I spent the morning bingeing on Mervin Malonzo’s Tabi Po series! I’ve meant to finish the three books since the first volume came out in 2014 [and the last in 2017], so I finally set aside time this Sunday morning to do just that. Thanks to Michael Reyes of 451°F Books and Café [ IG: @451bookscafedgte ] for lending me the last two volumes so that I could binge!
I find it fascinating that Jose Rizal’s novels continue to be the template for many contemporary stories, including the latest run of GMA’s Maria Clara at Ibarra. Malonzo’s take is not exactly the novels, but he takes many of the characters to populate his tale of aswangs in Hispanic Philippines.
There’s one particular excerpt in Isyu 3 that struck me the most, because it sums up very well the Filipino in the post-EDSA period. The old revolutionary Matanglawin is attempting to rescue Isagani from a mob about to lynch him for the cannibalistic murders of Padre Damaso and Padre Salvi, among others [who are actually the victims of Elias, the main aswang of the series]. Matanglawin attempts to placate them by telling them that if it were true Isagani is guilty of these deaths, then he should be considered a hero for saving them from the systemic abuse these people were actually guilty of. The town people’s response is telling. This is the stuff of the Marcos Restoration.
12:11 AM |
Mabuhay ang Kalayaan. Isabuhay ang Kalayaan. EDSA at 37.
37 taon na mula nang magkapit-bisig ang mga Pilipino sa kalsada para bawiin ang bansa. Kahit ilang dekada tayong dinahas ng estado, nanlaban tayo gamit lang ang ating pag-asa. At ang pag-asang iyan ay pinaloob ng "Handog ng Pilipino sa Mundo" sa isang kanta.
Sa anibersaryong ito ng EDSA People Power, hinaharap natin ang katotohanan. Na hindi natin natupad ang lahat ng mga pangako ng pag-asang iyon o napangalagaan ang kalayaang ating napanalunan. Marami sa atin ang bigo.
Ngunit aawitin pa din natin ang mga salitang iyon. Ibabahagi pa din natin ito sa mga napakabata pa para malaman kung anong tapang ang kailangan para huwag tuminag, magdasal, at itulak ang gumugulong na tangke.
Dahil ang EDSA ay hindi lang kalsada. Hindi lang ito alaala. Ito ay ang lakas ng bawat Pilipino na gawin ang tama, lumaban nang may pagdamay, hindi kalupitan. Buháy ang EDSA sa bawat isa sa atin, at ang kantang ito ay isang paraan para ito marinig. Para mapaalalahanan tayong tapusin ang ating sinimulan.
Growing up, I found this kind of oversized commercial calendar ugly ... but apparently so many people have great affection for this style, which has been in circulation for decades. A confession: this aversion was certainly the terrible snob in my younger self. For one, I hated that it was so blatantly commercial, with a store’s name emblazoned on every page. My brother Edwin, who lives in Switzerland, also used to send us beautiful wall calendars with picturesque Swiss views with the pages bound by some nicely designed springs, and I preferred those compared to this gargantuan calendar that always seemed to be too big for any wall it was set on. They usually ended up on a kitchen wall. It also didn’t help that I seem to have a hardwired trait of ignoring calendars, and even until now I have difficulty determining dates. [Case in point: I used to design posters for the Silliman University Culture and Arts Council, and I remember tasking one fellow member to always check the dates I put in on the posters because I always got them wrong. I have “calendar blindness.” So, yes: calendars and me don’t mesh well together.]
I was shocked, and amused, to find out that other people actually love this calendar. But I also understand. It’s frills-free, and reminds you of each date, in your face, with their humongous type. My mum-in-law and the s.o. are in pieces at the end of each year looking for stores who give these away for free. This calendar disappears pretty fast every year.
Dumaguete-based Pakistani farmer/poet Mohammed Malik noted to me: “This year is my first time using it and I find it a very compelling design. Extremely functional.” It's the functionality of the design its fans point out the most, conveniently summed by Cebu writer Janet Villa: “My Mama loved those calendars, Ian. Kay dako ug letra, red ang Sunday, and then naay phases of the moon [Mama was superstitious] plus naay high and low tides [important if living near the beach].”
Almost everyone tells me that the inclusion of tidal information was very important to them, or to their family members.
Sanda Fuentes, whose family owns Lab-as Restaurant, says: “My mom uses this too for the tidal info which is very essential to the fishpond operations.” Which Siaton poet Grace Monte de Ramos affirms: “I love this calendar because it has the tides, ebb and high and the time, in addition to the phases of the moon.” Another writer, Andrea Teran, says the tidal information was important to families who love going to the beach. “Tidal info for when to go to the beach,” she says. But there’s more: “My dad would write utang on it, too.” The calendar was huge enough for family to tack on reminders on it.
Plus there’s the added factor that it’s cheap. This calendar is usually given away for free, by suki nga mga tindahan, and even larger retail stores like SM. Sanda says: “I still recall waiting on Nijosa to hand us their calendars when we did our December shopping.” Janet further reveals: “Unya libre pa jud gikan sa hardware nga suki ni Mama, or gikan sa Aboitiz. And it's on cheap paper so Mama didn't cringe at writing on it or crossing out dates.”
This calendar is such a fixture in Filipino households that many who have migrated have taken this to be a token for that longing for home. Poet James Neish, who now lives in Canada, affirms this: “Reminds me of home for sure.” This nostalgia has pushed another friend to be creative about it: “A couple of years ago,” Dean Visitacion tells me, “I printed my own calendar na ingon ani format. Pawala kamingaw ug tambal sa homesickness.”
Who started or designed this calendar? Googling doesn’t bring me any relevant information. I’d love to know!
5:06 PM |
Why Are We All Still Waiting to Live Our Dreams?
“Why are we all still waiting to live our dreams? ... Our best days are piling up in the rearview, and that hope that keeps us going, it’s wearing down to the bone. Some of us are losing people we love, and just like that, any day now, that turns into too late, gone forever. Because every day that we're not living for now, right now, we’re waiting around dying. One empty promise at a time. I’m not waiting around anymore, and neither should you. The time is now. Regret’s a killer worse than death.”
I remember being fearless when I was younger. But since I turned 40, I’ve mostly been paralyzed by all shades of fear. Having ADHD, being burnt out, going through an existential crisis, and experiencing the pandemic didn’t help. But I’m really tired of being wary and fearful, and I’d like to get my fearlessness back.
The great Lualhati Bautista, author of acclaimed novels such as Dekada '70 (1983), Bata Bata Paano Ka Ginawa? (1983), 'Gapô (1988), Desaparesidos (2006), Sixty in the City (2015), and Sonata (2017), has died at the age of 77.
She was a staunch political critic and activist, whose life mirrored the struggles of the women she set down on the page, many of them striving and persevering in difficult times. She took note of that autofiction quality in her fiction, particularly in Bata Bata Paano Ka Ginawa, and in 2013 fashioned an experimental novel/ memoir titled In Sisterhood: Lea at Lualhati, which also served as Bautista's manifesto on writing and the meaning of being a woman living in contemporary times with all its social and political tumult — a concern she also explored in her nonfiction book Hinugot sa Tadyang.
Two of her novels [Dekada '70 and Bata Bata Paano Ka Ginawa?] would eventually be adapted to critically acclaimed and enormously popular films produced by Star Cinema, directed by Chito Roño, and starring Vilma Santos, but Bautista was also known for her searing and socially conscious screenplays for Sakada (1976), Kung Mahawi Man ang Ulap (1984), Bulaklak sa City Jail (1984), Maricris Sioson: Japayuki (1993), Kadenang Bulaklak (1994), Nena (1995), Rizal sa Dapitan (1997), Gusto Ko Nang Lumigaya (2000), among others. Mario O'Hara's Bulaklak sa City Jail, which follows a pregnant woman [played by Nora Aunor] who is arrested for attempted murder and is sent to the Manila City Jail where she meets other women with disquieting stories, won Bautista the Best Story and Best Screenplay awards at the 1984 Metro Manila Film Festival.
She also won the Palanca Award for her novels — 'Gapô in 1980, Dekada '70 in 1983, and Bata Bata Paano Ka Ginawa in 1984 — and for her short stories, "Tatlong Kuwento ng Buhay ni Julian Candelabra" [first prize in 1982] and "Buwan, Buwan, Hulugan Mo Ako ng Sundang" [third prize in 1983]. Her short stories are collected in Buwan, Buwan, Hulugan Mo Ako ng Sundang: Dalawang Dekada ng Maiikling Kuwento (1991) and Bayan Ko! (2019), and her poems are collected in Alitaptap sa Gabing Madilim (2020).
She was a national fellow for fiction of the University of the Philippines Creative Writing Center in 1986, and served as vice-president of the Screenwriters Guild of the Philippines and as chair of the Kapisanan ng mga Manunulat ng Nobelang Popular. In 2022, she was recipient of the Gawad CCP Para sa Sining for her contributions to Philippine literature.
Every time I wear this Narra watch, I remember this was given to me by the s.o. for my birthday in the second year of the pandemic. It was something I saw in a Facebook ad, and I casually told him I found the watch with its bamboo elements cool. He quietly took note of that, and he then sprang it to me as a surprise. He didn't have to; this was an expensive gift — but he knew I needed a watch, and bought it anyway, even with meager resources. I saw a movie a few days ago where one character pronounces that “love is all about paying attention,” and I think that’s true. Renz is all attention and care, and I’m grateful. I have an emotional attachment to this watch that tells me someone out there loves me, and that’s something to celebrate. I get into a mood sometimes where I feel that the world does not care. So this is a constant reminder that somebody does.
4:21 AM |
Domus is the Understated Dumaguete Restaurant That Never Fails to Impress
If you have seen The Menu (2022), Mark Mylod’s scathing “eat the rich” satire set in the world of haute cuisine, you will probably remember the cheeseburger scene. Not to give too many details to avoid the worst of spoilers, the film chronicles a particularly life-changing day for a celebrated chef, his devoted kitchen staff, and the deep-pocketed diners who could afford his $1,250 per head menu. Part of the allure for these diners is the exclusivity that money can buy: the attention to detail by an exacting chef who gives a culinary experience that borders on the theatrical, all in the comfortable confines of a glimmering restaurant set in a private island whose diverse ecosystem of flora and fauna provides the ingredients necessary for the food entailed in the menu.
For this day, Chef Julian Slowik—played to chilly perfection by Ralph Fiennes—has curated a guest list that will provide a reckoning for a life lived in the exacting demands of the kitchen and the public expectations that go with becoming a culinary god; for these guests, Slowik has devised a very special menu. By the time dinner ends, that reckoning will be met in unexpected ways.
There’s only one catch: a diner who’s not in the guest list—a woman named Margot who is clearly not part of the 1% and who has come to accompany one of these high-rollers, Tyler, a privileged foodie who likes to believe he knows everything about food and seeks affirmation from his idol, Chef Slowik. Margot has taken the place of Tyler’s date—and Margot’s presence, and her seeming indifference to all the culinary theatricalities that are being served up, unsettles Chef Slowik’s grand designs for the evening. A bunch of wonderful things happen that culminate to one fraught confrontation in the film’s third act, where Margot tells the chef to his face that his menu, in all its high conceptual wonders, bores her. “And what’s worse,” she says, “I’m still hungry.”
This visibly pains the chef, who asks her what she wants to eat instead, catering to her pleasure, and off the menu of course.
“A cheeseburger,” she demands.
A lowly cheeseburger, the anti-thesis of all the haute cuisine that surrounds them.
Chef Slowik relents. He cooks the “best cheeseburger she will ever eat,” and when she signals satisfaction, it makes the chef happy.
Best to leave this unexpected movie review at that. We suggest you see the film yourself—and laugh, and go hungry, and reel from the horror of it all.
All of the above is really a long prologue for us to be able to say one simple thing: the only measure of dining out is the unalloyed satisfaction we get from the eating. For us, this means two basic things:  the delight of taste, and  the fullness of a satisfied belly. When one pays premium in dining out, these two things are paramount, especially for the regular Dumaguete diner who still remembers a time [the 2000s!] when paying P150 for a dish is highway robbery. Times have changed of course—and runaway inflation is unavoidable in the New New Society—but the old sense of Dumaguete kuripotness largely remains intact. So when you expect us to pay P250-P400 for a meal these days, you better wow us in the savory department, and you better make us busog. We will certainly demonstrate public impression by any restaurant’s theatricality and atmosphere and culinary concept, but if the menu fails in both counts, you will not read a bad review here [almost no one writes bad reviews in Dumaguete] but the grapevine will be buzzing: “Wala sya’y lami, mahal pa gyud,” the whispers will say, and they will carry.
A few months ago, we decided to try out this new restaurant along _______ Drive, in a setting you could call warehouse chic. The soup we ordered for starters was good. But when the entrees arrived, we were stunned by how stingy the servings were. How stingy? Ant-Man would have been happy. And when the bill came, it totaled to almost a thousand pesos. Probably not shocking if you are in Manila, but in Dumaguete? These two Dumaguetnons were shocked. And we left that restaurant very hungry still. We ended up buying burgers in Jollibee to sate us. And we will never probably go back to that restaurant again.
A few nights ago, we decided to try another new restaurant, also along _______ Drive. The food was mostly fine, if expensive. Except for one detail that was disheartening: the rice for a rice bowl dish had the consistency of bad lugaw. And we thought: an expensive meal shouldn’t expect you to swim through your carbs.
Which leads us to Domus, an unassuming little restaurant in Amigo Subdivision under the proprietorship of two enterprising young men, Raoul Obligado and Neil Clarion, with the latter serving as chef. Domus, truth to tell, defies all our attempts at being unsatisfied. We were prepared to hate it, shaped by circumstances that seem funny now. We heard about it from friends and from Facebook, and when we finally decided to drop by, we couldn’t find a table. The place was busy, filled to the brim with college types—and on cursory inspection, the venue had the feel of a boy’s dormitory hastily converted to a no-frills restaurant. [In truth, it is housed in a repurposed residential house in the subdivision, complete with front grilled windows with climbing variegated monstera leaves.] There was no attempt at polish at all, and the vibe was Bohemian meets the Millennial—which we mostly didn’t mind. We liked that kind of vibe. [We miss Kape Lucio in Piapi!] But they couldn’t accommodate us, and we had to leave. We asked if they were open on Sundays, and we were told they did, and they opened doors at 11 AM.
We returned on Sunday, and true enough, the place was open. But there was absolutely no one around. We called out for what wait staff could attend to us—and there was no one. Until a door opened—apparently the CR/bathroom—and out came someone clad only in a towel, who freaked out when he saw us. “Are you open?” we asked. “Yes, sir,” he replied, “kinda. But we are not yet ready to serve guests.” We inwardly fumed, and then we left—determined not to go back again.
But of course we did. Months later.
And we were prepared to loathe it.
The immediate thing about Domus’s menu that attracted us was the limited number of fares, always a good sign. [Beware of restaurants that has so many listed items—that usually means a cook that cannot edit his offerings, and who relies on a dispirited assembly line preparation with no true culinary identity to call his own. Mostly.] The minimal fare on Domus’s menu told us: “These are the choicest of what I want to cook for you, and I don’t want to be distracted by too many offerings.” We ordered the garlic chili pechay and the ampalaya shredded fish and the crispy palabok—which are apparently the favorites.
By the first bite, we knew we were wrong to doubt.
The blanched pechay with garlic chili oil was a refreshing and appetizing mix of hot and cold, red and green, mild and complex. The unexpected pairing of ampalaya and mango provided a freshness that was new, the flakes of fish a startling addition. When the crispy palabok came, we were mute from all other considerations, except to allow our eyes to savor: the crispy-fried noodles puffed and piled on the plate, topped with soft-boiled eggs, green onion and seared shrimp, with calamansi on the side. We poured the warm and savory sauce onto the dish, and we watched the nest of noodles collapse. And then we dug in—and the flavors crackled in our tongue, and we were goners. We finished off with their fizzy lime Negra, Domus’s signature drink: the unlikely combination of coffee and citrus blended perfectly, topped with sparkling water for a cold finish.
We went back again a few days ago. “We haven’t been to Domus for a while,” we said to each other. “Let’s try their other fares.”
We tried their spaghetti, an updated classic with its rich ragu sauce topped with cheese sauce and a sprig of parsley. It was a tad too rich, to be honest, its surprising Indian whiff perhaps coming on too strong [Renz insists it was Italian]. But the sinilihang pork belly was another matter, a concoction so surprising we could not help but gasp. The crispy unctuous pork belly wading in bagoong-flavored coconut milk sauce and flavored with chili, on a bed of blanched pechay and sitaw [yardlong beans] tied in knots [the greens provided a necessary contrast to the porkiness of it all]. We usually have problems with pork fat, which can be off-putting when prepared without love, but there was no such problem with the dish, with the taste of bagoong washing over our palates first and finishing off with a kick from the chili. It was delightful.
We have never been disappointed with Domus fare. And Domus passes our most basic of expectations: the food is always tasty, and the food is always filling. And it doesn’t break the bank! This restaurant, which seemed at first like an experiment in restauranting by college bros, is lightyears better than many of the snobbiest restaurants in town. Margot would have been happy eating here.
11:32 PM |
National Scientist Angel C. Alcala, 1929~2023
He was many things to different people: teacher, researcher, biologist, university president, environmentalist, DENR head honcho, family man. For colleagues and mentees, he was a relentless driving force that compelled them to reach the highest aspirations in research and publication, and as Dr. Laurie Raymundo declared in her memories of the man: “He was difficult, demanding, and exacting and he taught me that nothing less than the best you can do is acceptable.” He was also an icon, and for many people in Dumaguete, where he lived since his student days in Silliman University, he was a figure of local pride: a National Scientist.
Angel Chua Alcala was born on 1 March 1929 in Cauayan, Negros Occidental to Crescenciana Chua and Porfirio Alcala, and grew up in the small coastal barrio of Caliling, working alongside his father who worked as a fisherman at the nearby agricultural fish ponds, supplying milkfish to the local community. Regarding the sea as refuge and resource was a huge part of his upbringing, and probably fostered a lifelong passion for biology. He attended Kabankalan Academy, and moved to Dumaguete to earn a degree in biology from Silliman University from where he graduated, magna cum laude, in 1951. He then declined acceptance to the University of the Philippines College of Medicine in order to assist his family financially by going to work. He began teaching at his alma mater not long after, and occasionally assisted in biological fieldwork for Sidney Dillon Ripley and Dioscoro Rabor. In 1953, they collected the only known specimen of the Negros fruit dove.
While teaching at the Biology Department, Alcala would meet Walter C. Brown, a professor at Stanford University who came to Silliman University on a Fulbright fellowship. Brown took Acala under his wing, and they worked together on several biology publications, went on numerous field trips, and collected data for research. Brown helped Alcala begin his groundbreaking work on herpetology, which is concerned with the study of amphibians and reptiles. Together, they became the authors of “Observations on the Amphibians of the Mount Halcon and Mount Canlaon Areas,” a paper published in the 1955 edition of the Silliman Journal.
Alcala was granted a Fulbright/Smith-Mundt Fellowship to study at Stanford University, where he earned his master’s degree in biology in 1959. It was in Stanford where he found the need to apply his expertise in biology to the larger needs of his country: “My fellow graduate students were all supportive of the application of theoretical knowledge to practical problems in the country. My faculty advisers of the Graduate School were working on Philippine biodiversity and some of the graduate students were working on similar topics… They inspired me to consider for further studies the marine fauna of the Philippines,” he told Rappler in 2014.
In 1964, Alcala returned to Stanford for doctoral studies and two years later, he became an associate professor at Silliman University. He was also accorded an honor doctorate from both the Xavier University and the University of Southeastern Philippines. He soon became Vice President for Research at Silliman, but resigned in 1988. Three years later, he returned to the university to serve as President. After two years, he also resigned that post to serve as Secretary of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources from 1992 to 1995, and later as Chairman of the Commission on Higher Education from 1995 to 1999. He also served as consultant on marine and aquatic projects under the United Nations Environment Programme, the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank, the World Bank Global Environment Facility, the Pew Fellowship in Marine Conservation, and the University of the Philippines Marine Science Institute. He served the Philippine Council for Aquatic and Marine Research and Development as an executive director.
He was the principal Filipino scientist in a research program regarded as an outstanding contribution to Philippine biological sciences which comprised studies on local land vertebrates and the marine biodiversity of the country, which involved ecology systematics and conservation biology based in Silliman University since 1955. The program produced empirical scientific data put to practical use in terms of special development and academic programs at the university level. The research collaboration resulted to substantial publication outputs of 169 scientific papers as well as books. Alcala authored either by himself or as first author of 86 [51%] of the articles and books on the program. He is also the first Filipino to put together the most comprehensive studies on Philippine amphibians and reptiles, with minor contributions to birds and mammals. His fieldwork from 1954 to 1999 resulted to the identification of 50 more species from the 400 already known species of reptiles and amphibians. Because of his work, conservation programs in the Philippines are now well established.
Alcala also participated in the Australian-ASEAN marine project in the mid-1980s to the early 1990s. The Silliman Marine Laboratory, which he founded in 1973-74, has been active in research on marine protected areas, fisheries and marine biodiversity, mariculture, and conservation of Philippine plant and animal species. His marine science publications consist of about 80 papers on coral reef fish, marine reserves, long-term effects of protection on marine biodiversity such as corals and top predatory fish. Most of these papers have been published in refereed, international journals and books. In 1977, he set up the first artificial reef in the Philippines in Dumaguete, and then, seeing the degradation of coral reefs all over the country, he began to set up a series of marine protected areas [MPAs], first in Sumilon Island off southern Cebu, and then in Apo Island.
The establishments of MPAs is now considered one of Alcala’s greatest legacies. As marine biologist Rene Abesamis once wrote: “Alcala has studied MPAs since 1973. He was the first biologist to establish an experimental MPA in the Philippines, at Sumilon Island, with the idea of increasing the fish catch of small-scale fishers. This occurred at a time when reef fisheries resources were beginning to decline due to unsustainable fishing practices and increasing human pressures. His pioneering work involved monitoring the daily fish catch of about 100 fishers that fished the coral reef surrounding Sumilon. He demonstrated that as long as the MPA (25% of total reef area) was protected from fishing, fishers had sustainable fish yields outside the MPA (75% of total reef area). However, protection of the Sumilon MPA failed after 10 years, which resulted in dramatic declines in fish catch. This led him to hypothesize that sustainable fish yields during the period of protection occurred because of ‘spillover’ or net export of adult fishes from the MPA to reef areas open to fishing. Further studies at Apo Island (not far from Sumilon), where he helped set up the first community-managed MPA in the Philippines in 1982, confirmed this hypothesis.”
For all these hard work, he was amply rewarded with recognitions and accolades. He received the Outstanding Sillimanian Award for Biology in 1988, and was also recipient of other honors, including the Outstanding Oriental Negrense Award in Science and Technology by the Province of Negros Oriental in 1991, the Gregorio Y. Zara Award in Applied Science by the Department of Science and Technology in 1991, the Ramon Magsaysay Award for Public Service by the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation in 1992, the Field Museum Founders’ Council Award of Merit in 1994, the Outstanding Fulbright Award in Ecology by the Philippine American Educational Foundation in 1996, the Outstanding Dumagueteño in Science and Technology by the Dumaguete City Government in 1998, Honorary Fellow by the California Academy of Sciences in 1999, and Professor Emeritus for Biological and Marine Sciences by Silliman University in 2007.
In 2014, he was named a National Scientist of the Philippines.
Even in his twilight years, he continued to be of service to the community. He was a member of the Board of Trustees of Silliman University and was Director of the Silliman University-Angelo King Center for Research and Environmental Management. He was also Director of the Commission on Higher Education Zonal Research Center at Silliman University. But he was fully aware of the specific mark he made in his years of passionate work for biology and the environment: “Work on the conservation and management of the unique biodiversity, for which the Philippines is known, has given me a feeling of satisfaction that my academic degrees have been useful not only to me and my family but also to the country,” he once said.
Alcala married Naomi Lusoc in 1952, with whom he had six children. He died in Dumaguete City on 1 February 2023.