Cops, Crooks, Crocs and other vignettes worth sharing over a bottle of beer
From the Desk
If Egypt has the Nile and UK has the Thames, The Philippines certainly has the Pasig. The river of life as one poet would put it has its own set of stories that are shared uniquely but interconnected by the towns that meet its waters on its way to Manila Bay. It is celebrated by composers and poets who find solace in its by-gone clean waters and is now lamented over like a lady stricken by an unknown malady. As Nicanor Abelardo in his kundiman would say, "Kung Nais niyo akong Mabuhay, Pag-ibig ko'y iyong ibigay". What is this love that Pasig asks for? Is this unrequited? Is this the love of Mother who plays lady bountiful? Or is it the love of a lover who was deserted and abused?
Kundiman are songs from the Tagalog region inasmuch as Traditional Black Gospel Music is from the Mississippi Delta. If you would think of it, songs about life, strife, sacrifices and wonders grew in the banks of rivers and water systems. It says a lot about inspiration doesn't it? In fact Kundiman stands for "Kung hinid man" - a statement that solicits sadness of a failed rendezvous, hopes and nearly-shattered dreams.
But the river will never be THE river or the town will never be THE town if not for the people who glorify their lives and immortalize their existence through songs and stories that are all hand-me-downs of our historical and cultural fabric. Are you a proud Pasigueno?
Buwayang Bato and the Chinese
Across Barangay Pineda is a barrio called "San Nicolas" (present day Fort Bonifacio). This place used to be part of Pasig but then administratively transferred to San Pedro de Macati in 1794. The peculiarity of this place is a folk belief that a large rock formation where women do their laundry used to be a crocodile - the number 1 enemy of the fisher folks of the river. Fishing is a livelihood, in fact the river itself is a sign of life. Most of the cities and towns in Manila were named after the movements and things associated with the river,(manDALUYong, Pasig, MayNILAD, PAT(o)eros, etc.). Life indeed begins and ends with the river which may also be the reason why the National Artist for Literature Nick Joaquin wished for his ashes to be committed to the Rio de Pasig - for we all belong to this blessed place - We are Taga(i)logs.
According to legend, a Chinese merchant was taking a bath (or sailing, depending on the source) in the river despite warnings of the women about a large crocodile living there and devouring people. In a moment's time a large reptile appeared in front of him and is gearing towards barreling its large self to the helpless man. For sure the crocodile would devour him and tore him to pieces, so the "Intsik" invoked a saint for help. "San Nicolasi! San Nicolasi! Maging Bato ka mangani! Ikaw ngayon tulong akyen. Ikaw ngawa awa sa akyen. Ikaw ngawa isa milakro! Ngawa mo mato sa muwaya". The people who saw the site were surprised that a non-believer sought the help of a Christian Saint!
With this chanting, the croc suddenly froze thereupon instantly turning into stone. The news of the miracle spread like wildfire reaching the Chinese Parian and Manila. Gracious upon the help of San Nicolas de Tolentino, the Chinamen built a pilgrimage center, a visita in a place across a rock formation that resembles a body of a crocodile about to strike a victim. This chapel exists to this day.
The Chinese people have long since part of the community of Pasig. In 1603 the Sangleys of Parian and its surrounding environs revolted against the Spanish Authority. The superior weapons of the Spaniards scared the revolutionists and retreated until they were all cornered in Pasig town and Ayonbon. Although it ended gruesomely butchering 23,000 Chinese in the uprising, in the decades that came, in 1639, the Chinese avenged the deaths of their comrades and burned the villages and the Church in Pasig and San Mateo. At that same year, after the Chinese Uprising, the Lady of Antipolo was brought back to Manila passing through the intertwining Bitukang Manok. The Virgin was then again, brought to the Port of Cavite that was long associated to the Sangleys or the Chinese to be honored as the Grand Patroness of the Galleons.
San Nicolas de Tolentino is not originally the patron of the Chinamen. In 1581 Governor General Gonzalo Ronquillo who saw the rise of the Chinese merchants as threat to the Spanish leadership in the islands designated a square of land where these Orientals can conduct their business and living. These were called the Parians. The Spanish Government chose a place near the riverside as the Chinese used their boats for their trade and from there they built a ghetto near a Dominican priory since they are the ones in charge in evangelizing the Chinese. This ghetto was soon burned down and a second parian in 1583 was built in present day Liwasang Bonifacio in Manila. A dedicated gate from the walled city was then constructed - the Puerto de Parian. On this second ghetto rose a church dedicated to the Three Kings, the Magis. It was only after the crocodile story that the Chinese hailed San Nicolas de Tolentino as their new patron.
Come to think of it, the orientals first chose The Three Wise Men as their patron. Coincidentally, these biblical Magis are also known as the Three Kings of the Orient! They carried with them frankincense, myrrh, gold and other things from their regions. Similarly, these Chinese Immigrants brought with them their trade and trinkets from the silk road. It is rather a serendipitous that the Three Kings' Christianization was founded on their meeting with Christ while the Chinese became Catholics when they came to the Philippines! By force or by choice, Filipinos became a key towards the promotion of the Gospels.
Pasig boasts a culture of honesty and integrity. It nestles in the highest altars of every family. Just like any Filipino, Pasiguenos thrive to preserve honor as they regard it as the most precious gift from their ancestors. The police though marred nowadays with different negative connotations is a worthy profession for it protects the populace from harm. Being a police officer saw better days but it doesn't mean that they can't improve. A myriad of stories about honest cops proliferate in every corner of the metropolis and it reminds us that this career still is and forever will be a colorful profession.
Back in peacetime Pasig where everything and everyone seemed to be optimistic and kind, policemen enjoy the warm company of their community. They are heroes, both respected and feared because of their stern candor that reminds one of a father. In one of those surreal moments in time, a large man was passing by on his way to Pinagbuhatan to visit a new area for a housing project. Ragged as he seemed to be, he is certainly kind, gentle and wisdom laden. As he was traversing quite speedily in the less busy thoroughfares of Pasig, he was caught over speeding by a cop whose name was Lazaro Gonzales. Saro as he was called then signaled for the guy to step out of his car to listen to his reminders about traffic. The big guy went down surprised and asked honest Saro who he was. With all honor and integrity the cop replied," Yes I know who you are! You are the President of the Philippines but it is not an excuse to evade traffic rules!" He was talking to the people's president, Ramon Magsaysay.
Mambo Magsaysay was stricken and shocked that a humble police had the audacity to remind him about laws! But this shock is not a bout of anger but a shock of relief for he became a witness to the integrity of a Pasigueno Police Officer. My Guy Magsaysay was known the world over because of his humility and his deep regard with Social Justice something that Saro in all his humbleness proved. As Monching once said, Those who have less in life should have more in law. Just to add to that beautiful statement is a little anecdote that though President Magsaysay said it, it was Leon Ma. Guerrero author of The First Filipino and diplomat who wrote it for the president!
Another police is Tony Birco. Toning Birco was a self proclaimed "adopted son of San Nicolas" because of the large number of friends he has made in this barangay. Like everyone from his generation, he is straightforward and no-nonsense. He is a multi-awarded officer whose boundaries are extreme and rigid but behind all of this is a man, a friend and an honest company. His stint as a confidential aid to then Secretary of Labor Augusto "Bobit" Sanchez provided a broader experience that befits his credentials. Ka Bobit had his full trust and confidence to his aide that during his campaigns and meetings when he ran for senator, Tony was there behind his back.
In the crucial days of the 1987 Senatorial Elections when both Ka Bobit and Johnny Ponce-Enrile were both clinging to the 24th Spot in the first ever free elections after the dictatorship, Tony was completely busy ensuring the security of his town mate. As the only Batang Pasig assisting another Batang Pasig, Toning Birco unconditionally relayed everything, the hopes and even the grim realities. Knowing Enrile's connections, the number of body guards and military influences, Tony was one the few who reminded Ka Bobit the worthiness of life and security over the dangers of politics. At the end of the day, our Pasigueno would-be senator placed 25th in a race for 24 slots. Senator Ponce Enrile got the last place with a very slim margin of just nearly 73,000 votes. This sad chapter never silenced Pasig town as it produced 3 Senators (Salonga, Saguisag and Romulo) on this election. Blunt honesty and integrity is a high need these days which is why the town longs for it to this day. Coincidentally, Gonzales and Birco are in-laws for Tony married Saro's daughter Zeny. It only shows that to be morally upright is second to nature for Pasiguenos - hopefully not only in the past.
News is called news for a reason and that is because the news comes from the four corners of the world, "North" "East" "West" and "South" hence "NEWS". News and media as the fourth estate are dreamed by different sectors to muster and claim. It is a sword that can be used for and against anyone. In Politics, the media is a powerful tool that projects influence and please the people. It is a way to control the people's minds and earn their conditional support or in some way or the other, their dismay.
The PEA-AMARI Scandal billed by then Senator Maceda as the "grandfather of all scandals" rocked the knees of former Mayor Enteng Eusebio's staunchest contender to the mayoralty of Pasig, Wainwright Rivera. Rivera who was then serving as the Public Estates Authority (PEA) official set his eyes to the prize. Moneyed as he may be, "Tito Wain" invested his time, effort and finances to win over a lot of voters - organizing different projects in the Barangays in Pasig. It came to a point that his projects rivaled that of Pasig "Lingap sa Barangay"and nurtured die-hard followers believers who followed him in his journey. In short, he is on his way in claiming an honest victory in the next election. A testament to this is his growing mass appeal that simply cannot be controlled added by his large influence in the national clout. It was clear to everyone that Enteng's days in the Munisipyo is numbered.
The scandal erupted with two Senate Committee Inquiries organized. It was discovered that the Amari Coastal Bay and Development Company paid US 100 Million worth of kickbacks and bribes to acquire the land which the PEA sold at a substantial discount. Furthermore, Amari a foreign firm cannot buy large tracts of land over reclaimed areas as these are considered part of National Patrimony therefore cannot be owned by non-Filipinos. This generated so much buzz all over that it stayed over the frontpages of the dailies for days. Knowing that Rivera is part of the PEA, Mayor Eusebio allegedly bought thousands of copies of newspapers to be distributed all over the city informing Pasiguenos about the latest scandal that shook his supposed successor. Wainwright never ragained the confidence of the people and his shot to the mayoralty became a shot to the moon!
Another story that became a talk of the town is the 2004 Election wherein Henry Lanot former Pasig Congressman challenged his ninong Enteng Eusebio to the leadership of the city. It was one of the rowdiest if not noisiest elections in the city for two strong men contended in a coveted position. Followers of both sides hurled insults among other things that added to the heat of the campaign trail. Tarpaulins, streamers and posters were pulled down or teared by opposing sides, several gimiks were thought off to entice voters and multitudes of rallies were organized to emit strength and politically threat one another. According to some unverifiable source (stories that were weaved together that somehow are true) Lanot won and a leading newspaper had the results as a frontpager. Mayor Eusebio again (depending on the source) bought all the issues for circulation in Pasig in order to blind the Pasiguenos on the real deal. The newspaper issue then replaced it with a different front story and Enteng won again as Mayor for his fourth term after his wife Soledad Esuebio.
Lanot never saw the results of his election protest as he was brutally murdered in a restaurant in Pasig in 2005. Some say it was a politically motivated assassination but the people of Pasig believes that a Pasigueno can never kill a brother over politics. The case remains open to this day.
Many stories continue to provide color to the town at the side of the river who shares the same name. At times it gives joy and pride for it painted Pasiguenos as a proud group of merry people. However there are also stories and anecdotes that gives shrills and mysteries never fully explained. But these are stories of our people. An oral narrative about the town and its dwellers. It may be redundant or told in bad taste but this is part of the heritage of Pasig. This is who we are! You may be well aware that these tall tales became part of the never ending kwentuhans and huntahans of older people, but we are also getting old and these stories find a home in our tongues. Another beer please?