Monday, March 30, 2015

Impressions on the book "The Music of Zamboanga: A Historical Perspective"

This was a talk delivered during the launch of the book "The Music of Zamboanga: A Historical Perspective" on March 28, 2015 at the Crystal Ballroom of Astoria Hotel in Zamboanga City. The author, Prof. Norma C. Conti, and her daughter Cielito Olegario, asked me to give my impressions of the book.

The front and back cover of the book "The Music of Zamboanga: A Historical Perspective" by Prof. Norma Camins Conti.

Professor Norma Conti has crafted many love letters to Zamboanga City. These love letters have invariably taken the form of songs, songs that have since become icons of Zamboanga culture. I call them love letters because it is immediately apparent to the listener that the creator of such songs as Vamos a Zamboanga and Paseo de Amigos is hopelessly, irrevocably in love with Zamboanga.

Prof. Conti either writes about Zamboanga, or writes in Zamboangueno, or writes songs about Zamboanga in Zamboangueno. In all these songs, her infatuation with all things of this city is undeniable.

And so when I heard about this latest labor of love of I was eager to get ahold of it. A love letter from Prof Conti, this time in book form. 

I have read the book. It was a fast read for me because it is written in a very conversational and natural way. Admittedly, it was also a fast read for me too because I do not know how to read musical notes. There are pages upon pages of musical score, some painstakingly hand written by the author that would delight the educated musician. The beauty of these music sheets were lost on me, unfortunately.

But like Prof Conti, I love music. However, as her daughter Cielito, my best friend since high school can attest, the songs that I prefer are not necessarily the songs that Prof Conti would prefer. But I am an academician and I am someone who has done some research in history and in music, specifically in the history and in the music of Zamboanga. It is for these reasons that I am delighted that Prof Conti has come out with this book. 

The book straddles the two literary disciplines: academic writing and journal writing. The book will be a worthy addition to any library for its value as reference in the areas of music, traditional music, music history, Filipino music, and Philippine culture. You all know that books like those I have just mentioned tend to be dry and boring. This one isn’t. While erudite, Prof Conti’s book is filled with trivia and interesting tidbits about Zamboanga life, especially about a lifestyle that is long gone. 

For example, did you know that the song No Te Vayas has the exact same melody as the regimental march of an American infantry regiment? The regiment had been assigned here during the American occupation of the Philippines. It makes one wonder, whose melody was it originally, theirs or ours? Also, did you know that the same song, No Te Vayas, was played during the international trade fair St. Louis Exposition in 1904? This means a song from Zamboanga was chosen to represent the Philippines!

The book also tells us that the canonical Filipino love song, “Dahil Sa Yo” was in fact written by someone who grew up in Zamboanga City, and probably written while he was in Zamboanga. The romantics in us would say that the song was probably inspired by the mythical beauties of Zamboanga. 

Prof. Conti’s book is informative. It reveals to us that songs can give us a glimpse of the kind of relationship that most likely existed between natives and Spaniards such as in the lyrics of a zarzuela that has a female singer saying: “…yo Filipina, uste Espanol”, hinting at an insurmountable divide between the two races.

The book has a list of Zamboanguenos who made significant contributions to the musical culture of the city, from the indigenous tribes to the various invaders, to the current crop of rock and pop musicians. It lists favorite songs of our civic leaders. It features songs written and sung to express our collective aspirations, such as the song written about the our fate after the Zamboanga Siege of 2013.

The book makes you realize that Zamboanga music might have changed over the years; gone are the zarzuelas of old, now replaced by popular melodies like Porque and Cuando, but that all of these songs exists in a continuum. 

For example, the rap battle that regularly takes place at Paseo del Mar, participated in by many of our youth, how different is that really from the bantayanons of old?

According to Prof Conti, bantayanons are verbal jousts or duels between two or participants employing the dynamics of music. That exact same definition can be applied to rap battles. Bantayanon is usually done by people in the barrio rather than residents of poblacion or town centers. Rap battles are more common among the youth in the street, the kanto boys. This means both bantayanons and rap battles are mass culture rather than high culture. They are, in other words, pang-masa. The similarities go on. Both involve improvisation, both are battles of wits, with participants trying to outdo each other usingn words set to music. Both can be on any topic relevant to the participants, both can involve naughty themes and naughty words.

The book does not say that bantayanons are the pre-cursor of rap battles but it does give you the information that allows you to make these connections.

The book is a combination of intellectual insights, insider information, and rigid research. Because of this, the book is a worthy addition to any library. The book is for everybody interested in Zamboanga, interested in music, interested in history. 

To Professor Norma Conti, my warmest congratulations on the publication of this book. It is an amazing additional to an already amazing body of work.

To everybody, I hope all of you will give yourself the gift of reading of this book. 

Delivering the talk.

With the author after the launch.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

never mind if aspirational, patriotic naman

between shoes and bags, i like shoes better. hard to explain. that's just the way it is.

thus, i rarely buy bags (not that i buy a lot of shoes either hehe). as with many other items in my wardrobe, many of my bags were simply gifted to me. on the very rare occasion that i buy a bag, it is invariably at the flea market. hello, hello magay!

then i serendipitously came across this website.

the tannery manila is a Filipino bag-making family. they've been at it for a hundred years. and i love their bags.

these bags aren't exactly what you would call mura. the price ranges from 5k to 8k. but they are leather, and the quality looks good. they must be handmade seeing as the company is a small artisanal operation. i love these too:

and these as well:

between these The Tannery Manila bags and similarly priced western branded bags, i will definitely go for these ones. i bet that the western-brand products using similar material will be priced three, five, ten times more. 

oh well. necesita buska raket. para pwede kumpra. :)


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

the tragic tale of a treasure trove (a.k.a. the story of bling)

once upon a time....

i found myself with a lot of time to spare and a lot of scrap beads (aka, tira tira or retaso). i started stringing some into a bracelet, with a totally random design. i loved it! i made another one and another and still another one until i conceitedly thought to myself: "these are really cool bracelets! i am sure others will like it and want to buy it!" so i made a hundred (!). 

but you know what? people didn't buy. i've sold give or take 500 pieces of earrings, necklaces, bracelets, etc since i started frantically (maniacally, obsessive-compulsively) making them in 2009. 

and that's not counting the bookmarks and other....stuff.

but these bracelets. 

these lovely, quirky, whimsical, organic, cutiepie bracelets. nobody wanted them. i would display them at the store and people ignored them! what is wrong with people? why can't they see what i can see??


now i have a mountain of bracelets only i, it would seem, appreciate.

what to do with them?

well, wear them myself, of course.

last weekend i placed a handful in a row on a cork board, together with my default watch and ring so that i will not forget to wear one each time i go out.

for people who love me and will take pity on my tragic tale and offer to buy. sorry guys, i am no longer selling. #tampomode.

thanks though. i know you love me.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Foiled plans

I think the cynical saying goes:

Man plans, God laughs. 

In my case this weekend, it's: 

Yen plans, thesis students laugh.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

IDP Situation in Zamboanga City

Below is an article I wrote in July 2014 for Windhover, the official magazine of the Philippine Jesuits. 

While the number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) at the evacuation centers have dropped 10% (25550 in july, 22954 in september), the number of people who died in these centers have increased 20% (139 deaths then, 168 deaths now). 

The massive undertaking of resettling thousands of IDPs is ongoing. The program is in three phases: IDPs at evacuation centers are processed, then they are moved to transitory sites, then finally to permanent resettlement areas. As of July, 1,579 families had been moved to transitory sites. As of a few days ago, 594 more families moved to transitory sites, including 70 Sama Laut families that used to occupy Cawa-Cawa Boulevard. But phase two is far from over: 2,256 families remain at three evacuation centers.


Children of families displaced by the Zamboanga Siege of 2013 frolic in the rain at the Joaquin Enriquez Memorial Sports Complex. A year after the siege, over 2,000 families continue to stay at place, in makeshift shelters made of lightweight materials. Photo by Haiko Magtrayo.

The IDP Situation in Zamboanga City
Yen Blanco Delgado
July 9, 2014

The road to recovery is proving to be a long and arduous one for the people of Zamboanga City, the largest city in Southwestern Mindanao. Nine months after a faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) attacked residential barangays adjacent to the city’s commercial district, over 25,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) still crowd the evacuation centers and transitory sites, living in subpar conditions.

Since the September 2013 attack, aid workers have recorded 139 deaths among the IDPs. Almost half of those who died are children below five years old.

Haiko Magtrayo, communications officer of the International Organization of Migration (IOM) in Zamboanga City said that while the death rate has started to go down two months ago, the incidence of diseases, especially among children, is rising.

This evacuation center floods at the slightest rain. Photo by Haiko Magtrayo.
There are five evacuation and six transitory sites throughout the city. The Joaquin F. Enriquez Memorial Sports Complex has the highest concentration of IDPs, with up to 2,429 families- equivalent to 13, 005 individuals.

Almost half of these families still live in makeshift shelters of tarpaulins, sacks, and other flimsy materials which, nine months since they were hurriedly set up, are now in tatters. The families are exposed to the elements; the ground floods at the slightest rain and the tarps do not offer much protection from the midday sun.

Portable toilets and facilities for bathing and washing at the sports complex are also sub-standard. The ideal ratio of these facilities to the evacuees is 1:50 but in these sites, it reaches far beyond the ideal. These poor living conditions contribute to the high mortality and morbidity rates. The situation is further compounded by the poor health-seeking behaviors of IDPs. Magtrayo laments that despite the presence of health workers in the camps, many of the IDPs seek help for sick family members only when the situation has become very serious.

On top of the health and sanitation issues, humanitarian workers are concerned about the growing number of issues related to security and protection, including human right violations, child trafficking, gender-based violence, domestic violence, and prostitution. These issues surface during focus group discussions involving IDPs and in reports of camp managers. A few months back, the police, together with social workers, apprehended the operators of a prostitution den within an evacuation center. Humanitarian workers, however, fear that these incidents remain largely unreported.

The IDPs, local and national governments, and the humanitarian aid organizations working in Zamboanga agree that immediate resettlement will address many of these problems.

In October 2013, a month after the siege, 125,000 IDPs were recorded. As of June 2014, the number has significantly dropped down to 25,000. Of the 100,000 IDPs who have left the centers, some have chosen to avail of the government’s Balk Probinsya (Back to Province) program—that is, they had gone back to their places of origin. Others, called “home-based IDPs,” have opted to rent a house or live with their relatives.

Of the remaining IDPs, 67% are still in the evacuation centers while only 33% are already in the transitory sites.

 Tagging is the program whereby the government determines which families are the most vulnerable IDPs—victims of either the siege or the flash floods that hit parts of Zamboanga soon after the MNLF attack. This is a tedious process since there are some families who take advantage of the situation by availing of the IDP benefits even if they are not qualified. Only families who are tagged can avail of the shelters or programs such as food for work or cash for work.

Officer Christian Olasiman, who works for Zamboanga City Mayor Maria Isabelle Climaco-Salazar, however, clarifies that untagged families will not be disregarded—that is, no one will be left behind.

Diseases run rampant at the evacuation centers. Photo by Haiko Magtrayo.
While many IDPs and other residents of the city are disgruntled over the slow pace of resettlement, the local government is still within the 18-month rehabilitation period announced by President Beningo Aquino, Jr.

Moreover, Olasiman said that there have been many roadblocks in the resettlement process. Acquiring land for both transitory site and permanent relocation site is difficult due to the lack of appropriate lots and some legal impediments. In some cases, even if appropriate lots have been found, the government cannot begin the resettlement since the residents in the identified lots oppose the government's move to relocate the IDPs in their area. On the other hand, there have also been instances when the IDPs themselves refuse to move to particular sites for cultural reasons. For one, the sea-faring Badjaos will only live near the sea.

Another unforeseen problem is the lack of building materials brought about by a log ban in the region. Families cannot be moved into a site unless bunkhouses including latrines, community kitchens, water sources, and other facilities are already in place.

Olasiman also stressed that transfer from evacuation center to a transitory site is always voluntary. The government cannot force families to transfer, even if the sites are ready.

The government plans to build 7,248 permanent shelters. This number includes 1,661 Home Materials Assistance (HOMA) packages which will provide Php 30,000 worth of building materials to families who already own their own lots.

In a recent visit to Zamboanga City, Social Welfare Secretary Dinky Soliman pledged to give money to lease a 25-hectare property in Kasanyangan, which will be converted into a transitory site for the majority of the IDPs staying at the sports complex. Still in Kasanyangan, the government plans to develop a 38-hectare lot into a permanent shelter site. But so far, only 11 permanent shelter units have been constructed.


Yen Blanco-Delgado is a teacher and journalist. She finished her MA in Journalism at the Konrad Adenauer Asian Center for Journalism in Ateneo de Manila University. At present, she is Chair of the Department of Communications at Ateneo de Zamboanga University. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Accepting sins

Gab was lurking under the bed, sulking because I scolded him. 

Feeling he has suffered enough, I approached him with my kindliest smile.

So I didn't really expect his reaction. 

Gab cried. bawled, more like.

Gab: don't smile at me! I am still trying to accept your sin! 

Sunday, September 22, 2013

a world war ii veteran's take on the zamboanga siege

husband and kids in tow, i visited my mother's sister this afternoon bearing a box of grocery-bought mamon. i wanted to get my  aunt, she who loves all things sweet, something fancier but the usual place was too out of the way (and in these troubled times, the best route is the shortest route) and the other one would not let me in. apparently, they close shop much much earlier than usual on account of the on-going government versus separatists shoot-off a few kilometers away.

she got flowers and cake for her birthday. because of the gunfight, only five guests or so dropped by.  a stark contrast to the big parties this house is used to hosting since what, the 50s, 60s. growing up, this house was venue to countless family gatherings. 

tita anita celebrated her 94th birthday on the 9th day of the siege, on september 17. i was not able to visit her that day because we were by then on our self-imposed exile, having decided to bring the kids somewhere where there was no threat of bullets straying into our personal spaces.

tita anita is the eldest of 10 children. by the time my mom came along, tita anita was 18 years old. she and her younger sister tita norma were in their final year of nursing school when the japanese army came. they both completed their nursing education in the battlefield. both signed up as army nurses for the US armed forces. when i think ideal nurse, i think of tita anita. for tita anita, nursing was art and craft, a point of pride, not just a way to make a living.

before she goes to sleep each night these days, she says she begs God for two things. first, that if the good Lord decides to take her, let it be while she sleeps. Second, that God does not let it rain because it will make life even harder for the evacuees at grandstand.

"I am not afraid to die," she says without arrogance nor self-pity but rather with her trademark twinkly-eyed smile. "But I wish I were younger so I can go to grandstand and see for myself what is happening there." By that you know she means "what she can do."

once a war nurse, always a war nurse i guess.

more insights from her: she thinks this siege is worse than the japanese invasion. she said that at least, you know who the enemies were during ww2. the japanese wore japanese uniforms, looked Japanese, spoke Japanese. now its not so easy to tell who the enemy is.

my thought exactly.