Resolutions for the New Year


Water… flowing water. We take these natural creations for granted. It is time to be grateful.

Ever notice how the New Year brings about an urge to announce and declare resolutions? And we have a blast coming up with all sorts of goals and aims – even those that are clearly unachievable.

One thing for sure, we come up with a few of them – else we would have failed in our quest for self-betterment. What is your resolution for this coming year? Got it down yet? Writing it down on a 3 x 5 card helps. You can whip out the card each morning as you get up from bed, read and remind yourself of your goal.

My resolution for this new year is to walk in gratitude. I want to be grateful for everything I receive, give and take – from God, from my fellow-man, from friends, from family, and even from total strangers. I just want to walk in gratitude.

Speaking of being grateful. Take the irrigation ditch, (photo at left) for instance. How many times have we walked along this waterway, this ditch and gave it one thought? Thoughts like, running water – how wonderful and how good it is to have fresh, clean, flowing water. I think of the desert, the dry, craggy outcroppings of rocks, the promontories that adorn the arid and barren land and the people who live there. How they would appreciate fresh water readily available to them instead of having to trek for miles to the nearest oasis. This irrigation ditch allows the water to reach into the far recesses of the foothills, to the fields of garlic and tobacco, to the little village cottages, shanties and huts, and to the livestock watering sheds. We are so blessed to have water and I want to not take these gifts for granted.

I walk in gratitude. Won’t you walk with me?


Naimbag a Pascua Yo Apo

the face of poverty

Father and child sleep away their hunger

Both father and son heard the word on the street: “Many town-mates were coming home from abroad (balikbayans) to celebrate Christmas.” Balikbayans (meaning overseas workers or ex-pats returning  home on vacation or short stay) come home toting boxes packed with consumables and stuff, either for pasalubong (presents) or for their family’s use.

It was early Sunday morning. People were up, getting ready for church. Noisy tricycles plied their routes, their fares hopping in and out in a seemingly uninterrupted and continual motion. Exhaust fumes, and dark smoke from the diesel fuel tainted and poisoned the fresh smelling morning air. The cranked up booming blast and blare of early morning Karaoke performances just about killed all the serenity of the still sleepy, dew-covered, tranquil countryside. In the eclectic mix some chickens pecking for crumbs by the local carinderia scurried to avoid the pedestrian and tricycle onslaught, squawking as they skipped and flapped for cover.

The father, with son in tow, approached many of the Sunday Mass goers who waited for their ferry. He somehow knew who the Balikbayans were and he picked them out in the crowd. Perhaps it was their bling, their glam, and the way they talked.

“Hey homme – wuz up man? Wuz goin’ on there homeboy? Wuz comin’ down slayk?” said one young man to a surprised older tricycle driver. The young man’s beltless baggy pants slipped down from his waist and hung precariously around his buttocks revealing his polka-dot unisex Speedo underwear.

“Ni adda kay met gayam. Katno sangpetyo?” replied the tricycle driver flashing a toothless grin.

“Arrived last week, er… Friday night from Narita… you know, Japan. You know. Ah… then MIA. MIA customs sucks big time, man.” said the young man gesticulating with his arms, hands and fingers.

At about this time the homeless father and his son approached the two men engaged in conversation. With his head bowed down he addressed the young man whose pants were sliding down his buttocks, “Naimbag a pascua yo Apo.”

The young Balikbayan became instantly irritated at the intrusion. “Get away from me or I’ll pop a can of whoop ass on you!” he yelled at the poor homeless man. The man’s son began to cry.

“Dispensaren dakam Apo ta awan met mabalbalin mi. Di kam pay la nangan. Caasian nakam kadi,” he pleaded in a soft voice while comforting his crying son.

The tricycle driver also yelled at the homeless man, “Oy Cimin pumanaw ka ditoy ta no saan a madarumgi daguitoy bisita. Nagrugit ka, di ka la agbain,” motioning with his face for the homeless man to vacate the premises. The homeless man took his son and slowly walked away.

The young Balikbayan showed his extreme displeasure by kicking the dirt with his Air Nike shoes. “This place is the sheeets,” he said, his deep Ilocano accent giving him away.

The tricycle driver tried to assuage his Balikbayan friend. “Caca-asi met ni Cimin. Manipud pay di natay ni baketna, is-isu ti agayaywan ken diay anakda. Awan pay trabaho na met piman. Pina-pascua-am koma metten a. Uray no piso laeng.”

The young Balikbayan, now teary-eyed, scanned the direction where the homeless man and his son went. They were gone.

Off to the side of the tricycle stand by the freshly painted houses and cardboard shanties the festive Christmas decorations announced the birth of Christ. Among the many decorations, one stood out. It depicted the Blessed Mother and Saint Joseph looking for a room at the inn on that cold Christmas night long ago.

We all know what the innkeeper told Saint Joseph and Mother Mary, “There is no more room!”

Perhaps from the heart of the young Balikbayan, in response to the Christmas greeting of the homeless man and his son, the same words issued forth, “I have no room in my heart for you… I feel nothing but contempt for you and your situation.”

Sad to say our response to manifested poverty is myriad. There are some who will give from their need while some will give from their largess. Still there are those who will reconsider and then seriously try to help the poor in any way they can. Our Holy Father Pope Francis greets us Merry Christmas and this year he asks the Church to be for the poor.

The CICM Missionary Nuns

The CICM Missionary Nuns ran a tight ship

The CICM Missionary Nuns ran a tight ship

Above is a photo of members of the first wave of missionary nuns to arrive in Tagudin, Ilocos Sur. Hardy and not afraid to roll up their sleeves, they ran a tight ship St Augustine School (SAS). They were a no-nonsense bunch of very pious, saintly, and hard working sisters of the Immaculati Cordis Mariae – ICM Congregation or Congregation of the Immaculate Conception of Mary (CICM).

A long time ago, SAS ran as a gender-segregated school. The Boys Department buildings were separate and removed from the Girls Department buildings. The only places where the boys could catch a glimpse of the girls were the Church during afternoon prayers and singing, and on the basketball court when a game would be played. SAS had a championship basketball team during those days – but that is another story. Other than these two common areas, the boys had to be satisfied with casting perfunctory glances at the girls as they walked home after school.

We didn’t address the nuns “Sister;” we addressed them “Mother”. Mother Anatole, a tall, willowy, blue-eyed, bespectacled Belgian nun with acne problems took care of leading the church singing during the afternoon prayer service. With her podium positioned in front of the girl’s pews away from the men’s pews, Mother Anatole stood tall as the powerful symbol of discipline, reverence and rules of acceptable behavior. No hanky-panky in church, like, passing little notes on paper to the girls. No side glances at the girls.

I craned my neck just to be able to see her hand movements as she led the singing. In the afternoon heat and humidity the sonorous chanting sounds and sweet church music transported me to a different zone. I remember Mother Anatole’s dainty hands sticking out of her nun’s gartered habit sleeves. From where I sat, her hands looked like the heads of two swans dressed in white and cloaked in black. She moved them in an undulating, oscillating, pecking forward and again pulling backward motions in time with the music. The fluid motions of her hands were hypnotic and rhythmic.

To this day I could never understand why Mother Anatole just didn’t sway her arms with abandon just like other musical, or choir conductors did. I have seen Leonard Bernstein, Andre Previn, and even Henry Mancini conduct their orchestras and man they do move those arms. But not Mother Anatole. Instead, she kept her hands close to her habit sleeves, pulling out from time to time the garter ends of her sleeves to cover her wrists, as if trying to decrease how much of her arm could be overexposed to the public gaze and heaven forbid to the wandering eyes of the men sitting on the other side of the girl’s pews.

A Living Legacy

St Augustine School Girls Department Circa 1958

St Augustine School Girls Department Circa 1958

Founded in 1910, St Augustine School (SAS) started out as a mission school erected and run by the Belgian nuns and priests (CICM) who came to Tagudin, Ilocos Sur, Philippines to help spread the Good News. A short history of the school may be found at the SAS Ai WIKI. The last 103 years has seen the steady ascent of SAS as the premier private school of Ilocos Sur province. SAS Alumni work, live, set up private practice as doctors, engineers, certified public accountants, registered nurses, and do entrepreneurial commerce internationally.

Today’s global economy makes the job market keen and competitive. We have bright, promising and highly motivated kids in the community who come from very disadvantaged families and thus are financially unable to attend SAS high school.

It is so that these kids may get an opportunity to finish high school at SAS that our non-profit organization SAS Ai dedicates and commits its efforts. We solely rely on public financial support. To this end we humbly ask you to please generously donate to the scholarship fund. This is the only way we can fund these kids’ high school education.

We believe Education is Freedom. These children have known nothing but poverty, hunger, and even hopelessness throughout their lives. But they are the future. Investing in their high school education makes possible the ushering in of a living legacy – the next generation of teachers, scientists, doctors, engineers, civic leaders, clerics, fathers and mothers raising healthy families, and highly competitive overseas workers.

This holiday season, we ask you to please consider making your charitable contribution count. Invest in these kids. Help make their dreams come true. Give them an opportunity to finish high school. A $50 dollar tax deductible donation can help send a student for one month of schooling with the funding spread to cover tuition, books, school supplies, and school uniforms. You can even open a monthly allotment using your VISA, MASTER CARD, or DISCOVER card. Any amount you want to donate is truly appreciated and will help tremendously.

We wish you a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Christmas Back Home… Long Ago

Naimbag a Pascua yo amin Apo

Naimbag a Pascua yo amin Apo (photo courtesy of Arnold M Velasco Studios)

The bomber’s moon shone brightly, rising above the acacia, santol and mango tree tops. The bamboo clumps framed the full moon with its delicate lattice-work of leaves and branches. The dew-drenched fields, the little shanties we called home, the goats and carabaos tied to the tamarind tree all lay resplendent in the magic glow of the December moonlight.

We had been caroling since dusk and now nightfall enveloped us. We carried a torch made of bundled rice straw – well, what was left of it. Its dying embers now flew every which way. We walked briskly toward Apo Peelees’ house. A dog barked from the house across the irrigation ditch. Our instruments at the ready, I gave the signal to sing…

“Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright… Round yon virgin mother and child… Hollllyyyy eeennnffaanntt….” we were suddenly interrupted.

“Pumanaw cayo. Anak ti diablo… Nargaan ti turog linocag yo! Balsigek ta rupa yo amin la… alsa…” The voice of Apo Peelees was unmistakable. It was a gravely voice seasoned with years of drinking Basi, Si Hoc Tong, Anisado, Creme de Menthe and quatro cantos Ginebra San Miguel – rut gut stuff. Apo Peelees also beat up on people when drunk. Sober? He was the nicest old man in the neighborhood but when he gets into that rut gut stuff – there is no telling what he’ll do.

My instincts told me to run. Flee before the axe came flying from the front door to the front yard where we stood singing. But the rest of the carolers started to sing again…

“Alan Apo inkan alaen… tay pascua mi nga inka iteden… ta dikam unay agtaeng… toy paraangan yo nga katimtimel…”

All I heard was a swoosh, then a stampede of carolers fleeing the scene. Apo Peelees was awake now and he came out with an axe. He was screaming and yelling, “Di cay agsubsublin. Tagbatek amin ta saksaka yo. Caponen cayo. Anak ti diablo…”

His voice trailed as we left his front yard in a hurry. After we felt Apo Peelees didn’t follow us, we stopped in the middle of the fields to catch our breath. I noticed Ricky, our purser, looking pale even in the moonlight. “What’s the matter Ricky?” I asked.

“i think I dropped the purse,” he said reluctantly.

“How about the bag with the rice cakes, the fruits and vegetables?” I continued my query.

“I left it by the makeshift stairs when we sang…”