Friday, January 02, 2015

HAPPY NEW YEAR everyone! Nobel-Winner Malala Yousafzai says "Let us make our future now, and let us make our dreams tomorrow's reality."  I say, "dreams are ageless if limited to what are doable within the given time and on grounded capabilities...."

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Coming home to welcome the Age of Aquarius

“When the moon is in the Seventh House/ And Jupiter aligns with Mars/ Then peace will guide the planets/ And love will steer the stars/This is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, the Age of Aquarius, Aquarius! Aquarius!/Harmony and understanding/ Sympathy and trust abounding/ No more falsehoods or derisions/ Golden living dreams of visions….”
The spirit of the lyrics of this 1969 song which won the Grammy in 1970 is very much in the heart of our family’s shaman, my brother Gabriel. He believed in every promise of the song, and is excited about the coming of the Age of Acquarius on Dec. 21, 2012. In fact, Gabriel has booked our flights to make sure all family members will be coming home for a special dinner in the evening of the forecasted great sky of harmony. I am listening to my brother’s drumbeats, and I am coming home for the dinner as it will be the entrée to my Christmas vacation. Looking forward to the 21st of December event has kept me stargazing at night. I have my sightings of the possibilities, but I need Dumaguete’s sky expert Norman Marigza to verify. I love looking at Norman’s Facebook page and this week, he made this shout: “The November full moon gives the world its smallest full moon of the year.” I looked up to see the moon and it reminded me of my brother’s call. My brother has been telling everyone that coming together on Dec. 21 will ensure blessings of harmony, peace, and progress for the family. Gabriel has been on the trail of the Age of Aquarius since his student days here at Silliman from 1967 to 1971. Like most men of his generation, he believes that we are now at the threshold of the Aquarian frontier. He observed that the ancient calendars have reached a point agreement. The evidences of the deconstruction of the old beliefs and values are now seen and felt. The giving of an African-American leader a second term in America is among the forecasted signs. The end of the Mayan calendar in 2012 is among the indicators pointing to the arrival of the Age of Acquarius. In all of the cultures of the world, the ancestors had written one common thing: the shouts to announce the shifting of the ages of this time. On that evening, the planets visible to the naked eye will be in a rare alignment. It is said to be just a visual effect as Science measure will not call it an exact alignment. This alignment was predicted by the Mayan calendar. The alignment is not something that’s actually new to 2012, as it happens every 36 years. Remember the convergence of the sun and the dark dust clouds in 1998? But this 2012 alignment is special because it coincides with the alignment of the 12 Zodiac constellations. One constellation that is visible in our current equinox will be in a changing phase. This 2012 drama in the sky will have Pisces move away, and paving the way for the dominance of Aquarius. The turbulence of our planet, characterized by economic instability and war with nature challenged by earthquakes and storms that marked the end of the Piscean era, will now be replaced by “harmony and understanding” in the Age of Acquarius. This promise from the song, and the movements of the signs mean a lot to the watchful mind of my brother. He wants us to be home and be blessed by the powers of the natural forces that only God can command. The evening -- at home -- on the 21st of December will be filled with thanksgiving prayers, gifts of forgiveness, songs of love, and floods of food and drinks to welcome the Acquarian force of prosperity.

Petronila’s parenting

SIATON, NEGROS ORIENTAL -- On the first day of November at sitio Agbagacay in the seaside barangay of Bonbonon in Siaton, Negros Oriental, all children and all those who have experienced being her “children” came home from all over the world to be with their beloved mother and grandmother, Petronila Gadiana Jaugar-Palalon, born Nov. 1, 1916.
It was afterall Petronila’s birthday. The special day overshadowed the Halloween, All Souls’ and All Saints’ holidays for it had become an annual homecoming for this huge clan. Petronila’s household is home to children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, and great great grandchildren from her own immediate family, to that of her brothers and sisters. With a very sharp memory, Petronila enumerated them from the oldest: Basilisa, Valeriana, Ponciano, Premitiva, Eleuterio, Cornelio, Roberta, Atelana, and the twins Eugenio and Bernardina. Petronila is the youngest, and admits to be pretty but she said, “…not as popular as Valeriana as she was taller, slender, and really more beautiful with natural curls in the crowning glory. Am really the not-so-pretty-one when compared to my sisters.” People around her always disagree. Petronila survived them all, and has remained oh-so- beautiful at 96. On her birthday morning, as she was serenaded by her children and “children”; as she was looking regal in emerald green. I love the sharp European features softened by the Asian lineage, so evident on Petronila’s lovely presence. She told me that the Jaugars are of Polish origin. She said, “Wanti’s grandfather was from Poland.” Proof to this good-looking lineage is the fact that two of the Island’s beauty queens come from the fifth Jaugar generation: Miss Negros Oriental Centennial Theoliza Jaugar Quilnet, and 2007 Ms Silliman Sarah Jane Martin. Wanti, the great great great grandfather of the Jaugars, is Siaton’s legendary man. Known not just as the town mayor but as the one with the extra ordinary powers that drove all pirates away. The creek near the old seat of government was named Wanti in honor of his heroism. Wanti’s legend comes strong in Petronila’s total being. He was her hero, and she understood much her father Jose’s authoritarian discipline as all stemming from the original “superhero” of the family. Why this much love for Petronila? Our birthday celebrator is fondly called “Mama Itdol” or “Lola Itdol” by everyone here in Siaton. Lola Itdol is well-loved as she was their very loving mother. Her niece Rosario Jaugar-Quilnet, former supervisor of the Department of Education here in Siaton with much sense of pride to her close connection, recalled that she was the baby who brought Mama Itdol home. The Jaugar sisters were forbidden to be with any of the Palalon boys. The sisters’ father Jose told them that he did not find a goodlooking one in the Palalon pedigree. But the Palalon boys were so obsessed with the Jaugar sisters that everyday, they would wait for any of the girls to be on the road. In the olden days in this town, the men would get their women by force, and it was for this reason that women would have a lanot (woven chastity belt) under their long skirts. Two of the Palalon boys successfully won over two of the Jaugar sisters, and Jose was already at war with the Palalon family. It came as a shock when the youngest Itdol, 24 years old then, eloped with a young tailor named Hilario who turned out to be another Palalon. Itdol was disowned by his father and so Hilario took his young bride to Bacolod. But Jose’s favorite daughter-in-law Isak, the Spanish mestiza wife of Cornelio, died while giving birth to Rosario. Jose had no choice but to ask Itdol to come home and breastfed baby Rosario. Itdol had her two-month old baby Librada, her first, when she came home for baby Rosario. It was through the need for parenting that Petronila was reunited with her beloved family. And it did not just end with Rosario. With enduring life lessons, she became the mother of all the children in the Jaugar clan. Generation to the next generation, she became the “mother” with much wisdom for life’s survival. Petronila was as hardworking as her husband Hilario. She was her husband’s assistant at the tailoring, and proved to be a good tailor herself. She would join him in their cornfields, and in the evening, they would go fishing as they had their own bungsod, a traditional fishing gear. Petronila and Hilario then went into copra-trading, and she became more entrepreneurial in spirit with a lot more sources of income including cattle and goat raising, piggery, poultry, rice fields with carabaos-for-rent, a sari-sari store, sound system rental for benefit dances and other public events. Petronila taught her children to work as hard. The children only had the helpers of the copra business looking after them while their parents were busy working. The Palalon kids learned to do household chores at a very young age, and became helpers themselves to their parents’ various undertakings when they reached their teenage years. With their mother’s emphasis on the importance of education, some of left Siaton to find work in Cebu to sustain their respective dreams of schooling. Petronila now takes much pride in her children’s success stories: Librada is an elementary school teacher in General Santos City, Edilberto is a professional driver in Toronto, the late Julian was a Philippine Navy coastguard, the late Jaime was a nautical engineer, Lydia is an agriculturist who opened the door for her siblings to find opportunities in Canada, Tommy is an electrical engineer in Toronto who is studying in a flying school to become a professional pilot, Teresita graduated with a secretarial degree, Rodrigo finished Commerce and is also working in Toronto, and the youngest Maria Elena graduated with an accounting degree from Silliman University and now also works in Canada. All of them are thankful to their mother Petronila for teaching them the value of hard work. Petronila’s way to good parenting was not to manicure the road-to-success for the kids to have a smooth life, but to teach them the value of work and good manners when with other people -– the best keys to face the realities of what she remembers as pait nga kinabuhi. “Life can be bitter, and so children must learn to work for their future sweet life,” Petronila says. What was awesome in the birthday gathering were the testimonies of sweet life that all came from being with Lola Itdol, their “world’s greatest mother”, according to world-traveler grandson Jeferson who grew up under Lola Itdol’s loving care because his father had died when he was yet a little boy and his mother went away with another man. Thank God for a great blessing named Lola Itdol.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Papa’s Power of the Peridot

Judge Virgilio Noja Atega is the name of my father. He was born on October 9, 1916. His birthstone is the peridot. This humble gem of the pharaohs echoed much of my father’s life choices. A peridot is known to give the wearer power to dispel the terrors of the night. This loveliest of all green gems is not as light-dependent as rubies and diamonds. It tends to look regal under all light conditions. Many more on the peridot’s subtle power somehow shaped the glory which perfectly captured a cut very much like the life of my late father. My father Virgilio was the youngest son of the unexpected union of then Don Andres Azura Atega, the military general son of a powerful Spanish priest Rev. Father Pedro Garcia de la Virgen de los Martires born on September 1, 1840 in Zaragoza and Juana Beray Noja born on June 24,1897, among the pioneering teachers in American public school system in the town of Cabadbaran. Unexpected because Don Andres, known as the most powerful man in this side of the island of Mindanao, was married to Roberta Curato and had a son Mariano born in June 1900. Don Andres got to be concerned with Juana, daughter of Roberta’s first cousin Teofilo Curato Noja, when the young teacher became the girlfriend of the American principal of the public school. Don Andres, who was already a widower as Roberta died so young, just did not want a lovely Filipina like that would be taken away by a foreigner. One day, his protective nature had grown into an attraction and out of obsession; he took advantage of her innocence. Afterwards, Don Andres offered to marry her. However, refusing to tie the knot with the man who destroyed her life, Juana ran away. Don Andres looked for her all over and found her hiding in the house of her father’s cousin in Talacogon, a riverside town in Agusan del Sur. Juana was pregnant with his child when he got her back. He brought her home but she refused to join the other women in the dakong balay – this was how townfolks would call my grandfather’s house up until today. The women of my grandfather included Roberta’s sister, Veronica. Veronica had three daughters and a son with Don Andres: the first one was also named Roberta who was born on September 22, 1905; the second daughter born on November 30, 1909 was Canuta who was named after Don Andres’ mother. Veronica’s third daughter was Prosperidad born on November 16, 1913. Veronica gave Don Andres only one son named Pedro born on May 1, 1908. With Juana’s refusal to join in the growing dakong balay family, Don Andres decided to build a house for Juana in front of the town plaza and right beside the Aglipay church. Juana gained the respect of the townfolks as she became known as the most loved sweetheart of Don Andres and she had one point of understanding their business partnership with Don Andres. I was told by late Uncle Mimi Barrientos, the chief police officer of our town, that he grew up admiring the lovely Juana as she had the most beautiful pair of deep-set brown eyes. He also told me that among the women of Don Andres, Seῆora Juana, as she was known, was the only one who would bring bundles of money to the dakong balay. The regular remittance from the shared business marked Juana’s sense of independence, one reason why Don Andres’ admiration for this woman had grown deep and he never stopped offering her marriage. On the other hand, the constantly jealous Veronica was kept busy taking care of her own children, her sister’s son Mariano and the daughters of the Ibay sisters, Luisa, Romana and Estanislawa who were already in the house since 1892. Don Andres’ union with Roberta was only in 1900 and she gave birth to Mariano on the same year. Her sister gave birth to her first child Roberta in 1905. The Ibay sisters had one daughter each. Luisa’s was named Maria born in 1892. A week after Maria was born, Romana gave birth to Ana. Consolacion, daughter of Estanislawa, was born much later on December 19, 1900. Their mothers were the first three women of Don Andres within the dakong balay. Don Andres’ was known to be a womanizer and his eldest son was Antonio born on June 12, 1894, his mother was Hilaria Magarte-Fernandez who was the wife of Don Andres’ business partner. Juana gave Don Andres two sons and a daughter: Archimedes born on April 14, 1914 was the eldest who really looked like his father, Esther who was as lovely as Juana was born on May 19, 1908 and the youngest Virgilio. Veronica also gave birth to her youngest daughter Basilisa a month after Virgilio was born. A neighbor Perpetua Maestrado gave birth to another son of Don Andres named Plenio on October 21, 1920. My father really came from a family which indeed was like a mother stone of the peridot, so green and with many unpredictable branching – some were from stories intentionally silenced by the complexities of the pedigree. Virgilio was very much like his mother in entrepreneurial spirit. As a little boy, he was already earning money from being a newsboy, shoeshine boy and his farm eggs harvest. Virgilio was also born a leader, he led friends to memorable adventures on horseback rides to mountain slopes, went bamboo rafting on rivers, and in fishing, they went as far as Camiguin Island. After finishing a business degree, socio-civic responsibilities pre-occupied the young professional. When the Japanese occupation came, the challenge of the power of the peridot was muted by a huge responsibility that came to my father’s young career. He was appointed town mayor during the war. It was during this time that he met my mother who was teaching children in a coffee farm. There were three sisters: the beautiful Cecilia, the shy Crisanta and the youngest Maximina, who according to my father, had loveliest pair of legs. My father expressed his love for mother through sending three horses as gifts to her family’s coffee farm. My father’s competition in winning the heart of the lovely Maximina, the pretty and smart teacher, was the Japanese military commander who had been seriously wooing her for quite some time even having built a Sunday school for my mother. Nonetheless, the Virgilio and Maximina were inseparable as they were one in their secret mission: to help the Filipino World War II guerillas. They used their influenced to provide food and medical supplies. However, because nothing is kept secret forever, my father’s secret support was uncovered by the Japanese intelligence and his loyalty was questioned. To avoid further investigation and to save the town from total Japanese control, my father pledged his loyalty to the Japanese. To erase all doubts and to show deep sincerity, he shot the center point of the palm of his right hand in front of the Japanese officers. Truly a peridot in heroism – subdued and in silence. The bloody promise somehow convinced the Japanese authority and gave my father all the support he needed as mayor. When the Americans came and the country was set free, my father also got the appointment from the American regime to serve both as mayor and as military officer. After serving the full term, he decided to go back to school. He was enrolled at the College of Law in Silliman University. Moreover, he was the captain of the debating team and became the president of the student government, the first after World War II. He graduated in 1949 and was reunited with Maximina in Manila while reviewing for the bar exams. The two were married on June 11 of the same year. Unlike my grandfather, Virgilio’s peridot brilliance was mounted with loyalty that endured all challenges around his chosen pearl.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

An Oriental Negros’ Gem: The Bleeding-Heart Dove

I was touring a broken-hearted young lady from Manila and I congratulated her for choosing this side of the island of Negros to be the healing sanctuary of her heart-in-pain. I told her that this part of the country is indeed the best place to forget her “user-friendly” boyfriend.
User-friendly is our label for anyone who takes advantage of a relationship for selfish gain. This Manila girl is a victim of a user-friendly doof. And she made the right choice of taking a trip away from the toxic human elements of Manila. The welcoming hearts of our island are evidently shown everywhere in the gateway called Dumaguete, Romantic Rizal’s City of Gentle People. The lady visitor’s smile kept flashing as she found it almost unbelievable that there still remains a Philippine city that made her feel so safe even beyond midnight. She laughed when I gave her an assurance, “ walang mangyayari sa ‘yo dito. Kung meron man, masarap!” The sarap part could mean the Dumaguete Express of Lab-as, the sizzling bulalo and chocodome cake at Royal Suite, the chicken adobo at Gabby’s, the lengua in Mamia, the vegetable kebab of Jutz’ Cafe, and more.... She agreed and gave the sarap points excellent marks.
Our morning tour had me leading her to one proof of the island’s healing powers as echoed by this distinctive mark of the plumage on the chest of our iconic bird, the Negros Bleeding-Heart Dove (Gallicolumba keayi/featured as logo of the 7th Philippine Bird Festival). We went to the Center for Tropical Conservation Studies (CENTROP) of Silliman University, home of the Philippines’ Bleeding-Heart doves. First, I introduced the dove from Luzon and she was amazed at the beauty of the bird with the “shotgun hit”-like burst of red feathers on its chest. Then, I asked her to compare the Luzon Bleeding-heart Dove with the one endemic to Negros Island. She was even more amazed at the “healing impression” of the line of red feathers on the chest of the more colorful Negros Bleeding-Heart Dove. I told her in a tula manner, “ ipinahiwatig sa mga kalapating ito na kapag ikaw ay nasugatan sa Luzon, maghihilom ang iyong sugat sa pagdating mo sa Negros....” She guffawed at the unexpected love message from nature. But there was more in store for my friend: upon learning that these birds are capable of only one lifetime partner, she began to fall in-love with the Bleeding-Heart doves. What a man could have done for loyalty, the bird could do it better.
What is sad these days, according to the island’s forest angel Apolinario Cariño, “the population of the adorable species are extremely small, severely fragmented and still facing a continuing decline due to the reduced forest cover....” Environmentalists like Pol are alarmed as these birds are still on CRITICALLY ENDANGERED status, and they are working hard to give the Philippine pigeons the world’s attention.
2011, the United Nations’ Year of the Forests, is ending yet surprisingly, the impact of this celebration was never echoed by the Department of Education to young students. Just last week, I visited a number of public schools around the Visayas and Mindanao, and when I asked students about the Year of the Forests celebration, they have zero-level awareness of the focus on the trees this year. The story of the Negros Bleeding-Heart Dove would have been a powerful classroom inspiration for young Filipinos to be totally concerned with.
I hope more teachers had ushered school kids to view exhibits in the 7th Philippine Bird Festival in Dumaguete on September 24 with the theme, “Langgam Paluparon, Lasang Palambuon.” All bird angels of our islands and from other countries were all there and kids had a great time with them. Our very own Bird Angel Atty. Val, son of the Philippine Bird Man Dr. Dioscoro Rabor, gave a lecture on his father’s lifetime achievement. There were many inspiring points of the festival that LGUs would have supported. I was happy that the Mag-Degamo work spirit of the Oriental Negros Governor’s men was felt from beginning to end. Silliman icon of environmentalism Dr. Angel C. Alcala and University President Dr. Ben S. Malayang III were there with their valuable presence.
The Negros Bleeding-Heart, a ground-dwelling pigeon, is with unique features. Aside from the blood-red patch on its breast, its elegant regal-green crown down to the Mahogany brown hue spreads gradually to its wingtips interrupted by waves of white bands. In its breathtaking completeness, the colors naturally make the Negros Bleeding-Heart’s presence a fruitful reward when on a trek around the Twin Lakes.
The dove is truly our pride and joy as it is endemic to the Philippines. And we really need to work hard that these terrestrial species will have their favorite home, a dense forest, be preserved and recreated at some areas around the island and beyond. We have to ensure that their nestings on epiphytic ferns be totally protected. I wish too that the Provincial Government will make its glory a symbol of the country’s remaining tropical paraiso.
Let us not be user-friendly beings of this planet. Be inspired by the endearing presence of this lovely dove we can call our very own.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Asian invasion in the 2011 beauty universe

I’m interested in the fact that the less secure a man is, the more likely he is to have extreme prejudice. -Clint Eastwood

Extreme prejudice was evident in those times when Donald J. Trump, the billionaire co-owner of the Miss Universe pageant, fixed the selection of the top 15. Trump’s way of ensuring slots for the prettiest representatives would usually result to a “seductive” blonde-dominated line of beauties or all-Latina finalists. This was evident in 2009 when no Asian beauty and only one African made it to the Top 15.

When I reviewed the arrival videos of the Miss Universe 2011 pageant in Sao Paulo, Brazil, I already predicted an unstoppable Asian invasion in this 60th edition of the world’s most popular beauty pageant. Beauties from Asia and Africa clearly made outstanding presence in all events of the month-long pageant.

Without the prevailing biases, three Asian beauties actually had the power to be part of the Top 5: most outstanding was Miss China Luo Zilin (5 ft 11 1⁄2 inches) who was the tallest among the 89 contestants, the best in promotional interview, Miss Malaysia Deborah Priya Henry (5 ft 10 1⁄2 inches), and Miss Philippines Shamcey Supsup (5 ft 8 inches), the one with the most elegant everyday-presence. The other two top slots belonged to beauties who could easily be in Trump’s List: the all-natural blonde beauty Miss Australia Scherri-Lee Biggs (5 ft 9 inches), and the one who looked like the young Brook Shields, Miss Ukraine Olesya Stefanko (5 ft 9 1⁄2 inches) who ended as this year’s 1st runner-up. Miss Angola, Leila Lopes (5 ft 10 inches), was a popular candidate as she was the most stunning black beauty but her too-reserved projection and a-bit-weak ramp skills did not show the all-around-energy expected of a possible winner.

It was some kind of a miracle transition when the pageant ended with a “non-white” winner, Miss Angola. This should be the spirit of international beauty pageants – more accepting of all types of beauty.

The greatest Asian invasion was in 1988 when Porntip Nakhirunkanok of Thailand was crowned Miss Universe, Chang Yoonjung of Korea was 1st runner-up, Mizuho Sakaguchi of Japan was 3rd runner-up and Pauline Yeung of Hong Kong was 4th runner-up. Mexico’s Amanda Olivares, 2nd runner up, was the only South American in the Top 5. The Oriental-dominated glory echoed the spirit of the year of the earth dragon.

There was still the favored-hometown-girl culture in this 2011 pageant. Miss Brazil Priscila Machado (5 ft 11 inches), the only South American beauty in the top 5, was certainly a product of a manipulated entrance. Her placement in the Top 15 should have been for Miss Malaysia but Miss Universe organizers would usually dropped contestants who have joined Miss World – seemed to be part of the war against the other global beauty contest.

Why was Miss Brazil allowed in the first place? Everyone was wondering why was she was still considered even after her naked pictures were circulated all over the net, the day she won the Miss Brazil title. Miss Brazil’s second runner-up title should have belonged to Miss Philippines, the one who gave the best answer during the final Q & A.

Maybe it was Miss Philippines’ very “churchy” answer that brought her away from the crown. Shamcey was asked by the judge, actress Vivica A. Fox, if she would change her religious beliefs to marry the one she loves. The Filipina beauty, a born-again Christian, replied, “If I had to change my religious beliefs, I would not marry the person that I love because the first person that I love is God who created me and I have my faith and my principles and this is what makes me who I am. And if that person loves me, he should love my God, too.” She should have added a line to express respect for other religions. As a global goodwill ambassador like the Miss Universe, should always project a more welcoming spirit.

English-speaking Miss Philippines, just like Venus Raj of last year’s pageant which had the famous “major major” answer, got the toughest question in the question and answer portion of the competition. Shamcey was also the only one in the top five who did not use an interpreter. I wonder why Miss Angola, who is a student in United Kingdom, opted to use an interpreter?

Another unique twist in this pageant: the representatives from the countries with the greatest number of Miss Universe titleholders, USA (7) and Venezuela (6), failed to make it to the Top 10. Miss USA was too thin to shine in the swimwear portion and Miss Venezuala was a perfect body but with face framed with the crowning glory like an old autumn tree.

Miss Angola’s smile - the sweetest of them all and her effortless regal bearing, were clearly the factors that made her the choice of the judges. But in totally, the two Asian beauties Miss China and Miss Philippines were the queens of the universe that evening.

Beauties from the Philippines, Angola and China in the Top 3 positions could have been the ideal and could have been one of the most respectable results in the history of this pageant. Even with the clear injustice, we are still hoping for more unstoppable Asian invasions in the Trump universe.

Saturday, August 06, 2011

The last Siquijor warrior

It is a curious thing…, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who… have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well. ~J.K. Rowling, “King’s Cross,” Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, 2007, spoken by the character Albus Dumbledore

The Harry Potter phenomenon came so easily into the hearts of the Filipino film lovers, once cited by The Guinness World of Records as the ‘largest movie-going public in the world.’

Much of the witch culture points and artifacts presented in the book and film series were very familiar to us. Here in Oriental Negros, such culture “powers” would be always identified as all coming from the island of Siquijor.

Actually, the island dwellers are not so happy of the “black magic” identity and this could be the reason why there is a huge billboard at the port welcome area informing tourists that what the island has are herbalists and not magicians or sorcerers.

But such tourism packaging “clean-up” will not change the minds of the people as the folk stories have cascaded from generations to generations beyond Siquijor’s shores. I find it an effort-in-futility to erase what had been a one dimension that attracted tourists from all over the world.

The magic of Siquijor island has been experienced by many who have been there to have this “spiritual” emersion. Many of my artist friends are drawn to the island for they found it to be a real destination of the spirits beyond and of local folks who have the “third eye” for seeing what is beyond and for bringing in the powers from nature and the magic world.

The latest visitor on July 26, a national culture icon, confirms it and he is no ordinary visitor as he is a practitioner himself and he is not afraid to be labeled a witch.

His profile on the web states: “Tony Perez is a creative writer, playwright, poet, lyricist, painter, portraitist, fiber artist, trainer and psychic journalist.” He is known as literary artist but in the international circles for psychic healing and understanding, this true-blue Atenean and a magna cum laude graduate in Religious Studies is an in-demand resource person for knowledge in “Developing Psychic Abilities,” “Living the Tarot”, “Introduction to Shamanism” and other related topics. It was indeed an honor to be his usher to the magic island.

His main purpose for visiting was related to his day job at the Public Affairs section of the United States Embassy. But he was set with a “pure” intention to be diverted to his other world as it was his first time in Siquijor. There were reasons not to go, heavy rains and wild wild waves brought in by the Signal No. 1 warning of the stormy Bicol and the refusal of our earlier contacts from the island to bring us to the black magic man. But Tony insisted. He told me “they want me to be there.” I just assumed that “they” were those who sent the winds that gave us rain. My reading of the heavy rain was positive and so, I agreed and arranged for our trip.

When we got to Siquijor Island, we were lucky as my suki easy-ride driver Fredito “Noynoy” Tamala was available. He is husband to Grace, my schoolmate at Silliman who is now a public school principal. Noynoy is not just a driver as he is also a bankable tourguide. When I whispered to him our intention, he told me the sad news that the oldest medicine man of Siquijor, Juan "Daku" Ponce, died five days ago and that we arrived at the wrong time as it was the day of the funeral.

I asked him about Frank, the expert of the dancing paper dolls, and he said that this guro had given up the black magic career as it went contradictory to his being a healer.

I was worried that I would end up a failure as the point man for the curious white witch. I was wishing Ambrocia was still around, the renowned faith healer who died in 2002. I had a believe-it-or-not moment when local folks told me she was the last of the Siquijor wwhite witches. Her legend, as told, had its peak when then First Lady Imelda Marcos came to the island as she wanted the growth of scaly skin on her leg to be healed. It was Ambrocia who uncovered the root of the curse, an underwater being who was angered by the intrusion of the San Juanico Bridge, a Marcos project, into nature. It was said that Ambrocia’s oil healed the scaly skin as it vanished instantly with just one blow of the smoke coming from a heated concoction.

Tony noticed my frustration and he said we could just go directly to the main purpose of our visit. Then I told him about the death of Juan, the 99-year-old herbalist. His face suddenly was glowing and he instructed Nonoy to bring us to Juan’s home and he pushed us to hurry when he was told that the funeral was at 1 pm.

At Barangay San Antonio, Noynoy led us to a dirt road leading to the wooden house of Juan Ponce, Siquijor’s last warrior against any dark powers. Tony stopped as he noticed a white stone by the roadside, he got it and placed it inside his bag and said, “Someone told me to bring it home.” Juan’s last day gathered a good number of neighbors even with the heavy rain. I was told that after him, it would be hard to find one with such credibility and experience. He was the one who drew European tourists for healing as his oil, a special concoction from 300 herbs and cuts from various barks of exotic trees, was known to heal almost all kinds of ailments.

Out of the six sons of Juan, only Alejandro and his wife Anecita are seriously considering to continue his legacy of herbal healing.

Juan Ponce was born on June 24, 1912. He started as an herbalist at the age of 18. His career as an herbalist was marked with countless successes in the war against mambabarang (necromancy) who had sent severe misfortune to many innocent victims.

Tony asked Anecita to show him Juan’s anitos. These were made from wood that came from the tree believed to drive away bad spirits. These little white cuts were sculptured in shapes of the crucifix, the rose, the star and the long-haired man resembling The Savior. Tony managed to acquire them at P500 each. The amulets made of coconut shells which are said to be rare finds as these shells were totally smooth and don’t have “eyes.” Each was sold at P1,000.

Tony wanted one more thing from Juan’s career world, he asked for anything that the old man used everyday. Anecita brought in a shirt but Tony felt it was too much. I asked if the old man had a cane and Anecita smiled as she nodded but explained that it might be hard to find it. Tony’s excitement led Anecita to ask his sons to go and search for the wooden cane. The older son came back with the black wooden cane with a handle that was a natural curve of this branch of molave – truly a precious piece that reminded me of Harry Potter’s wand. I did not ask how much was paid for it. I knew that it was priceless for it came from Siquijor’s last warrior.

“This is an incredible journey!” was Tony’s word as we moved out from the house. I reminded him to pay respect to the old man. He went to see the coffin and offered prayers. He knelt down and brought out his own amulet, an amethyst, the violet queen of the quartzes framed by four gold lightnings. He placed this gemstone, believed to stop the coming of the storm, on top of Juan’s wooden coffin as he continued to pray. The women who were there for the prayer for the dead, seemed not disturbed by Tony’s theatrical homage as they continued with the repeated lines of “…Hail Mary, full of Grace….”

With Tony’s harvest from the household of the warrior, will there be hope for Juan’s legacy of power to continue? Maybe. I witnessed this: before we walked back to Nonoy’s leading, Anecita had asked for Tony to empower her and Tony said, “I already did.”

Out of the magical journey, we went to make the walk through at Coco Grove – his assignment from the US Embassy. The owner Mike Butler was so kind to have the lunch we ordered as part of his welcome for us. I told Mike about the death of Juan Ponce and he confirmed his fame as a good number of Coco Grove’s guests had come to seek Juan’s healing and this included a cancer patient from Germany.

Tony was indeed so lucky to have inherited the precious artifacts. We had to cut short our stay at paraiso Coco Grove, the best resort in Siquijor and the island’s No. 1 food destination, to catch the 3 pm trip back to Dumaguete.

We went inside the old church as we waited for the fastcraft. Tony was again kneeling in prayer in this old sanctuary. I went out to pick an ancient-looking coral stone and I gave it to him as souvenir. He told me, “I will take it as this stone is asking to be brought home.”

As we moved out from the Church, he raised Juan Ponce’s cane to direction of the gloomy sky. The heaven seemed to welcome Juan with the pouring of the rain.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Double treat from Paul and Paul

Our very own Paul Pfeiffer was on another fruitful homecoming in June. In this visit to Dumaguete, I tried to usher him to the fun side but there was just no time for a full enjoyment of the City’s night life. The passion for his art led him to just completely embrace the main reason for this homecoming: work, work, work.

This Dumaguete son is known to the world by an honor he got from Newsweek‘s spread on “America’s Artist of Tomorrow.” This was after he won Whitney Museum’s 2000 Bucksbaum Award, the highest award for Visual Arts.

Paul Pfeiffer had chosen to depart from traditional art media, and had been showing to the world possibilities of the video screen by capturing images from popular culture. He had them all: NBA stars, Tom Cruise, enduring scenes from films by Steven Spielberg, deep forest camping, ancient cathedrals floor plans made out of sex scandal echoes….

Five years ago, Michael Jackson was the subject of a speech choir at our very own cultural center, the Luce Auditorium. The production, a collaboration with the Speech & Theater Department of Silliman, was directed by Hawaii-based educator Eva Rose Repollo-Washburn, and captured a juxtaposition of the King of Pop’s painful global media exposure to address the child-molestation issue, and of our very own speech choir students presenting an unusual piece: Michael’s defense.
Paul Pfeiffer’s fully- realized vision called “Live from Neverland,” got world attention. One art critic described the 2003 work on Michael Jackson as the essence of “the interdependent relationship between leader and crowd.” Actually, I saw much of the Filipino human nature in it as the speech choir sounded like one entire barangay in a chika-hilira-sa-ating-hagdanang-kawayan. I was smiling reading one web review which took the Luce production as an ancient Greek chorus when it was really totally Pinoy local color.

In this 2011 homecoming, Paul Pfeiffer was in a mission again: saving the art of speech choir which is no longer in existence in many parts of the world.
People were recently again at the Luce to watch the speech choir performances expecting the usual, as it remains an annual event at Silliman.
But this one turned out to be another double-treat from Paul Pfeiffer. Unfolded on stage was the building of another solid juxtaposition: the many choral versions of the victory press statement of boxing icon Manny Pacquiao, and the star quality in Manny.

The show was again directed by Paul’s Hawaii connection Eva Rose, and was staged in collaboration with the SU College of Performing & Visual Arts.
We still have to see the end product but there is great promise in it: the whole world will see the cool presence of the people of the happiest nation in Asia, with Pacman as the entry point.

The audience at the Luce had fun with the Pinoy sense of humor captured. Paul Pfeiffer’s magic will have the scenes cascaded globally with his distinctive video art of glory.

July 22, the Cultural Affairs Committee of Silliman University formally opened the 2011 culture season with the performance of Ballet Philippines.
The country’s leading dance company is on tour to celebrate the sesquicentennial of the birth of our national hero Jose Rizal with the ballet Crisostomo Ibarra. The dance concert is inspired by the protagonist in Rizal’s novel Noli Me Tangere. I love this ballet by Paul Alexander Morales. The choreography went beyond just narrating the story as its characters, particularly the touching emotional twist in Sisa, never lets go of the audience from the opening movements, and much of this can be attributed to the dance artists’ successful embodiment of the icons in the pages history using the intense body poetry of contemporary ballet.
Sisa was brought to the stage with the complex play of Filipina grace and the pain from the fire of cruelty by principal dancer Carissa Adea.
Paul Morales called my attention on Sisa in two of our promotional events and indeed, he was successful in the harvest of love-for-the-motherland in Sisa.
Paul of Ballet Philippines’ visit to Dumaguete was actually a double-treat, too. I have known Paul only as a dance artist as he was still a teenager in his first performance at the Luce in Agnes Locsin’s Engkantada.
He came back twice with his own artistic direction for Ballet Philippines. The growth from dancer to director has been an amazing transition to witness.
In this visit, Paul Morales generously gave us a new glory in his being a total artist: as a film director.
I did not realize that the acclaimed director Paul Alexander Morales of Cinemalaya’s Concerto, an indie film featured in festivals all over the world, is actually Ballet Philippines’ power Paul Morales.
And he just made history in Silliman as his Concerto was the first film feature in the new CAC series to honor a Silliman icon in film, National Artist Eddie Romero.
In Concerto,we are told a story about a family surviving the ravages of World War II with the gift of music. It took Meryll Soriano, who played Nina, the strong-willed daughter, all of a minute of total silence to have me sympathizing with her longing to play the piano again – to enjoy freedom.
Actually, all actors made a perfect ensemble as they were all emotionally connected as a family even in moments of muted presence. Each of them had vividly brought me back to my mother’s rocking chair of war stories.
In these months June and July, Dumaguete had two valuable gifts of inspiration from Paul Pfeiffer and Paul Alexander Morales – both we dearly want to refer to as our very own.