Posts Tagged ‘philippines’

pop goes the world: moving on

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  20 December 2012, Thursday

Moving On

“Divorce Next – Belmonte” blared the front page of another broadsheet in 70-point black type, signaling renewed interest in the topic after the recent landmark passage of the reproductive health bill.

PDI divorce next

Image here. Photo of House Speaker Feliciano Belmonte on the left.

The news article accompanying that headline cited House of Representatives Speaker Feliciano Belmonte as saying that he supports the divorce bill and thinks it possible that such a law could be passed by the next Congress.

The Philippines is the only country in the world that does not have a divorce law, an effect of prevailing cultural norms instilled during the Spanish colonial period and perpetuated by the Roman Catholic majority. Roman Catholicism forbids divorce but allows marriage annulment in a process governed by strict criteria.

However, divorce is available to Muslim Filipinos under Presidential Decree No. 1083, the “Code of Muslim Personal Laws of the Philippines.” Under its Chapter III, divorce is recognized between Muslims and a Muslim man and his non-Muslim wife if married under Muslim law or this particular code, which “recognizes the legal system of the Muslims in the Philippines as part of the law of the land…”

Historically, divorce was widely practiced during pre-colonial times, according to an interesting blog post dated 5 August 2008 at the website Philippine e-Legal Forum of Jaromay Laurente Pamaos (JLP) Law Offices.

In the 16th century, absolute divorce was practiced by tribes as widely scattered as  the Igorots and Sagadans of the Cordilleras to the Tagbanwas of Palawan to the Manobos, B’laans, and Muslims of Visayas and Mindanao.

Also according to the JLP post, divorce was available during the American colonial period from 1917 to 1950. Divorce was not allowed in the New Civil Code that took effect in August 1950; only legal separation was, and this was adopted by the 1988 Family Code, which also “introduced the concept of ‘psychological incapacity’ as a basis for declaring [a] marriage void.”

There have been various incarnations of divorce bills filed in Congress as far back as 1999 at least. That one was filed by Representative Manuel C. Ortega (House Bill No. 6993). Senator Rodolfo G. Biazon filed one in 2001 (Senate Bill No. 782) as did Rep. Bellaflor J. Angara-Castillo (HB No. 878). This was followed in 2005 by one filed by Reps. Liza Masa and Luzviminda Ilagan (HB 3461).

The most recent version is by Reps. Ilagan and Emerenciana de Jesus (HB 1799). Belmonte said that this bill is still at the committee level and will not be taken up soon, with congressmen busy preparing for next year’s elections.

Why do we need a divorce bill?

Because under existing laws, marriages may only be “annulled” or rendered void at the start. The process is long, tedious, and expensive (costing P200,000 or more), making it available only to the moneyed who can afford to hire lawyers and obtain the psychological report that affirms the psychological incapacity of one or both of the parties involved.

This is unfair to most Filipinos who do not have the means for this legal maneuver, and instead resort to separating from their spouses and living with other partners, often resulting in legal entanglements involving conjugal property, benefits, and inheritance – the fodder of telenovelas.

A divorce would recognize that the marriage did exist but should no longer continue for a number of reasons, including domestic violence, infidelity, abandonment, non-support, and so on.

The chief opponent to such a bill would be the Roman Catholic clergy. Having received a jarring setback in their campaign against the RH bill, proposing a divorce bill would quite likely further enrage them. [Postcript 20 Dec 2012: And it has - read here.]

But if Muslim Filipinos can have divorce, why can’t other Filipinos? Just because the Catholics don’t want to have divorces doesn’t mean they should stop others, especially non-Catholics, from having them.

Why should a religious group be allowed to dictate what other people should or shouldn’t do according to the tenets of their religion? Is that fair or just to others who don’t subscribe to their faith?

A person’s religion is often arbitrary, dictated by birth; the law then should be a support system that can care for all members of society regardless of the constructed and sometimes illogical regulations of whatever their religion may be. Laws are for the good of many, not the one (or the one group).

Let’s face it, our (predominantly Catholic) society is a hypocritical one. It bars divorce but to get around this, cultural norms developed where it is considered acceptable for men to have mistresses and illegitimate children while their wives have to suffer it for the sake of the family (unless they have their own intimate affairs), and legal go-arounds such as annulment have been devised that benefit the wealthy few, not everyone.

As adults with functioning brains we are all aware that some things don’t last forever, that people must move on from situations that don’t work anymore, that it is often better to cut and cut cleanly that to slog on in an unhappy marriage marred by misery and desperation.

We need a law that gives us a chance to move on and start over, and it is only abysmal stupidity and selfishness that will deny this.

And this is the best time to work for the divorce bill, right after the RH bill’s passage. The discourse on human rights in general and women’s rights in particular must continue and the momentum for struggle be sustained, because things need to change for the better and as soon as possible, because too many people have been suffering for far too long and delay is a disservice to the people.

Let’s end the hypocrisy. The divorce bill should be next. *** 

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how i spent my u.s. vacation (short story)

Heartfelt thanks to Palanca Award-winning writer Ichi Batacan for encouraging me to write this story, and Kenneth Yu for publishing it last April on his Philippine Genre Stories website.

Much of this is based on true stories. Truth, after all, is always stranger than fiction, precisely because it really happened.


So. The girl, I was told, was not Silva’s but another man’s – the woman’s husband. She had left him because he was beating her. Late one night she crept out of their shack carrying only a duffel bag of clothes and her young daughter; hitching up the skirt of her duster, she got astride Silva’s Yamaha motorcycle and off they sped into the night and a new life. Only for him to disappear mysteriously five years later.

Ray said, but that’s not what really happened.

You mean Silva didn’t run off with another woman?

No, said Ray. Tatay’s friend told me this:

A Spyderco Endura knife like this one features in the story

Boyong Silva was a neighbor of theirs. He was a drunkard. He spent the days getting soused with cronies, who, like him, relied on their wives to keep them fed and sheltered in the barong-barongs, the shacks of scrounged wood and galvanized iron that littered their community like rat’s nests.

He’d come home late. The wife would be asleep. She took in laundry and would be tired to death after a day bent over a washtub, scrubbing clothes by hand, the chemicals in the harsh detergent bareta eating into her hands, pitting the rough brown skin with red wounds that stung when she immersed her hands in water. After that she’d iron the dry clothes. The damp, the heat, the hard labor, they take a toll.

Read the entire story here.

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mary grace cafe

Looking for a place that serves great food in a warm, inviting, cozy atmosphere? Check out Mary Grace Cafe at Greenbelt Makati and Serendra Taguig.

My first visit to this restaurant was last month, and I’ve been going at least once a week ever since, on a weekend, sometimes to eat there twice a day – brunch and dinner.

First, let’s look at the interiors. They’re all country, no rock-n-roll. Think of a cottage decorated with Papemelroti accessories and salvaged architectural elements such as carved wood trim and balusters and stained-glass windows.

The facade of Mary Grace Cafe in Greenbelt, Makati City. Notice the fairy lights around the windows! Information such as store hours and contact numbers are painted on the glass door, rather than inscribed on a sign that would mar the view.

Inside, look up and be amazed at the ceiling’s display of clusters of lanterns  and glass jars. I love this! I will duplicate this in my home. One day. When I get around to it.

The upper level of the cafe in Greenbelt is a loft that might be the dining room and sala of your quirky artist aunt’s cottage in Laguna, or something. It murmurs “come in, sit down, eat!”

The interior of Mary Grace Cafe – Serendra. It’s small but still warm with brick and wood trim accents, and all sorts of country-style decor. There are racks of magazines to read while waiting.

Now for the food!

The tables are wooden, the tops covered with glass, underneath which are handwritten notes from happy patrons. Popular menu items include Mary Grace hot chocolate, Filipino-style with ground peanuts, served in a mismatched cup and saucer for a colorful touch; and the cassava chips and onion dip. You must try these. YOU MUST.

Here’s a tip: bring a large 16-oz tumbler with lid or a thermos and combine a cup of the hot chocolate with a cup of brewed coffee. It’s mocha, Pinoy-style.

Their iced teas are really good, and come in several fruity flavors. Our favorite is the apple and cinnamon honey – “Apple pie in a glass!” my youngest daughter calls it.

Start with a bowl of hearty soup. This is my eldest daughter’s favorite – the cream of mushroom soup. It’s savory without being too salty; it’s just right.

The menu runs to salads, pastas, and pastries. Craving a rice meal? They serve Filipino breakfast with rice until 5pm. This is the Vigan longganisa (sausage) plate that comes with two eggs anyway you like it. 

The seafood pasta blends flavors of the sea with earthy vegetables and bread.

The tomato pasta is muy delicioso.

The Kesong Puti salad with Calamansi Vinaigrette teases your palate with interesting flavors.

The mushroom and cheese pizza is on a crunchy thin crust sprinkled with cornmeal for added texture.

Cap off your meal with a slice – or two – of  cinnamony, nutmeggy, whipped cream-y apple pie.

Grilled ensaymada – grilling melts the cheese, toasts the top of the pastry, and warms it through.

Mary Grace started out as a home business in the mid-90s, with the owner selling melt-in-your-mouth ensaymada from her dad’s machinery store along Vito Cruz Street, Manila. I remember how fame of her pastries spread via word-of-mouth, and bought boxes of ensaymada one holiday in the late 90s to give as gifts. I gave a box to the late Speaker of the House Ramon V. Mitra Jr., and was surprised when he called back saying he loved them and asking where to buy.

It’s heartwarming to see that from those humble beginnings more than a decade ago, Mary Grace has grown, giving it more ways to bring its delicious baked goods and food to a wider clientele.

All photos taken with an iPhone 4S.

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pop goes the world: hypocriciety

 POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  30 March 2012, Friday


The other day I received a forwarded email. The subject was “Dump Starbucks”, and turned out to be a link to an online petition to boycott the global chain for allegedly supporting same-sex marriage in the United States.

The debate on same-sex marriage is raging in that country. The issue gained prominence in the media, with high-profile celebrities either bashing or advocating same-sex marriage.

The cons include Carrie Prejean (2009 Miss USA candidate), actor Kirk Cameron (Growing Pains), and Mel Gibson (‘nuff said).

Among the advocates are actors George Takei (Star Trek) and Neil Patrick Harris (How I Met Your Mother), who are gay, and George Clooney, who is not; they focus on the issue as being concerned with equality in general, with same-sex marriage being a part of equal rights for all.

In the United States, the states that allow same-sex marriage are: Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Washington DC, Iowa, and Washington. California recognizes the marriages it previously performed when it still allowed them, while Maryland recognizes out-of-state marriages.

The ten countries that allow full marriage equality nationwide are Argentina, Belgium, Canada, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, and Sweden. Denmark is expected to pass a bill on same-sex marriage in June this year.

In Brazil, they are performed in some states although allowed in theory; in Mexico, they are allowed only in Mexico City. Israel recognizes same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, while there are ongoing debates to allow it in Australia, Finland, Uruguay, and France.

How relevant is all this discussion in the Philippines, when we remain the only country without a divorce law? While our intellectuals and advocates are immersed in the global discourse on social issues related to marital, sexual, and gender rights, the rest of the country has lagged behind.

With the local Roman Catholic church still heavily sustaining the majority’s patriarchal mind-set, divorce and contraception remain bones of contention while many laws favor men over women (such as those on adultery and concubinage).

In order to cope with the dissonance between norms and actual behavior, people employ mechanisms such as dedma, or turning a blind eye.

Spousal infidelity is rampant across society; among the elite, recall the public exposure of Paqui Ortigas and his wife Suzie Madrigal Bayot’s private lives, and the Aleli Arroyo-Grace Ibuna-Iggy Arroyo triangle. Multiple families are a fact of life, as are the concomitant problems that everyone concerned, including the children, have to deal with.

Aleli Arroyo and Grace Ibuna. Image here.

Here’s an example of the difficulties that arise: last weekend, the 7-year-old daughter of my ex-husband by another woman asked me, “How are you related to my dad?” Now, how do we answer questions like that without causing trauma to the child?

My ex told me that she asked him last year, when she was introduced to our daughters, “How come I met my ates only now?” A divorce law would have spared us, and many others in unhappy marital situations, a measure of the anguish that arises from unfaithfulness and separation.

As for LGBT rights, much more needs to be done. Our society is generally tolerant of gays – many are prominent businessmen, showbiz celebrities, world-famous designers and artists, and successes in other fields – but they do not have equal rights when it comes to marriage. Though they live together and behave as married hetero couples do, and the fact is accepted, it is unfair that they do not have the same marital rights under the law.

Pride March in Manila, Philippines, Dec 2011. From a private Facebook page. 

Cultural norms and values are socially constructed, meaning that they are generally shaped through consensus or agreement among the members of society. Sometimes these are imposed through force (war) or guilt and threats (religion).

All these rules, whether codified as law or unspoken as norms, are determined by man. If society is to serve its members, rather than the other way around, people must be responsive to historic shifts in thought and perspective that seek to find solutions to old, recurrent problems. With the discourse gaining even more prominence globally, now is the time for us to face this too.

The choice is between the hypocrisy our society has resorted to as a coping mechanism, or laws that reflect the current social condition and provide the means to properly deal with present-day situations.

We have evolved a hypocriciety. When will we accept that not all marriages work, and that people need the chance to start new lives? When will we throw away biological distinctions and gender-based prejudices and think of ourselves and each other simply as humans, all entitled to the same rights and privileges? *** 

George Takei image from his Facebook Page. Paqui Ortigas image here.

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pop goes the world: a culture of domestic abuse

 POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 23 February 2012, Thursday

A Culture of Domestic Abuse

Last Valentine’s Day, instead of gabbing about their lovelives over coffee and cake, a group of women gathered to discuss a pressing and urgent matter, one that impacts the lovelives of all Filipinos.

The “Soul Sisters for RH”, a group of legislatrices urging the passing of the Reproductive Health Bill, held an open forum to exchange views on issues concerning women, relationships, and how these relate to the RH bills now pending in Congress.

The group comprises representatives Jaye Lacson-Noel, Kimi Cojuangco, Sandy Ocampo, Bernadette Herrera-Dy, Abigail Ferriol, Sharon S. Garin, and Emmeline Y. Aglipay.

Among the topics discussed, I was most interested in a disturbing fact mentioned by Rep. Aglipay (DIWA partylist) – that violence against women has been increasing.

According to the 2008 National Demographic and Health Survey of the National Statistics Office, “One in five women aged 15-49 has experienced physical violence since age 15. More than fourteen percent of married women have experienced physical abuse from their husbands; and more than one-third or thirty seven percent of separated or widowed women have experienced physical violence, implying that domestic violence could be the reason for separation or annulment.”

These are horrendous statistics. Can we, “the only Catholic country in Asia” and all that, supposedly having a strong moral foundation, hold our head high as being morally upright? No. These figures are too high.

This increase in the incidence of abuse has occurred despite the passage of Republic Act 9262, the Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act of 2004 (VAWC), which “granted the government the right to intervene in case of household violence or abuse against women and children. (Association for Progressive Communications).”

National Anti-Poverty Commission assistant secretary Lila Ramos Shahani notes that “The implementation gap in this country continues to remain particularly glaring…Violence against women and trafficking are overt manifestations of gender inequality in the Philippines and its prevalence in our patriarchal culture.”

Domestic abuse is a stark reality of life in the Philippines, no matter how much some people will try pretend it doesn’t exist. I remember attending a Bible study at a ritzy international church in Makati some years ago. The other members were older ladies from the ultra-wealthy set, coming to Bible class with Louis Vuitton handbags slung over their arm. One day we were discussing what sort of ministry to provide to womens’ correctional inmates; I suggested some sort of therapy workshop for abused women. One of women shuddered. “I can’t believe there is such a thing!” she exclaimed. “How can men hurt the women in their family? My father and husband love me and spoil me so much!”

I told her I myself was the victim of terrible physical abuse from my ex-husband. I proceeded to tell her a few stories from that dark period. Her eyes wide, she edged away from me, shaking her head, clutching her Epi leather LV closer to her chest. I left that church soon after.

Men are also likely to downplay the abuse that occurs. After a particular severe beating (I was gagged with duct tape and tied with leather straps), I went to the police precinct in our area to report the incident. The policeman on duty took down my statement in the blotter, but refused to take any other action. “Away mag-asawa yan,” he said. “That’s none of our business.”

Last week, a woman who lives a few doors away from ours was telling neighbors that the week before, she caught her seaman husband and another woman together in a motel. Her husband dragged her home and beat her savagely.  Having been caught being unfaithful, siya pa galit. The wife sported a black eye and bruises after that. The entire neighborhood saw.

According to the author of a version of the RH Bill, Rep. Edcel C. Lagman (Albay), the proposed law “is not anti-life. It is pro quality life.” Among other benefits, it provides for the “elimination of violence against women.”

It is doubtful whether the bill can be passed before the Congress recess on March 13, given the focus of lawmakers now on the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona.

What’s important is to ensure that the attention on the RH Bill does not wane. “Out of sight, out of mind.” Delaying this important matter does our country a great disservice, and continues to keep us locked in the shackles of fear and ignorance created by the dark side of culture and law.

As a citizen of this Republic, I urge – no, I demand – the passage of the RH Bill, and other legislation that will adequately protect women and children from pain and hurt inflicted by those obligated and sworn to protect and cherish them, not only at home, but in the societal milieu.  *** 

Stop VAW poster here. Lila Shahani image here. Edcel Lagman here.

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new philippines tourism slogan

The Philippine Department of Tourism unveiled today its new slogan and logo – “It’s More Fun in the Philippines”.

Twitter immediately erupted with comments, both for and against. A lot of what’s going around right now is sarcastic in nature. But then, that’s what happens when it’s phrased in such a way as to lend itself to all kinds of interpretation.

I liked the old campaign better – “Wow Philippines”. It conveyed interest and excitement in one short word -”wow” – without making unsupportable or subjective claims such as “more”.

“It’s fun in the Philippines” would have been less likely to be made fun of.

However, compared to the “Pilipinas Kay Ganda” fiasco in November 2010, this new one is still an improvement. The fact that #itsmorefuninthephilippines is trending worldwide shows we can work with this.

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pop goes the world: the corona-vela

POP GOES THE WORLD  By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today,  15 December 2011, Thursday

The Corona-vela

The past two weeks we were talking about KC breaking up with Papa Piolo, in tears on television, and Mo spilling the beans about himself and Rhian, in tears on Youtube.

All this seems the stuff of telenovela – so dramatic and exaggerated. But a new narrative now bursts upon the Filipino consciousness – the impeachment of Chief Justice Renato C. Corona by 188 members of Congress last December 12.

The 63-year-old Corona was appointed by former president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo to the Supreme Court on 9 April 2002. On 12 May 2010, two days after the 2010 elections and only one month before the expiry of Arroyo’s term in office, she appointed him Chief Justice of the SC.

The Constitution of the Philippines bans appointments by a president two months before a presidential election and until the term expires on June 30.

Father Joaquin Bernas, one of the framers of the 1987 Constitution, in a January 2010 newspaper interview opined that it would be the next president after Arroyo who should appoint the next chief justice. Even with the constitutional provision requiring the President to appoint a new chief justice within 90 days after a vacancy, he said the new president would still have 45 days to decide after taking office on June 30.

Corona has recently come under fire for siding with Arroyo in various ways and frustrating the ends of justice in the cases the government has filed against her. Therefore his impeachment by 188 lawmakers, when only 95 would have sufficed.

The vast majority of Filipinos, like myself, are not lawyers. We do not know nor understand the ramifications of the law on this issue. So we require the guidance of those who are learned in the matter, scholars and practitioners of the law. But they, like the ordinary folk, differ in their interpretations.

Most public opinion goes either of two ways: one, that the government is morphing into a dictatorship, that they are undermining one of the three branches of government, that checks and balances are being eroded, that the Constitution itself is being threatened.

The other view is that no one is above the law, not even the judiciary. For it is illogical to maintain, as many of them do, that because they are judges they hold the final interpretation of the law, and can therefore do no wrong. No one is above the law, not even the law.

It seems to me that the latter perspective is the more logical and fair, as expressed in the statement of the University of the Philippines Law Student Government 2011-2012 (the whole text was posted on Facebook yesterday): “From the point-of-view of the Honorable Chief Justice, the efforts of the current administration, allegedly in concert with its allies in Congress, threaten the independence of the judiciary, and ultimately threaten our country’s democracy itself.

“We submit that it was the former President Arroyo who was in fact the greatest threat to the Judiciary’s independence in the past decade. It was the former President who was responsible for politicizing the High Court in the first place by her many appointments, his elevation to the Chief Justiceship being the most questionable.

“The fact also remains that there is a steady stream of recent decisions by the High Court has continuously blocked major attempts by the current government to pursue its platform of holding the past administration to account for its sins against the Filipino people.”

Yesterday, Corona hogged public attention with a speech, attended by court employees and officials who declared a court holiday to rally behind him. It’s a cultural trait, the drama and the hyperbole, the carefully studied move or action executed in public, accompanied by exaggerated emotion (to elicit pity) or a lack of it (to show grace under pressure).

Corona said, “Ako raw po ay isang midnight appointee. Dapat raw po, hindi ko tinanggap ang paghirang sa akin. Bakit po ba, para si Ginoong Aquino ang makapagtalaga ng kanyang sariling chief justice na hawak niya sa leeg? Mapapa-iling ka talaga.”

“Iling” is to shake one’s head in disbelief, or incredulity. Opo, CJ Corona, napapa-iling ako talaga. Because according to the Constitution, you are a midnight appointee – of Gloria Arroyo, who has a tight grip upon your neck, and who wanted her very own Chief Justice in the highest court in the land.

I am not a lawyer. I do not know Corona personally. So I look at his pictures to gain some sense of the man. His eyes are like raisins pushed into his doughy, well-fed face as he hogs public attention with his grandstanding speeches. I try to muster empathy and benefit-of-the-doubt. But it’s hard. If this were a telenovela and he was cast as the hero, di ito bebenta. Give me more KC, Mo, and Rhian.

So I focus on the facts. The situation is complex for all its legal and political implications. But it seems simple to me. His appointment was made improperly and in contravention of the highest law of the land. For that alone, Corona does not deserve to hold office. *** 

Image of CJ Corona here. Fr. Bernas here. UP LSG logo from their public Facebook Page.

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pilipinas kong mahal

Maligayang Araw ng Kasarinlan, mahal kong Pilipinas!


Ang bayan ko’y tanging ikáw/ Pilipinas kong mahál
Ang puso ko at buhay man/ Sa iyó’y ibibigay.

Tungkulin ko’y gagampanán na lagi kang paglíngkurán
Ang laya mo’y babantayán/ Pilipinas kong Hirang…

English Translation
My one and only country/ Philippines, my love
My heart and my life/ For you I’ll freely give.

I willingly perform my duty/ To always serve my country
Your freedom I will protect/ Philippines, my love.


Ako ay Pilipino/ Ang dugo’y maharlika
Likas sa aking puso/ Adhikaing kay ganda
Sa Pilipinas na aking bayan/ Lantay na Perlas ng Silanganan
Wari’y natipon ang kayamanan ng Maykapal.
Bigay sa ‘king talino/ Sa mabuti lang laan
Sa aki’y katutubo/ Ang maging mapagmahal
Ako ay Pilipino, ako ay Pilipino
Isang bansa isang diwa/ Ang minimithi ko
Sa bayan ko’t bandila/ Laan buhay ko’t diwa
Ako ay Pilipino, Pilipinong totoo/
Ako ay Pilipino, ako ay Pilipino
Taas noo kahit kanino/ Ang Pilipino ay ako!

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mang inasal can save the world from hunger…

…with its “unlimited rice”.

Yes, the Mang Inasal quick service restaurant that offers as its specialty grilled chicken Negrense inasal style serves unlimited rice to its patrons.  Much like what you’d get in the average home – you know, this much ulam that you have to share with everyone else in the family, but there’s more sinaing in the rice cooker or caldero on the stove if you’re still hungry.

It’s this relaxed, home-style eating theme that this restaurant’s savvy owner and managers have parlayed into commercial success – fortune, fame, and a buy-out by food megagiant Jollibee Corporation.

Inasal is made by marinating chicken in vinegar with minced garlic and tanglad, and grilling. Anatto oil, brushed on during cooking, gives the chicken its distinct orange color. A simple recipe, but flavorful. Don’t forget that at Mang Inasal, it comes with unlimited rice.

How to eat at Mang Inasal:

Step 1. Queue at the counter. Choose items from the lighted menu on the wall. Menu items are no-brainers like chicken (60% of the menu), pork barbeque, bangus, and sisig. These protein-based entrees come free with a cup of sinigang broth and, don’t forget, unlimited rice.

Step 2. Pay the cashier.

Step 3.  The food will be served, so take your number-on-a-stick to your table, insert one end into the carved wooden number stick-holder expressly designed for holding number sticks, and wait.

Step 4. When your food arrives, eat! Galit-galit muna.

Step 5. Drizzle “chicken” (anatto) oil (the sauce bottle on your table not filled with toyo or suka) on your rice for more fat and calories, er, flavor.

Step 6. Ask one of the waitstaff roaming around with what looks like an ice bucket for more rice; he or she will gladly scoop a cup of the hot fluffy steamed onto your plate, as much of it as you want.

Step 7 (optional). Have dessert – save room for halo-halo or sorbetes.

Step 8. Repeat Steps 1 to 7 as often as desired.

I personally know a 20-year old man (I’m talking to you, JM) who ate seven cups of rice at one meal with his order of chicken. And he could have had more, because at Mang Inasal, you get unlimited rice.

Now that’s the way to solve world hunger.

Photos taken with a Nokia C3 2-mp mobile phone cam.

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pop goes the world: holiday serenity

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 23 December 2010, Thursday

Holiday Serenity

Only in the Philippines, I think, is Christmas celebrated for practically an entire month. Work slows down by the first week of December. Malls, offices, and other public establishments evoke the holiday spirit by decorating, some lavishly, others simply, each according to their inclinations and capabilities.

Ayala Avenue this year is more brightly lit than ever before, with thousands of blazing white lights festooned like strings of  glowing pearls from the trees that line the center of the road, and damn the power bill because it all looks so splendid.

Ayala Avenue this Christmas 2010. Image here.

Shopping is always a favorite pastime of Filipinos, and especially so during this season, when cultural norms of gift-giving are observed. A person would sort the groups of people he knows into several categories – work (bosses, officemates, clients); friends (schoolmates, friends made elsewhere); family (immediate and others); and so on.

The nearest and dearest receive the most expensive presents, while officemates one isn’t close to get the gaily-packaged brownies or cookies bought in bulk from friends who “make negosyo” during the season. And so on. Hierarchy is a cultural meme, maybe even a survival imperative in our DNA, some thinkers suggest, and exerts influence even as we perform this pleasant chore.

It is a festive time, with food playing a major role in providing a sense of comfort and security and adding that extra fillip of extravagance that sets occasions like these apart from the ordinary.

When I was a child, Western fruit like apples, grapes, and oranges were to be had only at Christmas-time, along with chestnuts and walnuts which we cracked against door jambs. My mother made certain dishes only during the holidays – deep-dish one-crust apple pie sprinkled with parmesan cheese on top and fruit salad made with canned US Del Monte fruit cocktail that was mostly peaches, never the local kind that was mostly pineapples and made the salad too sour, and she would add a squeeze of calamansi to cut the sweetness. For an appetizer she would lay out plates of Edam cheese, some slices plain, others fried in butter.

Through the years, she’d mix up the menu, sometimes whipping up Caesar salad dressing from scratch with egg yolks, extra-virgin olive oil, and crushed peppercorns, while her entrees would include falling-off-the-bone roast crown of pork, fondue, beef stew, shrimp tempura, and one of my favorites, chicken marinated in Pepsi, ketchup, and secret spices then grilled over charcoal.

We lived in a series of small apartments that were easy to decorate, and my mother made sure that wherever we were, we always had a Christmas tree with ornaments and silver tinsel and colorfully-wrapped presents underneath, and garlands of evergreen with pine cones and red-and-gold ribbons on the walls.

I’ve kept up our family tradition of a tree. Mine is soft and warm and fuzzy with handmade quilted and cross-stitched ornaments from snail-mail swaps or bought at bazaars. No glitzy tinsel and metallic balls for us, just homespun decorations made with love.

Presents back then were simple – an Enid Blyton book, a kitchen playset, t-shirts. There were no electronic gadgets with their beep-boops and flashing lights distracting people from interacting with each other.

Today, with all the bustle and swirl of activity, the rampant commercialization by merchants, and the over-the-top keeping-up-with-the-neighbors, some might feel the need to slow down and find a quiet place.

Where is yours? It can be an actual location or inside your head. It is wherever one may retreat into calm and peace.

University of the Philippines professor emeritus Cristina Pantoja-Hidalgo recently shared with us, her graduate students in creative writing, an essay she wrote titled “In Search of Stillness and Serenity.” In the piece she revisits all her quiet places in the different countries she’s  been to.

Here’s an excerpt, where she tells of an oasis of stillness in the mountains of war-ravaged Lebanon:

“I remember our being invited by Frieda, a member of Tony’s staff, to her family’s old villa in the small Druze town of Abey, up in the mountains. Her great-grandfather had been the village blacksmith and had built the house in the late 19th century. It had walls of thick stone, deep windows, a high, vaulted ceiling, beautiful rosewood furniture, hand-carved and inlaid with nakkar and mother-of-pearl, and lovely old rugs, lamps, pipes, copper coffee pots…

“Frieda walked us through a small forest of oak trees, to the olive orchards, where her father was cutting off large branches and putting them into baskets—the white (green) olives to be made into araq; the red, into vinegar; and the black (the sweetest of all), to eat as part of the traditional Lebanese mezze. And then we came to the olive press, and were offered some freshly baked Arabic bread to dip into the freshly pressed oil, which was delicious.

“And there was a serenity about the olive grove, and the day, and the village itself, which seemed far removed from the ceaseless strife that plagued Lebanon.”

In Philippine culture, the holidays are full of rituals to be observed and traditions to keep up, and we do these joyfully, because it is when the past connects and extends into the present that we feel the tug of the bonds of family, society, history, and culture that define and shape who we are.

Yet in the midst of the maelstrom remember to visit your quiet place, wherever it is, to rest, recharge, and reconnect with yourself and all that you are, and all that you can be.

Happy holidays from my home to yours, and I wish for you blessings of deep peace, utter happiness, and boundless love. ***

Olive oil and bread image here.

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