Thursday, January 7, 2010

Shattered memories of happier days

My youngest daughter who lives in the United States called last week. She is taking a PAL flight for Manila today, and she gave me a list of food favorites, in fact wanted a huge breakfast the day she arrives. Together with sun-dried tapa, daing na biya and longanisa (three kinds --- Lukban, Alaminos and Vigan), she asked if I could prepare her favourite relish for fried foods, which is chopped native tomatoes and manggang piko, laced with a little salt.

So off I went yesterday to Quinta Market in Quiapo, the old reliable place where my suki always has manggang piko this time of the year. You see, only piko and pajo are good enough to eat when they are green. Kalabaw mangoes are without equal when ripe, but are extremely sour when green. Many consumers these days wouldn’t know the difference between kalabaw and piko, only hinog at hilaw.

It’s been some time since I personally visited what used to be Echague, slowly decayed since they renamed it Carlos Palanca Sr., after the Chinese entrepreneur who made a fortune selling Ginebra San Miguel. Since most of the kids left for the US of A, infrequent have been my visits to wet markets. My old reliable because conveniently located, and with ample parking, is Cartimar in nearby Pasay. But sometimes manggang piko is not available in Cartimar, from the single vendor who gets her supply from a viajera in Laguna. But in Echague, fronting old and decrepit Quinta Market, there always is that single tindera who sells piko, ust as one has to go to San Andres or pricey Rockwell for manggang pajo.

I parked in front of the row of houseware stores where most every restaurant and hotel buys most of their glassware and kitchen equipment. Just a few steps beyond was Quinta Market and Villalobos which leads directly to the Shrine of the Nazarene, now filled with street vendors selling all kinds of vegetables in small portions. Palanca narrows down to a single lane in front of Quinta, as half the street has given way to all kinds of fish and bagoong vendors. Getting back to the car after buying my treasured manggang piko, I passed by the ham store. Not that I haven’t tired of Christmas ham, but I had to buy hocks and bone to flavour the broth for fabada which we always cook in large batches. We divide a cauldron of fabada into single portions, ladle these into microwavable containers, and keep in the freezer for whenever someone in the house feels the urge for a steaming bowl of Asturias’ stew of beans, pork and chorizos de bilbao.

I proceeded northward towards Ayala Bridge after brief market interlude, and instantly felt like Macaulay’s traveller from New Zealand, “exploring the spectral ruins of Manila in the course of his post-atomic war peregrinations’ as the great Claro Mayo Recto once wrote about, warning about getting ourselves involved in the quarrels of the mighty. For in what was once a vibrant commercial street in the days of my youth, all that one could see were hollowed out decrepit buildings. Better-looking were the go-downs of Kowloon in the 60’s, before these were transformed into neon-lit shopping mecca. After passing the bridge where fetid estero emptied its slime into the Pasig River, what was once glorious Echague has become no man’s land. The once proud La Tondena fa├žade had become a testament to long gone glory. Fronting it now were rows of abandoned accesorias where once business bustled. Even the sidewalk vendors feared to tread what had become deserted strip.

I recalled that when I was a boy in short pants, we would go to Echague for a treat of banana split in the cool of Magnolia’s soda fountain, right after a shopping spree at what used to be Manila’s store for the mostest, similar to what Rustan’s today is --- Aguinaldo’s. When I was four or five, we would motor from San Pablo in Laguna to Manila, take a lunch of “comida China” at an Escolta or Sta. Cruz panciteria, then proceed to Echague where my lola would buy “aguinaldos” at the huge warehouse-type building in front of an expensive furniture maker’s atelier, and later walk a few steps for the ice cream treat at Magnolia’s. This was an annual hegira for me. Sometimes my lola would go visit her lawyer in his Escolta office, and then give me a treat at Botica Boie’s soda fountain, where huge sundaes and parfaits were once upon a happy time now mere memories.

Echague, already re-named Palanca, should one day be re-named Calzada de Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. It after all leads to Malacanang Palace in what was once Calle Aviles, now Jose P. Laurel after the wartime president. It also mirrors the decay of the country, from what was once a proud Asian nation during the time of her father Diosdado, into the most corrupt nation in this part of the globe. The row of decay that leads to the people’s palace is vivid symbol of the death of our institutions and the decay of both social mores and political ethos, so very reminiscent of the decade when Dona Gloria held sway with power so abused and morals so debased.

After that short stretch of no-man’s land where happy memories paled before harsh reality, one turns into Ayala Bridge. And then the motorist gets overwhelmed by a cornucopia of lampposts and plastic-encased lamps, all presumably imported from the land of cheapo’s, what used to be derided by Filipinos as “communist” China, now the global economy’s grandest emporium, where signature labels are mass-produced for the “exclusive” salons of Europe, and faked for the “hwa-na” 168 and SM.

I recall one night last year when I passed the same arches, and got my senses enveloped in a maze of multi-coloured streaks of green and was that violet, mish-mashed with UFO-inspired orange contraptions of undisguised kitsch every few meters, making a once-historic bridge look like a cheap copy of Hongkong Disneyland. Don’t take my word for it. Try passing by Manila’s historic bridges --- Jones and MacArthur, Quezon and Ayala, even Nagtahan, and Roxas Boulevard as well, Quirino Avenue in Paco and Pandacan, and weep at the phantasmagoria of Yiwu and Shenzhen illuminati, in all its tacky tastelessness.

Sometimes one wonders if Dona Gloria, she with the high-class gustatory cravings a la Le Cirque, has ever bothered to call up Manila’s hizzoner to inquire about that queer mix of street lighting that has peppered the once proud and beautiful City of Man. Oh well…she probably would use her pork as congresswoman to do the same for Guagaua and Lubao, and metequ!... Betis and Sta. Rita of the hundred iglesias y capillas.

One likewise wonders what the average man feels about all the decay encased in selectively-laced bright lights. Or have we as a people lost both pride of place and sense of history?

Sadly, one concludes --- matagal na. What a city. What a country.

Have a nice week-end!


Anonymous said...

Sen. Panfilo Lacson’s Political Consultant - Lito Banayo is said to be managing the solon’s affair in cleaning his name on the Dacer-Corbito case. And Banayo does this with huge help coming from renowned drug lords’ deep pockets. Sources reveal that around 2 billion pesos worth of drug money has already been fueling Banayo’s campaign for Lacson’s sake. About 500 million of this money was used to court various RTC judges to actually quash the case. Another 16 million was initially used in an attempt to stall the issuance of a warrant of arrest. Though the plan to sabotage Lacson’s WOA ran futile, the millions paved the way for him to leave the country a month before the warrant was served last February 05. Obviously, Lacson was tipped-off about his looming arrest and he apparently bagged the opportunity to plot his escape.

Although at a “runaway state”, Lacson is still able to micro-manage his defense in the Dacer-Corbito case with the assistance of Banayo and of course Chinese tycoons running a drug trade under the senator’s protection. To name a few of these “financiers” is Kim Wong who owns a chain of restaurants and casinos in the country. In 2008, headlines included Lacson’s ill-gotten wealth amounting to $180 million under a hoax account in Hong Kong. The said money was part of Lacson’s pay-up after working with Wong’s drug dens. The charges, however, did not materialize as more controversial issues in mid of 2009 bumped it off the political arena. Coincidentally, Wong just happens to be an “indispensible” persona behind military and PNP officials, including Ret. PNP Chief Avelino Razon who is seeking a mayorial post this coming election.

The costly escapades of Lacson and his supposed well-financed “trick or two” to actually evade arrest by the Interpol shows how well-financed the senator is outside the country. Thus, it is likely true that the former claims of Dacer-Corbito state witnesses- Glenn Dumlao and Cesar Mancao of Lacson “manhandling” their testimonies on the murder case are accurate. The late night visits of Lacson to Dumlao and Mancao in the US with his promise of financing their families in the Philippines are nonetheless being funded by the likes of Wong.

Other than stage-managing his case, Lacson is also making use of the nearing elections in his defense. As sources further revealed, Wong is also doling out part of the said 2 billion drug fund on Sen. Noynoy Aquino’s presidential race. The idea is to actually lure Aquino to incur a huge political debt to Wong. By the time Aquino bags the presidency, Wong and other legitimate tycoons who invested on LP are entitled to ask for favors. Among these anonymous benefactors is of course Lacson. We could only guess that he would be pressuring Aquino to grant him his murder case during his administration. At a heartbeat, Lacson and Wong would ask no more than assistance to scrap the Dacer-Corbito case. This way, Lacson could reclaim his political stature and protect the drug market which Wong domineers.

The “mismanagement” inside LP and the rumored “pushover” leadership of Aquino, would undoubtedly make him an easy prey for Lacson and Wong.