Sunday, October 31, 2010

Here's an unusual reminder at the Tugatog Cemetery for All Saints' Day

The first time I saw this tombstone at the Tugatog Public cemetery in the late 60s, I felt frightened. 
The tableau is eye-catching and strange, to say the least
Instead of depicting a victorious St. Michael the Archangel over Lucifer as written in the Bible, the tombstone shows Lucifer triumphing over St. Michael.  I thought - what a terrifying scene and who in the world would want to put that kind of tombstone on his grave? 

Through the years, this unusual tombstone engaged my imagination and obviously that of many others, because it has been featured on television and in some newspaper and magazine articles.

To this day, the tableau never fails to draw attention, especially on All Saints' Day when the living troop to the cemeteries to remember their dead loved ones.


Don Simeon Bernardo of Barangay Concepcion had it made.  In a GMA News feature in 2007, the grandson who was interviewed by Kara David said that it was his grandfather's express wish to have the statues placed on his tomb.  He also said that contrary to what some people think, Don Simeon was not a satanist; that he was in fact, a very prayerful person. 

As to why he had it made, the stone inscription at the left side of the statue, I believe, holds the answer.  When I went to take pictures last Wednesday, the lettering was barely readable.  A video grab of the GMA News feature three years ago shows that the inscription was readable then.

Video grab from GMA News feature in 2007
The supposed dialogue between Lucifer and St. Michael on the inscription goes like this:

LUCIFER: Bakit ka nakikialam sa kaharian ko dito sa lupa ay hindi na kayo kundi ako ang hari, ako ang nagturo kay Eva at Adan kaya nagkaroon ng sangkatauhan.

SAN MIGUEL: Ang lupa at langit ay gawa ng aking panginoon, kaya hanggang dito ang aming kapangyarihan.

LUCIFER: Bulaan hambog, kung ano ang ibig ko siya ritong masusunod at hindi ang ibig mo - digmaan, arihan, dayaan, sugal, lahat ng layaw ng katawan naibibigay ko sa tao, pati mga alagad ng mga panginoon mo, napapasunod ko, ano pa ang ginagawa mo rito?

SAN MIGUEL (SA SARILI): Panginoon kong nasa langit nasaan ang kapangyarihan mo?

SAN MIGUEL: Tao, tulungan ninyo ako na labanan ang kasamaan, pairalin ang katarungan at pagibig sa kapwa, iwasan ang kasakiman sa salapi at kapangyarihan na pinagmumulan ng ligalig.

I thought that Don Simeon composed the dialogue himself.   But according to Mr. Florentino Bernardo, another grandson of Don Simeon, it is believed that the above passage was taken by Don Simeon from the Bible.  He noted that during the Spanish times when his grandfather lived, ordinary citizens were prohibited from reading the Bible by the friars.  However, I notice that there is no attribution to a Bible verse on the stone inscription.

In response to my query on whether Don Simeon left any autobiography or memoirs to explain his motivation, Mr. Bernardo said that his grandfather did not.  It seems the latter simply had the statues and inscription made while he was still alive and left instructions that these were to be placed on his grave. But he believes their Lolo Simeon had that unusual tombstone made as a reminder to everyone about what was happening in the world.

Apparently echoing Mang Floren's belief, a great grandson, Mr. Lubis Bernardo, said that the late Atty. Sumilang Bernardo, daughter of Don Simeon, once told them that the reason why her father had the statues made was that he believed evil was prevailing over good in the world.

In the late 70s, according to Lubis, Atty. Sumilang asked him to replace the statues because they had been destroyed by addicts.  It so happened that the replacement statues were bigger than the original (by approximately five inches), and it seems there was even talk by some people who didn't know about the replacement, that the devil was getting bigger! 

Both Lubis and his Uncle Floren mentioned that a relative of theirs once said they could remove the statues if people changed for the better and good really prevailed in the world. 

If indeed Don Simeon Bernardo's intention was to remind us, I'd say he has pretty much succeeded.

And for this he will be remembered... long after he has passed on from this world that he believed needed reminding.

The anguished look on St. Michael's face says it all.   Seeing this I think I pretty much understand what might have been Don Simeon's concern, which motivated him to have this unusual scene sculpted in stone. 

The remains of Don Simeon Bernardo have since been transferred to a memorial park and other relatives are interred here.  The stone inscription to the left was all white and barely readable when I dropped by.


Saturday, October 30, 2010

Ma'Arteng Malabon art exhibit: Malabon as the next art and culture destination

It was a gathering of creative talents that puts Malabon right there on the Philippine art scene map and on track as the next art and culture destination.

On Thursday evening, October 28, 2010 the Parokyano ng Malabon, a group of Malabon artists,  held an exhibit entitled "MA'ARTENG MALABON" at the Pescadores Restaurant.

The label of the iconic Rufina patis as invite.
Participating artists who showcased their works were:

"MA'ARTENG MALABON" was the second art exhibit organized by the Malabon heritage group of Monchet Lucas, Richard Bautista, Leona Nepomuceno and Terry de Jesus.  It is part of the group's continuing efforts to foster awareness of Malabon's history and heritage, promote local art and culture, and support homegrown talent.  The first exhibit was held in 2006.  Monchet says some of our local artists are already well-known in art circles abroad and we don't even know them.  At the "MA-ARTENG MALABON" exhibit, local art enthusiasts had the opportunity to view and own the work of Malabon artists.

Guests included Malabon Vice Mayor Len-len Oreta, Manila Vice-Mayor Isko Moreno, Cong. Chona Gonzales, Valenzuela Councilor Shalani Soledad, former Senator Tessie Aquino Oreta, Moleen del Rosario, Barbara Pardo-Tiangco, Chita Gatbonton, Lisa Ongpin Periquet, Tina Paterno and others.

Taken from the event program:



Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sunset over Malabon fishponds immortalized by Amorsolo

I had a rare opportunity to view Fernando Amorsolo's SUNSET OVER MALABON FISHPONDS recently with my husband.  We were so thrilled!  Wouldn't you be, if you could hold the frame at arm's length, take in every masterful stroke, and admire every hue and texture of an Amorsolo masterpiece?

I've long admired Amorsolo for his beautiful depiction of Philippine rural life and landscapes, but I always thought those were all of some rustic far-off province.  Imagine how excited I was when I discovered that once upon a time, Amorsolo actually sat down and painted our very own fishponds in Malabon!

SUNSET OVER MALABON FISHPONDS by National Artist Fernando Amorsolo.  From the Adamson University Collection.  Photo taken by Mar Bustamante of Adamson University during our visit.
In the painting, the explosion of color in the sky as the sun is about to set on Malabon's fishponds provides a vibrant backdrop to an otherwise peaceful scene. This is classic Amorsolo, combining skillful technique and emotion.  Note the familiar outline of San Bartolome Church in the distance. As I admired the painting, I couldn't help but feel a little emotional; I was viewing a scene once familiar and comforting, memorialized on canvas by one of the masters. 


Fernando Amorsolo painted SUNSET OVER MALABON FISHPONDS in 1950.  It was bought by Sofia Adamson, wife of George Athos Adamson (whose original Greek surname was Adamopoulos).  The latter worked at Adamson University to help his first cousin, George Lucas Adamson, founder of Adamson University. 

After the war, Sofia went to live in the U.S., bringing the painting with her.  She died of a heart attack on May 19, 2007 in Pasadena, California.  Sofia wrote of her experience in the Philippines in her book "Gods, Angels, Pearls and Roses," on the back cover of which appears her portrait done by Amorsolo.  The original portrait, around 4 ft. x 3 ft., was bequeathed to Adamson University together with the two smaller Amorsolo paintings "SUNSET OVER MALABON FISHPONDS" and "Fruit Harvesting."

The paintings now form part of the Adamson University collection.

Self-portrait of Amorsolo taken from Wikipedia.
Amorsolo was born on May 30, 1892 in Paco, Manila, to Pedro Amorsolo and Bonifacia Cueto.  However, he spent most of his childhood in Daet, Camarines Norte, where he learned to love the simple rural life that would be reflected in most of his paintings.  At eleven, after his father died, he and his family moved back to Manila and lived with Don Fabian dela Rosa, his mother's cousin and a painter.  It was  Don Fabian who mentored Amorsolo in painting.

Amorsolo first studied in the Art School of the Liceo de Manila, then earned his degree from the University of the Philippines School of Fine Arts.

The artist became a professor in his early 20s and was already establishing himself in the art world.  At 25, he married Salud Jorge.  It was then that Don Enrique Zobel de Ayala was so impressed by his work that he offered to send Amorsolo to the Academia de San Fernando in Madrid for further studies with a generous stipend for himself and his family.  The artist took the entrance exam at the Academia, and to his surprise, after evaluating his work, the school informed him that they would accept him not as a student but as a professor at the school.

Amorsolo spent seven months in Madrid where he was able to observe the works of the masters such as Diego Velasquez, El Greco, Goya, Monet, Manet, Van Dyck, Sargent, and Joaquin Sorolla.  Afterwards he returned to the Philippines and set up his own studio.

His first wife Salud passed away in 1931 leaving him with six children.  He had six more children by a common-law wife.  In 1935 he married Maria del Carmen who gave him eight more children.  Fortunately, his reputation was growing as fast as his brood and his work was more than enough to provide for his rather large family.

It is believed that the oil paintings Amorsolo produced number into the thousands.  If his drawings, sketches, and studies are added, his total output was in excess of ten thousand pieces.  At one point, he was able to finish no less than ten paintings in a typical month.

He reached the peak of his popularity in the late 1940s and 1950s garnering numerous awards and citations along the way.

Amorsolo died of heart failure on April 24, 1972.

Four days after his death, he was posthumously honored as the first National Artist of the Philippines.


It is believed that at some point in his life, Malabon held a special place in Amorsolo's heart as he was said to have courted a lady from Malabon.  And the lady who was the object of his affection back then had a legacy from the artist, because the ceiling of this lady's house has a painting by Amorsolo.

Amorsolo's legacy to Malabon is not so much the actual painting; it is that he immortalized on canvas something that is part of Malabon's heritage -- its fishponds. 

Fishponds have been a part of our landscape for a very long time - going as far back as the 1800s when Domingo Coronel of Barrio Concepcion was said to have started a method that soon became popular and spawned the fish farming industry in Malabon.  Through the years, these fishponds helped define the lives of those who made a living out of them, and somehow also affected the lives of those who lived near them or passed them everyday.

Those fishponds made us feel a greater connection with Nature, making us realize how much we depend on Nature and how taking care of it brings balance and beauty into our lives.  These emotions, these values are fast vanishing, it seems, vanishing as quickly as the fishponds we used to see around us. A sad realization... yet I'm hoping against hope that somehow somewhere, a few fishponds will still make it through to the next century and beyond as proud reminders of Malabon's heritage.

But should that dreaded day come when Malabon's fishponds are just a thing of the past, we can be comforted by our memories... and maybe a few pictures retrieved from the baul...

...and most of all, by a a beautiful, memorable painting by Fernando Amorsolo.

My profound thanks to Fr. Greg Banaga, Jr., C.M., President of Adamson University for graciously letting us view the Amorsolos, and to Mr. Raul Agner, Head, IDEA Office and his staff Mar and Jonathan, for assisting us during our visit.  

1)    The Painting:   Mr. Raul Agner, Head, IDEA Office, Adamson University 
2)    The Artist:  Fernando C. Amorsolo Art Foundation website


Monday, October 18, 2010

Gregorio Sanciangco, prominent son of Malabon

GREGORIO SANCIANGCO was a lawyer, economist and writer born March 7, 1852 in Malabon, Rizal.  His parents were Eladio Sanciangco and Regina Gozon.  He was educated in the Philippines and in Spain, where he became a Doctor of Laws at the "Universidad Central de Madrid," becoming the first Filipino to attain that honor at the famed university.

Sanciangco was widely known and admired in Spain as a writer.  He was one of a new breed  of reform-seeking Filipinos that began to emerge in the 1880s, that included Marcelo H. del Pilar, Graciano Lopez-Jaena, Mariano Ponce, Jose Rizal, and others.

In 1881 he published the first Treatise on Economics entitled "El Progreso de Filipinas." In his "El Progreso," he drew up ways on how Spain could best administer the Philippines and earn the needed revenue to allow it to become a productive colony.   

He returned to the Philippines in 1887 and became a justice of the peace in Cabanatuan.  But he had a conflict with the parish priest there, so he resigned and joined a law firm.

In 1889 he was deported to Lingayen for sedition but was subsequently freed for lack of evidence.

He died on November 17, 1897 in Nueva Ecija.

A school in Tonsuya was named the Gregorio G. Sanciangco Elementary School on March 16, 1941.  On March 7, 1952, on his 100th year birth anniversary, the Philippine Historical Committee placed a marker on the house where he was born in Tonsuya.   The public library of Pasay was also named Gregorio G. Sanciangco Memorial Library in July 1954.


Sanciangco's birthplace in Barangay Tonsuya c. 1963 (Photo from a newspaper clipping of Arch. Richard Bautista).


The Sanciangco shrine is located on the main street named after him in Barangay Tonsuya.  Coming from Rizal Avenue going towards Governor Pascual Avenue, you will hardly notice it, because it's tucked into a small corner of a big lot on your left side, before you reach the San Antonio de Padua Parish Church. 

What's left of Sanciangco's house.  A small shrine tucked into a corner of a lot, behind an electric post.  It's so inconspicuous, don't blink or you might miss it!  The bust and the wall behind it appear to have been given a fresh coat of paint because I recently saw a photo taken in 2008 and there was even graffiti on the wall.  I wonder if barangay officials of Tonsuya might consider requesting Meralco to move the electric post to give Sanciangco's shrine more visibility and the respect it deserves.  Maybe they could also make the signage a little more prominent.

1)    Information from the shrine marker.
2)    Ang Malabon, by Angeles S. Santos, 1975.
3)    National Historical Institute (


Friday, October 15, 2010

More photos of Malabon and its fishponds

Photo taken by Andre' Salvador

Friends, if you want to see some amazingly beautiful photos of Malabon, especially its fishponds, check out the following site by Andre' Salvador:



Monday, October 11, 2010

Mang Abet's fishpond: where it still feels like Malabon

Malabon has changed so much over the years, that there are only a few places left in it that really lets me feel like I'm still in Malabon.  One of these places is ABET'S FISHPOND.

Located at the end of Rodriguez Street, it's near enough and yet it feels like you're somewhere far away -- because once you're inside, the ambience is so different. It feels like you stepped into simple rustic Malabon... the Malabon that our parents and grandparents (and some of us who are old enough) grew up in...

On the day that I took pictures of the fishponds along Muzon Road, we also dropped by ABET'S FISHPOND. Visiting with Abet was like taking a trip down memory lane for me because we've been there countless times during my younger years and on occasion in recent times. Abet is a second-degree relative, and the clan used to have its reunions there when Abet's father was still alive.  When his father died, the fishpond fell into disrepair.  But Abet fixed it up years ago and he now opens up the place during weekends to those who want to do some fishing or have gatherings.

In recent years my siblings and I sometimes have our own family get-togethers at Abet's.  We love the peaceful and relaxed setting that gives us the chance to catch up on each other's lives, enjoy a comforting "inihaw" (grilled) lunch, and at the same time experience the rustic simplicity of Malabon.

We bring the pork and chicken to be barbecued.  Then while the adults begin grilling, the children catch the fish that will become part of our inihaw medley.  How the kids love fishing!

One of the wonders of fishing:  teaching kids focus and patience... and appreciating the simple joys in life.

You never would have thought it possible:  four-to-twelve year old kids patiently -- yes, patiently -- sitting or standing out in the sun waiting for the fish to bite. Amazing. I myself tried once, but after close to an hour of keeping still and not being able to entice any fish to take the bait, I gave up. But the kids, well, to the adults' astonishment, they would sit or stand there for hours. And soon enough, the fish took the bait, and their bags would start filling up with their catch.

Every catch stirs up excitement among the kids.  This picture was taken in 2004. The kids are tweens and teens now, but they still enjoy fishing at Abet's.  In this day and age of malling, the Internet, and all sorts of high-tech gadgetry and distractions, it's a refreshing change!

Unusual sight nowadays in Malabon - a river free from floating garbage and still seemingly untouched, no encroachments.  And where bakawan, kalapinay, and other trees can be found growing on the embankment. Or is it just this portion of the Dampalit-Muzon River behind Abet's fishpond that has so far been lucky?
A new concrete house in the neighboring lot shows modern times creeping up on Malabon's fishponds. 

I'm already looking forward to our next visit to Abet's.  Every now and then, even if it's just for a few hours, it's so good to be where it really still feels like Malabon...

Rodriguez Street
Barangay Hulo, Malabon City
(Rodriguez Street is right before Bayantel Malabon branch)

(Please call or text first)
Mang Abet Rodriguez

Notice:  As of mid-May 2011, I learned that Mang Abet's fishpond is closed.  It's undergoing some changes and may re-open by year-end. 

Note:    Pictures with kids were taken in February 2004 by my son. The rest by me in September 2010.


Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Rivera House: another heritage gem

In Malabon, sometimes you find heritage gems when you least expect it.  That's what happened one bright Saturday afternoon when my husband and I discovered the  RIVERA HOUSE inside a compound in Hulong Duhat.

It was an impromptu mini-tour with Arch. Richard Bautista, one of the moving spirits behind heritage conservation efforts in Malabon.  After asking the owner's permission, he led us through this ordinary looking gate and a pathway lined by banana trees into the place where the RIVERA HOUSE stood.

According to Arch. Bautista, the house was built in 1918 within a villa setting which was not common in Malabon houses by the river.  Because of the perennial flooding in Malabon, the house was raised in 2007 by around two meters.

The original wooden second floor was raised section by section, using a jack.  The ground floor was reconstructed.

Seeing the house, my husband suddenly remembered having been there before in the late 70s/early 80s when he was with a civic organization then headed by a member of the Rivera clan.  He recalls there was even a "patisan" (a place for producing patis or fish sauce) in the premises during those days, and the ground floor had adobe walls.  He was delighted to see the house again, especially since much of the original house had remained intact.  The present owners really went to great lengths to preserve their family legacy.

The house interior as it was back then.  It has obviously not been lived in for some time, but it's still beautiful.

The house feels like a true work of art, where the designer gave creativity a free rein.

Narra and marble table on wide-plank flooring characteristic of the grand houses of those days.  The bookshelves are obviously not part of the original construction.
I wonder what the original flooring might have been downstairs...

Our thanks to Arch. Bautista for this and other fascinating discoveries about Malabon which I will share with you in a future posting!