Monday, May 11, 2009

Sorsogon: Bulusan, Sorsogon residents demand halt to construction of gas station beside church belfry

I got an SOS e-mail from Bulusan, Sorsogon. Now it's a gas station being built beside an old bell tower! It seems the Roman Catholic Church, Inc. is unstoppable! This is absurd!

Abraham G. Tan writes me, "We have an online group currently working on putting a stop to the construction of a gasoline station in a parcel of land which was originally a portion of the church's outer patio. The gasoline station, once finished, would superimpose itself on the ancient belfry and could only be but an eyesore. Yes, we were told that it indeed was all our current bishop's idea. Thus, we're not really expecting an easy fight. We already sent him a letter, for which we are yet to receive any response."

If you want more details, check out the nine page letter the group sent to Most Rev. Arturo M. Bastes, S.V.D., D.D., Bishop of Sorsogon.

On the Bulusan belfry, Tan writes in Flickr, "Its original pyramidal dome had been removed and replaced with a new one, the same period (early 1970s) that the old stone church was torn down (don't know if such destruction was really necessary), so I was told. Still, this belfry, the largest of the four baluartes de piedra dotting Punta Diamante in Bulusan, the Moro piracy days defense muralla, the stone fort that encloses the church complex of the Parish of St. James the Greater (one of the oldest in the province, founded in 1630), remains grand in its antiquity."

Learning about this development in Sorsogon is very frustrating. When will this ever stop? When will they ever learn?!

Ilocos Norte: Pinakbet Pizza, Dinuguan Pizza, Poque-Poque Pizza and more Ilocano pizzas

Pinakbet Pizza, ever heard of that? After the Kapampangan pizza at the Camalig (Doy's Delight is topped with longaniza, salted eggs and pickle relish), comes an even longer list of Ilocano pizzas. And we got to taste several of them at two restaurants in Ilocos Norte.

In front of the Paoay Church is Herencia Cafe which first served the Pinakbet Pizza, topped with your usual pinakbet vegetables. We also got to try the Bagnet Pizza which is crispy bagnet or lechon kawali (chicharon as they sometimes refer to it in Ilocos) on a pizza, and the Dinuguan Pizza (dinuguan with crispy bagnet).

Further north is Saramsam Restaurant in Laoag. Their specialty is the Poque-Poque Pizza which is topped with poque-poque or poki-poki, an Ilocano eggplant dish (combination of eggplant, tomatoes, onions ang egg). This is really good!

We also got to try Dinardaraan Pizza, their version of the Dinuguan Pizza, which is dinuguan topped with green chili peppers. Another of my favorites is the Longaniza Pizza topped with the local Laoag longaniza. They also have Carbonara Pizza topped with Currimao oysters. But I was not able to try that out.

There are actually more pizzas to choose from but of foreign influence. So you could just try them out when you're there. These Ilocano pizzas are superb!

Friday, May 08, 2009

Ilocos empanada! Dissecting the Batac and Vigan empanada

Ilocos empanada is one of my favorite Philippine snacks. Every time I go to Ilocos, I make sure to get my share of Ilocos empanada, especially the one in Batac, which is reputably where the best empanada is served.

The Ilocos empanada is actually of Spanish and Mexican origin. Notice how it's similar to the taco? The basic empanada has a rice flour or galapong crust with grated green papaya inside. The longaniza, egg and bean sprouts were later added. There are actually two varieties of Ilocos empanada, the one in Batac (which is the same one served in Laoag), and the empanada served in Vigan. So what are the differences?

1. On the crust, the crust of the Batac empanada is orange because of the achuete. The Vigan empanada has no coloring and is thus lighter in color.
2. The crust of the Vigan empanada is thinner and crunchier. While the crust of the Batac empanada, while crispy as well, is a bit harder the chew. While many people prefer the crunchier Vigan crust, I noticed it retains more oil.
3. The Batac empanada uses the entire egg. In Vigan, many stalls remove the egg white (this practice maybe had something to do with building churches since egg white was an important building material at that time).
4. Longaniza types are also different. The Batac empanada uses the saltier Laoag longaniza. While the Vigan empanada uses the vinegar-seasoned longaniza of Vigan.
5. Many Vigan empanadas do not have bean sprouts, just the grated green papaya.
6. The differences in vinegar also add distinctiveness to the two varieties. I noticed the Vigan vinegar is very strong with an alcohol-like fermented taste. The Laoag vinegar is really sour and usually has siling labuyo added to it when served in the stalls. I personally prefer the latter.
7. In Vigan, they still use banana leaves to fold and seal the empanada. In Batac, it's already plastic.

The Batac empanada has a lot of variations. There's the ordinary empanada (just the papaya, bean sprouts and egg), ordinary eggless (just the vegetables), special empanada (with longaniza and egg), special eggless (with longaniza but no egg), special w/o mongo (everything except bean sprouts), jumbo empanada (with hot dog), double special (double longaniza and one egg), double egg (one longaniza and two eggs), and the heaviest of them all, the double double (double the longaniza and egg). They even serve just the crust which they call pinais.

In Vigan, one variation we got to taste was the one with cabbage served at Abuelita's Restaurant. I'm looking forward to my next serving of Ilocos empanada!

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Baguio: Is Baguio a hopeless case?

Baguio City is the only hill station in the Philippines. For those not familiar with hill stations, a hill station in Southeast and South Asian countries is a high-altitude town used especially by European colonialists as a place of refuge from the summer heat. It looks like the Spanish were not into hill stations since it was the Americans who established the first and only hill station in the country. And that’s why we have Baguio City which is celebrating its centennial this year.

Many of these Asian hill stations (such as Simla and Darjeeling in India, Cameron Higlands in Malaysia, Bandung and Bogor in Indonesia, Dalat in Vietnam, and May Myo in Myanmar) were able to preserve their character. But Baguio, sad to say, was not as the destruction of what makes it unique continues as we speak, with the uncontrolled development and short-sightedness of many businessmen who continue to erase the character of the city in the name of progress and wealth generation. I'm sure they're bound to realize that despite all their money, they can no longer bring back Baguio’s charm. I hope they realize that sooner than later.

There are still a few enclaves of Baguio’s original character such as Camp John Hay and the Teachers’ Camp area with towering pine trees and Baguio’s green and white architecture. Those are the colors that define Baguio just like white houses are characteristic of some Greek Mediterranean towns, or the bright pastel colors that define several Latin American capitals.

In fact, we’ve long been telling the city that a quick solution to beautify the deteriorating Baguio landscape is by repainting the houses in former mountain vistas using Baguio’s historical colors: white, brown or pink walls with green roofs. Imagine how Quezon or Aurora Hill would look like if all the houses there followed this color pattern? It would be an attraction in itself and worth taking pictures of, the same way we take pictures of mountain villages in Europe. And we are not reinventing anything since those are Baguio’s colors. Shouldn’t it be that when a tourist sees green and white houses and buildings harmoniously mixed with lush pine trees, one should know that he is in Baguio City?

There was actually a petition that went around on Baguio and it says:
“We believe that the City of Baguio is culturally, environmentally and aesthetically unique and different from other cities in the Philippines. We believe that Baguio is the nerve center of four rich and diverse cultures: the Filipino culture in general, the highland Cordilleran culture, the lowland Ilocano culture, and the heritage culture brought about by the Americans during the early 20th Century.

“We believe that in the past two decades, the City of Baguio has experienced a substantial degradation of its unique culture, environment and art. We believe that the approval of certain politicians with no respect for the aesthetics and the environment of Baguio to put up concrete structures such as malls, overpasses and flyovers only worsens Baguio City's lamentable decay as a "City of Pines." We believe that this overdevelopment and resulting pollution have to stop.

“We believe that due to its unique history and blend of cultures, Baguio can be to the Philippines as Barcelona is to Spain, Chiang Mai is to Thailand, and San Francisco is to the United States: a main center of arts, culture, philosophy, education, tourism, sustainable development and environmental awareness. We believe, therefore, that the City of Baguio deserves to be declared a "Special Heritage Zone," so that the degradation brought about by overdevelopment can be minimized and gradually controlled. We believe that Baguio City's heritage as a center of culture and environmental awareness is a valuable asset not just to the Philippines, but also to the world.

“We now respectfully call on the residents of Baguio and the Filipino people to sign this humble petition, and for the local and national governments concerned to implement and declare Special Heritage status on this unique mountain City as soon as possible, preferably before the Baguio Centennial in 2009, so no further destruction on its limited cultural, environmental and aesthetic resources may continue.”

But one thing about petitions is that while written well, are not addressed or sent to people who can make it happen. Plus the constant follow-ups and lobbying are not done too. So despite the wide and laudable circulation of this petition, I doubt if it has been sent to the right policy and decision makers.

It’s already centennial year and still there’s no one moving. Maybe someone out there is listening; someone who can push the national and city governments to make real efforts to preserve what’s left of Baguio’s charm. That being said, let me say that Baguio is not a hopeless case. Something can still be done. But we all have to realize that it’s the responsibility of all Filipinos to save the character that makes Baguio City uniquely Baguio.

Monday, May 04, 2009

The Philippine National Anthem is not a pop song!

Martin Nievera, in his rendition of the Philippine National Anthem during the Pacquiao-Hatton fight, violated Republic Act No. 8491 or the Flag Law. Section 37 of the law states: "The rendition of the National Anthem, whether played or sung, shall be in accordance with the musical arrangement and composition of Julian Felipe."

Singing the first few lines slowly like a ballad, and then repeating the lines again was the first violation. In the last lines, he made a bigger violation by changing the notes of the National Anthem! For what? So that he could wow and impress the crowd with higher notes? He should have followed the example of Tom Jones who sung the British National Anthem solemnly, very straightforward and with fervor. Nievera should issue an apology at the very least!

These commercial singers who are given the task of singing the Philippine National Anthem at international events should be reminded that the main reason they are there is to lead the crowd and the Filipino nation in paying respect to our country and our flag. The Philippine National Anthem is not a pop song! Trying to impress everyone with their voice or how high a note they could hit should be the least of their concerns.

And just a note to the people who watched the fight live, what may be allowed for the U.S. flag may be an act of disrespect for the Philippine flag. Each country has its own way of showing respect. And Section 34 (f) of the Flag Law states that it shall be prohibited "to add any word, figure, mark, picture, design, drawings, advertisement, or imprint of any nature on the flag." So no marks or messages on the Philippine flag please!

Update: Martin Nievera refuses to apologize. His reaction to the criticism is even more appalling. It's outright arrogant and bastos! I guess he's just too full of himself to apologize. Read NHI raps Martin’s version of RP anthem.

Update (05/13/09): A well-written opinion from Ambeth Ocampo on the Martin Nievera issue came out in the Inquirer today. Read Our 'pasaway' culture.
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