Friday, December 24, 2010


This first came out in my "Showbiz Lengua" column in the December 2004 issue of YES! Magazine. It is now in my book Showbiz Lengua: Chika & Chismax about Chuvachuchu (Anvil Publishing, 2009), a compilation of the YES! language columns.

The X in Xmas
By Jose F. Lacaba

In show business, X spells sex.

X-rated was originally a classification for movies with content considered unsuitable for minors, such as frontal nudity and extreme violence. (Midnight Cowboy with Dustin Hoffman and Jon Voight was X-rated when it first came out.) But the term eventually attached itself to hardcore pornography, movies with extreme close-ups of genitals and explicit sex, showing actual penetration, not just a simulation. Movies with lots and lots of explicit sex, especially the gross and kinky variety, went on to bill themselves as XXX, or triple X.

In comic books that eventually crossed over to movie screens, the X-Men were mutants with superhuman abilities, feared and hated by a world of humans that they are sworn to protect. And the X-Files in the long-running TV series dealt with unexplained phenomena and unidentified flying objects.

In algebra, x is the unknown quantity. In test papers, x is the mark the teacher gives to a wrong answer. And in documents requiring a signature, X is what you write in place of a name if you’re a “no read, no write” person.

In other words, x is a synonym for smutty, strange, or stupid.

Which is why there’s sometimes a big brouhaha about the X in Xmas. “Bring Christ back into Christmas!” goes the cry.

I have news for these conscientious complainants: X also stands for Christ.

Xmas is not something invented by space-saving headline writers and attention-catching advertising executives. “Since the sixteenth century Xmas has been used in English as an abbreviation for Christmas,” according to Webster’s Word Histories (Merriam-Webster, 1989).

As members of fratricidal Greek-letter societies probably know, in the Greek alphabet the letter chi, the first letter in Christos, is written as x.

That’s where the X in Xmas came from.

“In Latin manuscripts,” Webster’s Word Histories goes on, “Christus was often abbreviated by using the first two letters of Greek Christos, chi (X) and rho (P). This abbreviation is prominent, for example, on the beautiful chi-ro pages of early medieval illuminated manuscripts like The Book of Kells and The Lindisfarne Gospels. When chi and rho are superimposed upon each other a symbol for Christ is formed which has had wide currency through the centuries of the Christian era. This symbol is known variously as a Chi-Rho, chrismon, or Christogram.”

Webster’s Dictionary of English Usage (Merriam-Webster, 1994) adds that, through the centuries, words like Christian, Christianity, christened, and Christopher were also written as Xtian, Xtianity, Xstened, and Xpofer.

So you can be sure that, this month, Xpofer de Leon will be sending Xmas cards to his Xtian friends.

Friday, December 3, 2010


What we now know as OPM, or Original Pilipino Music, didn't have that name yet at the time I wrote this 1978 article.

This was part of a New Year special section, “Ring in the New, but Don’t Ring out the Old,” in the short-lived and now-defunct monthly art-and-culture magazine The Review, which I edited. Other articles in the section: “The New Poetry: Verse as Public Speech” by Virgilio S. Almario, “The New Painting: Return to the Native” by Alice Guillermo, and “Don’t Toot that Torotot” by Gil Quito, about the need to put up an archive for Filipino films.


By Jose F. Lacaba
The Review, January 1978 (Vol. 1, No. 5)

Something’s happening on the Philippine pop music scene. You only have to turn your radio on to be aware of it.

Not too long ago, the airwaves were almost completely dominated by the popular music of the West, specifically Britain and America. Most radio stations never bothered to include Filipino songs in their programming, and even the stations that featured local performers generally preferred those performers who sang versions of the latest pop tunes from abroad.

Today, Tagalog songs are getting more air time, and you can hear them even on those stations manned by disc jockeys with the phoniest American accents this side of the Pacific.

The radio stations’ current interest in local songs is partly due to a recent Broadcast Media Council directive requiring them to play a minimum of two Filipino records per hour. But the BMC directive is really more an effect than a cause. Even before it was issued, a number of stations that formerly played nothing but foreign records were already paying attention to local songs.

More than the BMC edict, the tremendous popularity of the songs accounts for the air time they’re getting. Tagalog songs are topping the hit charts, and at the record stores, singles and long-playing albums by Filipino performers are outselling the imports.

The songs themselves are of fairly recent vintage, and they’re different in many ways from the kundimans your mother used to sing while cooking sinigang. They have a different beat, a different rhythm, and they’re sung in a different style by a new galaxy of recording stars and superstars, unheard of barely five years ago but now household names and targets of BIR investigations.

Backing up the singing idols is a new breed of composers, arrangers, lyricists, and record producers, a few of whom are also performing artists. Thanks to this new breed, a whole new repertoire of local pop songs—enough to fill up more than one special issue of Jingle Chordbook Magazine—has come into existence.

It is these new pop songs that constitute the New Sound in Philippine popular music.

A grab-bag of forms

The New Sound is not a single homogenous sound as distinctive as, say, the Mersey Sound of the early Beatles or the Motown Sound of the black soul singers. Rather, it is a grab-bag of various sounds and styles, of many forms and sundry names.

“Pinoy rock” or “Pinoy rock-and-rhythm” and “the Manila Sound” are among the best-known varieties. We also have a “Pinoy jazz,” a “Pinoy samba,” and Pinoy knows what else. Being new and still lacking a distinct identity, the New Sound does not even have a name of its own, a native name, something as immediately recognizable as the Brazilian bossa nova or the Jamaican reggae.

All varieties of the New Sound fall under three categories: original compositions; translations and adaptations; and new interpretations of local pop standards.

The original compositions usually have Tagalog lyrics (Mike Hanopol’s Buhay Musikero), but a few are in English (the Apo Hiking Society’s Songwriter) or in a combination of English and Tagalog (the Hotdog’s Manila).

The acknowledged pioneer in this category is the now disbanded Juan de la Cruz Band, whose LP Ang Himig Natin signalled the birth of “Pinoy rock” in the early Seventies. The group’s brand of hard rock attracted a cult following among teenagers with hippie tendencies (and even among jeepney drivers), but it wasn’t until the Hotdog came along that the New Sound hit the big time.

The Hotdog broke into the hit charts with Ikaw ang Miss Universe ng Buhay Ko and followed this up with the even more wildly successful Pers Lab. The songs were soft rock; the group described them as “revolutionalized kundimans.” In contrast to the Juan de la Cruz, whose psychedelic visions and occasional social commentary were expressed in surprisingly formal Tagalog (“Ang himig natin, ating awitin”), the Hotdog used a more contemporary, more slangy Manila Tagalog.

This was the beginning of the Manila Sound. The Hotdog spawned a host of imitators whose irrepressible Taglish and even raunchier slang caused the Broadcast Media Council to ban their songs from the airlanes. Of the groups that followed the Hotdog’s lead, only Cinderella (T.L. Ako sa Iyo; Bato sa Buhangin) has survived.

Translations and adaptations of foreign songs (the latter use only the tunes) came in the wake of original compositions. They gained respectability when poet and stage director Rolando Tinio put Tagalog lyrics to such songs as The Lady Is a Tramp (transformed into Ako’y Bakyang-Bakya) for Celeste Legaspi to sing.

When Rico J. Puno added humorous Tagalog annotations to his renditions of foreign songs (“Namamasyal pa sa Luneta / Nang walang pera” in The Way We Were), he won instant superstardom. Hajji Alejandro went the same route with Tag-araw, an adaptation of the Bee Gees’ Charade.

Interpretations of old pop songs became part of the New Sound after the New Minstrels successfully resurrected Mike Velarde Jr.’s relatively obscure Buhat, although it should be noted that much earlier, in the late Sixties, the campus crowd had done a similar job with the same composer’s Lahat ng Araw. Revivals are now as much a part of the repertoire of Rico Puno and Didith Reyes as originals.

A matter of style

What’s new about the New Sound, what makes it different from the old, is largely a matter of style. This is not to say that the style is original, because even the original compositions are highly derivative.

“The New Sound is basically Western,” Jim Paredes of the Apo Hiking Society admits. “Our influences are foreign. Our musical roots are colonial.”

Still, the New Sound is new in the sense that its foreign influences are new to Philippine pop music.

The New Sound is really the sound of rock, soul, jazz, American folk, the samba, and the bossa nova. But whereas these western forms used to be imported lock, stock, and barrel—that is, with words and music and even styling intact—today an attempt is being made to introduce their beat and rhythm into the body of local pop music, to make them a part of our musical idiom.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with this attempt. Foreign influences are not necessarily harmful. They can also serve as a catalyst for change, as singer and voice teacher Aurelio Estanislao points out: “Kung baga sa biology, ito’y parang hybrid vigor. Masarap din iyong merong konting genes na nanggagaling sa labas.”

The history of Philippine pop music is in fact also a history of foreign influences. Even our folk songs, as recognizably Filipino as adobo, betray a Spanish influence, judging from the presence of Spanish-derived words in their lyrics (sibuyas and kamatis in Bahay Kubo, for instance). Estanislao points out that the compositions of Mike Velarde Jr., including Ikaw and Dahil sa Iyo, which have almost attained the status of folk songs, show definite traces of Broadway.

Memorable Tagalog songs have resulted from the introduction into Philippine pop music of such foreign influences as the boogie (Ikaw Kasi), rock and roll (Hahabol-habol), the yodel songs (Pitong Gatang).

Whether the attempt made by the New Sound practitioners to introduce new foreign influences into Philippine pop music will succeed, whether rock and soul and the rest will eventually be assimilated or rejected, is a question only the future can answer.

A question of audience

Another thing worth noting about the New Sound is that its popularity extends beyond the traditional audience of the Filipino song.

In the fairly recent past, the homegrown product was something to be derided as fit only for peasants and domestics, for the so-called bakya crowd. Moreover, it was primarily a middle-aged proclivity, since even the younger segments of the “bakya crowd” shrieked over idols—Nora Aunor, Victor Wood, Eddie Peregrina—who rose to fame by singing in English (although, to be fair, these singers later added Tagalog songs to their repertoire).

The New Sound, however, appeals not only to the kanto boy feeding coins into the jukebox at the corner store but also to the junior executive feeding tapes into the cassette deck of his air-conditioned car. And the New Sound is championed by the young more than the old or the middle-aged, who probably wouldn’t trade in Ric Manrique or the Mabuhay Singers for Rico Puno or Banyuhay.

Like the new Tagalog movies, the New Sound has enlarged the audience of Philippine pop music to include a social class (predominantly burgis) and an age level (mostly under 35) which previously worshipped only at the shrine of the Stateside, the ‘Tatê, the Amboy.

There is no denying that the rise of nationalist and populist sentiments in the late Sixties and early Seventies has been a factor in the birth and spread of the New Sound. The very names of the rock bands of that period—Juan de la Cruz, Anak-Bayan, Sangkatutak, Apolinario Mabini Hiking Society (shortened later to Apo Hiking Society on orders of the Constabulary’s Office of Civil Relations)—clearly reflected the spirit of the times.

In general, the denunciation of colonial control over all aspects of the national life, culture included, coupled with the attacks on elitism, created widespread guilt and caused a great deal of soul-searching among Filipino intellectuals. This explains the revival of interest in the long-standing questions of “national identity” and “the Filipino soul.” It also explains why, for instance, burgis has become a term of reproach—or at any rate of something to be apologetic about—and why bakya has become almost a badge of honor, as in Ako’y Bakyang-Bakya.

What’s happening on the cultural front may be seen as partly a sincere attempt by certain burgis intellectuals to assuage their guilt and respond to the needs of the times, partly a calculated effort by the dominant culture to coopt nationalist and populist sentiments.

Not surprisingly, many of the practitioners of the New Sound have burgis backgrounds. They grew up in comfortable suburban homes, studied in (or dropped out of) exclusive schools, and speak impeccable English. They even sing Tagalog with an American accent—a fact that particularly annoys Aurelio Estanislao.

Iyang mga pumuputok na T at D, iyang mga short A, wala niyan sa ating wika, maski na sa anumang dialect natin,” says Estanislao. “Iyang ‘Ekaow eng eking…,” iyang mga ‘Sa pag-MA-MA-hal mo…’ wala tayo niyan. PAG-ma-ma-HAL, iyan ang mas angkop. Ang nagsasalita lamang ng pag-MA-MA-hal e iyang mga nanagalog diyan sa Ateneo at Maryknoll.”

Still, the fact that our young songwriters and performers are now making an effort to express themselves in their native tongue is already an encouraging development. It is reflective of a general trend whose manifestations include, in literature, the shift made by many young writers from English to Pilipino and, in the visual arts, the move made by many young painters away from abstraction and towards a more realistic portrayal of the country’s physical and social landscape.

Like their young counterparts in the other arts, the New Sound practitioners are trying to come to terms with their Filipino-ness (although, judging from their persistent use of the word Pinoy instead of the more dignified Pilipino or Filipino, they’re not yet quite comfortable in this role), and at the same time they’re trying to reach out to the great mass of Filipinos once scorned as bakya.

Jose “Boboy” Garrovillo, also of the Apo Hiking Society, articulates this in reflecting on the Juan dela Cruz: “Their medium was Western. Rock sila, hindi ba? But they tried to make it Filipino by using Tagalog lyrics. How else could they bring it to the people?”

A problem with content

One thing about the new sound remains old—and that is the content of the songs.

The practitioners of the New Sound, observes Tinio, “are imitating a sound, a music, but they’re not writing new sense into this sound. The sensibility is still rural. They’re groping towards a more urban sensibility in song—as the Bagay poets did in poetry—but they’re not there yet.”

As Estanislao puts it: “Sa musika, hanggang ngayon e romantic pa tayo. Iyakan tayo nang iyakan. Lahat e luha, pasakit, hinagpis, pighati.”

The Juan de la Cruz tried to break away from the persistent preoccupation of local pop songs with the subject of love, particularly the unrequited kind, but the Manila Sound brought it back with a vengeance.

It is true the Manila Sound generally treats the subject with humor and a generous helping of irony. “Taghiyawat sa ilong” in Pers Lab is certainly several generations removed from “Wari ko ba, sinta, ako’y mamamatay / Kung di ikaw ang kapiling habang buhay” in Ang Tangi Kong Pag-ibig.

Many of the New Sound songs, moreover, make few references to Diyos and langit, two of the most overused words in local pop songs, and clearly a reflection of what Tinio calls a rural—basically feudal—sensibility.

Still, the ironic treatment of love isn’t really new: Hahabol-habol and many songs of the Fifties did it before. Likewise, feudal values continue to crop up in the new songs. Kapalaran presents a very real social problem in the simplest terms (“Bakit ba ganyan ang buhay ng tao, / Mayro’ng mayaman, may api sa mundo”), but answers its own question with a typically feudal explanation: that’s luck, fate, kapalaran. Even Bakit Ako Mahihiya?, with its superficially defiant Women’s Lib tone, speaks of a man’s love as “ang tanging aliw ng buhay ko.”

For all its shortcomings, however—or perhaps precisely because of these shortcomings—the New Sound is in its own way an accurate reflection of the present social situation.

The feudal content of the lyrics, the colonial origins of the tunes, give us a clear picture of how far we still have to go, in this seventh decade of the 20th century.

Commenting on the Western orientation of the New Sound, Jim Paredes says: “I think that’s what we are. Our music reflects what we are. Right now, even if we’re going original, meron pa ring traces ng colonial. What do we suppose we should do, cry over it?”

No, of course, we shouldn’t cry over the present situation. But neither should we glory in it, neither should we accept it as a permanent, immutable condition.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

BALANGIGA: The Unproduced Screenplay

Noong Setyembre 28, 2008, ika-107 anibersaryo ng Labanan sa Balangiga, ipinost ko sa blog na ito ang storyline ng Balangiga, isang dulang pampelikula na sinulat ko noon pang 2002. Nitong nakaraang Hulyo 2010, ang dulang pampelikulang iyan ay nanalo ng unang gantimpala sa kaSAYSAYan Historical Scriptwriting Contest na inisponsor ng Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP).

Narito ang press release ng FDCP tungkol sa mga nagwagi sa timpalak:


FDCP kaSAYSAYan Historical Scriptwriting Contest Awarding
July 20, 2010

The Film Development Council of the Philippines (FDCP) awarded the winning scripts of its ‘kaSAYSAYan’ Historical Scriptwriting contest on Monday, July 19, 2010 at the FDCP office.

After an overwhelming response from all over the Philippines and the world, and a gruelling deliberation, only the most brilliant three were named winners.

It was a toss-up between first and second place, but ultimately, “Balangiga” by Jose F. Lacaba took top spot for its sheer brilliance and polish as a full-length screenplay, and Floy Quintos’ impressive “Nan Hudhud Hi Apo Ilyam (Apo Ilyam’s Hudhud)” won second prize. Meanwhile, the Hollywood-ready” script by Eduardo Rocha and the late Henry Francia (represented by his nephew, Amos), “The Whirlwinds of Dust: The Fall of Antonio Luna” bagged third place.

Apart from these, the judges were impressed with Arnel Mardoquio’s “Mangulayon”, granting it a Special Mention prize for its fresh subject matter and for being a worthy story heralding Mindanao, and being only one of two scripts that represented the Islamic region, geographically speaking.

Meanwhile, out of the scripts that made it to the short list, 20 were set in Luzon, 9 in Visayas, 3 in Spain, 1 in the USA, and 1 in the afterlife. The most common subjects, on the other hand, were the Katipunan and bio-pics or historical places, the Filipino-American war, WWII, and the Japanese occupation. All the 46 entries form a very impressive pool of historical literature and FDCP is willing to assist producers or film enthusiasts who may want to coordinate for projects with the writers/ creators of these scripts.

A deciding body of distinguished educators and industry greats was pooled to determine the winning scripts. Sen. Edgardo Angara headed the Board of Judges, with director-screenwriter Doy del Mundo, screenwriter Roy Iglesias, film archivist Teddy Co, and newspaper columnist Bum Tenorio as members.

Besides their cash prizes, there is a possibility that the winning scripts may be developed into film.

The project was launched in February 2010 in preparation for the year 2011’s being a marker for several notable events in Philippine history, such as Jose Rizal’s 150th birthday, the country’s 65th year of independence from America, and the People Power Revolution’s 25th anniversary. 

The contest aimed to find the most captivating yet unknown story, in the form of a full-length screenplay, using Filipino natural history as a springboard.


Kung interesado kayong basahin ang dulang pampelikulang Balangiga, pumunta lang sa, ang website ng pamangkin kong si Junjun Lacaba Malillin. Diyan ay puwedeng i-download ang pdf file ng script. Narito ang link:

 At the awarding ceremonies for the kaSAYSAYan scriptwriting contest
Front row: Floy Quintos, Pete Lacaba, Eduardo Rocha.
Back (L-R): Roy Iglesias, Christine Dayrit (project head of the kaSAYSAYan scriptwriting contest), Teddy Co, Marinella Suzara (then FDCP executive director), Digna Santiago (then executive director of the Philippine Film Export Services Office), and Amos Francia (representing his uncle, the late Henry Francia).

Monday, November 22, 2010


Here’s the introductory piece in my book Showbiz Lengua: Chika and Chismax about Chuvachuchu (Anvil Publishing, 2010), the compilation of 68 columns that I wrote for YES! Magazine from 2003 to 2009.


ONCE UPON A TIME I had a language column on Pinoy English called “Carabeef Lengua.” The column “Showbiz Lengua,” which appears in YES! Magazine, a glossy showbiz monthly, focuses this time around on the language of Pinoy showbiz—the fascinating, exasperating, continually evolving lingo of the entertainment industry.

I don’t claim to be a linguist or a lexicographer. I just happen to be a diligent consulter of dictionaries. In fact, as soon as I wrote that last sentence, I checked out my Merriam-Webster to see if the word consulter is in it. I am glad to report that it is. In the process, I learned that there is such a word as consultor, which has been in use since 1611 and means “one who consults or advises; especially: an adviser to a Roman Catholic bishop, provincial, or sacred congregation.”

In other words, a consulter is a receiver, one who consults, like a consultee; whereas a consultor is a giver, one who provides consultation, like a consultant.

That’s how I describe myself in my calling card: Editorial Consultant. Which is why friends of mine who are highly paid editors often text me with questions like: “wats d korek spelling, glamor or glamour?” And without a second thought I text back: “both. bt glamour w U s preferd coz it looks more glamorous.” Before I can even receive a message of “tnx,” I am texting again: “note that glamorous s always spelld wo U. ü”

Such consultation is often given gratis et amore to friends who know my cellphone number, but I expect them to pay for my drinks the next time we meet. And when they read this, I hope they will also consider gifting me with prepaid cellphone cards.

As I was about to say before I started to ramble, strict grammarians chide us for using words that are not in a dictionary by claiming that the words in question do not exist: “The word aggrupation does not exist!” My own position on this issue is that, the moment someone uses a word, whether wrongly or wrongheadedly, it comes into existence. The question is whether the word is to be found in any dictionary.

Now the problem with showbiz lingo is that it consists of words that usually have no dictionary existence. Take the word chuvachuchu, for instance, about which I was reminded when I learned that Jolina Magdangal has a restaurant called Chuva-Chicha.

But I have filled up my allotted space, and the discussion of chuvachuchu and chicha and their cognates (achuchu, chukchak, chika, chismax, chuchuwa, chuwariwariwap, chuwap, chuchu, chibog, chichería, chicharon) will have to wait until next month.

First published in YES! Magazine, March 2003

You’ll have to get a copy of the book to read the other 67 columns in Showbiz Lengua: Chika and Chismax about Chuvachuchu. The book costs P295 and is available at National Bookstore branches in the Philippines. Last I looked, it wasn’t on I don’t know if it will ever get there.

Friday, November 19, 2010


Showbiz Lengua: Chika & Chismax about Chuvachuchu (Anvil Publishing), a compilation of the columns that I write for the monthly YES! Magazine, is now off the press, and available at National Book Store, at P295.

Here's what reviewers say:

... it’s not a dictionary, but a collection of ruminations on contemporary language (riffs on riffs).

And the author is Jose F. Lacaba a.k.a Ka Pete of Days of Disquiet, Nights of Rage, Mga Kagila-gilalas na Pakikipagsapalaran, the screenplays of Bayan Ko: Kapit Sa Patalim, Sister Stella L and others, and the Showbiz Lengua column in Yes! magazine.

Ka Pete ponders the etymology and usage of taray, kikay, krung-krung, carry-carry, kaposh, and other “words that usually have no dictionary existence” that have crept into everyday Filipino speech anyway.

You need this book to explain why we sound like this today.

“Ka Pete, chumuchorva! Pagsa-Safire, kinarir! Plangak!”
Jessica Rules the Universe website
October 6, 2010
You can read the full review here:

“I don’t claim to be a linguist or a lexicographer,” Lacaba writes in the first entry of his new collection, Showbiz Lengua: Chika & Chismax about Chuvachuchu (Anvil, 2010). “I just happen to be a diligent consulter of dictionaries.” Self-effacing as that might sound, it isn’t that easy. It’s apparent to the reader that Lacaba is not just referring to a trusted set of tomes and reference books that he has referred to with unwavering devotion since the late Sixties. Reading the book, a collection of columns the author has so far written for the popular showbiz monthly, Yes!, one gets the impression that he’s actually very open-minded if not indiscriminate in finding sources for the definitions and uses of language, consulting and referencing books, newspapers, tabloids, and the Internet in his columns. In this regard, Lacaba is no snob. He who wrote the now-classic “Notes on Bakya” certainly can’t be accused of cultural elitism. Lacaba’s stated diligence in finding the meanings of words can be described as—to use a term discussed in the book—kinarir.

In a 2005 column that he titles “Spokening,” Lacaba cites the question on a televised debate show, “Kailangan ba ang perfect English para umunlad ang bansa?” That question,” he writes, “was not about adequate English, or competent English, or even excellent English, but about perfect English….And the survey showed an overwhelming majority of texters saying: Yes!

“Oh wow! If the informal, that is, survey results are indicative of the thinking of the general population, then this country is doomed, starting with showbiz linguists.”

It is at this point that the younger Lacaba of the Free Press and the elder statesman of Filipino literature today meet and converse…

Lacaba’s writings on language, first in his column for the Manila Times, “Carabeef Lengua” and now for Yes! in “Showbiz Lengua” are as revelatory. It is a celebration—albeit a cautious one—of being Filipino, of the virtues of being part of a so-called mongrel race in an increasingly blurry world. But more than that, they are enjoyable reads that appeal not only because they entertain but also instruct. Again, to refer to the author’s earlier essay, he writes that because of pop culture in the form of movies and comic books, he seldom had difficulty in “communicating with people born and bred in a different dialect.” With his new collection, he continues to explore that fascinating terrain of Filipino culture, transmitting back to us a comprehensive reportage on a truly and happily alien species: ourselves.

“English—Pinoy Showbiz Style”
Philippines Free Press
Posted on October 5, 2010
You can read the full review here:

…long-time fans of Jose “Pete” Lacaba will find Showbiz Lengua a highly amusing, though quite surprising detour from his earlier books like “Mga Kagila-gilalas na Pakikipagsapalaran” (1979), “Days of Disquiet, Nights of Rage” (1982), “Sa Panahon ng Ligalig” (1983), “Sa Daigdig ng Kontradiksiyon” (1992), “Edad Medya” (2000), and “Kung Baga sa Bigas” (2002).

Except for “Days of Disquiet, Nights of Rage,” a compilation of on-the-spot reports on the First Quarter Storm that in 1982 won the National Book Award for nonfiction, all the other books are collections of Lacaba’s poems.

For the first four decades of his writing life, Lacaba’s works mostly focused on social and political contradictions that hounded Philippine society. Prolific and versatile, he spun poems and wove commentary, even put lyrics to music and wrote searing screenplays that gave meaning to powerful films like Angela Markado (1983), Sister Stella L. (1984), Bayan Ko: Kapit sa Patalim (1984), Orapronobis (1989), Eskapo (1995), Segurista (1996), Bagong Bayani (1996), and Rizal sa Dapitan (1997).

And just when everyone expected that Lacaba, now in his ’60s and an established icon of Philippine cinema and literature, was about to retire from doing social commentary, he turns around and practically does a Madonna, reinventing himself as “El Lenguador,” a tongue-in-cheek expert of words and phrases commonly used by Philippine showbiz denizens.

Why show business? Well, it could be because the entertainment business has been Lacaba’s immediate milieu for some years now. As executive editor of Summit Media’s YES!magazine, he most probably gets to read all the interesting and controversial happenings in the entertainment industry before everyone else.

Long exposure to showbiz talk has perhaps tickled his imagination to the point that he had to write about it. The result: Pithy discourses providing amusing insights on why Korean star Sandara Park is a “krung-krung;” what happens when someone thinks “kinakarir mo ang BF niya;” and how to say “sobra!” as one gets swamped by intense emotion…

Definitely, Showbiz Lengua is not a trivial pursuit to be dismissed by serious students of the fast-evolving Pinoybiz language.

Should the book be highly recommended? Well, if only for the almost scholarly effort to put rhyme, reason, humor, and fun to what many dismiss as mere kaartehan or kakikayan I’d say, “Plangak!”

“The Book of Lengua”
Philippines Graphic
Posted on October 11, 2010
You can read the full review here:

“Chuvachuchu," “Jologs," “Krung-krung" at “Kikay." Ilan lang ‘yan sa mga nakaaaliw na salita na madalas nating marinig sa mga showbiz personalities… na malamang ginagamit mo rin paminsan-minsan. Pero kagaya ka ba ng manunulat na si Pete Lacaba na nagtatanong kung saan nga bang lupalop nahugot ang mga salitang ito?

Karaniwang sa mga bading at mga personalidad sa showbiz natin naririnig ang mga kakaibang salitang ito, na noong una ay iilan lang siguro ang nakakaintindi. Pero sa paglipas ng panahon, naging karaniwan na ito sa ating pandinig at tila nagbago na rin ang kahulugan.

Ano nga ba itong “chuvachuchu" na parang nagtataboy lang ng aso? Ang “Krung-krung" ay tunog ba ng “ring" ng lumang telepono na pa-ikot pa noon ang dial? At itong “Kikay," hindi ba parang tunog ng maselang bahagi ng katawan ng babae?

Sa librong ‘Showbiz Lengua: Chika & Chismax about Chuvachuchu’ na akda ni Pete Lacaba, hinimay niya ang ilang “posibilidad" na pinanggalingan ng mga showbiz o gay lingo na ito. Isinama na rin niya ang iba pang “pinausong" salita na ang kahulugan ay hindi mo makikita sa mga diksyunaryo sa Filipino o sa mga translator sa Internet.

Pero paalala ni Lacaba sa kanyang libro: “Don’t ask me for lexicographic proof. My assertions here are based purely on chika, chismax and chukchak."

“Mga chika, chismax, at chukchak ni Pete Lacaba”
Posted on October 22, 2010
You can read the full review here:

Showbiz Lengua by Jose "Pete" Lacaba, our only certified word maven, a multi-lingual one at that, since he dwells with much expertise and panache not only on English word usage but, as shown in this collection of columns done for the monthly entertainment YES! Magazine which he helps edit, mostly on new additions to our Filipino and regional languages, plus a lot of chuvaspeak.

Published by Anvil, the book's full title is Showbiz Lengua: Chika & Chismax about Chuvachuchu. And there's no one else who can give us the rundown on such chic chump change of lilting language (possibly patois) than Ka Pete, who sagely scours dictionaries, interrogates area experts (as part of cultural research), and indulges in his own educated guesswork to fill us in on delightful new additions to our Pinoyspeak…

It makes for thoroughly enjoyable reading, this book. Trust Pete to entertain and enlighten you to the chuva max.

“New Filipiniana titles” (in his column “Kripotkin”)
Philippine Star
Nov. 1, 2010
You can read the full review here:

Monday, October 11, 2010


The Galeon Andalucia at Pier 13, Manila.
Cellphone photo by Marra PL. Lanot.

October 8, 2010, was celebrated as the Día del Galeón, or Day of the Galleon. It was the very first celebration of the Unesco-declared Día del Galeón, and the celebration was held in the Philippines, which was supposed to be the host of something called the “International Día del Galeón Festival 2010: Connecting Continents.”

I learned about the event only the day before from a Philippine Daily Inquirer report, which came out the day after the Galeón Andalucia, a replica of a 17th-century Spanish galleon, sailed into Philippine waters and docked at Pier 13 of Manila’s South Harbor. The ship was supposed to be open to the public for boarding and viewing on October 8 and 9, but due to circumstances beyond my control, I could not join my wife, Marra PL. Lanot, when she decided to take a look at the Galeón Andalucia and take a few pictures with her Nokia cellphone.

So I decided instead to dig up an article I wrote 20 years ago, when a travel magazine assigned me to check out a report that a life-size replica of a Spanish galleon was being built somewhere in Cebu, and to use that galleon as the peg for a travel feature on Cebu. I wonder whatever happened to that envisioned Galeón Cebu, which was to be named the Infanta Filipina. I read somewhere, not too long ago, that it was the project of a group headed by or including Inquirer lifestyle columnist Cory Quirino, but the only information I could get about that, from a cursory googling, comes from “Then & Now,” Norma Japitana’s entertainment column in the Philippine Star.

In her column posted on on September 19, 2010, Norma J reprinted something she had originally written in 1990, the same year I wrote my travel article. “Andy Williams came and got a standing ovation because he made us remember The Shadow of Your Smile, Our Love is Here to Stay and Days of Wine and Roses,” Norma J wrote on June 26, 1990. “The fact that he came to help build the Spanish Galleon of Cory Quirino’s group made it more worthwhile.”

Anyway, for all it’s worth, and in belated commemoration of Día del Galeón, here’s slightly revised version of the piece I wrote back in 1990. It first appeared in Continental Airlines’ Pacific Travelogue 1990, published in Honolulu by EastWest Magazine Co. Ltd.

Marra at the helm of the Galeon Andalucia.

Photo by a volunteer tour guide, using Marra's cellphone.


On the road in Cebu, “an island in the Pacific.”


ON THE LATE-AFTERNOON flight from Manila to Cebu, I found myself seated beside a young white Anglo-Saxon blonde, whom I naturally took to be a scuba-diving backpacker out to explore the island’s fabled coral reefs. But when I asked where she was from, she said, “Cebu,” and started speaking in Cebuano to prove it. She turned out to be the Cebu-born daughter of British nationals; her father was an official in the copper mines. Cebu springs such surprises on the unwary visitor.

I was on my way to Cebu, a Philippine province 587 kilometers south of Manila, to take a look at a galleon in the making. There, I was told, a project had been launched to build a life-size replica of Spain’s ancient sailing ship. Originally made for war and subsequently used for commerce, the galleon in its planned reincarnation was to be equipped with state-of-the-art technology and modern-day conveniences for the benefit of the ocean-cruising tourist trade: the Love Boat in 16th-century raiment.

My seatmate on the plane had heard of the project but didn’t know exactly where in Cebu the galleon was being built. She was not the only one in the dark. I asked around almost as soon as I hit the ground, and nobody could direct me to the proper shipyard or to a city office. The local tourism unit provided handouts with a lot of useful information (for instance: the Japanese accounted for the most number of foreign tourists to Cebu, with 37,538 in 1988, followed by the Hongkong Chinese, 17,173, and the Americans, 13,947), but there was no mention of a galleon. It was still a drawing-board concept; it was not yet a tourist draw.

Killing time and following up some leads, I went around Cebu City, the provincial capital. I had earlier enjoyed a panoramic view of the Queen City of the South (as it bills itself) from the Cebu Plaza, the plush mountainside hotel in which I was billeted courtesy of the Department of Tourism. A closeup showed a feverish construction boom, which in a few years will radically alter the face of the metropolis. For the moment, however, it still retained a good deal of its Old World charm. This was particularly noticeable in Fort San Pedro, the country’s oldest and smallest Spanish-built stone fort, which houses the tourism office, and in Casa Gorordo, one of the few Spanish houses in Cebu to have survived the bombing of the last world war. Both places have been converted into museums where the elegant relics of a bygone era are on permanent display.

While having a sandwich at a place called Balls Burger, I watched the passing parade. No longer much in evidence were the leisurely tartanillas, Cebu’s unique horse-drawn rigs, and once the chief form of public transport for prole and gentry alike. In their place were other aspirants for the title of King of the Road: the motorized tricycle, basically a motorcycle with a sidecar that can carry up to 15 passengers, to the astonishment of the motorcyles’ Japanese makers; the trisikad, a bicycle with a sidecar, its name being a bilingual pun combining tricyle and sikad (Cebuano for “kick”); the jeepney, a national symbol; and the meterless taxicab. With taxis you stated your destination, the driver named a price, you haggled if you could, and only when the two of you had agreed on the fare were you allowed to get in. Since I didn’t know my way around and didn’t speak Cebuano, taxis proved more convenient than Rent-a-Car, and the drivers, eager to show off their fluency in Manila Tagalog, were a rich source of local lore about the sexual habits of Cebu’s politicians. But they knew nothing about the galleon.

By this time I was about to give up on the galleon and had decided to look into the better-known attractions of Cebu, a place advertised in travel posters in Europe as “an island in the Pacific.” (The catchphrase prompted at least one official of the central government to criticize this apparent effort to dissociate gentle Cebu from the rest of the rowdy country.) Luckily I visited an old friend in Liloan, a small town about an hour’s ride from Cebu City, famed for its flaky otap and crunchy rosquillo biscuits, and for having produced nationally known beauty queens and movie stars. My friend introduced me to a guy who shall hereinafter be referred to as Pardy.

Pardy is the kind of colorful character every travel writer should try bumping into. A man darkened by sun and sea, with an overflowing belly reminiscent of the Chinese Buddha’s, he was given to atrocious puns like: “The police, they are up to some police-ness again.” He gave me a calling card on which he is described as having “no phone, no address, no money, no job, no prospects,” with the added information that he “specializes in underwater demolition, revolution, gunrunning, bootlegging, civil wars, smuggling, orgies, prayer meetings and church socials.” And he said he could take me to the shipyard where the galleon was being built. We shook hands on that.

BRIGHT AND EARLY the next morning Pardy came to pick me up at my hotel in a battered Toyota driven by his sidekick, improbably named Marlon. Actually, he should have been named Evel Knievel. He had no qualms about overtaking cars which were in the process of overtaking other cars, even if we happened to be negotiating hairpin turns on heartbreak hills. My balls, as the Tagalog saying goes, climbed up to my throat.

I had told Pardy the galleon wasn’t my only goal; I was also interested in getting a sampling of what Cebu had to offer to tourists. He now informed me we would first visit Moalboal and stay there overnight. From one of the handouts I had picked up at the tourist office, I would later learn that Moalboal is a town on the southwest coast, 89 kilometers from Cebu City. Pardy told me it was a place frequented by scuba divers and snorkelers who go for off-the-beaten-path vacations.

On the east coast the ride was a smooth one. Somewhere along the way I espied a signboard above the door of a nipa hut saying, “Welcome to Hare Krishna Paradise,” and in town after town, billboards announced “cock derbies” sponsored by “cockers’ clubs.” I was reminded of a story told of the Cebuano as gambler. It seems that churchgoing cockfighters often went to communion just so they could pocket the eucharistic hosts, which they would later feed to their fighting cocks. With the kind of faith that moves mountains, they believed bread that had been transformed into the body of Christ had the miraculous power of making cocks strong and victorious in battle.

We got off the beaten path as soon we started to cross over to the western side, by way of a gravelly mountain road with no railings to obstruct our view of heart-pounding ravines. We roared through a market area, all bustle and excitement, pungent with the myriad smells of peasant commodities being sold or exchanged: goats, pigs, cows, carabaos, salt, corn grits, firewood. After what felt like an eternity, we came down to a breathtaking view of the sea, so clear and shallow you could see the white sand shining underneath. It was this wading-depth coastline that gave the island its original native name, Sugbo, meaning, “to walk in the water.”

We bumped on, noting that long stretches of the west-coast road were being cemented, which means smoother sailing in the future for accidental tourists. Three hours after we left Cebu City, we were on the dirt road leading to Moalboal’s beach. We passed an empty, solitary structure bearing the sign “Moalboal Tourist Sports Complex”--actually a cockpit--and then suddenly we were at the end of the road, an oasis of cottages and bamboo pavilions with names like Paradise Inn and Eve’s Kiosk. A number of one-room “schools” offered to teach scuba diving in eight easy lessons, and rented out the necessary outfits and equipment. It wasn’t tourist season, but there must have been more than two dozen white men and women in the place, in swimwear, scuba gear, or regulation tees and shorts.

After a sumptuous lunch of steamed crabs and grilled fish, fresh out of the sea, and washed down with San Miguel beer, we took a siesta. I thought I would wake up with aching muscles and joints, but didn’t. We had another beer at Eve’s Kiosk, and got a briefing from Eve herself. She showed us an old brochure, with faded colored pictures, describing a “mysterious underwater cave” in the “quaint little diving island of Moalboal, beautiful and unexplored.” The brochure called on the reader to “discover the secrets of the Philippine seas” by making a “descent to darkening depths,” with its “kaleidoscope of colors” and “structured cave-like coral walls [that] pulsate with tropical marine life.”

Fired by the promotional prose, we hied ourselves to a diving school. There was a speedboat scheduled to take scuba-diving students and enthusiasts to a nearby island where, the shop attendant assured me, the deep blue offered fabulous sights. But my landlubber instincts--which have instilled in my bones a deathly fear of any body of water that goes deeper than my neck--had taken over. I settled for snorkel and flippers, which together could be rented for 15 pesos per hour.

I stayed close to shore, avoiding the sudden drop in the sandbank. But even here there was enough “pulsating tropical marine life” to dazzle this first-time snorkeler. The Jackson Pollock permutations of coral, the multifarious species of tropical fish, dappled, candy-striped, of various shapes and sizes--I had seen these in aquaria before, but there was nothing like seeing them underwater, being surrounded by them, floating with them. For the first time in my life I saw a live starfish of lapis-lazuli blue. The haze of aquamarine before my goggled eyes and the sound of my own breathing contributed to the eerie beauty of it all. It gave me an inkling of what made scuba divers rave about Cebu, and made me rue my own fear of the deep.

THE NEXT DAY we left Moalboal, but not before getting a full tank from a hut that sold gasoline stored in liter-sized Coke bottles. The gasoline seller wore a T-shirt that said: “Don’t shoot journalists.”

We were back in Cebu City at noon, but had lunch in the next town, Mandaue, in an improvised outdoor restaurant that served succulent barbecued chicken with puso, rice served in little triangular packs of coconut leaves, in which they had been steamed. Afterwards we proceeded to the island of Mactan.

Connected to the main island by a bridge almost a kilometer long, Mactan is the first and last place that the plane-borne visitor to Cebu sees, because it is the site of the international airport. It is also famous for many other things: its world-class beach resorts, its distinctive limestone (known in the Philippines as Mactan stone), its guitars, and the historical fact that Ferdinand Magellan’s 16th-century dream of circumnavigating the globe ended here, when he was killed on the beach by the warriors of the native chieftain Lapulapu.

We looked around for guitar-makers and learned they were all to be found in two barrios, Maribago and Abuno. No one seemed to know the reason for this concentration of skills. Perhaps there was a forest in these barrios once, but now all the wood used for the making of the guitar, such as Philippine mahogany and pinewood, come from Mindanao. We found our way to Lilang’s, reputedly the largest guitar and handicrafts factory in Abuno. In one of the workshops, export-quality classical guitars were being made by an assembly line of twelve men, specialists in various aspects of the craft, from the cutting of the wood to the varnishing of the finished guitar. In an adjoining showroom, a Japanese couple examined samples of the native 14-string mandolin called banduria, and shelves full of ukuleles decorated with painted palm trees flanking the word Hawaii.

Less than a kilometer from Lilang’s was the backyard workshop of a 67-year-old artisan named Angel, who said he had been making guitars since he was 10 years old. His three brothers also made guitars, and their two the sisters sold them. They had learned the craft from their parents, but now none of Angel’s children seemed interested in carrying on the family tradition, and his apprentices were the children of his neighbors. A couple of assistants helped him, but he did all the major tasks himself, seated on a log outside the door of his workshed, his bare feet touching ground, while stray dogs drifted in and out, and tethered fighting cocks crowed ceaselessly. At the time of our visit he was at work on a bajo de arco, a double bass, commissioned by the priest of a nearby parish.

A visit to Mactan, Pardy said, would not be complete without paying homage to Lapulapu, revered as the first Philippine hero to oppose foreign invasion. Off we went to his seaside monument, in what is now Lapulapu City. It was a sign of native ambivalence toward the conquistador that right behind the impressive Lapulapu statue was an obelisk in honor of Magellan and of glorias españolas, Spanish glories. Lapulapu’s heroic proportions, moreover, prompted Pardy’s comment that Mactan’s pride looked more like an American Indian brave than a Malayan warrior.

On the beach nearby was a boat-building community. Some workmen were putting the finishing touches to a catamaran, commissioned by European tourists; others were carving a banca, the Philippine canoe, out of a large log. That reminded me of the galleon I had come to Cebu to look for.

CEBU is well-equipped for the 90-million-dollar galleon project. It has modern shipyards and a shipbuilding tradition, and Cebu-based companies currently control 90 percent of the country’s inter-island shipping. Historically, it was among the first of the Philippines’ 7,000 islands to witness the coming of Magellan’s three surviving ships in 1521, although its role in the later galleon trade is not particularly clear.

At least once a year for 250 years, from 1565 to 1815, the Manila Galleon plied the seas between the Philippines and Mexico, carrying silk and spices to the West and bringing back silver coins and soldiers of fortune. Cebu does not seem to have had a share in the profit and the glory. The definitive book on the subject, William Lytle Schurz’s The Manila Galleon (E.P. Dutton, 1939), does not include Cebu in its list of places where galleons were constructed; but the Encyclopedia Britannica (1981) notes that the island suffered “extensive timber cutting for the building of Spanish galleons on the historic Manila-Acapulco route.”

Pardy, who when I first met him seemed absolutely sure where the galleon was being built, now spoke with less certainty. He had heard it was in one of the shipyards in Consolacion, the town between Mandaue and Liloan, but he didn’t really know which. Fortunately, his first guess was the correct one. The impassable road, made for Land Rovers and 10-wheeler trucks, shook our nerves and rattled our bones, but after several detours and endless questioning of pedestrians, we reached Santiago Shipyard--named, appropriately enough, after Spain’s patron saint.

Still hanging outside a temporary prefab in the shipyard were streamers put up during the launching ceremonies. One welcomed national and provincial dignitaries. Another proclaimed: “La Infanta Filipina Keel-Laying Project, date July 29, 1989. Voyage of discovery, 1992. Seville World’s Fair, the Barcelona Olympic Games and the 500th anniversary of the discovery of the New World. The Philippines’ official representative in these historic world events.”

At that moment the Infanta Filipina, the Philippine Princess, was nothing more than four massive pieces of planed hardwood which had been towed from the province of Surigao, in Mindanao, and were now joined together end to end for a total length of 200 feet: the keel. Attached to it was an actual-size model of the prow. Inside the prefab, tacked to one wall, were the blueprints prepared by naval architects and marine engineers, providing a graphic preview of the shape of things to come.

At that moment the 20th-century galleon was still a dream, but not an inglorious one. On the way back to the city, I thought of Magellan’s guide and slave, christened Enrique. Described in the chronicles of the voyage as Malay, Enrique was most probably Cebuano, since he could speak the language of Sugbo and was able to act as interpreter; and if indeed he was Cebuano, then he was most certainly the first person to circumnavigate the globe, since he had come full circle when Magellan’s ships brought him back to his native land.

Despite the rough ride, I fell asleep and had a dream, and in my dream I saw Enrique on the deck of the Infanta Filipina, Pardy and Marlon and Eve and Angel beside him, with a white Anglo-Saxon blonde as guide, all setting out on a voyage to discover the Old World, to find what lay beyond the dazzling shadows of Cebu.

Saturday, September 11, 2010


Noong taong 2000, buwan ng Pebrero, kami ng kabiyak kong si Marra PL. Lanot ay nagpunta sa Japan bilang lecturers sa ika-9 na Takeshi Kaiko Memorial Asian Writers’ Lecture Series. Ang lecture series ay ipinangalan kay Takeshi Kaiko (1930-1989), isang kilalang nobelistang Hapones. Ang aming lecture series, na pinamagatang “Writers as Citizens: The Perspectives of Marra PL. Lanot and Jose F. Lacaba,” ay inisponsor ng Japan Foundation Asia Center.

Actually, poetry reading tour ang ginawa namin, at ang lectures ay pumasok na lang sa open forum pagkatapos naming magbasa ng mga tula namin sa Pilipino, na isinalin sa Hapon.

Ang mga siyudad na bahagi ng poetry reading tour ay Tokyo, Osaka, at Hiroshima. Dito sa huli, sa siyudad na hinulugan ng bomba atomika noong Ikalawang Digmaang Pandaigdig, ipinasyal kami sa Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, at isa sa hindi ko malimutang display sa museo ay ang hagdang bato na may nakatatak na anino. Sa website ng museo, ito ang nakasulat na paliwanag tungkol sa aninong iyon:

Damage by the Heat Rays

Human shadow etched in stone

“These stone steps led up to the entrance to the Sumitomo Bank Hiroshima Branch, 260 meters from the hypocenter. The intense atomic heat rays turned the surface of the stone white, except for a part in the middle where someone was sitting. The person sitting on the steps waiting for the bank to open received the full force of the heat rays directly from the front and undoubtedly died on the spot.”

Mula sa

Pag-uwi namin sa Pilipinas ay nasulat ko ang tulang ito, na dapat ay ipinost ko noon pang Agosto 6, ika-65 na anibersaryo ng pagbomba sa Hiroshima.

Dalaw sa Hiroshima

Ang gunita ay isang aninong

nakatatak sa hagdang bato

sa lunsod ng Hiroshima.

Ang lalaking pinagmulan ng anino’y

agad na naging alabok sa kinauupuan

nang bumagsak ang bomba sa Hiroshima.

Pero naiwan ang kanyang anino, nakadikit

sa inupuang bahagi ng namuting hagdang bato

sa guho ng Hiroshima.

Ang gunita ay isang digmaang

nagwakas na nang ako’y ipanganak

tatlong buwan pagkaraan ng Hiroshima.

Pero hanggang ngayo’y nakatatak ang digmaan

sa utak ng bayan ko, kalahating siglo pagkaraan

ng malupit, mahabang gabi na mistulang Hiroshima.

Sa loob ng Museo sa Alaala ng Kapayapaan

sa bagong lunsod ng Hiroshima,

nagkiskis ang dalawang batong-buháy na gunita

at nagliyab sa lalamunan ko ang poot at awa.

Sa labas ng museo, nag-alay kami ng aking kabiyak

ng tahimik na dalangin at bulaklak.

Sa aming ulunan, palutang-lutang ang mga uwak.

--Jose F. Lacaba

Saturday, July 31, 2010


This article was first published in the January 10, 1970, issue of the Philippines Free Press. After Noynoy Aquino’s inauguration, it was reprinted in the July 10, 2010, issue of the same magazine.

Once again, I have Free Press associate editor Ricky S. Torre to thank for digging up this archaeological piece. The reprint carries this introduction:

Right before the First Quarter Storm (40th anniversary this year) and Pete Lacaba’s now-lapidary chronicle of that episode in the Philippines’ modern history, there was this prologue. Ferdinand Marcos had just won in an unprecedented reelection that should have been welcomed with national euphoria. Yet even during the presidential campaign of 1969, there was already a prevailing exhaustion over the political system as wielded by their leaders and the electorate—compounded by the recurrent unrest, alongside the antiestablishment protest movement worldwide.

Although not as much in circulation as “Notes on Bakya,” “The Clash of ’69,” the reportage on FQS and “Prometheus Unbound,” among other highlights of the Lacaba catalogue, “Second Mandate” was and still remains just as significant for (besides its humor) its keen poetic sense of the flavor and spirit of an era: the late Sixties-early Seventies, as it happened primarily in the storyville that is the city of Manila. We reprint this piece, not in any strained and baseless attempt to draw parallels with today’s scene, but simply to present a fine example of journalism as one-take literature. Our gratitude to Pete Lacaba for his permission to reprint this article.—Ed.


Or, can Spiro Agnew forget the Marcos inauguration and find his way back to The Affluent Society?

By Jose F. Lacaba
(Philippines Free Press, January 10, 1970)

AUSTERITY was the order of the day, but assassination was the talk of the town.

The advance ballyhoo promised that, for once, the program for Inauguration Day would be “brief and austere.” The parade would be a worm compared with the snakes of previous inaugurations; civic participation had been scrapped and military display, normally lasting a full two hours, had been cut down to 40 minutes. Even words and saliva were affected by the general parsimony: reelected President Ferdinand Marcos would deliver “possibly the shortest inaugural address in the Republic’s history.” Afterwards, there would be the traditional dinner for the guests from across the seas, headed by no less than Spiro T. Agnew, household word and Vice-President of the United States of America; but there was to be no expense for Spiro in a waste of shame, the dinner would be not as before—lavish, extravagant, ostentatious—but simple and frugal. Probably limited to two courses: salabat for soup and pinakbet for viand. After the most expensive elections in Philippine history, the Ilocano in Marcos had come out.

Though austerity dictated the veto on custom and ceremony, the fear of assassination demanded that there be no skimping on security. Astrologers and soothsayers are said to have warned the President that he would be killed during his second term, and there was a great deal of talk about Oswalds and Sirhans before Inauguration Day, talk that Malacañang encouraged with its disclosure that a Huk liquidation squad was out to get Marcos. No expense was spared, therefore, to secure the President from suicidal assassins. A helicopter hovered over the Luneta to the end, the navy patrolled the bay, machine guns were perched atop the Independence Grandstand (what were they there for? would they have fired at the crowd if one crackpot had drawn a pistol?), walkie-talkies were everywhere, and the fuzz was as thick as flies in mango season. Uniformed policemen of Manila and suburbs lined the streets, Malacañang guards in barong Tagalog were deployed on the grandstand, constabulary troopers lolled behind it, Special Forces men crouched on the roof, NBI agents skulked around, motorcycle cops raced up and down the boulevard, Metrocom cars were parked at street corners, helmeted members of riot squads gripped their rattan sticks, four or five rows of soldiers in civvies manned the front lines of the sparse crowd, “a modest crowd of unenthusiastic spectators” (Chronicle), “smaller than the usual crowd that packs the park during national holidays” (Times), “perhaps the smallest crowd since the Philippines became independent” (Bulletin)—everybody was there, including, of course, Spiro’s Secret Service complement, on the lookout for an effete corps of impudent snobs brandishing Molotov cocktails.

Only a “fanatical fool” would have dared “penetrate the security cordon,” Brigadier General Vicente Raval of the Philippine Constabulary was quoted as saying, and he explained why: “He would never get past the security line; he would nevertheless emerge alive.” (Figure that out, if you can, and if you can’t, put it down as one of the best and most cryptic non sequiturs of the past decade.)

It was cold on the morning of Inauguration Day, hot towards noon, and uncertain weather all the way. Sun alternated with clouds and shadows, and even while the sun shone, brief showers fell, brief and austere. Umuulan, umaaraw, nanganganak ang bakulaw. Umaaraw, umuulan, nanganganak ang tikbalang. Out in the park the little children played, called by their parents when they wandered too far afield, calling after the balloonman, far and whee; and were utterly oblivious of the occasion, unmindful of Rizal, whose day it was, and even more unaware that at that very moment another hero, the country’s most decorated war hero, was on his way to his second inauguration.

There was earlier a question about the proper way for Ferdinand Marcos to go to his inauguration. No postwar Philippine president had ever been reelected, as the press daily reminded us, and so a thing like this had never happened before. Usually, there was an incoming president to go to Malacañang and there was an outgoing president to receive him and then accompany him to the Independence Grandstand, like a father giving away a bride. When the bride is without a father, what must be done? Ferdinand Marcos came accompanied by his son.

And, of course, by his senior aide, Brigadier General Hans Menzi, resplendent in a white uniform with all braids, badges, and accoutrements in place. Ferdinand Marcos, his hair slick-and-span as usual, was in a barong Tagalog, and so was Ferdinand Marcos Jr., better known as Bongbong, who had gotten rid of his crewcut and now sported a mod hairstyle, hair down low over his forehead, à la early-Beatles. Together, the father, the son, and Hans Menzi set forth from Malacañang, surrounded by scads of security men, to receive, in formal ceremony, what had been bestowed in November: a second mandate.

When they arrived at the grandstand, everybody else was there. Vice-President Fernando Lopez was there, grinning happily and now slouching towards the President to be the first to shake hands; he had himself, when he arrived, shaken hands with all the foreign and local dignitaries within reach, except Rufino Cardinal Santos, whose hand he kissed. Spiro Agnew, whose seat was right behind the President’s, was there, looking like a slim, squint-eyed panda. American astronaut Eugene Cernan was inconspicuous, but the dailies swear he was there. (When you come to think of it, do you have a distinct picture in your mind of the face of any astronaut, cosmonaut, or space explorer besides Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood in 2001: A Space Odyssey? Even John Glenn is difficult to visualize; astronauts all look alike, and they are the faceless heroes of the age.) Gil J. Puyat, Senate President as of this writing, was there, and so was Jose B. Laurel Jr., Speaker as of this writing, his white hair absent from the dome but becomingly long at the nape. Chief Justice Roberto Concepcion wore the black robes of his office, Secretary-General Carlos P. Romulo acted as master of ceremonies, Executive Secretary Ernesto Maceda beamed in the background, Congressman Floro Crisologo was in a white (ramie?) suit, the kind our austerity-conscious grandfathers used to wear when they had their pictures taken. A host of lesser VIPs was there, too, and there was even a small group of whites in top hat and tails, looking like fugitives from a Broadway musical.

Never forget the women. Mrs. Imelda Marcos was there, and the Misses Imee and Irene, dressed in what, from a distance, looked like identical ternos. (“Signs of austere times?” went a society page item “…Mrs. Marcos wore a strikingly simple terno and single pearl earring. No jewelry.” The terno “had a wide front panel of rich hand embroidery reportedly taken from a gown she had worn at the first inauguration of the President in 1965.”) Mrs. Mariquit Lopez was only a little less austere. (She “also picked a jusi terno, slightly embroidered more than that of the First Lady. She also wore a gold bracelet, a single pearl pendant and a pearl ring in addition to pearl earrings.”) And the Blue Ladies were conspicuously in attendance—the bakya crowd among them down on the ground, in a corner behind the platform crammed with TV cameras and technicians, and therefore unable to see a thing; and the bluebloods among them up on the grandstand, occupying the space reserved for, but disdained as too distant by, the press. You could tell they were the blueblooded Blue Meanies by the lift of their eyebrows, the color of their skins and the austerity of their hairdos. The bakya crowd Blues, meanwhile, had to be resourceful; every now and then a couple of them would slip past the snarling policemen and get closer to the action, mingling with the press photographers, all the while giggling and chattering like schoolgirls on a holiday.

“Ang ganda talaga ni Imelda, ano?”

“Naku, si Ramil O, ’ando’n pala si Ramil Rodriguez!”

“Alin ba d’yan ’yung astor… ’yung nagpunta sa buwan?”

“Si Agno, hindi ko makita si Agno.”

“Sabi ko na sa ’yo mag-high heels ka, ayaw mong makinig.”

After the solemn preliminaries—21-gun salute, national anthem, invocation—came the small parade. No need to bore you with the gaudy details. Suffice it to say that the parade boldly gave the lie to the charge that the country has fallen victim to a creeping militarism. Militarism isn’t creeping in this country, it’s marching proudly, head held high, chest out, stomach in, and a finger on the trigger. The Special Forces and the Philcag contingent weren’t cringing nor hiding their heads in shame because of the controversy that swirled about them; they even got more applause than the PMA cadets, and it is reported that when the Philcag passed by, Agnew stood up as a gesture of respect. Note also that whoever prepared the program, when they decided that austerity called for a shortened parade, kept the soldiers and kicked out the civilians. Civic participations would have been a bore, of course, but the choice of what to exhibit on Inauguration Day sent tiny chills down the spine as one watched the parade of men and armaments unreel. Garrison state, anyone?

Throughout the parade, Ferdinand Marcos and Fernando Lopez stood on the proscenium (or whatever they call it) of the grandstand stage, each in his fashion. Marcos was ramrod straight, a true military man, saluting smartly when the colors passed by. Lopez had the sick look of a man who has been forced to forego his morning ablutions, if you know what I mean, and when the colors passed by he had his hand over his heart as if his heart was itchy. Obviously, the Vice-President was bored by the whole affair. While Marcos struck a heroic pose from the beginning and stuck to it to the end, squinting into the sun like Clint Eastwood without the slim cigar, a premature monument if ever there was one, Lopez couldn’t keep still. He scratched his nape, scratched his crotch, scratched his ears, picked his nose, rubbed his fingernails, folded his arms, dropped them to his sides, held his hands together before him, dropped them to his sides, held his hands together behind him, dropped them to his sides, stared morosely around, scowled, tried to hide his scowl by puckering his lips, and probably wished he were splashing around in his swimming pool. He was at least very human, which made him rather endearing. Besides, this was his third time to review a parade as Vice-President; he expected no surprises.

Happily for Mr. Lopez, it was all over in about the time it would have taken Barbra Streisand to finish “Don’t Rain on My Parade” and “When the Parade Passes By.” As a matter of fact, it was over so soon that the program committee found itself with time on its hands. Things had gone so smoothly the program had rushed ahead of schedule. A little time had to be killed before the Vice-President could take his oath of office at 11:55 a.m. This—not para magpalapad ng papel, as it seemed at the time—was the reason why the mixed choir and the Manila Symphony Orchestra that had already sung “Lupang Hinirang” and the “Marcos March” or something, now burst into an unscheduled singing of “Dahil sa Iyo.” Naturally the First Lady, delighted, joined in the singing.

When the singing stopped, it was time for the swearing in. The oaths of office, administered by the Chief Justice, were in Pilipino. Lopez and his Ilonggo accent struggled manfully, but charmingly, through his oath. The President, as if to reinforce his heroic image, recited his from memory. Ako, si Ferdinand Marcos, ay nanunumpa, etc., etc. Patnubayan nawa ako ng Panginoon. Historical footnote: it was the first time the two highest officials in the land said their oaths of office in Pilipino.

Like the bright grade-school kid who knows the capital of every province in the country and can recite “Psalm of Life” at the drop of a hint, Ferdinand Marcos is something of a showoff, and he showed off superbly in his inaugural address, which again he delivered from memory. His memory is terrific but, as even so loyal a partisan as J.V. Cruz noted, “the President looked far more concerned with making sure that his memory did not fail him than with the substance of what he was saying.” I used to be a school orator myself and I know that, after the rigorous rehearsals, once you get on the stage you’re no longer aware of what you’re saying, and you won’t even care, so long as you enunciate the practiced syllables clearly and remember when to raise your voice, when to lower it, when to pause, when to make a gesture, when to take a few steps forward, and when to give the audience a long piercing look (when you can’t remember the next word that will cue you on the next sentence and the rest of the speech). Marcos delivering his inaugural address reminded me of my high-school days; he looked like an earnest Voice of Democracy contestant in the elimination rounds taking great care not to muff his lines. In fact, he ended his speech like a VOD contestant: “The wave of the future is not totalitarianism but democracy.”

The inaugural address itself sounded like a high-school declamation piece. It was entitled “To Transform the Nation—Transform Ourselves” (even granting that titles need not be complete sentences, isn’t there something grammatically fishy here? We Must Transform Ourselves? Let Us Transform Ourselves?), and it contained such gems of sophomoric oratory as “…in the inexorable march of history no tears are shed for the fallen, no sympathies wasted on the weak….” Besides being studded with high-sounding clichés (“billowing fields of green,” “faint of heart,” “in this spot of the universe, a people strong and free”) and pious platitudes (“we labored to transform this nation into the very finest among God’s nations”), it sounded like a parody of the John F. Kennedy speeches, especially in passages such as: “…cross the frontier of the new decade…”, “Now in all humility we inform all Asia that we know the nature and quality of our tenuous peace; and that it is also a demanding peace…”, “I ask not sacrifice from the self-sacrificing…”, “Let not this generation pass without seeking to learn anew that in this great meeting place of eastern wisdom and western advance…”, “…seek not from government what you cannot find in yourself….”

Rumor has it that Mr. Marcos discarded all the drafts submitted by his speechwriters and labored over a draft of his own. It is not hard to believe the rumor.

The speech begins with the kind of high-flown literary Tagalog even the serialized novels and the movie tearjerkers are beginning to abandon: “Ang aking dinatnan ay isang pamahalaang nasa bingit ng kapahamakan at pagkariwara, isang pamahalaang nag-udyok ng takot bago ito nagbigay ng pag-asa; sakbibi ng pag-aatubili, hinamak ng kawalang-tiwala sa sarili, lugami ang kanyang kabuhayan, hungkag ang kanyang kaban,” etc., etc. That isn’t even constructed the way a Tagalog sentence should be constructed, and the reason is that it is a transliteration of what follows next in English: “We found a government on the brink of disaster and collapse, a government that prompted fear before it inspired hope; plagued by indecision, scorned by self-doubt, its economy despoiled, its treasury plundered,” etc., etc. If the same thing was going to be said in English all over again, what was the point of saying it in Pilipino? To impress Spiro Agnew?

He may have been impressed by what Mr. Marcos said next.

The President demanded “sacrifice” and “self-discipline” from the powerful and the privileged, demanded of society that it “chastise the profligate rich who waste the nation’s substance—including its foreign exchange reserves—in personal comforts and luxuries,” and made it clear that under his administration, “wealth, position or power will not purchase privilege; wealth and power shall not outrage the conscience of our people.”

The beginning of a new decade, said the President, called for a lot of new things: “new national habits, nothing less than a new social and official morality”; “a new ethic” with which “we will surmount most of the grave problems we are confronting now”; “a new heart, a new spirit that springs out of the belief that while our dangers are many, and our resources few, there is no problem that cannot be surmounted given but the will and courage.” Under this new morality, “any act of extravagance in government will be considered not only as an offense to good morals but an act punishable with dismissal from office.”

The President promised to set the example.

“I pledge a leadership of the severest quality in integrity, morality and discipline.”

(The day after his inauguration, “moved,” he said, “by the strongest desire and the purest will to set the example of self-denial and self-sacrifice for all our people,” the President decided to give away “all my worldly possessions so that they may serve the greater needs of the greater number of our people.” All his properties, “by a general instrument of transfer,” were to go “to the Filipino people through a foundation to be organized and to be known as the Ferdinand E. Marcos Foundation,” the purpose of which was to advance “the cause of education, science, technology and the arts.” As Gene Magsaysay would say, no comment—not yet.)

After the inaugural address, the President and his family went back home to Malacañang, where they signed the registry book again, as they had done the first time they moved into the place.

“Glad to be back,” Ferdinand Marcos reportedly wrote.

And Bongbong: “Me next, I hope.”

Nobody got assassinated, but Metrocom men, according to a news report, “arrested two men they said were loitering near the grandstand on suspicion they were on an assassination mission.” One man was said to have a tear-gas gun; the other wore a PC lieutenant-colonel’s uniform and brown civilian shoes. They were taken to Camp Crame.