Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Scary stories

Scary stories

Updated 00:59am (Mla time) Oct 27, 2004
By Ambeth Ocampo
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the October 27, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

HALLOWEEN is upon us again. In the subdivision where I live, many families with children have put ghosts, goblins and ghouls outside their homes. Some have turned their front gardens into mock graveyards complete with tombstones, but the names are foreign. One house has a giant spider (actually black trash bags made to form a spider) sliding down a web attached to the carport. Another house has a complete horror castle complete with lights and creepy creatures.

These are all very creative displays mostly bought over the counter, which may explain why I have not seen real pumpkins carved into scary faces with candles inside. Neither have I seen the real spooks in Philippine folklore: “kapre,” “tianak,” “manananggal,” “mangagaway,” “aswang,” etc. Halloween like some professional basketball players, is an import, a tradition that doesn't go very far back in the Philippines, but it is catching up.

It would be fascinating to know what scares Filipinos today. We are too urban for the “aswang” these days but there are other things to fear: criminals, criminals in police or military uniform, sexual predators, kidnappers, illegal recruiters, etc.

It would be fascinating to know the outcome of the First Capiz Aswang Festival this year. If Capiz province is successful in drawing interest and tourists, perhaps other places could cash in on folklore like the witches of Siquijor province or even the White Lady of Balete Drive, a hoax that has persisted over time like the Code of Kalantiaw.

Over the years, I have come across some very strange stories that I cannot use in my historical writings even if they are very arresting. For example, there have been accounts of ghosts in the Casa Manila Museum in Intramuros. I've always doubted this because the structure is new. How can you have ghosts in a house reconstructed in the 1980s? There are reports of sightings of Guardias Civiles and another "White Lady" wailing like Sisa of "Noli Me Tangere."

In contrast, there have been no ghosts reported in any of the Jose Rizal shrines: Fort Santiago, Calamba and Dapitan. If there were, maybe I would take the trouble to talk to Rizal's ghost if only to answer a lot of questions that resulted from reading all his writings. You will find in Guillermo Tolentino's forgotten book "Si Rizal" a transcript of a séance where Trinidad Rizal is alleged to have spoken to her brother Jose through a medium. Unfortunately, the language is stilted and the content too boring to be true.

Emilio Aguinaldo's mansion in Kawit, Cavite, is a museum and a national shrine. It is an original structure and should house spirits, at least of the hero buried in a simple white marble tomb in the back of the house. But so far there are no stories of the general going through all the secret passages and hidden rooms in the house.

Twenty years ago when I first visited the shrine, I was told “kapre” rather than ghost stories. A friendly “kapre” was said to inhabit an ancient mango tree near the master's bedroom. This creature would speak to the general either in his bedroom or the small room he kept on the tower of the house. A red light was allegedly seen on dark nights in this tree and it was said to be the lighted end of the kapre's cigar.

I cannot pinpoint one person who has seen the “kapre” or his lighted cigar. All we have are second- or third-hand accounts of sightings.

Why do these stories always come from the friend of a friend or a relative of a friend who cannot be traced for full documentation? The Kawit “kapre” is supposed to have warned Aguinaldo of danger or the enemy, which partly explains why he survived assassins and the war. Despite a handful of sensational television reports on the “kapre,” this rumor has sort of faded away. Not too much horror effect here.

Another famous Halloween story that has also been forgotten concerns a painting by Juan Luna in the National Museum. It shows a woman in bed, with one breast exposed as if to seduce the viewer, but the disconcerting detail here is the rosary in her hands, and a prayer book on the night table. This curious mix of visuals led to a lot of speculation as to what the woman was trying to say or do or what Luna was trying to say or do. But we will leave that to art critics and psychiatrists and turn to the scary story.

This painting used to be known as the portrait of Paz Pardo de Tavera, until extant photographs proved that this was a different woman. One could argue that Luna made his wife prettier than she was, and I often use this painting to illustrate that love is indeed blind.

Like some paintings by Fernando Amorsolo depicting the horrors of the Japanese Occupation, this particular Luna painting has a reputation for bringing bad luck to people who own it: unexplained or unexpected death, illness or, worse, bankruptcy. It was even said that at certain times of the day, museum visitors would gaze on this beautiful woman and see her eyes turn red like glowing coals.

Again all are stories, and nothing has been documented so far.

In Europe, real estate especially old castles and manors, gain prestige if it has a resident historical ghost. In the Philippines, nobody will buy a haunted house. Now that is a cultural difference.

Friday, October 22, 2004

MacArthur sought RP independence

MacArthur sought RP independence

Updated 00:58am (Mla time) Oct 22, 2004
By Ambeth Ocampo
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the October 22, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

HISTORIAN Teodoro Agoncillo taught me to be critical of historical sources. His advice was to examine the source-who is writing it and why? Is the narrative written shortly after the event, or remembered dimly years later? Agoncillo said private correspondence was more reliable than public pronouncements or self-serving memoirs.

While reading Douglas MacArthur's "Reminiscences," I remembered Agoncillo's advice. However, there are some details on the Leyte landing I hope to cross-check with a Filipino source like, say, Sergio Osmeña or Carlos P. Romulo who waded ashore in Leyte province on that historic day 60 years ago.

MacArthur gave the famous "Rally to me" speech he broadcast to the people of the Philippines from Leyte. Reading the same text today makes people cringe because it sounds melodramatic-and to some, downright corny-yet few know about a letter MacArthur scribbled and sent to US President Roosevelt. Again the text is from his memoirs:

"Near Tacloban, Philippine Islands

"October 20, 1944

"Dear Mr. President:

"This note is written from the beach near Tacloban [capital of Leyte] where we have just landed. It will be the first letter from the freed Philippines. I thought you might like it for your philatelic collection. I hope it gets through.

"The operation is going smoothly and if successful will strategically as well as tactically cut the enemy forces in two. Strategically it will pierce the center of his defensive line extending along the coast of Asia from the Japanese homeland to the tip of Singapore, and will enable us to envelop to the north or south as we desire. It severs completely the Japanese from their infamous propaganda slogan of the 'Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.' Tactically it divides his forces in the Philippines in two and by bypassing the southern half of the Philippines will result in the saving of possibly fifty thousand American casualties. He had expected us and prepared on Mindanao.

"The Filipinos are reacting splendidly and I feel that a successful campaign of liberation if promptly followed by a dramatic granting to them of independence will place American prestige in the Far East as the highest pinnacle of all times.

"Once more, on the highest plane of statesmanship, I venture to urge that this great ceremony be presided over by you in person. Such a step will electrify the world and redound immeasurable to the credit and honor of the United States for a thousand years.

"Please excuse this scribble but at this moment I am on the combat line with no facilities except this filed message pad."

It is unfortunate that MacArthur has been reduced, in the popular mind, to a fashion icon for RayBan sunglasses. He is best remembered for the promise, "I shall return." Wouldn't he be better remembered for the fulfillment of that promise when he uttered in Leyte rather matter-of-factly, "I have returned"?

Brushing up on the Leyte landing made me realize how many books have been published on MacArthur, and yet Filipinos know so little about him or his deep relationship with the Philippines. Our textbooks do not even mention that he wanted Roosevelt to recognize Philippine independence, something that was taken from us in 1898 when Spain sold the archipelago and its inhabitants to the United States for the “ukay-ukay” [rummage sale] price of $20 million. Of course, the value of money was different in 1898, but some corrupt military and government officials today have stashed away more than that amount.

While we have to be critical of MacArthur's memoirs, I couldn't get over his recognition of civilian supremacy over the military when he restored the Commonwealth government in the ruins of the provincial capitol days after the landing. Sergio Osmeña, according to MacArthur, was surprised by this act, thinking the trip was largely ceremonial and that he would return to the United States after the photo opportunity in Leyte.

MacArthur did not consult with Washington on this point, causing a rift with Interior Secretary Harold Ickes who wanted to take charge of the Philippines. According to MacArthur:

"It was his claim that the archipelago was a 'possession' of the United States and he seemed to think of the islands as another one of his national parks. In the period before our landings at Leyte, he informed me that he would take charge as soon as we had completed the invasion. Most certainly he was opposed to giving the reins of government into the hands of President Osmeña and the regularly elected authorities."

It was also important that the Commonwealth government took over to temper the witch-hunt for collaborators that MacArthur feared would be put in motion by Ickes who informed MacArthur that "he had been advised as to who had been loyal and disloyal to the United States during the period of the Japanese Occupation, and that he was going to try the disloyal people for treason."

All these come into play in another cloudy part of our history: the collaboration issue. MacArthur says that if Ickes had his way, then one of the many men who would be brought to court would be Manuel Roxas who became president in 1946.

One wonders what Ickes wrote in his diaries and other papers. There is much that has to be researched and reevaluated as we address the rewriting of our history textbooks.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2004

MacArthur's account of Leyte landing

MacArthur's account of Leyte landing

Updated 10:40pm (Mla time) Oct 19, 2004
By Ambeth Ocampo
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the October 20, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

SIXTY years ago today, Douglas MacArthur waded to shore on Leyte province and was quoted as saying, "I have returned." The remark was said matter-of-factly, so plainly that it was not recorded, unlike his radio broadcast afterwards that is quoted in full in a number of books I read for this column.

Since we do not want to spoil the fun in Leyte this morning, we won't give space to assertions that the historic photograph of MacArthur returning to the Philippines, with Sergio Osmeña at his side, is not the record of the actual event but of a reenactment. We leave that for another time.

There have been many commemorations at Leyte in the past, the most memorable of which was a recent re-enactment of the MacArthur landing where the actor slipped and fell on his face.

MacArthur relates the Leyte Landing in his "Reminiscences" as follows:

"We came to Leyte just before midnight of a dark and moonless night. The stygian waters below and the black sky above seemed to conspire in wrapping us in an invisible cloak, as we lay to and waited for dawn before entering Leyte Gulf ... Now and then a ghostly ship would slide quietly by us, looming out of the night and disappearing into the gloom almost before its outlines could be depicted. I knew that on every ship nervous men lined the rails or paced the decks, peering into the darkness and wondering what stood out there beyond the night waiting for the dawn to come. There is a universal sameness in the emotions of men, whether they be admiral or sailor, general or private, at such a time as this...Late that evening I went back to my cabin and read again those passages from the Bible from which I have always gained inspiration and hope. And I prayed that a merciful God would preserve each one of those men on the morrow."

Reading this made me realize how complicated it must be to be God. Here was MacArthur praying for victory when the Japanese were surely praying for the same thing from the opposite side of the fence.

Getting back to MacArthur, few people know that he had visited Leyte before 1944 when the US military built the docks there. MacArthur said: "And then just as the sun rose clear of the horizon, there was Tacloban. It had changed little since I had known it forty-one years before on my first assignment after leaving West Point. It was a full moment for me."

Then the event we remember today follows:

"... At Red Beach our troops secured a landing and began moving inland. I decided to go in with the third assault wave. President Osmeña, accompanied by General Basilio Valdez, the Philippine Army Chief of Staff, and General Carlos Romulo, my old aide, who had joined me in Bataan in 1942, had sailed with the convoy on one of the nearby transports. I took them into my landing barge and we started for the beach. Romulo, an old stalwart of the Quezon camp, was the resident commissioner for the Philippines in Washington. Noted for his oratorical ability, this popular patriot served on Bataan, and had been the radio 'Voice of Freedom' from Corregidor.

"As we slowly bucked the waves toward Red Beach, the sound of war grew louder. We could now hear the whining roar of airplane engines as they dove over our heads to strafe and bomb enemy positions inland from the beach. Then came the steady crump, crump, crump of exploding naval shells. As we came closer, we could pick up the shouts of our soldiers as they gave and acknowledged orders. Then, unmistakably, in the near distance came the steady rattle of small-arms fire. I could easily pick up the peculiar fuzzy gurgle of a Japanese machine gun seemingly not more than 100 yards from the shoreline. The smoke from the burning palm trees was in our nostrils, and we could hear the continual snapping and crackling of flames. The coxswain dropped the ramp about 50 yards from shore, and we waded in. It took me only 30 or 40 long strides to reach dry land, but that was one of the most meaningful walks I ever took. When it was done, and I stood on the sand, I knew I was back again -- against my old enemies of Bataan, for there, shining on the bodies of dead Japanese soldiers, I saw the insignia of the 16th Division, General Homma's ace unit."

On shore he stood before a broadcasting unit and in the rain said:

"People of the Philippines: I have returned. By the grace of Almighty God our forces stand again on Philippine soil-soil consecrated in the blood of our two peoples. We have come, dedicated and committed to the task of destroying every vestige of enemy control over your daily lives, and of restoring upon a foundation of indestructible strength, the liberties of your people."

When read in a book today, the words seem melodramatic or even corny, but one cannot deny the hope these same words inspired among Filipinos tired of the Japanese and wishing for freedom once more.

MacArthur ended his speech by saying:

"Rally to me. Let the indomitable spirit of Bataan and Corregidor lead on ... Strike at every available opportunity. For your homes and hearths, strike! For future generations of your sons and daughters, strike! In the name of your sacred dead, strike! Let no heart be faint. Let every arm be steeled. The Guidance of Divine God points the way. Follow His name to the Holy Grail of righteous victory."

It is not enough to remember the end of the war. Let us hope that we never have to endure war again.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Sound advice

Sound advice

Updated 01:03am (Mla time) Oct 15, 2004
By Ambeth Ocampo
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the October 15, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

TOWARD the end of July 1899, Emilio Aguinaldo was in Tarlac province, hounded by advisers urging him to take drastic action against the newspaper La Independencia, which had published an article that members of Congress found offensive. The article, titled "Algo para el congreso," [Something for Congress] and signed by "Paralitico," had some sensational but rather timely lines like: "Such is the work of the first Congress: a work of obstruction and not of development."

You don't need a PhD in history to know that "Paralitico" was none other than Apolinario Mabini, who had once served as Aguinaldo's closest adviser. He lost in a power struggle, left government and retired to Rosales town in the province of Pangasinan to lick his wounds. He did not fade away quietly; he continued to be a thorn in the side of Congress and the Cabinet through his writings. Though physically handicapped, his mind was sharp and he provided a conscience for the Revolution.

There were two "revolutionary" papers during the period. The official organ of the government was La Republica Filipina under the direction of Pedro Paterno, and the other was La Independencia under Antonio Luna. One could say that the editorial policy of the papers followed the temperament and political leanings of their respective editors.

Although Luna was assassinated in Cabanatuan in the province of Nueva Ecija in June 1899, the paper, under Rafael Palma, continued Luna's independent and fighting stance. Luna, who had once worked with La Solidaridad, was disappointed with its editor Marcelo H. del Pilar and its editorial policy, which called for reform rather than the separation of the Philippines from Spain. Luna's letters to Jose Rizal were full of complaints. For example, he had to write almost all the articles in one issue of La Solidaridad because the editor was remiss. Thus, Luna urged Rizal to establish a more radical paper and promised his support.

On July 31, 1899, Emilio Aguinaldo signed a letter to the editor of La Independencia, presumably drafted by Interior Secretary Severino de las Alas, calling the ideas in an article by Paralitico "anti-patriotic." Worse, the article suggested that the government was not united and could affirm what the Americans were saying: that Filipinos were unfit to govern themselves.

Aguinaldo's letter went on to warn: "I hereby direct that the editor of La Independencia, whose talent and patriotism are well known to us, be ordered after today not to publish any article by any writer that could more or less prejudice the cause we defend, he being excused for this time, but hereafter in the event that he incurs faults of this character, the proper correctional measures shall be adopted with regard to him."

Mabini said that Congress, which was then in session in Tarlac, did not truly represent the people because the war made elections impossible, and so the resolutions passed did not reflect the popular sentiment. In reforming the judicial system, Congress disposed of all Spanish systems (both the good and the bad) resulting in chaos and slowed down the already slow delivery of justice. Mabini felt that good and working parts of the Spanish justice system in the Philippines should be maintained and further improved. Then he explained the need for a dictatorial government during a crisis, going as far as to say, "Drown the Constitution and save the principles."

Contrary to popular belief, Mabini was against the Malolos Constitution and the Malolos Congress, insisting that the times needed a strong president, a dictator who could move the struggle forward. Congress was necessary in stable and peaceful times but an impediment during war:

"It was necessary for the members of the first Congress to demonstrate to the world the capacity of the Filipino people to govern themselves, and for this purpose they copied the Constitution of the French Republic and that of some South American Republics. For what reason was there imported into a country disturbed or threatened by a revolution the Constitution adopted by another nation in time of peace for the purpose of securing the greatest development of its civil life? Why did they not copy the Constitution adopted by the French Revolution or by the North American one or by any other nation that fought for its independence? At least logic and common sense would so counsel."

We all know that common sense is not common. Aguinaldo censored La Independencia without reading the article. He told Teodoro Sandico on Aug. 2, 1899: "I have just heard rumors that there is an article published by Señor Mabini in La Independencia entitled 'Something for Congress' in which said body was severely criticized; and, that such an article should not have been published because it disgraces our people and is a charge against them, seeming to confirm our lack of union. I do not know much about it as I have not yet read it and even though I should have done so, I would not thoroughly understand it, (because) as you know, I scarcely understand the Spanish language. According to what I hear, the article mentioned is signed with the name of Paralitico."

When you go through the primary sources on the foundations of the nation, we see division rather than unity. Mabini provided sound advice, and that's why he wasn't popular and was forced to leave the government service.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Royalty in Manila

Royalty in Manila

Updated 06:43am (Mla time) Oct 13, 2004
By Ambeth Ocampo
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the October 13, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

EYEBROWS rise in mock surprise whenever I mention something I read in Vic Agustin's Cocktales column in the Business section of the Inquirer. People who hold a stereotype of historians insist that I be completely immersed in archival sources or boring academic journals. However, I maintain that knowing the present is always a good way of understanding the past.

I make no apologies for being a compulsive reader. My reading materials range from erudite etymological entries in the Oxford English Dictionary to the nutritional information on the back of an instant “mami” [noodles] package.

What caught my eye in a recent Cocktales column was the coming visit of Princess Caroline of Monaco to beneficiaries of her charitable organization in Manila. Normally that's something you would find in Maurice Arcache's adjective-ridden photo-column, but Cocktales focused on the fund-raising dinner and how physical proximity to the princess will reflect the amount of the donation.

Manila is no stranger to royalty; we have been receiving them since the 19th century. The National Archives has bundles of documents on the preparations for the visit of Grand Duke Alexis of Russia and the Duque de Edimburgo. Itineraries for royal visitors usually included a trip to Taal Lake and, of course, a grand ball in Malacañang and a similarly glittering meal with the Arnedos of Sulipan town in Pampanga province. Street decorations and security arrangements were detailed. One of the odd rules prohibited horse-drawn carriages on Puente Colgante for the duration of the royal visit. Colonial officials didn't want any unwelcome news of carriages falling into the Pasig River so the Colgante or Hanging Bridge was reserved for pedestrians for a while.

Sometimes we had higher-ranking visitors like Norodom I of Cambodia, grandfather of the flamboyant Norodom Sihanouk, who recently abdicated and is now in self-imposed exile in Beijing. Materials on the visit of Norodom I are quite voluminous. They include the decorations he bestowed on everyone who took part in providing him with hospitality. Unfortunately, the side story I have been looking for is not in the archives. It seems that the king was smitten with a young lady from Bulacan province whom he gifted with a jeweled pendant, which is now one of the trinkets worn by the image of Our Lady of the Rosary or "La Naval" in the Santo Domingo Church in Quezon City. If newspapers of the time had the ancestor of Cocktales, it would have made my research easier.

Royalty always makes society news and has generated specialty publications like Hola! and Hello!, which chronicle the lives of kings and queens all the way down to lowly barons. Aside from keeping patrons occupied under hair dryers or keeping them still as they get a manicure/pedicure or have their eyebrows threaded, royalty is a childhood dream. Boys talk about battles and slaying dragons, but girls talk about marrying a prince and living happily ever after. Unfortunately, for those in their 20s, eligible princes are either toddlers or too old.

Frankly, royalty can be very ordinary if they are not in costume. I remember the grown-ups preparing to meet a certain Prince Alfonso Hohenlohe in the Puerto Azul resort outside Manila when I was still a child. I stood in the background admiring a stately man in a bush jacket named Stilianapolous who turned out to be the Philippine ambassador to the United Kingdom. The balding potbellied man in faded jeans, T-shirt and espadrilles I ignored was actually the prince.

Once I stood beside Diana, Princess of Wales, in the South Kensington McDonald's as she bought burgers for her sons and ran off before people recognized her.

The Philippine embassy in London is so well placed that while eating “adobo” and “kare-kare” in the dining room, you can look out into the driveway of Kensington Palace and see the royals go in and out. But sighting Elizabeth II was more difficult, although I recognized her funny hat inside a speeding limousine one day as I waited for a bus on Trafalgar Square.

In 1997 when Charles, Prince of Wales, visited Manila, I was only interested in watching him receive a tarsier from Bohol province. Matthew Gould from the British Embassy was in charge of this event and his major worry was that the tarsier might bite or pee on the prince.

Many people do not know that Edward, better known in later life as the Duke of Windsor, visited Manila on May 13-15, 1922, when he was still Prince of Wales. He carried a physical memento of this visit, a scar over his right eyebrow. This was not the result of an assassination attempt or a bar brawl. Edward was wounded while he was playing polo at the Manila Polo Club, which was then in Pasay City. He didn't fall off the horse after being hit by the ball, but he was reported to have collapsed in the stables. Governor-General Leonard Wood, a doctor, prescribed an anti-tetanus shot on top of the three stitches required to close the wound. Despite this, the prince insisted on returning to the field but was persuaded by the doctors to rest.

Our footnotes on British history happen to be the British occupation of Manila in 1762 to 1765 and a scar on the face of the Prince of Wales who later gave up the throne for Wallis Simpson.

Would the once and future king have had such a romantic history if he didn't play polo in Manila that day? We will never know.

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Friday, October 08, 2004



Updated 01:04am (Mla time) Oct 08, 2004
By Ambeth Ocampo
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the October 8, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

IT has been a number of weeks since the last Gawad CCP for the Arts were handed out in a long but glittering program held in honor of this year's awardees. Media coverage was slight, and the only television station that constantly reminds us of the awards is Channel 5 because of its owner, Antonio Cojuangco, who is in the news again but for a different reason.

The Gawad CCP is seen as the second highest cultural award within the gift of the state, next to being "canonized" Pambansang Alagad ng Sining or National Artist. It is good that we honor those who promote Philippine culture and we hope that even in these days of fiscal crisis, funding for the arts (already among the lowest priority) can be maintained.

Most memorable of the Gawad awards I attended was when Wilfrido Ma. Guerrero and E. Arsenio Manuel were honored. Etched in my memory was the scene afterwards, when the two senior citizens were vainly trying to get a taxi back to Diliman. They had been feted an hour earlier on the CCP stage, but there they were in their barong, clutching the framed citations, being avoided by taxi drivers who didn't want to make the trip to Quezon City. What I regret most was not stopping and giving them a ride because it meant missing my dinner in Malate.

That night I told myself, if this is how this country treats its artists and scholars, why bother? But then all the people so honored worked and toiled without seeking such a reward. Either way, I still think Guerrero and Manuel deserved a ride home that night.

One person who deserved to be remembered at least in the Inquirer is Doreen Gamboa Fernandez (1934-2002), who was honored this year for cultural research. She was better known as a food critic, one whose smiling face marked many food columns, some now used like the famous "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" in many restaurants in the country. She spoke to readers about food simply, in a language that perked up the taste buds and made mouths water. However, more than restaurant reviews, her graceful prose hid a deeper purpose which was to place food in its proper context. For this task Fernandez used more than the usual adjectives and drew from other disciplines: music, theater, art, literature, anthropology, or even architecture in describing food. Each essay pushed beyond eating and its physical pleasures and moved into the place of food in Filipino life.

Following the lead of Brillat-Savarin who wrote, "Show me what you eat, and I will tell you who you are," Fernandez used food as one way by which to tackle Philippine culture, since food forms part of that elusive thing Filipinos call national identity. For her consistent and groundbreaking work in food as well as Philippine literature, theater, history, journalism and the arts, she deserves her posthumous Gawad CCP for the Arts.

Marriage to the pioneering interior designer Wili Fernandez in 1958 led to many pursuits like the food column they began jointly in 1969, with Wili eating and Doreen writing. In time, the column carried only her byline and evolved into a column that set new standards for food writing. A disciplined writer, she submitted her weekly newspaper columns in batches often weeks in advance such that they continued to appear a few weeks after she died in June 2002.

Her food research was not confined to Manila restaurants. She went to fields and fishponds, interviewed people and observed actual cooking. Once she documented the way Ilocanos made trademark meat dishes by spending the better part of the day watching the goat from the time it was led to slaughter in the backyard till the time the creature was on serving plates, transformed into various dishes leaving nothing uneaten but the horn and hoof.

In like manner, her theater research took her from the air-conditioned and acoustically perfect halls of the Cultural Center of the Philippines to rural areas where the traditional plays like the komedya or sinakulo are still performed. Most difficult to document were the marathon plays of San Dionisio in Parañaque where townsfolk kept adding scenes to a fluid script extending the running time to about 12 hours, divided evenly over two evenings. Notebooks and note cards were filled with her observations in shorthand. She interviewed people, tracked down manuscript plays and old playbills and over time took hundreds of slides with her own camera.

These now historic color transparencies that form visual documentation of plays performed in the last three decades will soon form part of the CCP library. This is ironic because a number of times she was stopped by overzealous guards while she clicked away (without a flash) during performances in the CCP.

Her books include "Palabas: Essays on Philippine Theater" (1996), "Face to Face: The Craft of Interviewing" (1995), "Tikim: Essays on Philippine Food and Culture" (1994), "Fruits of the Philippines" (1997), and "Palayok: Philippine Food through Time, on Site, in the Pot" (2000), all basic references now for Philippine culinary culture. Maybe a compilation of her food columns can be added to the above to help us discover ourselves through our food.

Friday, October 01, 2004

Two exhibits

Two exhibits

Updated 01:36am (Mla time) Oct 01, 2004
By Ambeth Ocampo
Inquirer News Service

Editor's Note: Published on page A15 of the October 1, 2004 issue of the Philippine Daily Inquirer

THERE have been two landmark museum exhibitions this year. The first was the National Museum exhibit on Miguel Lopez de Legaspi, and the second is the ongoing exhibit at the newly opened Ayala Museum.

An assemblage of objects from various collections abroad were brought to Manila for the Legaspi Exhibit, the most interesting for me being a chest or “baul” from Mexico whose inside lid was painted with the earliest image of Intramuros. While the painting is quite naive, it provides a bird's eye view of life in the city at the time. The walls are there and so is the Pasig River, but what drew my attention is the Chinese ghetto outside the walls. Until then, I had only seen this chest in photographs, so I went to the museum thrice to see it and people around wondered what I was so excited about since other exquisite objects like “salakot” [native head covers], religious images in ivory, church pieces in precious metals, etc. all competed for attention.

Walking through the Legaspi Exhibit evokes mixed feelings. Many of the artifacts are so rare, and we do not have specimens of the same quality in museums in the Philippines. I know it is asking too much to even wish these were in our National Museum, but knowing our history, these objects would have been destroyed during the Battle for Manila in 1945.

In a sense the Legaspi Exhibit was like a time capsule. These objects from the Philippines were brought to Mexico and Spain centuries ago. They survived and were cared for there. And they returned to Manila almost in the same state in which they left. Rather than scream and press for repatriation, we should appreciate the care that went into their preservation.

One would wish that more people came to see the exhibit, that it could have been brought to the Visayas and Mindanao, that a complete catalogue be made available in English and Filipino. I know I am asking too much, but then we should not stop dreaming.

It took great effort and tact to bring all these artifacts together. It was a coup that some of the artifacts from Spain itself which had never been loaned to museums in Madrid were allowed to travel half the world away to Manila, proof that the long historical ties between the Philippines and Spain remain warm despite the overemphasis in our history textbooks on the Philippine Revolution (1896-1898). If we were to believe Teodoro Agoncillo, there was no Philippine history before 1872 and the foundation of the nation lies in the period 1896-1898, but when placed in a time-line that stretches all the way back to 1565, these are only two landmark years in 333 years.

There is much more to our shared history that remains to be unearthed, studied and appreciated.

Ongoing at the Ayala Museum is an exhibit of objects back in the Philippines for the first time in over a century: an album of watercolors by Justiniano Asuncion from the New York Public Library, an album of watercolors by Damian Domingo from the Newberry Library in Chicago, and actual clothing as recorded in these watercolors from the National Museum of Ethnology, Leiden. Both albums show the different types of people and their clothes in the early 19th-century Philippines. In an age without commercial postcards or a camera, these were brought home by tourists as souvenirs. That they were made by early Filipino artists is now a bonus. Since libraries are not the primary concern of Filipino tourists who go to the United States, very few people (mostly scholars) have been able or interested enough to see these wonderful albums. Now that they are home, Filipinos should take the opportunity to see and enjoy them.

Two decades ago, I requested to see the album of Philippine costumes in the New York Public Library. They were not properly labeled and there was a small note on the flyleaf that said they were by Damian Domingo. When I inquired about photoduplication, I was advised to bring my own camera and take pictures myself. Perhaps the library didn't know how valuable they were at the time, because anyone who walked in could gain access and handle it.

Now we know better, and if people study the albums further, perhaps we will know more. The Newberry Library set has each plate individually signed by Damian Domingo, but since these did not resemble any of the costume albums extant in Manila, I did not pay much attention because the Newberry had many more valuable treasures like Jose Rizal's medical and surgical notebooks and hundreds of documents on the Spanish period that can make any Filipino historian ecstatic.

On a Fulbright research grant in 2000, I was able to do some research in Newberry. It was quite an experience to be asked to wear gloves when handling rare material, to have certain books on special pillows on my desk. No wonder everything in their care live so long. (Last semester, I placed my books in the school library for the students' use and all were ruined by rough handling and photocopying.)

That these two institutions have allowed these albums to travel home for a visit should encourage other institutions that have Philippine material to do the same in the future. Now may be the time to draw up a wish list so that we can be inspired by old objects and make inroads into the future.