A Tsinoy Journey


What is a Chinese-Filipino or Tsinoy museum doing in Intramuros, the old Spanish enclave of Manila? The answer that may startle is, because it rightfully belongs there.


Why is it housed in a bahay na bato where mestizos or ilustrados lived and not a stupa crowned temple where Chinese worship? The not too common answer is, because some prominent mestizos and ilustrados were in fact, Tsinoys.


How can another museum retell 10, 000 years of history, find threads in the narrative without overloading the visitor or the viewer with facts long been retold and rehashed like the junk trade, the galleon trade and the Parian? The straightforward answer, which sounds like a challenge, is—it can; go find out how.


But first, know where to go. The KAISA Heritage Center which Angelo King helped to build and which houses the museum stands on the corner of Anda and Cabildo Streets in Intramuros. Both streets form a right angle to the Manila Cathedral from its back and left-hand side.


Off right in the marbled lobby, an audio-visual show prepares the visitor for the “journey” of “The Tsinoy, The Chinese Who is Filipino: A Shared Destiny.” The story on screen unravels history backward – from the present through ten centuries—until the viewer arrives at a shoreline along the coast of the South China Sea.

But first, my story about the day we understood what Tsinoy meant.

For Eva Penamora, the friend who designed the museum, and me, our visits to Bahay Tsinoy will always mean the private “journey” we fearlessly embarked on.


It began over a Chinese lunch of bird’s nest soup, pancit canton, and pata tim to which a mutual friend invited us. Talk about constructing the museum had been passed on to us with a skeletal concept.


The emptied dishes taken, we scanned the concept papers and each other’s faces. Around the table’s rim, hand to elbows at rest, sat Eva and me across Tessy Ang See, KAISA adviser and its former president, more known as civic leader and scholar and from whose late husband’s dream this museum took shape, and Go Boon Juan, the banker-journalist whose passion is Tsinoy history, and other members of KAISA.


“Easy,” we thought as we skimmed through four pages of “key ideas’, our minds already bunching up images that started to float up. Yet, reflexes honed by 20 years of putting up exhibits and multi-media shows, held back the stream of images as we braked.


“What about artifacts?” we asked. It later turned out we only had a handful. “And can we have the background materials so we can flesh out the narrative, draw out the story line?” These laid in wait to be picked from volumes of researches, monographs, papers, and periodicals at the KAISA library then housed in a Binondo financial center.


In between the Chinese and us Filipinos—as we saw it during that lunch—gaped a 10,000-year chasm. Eva and I felt like ants about to cross a bridge. At the next meeting in Angelo King’s Makati office where someone finally handed us the blueprint for the museum space—firm hand that traced a 700 sq. m. box behind the grand staircase, mostly walls that rose to a high ceiling past an open mezzanine, and a 384 sq.m. ground area—Eva and I stared at the emptiness as ten centuries of history tossed in our heads.


We said, “Yes,” to endless afternoon meetings over hopia, tikoy, ampao, and tea. Then came days we wallowed through facts, details, dynasty annals, archeological data, old prints and pictures with Tessy, Boon Juan and the library staff leading us out of the haze. Until one day, a path through those centuries appeared—for me, the “key” was the “merging points” in what used to be separate histories in our minds. Finally, images that seemed to have been bouncing through the storm settled, took form and sprang to life.


Eva and I soon began working on the “path.” She started designing from my rough drawing of the concept I could only describe in words. We finally saw the “journey” and it was life-like. But we had to situate history to match its wealth. Through the tedious job of designing, supervising construction and set-up which was Eva’s job, and writing the text boards which was mine, we kept unraveling more of the history we thought we already knew by heart.


The day we saw through our path to that “journey”, the separate sides of the table that first lunch meeting dissipated – theirs and our history became just ours, and Tsinoy gradually meant us, we; each day we became keenly aware of Chinese chips in our thinking, speech, manners, rituals, and lifestyles. That journey we had thought perilous in the end brought us to a shoreline on golden sand in the distant past, and what we have seen changed us.


And so one evening, I finally started writing my “epiphany”, the exhibit text now being read by thousands who have visited the museum since it opened in 2003. This is how the opening panel reads in what I titled:

“The Tsinoy, The Chinese Who Is Filipino: Shared Destiny”

In every aspect of Philippine life, in every phase of Philippine history, in its culture and tradition, language and songs, in everything Filipino, there throbs a Chinese presence which found its way there long before Philippine recorded history. Although political, economic, or cultural exigencies throughout Philippine history sometimes isolate the Chinese Filipinos from a destiny shared with Filipinos, in the end, in everything that is Philippine, there emerges the Tsinoy—the Chinese who is Filipino or the Filipino who is Chinese, the Tsinoy—molded through the centuries by Philippine life; enriching this land with the legacies of his Chinese heritage.


Early Contacts: Shared Beginnings


The visitor walks into historical reality on stepping into the museum, passing first through ancient ground to view a glassed-in display of prehistoric artifacts that note similarities between Luzon uplands and parts of China. And then, with a slight turn to the left, he steps into a slice of seashore awash in soft golden light. Here, Chinese and natives (in Muslim regalia) engage in barter. The figures are humanly tall, their expressions and gestures life-like, and their gear and goods, real.


A sampan (Chinese junk ship) casts a shadow on the water opposite the traders. Part of its hull is carved out, showing the goods it carries in various levels: water or wine in earthen jars down below, bales of Chinese silks, and smaller jars of spices in the upper decks. In the background, the wind hisses and the waves rhythmically lap the shore


The viewer here experiences prehistoric times, summarizing evidences of the ancient land bridges known to have linked all of Asia, and the trade relations that developed when the land bridges sank. This trade so flourished that imperial scribes glowingly recorded it in 10th century Sung Dynasty annals. Diplomatic relations even appeared in Ming Dynasty annals, narrating in detail how native chiefs sailed with tributes of huge perfect pearls to the Chinese imperial court. Trade relations between China and the shore lands of a place the Chinese named Ma-I had become a way of life by the 16th century.

Colonial Era: Shared Labor


Once the visitor moves to the other side of the sampan, the sea narrows to a river, and the ground, a shored up riverbank. The light brightens up a bit; the sound cackles among a river crowd unloading goods from the sampan: a single figure carries bales of silk on his way to a galleon ship a few meters off but unseen in the tableau. The viewer has arrived in the mid-16th century, the Spanish Colonial Era.


History has moved on. Time is now fifty years later. The Spanish colonizers who claimed the Philippine islands in Cebu for the Castillan crown have reached Maynilad. They vanquish Rajah Sulayman and his settlement perched on the tongue of a river’s mouth; they also take over its trade, the most flourishing yet of what they have heard and found. Maynilad is Hispanized into a Spanish capital and its river trade extended to Europe the other side of the hemisphere with ships called galleons. These would sail off to Acapulco on summer winds bearing Oriental goods and back with European gold. Manila soon blossoms into a European capital.


Within the next century of Maynilad’s metamorphosis, the 150 Chinese the Spaniards found in Sulayman’s settlement swelled to 20,000, some of them merchants settling in, others small traders who peddled wares, but mostly artisans who used their native skills in the fast-rising walls, cathedrals, palaces and villas. They and the Filipinos shared labor in the burgeoning Spanish settlement. But even as the Spaniards needed the Chinese, they also treated them warily, mistaking their mysticism and Oriental ways for secretiveness.


The ground on the riverbank the visitor had briefly walked on has changed into a cobbled street that leads to the drawn bridge of the Parian Gate. The atmosphere too has shifted to a gray and eerie evening. Off to a corner on the right wall, light flashes and wavers as in a fire, and screams of panic shatter the air. The viewer has walked into a diorama of a massacre, one of the many in the Parian, the ghetto where the Spaniards segregated the Chinese.


Under a policy that swung between acceptance and intolerance, the Parian was burned seven times, moved nine times, and controlled in size from 20,000 to 5,000. But fresh arrivals took on where others had left. Alongside the Filipinos who were relegated to farming that was even then, a subsistence economy, the Chinese became the backbone of Spanish rule.

Colonial Culture: Shared Hands


As the visitor turns away from the massacre, he walks to the drawbridge and through the Parian Gate into a lively everyday scene of the 17th century: A mid-morning light swaths the plaza where life-sized Chinese craftsmen, food vendors, even a reader, a jewelry maker and cobbler are at work.


The ground then clears into the patio of San Agustin Church. Behind the church door, the viewer meets a mason, and a carpenter; and further on, a goldsmith – the hands behind the full flowering of the colonial culture. A few artifacts display Chinese native skill in silver work, gold thread embroidery, and ivory sculpture. Early catechism books in woodblock print, and documents in calligraphy also illustrate the handiwork of the Chinese.


Inside the plastered walls and under the dome, what has always been obvious envelops the viewer: since the Chinese had to be Christianized, they used their skills to propagate the Catholic faith. Working on Western forms, they infused symbols and details of their old beliefs embodying a religious synergism they will long practice. In the next century, Filipinos would have enhanced their own native skills with what the Chinese passed on to them, some as apprentices, most as heirs.

Emergence of the Chinese Community: Shared Life


Once out of San Agustin, the visitor steps into a corner of Binondo, the settlement across the river that replaced the Parian, and where enduring early wealth flourished. Seated on a dais against a wall, a rich Chinese merchant in full regalia awaits a caller. Off to his left, artifacts of 19th century business houses born in the 17th century line the wall; and off right raised on a platform uncannily effusing power even if empty, is the ornate chair of the Capitan Chino who was charged with the Chinese Gremio, the Gremio de Binondo


The gremios or municipal governing bodies ended the oppressive rule of segregation by taxation. Both Chinese and Filipino or indio, settlements prospered under the capitan who had collecting and mediating powers. The growth of communities under his relaxed control also resumed earlier trade and friendly relations with the Filipinos broken by anti-Chinese sentiments the colonizers’ fueled. A social class called mestizo would soon emerge from intermarriages between baptized Chinese and the india that the church encouraged.


The Chinese community swelled anew with another migration wave in the 19th century. Attracted by the expanded trade and lured by relatives, these overseas Chinese or the hua-ch’iao helped by a broker or coolie sailed in. Some took on the silk trade in Binondo, others ventured to the provinces to farm. By the end of the century, both mestizo and hua-ch’iao families had the economy in their hands.


In Defense of Freedom: Shared Sentiments


The museum ground here splits into a fork to reflect shift in time. With a pivot to the right, the visitor meets up boys under the shadow of a bahay na bato in the yard playing tops and flying kite in a backyard, toys the Chinese brought with them.


The bahay na bato is settling down in the fading sun. On the first floor made of stone, the father quietly tends the store. A stack of farm produce fills the zaguan or the space before a turn up the stairs, and on the wall, mud farm implements like the plow – that too, comes from China.


The house belongs to a mestizo, a class out of which the ilustrado, or the enlightened class would be born.


Living by the traditional Chinese virtues of hard work and frugality, and helped by the native Filipino resourcefulness, the mestizo families cashed in on crops that enabled them to send their children to school in Manila and Europe. These young idealists exposed to liberal ideas fanning Europe at that time would forge a movement against the repressive colonial government.


The fork on the left takes the visitor to opposite walls telling of the Revolution that freed the Philippines from Spain. Sentiments nurtured through centuries of shared oppression have exploded to a single cry for freedom. And some of the loudest would be those of mestizo descendants like Jose Rizal and Emilio Aguinaldo. Where else would Rizal found his La Liga Filipina in secret but in a house in Binondo? A faded picture of that house hangs on the wall.


But a mural on another wall honors a pure Chinese, Ignacio Paua, a general of Aguinaldo charged with gunpowder manufacture and battle strategy. The mix of portraits reveals how the revolution diffused class distinctions and how the fight melded sentiments that gave birth to a nation.


Leaving the portraits of heroes and martyrs, the visitor returns to the bahay na bato to relive the idyll. He climbs the wooden stairs on to the living areas of the house and feels transported by the dark patina of wood, the delicate weight of embroidery, and the milky richness of porcelain. Except for a man reading by a lamp, women live here; the afternoon quietly slips by as they let the visitor look in on their embroidery or game of sungka. In the kitchen, the mother sets dishes of fruits and vegetables. She smiles as if inviting the onlooker.


The visitor may choose to peer closer to the sisters playing in the bedroom or look out of the veranda to retrace the centuries he has just walked through. He may also now walk out of the past and into today – on marble floors and glass walls that make up the gallery of modern day Tsinoys.


A look into the portraits in the gallery is a must in the “journey.” Only then can the visitor unify the experience of knowing the Chinese who is Filipino or the Filipino who is Chinese. Chances are he may discover a Tsinoy in himself.

(also posted in 

Light-entranced: A New Face of Spain in Manila

Published in Philippine Asian News Today, Vancouver
Posted in

 Vancouver, BC, CanadaIn a number of meetings and conferences I have been invited to or signed in, I am always engaged in a dance of memories I had not thought I lugged around. The most potent of these is culture. A month ago, at a conference on Environmental Justice at the SFU Harbour Centre, each of us, participants, were made to draw our thoughts on the environment using Pentel pens on a piece of white bond paper. Mine was a textured web of the Philippines layered by centuries of colonization. My words in the presentation burst out like a dirge for beauty I had not expected. It could have risen partly from longing for home. After the session, Gil, the Mexican panelist latched on to me. He called me, “prima”; I called him, “primo”. There is nothing new to this. Each time I meet Latinos, they catch me by my name, hugging me con “abrazos fuertes”. At such moments, I always come flying home to Manila, remembering. Like the first time I visited the new building of Instituto Cervantes a week after it was inaugurated. Here is what I recall. 


I had since stepped off the cab, ignoring the driver’s probing why I was going to a “casino” on T.M. Kalaw at midday, and why the new building I said I was really going to—Instituto Cervantes (Manila) he repeated, tongue-twisting—did not have the arko and barandilla he usually sees in Spanish-sounding places. As he sped away, I began looking for the same details he did.


I realized I had gotten off before the entrance, midway through the horizontal span that begins where Casino Espanol’s stucco wall ends. As I singled along a beige stone-clad wall, I also walked under the slightly jutting walls of an upper story, a dark protrusion covered with oxidized metal sheets that holds up a sheer half of white steel-framed glass picture windows. An image flashed: possibly remote, I had shrugged off; but I remembered as a girl during one of those visits to the seminary in old Vigan far north, ruined since, peeking on tiptoes from one of those huge windows flung wide on feast days to watch right under my feet people in a holy procession. I later learned from the architect that the memory had not crept in by accident.


At the end of the span, I drew a few paces back awed by the contrasting lines and surfaces of the facade. Seemingly not both but only the lower portion of the horizontal span flows into the rise of a medium-high tower I faced; both are clad with those beige stones. Together, they form a right triangle. But in my mind, I transformed the geometric lines into an enormous human form seated on the ground, balancing on its stretched legs a transparent box pulsing with light. The architect would probably think this incredulous but I knew from talking with other architects that a building must take on life and if it does it would take on many guises also. Under the broad tower, I slipped into the entrance—automatic glass doors embossed with the institute’s (ICM) logo—and found myself really wondering if indeed I were inside a Spanish structure.


Shedding off Colonial Stereotypes


Almost embarrassed, I shed off the baggage I had carried—stereotype images of stone churches and houses that are not even Spanish but Filipino colonial buildings. A stranger to the Spain of today, I did recall that high noon reading in the New York Times an article about an exhibit on Spanish architecture at the Museum of Modern Art. Featured with the story were photos of the new terminal at Madrid’s Barajas International Airport and the Museo Contemporaneo de Castilla y Leon. The article dubbed Spain as “showcase of some of the most exciting architecture in the world today” and “a center for architectural marvels.” The Instituto’s architect, (and former director) Javier Galvan Guijo, a graduate of Escuela Superior de Arquitectura de Madrid where he also earned his masters and doctorate degrees, must have trained with Spain’s new breed of architects.


Gaping at the structure I had stepped into, I realized it was time for me to snip anything Spanish off relics of the Philippines’ colonial past or those churches and fortifications friars and military engineers built as well as the bahay na bato (stone house) they improvised to withstand earthquakes and keep off the endless summer heat. Even while Galvan claims his design synthesizes such structures that he has studied and documented in his travels to almost all islands of the archipelago – he goes way back to 1993 lending a hand in Vigan’s restoration – his European modernist sensibilities obviously overcame his love for everything Filipino in this building.


Easier to agree with is his declaration that light is the “protagonist” in his design. He could not have escaped its omnipresence in my country. Light floods any nook, seeps into any cranny, it even creeps into nights in the archipelago—a priceless element that to his dismay local designers tend to ward or totally close off. A Madrileno and thus no stranger to the sun, Galvan set his building up as a stage for a play on light.


Light as Protagonist: Capiz in Modern Design Sensibility 


 In the lobby, I felt like a dwarf in an enormous cube that opens to the sky. I scaled soaring dark Indian sandstone walls, breathless at the height, the same feeling when I walk into a cathedral or a gothic church—my experience with structures of this proportion being limited to the ecclesiastical. I pushed the comparison further: square incisions in a grid midway up the wall, the architect’s version of capiz (mother-of-pearl shell) windows—a theme he uses throughout—also reminded me not of the checkered pattern but of how light breaks on a wall of the Santuario de Nuestra Senora del Camino in Leon I got fascinated with on a postcard. Too, a soft aura like a haze that followed a few students milling in the lobby had added to the other-worldliness light refracted from the top has lent. But light playing magic on my senses soon dissipated this haloed perception. 


Right in the lobby, light in its many guises inundates the visitor: fluid as it pours on the walls, solid as in spears piercing the three-sided slits that edge Interior 3the dropped ceiling, vaporous in slants from the square windows, and mist-like as all that light settles on the blue-gray slate floor. Quality and hue also shift according to time of day, changing as light turns with the sun’s inexorable motion. I had imagined as it rose and hit the facade sideways it daubed the lobby a purplish pink, a hue that faded into yellowish white as noon approached and on to a powdery white as the sun paused in its zenith. When light slanted from the west, the light wavered to a soft aluminum gray as it did right then. But wait! It had brightened up as if from a sudden lift. I turned and indeed, met a splash coming in from the patio, hitting a glass wall tangentially across the entrance; the sun had slid ever so imperceptibly in its downward arc.


 Two things had happened in the splash of light: it poured on to the transition area right above where I stood then spilled down the slate-clad stairs on the wall opposite the entrance to my right, and flooded a rectangular space to my left where the lobby expands. This space boxed in by end-walls painted white is a changing exhibit area. But that afternoon in my light-altered state, it had looked more like a waterway drenched with light whooshing in from clerestory windows atop the length of one wall, and bouncing on the outer walls of the theater, the Salon de Actos.


Easily a seeming favorite among students, I found a group squatted in a circle near the far end of the box washed in the light, their heads huddled like some yet unnamed species of birds in complicity. When another group swung in from the patio through the glass door, meeting the first, both soon lifted off on flapping arms, dripping sparks of fluid light, winging out to the arcade outside. I was left trying to decide whether to climb the stairs or follow the flight of students. I took the second choice.


I followed in their trail, squinting at the stark brilliance of a bare sun. Where I had paused outside the door, I viewed the enclosed Casino Espanol property through the patio and the swimming pool, given elements Galvan worked in to his design. Two contrasting sides of Spain look on each other from here: one, a nostalgic colonial past in the arched terraces and inner garden of the brick-roofed Casino restaurant, and the other, a boldPatio 1 straightforward present in the looming white concrete and glass walls, exposed posts and beams of ICM—two sides the patio sets apart yet blends.


I walked on to the arcade that the beams and posts create, keeping close to a series of glass doors embossed with the same square grid pattern—those of the suite of classrooms called aula (cage)—tucked under it. I had peeked into each of these entranced by the light like two streams pooling on the floor. One stream comes from the patio, or light that breaks on the marble tiles then spills in, the other like a fluid curtain comes through glass blocks on the back wall.


Spanish Today among Filipinos


Through one of the doors, I glimpsed the students in the changing exhibit area. (So they flew back in to their cages.) Here, along with the 3,600 other students, they have come to learn Spanish, the language half of the world speaks, a language Filipinos once knew. It takes 30 hours to step up to each of the 25 levels or three years of mastery a certificate testifies.  


Two weeks after this visit during a yearly event of non-stop reading a work written in Spanish, I would sit in the Salon de Actos listening to some of the students read two pages each of Rizal’s “Noli Me Tangere”, his novel that ignited a revolution and led to his martyrdom that made him a national hero. Galvan’s dramatic design that alternates dark concrete and light veneer oak on the wall and ceiling and echoed on the capiz pattern on backs of seats could have intensified emotions the text carried. But the 250 readers, among them mostly students, would focus on the words falling from their tongues, flipping like the foreign objects they still are—though a few would be Spaniards living in Manila and a handful of Filipinos who have lived for years in Spain—thus, pushing emotions in Rizal’s novel a hundred years back where they belong.


Who takes up Spanish these days? I wondered. Jose Maria Fons, then ICM’s information officer, counted among them young scholars simply interested in the language and Spanish culture, would-be teachers—and job seekers who get an edge with Spanish. I had glimpsed some schoolboys among those enrolled in the children’s program, as Fons would later explain, in the last aula as I climbed the stairs at the end of the arcade.


A spindly crown of pili tree shades the terrace above the arcade. Pairs and trios of students had each taken a spot here, leaning toward the patio, reflecting on the static gleam of the pool, chatting in Spanish; no one here is allowed to speak in another tongue. A row of smaller classrooms that includes a media room — also front and backlit — ends at the library backdoor. A sign forbade me to enter; I was not authorized. But I had pushed because no one was looking and found myself engulfed in a giant triangular box brimming with light.  Biblioteca 1


The splashes and spears of light at the ground floor and the streams in the classrooms interplay in the library perhaps ten times magnified. Light here roars in cascades from a skylight—a broad band of framed glass multi-axle steel beams support—then it drops to a light well, skimming a white firewall and streaming halfway down to a wall of glass blocks, the same translucent back walls of the classrooms. Its unhampered flow ends on a recessed white-pebbled ground. More light slide obliquely where the ceiling slopes down in veneer oak, slipping through framed vertical glass windows that look out to the patio. I stood by the side of one of the reading desks still facing upward—as if it were the first time I saw clouds scudding by, leaving a stretch of blue. (One rainy day a week later, I would come back here to watch rain wash the skylight gray, then leave patterns of leaves and seashells, and some tiny animal footprints.)  


I wove in and out of the shelves, basking in the luminescence, starting to feel my dormant Spanish waking up—I did understand the titles on the spines of books, even an issue of Geografica on Cristobal Colon. When I got to the last page of the journal, I sensed a coral hue brushing my arm; the sun had begun its descent. I slung my bag on my shoulders and pushed the door toward the transition area. This open space that overlooks the changing exhibit area and the lobby also leads to the offices. Movement is transparent through the glass doors and walls, light-soaked as in every space in the building. The bustle in the offices had reminded me why I was there.


Manila: Gateway to a Double Triangle-Spain to Asia and Spain to Latin America 


Senor Galvan had noticed me. He had just flown in from a two-day visit to Hanoi where Instituto Cervantes through Manila runs small suites of aula; it also does in Singapore and Malaysia. I learned from him that Manila servesexhibit hall-clerestory windows as regional center for Southeast Asia and the Pacific. “Nothing new in this role,” said Galvan. Four hundred years ago, Manila opened Asia to the West and the West to Asia; today Manila plays the same role in a double triangle between Spain and Asia in one, and Spain and Latin America in the other.


He then led me to the top of the stairs; light had turned a hazy ash though streaked with coral. Where we leaned against the railing overlooking the lobby, I felt like standing on the ledge of some ancient cave. Senor Galvan laughed off my impression. “That only means this building is alive,” he had said. I had added, “And not blood but light is its force.”  


The building has just been picked as one of TOP100 buildings designed by Madrilenian architects.

Senor Galvan had since left Manila and has just been named director of IC in Oran, Algeria. I had migrated to Vancouver, Canada.

A Memorial to Memories

I would like to thank the 18 who have signed my petition to Pledge to End All Wars. Thank you greatly.

As Bataan Day or the date is again ‘in the past’ in the march of days, I’ll recast this petition in a few days toward the setting up of a memorial to memories. Intriguing? Enigmatic? Only in words if that is how it sounds. This memorial will perhaps be the first monument not cast in stone but built on words.

The landscape of memories on WWII in the Philippines might be crowded by now with all kinds of retelling. But, each time anything about it is said or discussed, a swarm of memories start buzzing. It is truly amazing how the telling seems endless.

No matter how long ago that war is often referred to, its reality re­mains as vivid as if it were the day before. Apparently, war never dies with its heroes or its traitors both know and unknown. Time actually doesn’t heal the wounds inflicted on families who are innocent of a war, or in the case of Filipinos, the only war they ever experienced–and it wasn’t even theirs.Time it seems merely suspended the grieving as families coped with survival.

I know because I was born into one such family–my grand­father was executed by the Japanese. A pall sort of hovered in my childhood among my mother, aunts and uncles whose lives the war drastically changed. Until I migrated to Vancouver two and a half years ago, I was still uncovering shards of that day they lost him forever as not even his body was recovered.

Mention of that war even here in Vancou­ver–years removed and thousands of miles from the Philippines–hardly ever fails to touch a painful chord among Filipinos. For example a small item that I sent and was published in the Vancouver Courier on the two documen­tary films my cousin Lucky Guillermo came to screen for the 2008 World Peace Forum in November drew a small group. Wounds refreshed with the films “Manila 1945: The Forgotten Atrocities” and “ Unsurrendered: 100 Voices” as children and grandchildren of veterans shared impassioned memories; most were told the first time, and thus, too precious to be lost. We all agreed the only memorial worthy of their memories is yet another collection of such stories. 

A collection of all collections of stories or a gathering of these is the memo­rial that is yet to happen, this memorial of memories. How and when would it turn out and what shape it would take in what way will words become solid depends on what value the world gives to peace and the world is you.

We will hold on to and nurture this pledge to peace by keeping our memories alive. What better flame is there indeed.




Pledge to End this Dark Force:Pledge to End All Wars
April 6, 2009, 5:50 pm
Filed under: history | Tags: , , ,



The world hasn’t learned from the Death March. Wars continue to rage. And wars seem to draw unimaginable inhumanity to the captive and the weak. Pledge to end this dark force. Remember the Death March and the even more brutal wars going on.


Join the Voices Against War and the Philippine War Veterans and Ex-Servicemen of BC, Canada in a one-minute silent prayer at 12:00 pm everyday from now on to the next memorial of the Death March for those who suffered through it and later in prison. Offer a prayer and sign this pledge to end all wars, to end all specters of war.

Sign up for peace.


The landscape of memories on WWII in the Philippines might be crowded by now with all kinds of retelling. But, each time anything about it is said or discussed, a swarm of memories start buzzing. It is truly amazing how the telling seems endless


No matter how long ago that war is often referred to, its reality re­mains as vivid as if it were the day before. Apparently, war never dies with its heroes or its traitors both known and unknown. Time actually does not heal the wounds inflicted on families who are innocent of a war, or in the case of Filipinos, the only war they ever experienced and it was not even theirs. Time it seems merely suspended the grieving as families coped with survival.


As Bataan Day or the date is again in the past in the march of days, this pledge to end all wars, to end this dark force should be cast in our hearts. Let us build a memorial to memories with a prayer and remembering. How and when it would turn out and what shape it would take depends on what value the world gives to peace and the world is you.


We will hold on to and nurture this pledge to peace by keeping our memories alive. What better flame indeed




On April 9, 1942 Bataan peninsula south of Manila, supposedly a stronghold where Gen. Douglas McArthur was to move troops according to his War Plan Orange which proved inadequately armed and manned by malnourished and malaria-ravaged contingent. Then Maj. Edward King, commander of the U.S. Army Air Force in Bataan surrendered to the Japanese forces wanting to save his men from further suffering. He did not count on the unimaginable brutality that the Japanese were to inflict on 78,000 Filipino and American Prisoners of Wars.


Fazed by the size of the POWs, the Japanese command could only act inhumanely by making their captives walk the roughly 65 miles from Bataan to the prison camp in Capas, Tarlac north of Manila. The specter of war known as the Death March which lasted for six days began on April 10. Heat in the Philippines hits 98 degrees Fahrenheit in April.



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