Sunday, June 9, 2013

Selling out Filipino cultural heritage and history -- the Archdiocese of Ozamiz sets its sights on the ancient acacia trees of the Parish of the Holy Rosary in Oroquieta City

While relaxing at my parents-in-law's home in Cebu, my wife requested me to read a newspaper article that I found to be disturbing, disheartening, disappointing, and maybe even portending the way that the Catholic Church is going to exert its power in Mindanao and the Philippines in general.  The title of this article, printed in the June 3rd edition of the Philippine Daily Inquirer (pages D1 and D2, LifeStyle Arts & Books) and written by reporter Mozart Pastrano, is "Commercialization Threatens Historic Mindanao Church Plaza."  Specifically, the article states that the Archdiocese of Ozamiz wants to cut down the ancient acacia trees that line the front and sides of the Parish of the Holy Rosary in Oroquieta City, Misamis Occidental, Mindanao, in order to give way to build a commercial zone that will include a Jollibee fast food restaurant and a First Valley Bank.  According to the Daily Inquirer article, Archbishop Jesus A. Dosado has given the Holy Rosary parish an ultimatum:  give the Archdiocese of Ozamis P50,000 per month, or the archdiocese will cut down the acacia trees in front of the church and sell the church grounds to profit from Jollibee and the bank.  The reason for this demand for money is to cover the medical costs of priests (many who are elderly or nearly elderly) in the archdiocese. The original figure Archbishop Dosado demanded was P75,000 per month, according to the Daily Inquirer, although the Archbishop offered no further comment to the reporter.    The article also states that the parishioners were made to raise millions of pesos recently to support a church beautification project, which was not wanted by the vast majority of the parishioners.  In effect, the millions of pesos were wasted for frivolous superficial and unnecessary beautification of the church’s façade (including but not limited to a 1 million pesos sound system) – millions of pesos which could rather have been wisely allocated to budget for the medical needs of the priests.

So why do I even care about a parish grounds and some old trees half way around the globe from where I live, and why am I blogging about this?  Why can’t I just accept Jollibee parked on the front lawn of the church and look forward to my next sarsa float and crispy 2-pc bangus with rice (Oroquieta already has one Jollibee, by the way)?   I have two main reasons:  

1) This is my wife's home parish in her home town, and the grounds of this parish, including its acacia trees are as much an integral and critical part of Oroquieta's heritage, culture, and history as any other historical landmark in Oroquieta.  Cutting down the acacia trees and destroying the church grounds to put up a Jollibee and a bank is to me and to my wife's family as offensive and insulting as would be scraping off all the trees and beautiful landscaping in front of the Provincial Capitol building in Oroquieta to construct an on-site car dealership.  This parish is the beating heart of a large and vital community that's been dear to me since my first visit in 1996, two years after my wife and I were married, and its hallowed grounds and acacia trees are inextricably linked to the heritage, culture, and history not only of the parish, but also the Oroquietanian community in the Philippines and abroad, and even to the history of the Philippines as a nation.  As a little girl, my wife played the part of an angel at the annual traditional Easter time celebration of the “Hugos” [the hoisting of ‘angels’ singing ‘Alleluia’], suspended and hoisted from these grand and ancient acacia trees.  Over the last 125 years or so, thousands of native little Oroquietanian girls did the same thing, and the Oroquietanian diaspora transplanted throughout the Philippines and all over the world will consider those acacia trees and that church grounds as something uniquely special and irreplaceable.  This is a precious memory, tradition, and cultural/religious heritage that is now in jeopardy of being lost forever, never to be experienced again by future generations.  Innumerable baptisms, funerals, and other religious and civic ceremonies passed through these doors and under these trees, and the prayers, hopes and fears, joys and sorrows of thousands of individuals and an entire community were witnessed by this acacia grove. These trees and this parish grounds bore direct witness to an incident during the Philippine-American War maybe about 1898 or so when Filipino soldiers under General Rufino Deloso attacked Americans stationed in the parish convent in a dawn raid. 117 Filipino soldiers were killed on the church grounds in this attack when the Americans defended their forces with artillery aboard a troop transport ship anchored on the nearby shore, and were buried behind the church.  Somewhere deep within the living wood grains of these ancient and gnarled acacia trees, it’s possible there are concealed shrapnel fragments from those artillery shells of 114 years ago.  This same grove of acacia trees witnessed better times 40-some years later first when President Manuel Quezon came ashore in Oroquieta shortly after escaping Corregidor, and then when the Americans came and camped nearby again – this time not as heavy-handed imperialists, but as friends and brother-in-arms fighting and dying side by side with the Filipinos to liberate the Philippines from the horrors of the Japanese invasion.  

2) I care about this issue because I feel that if this lack of due process from the Church does not get nipped in the bud by the power of the people now, there is no telling when it will stop.   It sets a precedent.  Where in the Philippines will this process of commercial assimilation go the next time, and to what extent/magnitude will this process of commercial acquisition go with the next parish? Will they be contented with just cutting down the trees and selling the land to commercial entities, or will they want more from the next parish, perhaps posting advertisements on the sides of the church?   Chopping down these acacia trees and selling out to commercial interests now is likely a signal of things to come.  Does the lack of forethought and fiscal/moral responsibility justify an easy land grab for commercial purposes?  Is this a message telegraphed from the Church and the Archbishop that this is the new mandate, the new edict, the way things are going to be? I understand and sympathize that funds are needed for the medical costs of priests, especially those who are becoming elderly – it’s a tough economy worldwide, and health care costs of the aging population is a major issue in every country.   But I really think that this is the wrong way to address this, and if this proposed “solution” is actually executed, it sets an ill conceived, poorly thought-out precedent for future resolution of budgetary problems in other dioceses.  There has to be a better way than selling out and selling off Filipino heritage to commercial interests.   Why were the parishioners recently pressured and “hit up” to fund a superficial (and unwanted) beautification project when these funds could have been wisely earmarked for the health needs of the priests in the archdiocese?

The people of Oroquieta and the parishioners won't just sit down and take this desecration of their church (grounds) by the Church – they are not, and a petition letter with over 10,000 signatures as well as vigorous opposition from many in the community is in progress.   People around the world have made the mistake numerous times over – selling off our heritage, our history, our hearts and souls, to make a quick profit from commercial development.  Americans have done this numerous times, and it almost happened again recently at a hallowed Civil War battlefield site on which blood was shed to preserve the nation.  It was almost sold to the giant commercial retailer Wal-Mart (which is similar to an SM hypermarket or Robinson’s supermarket).  I surely hope the same won’t happen in Oroquieta.  

I’ll close with a quote from the famous American naturalist and wilderness preservationist from the 1800’s, John Muir:

“A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship. But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease. Every hidden cell is throbbing with music and life, every fiber thrilling like harp strings, while incense is ever flowing from the balsam bells and leaves. No wonder the hills and groves were God's first temples, and the more they are cut down and hewn into cathedrals and churches, the farther off and dimmer seems the Lord himself.”
John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra

Holy Rosary Church, Oroquieta City, Misamis Occidental, Philippines
Aerial view from steeple/belltower of Holy Rosary Parish, Oroquieta City.  Courtesy of Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Mandaue City wet market - our tour today

It's been awhile since I've posted --  we've all been really busy tying up all the loose ends and making preparations for our family trip to the Philippines. This time, I am happy to report that I am posting almost "in real time" from the Philippines and that we're enjoying some much-needed vacation time.  

While I love all the famous tourist spots and natural beauty and beaches, historical sites, etc. of the Philippines, I also enjoy getting out and experiencing the typical, everyday "real" Philippines.  I like to go beyond the typical tourist experience, get out and mix and mingle with the people, and visit the places that are typical of everyday life in the Philippines... farms, blacksmith shops, sari-sari stores, malls, docks and piers, etc.  Like any place, I think it is important and interesting to see the many facets and diverse walks of life of the people, to get a sense of the sights, sounds and smells that are commonplace and normal for the inhabitants, but exotic for the tourists.   A short while ago this morning, we went to the Mandaue City (a suburb of Cebu) wet market, which was a great experience for me.  I've been to some smaller wet markets before, including the one in Boracay, so I knew what to expect to some extent and was really excited about going there. But I've never been to a wet market of this size and scale, so I was in for a very pleasant surprise that did not disappoint.   

The Mandaue City wet market has tons of vendor stalls with a diverse selection of all kinds of goods, including a beautiful selection of fresh fruits and vegetables of all colors (many of which cannot be found in the U.S.), eggs, rice, dry goods, some clothing and electronics, and, of course -- what makes a wet market wet -- fresh fish, seafood, and meats.  It is an indoor market in a large building and covered from the elements, although the sides of the building are open to provide ventilation.  To foreign tourists from the U.S.,  Europe, Australia, etc., a trip to a wet market in the Philippines will be quite different from what he or she has experienced in everyday life in the supermarkets in their homeland, which resemble the SM hypermarkets in the Philippines.   We have farm markets in the U.S. with farm-fresh produce, we have traditional butcher shops and fish cleaning shops, and there are wet seafood markets in the larger cities, especially in the coastal cities, but these are all quite different from the Philippine wet markets.  Many of the foods would be seen as very exotic by Westerners -- such as chicken feet ("Adidas") or rooster heads etc. -- and have been featured on some of the Food Network shows like the American celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain's show "No Reservations".  I saw Anthony Bourdain's "No Reservations" episode about exotic foods to be found in the Philippines (this can easily be found in its entirety on YouTube if you are interested), and I was impressed with his great attitude, open-mindedness, and very respectful treatment of Filipinos and their culture. 

For all these reasons, I think that a trip to a large (or even small) wet market in the Philippines is a gem of an experience, and something truly not to be missed.   Getting there by way of jeepney, multicab, or pedicab, as opposed to taking an air-conditioned taxi, should also be a part of the experience.  One last tip - the seafood part of the wet market is not the place to wear your "Sunday best"... dress casually and wear sandals or shoes that can be washed afterwards, unless you want your nice leather dress business shoes to smell like a fish market!    

I was the only foreigner/tourist to my knowledge there at the time, which is a shame, because I really had fun and was treated with the well-known gracious Filipino hospitality.  I'd highly recommend going there to anyone who wants to check it out -- you'll love it!  Not to mention, there are some great deals to be had there on all kinds of fresh fruit, veggies, fish, seafood, meat, baked goods, etc. 

Eggs for sale at the Mandaue City wet market
View down an aisle of vendor stalls 

Bananas, mangoes, watermelon etc. at Mandaue City wet market

Both smiling, one shy - vendors with lots of calamansi (limes) 

Circular center of the Mandaue City wet market (this part is open-air to let in air ventilation and light)

This young egg vendor was happy to give me a cheerful smile for the camera

Eva's Banana and Fruit Retailer, Mandaue City wet market... I was surprised to see the owner's husband's authentic Pittsburgh Steelers jersey (Troy Polamalu #43)! 
Proud vegetable stall vendor, Mandaue City wet market -- humongous carrots!
Bebie Boy & An-An Meat Shop, Mandaue City wet market

"Adidas" (chicken feet) and rooster's heads... cock's combs, anyone?

Fish section at Mandaue City wet market.  Note the baskets hanging above -- these are the cash registers where vendors keep their money and make change. 

Galunggong fish at Mandaue City wet market

Butcher shop area of Mandaue City wet market. 

Segments of jackfruit pre-cut and ready to go

Poultry section at Mandaue City wet market

Jumbo prawns (shrimp) at Mandaue City wet market - these are awesome!

Eva's Banana and Fruit Retailer, Mandaue City wet market... I was surprised to see the owner's husband's authentic Pittsburgh Steelers (Troy Polamalu) jersey! 

Tata & Mia's Fresh Dressed Chicken, Mandaue City wet market
Snapshot of the action at the Mandaue City wet market

Proud vegetable stall vendor, Mandaue City wet market -- humongous carrots are about 3 times larger than the ones I've seen in the U.S. and Europe!



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