Crescent Moon Cafe

LET’S HAVE LUNCH. A city in the Sierra Madre, Antipolo has that air and topography of a mountain resort. Being close to Metro Manila cities, its weekends are usually crowded with urban folks longing for that quick rejuvenating drive to the countryside.

It was already past lunch time when we arrived in Antipolo City to attend the opening of an art exhibit at Pinto Art Museum when an agreeable invitation came from artist Riel Hilario, ‘Let’s have lunch at Crescent Moon Cafe. I’ll introduce you to Tita Lanelle.’

POTTER’S WAREHOUSE. Crescent Moon Cafe and Studio Pottery is a place that anyone would love to be invited for lunch at because of the eat-all-you can buffet and the food that is served in coveted stoneware ceramics designed and handmade by celebrated potter Lanelle Abueva-Fernando.

From Pinto Museum, we headed towards Sitio Purugan. There we veered away from the main road then entered a gardened compound tucked away in a suburban neighborhood. We walked inside a warehouse filled with unglazed cups, bowls, plates, and saucers in different forms and sizes.

FRIENDLY KOIS. We walked through the garden following a foot path. All over the ground were curious objects that captures our delight for handmade and folk arts like the deformed wine bottles repurposed as outdoor decorations and the wind chimes made of clay and seashells. In front of the main dining hall is a fish pond with friendly kois that come to the surface inviting visitors to give them a pat on the head. It was revealed later to us that the pond was a crater made by a World War II bomb.

Riel speculated that lunchtime patrons that overrun the place on weekends must have left because it was unusually quiet that afternoon. He then confessed that it is required to make a reservation when dining in at Crescent Moon Cafe and that he missed doing that.  But this artist is a regular customer and has regularly brought in new comers like us. He assured us that if the lunch buffet is no longer available, we can have the set meals instead.

LANELLE ABUEVA-FERNANDO. We entered the main dining hall, a cathedral-high ceiling draped with festive Asian textiles and large screened windows on three sides that allow fresh mountain breezes to go through made this space airy and bright yet still has a cozy and homey feel to it.

Here, we were greeted by Lanelle Abueva-Fernando. The famous Antipolo potter took Fine Arts in UP then spent years in the volcanic island of Hachijo in Japan as an apprentice to a master potter. She took further studies in ceramics in the United States before returning to the Philippines. Partnering with her husband who has the passion of cooking, they put up Crescent Moon Cafe and Studio Pottery.

THE ALAGAO APPETIZER. Served on the buffet table were Filipino food that were either treated with coconut milk, laced with chili and tomato sauce, or flavored with lemongrass like the chicken afridata, the crispy noodles, and pork belly.

But Riel invited us to start with the signature appetizer that is the alagao wraps. We followed his lead in putting small amounts of ginger, onions, basil leaves, green chili, kamias, grated coconut, fried shrimps, and peanut sauce and roll everything with the minty alagao leaf.

EPILOGUE. That afternoon at Crescent Moon we were the only customers having late lunch. Over lunch, we learned more about Riel, his art, and other things. We enjoyed our healthful meals which ended with suman and a sliver of mango.

The wait staff cleared our table and we left the compound heading to Riel’s studio for more chitchat. Off course that visit to an artist’s home studio is another story worth sharing.

-26 June 2017, Eid al-Fitr End of Ramadan

Published in: on June 26, 2017 at 4:00 pm  Leave a Comment  


WHAT TO SEE IN BALIUAG. Talk about Baliuag and the first thing that comes to mind are the prices of antique furniture at current auctions that has went from crazy to unbelievably insane like a narra and kamagong chest that is elegantly decorated with wood and carabao bone-inlay, a style that traces its lineage to this town in Bulacan were sold from eight to twelve million pesos.

Heir to a glittering past, the town of Baliuag is best explored at a leisurely pace to appreciate its history and heritage. So what is there to see in this town? There is a remarkable 18th century church and unusual monuments to Rizal and Bonifacio. There is a town museum that is housed in a historic bahay-na-bato. In a narrow alley, there are artisans that still practice the old-fashioned craft of applying animal bone inlay in making the Baliuag-style furniture and there is also an Alibaba’s cave of antique objects owned by a respected antique collector and dealer.

TOWN CENTER. One of the main landmarks that we first saw across the Baliwag Clock Tower at the town’s poblacion is the Rizal Monument. Designed by artist Ramon Carreon in 1928, this monument shows Rizal in overcoat just like how we see it in the Luneta. Interestingly, Carreon added allegorical figures including Inang Bayan standing taller than national hero as if whispering behind him and a couple of sphinxes flanking the monument.

There is also a monument to Bonifacio, which we rarely see the hero of the masses portrayed brandishing a bolo while riding a horse.

SAN AGUSTIN CHURCH. Behind the Rizal Monument is the San Agustin Church, which dates back to the Spanish period. The stone and brick church facade glows in that full midday sun with the image of the town’s patron saint overlooking the plaza from its Classical pediment. At the base of the slender bell tower is a bas-relief of Moses holding the tablet of the Ten Commandments. A visual feast were the church’s main doors flanked by double Doric columns all dressed-up with garlands of flowers.

Legend has it that when Baliuag was invaded by the Moors, the townsfolk would lock themselves inside the church. Beneath the church were secret tunnels used as escape routes leading to a nearby river. On what used to be a river now stands a fast food restaurant.

MEET MONSIGNOR VALERA. Preparations were taking place that day for the Traslacion of the Santo Niño from Bustos later in that afternoon. Inside Baliuag Church we met parish priest Monsignor Andres Valera. Despite of his busy schedule preparing for a wedding celebration and for that day’s festivities, he found time to lead us for a tour of the rectory and the church museum, providing narratives to every religious and secular piece.

In the museum were every conceivable image of the Blessed Mother in wood and in ivory. There are librettos of church music and missals printed in Latin and a compilation of the  town’s census dating as far as 1777. Enclosed in a glass frame is a vestment used for the image of San Agustin that is spread out to show the metallic thread of inuod embroidery.  There are also silver monstrances and chalice gilt in gold. Monsignor Velara pointed out that in the olden days church receptacles were never made in gold. Silver was preferred for its attribute to change color in the presence of poison. Monsignor Valera then led us to his office were he showed us his collection Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter action figures and memorabilia.

THE RECTORY. The church rectory that shares the same age as the church still has remnants of the original structure. Apart from the refurbished flooring and ceiling, preserved on the walls of the rectory were the relief of repeating patterns of flowers, tropical plants and the cincture.

Some of the church’s original furniture were transferred to the rectory for safekeeping and exhibit like the massive vestry cabinet that was originally in the sacristy and the communion rail that now functions as a wall decor. The centuries old statue depicting the Baptism of Jesus was originally in the church’s baptistry. And there is the sacrarium. Dated 1883 and embossed with Augustinian symbols, this marble basin was used in the olden days for washing of chalices and other receptacles used in administering the sacraments. It has two faucets. The priest used one to wash his hands before the mass and the other after the mass.

LUMANG MUNICIPIO. A few walks from the town center is Baliuag Museum and Library that is housed in the old town hall.  This 19th century bahay-na-bato was originally the residence of Dr. Joaquin Gonzalez, one of the writers of the Malolos Constitution and the first school president of what would later be known as University of the Philippines. The ancestral house was bought from Dr. Gonzalez by the local government  in 1915 to serve as its municipio.

Aside from being a well-preserved heritage house, the old municipio is also a historical landmark where the first Philippine election was held.

MAY DAY EVE. While inside the Baliuag Museum, we chanced upon a group of students from Bulacan State University having their dress rehearsals and script reading. When I heard one of them in a booming voice said Guardia sereno-o-o! A las doce han dado-o-o! I knew immediately they were rehearsing for Nick Joaquin’s May Day Eve so we requested the one playing the role of Doña Agueda to be the sitter for a photo.

Rooms in this grand bahay-na-bato were sub-divided into function rooms. The original zaguan houses the local tourism office. The sala mayor and some of the bedrooms have permanent exhibits of antique furniture and objects. These same rooms were occasionally used for art and moving exhibitions. When the municipal government took over the house, the comedor was converted into a courtroom with a raised platform reserved for the tribunal.

SIGLO ANTIQUES. Past lunch time, this old world town continues to casts its spell over me and my travel companion. By then we found ourselves inside Siglo Antiques. There Engineer Mike Nicolas greeted who we first met in his antique stores branch at Tomas Morato Avenue in Quezon City.

The humble and respected antique dealer led us to his warehouse, unlocking room after room of antique furniture and curiosities. It took a while for our eyes to adjust from the glare of afternoon sun to the dim and windowless interior filled with antiques and vintage objects nothing later than the 1950s. There is a Gothic-style altar that must have housed a family’s favorite santo in the oratorio. There were platerang buntis and abanico and aparador of different heights with their coronas. There were escritorios, lamesas, and sillas with Art Deco and Art Nouveau details.  And then lo and behold my heart beat faster upon seeing the iconic Baliuag-style comoda elegantly inlaid with wood and carabao bone.

IMBUTE ARTIST. Baliuag-style furniture were common pieces found in Filipino homes and the craft of applying carabao bone inlay were in demand particularly before World War II.  In Barangay Sto. Cristo we met Anacleto ‘Ka Romy’ Bernardo, the youngest and only surviving member from an older generation of artisans specializing in wood and carabao bone-inlay. This craft is locally called imbute.

The imbute artist buys the ribs of the animal from the slaughter house and makes them smooth using wood bleach. He then cuts the bone in different shapes using improvised tools. We watched Ka Romy carve small dents using an old chisel that he inherited from his father on the furniture. He then apply alternating strips of carabao bone and wood to form geometric patterns around floral design.

EPILOGUE: TRASLACION. By late afternoon, we drifted back into the road when the vehicles were halted to give way to Traslacion of the Santo Niño de Bustos.  In fascination, we watched the townsfolk of Baliuag and the visiting folks from neighboring town of Bustos pull together the colorful festivities from the iron-braced bridge that connects the two towns.

From the Baliuag side of the bridge was the image of San Agustin awaiting on a carroza along with a welcoming committee. Marching on the other side of the bridge were the town folks of Bustos that came in throngs and in red shirt carrying their Santo Niño. When the two images came face-to-face, the carroza carrying San Agustin was turned and led the procession that meanders back to Baliuag Church with the Sto. Nino de Bustos.

– In celebration of the Heritage Month | 2017

Published in: on May 7, 2017 at 11:52 pm  Comments (1)  


ROADSIDE WORKSHOPS. It was a searing summer weekend when I stepped out from a provincial bus prematurely on my way to Betis to the dusty road of Bacolor in Pampanga. What prompted me to halt the bus driver and walk under the fierce midday sun and inescapable dust were the life-sized statues that lined the woodcarving workshops clustered along the main highway.

There I imagined how this place must have looked like when Mount Pinatubo erupted in 1991. Dormant for 600 years, the notorious volcano ejected volcanic material of Biblical proportions that altered weather patterns worldwide and literally obliterating several towns in Zambales, Tarlac and Pampanga from the map including the historic town of Bacolor.

HALF-BURIED CHURCH. The town of Bacolor have seen better days. Being an ancient town said to be founded by a group of immigrants from Sumatra led by cannon maker Panday Pira and then first and oldest town in Pampanga that was founded by the Spaniards, its old culture is legendary. As described by friar Juan de Medina to be the best pueblo in all the islands with the best meadows for cultivating rice, wealthiest and best-dressed inhabitants, and a celebrated church of stone and brick with a famous crucifix.

The church of San Guillermo Ermitaño was built in 1645 on a land donated by a wealthy landlord named Guillermo Manabat. It became the center of the mission with Betis, Macabebe, Apalit, and Candaba as its visitas. With the eruption of Mount Pinatubo, the church is buried up to one-half with its main entrance lost to lahar.

VILLA DE BACOLOR. I entered the church through a door which was formerly the upper window and walked on new concrete floor under layers of lahar beneath it. Its old convent houses the church museum of old religious statues and narratives on the town’s days of glory during the colony’s war with the British. From 1762 to 1764, Bacolor was the seat of a colonial government in exile of Governor Simon de Anda.  With the town’s role in the reclaiming of the colony, the King of Spain gave the town the title Villa de Bacolor and honored with bearing the royal motto Non Plus Ultra.

By the 19th century Nothing Greater has rivaled with the royal town. It was a wealthy center for commerce in Pampanga and a capital for culture with its zarzuela groups and its writers of Pampango Literature, foremost were revolutionary leader Juan Crisostomo Soto and Proceso Pabalan. This cultural tradition continues to this modern times when the half-buried church, its ancient bell tower, and woodworking workshops were used as backdrop for different sorts of film and television shows.

WOODCARVING TRADITION. Just like its Tagalog cousin Paete in Laguna, Betis is historically the chisel town of Pampanga until the onslaught of the Pinatubo eruption when the Kapampangan woodcarvers went out of business and moved to Bacolor in the recent years. Betis is still known for its ornate European carvings on furniture and Bacolor for santo-making.

Back to the dusty highway I almost forgot about the scorching afternoon sun as I strolled leisurely and in amazement seeing the life-sized statues in wood and concrete casually displayed on a single file in storefronts. I entered one random woodcarving workshop to another so I could avoid totally getting sunburned and see the woodcarvers’ activity.

BUSY SHOPS. Woodcarving workshops in Bacolor hummed with activity. Inside the busy shops the sound of chisel-tapping and fine wood dust fill the air. Here I observed the step-by-step process and stages of sculpture from the carving from a block of wood with a rough sketch and the careful detailing using medium and fine chisels to the smoothing and sanding and applying of encarna.

Encarna is another set of process in finishing a sculpture from applying escayola or gesso as primer to spraying paint. The role of the encarnador is to apply details using a fine paint brush to make sculpture life-like. The term ecarna is from the shorten Spanish word encarnación which means to become flesh.

SANTO-MAKING TRADITION. The santo-making is folk art that survive the Spanish colonial period. The Spanish friars introduced the craft of carving religious icon and statuary from hardwood by showing the natives religious images from printed reproductions of prayer books and estampitas and teaching them the rudiments of carving.  The santos were important teaching and visual aids used by the friar missionaries in spreading the Catholic faith.

Though Lent is the busiest season for the santo carvers of Bacolor, wood carving and restoration is a year-long labor. In workshops busy with activity, the wood carvers were kind enough to allow me to observe and talk to them while they work on repairing heirloom santos and creating new ones for the processions around the country for the Holy Week and year-round fiestas. In one of the stores, I was led by its owner to their warehouse where I gasped in awe at an army of santos in a bodega-like dungeon awaiting to be mounted in altars or on carrozas.

VISUAL FEAST. Santo-making traditions has contributed extensively to the artistic tradition of the country. The sculptures in Bacolor are mostly Baroque and Classical reproductions  that were copied from European images of saints, angels, and the Virgin Mary as seen in the works of Isabelo Tampigco and Maximo Vicente.

It is a visual feast to find pieces with unusual themes and were guided by the sculptor’s personal feelings and imagination like a Roman bust made of santol wood and a santo head that upon close inspection it has a semblance to the face of the sculptor who made it. When I asked the sculptor, kayo po ba ito? He just smiled and confidently uttered ako yan!

EPILOGUE: RANDOM SHOT. Summer is my favorite season for photography using my simple, uncomplicated point-and-shoot camera. Without filter and special lenses and a little adjustment in brightness and contrast, random photos turn out golden, crisp, and dramatic like this cherub’s face hand-carved from cement I found casually laid on a table at a santo-maker’s workshop in Bacolor, Pampanga.

-1 May 2017 | Feast of San Jose

Published in: on May 1, 2017 at 9:18 am  Leave a Comment  

Mount Samat


WAR JARGON. War memorials and Death March markers dot the province of Bataan and with a creative imagination, one can reconstruct wartime scenarios when reading the World War II jargon inscribed on historical markers like lines of resistance, points of bombardment, troop deployment, sites of slaughter, recapture and surrender and livid phrases like … were mercilessly massacred by the enemy… whose blood soaked every rock of this land…

Most iconic of the World War II memorials in Bataan is the Shrine of Valor on Mount Samat.



RETREAT TO BATAAN. It was a cool and beautiful Sunday morning when we arrived at the Plaza Mayor de Ciudad de Balanga. This main square is bordered by the City Hall, the Balanga Plaza Hotel, the Galerie Victoria Mall, and the Balanga Cathedral. These structures were recent reproductions of architectural design from the Spanish Colonial period.

But those who lived through World War II recall a different Sunday when the Japanese enemy concentrated their firearms to the retreating Filipino and American resistance forces in Bataan. All the fighting has reduced much of Balanga and the structures around its plaza mayor into rubble.



FALL OF BATAAN. After hearing mass at the Cathedral and having breakfast at Plaza Brew cafe, we walked a few blocks to Balanga Elementary School. Behind a Gabaldon-style school building is the site where the surrender of Bataan took place. This eventful surrender is immortalized in a tableau in front of the World War II Museum where Major General Edward King Jr. is depicted negotiating the ceasefire with the Japanese on April 9, 1942.

Since the Japanese soldiers were trained in the warrior code to die in battle than to be captured alive by the enemy, the surrender of Bataan caught the Japanese unprepared to handle the prisoners of war that numbered more than a thousand. Thus the Japanese soldiers had only contempt to the surrendering Allied forces. Also within the Balanga school complex is a structure overlay with wreaths. Inside this hollow cell Filipinos and Americans were tortured by their captors. It has been left untouched to serve as a chilling reminder of war atrocities and hallow ground for the war dead.



THE SHRINE OF VALOR. Back again on the road, we left Balanga. As we approached a junction in the town of Pilar, we saw a white cross that stood tall on a mountaintop. The smell of the forest permeates as our vehicle stressed up the winding mountain road of Mount Samat.  After a few more turns, we arrived at the gate of the Shrine of Valor where we had a closer view of the towering white cross.

Climbing the stairs flanked by bronze urns led us to the marble colonnade with a 1968 stained glass triptych entitled Call to Arms, Supreme Sacrifice, and Peace by Cenon Rivera behind the long altar table. Inscribed on the marble walls on both ends of the colonnade is the story of the Battle of Bataan.



BATTLE OF BATAAN MUSEUM. The Battle of Bataan is retold in the museum beneath the colonnade through black and white photos,World War II relics and artifacts. A relief map of the Bataan Peninsula illustrates enemy entry points and resistance defense lines.

On a Good Friday in 1942, the Japanese launched their final offensive. Mount Samat was the point of bombardment because it lay at the center of the main line of resistance. Allied forces fought hard to keep Mount Samat but the enemy received reinforcement and were supported by aircraft and tanks. Mount Samat fell on Easter Sunday.



FOOTPATH TO MOUNT SAMAT. Behind the colonnade is a zigzagging footpath paved with stones from Corregidor Island. Like Bataan, Corregidor is hallow ground for war veterans where every April 9th, Araw ng Kagitingan is celebrated in honor of those who fought brave for our freedom.

Ascending the steps, we had a better appreciation of the intricate geometric pattern of the colonnade’s floor work below.  Nearing the summit of Mount Samat, one can see the neighboring mountain shrouded in clouds and the Bataan Peninsula.



ABUEVA BAS-RELIEF. At the end of the zigzagging footpath is the great memorial cross. It stands 300 feet facing east and overlooking the colonnade. A brass door decorated with distinct bas-reliefs by National Artist Napoleon Abueva leads to an elevator that brings visitors to the viewing gallery located in the arms of the cross. The base of the cross is decorated with bas-relief sculptures of Filipino heroes in their undying pose.

EPILOGUE: OUR MISSION IS TO REMEMBER. It is ironic that with all the bronze statues and gleaming marble structures scattered around the country, people tend to forget about what they are for. Monuments were built to make people remember our heroes and historical events. May the following text inscribed in the Shrine of Valor serve as a reminder:

To the memory of these brave warriors whose blood soaked every rock on this land so that this nation might endure, this humble shrine is consecrated. Our mission is to remember.

-9 April 2017 | Araw ng Kagitingan

Published in: on April 9, 2017 at 12:21 am  Comments (2)  

Tam-awan Village


BAGUIO ON A WHIM. It was a cool Saturday dawn. Relief at last from the forty plus plus hours of the work week. I emerged from the office with the urge to hop on a provincial bus just to satisfy my sudden craving for the most rustic, old-fashioned, and ethnic experience available these days.

At three in the morning, there was no bus leaving for Baguio at the Victory Liner terminal in Cubao. Instead, there was a van already packed with passengers that only needed one to leave for Baguio. That’s me.



COMMUTER’S LUCK. Upon reaching Dau in Pampanga, all thirteen passengers left the van for the Hot Air Balloon Festival at Clark Air Base. Worried, I asked the driver, tutuloy pa po ba kayo ng Baguio? Driver said Oo naman.

At the last hour of the trip, we were on Kennon Road. It’s been a long time since I traveled via the zigzag road because public buses usually don’t take this route to Baguio.  So in a van with only me as the passenger, the driver was fond of making several stops on this scenic drive up for picture-taking.



TAM-AWAN VILLAGE.  There was heavy traffic on the main road leading to the downtown area when we entered the city. Baguio in mid-February until the week of Panagbenga Festival becomes unusually crowded with tourists so I avoided going further to the mandatory tourists attractions and instead went straight to Tam-awan Village.

Tam-awan Village was established by National Artist Ben Cabrera in 1995 to promote the works of local contemporary artists and to revive the traditions and ethnic life in the Cordilleras.



HOUSES ON STILTS. The compound has a replica of an Ifugao village centuries away from how the Summer Capital looks today. A footpath that ascends and descends a steep trail of earth and rock leads visitors to the different vantage points or tam-awan on this overlooking garden-hill.

In a clearing are traditional pyramidal houses on stilts that can be rented out by visitors to experience living in a rustic, high-perched space. Beneath the shadow of the uplifted structures sits hand-carved gods of the granary that also doubles as fertility deities.



VILLAGE ATO.  Highland community life centers in the spacious ato that serves as council house for community elders, dormitory of boys and travelers.  The structure is usually constructed from old pine wood and topped by a bulky cogon roof. Ifugao building tradition dictates that the ato must not be roofed with metal tin sheets because the visiting spirits of their ancestors would certainly not appreciate a roof made noisy by rain.

In Tam-awan Village, the ato houses a rustic cafe that serves locally grown chilly stuffed with cheese then deep fried, french fries made from mountain-grown potatoes, and my personal favorite -an all-day breakfast meal served with freshly brewed mountain coffee. The feast goes down well while interacting with Tam-awan’s resident artists and cultural performers.



BAGUIO ART. In Tam-awan Village shops and galleries is Baguio art, those spontaneous, experimental, and intuitive kind that gave the art in the highlands the signature feel that is hard to equal.

Baguio is a busy colony of sculptors and painters whose creative works of interpreting and mixing mediums tell stories of their history and ethnicity as seen in the abstract paintings of Alfonso Dato and solar drawings of Jordan Mang-osan. Cordillera artworks can narrate exciting stories about their pantheon gods, Kabunian and Lumawig and the adventures of first sculptor of the bulol idol and culture hero, Wigan or a pictorial epic of the Ifugao village life.



RHYTHMS AND RITUALS. The total experience of village life in Tam-awan is when young Ifugao men performs mesmerizing rhythms by pounding three hand-held brass gangsas.

This percussive concert is a vital part of every Ifugao ritual from birth and marriage to death and of communal ceremonies like praying for rain and bountiful harvest or victory in tribal wars and during the sacrificial rites of the cañao.



EPILOGUE. With the playing of the hand gongs, the young Ifugao men bounded in long, red g-strings and the women in their best colored tapis danced in a circle with fluttering bird-like movement.

The ritualistic purpose of each dance is explained and the those gathered to watch were invited to beat the brass gong and dance among the Tam-awan villagers.

Published in: on March 6, 2017 at 2:05 pm  Leave a Comment