(STAR) By Wilson Lee Flores - Why is it that even if I’m no longer a kid and it is still September — the start of the cooler “ber” months — I already long for the way we colorfully light up our homes and our hearts with joy in Philippine-style pasko or Christmas?

Even though I’m an ethnic Chinese whose stomach instinctively craves comfort foods like misua, sotanghon, radish cake, lumpia, kiampeng rice, dim-sum snacks to high-end cuisines like bird’s nest or shark’s fin soup (sorry, but I vigorously disagree with the World Wildlife Fund and its supporters like Jackie Chan campaigning against this dish in defense of sharks) or the exotic Fujianese concoction called Buddha-Jumps-over-the-Wall, I’m equally passionate about the delicious aroma of distinctly Filipino adobo with plain rice, hot pandesal in the mornings, balut duck embryo, milkfish bangus and ripe, golden-colored mangoes?

I was reminded of all these wonderful things about life in the Philippines after my visit to the recent Manila International Book Fair, where I read about them in the bilingual, 180-page 101 Filipino Icons book jointly published by Bench fashion tycoon Ben Chan and the Adarna House publishing firm of National Artist for Literature Virgilio Almario (also known by his penname, “Rio Alma”). The book was introduced to me by Unyon ng Mga Manunulat sa Pilipinas (UMPIL) newly-elected Chairman Vim Nadera. The book project is part of the 20th anniversary celebrations of Bench this year.

Though this book is well-made and fun to read, I was aghast that I couldn’t find some popular Filipino icons, some of them my personal favorites — our colorful fiestas, the sipa game of my childhood, the Filipino invention known as the yoyo, the parol of Christmas, sinigang soup, the delectable roasted pig lechon at the center of most Filipino festivities, kare-kare, chicharon, halo-halo, palabok, the traditional cavan or baul wooden chests (my great-great-grandfather Dy Han Kia had two cavan factories and two lumber companies in 19th-century Manila), the irresistible sisig, San Miguel beer and Jollibee.

Here are some of the 101 Filipino icons cited in the Bench and Adarna book which should remind all of us to count our many blessings in life here in these islands, despite the incessant troubles and non-stop corruption scandals created by our politicians and in spite of any other problems we face:

• Bangka: As early as the mid-1700s, Spanish friars Fr. Juan de Noceda and Fr. Pedro de Sanlucar had listed down early Tagalog folk songs mentioning the importance of the bangka in their day-to-day lives. The Moros in Mindanao call their bangka by the name of vinta, while Visayan fishermen call their small boats barotos while the bigger boats measuring 30 to 50 feet are called paraws, with Bicolanos calling theirs seberon.

• Bahay Kubo: Better known in English as the “nipa hut,” this traditional and indigenous house appears to me as charming in its simplicity, in its all-natural materials, lightness, in its practicality to withstand monsoon typhoons and our often humid weather. I hope modern-day realty developers or architects will try to copy some ideas from the high-ceiling nipa hut to reduce air-conditioning and create better natural ventilation.

• Carabao: I admire this humble and persevering beast of burden. The Philippines reportedly has 3.2 million carabao now. I suggest to Agriculture Secretary Arthur Yap that we should aggressively propagate more carabaos to help our farms. This best friend of the farmer is often the object of discrimination by many of us city dwellers, or else how do we explain the insulting term known as “carabao English” for the pidgin attempts at English by Joseph Estrada, Lito Lapid, Melanie Marquez or Manny Pacquiao? By the way, Julius Caesar once said: “Veni, Vedi, Vinci.” Douglas MacArthur once said: “I shall return.” Egged on by selfish politicos to run for election, I will never forget boxing champ Manny Pacquiao once declaring on TV: “I will fight iniwan, iniwer, initaym!”

• Tinikling: I didn’t know before that this lively bamboo folk dance was so famous. It seems to have originated from the Visayas region, in particular Leyte. The names derived from a type of native bird with long leg and long neck called tikling.

• Pandanggo sa Ilaw: Though inspired by the Spanish dance fandango, this Mindoro version and Filipinized folk dance is unique for its use of three lighted oil lamps or tinghoy placed on the female dancer’s two palms and her head. These lights are said to represent fireflies fluttering at night.

•Barong Tagalog: This Filipino attire of men seems to have been inspired by the immigrants’ camisa de Chino of the olden times. The book didn’t state it, but I recall reading that the Spanish colonial overlords forbade guys to wear shirts with pockets, thus the evolution of this pocketless attire. I read also that as a sign of fashion rebellion, guys wore the Barong Tagalog with elaborate elegant designs in defiance of the snooty colonial oppressors’ coats and ties. I personally disdain the wearing of coats and ties as formal wear, preferring the cooler, lighter and more comfortable Barong Tagalog.

• Chinatown: Though many ethnic Chinese families live everywhere, Manila’s Binondo and its nearby areas have become well-known historically as “Chinatown” despite the limits of colonial-era small streets and traffic. Whenever looking for authentic but affordable Chinese foods or medicines, or wanting to buy goods at low wholesale prices in Divisoria, or gold and other jewelries, Chinatown remains popular. In recent years, realty developers have gradually changed the urban landscape of Chinatown with newer and glitzier condos. It is still an important financial hub of the Philippines.

• Sawsawan: How could most of us eat without Filipino sauces, spices, pickled vegetables and their combination, such as toyo (soy sauce derived from the Hokkien Chinese word taw-yu), patis (fish sauce), suka (vinegar) and others?

• Adobo, Balut and Pan-desal: Adobo is believed to have been brought here by the colonizers due to the Spanish word adobar meaning “to stew” and adobo meaning “to marinate or season.” However, Philippine-style adobo is vastly different and has been adapted to Filipino taste — with vinegar, garlic, bay leaf and peppercorn as preferred ingredients, plus the Chinese invention of toyo or soy sauce. Balut was a Chinese immigrant’s invention in Pateros many generations ago, while pandesal derived its name from the Spanish words “bread with salt.” The book said Sung Dynasty era Chinese bakers were already serving the public these delicious breads in Intramuros, Manila.

• Kundiman: This type of traditional and often melancholic love song flourished from the 1800s to 1930s, with the name derived from the Tagalog words kung hindi man. The most famous kundiman is Dahil sa Iyo composed by Miguel Velarde for the film Bituing Marikit.

• Banog: I didn’t know that what was once called “monkey-eating eagle” and now the “Philippine Eagle” is actually called Banog in the vernacular. The world discovered it when it was sighted by John Whitefield in Samar in 1896. It is the world’s largest eagle. Let’s help the Philippine Eagle Foundation preserves this endangered specie.

• Overseas Filipino Worker: The term “Overseas Contract Worker” became popular in the 1970s, referring mostly to Filipino workers in the Middle East. The modern-day OFWs have spread to almost all corners of the globe. The shameless depredations, high foreign debt and man-made catastrophes caused by our many irresponsible politicians are thankfully offset to a large degree by the collective hard work, sweat and tears of millions of OFWs. They should be accorded special privileges, in the same way overseas Chinese and descendants are given special privileges all over China and in the same manner members of the Jewish diaspora enjoy special privileges in their homeland of Israel.

• Jeepney: I remember Rosauro “Ross” Francisco of Francisco Motors lamenting the decline and seeming neglect of this indigenous transport industry by government. The popular competitor of his late dad as top jeepney manufacturer was the late Leopoldo Sarao. This relic from the post-World War II era is often criticized by car owners among the elite and middle-class, even by politicos, but this colorful vehicle embodies the ingenuity, creativity, innovation, grit and carefree spirit of the Philippines.

• Coconut: Called the “tree of life” and the national tree, the coconut is a healthy, useful and versatile tree and fruit that has given the Philippines so much. As early as 1642, the Spanish colonial government required each Indio or native criminal to plant 200 coconut trees. Today, the Philippine Coconut Research Institute and Philippine Coconut Authority are tasked to help increase national coconut production.

• Sampaguita: This national flower is small and fragrant, favorite for floral offerings in religious altars or for honoring guests and VIPs, or for decorating jeepneys and cars.

• Narra: Known also as naga and after which the Bicolano city was named after, narra is said to be the corrupted name of this marvelous tree endemic only to the Philippines. It is an excellent Philippine hardwood.

• Mango: Is it true the best mangoes are grown in Cebu, Zambales and Guimaras? I love this sweet and heart-shaped fruit!

• Bayanihan: The old-fashioned spirit of bayanihan reflects the early Filipino attitude of helping neighbors and strengthening ties within a community, and it derives from the Tagalog root word of bayan which refers to a community, town or a nation. In this era of bewildering globalization and non-stop flux, we should rise above the sordid scandals of Hello Garci, Wowowee and even ZTE — though I believe we should courageously resolve them with unerring truth and dispassionate justice — to galvanize the traditional Bayanihan spirit for the cause of national unity, social peace and progress.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

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