Transients, Pilgrims, Seekers (8)


My first day at this city, a city away from the first one, was an attempt to run away from the Metropolitan Manila area in search of peace and quiet and solitude.

It is a condition I have set myself for writing—for completing this work I am offering to the Ilokano people.

I need the quiet to gather my own thoughts.

I need the peace of mind to think my own thoughts.

I need the solitude to test my thoughts against the distractions that come with academia, of all things.

And for psychological and social reasons, I wanted to touch base with Mindanao and the Visayas, two of the bigger islands where the Ilokano people have gone in search for a better life, a life much better than what Ilocos offered them.

I have met some of them, and I have heard stories that come close to the ‘model migrant’—the ‘model minority’ that is common in the United States.

I have see as some of these, a way to demonstrate that a better life could be etched in a faraway land.  

Some Ilocanos have made it big in the continent and in Hawaii, including Guam.

Some fifteen years ago, I started tracking down these Ilocanos, first in Mindoro and Palawan, in Quezon, in Bicol, and now in the Visayas and Mindanao.

I have found one state university professor who offered her family’s story over brewed coffee in one of those fancy coffee houses that have mimicked urban Manila to the core, what with sprouting malls, sprouting condominiums, and sprouting call centers that have proven, among others, that Philippine English is just fine, even in the Visayas despite the popular culture non-sense about Visayans not being able to speak English well.

The truth of the matter is that many of them, in fact, speak English better than those in those so-so Manila enclaves that speak a so-so form of the Tagalog being passed off as Filipino.  

I have had the good fortune of talking stories with her with just one call.

We have come from the same university system, mine from Diliman, hers an autonomous campus unit.   

She talked about her ancestors coming all the way from the Ilocos. 

Her grandfather thought that a new life awaited them in the Visayas.

So the grandfather packed her young family and established himself in the big city.

He had a particular profession and so it was not that hard for his family to take root, with the regular salary enough to put food on his family’s table.

His wife, her grandmother, had a profession. Soon enough, she worked as well.

Two breadwinners in a family were more than enough for this family to take root.

They raised their children born in the Ilocos as Ilocanos, but quickly, these children regarded their Ilocanoness as if their second skin, as it should be.

But they allowed another second skin to grow as well, a Bisayan skin.

In that household was eventually a hodgepodge of Ilokano language, Ilokano culture, and Ilokano cuisine—all things they could hold onto as Ilokanos.

But quickly, it was also a household where Bisayan was spoken so naturally, and the Bisayan culture was taken up as a serious business, and the Bisayan cuisine got some permanent residency in the family’s now mixed palate.

When the children grew up, they got married into Bisayan families, and the children, the real first generation, became more Bisayan than Ilocano, able to speak some smuttering of Ilokano, but hardly able to come up with an intelligent conversation with their grandparents, who, by then, have both become Ilokano and Bisayan as well.

On my way to Dapitan are several billboards  still hanging as if the May elections were not yet over.

There is one politician that caught my attention: Napigquit.

I tried to sort this out, and I thought, somewhere in time, an Ilokano came over to Zamboanga and took residence here, and evolved to become ZamboangueƱo especially at a time when Zamboanga was just one, not three, today. 

Napigquit, when deconstructed, is an adjective, the root coming from ‘pigket’ Hipanicized as ‘pigquet/pigquit’, and with the ‘na’ accounting the turning into a descriptor of the nominal root.

So much for the ZaNorte ethos, a different way of life.

While Dipolog rumbled like a volcano, Dapitan stelp like a satiated python. 

When I was still in Dipolog, I took the trip to Dapitan, on a minibus that stopped so many times I got tired counting.

Whenever there was some person on the shoulder of road waving, the bus would stop.

Whenever some would say ‘Lugar lang!’, the bus would invariably stop.

People came and went, and you just simply remember your Ilocos days, or not farther away, your Metro Manila days when all those unruly drivers on EDSA stopped everytime they see a prospective passenger, or some lazybone pulls the stop rope that leads to the stop buzzer, and when there is no policeperson around, would stop anytime of the day, or night.

I got to the town plaza, and by deduction, discovered where the Catholic Church is.

It was quiet at this time, early in the afternoon, right after lunch.

I counted three people, two old women infront beading their rosary. I was the third one; I occupied a pew at the back.

It is an old church, its smell mushy, its masonry a mixture of crudeness and polish.

It was a church put up by the Jesuits from the town’s pool of free labor in the name of salvation and faith.

It was a church where each Sunday that Dr Jose Rizal lived in Dapitan, he would stand at the back and listen to the sermon of a priest, invariably a Jesuit.

He had known them, these Jesuits and their mentalities, having come from the Ateneo Municipal.

If at all, he had more faith in them than the Dominicans, many of them unable to synthesize science and their training in medievalist thought.

I tried to listen to the divine in this church, and all I heard was the language of silence.

I went out, and walked around the plaza, my backback dangling like a security blanket, one heck of a blanket I needed in a new place.

I looked at the Casa Real, the first place Rizal would be housed in under the careful watch of whoever was the government factotum.

The casa has seen better days, and is about to crumble.

Is there no money left for historical places to be maintained?

I flagged down a tricycle, one of those ubiquitous motorbikes with a sidecar, the entry to the side car so high the fabricator must have not known the meaning of aesthetics and practical sense.  

‘To the shrine,’ I tell him. There was confidence in my voice, and I heard it. I have researched on these details, and I was fully armed.

‘Fifty pesos, sir,’ he tells me.

‘No, I give you a hundred but you wait for me.’

He smiles, happy for his first hundred pesos for the day. 

Islas Filipinas/
June 7, 2013

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