Brazil is in crisis. This crisis, and agreeing upon a unified course of action in response, was the topic of a plenary of broad left forces that included over 320 people coming from over 60 leftist formations last Friday evening.

João Pedro Stedile, the renown progressive economist and a founder of the Movimento dos Trabalhadores Rurais Sem Terra, characterized the current period as a three-pronged crisis never seen in Brazil since redemocratization: economic crisis, political crisis, and social crisis.

Economic Crisis

The declining economy has been the immediate major source of tension in recent years. Following a decade-long economic boom, Brazil’s economy has been shrinking since 2012, unemployment reached 6.9% in June on this year, the highest since July 2010, while inflation reached 9.56% in July, the highest since November 2003. The bleak economic situation has caused a wave of rich Brazilians to leave the country in favor of relocating their homes and businesses in the United States, and there has been a chilling effect on middle class consumption. As always, though, the most grave effect has been on the basic sectors. Workers from various industries – from school teachers to civil servants to bank employees – have conducted protracted strikes, budgets for public services that low-income earners rely on, like education and health, have been frozen, workers’ benefits are stricter, and the price of public transportation has increased. As in most economic recessions, while the capitalists claim that they are losing vast amounts of money, it is the families that were once barely making it that have slipped back into poverty, and the poor who have found their much relied-on public services diminishing.

Political Crisis

This economic crisis is a, if not the, major driver of the unfolding political crisis. Many analysts agree that President Dilma Rousseauf’s first electoral victory could largely be credited to her robust endorsement by the still widely popular outgoing president, Luis “Lula” Da Silva, and a strong ruling party in the PT. Dilma, however, has had the extreme misfortune of 1: governing at a time of recession, as opposed to Lula who was elected at the end of a steep economic decline and governed during an economic boom, and 2: lacking the personal charisma and political skill that Lula so famously possessed. (It is worth noting that, as in most proportional representation systems, the PT has never controlled a majority of seats in the Congress. It has always ruled in coalition and these coalitions have always included progressive to centrist and traditional elements. Lula’s ability to manage the coalition – some would say through too much compromise – was a key factor that contributed to his governments’ stabilities. Dilma is less charismatic and less skilled at coalition management.) Add to this mix some hardy corruption scandals (though in my opinion, nothing more outrageous than scandals from past administrations), and you have a government very much more vulnerable to opposition and especially attacks from the right.

This vulnerability was acutely illustrated during the 2014 elections. The election began as a three-way race between Dilma, Acéio Neves Cunha, a traditional politician from the center-right Partido Socialista do Brasil (PSDB), and Eduardo Campos of the Partido Socialista Brasileria (PSB).

While it was expected that the PT’s main challenge would come from the PSDB, Brazil’s second largest party, Campos of the PSB was an interesting development. Since the PT was founded, and particularly since it assumed the presidency in 2002, various small tendencies from within the party have split. Some groups split for personal reasons and some for ideological reasons. Several of the groups that split, like the Partido da Causa Operária (PCO), Partido Socialista dos Trabalhadores Unificado (PSTU), and Partido Socialismo e Liberdade (PSOL), had fielded their own presidential candidates in past elections but received nearly negligible vote percentages. In the 2010 presidential elections, these parties received a combined vote of about 1%.

In 2014, however, the PSB, which was never part of the PT but was part of its electoral coalition in 2010, split from the coalition and fielded its own candidate in Eduardo Campos. Formerly a Science and Technology Minister under Lula, Campos portrayed himself as a leftist who was simultaneously business-friendly – he campaigned for increased spending on education, health and universal public services (including the Bolsa Familia) while reducing the size of government, reducing government intervention in Brazil’s various semi-state-owned companies (a version of GOCCs), reducing red tape for business and aggressively investing in alternative energy. His running mate, Marina Silva, was a well-known environmental advocate who had an impressive run under the Green Party in the 2010 presidential elections, coming in third place with 19% of the vote (in the first round). Silva had also previously been a cabinet minister (of environment) during a Lula government and she remained a PT member until 2009.

Not insignificantly, much of Campos’ campaign messaging focused on a “third way,” or attempting to convince voters that they had an option that was not the PT or the PSDB. Every Brazilian presidential election since 1994 has essentially been a contest between the PT and the PSDB, with these parties gaining over 80% of first round votes. Additionally, much of Brazilian political life has been painted, especially by the Globo media monopoly, as a polarizing dichotomy between the PT and the PSDB. There are two meaningful insights to note about Campos’s campaign: First, his strategy involved painting the PT as the “establishment”, and no longer as a party of economic and social transformation. Second, his candidacy provided a focus for those who still considered themselves left – or at least those that supported the PT’s social welfare programs – but were frustrated with Dilma’s performance.

Campos tragically died in a plane crash less than two months before the elections and Marina Silva took on the mantle of being the PSB’s presidential candidate. Silva was doing well, consistently outpolling Cunha and even tying Dilma around five weeks before the elections. At the end, however, her ranked position and the overall hype surrounding her campaign (along, of course, with a plethora of other factors) made her the logical main target of both the PT and the PSDB’s offensives. Silva ended up coming in third falling only two points behind Cunha with 22% to Cunha’s 24%. Accordingly, she was not included in the 2nd round.

In the 2nd round of the elections, where Dilma faced Cunha head-on was the tightest presidential race in recent history. Despite rampant and outspoken criticisms of Dilma’s government, the left unified and mobilized to support Dilma, with the position that a Dilma/PT-led government, for all its faults, would be better than a rightist Cunha-led government. Dilma’s campaign, in turn, moved to the left, including promising to use Petrobras revenues to dramatically augment health and education budgets, in response to and acknowledgement of who the party’s core constituency was and who would deliver the PT to victory.

Following the election, Dilma’s policies nearly immediately moved back towards the right. Despite this, rightist political forces have maintained their attacks. Rightist groups have organized three national protests so far this year, including a national day of action on August 16 that gathered almost 200,000 people in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Brasilia, and other cities to call for Dilma and the PT’s ouster. Dilma has weathered a seemingly constant threat of impeachment. These are expected to continue until the end of her term.


Social Crisis

The economic crisis has also bred a general tension and discomfort that is palpable in daily life. Economic and political insecurity are common topics of conversation even in social functions with non-political people. Economic tension tends to accentuate other social tensions such as racial, class, and regional divisions, and rightist attacks on the PT’s social welfare programs often also come with characterizations of traditionally marginalized populations (especially people from the north, poor people, Blacks, and immigrants) as lazy, ill-intentioned and parasitic.

Social movements, for their part, are far from their apex. The height of social movement activity was in the latter part of the military dictatorship until the 1990s. Despite a reinvigoration of large public manifestations in recent years, which arguably peaked in 2013, social movements are having difficulty inspiring and recruiting this new population of outraged citizens into an organized force. As Stedile characterized in Friday’s event:

“Most working people come home and watch the political crisis from their sofas like they watch a tennis match. Dilma says something and then Cunha [the right-wing lower house speaker who Dilma narrowly defeated for the presidency in 2014] says something and then the PT responds…”

When the audience laughed at this characterization, Stedile quickly retorted, “I don’t know why you are laughing. This is our problem. The people are watching politics like a game instead of going to the streets.” Like the Philippines, NGOs are also in crisis as donors are pulling out of Brazil in favor of less “democratically developed” countries.

The Plenary

The Plenary meeting had three stated objectives. The first was to forge unity (the perennial left problem). Second was to approve a joint manifesto to oppose any impeachment attempts, which they referred to as coups, and oppose the government’s fiscal adjustment policies, which include cutting social investments and increasing taxes on basic services such as electricity and water. Third was to agree to mobilize their bases for a large manifestation on August 20 wherein these demands will be voiced.

While the left forces in attendance were overwhelmingly unsatisfied and angry with the current government, their stand is to prevent Dilma’s ouster. This stand is based on the analysis that an ouster would result in a Cunha-led government, which would be infinitely worse than Dilma’s government. The second, and I think more important stand, is to show Dilma and the PT that the left is the only force saving them from a right-wing coup. Essentially, the intention is to consolidate and raise to public consciousness a political force that carries the message: “We are the ones who got you elected, we are the ones protecting you from a coup, you must move your policies to the left because if we leave you will be left with nothing.”

Points to Ponder


Watching these events unfold has made me ponder some issues I think are relative to our own struggle:

What happens when party supporters are not happy with the party’s performance in government?

Many of us have been observers of the PT for many years, seeking to extrapolate lessons that could inform a leftist, social movements-based party rise to power in the Philippines. We have witnessed changes within the PT, and heard many of our long-time and respected friends and comrades from Brazil criticize the PT for various versions of “going neoliberal”, “acquiescing too much to elites and the Washington Consensus”, and even “becoming the new elite.” Since Akbayan entered into coalition with the LP, it has faced many of the same important questions, from both within and without. “Will Akbayan be tainted by elites?” “Will Akbayan compromise its values as a leftist party?” and even “Will Akbayan be corrupted by its proximity to power?” and “What will be the role of social movements in and with Akbayan?” There are also similarities with how internal dynamics within the two parties have developed. There are, broadly speaking, those who want to split and create a new party, those who struggle from the inside to pull the PT to the left, and those more willing to compromise with traditional politics. The struggle to answer these questions is an ongoing process that will continue to determine Akbayan’s nature as a party. After 12 years as the ruling party, the PT and allied social movements are still struggling with the question, which are a reflection of the different tendencies and internal democracy that comprise the PT. I consider this tolerance for different left tendencies and internal debate, and especially the presence of those who actively criticize the party within left circles but defend it outwardly because of their investment in the PT project, to be the main source of the party’s strength.

Parallel, yet independent force

In this (like the Philippines) highly personalistic political culture, there is a tendency among the many disappointed leftists to attribute the policies that have unfolded over the past few years, at least in part, to Dilma’s personal characteristics: “Dilma no longer cares for the working class.” “Dilma has forgotten her ideals as an activist.” I do not know Dilma Rousseauf. These accusations may very well be true. However, I choose to take a more structural viewpoint. Dilma heads a minority government. The right is strong and the left is weak. The right, naturally, is using its position of strength to negotiate for rightist policies, and they are getting them. Even if Dilma was personally the most radical leftist conceivable, she would have to compromise in order to hold onto the presidency and prevent someone from the extreme right from taking over. Thus, I tend to think the adoption of rightist policies reflects the weakness of the left more than they reflect Dilma’s political will (or lack thereof).

Ideally, social movements allied with the PT intended to pursue a strategy of organizing independently from the PT in order to maintain pressure the party and other political forces at large. At times, however, this has proven difficult in practice. Many observers have criticized PT-aligned social movements, and the MST in particular, for being less militant and vocally critical of the government since the PT came into power. (It is worth noting that evidence suggests that the Lula government settled more families than the preceding Cardoso administration, though, some agrarian reform advocates have argued that his administration merely regularized/formalized existing occupations.) Observers I have spoken to characterized left social movements as being in a somewhat sluggish phase since the PT took power. Movements slowed down organizing, recruitment, education, and research, relying on the PT instead to simply deliver demands. While PT governments delivered significant victories on social welfare and economic development fronts, they have certainly not approximated achieving the socialist revolution or fundamental change of the established predatory social and economic system.

Nevertheless, the call on Friday was clear. The left is no longer to rely on just having a supposed ally in the presidential office, nor is it to call for blanket support or ouster. It must grow and consolidate its own independent force of militants while drawing unorganized public opinion to its side in order to negotiate specific policy concessions with the government.

To quote an interview Stedile gave in 2007:

“Deep down the government is like a mirror that reflects society. And if in society the working class is weak, if it’s in reflux, a leftist government can’t advance its agenda…

“I’m not absolving him of his responsibility, but Lula’s administration hasn’t been able to make changes because of the reflux in the proletariat that hasn’t yet reversed. We didn’t count on this. We thought that a simple electoral victory would give a shock to the masses…We thought this was it, the time had come! And it hadn’t. It was really frustrating…This is the greatest challenge that we face today: we’re waiting around, seeing if the government will do this or that instead of just acting on our own. And of course it’s better that Lula will be reelected than to have Alckmin [of the PSDB] win. Obviously we’ll vote for Lula, but real change will only come with the process of organization among the people and the rising of the proletariat. That is the only chance we have.”

It’s not about the individual, it’s about the system / Elections are but one of many fronts

This isn’t the first time we’ve heard “we need to go back to organizing the base.” Nearly every meeting on left strategy that I have attended in the past near-decade has inevitably come down to this point. However, watching the unfolding events in Brazil makes the need to organize, maintain, and grow a base that much more evident.

The Partido dos Trabalhadores and Akbayan are political parties and one of the purposes of a political party is to gain elected office. However, gaining office is not akin to winning the revolution. Revolution is about a fundamental change in society and economy, and the electoral front is but one means of accessing power that would later enable this fundamental change.

Furthermore, it is important to remember that although both Brazil and the Philippines are strong presidentialist systems, the president is not as powerful as we often think. The vast majority of politicians come from established landed or capitalist interests and so have their own personal power bases independent of party politics, especially national politics. As a result, national figures depend on the local elites for vote delivery and often even program administration. Furthermore, our fight is no longer contained to the proletariat versus the domestic elite. As a comrade from the MST reminded me, the left in the developing world must also deal with the pressure predatory transnational capital places on government and the alliances they forge with domestic capital.

We would be foolish to think that “getting a good president elected” would be enough to effectively fight off capitalism. Even if, by some particularly plucky electoral strategy, we were able to elect “true leftists” (whatever that means) to the highest positions, this would still be insufficient to take on traditional elites, the various industrial syndicates, and transnational capital without a strong popular backing.

Any government the left would participate in, even lead, in our systems within the foreseeable future would necessarily include elements from the center and right in order to maintain some kind of stability. In the face of immeasurable money and institutions biased towards the status quo, the organized masses are the political power necessary to both support the progressives in government, especially when they take the radical steps we so desire, as well as to shame and isolate the reactionaries.

Thus, the fronts we must engage in are as numerous as there are sources of power. Legal-electoral, yes, but also educational, identity-cultural (including pop culture), media, developmental, resource accumulation, and of course, membership and militancy. We are not merely fighting against reactionary politicians. We are fighting against a political-economic-social system. An empowered society with socialist values that is ready to take various forms of action when necessary is the only assurance of victory.

This is not to say that we should give up pursuing electoral and even governmental coalitions with non-progressive forces for fear of getting our hands dirty. Something the left is an expert at, much more expert than the right, is splitting our forces and trading judgmental accusations about who “more left” and is a “true, pure socialist.” For a group that claims to value diversity and open thought we sure do seem to have dogmatic tendencies. Many of the groups who attended last Friday’s plenary were groups that attacked the PT for this exact reason. They even included parties and organizations that count themselves among the left-wing opposition to the PT. Yet, they saw the need to support, while engaging the government at this conjuncture, even if it hurt their ideological sensibilities.

The struggle that we engage in is not merely about being correct. We are not conducting an academic exercise where being correct is enough to feel proud of ourselves and say we did our job. The stakes are simply too high to treat it as such. The struggle we engage in, no, that we live, is about gaining real political power in a system where compromise is inevitable. It is about being honest about our own strengths and especially our weaknesses, taking responsibility for such, and realizing that sometimes choosing the lesser evil is the best we can do today, while we lay the conditions for tomorrow.



It’s been a while since I last wrote, and so much has happened. I spent almost the entire month on January in the Visayas with the parents, which was amazing. I was not expecting to miss them as much as I found I did; it was so refreshing to be around people who know me and my history and to not have the burden of the properness of Filipino society. Moreover, being with them allowed me to connect to Antique and Iloilo in a way that was not possible when I traveled there without them. But that’s a story I will reflect on at a later time.

As I write this I am in Belgrade, Serbia, attending a CANVAS training. I am to become a trainer teaching people skills necessary for successful nonviolent struggle. Again, I am facing the same insecurities. The trainers are meant to be veterans of successful nonviolent struggle. There are amazing people here, the Canvas core are basically the people who organized the toppling of Milosevic; there are organizers from the Rose Revolution, the Cedar Revolution, the anti-apartheid movement and the anti-Pinochet movement.

I, on the other hand have not been directly involved in a successful movement. I suppose, though, that I am a member of the post-Marcos struggle. I was not part of EDSA I or even II for that matter, but I am the result of them and I continue the greater struggle that those events failed to achieve. Well, I suppose for now that justifies my participation here.

Thus, as our struggle continues, I find myself taking the mindset of a student, trying to understand how to bring the ideas to our struggle in the Philippines. Who am I to teach others?

As I sit here doubting myself, knowing that certain other people in our part here doubt me as well, I remember that the Canvas organizers themselves know my history, my lack of experience, or perhaps I should put it as they know the experience I do have. Yet, they still insisted I come. Perhaps there is something they see in me.

Today was our first day of sharing and I am incredibly excited to begin the curriculum. Our introduction to Belgrade has been amazing…in the less than 48 hours I’ve been here I can say that I love this country! I have completely been over-consuming milk and cheese and hard homemade bread – those very European things that I loved in New York that are hard to come by in the Philippines that are in abundance here. And I love how I am now the smallest person around! After living in the Philippines where I am bigger than most girls, where for the first time in my life I was called fat, everyone here calls me the tiny Filipino. Oh, and did I mention that they sell beer in plastic litres! Like soda!

Serbs are huge partyers, perhaps even more so that Filipinos. We partied till 3 am last night, then I woke up at 6:30 earlier to work out before breakfast. After not sleeping well Tuesday night or Wednesday night, not sleeping at all on Thursday night to go to the airport at 3AM Friday morning, I have no idea how I’m surviving, but I feel great. Reverse jet lag?

I had a ridiculous amount of really good wine last night, and I find that I really like Serbian music! The Middle Easter/African influence is very much felt in the minor keys and syncopation, every time a song started last night I would say to myself, “hey, that’s a cumbia beat,” or “hey, that’s a salsa beat.” As ethnomusicology, how I miss thee. I think it’s time for me to JSTOR.

So just call me Ceca (pronounced Tzetza) 😀

This is possibly the coolest thing I’ve seen in the past few months. Greenpeace and Green Independent Power Producer have partnered with the cities of Bacolod and Makati to put in place electric jeepneys!

electric jeepney

As any Manileño or visitor to the NCR will tell you, pollution is no joke here. There is a perpetual cloud of dullness and everything – buildings, cars, people – inevitably get covered with layers of soot. You can see the difference in the colors of basic plants as soon as you go to the province, it’s really striking. Furthermore, if you’re a commuter, kawawa ang lungs mo. Turns out the pollution is a health problem as, according to a column by Jarius Bondoc (in “Palace Bribery a Perfect Crime, Nov. 23, 2007), “Two of every hundred residents of Metro Manila, Baguio, Cebu and Davao die each year from overexposure to toxic emissions. Nine of every hundred suffer from chronic bronchitis. Hardest hit are jeepney drivers, one of every three (32.5 percent) of whom have permanent coughs; air-con bus drivers, 16.4 percent; and commuters, 14.8 percent.” Yikes!

But these electric jeepneys are extra cool because they are completely clean burning. The battery can last for days and the plan is to build recharging stations that use organic waste for fuel. So, the fuel will come from garbage! That to me is really exciting, as there have been a million times when I’ve tripped over buds falling from cotton trees or buko shells in the street and thought “What a waste, I’m sure there’s a use for this stuff.”

So even though Greenpeace et al are championing the electric jeepney as a force against climate change, I’m much more excited at the idea that biofuel will be cheaper than diesel, augmenting jeepney drivers’ incomes, people in agriculture and who do small time business with fruits and vegetables (I’m thinking the buko vendor, the piña vendor, the mais vendor), will have a market to sell their waste products and so can increase their incomes as well. Less dependence on foreign oil and corporate petroleum magnates is always good for state sovereignty and the power of small and medium sized-businesses.

But best of all, after getting to where you’re going, your hair will still smell good :).

Bugasong, Antique. This is the hometown of my mother. Antique is one of the poorest, most rural provinces in the Philippines, and Bugasong is a very small agricultural town.

Views From the Road:

The road on the way from Iloilo to Antique. You basically have to drive through the mountains. When my parents were growing up this road was gravel and dirt, but today they’re all paved. All over, though, there are spots where the road has eroded away or there has been a landslide, like above.

I forgot why I took this picture

Roadside shack and rice fields in the background.

More rice fields

On the way to Bugasong we stopped by Manong Jing Jing’s Shell station in San Jose.

I guess Uncle Nene thought it would be funny to sit on my lap.

haha just kidding…. :/

Manong Jing, Kuya Jun, Uncle Nene and Ate Shirl in Manong Jing’s office

Shop in San Jose, Antique. Pe An Lan is my mother’s uncle. My grandfather’s brothers and now their descendants own land all over Antique.


Us with Auntie Norma. I think she’s my mom’s cousin.

After visiting briefly with some folks in town Uncle Nene was really intent on showing me and Ate Shirley the place where my mom was born.

Kuya Arby accompanied us. I’m actually related to Kuya Arby on both my mother and my father’s side. My Tito Pino, my father’s brother, is Kuya Arby’s father. His mother is Angelina, a distant cousin of my mother’s. Tito Pino went to work in Bugasong when he was a young man and where he met Angelina nad Pe An Lan. When my father was young he was sickly and he couldn’t do the chores required at school. Angelina worked at the elementary school in Bugasong, so my Tito Pino brought my dad there to go to school where he didn’t have to do chores, his only job was to raise the flag. That’s how my parents met.

My mother was born during WWII, so at that time the family was not at their reegular house but had evacuated to a shack at the foot of a hill. In those days Bugasong’s economy was built on sugar plantations, now it has all been changed into rice fields.

In order to walk to the site, we had to go through the ricefields.

Getting ready for the trek. Notice the oh so fashionable and huge rubber boots Kuya Arby lent me. In the back that’s Ate Fe, Kuya Arby’s wife.

That’s right, 2 stalks of bamboo = 1 bridge. Trust in the bamboo.

Rice fields are basically flooded muddy fields bordered by running water and bunkers of dry soil, so the best way to walk across is via the dry bunkers. Sometimes, as you can see, the bunkers are overrun by plants themselves.

Yeah, Ate Fe had to start holding my hand cause I almost fell into the mud.

Finally nearing the end of the field

This is a natural spring at the foot of the hill. During wartime this was where my family got their water to drink, bathe, feed the animals, and cook. Before we got there my uncle kept talking about the spring, but it was still really inmpressive to actually see the spring…the water is really clear! And it tastes so good. We took a bottle back for Uncle Nonoy.

That’s Kuya Arby standing.

Ok, so next to the spring there’s also another stream of running water, which was prettier cause there’s no pipe, it was just running over hte rocks. So, I wanted to touch it, but then Kuya Arby said it was a canal. Of course, in English canal just means it’s man-made, but in the Philippines canal basically means sewer.

At the top of the hill overlooking the rice fields. This is where my mom used to play and spend New Years and Christmas. The old woman is a relative of Angelina.

And this is the spot where my mom was born. This is where their shack was. The story is that it was a Sunday and so the whole family was at the public amrket, while my grandmother was alone at the house. When they returned they heard a baby crying and my mom was there. When they asked my grandmother who delivered the baby she said “who else? just me.” No midwife, just her.

This is the spot.

That’s Luningning Mountain (i think?). lightning mountain.

Rows of coconut trees.

Picking rice.

Climbing the coconut tree.

Rice and coconuts.

Up on that hill was my mom’s cousin’s evacuation time house. That’s where Pe An Lan and my Aunties Josefina and Estella stayed.

Rice fields and a single carabao, or Filipino water buffalo, our national animal. People still use the carabao to till the soil in the rice fields.

The colors of the rice field…incredible.

Family living by the rice field. I forgot who they are. But Uncle Nene basically knows everyone here..small towns, everybody knows everybody. I think this guy’s father was my Uncle’s freind when they were little.

Their pigs.

I had expressed to my uncle that I wanted to ride a carabao, so when we saw this farmer bathing one in the stream, I had to.

But they wouldn’t let me sit for too long or really ride cause they thought I would be scared.

Ate Fe and Kuya Arby laughing at me.

This is the house of the aswang (witch) that almost killed my Nanay Inday. The story goes like this…my grandmother had a friend who would stay at the house. nany would like to sleep with her cause she always told good bedtime stories. Once, in the the middle of the night, Nany woke up and saw that the woman looked different, basically she looked like an aswang. Nanay told my lola and Lola confronted the woman and ended up chasing her and her whole family to Mindanao. I think then my Nanay got really sick and almost died.

And back to the street.

With Auntie Pandak (shortie) haha. She’s also a relative of Angelina and was close friends with my mom’s family. She’s now an American citizen, I think she has a house in California, but she comes to the Philippines a lot, usually for a year at a time.

So along the road was a mama goat and like 3 goad kids, so I picked up one. It didn’t fight or cry or anything.

Another friend of my mom’s family back in the day, and I think also a relative of Angeline. I forgot his apellido…the first name is definitely Jose but that doesn’t really narrow down the choices.

Just off the main road.

We went through the residential areas looking for old friends of the family, and mad people just came out of their houses to see what was going on. I guess they don’t get too many out of towners around here.

So I decided to take picture of everyone staring at us. Unfortunately, no old people rubbed my face saying “apo ni Estong” (estong’s grandchild)but maybe next time.

While driving back to the main road, there were an assload of ducks all walking together, and then they’re turnt o walk over a bridge to go back home. The dude who was their keeper wasn’t driving them or anything, he was pretty much just standing there. mmmm you know that’s a balut farm right there.

Then we went to visit my Aunt Lorna’s house, who is also my mother’s cousin on my grandfather’s side. They too own a lot of land. The guy in the back is my nephew I think.

The woman on the far left is Ate….crap I forgot. Haha saw way too many people. Anyway, she said she was justa kid when my mom left Bugasong, and she used tot ake care of Bobetz and Leni.

Notice the t-shirt. St. Joseph’s Academy, Bugasong.
care of Bobetz and Leni.

My cousin. She’s preggers.

Kuya Bong

Their house. Really nice.

Eating barbecued chicken intestine.

Swans walking across their basketball court. I dunno, I thought it was cool.

Basketball court, province style.

This is Auntie Lorna’s land. Rice fields until the far trees. People live on this land and work it, without claim to it.

The other side of their land.

Mama goat and kid chillin on the fallen tree.

The sons of their gatekeeper, they kept following us around, but were too shy to speak. Mad cute.

The house of their gatekeeper. kawawa naman, they live in a huge really nice house, and this is where the gate keeper and family live.

More piggies

Then we headed to Kuya Arby’s House

My nephew’s set. Ate Shirl thinks she’s a rock star.

Unlike myself, a veritable rock star.

My nephew, the scholar. Currently away at college. Does he look like a Lero or what.

St. Joseph’s, woo hoo! I think this is where my parents went to elementary school.

So um, Kuya Arby made this elliptical. Haha, welder, just like my dad.

Kuya Arby’s other son. I’m upset because, as you can see, my 14 year old nepew is taller than me.

And this is the house where my mom’s family grew up.

Thier cousins are currently using it as a garage.

This is a house that my mother’s uncle built in the 50’s. I dunno, Uncle Nene said to take a picture cause my mom would recognize it.

My mom’s cousin, a doctor, and her kids.

As we were leavin gis when Kuya Arby’s daughter arrived from school.. She’s a track star at schoot and clearly just came from practice.

More relatives whose names I’ve forgotten.

With Auntie Lily in her house.

When we got back to Auntie Lily’s house we found out that Uncle Nonoy suffered an attack and was back in the hospital. Uncle Ontoy called us 3 times looking for us and asking us to come back to Manila, so we skipped Boracay and went back to Iloilo the next morning to fly back to Manila.

At Iloilo Airport
Had some time to kill.

Uncle Nene and Ate Shirl

Uncle Edjong and AUntie Josefina

Kuya Jun Jun and Uncle Edjong

*** I’m not writing this for the purpose of solicitation, but we do accept donations, monetary or in kind, for medical missions. 100% of the Money will be used to buy medicines (I can guarantee that because my uncle is the one buying medicine) and any relief goods, clothing, food, school supplies, will also be distributed. Prayers are also asked for and appreciated.

This weekend I accompanied Uncle Nene on his medical mission to Bicol Province. Mayon volcano, the beautiful perfect cone, erupted last month and is threatening to erupt soon again. As a result, people living close to the volcano have been evacuated. Our group went there to provide free medical, dental and optical services to the poor people there. We treated almost 2,000 people in 2 days.

Bicol is a really really long drive from Manila, about 12 hours.

On the way. Quezon national forest, a forest in the mountains. Notice how windy this road is. At all hours of hte day, especailly at night, tehre are people, mostly children, who signal the cars and help them avoid the edges and potholes in hopes that the drivers will throw a few coins at them.

Rest stop for lunch

Riding in the back of the truck with the medicine

You didn’t think we’d make it the entire way without at least 1 flat tire, did you?

The Church that houses the image of Our Lady of Peñafrancia, Patroness of Bicol.


The original image of La Virgen de Peñafrancia comes from Spain, but when it was brought here a local carver made the new image of dark complexion with Filipino features.

That night we slept at Dra. Felipe’s (the organization president and our distant relative)house. A teeny vacation house. We basically laid foam everywhere and slept like refugees haha. Talk about an ice breaker

Early the next morning heading to the site

Our drivers. Doesnt Mang Tino (with the loosey) look kinda like my dad?

Our site the first day was in the hardcore boonies. It was actually right at the foot of Mt. Mayon.

And that’s the cone

Those are clouds, but on non-cloudy days you can see smoke from the top. The picture of it at night wouldn’t come out, but at night it’s really dark and you can just see red at the top peak.

Going to the site. No paved roads here. But there are little shacks. Yes, people live there.

Lava Rocks

And finally at the site. We got there around 8:15 AM and there was already a line. So many kids, and so cute! It was really incredible to see so many people, their faces could easily blend in with our New York barkada, they coudl be my relatives, yet to know that they were really and truly poor. Most of their infirmities had really simple causes…most often a lack of potable drinking water. Unlike in the US, the state here does not have standards as for the cleanliness of tap water. In fact,t he state doesn’t even provide everyone with fresh water, a lot of people get their water from private pumps or by buying water from deliver services. Imagine, these people’s illnesses can be cured just by having clean water to drink.

Doctors checking out the patients

We don’t have the capacity to give fillings or anythign like that, so our dental services basically consist of pulling infected teeth.

Uncle Nene giving out medicine


And now it’s Culture shock time! The bathroom of this house is an outdoor stall with a tin door and a hole in the ground. This is why Filipinos have excellent quads.

And then it began to rain, but people still needed their medicine

These were teh 2 cutest girls ever! Sisters, aged 9 and 7. The older one is named Krystal.

And these are the slippers they wore. kawawa naman.

When we were finished the barangay squad took over the cleanup, but not before some kids got a chance to play in the garbage

And more views of Mayon

This weekend we went to Lucban, to the huge shrine there. we slept over Uncle Bing’s house Saturday night. Haha it was soo much fun working the Sari Sari store! And sweet to sleep in a room with air con. Then we headed out early Sunday morning.

I was really tired but I couldn’t sleep in the car because driving in the Philippines is FRIKKIN SCARY! The highway is really a road with one lane of traffic either way. Along the side are homes, shops, lots of kids and animals walking. It’s like an obstacle course. You’re always either passing or being passed, there are unforseen barriers, branches, potholes, speedbumps, speople laying out rice to dry…thank Goodness Uncle Bebing’s a good driver.On the way we passed by Lake Caliraya in Laguna Province. This is a man-made lake built by Marcos which he used as a personal water-skiing resort. The enginering is quite ingenious, water is pumped up from Laguna Lake and then flows back down to the lake creating hydroelectricity.

We also stopped by the Japanese Garden, created by Imelda as a tourist attraction – I guess to attract Japanese tourists. The place is huge, but somewhat plain. I would guess in the time of Imelda it was full of flowers but now, like a lot of the Marcoses’ works it has come into disrepair. I guess that’s why the Marcoses remain somehwat controversial. O one hand they took on a lot of ambitious projects – unlike a lot of hte curent politicians who are content just to sit around. On the other hand, in order to accomplish those projects they displaced a lot of poor people, stole a lot of money and held the country in a state of fear with constant killings and disappearances.

Japanese Shrine

The top of the garden overslooks Caliraya lake

Mad fish in the pond!

We had the great idea to catch fish, so first we tried with a bottle

Then with hands

We didn’t get any fish :(, but apparently the attempt was really exhausting

And finally, to Lucban!

Eating Lunch

This place is known for their pancit canton, and indeed it was amazing

These are pahiyas. They’re basically rice paper, ground rice which is mixed with rice and then dried. Here in Lucban during their fiesta the whole town is covered in pahiyas, floats int he parade, hanging from the houses and balconies. The festival is in May so I might not be here at that time.

After lunch we headed to the Kamay Ni Hesus Shrine.

That’s right, something like 280+ steps. As you go up those different statues and stouff are the stations of the cross.

By the way, I’m not wearing htat towel on my head to be religious, I’m wearing it cause it’s really hot.

View from halfway up the mountain

Just to be clear, I’m not trying to blend in or anything, the pic just turned out that way. Also, I’m not wearing that towel on my head to be religious, I’m wearing it cause it’s really hot.

By the way, have I mentioned that I’m scared of heights? Yeah, going down was wayyy harder than going up, especially since a lot of the steps are uneven. But hey, if nuns in heels can do it, so can I in my tsinelas.

At the top. And this is why it’s called Kamay ni Hesus

Hot and winded

Looking over Quezon and Laguna

Ah, down finally1 at the bottom, a pieta

And a grass hut

There is also a chapel at the foot of the mountain where we heard mass afterward.

Some peopl efound it fitting to sleep during mass. tsk tsk.

The view from our parking space

Close up of bird poo. But what you should really be looking at is hte small homes on the side of the road.

On the side of hte road you can also see lots of animals, like these horses

An old Spanish church in Quezon province

Today we went to Tagaytay

Uncle Bing is so much fun! We just called him yesterday to ask when he wanted to bring us, and he said today! So, we went over there after lunch.

Uncle Bing was showing off his guns. Too bad I didn’t get a picture of his semi. I realized I’m pretty scared of guns, I was nervous the whole time he was playing around with them.

Uncle Bing was posing trying to look like this picture of my Lolo.

The pictures here, by the way, are the first time I’ve seen pictures of my Lolo, not to mention my uncles when they were little. There’s even picture of my Auntie Nancy wearing a dress! haha As you can see the quality is kinda bad, I’ll try to scan these pictures instead.

Anyway, here’s Kuya Egay also posing with the guns.

Everybody wants to be a cowboy here.

Yan Yan had a half day only at school, so he came along.

Tagaytay is in the mountains. At the top of a mountain there is a grand estate. Imelda Marcos originally built it for the Reagans, so that they could have a place to stay when they visited. There’s a really interesting history between the Marcoses and the Reagans, Ronald was quite enamored with Imelda and he gave the Marcoses an assload of money. Imelda had this place built, but the Reagans decided not to come at all, afraid of wiretaps for blackmail purposes. Now, the estate has come into disrepair. Sayang, such a waste! The land was taken from pineapple farmers, the people’s money was used to build the estate – everthing is steel framed! But due to disdain for hte Marcoses, especially under the Aquino government, the building was never maintained. Now theres signs around claiming that it’s under renovation/restoration, but who knows how true that is.

It used to be known as the “Palace in the Sky” but under Erap (president Ramos) the name was changed to People’s Park in the Sky Once you park, you can either walk or take a jeepney up the mountain. We chose to walk.

Notice how dilapidated the barriers are. They’re all rusty. What a waste, all they need is paint to prevent rusting. The sign says Tagyatay is for Forgiveness. Walking up there’s a bunch of signs: Tagaytay is for Discipline. Tagaytay is for Honesty. In fact, all over Manila too there are these positive affirmation signs: Cleanliness, Discipline, Safe, etc.

Inside the house theres a pool with abridge over it, gardens, some shops, and the hall of Presidents, with all the Presidents portraits. It’s interesting to see some of these portraits side by side if you know the history of how they fought each other. It’s pretty incredible to see how few presidents there have been, our country really is young. In America, portraits of George Washington and the foudning fathers are all in historical military garb and powdered wigs, they seem so distant. here, in portraits of our first president he’s wearing a pretty modern shirt and pants.

Me and uncle Bing in front of the portraits of oru first 2 presidents, Emilio Aguinaldo and Sergio Osmeña.

From the roof deck of the palace you can see all of Metro Manila and Batangas.

That mountain in the distance directly behind me is an active volcano, the smalles active volcano in the Philippines and perhaps in Asia. It is, as Uncle Nene says, a volcano within an island within a lake within an island.

You can also get a view of Mount Makiling. That’s right, the famous Mount Makiling of legends. If you look, the mountain looks like a sleeping woman. Some say the woman is pregnant. Right at the edge of my head are the feet, the first peak, the really high one are the bent knees, the next bump is the belly (or hands if she’s not pregnant), and then the breasts and then the head is cut off from this picture. The legend is that Mariang Makiling was hte daughter of gods who wouldn’t allow her to marry the man she loved because he was a mortal, so she waits, sleeping for him. It is said that her spirit still lives in these mountains. Hunters in this area used to claim to be visited by her, and she gives them golden ginger which turns into gold coins, but people say she doesn’t show up anymore because she’s saddened by the strip mining in the mountain. Too bad it’s kind of cloudy, the view would be even clearer. One advantage, though, of it being cloudy is that you can literally see clouds below you.

After leaving Tagaytay we stopped for a quick snack at Mushroom Burger.

They actually culture their own mushrooms in the field behind the restaurant.

Then we stopped for a couple minutes at this development site. They’re building a bunch of homes around a golf course in a valley in Tagaytay, and the building where they try to attract investors is on top of the mountain overlooking the valley.

by the way, have i mentioned yet that i’m getting fat? it’s all good though, i’m starting my basketball and stationery bike regimen tomorrow. para mag-seksi ako.

On the way home we stopped by Cavite to have dinner at uncle Ontoy’s house, but he’s in London so it was just us and Nanette and the kids and Katulong. I’m not quite sure what to call Nanette, it doesn’t feel quite right calling her Auntie since she’s ONLY 24. That’s right, my uncle’s 2nd wife is younger than his first daughter. Haha Nanette calls Shirley “Ate” eventhough Shirley technically is her neice. Uncle Ontoy calls Nanette’s father pare (something like brother, man, dude) because Uncle Ontoy is older!

Food was really really good! Roast bangus (milkfish), mussels, roast chicken, i didn’t take pictures. sorry.

But, I did take pictures of my baby cousins! Ang Kyute! This is Enrico, 8 months.

That’s right, only 8 months! He’s soooo FAT! This kid is seriously obese, but soooo cute! He lets anybody hold him, as long as he’s in front of a fan or in air con, otherwise he will cry.

Next to me that’s EJ, Nanette’s oldest, 5 years old. That’s the one who looked EXACTLY like me when he was a baby, he still looks like me, no? (actually, Enrico looks like me too, just fat) EJ is really cute but BAD!

omg, he is so spoiled! He was just running around spraying me with his water gun. But actually, he did sit still and talk to me for a couple minutes, showing me pictures and toys. Haha, but he is smart! He speaks straight, and quickly! I asked him “May asawa ka na ba?” (do you have a wife) at first he didn’t answer, so I repeated, “May asawa ka na ba?” He replied “Siempre hindi! Ano ka ba?!” (of course not! what are you?)

I think he likes me, i was just chasing him and then if I catch him I’d pick him up and tickle him. If I would ignore him for a little bit he would come again to find me. But then, when we were leaving he spit on me! I bent down so he could kiss me goodbye and he pretended like he was going to kiss me but he spit! haha my mom said to slap him if he does that again.

No worries, I plan to terrorize that child. Just like when I was little I was scared of Uncle Ontoy because he really liked to pick on me because I look like him, he would chase me everywhere and if he caught me he would kiss me with saliva all over my face. I actually had a recurring nightmare about it. I have vivid memories of being chased by him, I’m lost and everyone is so bug because I’m only four. There are 3 men sitting at a table playing cards who everytime I call for my mom they say “right here darling” to mimic me. I duck into a shed and then there’s no way out, he catches me and I scream and scream.

Now it’s my turn to do the same to EJ mwahahahahaha

Sunday, the mass for the Virgen de Peñafrancia was in Manila Cathedral, so before heading over there we took a tour of Intramuros, the old Spanish city of Manila.

I’m realizing now that I can’t take pictures of nearly everything I want to take pictures of, like jeepneys and tricycles, because I don’t want to whip out my camera on the street. But i’m doing my best.

Uncle Nene doesn’t have a car, which I think is fine because commuting is very cheap and efficient here in Metro Manila. Here’s the view from inside a tricycle.

You’ll just have to google philippine tricycle to see the full view.

From tricycle, we then go to jeepney.

Ordinarily, I would never take out my camera inside a jeepney, but we were the only ones inside this time.

Then, once in Intramuros, you can hire a calesa for a couple hundred pesos to tour you around the city.

This was the one we rode in.

Me and Ate Shirley inside the calesa.

We even got to drive it! (not really)

an 1890’s-style limo.

Intramuros is a place of fascinating history – especially because through 3 waves of would-be colonizers (Spanish, Japanese, and Americans), the use of edifices has changed. We had a great tour guide who explained the different layers of history here – I videoed some of his explanations and am still editing that material. Unfortunately, my camera consumes battery like a mother, so I couldn’t tape the whole thing. But, I took pictures of a lot of plaques so you can read for yourself.

Puerta de Santa Lucia: The layout of Intramuros is pretty typical of a Spanish city. Intramuros literally means within walls, and just like the old Spanish cities – Madrid, Toledo, Granada, etc., Intramuros was city surrounded by walls to keep out Muslim invaders. Much of the original walls, however, including this dorr, were destroyed by American tanks in WWII.

Beaterio de la Compañia de Jesus:

Puerta Real

UST: This was the original site of the Universidad de Santo Tomás, my mother’s alma mater. It’s the oldest university in the Philippines and where Rizal studied for his doctorate (he was an eye surgeon). The site is basically on the edge of town, Rizal would just walk from Binondo across the Pasig River to go to school.

San Francisco Church and Convent: (i think the second oldest church in the, though that is contested)

A central theme of the tour was the atrocities comitted under Japanese rule. The Japanese took over Manila during WWII, and Intramuros witnessed their brutality.

The Wall of Martyrs:

I think our tour guide also referred to the Wall of Martyrs and the “Memory of Manila.” The sign says: “This marker is erected in memory of the hundreds of guerillas and civilians arrested, imprisoned and killed here in Fort Santiago by the Japanese Imperial forces during the Second World War. These men and women died in defense of the freesom on the Philippines during the dark days of the Japanese occupation (1941-1945).

This simple stone cross markes a common grave for 600 Americans and Filipinos found in the dungeons after Manila was liberated from the Japanese.

Right next to the stone cross, this marker also marks a common grave for 600, but Filipinos only. The marker reads: “In Memory of the Victims at Fort Santiago. On this site lie the mortal remains of approximately 600 Filipinos. Their bodies were found inside a nearby dungeon where victims of the atrocities perpetrated by the Japanese Imperial Forces were imprisoned during the last days of February 1945. In memory of all these unknown victims of Japanese atrocities will live forever in the hearts and minds of the Filipino people.”

This is an area known as the Japanese Garden. The Spanish, and then the Japanese military officers had their offices here.

Our tour guide and Ate Ikke. These structures are over 400 years old.

From this watchtower they could see coming forces.

And this is where the Japanese kept prisoners. All those little chambers are connected.

In those days this was all covered, but it would flood whenever the Pasig river rose, and of course during the rainy season.

Nowadays, there is a golf course on the other side. Way to respect history! You can also see the Makati skyline.

Our tour guide said they get quite a few Japanese tourists there. I asked if he told them the truth of the history of this place and he said yes, and they often say “I’m sorry.”

Another central theme of the tour was the life and martyrdom of José Rizal. For those who don’t know, Rizal is our national hero. He wrote 2 novels, Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, which contributed greatly to our fight for freedom against the Spanish. Think of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, they’re novels, but written with the intention of highlighting an evil and functioned to influence public opinion. Rizal was imprisoned here at Fort Santiago inside Intramuros before he was killed.

Entrance into Fort Santiago costs 40 pesos (about $.80), though only 15 pesos for students. The guards are dressed as Katupineros and there are also people dressed as American GI’s who target American-looking tourists.

The receiving courtyard at Fort Santiago

Then, cross the rover to go into the fort proper

The Honor Roll.

You’re able to walk through the old edifices, the majority of which have been turned into museums. Like in the Japanese garden, there are a bunch of underground tunnels. The main dungeon was first constructed for arms storage. Unfortunately, the Pasig river often overflows, and the arms would get wet and damaged, so the Spanish converted the underground tunnels into dungeons.

All over the fort they have these guard statues. Notice, no shoes. Not even tsinelas.

This is the main shrine to Jose Rizal. Inside that white house in the background is a museum with some of his personal things: clothing, surgery instruments and original manuscripts of his writings.

We were taking a picture and noticed guard walking towards us. If you notice our faces, me and Ate Ikke are trying to tell Ate Shirley to hurry up before he comes over and tell us to get off the grass, so we took this and ran away. Later on we saw him taking a picture of a huge group of tourists, haha! thats what we get for being paranoid.

Those red bricks are also old walls, but they have fallen into disrepair. There is so much here in the Philippines that is not being maintained.

I’m pretty sure this is not the actual cell – it’s just a recreation. The white house in the background of those above pictures – that’s where this is. When you walk in you’re in a small room – maybe only 8×8. It’s very dimly lit, at first I thought that was where the cell was. But, one wall opens into a hallway and at the end youcan see a small room and a man sitting at a table. That’s Rizal. It’s actually really creepy. Especially because, geniuses that these Filipinos are, next to Rizal you can see bars and a light with moving shadows, as if the guards are patrolling outside the bars. (ate ikke figured out it’s a mirror)

This is, however, the real place where Rizal was kept before his death. That’s a life-size statue of him; Rizal was only 4’9. This is where he said goodbye to his relatives, only his female relatives were allowed to see him before his execution and they could not even embrace him. Within this cell he wrote his last work, the poem “Mi Ultimo Adios,”and hid it in his oil lamp for his sister to find later.

So after touring the fort we went to hear mass at Manila Cathedral in honor of la Virgen de Peñafrancia. The mass was really long haha. And there was this cutttte little girl sitting next to us who kept running around. The homily was said by the bishop of Legaspi (i think) and in his homliy I got ym first taste of the political involvement of the Church here. He was preaching about, to use his term, dishonesty, mostly in government, but also about economics. It was interesting because we were just talking to the Speaker of the Senate before the mass, and he was sitting in the front row during the mass.

After mass, everyone flocked to the image of la Virgen just to touch her, hoping to receive a miracle, the icon is known to be miraculous. Icons are really treated like movie stars here. Uncle Nene was the guardian of the icon, standing in front of it and touching it with people’s handercheifs to give them a piece of the glorious.

I need to learn mass in Tagalog.