THE BOND OF CULTURE AND CUISINE

Culture

THE BOND OF CULTURE AND CUISINE

2 Comments 16 April 2012

By Cherie M. del Rio

It does not matter which corner of the world we are in or for how long. Sooner or later, our gustatory senses will be craving for the lutong bahay meals that we have grown up with. It seems that we cannot get by without the traditional Filipino recipes to delight our taste buds on a regular basis. But unlike other Asian cuisines — -such as Thai, Vietnamese, and Chinese—the Filipino culinary arts seem to be confined to a handful of Filipino restaurants scattered inadequately in remote states and suburbs. We don’t just walk into any dining hotspot, open the menu, and find a section which contains Filipino dishes. Our adobo and kare-kare haven’t earned fame and patronage the same way the Japanese sushi or Chinese dimsum have made their way in restaurant specials.

Why haven’t we made it? Where lies the problem? Why hasn’t the Filipino cuisine invaded the global scene? A friend cleverly offers a theory: “Because everything is brown.”

And while this is partly amusing and partly true, the color of our dishes is the least factor in our inability to join the ranks of other

Chef Gene Gonzales

world-renowned Asian cuisines. In a recent interview with Chef Gene Gonzales of Café Ysabel, he graciously shared his insights as to why Filipino dishes still haven’t made it globally. Chef Gene, who is the co-founder of Alta Cocina Filipina (the movement for contemporary Filipino cuisine), has authored many cookbooks and articles on the culinary arts for Manila’s major newspapers. His knowledge and brilliant observations on the current state of the Filipino culinary arts pave the way for the even more remarkable visions he has for our native cuisine.

“There is no problem with flavor, ingredients,” Chef Gene explains. “Presentation can be attained by a new generation of food stylists and chefs without altering the time character of the recipe or dish.”

For Chef Gene, the problem lies with a weak marketing campaign and an even weaker political will. He believes that anybody interested in food will try a dish if explained well in a context that the person can relate with. He elaborates, “It can have a historical, anthropological, sociological, medical nutraceutical or a combination of several factors of how a recipe could have evolved.”

Where then should our focus be in order for our cuisine to have a global reach?

Chef Gene offers the most interesting and profound answer: we should emphasize the bond of our culture with our cuisine. Both locals and tourists should be able to identify the strong connection between our cultures and traditions and the food we eat and serve. It must be recognized that when we speak of Filipino culture and heritage, we likewise speak of the Filipino recipes that have been handed down from one generation to another and vice versa.

He looks back at the culinary events he has attended and shares his observations on how the other Asian cuisines have been marketed. “Take the Thai, Malaysian, and Vietnamese experience. Food is always part of any tourism promotion the Philippines has only started the past years,” Chef Gene says. “I’ve been doing Philippine food festivals every year abroad and a good appreciation for our cuisine is obvious among those who try our spreads for as long as the dishes are well explained.”

The man behind Café Ysabel’s world-class cuisine also recounts an example that bolsters the need to highlight the bond between a country’s culture and culinary arts. “Take the Thais,” he says. “It took an American P.R. firm to teach them how to market their food and it was successful. All over Thailand, a Tom Yam looks like a Tom Yam, so does their Red Curry or their Papaya Salad. At present, any Thai national that sets up a restaurant outside of Thailand gets a royal subsidy from their embassy because they want to prove that it is one of the best cuisines of the world.”

It is clear. The Filipino cuisine hasn’t penetrated the global culinary arena not because all our food is brown or that our recipes are not healthy enough or not varied enough. We have not reached that most coveted world-class level because we do not have an adequate marketing scheme that will push our recipes forward, neither do we have sufficient government support.  “It’s a marketing and government problem,” Chef Gene emphasizes.

Having identified our weakness, Chef Gene now relates his compelling vision for the Filipino cuisine and how it can flourish both locally and globally. “We should include Filipino cooking in every grade school and high school curriculum. We should make it a required subject in all professional culinary programs,” he suggests.

He says we explore and be conscious of other culinary arts such as the cuisine of our Muslim brothers in Mindanao, the Filipino ethnic or tribal cooking and its documentation, the Filipino-Chinese cooking, particularly Tsinoy Binondo cooking which has evolved and is its own cuisine.

Chef Gene likewise believes that creating special awards on regional Filipino cookbooks (without the Fusion, of course) can help push our culinary arts to excellence and popularity.

Another one of his well-established suggestions is to create a Food Almanac and document all the specialties on a per town basis. “This can be done on a local government level since all local government units have a tourism office,” Chef Gene offers this insight. “Filipino cuisine will proliferate and will experiment a great push if the multi-sectoral effort will be spurred by a government that realizes the bond of culture and cuisine. Only then can we truly see the reality of a dream of evolving new and more dynamic Filipino recipes.”

And only then can we be closer to the day when we shall walk into a restaurant in some diner in Chicago or Houston and find, perhaps, the sinigang featured in the regular menu. Only then can we claim that our Filipino cuisine has finally descended upon the international culinary scene.

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WHAT’S IN A WORLD RECORD?

Culture

WHAT’S IN A WORLD RECORD?

No Comments 26 February 2012

By Meann Ortiz

When Manny Pacquiao defeated Antonio Margarito in 2010, not only did he win the WBC Super Welterweight Championship, he also set a new Guinness World Record for the Most Boxing World Titles in Different Weight Divisions. It’s a remarkable achievement, and something that makes us insanely proud to be a Filipino like Manny.

The Philippines holds other world records. Some of them are remarkable natural wonders: the World’s Shortest Living Man is Junrey Balawing (he’s just 23.6 inches tall), and the Largest Colony of Geoffrey’s Rousette Fruit Bats is in Samal Island (home to an estimated 1.8 million bats). The Youngest Tenpin Bowling Champion remains to be Paeng Nepomuceno, who’s held the record since 1976.

Trivial pursuits

Some records, however, are a little on the wacky side. Remember when a toothpaste brand broke the world record a few years ago for the Most Number of Couples Kissing Simultaneously in one venue? That even merited an ad on the largest billboard along EDSA, and I can still remember the outrage that followed when we lost the record shortly thereafter.

The Philippines is also known for the Largest Legal Tender Banknote (you’ll have to fold this 100,000-peso note several times over to fit in your wallet), the Largest Ten Commandments Tablet, the Most Number of Dishes on Display, the Longest Line of Loose Change, and the Largest Secret Santa Game. Guinness rejected the idea of the “Marikina Mega-Tule”, which would’ve put us on the record books for the most number of circumcisions performed within a set period of time. Yes, you read that right.

We have to wonder, though: If we can afford to put our time and resources toward setting such trivial records, then why are we not aiming to set more truly laudable ones?

A case of damaged culture?

The unfortunate reality is there are still a lot of Filipinos who think hanggang dito lang tayo. Our history of being colonized by different countries beat most of our self-worth as a nation out of us, and most seem to have forgotten that we actually managed to win not only the battles, but eventually, our independence as well.

Or maybe, as a friend of mine pointed out, this is still an extension of the tingi mentality.  We’re so used to what is easy, affordable, and accessible—shampoo by the sachet, cigarettes by the stick, medicine by the tablet—that we forget that we are capable of something greater.

More telling, perhaps, is that many Filipinos lose their sense of nationalism in the face of hardship. How often do we hear the urban poor say, Ano ang pakialam namin sa pulitika at ekonomiya ng bansa kung wala naman kami’ng tirahan at makakain? Individuals, companies, organizations—let’s be honest—many will think of their own welfare first before the country’s.

A closer look at our world records show that a good number, especially the rather off-the-wall ones, were set for marketing purposes—to boost awareness of their own brands or organizations—more than to bring real glory to the country. This is not entirely a bad thing, as it does make the rest of the world aware that the Philippines exists, and that we are capable of being the best at something. We are still proud of these records. But while we’re keeping up appearances and building our image, why don’t we go one step further?

Laudable achievements

The Philippines holds the record for Most Women Breastfeeding Simultaneously (3,541 women), and however ridiculous that may sound, it is actually one of the less trivial ones that we hold on Guinness. It was set during an event sponsored by UNICEF and the Department of Health to raise awareness on the value of breastfeeding children. There’s also the Most Number of Solar Bulbs Installed, which aimed to light 10,000 homes that do not have electricity. The Most Participants in a Racing Event was 116,086 during the Run for the Pasig River in 2010, which aimed to raise funds for the rehabilitation of the Pasig River. The Largest March Against Illegal Drugs was organized by PAGCOR in 2009, and had 332,963 participants.

These records were set for real, worthwhile causes, and these are the kind of records that deserve huge billboards and media exposure. These are the kind of records that we should be aiming for.

We have a long way to go before we are known for The Best International Airport, being the Least Corrupt Country, or having the Most Improved Economy in Southeast Asia. But we can use our penchant for record-breaking and record-setting support meaningful causes that will benefit not only ourselves, but other Filipinos as well. That’s already one small step toward achieving those bigger goals, and one giant leap toward reclaiming our nationalism.

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ROMANCING MANILA (FROM A TO ZZZ…)

Culture

ROMANCING MANILA (FROM A TO ZZZ…)

1 Comment 26 February 2012

By Ana Maria Villanueva-Lykes

Filpina in Traditional Dress400

Photo by Ray Soberano

You’ve fallen in love with her beautiful chaos, drowned in her swirl of colors. There is no one quite like her. You’ve been away for so long, yet you still hear the echo of her voice. It’s a cacophony of sounds- the honking of colorful jeepneys, the cry of the ballot vendor, calling for your return. And so you go back, seeking out her smells, the intoxicating scent of sampaguita, the mouth-watering aroma of street food fare. On your reunion, go on a full day date with her and re experience her splendor. An hour or two is not enough. Rekindle the spark with Manila with this sunrise to sunset itinerary:

7:00 Breakfast

You’ve lived on cereal for so long; it’s time to enjoy breakfast the way you used to with large helpings of fried rice, eggs, and chorizo. Dulcinea has some of the best Filipino breakfast favorites including chorizo bilbao, chorizo Pamplona and jamon serrano sprinkled with a generous helping of tradition. Their famous Spanish style Churros Con Chocolate will give you the sugar buzz that you need to start off your Manila tour.

puto bumbongbibingkachurros con chokolate

 

 

 

 

 

Dulcinea has ten branches all over the city, but it’s best to have your breakfast at Greenbelt 1 in Makati where you’ll be close to your next stop. If you have the craving for freshly baked puto bumbong or bibingka, head over to Via Mare or to the Manila Peninsula.

9:00 Historical tour

Start your day quietly at the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, a sprawling green 152-acre plateau at the Global City Taguig, a short scenic ride from Makati. The cemetery contains the largest number of graves of American heroes from World War II. White washed headstones stand in a uniform circular pattern, reminiscent of how these soldiers used to stand in attention. Around these sentinels are a lush variety of tropical trees and shrubberies that offer a quiet sanctuary in the middle of a concrete jungle. Outside is a spectacular view of the Laguna de Bay and neighbouring mountains. Close by is the Cemetery of Heroes where our own heroes and martyrs are laid to rest.

Mall Scene10:30 Shopping

It won’t be a tour without the shopping, and Pinoys are known for cheap retailing. From Taguig, take the C5 road to Tiendesitas in Pasig City. Tiendesitas offers a new shopping experience, showcasing the best Philippine products from art, antiques, furniture, pets, plants, to novelty items, souvenirs, native delicacies, and fashion. More than 450 traders sell their wares under Maranao inspired pavilions adorned with cogon grass, old kalesa wheels, and duyans.

12:00 Lunch

abe lechon,jpgabe restocontis lunch

 

 

 

 

 

Before you blow all your hard-earned dollars on antique jars, head back to Taguig for lunch at Serendra Piazza. Serendra at Bonifacio Global City is a two level indoor and outdoor diner’s paradise. If you’re missing lola’s dishes, Conti’s or Abe’s is a great choice.

aIntramuros5002:00 Spanish colonial stop

Head over to old Manila, to trace your roots in Intramuros. Within the walled city are numerous places of interest that harks back to the 16th century Spanish colonial period. The San Agustin Church is the oldest church in the country. The Trompe-l’œil painted ceiling, the ornately carved massive door, the choir loft with 17th century molave seats, and the courtyard make the San Agustin Church a worthy stop. Beside the Church is the museum, home to countless church artifacts, statues, paintings with gold niches from the 17th century, and tombs of Spanish conquistadors like Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and Juan de Salcedo.

Hopia4003:00 Merienda

Barbara’s across the museum has a little courtyard where you can cool off and share a slice of decadent chocolate cake with caramel sauce. Upstairs is the dining hall that takes you back to the 17th century with its lavish chandeliers and ornately bordered mirrors, and traditional Filipino and Spanish cuisine.

If you prefer the oriental delicacies, head to Binondo for some Chinese buns and hopia. Be careful because you can get lost in Chinatown, allured by the good luck charms, exotic ingredients, and jewelry in shops and stalls along the streets.

3:30 Spa treatment

Rejuvenate at the Wensha Spa Center near the World Trade Center for a very affordable body massage and treatment. Be warned though, the center allows you to sleep over, so there might be a good chance you’ll doze and miss the rest of your Manila date.

5:45 Dinner cruise

Head over to the Manila Baywalk for the world renowned Manila Bay sunset. The water reflects the fusion of city lights and the burst of colors in the sky. After the dazzling display, take a moment to reflect at the Malate Church, just across Roxas Boulevard, famous for its Baroque style and history.

Later, take a walk towards the Harbor Square in the CCP Complex for the Spirit of Manila Prestige Cruise. Experience Manila from afar, on a moving vantage point while dining al fresco over a full course gourmet meal.

9:00 Party

Once back on land, rediscover just how Manila loves to party. At the Remedios Circle are bars with character and life that offer a variety of entertainment options from live bands to ballroom dancing. In quiet cafes, the artsy spirits toast to poetry and food art.

Intoxicated with the festive air and the bottles of wine and spirits, wind down at Cafe Adriatico, dubbed as “the first true Filipino café,” by the late food connoisseur Doreen Fernandez. Indulge on a midnight snack of Salpicao and Chocolate Eh.

1:30 Second wind

If the rich dose of chocolate gives you a second wind, take a ride back to Greenbelt 3, Makati at Absinthe for a glass of the anise-flavored “Green Fairy” while dancing to the beats of DJs imported from all over the world.

Not quite done yet? Put on your dancing shoes and dance with Latin flair or snack on some tapas at the Cafe Havanna in Greenbelt 3.

4:30 Turning in

Before the sun catches you, head over to the Horizon Club of the Makati Shangri-la where you can finally rest your weary head in a pillow of luxury and dream of your love affair with the city that will always be in your heart.

(The author maintains a travel blog – http://anaviajera.com.)

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50 FOODS THAT DEFINE THE PHILIPPINES

Culture

50 FOODS THAT DEFINE THE PHILIPPINES

No Comments 08 January 2012

Filipino food may not be as famous as that of its Thai and Vietnamese neighbors. But with more than 7,000 islands and a colorful history, this archipelago has some delicious dishes of its own. READ FULL STORY

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MY JOURNEY WITH MY MOTHER TONGUE

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MY JOURNEY WITH MY MOTHER TONGUE

No Comments 19 December 2011

I reconnected with my mother tongue at the age of 13 and we’ve had a love-hate relationship ever since. She abandoned me when I moved as a child with my family to the United States. I hated not being able to speak Tagalog. READ FULL STORY

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PINOY LANGUAGE AND IDENTITY: AN AFTERWORD

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PINOY LANGUAGE AND IDENTITY: AN AFTERWORD

No Comments 02 September 2011

Manila Bulletin columnist James Soriano draws attention to the reality of many middle-class, private-schooled young Filipinos who prefer English to Filipino as a means of communication because the former is perceived to be “the language of the learned.” READ FULL STORY

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THE PINOY CHRISTMAS ALPHABET

Culture

THE PINOY CHRISTMAS ALPHABET

1 Comment 30 November 2010

By Aby Yap

In a nation whose days are marked by countless festivities—most of which you no longer celebrate for reasons financial and otherwise—you know it’s that most wonderful time of the year again when A to Z suddenly means:

Aguinaldo: With every warm greeting of Mano po, Ninong/Ninang comes every kid’s unconcealed wish for an aguinaldo. No, it doesn’t have to be gold, frankincense, or myrrh. A gift-wrapped toy or a crisp beInte is enough to earn a grateful kiss from your inaanak.

Bibingka: A taste of this season’s delights? Start with grilled bibingka, its sweetness melting with the salted egg, creamy cheese, and grated coconut in your mouth. Follow it with the purple puto bumbong and wrap up with a cup of hot thick tsokolate for a delicious experience.

Christmas Tree: You not only look forward to the lighting of the giant Christmas tree at Araneta Center, you also can’t wait to assemble your own tree in the living room and surround it with presents of all sizes. As soon as All Souls Day is over.

Dollars: More than any other time of the year, it’s during Christmas when dollars pour into the country. And like manna from heaven, dollars remitted by OFWs and spent by balikbayans make this season a lot merrier, especially for the lucky beneficiaries, and keep our economy sane.

Emote: For those who are into LDR (Long Distance Relationships) or certified members of the SMP (Samahang Malalamig ang Pasko), you can now emote-to-the max while listening to Gary V. croon Pasko na Sinta Ko without ridicule from people around you. That’s because they have to give love on Christmas Day, according to MJ.

Fiesta Ham: Whoever cooked up this branding deserves a lifetime supply of hamon. And not just any other ham; it should be fiesta ham! Imagine the need it has created among us. We lust after this delectable slab of glazed meat (with pineapple rings on top, please) year after year.

Gastos: Still wondering where your 13th month has gone? One miserable word: gastos. The worse part is we’re actually enjoying it. We shop for gifts, clothes, food, drinks, and whatever the season calls for like there’s no tomorrow. The only consolation is we’re no Scrooge.

Home: Ah, home, in the loving company of those dearest to you: family and friends. And if you’re part of an extended family, don’t forget to include your apos sa tuhod, 5th-degree cousins, kinakapatid, in-laws, kabarangays, etc. Christmas is worth celebrating when you’re at home.

Inaanak: For those whose list of inaanaks is longer than EDSA, playing Hide and Seek is the customary practice—not that it’s advisable. See, you can’t hide for the rest of your life. Besides, you have to confront your fear. Just arm yourself with aguinaldo.

Jesus: How many times have we heard it that Jesus is the reason for the season and not jolly Santa Claus? Yes, the big guy is rosy-cheeked, cute, and brings us gifts through the chimney (which makes his identity sound incredible). But Jesus, the poor babe who was born in a manger, is our Savior.

Karoling: “Namamasko pooo!”  Once you hear this announcement, prepare to listen to a sintunado medley of Sa may bahay…, Ang Pasko ay sumapit, and other easy-to-memorize Pinoy carols. Then, give out a few coins lest you hear them sing “Thank you, thank you, ang babarat ninyo.”

Lechon: As in any other fiesta, lechon will always be the Christmas table’s centerpiece. It’s not healthy, yes, but who said being healthy is part of this season’s deal? Remember: pigging out is allowed during the holidays (and certain occasions).

Metro Manila Film Festival: It’s your chance to see the unstoppable Shake, Rattle & Roll once again! (It’s now on its 12th sequel.) And Bosing Vic transform into the legendary Enteng Kabisote! So, forget Hollywood flicks for a while and let’s support our local films.

Noche Buena: It’s probably the most awaited meal of the year. At the strike of midnight, your usually bare table instantly turns into a lavish feast fit for the kings. Oh, the picture of meat dishes, carbs, and sweets gathered altogether is mouth-watering!

Over the Top: It’s been said many times in many ways that Pinoys have the longest, grandest, costliest, and of course, the merriest Christmas of all. That’s definitely over the top!

Parol: No house—big or small—is caught without a parol come the holidays. It could be as simple as bamboo sticks formed together to be a star then wrapped with papel de hapon, or as high-tech as the capiz lantern with dancing lights in Pampanga.

Queso de Bola: It’s like fruitcake; everyone has it, but no one eats it. Fortunately, it makes for a nice shiny red décor on your platter of New Year’s Day fruits.

Reunion: With the entire angkan (including people you didn’t even know you were related to), long-lost kindergarten classmates, high school friends, college barkada, and former officemates—there are all sorts of reunions that you just have to attend. If only for the tsismis

Simbang Gabi: Ready to hear mass for nine straight mornings? Take note: it’s 4 a.m. But that’s what makes Simbang Gabi all the more exciting; it’s a real test of your willpower! Here’s the deal: if you pass it, your one wish shall be granted.

Tiangge: Rejoice, bargain hunters (read: kuripot)! Your Christmas shopping worries are nearly no more with good, old tiangges where the rule of thumb is to haggle—what you’re naturally good at. Warning: prepare for a battle of siksikan and tulakan.

Unlimited Food and Drinks: Since everyone is extra generous and welcoming, you’ll get invites to every party there is. Grab this opportunity to spare yourself from dining expenses. With the unlimited food and drinks available, you’ll never go hungry or thirsty—at least during the holidays.

Vacation Leave: After a year’s hard work, you deserve a long break. And when’s a better time to take your vacation leave than during Christmas season? Thinking about all the shopping and reunions will distract you anyway. Hence, the influx of balikbayans.

White Christmas: Call it the American dream, but many Pinoys still dream of a white Christmas. That is, frolicking in the snow and building Frosty while singing Winter Wonderland.

X-change Gift: Something soft? Something smelly? Something special? Buying an X-change gift, “X” meaning top secret, for your Monito Monita or Kris Kringle could be challenging and exciting or disappointing and annoying—depending on the gift you’ll receive.

Year-end Reflections: The holidays, too, are a perfect time to go through year-end reflections in preparation for New Year’s resolutions. Example: I think I ate too much crispy pata that it’s starting to show in my thighs. I’ll start dieting on January 2.

Zero: The truth is all that holiday splurging could give you a zero, even a negative, balance in your financial books. But, hey, Christmas happens only once in a year—though celebrating it is bound to be a little too exaggerated if you’re a Pinoy. (Please see entry on O.) So, let’s just eat, drink, and be merry! Ho, ho, ho!

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CHIKA, CHISMAX AT CHUKCHAK

Culture

CHIKA, CHISMAX AT CHUKCHAK

No Comments 27 October 2010

“Chuvachuchu,” “Jologs,” “Krung-krung” at “Kikay.” Ilan lang ‘yan sa mga nakaaaliw na salita na madalas nating marinig sa mga showbiz personalities… na malamang ginagamit mo rin paminsan-minsan. Pero kagaya ka ba ng manunulat na si Pete Lacaba na nagtatanong kung saan nga bang lupalop nahugot ang mga salitang ito? READ FULL STORY

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SWEETER THAN BUKAYO, CHEESIER THAN KESO

Culture

SWEETER THAN BUKAYO, CHEESIER THAN KESO

8 Comments 14 September 2010

By Aby Yap

“Kahit siguro ipagtabuyan mo ‘ko, hindi ako aalis dito sa tabi mo. Dito lang ako. You know why? It’s because no one else will love you like I do.” — ‘Ang Stalker ni Rafael’ by Camilla

For those who aren’t familiar with Tagalog romance pocketbooks, Camilla might be a complete stranger. But for those who own libraries upon libraries of these novels, she’s the fairy godmother of the lovelorn Pinay in search of Prince Charming, bringing the promise of happily ever after.

One of the most prolific writers in her genre, Camilla (real name Armine Rhea Mendoza), writes for today’s most popular Tagalog romance novel brand Precious Heart Romances (PHR). Published by Precious Pages Corporation since 1992, PHR has even recently conquered the television, its romance tales brought to life by movie stars.

Writing Tagalog romance novels for the past decade, Armine, who got her pen name from a lady warrior in Iliad, discloses she can produce 30 manuscripts a year. And it was all inspired by a great-aunt.

Her Nanay Binya, she recounts, “had a staggering collection of Tagalog romance books from every publication available during the ‘90s,” a time when Armine was already writing for a magazine. But when her cousin encouraged her to try Tagalog writing, she started “stealing” books from Nanay Binya’s library to study how they were written.

In two days, Armine completed her first manuscript. However, it was rejected by the publisher who offered her an editorial job instead, which she accepted. After a year, she quit to write full-time.

Her manuscript finally became a book then. Later, her “bunch of kooks,” as she describes her heroines like Karen Kerengkeng, was also born.

But while Camilla enjoys celebrity status, Armine, graduate of Ateneo and De La Salle Universities, knows too well how her so-called “commercial literature” is negatively perceived.

She shares amusingly, “When my best friend, also an Atenean-La Sallian, found out what I wrote for a living, she started teasing me, telling me my book titles are cheesy, copying the blurbs, and sending them to me via SMS. Then, she started telling our common friends that my other name is Camilla. I could only retort by saying that jologs Camilla earns better than they do—combined!”

Cheese biz

Malou Medina, editor of My Special Valentine pocketbooks under Bookware Publishing Corporation, admits that 90% of their readers are 13- to 50-year-old females belonging to the C, D, and E markets. Consequently, their stories follow a strict romance formula, which requires happy endings, because it guarantees huge sales.

“It’s a form of escape. Majority of Filipinos are poor that we project our hopes and dreams onto the pocketbooks we read,” she explains. “That’s why bidas are all so good-looking, rich, and smart. They can’t die too.”

But it doesn’t mean that their stories all have the same damsel-in-distress and knight-in-shining-armor characters and rags-to-riches plots typical of romance novels.

“We’ve long moved on from these storylines because readers now want the protagonists to be palaban,” remarks Malou. “It’s the conflict between these characters that makes up for that kilig factor, so we inject interesting scenes, characters, dialogs, or new angles to old plots.”

Some readers—high school and college students, housewives, professionals—also submit manuscripts to them and get paid PhP4,000-PhP7,000 if accepted. Malou even recalls a male teenager from Mindanao who snail-mailed his 50-page back-to-back handwritten manuscript, which they published.

But while the Tagalog romance novels genre has a strong ground in the publishing industry, it still has major challenges to resolve. One is piracy, which isn’t at all exclusive to film and music.

“We’ve seen scanned copies of our pocketbooks concealed under different book covers, titles, and authors being sold in Divisoria,” Malou relates. “It’s a very alarming situation, but we’re taking up arms against book piracy.”

Secret ingredients

Writer Apple Masallo already has three published novels. Her ideas, she reveals, usually sprout from watching Asian TV series and cartoons, but most of her story scenes come from her own experiences or other people’s.

Apple began reading Tagalog romance novels in high school, when she used to read as many as five a day. She says she gained a lot from these: good entertainment, wider vocabulary, and relationship perspectives.

Since romance novel readers are mostly women, Apple believes the genre is unmistakably female. “Writers write what their women readers would appreciate, what could boost their female egos. Thus, the storyline wherein the hero goes crazy over a woman—that’s what’s kilig for us,” she opines.

Draftsman Paul Sevilla would rather keep his identity unknown, though, since no one knows that he writes. He originally intended to write suspense, action, and comedy, but the lack of market for these genres discouraged him. Thus, he settled for romance writing.

Very few men enjoy reading Tagalog romance novels, says Paul, so publishers require male writers to use female pseudonyms. He understands that female readers prefer female authors and that it’s women who know women best.

But he’s all out for indulging the readers’ expectations, Paul adds, especially since Tagalog romance novels just mirror the roles that women and men play in society, where the bida as a loving wife willing to sacrifice amuses the audience.

“Women are weaker and submissive, more likely to be housewives; while men are more powerful, smarter, and stronger. That’s the reality of life—it’s a man’s world,” he concludes.

Sweet truth

Maria Teresa Cruz San Diego, aka Maia Jose and Tisha Nicole, knows the powerful potentials of her medium. Aside from authoring a hundred Tagalog romance novels for nearly two decades, Tessa is also a mentor-trainer for Star Cinema’s Basic Film Scriptwriting and a freelance writer-editor for local and international NGOs.

She remembers how venturing into this genre started out only as an experiment to expand her paycheck. After studying Tagalog romance pocketbooks, she came up with her first manuscript in three weeks. It was immediately published by Books for Pleasure Inc., which owns Valentine Romances, for which she wrote exclusively until it closed down in 2002.

Her bestsellers gave way to unthinkable plots like fantasy romance and crucial messages on political, ecological, and gender issues. For a women’s NGO, a series tackling prostitution, mail-order bride syndicates, and white slavery was released. A romance pocketbook that encourages mothers to participate in the government’s breastfeeding program also came out.

Tessa’s emphasis has always been respect for the readers. The challenge to the writer, she states, is to make the novels just as accessible, understandable, and enjoyable to a high school graduate as to a doctorate degree holder.

“Very few of our people read literary books. It’s a reality that there are more readers of Filipino romance novels,” she argues. “If all good writers stick to high literature, what’s left to the mass market readers but junk? We writers owe it to the readers to write for them and give them choices.”

Thus, as happy endings aren’t far from possible in real life, so is cooking up worthwhile romance literature peppered with the realities of love and life—one that’s truly Pinoy flavored. (This updated version first appeared in Ilustrado magazine.)

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A SERIOUS LOOK AT PAMPANGA CRUCIFIXION RITES

Culture

A SERIOUS LOOK AT PAMPANGA CRUCIFIXION RITES

2 Comments 30 March 2010

By Tonette T. Orejas

City of San Fernando — The ritual of real-life crucifixion in Barangay San Pedro Cutud in this Pampanga city — entering its 48th year on Good Friday, April 1, and practiced by the likes of Ruben Enaje, who holds the longest-record of being nailed on the cross for 23 years — has earned its first academic scrutiny.

The research — Ang Ritwal ng Pagpapako sa Krus: Panata at Dulaan sa Bawat Turok ng Pako (The Ritual of Nailing on the Cross: Faith and Theater in Every Piercing of the Nail) — by Sir Anril Pineda Tiatco earned recognition as the best research in the College of Arts and Letters’ graduate program at the University of the Philippines-Diliman in April 2006.

College dean and National Artist for Literature Virgilio Almario and Jimmuel Naval, associate dean for research and publications, cited Tiatco for his “contribution in theater and performance research.”

“(It is) considered to be the first research on the ritual of the nailing on the cross in Cutud (and it is) cited not only in its anthropological merit but also in its in-depth analysis on the important nature and aspects of theater and performance,” Almario and Naval said.

They added: “This research is also a significant instrument in understanding local cultural expression and other central discourses on related fields. Because of its comprehensive and rich analysis of the ritual through the descriptive and narratives of theater and performance, it is recognized as the best research of the year.”

Tiatco, a former seminarian and now an educator and theater artist, said he undertook the two-year study because “I am a Kapampangan.”

“I wanted to understand my own culture. I wanted to understand what we Kapampangan are so proud of in terms of performance and religiosity. I was convinced that more than spectacle and entertainment, something substantial was present in the ritual,” he explained.

Tiatco started with this view and ended up sticking to it: “In a sense, the historicity (of the Cutud crucifixion) isn’t about tourism, politics and media sensation as most people claim. These, among other (reasons), paved the way for me to undergo the ethnography.”

He believed that anthropologist Nicolas Barker “misrepresented” the ritual by “implicitly proclaiming the fatalistic attributes of lowland Christians in Central Luzon.”

“I wasn’t convinced with his arguments especially (because) I am part of the region,” Tiatco pointed out.

Using formal research methods as well as immersion in the village and interactions with those who keep the practice, Tiatco looked from within.

As folks told him, the root of the crucifixion ritual evolved from the rituals of pamagdarame (flagellation) and the street play on Via Crucis (Pasion Y Muerte or The Way of the Cross).

No one could exactly say when flagellation actually started. It is largely practiced by men, who wound their backs and violently whip these to bleed the blood out. The usual reply of old penitents was, “Akagisnan mi namu ini (This was already in practice when we were growing up).”

The late Ricardo Navarro, more popularly known as Tata Legring, wrote the play in 1955, staging it yearly since then with residents as cast of actors in the last hours of Jesus Christ on earth. The play has seen no interruption, continued by his son Ricardo and now by his grandson Allan.

Even a calamitous event like Mt. Pinatubo’s eruption in 1991 failed to stop the penitents’ conviction. Tiatco said they performed the crucifixion in October 1991 and did it again in April 1992 as Cutud was all covered with volcanic ash and sand, and inundated by mudflows (lahar) in 1995.

“Both the flagellation and the staging of the Via Crucis have pamamanata (a religious pledge leading to redemptive sacrifice) as an objective,” he said, noting that the same objective continued with the crucifixion.

According to him, the pamamanata aim was present in all its elements: actor, audience, place and text.

Further, the pamamanata was a pact between God and those who keep the pledge.

Mortals hold the vow for the following reasons: To seek petitions and intentions, to pay utang na loob (debt of gratitude) and unburden themselves of bigat ng loob (guilt or remorse).

Tiatco noted that while the ritual was an expression of Catholicism and a literal reenactment of the death of Christ, it is not among the Catholic rites. In fact, it is strongly discouraged by the local Roman Catholic Church.

“This is a ritual by those in Cutud, a modification of Catholicism,” he said.

Their collective expression of their faith gives those in Cutud a faith identity of their own. “Ang pantayong identidad ng pananampalatayang Cutud ay ang sama-samang pagpupugay sa pagkamatay ni Hesus na simbolo ng pagtubos sa sanlibutan na siyang pinakabuod ng pagdiriwang ng Biyernes Santo sa komunidad Katoliko,” Tiatco said.

But the ritual has undergone changes in recent years.

Basically, it has ceased being an exclusive affair by those in Cutud. The Department of Tourism, local government units and travel companies have cashed in on the event, bringing in spectators and devotees from around the country and abroad. Crowd estimates range from 20,000 to 30,000.

The crucifixion has assumed a dual character — a holy ritual and at the same time a show. Because this is so, Tiatco said the Cutud community takes on an identity as a keeper of an old tradition in the context of faith and one that is a modified form of Catholicism.

Photo by Nicholas Barrowclough

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