Guilty: A Halloween Short Story

Not guilty.

The crowd gathered in the courtroom roared their disapproval.

Not guilty.

The judge shouted, “Silence in the courtroom!”


Because of a technicality, the judge had ordered the jury to toss out the evidence after it was determined that it had been obtained illegally. From the back of the courtroom, detectives Mike Sabian and Barry Clarke glowered.

Therefore, dried blood recovered in a deep groove between the head of the hammer and the handle—or his fingerprints—could not be used as evidence that he had murdered his wife. It was his hammer, so of course, there’d be fingerprints.


The only possible witness could not give reliable testimony. And holy Moses, but they must have tried everything to find out what they could from his two-year-old son only to come up empty. But what did they expect? A damning testimony from the little turd saying he saw his father beat his mother with a hammer, wrap her up in a now-missing blanket and then load her in the trunk and bury her somewhere on the side of some deserted road? The kid couldn’t even form the simplest words other than Mama, and sweepy. And ever since his mother’s disappearance, he hadn’t spoken a word.

Not guilty of the murder of Philomena “Mina” Parks.

Seymour Parks exhaled, before looking at the jury with a grateful expression on his face. Thank you, guys. All of you. Even that ugly bitch with the permanent smirk on her face. He could have sworn the woman hated him the moment she laid eyes on him and would surely have said yes, he’s guilty, but no. A unanimous vote meant she said yes.

Sure, there could be appeals, but with his late wife’s family living in the Philippines, how were they going to pay the lawyer? In dried fish? Ha! He’d been the one helping send money to them back home for the barest necessities, every text message asking for something, like a dowry paid in monthly installments. A few bucks here for the month’s supply of rice, another few bucks there to fix a leaky roof. Each dollar went far in pesos, Mina had told him though he still had to pitch in because she didn’t make much at the corner store. The minimum wage she made was a pittance, almost like like hobby money to him, though it didn’t make a difference to Mina. All of it went back home, and sometimes she ran short so he had to help out, too. He didn’t really mind it at first, but in the end he did, not when he’d married her and not her damn family. She was bleeding him dry and now, he’d been accused of killing her, allegedly with a blunt instrument, like his hammer. He’d been behind bars ever since, the only suspect in her disappearance and alleged murder, even though they didn’t find her body.

Just the bloody hammer with a speck of blood between the head and the handle, along with his fingerprints that the detectives discovered during what Seymour’s lawyer declared was an illegal search. They had no warrant. Ha! Served them right to hear the judge throw the only piece of evidence that could have sent him to death row. No soup for you, Sabian and Clarke!

Seymour gave the jury one more look of appreciation before turning to face his lawyer and thank him. He heard the judge say something about custody of his now three-year-old son who’d been in foster care ever since his mother’s murder, though this time, Seymour barely heard the judge’s words, his attention focused on the young woman sitting a few pews behind him. Damn, but that girl was hot. No bar fine needed here. There was certainly something to be said about women who liked men behind bars. They liked them dangerous.

“Congratulations, Mr. Parks. They’ll be sending your son over this afternoon,” his lawyer said, grinning from ear to ear. Doherty was one of those court-appointed lawyers one got when they couldn’t afford one, and damn if the kid just won his first big case.

“Great,” Seymour nodded. “How am I supposed to take care of him by myself?”

“I’m sure Child Services will help you there, Mr. Parks,” Doheny replied, before his brow furrowed and he continued. “Did you say you were going to fly him back home to the Philippines to be with his mother’s family? Do you think that’s a good idea?”

Seymour shrugged. “Why not? She had a big family, and there’s only me here. And I’ve got to find work eventually. Who’s gonna keep an eye on him then? You?”

The kid was Mina’s idea, not his. She thought little Seymour (she even gave him his name) would guarantee her safety from the beatings. Boy, was she so wrong. Too bad she thought she could file for divorce, thinking she could be just like the American women he’d grown to detest. He’d seen the online searches she’d done in the browser history. How to file for divorce. What is domestic abuse? Who gets custody of a minor?

But I sure showed her, Seymour thought as he watched Doheny gather the folders from the desk and slip them into his briefcase.

Let her family back home take care of him now. The moment that judge’s gavel sounded and the words came out from the jury foreman’s lips, Seymour Parks was a free man in every sense of the word. And as the woman in the third row cast him a look that assured him that all her visits in jail weren’t for nothing, there were also other, more important things to deal with.

Seymour Parks needed to get laid.

* * *

The flight back to the Philippines took sixteen hours. One stopover in Japan and then to Manila. An hour after landing at Manila International Airport greeted by stifling heat and humidity, and then escorted to a more secure area of the airport to avoid the media, Seymour and his son boarded a smaller plane to the island of Alegria.

Four years ago, there weren’t any flights to the island southwest of Manila, but after a tourism boom, apparently they’d built a small airport to accommodate those who didn’t like having to get on those charter boats like everyone else. Seymour and his son sat among the many other foreign tourists in the small plane, none of them paying him and Junior any mind. News about the murder case didn’t concern them, not when most of them were there to get laid with the hundreds of desperate women eager to be with them. You couldn’t get a better deal for eighteen bucks, US. One girl every different night, if you wanted. And boy, would you want a different girl every night. Mina had been girl #5. Too bad he fancied himself in love with her after five days of San Miguel beer and sisig, a dish of pork simmered in spices. One month later, he found himself filling out the papers to get her to the US and then eight months later, she was there, his mail order bride all ready to give him everything he wanted. Everything.

Unfortunately, she fancied herself suddenly an American woman, unwilling to do anything for him. She wanted to work, and even go to school so she could learn how to speak flawless English, words beyond “yes, Seymour,” or “How may I serve you, Seymour?” Then she got pregnant even though he’d done his best to make sure she wouldn’t. But damn it, she did. The last thing he wanted was a child to put a damper on his kinky lifestyle, but the child arrived anyway, healthy and screaming its head off every chance it got.

And now here he sat next to Seymour Jr., his three-year-old mute son. Seymour had to promise the boy’s doctors that he’d find similar therapists back in the Philippines to help with the boy’s trauma – whatever trauma that was, Seymour scoffed. The kid didn’t do crap! He just stared at Seymour with those big brown eyes of his and it drove Seymour crazy. Of course, therapy wasn’t going to happen, not when every eligible speech therapist and psychologist had left the small island to work elsewhere, like Manila or even better, if they could swing the cost of relocation and job placement, the US. But Seymour couldn’t care less. He needed to wash his hands of the boy. He didn’t need him, and the boy surely didn’t need his father, not after what he’d seen Seymour do. Being mute certainly had its advantages.

Mina’s family greeted them at the airport with signs welcoming them home. It was embarrassing. But at least, no one said anything about a murder or even a legal case, even if he’d been found innocent by a jury of his peers. Her family couldn’t have cared less. He was free and that’s all that mattered. They still got their monthly stipend, no matter what. And besides, the less anyone else said about the damn case, the better. His plan was simple: he’d simply unload the luggage filled with all kinds of sweets he picked up at the warehouse store the moment they’d get home, and everyone would love him even more. Mina used to send similarly-packed boxes home, filled with chocolates, candies, and warehouse-size multivitamins that her family would then sell piece by piece from their corner store. One tablet for a few pesos. It was crazy, but that’s how they did things. Even eggs could be sold one by one, as were cigarettes—one stick at a time.

“Jun, go say hello to your Lola and Lolo,” Seymour said, nudging his son forward. Within seconds, Junior disappeared amid wide open arms and teary faces. Seymour couldn’t understand what they were saying, but he didn’t care. He’d only made arrangements to stay for two days before he’d head up to Manila and get his fill of San Miguel beer and bar girls. After a year behind bars awaiting his court case, he needed to make up for lost time.

But first, he had to play the grieving and wrongfully-accused husband. The family showered him with their sympathies, plying him with delicious food and beer. He must be tired, they told him. The flight must have been so long, they said, and so he should rest. And in the morning, they’d visit Mina’s grave.

“What grave? They couldn’t find her body,” Seymour said, perplexed. What was there to bury? For all they knew, Mina had run off with some boyfriend and was living somewhere in Milwaukee. Well, that was his reasoning anyway. For why else would she simply disappear like that?

“It’s just a pormality,” replied one of the cousins, a woman named Alma. Just like Mina before she started taking English classes behind his back, none of them could pronounce “f” without replacing it with “p” and “v” replaced with a “b.”

“That way we hab a place to go and lib plowers,” continued Mina’s mother, whom everyone called Nanay. “And we lib plowers ebryday.”

Seymour exhaled, wiping the sweat that gathered on his brow with his handkerchief. For a minute there, he thought he’d gone crazy. Pormality. He liked that. “Oh, I see. So it’s just an empty plot then.”

“Not really empty. Why don’t you come and see?” Asked Alma. She was older than Mina by a few years, and Seymour remembered how the women used to write letters to each other until he put a stop to it. All they did was ask for money anyway like they did whenever Mina called home.

They decided to visit the cemetery right after the mid-afternoon snack, even when most everyone else complained that it was too hot to go outside. But Seymour figured he might as well do it now. Besides, what game were they playing with him? Not empty, my ass. Did that mean there was someone else in there?

The cemetery was only a short walk away, and for a small town where most of their young residents had left in search for greener pastures, most of the people buried there were of the previous generation, although some were babies. As they walked alongside the tiny markers, Alma told him that some were probably born premature but with medical intervention coming too late. After all, the nearest hospital was a boat ride away.

A warm wind rustled the leaves around them, and Seymour wiped his brow with his handkerchief again. Maybe he should have waited until tomorrow to visit his wife’s fake grave. Fake. It almost made him laugh for he knew exactly where her grave was, and it was half a world away.

But he needed to get this over with. He hadn’t told them he was leaving in two days. The original plan was for him to stay for two weeks to help his son get acclimated to his new home, and set up the therapy sessions with whoever he found in town. At this rate, he’d leave it up to them to set that up. Besides, he couldn’t stop thinking about this grave. Learning they’d ‘buried’ Mina in some mock burial creeped him out. Who the hell did that?

They stopped in front of a marble grave marker that bore his late wife’s name although it was too high up on the plaque to just be for herself. There was room for at least two more names and dates.

“Mina paid por the plaque apter she went to de States.” Nanay wiped fresh tears from her face, her other hand reaching out to touch the engraved letters.

One of the cousins explained that family members often shared the same plot, one buried on top of the other. It was how they did things on the island since there wasn’t much land left that hadn’t already been sold to greedy developers who’d run out of beachfront properties to buy. So now they were making their way inland, snatching up whatever they could find and calling them hilltop residences. Thankfully, Mina’s hometown was too far inland for the developers to build anything profitable.

“So who is buried here?” Seymour asked, frowning. Why would they go through something like that when there was no body to bury in the first place? And why was it so infernally warm all of a sudden? He could feel sweat slide down the middle of his back.

Alma shrugged. “Nobody. We just bury an empty copin in der. Maybe when dey pind her, den we can do da ceremony.” Her English was breaking down as she spoke, and Seymour wondered if she was just too tired to think of the words or too flustered. She looked up at him. “She was happy with you, no?”

Seymour glanced at his son staring at the plaque in front of him. “Yes, she was. I still cannot believe she’s gone.”

“It must hab been hard, being in jail when you were innocent,” Alma continued.

He nodded, feeling beads of perspiration drip down the sides of his face. “Yes, it was. I loved her, but to be accused of her disappearance…her alleged murder…it was too much sometimes.”

Alma lifted Junior in her arms. “Tank you por bringing Jun home. We wait a long time, you know.”

“I think it’s going to rain,” one of the cousins muttered. “Can we just return home already?”

As they all agreed that it was time to say goodbye to Mina, Seymour couldn’t stop looking back at the grave. Creepy, he thought. Why would they hold some mock burial for a body that would never end up there?

Seymour had almost opted to stay at one of the beach front resorts, and if he had, he’d have had a woman sharing his bed by now. Twenty bucks, US… or maybe twenty-five, accounting for inflation. He could still do it, grab a tricycle cab and have it drop him off at the resort. He’d come back to spend time with Junior in the morning. But they convinced him to stay at the house, looking affronted at the mere mention of him needing to stay somewhere else when he’d paid to have that house built.

It poured as soon as they all returned home. And it was even more humid, a curse of the monsoon season. As Seymour settled into his room on the second floor, he could hear the women still talking downstairs, their voices interrupted by Junior’s grunts. What was the little turd trying to say now?

Seymour yawned and stripped off his shirt. He needed to hop in the shower even though the water pressure sucked in the second-floor bathroom. But he didn’t want to use the downstairs bathroom that everyone was using. He quite liked the master bedroom of the house that Mina built with all the money she – and he – sent home every month for five years. It was really a small price to pay, her being his personal punching bag when things weren’t going so well with his business, but she knew that before marrying him. It had been part of his kink. And before she discovered all the opportunities available to her in the US, she’d been fine with it.

Until one day, she wasn’t fine with it anymore, claiming later on that it was domestic abuse. Seymour still remembered how it all started, how she suddenly came home with a huge chip on her shoulder.

I will divorce you, you cruel man.

He’d laughed then because she still couldn’t pronounce her V’s very well, so divorce came out as diborce. But he couldn’t dwell on that anymore. She had tried to leave him, carrying little Junior in her arms and making her way to the garage where the car was parked. She was going to stay at the women’s shelter. The hell she was, he had thought then. And then what? She’d extort money from him to support the little turd for the next sixteen years?

Seymour shut his eyes and rubbed his temples. Man, but this humidity was doing a number on his nerves. Why was he thinking of her all of a sudden?

He stepped into the bathroom, determined to take his shower and then take a nap like everyone else in the house was going to do. He could also feel jet lag coming on, his eyes already feeling like lead. As Seymour stepped under the weak water spray, he could hear them downstairs talking and laughing, and little Junior grunting.

Yup, that was his Junior. Grunt, grunt, grunt, like a little pig.

And ever since Seymour got out of jail, that’s all he heard – the damn grunting. I’m hungry (grunt). I’m tired (grunt). Always the damn grunting, although, before the murder, the turd had just started talking. Mama. Baba. Sweepy. Never Dada, and as much as Seymour didn’t much care for the kid, it still hurt. Well, a little.

But now the turd was home where he belonged, and soon, he, Seymour Parks, would be where he belonged, too, between a woman’s legs, taking everything he could every single one of them.

* * *

Damn, it’s cold.

A deep chill seeped deep into his bones, and he wished he had something thicker than the thin cotton sheet he had over his body. What on earth was going on? One minute it was hot as hell and the next, it was cold. Freezing, even.

Maybe he was still dreaming, he thought, but that didn’t account for the freezing air… and small hands touching his face. The last thing he remembered before nodding off to sleep as jet lag hit him was saying goodnight to Junior. It was for show, of course, but he kissed the boy on the forehead and told him to be a good boy and listen to his Tita Alma because she’d be in charge of him from now on. Then Seymour had gone into his room to watch some porn on his phone before drifting off to sleep.

He heard a grunt. Junior?

Seymour sat up and rubbed his eyes, blinking as he tried to focus in the semi-darkness. He tapped his phone display. 3:30 A.M. It meant that it was about 5:30 P.M., Pacific Standard Time the day before. His time, or at least, his normal time if he weren’t in fucking Philippines.

He also had a few messages from Doheny. Not just a few—there were five of them. What did the lawyer want now? It had been a two months since he was acquitted—a year since he got charged with murder—and he hadn’t heard from his lawyer since, except to settle some expenses. At least, he got to collect some insurance money which was a consolation although Mina had been smart enough to give the bulk of it to Junior.  And to add insult to injury, she didn’t name him as the custodian even though he could easily fight it, but her cousin, Alma.

Junior grunted, tugging on Seymour’s shirt. Seymour ignored him. He tapped on the first text message from Doheny.

Where are you? They found a body off Highway 71. Please tell me you didn’t do it.

The next one read, On second thought, don’t tell me.

Outside the window, the moon was partly hidden in the thick clouds. Still, it gave him enough light to see that Junior was wearing his Captain America PJs.

“What’s up, kid? You should be asleep.”

Junior grunted, then pointed to the door where a woman was silhouetted by the dim light of the hallway. Seymour squinted. “That’s your Tita Alma. Why don’t you go with her, and let your Dad get some sleep?”

“Mama,” the boy whispered, still pointing at Alma.  .

Seymour grabbed his glasses and put them on.  His kid must be playing tricks on him.  Mama was long dead.  “What did you say?”

“Mama.”  Then Junior was off, running towards the woman standing by the door. Only she was no longer there. No one was there.

Seymour leaped out of bed, his heart hammering inside his chest as Junior ran towards the stairs, turned and disappeared around the corner.  But there had been someone there. It was Alma!  He was sure of it.  And it certainly hadn’t been Mina, not when she was buried far from a hiking trail off 71.

Seymour cursed out loud, stubbing his toe as he under the bed with his feet for his rubber slippers. Then he heard the front door open and close, Junior crying out Mama, Mama in the darkness outside. Shit! Forget the damn slippers, man!  Get your kid!

Barefoot, Seymour ran down the stairs, wondering where the hell everyone was for the house was deathly quiet. With all the money he and Mina sent home, the family had been able to build a big house that just about accommodated everyone in the family, all twenty of them from the cousins to the cousins’ cousins.  It was crazy.  There should be two or three people asleep in the living room, the servants sleeping comfortably on their floor mats.  But the living room was empty, the doors to the bedrooms shut.

They were probably all asleep then, he thought, while he and Junior were simply going through the effects of jet lag. Or maybe this was a dream. Whatever. Dream or no dream, he still needed to go after his son.

The front door was ajar by the time Seymour made it downstairs, but he kept running, the faint outline of his son visible in the distance. How’d Junior manage to move fast like that? But of course, kids were always fast, and Seymour knew he wasn’t getting any younger. He stumbled once, tripping over an exposed root but he got up and kept running. For Junior was still going like a rocket, and straight ahead, someone—or something—was leading him.

“Jun! Come back!”

A dog howled in the distance. A bird flapped its wings nearby, the cool damp air caressing Seymour’s cheek like a kiss. A light fog drifted above the ground, just up to his knees as he kept running, ignoring the gravel cutting into the bottoms of his feet.

“Mama!” His son cried out again, his voice growing faint.

“Jun! Stop where you are!” Seymour shouted again, but he knew it was useless. This had to be a dream. Had to be.

Around him the fog lifted, reaching above his head before it dissipated, settling like a whisper against his bare skin. He realized then that he was only wearing a thin shirt and a pair of boxer shorts. Shit. No one better see him like this, running half-naked out in the middle of nowhere. He was Seymour Parks, for crying out loud. Women couldn’t get enough of him, and men loved to hang out with him. It didn’t matter if they did it only because of the money. At least, they did it for something.

He stopped when he spotted the gate leading to the cemetery, and beyond it, Junior. Seymour took a deep breath and pushed the gate forward.

“Jun, you’re in deep trouble, kid. Don’t you ever run like that, alright?”

The fog swirled around him, swallowing up the boy’s small form but Seymour was determined to make it to him. He stopped only when something tugged at his boxers. Seymour looked down.

“There you are,” he muttered as Junior stood next to him, the boy pointing at something in front of them. This time, Seymour felt the hair on the back of his neck stand on end. His skin prickled. Wait! Where the hell were they? He followed the little boy’s finger, pointing at something about his same height.

Ah, shit.

“Mama,” Junior said, pointing to the marble grave marker.

Seymour frowned, before glancing down. “Jun, you’re talking.”

Junior’s hand moved downward, pointing towards the ground though there was no ground to see, not right away. Seymour felt his mouth go dry. He tried to move, to run away as far as he could, but he couldn’t move. His feet felt rooted in place, frozen in the soft ground. Of course, it was soft, so soft that Seymour could feel himself sinking. It had rained hard enough to soften the damn ground.

But that wasn’t what made Seymour’s heart race. No, it was worse. Someone had dug up the grave, revealing an empty casket, its lid flipped open as if for a personal viewing.

Whose viewing?

“Dada,” Junior said again, his pudgy finger pointing at the casket.

This was a dream, had to be. For how else could Junior be talking when all this damn time, all he did was grunt? Seymour felt something wet on his cheeks. He brought his hand up to his face. Tears. He was crying.

“Jun, I didn’t mean to kill her,“ Seymour whispered as his son continued to hold his hand. ”It was an accident. You know it was.”

Seymour didn’t know why he was babbling like an idiot, but it was the only thing he could do, his feet still rooted on the same spot even though all his senses told him to run.

Even beg.

“Please, Jun. I didn’t mean to. Please.” That last word emerged as a whisper.

Junior tugged at Seymour’s fingers, the boy’s other hand pointing to the empty coffin. “Dada. Sweep… now.”

Suddenly Seymour felt himself falling. He landed into the open casket, face-first onto the cushioned liner although there was nothing soft about it. It felt hard. It smelled musty. Half-cursing and half-screaming, Seymour rolled onto his back, struggling to find leverage just as the lower part of the split lid slammed shut, trapping his lower torso inside.

Seymour squirmed to free himself and pull open the lower lid, but it wouldn’t budge. He grabbed hold of the other part of the split lid, only to feel it swing downwards, closing in on him with its viewing glass panel. But he was wide awake now, and fast. Seymour pushed it back up, leaving it open.

“I’ll get you, you son of a bitch!” he shouted although he laughed, too, for the term was too perfect beyond words. The kid was the son a bitch, that’s for sure.

Seymour forced himself to calm down, telling himself this had to be some cruel joke. He could do this. He could get out of this mess. Even if it were just a dream, he could still do it. He’d live and find his way to Manila, and to the bar girls waiting for him. Hell, he wouldn’t even do that. He’d fly straight home, and he’d stay there this time.

The glass lid covering the top portion of the casket came down then, hitting Seymour on the nose and he yelped, his head landing back on the satin pillow as he heard the latch lock into place. No! He pounded his fists against the glass, staring up at his son still standing where Seymour had last seen him.

But this time Junior wasn’t alone.

None of them talked. No one laughed or cracked a joke. They just watched him in silence. Nanay was the first to grab a handful of earth and throw it over the casket. It landed on the lower part of the lower lid with a dull thud. The cousin who said it was going to rain followed, brown earth hitting the viewing glass as Seymour shut his eyes.

When he opened them again, more soil came down on him by the handfuls as each one took their turn. Each one of them not saying anything. Seymour could pound on the glass and demand that all this was no longer funny, that this was a joke gone too far. But something told him this was no joke. Just as something told him that this wasn’t a dream.

This was real.

One by one, they tossed handfuls of earth into the grave as an eerie calm filled him. A resignation. Alma was one of the last ones, his view of them now obscured by the handful of earth she tossed over his casket. Then she stepped back to make room for the last one, and Seymour didn’t need to know who it would be. He could only watch helplessly as little Seymour, Jr. gathered the soil in his two little hands before the words finally emerged from Seymour’s lips.


Mina had caught him hitting Junior during breakfast. He’d lost his temper over something, though he couldn’t even remember what it was now.


She said she’d stay at the women’s shelter until Seymour finished an anger management course. But he said no and tried to stop her from getting into the car. He’d show her what happened to bad little girls.


Somehow he grabbed a hammer that had been sitting on his workbench. He’d forgotten to put it away, and he just happened to pick it up. He hadn’t meant to. He’d only held it up to scare her. Mina had just buckled a crying Junior into his car seat and was turning to face him, begging him to get help.


Somehow, hammer met skull then. And that’s all it took. She went down, blood caught in the hammer. Even bits of hair and scalp but he’d washed all that away. Then he wrapped her in a sheet, loaded her into the trunk of the car, and he buried her while their son watched.


Above him, Seymour heard the dull thud of earth landing over the casket. Someone was filling the grave by the shovelful now.

So this is how it feels like to die, he thought as the glass above him began to crack from the soil weighing upon it. Tears streamed down his face as he wondered if this must be how Mina felt then, too.  For if Doheny was right—that they did find her body hours ago—then they’d certainly find out something else in the autopsy.

Maybe soil in her lungs as she struggled to breathe, still wrapped in that sheet as she gained consciousness too late.  By then, Seymour had already started something he couldn’t stop.


The glass broke then, heavy damp soil filling the casket and covering his face and mouth, smothering him like a soft and unforgiving blanket as he screamed—or tried to.


Copyright 2016 © Liz Durano


I remember the mahjong tiles
clickety-clack, clack, clack, clack
Never ending, all through the night
Always going even after first light

I remember the money chips
going click click click!
I remember that argument
over the missing money clip

I remember the buttered toast
your friend told me to make
with sprinkled sugar on top
Don’t you make a mistake.

I remember your friends
though they were no friends of yours
only there to play a game
just a bunch of well-dressed boors

I remember the tiles
clickety-clack, clack, clack clack
I heard it every day,
even on a Sunday.

Weekly Writing Challenge

Health Care For People

If you could clone one element from another city you’ve visited — a building, a cultural institution, a common street food, etc. — and bring it back to your own hometown, what would it be?


A man peddles potions at a weekly gathering of farmers and fishermen. With medicines often too expensive to buy, many Filipinos resort to homemade remedies which promise to cure common ailments and ward off evil spirits. CREDIT:  Alma Alcoran for LA Times
CREDIT: Alma Alcoran for LA Times

I come from a country where healthcare is a privilege for the wealthy, and while the hospitals cannot deny you a bed, you cannot have any medical tests or procedures performed, or even the basic medicine without first paying for it, as they bring you the daily receta which you then turn in to the pharmacy – with payment, of course.  Everything has to be paid up front – a portion with a promise to pay the balance later on, or in full – otherwise, no medical interventions, no matter how dire your situation, will be performed for the patient in need.

In New Mexico, there is a place called Casa de Salud, where doctors, nurse practitioners, nurses, acupuncturists and energy healers see patients without insurance.  With a nominal fee for their services, you get seen if you wait long enough, for such service is in high demand when healthcare is at a premium.  They’ve evolved since I first heard about them over eight years ago, but I believe their tenets have remained the same.  Healthcare for people, not for profit.

So if I could clone something for my hometown, it would be this – that everyone is afforded dignity-based medical services, whoever you may be – especially those left out of the healthcare system that often is more focused on profit more than human dignity.

Daily Prompt

Snapshot Series: Chocolate Hills

Open the first photo album you can find — real or virtual, your call — and stop at the first picture of yourself you see there . Tell us the story of that photo.

Chocolate Hills in Bohol, Philippines
Chocolate Hills in Bohol, Philippines

I’m totally blowing this prompt by NOT featuring a picture of me*. Because there aren’t that many pictures of me these days if it’s me behind the camera most of the time. So I’m going with the first picture I see when I opened my pictures  folder.

And this is it.

This was taken a few years ago, when I went to the Philippines for the last time.  It’s of the Chocolate Hills in Bohol, which is south of Manila.  There’s nothing ‘chocolate-y’ about these hills when you look at them but when the shrubs turn brown, I guess they resemble these Hershey’s chocolate kisses – hence their name.

At the tip of the foreground hill, you see these three tiny dots representing hikers that made their way up there – with a paid guide, of course – and that’s what I was trying to capture with my simple camera here.  I failed miserably but I also wanted to take a picture of the hills against the blue sky and the clouds.

The 1,100 plus conical hills were created by ancient limestone pushing up from the ocean floor, and the elements then formed them the way they look now.  It’s not unusual to find fossils of ancient marine life within their structures.  The latest natural element to form them was the earthquake late last year which crumbled many of these hills, so I don’t know if they still look the same.

Daily Prompt

*Maybe later I’ll find one with me in it, but for now, this will have to do.

Z is for the Zarzuela


As we end April with the letter Z, let me just say first that I’ve had a lot of fun doing the Blogging A to Z challenge and I’m grateful for the wonderful organizers who thought and planned this all up.  I had decided to tackle the challenge so that I could informally round up my research on Old Manila and it sure has been an eye-opening experience – and fun, too.

So without further ado (you must be tired of all the Old Manila posts by now!), here’s letter Z, which is for the Zarzuela, a Spanish musical drama that Filipinos completely took over to be their own.

In 1657 at the Royal Palace of El Pardo, King Philip IV of Spain, Queen Mariana and their court attended the first performance of a new comedy by Pedro Calderón de la Barca, with music by Juan de Hidalgo. El Laurel de Apolo traditionally symbolises the birth of a new musical genre which had become known as La Zarzuela – after one of the King’s hunting lodges, situated in a remote countryside thick with zarzas or brambles.

La Zarzuela was often visited by clowns and actors from the city of Madrid, and perhaps the piece Calderón and Hidalgo provided, running the theatrical gamut from classical opera to low slapstick and popular song – a bit like Dryden‘s work with Purcell in England – reminded the courtiers of a typical La Zarzuela entertainment.

via Zarzuela! a brief history.

However, the rise of Italian opera made the zarzuela unfashionable and by the 1780’s, there were only a handful of zarzuelas still playing in Madrid.


The zarzuela would reach its golden age in the 1800’s again, when Francisco Arsenjo Barbieri, along with his contemporaries like Manuel Bretón de los Herreros, wrote zarzuelas that became popular all over again.  When the zarzuelas that took Madrid by storm reached Manila, the aristocratic Spanish society in the colonies took to it quite easily.

In 1878, the first zarzuela was presented in the Philippines. It was Barbieri’s Jugar con Fuego (Playing with Fire).  In 1880, Eliseo Raguer, a former zarzuela actress in Madrid and her director, Alejandro Cubero organized a zarzuela troupe composed of Filipino actors and actresses in the Philippines.  Cubero would later be given the unofficial title of “el padre del teatro español en Filipinas” for his efforts as an untiring stage director.

Barbieri's Jugar Con Fuego
Barbieri’s Jugar Con Fuego

Zarzuelas would be composed of amateur troupes as well, with the Ateneo de Manila’s presentation of Jose Rizal’s one-act zarzuela, Junto al Pasig (Beside the Pasig).  Teatro Zorilla, the famous theater, hosted the first zarzuela production, El Diablo Mundo, that featured music composed by a Filipino, Maestro Jose Estrella.  Estrella, a pianist, composer and conductor, was known as the “waltz king of the Philippines.”

“From then on, till the first decades of the 20th century, Spanish theater artists continued to stage zarzuelas not only in Manila but in rich provincial centers, like those of Iloilo, Cebu, Bicol. Among the zarzuelas they popularized were La Mascota, El Rey que rabio (The King who went into a rage), Elanillo de hierro (Ring of Iron), La Pasionaria (The Passion Flower), Boccaccio, La Marcha de Cadiz (The March of Cadiz), Chateaux Margaux, Nina Pancha, Pascual Bailon, and El duo de la Africana. To these Spanish zarzuelistas may be attributed the popularization of the form. For it was they who trained Filipino artists to act and sing for these plays (Cubero recruited talented Filipinos like Praxedes “Yeyeng” Fernandez, Patricinio Tagaroma, Nemesio Ratia, and Jose Carvajal), just as it was they who developed a taste among Filipino urban and rural audiences for this type of Musical. It is perhaps for this reason that the El Rencimiento later called Cubero “the Father of the Spanish Theater in the Philippines.”

….Formed by these various theatrical influences, the Filipino sarswela was finally born in the layers of the 19th century, with the presentation of Budhing Nagpahamak, ca. 1890, with libretto by an anonymous Bulacan playwright, and music by Isidro Roxas. Soon other sarswelas were staged in other provinces.

via What is a Sarswela? | Raindrops and Roses.

Sarsuwela-scene from an early sarswela 2

While the zarzuelas were presented in Spanish, in a few years, as the productions left Manila for the neighboring towns, it was soon presented in the local languages.  When America took over the country, the zarzuelas presented during those years showed influences of the moro-moro.

Moro-moro is believed to be an offshoot of a chivalric-heroic poem called the awit and a legendary religious poem called the corridor that had swept the country as early as 1610 up to the beginning of the twentieth century. It tells of the loves and brilliant deeds and adventures of king and queens, of princes and princesses, of counts and dukes. It also relates of giants, tigers, lions, bears, serpents, dragons, angels, saints, and devils. Often tinged with supernatural and miraculous forces, it may present poisons, magic rings, birds that drop messages, people who get enchanted in the forest. The hero is expected to emerge victorious despite all obstacles and to risk his life for the hand of his lady love (Carpio 2001).

via From Zarzuela to Sarwela | Vocalises of the Mind.

These moro-moro inspired zarzuelas depicted conflicts between the Filipinos and the Spaniards, and alwasy with the Filipinos always winning.  This also changed the traditional Spanish zarzuela into a production that used propaganda.

The zarzuela – or once assimilated into the Philippine culture, sarswela – continued to be popular throughout the American occupation years and through the 20th century although it has declined in recent years.

A zarzuela does not only introduce Filipino values to the young, but it also offers entertainment that is creatively presented. It can be appreciated by both the young and the old…

via Zarzuela: A values-filled entertainment | Sun.Star.

And there you have it – A to Z blogging challenge all done and dusted!  I hope you enjoyed reading each letter as much as I enjoyed researching and writing about them.

Till next year!

A to Z Challenge

W is for the Working Women of Old Manila

WIn Old Manila, we learned that there was a caste system of sorts, beginning – from the highest level – the Peninsulares (Spaniards born in Spain), Insulares (Spaniards born in the colonies, like Philippines or Mexico), mestizos (those of mixed Spanish blood), Sangleys (Filipinos with Chinese blood), and indios (natives).

Women within these classes also had roles to play to maintain their status, especially for the wealthy and educated classes. The rise of idealized version of the Filipino woman, as depicted by Jose Rizal’s mestiza or mixed-race Maria Clara, epitomizes an almost-universal view of how Filipino women continue to be seen by many,  as someone who is shy, timid, and unquestioning.

Yet there was another group of Filipino women in the 19th century that was so far removed from the mythical being or the idealized version of Maria Clara.  She was the india, the native or local Filipino woman, comprising rest of the population of women in Old Manila (apart from the wealthy mixed-race women of the upper classes).

Embroiderers in Old Manila with American troops in 1899
Embroiderers in Old Manila with American troops in 1899

These were the working women of Old Manila, and according to Ma. Luisa Camagay, they were:

  1. Cigarreras – those who rolled cigars
  2. Vendaderas or tenderas – vendors and shopkeepers
  3. Bordadoras and costareras – embroiders and seamstresses
  4. Criadas – domestic servants
  5. Maestras – teachers
  6. Matronas titulares – schooled midwives
  7. Mujeres publicas – prostitutes

Majority of the working women of Old Manila were employed by the tobacco factories as cigareras, the ones who deftly rolled cured tobacco leaves into cigars.   In 1816, cigareras staged a walkout after having had enough of the terrible working conditions.

“…One of their demands was for the tobacco leaves be given to them ready for rolling since, they claimed, they were not being paid for the added tasks of cleaning and stretching the leaves. In response, management acted immediately and favorably on all their complaints and demands.

The job of cigarrera ranked first as a career option for Filipino women in the 19th century Manila mainly because the tobacco monopoly, which was at the time a huge government business, aggressively recruited the women into the factory system.


"CIGARRERAS" [Cigarette Makers] Image Creator: J. Laurent [1816-1888] EXPOSICIÓN DE FILIPINAS, MADRID Date Published: 1887 Colorized by Reimbau Lluvia
[Cigarette Makers]
Image Creator: J. Laurent [1816-1888]
Date Published: 1887
Colorized by Reimbau Lluvia

“The cigar factories alone employed more than twenty thousand workers, mostly women.  Those who failed to get employment in the factories became labradora, lavandera, costurera, domicilla, or tindera.  Many of them became prostitutes as manifested in the court records (espedientes) of the period.

– Via Prostitution in Old Manila, Luis Dery, Ateneo de Manila (pdf file)

The vendaderas or vendors carried around their portable stores of vegetables, fruits, or fresh carabao milk watered down with coconut water or water left from the washing of rice to cut costs.  The tenderas or shopkeepers opened small shops from their homes, selling customers (who were usually their own neighbors) everything from eggs, fruits, and knick knacks.

The bordadoras and costareras, embroiderers and seamstresses, respectively, worked at making the beautiful clothes for the upper classes, often unable to even afford a yard of the piña cloth they wove or embroidered on from scratch.

“TEJEDORAS TRABAJANDO” [Female Weavers] Image Creator: Jean Laurent [1816-1886] Year Taken: 1883 (Pearl Orient Collection)
The criadas worked for the wealthy families.  Usually around 13 years old, they cooked the food, cleaned the house, fetched water for baths, and washed the clothes.

If one received a college education, one could work as a maestra although the pay was very low.  She educated many of the rich families’ children and traveled wherever the work took her.

1920167_611034148984988_1965046769_nThe matrones titulares (schooled midwives) were responsible for birthing the children of the wealthy, though she is not to be confused with the matrona or partera (midwife), who was without a degree or a license from the university.    However, she did not have the appropriate education to treat diseases.

The pay for these lines of work would often be so low that many of the women ended up as mujeres publicas or prostitutes.    They were known as vagamundas, indocumentadas (the latter two because of her traveling lifestyle and that she usually did not possess the cedula, the form of identification for tax purposes in Old Manila), and prostitutas, and often came from far-flung areas of the country.

Prostitutes arrested in the 19th century were in their late teens and early 20’s. Older prostitutes who were in their 30’s or 40’s were either married or widowed.

“Spanish legalization of gambling as a source of revenue added to the inhabitants’ demoralization.  In many cases, it was a major reason for men made destitute by gambling to induce their wives or women friends to engage in prostitution or to commit crimes…Even Governor William H. Taft noted that the gambling habit among the inhabitants was ‘so great that men will gamble the chastity of their daughters and their wives” just to satisfy their vice.”

– Via Prostitution in Old Manila, Luis Dery, Ateneo de Manila (pdf file)

There were four categories of prostitutes, depending on where they worked and who their clients were.

The first category were the ones who worked in prostitution houses, usually ran by an ama or amo, a pimp.

“…They were native Filipinos who stated their profession as cigarrera or costurera. The Filipino amo identified himself as a sastre so it was not surprising that this tailor would act as an amo considering that he did have access to the male population who might desire the services of a prostitute.

Another category of prostitutes included those who plied their trade by posting themselves along certain streets like Calle Iris of Quiapo, Paseo de Azcarraga, Gandara, and Santa Cruz, Binondo and Singalong, Herran, San Marcelino in Paco Dilao under the supervision of amas or amos.

….Another category of prostitutes visited their clients in their own homes. These were the prostitutes who, from the archival sources, rendered service to Chinese males who came to the Philippines both single and married. Serapia was the name of their pimp, or corredora.

Finally, the last category of prostitutes included women who invited clients back to their own homes. Belonging to this category were Madame Sanchez, a Spaniard who lived in No. 6 Calle Uli-uli in San Miguel; Antonelle, an American who lived in No. 16 Calle Labasan in Sampaloc; and Lorenza, an Englishwoman who lived in No. 20 Calle Balmes in Quiapo. Presumably these women catered to men who belonged to the higher echelons of society.”

via The oldest profession | Sunday Life, Lifestyle Features, The Philippine Star |

If they were arrested, punishment usually meant being exiled to far-flung areas such as Davao in the southern island of Mindanao or Palawan.  However, they could be saved from such fate in two ways – (1) petition from their parents to the governor-general or the friar-curate or (2) an offer of marriage.

“Petitions of mothers and father of prostitutes were made to the Governor-General. Invoking reasons such as ill health, citing that the daughter was the sole breadwinner of the family or even issuing an outright denial of her activities as a prostitute by mothers was a common ploy used to avoid being deported to Mindanao.

Marriage or the offer of marriage circumvented the deportation of a prostitute. The Servidumbres Dometicas of the National Archives reads that, in 1849, Romana Pablo was on the list of those to be deported to Davao but was spared from exile because of Gilberto Escueta’s request for permission to marry her. Sotera Almario was likewise spared from serving this punishment when Don Jose Maria Medina, a Spanish mestizo, requested that she be released from prison because he planned to marry her.

….Marriage was viewed as a means of reforming prostitutes. For these prostitutes, marriage was thought to be a means of “sobering them up.” Based upon available records after three years, a deportee could petition the Governor-General to end her deportation.

via The oldest profession | Sunday Life, Lifestyle Features, The Philippine Star |

Wow, I never thought I’d have way more information about prostitutes in Old Manila than any other.  Well, there was a lot to write about the cigarera, but nothing, I believe, can trump the idea of reformation by marriage.

Just. Wow.

A to Z Challenge

Update for 03/25/2021: While some of the links may no longer be available, I have found another source regarding Prostitution in the Philippines:

From Oripun to the Yapayuki-San: An Historical Outline of Prostitution in the Philippines
D’oripun à yapayuki-san: un aperçu historique de la prostitution aux Philippines
François-Xavier Bonnet
p. 41-64

T is for Tobacco


If you happen to have many colonies under your control, it can be quite an expensive habit to maintain.  And when it came to the Philippines, it proved to be a drain on Spain’s treasury.  Expenses incurred in the colony were usually paid via an annual subsidy sent from Mexico, another of Spain’s colonies.

But with each year’s maintenance proving to be more expensive than the year before, the Spanish government had to come up with a plan.  So Francisco Leandro de Vianna, royal fiscal in Manila, came up with a tobacco monopoly.

Tobacco was already widely consumed by both the Spaniards and the indios, as well as foreigners in Manila, and though it would take some time before King Carlos III would issue a royal decree to set the plan in motion (when later on, Governor General Basco claimed that such a monopoly would make the colony self-sufficient), when he did, the tobacco monopoly was born on February 9, 1780.

By this decree a monopoly was created which remained in operation for a hundred years. This monopoly strictly supervised the growing and grading of the leaf and had factories in Manila for the manufacture of cigars, cigarettes and smoking tobacco . In the field the chief appraiser residing at the provincial capital had a force of subordinates known as “alumnos aforadores”. These were in charge of districts composed of municipalities and in each municipality there was a “caudilo” (headman) who was also the “gobernadorcillo” (little governor) who by the aid of his ” tenientes ” (lieutenants or overseers), supervised the growing of tobacco being remunerated for this service by a percentage of the crop produced.

via Tobacco Monopoly – Wikipilipinas: The Hip ‘n Free Philippine Encyclopedia.

Manila cigar factory, 1899
Manila cigar factory, 1899

Though slavery did not exist in the Philippine islands under Spanish rule (there could have been exceptions, of course), this did not prevent the mistreatment of tobacco workers. And of course, a lot of bribery and harassment, from the tobacco fields all the way to the cigar factories in Manila.

“Tobacco is an important crop in the Philippines, and from the year 1781 was cultivated in Cagayan as a government monopoly. In the villages of that province the people were called out by beat of drum and marched to the fields under the gobernadorcillo and principales, who were responsible for the careful ploughing, planting, weeding, and tending, the work being overlooked by Spanish officials. Premiums were paid to these and to the gobernadorcillos, and fines or floggings were administered in default. The native officials carried canes, which they freely applied to those who shirked their work.

“…I have referred to the series of abuses committed under the monopoly: how the wretched cultivators had to bribe the officials in charge of the scales to allow them the true weight, and the one who classified the leaves, so that he should not reject them as rubbish and order them to be destroyed; in fact, they had to tip every official in whose power it was to do them any injustice. Finally, they received orders on the treasury for the value of their tobacco, which were not paid for months, or, perhaps, for years. They sometimes had to sell their orders for 50 percent of the face value, or even less.

However, even the Spanish official conscience can be aroused, and at the end of 1882 the monopoly was abolished.

Here it is only right to honourably mention a Spanish gentleman to whom the natives of the Cagayan Valley in a great measure owe their freedom. Don Jose Jimenez Agius was Intendente General de Hacienda, and he laboured for years to bring about this reform, impressed with the cruelty and injustice of this worst form of slavery. The Cagayanes were prohibited from growing rice, but were allowed as an indulgence to plant a row or two of maize around their carefully tilled tobacco-fields.

Possibly this circumstance has led the author of the circular I have before quoted to make the extraordinary statement: “Tobacco, as a cultivated crop, is generally grown in the same field as maize.” Does he think it grows wild anywhere?

via The Inhabitants of the Philippines, by John Foreman, 1910

The tobacco monopoly was abolished in June 1881, at around the same time when Filipinos were thirsting for independence from Spanish rule.  Smoking is believed to have helped fuel the fight for independence.  According to historical documents, among the expenses by the First Philippine Republic in the late 1890’s were cigarillos distributed to the soldiers of the budding “Philippine Army.”

Compaña General de Tabacos de Filipinas, better known as Tabacalera today, was founded in 1881, just before the abolition of the monopoly took effect the following year.  It was founded by the Marquis of Comillas, Antonio Lopez y Lopez.

But before I conclude my post for letter “T” in the A to Z challenge, here’s one more little tidbit about tobacco in the islands.

Filipinos, it turns out, smoked like it was going out of style.  In those days, even children as young as 2 or 3 years old smoked these huge cigars.  And they were H-U-G-E.  When I started this blog, one of my first posts was on a newspaper article  about an “embarrassing use of an instrument of hospitality.”

The Family Cigar
The Family Cigar

It was not unusual to have a “family cigar” hanging on a string from the ceiling and this would be lit and passed around from one family member to another, then to you, their lucky guest.  You, as the guest, would be offending the host if you said, “no, thank you.”

Here are a few pictures from Old Manila for your smoking viewing pleasure.

Blogging A to Z Challenge


S is for “The Spoliarium”


I’ve been waiting for “S” for some time now – because there’s a masterpiece I can’t wait to share with everyone. It’s one that not a lot of people know about, nor even realize was painted by a Filipino.

Juan Luna’s Spoliarium was the life-sized painting he submitted during the Exposición Nacional de Bellas Artes in 1884 held in Madrid. It won the first of three gold medals and garnered him more commissions by the Spanish government.


Four injured and dying gladiators who entertained their oppressors in the arena with their lives are being dragged in by Roman soldiers in the dark and dingy crematory. Cheering spectators and greedy faces below eagerly await to strip off the fallen combatants of their armor. The barbarism sharply contrasts with the humanity of a woman sprawled on the floor as an old man with a torch locates a son.

Often misspelled as “Spolarium,” spoliarium is Latin for the basement of the Roman Coliseum where dead and dying gladiators were dumped and deprived of worldly possessions. It was what we refer to now as a morgue.

“The Spoliarium” is not a mural as it is not painted on a wall. It is also not a canvas. It was painted on poplar, a polished wood that is typically straight, with uniform grain and a medium texture. Its low natural luster makes it suitable for painting.

via Jose Rizal and Juan Luna catching fire | Manila Bulletin | Latest Breaking News | News Philippines.

Newspapers would rave about the painting and Luna thus:

“The largest work, the most frightful, the most discussed work of the Exposition.”

“It is more than a painting, it is a book, a poem.”

“It is something more than the mere mechanism of genius, of the art composition…Luna is a thinker.

“A giant of art, a kind of Hercules, that enters furiously leveling down all the gods with blows from his club, bringing in a new art, full of ideas and forms, carrying a Spartan soul and the brush of Michelangelo.  More than sixty years did Michaelangelo study!  How many years did Luna study?  Six!  Let us wait.”

National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

Another Filipino, Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, won top honors during that Exposition, and together, they were able to prove to the world that despite what the first world considered as their barbarian race, indios could paint better than their colonizers.  Luna’s achievement would also set the mind of Jose Rizal at work, and get the wheels in motion for the novel, Noli Me Tangere.

Retrato de Juan Luna Novicio, Pedro Paterno, Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, Miguel Zaragoza, J. Pueblo y hermanos Juan Antonio y Mariano Benlliure, 1881 Image Source: Archivo Benlliure, Madrid, Spain
Retrato de Juan Luna Novicio, Pedro Paterno, Felix Resurreccion Hidalgo, Miguel Zaragoza, J. Pueblo y hermanos Juan Antonio y Mariano Benlliure, 1881
Image Source: Archivo Benlliure, Madrid, Spain

After winning the gold medal at the Madrid Exposition of Fine Arts, the life-sized painting was purchased by the provincial government of Barcelona in 1887 and later moved to the Museum of Modern Art.  There it remained in storage for years till the museum was burned and looted during the Spanish civil war in 1937.

The damaged painting was then sent to Madrid for restoration, and for 18 years, it stayed there till the 1950’s when it was sent to Manila as a gift from the Spanish government to the independent government of the Philippines.


Spoliarium would be cut into three pieces by careless packers, and later, inexpertly restored.  Spanish-trained art restorers were later sent to do whatever they could to restore the painting but could not erase the damage wrought by the cutting of the painting into three pieces.

Filipino artist Antonio Dumlao would later restore the masterpiece to what it looks now, greeting one as they enter the Hall of the Masters at the National Museum of the Philippines.

SPOLIARIUM. Antonio Dumlao, a Filipino artist that specializes in art restoration, was commissioned to give this obra maestra a facelift after it was sliced into 3 parts because the Spanish government had to ship it as a gift to the Philippines.
At the Hall of Masters, Juan Luna’s “Spoliarium” reigns supreme, a favorite among visitors of the National Museum. Picture-taking is allowed in the galleries, but flash photography, commercial photography, use of tripods and videography are not permitted. Photo by Giselle P. Kasilag for

And before you think that Juan Luna was a one-hit wonder, think again.  Here are just a sampling of his other paintings.

Q is for the Quiapo, the Downtown of Manila


The area outside of Old Manila before the Spaniards came used to be farmland, flanked by water canals because of its close proximity to the Pasig River flowing into the Manila Bay.   Among the many water-based plants growing in the region was a variety of cabbage called Pistia statiotes, which the natives called kiapo.  As time went on, the areas were reclaimed from the marshes and along with the areas of Binondo, San Nicolas and Ermita, the district of Quiapo was born.

Pistia stratiotes, or Kiapo, a type of water cabbage.
Pistia stratiotes, or Kiapo, a type of water cabbage.

Through the years, Quiapo became home to many notable entities, such as the Fabrica de Cerveza de San Miguel (beer!), the Spanish Royal Navy Club, and the El Renacimiento of the Katipunan movement.  It came to be known as the “downtown of Manila” and here, one also found grand residential houses along the many esteros or waterways that channeled clean water for their gardens as well as provide an efficient mode of transportation via cascos.

Men on board a casco with their long bamboo poles called tikines, which they used to push their way through the waterways of Manila.

In a time when the main modes of transportation were chiefly naval, such geographical feature made Quiapo a suitable site to establish trade and commerce, an open port and an easy entrance to the heart of Luzon.


Quiapo was and is also where one finds two grand churches – Quiapo Church and the  Basilica Minore of the Black Nazarene, home to the black Jesus of Nazareth statue revered by millions of Catholics.

The Quiapo Church, also known as St. John the Baptist Church in present day Quiapo
The Quiapo Church, also known as St. John the Baptist Church in present day Quiapo
San Sebastián church in Quiapo. Revista de Obras Públicas. 1897 This was a pioneer in the field of prefabricated construction. It incorporates metal constructions made in Belgium in accordance with the design drawn up by the engineer Genaro Palacios y Guerra.
San Sebastián church in Quiapo. Revista de Obras Públicas. 1897 This was a pioneer in the field of prefabricated construction. It incorporates metal constructions made in Belgium in accordance with the design drawn up by the engineer Genaro Palacios y Guerra.

One of the best known streets in Quiapo is Hidalgo Street, considered in the 19th century as “the most beautiful street in Manila.”  This was where many of the wealthy residents lived (outside of Intramuros) and some of their homes are still there to this day, though one, the Enriquez Mansion which was called “the most beautiful house in the islands” in 1910 was transferred to Bataan and in its place is a 10-story commercial building.

Known as the Home of the Heroes of the 1896 Revolution, the Nakpil-Bautista house was home to Julio Nakpil, musical composer of the 19th century revolutionary movement, the Katipunan and Gregoria de Jesus, organizer of the women’s corps of the Katipunan.

Clockwise: Sala, A typical kapis window of a Bahay na Bato, Tumba-Tumba where Oryang would seat and contemplate about life, Bed of Oryang.
Clockwise: Sala, A typical kapis window of a Bahay na Bato, Tumba-Tumba where Oryang would seat and contemplate about life, Bed of Oryang. From
Bahay Nakpil-Bautista prior to World War II: Behind the house was a freely flowing stream which was clean enough to swim in and contained healthy fish that Lola Goria turned into excellent meals. Photo courtesy of Roberto Tañada. From Memories - Lola Goria
Bahay Nakpil-Bautista prior to World War II: Behind the house was a freely flowing stream which was clean enough to swim in and contained healthy fish that Lola Goria turned into excellent meals. Photo courtesy of Roberto Tañada. From Memories – Lola Goria

Quiapo not only had the most beautiful street of Manila, it also housed the loveliest park in Manila, the Plaza del Carmen, and the most spacious public market, the Mercado dela Quinta.

Teatro Zorilla, from the GBR Museum
Teatro Zorilla, from the GBR Museum

Quiapo was also the home to Manila’s early theaters, the only surviving 19th century theater being the Teatro Zorilla, located at the corner of Calle San Pedro and Calle Iris.   Also known as Dulaang Zorilla sa Maynila, it was named after Jose Zorilla, Spanish poet and playright.

“The Teatro Zorilla…was built to serve as theatre or circus without any regard to its acoustic properties; hence only one-third of the audience could hear the dialogue.  There was a permanent Spanish Comedy Company…and occasionally a troupe of strolling players, a circus, a concert, or an Italian Opera Company came to Manila to entertain the public for a few weeks.”

– Via The Philippine Islands: A Political, Geographical, Ethnographical, Social … – John Foreman (F.R.G.S.) – Google Books.

Quiapo today is  a bustling mix of old and new, home to the Black Nazarene and also a large Muslim community in Manila, and is a place to see not just the historic homes (preserved or not), but also experience the food and shopping.

Best though, to have a guide…

Blogging A to Z Challenge










What’s in a Name? N is for the Names The Country Inherited


“What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.”
William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

The Philippines was named for the king of Spain, Felipe II, who lived from May 1527 – September 1598.  His empire was described as “the empire on which the sun never sets” and included many territories in every continent known then to Europeans, and for a time, he was even the King of England and Ireland, when he was married to Queen Mary I.

Many of the provinces and cities in the Philippines bear Spanish names, such as Nueva Ecija, Nueva Viscaya, and Trinidad, as well as the names of the Catholic saints like San Isidro, San Pedro, San Rafael and Santa Rosa – just to name a few.  Certain cities and provinces were also named after Spanish towns and cities like Madrid, Toledo, Valencia and Pamplona.

The Alcala Church in Pamplona, Cagayan.   Photo by Victor Villanueva
The Alcala Church in Pamplona, Cagayan.
Photo by Victor Villanueva
Fishermen help pull their catch together in the midst of Union beach's tranquil setting in Madrid, Surigao del Sur.  Photo by Erwin Mascarinas,
Fishermen help pull their catch together in the midst of Union beach’s tranquil setting in Madrid, Surigao del Sur.
Photo by Erwin Mascarinas,

The Philippines did not just inherit the names of places.  They also inherited their Spanish surnames – which had nothing to do with familial relations.  So when someone tells you today that they are descended from Spanish ancestors because they have a Spanish surname, or that, “hey! we have the same last name, we’re related,” they just might be…well, wrong.

The thing is, the Spaniards never fully intermarried with the natives in the Philippines as they did in Mexico, Venezuela, and their other former colonies. And according to verifiable archival documents, more than 90% of each town’s population were described as indio (or native Filipino) in most church records. During the Spanish period one could be described as a peninsulares or a Europeo Espanol, an insulares or a Filipino Espanol, sangley, a mestizo (usually mestizo Espanol or mestizo sangley), infieles, or the most common of all: an indio.

via Filipino Genealogy Project: Claveria and the Myth of the Spanish Ancestors.

Claveria's Decree 1849
Claveria’s Decree 1849

You see, in 1849, the Spanish Governor General Narciso Claveria produced the Catálogo Alfabético de Apellidos (“Alphabetical Catalogue of Surnames”) which listed, Spanish, Filipino and Hispanized Chinese words, names and numbers.  This was designed to mainstream the collection of taxes and to stop the pre-colonial practice of Filipinos to take on whatever surname they wanted.  There were just too many De Los Santos (“of the saints”), Del Rosarios (“of the rosary”), Bautists (“baptized”), de Jesus (“of Jesus”) and De la Cruz (“of the cross”) running about for them to be able to differentiate taxes between one family and another.  So once it was enacted, people went by three names:  their given name – mother’s surname – father’s surname.  And without an ounce of Spanish blood in their veins, they immediately, thanks to the catálogo, became “Spanish.”

“During my visit to the majority of the provinces of these islands, I observed that the natives in general lack individual surnames, which distinguished them by families. They arbitrarily adopt the names of saints and this practice has resulted in the existence of thousands of individuals having the same surname. Likewise, I saw the resultant confusion with regard to the administration of justice, government, finance, and public order, and the far-reaching moral, civil and religious consequences to which this might lead, because the family names are not transmitted from the parents to their children, so that it is sometimes impossible to prove the degrees of consanguinity for purpose of marriage, rendering useless the parochial books which in Catholic countries are used for all kinds of transactions.

“For this purpose, a catalogue of family names has been compiled, including the indigenous names collected by the Reverend Fathers Provincial of the religious orders, and the Spanish surnames they have been able to acquire, along with those furnished by the vegetable and mineral kingdoms, geography, arts, etc. In view of the extreme usefulness and practicality of this measure, the time has come to issue a directive for the formation of a civil register, which may not only fulfill and ensure the said objectives, but may also serve as the basis for the statistics of the country, guarantee the collection of taxes, the regular performance of personal services, and the receipt of payment for exemptions. It likewise provides exact information of the movement of the population; thus avoiding unauthorized migrations, hiding taxpayers, and other abuses.

via Filipino Genealogy Project: Claveria’s Renovacion de Apellidos.

There were however, exceptions to this decree.  According to Claveria:

“[f]amilies who can prove that they have kept for four generations their surname, even though it may be the name of a saint, but not those like de la Cruz, de los Santos, and some others which are so numerous that they would continue producing confusion, may pass them on to their descendants; the Reverend Fathers and the heads of provinces are advised to use their judgement in the implementation of this article.”

via Naquem.: How Narciso Claveria altered our genealogical chart

The only major exception to this catalog, of course, were the inclusion of surnames of Spanish nobility and government administrators.

One great impact of Claveria’s decree, while beneficial for the government in the collection of taxes, was the loss of family genealogy as families abandoned their original surnames prior to 1849 and adopted the Spanish surname given to them by the Spaniards.

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