Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Memories of PNB Escolta

Jefe, Momay, Juanito, Krystal, and Yeyette posing in front of a blown-up photo of old Escolta draped in front of Syvel's Department Store (now closed). My mom used to tag me along here whenever she buys me clothes and shoes.

As young boys, whenever me and my brother Jason pass by historic Calle Escolta with our mother on our way to and from Tondo (where my mom grew up), we make it a point to visit this Philippine National Bank (PNB) branch because my paternal granduncle, Paulo B. Évora (brother of my father's mother), used to call the shots here. We just pass by to say "hello". As far as I can remember, it was on this place where I first met him.

PNB Escolta housed at the old Masonic Temple. My late grandmother's brother used to manage this branch, which was actually PNB's head office, a few decades back.

Those unplanned visits to PNB Escolta were moments of boredom. What child would want to hang around in a bank in the first place? Also, the place seemed to me more like a museum than a bank. I can still remember its thick interior glass walls with strange sculptures of large birds and lizards on the other side of it. Vaguely, I remember a fountain somewhere with its soft, gurgling waters that pleases the ear amid murmurs and the occasional clink of coins. The shiny gloom of the bank's interiors with comfy sofas filled with formal-wearing adults were intimidating at times (and many times, the place reminds me of NAIA's sad-looking lobbies).

I can still vividly remember Uncle Litoy (as we were wont to call my dad's uncle) emerging from his office escorted by a smart-looking girl in uniform. His arrival is when boredom starts to dissipate, because he was always a sight to behold, always looking like a dapper don with that hushed and handsome smile of his. Aside from his classic criollo features, it's Uncle Litoy's long tie that I remember the most; I don't know why (perhaps it's because up to now I still do not know what the heck it's used for).

I can still remember my childish confusion and wonderment when my mom first brought us there and introduced us to Uncle Litoy.

"O, ¿quilala niyó ba siyá?", my mom asked us while bidding us to kiss (mano) his hand. He then told us that the smart-looking gentleman is no other than our grandmother's brother, that he is from Unisan, too.

Click here to read the rest of the story (with more photos)!

Sunday, November 30, 2014

El Hogar Filipino | The Filipino Home

It is with a heavy heart that we here at La Familia Viajera have accepted the sadly undeniable fact that there will be no more stopping to the mindless destruction of the El Hogar Filipino, one of Binondo's most iconic edifices.

El Hogar Filipino.
Postcard image courtesy of

Well, you might say that it's just another one of those abandoned buildings in dirty Manila surrounded by street urchins. You're right. So what's the fuss? Why bother bringing my family there? Why not to a mall or a park where it's safer, cleaner, more enjoyable for the kids, even?

But me and my wife are not like that. We value our Filipino Heritage and Identity. At this early stage in our children's lives, we feel the need to teach them about the importance of heritage. They have to learn to respect it. Disrespecting heritage is tantamount to disrespecting one's national identity, for heritage tells the history of its people, its struggles, vicissitudes, and triumphs.

Never mind if this building has just turned a century this year. Never mind if this building once hosted best-selling Spanish novelist and politician Vicente Blasco Ibáñez in 1924. Never mind if one of the designers of this building was renowned engineer Ramón de Irureta Goyena, half-brother of equally renowned lawyer and poet Tirso de Irureta Goyena. Never mind if Ramón, together with architect Francisco Pérez Múñoz, designed this now beleaguered building in the Beaux-Arts style, an intricate architectural design similar to that of other iconic buildings in other parts of the world such as the Palais Garnier in France, the Buenos Aires House of Culture in Argentina, the Manitoba Legislative Building in Canada, and the San Francisco City Hall in the USA just to name a few. Never mind if this building was built as a gift to the union of Antonio Melián Pavía ("El Conde de Peracamps') and Margarita Zóbel y de Ayala (sister of Enrique Zóbel y de Ayala, the great grandfather of Ayala Corporation's Jaime Augusto and Fernando). Never mind if El Hogar Filipino was one of the very few buildings that survived the last great war...

Krystal, Juantio, Momay, and Jefe in front of THE FILIPINO HOME. To their left is Calle Muelle de la Industria; to their right is Calle Juan Luna. This building also faces Río de Pásig (right beside Calle Muelle de la Industria).

...let's not even bother with the fact that the owners of this building named it El Hogar Filipino which when translated into English will come to mean as "The Filipino Home". There are a million possible choices for a name. But they chose instead to call it The Filipino Home. There was a reason for the name...

My boys in front of the building, playing with an old brick. Geniuses.

...but never mind all those precious facts which seem worthless to those who don't give a damn about this decrepit old building. What matters right now is that, at the very least, and during this building's final moments, I was able to bring my wife and our five children to this very historic building and let them enjoy its marvelous façade even if just for a few minutes of their lives.

"Never too young to begin your appreciation of heritage."
—Gemma Cruz Araneta—

I know that protests against the impending destruction of this building will be all for naught (that is why we took pictures of ourselves with this building this afternoon for posterity, for remembrance, so that our children will be able to show their children and grandchildren that once upon a time they had trod upon historically sacred ground), because the powers that be, whoever they are, are just that: powerful, sly, greedy. According to one priest I interviewed sometime back, heritage conservation is virtually hopeless in a Third World country such as ours.

But we don't give a damn either. We will continue the protests, even in our own little way. Yes, like the Army & Navy Club, Admiral Hotel, and Michel Apartments before it, we know that El Hogar Filipino will surely suffer the same fate. Nevertheless, we will continue the protestations because that is the right thing to do. Simple as that.

We here at La Familia Viajera STRONGLY condemn this heritage crime!

STOP THE DESTRUCTION OF THE FILIPINO HOME! For it is not merely a building you are destroying... you are destroying THE FILIPINO HOME!

Friday, November 28, 2014

They don't call this beauty Greenbelt Park for nothing!

Greenbelt Park has been living up to its name — as a quaint, green world tucked within the ultramodern trappings of an award-winning mall!

La Familia Viajera kids enjoying the pool with its fishes and turtles.

Ate Krystal!

I've been telling my kids that back in the day, Macati, Quezon City, and San Juan (particularly Greenhills) were the only places people frequented to do their shopping, groceries, and other money splurging activities: watching movies, night-out with friends, etc.. For us southerners (I grew up in the Parañaque-Las Piñas area), Macati was the place to be. Back then, much of Metro Manila was not as highly urbanized as they are today. And there were very few malls, most of which are located on those three places I cited above. Krystal was surprised to learn that me, her Tito Jason (my brother), and Abuela Tess (my mom) had to travel all the way to Macati just to buy groceries. It was that "difficult" many years ago (gosh, I feel so old). But we do that only once or twice a month, particularly it's time to receive money from dad who was abroad during those years. The construction of SM Southmall and SM City Sucat in 1995 and 2001 respectively proved to be a shocker for all of us living south of the National Capital Region as we were accustomed to EDSA being the malling area of the metropolis.

Enjoying a shaded moment.

As a young boy, one of the places that we visited during those monthly sojourns to Macati is Greenbelt. But not as frequent as SM Makati, Landmark, and QUAD (now Glorietta). Those three were the only establishments we usually visited because Greenbelt was tucked deep within Ayala Center. Back then, there was only one Greenbelt to speak of, and with much space for parking lots. But now, there are five Greenbelts. The spacious parking lots of Ayala Center disappeared during the last decade to give way to mall expansions (nowadays, parking lots are either underground or in small buildings serving as car parks to save more space).

Now THIS is a true jump shot!

I remember Greenbelt as the quietest place in Macati, hugged by the deep green colors of garden vegetation: huge leafy tree trunks hovering above with vines hanging down to touch the heads and shoulders of busy people walking on concrete. If memory serves well, Greenbelt Park was much smaller compared to today, and the only serene area was the one surrounding its circular chapel, Santo Niño de Paz. As much as I can remember, most of this chapel's physical features, particularly its familiar concrete dome, is still well-preserved.

Today, Greenbelt Park is still serene, but more spacious and with more greenery than before. Its landscaped gardens filled with ornate trees and trimmed hedges are a sight to behold. Birds and butterflies flutter here and there. There's even a man-made lake shaped like a tadpole (I do not remember that lake being there during my childhood) and is filled with brightly colored koy fishes and turtles large enough to be carried by two hands. The head of this tadpole-shaped lake points northwestward towards Calle de la Rosa and Avenida Ayala (Ayala Avenue). At the center of this head is where the old chapel is located, virtually serving as the lake's island. The chapel can be accessed by three covered foot bridges connected to a walkway coursing throughout the park. The tail of this tadpole lake is shaped like a river and swishes on a southeasterly direction, pointing towards Greenbelt Drive and Calle Esperanza. Foreign-looking ducks roam the park freely. They seem to be already accustomed to people who, thankfully, enjoy merely gazing at them (well, its Ayala Center).

With our birthday boy! All pictures from this blog were taken during his 10th birthday last May 13 during the feast day of Nuestra Señora de Fátima.

If you notice, my childhood memories of Greenbelt Park and its old malling area (now Greenbelt 1) are a bit shady because we didn't frequent the place that much. I remember only snippets of it. But yes, the dominant color of those vague memories was green. But when my children grow up, they will surely have tons of greener memories of this place. Remember that we took refuge in Macati last summer. As a matter of fact, we were here at this park almost every day last May since it's just walking distance from the place where we transferred to.

"All in green went my love riding!"

One of the best things we like about this park is that nobody's minding the crazy things we're doing on the grass!

This beautifully landscaped park is surrounded by high-end boutiques and department stores, sit-down restaurants, and bars which enliven the place at night!

Krystal by the turtle-like concrete dome of the Santo Niño de la Paz Chapel.

Momay and Juanito beside the chapel's old bell.

Juanito and Jefe examining this Tug-Of-War bronze sculpture right outside the chapel.

A carabao each for my boys!

Juanito's wondering how he can reach those ducks without getting wet.

Capilla de Santo Niño de Paz.

This snow-white cat is unmindful of shoppers and passersby while having its siesta. Even my wife's presence didn't bother it.

Yeyette and Juanito.

There's an area in Greenbelt Park (Greenbelt 5) called "ArtPark" which features avant garde sculptor Eduardo Castrillo's peculiarly shaped bronze and brass sculptures amid a sea and shade of green.

¡Felicitaciones a la Familia Zóbel de Ayala
por hacer reluciente de limpio este
parque lleno de verdor y belleza!

Click here for more of our green adventures in Greenbelt Park! ¡Hasta la vista!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Mangyan village products in Glorietta

On my first visit to Puerto Galera many years ago, I learned from whispers that the Zóbel de Ayala family has a rest house there somewhere near White Beach. After that, I kept hearing admirable stories about how they take care of the Mangyan tribes, probably as part of their corporate social responsibility. I never gave it much attention back then. But last summer, right after Momay's 10th birthday lunch at Dekada, we found this in Glorietta 3.

So the stories are true, after all. The Mangyans do have a padrino in Ayala Foundation, the social development arm of the Ayala Corporation.

The Mangyans (originally spelled as MañguiánMañguianes if plural) are the indigenous peoples of Mindoro Island, composed of Mindoro Oriental and Mindoro Occidental. Out of eight Mangyan groups in the said island, the Ayala Foundation is in charge of the well being of the Iraya-Mangyan. In Puerto Galera, Mindoro Oriental, it is estimated that about 200 families of this group are living at the foot of Monte Malasimbô, that imposing mountain one sees near popular White Beach. The Ayala Foundation bought a huge tract of land there in Sitio Talipanan, converting it into a well-managed village for the Iraya Mangyan, complete with electricity and water supply. In this village is a school for children and an area where adults are being taught various livelihood projects with focus on their weaving tradition. All products coming out of their ancient weaving assignment are then shipped to Glorietta 3 where they are to be displayed and sold.

At the second floor of Glorietta 3 (we're just not sure if it's still there) can be found a make-shift shop where the Mangyan products of Sitio Talipanan are sold. Although this shop has no name, it has an informational ad which says "Mangyan Village Products". It is written there that since 1989, Jaime Zóbel de Ayala and his wife Beatriz (the parents of famous brothers Jaime Augusto II and Fernando) brought down the marginalized Mangyans from the mountains (Monte Malasimbô) to the lowlands (Sitio Talipanan) to implement numerous educational and livelihood projects under the auspices of the Ayala Foundation with the assistance of the Sisters of Charity of Saint Anne. The objective is to bring them to the Filipino mainstream society and to give them decent homes.

This reminded me of how the Spanish friars of long ago took the very difficult task of civilizing, educating, and Christianizing pre-Filipino peoples who were then scattered in upland forests and riverine settlements. But not all ethnolinguistic groups were Hispanized, as evidenced by the Mangyans and their hitherto primitive lifestyle. Where the friars failed, the Zóbel de Ayala family succeeded.

Birthday boy Momay carrying a deep nito-made basket.

Juanito, perhaps our most artistically inclined child, is the one who is more interested with these Mañguián products.

I've already had many close encounters with the Mangyans because Yeyette is a Mindoreña herself; she's from Abra de Ilog, Mindoro Occidental where there are still a couple of Mangyan villages left (I just don't know to which Mangyan group they belong). The only problem is that many of these groups are being taken care of incorrectly by various Christian sects, usually only for religious conversion. That is why whenever I meet a Mangyan in Abra de Ilog, they remind me of thickly sooted beggars in Metro Manila. And yes, they do beg whenever they visit the población while the more industrious ones offer their services —various manual labor such as doing the laundry, gardening, farm hand, etc.— in exchange for money or other dry goods. These poor souls have lost their dignity. But the Ayala Foundation and the Sisters of Charity of Saint Anne, on the other hand, had other things in mind. And that is to empower the Mangyan. One way of doing this is by supporting the revival of the Iraya-Mangyan's weaving tradition, particularly the creation of the so-called "nito" (native vine) baskets and other related woven products such as plates, pot holders, bags, etc. These are then sold in this small shop which we found at the second level of Glorietta 3 last May 13. And the best part of it is that all proceeds go directly to the Ayala Foundation's Iraya-Mangyan Project for the benefit of the said ethnolinguistic group. ¡Bravo!

Yeyette bought a couple of intricately woven pot holders made entirely out of nito while our kids marveled at the other products showcasing the artistic side of the Iraya-Mangyan which was then unknown to the general public. It's just curious to note that these products were handmade at the foot of thickly forested Monte Malasimbô and are now being sold within the brightly electrified lights of airconditioned Glorietta 3. From forest to mall.

Click here for more photos! And stay tuned for more of our San Pedro Macati tour in the coming weeks! ¡Hasta la vista! =)

Saturday, November 1, 2014

The serenity of Paco Park Cemetery

Today's feast day (All Saints' Day) reminds me of my family's brief afternoon tour last summer in charming Paco Park, one of the country's most well known parks/cemeteries located in the Manila district of the same name. And as its name and appearance suggest, the virtual garden no longer functions as a cemetery but as a park. However, the Spanish-era burial niches are still there.

View of the entrance from Calle Bernardino Nozaleda. Now called General Antonio Luna, this street was named after the 25th Archbishop of Manila who was also the last Spanish archbishop of  the Archdiocese of Manila.

This place is no ordinary park nor cemetery. It's a National Historical Shrine.

When viewed from above, Paco Park is a bit circular in shape, but with its northeastern end jutting outwards in a square (which reminds one of the famous Shell Oil Company logo). The whole site, built by the Dominicans in 1822, is encircled by a long adobe wall reminiscent of Intramuros; actually, it is just a second outer wall which was later built to accomodate the growing number of interred dead since it used to serve as Manila's municipal cemetery. On the other hand, the inner circular fort stood as the original  wall, cemetery, its thick width filled with niches for the dead. The top of this long wall was made into a pathway for promenades.

A small, domed chapel with baroque features was dedicated to Saint Pancratius and is located in the middle of the park fronting a huge circular water fountain. This chapel was dedicated to St. Pancratius (a young Christian convert who was martyred at a very young age) and is now under the supervision of the Vincentian Fathers. When Paco Park was then functioning as Cementerio de Pacò, the chapel used to serve as the last station of the funeral rites before interring the dead. Ironically, it is now a favorite wedding destination. A curious case, perhaps, of "Love triumphing over Death". =)

♥ ♥ ♥

Capilla de Santo Pancracio.

Junífera Clarita has all the reasons to claim that she has been to Paco Park even before she was born!

I used to visit this place back in college. Nothing much has changed as far as I can remember. Back then, I used to come here to meet up with my "comrades" (I was an activist once) and with Adamson University's Tinik Ng Teatro (yes, I did try my luck with theater — and please don't laugh; my feelings get hurt easily). The place, then as now, is conducive to mind-pleasuring activities what with all the landscaped greenery all around. No wonder that, aside from wedding rites, Paco Park has become a favorite rendezvous for artists (photographers, painters, dance groups, etc.), musicians, and intellectuals from all over Manila. Students with school projects often converge here. Debutantes doing some pictorials for their big event are an almost regular fixture. You'll often find bookworms seated on a bench or sprawled on some grass nearby, engrossed on their fantasies. And just recently, scenes from Star Cinema's "Starting Over Again", the highest grossing Filipino movie to date, were filmed here.

Jefe, Krystal, Momay, and Juanito.

After his execution by firing squad at the Bagumbayan (on 30 December 1896), José Rizal was buried right on this spot. Although his body was buried without a marker, the mere fact that he was interred in a Catholic cemetery proves that he indeed died a Catholic.

The so-called GOMBURZA priests (Fr. Mariano Gómez, Fr. José Burgos, and Fr. Jacinto Zamora) who were also executed in Bagumbayan 24 years before Rizal's death were also buried in this cemetery.

Doves are a common fixture here, so please don't scare them away as they add serenity to the place.

Bringing my family for the first time to a place that I used to visit was a great pleasure for me. And it was fun to see my three boys running all over the grass and my two girls enjoying the flowers, unmindful that, once upon a time, Paco Park was the final destination for some Manileños who have ended their terrestrial sojourn.

Click here for more photos of our park-cemetery tour last May 20!