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)  


A TRIP TO THE COFFEE SOURCE. I noticed that Kapeng Barako has been out of stock in our neighborhood grocery store since New Year. I wondered what’s taking the delay to replenish the grocery shelves with ground coffee. Could be that stores were hoarding their stocks in anticipation of the new tax reform? But I couldn’t wait any longer.

The night critters were still chirping in darkness and the air was viciously cold when we left home for a road trip to find freshly ground coffee in Cavite’s uplands. A light drizzle peppered the windshield when we passed by Imus. Mists began to disperse over the fields in Silang. Tagaytay began to reveal its ridge with the breathtaking Taal Volcano in the morning light. A few more turns on sloping roads, we arrived in the town of Amadeo.

AMADEO, A PRINCELY TOWN. A sign greeted us to the Coffee Town, a fitting welcome title since the town folks of Amadeo has been into coffee farming since the 1880s. Its early settlers found the sloping terrain, volcanic soil, and the all-year round invigorating nip that is often associated with the Christmas season perfect for high altitude crops like coffee.

Amadeo was known as Sitio Masilaw for the abudant dapdap trees in the area that once bloomed with glaring red flowers. It was Governor-General Rafael de Izquierdo who renamed the town as Amadeo in honor of Prince Amadeo Fernando Maria of Savoy, the second son of  the reigning Spanish monarch of that timeDuring the Philippine Revolution, the town was given a sobriquet as May Pagibig.

ECHOFARM. From Amadeo’s town proper, we were led to EchoFarm, a vast plantation that practices and promotes sustainable living through organic farming. The farmers here apply vermicasting into their farming method to produce vegetables and crops that are safe and healthy to eat because they are free from harmful chemicals and pesticide residues.

The sprawling EchoFarm is owned by Chit Juan and has been supplying organically-grown produce to the popular ECHOStore.

KAPENG BARAKO ORCHARD. In between a pineapple plantation and the organic farm is a kapeng barako orchard. Lipa in Batangas has been traditionally known for farming liberica coffee beans and historically famous from the years 1886 to 1888 as the world’s only supplier of coffee. During that period, this Batangas town became a national sensation for its wealth and the envy of other towns in the country. The liberica coffee bean variety got its local name as barako because it was said that wild boars were found by coffee farmers eating the beans from its tree.

Harvesting coffee beans at the EchoFarm is part of the manual labor of its farmers. Ernesto Sales with wife Marvic showed us how freshly picked liberica beans are sorted and dried under the sun. Liberica is the biggest of all the coffee bean varieties and can take up to 40 days to dry under the sun because of its very thick pulp. EchoFarm exclusively grows liberica beans. Traditionally, Amadeo has been growing the arabica variety locally called Kapeng Tagalog.

PAHIMIS BLEND. From the EchoFarm, we were brought to Cafe Amadeo for a morning snack and to observe the coffee roasting method. Cafe Amadeo produces the pahimis blend, a combination of arabica, excelsa and robusta varieties that are all grown in coffee farms of Amadeo.

Guided by the aroma of roasting coffee, we followed the trail into the factory where dried and de-stoned coffee beans are roasted, poured into the grinder, packed and sealed as Cafe Amadeo’s Pahimis Blend.

EPILOGUE: THANK GOD FOR COFFEE.  I had my first taste of coffee at age eight. It was with pad de sal soaked in coffee. Fifteen years later, living by myself, ground kapeng barako beans has become part of the grocery list.

The smell of freshly brewed coffee has become the signature aroma for our home. I like serving coffee when friends come by. I like drinking coffee while having a conversation and when writing. When the caffeine wears off, it’s easy to brew another pot of unlimited happiness we got straight from a coffee farm. Thank God for coffee.

-14 February | Ash Wednesday

Published in: on February 14, 2018 at 12:35 am  Comments (2)  
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AMIHAN IN INDANG. The climate towards the southern uplands of Cavite gets progressively cooler especially during the season of the Amihan, the northeast trade winds that brings cold weather to most parts of the country. In the municipality of Indang, Amihan can bring day time temperature down to 20 degrees much like in the country’s landmark summer capitals. But unlike Baguio and Tagaytay, Indang is relatively known for its built heritage and its historical sites.

After spending day break at a coffee farm in Amadeo, we went for a side trip to Indang to see its 17th century church and its historic monuments.

HISTORIC SKIRMISH. It was probably the coolness of its climate that Andres Bonifacio together with his wife Gregoria de Jesus and brothers Ciriaco and Procopio preferred to camp out in Indang after the Katipunan leader was cheated and insulted by pro-Emilio Aguinaldo faction during the Tejeros Election on the March of 1897.

One day in April 1897, Aguinaldo sent Colonel Agapito Bonzon and Major Jose Paua. The two officers were accepted cordially by Andres. On the next day, Bonzon and Paua with their men arrested Andres on the orders of Aguinaldo for the alleged crimes of trying to burn the church in Indang and terrorizing its villagers. Ciriaco died from the exchange of gunfire. Gregoria was raped by Bonzon. Procopio was beaten and Andres was stabbed on the neck by Paua and suffered a gunshot wound on the shoulder. From Indang, the Bonifacio brothers were jailed in Naic while awaiting military trial and were later killed on the foothills of Maragondon mountains. The shrine in Barangay Limbon was built to commemorate the historic betrayal and skirmish as Pook Pinagbarilan.

FIESTA DAY. It was the fiesta day of the Santo Niño when we arrived in the town plaza of Indang. The town folks showing their devotion to the Infant Jesus through a gleeful revelry and a grand procession of Holy Child’s statues all dressed lavishly on their respective carrozas.

The statue of the Sto. Niño that arrived in the Philippines with Ferdinand Magellan, that was recovered, and re-enthroned by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi 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 same image presented by the chronicler Pigafetta to the converted Queen Juana of Cebu.

INDANG CHURCH. Indang has a church that dates back to the 17th century. The stone church was completed in 1710 under the supervision of Fray Luis Morales. This is the same structure that Bonifacio allegedly try to burn down before leaving Cavite. Although modernized some of the ornate craftsmanship is still visible.

Just like its cousin in Maragondon, San Gregorio Magno Church has heavy church doors that were ornately embellished with carved floral designs. Trompe l’oil paintings in old rose, turquoise, and gold cover the ceiling. This color theme is extended to the carved pulpit and retablos the contains the life size image of St. Gregory the Great at the main altar and Dominican saints on the side niche.

EPILOGUE: CHURCH TREASURES.  There was a huge holy water font used for the sacrament of baptism at the right side altar. Overlooking it is an icon of the Seven Archangels of the Apocalypse standing before the Holy Trinity and some Catholic Saints. This subject in religious painting became popular in the 1500s as inspired by the frescoes in Roman basilicas and the 16th century print by the Flemish engraver Hieronimus Wierix. This particular icon of the Archangels in Indang we said to have been found by a parish priest rolled up among the trash.

As we left the church from a side door, we took a close inspection of the pulpit decorated with Baroque carvings. A folksy green parrot with yellow beak is directly carved on the newel as a finial of the stair leading to the pulpit.

-Feast of the Candlemass 2018

Published in: on February 2, 2018 at 2:48 pm  Leave a Comment  

Riel Hilario

A SERIES OF CHANCE MEETINGS. Japanese surrealist writer Hariku Murakami says that ‘Even chance meetings are result of karma.’ He explains that things in life are fated by our previous lives, even in the smallest events. In our travels to art communities in towns and cities we had a series of chance meetings with our homegrown artists  and it is always a privilege to be invited over to an artist’s home studio so that we can listen to their story.

After several serendipitous meetings, first at Canvas Gallery and then at Cafe Sabel, when I went to Baguio on a Whim and having late lunch at Crescent Moon Cafe, we finally sat down with artist Riel Hilario in his home studio and got to know his series of chance meetings that led to his art as we know it today:

ARTISTIC JOURNEY. TOF: You started to focus on sculpture late in your formative years as an artist. For several years after Philippine High School for the Arts (PHSA) and UP Fine Arts you were in into painting, art writing and criticism, curatorial and cultural works. What made you shift into sculpture?

Riel: There were a number of factors that made me shift my focus on sculpture, especially wood carving as my main practice. But the there are two major ones I can cite.

First, I had several encouragements from peers, my teachers and from collectors as my initial attempts to do wood sculpture were received well. It was Roberto Feleo who directed me to research rebulto-making in Ilocos Sur in my senior year at PHSA. Later I had a few forays into wood carving but it was only in 2001 that I showed my first series at Pinto Art Gallery in Antipolo, to be followed by a solo of freestanding works at Boston Gallery in 2005.

Second, it served as my self-directed therapy following a debilitating episode of manic-depression in 2007. I had schizoid visions and dreams that were terrifying and disturbing I felt the need to find an outlet that was more tactile than painting or writing. The following year I started carving wood sculptures based on the tradition of the rebulto, but following the urgings and suggestions of my visions. The practice had a cathartic effect and also helped me refocus my cultural work to do research on the craft.

REIL’S MYTHOLOGY. TOF: Let’s trace the origin of your style in art. Allow me to give my personal description of how I see your art we first saw displayed at Pinto ArtMuseum and feel free to shoot me down if I’m misrepresenting your style. It’s folk, colonial santo minus the encarna. They are ageless contemporary sculptures on antique, mythical and surreal images straight out of a religious-folk experience. It’s like San Sebastian with shots of arrows meets a winged Assyrian god or Isis .  How did you develop your mythology? What is the inspiration behind it?

Riel: There were two major stages in the development of what you may call my style. The first stage was between 1998 to 2005, when I was trying to emulate the look and style of folk and colonial santos as part of my research into their forms. It was the wood santo collection of Dr. Joven Cuanang that really caught my attention and when I became an artist in residence there from 2001 to 2004, I developed a taste for distressed, old, and venerably worn santos and their potential aesthetic quality.

The next stage came naturally as a result of my direct from subconscious manner of carving as part of my therapy. While I was making works from my visions, it increasingly appeared that I was in fact tapping into archetypal forms. Appended with readings into the mythic image by Joseph Campbell, Carl Jung et al, I found that my subjects echoed the way gods were represented and even found through dreams etc. This was in 2008 to 2010.

Following my residencies abroad in 2012 and 2013 (Paris and New York), and doing research in folk art and church art, I realized the need to return to my roots in the Philippines, especially in Ilocos where I spent my formative years in summers. I incorporate local practice into my work, and continued to develop the visual schema of the appliqued elements of votives on the main body of the sculpture. This “style” if you will came from my discovery of Apo Baket, the Sta Lucia rebulto in Sta Lucia Ilocos Sur. Its main body is covered in silver votives shaped like eyes, each representing an offering of thanks for a cured ailment which the saint is believed to have intercession. I have been doing this with my work since 2008 but it became a staple of my rebultos quite recently.

PERSONAL HERITAGE. TOF: You belong to a generation of traditional santo-makers. You received your early training in sculpture from a santo-maker in San Vicente, Ilocos Sur. What were your fond memories while watching and learning from santo-makers as a child? 

Riel: I am a descendant of wood workers in San Vicente Ilocos Sur. Our main product was the so called Vigan furniture, an art deco-inspired series of living room furnishings and muebles. One of my uncles ran a santo-making shop which he inherited from his father and grandfather. It was in this shop where I observed rebultos being made.  I was deathly afraid of the Nazareno in my childhood and seeing how these were being made from blocks of wood that were commonly scattered in our yard was an epiphany for me: gods were being made there.

But it was during research trips in 1994 and 1998 that I “formally” trained under my uncle, Jose Lazo Jr. who taught me the basic rudiments of the craft. When I last did my carving project (a San Agustin which I gifted to an Augustinian nun), he gave me some of his father’s tools, a few of which I preserved. Now, where ever I do research on local carving traditions, I collect tools from that locale as part of my study into “chisel work”.

GROUND TRUTH.  TOF: You’ve traveled extensively to various towns around the country to validate your research and experience the craft -making first-hand. How is Ilocos santos or rebultos different from the others made in traditional santo-making towns like Paete, Betis, Bacolor, Bohol, Bicol, etc?

Riel: I am indeed doing such trips to do ground truth research on the first hand experience of carving with the communities. However, I am still in the early stages of this part of my work and it would be quite presumptive of me to make such comparisons at this phase. For instance, in March 2018 I will be in Negros to do such a trip, but I have yet to visit Marinduque for the Moriones tradition. But based on my observations on collections from these places, I would say there are some distinct wood carving mannerisms that seem to be dominant in each collection, barring idiosyncrasies of the wood carver himself. Some traits include Gothic austerity in design in Ilocos, detailed Roccoco intricacies in Pampanga, neoclassical/Baroque tendencies in Paete, and the robust roundness of forms from Bohol. But again, I am no connoisseur, Im just an observer of practice.

EPILOGUE: AGIMAT TESTING PROJECT. The Potencias of Papa Isio is a 4 x 6 feet oil and acrylic on canvas by Riel shows a votive to Dionisio Magbuelas, also known as Papa Isio of Negros, who led his forces of babaylanes versus the Spanish and American soldiers using the power of prayer and amulets (Photo above by Don Clavo de Comer).

Meet Riel and his ageless contemporary sculptures on antique and the mythical and surreal images straight out of a religious-folk experience on January 27, 2018 during the opening of the Agimat Testing Project at the Ang Komunidad Art Space at GK Bunyi St. KM 22, Dolores, Taytay, Rizal.

Published in: on January 22, 2018 at 3:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

10 Family-Friendly Weekend Tours Recommended by a Travel Blogger

By Real Living editor-in-chief Rachelle Medina

You don’t have to go far and spend much to have fun (and learn arts and culture). This blogger shares with us his most memorable destinations.

Affordable tickets and package tours abroad have spawned an insatiable wanderlust for this generation of Filipinos. But have we, as a people, neglected to see all the noteworthy destinations around us?

Blogger and heritage enthusiast Glenn Martinez wishes to change that, one photo (and blog post) at a time in Traveler on Foot. Since 2008, Glenn has spent his weekends visiting nearby (and occasionally far-flung) cultural areas, heritage sites, provinces, and artists’ homes with his son Joaquin by his side, sharing in his adventures.

Unlike other travel blogs, which usually read like itineraries of tourist traps, Traveler on Foot is not only rich in photos, but in the history and cultural heritage of each place. It is also a family album of sorts, wherein readers witness Joaquin grow up, from tiny toddler to strapping teen, strolling through old churches, braving early morning hikes, and walking from one heritage house to another, learning many things along the way. “He grew up as a child who is familiar with local legends, folktales, and characters,” shares Glenn. “He can sense objects and places that have history and are culturally significant.”

Another reason Glenn created the blog was to show fellow Filipinos that one doesn’t have to travel to other countries (and spend so much) to enlighten oneself and discover new cultures. “It stems from the belief that God has given us a beautiful country and He wants every Filipino to experience it,” Glenn explains. “He allowed our nation to have a colorful history so that we could get to enjoy our rich heritage and share our amazing culture with the world.”

A lot of the travel destinations in his blog make for easy day tours for the entire family (some might even be near your own home!). So next weekend, put your walking shoes on and travel to these ten spots (some can be visited for free):

1) ESCOLTA. Glenn caught the Escolta in its early stages of its revival: they attended one of the first few monthly Future X Saturday Markets at the 1926 First United Building hosted by creative group 98B COLLABoratory a couple of years ago. The Saturday Market has since grown to various new creative offices, a coworking space, a hip coffee shop, and the resurrection of Escolta as a whole.

413 Escolta St., Binondo, Manila

READ: 7 Fun Things To Do in Escolta

2) QUIAPO. “A sea of men and women in maroon clothes, struggling and inching their way to get near and touch the ancient images of El Senor Nazareno de Quiapo is a spectacular scene every January 9,” reads their entry on Quiapo and its traslacion, the procession of Quiapo church’s Black Nazarene. Here, both the mystical and historical side of Quiapo is explored, from the arbularyos next to the church and the Ils de tuls, to the beautiful Bahay Nakpil Bautista (above photo), and an adventurous detour to the Ocampo Pagoda and San Sebastian Church.

READ: This Quiapo Day Tour Will Make You Love Old Manila Again

3) BALARA FILTERS PARK. Nestled behind UP Diliman and beside the Ateneo de Manila campuses is a park that time seemingly forgot. The mag-ama revisits this former 1950s-60s weekend destination that was once teeming with tourists and swimming pools. The park is now quiet, albeit beautiful in a mysterious way. You won’t believe that this is right in the middle of Quezon City!

Katipunan Extension, Matandang Balara, Quezon City

4) FAR EASTERN UNIVERSITY. Glenn and Joaquin toured the iconic Pablo Antonio-designed University, and revealed beautifully preserved Art Deco architectural details, a magnificent theater, and Botong Francisco murals.

Special FEU tours can be scheduled through Ms. Mae Nerida at (02) 736-4897 or by emailing them at pcc[at] 

5) QUEZON MEMORIAL SHRINE. The joggers and Zumba participants in and around Quezon Memorial Circle may not realize that there is a fine museum in their midst. In 2016, Glenn and Joaquin visited the majestic Quezon Memorial Shrine, where at the base of the pylon is a museum dedicated to the life and times of President Manuel L. Quezon.

6) PINTO ART MUSEUM. What if you had an immense and varied collection of Filipino art and wanted to show it to the public? This was the initial concept of art patron Dr. Joven Cuanang for Pinto Art Museum in Antipolo, and a private villa in Silangan Gardens has since grown to sprawling grounds with multiple galleries, a chapel, and a hall dedicated to a massive collaborative mural by Saling Pusa.

It is worth going back to Pinto every so often as there are always new and fascinating installations and artwork added.

Grand Heights Rd., Antipolo, Rizal, tel. (02) 697-1015

READ: 5 More Things To Do In Antipolo

7) AGUINALDO SHRINE. The Aguinaldo Shrine in Kawit, Cavite is usually the default field trip destination of most Filipino students, but there is always a reason to go back as an adult. In this blog entry, we are given a peek at how the first president of the Philippines lived. The Shrine has since been renovated yet again to improve the museum on the ground floor.

Aguinaldo Shrine, Kawit, Cavite, tel. (046) 484-7643, admission is free

READ: 6 Things To Know About the Aguinaldo Shrine

8) SULYAP GALLERY AND CAFE. Father and son are fond of visiting ancestral homes (some of which are still inhabited), but their visit to Sulyap Gallery and Cafe in San Pablo, Laguna, was also an introspection into how ancestral houses must be preserved. Do bits and pieces of other houses comprise an ancestral home. Can they be uprooted from the original site? Nevertheless, they had fun exploring the restaurant, the various houses, and the private museum within the compound.

Cocoland Compound, Brgy. del Remedio, San Pablo City, tel. (049) 562-9735

READ: 7 Things To Do In Laguna and Quezon

9) CASA SAN MIGUEL. Glenn describes this as “an art colony in Zambales,” and indeed, it is. In the sprawling Bolipata compound, a mango orchard, a proper theater, a cafe, bed-and-breakfast, and even a bookstore in a trailer are there for everyone to explore. One thing that is constant in the compound is the passion the Bolipatas have for the arts, and their willingness to share it. Even Joaquin got a violin lesson.

Provincial Road San Miguel, San Antonio, Zambales, mobile 0917-838-2752

READ: Top 6 Things To Do in Central Luzon

10) VILLA ESCUDERO. Villa Escudero is famous as a summer destination mainly for its horse-drawn karitela ride and lunch at the spillway of its hydroelectric dam. But in this post, the fascinating history of this 800-hectare hacienda is revealed.

Don’t miss visiting the pink ancestral houses of Don Placido Escudero and a pink replica of the San Francisco Church in Intramuros, which is a veritable cabinet of curiosities and artifacts.

Villa Escudero Resort, Tiaong, Quezon, tel. (02) 521-0830

Click on Traveler on Foot for more adventures, or take a peek here at Glenn’s home.

Feature article in Real Living here: 10 Family-Friendly Weekend Tours Recommended by a Travel Blogger

– 14 January 2017
Published on the occasion of
Traveler on Foot 10 Year Anniversary

Published in: on January 14, 2018 at 3:10 pm  Comments (1)