ERMITANEO. While walking along Mabini Street under the glaring mid-morning sun, a street-side vendor selling yosi, candies, bottled water, along with excavated Asian ceramics, rusty Maranao kris, and ethnic Kalinga necklaces invited me to check out his merchandise. Welcome to Ermita’s antique district.

Antiques, tribal artifacts, and folk art are beautiful objects with intrinsic and historical value. They give hints at our culture and can inspire a feeling of connection to the different periods in our history. They are expensive providers of inspiration. That is why I visit antique stores in Ermita mostly to satisfy my visual cravings for our ancestral heritage more than to shop.



NUESTRA SEÑORA DE GUIA. I usually start my walks around this district in its Church that houses the oldest antique statuette of the Virgin Mary in the country. When the Spanish arrived in the seaside village of Lagyo, the old name of Ermita, the natives were found venerating a wooden icon set atop a clump of pandan plant. Its head and shoulders were carved from narra and body from molave with fading swirls of blue, red, and gold. The men sent by Miguel Lopez de Legaspi were quick in convincing the villagers that the image of the Nuestra Señora de Guia was brought by angels.

A chapel was built not far from where the image was found. This same chapel went through several reconstructions and expansions on the same site along Del Pilar Street. High on the main altar of the present Ermita Church is the original antique icon now glowing in golden robes, bedecked with jewels, curly wig and crown, and holding a baston de mando that was presented to the image by a galleon commander for saving his ship from a storm upon the invocation of Ermita’s titular patroness. The original provenance and how the image of the Nuestra Señora de Guia ended up in the beach in Ermita centuries ago remains a mystery.



REPRO AND ORIG. The priced items in Ermita stores are the rare santos, colonial jewelry like the tambourine, excavated pottery and ceramics, tribal artifacts that were used in rituals like the bulol, old wood furniture like a mesa altar from Baliwag, a galinera from Batangas and a lamesa from Bohol.

They are sold side-by-side with copycat versions.  A seasoned antique hunter can easily spot a well-made reproduction from an authentic piece inside a crowded antique store at a glance or at close inspection.



GALLERY DEUS. Antique dealers and their reliable
storekeepers are good mentors on how to spot a repro versus an authentic piece. Multi-awarded playwright Floy Quintos is always an exciting company at Gallery Deus. His store at the Faura Center specializes in antique santos and tribal art.

In one of my visits, he sends me an Ifugao spoon with a polished patina that according to Floy cannot be copied not even by the best fakers. But more to the patina and encrustation on the surface of an object, the intangible spirit of an antique santo or an old bulol cannot be captured in a fake.



SPOT THE REAL ONES. Housed in the stately pre-war Casa Tesoro is Maria Closa, an antique store that specializes in tribal artifacts from the Cordilleras. This antique store is airy, filled with light, and well-curated enough that it can be mistaken for a museum. On pedestals are darken Kalinga jars next to massively heavy kinabigat. There is a display shelf of bulols in different age and sizes and a table lined with ritual boxes, spoons, and plates, and Ifugao baskets.

To train the eye and instinct to spot real antiques and tribal art, Gallery Deus and Maria Closa are the stores to visit when in Ermita.



MABINI STREET. Close to the antique stores are art stores that sell framed paintings on canvas depicting folk and rural scenes bursting with tropical colors. This has become the character of the Mabini Art Movement, a genre in Philippine paintings that took its name from Mabini Street. In one of my recent walks, I took a photo of a group of artworks sunning at a corner along Mabini. It reminded me of artist friend Jose Yap Baguio who spent painting his last works under the lamp post near Ermita Church.

It was also on Mabini Street in 1966 where Paul McCartney with his group the Beatles chose to spend the afternoon as tourists after ignoring the invitation of the Marcoses in Malacanang. In one of the art stores along Mabini, McCartney bought a painting by Ben Cabrera for 70 pesos!



UNUSUAL BREAK IN 1973. On my way to Mabini Street one morning for my usual rounds of antique window shopping, I dropped by Solidaridad hoping to catch National Artist for Literature F Sionil Jose. He wasn’t in the bookstore but read about this short narrative entitled Memento of Martial Law. Framed with a Sheafer fountain pen, it tells about an unusual break in that took place in bookstore a year after the declaration of Martial Law.

EPILOGUE. Visiting stores in Ermita is a delightful way to learn our culture and our historic past.

Published in: on January 4, 2017 at 4:55 pm  Comments (1)  

Pista ng Santo Niño at San Beda

Pista ng Sto. Nino San Beda

RED IS OUR COLOR. Current and former students of San Beda College know that red is our color and the last Sunday of January is the Pista ng Santo Niño.

It has been a tradition that only at this time of year that the image of the Santo Niño de Praga is taken down from its niche high in the main altar of the Abbey of Our Lady of Monserrat in Mendiola. Devotees form a long line to have the chance to touch and kiss the carved image of the Holy Child before it is mounted to its silver carroza for a solemn procession around the San Miguel district of Manila.


STO. NIÑO DE PRAGA. Not too many people know that during the first Pista ng Sto. Niño in 1904, a framed picture of the Holy Child was taken to the procession in lieu of a carved statue. The exquisitely carved statue of the Santo Niño de Praga that we see today was commissioned by famous santero Máximo Vicente for the Benedictines of Mendiola.

The cult of the Holy Child in the country began four centuries ago.  The image of the Sto. Niño that arrived in the Philippines with Ferdinand Magellan in 1521, that was recovered  and re-enthroned by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi and enshirned today in the minor basilica in Cebu is the oldest Christian image in the country. The Sto. Niño de Cebu is believed to have been carved in Flanders in the 15th of century and was presented as a baptismal gift to the converted Queen Juana.


Pista ng Sto Nino San beda

FIRST PISTA NG STO. NIÑO. The Benedictine monks began to spread the devotion to the Santo Niño de Praga in the Philippines only during the last turn-of- the-century. Its first devotees were the students from the Colegio de San Beda who establish the Confraternity of the Infant Jesus. The traditional procession of the Sto. Niño with the image made by Maximo Vicente as the focus of devotion was first held in January 20, 1905.

The solemn tradition lives on today with devotees forming a long line under the magnificent murals and paintings of the abbey. It is a moving scene to witness how the young and old have a quick moment to touch, kiss and say a prayer to the Santo Niño before it is taken to the procession.

Pista ng Sto. Nino San Beda Manila

Pista ng Sto. Nino

EL CAPITAN GENERAL DE LAS ISLAS. With the peeling of the church bells, the Santo Niño is brought to the silver carroza waiting by the church entrance. A huge crowd in red clothes cheers as the carroza bearing the Santo Niño is pulled and joins the procession.

Red is the color of San Beda College since its students are traditionally known as Red Lions. If this passionate and heroic color has any connection to the Santo Niño, it must be that red symbolizes the color of the General. Remember that when the Santo Niño was introduced in Cebu, he was given the title as El Capitan General.

Pista Santo Nino Procession San Beda

Pista ng Sto Nino procession

SOLEMN PROCESSION. While most Sto. Niño festivals around the country are known for the mardi gras-type of parade, the Santo Niño procession led by the Benedictine community and San Beda College students and alumni is simple and sober. Joining the Santo Niño de Praga in the procession are images of Benedictine saints like St. Benedict of Nursia, St. Bede or popularly known as Venerable Bede and the patroness of the abbey, Our Lady of Monserrat.

EPILOGUE. As the procession inched its way around the San Miguel district, participants recite the rosary or exchange pleasantries as this event is also a reunion among the alumni of the college.  It is an important event that proud Bedans look forward to for us reconnect with our  brothers and reflect on the values that we’ve learned in school.

Published in: on January 27, 2014 at 12:49 am  Comments (1)  
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Escolta Saturday Market


HEYDAY. It must be the history, the remaining turn-of-the-twentieth century architecture, or the dusty bits and pieces of memories romanticized by great grandparents that led a group of artists into reviving the vibrancy of Escolta, not as the country’s premier high street as it was in the 1900s but this time as an accessible and popular cultural and artsy center in good old downtown Manila.

The recent staging of the Escolta Saturday Market where vintage items were sold in what used to be the site of the fashionable Berg’s Department Store in the 1930s is an attempt to bring back old world Escolta in its heyday and perhaps the first step in making generations familiar of that forgotten place and time.



NOSTALGIA ESCOLTA. But to say that we have forgotten about Escolta is an understatement. For one thing, our generation is not fortunate enough to live in that era when Escolta became the country’s classiest shopping destination. That’s why it is not surprising to learn from some people that they do not feel any connection or relevance when passing by this short thoroughfare in Manila today.

However, nostalgia can strike us when looking at old photos of Escolta. Its rows of opulent shops, which were actually traditional bahay-na-bato with sliding panels of capiz windows on the second floor and huge glass display windows at street level where all conceivable caprichos and overpriced imported luxuries were sold.



PHILIPPINE’S FIRSTS. The famous emporium La Estrella del Norte and La Puerta del Sol which marked the east and west entrances of the narrow thoroughfare, introduced the first bicycles, cameras, phonographs and the trendiest and most fashionable home furnishings to the biggest spenders of that time.

A good find in the Saturday market were the mugs with images of vintage cars and bicycles printed on them. This fittingly recalls when La Estrella del Norte brought in the first automobile in the country called a Richard, which was bought by a certain Dr. Miciano –an affluent physician.



PRIMERA CLASSE. La Puerta del Sol is said to have sold the finest European décor and household ware. In 1875, it introduced the term tulipan referring to gas lamps with tulip-shaped glass chimneys. In the 1920s and 1930s, Escolta shops selling all kinds of gas lamps made of glass were generically called tulipan. Just like in the Saturday market, everything for sale has been generically called pre-loved vintage items.

Other high end stores like H.E. Heacocks and Oceanic were known for the exquisite household items. While Fashionable clothes were displayed at Berg’s, quality leather and shoes were stocked at Hamilton Brown or Walkover Shoes.


Escolta Saturday Market Calvo Museum

ESCOLTA HERITAGE. It was also in the twenties and the thirties when art nouveau and art deco design elements were incorporated in the architecture of Escolta’s landmark buildings like the Crystal Arcade, Capitol and Lyric Theaters, Calvo, Natividad, Burke, Regina, and Perez-Samanillo (First United Building). Some of these buildings are now gone and only be seen in old photos and in miniature models at the Calvo Museum.


DREAMING ESCOLTA. Pre-war Escolta only reigns in the memory of those who were fascinated by its grandeur. With the old glamor gone, the Escolta we know today is just a narrow street in Manila with decrepit art deco and art nouveau structures just waiting to be revitalized for adaptive reuse as cafés, restaurants, wineries, art galleries, art schools, culinary schools, creative workshop venues, exhibition spaces for art fairs and trade shows, boutiques, vintage and antique shops, bookstores, music stores, graphic design studios, photography studios, band rehearsal studios, etc. etc.

EPILOGUE. The successful staging of the Escolta Saturday Market is an inspiration to those who have all of the above in mind. Our generation can now start looking forward to a time and period when an accessible and popular, still old world yet artsy Escolta is thriving and pulsating once again in good old downtown Manila just like during its ‘forgotten’ heyday.

La Loma Cemetery

CEMENTERIO DE BINONDO. One of the places I always wanted to visit in Manila is the Campo Santo de La Loma. I’ve seen in old pictures the intricate wrought iron grill gate that led to the funerary chapel set in what they refer in the olden days as Cementerio de Binondo.

The Cementerio de Binondo was located approximately three kilometers away from the arrabal of Binondo, in the hilly area that was then part of the arrabal of Santa Cruz. Hence, Cementerio de Binondo was eventually called la loma or the hill, which makes up the cemetery complex of Cemeterio del Norte, the Manila Chinese Cemetery, and La Loma Cemetery. Of the three cemeteries, La Loma Cemetery was the first to be established.

CEMETERY ARCHITECTURE. The only way to the centuries-old funerary chapel was a good walk following the path that snakes through the cemetery compound. All the time I was diverting my son from imagining the Walking Dead by pointing out the different architectural styles found on the tombs and mausoleums.

The style and ornamentation in the memorials range from Gothic and Neo-classic to Art Deco. We found tombs and mausoleums that were recently built, but what make the cemetery-scape interesting are those that show years of exposure to the natural elements.

CAMPO SANTO DE LA LOMA. At every turn, we stop to see the details in the mausoleums with spires and the tombs with stone sculptures of Grecian goddesses in anguish and angels looking up to the heavens. These monuments crowd the cemetery lending the feeling of walking around a statue garden.

The La Loma Cemetery was built at the time when landscaping of cemeteries became popular in England and France.  Before the garden cemeteries were established, the dead were buried inside churches. Evidence of this practice is seen today in grave markers on the floor and walls of old churches. The banning of the practice of interring the dead in churches following the sanitary standards of the time led to the creation of landscaped cemeteries that were set outside town or city limits.

BEATI MORTUI. We found the site of the old cemetery gate. What is left of the intricate wrought iron gate we saw in old pictures are the stone pillars with still discernible stone relief of human skulls and crossed bones. From the gate, we walked towards the medieval chapel. Funerary mass is no longer held in this baroque chapel. A new church dedicated to St. Pancratius has been built near the main road.

The church facade has detailed carvings. Above the main door are elaborate carvings with the year 1884 and a marker with the Latin text Beati mortui qui in domino moriuntur which translates to “Blessed are the dead who die in the grace of Lord.”

EPILOGUE. The chapel stood ancient, covered with moss and overgrowth. Its adobe walls muted gold in the afternoon sun. It was warm, but the breeze suddenly became chilly. It was days before November 1.

-All Saints Day 2012

Published in: on November 1, 2012 at 12:00 am  Comments (11)  
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Quiapo Tour

QUIAPO. A sea of men and women in maroon clothes, struggling and inching their way to get near and touch the ancient image of the El Señor Nazareno de Quiapo is a spectacular scene every January 9 at Plaza Miranda. The image of veneration is the blacken image of the suffering Christ carrying the cross.

This centuries-old image of the Black Nazarene was brought to Manila from Mexico by Augustinian Recollects in 1606. According to tradition, the image was originally fair skinned but was darkened when a fire in the galleon blackened the image. When it arrived in Manila, it was initially enshrined in a church in Bagumbayan and then later transferred to San Nicolas Church in Intramuros. In the late 18th century, the image was transferred to the church in Quiapo. The procession held every January 9 commemorates the transfer of the image from Intramuros to Quiapo.

TRIP TO QUIAPO. On regular days, Quiapo is not as crowded with devotees as compared with the January 9 event but the bumper to bumper traffic and the vendors aggressively peddling folk remedies, amulets, and pirated merchandises are the usual scenes. Despite the chaos and dilapidated structures, Quiapo remains as an important historical and cultural center for those who take time in experiencing Quiapo’s vibrant local color and discovering its glorious past.

PLAZA MIRANDA. A tour around Plaza Miranda is a good place start. This renovated plaza with Roman pillars and aqueduct-like structures, used to be the site of political rallies, including the infamous 1971 Liberal Party Rally. Grenades were thrown at the stage and the spectators, causing injury and death to a lot of people attending the event. An obelisk marks Plaza Miranda as the place for freedom of speech.

FORTUNE-TELLING CORNER. Also in this same area are the fortune-tellers, fearlessly and confidently giving their forecast to their steady stream of patrons. Whether through numerology, palm reading, and Tarot cards, both skeptics and believers come to Quiapo’s Fortune-telling Corner to have their fortunes foretold, past lives read, recover lost objects, and bring together estranged couples.

CANDLE LIGHTING RITUAL. At the Carriedo street-side of the Quiapo Church colored candles are sold in candle-lighting kiosk. The color of each candle used in the Candle Lighting Ritual is believed to have an effect in someone’s life.

Red candles when burned invoke a prayer for the good luck or suerte while green promises prosperity and success in business. Melting a pink candle has positive effects in one’s love life while blue promotes career advancement and more travels. Orange is for good health. White is for peace of mind while black is used to “knock on someone’s conscience.” Red votive candles molded into human form were said to be used for voodoo.

HERBOLARIO SUPPLY. Moving further towards Evangelista Street are vendors selling herbs and folks remedies that come in mysterious looking brews in glass bottles. Most of the items sold here are claimed by the vendors as cure-all for different types of illnesses.

ANTING-ANTING. Among the items for sale in this area, are the assorted Anting-anting made from wood, cloth, sundry object sealed in glass bottles and bronze medallions. These bronze medallions embossed with religious symbols and Latin text are believed to give its bearer supernatural powers.

QUIAPO CHURCH. Although the practice of using anting-anting and fortune-telling are frowned upon by the Catholic church, they continue to thrive around Quiapo Church. This church was designed by National Artist for Architecture Juan Nakpil in 1928. It was expanded in 1984 to accommodate the growing number of devotees of the Black Nazarene.

BAHAY NAKPIL-BAUTISTA. Architect Juan Nakpil lived in a house across Quiapo Church. It was the house of Don Ariston Bautista and wife Petrona Nakpil. The 1914 Art Nouveau Bahay Nakpil-Bautista along Barbosa Street has been transformed by their heirs into a museum dedicated to the Revolution of 1896 and to its famous resident, Gregoria Oriang de Jesus, the Lakambini of the Katipunan and widow of Andres Bonifacio.

Nakpil-Bautista is just one of the old rich families in Quiapo. On the adjacent street, R. Hidalgo Street, are remnants of what was once a Quiapo of the elite. These were once grand villas of the Paternos, Zamoras, Ocampos, Hidalgos, and Enriquezes. The old families of Quiapo along R. Hildago have move out and left their grand mansions grumbling.

SAN SEBASTIAN CHURCH. Standing majestically at the end of R. Hidalgo is the All-Steel San Sebastian Church. The prefabricated steel parts of this church were manufactured in Belgium and were delivered in Manila using six ships. It took two years to reassemble the church. Trompe l’oeil painting was used to decorate the church’s interior and the crossed vaults on the ceiling, along with walls and column were painted to resemble marble and jasper.

OCAMPO PAGODA. Another Quiapo landmark is the Ocampo Garden House. This pagoda-like structure dominating the skyline of a residential district in Quiapo was constructed in 1935, a time when the huge area surrounding it was part of a vast estate of Don Jose Mariano Ocampo. The pagoda was built to adorn his garden and at same time to house his realty firm. However, with its completion in 1939, World War II broke out and the structure was used as an air raid shelter for the surrounding community.

A few of the stone statues in can still be found scattered in this residential community, including a Japanese-looking Our Lady of Mount Carmel standing on a globe.

MOSQUE DEL GLOBO DEL ORO. To end the Quiapo tour, pass by the Golden Mosque on the way to Ilalim ng Tulay. The Mosque del Globo del Oro with its dome, painted in gold is the largest mosque in Manila. This Quiapo landmark was built in 1976, under the direction of then first lady Imelda Marcos. It is said that the mosque was built to impress visiting Libyan President Muammar Khadafy. However, for some reason, Khadafy’s state visit to Manila was cancelled.

ILS DE TULS. Ilalim ng Tulay is a popular Quiapo destination to get hold of assorted Filipino handicrafts. Honey-combed under steel and concrete Quezon bridge are stores filled from floor to ceiling with local crafts made from indigenous materials. These handicrafts were sourced from various tribal and cultural communities throughout the country.

EPILOGUE. As a summary of our Quiapo Tour, here is the itinerary:

  1. Start at Plaza Miranda to see Fortune-tellers, Candle lighting ritual, Anting-anting, and Quiapo Church.
  2. Go to the underpass to get to R.Hildago Street to visit  Bahay Nakpil-Bautista, Ocampo Pagoda, and San Sebastian Church.
  3. Return to R.Hidalgo to visit the Manila Golden Mosque then proceed to Carlos Palanca Street to end the tour at Ilalim ng Tulay.

Feast of Black Nazarene | 9 January 2012