Friday, April 30, 2010

The GQNPC Open House

The lab was open to anyone who wanted to have a look and to taste basmati and jasmine rice. We didn't resort to "infomercials" too much, just a brochure of what the lab is about and a few email announcements (that the lab welcomed guests until 5 PM). However, we did put arrows to help guests find the GQNPC facility. 

We never expected to get a lot of visitors. At 9 AM, the first group of people, mainly alumni, dropped by, and the lab tours began! I'm really thankful that Melissa, the boss, had been training Fe, Dara, and me in touring guests around the lab. By the time the Thai princess visited in 2009, the three of us could give lab tours properly when Melissa and Tita Dory are unavailable. When the alumni's turn arrived, the three of us certainly could hold our own. Plus, the technicians at Quality Evaluation were also very knowledgeable with what they're doing. All we had to do was introduce them to the visitors and then they'd continue their experiment, explaining to the audience the step they're currently working on.

Based on the number of paper plates used, Fe estimated that more than a hundred people dropped by the lab for rice test tasting. I believe her. I think I gave five lab tours to alumni and on-board staff coming from different career backgrounds. Secretaries, plant breeders, geneticists, social scientists, agronomists, information technologists, extension workers... we had to tailor-fit each tour on the fly so that the visitors could appreciate the activities in the lab.

My favourite reaction (coming from a development communications intern): "Ay, parang Sineskwela!" (an educational Filipino show much like Sesame Street, but deals more on the sciences) If children could potentially understand the science of rice quality, then I guess we were communicating right. 

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Asian Hospital Run: May 2, 2010

Ate Maddie signed us up for our next 3k run, another one for charity. She's definitely hooked to road races, which is a good thing.

The RUNew 2010 of the Asian Hospital and Medical Centre is our second road run. Slated on May 2nd, the fun run happens at the Filinvest Corporate City in Alabang in the wee hours of the morning. Ate Maddie's got the race kits with her, and I'm excited to see what a timing chip looks like. Anyway, signing up for this race is the first time we had to supply our expected finish time, and it's quite nice that we've had a dry run at the PGH fun run last week. 

I just hope that the run route wouldn't pass by areas where vehicles smoke could reach us. However, that's wishful thinking. Getting a big dose of smoke from a truck during a race is NOT a nice experience (but that's Manila, what did I expect?).

If Ate Maddie isn't going overseas for a vacation, I suspect we'd be running on official races every weekend!! Running is a really healthy habit because it relieves stress (when done after work), it helps keep off the pounds (for people who are weight-conscious), and it strengthens the body (needs no further explanation). Healthier lifestyle is being advocated by the Asian Hospital, hence the support for races such as these, and other sports. Also, proceeds from the race will be given to beneficiaries who need help in paying their medicine and hospital bills. As in the PGH run, we hit two birds with one stone: (1) help others; (2) help ourselves.

I hope we finish the race (in less time) so that we'd get a shirt. I also look forward to another warm dose of taho after I cross the finish line. Yum!!

Monday, April 26, 2010

Breakfast by any other name...

... is still breakfast. 

My problem is I couldn't eat breakfast before 9 AM when I'm tense (nervous, excited... just like prior to conference presentations), but I had to eat something before the PGH run on April 24. Therefore, I called my 4 AM mac-and-cheese meal a midnight snack (thanks, Ate Maddie!) and did not suffer from the usual after-breakfast stomachache. 

Ate Maddie and I finished the 3-km fun run in about 25 minutes based on our calculation. The official race time is yet to come out (along with the photos), but as far as we were concerned, we performed quite well. 

I was hungry by the time the sun was over the buildings. Off to the food stall we went, but I didn't get a sandwich (looked too much like breakfast). Instead, I had four siomai pieces and one pork barbeque, fruit juice, taho, and water. At 7 AM, those count as breakfast, but I called them meryenda (snacks) instead.

Yep, it's all in my mind.

What do I usually consume in the morning nowadays? Water (or fruit juice).

Friday, April 23, 2010

A lesson in audience etiquette

As part of IRRI's alumni homecoming, the Kabayao Family quintet performed at the Havener Auditorium on April 22. (What a great show!!)

As usual, the house rules were: turn off or keep mobile phones on silent mode, eating and/or drinking are not allowed inside the venue.

The pianist, Corazon Kabayao, gave us a few more tips on how to be a good audience. 

1. Kids are normally not allowed to stay on the front row. They distract the performers. So people with kids are encouraged to stay at the rear of the auditorium.

2. Do not let the performers walk on stage in silence. Applaud while they enter. Applaud while they exit.

3. In performances with many movements (particularly the classical compositions), do not applaud after each movement. Clap only when all movements have been performed.

4. Applause is the only way the audience can communicate feedback to the performers. The performers know when the audience claps just to be polite and when they do deserve the applause (and the standing ovation).

The performances were very impressive and the audience gave them a standing ovation... three times! 

Who will produce food in the future?

"I want to be a doctor."
"I want to be a lawyer."
"I want to be a nurse."
"I want to be a football player."

I was watching the replay of American Idol 9: Idol Gives Back on Star World when I heard these statements, purportedly from children living in Africa who are going to benefit from donations pledged during the course of the program.

Hmm... Dr. de Datta had hit the bull's eye during the special forum earlier today. Africa is suffering from food shortage caused by various factors and yet none of the kids (or whoever scripted the overdubs) mentioned ever wanting to produce food and aim for food self-sufficiency. Medicine and its allied professions are obvious career choices because of the prevalence of AIDS and other diseases in the region (based on the video). Sports and law are also lucrative professions and can really alleviate poverty.

However, I'm sure some of these children will end up in agriculture eventually. 

Thursday, April 22, 2010

So this is how high-level scientists discuss issues...

The future of international agricultural research. That was the topic of the special forum/ armchair discussion (without armchairs) I attended today. What an impressive group of panellists!

Dr. Bob Zeigler and Dr. Klaus Lampe (Directors General)
Dr. Ren Wang and Dr. Achim Dobermann (Deputy Directors General, Research)
Dr. S.K. de Datta (Agronomist, Principal Scientist 1964–1991)
Dr. Swapan Datta (Senior Biotechnologist 1993–2005)
Dr. Ronnie Coffman (Plant Breeder 1971–1981)
Mrs. Angeline Kamba (Board of Trustees 1998–2003)

Only during an alumni homecoming can you gather all these brilliant people together in IRRI's Havener Auditorium to talk science in such a relaxed atmosphere.

A lot of things were discussed during the two-hour forum. It amazed me that all of them were throwing ideas from the top of their heads; very spontaneous, very informal. Dr. Zeigler was a very effective moderator as well, successfully engaging the panellists and keeping the audience's interest with challenging questions. I wonder what I'd say when I was given a pop quiz like that! The last time something similar happened to me, I was caught dozing at a lecture (thank you, eight-hour jet lag!) when Melissa directed a question to me. Oops!

What struck me the most in this forum was the pressing issue of who will stay in the rice fields 10 to 20 years from now. The panellists mentioned that many agriculturists don't want their brightest children to become agriculturists like them. However, the children deemed less academically inclined are made to stay on farm and continue the family business. In an industry that is rapidly becoming knowledge-intensive and information-driven, the challenge is how to make agriculture an attractive opportunity for jobs. Otherwise, rice-producers and rice-consumers will be facing another food crisis sometime in the future.

The migration of people (particularly men) into the urban areas also affect who will stay in the fields. Women, who are normally just at home, are now faced with the challenge of tending the rice fields; they simply need to be trained. Dr. Thelma Paris discussed the progress in women empowerment in different countries, especially since women are oftentimes left behind. Slowly but surely, women are becoming more involved in selecting varieties that will be planted in the fields.

The issue of land size was also mentioned. Yields in a small farm, hence revenues, are limited. Most small-scale farmers pass their lands to the next generation; I think that their goal is having food on the table, which is not profit-oriented. If farmers want to produce rice in the commercial scale, the size of the farms simply has to increase.

These points were just some of what were discussed in such a lively forum, and are certainly worth thinking about. No definite plans were lined up after two hours. I'm sure that these high-level scientists will continue discussing these broad issues long after the audience have resumed working on their specific projects.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Rice Self-Sufficiency: Possibilities in the Philippines (My notes from the media forum in IRRI)

We've done it before; we'll do it all over again. That is the take-home message from the media forum held in IRRI on April 19 (in connection with IRRI's 50th anniversary). The panel members during the forum were: Dr. Achim Dobermann and Mr. Jojo Lapitan (IRRI), and Dr. Sergio Francisco (PhilRice).

The question though, is really WHEN will  the Philippines have enough stocks of rice again?

Now that is a harder question to answer. Dr. Francisco has predicted that if the Philippines can produce 3.3 cavans of rice more per hectare each year, then the country will be self-sufficient in 2013. On a more realistic scale (I think), which is based on a rice yield growth of 3.7% and a population growth of ~2%, self-sufficiency is predicted to be attained in 2017. 

Why is the Philippines importing rice in the first place?

This is one of the most common questions asked by non-rice science people. The book, entitled "Why Does the Philippines Import Rice?" (published by IRRI, PhilRice), discusses various reasons. Click on the title to see these limitation factors (yes, IRRI has a habit of making its publications accessible through the internet).

From what was said in the forum, the Philippines imports rice because the Filipino consumption is very high. On the average, across locations and income classes, Filipinos eat 128 kg/capita annually. Each year, the Philippines has 2,000,000 people more to feed!! The demand for rice has gone higher than the annual rice yield. Hence, the need to import.

It must not be mistaken that the country is a bad rice producer. In fact, despite having the smallest land area available for rice farming, the Philippines is producing rice at par with some of major rice-producing countries that have a lot more land. Probably, the Philippine harvest is less in 2009, which was a particularly devastating year because of the typhoons, and in 2010 because the Philippines is still reeling from damaged irrigation systems on top of a drought. 

Throughout the discussion, Mr. Lapitan and Dr. Francisco emphasised that the issue is that every time the leadership changes, the priorities change too; hence, there's no continuity with projects that are designed to help farmers. For instance, Mr. Lapitan mentioned that when Iloilo's rice crop was endangered by a viral disease called tungro, IRRI helped by providing resistant varieties. However, when a new governor took the seat in Iloilo, he/she did not continue with the program and had sensitive varieties planted in the fields again. Welcome back, tungro! Good bye, rice harvest! 

(To me, that governor displayed sheer stupidity, really)

IRRI, according to Dr. Dobermann, can supply the technologies that farmers need, but the national agricultural research groups are responsible in distributing these technologies to the farmers on-site. So really, technology transfer relies strongly on extension workers.


GQNPC Open House on April 23 (Friday)

This week (April 19–23), the International Rice Research Institute is celebrating hosting an alumni homecoming as part of its 50th anniversary celebration. Alumni (former IRRI students and staff, and their companions) are invited on April 23rd (Friday) to drop by the Grain Quality, Nutrition, and Postharvest Centre (GQNPC). Take a glimpse at how rice from the breeding lines are evaluated for various parameters of quality and see the science that goes behind current and future tools in grain quality evaluation. Post-harvest technologies and management practices developed under close collaboration with national partners are also on exhibit.

Aside from a look at the laboratory facilities (at the Kenzo Hemmi Laboratory and the Service Building), visitors can also participate in sensory evaluation of cooked rice varieties. Three guided laboratory tours are scheduled throughout the day*. 

Tour 1 10:00 AM
Tour 2   3:00 PM
Tour 3   4:00 PM

For more information about the alumni homecoming, please visit
*NOTE: Rice tasting will be conducted only during the guided tours.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Al Gore Live in Manila


I thank Sylvia for pointing out that this event is not as publicised as others. The promotional poster is found below:

You read that right! Former US Vice President Al Gore is gracing the stage at SM Prime's Leadership Conference Series 3. This lecture was originally set on April 30, but is now slated on June 8. 

I had enjoyed his lecture on "An Inconvenient Truth" except in parts where I felt that he was trying to promote himself as a great would-have-been president. On his lecture on the 8th, I will not only take notes on his thoughts and studies about environmental issues. I will also note down his presentation styles. His lecture is highly praised by Garr Reynolds in May 2006. See his blog in the link:

Anyway, more information about his talk can be found at the TicketNet website

Friday, April 16, 2010

PGH Run!

Ate Maddie and I are now registered for the 3-km run! 

The Philippine General Hospital (PGH) Medical Foundation, Inc. launches the "Takbo Para sa PGH" to raise funds to support the Charity Patients' Medical Fund. The run is slated on April 25 (Sunday) at the Cultural Centre of the Philippines, and I am happy that Dr. Sharon Madrinan (PGH Pediatrics Resident) forwarded the information to me. I told Ate Maddie about this, and I convinced her to join on the spot! =)

More information about the event and is available in The pdf copy of the registration form is available in the website too! Online registration is at

The PGH Medical Foundation helps financially-challenged patients to obtain medicine and avail of costly laboratory tests. The Charity Patients' Medical Fund was established in 2004.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Kanina sa Ticketnet outlet...

Tagalog naman ngayon para maiba naman (salamat kay Bob Ong... binabasa ko kanina yung isa sa mga librong nilathala niya).

Nakabili na ako ng ticket para makapakinig sa talumpati ni Al Gore sa Leadership Conference Series 3 na hatid ng SM Prime Holdings (Yehey!). Sa Ticketnet Outlet sa loob ng SM Makati ako nakabili. Bago ako bumili, kailangan muna syempre malaman kung may nabibili na nga ba... 

Rochie: Nagbebenta na po ba ng ticket para sa "Al Gore Live in Manila"?

Tindera sa Ticketnet: Oo, mayroon nang ticket. Ito ang seat plan. (iniabot sa akin ang isang papel)

Rochie: Magkano po ang pinakamurang ticket? Ito pong bronze?

Tindera sa Ticketnet: P1,056 ang isang ticket sa bronze. P5,280 naman ang silver. Ang mahal naman ng platinum ticket, P15,840! Sino ba si Al Gore? 

Rochie: Dati pong bise-presidente ng Amerika si Al Gore. 

Tindera sa Ticketnet: May concert siya? Anong kinakanta niya?

Rochie: Naku, hindi po! May lecture po siya kaya siya pupunta sa Maynila; hindi po concert.

Oo nga naman, ang pamagat kasi ay "Al Gore Live in Manila". Kung hindi mo kilala si Al Gore, natural na aakalain mong concert ito. Parang "David Cook and David Archuleta Live in Manila" at "Kris Allen Live in Manila and Cebu" lang yan e.

Tindera sa Ticketnet: Pero paubos na ang ticket. May isa pang bakante sa harap. Gusto mong kunin?

Syempre, kinuha ko na. Front-seat ticket na mura lang. Nasa gilid nga lang ng lecture hall, pero pwede na... nasa loob pa rin. Sa wakas, matutupad din ang kagustuhan kong makapanood ng lecture ni Al Gore. Sa susunod, sana mapapunta naman nila sa Maynila si Steve Jobs, and CEO ng Apple. 

Friday, April 9, 2010

I am not THAT sweet... yet. Hehehe!

With diabetes on both sides of my family, I had to monitor my blood glucose levels. This year, I had blood samples taken for fasting blood sugar (FBS) and 2-hour post-prandial blood sugar (RBS) tests. I didn't eat and drink fluids from 12mn to 7.30am for the FBS, and I had blood drawn exactly two hours after lunch for the post-prandial. 

I passed both tests this year–barely–but I'm still NOT pre-diabetic based on the WHO (110 mg/dL) and the ADA (100 mg/dL) criteria!!

FBS = 99 mg/dL
Post-prandial = 96 mg/dL

Dr. Zenaida Torres told me that my insulin sensitivity is still good, and I don't have to take in any medicine yet. However, she did tell me to eat in moderation and continue with the exercise (which is currently jogging 2.5k every other day, if my schedule can fit it).

Next year ulit!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Anna's BSc Nursing Graduation

April 7, 2010.

To Anna, well done! Congrats! Culinary Arts naman! Hehehe. =)

To Tita Mely, Tita Lucy, and Trisha, thank you for attending her graduation with me. I'm happy you enjoyed Faustina's. =)

To Mommy, Daddy, and Biboy, I WISH YOU WERE HERE (kanta ng Incubus). Absent kayo e, ako muna ang STAGE sister. Hehehe

Good Friday 2010: Saints on parade

Still in Sta Cruz, Laguna.

Two processions literally put traffic on a standstill in the town centre: the Aglipayan Church's (photos here) and the Roman Catholic's.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Good Friday 2010: In black and white

While the procession slowed down to a halt (thanks to low-lying wires that had to be raised so each cart with the saint(s) could pass by), I went a little ways ahead to find a good spot. As I walked further away from the procession, I noticed the Sta Cruz river and the infamous typhoon-damaged bridge as the sun began setting low.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Good Friday 2010: People-watching

Anna and I took photos during the Aglipayan Good Friday procession. We caught up to the procession as it was on Taleon Street, and then we split up.

This set contains photos of people before and during the procession... a lot of family photos since our family was assigned to maintain the images of St. Veronica and of a flogged Jesus.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Still in Morong, Rizal

... and still April 1, 2010.

Aside from Morong's Tagalog dialect, I noticed two more things. Sadly none of them included the famous Chinese lions of the Morong Church. I still don't understand how I missed such prominent pieces of art. Hmmph! The only statue of a lion I saw in there is the one beside Saint Jerome, and I'm sure that one does NOT look like a Chinese lion.

On our way to the church, I was attempting to photograph this boy because I thought he walking along the main street holding a hen. The bird moved its head towards the coaster and I saw its huge eyes. Whoa! That's an owl! (I didn't realise I said that aloud until the two kids with us on the trip snapped their heads to look at my side of the window). Because I was quite shocked, I missed my shot, and did not get a photo of the owl's head. We're not sure if the owl is a pet or is about to become the boy's lunch. I sure hope the owl will not be eaten by the boy's family. This is the first time I've seen an owl out on the street (captured, sadly). I normally see owls–the injured ones–in the Philippine Raptor Centre or in zoos.

Down the hill from the Morong Church, on the other hand, we passed by a hospital. I'm sure no discrimination is intended by the hospital's management, but the words do suggest that only one doctor can go by this route. If what this door says is true, where will the patients and their family, and the rest of hospital staff exit in case of an emergency?

Tagalog, Morong Style

April 1, 2010.

I always thought that the Tagalog language grammar is pretty much uniform all over the southern part of Luzon. Of course there are some exceptions such as the popular interjection "ala e!" in Batangas. A trip to the Rizal province has proven my idea wrong.

I didn't know what tinrahang magramag means. Either Morong has its own language or this is some form of Tagalog that I haven't heard before (being exposed only to the dialect used in Laguna and Batangas). An internet search proved to be enlightening. Morong, Cardona, Baras, and Teresa towns have a Tagalog dialect in which the /r/ replaces /d/ in spelling and pronunciation! 

Therefore, the words on the shop sign, is tindahang magdamag in the Laguna dialect. The sign probably means that the shop, which sells tapa (beef jerky; the Spanish use of tapa is different from the Tagalog definition of the term) and tinapa (smoked fish), is open all night.

This is very interesting! I hope that Morong's proximity to Manila will not affect the usage of its dialect, and that the language experts in the country can help understand and preserve it. It's amazing that such a landlocked portion of the region has a dialect different from what is used by the others. Now, I wonder how people in the Romblon and Palawan areas speak Tagalog and if I could understand them. I didn't notice anything different in Mindoro Oriental and in Marinduque, but I'm sure there must be because these islands are further off Manila.

Visita Iglesia 2010: Antipolo City, Rizal

The relative solemnity of the Visita Iglesia stopped at the chaotic welcome of the Antipolo Church. A lot of people go to this church because it's the shrine of Our Lady of Good Voyage. Even cyclists stop over and pay homage to the Lady believed to have guided the galleon traders back and forth between Acapulco and Manila. Thus, a lot of small-time business people have set up shop along the road to the church: a lot of street vendors and hawkers, plus children who guide people to parking lots along the sides of the church.

The situation is more chaotic now than when I was last here more than 10 years ago. It reminded me of Jesus' visit to the Temple just before he was crucified. He overturned a few tables because vendors were desecrating the Temple. I think that this may also be the case with Antipolo's church. Why couldn't they move the vendors off the streets so that pilgrims can concentrate on the church more than on the distracting pasalubong?

Visita Iglesia 2010: Taytay, Rizal

Stations 11 and 12 were paintings, rather than bas reliefs (just like in the Binangonan Church). The Taytay Church was built on a hilltop, and gives a commanding view of the town, and on a day like Maundy Thursday, of Metro Manila as well. This first view of Manila made me realise that we were getting closer to the city, and we've left the rustic Sierra Madre a few churches back.

With the heat fully turned on, everyone else retreated to the coasters after a quick look round the church. What, the GQNPC group wasn't interested in a photo op?!?

Visita Iglesia 2010: Angono, Rizal

Stations 9 and 10 were meditated on inside, but with the Maundy Thursday testimony of man whose faith was boosted in times of financial crises and family ailment amped all over the church, I wasn't able to hear what these two stations were all about. Nevertheless, I liked the roomy and airy feel of the modern-day church, despite my disagreement with the colour choice for the facade. This is in sharp contrast to the Spanish-era churches visited earlier, whose architects thought best to put in small windows rather than large doorways.

Angono is famous for its artworks, being the home to national artists. Statues, stained glass art, and bas reliefs adorn the church and its grounds. The historical feel may be gone, but the roots of this town is deeply entrenched in the arts.

Visita Iglesia 2010: Binangonan, Rizal

Stations 7 and 8 were inside the church.

We caught participants to the Senakulo preparing outside the church. Aside from a lot of visitors to the church, there were also a lot of people at the town plaza, where all the statues of the saints are for the Good Friday procession. The crest of the Spanish East Indies (I'm not sure if it really is this because the animals are armed with swords) seems like a good addition on top of the church door because Binangonan is one of the first town established by the Spanish friars upon arrival via the Laguna de Bay.

Visita Iglesia 2010: Morong, Rizal

Stations 5 and 6 were visited outside the church. For all it's external grandeur, the interiors of the Morong Church is so simple, probably due to the unfinished renovations going on. Still, the bas reliefs on the church grounds matched the beauty of the Baroque architecture facade.

Now that I already had my taho fix, I wondered where those famous Chinese lions were situated. The travel sites say that Asian elements in the church's design can be seen from the lions... but I wasn't able to find them.

Visita Iglesia 2010: Baras, Rizal

Stations 3 and 4 were at the Baras Church up on a hilltop. The baptistry features a sculpture of Jesus being baptised by St. John the Baptist. Inside, the retablos were so colourful that they are more grandiose than the statues of saints residing in them, I think.

Visita Iglesia 2010: Tanay, Rizal

We visited the Tanay Church and had a look around town because the heat of the day wasn't too bad yet. At the Jollibee pitstop, I just had to take photos inside the coaster because I was getting bored at the back.

Visita Iglesia 2010: Sunrise pitstop

April 1, 2010.

After travelling for two hours in the dark, we caught the sunrise in Pililla, Rizal, as we stopped over to use the toilets at the Flying V gas station.

Visita Iglesia 2010: The Rizal Province Edition (part 2)

April 1, 2010. April Fools' Day.

Reflections on the Stations of the Cross began inside the San Ildefonso Parish Church in Tanay. After prayers and meditation on the first two stations, I took a good look at the beautiful wood carvings. The reliefs were intricately designed, and the colours were so vivid, considering that these artworks were centuries old! Sadly, the colours did not transfer well to the photograph because of the intense yellow lighting coming through the church's windows.

The first station shows Jesus being brought by Roman soldiers to trial. A scribe was taking notes of the proceedings as onlookers watched through windows. A child seemingly handed over a pot to Pontius Pilate, hidden behind the table, as the woman beside the child was signalling with her hands. As I was taking a souvenir shot of the first station, I did a double take: Wait! Is that Roman soldier on the right holding a bolo?!?

Hmm... that made me give this artwork another look. I wasn't looking at Roman soldiers at all. Those were Spanish conquistadores bringing Jesus to a sultan-like Pontius Pilate to get tried!

Okay, this warranted another close inspection of the second station.

As Jesus was beginning to bear His Cross, people were surrounding him. Youthful looking bare-chested soldiers (without beards) were positioning the Cross on His shoulders. Jesus seemed oblivious of the chaos around Him. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary until I noticed the top right corner of the image. Isn't that a tambuli the man is playing?!

Wow! Obviously, the artist has infused a lot of Asian and Filipino material into the artwork of the Stations of the Cross in this church! This artist seems to have a lot of angst against the Spaniards, depicting them as the Roman soldiers with bolos. Nick Joaquin has referred to this artist and called him the "Maestro of Tanay". Unfortunately, no one knows who the artist is. Too bad I wasn't able to look more closely at the rest of the stations because I wanted to study the facade of the church.

I thought that since it's Maundy Thursday, I would escape the pranks commonly connected with April Fools'. Apparently not. The first church in this year's visita iglesia has a sprinkling of local flavour that could be easily missed until the unexpecting pilgrim takes a closer look.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Visita Iglesia 2010: The Rizal Province Edition

April 1, 2010. Maundy Thursday.

This year's Visita Iglesia was at the Rizal Province. I was lucky to get a seat in Coaster #2 with the rest of the participants from the Grain Quality lab (Tita Dory, Kuya Ferdie, Ate Lucy, and Ana). I thank Tita Eves for finding a spot for me in this trip. :)

We left Los Banos at 4.30AM. Rather than go via Manila to the Rizal province, the coasters travelled along the provincial route. We zipped past eastern Laguna towns around the Laguna de Bay before entering Rizal province at Pililla as the sun was rising. I'm sure this is the scenic route, but there was nothing to see in the dark. The lake was only visible thanks to the full moon and the lights along the water pipes in Kalayaan. Our first stop was the Flying V gas station at Pililla, where a lot of people had to go to the loo. Then, the visita iglesia began in earnest as we stopped at churches. 

However, each time I went to a church I've never been to before, I could hear Prof. Paul Zafaralla's walking lecture in my head. One of the things I noticed is that these churches don't have the big, intimidating buttresses and the thick walls often found in Earthquake Baroque architecture (Ilocos churches). The bell towers are also situated right beside the church, unlike the stand-alone ones found all over Ilocos. Probably, because Rizal is a landlocked province, there is no need to guard against pirates and the earthquakes in the area must not be as powerful as those in Ilocos, hence the lack of these features. In Ilocos, the architectural features of the churches seemed to encompass the whole building, giving a three-dimensional feel to the design; however, the churches farther south, such as those we visited in Rizal, had relatively plain sides. The designs of the church, therefore, were limited to the facade. 

Here are the churches we've visited. The altar pieces of some of the churches were covered in purple covers because it's already Maundy Thursday.

San Ildefonso Church, Tanay. The facade has some traces of Baroque influences in it, including the columns that bring the eyes up two tiers. On top of the facade is a niche containing a statue of Saint Ildefonso, a Castilian bishop. The church was completed in 1783. The facade is quite plain, almost reminding me of the San Agustin Church in Manila. However, the niches here are adorned with cherubim and fleur-de-lis, showing the colonial influences of those who created the building. The church must have been originally owned and maintained by the Franciscan order, as indicated by the bas-relief of its crest on the right lower tier (just above the damaged statue of a saint I don't know). The other side of the facade has a niche containing the statue of St. Francis (with a dog), further confirming the Franciscan influence to the parish. The belfry is beside the church, and has three tiers. Inside the church, I really liked the wood carvings of the Stations of the Cross. It is said that an unidentified artist made these wood carvings, and he has been immortalised in Nick Joaquin's Via Crucis. My curiosity is piqued! I ought to get a copy and read about this.

San Jose Church, Baras. This must be one of the oldest churches I've ever seen. According to the historical landmark, this church was completed in 1686. That's almost a century before the completion of the Tanay Church! It's amazing that the church and the belfry are still both standing! Once again, one of the more simply designed churches I've visited. I had the impression that the church itself is part of a Spanish-era stone house because there were no complicated niches and no columns that made the facade visually dynamic. The only thing, I think, that broke the monotony was the statue of Saint Joseph on the topmost niche. It's a small statue at that. Some restoration attempt seems to have been done on the top part of the facade, as indicated by the brickwork filling the space that must have been previously occupied by grey adobe blocks. The pink balustrade on the church complements those on top of the belfry. But of all the possible colours in the spectrum, WHY PINK?!?

San Geronimo Church, Morong. I was blown away by the intricate features of the facade, which rises high up the town. Truly a sight to behold! According to the historical marker, the facade and the belfry were made by Bartolome Palatino of Paete, Laguna in 1850-1853. Angels guard the sides of the facade and the belfry while flowers, vines, and leaves adorn the frontispiece. A generous helping of pairs of Tuscan columns line the sides of the octagonal belfry, and seem to support the three-tiered facade, especially at the door. Ionic columns, on the other hand, seem to frame the windows. The eyes of the pilgrim is drawn upwards by balustrades that wind up to the belfry. I never thought I'd see another breath-taking piece of Spanish-era architecture outside of the Ilocos region. Seeing the neo-Baroque facade of this church made me think again.

Santa Ursula Church, Binangonan. The church was built in 1792-1800 and renovated in 1853. The church has a three-story belfry. A coloured statue of Santa Ursula,  the patron saint of the town, provides a contrast from all the grey stone as she looks at pilgrims going in and out of her church. She carries a flag of the Jesuit order in her silent vigil. The roof, I think, shows some Asian influence to the architecture because it is lined by rosettes (or Chinese stylised clouds, as Prof. Zafaralla used to say in Hum 2 class).  I noticed that there was also a bas-relief sculpture of lions and towers right on top of the arched doorway. It looks like the coat of arms of the Spanish East Indies, except that the lions are holding swords.

San Clemente Church, Angono. Another pink church?!? This time, I think I ought to quit commentating aloud about the taste in colour because Angono is the hometown to the largest concentration of national artists (visual arts) in the Southern Tagalog area, and perhaps the whole country. People in Angono must know what they're doing with painting the church pink. Sadly, the renovations to this church's facade has gone so well that none of the original structure has been maintained. There are five niches, three of them (the ones on the upper part of the facade) are occupied by the statues of the Virgin Mary, Jesus Christ, and Pope Clement I. Two coloured statues of Roman legionnaires are watching people going in and out of the church; they remind me of the Moriones festival in Boac, Marinduque. I wondered at the unique altar design, which featured a waterfall. Perhaps this is connected with Pope Clement finding water for him and prisoners working in a stone quarry (thereby converting the prisoners to Christianity). On the way out of the church, the word SAMBANGKA ("one boat") is on the church's arched gate. This term turns out to be a name of an artists' group that helped restore the church (oops! - for complaining about the colour). The name probably pays tribute to the way Pope Clement died: he was tied to an anchor and dropped into the Black Sea.

San Juan Baustista Church, Taytay. Situated on top of a hill, this church has a good view of the Metro Manila skyline without the smoggy background (perhaps because the city roads are relatively empty on Maundy Thursday). The church was built in 1603 by Filipino and Chinese workers, and then replaced in 1630 by P. Juan de Salazar. The church that is standing right now is the product of multiple restoration works; the last one was done in the 1970s, hence the modern stonework. The facade is yet another which has some Baroque feel to it. The columns that seem to define Baroque architecture are there. This time, however, the facade lacks fluidity in visual movement because nothing connects one tier from the other (unlike the winding balustrades in Morong). A huge statue of St. John the Baptist is on one side of the facade, and I'm not quite sure what he's looking quite intently at as he slightly bends from the waist. If Prof. Zafaralla were around, he might cringe and say, "This is a perfect example of how NOT to make a monument!" It looks like statues of Jesus and Mary are in niches at the bottom tier. The crest of the Holy See is on the upper tier. Above the doorway, there's another statue in a niche, but I'm not sure if that is still the Virgin Mary or if it is some other saint. Up another tier, the chalice and the bread (with the emblem) seem to show that the church is under the Jesuit order. These are guarded over by angels; not the usual cherubs, the huge ones. A cross between two rams is also featured in the facade. Behind the rams are mountains and clouds. 

Nuestra Senora dela Paz y Buen Viaje, Antipolo City. The last stop in the seven-church journey. Indeed this trip was really a good one. The cathedral is unique because it has a domed roof, and there doesn't seem to be a facade. The museum above the sacristy had pictures showing the restoration work done on the church (hence the loss of the Spanish-era stonework), which has been utterly destroyed during World War II. The present-day church was designed by Filipino architect Jose de Ocampo in 1954. Silent sentinels surround the church and gaze down with their stern faces at travellers wishing for a good voyage. Three of the four statues atop the main entrance are accompanied by animals: a lion, a carabao, and a bird of prey (I'm not sure if it's an eagle or a hawk). The fourth one has an angel by its feet. I'm pretty sure that the saint with the carabao is San Isidro Labrador and the one with the lion is San Geronimo. I don't know who the other statues represent, but I guess they are the patron saints of the different towns of Rizal.

The Visita Iglesia: The Rizal Province Edition is a real visual feast! No wonder people visit these churches en masse. I hit STOP on the Hum 2 lecture. =)