27 March 2007

next door

community spirit is full of life in sampaloc. sampaloc neighbors are usually close to one another. understandably, children of sampaloc buddies end up becoming buddies as well.

during the early martial law years, many of my friends lived along pi y margal, dapitan, dos castillas, carola, don quijote, laon laan, maria cristina and p. florentino streets. some of my playmates were scions of pre-world war two and post-liberation sampaloc residents: climacos, de leons, floirendos, lazatins, leoncios, luzes, saleses, soliongcoses, sollers, uys, and zapantas. their grandparents were friends of my grandfather.

there were some fairly recent neighbors and they also remained good friends with my family through the years. right across our house, there is a five-door concrete apartment owned by the cauntay family, originally from batangas. the property originally belonged to my grandfather. mr. and mrs. cauntay purchased the property when my grandfather’s first family needed emergency money to pay for my grandfather’s first wife’s hospital expenses (my father was born illegitimate). the cauntays built their apartment on the land, occupied the first unit, then leased out the other units to young families and students.

the cauntays have been very generous to us. it simply didn’t matter to them whether my father was born illegitimate. when we were finally asked by my grandfather to move to the sampaloc house in 1967 (a fire gutted our first home--an apartment unit along zamora street in pasay), the cauntays welcomed us to the community with open arms. they knew very well that my father was an honest government lawyer who lived a simple life. they took the initiative of letting me enter their home and play with their visiting grandchildren who were enrolled in exclusive schools. my brother and i were often invited to take merienda with them. but we refused politely because my mother often said that it wasn’t the right thing to do. they also gifted us with cakes and pastries during special occasions like birthdays and christmas.

what stood out very clearly about my memory of the cauntays is that they were bighearted enough to allow me to watch cartoons in their brand new, state of the art, colored television. there was a time during the early 1970s when nobody but the cauntays had colored television. from a ledge beside the cauntay’s front door, i sat like a cowboy watching aqua man, batman and robin (starring adam west), bugs bunny, captain america, funky phantom, the electric company, green lantern, josie and the pussycats, justice league, merry melodies, micky mouse club, mightor, moby dick, scooby do, sesame street, super friends, superman, wacky races, and wait till your father gets home. this was all happening until my father (who was working in his office during the day) learned about my neighborly tv habit. immediately, i was forbidden to watch television outside the house. my parents, who were not really avid tv watchers, decided to buy a colored television to please me and my siblings.

many years later, i still remember the cauntays. in those days, children get reprimanded whenever they glanced at television sets of the neighboring houses. on the other hand, the cauntays were generous, kind and understanding. gaudencio cauntay, the family patriarch, also remarked that after watching tv, i should study hard so i can inspire others when i grow up.

after mr. and mrs. cauntay passed away, i wept silently behind the window of my parents’ bedroom, right across the couple’s house. as a grown-up, i hardly got the chance to see them because i lived elsewhere and studied overseas. i didn’t even get to say goodbye.

my family must have purchased a number of television sets in my lifetime. but once, while buying a pint sized television in akihabara (tokyo), i was reminded suddenly of the cauntays.

these days, sampaloc neighbors don’t share colored television sets with one another. even those who are living in the slums have colored tv sets. many are even hooked on the cable channels. occasionally, i drop by the cartoon network to remember mr. and mrs. cauntay. quite possibly, they can also see me through television sets from a distant space and while.

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this used to be my playground

05 March 2007

sampaloc and pageantry

during the late 1960s to the 1970s, people in sampaloc were generally obsessed with billiards, boxing, basketball and beauty pageants. during fiestas and summer breaks, the streets in our area were inaccessible to vehicular traffic to give way to these special events. more incredibly, these events became perfect opportunities for coaches, talent scouts and managers to shape stars of every skill and magnitude for the big time.

for instance, many national collegiate athletic association (ncaa), university athletics association of the philippines (uaap) and philippine basketball association (pba) players began their illustrious careers as participants in inter-barangay basketball leagues all over sampaloc. throughout my grade school, high school and early college days at u.s.t., i saw the rise of bogs adornado, danny florencio, ed cordero, edmund yee, frankie natividad, bong hawkins (who eventually moved to perpetual help college in his college years), pido jarencio, bobby jose, rabbi tomacruz and ej feihl in sampaloc’s gyms and city streets.

years before he became a national icon and world-class champion, efren “bata” reyes used to frequent the billiards hall at the corner of dapitan and navarra—a stone’s throw away from the window of u.s.t. high school library.

many boxers, including former world boxing champion rolando navarette (“the bad boy from dadiangas”), trained rigorously for their amateur bouts in a rusty old gym along paquita, an alley off morayta and far eastern university.

but perhaps, sampaloc’s biggest contribution to philippine popular culture is the proliferation of beauty connoisseurs, beauty contestants and beauty pageants in the district. sampaloc was home to many of the country’s nationally and internationally acclaimed beauty queens, models, designers, hair and make-up stylists and talent managers. many talent scouts discovered potential candidates for national beauty pageants in locations around the city’s schools and universities. soon, the talent scout and his/her cohorts took turns in transforming the new find. In this connection, nothing beats the story of tita beth (elizabeth sales), one of our neighbors in sampaloc and a good friend of my parents. just like my family, tita beth’s immediate family members are long-time sampaloc residents.

when i was about three years old, tita beth was pushed by fashion designer danny acuna to join ferdie villar’s annual miss republic of the philippines (miss r.p.) contest, a late 1960s-early 1970s local preliminary to the miss world pageant in london. tita beth was very reluctant to join the pageant because her family was very conservative. she was also an active student leader at the u.s.t. college of commerce. she wasn’t really into beauty contests.

but acuna was persistent. against the wishes of many family members and friends, tita beth was groomed and trained hurriedly at acuna’s atelier at the corner of governor forbes and espana. tita beth decided to give in for the sake of experience. being the well-bred woman that she is, tita beth easily made the final cut for the 1969 miss r.p. contest.

during the miss r.p. finals, tita beth bested heavy favorites like university of the philippines student vida valentina doria (1971 bb. pilipinas universe and miss photogenic at the 1971 miss universe pageant in miami beach), pacita eduarda guevara (1974 bb. pilipinas maja and maja internacional runner-up in spain) and marilou destreza (1969 mutya ng pilipinas runner-up). my tita beth, a pageant neophyte, was proclaimed runner-up to eventual winner feliza teresa nuevo miro.

after the pageant, tita beth became a celebrity of sorts in sampaloc and elsewhere. she modeled for a few designers and was invited as a sagala for countless santacruzans all over the country. despite her social commitments, tita beth completed her commerce degree at u.s.t. eventually, she married antique-born and ateneo-bred lawyer exequiel javier.

years later, tita beth’s brother-in-law evelio, then governor of antique province, was assassinated. tita beth became very active in street demonstrations against widespread government oppression and neglect. atty. javier was pushed to take the place of evelio and was subsequently elected as a governor (once) and as a congressman (four times). many believed that atty. javier’s impressive track record as a farmer, corporate lawyer, political leader and lawmaker was enhanced further by tita beth’s commitment and dedication as an amazing wife and mother. she was always behind her family. on top of these, tita beth has a distinguished career as a banker. truly, tita beth’s narrative is an amazing sampaloc success story.

it seems prodigious that there were many other beauty delegates who lived and/or studied in sampaloc. in fact, many of these women were university of santo tomas students: guia balmori (1938 miss philippines), teresita sanchez (1952 miss philippines universe), cristina pacheco (1953 miss philippines universe), bessie ocampo-buencamino (1954 miss philippines universe and miss universe semifinalist), isabel rodriguez (1956 miss philippines universe), pilar arciaga (1961 miss philippines international), cynthia ugalde (miss philippines international 1961), alice crisostomo (mutya ng pilipinas asia 1970 and miss asia runner-up), carolyn masibay (1971 mutya ng pilipinas asia and miss asia runner-up), armi barbara crespo (1972 bb. pilipinas universe and miss universe semifinalist), anette liwanag (1975 bb. pilipinas maja and maja internacional runner-up), evangeline evangelista (1976 mutya ng pilipinas tourism), maritoni judith daya (1988 bb. pilipinas tourism), jeanne therese hilario (1989 bb pilipinas maja, maja internacional runner-up, b.s. chemical engineering magna cum laude and national board exams topnotcher), gem padilla (1990 bb. pilipinas universe), jennifer pingree (1990 bb. pilipinas international), milarose javelosa (1990 bb. pilipinas tourism and medical doctor), mutya laxa (1990 bb. pilipinas runner-up, 1990 mutya ng pilipinas asia, 1992 miss asia-pacific runner-up), antoinette ballesteros (1990 mutya ng pilipinas world), gemith gemparo (1991 mutya ng pilipinas world, 1992 model of the world and commercial airline pilot), alma concepcion (1994 bb. pilipinas international and miss international finalist), gladys duenas (1994 bb. pilipinas international and miss international finalist), miriam quiambao (1999 bb. pilipinas universe, miss universe runner-up and television presenter), michelle cueva reyes (2000 bb. pilipinas runner-up, 2001 miss tourism international, 2002 miss tourism world and pediatric nurse), frances margaret arezza (2002 mutya ng pilipinas tourism), justine gabionza (2002 miss philippines-air and 2006 miss tourism queen international), jhezarie javier (2003 bb. pilipinas international and 2005 miss asean), and precious lara quigaman (2005 bb. pilipinas international and miss international).

other beauty queens from sampaloc included jennifer cortes (1978 bb. pilipinas universe), maria isabel lopez (1982 bb. pilipinas universe), corazon tierro (1984 bb. pilipinas runner-up), anthea robles (1988 bb. pilipinas international) and karen agustin (2002 bb. pilipinas universe).

fashion designers and stylists who either lived, studied or began their careers in sampaloc included danny acuna, sonia aquino, carlos burgos, alex carbonell, steve de leon, rudy diego, jun encarnacion, grace lagman, jay lozada, tanya mendoza, fernando marasigan, leslie ocampo, freddie reyes, ricky reyes, renee salud, and violet. at some point in their lives, these individuals discovered, managed and/or mentored nationally and internationally-acclaimed athletes, beauty queens, film stars and models.

these days, fewer students and graduates from reputable schools can be persuaded to join beauty pageants. these contests seemed to have lost their vitality and touch in many parts of the country. beauty pageants are no longer regarded highly because many people maintain that these contests commodify women. pundits declare that beauty pageants served their purpose from the 1900s (when pre-world war two carnival queens were selected annually) to the 1960s and the early 1970s (when gemma cruz, gloria diaz, aurora pijuan and margarita moran bagged international titles). by the 1970s and the 1980s, filipino women have many other options.

but not in sampaloc. there will always be billiards, boxing, basketball and most especially, beauty connoisseurs, beauty contestants and beauty pageants in my side of the city. the persistent blurring of high and low cultures all over the district will always be difficult to explain or account for.

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arsenio lacson (governor forbes) street
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nagtahan bridge is one of the gateways to sampaloc
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don quijote between espana and p. florentino
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view of don quijote from tinapayan, along dapitan
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railroad behind algeciras and antipolo streets
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u.s.t. faculty of medicine and surgery
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view of the u.s.t. grandstand and athletic field
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u.s.t. chapel and ecclesiastical faculties
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u.s.t. main building
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view of u.s.t. fra angelico (architecture and fine arts) building
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view of u.s.t. campus from the arsenio lacson (governor forbes) gate