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October 29, 2011

Dako nga akon pagpasalamat nga guin hangyo ako ni Mrs. Lourdes Colinares-Seludo, mabaysay nga pinalangga ni Clarito Seludo, para maghatag han akon mga panhuna-huna hi-onong hini nga ira pagsalin-urog o pag karawat han hermandad hini nga 109nth piesta nga celebrasyon didto ha Basay. Salamat Clarito ngan Lourdes.

This piece will not be devoted to the mystical and divine attributes of Saint Michael Archangel, the Commander of the Army of God in the eternal Battle between the forces of Good and Evil. Looking at that 1636 soul-bending painting of Guido Reni of San Miguel with a drawn sword with his left foot on the head of Satan who is prostrate on the floor, no religious tract is necessary to provide “proof” to the Basaynon believers all over the world, that indeed, the Saint is real. Besides, I cannot claim to be knowledgeable about the divine spark of our humanity. Consequently, this piece will be devoted to the mundane and very ordinary issues impacting the Members of Basaynon Katiguban in North America and an attempt to understand why the family of Clark and Lourdes and their children will take on this tremendous responsibility of hermandad.

I have never been to Basay, that is, the town proper. But I spent several days and nights in Amandayehan with the late Mano Andresito Cabueños, before he became a famous Regional Director of the Bureau of Posts. We were housed in the elegant and picturesque home of the late Leling Yancha when he was a candidate for congressman, against, among others, his cousin, Valeriano Yancha. The house was so beautiful. Overlooking San Juanico Straits, it had a panoramic view of the hills of Babatngon in Leyte. Gazing at the setting sun in the Babatngon hills was a magical experience beyond words. It was heavenly. At night, while waiting for the arrival of Sir Leling Yancha from Manila who would provide us the wherewithal for his congressional campaign, we would drink tuba. One night, with a hook, line and sinker that I dropped to the sea below from the nipa hut on the cliff extending from the commodious house of Sir Leling Yancha, I was able to catch a Moray Eel. It was a delicious sinugba for our sumsuman.

When I chaired the Skeletal Force that established the U.P. in Tacloban, I used to spend lonely afternoons in a restaurant in Camp Bumpos in Tacloban. When the weather was clear, I would gaze across Cancabato Bay at Basay, at the zooming spire of the Basay Church rising to the skies. Basay had a special place in my heart. Hence, there were so many times, when I would make an appeal on the Tacloban radio stations, appealing to the Basaynon youth to enroll at the U.P. in Tacloban. I think many of them did enroll. Lydia’s family had a lot of relatives in Basay, such as Elsa and Dolores Froilan, classmates in Samar High. We met the high-achiever Dolores in Edmonton and San Francisco.

Of course, nothing lasts forever. I had to go back to U.P. Diliman. But for one reason or another, I could never cross to Basay to renew my friendship with one of the most brilliant persons I have ever known, the late Potenciano Geli, also a classmate in the grades, like Clarito Seludo. It was not meant to be. But before I could depart for California, however, I attended the fiesta celebration in Catbalogan, in the company of the Villahanon contingent who had to perform a cultural dance in Catbalogan. There I met Clarito in 1984. The next time I would meet him would be in San Francisco, California.

If I have never attended a fiesta celebration of the Basaynons in Basay or in Manila, by a fluke of circumstance, I cannot count the number of times I have attended a Basaynon fiesta in America. We even went to Edmonton in Canada just to attend a Basaynon fiesta in 1996 when Brenda and other Cabigons were the sponsors. It was an event to remember. We did not sleep the whole night through discussing with Fr. Marito Rebamontan and Brenda’s son, Brandon, the situation of the Samarnons and the Filipinos all over the world. Then a trip to Banff via Lake Louise. If one does not believe in God, to behold the pristine, untouched, unpolluted, Rocky Mountains can compel you to make the sign of the cross. During that fiesta also, human nature was very apparent and hilarious. There were “dialectical exchanges” involving Padi Dr. Artoteles Tandinco and some leaders of Basaynon Katig-uban. This was my introduction too, to a famous Basaynon, Adelbert Batica. Thank you San Miguel for the opportunity to attend a celebration in your honor in Canada and to behold the majesty and splendor of God’s handiwork on Earth —Banff, Lake Louise, and the so pristine, so blue, so clean, bereft of human habitation or garbage, the lakes in the Rocky Mountains. And the Pine trees zooming to the blue skies.

If I cannot memorize the Rosary or sing with fervor “Mother of God” and “Santo Verbo”, I believe that the Omnipotent or San Miguel, has a way of balancing the scales. My daughter Mara, and her son, Paolo, spent several nights in Basay when their Lola Pacita Froilan-Cabigon passed away. Paolo who was three years old at that time, could not relax. So Ellen, his sitter, had to pakyaw a tricycle. They went round and round Basay so that he could sleep. They bought six Tikug mats which were brought to America.

Most Samarnons in America who come from major towns in Samar celebrate fiestas. The Catbaloganons celebrate their fiesta for San Bartolome in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Indiana, Las Vegas, and in Canada. They implore the intercession of the Patron Saint of the fishermen because there is no more fish in Maqueda Bay. The Calbayognons, celebrate their fiestas in San Francisco and Los Angeles and perhaps in other major cities in America. The Guiuananons celebrate two fiestas in one year in San Francisco, Los Angeles, sometimes, San Diego. The Boronganons celebrate their fiesta in San Francisco and Los Angeles. The Calbiganons give their homage to the Lady of the Anunciation in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York. One time, a Calbiganon from Australia flew to Los Angeles to become hermana of the fiesta. We admired her devotion to the Virgin Mary. The Doloresnons always celebrate their fiesta in San Francisco. The Villahanons International are not regular anymore in celebrating their fiesta to the Santa Rosa de Lima. But the family of the late Mrs. Honoria Seludo-Tabungar were the first to celebrate the fiesta of the San Rosa in San Francisco. They were followed by the family of the abducted and still missing Fr. Rudy Romano. I don’t know if the Catarmananons are still celebrating their fiesta in Los Angeles. As far as I know, they have never celebrated their fiesta in San Francisco. Samarnons from other towns do not celebrate their fiestas in America. They just attend the fiestas of other towns.

The Fiesta Kaadlawan are always preceded by nine novenas. Sometimes, the devotees hold three novenas in one day, usually on three successive Saturdays, thereby completing the nine novenas. The Katbaloganons have never deviated from their tradition of observing the nine-day novena every day, for nine successive days. The devotees of Saint Bartholomew attend the novena in the evenings in the churches of the Mother of Perpetual Help in Daly City whose Parish Priest is Fr. Tony Petilla, the primus inter pares among the Filipino priests in North America and before him, Fr. Vic Balagapo. Then there is dinner, and irignom. Some go home with some food which are surreptitiously hidden in plastic and brown bags for their pet dogs and cats, the usual excuse if devotees are looking at the “take home” of some folks.

Before the economic meltdown in America, when life was a little bit better for us, the fiesta celebrations would include a “Night Affair”, a party with the usual dancing in some five-star hotel. This was the equivalent of the “Bispera” celebration in the Homeland. The gentlemen “Patronizers” would attend the “Night Affair” in a suit and a tie, trying to hold their breaths so that their stomachs are not bulging out. The women would come in their elegant bestidas with diamonds flashing. They are chubby. No one is emaciated among the ladies. There will always be a curacha. The last Basaynon whom I saw dancing the curacha was Mana Julie Tabungar. Her partner was Teddy James Doloy Mama sa Tuka Coquilla, before he became a famous politico in Samar.

So there are variations in how we Samarnon Catholics venerate our respective Patron Saints in America, so that the Saints can intercede to the Lord God to bless us. But the most unique, and perhaps, the most admirable and exemplary would be the annual fiesta celebration of the Basaynons in the US and Canada. They have just one organization that encompasses the Basaynons all over North America, “Basaynon Katiguban USA & Canada”. This acts as the coordinating mechanism for their fiesta celebrations every year.

Unlike other fiesta devotees in America, for one, their nine-day novenas are observed all over the North American continent. If a novena is being observed by a family or a group of sponsors in say, Sacramento by the family of Clark and Lourdes Seludo, no other Basaynon novena will be observed in Los Angeles, or Chicago, or New York, or San Diego and so forth. The novenas are assigned to volunteers all over North America.

The Hermandad of the fiesta follows the same pattern. If a family volunteers to be the hermanos or hermanas in say Sacramento, California, like Ver and Dr. Dina Yancha, or Minnesota by Adelbert and Elsa Batica, then the Basaynons all over America and the world will converge on Sacramento and the Twin Cities in Minnesota. There will be no Basaynon Fiesta in any part of North America for that year.

In this manner, the “Patronizers” do not have to spend a lot of money and exert a lot of effort so that San Miguel can protect them from the minions of Lucifer. And then, they get to visit other places in the US and Canada. This 2011 here in America, Ambet and Nette Pascua, the hermano and hermana, have asked us if we will attend the fiesta in Las Vegas. I hope San Miguel will intervene and prevail on the slot machines to spew out those dollar coins without letup for the Basaynon fiesta devotees.

There is another interesting religious tradition among the Basaynons in America. When deliberating on the mundane aspects of their religious devotion, it is the women who are engaged in intense debate. Their husbands are singing and drinking. They have such heavenly voices. So one can opine that the Basaynons is a matriarchal society. But I don’t think they are “USF”, “Under the Saya Forever”.

So the annual San Miguel fiesta in America which the Basaynons look forward to, runs like this: Nine day novenas, a Bispera, and the “Kaadlawan”. Somehow, this is still insufficient to show how they venerate San Miguel. The “Kaadlawan” has to be followed by the “Amen”, the last event of the annual fiesta. The “Amen” is the last word after a prayer, when the devotees say “Amen” or “So be it”. During the fiesta “Amen”, the Basaynons will pray. And then the usual happenings will inevitably follow eating, drinking, and singing. And perhaps some plastic and paper bags for the pet dogs and Miming.

For sure, the Basaynon fiesta in Metro Manila would be different from the pattern in America. And definitely, the fiesta in Basay itself, the very reason why Basaynons all over the world look forward to a fiesta celebration in America or in Metro Manila, would be the genuine celebration.

One does not need to make a study of the fiesta variations in the Samar towns. The pattern would be more or less uniform. A nine-day novena every day. Some cultural and town activities. A horde of Patronizers and Samarnon priests descending on Basay during the Kaadlawan. And on the Big Day itself, the Bishop of Calbayog says the mass. And all day long, people walking all over the town, going from one house to another, enjoying the festivity, the camaraderie, the good food, the renewal of friendships and making new friends. And perhaps, naguuba-ubahay.

With the advent of the multitude of Filipinos in Diaspora, in the case of Basay, I have heard that there is a “Balikbayan Night” when Basaynons from all over the world visit their beloved hometown. They are gathered in the plaza. And the usual festivities transpire.

This year, the family of Clarito and Lourdes Colinares-Seludo are the fiesta sponsors. If there is anything that can be said of the Seludo family, tribute must be expressed to Mana Mila Seludo, the Seludo eldest, for petitioning Clarito and Man Nalding Seludo to come to America. Man Nalding is the only Samarnon I know who turned his back at becoming an Amercano. He gave back his green card. And chose to stay in the Homeland. He was afraid na pipikutin siya ng mga girls in America. Ang iba gurang na. The story of Dr. Manolito Seludo is a sad one.

But unlike the Tawag ng Tanghalan Champion, the tenor, Man Nalding Seludo, a very famous leader in the Department of Education in the Homeland, the family of Clark stuck it out in San Francisco, through thick and thin. First Clarito became a clerk in his Tay Sotero’s hardware store in Los Angeles. Then when Lourdes arrived a few years later, they moved to San Francisco. So here they were in San Francisco, the Seludo children, with names all starting with “M”—Mercia in Basay, the eldest, and Mildred, then Mitchell, Michael, Marlon, Martin, Melina, Myla and Melissa. I think they are all married now. Except for Martin who is rumored to commute in the San Francisco Bay Area in a helicopter.

Samarnons tend to smell each other wherever they are. It was a Calbiganon, the late Mano Veding Cabrigas, whom I used to address as “Ambassador”, who informed us and brought us to where the Seludos were residing in San Francisco. Afterwards, in the numerous occasions when there would be the usual parties and irignom in their home, the children would all be there listening, watching, smiling, doing errands for the many people in the Seludo household. Whether their house was just a two-bedroom affair when they were new in San Francisco or the multi-room “mansion” at the height of the Seludo popularity in California, the ambiance was always the same. People, people, people. Drinking, eating, debating, singing, laughing, having a good time in the company of their friends, kins and fellow Samarnons.

Clark and Lourdes’ family has indeed multiplied. Mercia is married to Ulrico Adona. They have four children. Mildred the lovely nurse is married to Alex Cordero. They have a son, Justin Ryan. Mitchell the bohemian, is married to the ever smiling and beautiful Melna Froilan. They have two sons—Matthew and Maithan. The younger ones have also their husbands and wives and their children. My apologies. I cannot recall their names.

We can debate the divine, historical, political, cultural, and other dimensions which serve as the foundations of fiesta celebrations in Basay and in Catholic Philippines where 85% of the 101 million Filipinos are Christians. Whatever the reasons, they are part of our national psyche as a people. Even if we are unsure if a Saintly advocate is indeed necessary who will intervene on our behalf to God. There is no question that prayers, the spirit, mind over matter, good thoughts are more powerful than the material.

But at the same time, we are keenly aware of the sad realities of our people in the Homeland, especially the Samarnons, and of course the Basaynons. Many, many of them are our fellow Catholics. We cannot close our ears, our eyes, our minds to the ongoing mantra the pagpag eaters, the garbage subsisters, those sleeping with the dead in the graveyards, those going home to their cavernous homes under the bridges, the itinerant humans who rest their tired bodies on rolling carts, the brutalized domestic helpers in Muslim countries such as Arabia, and all over the world.

If Saint Michael, the Archangel, is the General of the Army of God fighting Evil, hunger, injustice, oppression, and hopelessness, we can come down a little lower in associating the admirable fiesta celebrations of the Basaynons, and the sacrifices of fiesta sponsors like the Family of Clark and Lourdes Seludo. Let us hearken to the stirring words of Pope Paul VI, in his Encyclical, “Populorum Progressio”:

“We must make haste. Too many people are suffering…The present state of affairs must be confronted boldly…Everyone must lend a ready hand to this task, particularly those who can do most by reason of their education, their office or their authority.”

Hopefully we will respond fervently: “So be it.” “Matuman kunta.” And as the Basaynons would intone when they conclude their fiesta celebrations all over the world: “Amen!”

Maupay nga Patron ha aton ngatanan, Basaynon o diri Basaynon, kalooyan unta kita han Makagarahom han Kalibutan, pina-agui han pangamuyo ni San Miguel Arcangel.

[*The writer was a classmate of Clarito Seludo in the grades. He was in charge of the Task Force that organized the UP in Tacloban. He was former professor of Political Science in Diliman. In San Francisco, he was one of the prime movers—together with Mana Julie Tabungar, the late Naty Villarin Silva and Peter Padul, Gilda Cabrales del Pilar, the brothers Joseph and June Margate, Larry and Nelia Orejola, Benny Cojuangco, Yolanda Picardo, Quint Doroquez, Pat Figueroa and Pete Masi, Florita Oca and her children, Precing Agaton, Ben Naranjo, Baby Lim-Paus, Dinah Seludo and Frank Bunuan, and Lilia Amasa —of the San Francisco-based Samareños of California. He was the only Filipino to be given the coveted “Sustained Superior Performance Award” in 1996 by the State of California. A denizen of the Internet, he is an owner and a moderator of two listserves which he consider important—Gugma Han Samar Cyberspace Movement and Worldwide Filipino Alliance. He used to be a columnist of the monthly news magazine published in San Francisco, “The Filipino Insider”. This piece was inspired by the haunting and magical story penned by a famous Basaynon literati, Mag G. Boleche, in his “The Beautiful Bungansakit” published in the souvernir program when Dr. Artoteles L. Tandinco was the Hermano in 1993. The writer is a Villahanon, a Catbaloganon, and a temporary Californian. He can be reached at CesarT1185@gmail.com.]

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