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Manokan Country, Chicken Inasal Like Nowhere Else

Posted by Andrea L. Si on January 22, 2012 at 4:15 AM Comments comments (1)

 There are restaurants and restaurants in Bacolod but those who know will include in their itinerary, a meal in Manokan Country. "Manok" is Ilonggo for Chicken and Manokan Country is a row of 18 or so stalls that have one specialty, Chicken Inasal, Barbecued Chicken on a stick. A number of finicky relatives and friends will prefer Chicken House or Chicken Deli, which appear to be more civilized and more sanitary. But nothing beats Manokan inasal for flavor and juiciness. This is not surprising, considering how the chicken is almost always slaughtered the day it is served.  


Inasal vendor at the Bacolaudiat 2012. The favored parts - paa, tinae, isol are already out of stock. Even with the original inasal vendors transferred to the strip known as "Manokan Country," vendors like the one shown line up along streets near hospitals, bus and jeepney terminals, markets, and other places around Bacolod.

Aside from the usual paa (pa-a, chicken leg), pecho (pe-cho, breast), pechopak (pe-cho-pak, breast with wing), pakpak (pak-pak, wing) atay (a-tay, liver),  baticolon (ba-ti-co-lon, gizzard), and the usual pork barbecue (skewered pork), Manokan treats that are not available in the "more expensive" chicken inasal restaurants are delicies that are guaranteed to wreck havoc on anyone's uric acid and cholesterol counts:


  1. tinae (ti-na-e, intestines,which my husband and kids love)
  2. bisaya na paa or pecho (native free range chicken leg or breast - the only healthy option in the list)
  3. li-og (the neck, which is famous for high-cholesterol)
  4. adidas (chicken feet)
  5. isol (chicken ass)
  6. dugo (coagulated blood of a skewer) 
  7. heart (don't know the manokan term for this)
  8. Talaba (oysters)

Skewered slices of pork belly, atay, chicken heart, and gizzards are all that remain of the chicherias (I think this is what  the odds and ends of chicken are called). Tinae and isol usually disappear the fastest since they seem most delicious with beer.



If these are not deliciously deadly enough,  you can ask for yummy, super high-cholesterol golden oil rendered from chicken fat and cooked with atsuete seeds. All manokan chicken are generously brushed with this oil (which I can't imagine pouring on my rice as the rest of my family does.). Several stalls will also give fried garlic to add to the rice and oil. Beats fried rice any day. Arrive before the stall runs out of it and you can ask for free soup too, usually a steaming bowl of arroz caldo (rice soup with chicken broth) or lina-ga broth ( La-ga means to boil meat or vegetables until tender).


Served with the inasal is patis (soy sauce, not fish sauce), calamansi, and sinamak (spicy vinegar), which Bacolodnon's mix to taste and use as a dip for the chicken. Metal utensils interfere with the taste of the inasal so you may not be given utensils until you ask for them. Give yourself a good handwash with soap and water so that you can do as the Manokan habitues do. You don't know what finger lickin good is until you've done it with Manokan chicken. You also haven't really seen and tasted Bacolod if you never go to Manokan to eat. As far as I know, Manokan is like a shrine that all balikbayans visit when they come home. Manokan chicken is also a favorite pasalubong to bring back to to family members and friends who were not able to make the trip. 


Replace the fancy green umbrellas with rusty Galvanized Iron sheets supported by 2" x 2" wooden posts and dividers of old streamers or plastic and you'll have a picture of the original manokan as we knew it in the 70's. The photo above was taken along Lacson St., during the 2012 Bacolaudiat.


There was a time when the Manokan owners had make-shift stalls lining both sides of "Kilid State," a side street beside State Theater (Kilid means beside, thus the name). Enveloped by smoke from a hundred barbecue stands, there was a sense that entering "Kilid State" (Smith Street) from the plaza side was entering a no-man's land. Beer flowed freely till the wee hours of morning. People got drunk and became rowdy. In the hazy glow of so many incandescent lamps and smokey embers, who knew how many stabbings took place? And of course there was the big question of sanitation, there being no running water for washing dishes and utensils street-side. Before we knew how tourists love these rugged, al fresco, feel-like-a-native eating places, that is what most of the uninitated thought about our original Manokan Country. 


Kilid State happened to be a stone throw away from where I was taking up Architecture. Because it was so near and because my boyfriend (now my husband) lived part of his life on this street, I dared to go through the curtain of smoke and after the first time, kept returning. The eerie haze wasn't as bad as it looked from the outside although I am sure that had my parents known, they would have given me stern warning against going back.


Eating street-side under the stars seems to be Bacolod's way of celebrating, as this scene during the Bacalaudiat shows. I think the old Manokan was so irresistible because there was always a sense of fiesta while there. 

In the late 70's, when a paper had to be written about areas in the city that could be developed as tourist spots, I was ghostwriter for an essay on the tourism potential of "Kilid State." It was a place the well heeled were not likely to venture into but I saw tourists there, visitors who wanted to experience a Bacolod that wasn't like every other city in the world. Walking along Lacson Street at the height of the Bacolaudiat yesterday (also recalling scenes of the annual Masskara festival), the happy diners sitting  around street-side tables with their beers and chicken inasal brought back some of the magic of the old "Kilid State" as we knew it. Perhaps that is what the old Manokan was all about, the experience of fiesta on-call.


Architect Joe Dureza, our teacher who later became part of the City's tourism development council, saw the magic that I described. When "Kilid State" had to be cleared, the stall owners were transferred to more permanent quarters at the reclamation area. This is how Manokan Country came to be.


With SM City a short distance away, Manokan Country is now a standard in the tourism and restaurant map of the city. There is no airconditioning here, no fancy interiors. No one dresses up to go to Manokan and most people eat with their hands. As with "Kilid State," the common people eat here, families, barkadas (groups of friends), employees after work. I've seen many a rich friend bring foreign visitors to Manokan. I do too although my siblings prefer Chicken House.


My husband goes to Manokan for the tinae and he likes this best at "Lion's Park." I'm more of a health freak so i stay away from all the high-uric, high cholesterol temptations that Manokan offers. I like Lion's Park for visitors beecause aside from the chicken, the restaurant has crab fu-yong, sisig (a delightfully spicy concoction of pork ears and masskara -  face), sinugba na baboy or sinugba na bangus (grilled pork or grilled milkfish), kansi (beef bone marrow with jackfruit in a sour broth), and other choices. I  have a daughter who loves the chicken at Umbao's (owned by my classmate so I don't mind advertising her place). Aida's is owned by the family of another classmate. There are different Nena's something barbecue stalls and there are Nena's branches in other parts of Bacolod. Seems to speak of the success of Nena's. Another stall worth mentioning is owned by a popular local artist and is the favorite haunt of LCC Arfien Alumni (Architecture and Fine Arts alumni under Dean Perfecto Marzona). This artists' haven is decorated with original paintings on wood or canvas, sculpture, and other art pieces, all for sale at near give-away prices.


Across the street from Manokan is Andok's, also specializing in chicken. In SM, you will find Mang-Inasal, admittedly the biggest chicken inasal restaurant chain in the country.. How does chicken in these other restaurants compare with chicken in Manokan? Shall I say that when I'm in Boracay or Baguio or some other place where I'm looking for a cheap lunch, I might go to Andok's or Mang-Inasal but that is only because Manokan Country is not an option? If there is anything that Bacolod is, it is Manokan Country. Here, chiicken inasal is chicken like nowhere else in the world.  

Sugarcane Juice for Health and Energy

Posted by andrea lizares on November 26, 2010 at 8:52 AM Comments comments (6)

One of the treats that my Chinese husband looks forward to when we're anywhere near Ongpin is a refreshing ice-cold glass of sugarcane juice. Freshly squeezed cane juice is a very popular drink in India, China, Southeast Asia, Central and South America, and other places where sugarcane is grown. Fresh cane juice is even available in Great Britain, which doesn't produce sugarcane at all. Given this healthy juice's demand in other countries, it is sad that most Negrenses have not tried sugarcane juice, although more than 60% of the province's land area is planted to sugarcane.

Cane Juice Display in Ongpin. Photo from

The last time Manuel and I were in Ongpin, our cane juice vendor celebrated its 10th or 15th anniversary by giving a free glass of juice for every glass purchased. While draining our two glasses of ice cold juice, we saw many tall, athletic types dropping in one after the other to buy 4 or more one liter bottles of frozen cane juice. Their fondness for cane juice can't mean anything except that they know by personal experience how good the juice as a source of instant energy, and to maximize endurance and performance in sports. Being a fan of ice cold cane juice after long hot walks in Manila, it's easy to see why athletes also prefer to have a bottle of cane juice for rehydrating. I'm not a nutritionist but Chinese and Ayurvedic medicine have long known about the benefits of sugarcane juice. The internet has so many references on its health benefits that we really should be drinking sugarcane juice instead of soft drinks and other artificial drinks. So you'll know, I've listed some of the benefits that sugarcane juice is known to have, together with links to the source so that you can do your own research.

Calories and Nutrients: Sugarcane juice has 36 calories per 100 g. compared with 55 calories for Apple and Grape juice, 58 for Mango, 52 for Pineapple, and 44 for Orange juice. The juice is also rich with iron, phosphorus, potassium, vit. A, B1, B2, B3, & C, Calcium, & Chromium. Beverage Calories (KCal) /100g 55 Apple Juice 55 Grape Juice 58 Mango Juice 48 Orange Juice 52 Pineapple juice 36 Sugar Cane juice 17 Tomato Juice (Source of info on calories

As early as the first century, Chinese court officials documented how cane juice helps in the rapid metabolization of alcohol. Buddhist texts translated into Chinese in the 4th and 5th centuries described the pharmacological properties of the eight juices, one of which was sugarcane. The 12th century Thang Shuang Phu claimed that sugarcane dissolves phlegm, quenches thirst, and relieves fevers and headaches. The Pen Tshao Kang Mu (16th century) says sugarcane can replenish the spleen, is beneficial to the large intestine, and is thirst quenching. Sugarcane juice, boiled with grain and made into gruel, when taken on an empty stomach was said to cure cough, fever, dry mouth, dry tongue, thick and sticky nasal mucus, vomit, and other ailments. (Science and Civilization in China, Volume 6, Part 3)

In Taipei, heated sugarcane juice is vended as a cure for sore throats and colds during the winter months. (Ibid)

To cure Jaundice, Ayurvedic medicine says: Plenty of this juice can be given to the patient, to promote more urination as well as for nutrition and general health. ( Liver: Sugarcane juice is recommended for the nutrition of the liver and for general health (Food for the Liver:Good Food to Cleanse Your Liver Naturally) A website on Diet, Nutrition, and Exercise mentions that sugar cane is one product that will help to strengthen the liver. Because it is alkaline, sugarcane juice helps maintain low acid levels in the body, making it particularly useful for those who are suffering from liver disease. Furthermore, the liver that is infected benefits from the revitalizing energy obtained from a natural, harmless and strong product such as sugar cane juice. Those who need to be on a diet with extremely limited carbohydrates, can also use sugar cane as one of their sources of carbohydrates and energy. (Sugarcane Juice and Treatment for Jaundice Bilirubin Levels)

On Hypothyroidism the great Ayurvedic physician named ‘Charaka’ said hypothyroidism does not attack those who consume adequate quantities of milk, old rice, barley, green grams, Bengal grams, sugarcane juice, cucumber and other milk products. (from Hypothyroidism - an Ayurvedic Approach by Raj Kumar)

For Urinary Infection, among the home remedies recommended is a diet that should include lime juice, orange juice, sugarcane juice, apple, grapes, pineapple and other fresh fruits. Replacement of aerated/carbonated drinks with fresh juices is advised. Lemon juice, carrot juice, tender coconut water and sugarcane juice consumed on a regular basis can help control urinary infection. Half a cup of radish juice two times daily can also help. Liquid food (not carbonated drinks) in almost all forms is beneficial to treat urinary infection. (Urinary Tract Infection: Precautions and Ayurvedic Remedies)

Constipation can be naturally cured by drinking sugarcane juice. Besides, one can also regularly take the vegetables and papaya, to contain constipation. (Digestive System "Chronic constipation" Causes, Treatment, Symptoms, and Dietary Regimen.) The cane and the juice serve as a mild laxative because of the potassium content.

Goitre patients should consume plenty of the following foods: Old rice, barley, moong dal, patola, drumstick, cucumber, sugarcane, juice, milk and milk products. Also, one should refrain from heavy foods such as meats or breads that are more difficult to swallow, and will cause pain. Goitre Remedies/Natural Cure/Ayurvedic Goitre Treatment

For Wrinkles - Sugarcane Juice and Turmeric: Take two teaspoon of sugarcane juice and add pinch of turmeric into it. Apply this on the face and keep for about ten minutes. This is very effective way of curing wrinkles. (Home Remedies for Wrinkles, SBM Ayur Care)

In Health & Nutrition Benefits of Eating Sugarcanes as well as in many other blogs, among the benefits of sugarcane and cane juice which are listed are:

* Sugarcane has a low glycemic index (the effect a carbohydrate has on blood glucose levels), which means it is good for keeping the body's metabolism healthy and for maintaining a healthy body weight. Even diabetics can enjoy sugarcane juice without fear, although type 2 diabetics must limit their intake.

* Sugarcane juice has been found to be good for those who are suffering from febrile disorders (responsible for causing fevers), which can result in a great amount of protein loss from the body. Liberal consumption of sugar cane juice provides the necessary protein and other food elements to the body. (Other references: Sugar Cane Juice is a Natural health Drink.

* Being alkaline, cane juice moderates and neutralizes the body's acidity, enhancing immunity and helping the body against cancer, especially prostate and breast cancer.

* Sugarcane is believed to strengthen stomach, kidneys, heart, eyes, brain, and sex organs. It helps the kidney perform its functions smoothly and is said to be beneficial for patients suffering from gonorrhoea, enlarged prostate, cyctitis and nepthritis.

Antioxidants: A study mentioned in indicates that sugarcane has good antioxidant properties and has the ability to scavenge free radicals, and inhibit lipid peroxidation, possibly explaining why sugarcane juice is so good for the health.

Making Sugarcane Juice Available in Negros: Chinese everywhere are big fans of sugarcane juice so Manuel purchased a juicer so he could share his favorite juice with Negrenses. As we're not yet producing very much, Manuel himself washes the cane and cuts away roots and dirty, open, or damaged parts. He does not remove the rind although this will result in juice that is lighter in color. Not only is cutting off the rind time-consuming, research shows that the majority of valuable sugarcane extracts, including antioxidants, are concentrated in the rind (Source: Anti-oxidants and Other Functional Extracts from Sugarcane).

After cleaning the cane, Manuel passes cane stalks through our juicer's stainless steel rollers. The pure, unadulterated juice collects in a stainless steel pan under the rollers and is immediately bottled or placed in a jug then refrigerated or frozen to keep the juice from spoiling.

Serving Sugarcane Juice: Manuel's friends love their cane juice with a lot of ice to cool and dilute the juice. My Kapampangan sister-in-law freezes the cane juice in a wide mouthed container (a used ice cream plastic container will do) and enjoys sugarcane slush when the juice is partially frozen. I don't mind drinking the juice cold and pure in a small juice glass that makes every drop of the juice ever so tasty and refreshing. Another sister-in-law can't have cold drinks so she dilutes the juice with water. I've tried adding calamansi in a proportion usual for calamansi juice. Nice and a chemical reaction occurs so that the cane juice turns orange. The juice ends up tasting like calamansi juice, though so instead of having a glass of sugarcane juice and a glass of calamansi, after all the work of juicing the sugarcane and the calamansi, all I had was a glass of calamansi juice. What should be interesting to try is cane juice with calamansi and ginger. Sounds like this will be great for colds and sore throats, the juice served warm or hot, of course.

WHERE TO BUY SUGARCANE JUICE IN BACOLOD: Manuel's fresh or frozen sugarcane juice is sold by the glass (with ice) or by 500 ml bottles of pure juice in our daughter's foodstall, Ni's Arista Treats in the 2nd floor of 888 Chinatown Square (888 is near the Land Bank, Negros Museum, and Bacolod City Hall of Justice and Ni's Arista Treats is in the snack area near the elevator to the ground floor). The P15 price per glass seems more expensive than the Ongpin vendor's price but the photo above was posted last year and when we were in Ongpin recently, the price per glass was P15.00. Furthermore, who is to say how much ice there is in proportion to the juice being sold by the glass in Ongpin? Besides, it isn't the sugarcane planter himself who prepares and juices the cane in Chinatown. Dali na, give yourself a refreshing lift and bring home some bottles to share. Those who've tried cane juice keep coming back for more.

Get your sugarcane juice from Ni's Arista Treats, 2nd floor, 888 Chinatown Square, Bacolod. Ni's Arista Treats is in the snack area near the elevator going down.

The Queen's Other Ancestral Homes

Posted by andrea lizares on November 21, 2010 at 7:02 PM Comments comments (0)

Fascinating Stairwell

Three of the Queen's ancestral houses are open to the public as lifestyle museums. The home that offers the most fascinating and the most informative tour is easily the Hofilena home which is featured in The Prince of Silay's Heritage Conservation. The best known of the city's heritage homes is the Balay Negrense ( 1898 ), the 12 bedroom home built by Victor Gaston y Fernandez, son of Yves Leopold Germaine Gaston. The Frenchman who married a Filipina is credited with being the first to generate widescale interest in cultivating sugarcane on a commercial scale in Negros and the one who introduced the "Horno Econocomico" precursor of the present day sugar mill. The house of Gaston's heir is fittingly grandiose but even more so are stories of Victor Gaston going out to his roof garden to await ships sailing from Europe to bring to the port of Silay, much awaited merchandise and performing artists from Europe. Abandoned in the late 70s, this magnificent sample of French and Spanish colonial architecture on the historic Cinco de Noviembre street was restored through the efforts of the Negros Cultural Foundation and the Gaston family. When it was reopened as a museum, old families lent out furniture, furnishings, clothes, paintings, and household articles from the turn of the century so that the house could showcase the lifestyle of the city's rich past.

Living Room

Living Room of the Jalandoni House Museum ( 1908 )

Of Silay’s three museum houses, the 1908 Don Bernardino Jalandoni Museum, or the Pink house is the only one that is built in the typical Bahay na Bato style of Filipino-Spanish domestic architecture. The ground floor with its thick stone wall was used as a zaguan (garage area and since the house is along the main street, later used as commercial space), while the family’s entire living area including all the bedrooms are in the upper floor which is made of wood. The Pink House is smaller than the Gaston house but the original interiors with their fine wood work and furniture, as well as old household equipment and articles remain intact, giving visitors a privileged and authentic view of life as it was lived by the well-to-do Jalandoni-Ledesma family. The house is made more interesting because Don Bernardino’s daughter married Dr. Trino Montinola, one of the founders of First Farmers Sugar Mill (Talisay), while a grandson, Fr. Luis Jalandoni became one of the highest ranking leaders of the Communist Party of the Philippines, which hoped to begin the communist revolution in the fertile fields of the sugar barons." src="" width="409" height="271" />

The original facade of what has forever been known as the bakery El Ideal

Actually, the first Silay Heritage home that I fell in love with was the home of Mr. Cesar Locsin y Lacson, the structure everyone recognizes as the 1920s bakery, El Ideal. The historical marker by the roadside is easy to miss but the house is more than a hundred years old and its original owner was one of the many Chinese who helped make Silay the center of commerce during the early years of the twentieth century. El Ideal is a Balay na Bato Chinese style. Like most of the old houses of rich Chinese in the Philippines, the family's living quarters were on the second floor while the ground floor was reserved for the hardware, the bodega, the bakery, the shop, or the store. Before the airport was transferred to Silay in 2008, the interior of El Ideal looked like pre-war Chinese bakeshop, the dark wood stain that dominated the walls and the frames of the cabinets where the baked goods were displayed giving the feel of a a sepia colored antique photograph. The interior is now a cheerful combination of neon colors that remind me of how Singapore and Malaysia rehabilitated their old Chinese quarters. The new look hardly detracts from El Ideal's charm.

The new, colorful interior of El Ideal

The Locsin home that we identify as as El Ideal (there are other Locsin heritage home in Silay) is charming because aside from the fact that it is an enduring testimony to Silay's Chinese heritage, for the longest time, El Ideal has been something of a symbol of Silay FOOD. Food is one thing for which the city is famous (aside from the heritage homes). Silay's heirloom recipes are such best sellers that the Locsin family alone boasts not only of El Ideal but also of Rolis, Bar 21, and Sweet Greens, the last three being among Bacolod City's most popular restaurants. The non-rich of Silay may have little love for the invisible Silay rich who claim one or another of the City's more than 30 Heritage Homes. But these homes recognized by the National Historical Commission are not mere remnants of a legendary wealthy past when Silay seemed to be the center of the world. These are homes of heroes and heroines who fought for Philippine independence, of rich and powerful political leaders, industrialists and businessmen, the men and women whose names are such an important part of the making of Negros. Despite the rich/poor gap that some people in Silay feel very keenly about, it is therefore difficult for an outsider (who is not a leftist) not to be enchanted by this fascinating city and it's people. And when one considers the many other things Silay has to offer (more of these in later posts) - food, art, culture, the sugar mill and iron dinosaur, outdoor adventures - foreigners and locals, even this die-hard Talisaynon can fall in love with the Queen.

Links: Silay's Ancestral Homes:

Housing our Rich Past - A very informative article published in Cebu Pacific's Inflight Magazine. An Eyewitness to the Post - Collection of photos of Silay Ancestral Homes, from Silay City's Facebook Page. Bacolod, a Glimpse of Silay's Ancestral Houses - Beautiful photos of lesser known Silay Ancestral Homes. . Manuel Hofilena's Heritage House and the Art Collection of Ramon Hofilena: Negrense Home Holds Stunning Collection -Philippine Daily Inquirer article on the Hofilena Home. The Hofilena Heritage House, Silay City - a well written write up of one visitor's experience of the institution that is Ramon Hofilena. . El Ideal - The bakery's page in The El Ideal photos are taken from and link to the multiply site. - Silay History - a very informative account of the City's history, as told in the City's official website. Photos of Old Silay - Photos of Old Silay in the Silay City Facebook Page. Silay City in Facebook - Maybe the easiest way to connect with Silay. The Silay Page has links to 19 albums of Silay scenes and events.

The Prince of Silay's Heritage Conservation

Posted by andrea lizares on November 21, 2010 at 6:49 PM Comments comments (3)

Hofilena Home, Silay CityReceiving Room or Caida

Members of the old rich families in Silay have a reputation for being snobbish. My Silay school teacher friend is certain about this but I'd like to think maybe not. Since 1962, Ramon Hofilena, the "Father of Heritage Conservation in Silay," has been welcoming all and sundry to his family's Manuel Severino Hofilena Heritage Home (1934). Monching says he is not rich but the house which he still lives in, is an illustrado's house with unmistakable touches of genteel elegance - a 150-200 year old German made Rachall piano handed down from Ramon's great grandmother, period furniture, antique lamps and chandeliers, large Ming dynasty jars that have been with the family for generations, the dining table set with fine china, silverware, wine glasses, and silver candelabras that Ramon cheerfully lights for visitors as part of the welcome. There are no reproductions in the house, Ramon points out, and hardwood plateras (glass display cabinets) in the dining room show Chinese porcelain and ceramic archeological finds all discovered in Silay and ante-dating the Spanish in the Philippines

Hofilena living RoomThe Philippines is very rich in tektites

Like a child happily showing off his treasures, like a teacher drawing students to share his love for art and culture, Ramon goes through his collection of toys and curios from around the world, including tektites and anting-antings that he says are good for luck (although he doesn't believe in luck), and an old press for printmaking which he is working to popularize as an art form.

Conrado Judith's WallPaintings and Sketches by Famous Filipino Artists

Even if one is not exactly an art aficionado, the collection that covers all the walls of the second floor, is impressive. Represented are reknowned Filipino artists from the 19th century to the present - Luna, Hidalgo, Amorsolo, Manansala, Ang Kiukok, Ben Cab, and others. There is a drawing by the 15 year old Rizal while a student in the Ateneo, and works by foreign masters like Goya, Picasso, Durer, Hokusai, and Hiroshige. It is, however moving to hear Ramon give the most honor, to Conrado Judith, a poor and unknown Silaynon with no formal art education, who died at 34 but whose works can stand next to masters like Manansala and Ang Kiukuk.

Four Poster with Crocheted Lace TrimStudy of the Masters Bedroom

The Balay ni Tana Dicang, my family's ancestral home in Talisay, is older and more grand than the Hofilena home (or than other heritage homes in Silay) but the Hofilena home has the incomparable and charming genius of Ramon Hofilena as its crowning glory and that is hard to beat. It's amazing how Ramon has opened up the entire house, even the bedroom he sleeps in, with original prints by masters on one long wall, Ramon's four-poster bed with an antique crocheted coverlet and embroidered pillowcases, the bookshelves lined with pocketbooks that are sepia colored by age, the large windows with the callados above and the ventanillas below. In the bedroom, more than anywhere else, the visitor is transported to another time, when Silay was the Paris of the Philippines. If Ramon will have his way, the city he loves best will indeed regain its former glory. And since everyone asks to pose with him, don't be surprised if the 76 year old Ramon, erstwhile swimming instructor and a professional model for bikinis (as well as for nudes), asks, "do you want me to take off my clothes?"

Family ClippingsWelcoming Silay's Department Heads

Tours of the Hofilena home are by appointment. Call (63- 34) 495-4561 and look for Mr Ramon Hofilena. The house is on 14 Cinco de Noviembre St. in Silay City, less than 15 minutes from the Silay airport. It's one tour you'll never regret.

Falling in Love With the Queen.

Posted by andrea lizares on November 21, 2010 at 6:43 PM Comments comments (0)

Silay City used to be this sleepy little town that progress forgot. The huge San Diego Pro-Cathedral was an apparition straight out of Italy but Silay City Hall right next to it was as rundown as the city hall of a small town could be. Before Silay discovered itself again, the only things interesting about the city were 1. El Ideal, the 1920s bakery where banadas, broas, and and other Panaderia de Molo type baked products were always a treat, and 2. the big family names that call Silay home: Locsin, Ledesma, Jison, Jalandoni, Gamboa, Gaston, Montinola, de la Rama, Hofilena, Golez, Hernaez, Lopez, Montelibano, Severino. These names are so very loud that for us who do not live in Silay, and for many who do not live in Negros, it seems that in our province, there are no other surnames. A good thing that although Cinco de Noviembre is the Silay St. where Leandro Locsin's pharmacy was a gathering point for revolutionaries, of the Cinco de Noviembre generals who led the Negrense revolt against Spain, Aniceto Lacson and General Simon Lizares, were proudly Talisaynon (from the Lizares hometown of Talisay), while General Juan Araneta was from Bago. The impressive ancestral homes of the rich Silaynons are a dominant presence in the city proper but Silay itself did not fall in love with these homes until the 1980s or the 1990s. Planter families that lived inside those houses were everything except visible to the ordinary man on the street. The common folk whispered stories of closet skeletons and fair but love-lorn recluses behind shut capiz shell casement windows and hardwood doors. A Silay school teacher told me "the rich in Silay do not mingle with ordinary people and we do not see them except when the more pious family members walk behind heirloom carozzas during Semana Santa processions." I was amused that she felt this way but one of the authors of the April 2009 Rogue magazine articles on Negrense Planters wrote that when he was growing up, he didn't see poor people except in the family farm. Apparently, the great divide between rich and poor isn't just a perception of the non-rich. "The Silay rich are really different from Negrense rich in other towns," the not rich of Silay maintain. It's interesting to note that the big names that dominate Silay are those of old rich families that moved to Negros after cheap imported cottons brought about the collapse of the textile industry of Jaro and Molo in Panay. These families, many of them of Chinese descent, brought their business smarts as well as genteel and cultured ways to a province that was essentially a frontier in the late eighteen hundreds. While there were other rich families in other parts of the island, in no other town or city were there as many sugar barons living in proximity to each other. Old Silay was a glitzy whirl of social gatherings, fiestas, concerts, and theatrical productions that sometimes featured performers from Europe, earning for the city the name "Paris of Negros".

Negros With a Twist of Sugar

Posted by andrea lizares on September 27, 2010 at 5:36 AM Comments comments (0)

If anything distinguishes the island of Negros from others, it is the lifestyle that evolved out of the sugar plantations that created the province’s wealth. However, to see the 4th largest island of the Philippines only as Sugarlandia is to completely miss the point.

Balay ni TanaDicang during the Viernes Santo Procession, by Pons Lizares

Sugar is of course the lifeblood of Negros and nothing evokes the glory days of the sugar industry more than do the ancestral homes of the planters, the sugar centrals that tower over fields of cane, and the old steam locomotives that once crisscrossed the island to bring cane to the mills. Dating back to the late eighteen hundreds when fertile land lured the adventurous from nearby Panay and Cebu and from shores as far away as England, France, and the United States, the Balay ni Tana Dicang in Talisay is the premier example of the traditional Filipino-Spanish Bahay na Bato. Talisay also has the Ruins and the home of General Aniceto Lacson but it is Silay with 30 heritage homes and the elegant Italian architecture of the San Diego Pro-Cathedral that lays undisputed claim to being the Paris of Negros. North of the Bacolod, Victorias Milling Compound in Victorias attracts visitors to the province’s largest sugar central and to the gigantic 1949 op-art mural of the Angry Christ in the St. Joseph the Worker Chapel. Another well known Negrense mural is the 9' x 21' shell mosaic mural of the Virgen sang Barangay in the chapel of Sta. Clara subdivision, an enclave of sugar planters and the rich in Negros.

Bacolaudiat Fireworks at the Provincial Capitol Lagoon, photo by Pons Lizares

Bacolod’s most famous architectural landmarks are the Bishop's House (Palacio Episcopal, 1830), the San Sebastian Cathedral (1876), and the Provincial Capitol Building (1931), which has been described by National Artist, Architect Alejandro Locsin, as the most beautiful provincial capitol in the country. South of the Capitol is the Negros Museum a historical and humanities showcase of the people and events that made the province, 'The Sugarbowl of the Philippines." Meanwhile, the best of Negrense arts and crafts are sold in the Showroom, the beginnings of which go back to the sugar crisis of the 80s, when Negrense women augmented their laborers’ incomes through the production of finely crafted articles for export and the local market. Their products, a first class selection of furniture, houseware, clothes, jewelry, fashion accessories, bags, souvenir t-shirts, ceramics, scented candles, pottery, novelties, and FOOD, make the Negros Showroom everyone’s favorite gift shop. FOOD is a word may as well appear in capitals letters here. Visitors have been known to gain up to a pound a day as tables groaning under a surfeit of food are an indispensable feature of Negrense hospitality. Given the discriminating tastes of the wealthy and well travelled Negrenses, food tourism is a popular option and there are many excellent, reasonably priced local restaurants that serve mouthwatering alimango, oysters, other seafood, Bacolod’s famous chicken inasal, and regional and international favorites. The biggest feasts are of course during fiestas. Negrenses will go into debt to be able to feed guests and to have at least an open air ball to crown the year's queen. Towns, parishes, barangays, even haciendas, have fiestas and in most cases, not just one. Even Semana Santa is, in its way, fiesta time. The fiesta seems to be the Negrense way of saying, “Life is hard but nothing will stop us from celebrating.” So Bacolod has its Masskara (October), a response to the sugar crisis of the 80s. Other well known festivals are La Carlota's Pasalamat (thanksgiving) Festival, La Castellana's Bailes de Luces (dance of lights), San Carlos City's Pintaflores Festival (painted flowers), and Kabankalan's Sinulog. Every April, the 13 cities and 19 towns come together in Bacolod for the Festival of Festivals, the Panaad, a showcase of the province’s history, arts, culture, tourism, trade, commerce, industry, and of course, FOOD.

The Magic of the Waterfalls and Mountain Stream in Pataan, Murcia

The island’s wealth of natural features certainly are cause to celebrate. Mount Kanlaon, a 2,465 meter asl active volcano with 9,000 hectares of pristine rainforest in Mt. Kanlaon Natural Park, is known as home of the supreme creator goddess Laon and is in the Must Climb list of every Filipino Mountaineer. The volcano’s foothills, whether in Murcia, Bago, La Carlota, or Isabela, abound with waterfalls, springs, and mountain resorts. Queen of these resorts is Murcia’s Mambucal, where the magical sound of rushing water is everywhere along the trail of the 7 waterfalls, and there are hot sulfur pools, a boating lagoon, swimming pools, and many other amenities for a day trip or a weekend. Patag (Silay) and Campuestohan (Talisay) are also well known resort areas from which begin unforgettable treks, this time through the North Negros Natural Park to Tinagong Dagat, an extinct crater that is a lake during the wet season, and Sulfutara, with its barren, rock strewn surface, sulfur yellow volcanic vents, and billowing steam. "]

Aerial view of Danjugan Island, World Land Trust Project Website

The island is just as richly blessed in its waters. Along the north eastern coast, white sand islands Lakawon and Jomabo are twenty to twenty five minute banca rides away from Cadiz and Escalante respectively. Just a long white sandbar on the surface, Carbin Reef in Sagay’s 22,000 Marine Reserve is protected area that delights snorkelers with corals and diversity of marine life. South of Bacolod, fine swimming beaches line the coast from Bago to Hinobaan. Cauayan and Sipalay boast of white sand and PADI accredited diveshops while Hinobaan’s beaches are the color of mocha. Only 3 kilometers off the coast of Cauayan is world famous Danjugan island, a 43 hectare protected area that’s covered with rainforest and surrounded by coral reef. Too accessible not to mention are the coral reefs of Apo Island Marine Sanctuary near Dumaguete, Negros Oriental, just 4-6 hours away from Bacolod. Fertile land, tropical rainforests, mountains that sing with birds and running water, white sand islands and beaches, corals and marine sanctuaries, friendly people. . . . How does one describe paradise? Tara na sa Negros!


This article was awarded first place in the First Negros Occidental Provincial Tourism Blog competition. I am posting it here subject to it's being taken down should the provincial tourism office say that I cannot use the article in my websites.

Andrea Lizares Si, great granddaughter of the Negrense Matriarch Enrica Alunan Lizares, is a true-blue daughter of the sugar industry in Negros. A lawyer by training, she has gone around the island by car, four wheel pick-up, and mountain bike, also with bare feet, trekker's rubbers, and spelunker's sandals.

Photo credits: Balay ni Tana Dicang by Pons Lizares The Provincial Capitol Lagoon during Bacolaudiat Time, by Pons Lizares Food from Palmas del Mar Photos in Facebook,!/photo.php?pid=12991&id=100001079853954&ref=fbx_album Pataan, Murcia, by Francis Lizares Si Danjugan Island, from http:///

The Negrense Planter: Sinner or Saint, Hero or Rogue

Posted by andrea lizares on September 27, 2010 at 5:35 AM Comments comments (0)

Collect a list of adjectives to describe Negrense Planters as they are often featured and "decadent" would have top-billing. Decadent - marked by or providing unrestrained gratification; self-indulgent; characterized by decay or decline, as in being self-indulgent or morally corrupt. The April 2009 issue of the Rogue magazine is titled "Blood, Sugar, Sex, and Magic." The issue that claims to reveal the untold story of Negros tells of swashbuckling, gun-toting cowboys with their own private islands, flamboyant socialites who made Europe their playground, "family trees that lurched with savage wildness" because they were all "interconnected by sex and sugar and they were all disturbingly rich," a province that was the essence of the wild, wild west.


I feel a little guilty about the fact that many of the "fruits, wild flowers, and bad apples" who cross the magazine's pages are cousins or first name friends and not one, but several of the mansions pictured are Lizares mansions. The guilt of being part of so much ostentation and self-indulgence notwithstanding, I bought a copy of the magazine, like the other characters whose quirks are described in juicy detail, enjoying the outlandish portraits that we paint of ourselves.

Simplicio Lizares Mansion, Luci Lizares (granddaughter  of Simplicio), athletes in front of the Talisay-Silay Sugar Mill when it was Lizares owned. Screen shot of the April 2009 Issue of Rogue, photos by Dac Rivera, sugar mill photo from Lizares family files

Top: Governor Antonio A. Lizares in his Talisay residence together with mayors of the province (photo from Lizares family files);Bottom: Adjie Lizares, greatgrandson of Enrica Alunan Lizares besideone of the Rose Windows in the Balay ni Tana Dicang (Photo by MarkNicdao). Screenshot of the April 09 Rogue Issue

When the Sugar issue of the Rogue came out in April of 2009, sugar prices ex-mill were below P900 per 50 kilo bag, a losing proposition especially if one has to pay rent. So badly did the industry flounder from 2006-2009 that in Negros, two sugar mills were sold for scrap and the Rogue Magazine quotes leading Negrenses as saying that sugar was dead, that Negrenses had lost Negros.

Given this background, the apparent joie de vivre which the pages of "Blood, Sugar, Sex, and Magic" exude is more a wistful longing for the days of legend rather than the reality of April 2009. In fact, the old planters who owned thousands of hectares are no more, in their places, new names of those who benefited from political connections and corruption. Vast plantations have been lost because of the Negrense love for gambling and our well known propensity for spending and borrowing beyond our means. And even among the elegantly conservative and low-key (like the Lizareses), if land reform has not taken its toll, plantations have had to be divided by heirs of heirs of heirs, a thousand hectares divided by 13 or 17 and then by 9 and then by 10 and so on, leaving the great-great grandchildren with gold plated names that are worthless when they work as companions in the United States.

I cherish the craziness of it all at the same time that I must write about another side of the rich Negrense land-owner, the untold story that the Rogue Magazine authors mentioned but only in passing. Hacienderos may have been lords of their castles and undisputed rulers of their fiefdoms but unlike Pampanga (Luzon) where sugar was produced through an oppressive feudalistic system, in Negros, the canefields have always been worked by laborers who earn wages in a very regular employer-employee relationship.

Much has been made of emaciated sacadas who bear the burden of the planters' wealth, but sacadas are seasonal workers who come for the harvest because life is even more desperate in the provinces from whence they come. Negrense canefields were and continue to be worked by Duma-ans, the regular farmhands whose family histories are so firmly bound to the land (duma-an refers to a person who have been in a place for a long time) that when properties are divided, owners also have to make provisions for the division of the duma-ans (This seems to be treating people as chattel, but when big businesses are divided, don't employees also have to go with one or the other part?).

The Lizares Rodriguez Mansion now owned by Mercedes McKenzieand Margarita Jimenez, two daughters of Antonio and Carmen Lizares.Screenshot of the April 09 Rogue magazine photo by Mark Nicdao

Duma-ans cultivating the fields in Hacienda Santa Teresita inTalisay, Photo by

Pons Lizares

Balay niTana Dicang with the Viernes Santo Procession. The Lizareses farmhouse in Minuluan was said to be of similar design. Photo by Pons Lizares

While there may be Negrense planters whose dogs and prize stallions receive better treatment than their laborers, this callousness toward duma-ans may be more exception than rule. The imposing houses that the old planters built for themselves in their haciendas speak of land owners who were not so much feudal lords but pätrons, noble or wealthy persons who granted favor and protection to persons in exchange for certain services.

Duma-ans had farmlots and farmhouses that were built and maintained as an expense of sugar production. Land and money were donated so that schools and churches could be constructed for the development of minds and the purification of souls. Until the end of the 1980s, it was common for children of laborers in many farms to go to college, their tuition paid in full or heavily subsidized by sugar proceeds. Planters used their connections to help children of duma-ans obtain jobs and opportunities that would otherwise not have been possible. And while others worried about the uncertainty of life, in haciendas, cash advances were readily available for every exigency and even spouses and children were entitled to free hospitalization and medicines at half price if not for free. In a sense, all the duma-ans in the farm were members of the planter's household, dependents like children of his own blood.

This is why, even when a laborer's cash advances are so much more than he can ever pay, should a member of his family be hospitalized or should there be an emergency in the family, the planter will not have the heart to turn the laborer away empty handed. And even if he does, the planter's wife will help, even from her own funds. So it is not surprising that while outsiders may have known the hacienderos as "Senor" or "Don," titles reserved for our version of aristocracy, the duma-ans called my grandfather Antonio, "Norito," a fond diminutive of Senor and they called my father "Toto Baby," "Toto" being a pet-name that doting parents call their sons.

Lola Dicang in her living room with President Manuel L. Quezonand President Sergio Osmena. The Lizareses have dominated the politicallandscape in Talisay for several generations. Photo from Lizares family files.

Advocates of transformative politics look askance at haciendas that are almost impossible to penetrate, so strong is the planter's sway. In some cases, there may be coercion, "vote or gabut" (vote or be pulled out of the land), people say. But with labor organizations and leftist groups that are especially active in Negros, one must concede that it is not fear or ignorance that keep laborers in line.

For generations, haciendas have provided better social security than government or individual politicians are capable of giving. For every crisis, every emergency from womb to tomb, it is to his Amo, his employer, that the duma-an runs for help. Even with the younger planters and their much reduced hectarages and lower profits, the pätron's responsibility to the duma-an and his family remains. And since the duma-an's welfare, his family's fortune, rises and falls with his planter's, how can a duma-an even think of voting for a politician who is not his Amo's choice?

The old haciendero families had a sense of noblesse oblige, literally, “nobility obliges.” Privilege entails responsibility. Planters gave generously of their lands for the construction of municipal halls, markets, schools, hospitals, and other government structures, as well as for churches, seminaries, and cemeteries. According to the Rogue, planters "espoused some of the most advanced political and social reforms of their time - like injecting the social justice provision in the 1935 Constitution when the rest of the world. . . thought that was Communism." When the economy of Negros was crippled by the sugar crisis of the 80s, planter women put together their artistic skills and entrepreneurial flair to organize the House of Negros Foundation, contributing extensively toward alleviating the plight of more than 150,000 displaced workers at a time when 60 percent of Negrense children were malnourished. Planter associations and individuals mobilized from north to south to organize farm communities for feeding programs, human development and leadership trainings, and cooperatives. By the time the Local Government Code was passed in 1991, the partnership between government, Civil Society and the NGO sector was so well established and so dynamic that Negros Occidental was a shining example of how the public and private sectors can work together for the good of the community.

Heartless despots or God-fearing "pätrons?" Decadent or highly conscienticized spirits who believe in noblesse oblige and care about social justice? What about everything that has been written about planters paying very much less than the minimum wage, denying legal benefits to their laborers, using child labor in the fields? How about hacienderos who kick and curse laborers and common folk, planters who are so rude that they treat everyone who is not wealthy as a serf with no right to respect or consideration?

Here I must admit that as with any other group of people, there are the best of us and the worst of us. But where legal benefits and compliance with law is concerned, the reader must know that while the previous paragraphs and the Rogue articles mentioned earlier are about the old planter families that owned at least several hundred hectares, 2005-2006 figures of the Sugar Regulatory Commission show that of the 13,590 sugar farms in Negros Occidental, 10,297 farms have plantable areas of ten hectares or less and there are only 246 farms that are bigger than a hundred hectares. Farms of twenty five hectares or less can not in any sense add to the great divide between rich and poor but it is most likely in this large segment of the population of "planters" that most of the violations of the minimum wage law, the child labor law, the SSS and Philhealth law, and other laws occur. 

I have a dear friend who is a member of an organization of the radical left. I have known her and loved her as a teacher and friend since I was 14 and I have helped her through many financial straits. Because of our shared history I think she is being ridiculous when she tells me that as a Lizares, I am a class enemy. But she is serious, making me wonder if the wealthy planter families are indeed guilty of more abuse and more exploitation than I know. Perhaps there really are many heartless despots who treat their laborers as being of a different grade of humanity.

My heart bleeds for all those whose families suffered because their Amo did not know what it means to be the pätron. Being a Lizares has always been a blessing to me and as far as I know, the Lizareses and many, many other old planter families do what they can to return this blessing to our people and our communities. And yet for my friend, I remain her class enemy so I cannot say for certain that I am right. At least I have had the chance to tell a story that goes deeper than the craziness, the incest, and the decadence that make big planter families so easy for class enemies to hate. Having presented the planters' side, I rest my case and leave the issues for the reader to judge.


The author, Andrea Lizares Si, is the granddaughter of Enrica Alunan Lizares and a part owner of Palmas del Mar, which is now owned by the children of Heriberto and Vicente Lizares, two of Antonio Lizares' 5 sons. She is a sugar planter, lawyer, feminist, theologian, former City Administrator of Bacolod City, and candidate for mayor of Bacolod during the May 2010 elections.


Mambukal Mountain Resort

Posted by andrea lizares on September 18, 2010 at 12:49 AM Comments comments (2)

Mambukal Mountain Resort, about 35 kilometers of Bacolod, is a 23.6 hectare resort that serves as a gateway to Mt. Kanlaon Natural Park and is the recommended one stop destination for nature-lovers who visit Negros. The rustle of leaves and the magical sound of rushing or falling water are everywhere as Mambukal is forest area with 7 waterfalls, a mountain stream running through it, hot sulfur springs, and of course, the requisite swimming pools. Operated by the provincial government, Mambucal also has a tourist lodge as well as stand-alone airconditioned cottages, picnic huts for day visitors, and a campsite for those who prefer to remain closer to the outdoors.

The Bacolod-Murcia-Mambukal route is a favorite of local mountain-bikers and there are off-road trails in and near Mambukal. The route which passes through the best of Kanlaon's forests, certainly the most scenic route to the summit of the volcano, begin from the Mambukal area.

The resort has something to appeal to everyone. Aside from those already mentioned, there's a hot dipping pool, a large boating lagoon, the canopy walk, wall climbing, batwatching, a butterfly farm, and a zipline (slide-for-life). While the adventurous and the physically fit explore the trails, swim, and try the different activities available within the resort, those who just wish to enjoy a leisurely (lazy) day will be refreshed by the gurgling river and the cool air under giant trees. 




Accommodations: The Mambukal Tourist Lodge has  standard rooms and suites and stand-alone airconditioned cottages.  There is also a campsite for those who wish to be closer to the outdoors. Day visitors can rent picnic huts although this is not absolutely necessary as one can have a picnic under the trees.

Food: There's a food court that serves local dishes at very reasonable prices.


Getting there: Mambukal is only 30 minutes by private vehicle and 45 minutes by public transportation (mini-bus) the Libertad terminal. Fare isaround P30. Mini-buses also go down from Mambucal to Bacolod on a regular basis.



Rates: Resort rates are very reasonable as this is a government owned resort.

Entrance fee: P 35.00 for adults and P10 for children 11 years & below; Light Vehicles – P 15.00; Trucks/Buses – P 30.00

Swimming Pools: (Kiddie/Adult Pool/ Mambo Pool, Dipping Pool): Adult – P 50.00; 11 years old and below – P 20.00 (swimming in the river is free)


Picnic Huts: Big – P 600.00; Small – P 300.00 (no charge for sitting on the grass or on the big rocks)

Tables with 4 Chairs – P 100.00

Canopy with 1 table and chairs – P 300.00


Wall Climbing – P 25.00

Slide for Life (Zipline) – P 100.00 – 2 trips

Canopy Walk – P 50.00

Boating – P 30.00 / person/15 minutes

Butterfly Garden – P 20.00 / person

ACCOMODATIONS: Check In – 2:00PM, Check Out – 12:00 Noon



Mambukal Tourist Lodge              

                             - P 600.00 – Ordinary

                            - P 750.00 – Deluxe

                         - P 1,000.00 – Suite

                         - P 2,000.00 – Exclusive use


LGU Cottages - P 900.00- Single beds / Matrimonial

                           - P 1,200.00 – 4 single beds

                           - P 1,500.00 – 2 single beds and 2 double deck beds

                           - P 4,000.00 – 2 bedrooms with Living Room, Dining Room and Kitchen



Conference Hall: A modern hall equiped wiith audio visual and other equipment for conferences and banquets.  Three separate halls can be combined into one big hall for up to 400 persons.The resort has its own catering service and since there are cottages that may be rented, Mambukal is an excellent venue for seminars, conferences, and trainings.

For Reservations

(034) 709-0990 or (034) 433-8516 – Mambukal Reservation Office

(034) 710-0801 or (034) 473-0610 – Mambukal Resort


Information from





The First Kanlaon Safari

Posted by andrea lizares on August 21, 2010 at 7:00 AM Comments comments (6)

Andrea and Manuel Ati-Atihan Photo taken

a few months before the First Kanlaon Safari

I climbed Canlaon, sacred mountain and home of the Visayans supreme creator goddess Laon, when I was 20. The eco-tourism adventure package promised transportation, experienced guides, porters to carry water and heavy loads, outhouse facilities on the trail and in the campsite, organized activities.There was no doubt in my mind that this was something I could do. “If others can do this, so can I”  echoed my 200 lbs Rotary Exchange foster sister Anne Marie Guthrie. Our guarantee was Manuel, tall, lean, strong, trustworthy, my best friend for several years, to look after us and find the tent, backpacks, and other camping equipment that we needed.

Manuel and Andrea in 2008 or 2009 together with sons Anthony and Francis in a day climb to Tinagong Dagat in Silay

At least a bus full left the Negros Occidental Capitol grounds that Good Friday morning of 1977. Most were first timers expecting a good time with friends. Manuel, Anne and I were with LCC Arfien (La Consolacion College Architecture, Fine Arts, Engineering) buddies, including our teacher Architect Emiliano Varon and his wife. The last persons I expected to see joining a rugged and physically challenging activity were my uncle Junior Servando, his wife Myrna, and their son Andrew.. Also there as was the well known artist, Jess Ayco, another non-outdoors person, at least as far as I knew.

This being an official event organized by the province, we paid a courtesy call on the Mayor of Canlaon City before we headed for Camp Mapot , an old Boy Scout Jamboree campsite. After we reached Mapot, we listened to a pre-climb orientation during which we were assurance that if we slipped or slid on the trail, we wouldn’t fall more than a few feet. Of course we were taught the mountaineer’s code – take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.

Sleeping on the uncomfortable floor with so many people moving around and the cold at 5,000 feet asl was not easy. Excitement also made  us restless. Wake up call was to be at 5:00 a.m., Black Saturday. We were going to have breakfast, a short program, then break camp and be on the trail before sun-rise. The days's program said we should be at the campsite by 2:00 p.m. with plenty of time to pitch our tents, have group activities, and prepare supper. Easter Sunday, we would be up before the sunrise, say our Easter morning prayers as a group, then make the final assault to the highest peak of the Visayan islands. After that, we were to go down an easier route and exit in Masulog where a bus would be waiting to bring us from Kanlaon City to Bacolod.

Because of its lush natural forests, Mt. Kanlaon is home to many unique species of flora and fauna and it abounds with legends and tales of powerful spirits and strange forest creatures that protect the sacred mountain. Sorjanos, local shamans from other islands, climb Canlaon on special days to gather herbs and other materials for their magic arts. With these expectations of Laon’s mountain, the first hour or so of trekking along vegetable fields and barren ground burning under the sun, made me ask, “Where is the primary forest? Where are the Visayan Spotted Deer, the Visayan Warty Hog, the hornbills, the other birds and animals for which Canlaon is famous? Where is all the magic and the mystery we’ve heard so much about?”

The author's youngest son Anthony during the 2008 Protest Climb through part of the Wasay Trail, said to go through the best part of the primary forests of Kanlaon. Notice how dense the trees are. Anthony's first  climb was a 4 day trek in the Northern Negros Mountain Range. He was ten years old.

The different parts of the trail were not particularly difficult for the 20 year old and the 200 lb 17 year old. The hot treeless terrain eventually gave way to cool and enchanting rain forest.  We were never far from others so the forest felt safely familiar, no chance of getting lost or getting bewitched by a forest enkanto. “Are there snakes here?” Anne wanted to know. Manuel assured her that there were none. There was also little chance of a Visayan Warty Hog goring us with its horns. Even birds and frogs were hard to find as our eyes were focused on the trail.

Michelle, daughter of Andrea and Manuel, in a group climb held around 2004. This climb began in Guintubdan

in La Carlota City and it exited in Mambucal. Although a longer trail, it is probably the most scenic route to take.

The three of us enjoyed the cool wet forest because this was what we’d expected when we decided to climb. But by 2:00 p.m., we were nowhere near anywhere the campsite. After lunch and 6 hours of trekking, Anne and I asked practically all the guides and locals we met, “Layu pa (Do we still have far to go?)?” Everyone was happy to oblige with “Isa na lang ka oras (Just another hour).” Another hour, and another hour, and another endless hour. In time all I could do was put one foot in front of the other, mindlessly like a zombie.

Sisters Josephine and Michelle Si with friend Micah Arroyo and fellow trekkers in the Jardin Sang Balo.

The high altitude and the thin topsoil stunt the growth of trees here so the Jardin looks like it has been

landscaped by a bonsai lover. Who the widow (balo) was, whether she lost her husband here, disappeared

in this area out of despair because of the loss of her husband, or she created the garden, that is not known.

“Don’t rest until you really have to,” Manuel would tell us. Despite his heavy backpack, our tent, food, and sleeping bags, this was easy for him to say. It was actually his 2nd Mt. Canlaon climb in less than a week. To cheer us up, he told us how he and his friends had lost each other and the guide with his group didn’t know the way. He and his companions run out of water and also suffered hypothermia. If they were able to do it. . . . At least we were with a big support group and couldn’t get lost.

View from 8,000 feet asl. This photograph was taken by either Josephine or Michelle in 2004.

When we finally emerged from the rain forest at higher than 7,000 feet asl, we gasped at the unobstructed panorama of Negros Oriental and Tanon Strait . Makawiwili peak, 8,000 feet asl and overlooking an extinct crater of Canlaon we reached at about 2:00 p.m.. Makawiwili is the one big must see on this trail that we were on so after more than 6 hours of endless climbing, we were ecstatic to arrive at somewhere. The “Abaga” or Shoulder where we were to camp was still a normal trekker’s 3 hour trek away, however. Haay. More one step at a time thinking although the view from the top never ceased to be amazing.

The lagoon surrounded by dense forest and partially shrouded by fog. What a sight for tired legs! :)

“Manuel, we have to do this again, but do the climb in two days instead of one,” I told my loyal climbing partner. I was sorry about all the parts of the trail I hadn’t really been able to experience because all the while I had been too focused on arriving. It was a time for realizing the truth of the saying that life is the journey, not the destination.

Margaha Valley, the old crater at the base of the present active crater. This breathtaking sight is definitely one

of the highlights of the climb.

At around 5:00 p.m., we arrived at the Abaga (Shoulder), also known as the Pagatpat Ridge, our campsite. Getting to the end of the endless trek was like attaining nirvana.  “Help us pitch the tent,” Manuel said. “Too tired,” Sleeping Beauty mumbled after I found a comfortable patch of grass on which to lie on.

Sarah Si, the author's second daughter, can carry a man's load and beat many a guy on the trail. This photo

was taken along the Wasay Trail during the 2008 Protest Climb

The temperature can get near 0 degrees Celsius at 8,000 feet, especially at night. The wind was blowing fiercely as the shadows lengthened. All Anne and I wanted to do was was get inside our tent, leaving Manuel and the Arfien guys to do the cooking. Our teacher Architect Varon and his wife had expected tents to be provided and since this wasn’t the case, we shared our Boy Scout tent for three with them. More than a little crowded, but with the howling wind howling and the bitter cold, there was a lot of comfort in warm bodies pressing against each other.

Exhausted though we were, the noise of the wind against the tent and the tossing and turning of 5 people in a tent for 3 made it hard to sleep. Furthermore, we were on a slight slope, our heads higher than our feet. Toes bitten by the cold would be our signal to kick ourselves back inside the tent. It was a relief to hear people moving around outside and then to hear the wake-up call which marked the end of the almost sleepless night.

Josephine and Michelle at the crater during their 2004 climb.

The final “assault” to the rim of the crater took an hour and a half. In the photographs of that first safari. we all looked and felt like conquerors. I knew of course that what we’d conquered was not so much the highest peak in the Visayas but the limits we’d set for ourselves. There was loose gravel at the edge of the crater so I chickened out and did not dare to go near. It was enough to be with the group that planted the First Canlaon Safari flag there.

We have conquered, say the beaming faces in this photo of the Arfien group posing near the crater in 1977,

the First Kanlaon Safari. Anne Marie Guthrie is the big blonde at the left side of the picture. The author might

be behind the camera but where is Manuel?

Definitely not for bungee jumping but is this actually the famous crater of Mt. Kanlaon? Photo by Josephine

or Michelle, taken during their 2004 climb.

The descent was without the sense of victory we got from the climb but going back was the most trying part of the 3 day safari. The trail that exits in Masulog (part of Kanlaon City) is the shortest, steepest route and it goes through the most damaged parts of the Mt. Kanlaon Natural Park (before 2001, the Mt. Canlaon National Park). To make things worse, there were no water sources for a refill of fast emptying water bottles.

After the Pagatpat Ridge, the elevation is too high for anything but grass to grow. So this is how the volcano peak looks. That it continues to look this way further down is unforgivable. It is also absolutely no fun to be going

all the way down from the peak through such a barren slope, or steeper barren slopes.  (Photo from Josephine and Michelle's 2004 climb)

Down this side of Canlaon, there was no evidence of the virgin forests and the wildlife for which the mountain is famous. We went down hot, treeless mountain slopes where we suffered from thirst while our knees and toes were tortured by the merciless downhill route. The first signs of human habitation were a relief beyond measure. My uncle hired a carabao and cart to bring him to Masulog but not after he’d already sliced open the toe portion of his brand new pair of Adidas rubber shoes.

Anne, Manuel, and I finished what we’d started out to do, of course. No cheating. There was nothing like the first drink of water after all the long hours with my empty water bottle. If there was anything that I didn’t want to happen again, it was the thirst. The following year, Manuel and I climbed again with the Varons and a few Arfien friends. We went a week before the Safari and took the mountain at our own pace. After that, Manuel and I got married and the babies that came one after the other plus peace and order problems caused by insurgency in Negros, put a third climb beyond our reach.

26 years and 7 kids later, in 2003, myhusband and I put on our backpacks and trekking shoes again. We did a 4 day trek of North Negros (Patag, Tinagong Dagat, Sulfutara) with 5 ofour children. Two years later, we climbed Mt. Bulusan in Sorsogon.Kanlaon is still something we promise we'll do before we get too old for another climb of the sacred mountain.

For more photos of Kanlaon

Andrea Lizares Si is a member of the Board of Palmas del Mar Conference Resort Hotel. She is a lawyer and was City Administrator of Bacolod from 2001-2004. In 2008, she became lead counsel of the class suit to declare unconstitutional, several provisions of the law allowing the geothermal exploration of part of Mt. Kanlaon's primary forest. She and 4 of her 7 children are respondents in the illegal trekking case.

Lent and the Religious Psychology of the Filipino

Posted by andrea lizares on August 19, 2010 at 2:17 PM Comments comments (0)

For fundamentalist Protestants, one of the most horrifying (if not the most horrifying) seasons of the year in Catholic Philippines is Lent. Christmas they can live with as there is nothing excessively idolatrous or fanatically superstitious in our Christmas celebrations. But Lent in the Philippines revolts every thinking Protestant fundamentalist who believes in salvation by faith alone, without any kind of human contribution by way of good-works or sacrifice and penance.

Lent in Catholic Philippines is very colorful and festive, but its essence is sacrifice and penance. Although more and more are going on vacations to beaches and mountain resorts during Holy Week, for the average Filipino, the right thing to do during Holy Thursday and Good Friday (even if that isn't what he does) is to fast and/or abstain and despite the heat (which is always worse during these two days than other days), mix with the huge crowds at traditional lenten activies in church or in the streets. Holy Thursday and Good Friday processions are the rule everywhere. In some places, these processions are the only times when members of snobbish old-rich families can be seen on the public streets, dutifully, and with an effort at solemnity, walking behind or beside heirloom carosas and statues of saints and other characters involved in the passion narrative. Plazas are always crowded during procession days, so are cathedrals and churches where life-size images of Christ on the cross and the Santo Entiero draw devotees and penitents who clamber over these images in an effort to embrace, kiss, or wipe handkerchiefs and other things on these representations of Christ. Earlier in the day, there would have been community stations of the cross up mountains or through long distances, also street re-enactments of the passion and death of Christ.

In many parts of the country, flagellants and people who actually have themselves nailed to wooden crosses give a very literal interpretation to the Lenten call to sacrifice. After the Holy Thursday mass, there is also the "Bisita Iglesia," visits to the blessed sacrament in at least 7 churches as a way of keeping awake with Jesus during the hours of his passion.

The Santo Intierro, the image of the Sacred Body of Jesus passing in front of the

Balay ni Tana Dicang, Ancestral Home of the Lizares family. Photo by Juancho Lizares Baylon

Before Holy Week, the masses for Ash Wednesday are also well attended, and one can't be a good Catholic unless he or she has had ashes imposed on the forehead on this day. Other popular Lenten practices include Palm Sunday palms that are shaped into many different religious and non-religious symbols, blessed, then brought home, supposedly for blessing and protection from evil spirits. Holy Thursday includes the washing of the feet of the twelve apostles, a rite that takes place not just in Churches everywhere, but also in the homes of many as a family tradition that continues because of a vow to God or the saints.

The Maria Magdalena, the Image in the Carosa of the family of Enrica Alunan Lizares.

Photo taken in the Balay ni Tana Dicang by Adrian Lizares

For Protestants, all of this religious frenzy can be very disturbing and pathetic. To them, Filipino Catholics appear like ignorant, deeply superstitious lost souls who are digging their pit of damnation ever deeper as they try to save themselves with their penitential rites and their abominable devotion to images. And yet, even among Filipino Protestants, there is a Lenten spirit which is not evident among Protestants in other countries. Here, Protestants have special retreats, special days of fasting and prayer, and special church services in observance of Holy Thursday and Good Friday. There should be no reason for these since Protestantism teaches that Christ has died once for all and our works add nothing to the efficacy of his sacrifice which took place and ended in Calvary. But since Filipino Protestants do have their Lenten practices, we have no choice except to see in them a clearer manifestation of Filipino religious psychology, sans the superstition and the fanaticism that make our Lenten observance a comedia to sophisticated eyes.

The San Nicolas de Tolentino Parish Church in Talisay. Notice the Carosas in the background.

Photo by Adrian Lizares

What do our Lenten practices say about our religious psychology? Despite all of our western style education and all the influence of the west on us, most of us are still very superstitious and as some fundamentalists charge, animistic. In the spirit-sterile modern western world, superstition is almost impossible to appreciate .

But spirits are everywhere in the Philippines and one is not necessarily wiser or more sophisticated than others because he has no sense of the spirit world that surrounds him. Are we animistic? While it seems that many of our religious practices are pagan animistic practices that have been Christianized, it bears mentioning that people who criticize our practices as animistic are people who do not use their bodies much when expressing themselves. But expressing ourselves with our bodies and our actions as much as with our words is practically a need for us. So we kiss statues, join the jostling crowds behind the carosas in Holy Week processions, and in extreme cases, flagellate ourselves or have a few nails driven through our hands and feet in re-enactments of the crucifixion. There should be and certainly are more constructive ways of declaring and living our faith. But while faith is best lived out by loving neighbor as self, an objective view should show that our lenten practices are essentially like dance, drama, and ritual which also allow us to express the exuberance of our faith. In our minds, God deserves all of this action and art, no less. There will be other days for loving neighbor and doing good.

A Carossa during the Good Friday Procession in Talisay. Behind the Carossa is the Balay ni Tana Dicang, the ancestral home of the family that owns Palmas del Mar. Photo by Bob Lacson

The fact is that there is much in our faith practices which is reminiscent of Old Testament worship. Think of the numerous obligatory Jewish feasts, the rituals detailed in the Old Testament, the bloody temple sacrifices, the strict food and cleanliness laws which kept the Jews separate and different from their neighbors, the regular times of prayer, the phylacteries they had to wear, the signs they had to post around their door-posts and in their houses. Jewish life was such that almost at every moment, there was some reminder of God and his special relationship to the Jews. Holy Week in the Philippines is meant to have the same effect. Of course the spirit of sacrifice and penance seems to say that we have not made the transition from the old covenant to the new. This is partially true because many, if not most Filipinos believe that God is a god who requires us to work our way to heaven and will send us to hell if our good works don't out-weigh our sins. Ever so often in a year, religious activities that require some sacrifice and penance are therefore helpful for correcting the imbalance somewhat.

But is this why we attend processions, church services, etc. during Holy Week? Surely, suffering is such a fact of life for most of our people that we have no need to invent or create suffering for ourselves. Many of us even experience purgatory in this life.

The fact is that all of these Lenten activities are occasions for families and friends to come together. For all the outward displays of repentant piety, Lent is fiesta time in the country. Instead of adding to our suffering, Lent enables us to cope with it, just as getting together with friends, laughing at our problems, and celebrating fiestas helps us to forget our troubles and live for another day. What's even better is that Holy Week always bears with it the promise of Easter, allows us year after year to be participants in a ritual of suffering and death becoming new and glorious life.

There is a lot of ignorance and superstition in the way we practice our religion. That is very true. There is a need for more integral faith development in our parishes. Many of us observe ritual obligations but fail to translate Sunday and Holy Week piety into a life of love and service for neighbor. This I think shows that despite the image of God as a punishing tyrant, we also know of God as father, Jesus as Santo Nino, and of course Mary as our all powerful mother and intercessor. Thus, there isn't really much to be worried about because only the really bad and unrepentant people go to hell. Filipino religious psychology still. Life's hard but basically, life's okay. We'll survive somehow and at the end of our days, get to heaven. What's important is that while we live, the family can stay together, and we can have our days of fun and fiesta once in a while.

And so the essence of Lent is not, after all, penance and suffering, but fiesta. Or maybe it is all of these in the same way that our people power ousters of Presidents are serious protests against social injustice and revolutions against corrupt rulers at the same time that they are pop festivals and religious feasts. I therefore like thinking that it is not superstition and ignorance which shape our Lenten practices, rather, our Lenten practices are shaped by the same religious psychology that gives us our distinctively peaceful and festive people power revolutions. I am happy with the Filipino version of Lent and of revolutions. Lent as in the west can only mean the demise of the Filipino soul.

This article is by Andrea Lizares Si who has a Masters in Divinity and a degree in Law. This Palmas del Mar Website is her way of sharing with the rest of the world, the magnificent heritage that she's been blessed with. In the picture, the author is posing with her great grandmother, Enrica Alunan Lizares, whose Balay ni Tana Dicang is featured in some of the photographs.