That Festive Feeling in the Philippines

How am I to speak of January 2012? It seems that every month a friend or relative is celebrating his or her birthday. There is always an excuse to be festive and excited each and every day of 2012. I will remember January of this year as a time of many firsts. Last January 22, I listened to businessman turned born-again Christian pastor, Mr. Wyden King deliver the 1st anniversary message of EarthHeaven worship team. His message was inspiring and the ambience was spectacular! The following day, lunch-hour news showed a fresh-faced Shalani Soledad Romulo in her Inno Sotto wedding gown. That princess dress reminded me of the hoop-skirts of pioneer days. Thank goodness! A bride’s demure smile is not at all passe! By the way, how does a queso-de-bola cheesecake taste like? According to the news, that was served during the reception.

Did you know that QDB with fried or BBQ chicken tastes exquisite as a sandwich filling? And have you seen just how many flavors of new year rice cakes there are? When it’s festive, one feels great. When there’s some spectacle to appreciate out there, it catches one’s interest. In the meantime, our culture, with its varied artistic expressions and definitions, matter a lot to me. I’m (feeling) good! Praise the Almighty!!! “Culture is a paliative” a scholar once said. Hey, it need not have an overwhelming old taste in contemporary urban everyday life.       

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Tita’s Costume Jewelry : A Wonderful Performer’s Treasure Trove of Fashion Accessories

Taking a trip down someone’s memory lane is one of my favorite activities. Tita Noni Zabala, a friend, close relative, music educator and performer wanted to clear her wardrobe of a few near-vintage items. These were fashion basics but they are fabulous in their simplicity. I can always use brass bangles from southern Philippines and I love to have an armful of them sometimes. Fine silver filigree is also one of those pieces often seen in the collection of grand Filipina dames like my Tita Noni. A faded tambourine neckpiece can still be made new if she brings it to a jeweler’s shop, I told her. That’s what made her decide to keep it instead of giving it away. However, for the many other pieces she allowed me to keep, I will be forever grateful. There’s this pin with lot’s of amethyst – colored crystal, an imitation tortoise shell hair clip with rhinestones, bracelets, chains, charms (that now adorn my fancy bracelet), beaded combs and dangling earrings! Do I have the head (and panache) to wear all these? Probably not a performer’s flair but I simply treasure all of them! Auntie Noni said she’s tired of awards and trophies but I hope that this blog will serve as a tribute to her forty years of teaching music and singing on stage. Cheer up Tita! You’re still beautiful, you have grandchildren and a loving husband (a retired military man and an honest one at that). Oh, but it’s nice to sit around her wonderful garden! I just admire her trees and her tiny jars among the plants. I definitely look forward to more afternoons with a person whose art continues to fluorish in her golden years. Let’s all sing to that fellow UP Philippine Association of University Women! Let’s also give Aunt Noni an encore!

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Swietenia macrophylla – this big leaf mahogany is only for plantations.

This stately tree was planted in Diliman during the early 90s. Its wood may be superb as lumber but if you are a car owner concerned about parking space and car security, think twice before parking under this tree that came all the way from North and South America.  The Swietenia macrophylla or big leaf Mahogany bears fruits that weigh something like a kilogram per piece. It has a hard casing that splits into boat-shaped wedges when it falls to the ground or on your car’s windshield. Many of these become heavy during the rainy season and the fruit stems break causing them to fall at a speed and force that is enough to break a car’s windshield. This is what happened to the car of a U.P. Professor on Friday, October 7, 2011.

Why were these imported trees ever planted here in Quezon City, Philippines? The hard fruit shells are no good at all as potting medium for orchids. Contrary to what some people think, the seeds are poisonous and cannot be eaten to lower one’s blood sugar level. It seems that only lichens grow and thrive on the surface of the Swietenia’s trunk and no fern, moss or epiphyte is inclined to cling to any of this tree’s branches.

The Philippines has hundreds of tree species waiting on the line. Why don’t  administrative officials plant trees like Red Lauan, Molave, Tindalo, Balitbitan (Oh, there are some along University Avenue, very good!), Kalantas,Guiho,Mabolo and other equally gorgeous native trees? Let them raise these hazardous Mahogany in plantations for the lumber but not in places where it can damage cars.  Ask any member of the Native Plant Conservation Society and they will tell you about many more trees in the Philippines that are as exquisite as these imported Mahogany trees planted along buildings and parking lots! As Tita Emily Marcelo would say, “Goodness, gracious, great balls of fire!!”. Before you park your car under a shady, leafy and inviting tree, make sure it isn’t the big leaf Mahogany. 

NO PARKING under this tree specie!
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Ornaments of Your Mind and Garden

The round leaf Centella asiatica is now enjoying the popularity of gardeners and plant collectors. In the Philippines, folks have supposedly known about it for centuries. It's called Takip-kuhol here.

The weather here in this part of Southeast Asia is just perfect for growing Ipomoea batatas and many other kinds of good -looking herbs. Spices and medicinal herbs are amazing because of their chemical compounds and healing properties. However, the artist in me and my admiration for native plants drive me to go on with my herb gardening. Some of the native plants I have are thriving even under cramped, medium rise housing conditions. The local Taheebo for instance or ‘Balbas pusa’ (Orthosiphon aristatus) is doing very well in re-used containers while its more popular counterpart, the Tabebuia avellanedae seems to be responding well to the coarse ‘yeso’ potting material that I found here.

On the other hand, my cute Centella asiatica (Gotu kola) grows happily in compost material while the Gotu kola (ricefield variety) that is somewhat heart – shaped may be encouraged to cover an entire garden patch outdoors.

This is the Gotu kola that grows plentifully along rice fields. Know of its benefits & side effects before you eat it. Better yet, consult your doctor first.

Contrary to what many gardeners think, verbenas are quite easy to grow. If you plant a branch (about the size of a matchstick) in the ground, it will take root in just a few days. The lemon grass (Andropogon citratus) given to me by my industrious neighbor (an eminent professor in our neighborhood) grows as a matter of course inside ice cream tubs while my one-a-day plant also does well inside recycled 2-liter Coke bottles. Talinum paniculatum is rich in iron and if you happen to be pallid or off-key, one raw leaf from this herb will make you strong again. Herbs and shrubs are good ornaments. While some pursue them because they need an aphrodisiac or a cure, I enjoy collecting these for their varied shapes and growing habits. Our prolific native Cattleya for example amuses me as it takes well to clay flower pots, plastic pots and piss pots! Despite the presence of white ants, the soil here in Diliman, Quezon City can be conducive to growth and prosperity. Creativity and artistic expression may at times be stifled but the earth and atmosphere is amazingly fecund and fertile.

When you take a plant into your garden, know everything there is to know about it. Learn also why virgin coconut oil is good for you. Remember that ‘wisdon dwells with prudence’. If you care for and grow plants, blessings will follow. Psalms 65 : 10 reads ;

       “You water its ridges abundantly, You settle its  furrows, You make it soft with showers, You bless its growth.”

Remember to advocate safe gardening. Wear gloves. Happy planting!

 : – )


Pascual, Rory V., Dr. Gary Sy: Health and Beauty Beyond Senior Year in Woman Today (Magazine), Nov. 2009, page 33. (

The Holy Bible, New King James Version

various internet links on herb gardening



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Uptown and Country

I found an interesting exhibit mounted at the lobby of the University of the Philippines, College of Home Economics. The photo essay showed some highlights in the history of the college. This photo here shows Dr. Presentacion T. Perez in full Filipiniana regalia during the early 60s. Perez was the college founding Dean who led the institution during its pioneer days. While looking at this  photo exhibit, I was reminded of some people, eminent and otherwise yet doing their best to make things better for Filipinos and others as well. The energetic Kitkat Zobel of Makati (daughter-in-law of the cheerful Mrs. Bea Zobel) is a graduate of UP College of Home Economics as well as the (erstwhile?) White House Chef.

Others who keep  less prominent profiles never tire of instilling good values among youngsters (FLCD graduates) at CRC. A few months ago on the other hand, Luchie Callanta, a person whose enthusiasm is always high, taught me how to bake and cook – up superb dishes. Do you want to learn a few things before puttering around the kitchen or garden? Do not hesitate to send me a line. In all humility, Cathy Q. Deleon is here to help you (I will gladly give U Luchie’s email address) or give you a guided tour of the gardens at UP in Diliman. The basil on this little mound of spaghetti came from my herb garden. I just love herbs. Remember that they were placed on earth to be “in the service of those who cultivate them”, Last Monday (Sept. 5), Mariel Dayrit (erstwhile Art Director of J. Walter Thompson, a known Ad agency) and I went herb collecting (including bird watching) out in the farm fields. If you don’t mind slushing around among wild daisies and water, come around my place and we will make great time together. By the way, Joji’s next batch of Malunggay Peanut Butter will be here soon. Send your orders early. Until my next blog, go herbal and stay healthy folks!

May the lord bless us exceedingly abundantly!

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Beyond the Portrait’s Gaze (Part 2)

This random sampling of the mestiza dress from different periods in our nation’s saga should give us a good grasp of how the traditional garb evolved. I am not an avid Filipiniana wise-owl but when given an opportunity, I appreciate listening to and participating in discussions that help us make sense of the kind of lives led by our forbears. After all, culture is said to be a palliative for us suffering from the wearisome profiles of power, glam or economic might touted by the media.

My last article showed how women from different decades of the 19th & 20th centuries wore the Maria Clara outfit. One visual showed how the dress looked like in 1887 and another showed how my grandma wore it in 1916. At the end of the 19th century, many Filipinos joined the resistance movement against the U.S. They did not want another foreign oppressor. To be seen as a ‘resistance fighter’ was as cool as joining the people’s revolution at EDSA.

Here is a photo of a man in a native hat or salakot. Beside him is an indignant but demure looking Filipina in Maria Clara dress. She is holding a rifle (possibly a Krag Jorgensen) and she is wearing a cartridge belt. Notice that she is in knee-high boots. At their feet lies a large dog who seems to be at ease with the photographic equipment in front of them. The photographer must have been their friend if not comrade-at-arms. Only the ilustrados or educated elite could afford such commodities at the close of the 19th century. This partly torn photo must have been taken in 1898 or 1899. During that time, my Grandma Maria in Bulacan was still wrapped in all kinds of strips (bigkis, lampin,balabal etc.) to protect her from the ‘lamig’. On the other hand, unruly children were hushed by mere mention of  the phrase “ayan na ang Amerikano!” Country folk viewed them as  some kind of bemedalled alien military monsters. My Grandma Maria’s older siblings were still studying the ‘Kartilya ng Katipunan’.   

In my opinion, the couple with their ‘attack dog’ in the photo posed for posterity. It was ‘wise’ (intelligent,smart & radical) to be against American rule. There were basically two sides of the political divide: the pro and the anti U.S. Today, both the U.S. and Philippine Army just recently flexed some military muscle in the light of the Spratleys issue.

 Dito sa larawan, maliwanag na pinahiwatig and pagkakaisa ng mga Pilipino maging babae man o lalake. Ang bawat isa ay kaagapay sa anumang problema o krisis. Pantay-pantay ang turing sa isat-isa at ang kapakanan ng bawat isa ay mahalaga. Each should look after the interests of another and a wife should be supportive of her spouse.

Today, that native garb that doubled as a combat gear will not protect one from the many struggles we face. Vector born diseases, rising prices of commodities, typhoons, floods & pressure from social commitments and so on are all over some people’s faces. Do not take the bumper sticker that says ‘Real Men Pray’ for granted. Everybody needs to pray these days and seek protection from our Lord Jesus.

I will continue my semi-academic retrospective in the next article.   


“Filipinos at War” (photo exhibit), Filipiniana Section, UP Main Library, Diliman, Q.C., 1998.

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Beyond the Portrait’s Gaze

A group of women in one progressive merchant's living room in Albay, 1887.

When did girls tease each other on the sly about the follies of their prospective partners? Why were there separate schools for each gender? If you were around in 1887, that would have been the setting. Notice how the panuelo stood along the women’s shoulders in the lithographic print. Their skirts flared like large bells with luscious folds and the folding fan was an ever present accessory to ward of heat, conceal giggles and hungry eyes.

During my grandmother’s time, the mestiza dress morphed into a decolletage with the skirt narrowing into a kafir Lily – shaped attire. 

The erstwhile "starched collar " dress has become a localized decolletage with a pretty Lily-shaped hemline. That's my grandma in the year 1916.

This photo of my grandma when she was still Miss Maria Manalo de la Cruz (she was a beauty queen in their town) shows that the Filipina  wanted her form to be flattered and noticed by 1916. Instead of fabric falling like drapery around the lower extremeties, the skirt was starched stiff and retained it’s narrowed-down shape most of the time.

Maria, my paternal grandmother had six siblings. They were Concepcion, Guillermo (who married Eustaquia Bernardo)*,Felisa (who married Simeon Estrella), Urbana, Isidra and Pedro (who married Rufina Roxas). As I scanned the family tree diagram, it appears that every generation produced one or two women who stayed single all their lives.

Grandma Maria married my grandpa Leovigildo Libao De Leon who wore a serious poker face even if he was making awefully funny and childish remarks about someone’s pecker. As it was, my grandma experienced two wars. One while she was an infant in 1898 and another during the Japanese occupation. 

The mestiza dress wearing Filipina wasn’t as domicile as we are inclined to think. Next time, I will post a photo of a late 19th century country girl in full battle gear. It gets interesting when we re-invent the way we view women of a previous period. You will see them in their perfect element even at a critical instance when social and political transition was at its most turbulent moments. I for one do not doubt that their faith in the Almighty God created in them a core that included fortitude and a sense of destiny and optimism.

*See an earlier post about Juanita Bernardo Principe.  


Ocampo, Ambeth, The Prewar Lover’s Guide in Aguinaldo’s breakfast and More Looking Back Essays, Anvil Publishing,1993.

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