A Cultural Tour of Metro Manila

FESTIVAL DAY.  An hour before sunrise, the palengke in Cubao and Divisoria begins to swell with early shoppers. The prayerful flocks inside the churches of Quiapo, Baclaran, and in the Sta. Clara Monastery in Quezon City. The rising sun lights up the preserved ruins of Intramuros and the elaborate façade of the Metropolitan Theater and the National Museum. In EDSA and Makati City, there is a choking traffic from the morning and afternoon rush hour and anarchy rules on the streets where sidewalk and roving vendors offer a wide-variety of street food from boiled and skewered bananas to santol and green mangoes with bagoong. There is a festival in front of the Cultural Center of the Philippines.

From morning to sundown, Metro Manila is exploding with so many flavors and things artistic and cultural to experience so we asked artists, writers, and fellow travelers to provide us with a personalized cultural guide to our beloved national capital.

MANILA IN 24 HOURS. Famous for his contemporary rebulto on wood, Thirteen Artists Awardee and serial creative Riel Hilario provides this itinerary:

My 24 hours would start mid-morning at 10 AM. Breakfast in Intramuros area. San Agustin Church and its Museum, then its the Masters Hall at the National Museum. Lunch at the esteros of Binondo. Head out to Makati to the Pasong Tamo galleries. On to Ayala Museum and merienda at M Cafe. An easy walkabout in BGC. Head south to Conrad Hotel for some drinks. Sunset watching at the Bay. Perhaps a gala show at the CCP. So end the night there or back in Makati. Next morning, breakfast in Greenhills. Some galleries in the area. Exit Manila before lunchtime.

MANILA’S MERRY MIXES. Food historian and award-winning writer, Felice Prudente-Sta. Maria shares:

Sample folk food. Some names may sound Spanish or Mexican but the dishes have a Filipino heart and soul: tamales made with coconut milk; adobo cooked in palm or sugarcane vinegar; sourish and brothy sinigang; the savory, boiled, meal-in-a-pot pochero with native banana, cabbages, sweet potatoes and a flavor-layered eggplant relish; kare-kare oxtail stew with subtleties from peanut and annato. Don’t pass up a morning cup of thick chocolateh served with a sopas ranging from budbud or suman (finger shaped rice or millet with coconut milk and wrapped in palm or banana leaves), buttery ensaymada, or biscuits baked in a wood-fired oven. And don’t miss afternoon merienda with its array of baked goods ranging from street breads to fancy egg yolk-rich yema puddings.  Halo-halo, mix mix, a symphony of syrupy fruits, beans, custard and ice cream to which have been added textural punctuations like pounded and puffed rice called pinipig. Philippine rum and brandy are internationally acclaimed. Liqueurs from island citruses dayap, dalandan, and kalamansi and tuba wine from coconut palm stamp island happiness on the tastebuds forever.

A DOSE OF CULTURE. Staunch heritage advocate and the man behind FEU’s vibrant student concert performances, Martin Lopez recommends:

Start and end your day at the Cultural Center of the Philippines. Build up your appetite by following the joggers around the CCP including up and down the main driveway. Cool off and have breakfast at Pancake House in Harbour Square across the CCP Little Theater. Return to the CCP to see what is on exhibit. Then, cross Roxas Boulevard and head to the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas and spend a couple hours in the Metropolitan Museum of Manila. You can have lunch there. If you can still take in one more museum, spend the afternoon in the National Museum of Anthropology or the National Gallery of Art. Alternatively, you can spend your afternoon walking the cobble stoned streets of Intramuros. Catch the sunset from the roof deck of the Bay Leaf Hotel. You can have cocktails and dinner there. Finally, return to the CCP for a performance in one of its halls.

MANILA I’M COMING HOME. Artist, writer and editor of the iconic 10-volume Filipino Heritage, Alfredo Roces regularly flies from Sydney to Manila to attend art shows and meet fellow artists shares: 

Last time I was in Manila we did a quick tour of museums. As we were in Urdaneta Village we started with Ayala, then the CCP, then the Met and then the National Museum. That was interesting. I would say try to add Intramuros, Fort Santiago-San Agustin Church. Catch some current events. We saw the Artfair and an art auction. Divisoria is interesting.

EPILOGUE: MANILA SUNSET. So there, a personalized cultural guide to Metro Manila from our country’s art and culture authorities. So find some time to explore our national capital until sundown and watch how the tropical sun paints the city with that unrivaled incandescent golden glow that makes us sing:

Hinahanap hanap kita Manila
Ang ingay mong kay sarap sa tenga
Mga jeepney mong nagliliparan
Mga babae mong naggagandahan
Take me back in your arms Manila
And promise me you’ll never let go
Promise me you’ll never let go
Manila, Manila
Miss you like hell, Manila
No place in the world like Manila
(Manila by Hotdogs)

Published in: on April 16, 2018 at 6:55 pm  Leave a Comment  

Angry Christ

PILGRIMAGE TO VICTORIAS. Watching a stage play can inspire a sudden urge to travel. The sinakulo, an outdoor theater that reenacts the moving scenes from the passion and death of Christ have inspired pilgrims to walk the same road leading to Jesus’ crucifixion in Golgota. Whether pilgrimages were made in faraway Jerusalem or close-to-home Mount Banahaw, pilgrims were driven by a strong desire to give reverence to places made sacred by a touch from an intrepid saint or by a life-changing miracle.

There is no saint or miracle in the sugar town of Victorias, Negros Occidental but after watching the Angry Christ, a celebrated stage play by Floy Quintos, I made sure that my tour itinerary includes seeing the pulsating tropical colors and psychedelic patterns applied by the artist Alfonso Ossorio on the walls of St. Joseph the Worker Parish.

VICTORIAS MILLING COMPANY. It was providential that Negrense sculptor Joe Geraldo offered to host my day one in Negros Occidental because I will find out later on my visit to his studio that his art-making may have been influenced by Ossorio as seen in the swirling patterns and inherent angst of his terracotta sculptures. 

From Silay airport, we sped off on motorbikes to Victorias. Our little motorcade revved on. We zoomed on good roads that cut through the immense cane fields of the Sugarlandia and raced against trucks loaded with sugarcane. After half an hour, we finally arrived at Victorias Milling Company compound, reputedly the largest sugarcane mill and refinery in the world, it was owned by the landed Ossorio family. Past the guard house, the smell of burnt molasses permeated the air in the sugar factory. Behind the carabao sundial with overly enlarged horns that serves as the dial face was the Ossorio Chapel.

THE OSSORIO CHAPEL. A few years after World War II, the Ossorios commissioned the famous New York architect Antonin Raymond to design a church for their sugar workers. The church was dedicated to Saint Joseph, the foster-father of Jesus and patron saint of laborers, carpenters and those who work on wood.

Modern and simple for a period dominated by Baroque style and traditional design in church architecture, the chapel of the Ossorios was a plain concrete structure. Its facade is adorned with an assemblage of broken bits of cerveza bottles that formed scenes from the life of Saint Joseph. There is also a large mural depicting the Last Supper and Pentecost on the exterior wall. These were designed by the Belgian Baroness Adelaide de Bethune.

FILIPINIZED IMAGES. Bethune’s work continues in the brass plates in the pulpit and baptistry with details depicting brown-skinned Biblical characters.

This Filipinized version of imported religious characters are repeated particularly in the wooden bass relief of the Station of the Cross with military men that alludes to the oppressor Pontius Pilate and statues of Saint Micheal, Mary and Joseph dressed in Filipino brown and native fashion by sugar farm worker and wood carpenter Benjamin Valenciano.

LO AND BEHOLD, THE ANGRY CHRIST. No Baroque retablo but a sight to behold at the main altar is the mural of the Last Judgement with a central Christ figure having glaring blue eyes, outstretched arms and flaming heart while crushing a devil’s skull that looked like a calavera from Mexico’s Dia de los Muertosbetween his feet. He is flanked by his parents Mary and Joseph, grandparent San Joaquin and Sta. Ana. God the Father represented by red orange hands sticking out from the Holy Spirit that resemble a Mayan bird and the all-seeing eye above.

All these vibrant swirls, colors, and horror vacuii inspired the playwright and fellow pilgrim Floy Quintos to stage a play about the thirty year old artist, Ossorio who flew from New York in the late 1940s to his family’s sugar estate in Victorias to apply his art in the chapel that his family built for their sugar workers.

EPILOGUE: CLOSING SCENE. The Quintos’ Angry Christ recounts the eleven months Ossorio labored in sleepless experimentation on applying wax to his design studies, flashbacks with his artist friends and influences Jackson Pollock and Jean Debuffet, the spiritual struggles with homosexual insecurity and the resistance he faced in expressing his avant garde style to a Filipino audience who was foreign to his art.

That morning, I positioned myself just below that skylight of Ossorio Chapel to recall that unforgettable closing scene from the stage play where the intrepid artist Ossorio who nears saintly status for his contribution to the world of art stands staring at his masterpiece, the Angry Christ -a miracle worth a pilgrimage to Victorias.

-2018 Easter Sunday

Published in: on April 1, 2018 at 9:41 pm  Leave a Comment  

Tana Dicang Museum

HOW TO MAKE AN ANCESTRAL HOUSE. The bahay-na-bato of our forefathers with its aged patina on stone and wood is impossible to replicate today. Building materials like coquina, piedra china, adobe, wide narra and balayong planks, the well-seasoned hardwood like molave and guijo are unavailable nowadays. The sentimental charm of an ancestral house emanates from its history made by the different generations that lived together and were bounded by the same traditions and memories that endured at least a century.

A good example of a well-made ancestral house is the Lizares House in Talisay City. It was converted as Tana Dicang Museum in honor of a town matriarch, Capitana Enrica Alunan-Lizares.

THE LIZARES BAHAY-NA-BATO. From a quiet street, the Lizares House stood simple, stately, and ancient. The house spans four generations of Lizareses and took eleven years to build from 1872 to 1883 following the building tradition for Visayan houses of having coral stone for the ground floor and weather-proofed molave for the upper floor. Molave wood was directly sourced from the forest and was cured for three years in sea water before it was used for construction.

The dungeon-like silong has the traditional layout of a townhouse built during the Spanish era with the main door that opened directly from the street into a cavernous zaguan where a bulky carroza awaits the next procession under the intricately-carved grand staircase.

A GRACIOUS HOME. The wood of the staircase gleamed with age from the generations of guests that went up to the main floor of the house. A bastonera greets visitors of the past and the present like a butler taking the gentleman’s cane and hat and the ladies’ parasol.

The top floor has a symphony of period furniture and fine craftsmanship as seen in the rose tracery panels that allowed music from an orchestra stationed in the caida to be heard in the main living room and dining area.

QUEZON AND OSMEÑA WERE HERE. Wide double doors at the caida opened on opposite sides to the sala major and comedor.  A formal arrangement of period furniture is presided over by a bust of Tana Dicang by Guillermo Tolentino in the sala major. In the olden days, the sala major was reserved to personal friends and important guests such in 1938 when Commonwealth President Quezon and Vice President Osmeña graced the Lizares House during Bacolod City’s Charter inauguration.

The comedor has a long dining table where the influential Tana Dicang sat at the kabisera while she hosted meals for important politicians. A vajilera in one corner of the formal dining room displays the dinner set that was used during the Quezon and Osmeña visit.

ART NOUVEAU FURNITURE. The bedrooms boasts its own set of period furniture from aparadors with tall crest of flowers and scrollwork to the canopied and posted beds carved with Philippine art nouveau patterns. These beds bear monograms of Tana Dicang children that totaled to 16!

A small door in the matriach’s bedroom led to her office on the ground floor. The well-loved and hardworking Capitana continued to work past her retirement age. In her will, she bequeathed the Lizares House to her children and specified that ten percent of the earnings from the sugar plantations be used for the preservation and maintenance of the ancestral house.

EPILOGUE: FORGET ME NOT. The news is plagued with reports about heritage buildings being demolished here and there to give way to another high-rise condominium building or its parts being stealthily moved piece-by-piece to a ‘heritage’ theme park in Bataan.

While we are in a day and age where the past is set aside and the lessons of history are forgotten, the Tana Dicang Museum is a testament that it is unforgivable to forget the legacy of ancestral houses.

-Women’s Month 2018

Published in: on March 18, 2018 at 1:03 am  Leave a Comment  

Charlie Co

HARBINGERS. The co-pilot announced his welcome spiel and weather update. From 29,000 feet the plane began to descent, slicing through thick clouds like a charging mechanical white horse from the Book of Revelation. An outline of the island was revealed. The sun was shining bright in Negros Occidental, the country’s sugar bowl.

From the moment I saw patches of cotton-like cumulus clouds around Mount Kanlaon, I knew that I will be spending a great time in Negros’ Sugarlandia. As the plane readies to touchdown, it casts a shadow that took the shape of a sinister figure with outstretched wings straight out from Charlie Co‘s apocalyptic paintings over the vast plantations of sugarcane.

GALLERY ORANGE. Hosting day one in Negros was sculptor Joe Geraldo. A month earlier, we planned out this four-day Negros odyssey to make sure that my itinerary covers more than just tours to historic and heritage sites but also visits to art spaces and artist studios. From Silay airport, we sped off on two motorcycles en route to Victorias for Ossorio’s Angry Christ mural. We passed through the sugarcane fields that I saw from air a few minutes ago and raced against trucks loaded with sugarcane. There was something decadent watching the sakadas in their colorful clothing go about their day out on the fields with nonchalance under the scorching sun and tenacity for hard labor.

By noontime, we were out of the farmlands and entered cosmopolitan Bacolod City. Joe brought me to Gallery Orange, where I was confronted by artworks that depicted disturbing scenes from the canefields and rural Negros that I had glimpses earlier that morning only they were set in a doomsday future with stylized mechanical horses and humanoid clowns engulfed in a choking texture of blazing reds, oranges, and yellows. These were poignant social and political commentaries painted by artist Charlie Co.

CHARLIE’S ART HOUSE. I first met Charlie in 2013 at Art in the Park  where his clown sculptures were the focal pieces of the event. Years later, I found the same clown sculptures displayed in Rustan’s Edsa Shangri-la Plaza. This trip in Bacolod was my second time to meet Charlie. That afternoon, we met him at a cafe he co-owns with his wife. Ann Co Cakes serves as a rendezvous place for Charlie’s Manila-based patrons, friends and followers. Here, we sat and conversed about his art over coffee and homemade brownies before heading to his home studio.

I immediately knew that we arrived at Charlie’s art house upon seeing a couple of robotic clowns with rounded joints, pointed Pinocchio noses, and colorful lines and patterns alluding to the sakada’s cheerful clothing. These figures are repeated in Charlie’s free-standing sculptures and works on canvas as a traditional portrayal of the Negrense like in the Maskara Festival but fashioned from Charlie’s playful imagination and self portrait as happy on the outside but can be sad and at times angry or suffering from pain in the inside.

MEMORABILIA OF SECOND LIFE. Charlie revealed that he suffered several life-threatening illnesses. Serving as memorabilia from surviving a kidney transplant, he fashioned a transparent mannequin where he displayed blister packs from the drugs he was required to take for a lifelong medication therapy.

In one corner was an iconic Dragnet Chair by Kenneth Cobonpue that Charlie painted the cushion with yellow clock faces and asked his artists friends to adorn it with clocks for his birthday. This is another memorablia to what Charlie calls his second life and testimony to his extended time on earth.

6 HOURS AND 38 YEARS. Born in a decade before the declaration of Martial Law, Charlie lived and pursued his art and social commentaries in his hometown. Together with some intrepid Negros artists, he pioneered in making Negros art and the harsh social gaps between the hacendero masters and destitute sakadas known to an art-conscious Manila and a global community provoked by third world social realism.

Charlie’s home in Bacolod City is also his studio where his artworks were made over a long stretch of time. Despite his debilitating diabetes, he still paints on large canvases and draws intricate details on paper six hours a day. For Charlie, art-making is not achieved at an instant. In fact, it took him 38 years of practice and life lessons to put on canvas the expressive strokes and fiery colors he uses for his historical retelling and social commentaries of current events.

EPILOGUE: SALVADOR MUNDI. During this visit, Charlie was preparing his piece for the 2018 Art Fair Philippines. On a huge canvas is Da Vinci’s Salvador Mundi with the ever present sinister harbingers engulfed in Charlie’s choking fiery hues in the background. This artist’s commentary is about the Christian icon that was sold at an auction as the most expensive artwork in history to a Muslim businessman for $450.3 million dollars.

Published in: on March 4, 2018 at 12:34 am  Comments (1)  


SEPARATION ANXIETY. I arrived early in Silay and with just a few hours before boarding the flight back to Manila, I already felt nostalgic of the four days I spent exploring the sugar towns of Negros Occidental.

This separation anxiety must be a hundred times greater among the town folks of Silay when they woke up one morning to the sound of a demolition. It was in the 1970s when they watched helplessly while the Beaux-Arts fountain, bandstand, benches with lion’s heads and bronze Rizal Monument were being erased forever from the town plaza of their childhood. A few years later Martial Law was declared and Malacanang ordered a road widening project requiring the demolition of the ancestral houses along Silay’s Calle Rizal, including the Cesar Locsin House that was home to the El Ideal Bakery since the 1920s. This time, the people stood up for their well-loved heritage and won.

PARIS OF NEGROS. I immediately felt that heritage preservation is big in Silay upon seeing the  Maria Ledesma Golez house and Hotel Beldevia. Borrowed European influences and sculptural elements in the corbels, columns, and carvings on these Pre-War structures are repeated on the graceful facade of the San Deigo de Alcala Pro-Cathedral and in other American and Spanish era houses surrounding the public plaza.

The well-preserved ancestral houses and the adaptive reuse of these Beaux-Arts buildings as modern commercial spaces gave this neighborhood in Silay a fitting sobriquet as the little Paris of Negros.

HOUSES THAT SUGAR BUILT. Silay is part of the necklace of  sugarcane haciendas that became repositories of individual and collective memories of the landed families and the plantation servants who worked to give rise to the sugar industry of Negros from the 19th century to the years before World War II.

For a hundred years, generations of sugar barons and their families lived in stately ancestral manors of which 31 have been declared as Heritage Houses and three were opened as museums and monuments to Silay’s ancestral culture and the well-appointed homes of its founders.

JALANDONI PINK HOUSE. Standing since 1908 at the north end of the heritage neighborhood is the house built by Don Bernardino Jalandoni and wife Doña Ysabel.  This was one of the several houses that was saved from the demolition to give way to a proposed road expansion project in the 1970s. This bahay-na-bato was for a time became a hardware store before it was converted into a lifestyle museum.

Under the searing morning sun, the house from the outside was in faded pink with capiz window panels on the upper floor. The ground floor has a display of farming implements, a carroza with image of the Blessed Mother and a couple of horse-drawn carriages to evoke the time when this space functioned as garage and storage. The main living area on second floor has a massive flooring made of hardwood planks which have stood the test of time. The embossed tin sheets that spread on the ceiling from Germany and the graceful floral traceries on the callados complimented the collection of antique furniture and artifacts in the caida, living and dining rooms, bedrooms and kitchen.

BALAY NEGRENSE. Tall walls that stretched up to the ceiling where light and air filtered by the graceful floral carvings defined the spaciousness and admirable ventilation of Balay Negrese Museum at Calle Cinco de Noviembre. The massive twelve-bedroom bahay-na-bato was built in 1897 by the French-Batangueño mestizo Victor Gaston. He was the eldest son Yves Leopold Germian Gaston, a Frenchman who together with his Filipina wife Prudencia settled at Silay in 1840 following their failed sugar business ventures in Calatagan and Iloilo. The elder Gaston pioneered the sugarcane industry in Negros and introduced the first horno economico, an iron sugar mill that replaced the crude wooden mills to increase the mass production of commercial sugar.

The Gaston Mansion was abandoned and left to deteriorate in the 1970s until a local heritage conservation group began restoration work and draping the musty doors and four-poster beds with lace curtains and linen and filling the house with period furniture to recreate the sweet memories in this house that sugar built as Balay Negrese.

The zaguan displays the first motor bike in Negros. A fitting recap to this article because it alludes to the means I traveled around the island province.

I explored Silay only for an hour that day because I need to check into the airport to catch the flight to Manila. As the plane lifted into the sky, I looked at the vast sugarcane fields from above and began to retrace my journey as a replay of sweet memories from Bacolod and Talisay to Victorias and Sagay in a jeep, in a bus, on a bike and on foot.

– 25 February 2018 | EDSA People Power

Published in: on February 25, 2018 at 12:10 pm  Comments (1)