao’s works make him very deserving of the award. In addition, peer reviews of his sculptures, a criterion in the National Artist Awards, are overwhelmingly positive, not to mention his several awards like the “Gawad CCP (Cultural Center of the Philippines) sa Sining”, and the Presidential Medal of Merit for his contribution to culture and arts.

De Leon said, Imao is fortunate because though he belonged to the Moro subculture, he was exposed to the academic and popular, elevating his status—at least from the point of view of the elite circles of Western-oriented Filipino artists—as more or less “one of them.”

But as to his roots, native worldviews and experiences, Imao is not one of them. He belongs to a league of artists who integrate art in daily life.

Coming from a remote island in Pata, Jolo, Imao has known sculpture since childhood being born into a family of balangay or boat-makers, woodcarvers and entertainers.

He recalled in one of his writings, “Once I caught a fish. I was so fascinated about—its shape, scales, pigment and its glossy snout. I brought it home but as soon as the aroma of cooking drifting from the kitchen skewered my nostrils, fat tears ran down my cheek. I couldn’t bring myself to eat it, and Mother had to comfort me all night long.”

In an island where no other form of leisure or entertainment existed, Imao learned to appreciate the sights, sounds, smell and the texture of nature. His first attempt at serious sculpture was inspired by the vast ocean around their community. He carved trophies for local swimming competitions.

From his hometown, fate brought Imao to UP with the help of several people. Tomas Bernardo was once in charge of a Philippine Navy exhibit in Jolo. He noticed how fascinated Imao was with the paintings on display. Because of that, he offered to help him continue his schooling in Manila.

Upon reaching the metropolis, he sought scholarship from UP but was rejected. His spirit did not waver; instead, he sought the audience of then Pres. Ramon Magsaysay who was giving out scholarships to deserving students.

Though he never got to talk to President Magsaysay, a palace official, Jose Ansaldo, noticed him in Malacanang. Ansaldo was moved by the young boy’s persistence after seeing him coming back to the palace everyday in the hope of securing a scholarship. In exchange of washing his five cars daily, the official financed Imao’s schooling in UP. From then on, the National-Artist-to-be garnered several scholarships and grants, giving him the opportunity to learn art all over the world.

It took three nominations and the intervention of President Arroyo before Imao finally joined the ranks of the likes of Bienvenido Lumbera, Napoleon Abueva, Carlos “Botong” Francisco, among others.

“Imao’s works are enough to make him National Artist. So why do we still need Malacanang to intervene?...I have seen the credentials of the other awardees and Imao can match or even surpass them. So I raise the question, ‘Why just now?’,” Dr. Sakili said.

Imao is a glaring proof of how the monopoly of a dominant worldview and ideology can defeat the development of Filipino culture and the pursuit of national identity which can be described as very diverse.

For an award that supposedly aims to recognize "preeminent achievements that have enhanced the Filipino's cultural heritage," it is puzzling how the truly Filipino art in the lumad, folk and Moro subcultures fail to make it to the top. Instead, the Western notion of fine arts continues to become the standard.

For the sultan who waits for his daughter’s return, hope is embodied in the Sarimanok woodcarving. For a nation that struggles to put together its history, culture, and identity, Imao is a piece of the puzzle representing the Philippine Islamic roots. 

His recognition, though veiled by politics, is one step closer in bridging the gap of art perception between the people of the urbanized Christian centers and the Moros of Islamic Mindanao.

At the same time, his story is a warning that unless Filipino art boldly treads its indigenous past and lineage, it will never find the identity it seeks.

Filipino Western Art: the good and the bad

Around three years ago, the items on display at the second floor of the Vargas Museum only had one theme—they are the personal collection of Jorge Vargas, the very person to whom the museum was named after.
As such, visitors were greeted by a plethora of artworks and artifacts—paintings, sculptures, old pictures, books, brassware, figurines and coins. Afterall, the museum inside the University of the Philippines was constructed precisely to house, preserve and display Vargas’ rich collection which he donated in 1978 after keeping them many years in his private Mandaluyong estate.
When UP hired curator Maria Victoria Herrera, however, the permanent items in the Kawilihan Gallery were rearranged, grouped and displayed in months at a time according to a theme, an artist, to the medium or art form.
For almost five months now, the gallery featured the visual arts, designs, stamps, pictures, coins and books in the period between the Spanish and the American rule, from 1880s to 1920s. Entitled “Images of Transition,” the creators explained that the exhibition is an exploration of the “changes” and “transformations” in Philippine artistic production through Western influence.  
At the same time, it was an attempt to revisit the images of the Philippines propagated by the West to understand how they viewed the islands and its people.
Coming up with the theme on display, however, was motivated by the feedbacks from visitors who knew Vargas’ collection. They were looking for the works of Juan Luna and Felix Hidalgo which were previously mainstays in the gallery.
With these, the museum’s management decided to display Luna and Hidalgo’s paintings after two consecutive exhibits on Fernando Amorsolo.
Despite the demand, however, Vargas’ curatorial team decided to adopt a historical theme instead, including not only the paintings but also the books, stamps and coins of the era. In fact, they even displayed the works of Fabian de la Rosa and Simon Flores which fell in the same period.
“The items on display tell us that this era is really a turning point from the Spanish to the American rule,” museum assistant Ryan Reyes explained, moving past scanned stamps bearing the image of the king of Spain.
Stopping on a number of illustrations and photos about the Philippines he added, “In these images for example, we see how the Europeans viewed the Philippines. The orientalist perspective is very strong.”
As to the works of Luna and Hidalgo, Reyes said the European influence was undeniable. The two were trained in European art, and with the opening of local art schools patterned after the West, foreign styles, techniques and art forms began seeping into Filipino paintings.
In 1823, Academia de Debujo, the first art school in the Philippines was established. Though it closed because of financial difficulties it was succeeded by the Academia de Dibujo y Pintura, which evolved into what is now the UP College of Fine Arts.
“With the founding of the different art schools, we witness how the development of painting in the Philippines almost coincided with that in Europe,” Reyes said.
Half of the gallery was devoted to paintings bearing images of daily life, still life, portraits, nature and a number of works with nationalistic themes. Impressionism in Luna’s paintings and Romanticism in Hidalgo’s were the dominant art movements.
These are now priceless collections reflecting the rich colonial past and culture in the country. They are so important that Reyes refused to give a price tag.
“We really evade that question because we don’t want people to see the artworks in terms of their monetary value. That’s one of the things Vargas wants to promote,” he said.
Other than the paintings, rare books and coins were displayed behind glass in several pedestals around the gallery. The oldest was a 1777 Geographic Encyclopedia. It was propped against a stand specifically designed to prevent the deterioration of its spine.
Reyes said the book, which also contained an entry about the Philippines, must be handled with extreme care lest the brittle pages would pulverize.
Vargas’ collection of books, documents and his library archives were more than display materials. They are also rich sources for researchers studying the Commonwealth and Japanese periods.
Moving to one of the old books on display, Reyes said, “This book for example contains images that no longer exist today. Here we see the Sto. Domingo Church in Intramuros. We can never see a picture of the church because it was destroyed during the war. At least we have preserved visual records of historical buildings that no longer exist.”
Several photos were only printouts, scanned from very old books that can no longer be displayed. There were also enlarged printouts of stamps, logos and government seals for better appreciation of the details.
With such a collection of rare and priceless items, the second floor of Vargas museum is indeed a goldmine, guarded 24 hours and subjected to continuous air conditioning and dehumidification.
It is a must to keep the temperature low and to control the amount of humidity in the air to prevent elements of nature from eroding the old books and paintings. Whenever they transfer the items, museum workers are required to wear gloves and to handle them with utmost care. A miscalculated move—too much pressure, rough handling or hasty unpacking—can easily leave lasting damage on the works.   
No doubt, the paintings of Luna and Hidalgo are cultural artifacts which to some scholars are great leaps to the visual arts of the Philippines. Providing an alternative view, however, UP professor and former member of the National Commission for the Culture and the Arts, Felipe de Leon Jr. believed that the entry of Western influence in art disrupted the natural development of the Filipino art form.
“From the establishment of schools of arts, there came a new art concept—that of a disjointed or exclusivist concept of art. For the first time, drama was separated from music and dance and visual arts,” de Leon said.
Explaining its impact, he added that the natural Filipino concept of art is “wholistic” and participatory. In the past, whenever Filipinos celebrated festivals and fiestas, the entire event involved the community. One can see dancing, music, colorful banderitas, delicacies, costumes and carved bamboos all in a single event.
“Art was integrated. Art was never alone. Art was always together,” the professor explained. “When you separate art, you encourage individualism; you encourage people to be specialists in certain art forms.”
What do all these imply?
For Deleon, divided art goes against interconnectedness and participation—among the core values of Filipino society. He said a person who is an expert in the piano will have nothing to do with those who play the violin or the guitar because of this mindset.
“[With the Western influence] we developed a professional exclusivist attitude towards art. Filipinos became more and more protective of their specialization…their turf,” de Leon said.
Though the Western influence was not all bad, it made the entry of indigenous and budding artists more difficult because of “barriers” erected by elite painters who wanted to ward off competition. Here, the fine and popular arts, including indigenous arts are worlds apart. Unfortunately, of the three, indigenous art is robbed of the respect and admiration it deserved simply because its makers never went to formal art schools, he added.
For de Leon, the paintings of Luna and Hidalgo displayed in the Vargas museum are great works for Western standards. But he lamented their detachment from the social realities of their time.
“They (Luna and Hidalgo) failed to reflect the Philippine social conditions because Western art is concerned only with entertainment and pleasure… Instead of painting Philippine realities, Luna chose European mythology as subjects, except, perhaps for the Spolarium,” he said.
Regarding Hidalgo’s works, de Leon said the only painting he made which had social relevance was the “Slaying of Governor Bustamante.” Bustamante was sympathetic to the Indios so he earned the ire of the friars and was, thus, executed.
On the one hand, the paintings, books and images displayed in the Vargas museum gave a glimpse of the social, economic, political and cultural milieu in the period between two colonial powers. On the other, they reflected a contentious part of Filipino art development—the entry of Western influence which effectively ushered art forms and styles different from the indigenous, wholistic and participatory Filipino art experience.
Whether or not the influence brought more bad than good remains a debate. For Reyes, however, their effort at the Vargas museum to bring these artworks closer to the public is a way of breaking the barriers in what was once for-elite only art in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
“We are in a period where artists are freer to explore different subject maters and styles…Their challenge is to find a way to situate their art in today’s changing context. Have we exhausted all possibilities in art? Where will they lead Philippine art? They hold the answers to these questions,” he said. 
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