Posts Tagged ‘Philippines’

The names are like music, Ma-ayon, Milibili, Pilar, Dayhagan, San Antonio Cuartero.  I started to look for some places on Google Maps, but I couldn’t find them. I found their longitudes and latitudes on Wikimapia, and that’s how I put them on the map.

These are the rural places in Capiz province, on the island of Panay in the Philippines. The horrific winds of Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda in the Philippines), wiped out villages and left the struggling survivors to pick up the pieces while out of contact with the outside world.

The messages came to me through Facebook message boards.

Please help, I am in Qatar. I cannot reach my family.

I am in Spain, I haven’t heard from my mother.

I am in Saudi Arabia, my family has not received aid.

I cannot contact my relatives

There is no power in my town

My mother said they only received aid one time and only a little.

My family was not given aid because they voted for the opponent.

And at the end of every message,

Thank you, Thank you, Thank you

I was gathering material for a blog article when I stumbled into these Facebook groups.

Unfiltered by government agencies, out of the limelight of the media storm surrounding other parts of typhoon ravaged Visayas, the message boards paint a picture of frustration, patience, and hope. The hope is that a random stranger looking for information might get help from the outside world.

I started to look at some of these places online, before the typhoon, they were beautiful.

I saw green rice fields bordered by coconut trees. There are ocean vistas and the quaint municipal halls of the Philippine countryside. I saw sunny and bright fiestas and processions. I saw a beautiful, verdant, fertile land .The pleas have the voices of the family members far away. They feel so helpless. Please help, please, please help.

I’ve been looking at the faces of the parade of death and resurrection over these past twelve days. I know people who survived because they were able to climb into the rafters of their sea side homes. I know someone who lost his daughter and granddaughters. A good friend of mine is still waiting to hear from his friends.

If anyone knows anyone who can get the word out, can you please put in a word for these places? International aid is pouring in, but there are rural places that haven’t been reached yet as of today. Please forward this to people you know who might know someone.  Please forward it, Tweet it, tell someone you heard.  Thank you.


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Back in 2011,  I wondered whatever happened to William Cameron Forbes after he died. I looked into the newspaper archives and the last mention is of his memorial at the chapel at Harvard on December 26, 1959. He died on Christmas Eve at his last residence, the Hotel Vendome, in Boston.

I married into an old Yankee family with a mercantile history. Great-great grandfather William G. Bell formulated and manufactured Bell’s Seasonings, an icon on the Thanksgiving table. I know how the old families operate, on a subdued channel, never ostentatious, hardly publicly curious. Well, I suppose my husband is lucky because I am unceasingly curious and he enjoys this part of my personality.

Because Forbes was the founder of Baguio, the man who went and lived in a thatched roof hut and dreamed of a city in the pines, I thought there would be some mention of Baguio in his will.

So I trekked over to Baker Library at Harvard Business School on a hot afternoon.

I filled out forms and had an interview, and after a long while which I spent looking at the pictures on the wall and the lawn outside, a big box was set in front of me.

William Cameron Forbes’ Last Will and Testament. I looked through it. Mostly family bequests, he seemed very devoted to his nieces and nephews, and dear old friends.

“I bequeath Emilio Aguinaldo’s dagger to Harvard College,” the document said.

I was startled. Emilio Aguinaldo’s dagger? The first president of the Independent Republic of the Philippines? Really? Where was it? Did it make its way to a national museum? Was it still at Harvard?

I quickly wrote an email to the reference librarian and received an answer.

“The dagger is here,” it said. “You can check it out like any book in the archives. Here is the call number.”

The following day I went into the archives and requested the dagger and the letters that accompanied it.

There was a makeshift procession that emerged from the back. A librarian carried the dagger in its case and place it in front of me. Another librarian carried bound volumes of typed journals, and the third carried a box of folders with original letters in Spanish, and their English translations.

My heart started beating so fast and my eyes welled with tears at the sight of the Filipino sun on the dagger’s hilt. In my mind there was a violin and the mournful tune of “Bayan Ko.” I remembered my own great-grandfather, Modesto Joaquin who was a colonel in Aguinaldo’s army. I can tell stories for days about the effects of war on generations of children. But that is for another day.

I looked at the letters, first a serious but cordial letter in Spanish from Aguinaldo asking for concessions for prisoners in his native province of Kavite.

Then some entries on the Forbes side of visits and conversations with Emilio Aguinaldo.

On August 10th, 1907 (I read this on August 10th 2011), there was an entry by Forbes saying that Aguinaldo had visited and given him the dagger, and he had received it with the knowledge of its significance.

Aguinaldo and I called on each other quite often and occasionally played chess together; and finally I went to the States and had made a handsome set of ivory chessmen with an appropriate box, which I presented to the General. Some time after this he called on me, and drawing from his inner pocket a bundle wrapped up in silk, he presented it to me and told me it was the dagger he had carried at his side through two insurrections, that the silk handkerchief in which it was wrapped was of Philippine silk and bore his initials, and that the dagger was the first weapon made in the Philippine Armory after the insurrection was started.

I hesitated gravely about taking the gift. I knew the Spanish practice of making gifts with the expectation of their being refused. And yet Aguinaldo had come to my house purposely to make this present and it didn’t fall into that category. I did tell him, however, that I felt the memorial was so valuable to his children that he ought to keep it for them; he said that he wanted me to have it. I then asked him if he would write me its history, which he did.

Dear readers, I apologize for the picture’s quality. I was shooting through glass and didn’t know about the anti-glare setting. I can go back and photograph everything again, but for now, I wanted to share this discovery.

Click on this link to see the rest of the photos. All photos are courtesy of Houghton Library at Harvard University.


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The letter is beautiful when read in Spanish. Heartbreaking when read in English. The reason we read in English instead of Spanish is woven directly into the letter. Only about one hundred years ago, the history changed. The Islas Filipinas fell under a new flag, the old flag – ragged and bloody was hardly used.

I think all Filipinos can feel  the audacious thrill of stepping away from the abuses of the gobierno de los frailes. Imagine creating one’s own country. Imagine winning. Imagine losing it again.

Imagine finding a friend in someone who was supposed to be an enemy. Imagine finding the fragment of hope. Imagine becoming a friend away from the limelight, away from the politicians. Imagine long afternoons on a veranda in Old Manila, with the dappled light coming through the capiz windows and playing chess with a young man whose Spanish was halting.

Look at the letters, read them in Spanish, then read the translation transcribed below.

The Honorable Cameron F. Forbes

Dear Sir:

I acknowledge the receipt of your letter dated July 29th. You are right in your statement that the souvenir which I have presented to you is of historical value to me and much, therefore, be held in high esteem by my children, for which reason you hesitated for a moment to accept it.

This dagger, my inseparable companion in the events of ‘96, is truly a relic. My children, unconscious witnesses of the vicissitudes through which their humble father is passing, are, indeed, as the apples of my eyes to me; but before this relic, and before my children comes my adored country, the most sacred of what is sacred to me in this life.

It therefore seems natural to me to dedicate this relic to you, whom I expect to be perhaps one of the first to promote, at the opportune moment, the complete aggrandizement of my country, which is worthy of a better fate.

As to the history of this blade, which faithfully reflects various episodes of my sad life, I can summarize it in the statement than I have moistened it more than once; but I will keep my mouth sealed as to whether it was wetted with noble or with vile blood.

The Tagalog names and the date engraved on the scabbard are: “Kawit”, which is the original name of my native pueblo, known now as Cavite Viejo: “August 31, 1896”, the date of the first uprising of the pueblos of San Francisco de Malabon, Noveleta, and Kawit. In the province of Cavite: “June 12, 1898”, the date of the declaration of independence proclaimed in the pueblo of Kawit or Cavite Viejo and “Kalayaan”, which means Liberty.

The triangular piece of metal means the role of the brotherhood of man. The sun engraved upon it, and the eight rays issuing from it symbolizes the idea which cast its light into the remotest nooks of this Archipelago, illuminating before all others the first eight Tagalog provinces in which martial law was proclaimed by the Spanish government, which were: Nueva Ecija, Bataan, Bulacan, Morong (now Rizal), Laguna, Tayabas, Batangas, and Cavite.  The three stars represent the Islands of Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao, of which the late Philippine Republic intended to form the “United States of Oceania”.

Yours respectfully,
(signed) Eo. Aguinaldo


Here is the link to the letters. With thanks to Houghton Library at Harvard University.


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It was a dreary afternoon -the warmish, dampish, winter sort of afternoon that makes fog dense and blots out the sun completely. My dear husband took me to an antique store, where I could console my sun-hungry eyes with other senses, the whiff of mothballs on old lace, the smell of old books and leather, the lemony balm of wood polish. We spent the afternoon wandering the halls of an old mill building with rooms and rooms of old things and I stumbled into a magazine store.

I was sorting through a stack of old copies of Life Magazine, and this jumped out at me. Five dollars later, it was on its way home with me, to be scanned and shared. Click the link and it will take you over to Scribd and my Bright Wings Media account.


Christmas on Corregidor by President Manuel L. Quezon published by Liberty Magazine, December 25, 1943.

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Here are my lovely girls at the boarding gate for the flight to Manila. Hong Kong seemed so orderly after New York, and when it was time to line up, of course the Filipinos assembled more of a mob than a queue. I was so starved for that great disorganization, that almost anarchic independence that is Filipino. A stewardess came out and announced that we needed to line up properly.

On board, I was craning to see the lights of Manila as I remembered flying in the last time when I was 11 years old. I didn’t see anything until I saw fishing boats, then it happened so quickly, we were over the airport and landing and then it was time to get off the plane and step into that-which-I-so-longed-for-for-so-many-years.

We all tell ourselves stories about what matters and doesn’t matter.
“Oh I don’t care about him anymore.”
“I’m so over that.”
“I don’t know…it doesn’t mean anything to me.”
“I lived there when I was a kid, and it was only two years.”

It has always mattered, and I had never gotten over leaving. Here I was at last. I had landed.

Inside waited hilarity. My kids had never seen balikbayan boxes in all their glory. There were more boxes on the conveyor belts than suitcases.

Rosie’s godfather, Uncle V and his lovely wife, Auntie L. did something very special for us. They had us met inside the airport with SIM cards for our local cell phones. A gentleman was standing holding this sign and a brown envelope for us. It was great ! This sign hangs in a place of honor in our hallway here at home.

We finally grabbed our suitcases and went through customs and immigration.

Rosie was stopped because didn’t have a birth certificate that showed she was my daughter. We have different last names. Finally, after going “full donya” at immigration and invoking every one of my high level contacts amongst family and friends, they let us go through. Next time, I will bring the appropriate certification. I did tell them I would show them family photos on Facebook if they wanted. But…we were in the Philippines, where people are generally not combative.

I knew my cousins were circling outside, but we couldn’t connect via cell. Twitter worked perfectly. We climbed into a great big fire engine red van/truck/magic carpet and flew through the streets of Manila. My cousin I. married to my cousin M, fetched us at the airport. When he was over here going to Harvard Business School, we made a family party of getting him at Logan. It was nice to have that full circle experience.

The next day (chronicled, dear readers in the prior blog posts), after Milky Way, we ventured into the Greenhills Shopping Center which reshaped my daughter’s idea of a shopping mall forever. There is a liveliness and a sparkle to Philippine commerce, a sense of personal engagement and an infectious banter that turns shopping into a game. But first, here is a photo of halo-halo from our lunch at Milky Way.

The purple stuff is ube (ooh-beh) a kind of purple yam.

This photo was taken by my cousin-friend-sister Nena, who has always been in my life, and walked right in again full of laughter and smiles that morning. Her parents and my grandparents were best friends, and we were classmates and confidantes as children.

As a child in the Philippines, you will encounter hundreds of different local snacks over a childhood. The number of visiting aunties and uncles, friends and relations, is huge if you come from a basic family. All those visitors will bring snacks as gifts when they pass through. Every region has its own delicacies. Here is a wall of banana, peanut,and other crunchy delights.

The wonders of the tiangge are too numerous to believe. It is a mix of a Middle Eastern bazaar and a San Diego Swap Meet. Every price is negotiable.

Afterwards, we went back to my cousin’s condo to rest before dinner. Just in time to catch a sunset from her living room windows.

I love sunsets. I learned to love them in the Philippines, where the humidity, proximity to the equator, and the altitude in the mountains, combine to do marvelous things to the clouds and sky. How I missed those long gold-filled minutes where late sunshine turns everything to gold! And so it was at my cousin’s home.

After short rest, it was time to go out again! This time we were headed to Blackbeard’s Seafood Island, to celebrate my cousin P’s, birthday. The venue was Blackbeard’s Seafood Island, where the food is served on banana leaves and you dig in with your hands, in the ancient tradition of “kamayan”. (Kamay=hand= eating with hands).

In the Philippines, children of cousins are considered nieces and nephews, and cousins of parents are considered aunties and uncles.(Titas and Titos). Families are still large, and a family dinner might have three generations and fifty people attending. And that wouldn’t even have to be a super special occasion like a baptism or wedding.

There were about thirty of us at this dinner party. Food was ordered and ordered and it was all so good. This was our first dinner in Manila! I kept crying when I saw my relatives walk in. It was awesome.

Then we went for a walk outside, to under the many trees festooned with lanterns. The mix of a wonderful dinner,  soft tropical air, beloved family, and a seemingly unending stretch of time made me feel like the most blessed person on earth. I could hardly wait for the next day and the people I would see.

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