Oh, for Love’s Sake!

Of course, Friedrich Nietzsche and several other great philosophers like him do not make ideal poster figures for Valentine’s Day. They are remembered for their critical thinking and scholarly pursuits; but love and romance? Zilch.

Nietzsche, in particular, had a disastrous love life. He proposed thrice to the same woman but was rejected in all his attempts. He lived alone for most of his nomadic life, though he believed and wrote in one of his works that serial marriage would be good for men. In his mind, women were cut out for domestic life.

In a letter to the woman he wanted to marry, he wrote:

“I would greatly wish to be allowed to be your teacher. In the end, to be quite frank: I am looking for people who could be my heirs; some of the things that preoccupy me are not be to found in my books—and I am looking for the finest, most fertile ground for them.”

That’s a classic declaration of love – Nietzsche style.

SØren Kierkegaard is another tragic romantic. He fell in love and was loved in return. A month after his engagement, he broke off with his fiancée and was said to return his engagement ring to her – via mail. Fearing that he could not be a good husband, theologist, and literary critic all at the same time, he chose to remain unmarried.

His regret over this failed romance can be seen in these lines from Either/Or (1843), his first published work:

 “If you marry, you will regret it; if you do not marry, you will also regret it; if you marry or do not marry, you will regret both…”

The following great thinkers aren’t very inspiring either.

Jean-Paul Sartre:

“You know, it’s quite a job starting to love somebody. You have to have energy, generosity, blindness. There is even a moment, in the very beginning, when you have to jump across a precipice: if you think about it you don’t do it.” — Nausea (1938)


“Love is a trap for men to perpetuate the species.”

Where science rules, love is also a widely studied subject. But to talk about lust and attraction in terms of testosterone, adrenaline, dopamine, or serotonin could be quite formidable.

So, if you want to anatomize love, click here.

And that explains, perhaps, why all the world loves a poet. Poem writers love rhyme and rhythm. They capture pure emotions in beautiful lines. In school we were told to memorize lines, or even entire poems; and some of those come in handy on certain days – like today.

‘Roses are red, violets are blue,’ for example, is more than just a nursery rhyme. It has been the inspiration for many Valentine greeting cards and love letters. And if you were around in the ‘60s, you might have sung this tune, too.

Years after school, it seems Elizabeth Barrett Browning and How Do I Love Thee never left us. I know some schmaltzy seniors who are still counting the ways — and can recite the poem from memory.

Remember the wedding scene in the movie Love Story? The character Oliver (Ryan O’Neal) recites Song of the Open Road by Walt Whitman, and Jenny (Ali MacGraw) reads Elizabeth Browning’s Sonnet XX11.

And this scene from the movie Four Weddings and a Funeral? The poem is by W. H. Auden.

Click here for more love verses.

To end this post, here’s one of Shakespeare’s famous sonnets.

Sonnet 116

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no, it is an ever-fixèd mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Heart eyes, anyone?

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Something to moo about in the Year of the Ox

(Banner image source: Vecteezy)

The Chinese New Year starts on Friday, February 12. As we may all know, each lunar year is associated with a zodiac animal, and 2021 is designated as the Year of the Ox. Based on the 12-year cycle of the Chinese zodiac, this year’s Ox sign is also linked with the Metal element; thus, 2021 is specifically the Year of the Metal Ox.

In Chinese culture, the Ox is considered a power symbol, and an Ox year is usually seen as a more hopeful year. Just like the Gregorian New Year, the equivalent Chinese celebration should be the perfect time for us to rewire our thoughts and life intentions based on what we have learned from the previous year.

How may the Metal Ox help us pull through in uncertain times?

Chinese people associate each animal sign with certain characteristics. Those born in the year of the Ox are generally known to be traditional and conservative. They may be slow to act but are very persistent and hardworking, such that once they have made certain decisions, they will hammer away despite difficulties. And given their unquestionable will power, they may be expected to almost always achieve their goals.

The Metal Ox, in particular, oozes with confidence and is strong-willed. This Ox is quite frank and may not always care about what others think or feel. But one good thing about this Ox type is that they will always deliver on what they promise to others. Although not very social in nature, they keep a circle of loyal friends who are always ready to help during difficult times. The metal element represents firmness, resistance, and clear thoughts. In relation to human nature, this symbolizes inner strength and discipline.

The Ox is also associated with the Yin energy, generally associated with feminine attributes, nurturing of family, and compassionate towards those in need. This trait will be very helpful in times when we have to rebuild emotional and spiritual strength during difficult times.

In whatever way we decide to navigate the Year of the Metal Ox, may we be inspired by the winning characteristics of its ruling animal:

  • Focused and Determined — with a clear vision of the things that are really important to us and to achieve them given the resources available without doing harm to anyone.
  • Stable and Persistent in executing our plans of action even when things seem impossible to overcome; and whenever difficulties arise, keeping faith that they will be resolved through hard work — and at times, with the help of family and true friends.
  • And most importantly, by being Compassionate. This mindset is grounded in the principle of seeing beyond our personal needs — and perhaps placing the good of others, if not on equal terms, even higher than our own. This caring for others could be seen in many forms during the past year, and if maintained even after the pandemic, could be a true agent of change. It is, perhaps, the most critical factor in the reprogramming we need for the years ahead.

It is believed that people born in a given year have the personality of that year’s animal. That should sound good for Ox-born people (like me 😊).

Let us take to heart the ideal attributes of this zodiac animal — Focused, Determined, and Compassionate. We may have different personalities and life pursuits. But it may not be such a stretch to believe that there’s a bit of an Ox in each one of us.

Happy Lunar New Year!

Corporate Social Responsibility: The SMC Model

There is something so endearing in San Miguel Corporation’s most recent letter to its shareholders. SMC is one of the Philippines’ largest and most diversified conglomerates, with operations in food and beverages, packaging, fuel and oil, power, and infrastructure.

The letter comes with the year-end dividend check and a pocket-sized 2021 calendar printed with the tagline “SAMA-SAMA SA LABAN. WALANG IWANAN.” (“Together in battle. Leaving no one behind.”)

The company chose to save on printing the customary corporate wall calendar and channel the savings toward feeding children at Better World Tondo, the company-funded learning center and food bank for the poorest communities in Tondo, Manila.

In his letter, Mr. Ramon S. Ang, SMC President and Chief Operating Officer, further shared the company’s initiatives in response to the pandemic and hastening the country’s recovery.

“The events of 2020 only strengthened our resolve to leave no one behind. The year began with relief operations for those affected by the eruption of Taal Volcano. At the height of the pandemic and the lockdown, our food business ramped up operations to ensure food would always be available and accessible. We donated PPEs, medical supplies and equipment, on top of providing fuel for a free shuttle program and waiving toll fees for frontliners and medical workers. Our facilities at Ginebra San Miguel were repurposed to product and donate disinfectant alcohol. We set up our own RT-PCR testing laboratory to test almost 55,000 employees nationwide and allow them to re-enter the workplace with greater confidence. These are only some of the measures we took to help our country.”

Quantified, these efforts have amounted to more than PhP13 billion. At the same time, SMC continues in its commitment to invest in infrastructure projects that will create jobs, such as the Manila International Airport, the Skyway Stage 3, and the SLEX toll roads.

But this is the part that really pulled at my heartstrings. The letter also came with a prayer card (stampita) of the company’s patron saint, St. Michael the Archangel. (SMC evolved from La Fábrica de Cerveza San Miguel, a brewery put up in 1890 in San Miguel, Manila.)

The prayer and Mr. Ang’s final message below are very apt invocations for these difficult times.

“…let us reflect with gratitude on the blessings we have received. May the New Year bring us a renewed sense of courage, resilience, and hope in better days to come.”

San Miguel Corporation – my kind of business.

Mr. Ramon S. Ang – my kind of business leader.

(Banner photo source: https://www.sanmiguel.com.ph/)

Why Opt for Optimism?

Another year, another opportunity to get things right — and perhaps get a better chance to be happy, healthy, wealthy, and wise.

There will be hurdles, for sure; but after the annus horribilis that was 2020, and the uncertain prospects for 2021, my inner voice dictates that I request Messrs. Benjamin Franklin and Daniel Defoe to move over. No offense meant. But, gentlemen/sirs, as you scoot, please take with you your dictum that death and taxes are the only certainties in this world.

I’d rather take a different stance and latch onto that bright North Star for direction, inspiration, and overall well-being. That star has a name: it is called Optimism. And its brilliance tells me that there is more to this coming year and beyond than just health scares, bills to pay, and other not-so-rosy circumstances.

In its simplest form, optimism is the belief that the outcomes of events and experiences will generally be good and positive. It is a dear cousin to hope and resilience, and is the counterpoint of pessimism. But optimism is not just about butterflies and rainbows. It has scientific basis; thus, it can be learned and nurtured. In the field of positive psychology, “learned optimism” is the process of recognizing and challenging otherwise pessimistic thoughts in order to develop more positive behaviors. As an individual learns to handle tough situations, he is able to manage and improve his overall well-being.

So, why indeed, should we choose to view the glass as half full rather than half empty?

1 Because it helps keep us healthy

One may argue that optimism is a result rather than one cause of good health. We are healthy, therefore we’re upbeat. But the reverse is also true. Optimists tend to lead healthier lifestyles, have strong social support groups –and because of their proactive outlook—tend to get better medical care and are more apt to follow medical advice compared to pessimists. And this should not be dismissed as an empty claim. There are scientific studies showing that optimism helps boost our immune system, protects us from infectious diseases, and decreases instances of relapse. From the point of view of proactivity, optimists are less likely to be involved in accidents because they take careful steps to protect themselves.

2 Because it promotes better relationships

This one’s a no-brainer, I think. Optimists tend to be better liked by others because they radiate positivity in what they think, feel, and do. They tend to be more energetic, confident, and in control. Optimists are nice to be with and are highly valued, whether as friends, work colleagues, romantic partners, business executives, or as world leaders.

3 Because it keeps us in control

Depression, anxiety, helplessness are feelings associated with loss of control over certain circumstances. Exactly how pessimists behave as they tend to blame themselves or others for things that go wrong. They also believe that certain unfortunate events are permanent and adversely affect other areas of their lives. Consequently, they are often paralyzed by such beliefs. Optimists, on the other hand, are more able to see that misfortunes are fleeting and can be overcome by well-thought-out plans and actions. They tend to view these temporary setbacks as opportunities to bring out their character strengths.  Thus, they are more likely to resolve issues with less despair.

Hollywood actor Michael J. Fox sets a very good example. Then only 29, Fox was diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease in 1991. After a long break from acting, he started the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research in 2000. He has since written four inspirational books, including Always Looking Up: The Adventures of an Incurable Optimist, published in April 2009, and his most recent memoir, No Time Like the Future: An Optimist Considers Mortality, published in November 2020.

“Optimism is a choice, but in a way, it isn’t,” he says. “There’s no other choice. I don’t think there’s any other viable choice than to hope for the best and work toward it.”

In another interview, Fox said: “Optimism and hope relate to how we think and feel about the future. If we really do believe that things will work out for the best, all the setbacks become easier to deal with.”

I’ll stop at these three reasons. You are most welcome to add more.

Winter Solstice of the Soul

Snow does not fall on my side of the world. So, what’s my business writing about the winter solstice?

In the Northern Hemisphere, the longest night and the shortest day of every year takes place around December 21st. This phenomenon, known as the winter solstice, occurs when the North Pole is tilted farthest from the Sun. This explains the early sunsets and late dawns, and the short noontime shadows. This exact event also happens in the Southern Hemisphere around June 20th or 21st.

Outside of this astronomical explanation, the winter solstice takes on a cultural and spiritual relevance for many. What is widely deemed to be the start of winter has become the symbol of rebirth and a natural shift to Spring. It is that time when the earth is quiet and bare, but it is also the time when the seeds underneath the ground are just waiting to grow.  It is an opportunity for us to recognize the natural order of the universe and remember that our lives are part of something bigger that is constantly changing and renewing.

Thus, winter solstice has become a period for self-reflection and performing letting go rituals. On that day, ideally, we should make peace with our old self – who and what we had been – and reflect on what no longer serves us. It is the time for releasing stale energies, negative emotions and experiences, and invite new potential into our life. It is a day for connecting with Mother Earth and the Universe to usher in that rebirth and to help manifest our new aspirations.

And because the human spirit knows no geographical boundaries, we may join kindred souls in the opposite side of the world in celebrating and expressing our gratitude to Mother Earth. With the intention to let go of those thoughts and emotions that are no longer serving our purpose, we first acknowledge them as blessings for all the lessons they taught us. Some things may have caused us difficulties and pain, but they also made us better persons, and for this we should be thankful.

But how exactly do we let go?

A simple way is to list down all the things that we want to release. It can be about the pain of losing someone or something valuable; feelings of insecurity, envy, doubt, or fear; frustrations over unfulfilled goals. Next, build a fire and burn the list while stating your intention to let go. The statement could be something like “I now release all those parts of me and my experiences that I have kept to myself all this time. I love who I am, and with unconditional gratitude and compassion for myself and for others, I let go of all these things that no longer deserve to be in my life.”

Those who may be in areas near a beach could write down the things they want to release on the sand and let the waves wash them away.

Do a mindful breathing ritual. When you inhale, imagine yourself taking in new energy filled with love, compassion, and everything that you want to manifest in your life. As you exhale, imagine everything that you no longer want being released out of your mind, body, and spirit. As you do this, chant the mantra: “I let go, I let go, I let go…” and visualize the release happening.

You may find this meditation guide useful.

I also came across this song by Lisa Thiel.

May each day of your life be filled with warmth and love.

Happy Winter Solstice!

On Monuments of Nature (and of Men)

The memory refuses to go away and begs to be written about.

One night during our last vacation in Catanduanes two years ago, my husband and I were walking back to our inn in the capital town of Virac, when a distinct smell wafted through the air. I found it fragrant; the hubby said it was pungent. On a middle ground, we both thought it was intoxicatingly strong! The smell emanated from a huge tree.

The morning after, as we went out to go about the day’s business, we passed by the same tree. The smell was gone, but on the ground was a carpet of tiny white flowers – the source of the previous night’s sensory experience. The blooms fell from a huge dita tree which, judging from its height and thick, gnarled trunk, must really be old. Nearby, a middle-aged man wielding a broom was ridding the ground of the fallen leaves and blooms. I had to ask him if he knew how long the tree has been there. He smiled and said he didn’t know, but that it has been there even before he was born. But one thing he knew for sure: the tree provided wood used for building coffins.

The tree trunk, gnarled with age
The tree, profuse with blooms
The carpet of fallen flowers

The mighty dita looms tall and strong beside a molave tree (designated as the Belmonte Tree) in the municipal plaza, dwarfing the nearby Juan M. Alberto Memorial Building which, in contrast, is now abandoned and largely dilapidated. On the same ground stands a bust dedicated to the late provincial Governor Juan M. Alberto, who rose to national prominence during the Marcos regime, along with his brothers, Jose (Congressman, 1957 – 1972) and Vicente (Governor, 1967 – 1986).

The molave and dita trees are hardy landmarks
The dita tree next to the JMA Memorial Building
A tribute to the late Governor from his friend, the island poet Jose A. Tablizo.
The corroded dedication plaque from a former leader.
The marker on this molave tree says: “The seedling of this tree was planted by the Hon. Gov. Deogracias Belmonte of the Sub-province of Catanduanes on December 15, 1937 in the observance of Arbor Day.”

Sometime later, I had the chance to trawl the internet for some information on the dita tree. There must be more to it than just being a coffin material. What I found proved that it is a very interesting tree, a great natural gift to men. A true monument by any standards.

Origin and other names

The tree is known botanically as Alstonia scholaris, in honor of the English botanist Professor Charles Alston. The word scholaris was added because the bark of the tree is used for writing tables and blackboards; thus, it is also called the Blackboard Tree. In India, it is widely known as Saptaparni, from the Sanskrit words, Sapta (meaning seven) and parni (meaning leaves) because its leaves are often in bunches of seven around the stem, forming a star-like pattern.

It is also infamously called the Devil’s Tree in Western India, where tribes believe that the tree is home to evil spirits. Sitting or even passing under its shade is often shunned.

The tree is believed to originate from India and other Southeast Asian countries. In the Philippines, it can be found far north in Cagayan up to Palawan and Mindanao, and in almost all islands and forested provinces.

Medicinal Properties

The bark, leaves, and roots of the dita are reported to have antioxidant, analgesic, anti-inflammatory, and many other curative properties. In some parts of India, there is an annual ritual involving mass drinking of the decoction of its bitter bark, which is believed to boost the immune system and prevent diseases.

Nuisance Tree or Tree of Life?

The dita may have earned a bad name as the Devil’s Tree and is considered a nuisance by many for dumping dried leaves on the ground that need back-breaking cleaning. But to some families in Bagong Silang, Quezon City, the tree became a lifeline during the onslaught of Ondoy in 2009. To avoid being swept away by floodwaters, 37 persons clung to a dita tree. All seven families – including a two-month-old baby — were saved.  Read the full story here. 

Quezon City councilor Alfred Vargas proposed a resolution recognizing the tree as “a tree of life.” “It was just a tree but it now stands for the people’s hope and ability to move on. I think they have moved on and have accepted what happened before,” the councilor said.

This story stoked my interest back to that tree in the Virac plaza after the serious damage of super typhoon Rolly on Catanduanes. Seeing photos of the typhoon aftermath, I wondered if it was able to withstand nature’s wrath this time. Three weeks after Rolly’s landfall, I talked to a friend based in Virac to know how things are holding up. Still weary after the harrowing experience, she nevertheless assured me that greening has started;  trees all over are developing new sprouts.

And that dita tree?

She said it’s still there. A little shaken, but still standing strong.

Like a true heritage tree.

Why howling Catanduanes always shines through

[This article was published by the Philippine Daily Inquirer on June 20, 2010. I am reposting it now – 10 years after –  in light of the recent devastation wrought by Super Typhoon Rolly on my province.  I want to share memories of how beautiful the island was before it was brought to its knees by the strongest tropical cyclone ever to hit the country. Catanduanes had sprung back from similar crises in the past, and the rebound may take longer this time, given the extent of the damage. Yet, with the strong faith and character of its people and with help coming from all sectors, there is no doubt that it will show its “Happy Island” face to the world in due course.]


I have ambivalent feelings about my province, Catanduanes, being called “Land of the Howling Winds.” On one hand, I’m helpless because the unflattering moniker rings true. Catanduanes lies in the typhoon belt and is often talked about in the same breath as inclement weather.

On the other hand, I’m in denial because the description is, after all, only half-true. On warmer days, when the winds whisper rather than howl, Catanduanes shakes off this tag and transforms itself into the idyllic place that it truly is. This emerald isle lying east of the Bicol Peninsula is the perfect hideaway; the place to be to savor nature in its largely unspoiled state, reconnect with one’s historical and religious heritage, and experience the rustic charm of island living, plus the true Bicolano zest for life.

Life is a beach

Getting to Catanduanes by plane from Manila takes less than an hour. Shortly before touchdown at the Virac airport, one gets a visual treat from thousands of feet above sea level: a glimpse of the western coastline makes one giddy at the prospects of living it up on this island with its stretches of amazing beaches. Catanduanes may have earned its merits primarily as a surfing destination, but there are countless other possibilities for the less daring. From the capital town of Virac, a roughly 11-kilometer drive through tertiary roads to the southern tip of the island brings one to the oft-visited resorts in Igang, Antipolo, Balite, or Marilima.

Twin Rocks Resort in Virac
Time and tide conspired to form this arch in Batag, Virac. Locals call this Pier of the Encantos.

Twin Rocks Resort in Igang is known for its postcard-pretty scenes and classy amenities, while Mamangal Beach in Balite offers perhaps the most stunning sunset view on that part of the island. The gentle waves here are ideal for skimboarding and the powdery white sand compels you to take off your flip-flops and stroll barefoot. Off the beaten path, it is quite likely that you’ll discover an undeveloped beachfront where the only footprints you’ll see on the sand are your own. No hawkers, no curious onlookers; just the peace and quiet you need to recharge your tired body and weary soul. A hammock and a book will make excellent buddies. Remember to bring your snorkeling gear because it will be hard to resist the urge to explore the beauty that lies beneath the crystal-clear waters.

Sunset in Mamangal
A skimboarder calls it a day at Mamangal

Other parts of the island beckon with their own beach attractions. You’ll run out of fingers counting the exciting options. We were told to allot more time on our next visit to check out Amenia and Pasa Tiempo Resorts in San Andres, Toytoy Beach in Caramoran, Soboc Beach in Panganiban, and the different resorts in Puraran, the surfing area located in Baras town.

Nature’s gifts

The province is dominated by a mountain chain – a rugged terrain that is a great come-on to adventure-seekers. From Virac, we headed towards Bato and dropped by Maribina Falls where we found early-morning picnickers already enjoying the cool waters gushing from the multi-tiered cascades. Again, the decision was prompted by the proximity of the place; otherwise, we would have wanted to explore other well-known waterfalls such as Binanuahan or Nahulugan Falls in Gigmoto.

Maribina Falls

The Virac–Bato route is accessible by jeepneys or tricycles, which are the readily available public commutes on the island. There are also private vans for hire, but my personal choice for navigating this picturesque route is the motorbike. Nothing beats a leisurely ride while taking in the cool mountain air coming from one side and getting a panoramic view of the sea on the other—and feeling the wind against your face, blowing all your urban cares away.

Taking the opposite direction to the town of San Andres, the sceneries are just as enchanting. The winding trail approaching Lictin is lined with lush vegetation and is a favorite stopover for spelunkers who usually visit the Luyang Cave.

From here, one can drive farther west to the Agojo Fish and Maritime Sanctuary. A boat ride around the protected area allows visitors to view colorful species of fish and corals. In Codon, the development of a RORO port holds great promise. When completed, it is expected to boost tourism in Catanduanes through a shorter link to Camarines Sur.

RORO port development in Codon, San Andres

A short distance from Codon is the Munagbunag Cave located along the road near Mayngaway. Camera buffs will have a grand time capturing the mystifying images found in the various chambers of this cave. The cliffs outside the cave offer a great view of the Codon Point and nearby Camarines Sur, which should not be missed.

Exploring Munagbunag Cave
View from a cliff outside Munagbunag Cave

When the sun sets and night creeps in, it is time yet for a unique sensory experience during your island visit. If you find yourself somewhere near Hilawan or the densely forested area near the Luyang Cave in Lictin, San Andres, pause and enjoy the symphony of crickets and the dance of fireflies – luxuries that are not quite possible in places that are choked with pollution. Your knowledge of asterisms will also come in handy when you do a little game of connect-the-dots as you try to trace the patterns of the flickering diamonds in the clear night sky. These memories will go with you anywhere, long after you’ve left the island.

Hispanic heritage

It has been centuries since the Spanish conquistadores set foot on Catanduanes, but the Hispanic influence still runs deep into the Catandungan character. Words of Spanish origin have found their way into the dialect, Castilian-sounding family names are common, and islanders are known to be deeply religious. Most barrios have chapels or ermitas, which folks use for religious functions. People can keep track of time through the tolling of church bells.

In the town of Bato, for example, folks wake up at the crack of dawn to the pealing of the Bato church bell. The Baroque-inspired church is an imposing structure by the riverside, its thick walls built with mortar and coral stones that have withstood the ravages of time and the elements. It took more than 50 years to build and was completed in 1883.

St. John the Baptist Church in Bato
Moss-covered detail of the St. John the Baptist Church in Bato
A secret hideaway in Barrio Bote, Bato

About 15 minutes away is the Batalay shrine, which houses the first cross erected on the island. It marks the burial site of Fr. Diego de Herrera, an Augustinian priest who led an expedition in 1576 that was shipwrecked off Batalay and who was later martyred by the natives. On the same site, a spring flows with water that locals believe can cure certain illnesses.

Barrio Batong Paloway in San Andres is another popular pilgrimage site owing to a stone image of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Different stories related to the image and its miracles are being floated to this day. The common thread, however, is that the stone has grown in size but the image embedded in it has not been distorted. Details like Mama Mary’s hair and her thumb peeping through her blue mantle which, in the past, reportedly required a magnifying glass to see, are now clearly visible to the naked eye.

Fiesta Island

Perhaps, the most evident trace of Spanish culture here is the observance of fiestas. After completing the novena to their patron saints, townsfolk pull out all the stops in merrymaking. No town fiesta is complete without a civic parade and marching bands, local beauty contests, and the vesper ball. The latter is where the locals and homecoming guests prove they can be hot at cha-cha (the ballroom staple, not the political maneuver), which appears to be the favorite beat to show off their innate sense of rhythm.

The usual fiesta fare includes gulay na gabi or laing, dinuguan, humba, grilled tuna or other fishermen’s catch, and steamed crabs locally known as an-it. I, for one, always leave room for dessert. The other temptations I can resist, but not santan (coco jam with pili nuts) and latik, the Bicolano version of the suman, which comes with a to-die-for sauce made of sugar, coconut cream, and anise flavoring. The best part about fiestas here is that they don’t come with RSVPs. Be bold and invite yourself. You will be treated like a much-awaited guest.

One might wonder how the Catandunganons who experience the wrath of the monsoon winds as if on schedule can be so warm and gracious. I used to ask the same question too, until I met an old man who quipped, “ga tullo man sana pag ga ullan” (it only leaks when it rains). He didn’t even know it, but his wisdom and the unique way by which he articulated his words had hit home. The double “ll” in the dialect is sounded like a vowel somewhat similar to, but not exactly like the Spanish pronunciation of “pollo”, a curiosity that’s a spot-on clue to a person’s island roots.

Tess Herrmann, a Virac-based resort owner, shares a related perspective. While showing me around her beach property, she pointed to the coconut saplings at different stages of growth and started to relate them to the storms that hit the island, “These younger ones here came after Reming, while those taller ones after Loleng,” and pointed to others as the sprouts after similar destructive storms. “They remind me not to lose hope, but to rise up to the challenge by building and planting even more than what had been destroyed,” she added.

Indeed, the howling winds may blow away roofs, flatten crops, and make life difficult at times on this side of the archipelago, but resilience seems to be one word coined especially for Catandunganons. Theirs is a lesson in accepting things we cannot change and in viewing the glass as half-full — mindsets that make a world of difference when things get a bit too complicated.


Where the sky meets earth – yes, the horizon – is a whimsical space. It evokes varying perspectives, depending on the viewer’s mindset and how he looks at what’s before his eyes.

“On the Horizon,” the first exhibit hosted by the Ocular Gallery, sets the stage for a vibrant mix of young, emerging, and established Filipino visual artists, where each one reveals his or her personal experiences with, and affection (or lack of it) for certain objects or events affecting our physical, social, and political milieu.

Expect to see varying and unique aesthetics in this maiden event curated by young art enthusiasts. The exhibit will run until November 10, 2020 at the Ocular Gallery, #240 Aguirre Ave., BF Homes Paraňaque City.

Some of the Featured Artists and their Works:

Farley del Rosario is a young contemporary artist known for his faux naïf style that exudes childlike simplicity and frankness. He has been commissioned to do cover illustrations for prestigious publications and many children’s books that have been nominated for special awards. He was named one of Nokia’s 10 Most Exciting Young Artists in 2009. Now based in Olongapo, he was instrumental in the launching of PICASO (Pro-Community Initiatives of Concerned Artists in Subic (Bay) and Olongapo). The group is involved in uplifting the local arts and culture through meaningful advocacy, such as livelihood, conservation, and community development projects.

Archie Oclos knows whereof he paints. Many of his large-scale works depict socio-political issues and the plight of farmers and indigenous people. Coming from a family of farmhands and fisherfolk and growing up in a working-class family in Catanduanes, he had seen the struggles of the underrepresented, facing issues such as land ownership and even fatal encounters with armed forces. He brings this truth to the public through street art — a free, very accessible, and very powerful medium. Archie has participated in a number of solo and group exhibitions over the last few years. He got his Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts in Painting from the University of the Philippines. He was a recipient of the 2018 Thirteen Artists Awards of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

The artist’s depiction of the sad plight of our farmers — that overworked and underpaid segment of our societyand local agriculture, in general.

Dex Fernandez is an artist who has successfully balanced both street and gallery art into producing socio-political mind trips. Through “Garapata,” a cartoon character inspired by a dog tick, he has showcased his art in street murals, stickers, and coffee bags – mixing deep and superficial views infused with his characteristic humor. He has participated in gallery exhibits not only in the Philippines, but also in Paris, Berlin, Taipei, and Hong Kong.

Anton Belardo, also known as Jellyfish Kisses, asserts herself as “trans” and “queer.” The self-affirming pronouncement also brings to light the numerous discriminatory issues faced by the LGBTQ community, which she represents. Creating art helped her fight depression as early as high school, with the full support of her father who indulged her interests, even for overtly girly things. Sadly, her father died when Anton was just 11.  On to adulthood, Anton felt the full impact of bullying, humiliation, and trauma related to her gender choice. Jellyfish Kisses has thus become her alter ego, to courageously project her inner self to the world – vulnerabilities and all — without fear of judgment.

View the rest of the featured artists and their works at https://www.facebook.com/oculargallery

For inquiries, call +63 956 7625 793 or e-mail oculargallery@gmail.com

Quieting the Monkey Mind

In the last five months, outdoors has ceased to become a safe place. Out there, who knows what infectious viruses you can catch in the air, in the surfaces you touch, and from the people you come in contact with.

And so we hole ourselves up at home with our loved ones and risk going out only for the essentials. But even during quarantine, disquiet follows. The media blares about alarming developments and figures from all over the world. And there’s the unsettling boredom; the limited freedom to do what we’ve been used to; the fear, uncertainty, and anxiety. There is so much ‘noise’ even inside the home.

It’s not surprising, therefore, that many have turned to meditation to calm down the monkey mind or that part of the brain that gets easily distracted. Meditation allows one to retreat into that inner sanctuary that is the quiet mind. If you need one more intervention to reduce stress, please click here to find out why you should include meditation in your must-do list.

In my own private sphere, I try to practice Shen Zhen meditation as often as I can,  particularly the form called Awakening the Soul, a simple sitting meditation practice that aims to still the mind and drive doubts and worries away. It combines movements and beautiful contemplations as shown in the following demonstration.

Sometime soon, I hope to be able to do a separate post on the poetry behind each of the movements of this beautiful meditation form.

I have also come upon YOQI, which combines yoga and qigong. Like qigong, it involves almost effortless movements. Like yoga, it harnesses energy as a source of vitality and healing. It also incorporates tapping into different body meridian points to activate and balance the flow of qi or vital life force.

It helps that teacher Marissa does a great job of explaining the hows and whys of each movement as you will see in the following video.

Hope you find these videos worth watching and use these mindfulness practices today and even beyond the pandemic period. Use them to kiss that locked-down feeling goodbye and tap into that inner power to still the mind and keep the balance within.

You’ll thank yourself for it.

I Went Loca in Gumaca

(NOTE: This is a throwback piece, originally posted under Facebook Notes, May 2011)


Until I got invited by the Quezon Tourism Office to join their San Isidro Festival Cultural Trail, I had always associated the May 15 celebration with just the Pahiyas in Lucban. But three more exciting harvest festivals on the same day? Of course I said yes in a heartbeat!

May 15th this year fell on a Sunday, so the humongous crowd was expected. Pahiyas in the morning didn’t disappoint with its dazzling colors and the aroma of longganisang Lucban. It would have been fun to experience Agawan Festival in Sariaya and grab at goodies hanging on bamboo branches called bagacays; but we had been there on the 13th for a walking tour of the ancestral houses and the Buri Products Fashion Show. The prospect of scuffling for suman at the Mayohan Festival in Tayabas had to be skipped; we spent the previous day there visiting many historic landmarks, including the awesome Malagonlong Bridge, the oldest stone bridge built in the province in 1840.

The Araña’t Baluarte in Gumaca more than made up for the missed Sariaya and Tayabas Festivals. The festival got its name from Spanish terms referring to the farm produce neatly arranged in chandeliers (arañas) that hang on bamboo arches (baluartes).

A typical arana set-up
A typical araña set-up


This year, the people of Gumaca put up 17 creatively decorated baluartes along selected streets as their usual way of thanking their patron saint San Isidro for a bountiful harvest. Earlier in the afternoon, we joined the pamasyalan, a leisurely walk through all the baluartes. Along the way, various groups offered fruits, drinks, and all sorts of native delicacies to the promenaders as part of their thanksgiving ritual. I sensed this was a prelude to something even more exciting.

Some of the good stuff that await promenaders during the Pamasyalan
Some of the good stuff that await promenaders during the Pamasyalan


All arañas are fair game during the festival. At around 4 pm, a procession passes by all the arches; once the image of San Isidro goes past, it is the signal that the crowd can jump, tug, and grab at whatever produce they fancy.  I couldn’t imagine myself joining the fray and I didn’t want to risk getting a serious bump from a 2-kilo squash falling on my head, so I was prepared to just watch and take pictures of the free-for-all.

Baluarte No. 16 before the agawan
Baluarte No. 16 before the agawan


And then someone made this PA: “Pakiusap lang po sa lahat, huwag na po sana kayo makipag-agawan sa baluarte 16. Ipaubaya na po natin ito sa mga bisita nating mga taga media. Yung mga barangay tanod po, paki-alalayan lang po ang mga bisita natin.”

Such a thoughtful gesture. But there was a problem.

Wala raw pong dalang lalagyan ang mga taga media. Mga barangay tanod, pakibigyan lang po sila ng mga sako.”

Before I could say OMG, sacks were passed around and someone handed me a huge plastic bag, the size used for a week’s worth of laundry.  From a distance, I could see the procession approaching and I almost missed a barangay tanod’s question. “Ma’am, ano po ang gusto ninyong kunin”?  “Maski ano,” I replied, but then my eyes fell on a nice walis tinting tied to a pole. Mamang BT saw that look on my face. “Ilan po gusto ninyo”? “Ay, isa lang,” I said. Mamang BT was not convinced and quickly bundled three walis tintings.


In the commotion, I didn’t notice who handed me a buri hat, and then another offered a flower fashioned from wood shavings. Cool! I posed for a picture with Kelly Bautista, Culture and the Arts Promotions Officer of the Provincial Tourism Office.

Clueless me with Kelly Bautista of the Quezon Tourism Office
Clueless me with Kelly Bautista of the Quezon Tourism Office


By this time, the image of San Isidro was just a few feet away. Heads were alternately looking up to mark their target harvests, and down to check the procession.

The image of San Isidro passing through Baluarte No. 16
The image of San Isidro Labrador passing through Baluarte No. 16


When the image finally went past our baluarte, mayhem broke loose. I decided to stay on the sides for fear of being crushed, but then things started to find their place into my plastic bag. Mamang BT threw in a big bunch of sitaw; a woman dropped an armful of suman, some student volunteers dunked in corn, then  tomatoes, eggplants, squash, more sitaw, bananas, sweet potatoes. I went crazy!

Shoot mo dito!
Shoot mo dito!


No, I got nervous! The bag was almost full and I figured I’d need at least five people to carry my loot. I begged my well-meaning friends to not add any more stuff. A woman tried to reassure me that things will be OK once the bag finds its way into the van.

Oh, my gulay! Masakit na ulo ko sa dami nito!
Oh, my gulay! Masakit na ulo ko sa dami nito!


But I just did what I had to do. To a young boy holding an empty sack, I gave as much sitaw and other veggies I could grab from the bag; soon his companions were asking for their share, so the eggplants and bananas had to go. An old woman asked for some tomatoes; but those tomatoes were so nice and plump…what the heck, good-bye salsa!


Mamang BT noticed the small crowd forming around me and promptly sealed my bag. “Tama na po, wala nang matitira sa bisita natin.” I checked my walis tintings. They’re still there. So I’m OK.


It’s been more than a week, but I still couldn’t help chuckling at this experience. It was such a blast!


And everything in that bag tasted good! Thank you, Gumaca. Thank you, Gillian and Kelly for the invitation. Thank you, San Isidro.


Hope you invite me again next year. I promise I’ll bring my own heavy-duty sack, and at least five able-bodied carriers.