Friday, March 14, 2008

Holy Week reflections on culture

by Robbie Tantingco

Once again, all roads lead to San Pedro Cutud next week. There will be thousands, maybe hundreds of thousands, crowding the long and narrow path leading to the hill of crucifixion, like a scene from a Cecil B. De Mille movie. When you have a crowd like that descending upon your town or village, their safety and comfort becomes your responsibility, whether you like it or not and whether you invited them or not.

Which is why local government units are now scrambling to cope with the situation. I’m sure it’s still going to be a nightmare out there, no matter how the organizers try, because Cutud simply attracts more visitors than it can take.

But the more important problem to solve is really the cultural authenticity of the Holy Week practices, not just in Cutud but in many other places in Pampanga. There is no other region in the country during Holy Week where so many things happen in so many different places at the same time. In fact, Lent in Pampanga is more festive than Christmas.

In their excitement to cash in on the arrival of so many tourists and media people, local officials and organizers should prioritize the authenticity of a tradition more than its tourism value. The reason for this is simple: Tourists come to see folk traditions in their original, unadulterated form, not stylized or updated versions. You lose their authenticity, you lose the tourists.

For example, tourists prefer seeing penitents who carry crosses made from banana trunks or logs from their own backyard, rather than mass-produced crosses donated by a local official or businessman. In Cutud, I’ve always wondered why someone has to use a microphone to annotate the proceedings for the benefit of the crowd, unless the organizers treat the whole thing as a show instead of a religious ritual that the crowd is only privileged to witness.

Tourists come to Pampanga during Holy Week because Kapampangan penitents perform their acts of penitence—and not Kapampangan penitents perform because tourists come to Pampanga.
What our penitents do is a very personal and sacred act, and we should protect them from media who sensationalize, and tourists who trivialize, this act. When a man has himself nailed to a cross, I am sure he does it not for show or for money, but because he is fulfilling a vow, or asking God a favor, or expressing his gratitude for a favor already granted—any motive that I’m sure is private and definitely not for a reporter, interviewer or cameraman to want to know, record and broadcast to the world.

Tourists should be treated as, well, tourists, to be accorded the usual courtesy and hospitality and given the necessary amenities. But tourists should not be allowed to distract or interact with the penitents; they should merely watch and observe, with as much distance from, and reverence for, the penitents as possible. I’ve seen cameramen calling out to a man who was nailed on a cross to turn his head and face the camera, and I did hear some people in the crowd actually poke fun at one crucified man.

I have nothing but compassion for the men and women who flagellate themselves or allow themselves to be nailed to the cross every year. What they do is a continuation of a long tradition that’s found nowhere else but in the Kapampangan Region. You know that it’s unique here because our word for it is as original as it is beautiful: “magdarame.” It comes from an ancient Kapampangan word “dame,” which is defined in Bergaño’s 1732 dictionary as “to voluntarily take part in someone else’s situation or predicament.” Thus, when a Kapampangan picks up a cross or flagellates himself on Good Friday, he is doing it not just in imitation of Christ, but in fellowship with Him—it’s a mystical relationship in which the penitent, believing that Christ still relives His Passion every Good Friday, offers to alleviate His suffering by imposing on himself, or trying to approximate, or at least taking part in, Christ’s own suffering.

Flagellation as a religious ritual started in medieval Germany and may have been brought here by the Spaniards, because even Mexicans still do it. But then so do Hindu mystics in parts of south and southeast Asia, so it’s possible that we got the practice from our prehistoric ancestors and the colonizers merely Christianized it.

It really amazes me that of all the people in the Philippines, it is the Kapampangans—known for their vanity and love for the good life—who still cling to this tradition. It also amazes me that instead of vanishing, like what’s happening to most other cultural practices in Pampanga, the tradition of flagellation continues to thrive and even prosper. Last year, there were more Kapampangan boys and men who carried crosses and mutilated their bodies than there were in the previous years, and I’m sure next week the number will increase again.

This, despite the continuing Archdiocesan ban on flagellation, which goes against the Church doctrine that God’s forgiveness is readily available through the sacrament of confession alone. You ought to see the multitude of flagellants converge in Mabalacat at sunrise on Good Friday. It’s a sight that will make your jaw drop to the ground, and it would make you wonder what overwhelming social stress, trauma or dysfunction is driving all these Kapampangan boys and men to self-mutilation.

Yes, there are other destinations in Pampanga other than San Pedro Cutud and yes, we want tourists and media to discover them. But let’s remind ourselves that culture should never be sacrificed on the altar of tourism.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Holy Angel is forever

by Robby Tantingco

I love my alma mater, St. Louis University, dearly and with all the affection and nostalgia that an alumnus holds for the school that nurtured him, but there’s another school in my life that has my equal devotion.

Still, despite serving Holy Angel University for 23 long years—practically all the best working years of my life—I have no right to call myself an HAU alumnus. When you’ve worked that long for a certain school, cared for it and grown old with it, you sometimes begin to feel like an alumnus yourself, until you go home and see another diploma hanging on your wall.

This week, as Holy Angel University opens its Diamond Jubilee Year, I would like to cheer the thousands upon thousands of HAU alumni out there, those who carry their alumni card proudly and those who take it for granted, those who know how lucky they are and those who don’t realize it. As an administrator, I can only join in the celebration as a worker in the background, but the party belongs to all the students, past and present, who can claim that their lives have been molded and their destinies shaped by this great institution.

St. Louis University and Holy Angel University are actually alike in many ways: both are the biggest in their respective regions, both charge relatively low tuition fees, both aren’t contented with just being big—they risk their enrolments by upgrading their academic standards. As a result, both SLU and HAU are now recognized as the most prestigious universities in their areas, being the only private schools north of Manila with most of their programs given Level III accredited status by PAASCU.

Many schools in the country find it difficult to balance low tuition fees (to attract students) with high salaries (to attract faculty and administrators). Some schools sacrifice one for the other, and as a result, they become big but poor quality, or they get good quality but small population. SLU and HAU are successful in both.

But it is no secret to the community that Holy Angel has struggled with this in the past. The social unrest after World War II, followed by the ravages of the Marcos dictatorship, followed by the eruption of Pinatubo, followed by the relentless lahar devastation, wreaked havoc on the school. Faculty and students alternately and sometimes simultaneously held strikes and boycotts. I remember seeing Vice President Noli de Castro, then still a TV newscaster, walking in to interview administrators and student leaders during one particularly nasty boycott, and I remember wondering how a campus issue would interest him and the rest of the nation.

Well, with 15,000 students and nearly 1000 employees, multiplied by the number of their families and friends and the people in their respective neighborhoods, plus the thousands of alumni again multiplied by the number of their relatives and acquaintances—indeed, anything that happens on campus has the potential of becoming the topic of conversation in practically every household in the region.

I can even go farther and say that with all the government officials, businessmen, educators, civic leaders, artists, etc. as well as ordinary citizens acquiring their values and their education from HAU, not to mention the thousands whose present and future livelihoods directly depend on the school—the University’s ups and downs actually help shape the destiny of the whole region.

When I first joined the school in 1985 as an employee, the new President, S. Josefina Nepomuceno, OSB was just beginning to undertake the sweeping reforms that would ultimately take it to where it is today. She is a member of the great Juan D. Nepomuceno branch of the Nepomuceno family tree, the same branch that built the electric plant, the ice plant, the shopping complex, the premier subdivision, and of course, Holy Angel University.

The founding of the school is credited to Don Juan and the parish priest at the time, Fr. Pedro P. Santos, but two other people played equally crucial roles in the story. Don Juan’s eldest son, Javier, who convinced his father to open a new school after he and his classmates had decided not to reenroll in their old school (they didn’t like some school policies), and Ricardo Flores, a teacher at Javier’s old school who had also quit along with other teachers (same reason). Flores, in fact, had already returned to his hometown in Laguna and started a new job with the government when Don Juan and Javier wrote and convinced him to return to Angeles. His role cannot be underestimated because it was really the laymen like him and Don Juan who managed the initial years of the school, which prompted historian Dr. Luciano Santiago to call Holy Angel “the country’s first Catholic school run by laypersons.”

On Saturday, March 8, Angelites all over the world will join the Holy Angel University community, in person or in spirit, in opening the school’s Diamond Jubilee Year. I know many in your own family, in your company and in your neighborhood are graduates of HAU, and they probably don’t think much of their alma mater.

Well, tell them about this billionaire software developer from Silicon Valley who has a Holy Angel diploma in his room, or this alumnus who helped build the Ayala empire, or the Dean of the Ateneo School of Law, or the former Secretary of Trade and Industry, or those Catholic bishops, Benedictine abbots, Olympic athlete, Miss International, US state legislator, Grammy Award winner, and even the patriots who founded Kabataang Makabayan and the New People’s Army—all of them started at Holy Angel, they got their education there, they are proud of it, and they are grateful for it.

I don’t have a Holy Angel diploma at home, only an ID card that says I work there. All of you who have an HAU diploma, cherish it like a diamond. Make sure to dust it off this week, or if it’s tucked away in some cabinet, take it out, have it framed and hang it on your wall, and on Saturday, March 8, join all the alumni, wherever they are, in cheering Holy Angel University for all the great and wonderful things it has done to you, to this region, and to the world.

Friday, February 29, 2008

Pampanga and people power

by Robby Tantingco

The handsome coffee-table book “Luid Ka!” launched last Sunday in Betis, should remind us Kapampangans that, whatever they say about People Power-—that it is outdated, it won’t work again, it will hurt rather than help the nation—-and despite all the bad reputation that People Power has acquired through the years due to abuse and misuse, we Kapampangans did get a glimpse of it in its purest form last May 2007, and yes, it was beautiful! Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

And thank God they made a book that captured the moment and preserved it for all generations, so that our children, their children and their children’s children will never forget that once upon a time, Kapampangans came together, created a piece of heaven on earth, and took a direct hand in altering the course of history.

That moment, unfortunately, is gone. All the heavenly glow that surrounded the key players and their supporters on that night at the convention center—captured so vividly in photographs—has evaporated in the harsh daylight of political realities.

I hope the book will remind us once again that doing good is more important than being right, and that we have the capacity to transcend our daily battles and create moments of miracles where anything is possible.

The book also made me ask why a people power movement succeeded so spectacularly in Pampanga last year, while the rest of the country today is failing so miserably in trying to organize another.

One possible explanation is that People Power is really the desire to install someone, not the desire to oust someone. The People Power in 1986 was fueled by the popularity of Cory Aquino, not the unpopularity of President Marcos, because had the presidential candidate been Doy Laurel instead of Cory, I don’t think millions of Filipinos would have risked their lives at EDSA.

In Pampanga, had the candidate not been as charismatic as Fr. Ed Panlilio, whose spirituality defined the election as a classic battle between good and evil, and whose inexperience made him the underdog against one candidate’s showbiz-style popularity and another candidate’s huge campaign funds—people power would not have happened in Pampanga.

I think People Power, in its purest form, occurred only twice in history: in 1986 at EDSA, and in 2007 in Pampanga.

The one that ousted President Estrada and installed Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (now known as EDSA 2) was motivated by a desire to unseat a corrupt, uncouth President, not by a desire to install Vice President Arroyo. I remember watching on TV how wildly the crowd in front of the EDSA Shrine cheered when they heard the news that Erap had fled Malacanang; however, the moment a giddy Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was introduced as the new President, the crowd applauded only politely. That was the moment, I think, when Filipinos got disenchanted with People Power. The attempts that came after that (EDSA 3, EDSA 4, etc.) did not succeed anymore.

Today, as the political situation in the country continues to deteriorate, Filipinos remain reluctant to do another People Power because there is no overwhelming desire to install anybody, just an overwhelming desire to unseat the President. They’re probably thinking: Whom are we going to risk our lives for—Noli de Castro?? Why change a defective TV set when the replacement is another defective TV set?

Well, come to think of it, why not?

Just because President Arroyo is doing a good job at improving our economy doesn’t mean we have to turn a blind eye to a crime she might have committed. We want her out not because she is not a good manager (she is), but because she may have committed a crime, which leaves the nation no option but to punish her. Even the class valedictorian loses his medal if proven he cheated, and even the company’s best employee gets fired if caught he stole money. No amount of good behavior or excellent accomplishments can immune or rescue you from the consequences of one terrible mistake.

That’s what we call responsibility and accountability, and that’s what we should teach our children. Every time we say GMA should stay even if she may have cheated or stolen money, because she is doing a good job with the economy anyway and her replacement will not do as well—what values are we teaching the next generation?

If indeed she is guilty as charged, and she refuses to go, then the people will have no other option but to summon People Power. Don’t blame the people for resorting to it; blame Malacanang for forcing the people to resort to it.

Last Sunday, the book launching of “Luid Ka” in Betis reminded me how beautiful People Power can be, and yesterday, the 22nd anniversary of the 1986 EDSA Revolution reminded me how proud we all were then. People Power was “our gift to the world.” Today, they’re forbidding us to give that gift again.

Pampanga may have something to teach the rest of the nation.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Our Kapampangan President

by Robby Tantingco
SunStar Pampanga

When I watch on TV the thin crowds that gather for anti-GMA rallies, I can’t help feeling sad—not so much for the opposition as for the country as a whole. Rallies are the yardsticks for measuring not only the popularity or unpopularity of a President, but more importantly, the level of people’s interest in their country’s affairs.

When people stay away from rallies, it doesn’t mean they are pro-GMA; the surveys already tell us that she is a very unpopular president. The thin crowds in rallies simply mean people no longer care whether GMA stays or goes. And that’s bad.

Some call it people power fatigue, others think it is a sign that Filipinos have matured politically because they now rely more on the electoral process than on people power to change their leaders.

Well, I have a more cynical explanation.

The world today is so much more complex than the world that produced the People Power movements in the 1980s and the 1990s. Whereas before we only had five TV channels, now we have over 50. We also have cell phones and iPods and malls and DVDs and the Internet.

In other words, people today are so distracted by so many things happening at the same time that they can’t focus on any single thing. They tune in to the Senate hearing for a few minutes, then switch to American Idol and Desperate Housewives. They drop by the rally in Makati and after a few boring speeches under the sun, they rush to Greenbelt to cool their heels at Starbucks and later to Glorietta to catch the last full show. And how can corruption in government arouse anger in a teenager whose head is swimming with Justin Timberlake’s music from earphones plugged in all day?

Of course they read the papers and follow what’s happening in politics, and for a few moments they probably feel stirrings of patriotism and even send their politicized thoughts to their friends and co-workers through text messages, but to go beyond that—like march in the street and risk being hosed down by the PNP—that’s probably stretching it a bit.

It will probably take a tyrant like Marcos to reignite people power, and for all her repressive policies and dictatorial tendencies, GMA is no Marcos. I think it will take a series of earth-shaking events, instead of just one, to really create the critical mass that will erupt in a phenomenon called people power. In the 1980s, the assassination of Ninoy began the chain of events that led to the rigged Batasang Pambansa elections and the snap elections and the walkout of Comelec tabulators and the mutiny of Defense Minister Enrile and Vice Chief of Staff Gen. Ramos. In the case of Erap, the nightly TV coverage of his trial that showed a steady procession of witnesses and damning revelations, with defections by friends like Chavit Singson and even Nora Aunor, sustained the people’s outrage long enough to finally push them to spill into the streets.

In the case of GMA, the scandals are as earth-shaking as the others, but they are spaced so few and far between that the people’s anger keeps rising and falling. The Hello Garci episode could have been it, except that the crowds didn’t show up. FPJ’s wake and funeral aroused people’s sentiments for about a week, then also fizzled out. Joey de Venecia’s expose came and went, too, and now, this Jun Lozada thing looks like a noisy circus that is also doomed to fade away, like all the others before it.

Well, I sincerely hope not.

This government has corrupted itself with such impunity that if the people would not bring it down, I am certain God would.

As a Kapampangan, I truly wish GMA well and I am grateful for all the preferential treatment she has given Pampanga. However, as a Filipino, I cannot be so selfish that I don’t care if she robs the rest of the nation blind as long as my province benefits from it. Our love for our province should stop where our love for our country begins.

Sometimes we should sacrifice provincial interests for the sake of the nation—I emphasize sometimes, because other times, we shouldn’t (like in the case of language). Whether we like it or not, all the regions and tribes in these 7,100 islands came together at one point in history and decided to be one nation, so even if our own Kapampangan Nation antedated the Philippine State by 400 years, this is where we find ourselves now, struggling to coalesce with other regions under one flag.

We cannot privilege our province at the expense of the nation. The attitude that we should stick to the President because she is a Kapampangan or because she has done so much for Pampanga—is selfish and unpatriotic.

As the political events unfold in the next few days, we Kapampangans should start thinking as Filipinos instead of just Kapampangans so that we can assess the situation more objectively. I support GMA for her wise decisions and enlightened policies, and I will abandon her if she is proven to be a crook. Our cabalen who will stand by her come what may, who will stick their neck for her and even take the bullet meant for her—that’s their choice.

But when you are loyal to one person, you can expect reward only from that person. Those who put the country’s welfare above all—they can expect the gratitude of an entire nation.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Abe, Larry Cruz and my begukan

By Robbie Tantingco

My friends often told me that my begukan (pork pieces sautéed in shrimp paste) was the best in the world. They told it so often that I had started to believe it. Until Larry Cruz walked into my life and tasted my begukan.

I first met Larry Cruz two years ago when a common acquaintance, Vic Torres of the Intramuros Administration, linked us up for a book project. Before I made that trip to Makati to meet him, I Googled his name to make sure I had my facts right about the man I was going to do business with.

I learned that Larry Cruz headed the LJC Restaurant Group which owned a chain of restaurants that included Café Adriatico, Café Havana, Bistro Remedios, Larry’s Bar, Abe Restaurant and Bollywood. I also learned that Larry Cruz was credited for popularizing the so-called bistro lifestyle in Manila, i.e., the subculture that thrived in the Ermita-Malate area, specifically around the Remedios Circle, where the culturati and the literati mingled with tourists and transvestites in coffee shops, bars, antique shops and restaurants, dining, drinking and who knows what else until the wee hours.

Larry Cruz, being a native of Magalang town, was a Kapampangan who, like Ricco Ocampo of San Fernando, was one of the country’s best-known restaurateurs and, like Claude Tayag of Angeles, was one of the country’s most sought-after culinary consultants. Like Claude, he had an art-house filled with antiques and paintings, where he loved to entertain friends and visitors with the best that Kapampangan cuisine had to offer, but unlike Claude, he didn’t cook.

We met in his Bollywood Restaurant, located on the third level of Greenbelt 3 in Makati. I sat facing him, a little intimidated by the combined gravitas of his personality and reputation, and as I pretended to know exactly what to do with the exotic Indian food on my plate, he pretended not to notice my clumsiness. But there I was, a probinsyano being asked by Larry Cruz to be the publisher of the biography of his father—writer, painter and diplomat E. Aguilar Cruz—written by no less than the greatest Filipino writer in the English language, Nick Joaquin. It was Nick Joaquin’s certified last book before he died (I emphasize certified, because there are other books claiming to be the National Artist’s last works), and it was to be Larry’s tribute to his father.

To cut the long story short, the book was launched on the same day Larry’s Abe Restaurant opened. I am not exaggerating when I tell you that it was probably the cultural and social event of the year, because it had everything in it: Larry Cruz, E. Aguilar Cruz, Nick Joaquin, the hottest restaurant at The Serendra, the most upscale spot in the upscale Bonifacio Global City, performers that included Ballet Philippines and the country’s top soprano Rachelle Gerodias, the emcee a Binibing Pilipinas title-holder, and the guest list with such names as Carmen Guerrero Nakpil, Bencab, Gilda Cordero Fernando, Armando Doronilla, Ambeth Ocampo, Claude Tayag, Adrian Cristobal, Kit Tatad, Gemma Cruz, Krip Yuson, Patis Tesoro, Serafin Quiason, Manolo Gatbonton, Italian Ambassador Rubens Fedele, Rep. Cynthia Villar, the Mayors of Taguig and Magalang and the family of Nick Joaquin. I was grateful to Larry Cruz for the honor of being a part of such an important book, and Larry was equally grateful to me for convincing Holy Angel University to publish it.

Larry Cruz and I became text mates after that. He never failed to invite me to parties and meetings, sometimes at Café Havana where Carmen Guerrero Nakpil’s group regularly met, and other times at his art-house in Magalang, at the foothills of Mount Arayat, which has now been converted into a spa and events village called Abe’s Farm. Sometimes I went, but often I didn’t.

But one time I brought along a friend to Abe’s Restaurant; I think we came unannounced but still, Larry sat with us and told us we should order his green salad which came from his farm’s produce in Magalang, and his begukan. When he heard ‘begukan,” my companion’s face lit up.

“Oh, you don’t serve begukan to Robby,” he told Larry. “Why?” Larry asked, and my companion replied, “You can’t beat Robby’s begukan. Wanna bet?”

I don’t know if Larry took it as an insult or as a challenge, but he left and came back with his chef. My hand instinctively crept towards the knife on the table as I expected the worst, but Larry smiled and said, “Robby, I want you to teach my chef your recipe!” My companion clapped and said, “Go, Robby! This is your chance to have a recipe named after you! At Abe Restaurant no less!”

If you saw the movie “Ratatouille,” the scene where the rat was discovered and everyone in the kitchen stopped for one second and stared at the rat in disbelief and in disgust—that’s how I felt when I entered the kitchen and everyone turned to face me. From the corner of my eye I saw one cook with a chopping knife exchange glances with another cook holding a slicing knife, and I honestly feared for my life. I only relaxed a bit after the chef’s assistant smiled at me and told me he knew me because he’d graduated from HAU and lived just across my parents’ house in Mabalacat.

The chef tried to maintain a straight face as I lectured him on how to cook begukan—my way, or rather, the way my mother had taught me. First parboil (sinkotya) the pork pieces (really tiny pieces), then sautee in baguk until brown, before adding the leftover stock from the parboil. Add a dash of sugar to slightly caramelize.

Larry walked in to tell me to cook, not lecture, it. So I did. You could hear a pin drop as I peeled the garlic and cut the onions; the chef shook his head when I sautéed longer than I should, and when I sprinkled sugar on it, I swear someone gasped.

So, did Larry like it? You can measure the compassion a man has in his heart by his willingness to tell a white lie to save you from getting hurt. That begukan I cooked in Abe’s kitchen was the worst, because when I cook my begukan, I want to take my time and I don’t like people watching and waiting. And I have to cook it in my own kitchen using my own pots and pans.

Yet Larry said it was good, and I knew it was a lie because when I came back to eat at Abe Restaurant months later, the menu still didn’t say Robby’s Begukan.

(Larry died last week in the United States while being treated for cancer. I join his family and friends in praying for his eternal rest.)

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Gov. Ed Panlilio is Inquirer’s Filipino of the Year 2007

Philippine Daily Inquirer, 01/13/2008

MANILA, Philippines -- “Among” Ed Panlilio, priest turned plain-dealing prophet of hope, is the Inquirer’s Filipino of the Year for 2007.

The governor of Pampanga, according to Inquirer sources, is facing a do-or-die struggle with the 3 Rs of no-holds-barred political resistance—recount, recall and ‘‘requiem.”

The first refers to the election protest his closest rival in the May 2007 polls filed against him; the third to the death threats he has received. The second is an unusual and rarely used tactic in Philippine politics—a recall petition to remove him from office, which his political enemies are poised to file as soon as the one-year condition is met.

All three offer proof that the almost miraculous election victory of Panlilio is a silver dagger thrust at the heart of the vampire known as transactional politics—and the vampire is fighting back.

His victory and the improbable campaign that made it possible will be studied by election strategists and political analysts for a long time to come. His practical but principled approach to governance, which includes both directing the work of idealists and carefully diagnosing festering ills before prescribing a cure, is both exemplary and empowering.

Not least, his first months in office are a showcase of effective executive action.

In the most dramatic turnaround he has engineered, lahar quarrying fees have jumped from less than P30 million during the last full year of his predecessor, Gov. Mark Lapid, to almost P120 million in his first six months in office.

For all these—his inspiring election victory, his surprising political savvy, his initial success despite great difficulty—the Inquirer names Gov. Ed Panlilio as 2007’s Filipino of the Year.

The choice reflects the sporadic outbreak of optimism that brightened an otherwise bleak year. Many other harbingers of hope emerged out of the political darkness: Chief Justice Reynato Puno inaugurated a new era in judicial statesmanship by leading the Supreme Court in hosting an unprecedented summit on extrajudicial killings and in launching extraordinary new legal remedies; the Sandiganbayan special division trying deposed President Joseph Estrada on plunder convicted him on two of the four charges, reaffirming the primacy of the rule of law in a well-reasoned and highly convincing decision; the first three Filipino women to climb Everest did so on their first attempt, thrilling a grateful nation; not least, the Overseas Filipino Worker continued to labor in other countries at great personal cost, helping through regular remittances to stabilize the entire trillion-peso economy.

Any of these icons of inspiration would have richly deserved being named Filipino of the Year. But Inquirer editors ultimately chose “Among Ed” Panlilio, in part because the hope he embodies is found where despair is deepest: politics, in the age of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Panlilio, 54, has left an indelible impact on national politics in another, altogether unforeseen way. He exposed the distribution of cash gifts—bundles of cash, contained in paper bags—that took place in Malacañang last October.

In truth, Panlilio did not so much expose the cash gifts handed out to governors (and, as it turned out, also to congressmen) as admit that he received his share: P500,000, handed to him by Bulacan Gov. Jon-Jon Mendoza, who also received the same amount in the same kind of paper bag.

Both governors said they received the money in good faith, and assumed it came from government funds and were to be used for barangay projects.

But the simple act of confirming receipt of the money ignited a political firestorm. Malacañang and its political allies issued many contradictory statements—disavowing any knowledge of the cash gifts, claiming to know their true source, or creating implausible versions of the circumstances.

If the controversial Pulse Asia survey conducted later in October is any gauge, the firestorm quickly consumed much of what was left of President Arroyo’s political reputation. That month, a plurality of voting-age Filipinos thought Ms Arroyo was the most corrupt President in history, outranking even the dictator Ferdinand Marcos. It may well be that that dismal finding can be traced directly to Panlilio’s disclosure.

This may help explain the intense animosity many Pampanga local officials feel toward Panlilio, many of whom are closely identified with a President who is a favorite provincemate. But the priest-on-leave’s candor did not start it. It started when Panlilio dared to throw his social worker’s hat (and his parish priest’s soutane) into the ring. His upset win hurt the political forces allied with former Provincial Board Member Lilia “Baby” Pineda, the wife of alleged ‘‘jueteng” lord Bong Pineda—they were headed for a victory over Lapid, the lackluster reelectionist incumbent, before Panlilio’s entry galvanized the so-called middle forces in Pampanga.

The animosity deepened when Panlilio took his anticorruption platform seriously. When he revamped the lahar quarrying fees collection scheme, he antagonized not only the political forces allied with the Lapids but also many of the local officials who, judging from their incomprehensible reaction to the new arrangement, must have benefited from the old one too.

It is already a part of political lore that Panlilio did not, in fact, intend to run for governor. When he, together with many of his provincemates, realized in 2006 that the looming choice for governor was stark—it was either Mrs. Pineda or the young Mr. Lapid—he joined a concerted effort to look for a third candidate. The group’s objective was to persuade eminent Kapampangans, including former Cabinet secretaries and university professors, to offer their provincemates an alternative.

But while the search was begun in optimism, it eventually ran into the depressing reality of Philippine politics. Entrenched political dynasties, the politics of personality, deep-rooted patronage watered by the irrigation systems of jueteng and quarrying fees: The race for Pampanga governor seemed to be over even before it started.

With such long odds, the search looked destined to fail. In the end, Panlilio heeded the call of like-minded citizens and offered himself, reluctantly, as the alternative.

It was not an easy decision. To run for public office, Panlilio needed to go on leave from the priesthood. For someone who has been a priest since 1981 and parish priest of Santiago Apostol church (in Betis, Pampanga) since 1998, the suspension of one’s priestly faculties was a wrenching, almost impossible, sacrifice. Finally, a few days before filing his certificate of candidacy, Panlilio met with his superior, Archbishop Paciano Aniceto of San Fernando, and asked for and received a dispensation.

The rival political camps had extensive political networks and even (both parties claimed) the tacit support of Ms Arroyo. Lacking both the money and the network, supporters of the third way in Pampanga had yet an abundance of idealism. Volunteers multiplied; donations started to pour in.

What had started as a search had metamorphosed into a movement. Kapampangans from around the world spread the word. Politicians in Metro Manila took special notice. Four of the country’s top election lawyers crossed political lines to offer their services to Panlilio, for free.

The race was tight, violent and dirty. But the groundswell of support for Panlilio that began the day he filed his certificate using a “kariton” helped carry the day. With 219,706 votes, a mere 1,200 over Pineda’s 218,559 and only 9,000-plus over Lapid’s 210,875, the Commission on Elections declared him the winner.

His victory made him the first priest to be elected governor in the country’s history. It also inspired many Filipinos, not only in Pampanga or throughout the archipelago but even those among the OFW diaspora, that the light of hope can shine even in the blackest night.

Catholic Church preserves Art Deco mansion in Pampanga

By Tonette Orejas
Philippine Daily Inquirer, 01/01/2008

CITY OF SAN FERNANDO, Philippines -- An art deco-style mansion, designed by architect Fernando H. Ocampo for a relative here and bought by the Archdiocese of Manila as the official residence of Pampanga bishops, is being renovated in time for the 60th year of the Archdiocese of San Fernando.

The Arsobispado de Pampanga, formerly the Dison house on A. Consunji Street in the village of San Jose here, is now 85 percent restored. Hopefully restoration work would be completed in time the 60th anniversary of the Archdiocese of San Fernando as a diocese in 2008, according to Bishop Pablo Virgilio David, who supervised the heritage conservation project.

The house was built in 1935 for the couple Luis Dison and Felisa Hizon, Ocampo’s aunt on the side of his mother Leoncia who married Basilio Ocampo, gobernadorcillo (colonial governor) of San Fernando.

Monsignor Prudencio David, the vicar general of the Archdiocese of Manila, mediated for its purchase in 1948, which was approved by Archbishop Michael Doherty and Auxiliary Bishop Rufino Santos, a Kapampangan who later became the first Filipino cardinal.
Bishop Pablo David called the Pampanga diocese a “daughter” of the Manila archdiocese.

The cost of the two-story structure and the one-hectare lot on which it sits is not known to older priests. Some surmise it went for P300,000.

Ocampo first worked on the Dison house and later became involved in the restoration of the war-damaged Manila Cathedral.

David said Santos not only hired a Kapampangan architect to design the house, he also employed builders and craftsmen from the province.

Thanks to a Japanese gardener that the Dison couple hired to create a genuine Japanese garden, the Dison house survived the ravages of World War II.

Treated fairly by the couple, the gardener, who turned out to be a military officer, reciprocated by protecting the mansion.

After the war, the Dison family relocated to Manila and decided to sell the house to the Archdiocese of Manila. It was not known if the decision to move out of Pampanga was because of the peasant rebellion.

The mansion’s first tenant was Cesar Ma. Guerrero, the first bishop of the diocese of San Fernando. His term was from 1949 to 1957.

The house was witness to Guerrero’s devotion to the Virgin de los Remedios under whose auspices he began the crusade for peace when the province was rocked by agrarian unrest. The Virgin Mary’s canonical image has been enshrined in a chapel beside the house. The devotional practice continues to this day.

So when David agreed to restore the Dison house, he had in a way, come full circle. It was David’s maternal grandfather, Victoriano Siongco, owner of the Catholic Trade Center, who carved Mary’s image in the chapel.

Guerrero’s successor, Bishop Emilio Cinense, lived in the mansion during his term from 1957 to 1975 and three years after when he, as archbishop, saw the transition of the San Fernando diocese into an archdiocese on March 11, 1975.

For a decade starting 1978, Archbishop Oscar Cruz stayed in the room that Cinense built at the Mater Boni seminary, about two kilometers from the Arsobispado.

The present resident, Archbishop Paciano Aniceto, has also stayed here since 1989.

The archdiocese found use for the mansion as the office of the econome (finance officer) and mandated organizations like Adoracion Nocturna, Mayap A Balita publications and the Association of Parochial Schools.

During the Marcos regime and until now, the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines held office here, launching many civil liberty campaigns and fact-finding missions for desaparecidos (the disappeared).

The Social Action Center of Pampanga had its roots here in 1988, providing a venue to development workers, who in 1991, faced a big challenge in disaster management following Mt. Pinatubo’s eruptions.

The mansion, having witnessed so many significant events, was worn out by decades of use. A restoration was in order.
Bishop David said Aniceto, 70, gave him a free hand in the undertaking, working on a P1-million budget.

Before the restoration began in July 2006, Bishop David said the roof was leaking, the gutters were broken and the wooden floors creaked or sagged.

Through years of use, the mansion’s architecture had been altered. Glass panels covered the entire verandas on the first and second floors, shutting out elements harmful to the structure.

Additional panels hid the high ceilings and folding walls. A service staircase from the dining area to the second floor was removed. Some of the callado, originally in harp design, were missing. The French windows were permanently closed. Air-conditioned units were put in the wrong places.

Without formal training, David established the mansion’s original features “by taking a closer look at the house.”

He also relied on his personal familiarity with old houses and tapped a network of workers in the wood-carving village of Betis, his birthplace.

Work, as of the third week of December, was 85 percent completed, Bishop David said, adding that at this rate, the house has once again become a “fitting residence of the archbishop.”

On the first floor, two rooms have been converted into the offices of Bishop David and Bishop Roberto Mallari. The main hall serves as a conference room. The smaller room next to it is an office, complete with computers. The dining area and kitchen are clean and tidy.

The main staircase to the second floor is elegant, leading to a room that has been converted into a chapel. Here, there is an image of the Virgen de los Remedios on a refurbished altar.

The 14 Stations of the Cross, made by wood artisans, fit well in the 14 panels like they belonged there.

Bishop David has reserved the next room for the archbishop. Another room serves as a property office. The bigger hall is now a library with some heirloom pieces donated by Good Shepherd nun Tess Feliciano of Magalang town.

From the warehouse, they found two posters of national eucharistic congresses in 1929 and 1937 that have been framed. There is a concrete bust of Pope Paul VI and portraits of Pope Pius XII, John XXIII, John Paul II and Pope Benedict.

A mesa altar that Bishop David found in the warehouse of the Dominican Sisters in Apalit town has been refurbished, and now graces a corner in the hallway.

The tiles—Malaga upstairs and bronze-lined on the first floor— have been polished for a bright shine. A few pieces of wooden furniture, capia among them, were put to good use by replacing the worn-out parts with recycled pieces.

The efforts seemed to have appeased the unseen occupants.

“The ghosts are quiet now. On the first night I slept here, I slept soundly. The spirits must be happy now,” Bishop David said.

The heritage conservation work faces a threat, though. The Department of Public Works and Highways plans to raise the road by one meter, which would put it on the same level as the base of the house.