Thursday, May 30, 2019

'The Kundiman Party': Sing, remember, resisit!

String together millennials in search of self and art, middle-aged women groping for meaning, a retired opera diva rediscovering her relevance, social media, young love in the time of extrajudicial killings, family and stormy politics, then equip the unseemly characters with a most unlikely weapon—the kundiman — to battle national darkness.
You read right — yes, the kundiman, that undying Filipino musical form or genre that, in the days of yore, set hearts and souls on fire.
Go catch the much-acclaimed “The Kundiman Party” of the UP Playwrights’ Theater. Written by Floy Quintos and directed by Dexter M. Santos, the play is a must-see in this postelection season. More shows at the Peta Theater Center tonight until June 2.

When you closely examine the wrenching lyrics and feel the soaring melody of the kundiman, you might learn the meaning of all or nothing, love beyond death, hanggang libingan and other protestations of the lovelorn and the forlorn. Kung hindi man, you know. So what does the kundiman, which came to be at the turn of the 19th century, got to do with the here and now and the millennials born and bred in the age of social media, the internet and smart gadgets?

Retired opera diva Adela Dolores (Shamaine Centenera Buencamino) has had her heyday in concert halls abroad and as a protégé of Imelda Marcos. But Adela at some point saw the light and broke away from her patron. “Between La Scala and Mendiola, I chose,” she says. As age catches up with her, she spends her time tutoring aspiring singers, Antoinette (Miah Canton) among them.
Maestra Adela’s living room at home is the meeting place of the so-called Kundiman Party, composed of rambunctious postmenopausal women (Missy Maramara, Jenny Jamora, Frances Makil Ignacio, Stella Cañete Mendoza) who love kundiman and going to protest rallies. Pianist Ludwig (Gabriel Paguirigan), Adela’s accompanist, completes the party. Enter Antoinette’s boyfriend Bobby (Boo Gabunada), a struggling documentary filmmaker, estranged son of a senator named Juancho Valderama.

What do you know, a star is reborn when Adela debuts on social media and has a YouTube channel of her own, getting hundreds of thousands of likes and followers. Thanks to Bobby, of course. A collage of her online appearances is flashed every now and then.
The maestra is in her element. But it is not all kundiman and arias that she had sang in operas during her prime. She gets to speak her mind. She has found her voice. “It’s been a long time since I was brave,” she says.
And she also tries a “new” language. “Mga beshie, I am shookt!”
She is transformed, transfigured if you will, when she reminisces. “Casta diva” (a famous aria from the opera “Norma” by Bellini) segues into strains from a Nicanor Abelardo kundiman. Music is a heady brew.
By the way, “The Kundiman Party” is not a musical; dialogues are not sung. But the kundiman holds the play together. It is almost always Antoinette who sings excerpts from the kundiman masters, although soprano Rica Nepomuceno as Melissa, a professional kundiman singer aching to be relevant, almost steals the show with her “Mutya ng Pasig.”
Suffice it to say that the cabal of kundiman lovers and the subversive presence of their diva on social media catch the attention of the establishment. The words “Sing! Remember! Resist” are on their shirts and they say why.
When at the start of the second part (after the intermission) Ludwig makes the piano roar with Chopin’s “Revolutionary Etude,” you know something is afoot. We have listened to the music, we have seen the picture, we have felt the fear. Now the denouement — confrontations take place, danger is at the gate, the titas of the Kundiman Party are distraught, someone is killed, Ludwig is a near-casualty. Senator and son….
I won’t be a spoiler, so I go only up to there. But here’s a list of the kundiman (arranged by National Artist Ryan Cayabyab and Krina Cayabyab) in the play: Abelardo’s “Bituing Marikit,” “Kundiman ng Luha,” “Mutya ng Pasig” and “Nasaan ka Irog”; Francisco Santiago’s “Pakiusap,” “Madaling Araw” and “Pilipinas Kong Mahal.”
The party ended gloriously with “Madaling Araw.” Imagine dawn breaking in this benighted country. I was in tears.#


Thursday, May 23, 2019

Vinegar nation

A momentary distraction from the ballot-counting issues but a valid cause for concern was the recent announcement by the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute (PNRI) of its findings that 14 or so of the close to 20 vinegar brands they tested have synthetic acetic acid in them, and are not in fact made from pure fermented plant extract. Only three brands reportedly passed the test for not containing synthetic acetic acid.
PNRI is an institute of the Department of Science and Technology.
The reports sent consumers clamoring to know the rogue brands with acetic acid, but so far none has been revealed to address their worries.

I have always suspected that some vinegar brands have synthetic acetic acid in them, but my 20 units (no kidding) of college chemistry could not enable me to discover which ones. To be safe, I always throw away the vinegar that comes with the chicharon pack that I buy ever so rarely, and I make my own dipping sauce or sawsawan. (I know how to make vinegar from rotting bananas, by the way.)
I grew up in the province where vinegar was made from either nipa sap or tuba, the coconut brew that made besotted men see visions and sing bawdy ballads in the moonlight. Tree bark gives tuba its reddish color and aids in fermentation. Fermented tuba becomes vinegar.
I have the book “Discovering Tuba” (University of the Philippines Press, 2015) by professor Arturo C. Pacho. I bought a copy because I fancied myself doing a coconut-related fiction story — and I did.

Tuba or coconut table vinegar does not always come plain. There is bottled, ready-to-serve pinakurat or sinamak, which has lots of chili and other explosive spices that can set one’s mouth on fire.
Filipinos have a penchant for food made with souring ingredients, whether they be vinegar or sour fruits. We use vinegar as marinade for fish and meat and for preparing adobo, paksiw, kinilaw, sisig, etc. To sour our soupy sinigang, we use tamarind (the fruit or leaves), kamias, kalamansi, guavas, green mangoes, batuan (which Iloilo has plenty of), tomatoes, etc.
But despite the sourness in our Filipino diet, we are perhaps the smiling-est people on this planet. We even use sourness as a figure of speech to describe the attractiveness of a person way past his or her prime, as in “may asim pa” — that is, that he or she still has what it takes. To do what, I don’t know.
So when news broke out that a number of local vinegar brands have synthetic acid added to them, people of this sour-loving nation became concerned. Their question: Is synthetic acetic acid in vinegar carcinogenic or bad for the health?
Things got fuzzy when scientists from agencies concerned refused to disclose the brands they found to have acetic acid. Curiouser and curiouser things got when someone from the PNRI, in his effort to calm consumers, said that industrial acetic acid is not all that different in chemical structure (or something to that effect) from organic or plant-based vinegar. Cited was insulin for diabetics that used to come from animals but now comes in synthetic form, etc.

Questions: So why did they make the tests on vinegar brands in the first place? Were they testing for acetic acid alone or for something else? And why announce their worrisome findings? And then why try to assuage people’s fears by saying natural and synthetic aren’t all that different from each other, anyway? As in, okay naman pala. So why do they not want to disclose the brands? Don’t purists who want only organically sourced ingredients have the right to know?

Were the testing and the disclosure of their findings therefore exercises in futility? Was this a case of mislabeling only? These had to do with everyday food, by the way, not pharmaceuticals.
I have great respect for scientists who work in extreme settings, they whose discoveries are often unsung but have major impacts on our lives, they who are supposed to have little or no vested interests except to be of service to humankind. Pray tell us what you know every now and then.
As to the comebacking Senate reelectionists, may asim pa ba kayo? #


Thursday, May 16, 2019

It is alive!

Despite the Otso Diretso and several other worthy (according to my personal judgment) candidates not making it to the Senate as of the latest vote count, there was something about their running. There was something in the recent election campaign that was palpable because of them — the spirit of dissent against what ran counter to the national interest. It is alive!
For that, I am rejoicing. I see that as a different kind of triumph.
Instant political analysts, self-styled election experts, pundits and what-have-you are coming out of the woodwork to say their piece about what the election results mean or do not mean. That is all fine. As punsters would say, “The more the many-er.” But the cacophony of it all could be annoying and one could get drowned in the soupy mix of saliva, sweat and tears (of joy and grief) from both the victors and the vanquished.
So, what next?

For THAT that I said is alive, the long and winding road ahead beckons. May the road rise to meet you, as the Irish blessing goes. Nothing is considered lost for the best, the brightest and the bravest, along with their supporters and believers, who tried to rouse the electorate to realities that need to be addressed with hammer and tongs, candidates and voters who hearkened to a different drummer.
It is alive! Individuals and certain groups of people not only voted, they campaigned openly, enthusiastically and tirelessly, offering their widow’s mite for the candidates whom they knew to be financially strapped but worthy to have seats in the once-august halls of the Senate. Citizen Me personally did her part in the parking lots, market and malls. Winning was the immediate goal, but losing does not mean weeping and gnashing of teeth—and then nothing more.

It is alive! The spirit of dissent and the fire it has generated have stirred up the many who have slumbered for too long in their comfort zones. May that spirit be long-term and sustainable. Another kind of battle has begun.
To members of Team China that won, may you come face to face with the Chinese dragon’s fiery breath and become happily crisp by it, your weeping Motherland be damned. I hope you can redeem yourselves.
Be warned: IT is alive!
Some accounts of disturbing incidents at the polling places:
An election day Facebook post of Phebe Gamata Crismo, a friend of mine whose first husband was among the desaparecidos during the Marcos dictatorship: “The worst thing — the ultimate insult of my life — happened to me this afternoon. I did not vote for Imee Marcos but her name appeared in my ballot receipt!”

Phebe voted in Precinct 297-A, Kaypian in San Jose Del Monte in Bulacan. She did file a complaint.
From Rebecca Demetillo Abraham, of Inang Laya fame, whom I know personally: “I went early to Precinct 104 at Judge Juan Luna High School in Barangay Bungad in QC. Had to climb to the third floor. I was given a ballot which seemed okay to the naked eye. I marked my first two senators, when lo and behold, I noticed that the ballot was all filled up! I complained. Medyo pinagdudahan pa ako. After a while they decided to give me a new ballot. I asked if I could take a photo of the first ballot. Bawal daw so I went out and complained to the watchers, a lawyer and a PPCRV. Diyos ko, may milagro na naman ba dito?”#
See the bigger picture with the Inquirer's live in-depth coverage of the election here https://inq.ph/Election2019 


Thursday, May 9, 2019

Chinese takeover of Fuga Island?

While we’re not looking, the Philippines’ Fuga Island, located north of mainland Luzon, could become an exclusive domain of China, its special enclave and playground, a dream isle of Chinese investors and more. The island could be slowly slipping away without us knowing it, and it could soon be lost forever and become, for Filipinos, a forbidden city.
A dystopian scenario? We’ve all been gazing westward. Let us look north for a change.

Last week, the Cagayan Economic Zone Authority (Ceza) announced through a news headline in its website: “Chinese firm invests $2B on Cagayan isle.”
The piece by Ceza website writer Leander C. Domingo said: “A $2-billion ‘Smart City’ on Fuga Island here will be constructed under a memorandum of understanding between the Ceza and the Xiamen-based Fong Zhi Enterprise Corp.

“Secretary Raul Lambino, Ceza administrator and chief executive officer, said the project would be patterned after the firm’s ongoing mega-infrastructure project in Fujian province in China.
“The investment is part of $3.9 (billion) worth of commitment investments made at the sidelines of the recently concluded 2nd Belt and Road Initiative Forum in Beijing.”

Yeah, that Belt and Road whatchmacallit…
We have been up in arms, and rightly so, over China’s intrusion into Philippine waters and disputed areas in the West Philippine Sea. We went to an international court and won our case against China’s bullying, although making the bully back off is another matter. Our westward gaze has made us all but forget to look north where an island, not a now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t rock, shoal or reef but a real island, a jewel in the sun, is being taken over.
Fuga Island is part of the Babuyan group of islands that lies between Cagayan province and the Batanes group of islands. Fuga is part of the mainland town of Aparri, Cagayan, while the rest in the Babuyan group belong to the island town of Calayan. Fuga is now a coveted place because of its proximity to Sta. Ana, Cagayan, where Ceza is.
While Batanes farthest north is now on everybody’s bucket list because of its preserved beauty, thanks to those who worked hard to make it an accessible and unforgettable destination, many do not know that when they fly to Batanes they are flying over less explored islands that are now coveted, salivated over by foreign investors, the Chinese specifically, who have been hovering over our seas like deadly predators. I dread the day when these places, turned into so-called “smart cities,” would have “keep off” signs for Filipinos and with their own foreign currencies to boot.
But Fuga Island, the report said, is in fact owned by Isla Fuga Resort Inc. The whole of it? Who are they, what are they? Wouldn’t we like to know? I only remember that in the 1990s, there were plans to transform Fuga into a dream island by business tycoon Tan Yu and his heirs. And then nothing more was heard about it. Are they Isla Fuga Resort Inc.? We should find out
With an area of approximately 100 square kilometers, Fuga is smaller than Quezon City (166.2 sq km) and 10 times bigger than Boracay.
Lambino could only be upbeat when he was quoted as saying, “The company (Fong Zhi Enterprise Group) would also set up an agricultural breeding center and soil improvement project, build medical schools, promote culture and tourism and establish a high-tech industrial park.” A city unto itself, owned by them, run by them. Are longtime inhabitants, if any, in the picture?
Lambino, the report said, also signed seven memoranda of understanding and two letters of intent with Chinese companies, which included the Shanghai Jucheng Group, Pai Hao Investment, Shenzhen Dawah Real Estates, China Zhejiang Guannan Group, Golden Millennial Quickpay and Yatai International Holdings.
These, Lambino said, would be for Sta. Ana’s infrastructure that “would propel the development of the Cagayan Special Economic Zone and Freeport.”
Resorts, global entertainment, sports, shopping, private villas, manufacturing, airport expansion, name it. I hope they don’t turn Palaui Island into a Boracay II.
The “sinofication” of Fuga Island and Sta. Ana, Cagayan, deserves watching.#