Where to Buy Filipino Books Online – Top Ten Bookstores

Growing up, I would account for my initial lack of interest in my own history and culture as owing to the seeming inaccessibility of physical references outside of Manila. Before the age of the internet, school libraries in the provinces where I’d lived had open shelves teeming with intriguing accounts of western history and literature. Philippine books in the same genres however, were either unavailable, or out of sight, carefully cordoned in restricted areas. In bookstores, local titles never stayed for very long.

By dint of good timing and fortune, I now find myself living in an age where the touch of a button is the only barrier to educating ourselves about us. For anyone who’d like to join me in a journey of self-discovery through printed media, here’s my list of top ten online bookstores where you can purchase rare or limited edition Filipiniana books about history, culture and society.

Filipino Books

10 – Solidaridad

Founded by National Artist for Literature, F. Sionil Jose, this bookshop at Padre Faura Street in Ermita is often cited as a premier source of printed works about local culture and history, and rightly so. Established in 1965, it is one of the earliest unabashed champions of Philippine books and literature, even attracting luminaries from distant lands with its allure.

The respect it is accorded by its patrons is perhaps the primary reason why it deserves a spot in any top lists of Philippine bookstores. As an online business however, it is sadly far behind its more current contemporaries. As of 2016, the only way you can purchase online is if you message them via Facebook and if they have what you’re looking for, they send via LBC.

Solidaridad Bookshop

Facebook Page: https://www.facebook.com/solidaridadbookshop/

9 – National Bookstore

National BookstoreWith over 200 branches nationwide, this veteran heavyweight has been everyman’s books and supplies store since the 1930s. With a foot firmly placed in the digital age, their fully functional and secure eCommerce website processes book orders payable though Visa, Mastercard, BPI and Cash on Delivery. Purchases are delivered by Xend or 2Go Express.

The downside to this ubiquitous bookstore is its inventory. Although they stock foreign books and popular locally written pocketbooks in abundance, works about Philippine literature, culture and history especially by the more academic authors don’t stay in their shelves longer than a couple of weeks after release.

Buying Tip: Check your local branch for what you’re looking for. That might save you the approximately one week waiting time for your order to arrive.

Website: https://www.nationalbookstore.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/nbsalert/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/nbsalert
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/nbsalert/

8 – AbeBooks

This Amazon subsidiary is an online platform for buying and selling all sorts of books. Its main draw for me is, of course, its rare and out of print items, with my best purchase to date being the 1972 reprint of Cummins English translation of Morga’s Sucesos de las Islas Filipinas. Of interest are the occasional listings of Maximo D. Ramos’ lower mythology books.

The high prices and cost of shipping are of course the main drawbacks, but one other main point of concern is the quality of our customs and postal services. Here, we mainly rely on magic and positive thinking for packages from abroad to arrive. Fortunately, AbeBooks does have a refund policy in case purchases fail to arrive.

Books are sold by individual sellers who are also responsible for shipping them. Payments can be made through Visa, MasterCard and American Express, with some sellers providing additional options such as PayPal, check or money order.


Buying Tip: Although sellers must abide by AbeBooks’s rules, it doesn’t hurt to be extra careful about purchasing. Contact a seller you plan to buy from and ask questions.

US Website: https://www.abebooks.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/abebooks/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/abebooks
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/abebooks/
YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/user/AbeBooks

7 – Ebay

Who doesn’t know Ebay, the original virtual auction block, a teeming morass of everything saleable under the sun. Their search bar aptly instructs, “Search for anything”. Without a doubt, such freedom hints at the possibility of getting duped. Hence, the key word here is: Caution. Finding the right sellers is the key to unearthing a treasure trove of Filipiniana. My best buys include Looking Back Essays, The Myths and The Aswang Inquiry.

Of all the sites on this list, Ebay demands the most due diligence from buyers. Sellers have different payment methods, policies and delivery options.


Buying Tip: Look for local sellers if you can; read feedback, review ratings, communicate, and check payment and delivery options.

Recommended PH Seller: https://www.ebay.ph/usr/hoarderschest

6 – UP Press

This is, of course, the publishing arm of the University of the Philippines, which is enough of a recommendation in itself. The truly laudable mandate, which they have taken upon themselves, to publish scholarly and creative works not normally accepted by commercial publishers, is almost to be expected of them.

Understandably, they have a small catalog, as they only really sell their own books, and knowing exactly what you’re looking for before you head over to their store may be ideal. That said, even if you’re just browsing, every single item is worth the attention. An excellent gem I’ve picked up from here is Madrid’s riveting Flames Over Baler. As of this writing, they only accept Visa payments for deliveries in the Philippines.

UP Press

Buying Tip: They offer numerous available points of contact, including a Facebook page. Consider contacting them for questions.

Online Bookstore: https://press.up.edu.ph/store/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/UniversityofthePhilippinesPress/
Google Maps: https://www.google.com/maps/place/UP+Press/

5 – Ateneo Press

The Ateneo De Manila University also has quite a commendable publishing division, featuring literary and academic works covering a wide range of disciplines including law, culture, society, theology, politics, archaeology, and even the more specialized field of Mindanao studies.

Like the UP Press, they only sell their own titles and web page navigation options are a bit limited, albeit more visually appealing, so it’ll help to know what you want in advance. Their decided edge is their payment options with Visa, MasterCard and JCB; their buyers’ FAQ page; and active and responsive social media staff. My treasured purchase to date? The Collected Stories of Jose Garcia Villa, the Pope of Greenwich Village himself.

Ateneo Press

Buying Tip: Read their FAQ page before you attempt to make a purchase, and if you really need to ask them anything, head over to their 4.5 star reviewed Facebook page.

Online Bookstore: http://ateneo.edu/ateneopress/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AteneoPress
Twitter: https://twitter.com/ateneopress

4 – Anvil Publishing

This is the publishing division of National Bookstore, and like its mother company, it seeks to draw the attention of the greater public. Their titles with a bearing on history, culture, society and literature, are presented in such a way as to pique the interest of the average Filipino on the street.

It’s not just their unique publishing and marketing angle that’s given them the competitive edge, their online bookstore also gives the smoothest browsing experience, with selections sorted under several category types such as genre, recency and popularity. Truly an excellent set up designed to convince both the casual browser and the undecided.

My list of Anvil purchases is a long one which includes Ambeth Ocampo’s Looking Back series, some of which are already off the shelf in physical stores; and such intriguing titles as Isabelo’s Archive and Panaderia. Anvil processes credit card payments via Paypal and delivers orders through Xend.

Anvil Publishing

Buying Tip: Anvil’s website gives the distinct impression of a good buying experience. Any uncertainty can easily be dispelled by reading through their comprehensive FAQ page or visiting their social accounts.

Online Bookstore: https://www.anvilpublishing.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/AnvilPublishingInc/
Twitter: https://twitter.com/anvilpublishing
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/anvilpublishing/

3 – Mt. Cloud Bookshop

I was born in Baguio City, so it is a source of great pride for me to discover that there is, in the heart of my home city, this thriving hub of Philippine art and literature. Like every true cultural center, they exude genuine passion. This is the one shop on this list that talks of the “wild beauty of books” and books “about to come alive”. You can even feel their devotion to local culture through their beautifully wrapped deliveries.

Their titles are 80% Filipiniana, with their unique edge being their special section on works on Northern Luzon. Unfortunately, their navigation and search options are perhaps the most limited, with the Books page showing only a few items. You’d need your own list of author names and titles to search.

Among the great titles I’ve purchased from here are Bamboo Dancers, Revisiting Pasma, Distances in Time and Looking for the Pre Hispanic Filipino. Payments can be made through credit card via Paypal.

Mt. Cloud Bookshop

Buying Tip: They post photos of their shop and some of their books online. You might find a couple of titles you’re interested in there to search for on their website.

Online Bookstore: http://mtcloudbookshop.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/mtcloud
Twitter: https://twitter.com/mtcloudbookshop
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/mtcloud/

2 – Amazon

It seems both unfortunate and absurd that I have had to purchase works about the Philippines from a company based overseas. But that is the sad reality of Philippine books and publishing. No one wants to read enough to keep our culture and history alive in print on our own shores.

I am grateful to Amazon for such invaluable gems as An Introduction to Baybayin, Sinaunang Habi and two of Maximo D. Ramos’ books on lower mythology. Because Amazon is an established eCommerce behemoth, its system is naturally smooth and pain-free. For that however, the trade offs are the high cost of shipping and processing and the seemingly interminable shipping time.


Buying Tip: I only really buy items marked “Ships from and sold by Amazon.com” because this reduces the chances of getting scammed by third party sellers or of not receiving items due to shipping issues. The reason why Amazon charges so much is because they will try their absolute best to get your items through the jungle of additional fees slapped on international orders.

But just because an item is sold by Amazon, it doesn’t mean it’s always what you’d expect it to be. Hence you need to ensure you read every piece of information there is about what you’re about to buy. Ramos’ books for example are sometimes sold as US reprints, and not original copies printed in the Philippines.

A Note On Ramos’ Books: I called Phoenix Publishing’s Manila office to tell them about the reprinted copies of Ramos’s books and to ask if there was a way for me to purchase originals. I’d been told that there are still six assorted copies vailable. For provincial buyers like myself however, I can only ever obtain them if I had friends in Manila who could buy them for me.

Website: Amazon >> World Literature >> Asian >> Philippines

1 – Artbooks.ph

At the top of my list is this beautifully classy, but unassuming champion of Philippine art and culture. Some of their books are so rare, they are unavailable in physical stores and can only be sourced directly from the authors themselves. It isn’t just their inventory that makes them the best choice; other reasons include a fairly basic but helpful shop navigation and excellent customer service. Best of all, they’re a locally based store which cuts the cost of shipping.

My book haul from here is a long one and includes The Soul Book, Kinilaw: A Philippine Cuisine of Freshness, Casa Boholana, Las Casas: Bajo de las Campanas, Philippine Ancestral Houses, Tapping Ink Tattooing Identities and Fortress of Empire. Credit card payments are accepted and processed through Paypal, and purchases are shipped through courier.


Buying Tip: They usually send a number of confirmation emails upon purchase and delivery, so you needn’t worry if you’re getting these notifications. If you’re buying for the first time though, and worried about your package, email them. They’re responsive, and, the last time I checked, have quite a friendly tone.

Online Bookstore: https://artbooks.ph/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/artbooksph-1579299915630630/
Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/artbooksph/

If you are one to deplore the difficulty of entering into a deeper understanding of who we are as a people, modern technology may have just provided a solution. Truly, the digital era has now destroyed all excuses not to discover our story. Pick up a book online and start reading.


1. Inquirer >> Solidaridad at 50
2. Rappler >> Solidaridad Bookshop
3. Wikipedia >> National Bookstore
4. How AbeBooks Works
5. UP Press Mission Vision
6. Ateneo Press History
7. About Anvil Publishing
8. Mt. Cloud Bookshop Story
9. Amazon >> About Import Fees
10. About ArtBooks

Revisiting Cagayan de Oro History in a Water Tower

Just a few steps away from the Cagayan de Oro river bank is a curious white, cylindrical figure, hemmed in on two sides by the San Agustin Church and Gaston Park. Although it is by no means imposing by modern architectural standards, its unique appearance, visible nowhere else in the city, commands attention.

Water Tower Town

Cagayan de Oro Water Tower
Cagayan de Oro’s water tower is the city’s oldest known public structure.

Viewed from afar, the structure’s simple lines and vertical orientation give the passing impression that it is a scaled down lighthouse. The likeness however, is not absolute, and there is no actual similarity in function. What it really is, is an old water tower. Built from 1921-1922, it originally served as a reservoir for water coming from Malasag Hills. It is now considered the city’s oldest known surviving public structure. This, and its obvious ties to the city’s physical representation of its spirit, the river, makes it a fitting repository of the city’s museum and in effect, its history.

The photos of the interior used here were taken with permission five years ago on my first visit. I have since revisited the place twice over. With each visit, there had been noticeable changes in internal arrangements and displays. One thing is certain though, the museum has always echoed the Kagay-anon pride in local heritage. This was most evident during my last visit when it was made apparent that steps were being painstakingly taken to detail the history of Cagayan de Oro in the hopes of correcting erroneous stories that had been circulating online and elsewhere.

Abbreviated History of Cagayan de Oro

An account of the history of Cagayan de Oro endorsed by the city’s Heritage Council was handed over to me by museum staff. This account, supposedly culled in part from the writings of Filomeno Bautista is supplemented by archaeological studies printed and displayed at the museum’s third floor.

Cagayan de Oro City Museum
History is just around the corner at the city museum.

Archaeological studies suggest that there may have already been the presence of people as far back as 50,000 years ago. The practice of secondary jar burials was also determined to have been performed by people who once lived at the site of the present city.

Prior to the arrival of the Spaniards, Cagayan de Oro was known as Kalambagohan or Malambagohan, owing to the profusion of lambago trees lining the river. Its early inhabitants were of Manobo origin with marriage ties to Visayan seafarers.

Cagayan de Oro river
Then as now, the Cagayan de Oro river is part of the city’s character and spirit.

The first Spaniards to visit Cagayan de Oro in 1622 were two Recollect missionaries who became acquainted with Datu Salangsang and his people, then regarded as the most peaceful in Mindanao. They resided in a fortress known as Himologan and paid tribute to Maguindanao’s Sultan Kudarat.

With the threat of attack from Sultan Kudarat due to the presence of the two Spaniards, Fray Agustin de San Pedro, later dubbed El Padre Capitan, convinced Datu Salangsang to relocate nearer to the river delta, the site of the present day city.

The newly occupied site, then called Cagalang, became the location of a fort built under the instruction of Fray Agustin. It was here where Sultan Kudarat was eventually repelled. This victory culminated in the baptism of Salangsang and his wife, the first converts of the settlement. Cagalang was then renamed Cagayan el Chico (small Cagayan), Cagayan coming from a proto-Austronesian word, Carayan, which means river. In 1818, Misamis became a province, and in 1871, Cagayan was designated its capital and was renamed Cagayan de Misamis.

Contrary to what some believe, Philippine revolutionary history was not restricted and synonymous to just the history of the Southern Tagalog and Central Luzon provinces. With the end of Spanish rule in 1898, Kagay-anons also elected officials under the Aguinaldo revolutionary government. With the coming of the Americans months later, local citizens funded and organized efforts to resist American rule.

Cagayan de Oro museum
Honoring a proud history of resistance to foreign rule.

In 1900, Kagay-anons fought Americans in the Battle of Cagayan de Misamis on April 4, the Battle of Agusan Hill on May 14, and the Battle of Macahambus Hill on June 4, this last one distinguished as the first Filipino victory in the entire Philippine-American war.

During World War II, while still under American rule, parts of Cagayan were bombed in 1942 and 1944 and was only liberated by local guerillas in 1945. By then, the town had been badly damaged. The old water tower however, had remained intact.

On June 15, 1950, Cagayan de Oro became a city by virtue of Republic Act 521 signed by President Elpidio Quirino. Oro, an Italian and Spanish word for gold, was appended to the city’s name in recognition of the gold found in its river and hills.

pen used to sign the bill creating the city of Cagayan de Oro
Cagayan de Oro became a city on June 15, 1950.

From the point of view of semantics, Cagayan de Oro can therefore be literally translated to River of Gold. Some years ago, the city had been widely dubbed the City of Golden Friendship, an apt appellation that has hopefully not been lost to the new generation of Kagay-anons, despite seemingly subtle and unofficial previous attempts to create a city moniker more in keeping with a political theme.

Every proud and true Kagay-anon should consider going back to his roots, down by the river in the old water tower, the oldest and truest witness to a city’s proud history and culture.


1. Cagayan de Oro Heritage Council
2. Filomeno Bautista
3. Cagayan de Oro City Museum
4. Congress, House Bill 2522
5. Chan Robles, Republic Act 521

Cagayan de Oro water tower
The old water tower, still part of the city’s pulsating life.

Demystifying the Heneral Luna Phenomenon – A Movie Review

I woke up to a most singular occurrence, Tuesday last week. Heneral Luna, an indie historical film which had opened quietly the week before, had begun trending in Twitter at 4 a.m. Like the brash and vitriolic general of the same name, it had refused to fade calmly into obscurity and continued to pop in and out of the trending list in succeeding days.

People have suddenly and inexplicably fallen in love, so much so, that when cinemas dropped from 100 to 48 after the first week of screening, public clamor managed to push the cinema count up to 104.

What is it about Heneral Luna that has so captured the hearts of so many?

Birth of a Renegade

Its popularity is even more surprising considering it doesn’t feature the excesses of Hollywood, the inanity of slapstick comedy, or the endless gush of maudlin mistress woes. What it does show is a Filipino historical and cultural experience told boldly but conscientiously, that is, with more than the usual degree of attention paid to the essentials and the eseential peripherals. From the sweeping vistas of verdant land, down to the smallest detail on uniform buttons, everything is laid out with almost reverent care.

And it isn’t an elitist snob. Those harping about narrative flow, nuance, gravity and focus must understand that a perfect film is pointless if it does not reach an audience. Heneral Luna, already at a disadvantage because of its traditionally unpopular genre, has chosen a tone, voice and approach more suited to communicate.

Perhaps the film’s greatest asset in its attempt to engage its audience is what may once have been its biggest risk, its cast. In this respect, there is a refusal to compromise, shunning the effective tactic of foisting ill-fitting roles onto teen idols for salability. The end result for Heneral Luna is a group of seasoned actors well adapted to their roles.

John Arcilla is luminous as Luna and manages to lift us through his mounting wave of just rage. Luna’s boys are the necessary foil to his fire. Anson, Bascon, Alemania, Medina and Acuna emanate an endearing spunk that sit well alongside Arcilla’s fervor.

What of the parallel camp? Mon Confiado makes for a beautifully subdued Aguinaldo while Noni Buencamino’s Buencamino simmers with an inner ardor almost equal to Luna’s. I liked best of all however, Epy Quizon’s Mabini, who is just as I imagined him to be, as if the statesman himself decided to quit the ten peso coin to appear in a film.

Hitting Home

It is too simple to attribute the growing love for the film to its production and cast alone. There are countless other Filipino films that are exemplary in these elements. Why Heneral Luna and why now? The answer is simple, because it is relatable and opportune.

Heneral Luna mirrors in a very clear and sharp tone, the Filipino experience now. It shoves us roughly into the realization that more than a hundred years after Luna’s death, we have not changed. We, by our own divisiveness, indecision and selfishness remain the greatest saboteurs of our own progress. It is inevitable then that as Luna vituperates on screen against the causes of his frustration, we who have grown tired of struggling, feel a simultaneous inner rage boil within us against ourselves and against a cultural system that perpetuates internal strife.

It is fortunate that the filmmakers have chosen Luna as their messenger, a hero so flawed he’s almost like the rest of us. Indeed, the treatment is nearly iconoclastic, but therapeutic. For the first time on film, a hero is taken down from his sanitized moral pedestal and is humanized, so that now, those of us who are on the streets find it easier to learn what he has to teach.

The audience clapped when the credits rolled at the cinema where I watched Heneral Luna . It would be reasonable to say therefore, that whatever its foibles, it had achieved what it had set out to do, more so because the audience weren’t Tagalogs, Ilocanos or Cavitenos. They were a mix of Bisaya and Muslim Filipinos. Even as I imagine the General shouting invectives in the afterlife over our prevailing fractured state, he would have roared approvingly at the ovation, taking it to mean that we have progressed, albeit incrementally, beyond the short-sightedness of regionalism and self-absorption.

Beyond Heneral Luna

One inescapable consequence of the film is a sudden tide of revulsion for Aguinaldo. This is unfortunate considering that the director has been emphatic about there being no villains, only people with different motivations. The more astute observer will also notice that in the scene where the letter that was to seal Luna’s fate was dispatched, the hand that approved it was not clearly shown to be Aguinaldo’s. Historically, there is no direct evidence to implicate Aguinaldo in Luna’s assassination, but could he have prevented it? That is left to the viewers to decide.

If the movie has taught us anything about people, it is that no one is entirely black or white; we all contain varying degrees of good and bad. Published accounts will tell us that Aguinaldo had his shining moments as a general in the revolution against Spain, but he may have stepped on some gray areas later on in his political career. The only fair way to form an opinion about him and his contemporaries including Luna is to read… MORE! And be critical and analytical.

It isn’t enough that you take the word of one or two historians about the events that unraveled more than a hundred years ago. Because it is the nature of humans to be multi-faceted, and because humans are the creators of history, the past can hardly ever be written in stone, and historians will always agree to disagree with the frequency of Pacific typhoons about the truth. We must read and make up our own minds about our heroes and our story.

But why is it even important to arrive at our own conclusions? Because it is only when we’ve come to terms with our collective past can we learn from its lessons.

And because we can’t get enough of the movie…

Heneral Luna Trivia

  • Luna was a musician, sportsman, chemist, pharmacist, doctorate degree holder and tactician.
  • The movie’s director, Jerrold Tarog is also its co-writer, editor and musical composer.
  • It took producers 19 years to bring their concept into a movie.
  • The writers agreed there would be no villains, only people with motivations.
  • Producer E.A. Rocha’s grandparents knew the Luna brothers.
  • The docked ships and other background extensions in the movie were CGI.
  • Pong Ignacio, the director of photography, took inspiration from Juan Luna’s paintings in depicting the movie’s color, light and shadow.
  • The Katipunan and succeeding military units were semi-feudal.
  • According to Carmen Reyes, the movie’s make-up artist, General Masacardo’s sparse mustache was symbolic and done on purpose and in contrast to Luna’s full mustache.
  • Mon Confiado had his hair cut in Aguinaldo’s characteristic flat top in Cavite and appeared in auditions wearing a full white suit to show he fit the role.
  • Noni Beuncamino is related to the character that he played, Felipe Buencamino.
  • The scene where Antonio Luna and Paco Roman’s bodies are dragged are a pointed reference to Juan Luna’s Spoliarium.

Heneral Luna Quotable Quotes


“Meron tayong mas malaking kaaway kaysa mga Amerikano; ang ating sarili.”
-Luna to Aguinaldo’s cabinet

“Negosyo o kalayaan? Bayan o sarili? Mamili ka.”
-Luna to Aguinaldo’s cabinet

“Nasubukan mo na bang hulihin ang hangin?”
-Mabini to Aguinaldo

“Mas madali pang pagkasunduin ang langit at lupa kaysa dalawang Pilipino sa alin mang bagay.”
-Luna to Joven

“Kailangan nilang tumalon sa kawalan.”
-Luna to Joven

“Ang taong may damdamin ay hindi alipin.”
-Luna monologue

“Para kayong mga birheng naniniwala sa pag-ibig ng isang puta.”
-Luna to Aguinaldo’s cabinet

“Paano ako lalaban? Kakagatin ko sila?”
-Luna to Aguinaldo’s cabinet

“Ganito ba talaga ang tadhana natin? Kalaban ang kalaban. Kalaban ang kakampi. Nakakapagod.”
-Luna to Roman

Recommended Resources

  1. The Rise and Fall of Antonio Luna, D. Vivencio R. Jose
  2. A Question of Heroes, Nick Joaquin
  3. ALL of Ambeth Ocampo’s books
  4. Heneral Luna: The History Behind the Movie (monograph)
  5. Xiao Chua’s videos on YouTube


Kinilaw History, Origin and Evolution – Into the Heart of Freshness

I’ve had experience researching and writing about the origins of Filipino dishes before, but while dinuguan, Bicol express and sisig seemed straightforward enough, kinilaw / kilawin proved surprisingly complicated. What I thought would be a walk in the park has morphed into a wild ride around a vast, evolving culinary universe (Oops). 🙂

It behooves me to say therefore, that attempts to be both exhaustive and definitive have fallen short. At the most, this is but an exploratory probe into the heart of freshness.

Kinilaw Book
Fernandez and Alegre’s ode to freshness

Click on a link below to go directly to the section:

1. Definition and Base Formula
2. To Cook or Not to Cook
3. Origin and History
4. Region of Origin
5. Kinilaw vs. Kilawin
6. The Other Kilawin / Kinilaw
7. The Many Faces of Fresh
8. Kinilaw Masters
9. Fusion Country


Definition and Base Formula

In Kinilaw: A Philippine Cuisine of Freshness by Edilberto N. Alegre and Doreen G. Fernandez, kinilaw is a Visayan term that is:

“…fish/shellfish/meat etc. eaten raw as is, or with vinegar and other condiments.”

Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan, authors of Memories of Philippine Kitchens include several other elements by defining it as:

“…a selection of fresh produce, soured and combined in the moment, specific to the next moment and place.”

If we were to extract a basic formula from the combined definitions above, I suppose it would look something like this:

Fresh raw main ingredient + souring agent (optional) + condiments = kinilaw

That the ingredients must be fresh is already a given and a matter of common sense, but because of differences in regional cultures, availability of ingredients and personal preferences, there can be innumerable variations to the other elements of the basic formula.

To Cook or Not to Cook

Alegre and Fernandez refer to vinegar as the liquid fire that cooks the main ingredient. Nonetheless, kinilaw is best served when the vinegar hasn’t thoroughly seeped through. Once it does, the dish can turn rubbery depending on the main ingredient. Hence, in its best form, it should really be closer to the raw state. Most food enthusiasts I’ve asked will only accept this form of the dish and discount any others that involve cooking over fire.

Fernandez however, mentioned fire cooking as a possible recipe variation, whereby, for example, vegetables as the main ingredient may be blanched and meat may be half-cooked. In the case of fully cooked pork, beef or goat, usually grilled or boiled, Alegre suggests they may still be considered variations of kinilaw if they are taken through the process of souring and mixed with the usual condiments. This, I suppose, is subject for debate.

Origin and History

The dish most often associated with, and usually used as a synonym for kinilaw is the Central / South American ceviche. This is a dish of raw fish, marinated in citrus juice such as lime and mixed with condiments. Is kinilaw then merely a local version of this foreign dish? What is the difference between kinilaw and ceviche? To answer these questions, it’s important to revisit the origin of ceviche too.

One theory suggests that fish seasoned with salt and aji or marinated in local fermented fruit juice was already being consumed 2000 years ago in coastal areas of what is now Peru. The locals may have simply switched to the use of citrus fruits brought by Spaniards. The other origin theory for ceviche is that it may have been brought to Peru by Moorish women who had accompanied Spanish colonizers.

Traditional ceviche was marinated for a couple of hours. Modern ceviche, introduced in the 1970s by Peruvian-Japanese chefs, is served immediately after preparation.

Kinilaw is markedly different from ceviche in its use of vinegar as the main souring agent, or none at all. Also, the short marination time has been a standard kinilaw element long before it was introduced to Peru in the 70s. Nonetheless, the two dishes have obvious similarities, and the seeming historical link can be surmised. It has been suggested that Spanish colonizers and/or travelers from Mexico introduced ceviche to us.

Fernandez however, cites archeological evidence of our own which point to kinilaw being possibly a thousand years old, predating Spanish influence. The 1987 Butuan Balangay dig unearthed tabon-tabon halves together with fish bones. Tabon-tabon is a fruit abundant in Northern Mindanao, the juice extract of which is commonly used in kinilaw dishes served in some parts of Mindanao.

Northern Mindanao fish kinilaw
Northern Mindanao fish kinilaw

Fernandez has also presented textual evidence of kinilaw’s local origin in early dictionaries written close to the point of first contact for and by Spaniards. The Vocabulario de la lengua Tagala (1613) refers to cqilao as a sort of pickling sauce of the natives, that is, salt, vinegar and chili in which meat or fish is placed. Other dictionaries in the 1700s and 1800s contain some references to the dish. Most notable of these are the Vocabulario de la lengua Pampanga en romance (1732), which mentions quilao as eating slightly cooked meat, and the Vocabulario de la lengua Tagala (1754), which lists quilauin as a dish of meat or fish in vinegar.

Alegre helpfully adds that the dish is part of the culinary repertoire of groups largely unaffected by Spanish culture, the Ivatans and the lumad (indigenous) of the Cordillera for example, thereby proving the dish’s local origin.

In my opinion, the best evidence that kinilaw originated in our native shores may be deemed circumstantial but highly logical. There was, and still is, such an abundance of fresh food sources, that it would have been inevitable for our forefathers to discover the dish.

Indeed, I had witnessed firsthand how, in Bantayan, houses were so close to the sea that fresh catch could be hauled straight into kitchens. My immediate feeling was that cooking was superfluous, even wasteful in the midst of such fresh abundance.

Region of Origin

Can one region claim to have created kinilaw? Was it invented by one group: the Visayans, Mindanaoans, Tagalogs, Ilocanos or Pangasinense? I have not found documentary evidence yet that can pin down its origin to one area. If you think about it, this is simply too difficult to do considering the expansive scope of the dish’s nature, definition and variety, ranging from plain raw consumption to more elaborate mixes.

Is it not more likely that, surrounded by freshness everywhere, the people of each region awakened to the practice of preparing and consuming raw food in their own manner and style?

This again, is a matter open to debate.

Kinilaw vs. Kilawin

What is the difference between kinilaw and kilawin? Kinilaw is the term used in the Visayas and in many areas in Mindanao for raw or semi raw food. Kilawin is the terms used in many Tagalog regions and some of the other regions in Luzon for the same dish.

Because the Philippines is culturally diverse, it is likely that the dish may be called other terms in other places. Fernandez and Alegre record for example, the term lataven in Batanes and lawal among the Tausugs in Mindanao as regional synonyms of the dish.

The Other Kilawin / Kinilaw

I suppose it is when the two most commonly used terms for raw food are used for entirely different recipes that confusion sets in. In Ilocos, there is another dish called kilawin. My Visayan mother who has lived for many years in Northern Luzon insists that the Ilocano kilawin is not the same as the Tagalog dish of the same name. Negros Occidental kinilaw master Enting Lobotan differentiates between the two dishes too.

Ilocano kilawin is goat, beef or pork boiled, grilled, chopped and mixed with vinegar, an assortment of condiments and papait (bile). It is worth noting however, that although traditional Ilocano kilawin is cooked, Ilocanos do have their own raw fare. Several sources call this raw Ilocano dish kilawen.

In Cuyo, Palawan, there is a dish called kinilaw that has nothing in common with the similarly named Visayan dish. According to Country Cooking: Philippine Regional Cuisines by Michaela Fenix, Cuyo’s kinilaw is made up of ground beef liver, tenderloin and spleen, boiled in water and vinegar and then fried. Garlic, pepper, mint, green onions and sugar complete the mix.

The Many Faces of Fresh

I was as a young traveler to Bantayan Island when I had my first glimpse of fish kinilaw. I watched my grandfather devour a huge bony fish drowned in tuba (coconut vinegar). His steadily reddening face made me suspect that perhaps it was the alcoholic version of tuba that he had used as marinade. He was so engrossed by his meal that I was convinced he would not have noticed if a herd of cattle thundered past him.

I thought then that kinilaw always had to be fish and that it was always served plain with just vinegar. This particular research work however, has revealed the near limitless scope of the dish. Nearly anything fresh can be made into kinilaw and a wide array of souring agents and condiments can be thrown into the mix.

Aside from fish of all shapes and sizes, seafood like crabs, clams, shrimp, oysters, squid, sea urchin, abalone and scallops can be used as main ingredients. Among land animals, pork, beef and goat make the cut. The more adventurous can try abatud (coconut beetle larva) or tamilok (shipworm).

Although not everyone is likely to agree, my inquiries have revealed that some people also consider raw vegetables and unripe fruits as types of kinilaw. Examples of these include banana blossom, green mango, green papaya, radish and tomatoes.

As to souring agents, there is a broad set of options to choose from. Vinegar alone has numerous varieties. In Cebu and Cagayan de Oro, tuba, which comes from coconut is commonly used as a souring agent. Other options depending on region and availability are Bulacan’s sukang paombong from the nipa fruit, sukang Iloko from sugarcane, Surigao’s buri vinegar, and Negros’ sinamak (spiced vinegar).

Types of Vinegar
We are the land flowing with coco milk and vinegar. Here’s just five of many vinegar variations.

Other souring agents can be used together with or in place of vinegar. Suha / dayap (lime) and kalamansi are among the most commonly added. Other sour fruits that have found themselves included in raw food recipes include green mango, kamias, paho, green sineguelas and balimbing. In Batanes, a fruit foreign to other areas called valatinog is used.

The usual line of condiments that can be added into kinilaw are ginger, onions, chili, green onions and salt. In Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur, the wild onion called seyboring can be used in place of regular onions.

Less universally accepted additions that enjoy regional popularity are garlic, coconut milk, cucumber, radish, black beans, sugar, tomatoes and salted duck eggs. According to Fernandez, in Butuan, coconut can be toasted first before its milk is squeezed.

Other areas demonstrate an even more unique use of local ingredients. Some fruit juices and plant parts can neutralize the lansa or fishy taste, smell or feel of fish kinilaw. I am most familiar with tabon-tabon, found only in select areas in Visayas and Mindanao, and which, I do not think has an English name. It supposedly has the added ability of preventing indigestion.

Other lansa neutralizers used in other regions are sineguelas bark extract, dungon (kind of nut) pulp, pungango (small young coconut), and bakawan (a type of mangrove bark).

Tabon-tabon from Cagayan de Oro

Kinilaw Masters

It’s possible there really are a thousand and one kinilaw variations mainly because anyone who professes a love for it can opt to inject his unique preferences. My mother likes her fish filleted and marinated longer than usual in cane vinegar and garlic. Any leftovers later become excellent material for inun-unan (soured fish dish cooked over fire).

My father-in-law, whose recipe appears in the video above, prepares his the traditional Kagay-anon way, but he has added his personal touch. Because he rebels against the idea of using sugar or soft drinks to sweeten kinilaw, he uses a combination of sweet, freshly harvested coconut vinegar and old stock vinegar to balance the taste.

Then there are masters who have elevated kinilaw into a whole new level of expertise, proposing the efficient and proper use of ingredients and combinations to create the perfect taste experience. Undoubtedly, the most popular of them is Enting Lobaton, whose name appears on every single reference article or piece of kinilaw literature I’ve read. From Negros Occidental, he dispenses sage advice.

Strong vinegar, he says, can be made milder with sugar, lime, salted egg or coconut milk. Mild vinegar on the other hand, can be made stronger with paho or green sineguelas. Some fish like bangus and tangigue react too fast to strong marinades and are therefore best prepared with milder souring agents. Scallops and squid both toughen when marinated; hence, lime can be used for the former while the latter can be eaten dipped quickly in vinegar. Fish with more lansa are ideally prepared with kalamansi.

Kinilaw Condiments
Suha, kalamansi and the rest of the condiments gang

Fusion Country

Once the Pinoy has exhausted every possible permutation of a basic culinary formula, recipes move into fusion country. In some parts of Mindanao, sinuglaw is served. This is essentially traditional kinilaw with cuts of sinugba (grilled pork) mixed in. In some Visayan regions, kinilaw can be consumed with paired dishes such as cornmeal in Zamboanguita, Negros Oriental; boiled bananas or root crops in Catbalogan, Samar and Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur. More elaborate pairings include pareha, the pairing of kinilaw banana blossom and grilled bangus from Hagonoy; and sutokil, a combination of sinugba, tinola (soup-based dish of meat and vegetables) and kinilaw from the Vis-Min region.

This is as far as I dare go exploring the heart of freshness. It is a story where the beginning is difficult to trace and the end is not imminent. There is simply no end to its evolution. By all indications, kinilaw is an organic, multifaceted element that thrives within the many different sub cultures of the Filipino race. One thing is certain though, to us, the dish is an embodiment of a way of life and an indisputable evidence of nature’s abundant benevolence.


1. Edilberto N. Alegre and Doreen G. Fernandez, Kinilaw: A Philippine Cuisine of Freshness (1991)
2. Amy Besa and Romy Dorotan, Memories of Philippine Kitchens: Stories and Recipes from Far and Near (2012)
3. Michaela Fenix, Country Cooking: Philippine Regional Cuisines (2014)
4. Nora V. Daza, Let’s Cook with Nora (1969)
5. Angelo Comsti, Philippine ‘kinilaw’ takes center stage in Madrid Fusion 2015
6. Kinilaw, Project Gutenberg
7. Ceviche, Wikipedia
8. Kapuso Mo Jessica Soho, The different versions of kinilaw
9. Clinton Palanca, How to make ‘kinilaw’ – from the ‘kinilaw master’ himself
10. Marketman, Ceviche of Yellow Fin Tuna a la Marketman
11. Good Samaritan, Traditional Ilocano Dish: Raw Beef Kinilaw

Ten Best OPM Music Videos Featuring Philippine Society and Culture

It’s true. We’re getting better at music videos, so I thought now would be a good time for a list of top ten best OPM music videos. A few requirements were factored in for this compilation. Naturally, there had to be astig, kick-ass elements, but each video also had to prominently feature a PH factor — some aspect of Philippine history, society or culture.

Let’s get things straight. This list is highly subjective. Because I am numerically handicapped, I am not inclined to mount a statistical study to prove the worthiness of these choices. Also, unless I wanted to groom more realistic panda eyes for lack of sleep, I could not have made myself watch every OPM video in existence. I have had to take my pick from the last five years.

Top Ten OPM Videos

#10 – Tayo’y Mga Pinoy

We are Filipinos

This would have been even more breathtaking if it weren’t part of Smart Communication’s marketing campaign. Notwithstanding the prominent brand display and the cringeworthy neon depiction of internet connectedness however, this was still nicely done.

PH Factor: Bringing together four OPM icons to sing a 1978 patriotic piece espousing pride in our heritage is already a cultural boon. It is a stroke of even greater genius that the four are made to sing ostensibly in different locations: Ely Buendia in Manila’s Intramuros, Rico Blanco in Bohol’s Chocolate Hills, Raimund Marasigan in Albay’s Mayon and Barbie Almalbis in Mindanao (actually in Calatagan?). There is that emotional jab seeing the attempt to unify an extremely diverse nation. You can’t accuse imperialist Manila of exclusivity now, can you? 😉

Favorite Moment: Raimund perched at the back of a moving truck with majestic Mayon as his backdrop. I doubt anyone can sing on a partially rough road without sounding like a chipmunk with hiccups, but that was still cool.

Bonus Trivia: You can see Mayon from anywhere in Albay.


Music & Lyrics: Heber Bartolome
Director: Mark Querubin

#9 – Halik ni Hudas

Kiss of Judas

Dizzyingly pulsating scenes of Wolfgang performing plus scenes from Erik Mati’s visually unique Tiktik: The Aswang Chronicles equals one intense, slightly scary plunge into the dark side of Philippine folklore.

PH Factor: Move over Twilight. We have our own mythical creatures of the night and never have they looked more detestably beautiful than in popular media. Aswang is a general term for various types of carnivorous creatures that have human forms but can also transform into animals such as birds, pigs and dogs. They feast on human internal organs but have a special liking for fetuses.

The tiktik is an aswang that transforms itself into a bird and is called so because of the sound it emits.

Favorite Moment: The boy Abel ridding the world of those foul creatures by spitting salted, garlic flavored cornick through a blow tube. Clever and very Pinoy! We don’t need silver bullets here, yeah. Several packs of dehydrated corn will do.


Music & Lyrics: Wolfgang

#8 – Dati

Like Before

The song is the 2013 grand winner of the PhilPop Music Festival, a competition organized to put Filipino composers in the limelight and to renew interest in OPM. Its triumph is a confirmation that simple themes can work.

The video is just as straightforward: Sam Concepcion and Tippy Dos Santos reminiscing in song about a wonderful childhood amidst some… um… grass!

PH Factor: Julio’t Julia, Sarah, Marvin at Jolina, Mylene at Bojo Molina – all elements of a colorful 90s Filipino subculture. These names however, aren’t the only touch of Filipino in the video. At the end, the young versions of Sam and Tippy look through a passport. The reason why things have changed between them as adults is because one of them left.

The passport is a painful reminder to me of the Filipino diaspora. I respect and admire the achievements of Filipinos in other lands, but I wish our government could do its job better to keep more of us home.

Favorite Moment: Sam’s moves. This dude can dance even when he isn’t dancing.


Music & Lyrics: Thyro Alfaro, Yumi Lacsamana
Director: Toper Santos

#7 – Huwag Ka Nang Humirit

Don’t Object

I know of purists who would flinch at the seeming desecration of historical landmarks with the infusion of pop culture. I, on the other hand, do not wholly object, especially if the veritable meeting of old and new serves to suggest the importance of heritage conservation.

PH Factor: James Reid’s nocturnal romp around the Manila Central Post Office is, I think, stylishly executed, bringing to the fore, the structure’s strikingly elegant lines. The muted colors bring even greater depth and, in my opinion, some measure of respect to one of Manila’s old treasures.

Designed following the neo-classical style by Juan Arellano, Tomas Mapua and Ralph Doane, the building features imposing Ionic columns and wide, high-ceilinged spaces. Completed in 1926, it has stood for nearly a century as a mute witness to the ever vigorous flux of the life and times of ‪‎Manila‬.

Favorite Moment: That looming interior and the play of light and shadow in the hallway sequences… oh, and that smooth as silk mic tip.


Music & Lyrics: Thyro Alfaro, Yumi Lacsamana
Director: Miggy Tanchanco

#6 – Sige Lang

Just Go Ahead

This catchy tune has become the anthem of Filipinos facing seemingly insurmountable challenges, from the beleaguered Gilas Pilipinas in FIBA to the takatak boys in Divisoria.

PH Factor: Quest is the first rapper I’ve listened to who radiates such a pervasive aura of positivity. He is so infectiously upbeat that he makes the haze and turbulence of Manila life seem charming. And that is what makes this video entirely Filipino — the indefatigable cheer, the never say die attitude, the enduring hope.

Favorite Moment: Rooftop shots and the sense of conquering and rising above life’s troubles.

Bonus Trivia:

  • Manila’s LRT, featured in the video, was the first of its kind in Southeast Asia.
  • That symbol on Quest’s white cap is ka in Baybayin, a pre Hispanic Filipino system of writing.

Official Free Song Download

Music & Lyrics: Quest
Director: Nolan Bernardino

#5 – Papel


There’s some excellent strings here and brilliant wordplay from a living legend singing about paper.

PH Factor: Joey Ayala has always remained true to his roots. As with all his other compositions, this one fuses indigenous elements with modern themes and digs deep into social realities.

Paper here is a representation of the constraints of society. Society defines us by the documents we posses without which we are nonentities. The song progresses into other forms of papel society requires of us to be deemed somebody, such as the predefined roles we must play, sucking up to bosses and money.

Favorite Moment: Joey rocking that T’boli Hegalong!


Music & Lyrics: Joey Ayala
Director: J.Pacena II

#4 – Dedma


Rapper Abra redefines badassery and takes Julie Anne San Jose along for the ride. This video is not for the faint AND shallow hearted. Warning: Some blood, and lyrics prone to be misunderstood up ahead.

PH Factor: Because the lyrics and video seemingly question the existence of God, it isn’t unexpected for some citizens of this predominantly Catholic nation to feel scandalized. That however, is the misfortune of people who are quick to “Facebook” but slow to analyze.

It isn’t the loss of faith that is at the core here; it is, rather, the indifference towards the injustices in our midst despite our outward religiosity and piety. In the end, Abra drives home the point: The question of God’s existence is not the point of argument. The Being who created us gave us free will. We are responsible for our own suffering and ultimately, its resolution.

Bonus Trivia: The video was shot close to the Jones Bridge which was originally a 1921 neo-classical structure designed by Juan Arellano. It was reconstructed after World War II. Its 1875 predecessor, the Puente de España and its earlier iterations dating back to 1630 were the first to cross the Pasig River.

Favorite Moment: The gravity of the theme communicated through dark shades in mild contrast to various points of color: the pinkish jeepney light, the yellow prayer book, the bluish lights, Julie Anne’s brown hair.


Music & Lyrics: Abra & Julie Anne Sane Jose
Director: Joy Aquino

#3 – Hari ng Tondo

King of Tondo

I would equate the movie Manila Kingpin with having a massive hangover. You wake up remembering only incoherent bits and pieces of your indiscretions, and you struggle to explain how you’ve ended up in the middle of the Estero de Vitas on a raft with his royal flabbiness, ER Ejercito, impersonating a baddie half his age. The hangover gets worse when you recall Ejercito’s love scenes with Carla Abellana and Valerie Concepcion, the stuff horror movies should be made of.

This is therefore, most certainly not an endorsement of the movie. I just like the unofficial version of the music video found on the official video director’s YouTube channel.

PH Factor: Asiong Salonga was a legendary gangster who held sway over Tondo in the late 1940s and early 1950s. At one point he became one of the Philippines’ most wanted for a slew of transgressions including murder, extortion and illegal possession of firearms. Despite his life of crime, he was supposedly benevolent towards his poor neighbors, thereby earning him the moniker, Robin Hood of Tondo. He died at the age of 27.

Favorite Moment: John Regala, Roi Vinzon and Baron Geisler in character. These three were born to play mean boys so well, you’d actually find yourself rooting for them instead of Asiong.


Music & Lyrics: Gloc-9
Official MV Director: Rico Gutierrez

#2 – Lupang Hinirang

The Philippine National Anthem

Yes, I know. This isn’t a pop song, but its music video is so stunning, it had to be on this list. Despite the liberties taken for dramatic effect, GMA 7 deserves a salute for this display of patriotism.

PH Factor: The entire clip is a mini history tour: Triumph in Mactan 1521, GomBurZa Martyrdom 1872, Cry of Pugad Lawin 1896, execution of Jose Rizal 1896, the making of the Philippine Flag 1898, Declaration of Philippine Independence 1898, Battle of Tirad Pass 1899, Philippine-American War 1913, establishment of the Philippine Commonwealth 1935, Second World War 1945, EDSA Revolution 1986.

Favorite Moment: Everything except that part where folks dressed in white take us to the Mall of Asia after the revolution.

Music & Lyrics: Julian Felipe & Jose Palma
Director: Paul Ticzon

#1 – Aking Pangako

My Promise

It is impossible to watch this and not feel some measure of pride, respect and admiration. This is proof that some people can be tough as nails and still be the good guys.

PH Factor: The Philippine Army traces its roots to 1897 with Aretmio Ricarte as its first general. Admittedly, the institution has drawn some flak in more recent decades for its outdated equipment and various institutional controversies. The shots in this video supposedly demonstrate how much the army has evolved.

To me however, the focal point is still the soldiers, the sacrifices they endure pushing their minds and bodies to the limit; leaving home and family behind; staring death in the face and all for a pittance. I salute the men and women of the Philippine Army.

Favorite Moment: That epic Van Damme-ish leap into the net.


Music & Lyrics: Kjwan
Director: Joaquin Valdes w/ Lt. Bala Tamayo

Did I miss any other good ones? Let me know in the comments below.

Simala Shrine – Monastery of the Holy Eucharist in Sibonga Cebu

I visited the Simala Shrine in May 2011, making this post nearly four years delayed and entirely deserving of a procrastination award. I was then in my former hometown, Cebu, for a blogging summit and my mother suggested a quick side trip, reminiscent of days of old when my family and I used to go on spur of the moment trips to wherever we fancied. As with most of our impulse trips, this one was a mad flurry of sensory stimuli, leaving me with a case of mild visual indigestion, slightly uncertain of what I’d ingested.

Simala Shrine - Monastery of the Holy Eucharist
The Simala Shrine in 2011

The Marian Monks

The shrine, also referred to as the Monastery of the Holy Eucharist, sits atop a hilly portion of Upper Lindogon in Simala, Sibonga, Cebu and is home to Our Lady of Lindogon. Various accounts say that the lady’s image originally came from Pampanga and was handed over to the Marian Monks of the Eucharistic Adoration after the Mt. Pinatubo eruption. The monks then brought the image with them to Simala in the 1990s, where they purchased a piece of land with the inherited wealth of one of their members.

The welcome mat wasn’t quite rolled out for the monks. The locals supposedly weren’t very accommodating at first and the rough terrain was unsuitable for planting. The general outlook towards the monks may have taken a turn for the better however, when the Virgin Mary was said to have interceded through the Penitential Rosary Walk in 1998 to stave off an epidemic that had already claimed the lives of several local children.

Building the Shrine

The construction of the shrine was reportedly made possible in part by the donations of faithful pilgrims. At the time of my visit, the structure already resembled a sprawling castle, but there were still traces of unfinished portions. I assumed they weren’t quite done building and that they may have proceeded in gradual phases.

Our Lady of Lindogon Sanctuary Castle Church in Simala
A note at the bottom of the stairs leading up to the church thanks devotees and pilgrims for their help and support in the building of Our Lady of Lindogon’s Sanctuary Castle Church.

To my unskilled eye, the shrine’s façade appeared European inspired, but too diverse to pin to a particular period or unifying theme. It was almost as if various sections were put together at random, straining the boundaries of architectural styles. I came to imagine that perhaps construction may never decisively finish, that the shrine would continue to encompass more of the hillside in an almost unending organic growth.

To those who came on a spiritual journey, perhaps the shrine’s continually expanding form may only be a concrete representation of a deeper, less visible meaning understood only by personal faith.

Miracles of the Virgin

Simala Shrine in Sibonga, Cebu
Mother Mary’s grotto situated within the grounds of the Simala Shrine in Sibonga, Cebu

Despite having spent all of my formative years in Catholic schools, I have never become a serious devotee of Mary or of any saint. If anything, my liberal arts education taught me to be discerning about what I choose to believe. That, and my pretensions to art connoisseurship, is perhaps the reason why my interest was drawn first towards the physical structure rather than the stories behind it. I must admit though, I eventually found the accounts about Mary quite absorbing.

Aside from interceding during the epidemic, Our Lady of Lindogon is also credited for numerous miraculous occurrences and prayers answered. Most notable is of her statue shedding tears resembling oil on various instances in 1998, first in August 17, and then in September 8, October 13 and December 29. She was said to have wept again a year later in September 8, 1999.

One need not witness miraculous tears however, to experience a sense of amazement. The space adjoining the chapel where mass is held, houses hundreds of letters and remembrances sent by devotees testifying to prayers answered. I felt the hair at the back of my neck standing on end as I read through numerous rows of testimonies. Of course, one only has to look around to be even more astounded. There is no end to the press of people coming in droves to visit the Lady.

Letters to Our Lady of Lindogon
Letters of thanks for Our Lady of Lindogon’s intercession
Healing Testimonies - Simala Shrine
Testimonies of healed devotees – Photo used with permission from TravelTaBai.com

What I witnessed then reminded me of accusations I’d read on various occasions that we Catholics are idol worshipers. I’ve been told by my professors in theology that this is not an accurate assessment. In our belief, statues of the Lady or of saints are treasured keepsakes, like photos of loved ones we hang on a wall. We do not worship the images themselves. It is perhaps the visibly extreme devotion shown by some of the faithful that lead observers to think otherwise.

Moreover, it’s worth noting that in Catholic teaching, Mary does not grant prayers. She simply intercedes or prays for us. I hope I’ve made the nuns and professors at my old school proud for remembering that.

Whatever the case may be, the throng of people in serious contemplation or deep prayer in Simala is a powerful sight, perhaps enough to coax respect even from the skeptical.

Mass Schedules

Masses are celebrated in the shrine Mondays through Fridays at 12 noon, Saturdays at 10:30 a.m., Sundays at 12 noon and 3 p.m. and every 13th of the month at 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m.

Monastery of the Holy Eucharist church at Simala, Sibonga
The interior of the church at the Monastery of the Holy Eucharist where masses are celebrated – Photo used with permission from TravelTaBai.com

Those who simply wish to visit and pray can light candles at a designated area. I bought a packet of colored candles, each one representing an intention: red, love; blue, perseverance; black, souls; green, prosperity; gold, healing; violet, achievement; white, purity; cream, conversion; pink, thanksgiving; yellow, peace; orange, reconciliation; brown, vocation; gray, deliverance.

Colored candles at the Simala Shrine
Colored candles light a hallway at the Simala Shrine with prayer intentions

As with any place of worship, visitors are asked to dress appropriately as a sign of respect. Form fitting clothes, sleeveless shirts, tubes, shorts, mini skirts and the like aren’t allowed.

Getting to the Simala Shrine

Simala is a little over two hours away from Cebu City. To get there, you can grab a bus at the Cebu South Bus Terminal located along N. Bacalso Avenue beside Elizabeth Mall. Tell the bus conductor or driver to drop you at the road leading up to the shrine, at which point you will have to ride a motorcycle for hire, known locally as habal-habal to get to the shrine’s entrance.

Another option is to walk past the South Bus Terminal, Land Transportation Office, Bureau of Fire Protection and the Cebu City Medical Center to get to the Citi Link Transit Station where you can ride a van that’ll take you directly to the entrance of the shrine. At the conclusion of your visit, another van waiting near the exit can take you back to the city.

I’m not sure how much the fares cost now, but to be on the safe side, prepare a little over P200 per person for the ride to and from the shrine.

Related Articles for Further Reading:

1. Biyahilo, Monastery of the Holy Eucharist at Simala Sibonga (2012)
2. Florence Hibionada, The Miracle in Lindogon (2005)
3. Mimi Ortega, Our Simala Experience (2012)
4. Jessica Ann R. Pareja, The Simala Shrine Controversy (2010)
5. Candido Ortega Wenceslao, Simala Shrine Experience (2009)
6. Janeth Pelayo Mantalaba, Birhen sa Simala the Monastery of the Holy Eucharist (2012)
7. Ding Aban, Simala Shrine in Sibonga Cebu (2014)
8. Catholic.com, Praying to the Saints (2004)

Remembering Bantayan Island – Old Memories of a Young Traveler

When a relative came home from Manila, my pasalubong (souvenir) was a box of Pan de Manila coffee. Although the box art showed what I would assume to be an idealized rendition of old Manila, it reminded me of a different place, Bantayan Island. My mother was born and raised there, but I’d only been there twice.
Pan de Manila
Unfortunately, I went there in the early 90s, before the age of digital cameras, smartphones and indiscriminate photography. In my time, film was expensive. We did not have spare shots for selfies, sceneries and food. Photos had to be two in one, beautiful scenery with loved ones posing awkwardly in front of it.

It is partly because of my lack of presentable photos that I’ve decided to use images here that are older than me. I feel there is no mismatch though. At the time I was there, I felt I had stepped back in time, making my experience seem much older than it was.

Cebu to Bantayan

Every trip to the island starts with an hour and a half drive from Cebu City to Hagnaya where travelers can take a lancha (small motorized boat) to Sta. Fe, a ride that’ll take another hour and a half. My mother says, summer is the best time to go. The cooler months during the rainy season are for those who want to experience a gut-wrenching carnival ride at sea.

The island is divided into three municipalities, Sta. Fe, Madridejos and Bantayan. We have relatives in all three. An uncle once joked that the island is so small, that most people are related to each other in varying degrees, so that marrying a fellow islander is risking marrying a relative.

Dancing in Bantayan
I wonder how many of them here were our relatives. Photo used with permission from Old Bantayan Island.

A Glimpse of the Past

My great grandmother lived in Binaobao, thirty minutes away from Sta. Fe. She was still alive and well when we first visited, and I wish I had the courage to talk to her then. She could have told me stories of a time long past, but I was too shy. All I could do was to stare in awe at her and her seemingly ancient house.

My great grandparents. The baby is my grandmother. The date at the back suggests this was taken in the 1920s.

Her house looked a lot like the ones on my coffee box. The second floor was made of wood and had sliding Capiz shell windows. The first floor had been remodeled but retained its old feel with its wide wooden doors secured by a thick bar of wood. During the day, the doors were wide open. A table was set right by the door jamb and filled with an assortment of items for sale.

The interior of the house was dark, but surprisingly cool. Most of what I saw inside I no longer remember, except for the house’s wooden posts made of tree trunks in their original form and the huge clay pots filled with water at the back.

My mother somewhere in there. Guess who. 😀

Sumptuous Repasts

One more truly unforgettable facet of Bantayan is its food. Because it is a stone’s throw away from the sea, my relatives’ tables were always teeming with its bounties; crabs, fish, shells, squid, shrimp and guso (seaweed); cooked simply and with little flair, demonstrating the superiority of nature’s flavors.

The seafood of course, is usually consumed during the main meals of the day, except in one. I remember waking up at dawn on my first day to a table laden with suman (rice cake) and sikwate (chocolate drink). We thought we were being served breakfast, only to be told later that it was painit, a dawn meal taken before the morning mass. Breakfast didn’t start until 7 or 8.

Holiest of Weeks

Bantayan Island has always been a popular Holy Week destination. It has gained even more attention in recent years because of the continued circulation of the story about an old Papal exemption allowing residents to eat meat even on a Good Friday. Catholics in other parts of the country abstain.

My mother has always been adamant though. Many seniors, she says, remain true to their tradition, that is, abstaining from meat every Friday of Lent. In my case, I wouldn’t want to eat meat anyway in the presence of all that seafood.

Over and above the question of food, the people of Bantayan have remained steadfast to Catholic traditions observed elsewhere, but with noticeably more intensity. According to my mother, the yearly procession in Binaobao may vary from year to year in minor details but remain true to its majestic, awe-inspiring form.

Every year, intricately decked carrozas (carriages) depicting the people and events surrounding Christ’s life and death are driven through the main street leading to the church. Most memorable for me were the Mater Dolorosa (Our Lady of Sorrows) and the Santo Entierro, Christ, supine and encased in blindingly clear glass.

Bantayan Church
The Holy Week procession always led to the church. Photo used with permission from Old Bantayan Island.

Even more impressive were the people I witnessed during my visit, praying and walking solemnly in between each carroza. Devotees from all walks of life, carrying lit candles, rippled through the streets in soft burning waves. I remember the heat rising up, touching my cheek as I looked down from one of my great grandmother’s windows.

White Sands, Blue Waters

My mother has two enduring rules on Good Friday shortly before and after 3:00 p.m., the time Christ is believed to have died on the cross. First, we must keep silent up until the end of Black Saturday. Second, we must not bathe. Naturally, she imposed these while we were in her hometown. The silence part I can easily understand, but the reason for the gross temporary restraining order obtained by the bathroom against all of us eludes me.

We therefore invariably ended up at the beach on Easter Sunday, when both rules were no longer in effect, to celebrate the Lord’s resurrection with a much needed bath. In other places I’d been, I know it is customary for many families to bathe in the sea on Easter. Even if it weren’t that day however, it is a must to visit one of Bantayan’s beaches before leaving. Pure white sands and calm blue waters restore serenity.

Regaining serenity in Bantayan’s waters. Photo of Sayao used with permission from Old Bantayan Island.