Friday, April 15, 2016

Bilibid inmate’s art helps support his family

Author’s note before reading: This article isn’t to substantiate anyone’s innocence. Nor is it written to elicit sympathy. This is about art and a man’s coming to terms with his fate in life.

Bilibid inmate’s art helps support his family
by rick olivares

One of the many classrooms of the Alternative Learning System at the New Bilibid Prison is used for electrical class and the art department. On the wall are a couple of dozen impressive paintings of different themes ranging from landscape to religious imagery to people.

In one corner of the room sits Ariel Cabiluna who’s busy at work. None of his works are on display. “They go real fast,” shared one inmate who goes by the name of Boyet. “That’s how in demand Ariel’s works are."

Cabiluna is currently working on a portrait for the Congregatio Immaculati Cordis Mariae (CICM), a Belgian-based Catholic mission that has been serving in the Philippines for several decades now. The portrait features over two dozen of its members. The likenesses and detail is incredible. More so when you realize that the technique that Cabiluna uses is rather uncommon. It’s called pyrography, the art of illustration or design using burn marks created by soldering pens. 

The 40-year old from Talisay City, Cebu, has been working on the portrait for over a month now. It has been time consuming because of the number of people and his attention to detail. When done in a few days’ time, it should fetch for several tens of thousands of pesos. “That should help my family pay for the bills and their needs for a little bit of time,” hoped Cabiluna in the vernacular.

The Cebuano is one of the more celebrated inmates at the Maximum Security Compound of the New Bilibid, not for crime that he vehemently denies to this day (I spoke with 15 inmates and everyone admitted to their crime; Cabiluna is the only one who maintains his innocence), but because of his art. The restorative justice program of the Bureau of Corrections provides inmates a means to earn a living and to support their families outside.

Cabiluna’s claim to “fame” was during the visit of Pope Francis when he created an impressive likeness of the Holy See using pyrography. Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle received the work of art from Cabiluna on behalf of the Pope. Since then, Cabiluna has created other portraits of other notable people including President Benigno Aquino III and Bro. Armin Luistro, the Secretary of the Department of Education among others. 

“When I was still free, I used to drive tricycles or work as a conductor in a jeep,” recounted Ariel. “I used to sketch but I never took it seriously.”

When he was jailed, Cabiluna admitted that in those first few months, his mind was a mess. “My thoughts were constantly about death and I wished I would die. I didn’t know how to get through one day to the next. While walking around the compound, I met a man named Jesus Negro (since transferred to a medium security facility) who was engaged in wood burn art. I was fascinated and asked if he could teach me the craft. Jesus took me under his wing and I soaked in everything he taught me."

It took Ariel five months to learn pyrography. And the skill later greatly helped him care for his family. It is while in jail that he married his girlfriend from Cebu with whom he later had a daughter named Ariana Mariz. The separation tears at his heart but he’s learned to cope after being in Bilibid for almost two decades now.  And through his art, Cabiluna is able to support his daughter’s schooling and her needs."

“When I think about it, if I was outside, I am not sure how being a tricycle driver or conductor can support my family or even send my daughter to school. It’s really ironic when you think about that in here, I learned something that really helps us. It’s a painful trade off. But you learn to cope."

Sunday, April 10, 2016

An afternoon at Single Origin

I had lunch with my friend Raj at Bonifacio High Street. The resto we were looking for, Beso, had closed down. So we chose Single Origin that was the one really busy resto in this side of BGC. 

I had a BLT salad and a vanilla latte for lunch while Raj had a salad of his own. 

Single Origin -- what a weird name though -- has that homey feel. It's spacious and with very good seating that has two areas -- the air-conditioned inside and the outdoor for smokers. Because of the humid weather, it's best to stay indoors although it cooled down towards the late afternoon. It's funny because what was supposed to be just lunch took six hours and 30 minutes! Yep. We were gabbing all afternoon long so that meant ordering a breakfast dough pizza. Anything with arugula I will eat!

The food was good. At least for what we ordered. The service was excellent. The wait staff was quite attentive and very speedy in their service. Having worked in a New York City restaurant where service is king, I can really appreciate that. 

One thing we noticed was that all throughout the afternoon, there was a steady stream of diners. Like I said earlier, it was the one restaurant in this area that was very busy. A crowd must mean something, right?

Price-wise. Expect that you'll spend a minimum of PhP 350 for one meal and a drink. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Raissa Robles launches “Marcos Martial Law: Never Again” at UP

Raissa Robles launches “Marcos Martial Law: Never Again” at UP
by rick olivares

After a false start with a delayed book launch at the Ateneo De Manila University last March 28 due to a bomb threat, journalist and political blogger Raissa Robles’ book, “Marcos Martial Law: Never Again” was finally unveiled to the public at the Balay Kalinaw inside the University of the Philippines campus in Quezon City last Monday, April 4.

A crowd of about a hundred people attended the launch of the 268-page book that is a brief illustrated history of the late former president Ferdinand Marcos’ regime that was beset with human rights violations and corruption. The author, with the aid of husband, Alan who served as editor, made use of books, documents, and official records and transcripts with many key players during those years all the way to the post-1986 Edsa People Power Revolution that overthrew the dictator.

“When I was doing this, I didn’t think it would be a timely project since the late president Marcos’ son, Bongbong, is running for the vice presidency,” said Robles in an interview with “This is but one means of correcting the revisionist history that is going around where people are saying that the Marcos years were a golden age for the Filipino people.”

“I was able to interview all the past Philippine presidents about this issue, former military men, as well as victims and survivors of human rights abuses. It is about as thorough as one can be.”

Robles laboriously and in great detail wrote about the rise of Marcos to the Martial Law years to the ills of the New Society all the way to its end during the People Power Revolution. “It is a timely book as well since it is published on the 30th year after the 1986 Revolution,” pointed out the author. 

Aside from Robles, the book launch prominently featured engineer and social activist Roberto “Obet” Verzola, human rights lawyer and Senator Rene Saguisag, noted writer, poet, journalist, and screenwriter Pete Lacaba, writer-director Bonifacio Ilagan, and Dean Ronald Mendoza of the Ateneo School of Government. Verzola, Lacaba, and Ilagan spoke about their being detained and tortured by agents of the Marcos regime that brooked no dissent no matter how little.

Other prominent people who attended included former Chairman of the Commission on Elections Christian Monsod, political journalist Belinda Olivares-Cunanan, and Cecile Guidote Alvarez, the wife of former Senator Heherson “Sonny” Alvarez who along with her husband fled the Philippines soon after Martial Law was declared. Chito Gascon, former UP Student Council head and current Chair of the Human Rights Commission of the Philippines, was also in attendance.

“It is sad that today’s generation doesn’t know what happened during those dark years,” shared Saguisag who at the height of Martial Law formed the Movement of Attorneys for Brotherhood, Integrity, Nationalism, Inc. that represented the victims of human rights abuse. “I think many quarters failed to communicate that and this is the result. This book by Raissa is a good one to use in teaching today’s generation about what transpired. Or else, as the philosopher George Santayana once said, ‘Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.’” 

Robles bared that she personally gave a copy of the book to several of the VP aspirants by going to the Senate. “I gave copies of the book to Senators Alan Cayetano, Francis Escudero, Gregorio Honasan, Antonio Trillanes, and Bongbong Marcos. The only person I was unable to give a copy was to Leni Robredo. And yes, I have signed forms that the Senators received the books.”


A limited “Collector’s Edition” of Marcos Martial Law: Never Again in coffee table-sized book form is available for P2,500 each. 

A “Student Edition” – a black and white version, soft cover edition of the exact same book will be out shortly. For more details and inquiries, please go to

Monday, April 4, 2016

At the Marcos Martial Law Never Again book launch

I was in third year high school when Ninoy Aquino was murdered on the tarmac of the Manila International Airport. That heinous act plunged the country into a dark and dangerous time. I was previously aware of the Marcos dictatorship and its evils. I saw the press censorship. Saw some arrests and those caught breaking the midnight curfew. Rumours swirled of murders, disappearances, and other atrocities. Then brave newspapers began to publish the stories that were surpressed. There was even that Playboy article featuring Imelda Marcos that was banned by the government although copies made their way to people. I began to get involved, first with NAMFREL during the Batasang Pambansa Elections of 1984 and took to the streets afterwards joining rallies and demonstrations. By late 1985, I was heading the Ateneo and UP chapter of the Cory Aquino for President Movement. I was in EDSA during all those turbulent days in late February that led to the fall of the dictatorship. The governments that came after that were troubled, divided, and even ineffective. There have been gains, of course, lots, but somewhere along the way, in some ways, things got worse. 

What I cannot take and will not do so is the revisionist history going on saying that the Marcos years were a golden age. NO. THEY WEREN'T. They were filled and fraught with lies, deception, murder, and greed. Many of today's problems began during those years. It is sad to see many people think that those years were good.

I am most glad that Raissa Robles published Marcos Martial Law: Never Again. It is something that should remind the generations before but inform today's millennials about the horrors of that era and while it is foolhardy and dangerous to think that Marcos' scion is the cure for our ills. The book is hardly the solution. There are others ways of disseminating the information. It does help. Boldly. 

I attended the book launch at Balay Kalinaw in the University of the Philippines Diliman campus. I had the booked signed by Raissa Robles and attended the program; participating in the Q&A portion where I asked questions that weren't answered and offered ideas on what should be done.

By the program's start, the hall was packed (although there were under a hundred people in attendance).
Noel Cabangon was on hand to sing "Bayan Ko".

The great Senator Rene Saguisag was on hand to lend his thoughts and share some war stories of those dark days.

With some fellow street parliamentarians of the 1980s -- Christine Carlos and Chito Gascon.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Reading Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes

Looking forward to re-read the works of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Haven't read them since I was in high school so this will be a sort of homecoming.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Celebrating my dad's 74th birthday at the Tipsy Pig

At the Tipsy Pig at Capital Commons in Pasig City to celebrate my dad's 74th birthday!

I love baked mussels! My mom and grandmom used to bake this all the time and I'd eat panfuls of them! So every time I go to the Tipsy Pig, I order this! This one has some cheese and spring onions on them that greatly add to the flavor. 

The pork belly is sinful for someone like me with high blood pressure! So I made sure I didn't eat much and had something to wash it down like wine!

The grilled chicken ceasar was a disappointment! Too dry. Not enough flavor and the chicken wasn't grilled enough. 

With my dad! 

Monday, February 22, 2016

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

A walk through history: the Armed Forces of the Philippines Museum

A walk through history: the AFP Museum
by rick olivares

I rectified an error. I visited the Armed Forces of the Philippines Museum in Camp Aguinaldo. It wasn’t until a couple of days ago when I wondered if we had our own military museum. I’ve been to the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City, the Valley Forge National Historic Park in Pennsylvania, the Musee d’la Armee in Paris, and the Imperial War Museum in London.

Locally, I’ve been to the museum at Corregidor and the Aguinaldo shrine in Kawit, Cavite. So when I called Colonel Alfred Burgos of the Philippine Army to inquire if we had a military museum, imagine my surprise and elation upon learning we had not one but three — the AFP Museum, the Army Museum at Fort Bonifacio, and the Air Force Museum close to Terminal 3 of the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.

The AFP Museum will be celebrating its 20th year in November of this year. Located also in the same complex as the AFP Theater, the museum consists of two floors and the adjacent Kagitingan Park. The first floor is a run through the various eras of the development of the Philippine military while the upper floor exhibits displays on the four branches of the armed forces. Kagitingan Park is where one can find mothballed military vehicles and weapons dating from the post-World War II years to recent times.

Here are a few features that I liked from my visit:

The two letters of Mabini to Aguinaldo
The Sublime Paralytic, Apolinario Mabini, served as legal adviser and as Prime Minister to Aguinaldo. During the Philippine-American War, a pair of letters written by Mabini to Aguinaldo tell of the temperamental and controversial General Antonio Luna.

The first was dated February 28, 1899 where he related that Luna had renounced his position of Director of War Operations because Aguinaldo failed to penalize errant officials who refused to obey him.

The second, written a few days later on March 6, reported the abusive manner Luna where he issued a circular stating that he would execute anyone who refused to obey his orders. Mabini also disclosed that Luna had indeed shot someone in Bocaue, Bulacan without a hearing. 

It should be noted that three months later, on the 5th of March, Luna and an aide would be assassinated in Cabanatuan. 

There are also handwritten letters by Katipunan General Tomas Mascardo from requisitioning supplies to a request for a military burial for a fallen comrade.

The picture of Gregorio del Pilar and his men.
It is a powerful picture where the boy general and his men, grim looks and all, posed for a photo. The picture doesn’t have a caption that says where the picture was taken. Were these men the ones he took up with him to Tirad Pass? And in the lower right of the photo is a young boy with a rifle. Was he the troop mascot? Or back then did we also employ boy soldiers?

If only dead men could tell their tales.

The Wall of Heroes.
On this wall are the pictures and stories of 40 men all who were awarded the Medal of Valor for bravery of the highest order. Among the decorated men are Lt. Commander Jesus Villamor who during the initial Japanese attack on the Philippines went up to the skies and shot down an enemy fighter despite the overwhelming odds.

There are the stories of men like marine private Nestor Acero, army captain Hilario Estrella, and Lt. Bartolome Bacarro to name a few who fought overwhelming odds to save fellow soldiers or to fight their way out of ambushes. Some like Army private Ian Paquit paid the ultimate sacrifice and were awarded posthumously. 

The one controversial addition here is the late former president Ferdinand Marcos. If you look at his medals he is more bemedalled than even American hero Audie Murphy. The controversy began when the strongman’s former army commanders said that he never participated in those encounters or battles for which he was supposedly awarded a medal.  Furthermore, American researchers also found no mention of his name in any orders of battle.

Remember Erlinda and the British Bren Gun Carrier.
During the Battle of Bataan, United States Armed Forces in the Far East (USAFFE) units commandeered the British vehicle bound for Hong Kong when war broke out in the Philippines. The slogan of “Remember Erlinda” spurred on defenders after a Filipina woman named “Erlinda” was murdered and raped by invading Japanese soldiers.

The particular exhibit depicts USAFFE soldiers in positions of hardship while even using their helmets to cook food and rice. The slogan is scrawled in the carrier. 

The Battling Bastards of Bataan
A whole wall is dedicated to the USAFFE men who held off the Japanese long enough to upset their timetable for the conquest of East Asia. 

Original wartime newspapers.
There are several newspapers all throughout the museum from the Mulig Pagsilag newspaper that reported on the 13th anniversary celebration of the death of Jose Rizal to the pro-Japanese propaganda newspaper The Sunday Tribune that recounted the various military disasters of the allies to the Sun Telegraph that announced the end of World War II following Japan’s surrender. 

What I wish the museum curator would add are interactive exhibits that also make use of video, sound effects or sound bytes from key people in history. Maybe even the playing of war documentaries pertinent to our history. It is an incredible walk through history but I wish there's more. The museum could use more material on the revolts against Spanish rule and the Katipunan. 

It might not be as impressive as the exhibits in other war museums that I’ve been to in the United States or Europe but I had a great time at the AFP Museum. It was a most enjoyable and made me feel proud of my country.

The AFP Museum is open from Monday to Saturday from 9am-6pm. Entrance is free. 

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Fascinating exhibits at the Imperial War Museum in London

Fascinating exhibits at the Imperial War Museum in London
by rick olivares

Last week, I visited the Imperial War Museum (IWM) in London. As a military buff who enjoys traveling to famous battlefields or even museums, this was a treat to see relics, memorabilia, and grisly reminders of why war is hell.

The IWM in Southwark, South London (there are two other IWM in England) that opened in 1936 today features exhibits from World War I up to modern day conflicts and when we say today that means the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, as well as diseases such as the Ebola virus.

Here are some of my favorite exhibits from that trip.

A Family During Wartime.
This exhibit occupies a huge hall and features a replica of the home of the Allpress family that lived in London during the blitz. Like every family living in England, life changed the moment Britain went to war with Germany. The Allpress family endured rationing, blackouts, and air raids. 

What got to me was the bomb shelter where they hid themselves. It is small. No larger than a small bus stop with a bench and some pillows for relative comfort. The thin corrugated metal sheets didn’t provide much protection in the basement. I wondered how Britons dealt with fear and claustrophobia. 

The replica of the home may be quaint and the photos on the wall of people long gone may have them smiling. But I truly wonder what it was like because their smiling visages do not begin to tell the whole story when the air raid sirens screamed and the bombs whistled from high above. Chilling.

The Spitfire is in the back while the V1 rocket is in front

The Mark 1 Spitfire. 
This actual Spitfire on display was assigned to the No. 609 West Riding Squadron stationed at Middle Wallop in Hampshire in July of 1940. It fought during the Battle of Britain and was flown by 13 different pilots and tallied eight German aircraft destroyed or damaged.

As a kid, there were these paper models that were sold to us kids of various fighter aircraft. The Spitfire, then as it is now, remains a favorite. To see that particular fighter suspended from the ceiling of the IWM was fascinating. It was like it was flying off to defend the Sceptered Isle.

What is a fishing boat doing in a war museum?

Easy. Tamzine, a fishing boat, took part in the historic evacuations at Dunkirk, France that saved thousands and thousands of British and French soldiers from annihilation. The small boat was constructed in 1937 and preserved. In 1965, the boat took part in a reenactment of the crossing from southern France to the English channel. It has since them found a place in the museum.

I wonder about the men who were aboard this boat. Did they survive the war? What lives did they lead after the war?

The car bomb
This is one of the modern exhibits and shares a slice of life in dangerous Iraq today. A car bomb exploded in Baghdad on March 5, 2007, killing 38 people. The car was destroyed by a bomb and was later preserved by English artist Jeremy Deller.

The rusting and mangled carcass of this car is powerful and frightening. 

The wreck of the Zero fighter
The Japanese Mitsubishi Zero was discovered in the Pacific 30 years after the end of World War II in the island of Taroa. This is one of three Japanese fighter wrecks recovered by American businessman John Sterling who has this fascination for studying and preserving wartime planes. Taroa was never invaded by the Allied Forces during the war and was largely ignored until the latter stages of the war. It is believed that the Zeros assigned to this atoll were those that shot down the aircraft of Lt. Louis Zamperini who story is told in the book and film titled, “Unbroken."

The Harrier Jump Jet GR9zD4651.
This is the first of the London exhibit that featured a war machine that fought in Afghanistan and Iraq. It was also assigned for a time to the US Marine Corps and launched off the deck of HMS Invincible. Always like the Harrier for its vertical take off. First time for me to see one up close although it was hanging from the ceiling of the IWM.

The German V2 rocket
Between September of 1944 and March 1945, 1,054 V2 rockets hit Britain. This particular rocket, the world’s first ballistic missile, was recovered by British Army Corps of Engineers in Neinburg, Germany during the closing stages of World War II. Apart from the V2’s destructive capabilities, its invention also paved the way for developments into space travel.

The Lancaster
The Avro 683 Mark 1 Lancaster was a British bomber. This particular model featuring the foreward fuselage was nicknamed “Old Fred” and was assigned to the Royal Australian Air Force based at Bottesford, Lincolnshire between May and November of 1943. It took part in 49 bombing sorties across Europe. 

There are many more things to see in the museum that is stretched across three floors. But these ones are my favorites.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

My coffee mug/tumbler haul from this England trip

The Blimey mug from the Imperial War Museum (they also had the Crikey mug that I didn't get) and from Starbucks, the Liverpool mug and the London tumbler! 

Monday, January 18, 2016

My second Abbey Road crossing!

This past January 18, 2016, I crossed Abbey Road for a second time (the first time was in October of 2014). As a long-time Beatles fan, it is a treat and a dream come true. Just as I did then, I scrawled my name on the wall. I know they paint over the walls every four weeks so it'll be gone in a bit. But that's all right. At least, I did. Check out the vids below!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Eating at the “rudest” restaurant in London

Eating at the “rudest” restaurant in London
by rick olivares

After celebrating the Feast of the Sto. Niño at St. George’s Cathedral in Southwark, London,  I repaired to Chinatown in Soho with a long-time resident of the capital of England, Roselle Cabañero, who currently is a consultant for a top company in Britain.

We were going to eat at Wong Kei in Chinatown (41-43 Wardour Street in Soho in the building that previously housed that financial company, Clarkson’s) that for seemingly the longest time, had this unsavory reputation for being the “rudest” restaurant in Great Britain. The Chinese restaurant offered cheaply priced food in an otherwise expensive city yet one had to endure insults from the wait staff.

From what we have read from disgruntled patrons on the web, they are either told to go to another restaurant if they complain about the lack of cleanliness, waiters storm off if a patron takes too long to order, they literally drop plates on the table, and chase you if you leave a small tip. There too was the occasional use of the f-word that angered many a customer. And that’s just some. Really!

Supposedly, when ownership changed hands in 2014 and its subsequent refurbishing, the attitude was greatly toned down. However, a glance at some comments as recently as January 1, 2016 indicate that whatever changes are merely cosmetic. 

So we two brave souls entered. Tita Roselle and I were quite lucky to get a table for two considering that Soho from Trafalgar Square all the way down to the commercial end of Oxford, Regent, and Picadilly Streets among others were packed with people waiting for the Lumiere light show, a four-night event where London’s iconic architectures were lit up with 3D projections and light works.

First off, when we entered and asked for a table for two we were told there was a place for us in the back. All right, not rude.

Second, the Cantonese menu was 10-pages long! Since Tita Roselle had been here before, I simply asked her to order what she thought was good while reminding her of my allergies to shrimps and other crustaceans. We ordered roast duck, gai lan (Chinese broccoli), choi sum in oyster sauce, and tofu. And a cup of egg rice.

The bespectacled waiter hied off to the kitchen to give our orders then returned and literally dumped the plates and chopsticks on our table. Tita Roselle and I looked at each other. “See,” she pointed out. “Strike one.”

The waiter returned to place a kettle of tea. A few minutes later, he came back with all our food. Apparently, this is the equivalent of Chinese fastfood.

I’ve never really fallen for chop sticks and prefer the use of a spoon and fork to for more generous mouthfuls. When I asked for the utensils, mindful of the wait staff’s insults to those who ask for them, they readily brought them. I thanked them for the speedy service and got a — surprise — “you’re welcome” in return. Tita Roselle, who has eaten here before was surprised. “My, oh my,” she exclaimed. “That’s a first.”

A later request for soda to wash away the taste of monosodium glutamate (MSG) also elicited another acknowlegement further adding to the gleam in Tita Roselle’s eye. “Maybe it has changed,” she quipped.

The food is fine. It’s isn’t by any chance a culinary changing experience. It’s fine. We didn’t get any overcooked food or sloppily presented viands. The duck was roasted to perfection. Not too burnt leaving enough of the juiciness in the chicken meat to savor. The vegetables had a certain sweetness to them that somewhat competed with the taste of MSG. The trick about cooking gai lan is not to overcook them so the leaves and stems turn limp where they easily crumble. I like that certain crunchiness to go with it and for the leafy greens to not melt away.

It was just right. And the plates aside, it wasn’t an unpleasant experience. Maybe it was our lucky night. 

Nevertheless, the entire bill amounted up L27 pounds sterling (about PhP 1,800). It could have been less but we ordered two vegetable viands by mistake. 

An hour after we walked in, we were done. Wong Kei’s, that seats supposedly up to 500 people, had a long queue of people outside.

As we left the restaurant (no we didn’t expect any “see you again” wishes), a party of five tourists asked, “table for five?”

“Downstairs,” curtly replied one waiter who seemed more interested in the quick turnover of customers rather than providing great service. “Aw right, who is next?”

Somethings never change but we had the luck of the draw.