Jessie Lichauco: The heart of Santa Ana

Lola Jessie Lichauco. Photo courtesy of sir Joel Aldor.

Lola Jessie Lichauco. Photo courtesy of sir Joel Aldor of the Wikipedia Philippines – Philippine Cultural Heritage Mapping

I could spend the whole day with her, sitting at her feet until the dying rays of the sun streamed through the veranda window. Her voice, husky and hoarse but firm and wise, carries across the dim-lighted room filled with books, antique wines and pictures of smiling loved ones who have come and go in her life, and that’s why at the grand old age of 104,Lola Jessie carries the burden of remembering a hundred years of memories time itself have forgotten.

She is the grand matriarch of the Lichauco Family, one of Santa Ana’s oldest families. She’s American-born. Before the war struck, an 18-year-old Jessie traveled from the opposite side of the world to the Philippines and married a promising lawyer, the first Filipino to have graduated from Harvard University, Marcial Lichauco. She’s been here all her life, but it was only in 2012 that she received, as she amusingly claims, the second-most important paper she signed next to her marriage contract – a paper noting she is now a Filipino citizen.

Her house at Santa Ana, Manila doesn’t bear any slightest indication of being regal and grand from the outside. It was flanked by a sturdy concrete wall along the streets of Pedro Gil and a plaque by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines is the only indication that this house is as old as Santa Ana itself. It was built back in the time that the Pasig River as at the peak of its glory, ferrying visitors in and outside Manila, and so the house is designed to face the majestic river to welcome its most-esteemed guests.

Walking inside the house is a queer experience of visiting memories encased in glasses, methodically preserved and well-kept by the family. There are Marcial’s stuffed hunts back in the days that hunting in wild Africa is considered a worthy indication of social status and prestige. On the conventional backdoor, you will find yourself staring at a hundred-year old balete tree, its vines lazily fluttering against the hot afternoon wind. The tree has been Lola Jessie’s silent companion, a mute witness to the eventual decay of the Pasig River and of what has was known to be the Queen City of the Pacific, the City of Manila.

Lola Jessie spends most of her time at the second floor of the house, in the veranda overlooking the two things she loves the most- her balete tree and the river. For her, those are the only things that remained unchanging. The tree continues to stand like a proud sentinel, the river continues to flow on its own course, though barely moving because of the mud and trashes down its innards. There isn’t any space at the walls of her house that isn’t occupied – every inch is covered by pictures, paintings and mementos of letters, certificates and family trees detailed in handsome script.

Even when she’s talking, Lola Jessie’s words are painted with interesting stories of different layers; a wistful retelling of what happened during the Great War and the price Filipinos have to pay when the city fell on the hands of the enemy. She would always recall how the remaining ones carted off the dead ones on the street after the Bombing as it they are sacks of rice piled up to be sold to the market. When the City of Manila was flattened beyond recognition, Lola Jessie witnessed the biblical exodus of the survivors from Intramuros and Quiapo to the relatively spared districts of Santa Ana to seek refuge. The Lichauco House became a makeshift hospital for the weak and the orphaned, and it was Lola Jessie herself who presided over the stench of loss and death.

She will struck you as someone who haven’t experienced the darkest moments of our history. Her eyes are bright and shrewd and her movements are sharp and definite despite her frail health. Her sense of humor is just as timeless. She is a voracious reader and her books are free to be opened by everybody. When she asked who among us likes to read, I slowly raised my hand and she turns to me with a mischievous grin, “You can come here anytime.” I smiled and promised I will.

She is as interested with people as she is with books. She asks smart questions and responds with witty answers. When she asked one guy about the course he is studying, he said that he has already graduated. With grand flourish worthy of her age, she responded “I’m asking you what did you study. It doesn’t make a difference if you already graduated.”

I like to think of Lola Jessie as the remaining link of what connects Santa Ana from its rich beginnings. The district, once known to be the Forbes Park during the Spanish rule, home to elegant boutiques and shoppes, is but a far-cry of its old exalted self. Its residents unaware of its lofty history as the seat of a pre-colonial empire, a federation of barangays whose form of government rivals the might of that of Germanic tribes and Scottish clans. Lola Jessie, with all her stories and anecdotes, wise counsels and sentiments about the past, would be a big part of Santa Ana’s journey to stand up and rise to reclaim its dignity.

At one point, she struck up a conversation with one of her visitors. The girl, having been surprised to be singled out, shyly hides behind her male companion. Lola Jessie affectionately pats her arm in a gentle reprimand, then said, “What are you doing? You shouldn’t be hiding there. Don’t you ever hide behind a man!”

She is that precious.

Photo Courtesy of sir Joel Aldor.

Photo courtesy of Sir Joel Aldor of the Wikipedia Philippines – Philippine Cultural Heritage Mapping

An Open Letter to the One that could have been

Hey you,

From the first moment we met, we hit it off. It was almost magical, similar to chummy rom-com flicks and books that you wouldn’t read even if you have to die for it. I’ve never thought I could meet someone who’s unique as I am but I did and here you are, still invading my thoughts every now and then and making me wonder of the thousand what-ifs we could have done if we end up together.

My experience with love is mediocre at best but I know when something’s quite the extraordinary from what’s not. I know enough that you’re special for me and maybe it would be a long time (or no chance at all) to meet someone like you in my lifetime. We finish each others’ sentences, laugh at the same time from a thought left unspoken, stick out to each others’ whims and accept each others’ quirks.

You perfectly get me. I’ve told you things I’ve never told just anyone. You’re the other part of my soul. I bare to you my weakness, my dreams, my fantasies, the stories left untold and my biggest fears and you told me yours. Looking back now, it’s ironic to think that of all the things I told you, it’s my feelings for you that I kept locked up for so long. We’ve talked of different things, of ourselves, of other people, but we never talked about us, not in a way I think about now.

I guess that had been my first fault. I didn’t take that leap of faith for fear of shattering my pride. I kidded myself into thinking that you would make the first move, that at some point lightning will strike and you will suddenly hold my arm and turn me around, look at me in the eyes and say you’re willing to take up the chance with me.

But we could never be, and that’s that. Perhaps we’re like two bright lights drawn to each other, but once we touched, we will explode. Like stars dancing in each others’ orbits. We can only draw close but we can’t go no farther. Perhaps, it’s better this way. Perhaps, the other way is better and we’re too stupid to see it.

Always know that you are still in the deepest recesses of my mind, a memory that makes me smile when our favorite song in the radio comes up, or when I remember that lame joke only the two of us can understand.

And hey, maybe we’ll meet again. Maybe one day, you’ll stumble upon this letter and realize it has been you all along. Or maybe you won’t and we’ll eventually meet that someone we’re going to happily spend our lives with. And maybe someday, in some reunion or wild chance that we meet, I’ll make you read this letter and we’re going to make a joke about this.

In the end, I’m hoping that even if we may not be happy together, we will be happy for each other. And looking back now, I think I’m moving closer to being okay with that.

Yep, I think I’ll be okay with that.


The girl who’s too stupid to see ‘it’

10 Step Guide to Cinemalaya: A guide for the faint-hearted

Cinemalaya Film Festival is slowly becoming a ‘thing’ now. And why wouldn’t? As its name denotes, it’s a wanton liberation from everything that is ideal and virtuous, idyllic and happy endings. Never have been the characters portrayed so dysfunctionally, so real and flaw(ed)lessly. They question your frame of mind, they provoke you into thinking that everything you ever thought to be right is ‘not right’ for others. They make you feel, they amuse, they remind you of historical and political tangle we are all caught in. They don’t aim to please, they aim to offer a fresh (or so, we hope) perspective.

So here’s a guide for those who think they won’t handle the intensity of the message behind these films. Cinemalaya virgins or veterans, feel free to take down tips on my guide while watching Cinemalaya films.

1. Most films in Cinemalaya may take a long time to build the characters and the plot. Audience used to Hollywood-ish Michael Bay explosions in every ten seconds would find it hard to concentrate at first. But hey, the patience is worth
it. If the film bores you, you’re probably boring. Joking aside, if you can’t handle indie pace, just stick to mainstream and don’t you dare compare these two or no one will like you.

2. Profanity is common. Because it depicts reality. Because real people say ‘putangina’ and ‘gago’. If you don’t, you’re just an abstraction, an abomination. . Or you just hated the thought of cussing verbally.

3. Expect nude/sex/gory scenes. Much as I hate to admit it, some films took way too much time exposing the audience to unnecessary sexual, graphic scenes. Well, using this to captivate or shock audience must have worked before because it’s becoming a trend now. However, you can check out which films that are rated 16 or 18 and pick a film where you think you won’t entirely be grossed out. If you decide to be more daring and picked an R-18, just try not to look scandalized inside the cinema and close that mouth, why don’t ya?

4. Experiment. In my first Cinemalaya, I didn’t check out the directors or the writers or the actors behind the film. I just randomly picked a film with a storyline which interested me that time. And the results were good. Sure some films can
disappoint, but please don’t let it stop you from checking out other entries (PS So far, no Cinemalaya film has disappointed me, but it’s gotta be my weird taste talking so…)

5. Internalize. Cinemalaya films provoke you to think. To feel. To look at an issue in a certain angle. If you felt you’re having an epiphany, don’t stop. Don’t look at your cellphone or veer your attention to somewhere else other than the film. Just think and feel the moment.

6. Look past the technical concerns. If you’re someone who keeps a sharp eye on technical flaws, or problems with lighting, audio, etc., or a general constructive criticism of the film, please try to refrain from voicing your concerns while watching the film for the sake of our sanity. That’s Politeness 101. Reserve your concerns later. Be reminded that these
films are low-budget films and post-production is the most tedious, (even more so) expensive process. Focus on the song, not on the recorder. (lousy metaphor, I know, but film Killjoys are lousier)

7. Watch as many films as you can. This is also showing support for budding Filipino filmmakers. Cinemalaya films do not release copies of their own while your “Guardians of the Galaxy” would find its way on DVDs and blue rays later on.

8. Stay until the end of Q and A. In some cases, the director and the cast are invited for a Q and A by the end of the film. There’s no harm in staying. You will get to know their insights, and if you’re lucky, get them to answer some of your
burning questions. You may even had the chance to get an autograph or have a quick selfie with them if you’re fast enough to ambush them (or glomp them, however, it is strictly inadvisable to do so)

9. Bring friends who knew when to talk and when to shut up. You can’t concentrate if your friend would always be like “Bakit niya ginawa yun? Nakakaantok naman. Ang tagal naman ng climax, etc.” and neither are the people around you. (Why are you hanging out with these friends anyway?)

10. Make it an annual thing. Make it a ritual, or an event to catch up with friends and family. Or add it to your thins to do during your ”me” time. Be part of its evolution and watch out for the next big thing and that film may be the Philippines’ first Oscar win in Best Foreign Language Film Category or recipients of international awards. In fact, support not just Cinemalaya but other indie film festivals out there. I promise, you won’t regret it.

Why we should stop saying “Parang wala ka sa Pilipinas”

Who among you heard this numerous times? Or found yourself saying this more than once? I can say I’m guilty of the latter. When I commuted to Bonifacio Global City and saw the sleek and tall buildings for the very first time, the first thing that floated in my mind is “Parang hindi ka nasa Pilipinas” Feels like I’m not in the Philippines anymore. It’s like a Dorothy and Toto moment when they arrived to Oz.

The statement is oozing with inferiority over our own country. Sure, it comes as just a passing remark, or something not worth mulling about, but the way it is spoken (in jest or in praise) remains throughout the generations. We are probably bombarded by everyday scenarios of hellish traffics, children begging on the streets, shanties beside rivers and seawalls, pollution, and day by day we’re losing a bit of hope of seeing this country’s true progress. Not just in statistics or graphs or investment upgrades. A true progress that involves maturity of the people and the desire to be part of it. Saying this seems to imply we are nowhere near on achieving that vision, or the belief that this country will remain as it is for generations to come.

Just my two cents, though.

Video 48: A haven for Filipino classics cinephile

It’s not easy to be a Pinoy cinephile in the Philippines. Most copies of classics are not readily available on video stores and online. When you’re gushing on a good classic film you’ve recently watched, chances are people don’t have any idea what movies you’re talking about.

So thanks to this man, this wonderful man, Simon Santos, the cultists of Filipino films finally found an endless source of collection to sate their Filipino cinephilia. The humble but fascinating store is found in  West Avenue, Quezon City, near DELTA (almost got lost when finding it but man, it’s worth it).

Sign outside

Sign outside

Movies movies everywhere!

Movies movies everywhere!

Classic and critically-acclaimed foreign films are also found here

Classic and critically-acclaimed foreign films are also found here


Also vintage old-school movie posters.

Also vintage old-school movie posters.


At 21

At eleven, I came out as a geek with a horrible fashion sense. Mom accepted me for what I am.

At eleven, I came out as a geek with a horrible fashion sense. Mom accepted me for what I am.

At 21, I have big plans. Who doesn’t? You’re in that cusp to adulthood where you can still enjoy every inch of your youth. You had the money, the freedom, the energy to breathe in life and not give a damn about tomorrow. You’re still entitled and expected to mess up, but you can turn people down by being the luckiest, most successful bastard before you reach your prime.

I planned on having more travels with friends, more hang-outs and fooling around, late-night pizza deliveries and pulling pranks on sleep-over parties. I planned on buying more books, or more gadgets and tweet my adventures across the country. I planned on saving up enough money so I can set off by myself, or save up for my future international travels as I get lost in every continent. I planned on leaving the nest early and take on the sky, be a student of the world and people, set fire to the cannon and start a revolution that could overrule the ongoing status quo in this country of mine that’s in a deep squalor.

That is, well, until we discovered a huge tumor in my mother’s breast.

How can I describe my mom? She’s good, but life’s unfair. I guess there are more stories like hers in this world. She never had something bad to say to anyone. She has a way with people and I guess they are fond of her because she can still take the time to listen to every joy and sorrow, even if she barely knows that person. In her homeland town of Romblon, her friends and families would always prepare a big feast for her every homecoming, like she’s a queen or a saint. She used to say that we, her children, are her greatest treasures but I felt like she’d always been too good for us and we quite never deserve her.

I’ve always taken her for granted, thinking that she’d always be there during the milestones of my life like the time I had my (forced) concert at Makati when I was twelve, or during my college graduation when I bestowed to her my medal and black toga. Thinking that I would always see her weary smile when I take off to work, when she pecks my cheek goodbye and I let out a small grunt. It wasn’t cancer yet, the doctors assured us, but the tumor spelled trouble and its huge size haunted me every day of my waking life. In that instant, the shadow of time fell over me, the realization hitting me like a runaway train: What if one day we wake up and she’s gone? How would I be able to repay all the sacrifices she made for me?

At 21, my mom had big plans. She’s a graduate of a popular university in Manila, dream-eyed and ready to take on the world. Her sister, who’s in another country, has just found a big-shot job for her in that same country and they can live there together. She’s planning to save up for her own life savings. She’s planning to build a beautiful house for my grandparents in Romblon. Once she saved up, she’s planning of returning to the Philippines and take up masteral units so she can be a guidance counselor/teacher on a public school in Romblon that’s severely under-staffed. All these plans fell like a house of cards when she found out she had me.

They suggested of aborting me. “Motherhood will tie you down”. “You’re too promising. All your life, you will dedicate it to your child”. “The baby’s barely two months old, God will surely make an exception”. But my mom, painful as her decision may be, chose me. And before she knew it, she and my dad were married and the plane that’s supposedly meant for her took off without her. She still keeps her ticket in one of our worn-out photo albums, and when I was asked her what it was, she told me that she had forgotten what it’s for.

My dad, barely out of college that time, has to drop out from the university and began take all sorts of jobs; A Chocolate Factory worker, a pseudo construction drafter and a computer technician. All those jobs can never fully sustain a growing family like ours, and so, my mom decided to work as an assistant to her brother’s ceramic tiles business. She also managed small side-lines every now and then, with her newfound interest to business. A rich aunt opted to give money to my dad so he can continue his formative college education, as diplomas that time were tickets to greener pastures. So while my father studied, my mother toiled.

Growing up, my mom seemed to enjoy raising us as kids, but once in a while, I’ve glimpsed some shadow of regret casting over her face. My grandparents passed away without the dream house built, and I sensed she never quite get over it. Grandma and Grandpa were toiling hard all their lives for that small piece of land in Romblon just to send their children to schools. The Philippines is an agricultural country, but the policies and levies are ironically hard on farmers. Even after my grandpa met his unexpected end on the sea during the town’s grand fiesta, my grandma relentlessly continued to till the land herself, her aging hands firmly holding the carabao’s plow. My grandma may had never felt the luxuries and pampering she deserved at her old age, but she died knowing that her children have stable lives and that may have been enough. But my mom was wistful when she said that, as if somewhere in her heart she’s wishing that she could have done something for them to express her gratitude for their sacrifices to give her a better life.

The operation of my mom’s breast was a successful one. They had to take her left breast -a masectomy operation. After my dad talked to the doctor, he went straight to us and told me and my brothers they will have to take the whole thing off. It’s the standard procedure when the tumor is malignant. I remembered nodding silently, in an easy, calm way, loathing to be the eldest child and the only girl in the brood who can understand. Afterwards, I went up to the bathroom and cried the most soundless cry I can remember.

The operation’s over, but the chemotherapy sessions began. My savings account is all dried-up for the medicines and supplements, while my dad compensates for the sessions. My travel plans and bucketlist is currently on-hold. My books and gadgets have to take a backseat. I may even have to look for a higher pay job and forget going to film school for awhile. I’m broke as a young professional who has to survive off of Yakisoba noodles. What’s surprising is, I really don’t mind at all. I guess it’s time to take off my selfish self and let it hang on the wardrobe for awhile. I can have the time of my life later. In the meantime, I have to be my mom’s financial and emotional backbone.

I was never a good daughter, but I guess it’s never too late to start. Even at 21.

“Ma, bakit hindi mo ko tinuruan mag-Bisaya?”


I grew up surrounded by the sound of three languages in our house: the native Filipino, English, and the language I know nothing about: Visaya.

My mom was born and raised in a tiny island of Romblon at the southern tip of Luzon island but its inhabitants consider themselves as Visayans. Childhood is having to go to Romblon and taste the sweet, salty taste of the sea, or running alongside the beach, or listening to this fascinating, fast language coming out of my mother’s mouth.

Visaya is an endearingly familiar language, yet it also acts like a distant stranger with no face. My tongue very seldom tastes its hard and thick words and accent. My vocabulary is mediocre at its best, but no language holds so much interest for me. I felt like if I can speak Visaya, I can understand this country more and more, with it being the 2nd most widely spoken native language in the Philippines.

“Why didn’t you teach me to speak Visaya?” I often ask my mom. My brothers and I were only taught of just plain  Filipino (which is heavily Tagalized) and cliche English.  My mom just smiled and said, “I don’t want you to have any problems with your Filipino and English pronunciations. It would be too embarrassing.”

My mom’s answer didn’t make any sense that time. How can you pass up the chance to raise your kid as multilingual? But growing up, I grew to realize what she means. Watching the TV, we are conditioned to laugh at the silly English pronunciation of Visayan maids. When a family friend mispronounced an English or Filipino word, my dad and uncles would be quick to laugh at him and say “Ay may Bisaya dito!” as if being a Visaya is equivalent of being dumb and ignorant. Overtime, the language of my childhood grew to have a connotation of ”baduy” or out-of-trend. Visayans in Metro Manila and other parts of Luzon have to disguise their accent with broken Tagalog words and English code-switching. Growing up, my Visayan relatives and cousins are always make fun of because of their thick accents and mispronunciation of Filipino words.

In fact, I’m very much envious of my Visayan cousins who can speak and write in English as well as I do (or even more so). They have three languages ready in their arsenal, while I only have two. It’s quite disconcerting, especially if some proud Visayans (Cebuanos, for instance) would prefer to talk to you in English than in Filipino with a silent mocking reproach on their faces as if saying, ‘You’re in our place. When we’re in Manila, we speak the vernacular Tagalog. Why can’t you do the same thing when you’re here?’

One of the random thoughts that comes out during my stuck-in-the-traffic musings is how the diverse variety of language affected our national psyche as Filipinos. You round up 7,000+ islands, with different languages or dialects on its own, each with different culture and way of life, and call it a country. While forced colonialism may be a factor to what have become of us in the present time, a lack of unifying, acceptable language that is of our own plays a large part to our maturity as a people.  And the fact that we make fun of a language and an accent (one of our own languages, mind you); the way we degrade it, the way we tolerate the ethnic slur in mass media and everyday interactions, shows how immature we really are (or most of our people are)

There is unity in diversity and with respect comes harmony. I’m not saying we should be fluent in all languages that exist in this beautiful country of ours, but that we should embrace (or at least, respect) the diversity that makes us what we are. No culture is greater than the other. Just as no language or accent is inferior to another.

And to my Visaya-speaking friends who have experienced being discriminated mercilessly or made fun endlessly because of your accent by non-Visaya speakers, just smile and say the most colorful cuss words you can think of in your native language. They have no way of understanding you anyway.



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