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  

Joey Cobcobo


COLLABORATIVE WORK. It was the anniversary of EDSA People Power when CCP Thirteen Artists awardee Joey Cobcobo visited our home in San Mateo, Rizal to apply the kind of art he did for his solo show I’m Doing My Father’s Business on a vintage school chair in our study.

He traced Joaquin’s drawing using carbon paper and carved the image onto the furniture. The humble school chair became a printmaking plate with collaborative works of my son and Joey.



JOEY’S HOME.  At exactly one year after Joey’s visit, I decided to go see him in his home studio in Mandaluyong where he showed me how he has designated specific spaces for entertaining friends, creating art, and his computer shop business.

All of these spaces have impressive display of art like his entries for the Ateneo and Philippine Art Awards and those from his previous shows that are now part of his personal collection. In addition to his own works, Joey showed me a portrait given to him by National Artist Ben Cabrera.



COBCOBO’S CREATIVE SPACE. After breakfast of pandesal and coffee, we exited the house to the main street then entered a narrow alley that led to his two studios. The first studio is located at ground level served as temporary living space for guest artists who worked with him in art projects. The second studio on the upper floor is where Joey draws, paints, sculpts, and carves his printmaking plates.

It is in this creative space where Joey freely unleashes his talent on whatever medium he has mastered, drawing inspiration from his Igorot and Ilocano roots, his family and the people in his Mandaluyong neighborhood, which he never leaves behind.

-25 February 2017
Edsa People Power Anniversary

Published in: on February 25, 2017 at 4:28 am  Comments (1)  

Casa San Miguel


AN ART COLONY IN ZAMBALES. There are certain images that leave imprints on the mind and heart. Ours is an art colony
nestled in a vast countryside orchard of fruit bearing trees that is close to the sea and the mountains.

Founded by a world renowned musical prodigy, Julliard-trained violinist Alfonso Coke Bolipata on their ancestral land in San Antonio, Zambales, Casa San Miguel serves since it was built in 1993 as a refuge where our homegrown talents could converge, experiment, process, demonstrate, and inspire a local community through their art. The artistic tradition continues to this day in this creative cloister where young musicians and visual artists learn about art from their equally talented adult counterparts.



PUNDAQUIT MOUNTAINS. The bus en route to Iba, Zambales began to roll under the early morning sky of Quezon City at 7am. After a couple of stopovers, we arrived at marketplace in San Antonio, Zambales. It was only then we realized that we had covered more distance than spending hours in traffic in Metro Manila. Stress was forgotten.

We rode a tricycle and veered off the main road twice to take a photo of the Pundaquit mountains. First, along the road with a mango orchard in the foreground and second by the beach. In Pundaquit beach, a local pointed us to a natural formation where a figure of a man’s face can be outlined on the side of Capones Island. Untouched by pollution and haze, the colors of nature seemed more vivid in Pundaquit and there is no need to apply a filter to capture the breathtaking views of the mountains.



BASTION OF THE ARTS. We knew that we entered the Corpus-Bolipata farm estate when the tricycle slowed down and passed through a gate decked with colorful tile mosaics of themes and style we immediately identified to artist Plet Bolipata-Borlongan. From the gate, we followed the walk path under the leafy canopy of the vast mango orchard.

We passed the fountain and behold, in New England Shaker architecture dressed in red Ilocos bricks is the bastion of the arts, Casa San Miguel.



BACKSTAGE CAFE. After five solid hours travel by bus, we were hungry. A friendly welcome staff led us to the Backstage Cafe where we walked through dappled sunlight under the colorful canopies set for al fresco dining. We entered the cafe through a sliding door. Literally, the cafe and its kitchen is located at the backstage of a performance theater.

We chose a table next to a coffee station that is set on an antique chest of drawers decorated with Baliwag-style carabao bone inlay so I can easily access the unlimited drink. The wooden furniture, the vintage objects on the wall, the ambient lighting, the jazz music and the aroma of brewed coffee mixed with freshly baked bread fill this cozy cafe with charm, warmth, and good vibes. We felt at home.



THE BOLIPATA PLAYGROUND. My travel companion called my attention to a small gate that opens to a hidden area behind a cafe, Dad, there’s a playground!, he said. The grounds in the Pasilyo Country Living and Bookstore looked wild and rustic but obviously well-curated with outdoor furniture and whimsical sculptures by Plet Bolipata.

There is art in every inch. A vintage Volkswagen Kombi was converted into a bookstore to house a collection of good reads from the library of artist Elmer Borlongan. We browsed the books and sat in one of the weathered wooden furniture. A soft breeze had caused a wind chime to fill Plet’s playground with relaxing tinkling tones.



BORLONGAN BAKASYUNAN. Within the Casa San Miguel compound is the creative retreat of artist couple Elmer Borlongan and Plet Bolipata. During the day of our visit, the Borlongans were in Japan to celebrate Emong’s golden-year birthday.

More of Plet’s works like a whimsical menagerie are displayed right in front of the Borlangan bahay bakasyunan in Zambales.



GALERIE ANITA. Casa San Miguel is also home to the Anita Magsaysay-Ho Museum and Gallery. Named after only female member of the Thirteen Moderns, it houses contemporary artworks of Zambales-based artists and the collection of Coke Bolipata.

We sat on the gallery’s hardwood bench at the center of the enormous space. With the organic and smooth curves, this functional piece of art is distinctively by sculptor Jerry Araos. We walked around to look closely at each artwork. My personal favorites from the museum’s collection were the Andres Bonifacio depicted as angel in watercolor by Manny Garibay and a work that recall Da Vinci’s flying gadget by Don Salubayba. My young travel buddy kept coming back to see the mixed media piece by Brendale Tadeo.



CASA SAN MIGUEL.  After roaming the grounds and spending quick quiet moments under the trees, we entered the main building. While the American architectural design ends on the facade, the interior of Casa San Miguel is a visual feast of playful Filipino styles.

The placement of the huge windows that provide natural light and cross ventilation is similar to the configuration found in a bahay na bato. There are grilled balconies that look out to the orchard which were common in hacienda houses of the past. The unpainted wood that dominates the large rooms and the steeply-pitched ceiling that resembles the native feel of an ancestral house. Then there is a mirador or tower room, which is an octogonal cupola providing a 360-degrees view of the Pundaquit countryside.



ARTS CENTER. The environment at the art center is akin to Hogwarts School or Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.

But instead of a Professor Wolverine or a Defense Against the Dark Arts professor, we met visual artist Brendale Tadeo while doing an inventory of the artworks he curated at a gallery dedicated to his artist mentor, Don Salubayba. In another space, artist and educator Lala Monserrat Pavilando is facilitating an art workshop to a group of local youth.



EPILOGUE. In separate chambers, music lessons led by Coke Bolipata are being held from lectures on musical theory to the hands-on playing of instruments.

Coke gives credit to his grandfather Don Ramon Corpus, a celebrated concert violinist and pioneer member of the pre-war Manila Symphony Orchestra as his inspiration for making art accessible for all and this passing of artistic passion continues to this day in the same way Don has handed the torch to Tadeo and Pavilando and Coke to the children of Casa San Miguel.

– 14 January 2016
In celebration of Traveler on Foot’s 9th Year

Published in: on January 14, 2017 at 6:37 pm  Comments (2)