Minamata City is certainly moving forward and learning from the past.
[Image credit: Act-B Recycling/Yunoko, retrieved from act-b.co.jp/eng/environment/rine.html]

Kazehozonkai’s acoustic music and a simple story of friendship across oceans

Where is the photo bomber? :) Seriously, this is my friend, Michikazu Iseri of Kazehozonkai. This was taken in Germany in 2004, where we met during the International Conference for Renewable Energies.

Where is the photo bomber? :) Seriously, this is my friend, Michikazu Iseri of Kazehozonkai. This was taken in Germany in 2004, where we met during the International Conference for Renewable Energies.

I had closed 2015 and begun 2016 by keeping in touch with old friends. I have traveled quite extensively and can say with gratitude that some of the ‘strangers’ I had met in those travels have eventually become long-time friends.

One of them is Michikazu Iseri. I met him in 2004, when I attended the International Conference for Renewable Energies in Germany. (As I typed this, it made me glad that Iseri and I had managed to be friends for more than a decade already, despite the distance. Thanks to modern technology indeed!)

Iseri (as how we fondly called him in Germany), is a visiting professor at Kumamoto University and a senior writer for the Kumamoto Daily News in Japan. He joined the newspaper after his studies in Keio University and the University of California at Berkley. He began his career in the daily newspaper as a reporter, eventually becoming political editor, cultural editor, and editorial writer. He was later seconded to the Kumamoto University and currently serves as a professor in journalism.

He has been covering mercury contamination and poisoning since 2001. This interest has  led him to study Minamata disease (M.d.) extensively. He then authored the book, Countries that learned from Minamata: Mercury control and management (in Japanese language) If I will recall our conversations during our Germany trip, I think this is a topic that somehow started our bond as friends (not mentioning, of course, Iseri’s light bantering and sense of humor). It was a sad topic, of course, but if I will look back at my own personal and professional journey, I would probably consider my trip to Minamata, Japan (many years ago) as a turning point.

It may be recalled that the methylmercury (MeHg) poisoning in Minamata is a result of one of the most serious environmental disasters in the world. It was caused by effluents containing the highly toxic methylmercury, which was released by the plant of Chisso, a chemical company. The discharge effluent contaminated the Minamata Bay and bio-accumulated in fish and seashells, which form a significant part of the diet of the local population (Allchin, n.d.). (This is a very serious environmental disaster that everyone must read about so I encourage you to read more about it. The article of Allchin is a good start.)

While I had really planned to be involved in social development and environment when I entered UP, the trip to Minamata was somehow a major point where my decision to build my career in these areas had somehow taken a more defined shape and clearer directions. In Minamata, I had seen the horrors of mercury poisoning, a likely consequence of a lack of or poor environmental management systems and negligence in pursuit of economic activities. I am sure no one wanted it to happen but, hopefully, the lessons will remind us constantly of the importance of appreciating (and respecting) the inextricable link between the environment and health. A positive outcome from this sad past is that Minamata is now seriously redeveloping the city based on sustainable and ‘eco-township’ principles (Minamata City Government, n.d.).

That was why meeting Iseri and then later becoming friends with him is somehow another meaningful synchronicity in my life. Iseri might have not realized it yet but I have always been a fan of Japan, its people, culture, arts, and history.  While there are sad realities in our shared history as warring nations, Japan and the Philippines share universal truths and values such as love for the arts and, among them, music. This is where this piece evolves from.

More than a decade later, Iseri and I still manage to keep in touch. My husband (JR) was the one who rummaged through our boxes and found this picture of me and Iseri taken 12 years ago outside a cafe in Germany. (I will welcome an email from anyone in Germany who can tell me the name of this nice cafe!) [I cannot remember it anymore but I have this feeling that this picture was actually sent by Iseri via post. I will ask him!]

More than a decade later, Iseri and I still manage to keep in touch. My husband (JR) was the one who rummaged through our boxes and found this picture of me and Iseri taken 12 years ago outside a cafe in Germany. [I cannot remember it anymore but I have this feeling that this picture was actually sent by Iseri via post. I will ask him!]

As I said earlier, I was in a bit of nostalgic mood a month ago so I sent Iseri (and my other friends) a Christmas-new year note with the announcement of my new email address. Bless his usual kind heart, he emailed back with a very nice update – he is part of an acoustic guitar duo called, Kazehozonkai!

Kazehozonkai (loosely translated as “Wind Preservation Society”) is based in Kumamoto, Japan. It plays and does its best to popularize the songs of Shozo Ise, a Japanese singer-songwriter,  to the next generations. Kazehozonkai, while inspired by the music of Shozo Ise, also plays other songs. Iseri is accompanied by Yuji Tsuyama.

Yuji is currently editor of the Newspaper in Education program of the Kumamoto Daily Newspaper. Born in 1958, he graduated from the Kumamoto University and joined the paper in 1981. He began his career in the newspaper as a reporter, later becoming a copy editor. He  enjoys listening to and playing folk and rock music.

Kazehozonkai is not a ‘big’ name (at least, not yet) but I think that the Japanese community and music lovers will enjoy listening to them (as much as I and my husband did!). I am not a music expert (so please forgive my bias) but listening to their songs made our breakfast that December morning more enjoyable and relaxing. Don’t expect much drama or rock-star-gyrating performance but expect to be serenaded and brought to a place where there are sweet notes of nostalgia, bittersweet memories, and heartfelt joys and awakenings.

Here are links to two of the duo’s performances. I have also asked Iseri to translate the songs into English.

Nijunisainowakare (“22-year-old farewell”)

Lyrics’ translation

That I can say “Good-bye” to you is only today. If I touch your warm hand tomorrow, probably I couldn’t say it. I could no longer wait for you and I have chosen the happiness, which appears in front of me.

You placed 22 candles on the cake on my birthday, and you said “Each candle was your life.”  From the 17th candle, we lit together.

This memory seems to me as if it were only yesterday. Now these 5 years may be called “Too long spring” for me, who is about to marry the man whom you don’t know. If you hear my wish, I hope you to remain you, of now, all the time, from now on. (Translated by M. Iseri)

Kaigandori (“Seaside Street”)

Lyrics’ translation

You have chosen a ship. Is it from your consideration for me?

Why didn’t I notice that a cord that links a person to a departing passenger, to see him off, was cut? The sun setting in the harbor is very beautiful, isn’t it?

 The ship you boarded is getting smaller.

 The sea of the daybreak is sad. It is seen from you by the seaside street.

I should have remained a ‘younger sister’, as you said. I did not want to hear, in your gentle arm, that you will leave this town someday.

The ship you boarded is getting smaller, leaving waves in the sea, just like yesterday. (Translated by M. Iseri)

These two songs really stirred my soul and when Iseri sent me the English translations, I fully understood why I felt some bittersweet kind of emotions when I listened to them the first time. :)

Kazehozonkai also performs pop and soft rock music and here is its rendition of Hotel California (by Eagles).

I hope that through this post, you will know more about Japan and find another reason to reconnect with old friends, near and far.  Someday soon, I will be traveling to Japan again (this time with a husband beside me!), reconnect with Iseri and my other friends there, and hopefully, stay longer.





Allchin, D. (n.d.) The poisoning of Minamata. Retrieved from https://www1.umn.edu/ships/ethics/minamata.htm

Minamata City Government. (n.d.). Minamata, Environmental City – Model Environmental City Manual. Retrieved from http://www.city.minamata.lg.jp/1000.html

Recommended reading: Lessons from Minamata Disease and Mercury Management in Japan, Ministry of the Environment (Japan). Retrieved from https://www.env.go.jp/chemi/tmms/pr-m/mat01/en_full.pdf

Image credits:

Minamata City image credit (top-most): Act-B Recycling Company (through “Yunoko”), retrieved from http://www.act-b.co.jp/eng/environment/rine.html


This is not a paid blog. There is no request for donation but I hope you can plant a tree/s on your birthday/s. :)

The proposed (commissioned) project, Klarastaden, a series of apartment structures and elevated sidewalks ("skyways"), planned to be built in downtown Stockholm.(Image credits: Anders Berensson Architects. This image also appeared in TechInsider.)

Of sky ways and serendipitous moments – envisioning sky bike lanes for Metro Manila

The proposed (commissioned) project, Klarastaden, a series of apartment structures and elevated sidewalks ("skyways"), planned to be built in downtown Stockholm.(Image credits: Anders Berensson Architects. This image also appeared in TechInsider.)

The proposed (commissioned) project, Klarastaden, a series of apartment structures and elevated sidewalks (“skyways”), planned to be built in downtown Stockholm.(Image credits: Anders Berensson Architects. This image also appeared in TechInsider.)

Note: This article first appeared in my Linked Pulse page. (Image credits: Anders Berensson Architects. This image also appeared in TechInsider.)

UPDATE: I am requesting feedback from Metro Manila residents. If you are from Metro Manila (or usually travel here), please answer a brief survey form here. You may also want to drop by the interim website for this dream project. Thank you!


Metro Manila’s traffic – why this idea came about

Sky bike lanes, anyone?

For a Metro Manila resident like me, this seems like a bright idea. The worsening traffic situation in Metro Manila has always been cited as among the most urgent problems that the country’s administrators should be dealing with. In fact, a study done by traffic and navigation app, Waze, revealed that Metro Manila has the “worst traffic on earth”, on a city level perspective (Waze, 2015). Through the Waze study, it was estimated that travel time here–from home to the work place–is about 45.5 minutes. The article did not indicate actual points of origin and destination but let us assume that the average is a good representation of the respondents’ daily commute. However, there may be some discrepancy if the respondents are mostly commuters who use public transportation. (I assume that Waze is mostly used by private car drivers and passengers at this stage.)

Clearly, the government and private sector need to put their acts together in order to come up with clear solutions. The traffic situation in Metro Manila can only be solved through a combination of policy, infrastructural, and behavior-based interventions. (For this article, let me focus on an infrastructural intervention as I also plan to discuss the other two in one of my future posts.)

One of the steps that we can consider is the building of bike lanes–not on the existing road networks but high up there, on elevated platforms. Obviously, Metro Manila’s roads can no longer accommodate new and separate bike lanes. However, is this idea of elevated bike lanes feasible? It has been lingering in my mind for the past couple of months.

The Klarasden’s sky way – can a bike-focused version be done?

They say that the universe “hears” us if we just verbalize our thoughts. I think what happened recently demonstrates that this saying is indeed true. You see, I came across a TechInsider article about the project, Klarastaden, through Linkedin just the other day. (I must thank my new online friend, Pia K Töre-Wallin, again for sharing the link!)

A bike-focused version of the Klarastaden’s sky way is something that crossed my mind a couple of months ago, as my husband and I were walking and discussing how the lives of Metro Manila urbanites are impacted negatively by the horrendous traffic situation. I told him about my dream to build floating or “sky bike lanes” as I called them. Back then, I was half-thinking it is a crazy idea. However, the other half of my brain is saying that the idea is very feasible.

Biking and the provision of bike lanes had always been proposed by environmental advocates but let us admit that Metro Manila can no longer afford to build separate roads for bike lanes (or even divide the existing roads to allow a portion for bike lanes).

Nowadays, there are brave souls who bike to work (how I admire their courage!), right alongside trucks, buses, jeepneys, and cars, so one can imagine the risks and dangers that these bikers are facing everyday (not to mention the health impacts of pollution). Marikina City was able to allot separate bike lanes, unfortunately, it is a small part of Metro Manila only. Nevertheless, we need to commend the city’s efforts and vision.

I have always envisioned a greener and more sustainable Metro Manila where bikers have their “own” roads and pathways and where they will feel safe and happy as they go to their offices and come home to their families.

I have always envisioned a greener and more sustainable Metro Manila where bikers have their “own” roads and pathways and where they will feel safe and happy as they go to their offices and come home to their families .Unfortunately, the city has no more extra space. And that is why I told my husband, “We should build sky bike lanes!”, in my most resolute voice.

“Fast forward” to Tuesday when I saw the article about Klarastaden - it dawned on me that, perhaps, my idea is not a crazy one! Yesterday, when I opened my Linkedin, I saw that two of my friends (one of them is Pia)  also found the idea cool! I eventually surmised that  I can probably work on this topic as my master’s thesis. (I am completing my course work, Master of Environment and Natural Resources Management, this year, at the University of the Philippines – Open University.) [UPDATE as of 16-Feb-16: I am glad to discover yesterday that two cities–Copenhagen and London–are actually thinking of building this type of bike lanes as well! In fact, as of this writing, Copenhagen has already completed  Cykelslangen (or “The Bicycle Snake”) and a bicycle and pedestrian bridge, which they call Bryggebroen. The London version called, SkyCycle, is still under consideration. These positive news certainly motivate me to continue building this idea on and, hopefully, we can also build similar bike lanes for Metro Manila!]

While the idea is beginning to take some shape, a feasibility study is still crucial. It is also important to know if the group of Mr. Berensson (and other stakeholders) will be willing to work with me on this gigantic project. [UPDATE as of 14-Jan-2016: I received a brief but positive and encouraging reply from Mr. Berensson. Nothing is final and no paper has been signed between us but he expressed his initial interest. If all goes well and there is no obstacle such as conflict in schedules, I am hopeful that his team will be on board.]

I propose the setting up of a team through which we can develop a feasibility study and gather support from partners and stakeholders. A sub-team will take care of the research requirements. For example, we will need traffic data, conduct market analysis  and scenario building, look at the demographics and health outcome, calculate GHG emission reduction, compare policy studies, and do other related tasks. Meanwhile, another sub-team can take care of the design part. A consortium may be established later on (e.g., during the construction phase).

This proposed project considers the thinking that, in an ideal world, commuters who use both motorized and non-motorized vehicles should co-exist and share the roads. In fact, in this kind of world, separate or even partially segregated bike lanes are not significantly necessary. In such a world, bikers have more confidence, knowing that they are respected on the road, in the same way that the bikers also know that they need to respect the rights of other drivers. However, it takes time to build this ideal world. Behavioral change evolves over a long time and sometimes, without the necessary impetus and public cooperation, it may not even be realized. In the meantime, the quality of life of Metro Manila dwellers is continuously deteriorating. Either we continue to work for and wait for the ideal world to happen–without any guarantee for success–or do something about our situation now.

The feasibility study will generate more data and insights, which will help us answer the question on viability in a more scientific and comprehensive manner.

Design features and considerations

Many features and considerations must be laid down on the drawing table as we envision such an infrastructure. Here are some of them:

1. To the extent possible, the sky bike lanes must be near or accessible to and from the existing MRT/LRT lines. (It will be better if they can be integrated.)

2. The primary sky bike lanes should pass through or built alongside EDSA and C5 (the city’s core road networks) but should have connecting lanes to other major roads nearest and within the key business districts like  Eastwood Business District, Ortigas Center, and Makati City.

3. This may be a far-fetched or nearly-impossible idea but industrial-sized air purifiers may be installed along the sky bike lanes. Eventually, with more people taking the bikes and leaving their cars at home, pollution level will hopefully go down – but of course, this assumes that the number of bikers will grow progressively as the population also grows. If this idea is really impossible or expansive to do, we can build natural/organic anti-air pollution systems. (See no. 4 below.)

4. To make the design greener and healthier, we can put up small sky gardens or simple plant boxes along or hanging from the inner and outer walls.

5. We can also put solar panels along the outer walls (or roofs). This will depend on many factors, of course, but we can also look at its feasibility.

Structural soundness

We also need to look at issues related to structural soundness. Two aspects should be at the top of the list.

1. The system should apply a forward-looking design. The bike lanes will most likely become very popular that an increasing number of people would want to use it over the years. How can we ensure a stable design? Of course, we cannot build very wide bike lanes but our design should be wide enough that they can accommodate more bikers in the long term.

2. The design should also consider locational and environmental challenges (e.g., natural disasters or “acts of God” like earthquake, strong typhoons, etc.).

Financing considerations

Moreover, the idea, if indeed viable, requires massive inputs and resources. The following are potential entry points for resource mobilization and financing.

1. Foremost in mind (as well as suggested by a friend and former project colleague, Abby Catucod) is a public-private partnership (PPP) structure that may be established for this undertaking. Development agencies may likewise be tapped.

2. There should be private sector “buy-in” to distribute and share some of the costs. For example, malls and shopping centers can fund the lanes near them but they may be allowed to build small side cafes or drink kiosks–these will be useful for thirsty/hungry bikers; to encourage more bikers, banks may be requested or required to offer loans for the purchase of bicycles (particularly for those who need them).

3. We must ensure sustainable upkeep and maintenance. For example, should the use be totally free for the public? Or should there be minimal users’ fees similar to the practice of toll fees? Will a payment scheme make the people use it less? Are people willing to pay? A market study may be able to help us answer these questions.

Policy scenarios and climate change

Finally, we also need to look at the implication and contribution to the over-arching goals on climate change mitigation and adaptation and sustainable development. For one, it must be stressed that the construction of sky bike lanes should happen alongside other transportation-related policies and interventions such as improvement of mass transport systems, use of cleaner fuels, and better transportation demand management.

I have been part of a study called, Integrated Environmental Strategies, in 2004 and through the project, our team looked at different transport-related policy scenarios and their combination. The analysis– which involved modeling (to estimate emissions reduction), health effects estimation, and economic valuation–predicted a significant improvement in air quality if all or most of the different policies are implemented. While the study team did not see any significant reduction in the level of particulate matter (PM) through the use of bike lanes alone, “applying the combination of measures…is forecast to cause a dramatic improvement in PM levels” (McNamara, et al., 2005).

Our 2004 study did not focus significantly on the impact to traffic reduction so the future team must look at this area. Some of the IES approach may actually be useful. (For those interested to read our Final Report, you may get a copy from this link. The material is also listed in the References below.)

I hope that this exploratory material will excite many potential stakeholders and, together, we can ponder on this further, and hopefully, make it possible. This is rather brief so I hope to keep on updating it in the course of the next few weeks or possibly write new updates.

I would appreciate it if you can respond to a quick/informal survey, which I had developed for this idea. Please go to this link. You may also want to drop by the interim website for this dream project. Thank you!


McNamara, D., Subida, R., Velas, M.A., Andres, F., Vergel, K., Anglo E.,…Ibay, A.C. (2005). Integrated Environmental Strategies – Philippines Project Report Metropolitan Manila (Focus on the Transport Sector), Manila Observatory. Available at http://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/pnadj320.pdf

Waze. (2015). Global Driver Satisfaction Index. Available at http://wazeblogs-en.blogspot.ie/2015_09_01_archive.html


This is not a paid blog. There is no request for donation but please plant a tree on your birthday/s.

January is about new beginnings. [Sketch and calligraphy by M. Velas-Suarin]

January asks you to write it down

A blessed and fun-filled new year to you all, dear friends and readers! It is January and a good time to celebrate and give thanks, take stock of the lessons of the previous year, and make new plans (to others – resolution!) for the next 12 months. It is not typical of me to write down a new year’s resolution because I do believe that planning (and even the changing of plans) should and can happen anytime of the year. I also try my best to live in the moment—to the extent possible—and instead of a list of annual resolution, JR (the hubby) and I do make and share a vision board. Our ‘major’ aspirations are there and we would always look at it to keep us motivated, inspired, and grateful.

January is about new beginnings. [Sketch and calligraphy by M. Velas-Suarin]

January is about new beginnings. [Sketch and calligraphy by M. Velas-Suarin]

It is also more typical of me to make daily/weekly plans (more like a “Things to do” list) and sometimes, I don’t even write them down. With or without a physical list, I commit my plans to memory, then tick off the list as I went along. Somehow, this practice of making a list (with or without a paper) gives me a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction, particularly after finishing off some tasks for the day or the week. This still works for me (that is, “writing in my mind” half of the time) but, this year, I will try my best to write my plans more on paper. I don’t want to end up becoming so obsessed with it that I will be less flexible—I still believe there is wisdom in balancing  strength and resoluteness with flexibility—but this time around, I would devote more time in writing things down.  I think writing helps us in analyzing things better and gives us clear directions. Of course, we also need to learn from the wisdom of others–including mentors, role models, and thought leaders–so it won’t hurt to read more and allow ourselves greater opportunities to be more circumspect.

Actually, professionally, I am a combination of a big-picture and detail-oriented type of person (I always carry a pen and a notebook in all my meetings just so I won’t forget anything crucial) and I think this is something that really helped a lot of professionals and entrepreneurs to grow and achieve more.  I tell myself now–if that professional side always remember to write things down, why can’t I apply such discipline and diligence in my personal life, right? Therefore, let this post motivate you and me, and together, let’s say and claim, “We will put our goals on paper more, commit to work on them more passionately, and achieve great things not just for ourselves but for this world!”

I am also wishing you all a blessed year through this post! Above is a simple art work (my gift to you!) that says, January is about new beginnings. (They say we must not apologize for our artistic works but, really, I have become “rusty” in my sketching skills and watercolor painting is still a weak spot—so this sketch will most likely be replaced when I am in a more artistic mood!) Creative or not, I hope this little sketch will inspire you to embark on your new beginnings!

Yes, let us allow January to make us feel new and re-energized! And what a better way to start 2016 than by writing your thoughts down – be they resolution, plans, aspirations, life’s goals, and to-do-lists. Somehow, by writing things down, we are offered a physical reminder so those notes (and reminders to ourselves) will most likely keep us focused and motivated. There had been many articles about this already so I won’t bore you with what others already said about the importance of writing our goals down. (However, if you need to read one, this article is very brief. And while we are at it, I would also recommend this article about why many new year’s resolutions fail. This might be too simplistic but it makes sense.)

As for this blog (and my creative practice—if you will call these little pieces as artistic enough–wink! Wink!), I will do my best to share a post and a painting/sketch that will go with the month’s theme, at least on the first two weeks of each month. In between, I will really do my best to post more.

If you also want to guest-blog here, I will be more than happy to share meiLBOX as your writing and blogging platform. Enjoy 2016, everyone! Let us claim and be thankful for God’s never-ending gifts and graces. And yes, let’s make January the start of great new beginnings!





This is not a paid blog. (I do not ask for any donation but I hope you can plant a tree on your birthday/s.)

Misa de Aguinaldo – a journey of love and thanksgiving

Christmas reminds us of the most powerful LOVE that we will ever experience. [Nativity scene at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Quezon City. Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

Christmas reminds us of the most powerful LOVE that we will ever experience. [Nativity scene at Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Quezon City. Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

It is a little embarrassing to admit but I have never ever completed the nine-day Christmas devotion and novena called Misa de Aguinaldo (may be literally translated as “Gift Mass” but usually referred to as “Simbang Gabi” in Tagalog). When I was still young and single, I tried so hard to attend the mass for nine days but it is indeed tough to wake up at such a very early hour.  The mass usually begins at 4:00 or 4:30 am so that means one has to be up by 3:00 am (or earlier) if s/he wants to be seated at the Church before the mass begins.

Now that I am  older, and hopefully, wiser, I am all the more inspired and determined to try my best to attend most if not all the dawn masses for nine days. I told myself, this year is a perfect time to give it my best shot. It’s a long overdue “gift” to God and if I can inspire a few more souls to do this, too, I will be very happy. It is actually a little tougher this time because I am no longer in my youthful days (wink!) but I feel I am in a better place because I now have a husband (a perfect companion!), who is also determined to go on this simple spiritual journey with me, and of course, willing to drive us to the churches every day for nine days.

We decided that we will be visiting nine different churches in Quezon City (QC) instead of simply going to the nearest church because we want to make the journey deeper and more meaningful. We also want to share the experience with others, with the hope that it will inspire you to embark on your own simple devotion and thanksgiving with your loved ones as you prepare for Christmas. We’re also considering this pilgrimage as a perfect way to read more about the lives of our saints and the history of our churches. We hope this post can also be a helpful guide to those (especially QC residents) who are not yet sure where to go and in what time do the dawn masses actually begin. (Note: I had written this blog over the 9-day period so beginning from Day 5, I began writing the entries on a daily basis. The first post covered Days 1 to 4 and was published last Dec. 20 and Day 9 entry was published today, Dec. 24.)

DAY 1 (December 16): Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish (established in October 1941)

#28 Scout Ybardolaza St., Kamuning, Quezon City; tel nos. (02) 929-0419 and 415-435

Simbang Gabi here begins at 4:00 am.

We decided to begin our Simbang Gabi here because this is among our favorite churches as a couple. We used to live in New Manila so we often attended Sunday masses here or the Pink Sisters Convent. (Admittedly, there is a minor planning error on our first Simbang Gabi because we thought the mass here will also begin at 4:30 am, similar to the schedules of the other churches! Fortunately, we arrived early enough to make it to the Gospel but because we were late, we had to stand outside, near one of the doors.) We considered it another blessing because one of our favorite priests (and the current parish priest), Reverend Father Jerome Marquez, SVD, officiated the mass, our first Simbang Gabi as a married couple. We admire him because his sermons are always heart-felt and he manages to inject stories and humor when he shares the Word of our Lord. We also appreciate the fact that he is the type of priest who blesses the churchgoers (after the holy masses) with the blessed water so diligently and passionately that many are reached (of course, those in front may feel like the water is some glorious rain pouring down on them–I am sure no one is complaining!) [Father Jerome, if you are reading this, know that many of us really thank you for such simple act of sharing God's touch--keep the blessed water pouring over us and God bless your strong arms!]

The Advent Wreath in Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Quezon City [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

The Advent Wreath in Sacred Heart of Jesus Parish in Quezon City [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

On this special day, the Gospel is from Luke 7:19-23, where the story of Jesus miracles and healing is shared. Father Jerome also spoke about the true meaning of the Misa de Aguinaldo, that of thanksgiving because we were given the best and most important “aguinaldo”, through Jesus Christ. The mass also reminds us to honor Mama Mary, the Mother of God, because she bore Jesus for nine months and became the instrument through which we were able to experience God’s love. As a Catholic, we grew up knowing our sacraments and Church teachings but embarking on this simple devotion made me appreciate our faith and traditions more. Looking at the huge crowd and families who woke up earlier than usual and walked/commuted or driven to the church at a very early hour is moving and inspiring. I felt a sense of community.

DAY 2 (December 17): Parish of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary (formally established in 1988, although, according to Erineus*– I assume he is a blogging priest–it used to be an old chapel prior to its formal establishment)

Daily Mirror St. cor. Bulletin St., West Triangle, Quezon City; tel. nos. (02) 372-1037 and 371-9102

Simbang Gabi here begins at 4:30 am.

Facade of the Parish of the Hearts of Jesus & Mary, at dawn [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

Facade of the Parish of the Hearts of Jesus & Mary, at dawn [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

This beautiful church is a newly-discovered place of worship for me and hubby (JR). It was only our second time to visit this church and the first time was borne out of a desire to discover new churches in our immediate neighborhood. It is a beautiful church and upon checking in Google, I discovered it is among couples’ favorite churches for weddings, particularly those who prefer the intimacy of smaller venues.

We were happy to be seated near the front as we arrived around 4:15 am. We also appreciated the fact that the early church goers were reciting the rosary prayer before the mass. Therefore, early-birds who really want to do more prayers may want to arrive at 4:00 am so you can also join the rosary prayer.

The Nativity Scene at the Parish of Hearts of Jesus & Mary [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

The Nativity Scene at the Parish of Hearts of Jesus & Mary [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

For this second day of the Simbang Gabi, the Gospel (Matthew 1:1-17) and sermon centered on the genealogy of Jesus Christ, taking all of us into the generations of people and families before and during the time of our Savior. The priest spoke about the need to know and understand human frailties and stories of the people in Jesus’ time because it is only through this appreciation can we also understand our humanity and our participation in the divine mission. This mass reminded me once again of our human weaknesses–how it is so difficult to remain good and hopeful in the middle of chaos, confusion, and struggles. This will always be the biggest challenge to all of us, people from all walks of life and faith–we are often confronted with questions like, “How do we remain in the right path amid a world where there is hatred, hopelessness, and wars?” In the Philippines, we are asked to reflect on questions like, “How do we remain steadfast and pure when, everyday, we see and experience poverty, corruption, and spiritual loss?” I hope these questions will accompany us as we prepare for Christmas and greet another year.

The altar and center aisle of the Parish of the Hearts of Jesus & Mary, at dawn. [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

The altar and center aisle of the Parish of the Hearts of Jesus & Mary, at dawn. [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

*As we end the Day 2 reflections, I would also like to invite you to visit the blog of Erineus, where he shared the moving story of Sandy Greenberg. (The complete credits are in his blog.) The link is here.

DAY 3 (December 18): Sta. Rita de Cascia Parish (established in 1957)

South Lawin Avenue, Philam Homes, Quezon City; tels. nos. (02) 929-8280 and 928-8930

Simbang Gabi here begins at 4:30 am. (Note: The church is fully air-conditioned so bring a light jacket or sweater as it can get a little chilly at these early hours.)

Santa Rita de Cascia Parish, at dawn [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

Santa Rita de Cascia Parish, at dawn [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

Like the Parish of the Hearts of Jesus and Mary, this is also another favorite church for weddings. More than the beauty of the place, this Church has a special place in the hearts of devotees because it a shrine for Saint Rita of Cascia, known as the “Saint of the Impossible.” She is known to have interceded for many miracles and healing. (If you want to know more about the life of St. Rita of Cascia, you may go to this link.) JR and I also discovered this church very recently so we also looked forward to our second visit, and this time, for the 3rd day of our Simbang Gabi.

The Advent Wreath in Santa Rita de Cascia Parish [Image by JR Suarin]

The Advent Wreath in Santa Rita de Cascia Parish [Image by JR Suarin]

For this day, the gospel is from Matthew 1:18-24, which narrates the visit of the Lord’s angel to Joseph, informing him about the birth of Christ through Mother Mary. The officiating priest spoke about the importance of the meaning of Jesus Christ’s physical manifestation. He narrated a bittersweet love story where a lady eventually fell in love with the mailman who brings the letters of her overseas-based boyfriend! It was a very interesting sermon, inspiring anticipation–the priest narrated it with such humor that many people laughed when he eventually reached the end of the story, revealing how the love-struck lady waited for the letters everyday, maybe eventually seeing the face of her boyfriend in the mailman! How is the story related to our communion with Christ? It reminds us how we are truly loved–it may sound ‘cliche-ish’ but there is no other way to say it: Jesus had to come down here, live like us and with us, and to suffer for us. I think it also reminds us how important it is to be physically present for our loved ones. In our busy and preoccupied lives these days, we sometimes forget the importance of authentic presence in the lives of those around us. I hope that this simple story will remind all of us to simply be there for others (even if they are total strangers) who might need our love and presence. More importantly, perhaps, let us be present in the moment, making each one an opportunity to say “thank you” simply because we are there, right on that spot.

DAY 4 (December 19): Saint Jude Thaddeus Quasi Parish

Zamboanga St, Brgy. Nayong Kanluran, Quezon City (near West and Quezon Avenues)

The Simbang Gabi here begins at 4:30 am.

Saint Jude Thaddeus Quasi Parish, at dawn [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

Saint Jude Thaddeus Quasi Parish, at dawn [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

Although we live in a neighboring barangay, this is the nearest Church to our home. I hope I can share more about this Church but there is really no official account or document available online. This is another special church to me and JR because when we first visited it, we didn’t realize that it was the Feast of Christ the King and so, by the work of serendipity, we were blessed with the chance to join a procession (another first to our life as a married couple!) It was another simple soulful experience because we didn’t have lunch yet (we had a heavy brunch) and the route of the procession was rather far. By the time the procession and mass ended at about 8:00 pm, we were already hungry. However, it was moving for us because we felt it was a perfect way to find the simple “home” of St. Jude in Quezon City, offer a little sacrifice, and participate in a community prayer.

Of course, Saint Jude Thaddeus, compared with the other saints, is quite familiar to many of us. He is known as the “Saint of Hope and Impossible Causes” but aside from this and the fact that he is among Jesus’ 12 Apostles, we know little about him, right? I therefore encourage you to get to know more about him. You may go to this link for a more detailed account. Meanwhile, the website of the National Shrine of St. Jude Thaddeus (Philippines) is found here.

The Nativity Scene at the Saint Jude Thaddeus Quasi Parish [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

The Nativity Scene at the Saint Jude Thaddeus Quasi Parish [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

For our 4th day of Simbang Gabi, the Gospel (Luke 1:5-25) is about the story of the visit of Archangel Gabriel to Zechariah. Angel Gabriel told him that he and his wife, Elizabeth, will be blessed with a child. Because both were old, Zechariah did not, at first, believe the angel. The Gospel reminds us about faith. We can all relate to the story of Zechariah, right? Sometimes, especially in our most trying moments, it is difficult to keep our faith. When we are faced with challenges, it is very very difficult to remain faithful and hopeful. We all have our imperfections and weaknesses and problems make the journey even more difficult! When we experience sufferings, we sometimes doubt God’s presence.

Today’s mass reminded me to believe more in God’s love and miracles.  I feel that I am not a credible ‘messenger’ of God’s love because of my  mistakes and sins and sometimes, I really get scared or have some doubts…but, yes, I am humbled that, in the most crucial times, I experience his wonderful miracles, big or small.  I am sure you have those experiences, too. Let’s keep those miracles in our hearts and make them our sources of  hope, strength, and inspiration. Let us be the small miracles for others. Through this post, I am also sending a prayer to you who are reading this piece at this very moment–I wish you strength, joys, and an even stronger faith! Whatever you may be struggling with at this point, I know you can do it, with God’s graces. Keep the faith.

DAY 5 (December 20): Santo Domingo Church or the National Shrine of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary of La Naval (first established in 1587 in Intramuros; one of the original structures constructed in 1864 and destroyed in World War II, 1942; the current building in Quezon City inaugurated in 1954)

#537 Quezon Ave., Quezon City; tel. nos. (02) 712-62-71 to 74

The Simbang Gabi here begins at 4:30 am. (Praying of the rosary begins at 4:00 am.)

The Santo Domingo Church, at dawn. [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

The Santo Domingo Church, at dawn. [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

Santo Domingo Church was not in our original list because we have nine churches listed down already but then JR suggested  that we also include it. I readily agreed not only because it is an important church in our history, it is also another church that I enjoy visiting. (I’ll tell you another reason: lighting candles there is a very calming experience). Of course, many of you may already know that the Church had been declared by the Philippine government as a National Cultural Treasure in October 2012. Through this declaration, the Santo Domingo-La Naval is recognized as both an institution and a structure and a repository of modern art.

It has a very rich history and a survivor of a difficult past and massive destruction. For instance, the June 1863 earthquake destroyed the Church as well as other buildings and churches built around this period. Another massive earthquake, a huge fire, and the ravage of World War II had destroyed it. However, the miraculous statue of Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary survived all these calamities and destruction. Nowadays, Our Lady is enshrined at the left side of the altar (if you are facing the altar). [Sources of the historical notes are given in the links below.]

The Nativity Scene at the Santo Domingo Church [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

The Nativity Scene at the Santo Domingo Church [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

Among the things that really touched me about today’s Simbang Gabi was the massive crowd. The church, with its 5,000** seating capacity, was full so that many people stood by the doors, outside, and on the floor at the front of the altar. JR and I noticed that people (especially the young ones) who cannot find seats automatically sat down on the floor by the altar. This is the first time that I have seen such a practice in a sort of ‘formal’ church setting. Whoever began this practice or allowed this practice must be commended and thanked because it really shows how much the church is reaching out to more faithfuls especially the youth. I liked the idea of allowing young people to be ‘free’ in expressing their faith and that includes allowing them to sit on the tile floors! I see this to be an act of ‘opening up’, embracing our differences, and participating in a more genuine communion, Catholics or not. (I do believe in a non-discriminating God; our membership in any faith or church institution must not get in the way of our spiritual growth. The physical or material structures, documents, traditions, and images are important for our expression of faith and learning but let us not forget that the true path is only through the heart.)

The huge crowd at the Sto Domingo Church in today's Simbang Gabi (20-Dec-15). [Image by JR Suarin]

The huge crowd at the Sto Domingo Church in today’s Simbang Gabi (20-Dec-15). [Image by JR Suarin]

JR and I also appreciated the whole ceremony, homily, and the sermon. There were several officiating priests (if I remember correctly, four priests assisted the lead officiating priest) and while the ceremony looked a little bit formal, the atmosphere was still celebratory. The Gospel from Luke 1:39-45 took us into the journey of Mother Mary to Elizabeth. The sermon was very touching because the priest spoke about the difficulties of waking up at such an early hour, even saying something like, “Alam ko na mahirap gumising sa oras na ganito, masarap matulog at managinip, di ba?” The crowd laughed and one can feel that this statement somehow showed the priest’s joy and delight in seeing the huge crowd, very early in the morning, praying together. As I had written earlier, it gives me joy to see these early morning crowd, going to Church and praying together, not really worried about losing some sleep and bigger eye bags. :)

This is another joyful experience for me and JR and I hope that this piece is also inspiring you to celebrate and prepare for Christmas through simple devotional practices like the Simbang Gabi.

If you want to know more about Santo Domingo Church, please visit this link. There are good accounts–with pictures–of the original structures in Intramuros in this link and this link.

**Sourced from several blogs and articles but the Pilgrim’s Knapsack blog mentioned that the Church has 7,200 standing capacity while the sitting capacity is 2,000.

DAY 6 (December 21): Saint Paul the Apostle Parish

#3 Sct. Rallos cor. Timog Ave., Mo. Ignacia & Sct. Santiago St. Brgy Laging Handa, Quezon City; tel. nos. (02) 414-5503 / 371-9690

Simbang Gabi here begins at 4:30 am.

Saint Paul the Apostle Parish, at dawn. [Image by JR Suarin]

Saint Paul the Apostle Parish, at dawn. [Image by JR Suarin]

This church is very familiar to me as I am a QC resident for many years already. I have always liked this church because it is probably among the first churches in QC that established 24-hour adoration chapels. The location helps a lot as well because it is along Timog Avenue so I can imagine that this is a favorite refuge for urban dwellers who may have the sudden urge to pray and meditate at any time of the day.

Saint Paul the Apostle is the patron saint of missionaries, evangelists, writers, journalists, authors, public workers, rope and saddle makers, and tent makers (Catholic Online, n.d.). St. Paul was originally a Jew and later converted to Christianity.  He was known as “Saul, the persecutor of the Christian church” before becoming the great missionary evangelist (Peach, n.d.). In fact, his conversion is one of the most important points in Church history (Ciresi, 2002).

The Nativity Scene at the Saint Paul the Apostle Parish [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

The Nativity Scene at the Saint Paul the Apostle Parish [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

For today’s Simbang Gabi, the gospel is actually the same as yesterday’s (Luke 1: 39-45). At first, I thought that the officiating priest was making a mistake but after a few seconds, he also explained that it is indeed the same as yesterday’s. The story is centered on the visit of Our Lady, Mother Mary, to Elizabeth, the lady who was blessed with a child despite her old age. In this visit, Elizabeth felt the baby in her womb to have “leaped with joy” upon hearing the voice of Mary.

This is a beautiful story, isn’t it? I am sure that many of us have personally experienced such “leaps of joy” from the wombs of expectant mothers (or for those who have been mothers already, the leaps of joys from your own babies). Can you then imagine the overwhelming leap of joy of a baby who has just heard the voice of Mary? This is probably among the most heart-warming stories in the Bible. It reminds us about the powerful meaning of Jesus’ birth and the gift of our Virgin Mother as well as the unfathomable joys of experiencing God’s voice and miracles. We all want to imagine how Elizabeth’s baby inside her womb felt! I am sure words are not enough to describe such kind of joy.

The ceremony was also very memorable because, for the first time, I have seen female altar servers! For me, this is a very liberating experience, one that must be practiced more widely. I really think women should also be allowed to serve at the altars and not relegate the role to male sacristans strictly. I have nothing against male altar servers but it is simply beautiful to see both male and female altar servers serving the Lord through the Holy Mass. I wondered about the practice (i.e., if it is already allowed in Catholic churches) and told myself to Google about it after mass. Indeed, the practice is allowed with the permission and guidance of diocesan Bishops, as per the 1994 statement of the Pontifical Council for the Interpretation of Legislative Texts. I don’t want to misquote the complete explanation so please go to this link for a better read. (I also read that there is still an ongoing debate about this practice but it may take years to resolve so let us hope that the church will be able to find a path that is both wise and inclusive.)

The altar of the Saint Paul the Apostle Parish (after today's Simbang Gabi). [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

The altar of the Saint Paul the Apostle Parish (after today’s Simbang Gabi). [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

As in the previous days, today’s Simbang Gabi is another joyful experience. It was also uplifting when so many people  raised their hands when the priest asked whom among us has so far completed the Simbang Gabi. It was indeed great to see such commitment and devotion and the church full to its capacity (and even beyond) on the 6th day of Simbang Gabi.

DAY 7 (December 22): Santuario de Santa Philomena, Most Holy Redeemer Parish (established in 1994 although it began as a small chapel in the 1960s)

Malac St., Masambong, Quezon City (near Del Monte Avenue); tel. no.  (02) 365-1011

Simbang Gabi here begins at 4:00 am. (For more details on the schedule, please refer to the image below, before Day 8.)

Most Holy Redeemer Parish - St Philomena Shrine, at dawn [Image by JR Suarin]

Most Holy Redeemer Parish – St Philomena Shrine, at dawn [Image by JR Suarin]

We came to know about the life and martyrdom of Saint Philomena recently and feel blessed that her shrine is not very far from where we live.  She is known as “The Wonder Worker“, a saint to go to if you are experiencing extreme difficulties. She was martyred at a very young age (only at 13!) so her life is a source of inspiration and hope. She is also known to have interceded in many miracles and healing.  To know more about the life of Saint Philomena, please go to this link. There is also a good but shorter write-up in this link. I urge you to read her story because it is really moving.

The Nativity Scene at the Most Holy Redeemer Parish-St Philomena Shrine [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

The Nativity Scene at the Most Holy Redeemer Parish-St Philomena Shrine [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

Today is also our second visit to the Santuario de Santa Philomena- Most Holy Redeemer Parish and just like our first visit, the church is full. It is relatively smaller so we appreciated the extra chairs that the administration has placed adequately by the side hallways and beyond the doors. Today, we reflected on the Gospel from Luke 1:46-56, a continuation of the reading yesterday, where we reflected on the visit of Mother Mary to Elizabeth. Here, we reflected on God’s mercy and how He has “has filled the hungry with good things.” The priest also reminded us to think about and pray for our dearly departed loved ones as we celebrate Christmas. This is an important reminder because Christmas somehow makes all of us preoccupied with the preparation of food, gifts, and parties so that, sometimes, we forget those who are no longer with us. The sermon reminds us to pray, not just for our dearly departed loved ones, but also for those who offered their lives for us–our heroes, martyrs, saints,  and nameless others  who have given up their lives while doing their mission.

The altar and center aisle of the Most Holy Redeemer Parish-St Philomena Shrine, taken after today's Simbang Gabi. [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

The altar and center aisle of the Most Holy Redeemer Parish-St Philomena Shrine, taken after today’s Simbang Gabi. [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

Speaking of mission, the priest also encouraged us to reflect on our own personal missions. I think this is a good piece of advice as we also begin another year. What is in store for all of us in 2016? Are we in the right place, where God wanted us to be? I pray that all of us will find fullness in 2016 (and beyond)–where hope, inspiration, joys, peace, and abundance are deeply enjoyed and shared, and where we are all mindful of and thankful for the promises of God.

Schedule of Simbang Gabi at the Most Holy Redeemer Parish-St Philomena Shrine [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

Schedule of Simbang Gabi at the Most Holy Redeemer Parish-St Philomena Shrine [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

DAY 8 (December 23): Immaculate Conception Cathedral of Cubao (established in 1950)

#40 Lantana St., Cubao, Quezon City; tel. no. (02) 725 5962

Simbang Gabi here begins at 4:30 am.

Immaculate Conception Cathedral of Cubao, at dawn. [Image by JR Suarin]

Immaculate Conception Cathedral of Cubao, at dawn. [Image by JR Suarin]

We have not experienced attending mass here (before today’s Simbang Gabi) but we have a beautiful memory of this magnificent cathedral. It was on a Holy Thursday this year when JR and I were doing Visita Iglesia. It was our 7th church for the evening, our last stop before going home. Because it is an important commemoration, we assumed that all churches will be open the whole evening or at least until late in the evening. We were therefore surprised that upon arriving at the Cathedral, the staff were already closing the heavy doors. (There were still few people inside but the staff were no longer allowing newly-arrived visitors to come in.)

The Altar of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

The Altar of the Immaculate Conception Cathedral of Cubao [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

Of course, I am the type of person who simply does not give up so we approached the male staff assigned at the main door and begged him to let us in. At first, he said that it is no longer possible as the church is closing for the day already. I tried appealing a second time, explaining that we were doing our Visita Iglesia and that this is our 7th church already. You can just imagine our joys and gratitude when he pushed the door further to let us in, with a hesitant but gracious smile! God indeed answers in small and big ways! (Whoever you are, Kuya, salamat po sa pagbubukas ng pinto!) Upon entering, we were immediately embraced in awe by the sheer beauty of the place. The Cathedral is a work of God, manifested in the great talents who envisioned and built this magnificent house of prayer and worship.

Immaculate Conception Cathedral_The altar and center aisle (taken in panorama view). [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

Immaculate Conception Cathedral of Cubao, showing the altar and center aisle (taken through a panorama view). [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

I recalled that special evening as we sat at the Cathedral today, my eyes and heart taking everything in, from the magnificent altar and painted ceiling, to the glittering Christmas lights and cool morning breezes that graciously come in from the opened doors, as if dancing with the music of the birds. It is a beautiful morning.

Immaculate Conception Cathedral (showing a part of the facade). [Image by JR Suarin]

Immaculate Conception Cathedral of Cubao (showing a part of the facade). [Image by JR Suarin]

For today’s reading (Luke 1:57-66), we are again transported to the story of Elizabeth and the birth of his son, whom they named “John,” contrary to the tradition of naming sons after the names of their fathers.  The priest talked about our similar tradition where we give importance to the name of our fathers so that we continue their names for our sons, and simply add suffixes such as  “Jr.”, “II”, “III”, etc. Of course, traditions are important in that we give honor and meaning to our past and there is nothing wrong with continuing the names of our fathers.

However, we are also reminded that births indicate new beginnings. We are invited to open up and welcome new directions, in the same way that Elizabeth and Zechariah opened up to and embraced the great mission that God has planned for John. Similar to the sermon yesterday (7th day of Simbang Gabi), the priest also spoke about the importance of embracing our purpose and  mission.

Immaculate Conception Cathedral of Cubao, showing the left side (if one is facing the main entrance). This image was taken through a panoramic view. [Image by JR Suarin]

Immaculate Conception Cathedral of Cubao, showing the left side (if one is facing the main entrance). This image was taken through a panoramic view. [Image by JR Suarin]

Let us then reflect again on our lives and our choices, with a renewed hope and faith, appreciating once more that we have God to give us clear directions. I know it is easier said than done, right?! It is sometimes difficult to find clear directions! We are always confronted with “crossroads”, not really knowing which is the better path. But know what? It is alright to get lost sometimes. Even when we’re driving around, I’d always tell JR (he drives and I am his navigator), “I am also not sure where we are going, ok? I will just follow my instinct and inner map (sorry, I have no word for that “thing”) so we might get lost, too, so just chill…hehe…I am sure we will eventually find our way!” I guess that pretty sums up what I want to say today. Let us relax (chill!), do our best not to get lost, but if we ever lose focus and directions every now and then, we will eventually reach our destination.

Immaculate Conception Cathedral of Cubao, showing the regular Sunday masses. [Image by JR Suarin]

Immaculate Conception Cathedral of Cubao, showing the regular Sunday masses. [Image by JR Suarin]

DAY 9 (December 24): Saint Joseph’s Convent of Perpetual Adoration (also known as the Pink Sisters Convent)

#71, Dona M. Hemady Avenue corner 11th Street, New Manila, Quezon City; tel. no. (02) 722 8828

Simbang Gabi here begins at 5:00 am.

Saint Joseph Convent of Perpetual Adoration (Pink Sisters Convent), New Manila, at dawn. [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

Saint Joseph Convent of Perpetual Adoration (Pink Sisters Convent), New Manila, at dawn. [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

We deliberately reserved Day 9 for Saint Joseph’s Convent of Perpetual Adoration (Pink Sisters Convent) because we wanted to ‘celebrate’ this simple pilgrimage by going to the Church that we often visited when we were just newly-married. As I mentioned earlier, we used to live in New Manila and the Pink Sisters Convent was within a walking distance from our old address. We would sometimes take the car but I would definitely count our leisurely walks as among the simplest but happiest moments in our lives as a newly-married couple. The quiet neighborhood is ideal for walks (and jogging!) and so JR and I would really relish those moments when we can just talk and laugh together like kids. There used to be a quaint coffee and pastry shop along Hemady Street and I remember dropping by there after praying at the Pink Sisters’. However, we’ve noticed that it is no longer there now.

As many who have already visited the convent will also appreciate, the place invites one to simply be in the moment, pray, and reflect. We had missed going to this place so much so we decided this will be our 9th church for the Simbang Gabi. As always, we felt the solemnity of the place immediately, as we took our seats near the statue of Saint Joseph. Before the mass began, an old lady who came from the right side (by the aisle) nudged us to move to the left. (Later at home, JR and I would discuss that we found this episode a little amusing…we surmised that we had taken the favorite spot of the old but gracious lady!) The lady turned out to be a very sweet one. While I was writing down my prayer-petition, the lady handed JR a small prayer card with the favorite prayer of Pope Francis. Isn’t that so sweet?! The simple gesture touched us so much so I want to share the prayer with you. According to JR, the lady said that it is a very powerful prayer and that Pope Francis prays it every day. Here it is:

A simple but touching gift of prayer from the old lady who sat beside us in today's Simbang Gabi.

A simple but touching gift of prayer from the old lady who sat beside us in today’s Simbang Gabi.

I hope you can also keep this and make it a daily prayer. (To the old lady who sat beside us today, please know that we appreciate your kind gesture so much! Thank you! May God bless you with more joys, continuing good health, and abundance.)

The Nativity Scene at the Pink Sisters Convent in New Manila [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

The Nativity Scene at the Pink Sisters Convent in New Manila [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

We were happily surprised that the officiating priest in today’s Simbang Gabi was the same priest who officiated the mass during our Simbang Gabi at the Hearts of Jesus and Mary Parish (on Day 2)! It was like a reunion. :) I had wanted to approach him after the mass but he was busy conversing with some of the churchgoers when we saw him outside after the mass. JR and I were also taking pictures happily of the nice garden and I didn’t notice his leaving. Sayang, it would most likely make him glad to know that we were blessed with the opportunity to hear mass (through him) twice during this year’s Simbang Gabi!

The Gospel (from Luke 2:1-14) brings us back to the time when Jesus was born in a manger and an angel announced His birth to a group of shepherds watching over their flock. The priest shared several stories but the most important one that I had carried with me was about his discussion on poverty. He said that poverty is not just about physical or material poverty but also about spiritual and moral poverty. I think this is a timely reflection as we celebrate Christmas and end another year. When we think about poverty in the Philippines, we are often confronted with issues on hunger, unemployment, inequity, crime, and corruption.

The altar at the Pink Sisters Convent in New Manila [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

The altar at the Pink Sisters Convent in New Manila [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

However, it is very rare indeed that we are encouraged to dwell on or analyze spiritual poverty. Our books, literature, mass media, and school curriculum sorely lack encouragement on how discourses on poverty and social development may be dealt with, strongly anchored on philosophical and spiritual underpinnings. Why so? I think there is a need to look into this area more deeply. For one, the Philippines is a very ‘Christianized’ country, but ironically, it is still perceived as having  among the most corrupt governments in the world. It does not make sense, right? We are very prayerful and God-fearing people but on one hand, we cannot seem to produce (and vote for?) honest leaders. I am sure many of you are wondering how can a God-fearing nation allow corruption to destroy our people and institutions this far. I have the same questions.

This has really been a beautiful Simbang Gabi experience. After the mass, we enjoyed the well-kept gardens of the Pink Sisters Convent in New Manila. [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

This has really been a beautiful Simbang Gabi experience. After the mass, we enjoyed the well-kept gardens of the Pink Sisters Convent in New Manila. [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

This has really been a challenging but very uplifting and joyful journey for me and JR. Words are not enough to describe completely the inner joys and peace that began to grip me (slowly at first), as we went through our simple pilgrimage.  I am not sure if I am just imagining it but I feel a renewed serenity and trust. (I am almost teary-eyed as I type this!)

The thing is, I am not your typical religious Catholic. I don’t like labels but would likely consider myself more of an ecumenical type of believer if someone will ask me (that is, I don’t feel any discomfort attending services or praying in other churches/faiths because I believe that there is only one Supreme Being even if we call him in many different names). I would then refrain from labeling this as simply a Catholic exercise. I am also, still, a work-in-progress. I am sure there will still be sad and challenging days. And I am very sure, I will still get cranky and ‘ballistic’–particularly over poor customer service, my perennial source of frustration–every now and then (wink!). However, these renewed joys and trust are unexpected gifts; they brought me to a place beyond what our traditions and rituals normally bring us. It was really tough (!) to wake up at such an early hour for nine straight days but it is certainly nothing compared with all the graces and miracles of our lives (and this refers to all of us, not just to Christians or Catholics!). It is like being bitten by a very small ant in exchange for a life of endless joys and abundance!

We are also grateful for the chance to do this and be able to pray and grow together again as a married couple. I am sure that many of you out there would also like to do this but circumstances and obligations do prevent you from enjoying a similar journey. Nevertheless, I would still encourage you to try doing it next year (or in any other year), even in your own churches and traditions, and who knows, you’d end up writing about it in a blog, too. :)

In the meantime, I wish you all a happy and love-filled Christmas! (With this blog is a special prayer for you who are reading this right now–may you solve all your problems and challenges through God’s graces, fulfill your promises, enjoy a blessed and joyful life, grow spiritually, and experience great abundance. If you are touched and blessed with this blog, please do share and together, let’s create a better Philippines, a more love-filled world, for all!)


Pink Sisters Convent in New Manila. This is  the garden at the back of the convent (near the exit gate) and where you would find a statue of St. Joseph and Jesus. [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]

Pink Sisters Convent in New Manila. This is the garden at the back of the convent (near the exit gate) and where you would find a statue of St. Joseph and Jesus. [Image by M. Velas-Suarin]


All photos were taken through a mobile phone camera (LG G4). This is not a paid blog. (I do not ask for any donation but I hope you can plant a tree on your birthday/s.)


Catholic Online. (n.d.) Saint Paul. Retrieved from http://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=91

Ciresi, S. (2002). The life of St. Paul. Retrieved from https://www.catholicculture.org/culture/library/view.cfm?recnum=8219

Peach, D. (n.d.) Apostle Paul, Biography and Profile. Retrieved from http://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/apostle-paul-biography-and-profile/

Mangrove trees need to be protected and planted. They offer multiple uses and benefits. (Photo courtesy of Science Nutshell/M. Berry/S. Karstens/M. Lukas)

The National Greening Program and climate action

Mangrove trees need to be protected and planted. They offer multiple uses and benefits. (Photo courtesy of Science Nutshell/M. Berry/S. Karstens/M. Lukas)

Mangrove trees need to be protected and planted. They offer multiple uses and benefits. (Photo courtesy of Science Nutshell/M. Berry/S. Karstens/M. Lukas)

(Note: This is a copy of a paper that I had submitted in ENRM 236: Governance of Upland Ecosystems, in November 2014. I am currently enrolled in the course, Master of Environment and Natural Resources Management in UPOU.)

I. Introduction

The horrors of super typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan) may probably linger in our minds for as long as we live. Many wondered and are still puzzled as to how a country that is so used to strong typhoons and cyclones seems to be still unprepared to the magnitude of strong typhoons like Yolanda, which caused the loss of more than 6,300 lives and more than 1,000 still missing (NDRRMC, 2014).

The aftermath and damage of Yolanda as well as all the other equally-damaging typhoons paint a gruesome picture to our national landscape. We (those who have not been significantly affected) can go on with our lives without much of ‘psychological scars’ but the memories will forever be painfully etched for those who have lost their loved ones, homes, and properties.

Now, in the quiet after the storm, we are faced with two clear choices: (a) to simply go on with our lives not really caring or (b) doing something meaningful that will have lasting impact to the lives of others. The second choice can be done through an act that is as simple as planting a tree, most especially, a mangrove tree. Why mangrove trees? What program can we look at to give us the bigger picture of reforestation as part of our country’s climate action? Through this brief paper, we are taking a closer look at the National Greening Program of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) with focus on mangrove trees.

II. Multi-tasking mangrove trees (a snapshot from literature)

Mangrove trees do significant environmental services. They are typically medium in height and very tolerant, allowing them to survive in brackish water. The Philippines are believed to be hosting more than 50% of the world’s 70 mangrove species (FPE, 2014).  Mangrove trees’ benefits are summarized below:

  • providing protection and shelter against extreme weather events, such as storm surges, floods, and tsunamis. Mangroves absorb and disperse tidal surges, for example, “a mangrove stand of 30 trees per 0.01 hectare with a depth of 100 m can reduce the destructive force of a tsunami by up to 90%” (Hirashi and Harada, 2003, as cited in Wetlands International, n.d.)
  • acting as carbon sink by absorbing significant amount of carbon dioxide; mangrove trees are capable of absorbing up to 4 times more carbon than their counterpart in tropical rainforests (Ranada, 2013).
  • providing habitat, food and nourishment for rich varieties of animal and plant species (e.g., many marine and fish species reproduce and spend time in the mangroves as juveniles or adults (Wetlands International, n.d.).
  • contributing to ecological balance by preventing sedimentation, which leads to siltation in coral reefs; accumulated soil and debris also facilitates the expansion of lands (FPE, 2014).
    • producing timber and plant products as these species of trees are useful and valuable; wood from mangrove trees are perfect for construction and are commercially used for pulp, wood chip, fuel, and charcoal production; meanwhile, certain species are used for medicinal purposes (WWF, n.d.)
    • Contributing to tourism revenues as they add beauty to  beachfronts and coastal communities; the diversity of marine species in the areas also attracts snorkeling enthusiasts (WWF, n.d.).

Indeed, mangrove trees provide valuable environmental services and are proofs of how rich and blessed our country is. Their significance should also be seen in the context of climate change. More severe weather events are expected in this part of the world. Storm surges, such as those that happened in Tacloban City, are caused by extreme or very strong typhoon winds, which eventually cause sea waters to surge over and submerge coastal towns. Super typhoon Yolanda was observed to have caused storm surges of up to five meters high (McIvor et al., 2012b, as cited in Primavera, 2013).

While mangrove trees will not stop strong tidal waves and storm surges, they do tend to lessen impact and act as buffer zone. They also absorb carbon dioxide, which significantly contributes to the rise in global temperature.  Indeed, mangrove trees are our multi-tasking super-trees! It then becomes necessary that mangrove areas’ rehabilitation be an indispensable part of any greening and reforestation initiative. Let us now consider DENR’s National Greening Program.

III. Understanding the National Greening Program

The NGP is primarily a two-pronged initiative, contributing to climate change mitigation efforts and poverty alleviation by addressing the need for livelihood of marginalized upland communities and even lowland families (DENR, n.d.).  The program involves reforestation in public lands such as forestlands, mangrove and protected areas, ancestral domains, civil and military reservation, sites targeted for urban greening, inactive mining areas, and other suitable lands. (DENR, n.d.) What is noteworthy about the program is its multi-agency approach, requiring government agencies to conduct their own tree-planting activities. For example, agencies such as the Departments of Labor and Employment, Justice, National Defense, and Interior and Local Government, Education, and Public Works and Highways have issued circulars and administrative orders requiring their regional offices to conduct tree-planting activities.

Rehabilitation of mangrove areas is part of the goals of NGP. It is targeted to cover about 380 kilometers of coastline (Ranada, 2013). Region 8, being prone to strong typhoons, is among its beneficiaries. Aside from its participation in the NGP, Eastern Visayas is also conducting the Leyte Gulf Rehabilitation program, which had been allotted a budget of P38 million. It targets to rehabilitate the mangrove and beach forest areas from Palo, Leyte to San Juanico Bridge, Tacloban City, and other areas along the San Juanico Gulf (spanning the provinces of Leyte, Samar and Eastern Samar) and covering about 38.5 km of coastline (DENR Region 8, n.d.).

IV.  Success and criticisms

The NGP covers all the regions and has so far led to the planting of more than 397 million trees (DENR, 2014). Region 8 (Eastern Visayas), which has been significantly damaged by Yolanda, is indeed benefiting from the NGP. In 2013, a report has indicated that the government is planning to reconfigure the plans for Eastern Visayas primarily because of super typhoon Yolanda; more focus will be given to the rehabilitation of coastal areas over reforestation efforts in upland areas (Ranada, 2013). So far, tree-planting activities are taking place in coastal areas in Tacloban City and Dulag town in Leyte; Guiuan, Llorente, and Balangiga in Eastern Samar; and Basey in Samar (Ranada, 2013). Meanwhile, Borongan, Easter Samar has already targeted the planting of mangrove trees in about 1,150 hectares in the Leyte Gulf area (Azura, 2014).

There are accounts of successful implementation. For example, the program had been observed as directly assisting communities because it requires the employment of locals, many of whom have been rendered jobless after Yolanda’s wrath.

However, there had been problems and criticisms as well. The following are just some of them:

  • failure to adopt science-based protocols in mangrove rehabilitation. For example, planting at the seafront is not ideal because it leads to high mortality (i.e., the lower intertidal to subtidal location is not a favorable spot for mangrove trees) (Primavera, 2013).
  • planting of wrong species of trees or devoting more areas for fast-growing species meant for commercial purposes (Ranada, 2014)
  • lack of massive and serious educational and social marketing programs (Primavera, 2013)
  • planting of wrong species of trees (e.g., fast-growing bamboo varieties, which cannot withstand storm surges and low water supply) (Primavera, 2013).
  • expansion of fishponds (many were illegally established) ultimately reduces mangrove areas
  • poor implementation of greenbelt laws (e.g., PD 705 of 1975, PD 953 of 1976, PD 1067, DENR Administrative Order 42 of 1986, DENR AO 76 of 1987, Fisheries Code of 1998, etc.)  (Primavera, 2013)
  • seemingly lopsided view of trees as income-generating goods against the need for protection and conservation; there are reports of intentional burning so that more trees will be funded, ultimately generating income for the planters (Ranada, 2014)
  • weak monitoring instruments (Primavera & Esteban, 2008)

I have also observed that most of the NGP documents and reports focused mainly on the number of trees to be planted and had already been planted rather than the over-all impact to ecological and societal goals. It is understandable that economic gains must be ensured so that the people can benefit equitably from the use of our natural resources. However, I also think that more seriousness and efforts must be given to the meaning of NGP to our long-term survival vis-à-vis climate change and environmental protection.

In the context of mangrove plantation, I think that there is also lesser importance given to it. The projects and reports show small percentage of areas (and funds) given to mangrove rehabilitation. There are also few materials on these very important tree species.

V. Moving forward

We have began this paper by recalling the pains and damages from super typhoon Yolanda. I have chosen this topic because I feel that we need to do more about our coastal ecosystems, primarily, our mangrove areas, in the context of climate change and environmental management. These “multi-tasking” trees deserve more attention than what we are giving them at the moment. The following are just some of the interventions, which we can still do or adopt:

  • our responses should be more “people-centric”; the NGP seems to be partnering with both the public and private sectors, however, I have yet to see a significant number of people or organizations who are actually authentically engaged
  • the NGP managers should also develop reports that meaningfully carry lessons and best practices, and not just show statistics on the number of trees planted or areas covered
  • more massive information dissemination and social marketing must be done and such efforts should not also concentrate on the cold statistics alone
  • the tendency to look at tree-planting as “easy money” sources (thereby, leading to rampant burning) may be prevented by establishing credible third party “Bantay Kagubatan” squads all over the country (e.g., volunteers, students, employees of private offices, etc.)
  • Most importantly, perhaps, we need to “re-appreciate” our forests by connecting them to our spiritual growth—seeing them as our anchor, that ever-nurturing force which gives us strength, refuge, breath, and sustenance. This may be done through more values formation activities and integration in the educational system, faith-based and church organizations, corporate social responsibility interventions, media engagement, and deeper people and private sector engagement.

We need to put our acts together before another Yolanda—probably stronger—hits us again, totally unprepared.


Azura, B. (2014, April 2). CENRO-Borongan to rehabilitate mangroves in coastal areas, Sinirangan News. Available at http://www.sinirangan-news.net/2014/04/cenro-borongan-to-implement-p1-billion.html

Department of Environment and Natural Resources. (2014). National Greening Program Annual Accomplishment Report (2014), NGP Website. Available at http://ngp.denr.gov.ph/index.php/site-administrator/ngp-accomplishment-report

Department of Environment and Natural Resources. (n.d.) National Greening Program, DENR website. Available at http://www.denr.gov.ph/priority-programs/national-greening-program.html and http://ngp.denr.gov.ph/

Department of Environment and Natural Resources – Region 8. (n.d.). EV to benefit from the 1B peso mangrove rehab project. Available at http://r8.denr.gov.ph/index.php/86-region-news-items/330-ev-to-benefit-from-the-1-billion-peso-mangrove-rehab-project

Foundation of the Philippine Environment (2014, February 17). The Lay of the Land: Ecosystem Diversity in the Philippines (website of the Foundation of the Philippine Environment). Available at http://fpe.ph/biodiversity.html/view/the-lay-of-the-land-ecosystem-diversity-in-the-philippines

National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council. (2014, April 17). Updates regarding the effects of Typhoon Yolanda (Haiyan). Available at http://www.ndrrmc.gov.ph/attachments/article/1177/Update%20Effects%20TY%20YOLANDA%2017%20April%202014.pdf

Ranada, P. (2013, November 20) DENR to restore mangrove forests in Yolanda-hit areas, Rappler. Available at http://www.rappler.com/move-ph/issues/disasters/typhoon-yolanda/44182-denr-restore-mangrove-forests-yolanda

Ranada, P. (2014, June 22). Rethinking the National Greening Program, Rappler. Available at http://www.rappler.com/move-ph/ispeak/60948-rethinking-national-greening-program

Rath A. (n.d.). Mangrove importance, World Wildlife Fund website. Available at http://wwf.panda.org/about_our_earth/blue_planet/coasts/mangroves/mangrove_importance/

Primavera, J. (2013, December 19). Shelter from the storm: Coastal greenbelts of mangroves and beach forests, Philippine Star. Available at http://www.philstar.com/science-and-technology/2013/12/19/1269584/shelter-storm-coastal-greenbelts-mangroves-and-beach

Primavera, J. H., & Esteban, J. M. A. (2008). A review of mangrove rehabilitation in the Philippines: successes, failures and future prospects. Wetlands Ecology and Management, 16(5), 345–358. Available at http://repository.seafdec.org.ph/handle/10862/93

Wetlands International (n.d.) Mangrove Forests (Website of Wetland International). Available at http://www.wetlands.org/Whatarewetlands/Mangroveforests/tabid/2730/Default.aspx


This is not a paid blog. (I do not ask for any donation but I hope you can plant a tree on your birthday/s.)

Environmental Site Assessment and AAI Training Course (Sep. 21-22, Florida)

Environmental Site Assessment Training by INSTEP (Sep 21-22, 2015)

(Note: This is a 3rd party announcement. All inquiries must be sent directly to INSTEP through Mr. Gene Jones. )

Environmental Site Assessment and AAI Training Course (Sep. 21-22, Florida)

Environmental Site Assessment and AAI Training Course (Sep. 21-22, Florida)

The International Society of Technical and Environmental Professionals, Inc. (INSTEP) is inviting interested professionals to attend its Phase I Environmental Site Assessment and All Appropriate Inquiry (AAI) Training Course on September 21-22, in Ft. Myers, Florida.  [There will also be a Licensed Environmental Professional (LEP) Exam. ]

INSTEP has initiated this program to assure that professionals providing Environmental Site Assessments (ESAs) have the acceptable academic background and a minimal level of verifiable appropriate experience.  In this program, elements of the ASTM Phase I ESA Standard E1527, federal standards and practices for All Appropriate Inquiries (AAI), ASTM Phase II ESA Standard E1903, as well as,  ASTM’s E1528 (Standard Practice for Limited Environmental Due Diligence: Transaction Screen Process) will be presented.  The focus of this training course is on these standards and other relevant national and Florida specific issues.

Certification Examination:
All program attendees must apply for and successfully complete an examination covering the following areas:
  •  Applicable federal and state laws and regulations
  • Basic assessment methods and the ASTM E 1527 and
  • E 1528 Standards as well as, federal standards and practices for All Appropriate Inquiries (AAI)
  • Ethical and legal considerations for the consultant

Upon completion and passage of the exam, each participant will receive a certificate stating that they are a Licensed Environmental Professional (LEP) certification from INSTEP.

NOTE:   The course is NOT an Exam Review or Exam Preparation Program and attendance of the Program is not required to sit for the Examination.

Educational and Experience Requirements:
In order to qualify for the LEP certification one must meet one of the following requirements:
  • Be a professional engineer or professional geologist, with the equivalent of three years of full-time relevant experience;
  • Be licensed or certified by the federal government, a state, tribal entity, with the equivalent of three years of full-time relevant experience;
  • Have a 4-year or higher degree in a relevant discipline of engineering, environmental science, or earth science and the equivalent of five years of full-time relevant experience; or
  • Have the equivalent of ten (10) years of full-time relevant experience.
Source: International Society of Technical & Environmental Professionals (INSTEP)

For course and registration information, call Gene Jones at 850-558-0617.

Post Office Box 38070 Tallahassee, FL  32315-8070

Telephone: (850) 558-0617  Fax:  (850) 386-4321

Home Page:  http://www.instep.ws


This is not a paid blog. (I do not ask for any donation but I hope you can plant a tree on your birthday/s.) (Full disclosure: I am a member of INSTEP since 2014.)

Fireworks, an exhibit by and a journey with Sandra Torrijos

[Note: Once again, I am honored and humbled to have received an invitation to the exhibit of the works of Ms. Sandra Torrijos, my favorite painting mentor.  (Thank you, Sands! The invitation means a lot to me as a friend and a former student who learned a lot from you.)]

Siga, a wooden sculpture by Sandra Torrijos.

Siga, a wooden sculpture by Sandra Torrijos.

FIREWORKS: April 10 to May 15, 2015 in Cocina Juan

There is fire in every one of us. Our inner fire is that source of strength where every thing becomes possible. When I asked Sandra the reason behind the title, she told me this:

“Fireworks because art, life, is passion. It is my way of igniting my love for colors and textures and the human form particularly women expressions. I really worked intensely on these pieces to make positive the cycle of changes that are happening in my life now. Kailangan (It’s necessary that), despite everything, we have to look at the positive side of life, God wants us to be happy. And a big part of that is to be creative.”

I can only agree. Her art works are sending us messages of hope and empowerment. Take for instance the sculpture titled, Siga (sorry, there is no direct English translation but it is how Filipinos call a  neighborhood tough guy]. The word siga is not normally used to describe women so this somehow applauds the power of women to protect themselves and make their own choices despite societal prejudices.  It also reminds us of our own power to survive and fight against adversities, whether as a man or woman. Indeed, Sandra’s works are testaments to how arts and creativity bring so much joys;  they are forms of communion with God, the source of life, colors, and arts.

As many people close to Sandra may already know, she has been shuttling between home in the Philippines and Germany. For half of the year, she lives in Germany where she  is nurtured “in a place conducive to long meditations, with a small library and a lovely European tiger cat, a small garden to marvel at God’s daily miracles, and a loving companion.”  I was curious as to her thoughts about this dual-country residency so I asked her,  “What are your most important lessons /insights as you reside in these two equally beautiful but diverse countries/cultures?” What she said is something that many of our overseas Filipinos (and all of us who travel) can truly relate with:

“Well, it is not easy to be living in two cultures. It is like being on a pendulum. What is important is you know who you are, and you know your life mission. All these will then be your fulcrum or center so you can keep your balance and be a productive member of the community.”

In the show are 20 paintings and 4 wood sculptures. Sandra said that the sculptures were like an “afterthought”. Sandra thinks that “they gave a nice contrast to the paintings. Moreover, not many people have seen my recent sculptures.” I, myself, had not seen much of Sandra’s sculptural works so it was such a pleasurable and inspiring afternoon for me even if it was a very quick visit in between my day’s errands. (I was sad to have missed the Opening Night but I ensured I will be among the first to see her works even before the show opened that evening!) I enjoyed looking at the Tres Marias for it reminded me of my best girl friends who are continuously infusing my life with woman’s instinct (ok, Rose A., you know this is about a private joke among the four of us as we did the road trip in Malaysia!), laughters, wisdom, faith, and wonderful friendships and companionship.

Tres Marias, a wooden sculpture by Sandra Torrijos.

Tres Marias, a wooden sculpture by Sandra Torrijos.

Sandra is a nature-lover and this shows in her works. There is a painting titled, Mango Tree, and this is based on the beautiful tree in Sandra’s garden. Sandra speaks fondly of it, knowing that she may not be able to see it again as they are now selling their family house in Quezon City. When she said, “The painting serves as a remembrance,” there was a little ache in my heart because I know what it means to miss someone or something that is really special to us; something that is connected to us as human beings. I am sure that Sandra was thinking of all those years she sat or played under the tree or enjoyed its luscious fruits when she said that.

Mango Tree, an oil painting by Sandra Torrijos.

Mango Tree, an oil painting by Sandra Torrijos.

Damayan, an oil painting by Sandra Torrijos.

Damayan, an oil painting by Sandra Torrijos.

Sandra invites us to value our heritage. The painting, Damayan, speaks of our culture that encourages community support. Sandra said “it is how we are, women and men, too. I think it is embedded in our culture especially our NGO culture.” It is something that we need to embrace more these days especially as we grapple with societal, environmental, and political challenges. Damayan reminds us that we are all connected as brothers and sisters; that the weave of life binds us all so that one’s kind and loving gesture ultimately redounds to ripples of happiness around him.

As many of Sandra’s friends and followers will know, she has been working a lot for women’s rights and empowerment and all of us I will agree that our world is in a better state because of women like her: generous with their time and talents, always ready to raise the bar higher for women and their dreams. Sandra salutes women who lead and through the painting, Madam, she celebrates “the big woman who can be everything. She is the boss.” Of course, we will all have different interpretations–after all, true art does not dictate–so I will leave it up to you to read her thoughts and listen to her message.

Sayaw, an oil painting by Sandra Torrijos.

Sayaw, an oil painting by Sandra Torrijos.

The painting, Sayaw and the sculpture, Ako, carry important messages, too. In sayaw, Sandra somehow reminds us to dance with joy, to lift our spirits and simply dance in full abandon! In Ako, she may be telling us to value our own worth, to believe in our good self.

Ako, a wooden sculpture by Sandra Torrijos.

Ako, a wooden sculpture by Sandra Torrijos.

Meanwhile, the painting, Soul friends, seems a sweet testimony of how friendships have touched Sandra’s life. Her approach in her art inspires us to be more grateful of the big and small things in our lives. We are reminded to say “thank you” to the friends who continue to stand by our side, rain or shine.  I have been touched by kindness today and the past weeks (R.A., this post and the painting below also carry my BIG thank you message to you!). I am humbled by the kindness around me and I will forever love, share, and give back because I, too, have been showered with magic, with wonderful friends and earth-angels, with divine interventions, and with the most powerful love in the person of my husband!

I have not been much into painting lately although a few months back, I did try to squeeze in some painting time in my schedule. I am glad that I received the invitation because it reminded me to start practicing again. More than that, it was a perfect gift at this phase in my life. Hubby and I had established a social enterprise last year (and currently setting up another another start-up)  so it has been quite challenging and exciting, like a roller-coaster ride. Looking at beautiful art creations has a sort of calming and uplifting effect and so my gratitude comes from that deepest part where love resides. Thank you so much, Sandra! Your art makes us feel divinity while allowing us to embrace our humanity.

Once again, you have opened up your doors and invited us to another soulful journey.

Soul Friends, an oil painting by Sandra Torrijos.

Soul Friends, an oil painting by Sandra Torrijos.

Cocina Juan is located in 100 Maginhawa Street, Teachers Village Quezon City.





This is not a paid blog. (I do not ask for any donation but I hope you can plant a tree on your birthday/s.)