Penman No. 180: Escapade in Bohol

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Penman for Monday, December 28, 2015

 

 

YEARS AGO?I made a promise to take my wife Beng to all the beautiful places in the world I’ve been, so we’ve been traveling up a storm, flying off to whatever destination our aging knees and limited budget can still afford. The pre- and post-Christmas break is a great time for escapades like this, and we’ve run off to Shanghai and Beijing in Decembers past, availing ourselves of budget fares we’d booked months ahead for the privilege of slurping hot noodles in the freezing cold.

This year—encouraged by another irresistible combo deal on airfare and a good hotel—we chose to go down to Bohol. I’d been there a couple of times before on business and Beng and I actually found ourselves stranded there once, overnight, because our Dumaguete-bound ferry couldn’t make it through a frightful storm, so this time we decided to do a proper tour of the place, mixed in with a bit of work we both had to catch up on.

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We were lodged at the mid-range Panglao Regents Park Resort, about a 30-minute ride from the airport and a short walk to Alona Beach, a focal point not just for swimming and food but also for the innumerable dive shops that cater to showcasing Panglao’s top attraction, its underwater life. Being sedate and sedentary seniors, Beng and I contented ourselves with sipping cool mango shakes and watching the scenery, but there’s never a dearth of interesting things to look at in Bohol, whether beneath the sea or aboveground.

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We signed up for two tours: the “Chocolate Hills” tour, which takes you on a daylong ride around the island for an eyeful of its most scenic spots, and the “island-hopping” tour, which promises an early-morning rendezvous with dolphins, snorkeling and lunch at Balicasag Island, then a short detour to Virgin Island. Seasoned travelers may disdain these one-size-fits-all tours, but Beng and I never do, knowing that they’re pretty efficient and often good value for money for first-time tourists, and that ultimately it all depends on knowing what to look for, and knowing how to appreciate what you’re looking at.

It was a rainy day when we headed out for the Chocolate Hills, so the tarsiers were huddled under the branches and the hills themselves were shrouded in mist, but I took the rain in stride, seeing how it lent a certain freshness and vividness to things, and I could sense the earth exhaling after a long dry spell. The tour guide at the butterfly farm led us along with deft humor, making even dead insects come alive, and we gamely crossed the Hanging Bridge, to and fro, like schoolkids on a dare.

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I had visited the old Loboc Church before an earthquake devastated it a few years ago, so I was sad to see it covered in scaffolding, awaiting restoration. What I didn’t expect to be more deeply moved by—not being a regular churchgoer (I pray every night, but have quarrels with dogma)—was stepping into the Baclayon Church, which I had missed on my first visit. Its altar—a main retablo framed by two smaller ones—stood intact and as majestic as ever, and washed in orange, green, and blue light seemed ethereal. But behind a red cloth curtain and the yellow “Caution” warnings gaped what used to be the nave, a cavity that in the 1800s must have throbbed with pious energy, as well as with the flutter of fans and the murmur of courtships, disapprovals, and ungodly gossip.

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We set out for our island cruise at 6 am the following morning, and much to Beng’s relief the sky was clear and the water was silvery smooth. We shared our large banca with two women from Canada and another from Germany, our banter laced with the anticipation of meeting our goal for the morning: finding dolphins in the open water. I knew from previous reading that several species of dolphin and whale could be found in the Bohol Sea, but I would have been happy to spot any one of them. Dolphins feed in the morning, until about eight, so it was important that we head out quickly enough, also given that about half a dozen other boats were in the same area for the same reason.

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Our boatman, whom we’ll call Dencio, was an experienced spotter (more on his story later), and soon enough, about 30 minutes out of port, he pointed to our right, where two gray and shiny heads bobbed in and out of the water—our first of several sightings. Dolphin and whale watching is the sort of thing a CIA analyst would be good at—discerning, from the seemingly immutable pattern of cresting waves and foamy wavelets, the odd leap of a creature into the air. The Risso’s dolphins we saw (the Flipper of TV fame was a bottlenose) broke out out in pairs and trios, but for every one of them that surfaced, we were told, there were many more underwater. Dencio pushed out his boat much farther than the others did, and for a long while it felt like we were simply drifting toward Siquijor, but just as I was about to give up, I noticed a commotion in the distance—a pod of maybe a dozen spinner dolphins frolicking in the air. The whole boat came alive with glee and Dencio tried to give chase, but we were going against the waves, which had become too choppy, and the shiny caravan of fins and flippers vanished into the horizon.

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Balicasag Island is where the divers go, and was our midday stop. While our companions snorkeled in the fish sanctuary and watched giant turtles feeding on the sea grass, Beng and I ordered lunch (fresh fish, of course, broiled and kinilaw) and listened to Dencio’s story: “We used to hunt whale sharks,” he said, “and would kill two of them a day, baiting them and catching them with large hooks.” (This hook called the pamilac lent its name to Pamilacan Island nearby.) “We sold them very cheaply, not knowing that in Japan, a whale shark could sell for about half a million pesos. We could have been millionaires! We did this until a TV crew filmed what we were doing, and then a ban was imposed, so now we don’t catch whales anymore. Today you can find very large ones swimming under your boat. They’re very smart, and can sense danger. Sometimes they look straight at you with their eyes.”

On the ride back to Panglao, we stopped by Virgin Island (renamed Isola di Francesco by its private owner, who has turned the island into a religious shrine)—little more than a long curling strip of white sand with a clump of trees on one end, but serene and restful, a fine ending to a colorful day. Or rather, make that ending a Thai massage, a grilled seafood dinner, and a cold beer.

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“They’ll burn in the sun,” Beng had remarked of our European companions, who took every opportunity to swim and to laze in the tropic heat. “That’s because they’ll be flying home in a few days to an icy winter,” I said, “while we just have Manila’s traffic and pollution to deal with.” Sounds like a good reason for another escapade.

Penman No. 179: Pedestrian Pleasures

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Penman for Monday, December 21, 2015

 

THERE’S NOTHING?better we’d like to do on a weekend—unless we’re running off to some southern island or parts beyond—than to have a foot massage from our suki Tonton branch on West Avenue before taking in a movie and a Chinese or ramen dinner at Trinoma. In fact, we don’t even wait for the weekend to indulge ourselves in these pedestrian pleasures, but do this routine on a Tuesday and then again on a Thursday, whenever the spirit moves us.

Every other month or so, we do something special—we go down to Sta. Cruz (my students no longer have any idea where these districts and streets around Quiapo are), have a fried-chicken lunch at Ramon Lee’s, then check out our favorite ukay-ukay and Japanese-surplus shops on Avenida Rizal, happily carting home several bagfuls of glorious junk, with as much pleasure as we would’ve gotten from the flea markets of New York or Paris.

Beng and I cheerfully acknowledge that this must be one of the signs of aging—settling into a fairly small and thoroughly familiar comfort zone, and stepping out of it just often enough to keep things lively and to refresh the horizon. Or maybe I’m mainly speaking for myself, because Beng’s always been far more adventurous than me, especially culinarily speaking, and now and then exhales a wistful longing for some Indian food (which flusters me, because I can’t stand curry, recognizing only salt, pepper, garlic, onion, and soy sauce in the kingdom of spices and flavors).

The simple explanation is, ours is a generation used to walking a lot. And it wasn’t as if we had a choice. We grew up without cars—the richer kids had them, but not us—and even getting to the jeepney or bus stop meant walking. I remember, as a boy of nine or ten, walking from our rented place on Halcon Street along Boni Avenue in Mandaluyong to what was then Highway 54 (EDSA to you younger ones), crossing the highway, and then taking the bus to Gilmore Avenue, crossing the highway again, and walking several blocks to La Salle Green Hills (“Greenhills” was spelled as two words then)—lugging my heavy bag of books and notebooks, whose cheap unpadded leather cut into my hands. In the afternoon, I would do the same thing all over again, in reverse, unless a chauffeured classmate took pity on me and gave me a ride.

But as torturous as that routine was, it was nothing compared to the literally kilometric walks that our elders took. One of my favorite walking stories is that of the late NVM Gonzalez, who walked many kilometers from their barrio in Mindoro to the poblacion, where he could type his manuscripts in the municipio, making the long trek back in the afternoon (and when his contributions returned months later, rejected by some editor, his father would kid him and say, “Your stories are like homing pigeons!”). That’s a story I like to tell my writing students, who—with the fanciest computers and the Internet at their fingertips—will still sometimes complain about not having “enough material” or “enough time” to produce their first drafts.

Another story I recall having read somewhere involves Bienvenido Santos and Diosdado Macagapagal, who—as students of the University of the Philippines back when it was just on Padre Faura Street in Manila—walked to school together from their lodgings in Tondo. And until his death some years ago, my uncle Juan, who must have been in his nineties, thought nothing of walking the seven kilometers of mountain road between his home in Guinbirayan to the poblacion of Sta. Fe in Romblon, just to deposit the cash in his pocket to his savings account.

I myself took to walking for my health a few years ago when I was diagnosed with diabetes, and had to undergo a radical lifestyle change. Three or four laps around the UP Oval every day, Broadway blaring in my ears, quickly took care of the problem; I lost 45 pounds in five months (some of which I’ve regained since then, but my blood stats still look good).

But walking, of course, is never just a chore and never just exercise to the willful and the observant. I’ve used my long walks around campus as thinking time, composing paragraphs in my head, mulling over turns of phrase and gentler ways of expressing unpleasant truths (the sad corollaries of holding an administrative post). I enjoy the scenery—both natural and human—and store striking details, scenes, and vignettes in my head that I can use for my stories. Once, walking towards the Carbon market in Cebu, I found myself on a street full of sellers of cut flowers, in the midst of which emerged a dark, wiry man, bare from the waist up, heaving over his head a huge basket full of red roses—a veritable Charles Atlas, bearing the weight of all that beauty. That haunting image became the germ of a story I would title “Delivery,” the tale of a lie and its terrible if unintended consequences.

And many of my sharpest memories of my foreign sorties are from long walks taken on fabled boulevards and strange alleyways, very often leading to unexpected discoveries off the tourist guidebooks: a pen shop in Edinburgh, a Filipina hotel worker taking a quick puff from a balcony in Como, a pair of fierce guard dogs prowling the perimeter of a mansion in Johannesburg, beneath a copious spray of jacaranda blossoms.

So it was in this quest of adventure that Beng and I took her sister Jana and our niece Eia on a walking tour of downtown Manila a couple of weeks ago (a zone my friend Krip Yuson affectionately calls “the armpit of the city”), to reacquaint them—newly returned from many years in New York—with home, in all of its bewildering, exasperating, ammoniac intensity. We took them to our Japanese-surplus suki on Avenida and then to lunch at Ramon Lee, before essaying Escolta and the Art-Deco innards of the First United Building; we lamented the loss by fire of the old Savory Restaurant, but pressed on to Chinatown for bagfuls of hopia and ma chang (sampling the goodies both at Polland and Eng Bee Tin) before turning into Ongpin and re-emerging into Sta. Cruz and its amalgam of gold and grime.

It was a day well spent, much of it on foot, and while our soles may have complained, our spirits tingled with reawakened excitement.

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Penman No. 178: So You Want to Do a Coffee Table Book

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Penman for Monday, December 14, 2015

 

 

PEOPLE OFTEN?ask me what it takes to produce a coffee table book. As a writer and editor, I’ve been involved with quite a few of them over the past twenty years. Just a couple of weeks ago, I was happy to attend the launch of one I co-wrote with Exie Abola and Felice Sta. Maria, Lighting the Second Century, produced for Meralco by the prizewinning Studio 5 group of publisher Marily Orosa.

While I suspect I know the answer, the first thing I tell anyone who asks me is, “What do you want a coffee table book for?”

Coffee table books are not cheap, running into the millions to produce—and, with few exceptions, they don’t make money for their publishers. So why even bother? Why does every year bring a plethora of new CTBs off the presses?

Many of those books don’t even come to market—they’re never meant to be sold or to make their investment back, and therein lies the reason for their existence: not to make money so much as to make an impression, not even to the general public but among a select group of readers, fellow connoisseurs, enthusiasts, and avatars of a certain thing or idea, to whom they can be given away as promotional material.

Because they’re generally not for-profit projects and because they require a sizable investment, CTBs are almost always conceived and funded by large institutions—corporations, foundations, universities, and the government—whose leaders have found some special reason to commission a CTB.

That reason is usually to commemorate and to celebrate an important milestone—the founding of an institution, the centenary of a founder, the completion of a major undertaking. CTBs can also be used to introduce or promote a new initiative—say, a province’s tourism program. Some CTBs may seem downright frivolous and extravagant, but many do serve a higher purpose beyond public relations, as visual records of our social and economic history,

But why a book, and why a coffee table book? Even and especially in this digital age—abounding with possibilities online and with new media—print still suggests permanence and prestige. The Web reaches far more people and is practically free, but many see it as an ephemeral medium, lacking the solidity and credibility of a book in the hand. For people and institutions seeking to perpetuate some shining moments and memories, the appeal and cachet of a CTB can be hard to resist.

CTBs are relatively new on the local publishing scene, and it wasn’t until the late 1970s when Gilda Cordero Fernando came out with such landmark tomes as Turn of the Century and A Question of Heroes that this new category of “desirable object” emerged. My own first exposure to CTBs was an epic challenge, when I edited the 10-volume Kasaysayan: The Story of the Filipino People for Readers’ Digest Asia in 1998, working with and learning from such legends as our editorial consultant, the late writer Doreen Fernandez, the late designer Nik Ricio, and our indefatigable project director, Tere Custodio.

Institutions usually go to PR or ad agencies for CTB projects, which are too complicated for in-house PR units to do all by themselves. They can also be put together and undertaken by people like me, Tere, or Marily who’ve had some experience in the work involved, but even I have to assemble a crew of first-rate professionals who can deliver good work on schedule.

CTBs are, first of all, conceptualized by the client in consultation with the writer or the PR specialists. While top management can and should give the marching orders early on—purpose, theme, scope, audience, treatment, budget—it’s best if a mid-level person with some understanding of media were designated to represent the client in dealings with the creatives, with full authority to streamline decisions and processes. (My worst nightmare would be to deal with a whole board of directors, each one of whom will be dipping into the editorial pie and making a general mess of things.)

Aside from the client, the CTB team will typically comprise the project director or manager; the head writer and his or her assistants; the executive editor; the book designer or art director; the photographer; and a production or editorial assistant in charge of logistics—handling money, setting up appointments, liaising with the client, following up the paperwork.

Many future problems can be solved right at the conceptualization stage. If the book’s purpose, scope, and audience are clear from the start, expensive adjustments can be avoided later on. Schedules, budgets, and deliverables have to be established and stipulated in a contract, leaving a little wiggle room for exigencies.

A CTB is picture-intensive, and will typically have a ratio of 60/40 or even 70/30 in terms of images to text. This means that there’s absolutely no excuse in a CTB for bad photography, bad design, and bad printing. If you can’t afford to come up with a good-looking product—never mind the text for the time being—then save your money and go for a regular, black-and-white book, not a CTB. Take note that a good designer could cost more than a good writer. (My pet peeves design-wise include designers who get too fancy with typography or insist on laying out text over an image, compromising readability.)

That said, showing off a well-designed book with awful text—poorly written and riddled with grammatical errors and misspellings—will be much like going to town with a date with the looks but also the brains of a lovebird (not that some people would mind). So invest in a good writer, one possessing a mastery not only of the language but also of the material, and with the patience and maturity to deal with both the client and his or her fellow creatives.

I’ve often found that the actual writing is the easiest and most pleasurable part of the job. Dealing with and interviewing clients can be quite stressful, and there’s a saturation point one reaches with almost any project, no matter how interesting it is.

Like any other book, CTBs also require sharp editors who can look over the writers’ shoulders. I never mind being edited myself, if the editor knows what he or she is doing. (If I don’t have the time to write the books myself, I’ll sometimes offer to do the editing.) CTBs, surprisingly enough, often reveal their lack of editorial oversight in their most visible and therefore vulnerable parts—in their titles, picture captions, and the front and back matter, which tend to be the last pieces of text to come in and are easily overlooked. I’ve seen expensive and glossy books with spelling errors on their title pages!

A good CTB should be a pleasure to read and to own. It should be a showcase of the art of good writing and good design. But above all, beyond being a plaything for creatives, it should do what it was meant to do—provide useful information in a visually engaging way. The best CTBs will retain their value over time and even become heirloom pieces on their own. That’s something worth keeping in mind next time somebody with more money than sense cries, “I want a coffee table book!”

 

 

Penman No. 177: Compress, One More, Wacky!

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Penman for Monday, December 7, 2015

 

 

GET SEVEN?or more Pinoys together for a group photo and you’ll invariably hear this mantra: “Compress! One more! Wacky!” To the uninitiated foreigner—already surprised by our propensity to grab them by the arm for a quick and giggly shot—they’re orders that demand translation, so here goes:

“Compress!” technically means that not everyone can fit into the shot and that everyone should therefore squeeze together, at which point people will take a deep breath and turn sideways, turning a 40” midsection into what they imagine is a svelter 38”. This process can morph into a quick trip-to-Jerusalem rearrangement of the subjects, if the hold-your-breath trick doesn’t work. “Small ones in front!” or “Kneel! Kneel!” will be the next order of business, followed by a flurry of to-ing and fro-ing, and split-second negotiations over who’s taller than the other by half an inch, or whose knees can take the bending.

“Compress!” can also mean some young swain’s opportunity to snuggle up to an unsuspecting loved one. But even without the side benefit of romance, “Compress!” manifests the Pinoy’s sense of personal space, which is to say, ”I’ll let you dig your elbow into my rib cage, or touch your knee against mine—but I warn you, go no further, lest you think me immodest!”

The coming of the selfie—or more precisely, that new word I picked up from a book launch last week, the “groufie”—has made compression even more necessary than ever—which, let’s admit it, is a lot more fun than the scientific solution, which is to get a wider-angle lens.

“One more!” reaffirms the Pinoy’s fatalistic conviction that something will surely go wrong and that the first shot taken will prove to be a bad one, or will mysteriously vanish into some dark photographic abyss, from which no memorable snapshot ever returneth. This seems to have been more likely to happen in the bygone days of film, when everything from a faulty sprocket to invasive sunlight could spoil the most carefully posed portrait. But the onset of digital photography has clearly offered no measure of assurance to the Pinoy, who remains deathly suspicious of solitary shots, and who will scream, from the back of the pack, “One more!,” as if the course of history depended on the preservation of that instant.

And so the photographer dutifully fires off a few more shots, giving the subjects a chance to modulate and modify their poses and expressions—more often for naught, because the Pinoy’s fatalistic conviction that something will surely go wrong just happens to be correct, and the camera almost always takes the shot at the worst possible millisecond, when one’s mouth is half-open or one’s eyes are half-closed. This foreknowledge, seared by experience into the Pinoy’s subconscious, likely accounts for the multiplicity of shots taken at every occasion, and “One more!” is never meant to be taken literally, but rather to resound like an echo.

Let’s not forget the equally inevitable complication to this phase. Just when it seems all the angles have been exhausted and the smiles have dried on people’s incisors, some latecomer—who had been blithely chatting away on her cellphone across the grounds, in full view of the pictorial entourage—just has to make a mad dash across the grass, yelling, “Wait! Me, too!” And being the world’s most hospitable people, Pinoys will invariably accommodate the catcher-upper with a frozen smile, even as their eyes glare at her like live coals. And having wedged herself into the frame with a cheery sigh, Ms. Latecomer, of course, will have every right to demand “One more!”

“Wacky!” is probably the most perplexing word in the vocabulary of Pinoy photography for the foreign observer. “Compress!” and “One more!” at least make practical sense, but the command to go “Wacky!”—sometimes given in dead seriousness by some phlegmatic photographer—taxes Occidental logic. To visitors who’ve never witnessed it—meaning, you haven’t been here for more than 24 hours—“Wacky!” means assuming some ridiculous stance, or putting on a clownish face, the permutations of which are theoretically endless, but which typically reduce themselves to tongues stuck out, googly eyes, hands like Mickey Mouse ears, and poses like zombies or broken marionettes.

It isn’t all that strange when the subjects of the “Wacky!” shot are fifteen years old and younger—after all, it’s second nature to juveniles, who don’t need to be asked to act like they were, well, kids. It approaches the bizarre when—say at the closing of the 16th Annual Meeting of the Southeast Asian Society of Gerontology or of the National Consultative Assembly of Tripartite Wage Boards—grown men and women in shiny barongs and power suits are exhorted to do their “Wacky!” best, and deliver on demand.

Professional anthropologists and sociologists (who do the same thing at their conventions, for certain) will have a proper explanation for this behavior, but it can’t be too far-fetched to surmise that the photographic display of Pinoy wackiness is meant to be a healthy release of our inhibitions, even a democratizing gesture of self-effacement and bonhomie. It’s good to look and feel silly once in a while. Never mind that, given our itch to socialize, to see and be seen, “once in a while” happens three times a week on average.

As Paul Anka put it, “the times of your life” will always be worth remembering, and always worth compressing for, one more time, the wackier the better.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Penman No. 176: The Heart’s Serenade

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Penman for Monday, November 30, 2015

 

I WAS down in Davao a couple of weekends ago to speak at the Philippine International Writers Festival organized by the National Book Development Board, and while these festivals and conferences can become a repetitive blur after a while, I’m always happy to attend them, because they’re a chance to meet with many new writers as well as to touch base again with old friends.

This time around, I felt particularly lucky to have had breakfast at the same table with Dr. Michael “Mike” Coroza, a guy I’d been meaning to have a chat with for a long time. The reason was that my wife Beng and I have been fans of Mike’s weekly radio program, “Harana ng Puso,” which goes on the air every Sunday from 8 to 10 pm on DWBR, 104.3 FM. Like many members of our generation, Beng and I have remained avid radio listeners even in this age of the Internet and satellite TV—an interest abetted by Manila’s horrendous traffic, in the grip of which radio often offers the only consolation.

Marikina-born and bred but with family roots in Laguna, Mike—who teaches literature at the Ateneo—is one of our finest poets in Filipino, a SEAwrite awardee who also happens to be a proponent and practitioner of the balagtasan, the traditional Tagalog poetic joust that used to cap many a fiesta celebration. He has taken the balagtasan to appreciative audiences in America, parrying the thrusts of his longtime stage rival, fellow poet Teo Antonio.

It was, however, Mike’s other passion—the kundiman—that prompted me to sidle up to him at breakfast in Davao and to confess to being a follower of his radio program, which will be celebrating its tenth anniversary next February.

Almost certainly one of its kind in Philippine radio, “Harana ng Puso” features performances of the kundiman as sung by such mainstays as the seemingly immortal Mabuhay Singers (composed of individual members Raye Lucero, Cely Bautista, Emma Lucero, Peping de Leon, Eddie Suarez, and Jimmy Salonga) and such occasional guests as the late singers Susan Fernandez and Gamaliel Viray, and Armida Siguion-Reyna, Heber Bartolome, and Joey Ayala. The talented and irrepressible amateur Sonia Roco—among other friends of the program—also sings frequently on the show. They’re all accompanied by the nimble-fingered Eddie Suarez, who can make a guitar sound like an orchestra, without any sheet music to boot.

Mike’s love affair with the kundiman began as a boy in Marikina, when he would listen to Tia Dely’s musical program, “Serenatang Kumbidahan,” on DZRH. (Being older than Mike, I too recall long afternoons in Pasig with my ear glued to the transistor radio—then as big as a shoebox—on which I would follow both musical and dramatic programs. The romance of radio is a hard one to explain to millennials—try movies without the pictures, which made a show like “Gabi ng Lagim” even scarier, with the imagination supplying the imagery.) The iconic Tia Dely (Fidela Magpayo in real life) died in 2008, and her program ended in 2005, but by that time Mike had already convinced the late DWBR station manager Jun Ruiz to host “Harana ng Puso” as the station’s contribution to the promotion of traditional Filipino music.

Thanks to that support, Filipino listeners can now enjoy two hours of the kundiman every Sunday evening, rendered with informed expressiveness by people whose own musical careers have been synonymous with the form, in the footsteps of such legends as the late Ruben Tagalog (who, despite his name, was actually from Iloilo) and Ric Manrique, Jr. Both Ruben and Ric were, incidentally, members of the Mabuhay Singers, which had been formed by the Villar Recording Company in 1958.

The kundiman’s origins continue to be debated; while today primarily Tagalog, some scholars trace its roots to the Visayas. “At some point,” says Mike, “the kundiman was so popular that translations would be made into Spanish by the likes of Manuel Bernabe and Jesus Balmori.” The form was refined and brought to its apex by such master composers as Francisco Santiago (“Madaling Araw,” “Pakiusap”) and Nicanor Abelardo (“Nasaan Ka, Irog?”, “Bituing Marikit”—and I’d have to add the music to “UP Beloved,” later “UP Naming Mahal”).

“It seems to me,” I told Mike half in jest, “that all the kundiman ever says is ‘I love you and and if you don’t love me, too, then I will kill myself!’” He laughed and said, “Well, that’s true, but it wasn’t always all about romantic love.” He brought up the example of the kundiman “Jocelynang Baliuag,” popular among Filipino insurrectos during the revolution against Spain, where the beloved is allegorically not just a beautiful woman but Freedom herself.

Outside of Sundays, I get my kundiman fix on YouTube, but there’s still nothing like hearing it on the air like a live serenade, which is what Mike Coroza and his deathless crew endeavor to do with their show—which, incidentally, Mike hosts pro bono, as a labor of love. “We survive on donations,” he says, “on the kindness of compatriots who feel as strongly as I do about the need to preserve this most Filipino of musical forms.”

If you feel like giving Mike Coroza and the kundiman a helping hand, get in touch with him at mcoroza@ateneo.edu. “Harana ng Puso” is a serenade well worth crooning and listening to for many more decades to come.