Tonight the Illusion Ends

Tonight the illusions ends,
hopes and aspirations moored in your being.
I cherished your presence,
grounding a yearning intrinsic and primal.
No more. 
We walked a path full of shadows and mysteries.
Whispers promising rapture,
bloodied in flesh,
real, vivid, visceral.
Joy and pain consumes equally,
but never the same. 
Your almond eyes promising steadfastness and steel.
A loving embrace to keep the shatter of mirrors within.
But tonight the illusion ends.
Your smile, soft and warm,
betrays the shallowness within your soul.
We are selfish creatures – primed to love, live for our own shells.
Beauty is only as good as the contentment it brings to our own.
And loyalty, discernment, commitment –
rather the same empty lies we say over and over again.
The illusion ends tonight.
I’ve seen the empty being deep within you,
masked by your eyes,
your smile, 
your solidity.
The hand i held in the gnarly forest,
is but a cold steel i will hit myself,
To my dying oblivion. 



“This is the Time for you to learn Clarity and Creativity”

I was invited by my High School Alma Mater to the the guest speaker in this year’s Commencement Exercises. I graduated from Tarlac State University Laboratory School in April 2000, 14 years and a day (or two) ago. Below is the speech I delivered, reflecting on how our different then, and what they should aspire to become while in college. 


To the members of the 2014 Graduating Class, the faculty of TSU Laboratory High School, ably led by Dr. Norbina Genever Castro; Dr. Maria Agnes P. Ladia, Dean of College of Education; Vice President for Academic Affairs; TSU President, undergraduates, parents, friends, alumni who are here with us, isang magandang umaga po.

Allow me to extend my congratulations. Today is a celebration of your four years of hard work. Apat na taon ng assignments, group work, pagbibilad kasama si Rizal para sa flag ceremony, club activities. Pagpila at paghihintay sa pagdating ng school bus, pagtambay sa may pathway. This is a culmination of a life spent together with your classmates and teachers. Salamat po for allowing me, allowing all of us here, to share with you this joyous event.

Receiving the invitation to be today’s guest speaker is an honor for a proud LS graduate like me. I remember my years in Sampu fondly. I was a Lab School student from 1996 to 2000. Nung mga panahon pong iyon, maraming pagbabagong nangyayari sa Pilipinas, na kung pag-aaralan, was a great influence to who I am and what I do today. Allow me to enumerate: 1996 was the centennial of Rizal’s death, 1998 was the centennial of Aguinaldo declaring Philippine independence and establishing the 1st Philippine government. Maraming activities na ipinatupad para ipaalala at ipagdiwang ang mga mahahalagang araw na ito. Common holidays and activities took this centennial commemoration as their themes. Filipino as a language was in vogue again; mas maging popular ang Tagalog news broadcast during primetime over the English newscast at late night. Karamihan sa mga jingle at branding ng mga pulitiko ay sa wikinag Pilipino. There was an emphasis on supporting Pinoy products, the tangibles, or you see and buy in the market, and intangible cultural expressions, like what you see and hear on TV and radio. Mas naging defined ang Pinoy youth culture as a brand with the creation and broadcast of teen and youth-oriented programs, like TGIS and Gimik. Naririnig mo sa radio ang musika ng Eraserheads, Parokya ni Edgar, Riveramaya at kung swerte ka, or at least pinanonood mo sa IBC-13 ang original run ng Ghost Fighter, kilala mo rin si Joey Ayala, Bayang Barrios, at Grace Nono pagkat ginagamit ang mga kanta nila for 13’s Station ID.

From 1999 towards 2000, the focus morphed from celebrating our history into a transition that affected our society in a grander scale – the advent of the millennium. The proud to be Pinoy and appreciation of Pinoy culture was further tweaked to the question, “What does it mean to be a Filipino in the new millennium?” Ang Internet and mobile connectivity ay bago pa lang po noon. Research of us means using the library and looking at the books at encyclopedias sa bahay ng mga kaklase mo. Wala pa sa aming may email address, and web surfing is not something we know how to do. Kakaunti pa lang ang may computer at laptop sa bahay, at ang kaklaseng may typewriter ang more or less may edge in preparing for the Technical Writing class assignments. By the time we graduated in 2000, wala pang 10 sa aming graduating class ang may cellphone.

You might wonder, “What is the point of such reminiscing? Meron nga ba, besides to show how outdated na ang inyong guest speaker?”

I’m sharing my experience in LS to drive home an essential point – we are the products of our times. The changes in our society, the politicians who lead and the laws they create and implement, the natural disasters that devastate, happy championships we celebrate, commemorations, advances in technology all contributed to how we understand the world at large. These stories, big and small, form our values, our dreams, our sense of purpose. We are the product of our interaction with different people, both those who matter and are part of our daily lives; even people we don’t encounter everyday but who’s decisions shape our reality.

The years I spent up in the hills of Lucinda Campus allowed me to grow into the person I am now, shaped how I view the world, and formed the foundation of my interests and capacities – keen on seeing how the appreciation of Philippine history and culture can help improve our society’s challenges and issues, interested in empowering young people through education, and lover of Japanese anime, long walks up and down hilly trails, and the music of Joey Ayala.

I want to ask our graduates, “Ano ang reality ninyo? What were your experiences habang nasa LS kayo? Anong mga pagbabago sa inyong pamilya, komunidad, sa ating bansa, maging sa inyong mga sarili at pagkakakilanlan, ang tumatak sa inyong kamalayan? What experiences in the past four years had an impact in your life now, and which experiences do you think would affect your perspectives and world views in the future?”

I am emphasizing the process of how our surroundings affect our beliefs, as it is an important part of how we form our identities, how we determine what is our life’s purpose and goal. Kung ano po ang nakikita natin sa ating kapaligiran, sa ating komunidad, dun nating huhugutin ang ating adhikain at pangarap.

When I was invited to be today’s guest speaker, isa sa mga bagay na tinanong ko sa aking sarili ko ay “Anong sasabihin ko sa mga estudyante? What am I going to share with these kids? Do I have enough; have I experienced enough to be able to impart something useful and insightful? Anong maibabahagi ko sa mga graduates that would prod them to reach for their dreams?”

Dreams. Pangarap. Adhikain sa buhay. Goals. Dreams and goals serve as directions to our life’s journey. Isa sa mga paborito ko pong quotes ay nagmula kay Gaspar Noe, a celebrated Argentine filmmaker. In an interview, when asked how he decides which projects he would do, he said, “I don’t have a career. I have dreams I want to achieve.”

In a sense, I can say my life is just like that – a series of dreams pursued and realized, both the big ones and small ones. In the journal I wrote for my 4th year English requirement for Ma’am Ladia, I remembered writing an entry called “40 things I want to do before I turned 40.” It included some things like “attend a concert that would end 2am onwards”, “get a passport and use it”, “learn a foreign language, and use it when traveling abroad”, “makaabot ng Mindanao”, and such. There were some things in that list that were easy to achieve, like the concert, and some things that I haven’t stricken out yet, like learn how to ride a bike. Meron pa naman akong oras para ma-tick off ang mga pangarap na hindi ko pa natutupad.

One thing I learned though was that dreams change. Katulad ng ating realidad, nagbabago din ang mga pangarap at adhikain. Malamang ang pagbabagong ito ay epekto ng ating pagtanda, pag-mature into informed and discerning individuals. Minsan, ang pagbabago ng pangarap ay dala ng pagbabago ng ating interests, desires, and wants. We evolve, consciously or not, gusto man natin o hindi, kasabay ng pag-evolve ng ating kinalalakhan.

Minsan, ang mas masakit, nagbabago ang ating pangarap kasi hindi natin naabot ang orihinal na pangarap natin sa buhay. Para bang experience ng unang pagka-basted, or breakup, times 100 lang na mas masakit. For individuals who are driven, who are told everything is possible only if you give 100% effort, masakit ang mga ganung karanasan. Daig pa ang nadulas sa corridor, or nagpagulong-gulong pababa sa tapat ng Montesorri all the way sa water station.

I am here to tell you na ok lang na pumalpak kayo. Failure is always an option. Okay lang na pumalpak sa maliit na bagay, like posting the wrong picture sa FB, even sa mga malalaking bagay, like failing grade sa college Math class ninyo. Trust me, madaming babagsak sa Math classes pagdating ng college – its not because mahirap na ang math lessons, but because, I believe, this is my theory and I stand by it, na nasa kontrata ng mga college Math teachers na unti-unting i-torture ang mga estudyante nila. Guguho ang mundo mo kapag natanggap mo na ang class cards mong may grading singko, pero ok lang yan.

Bakit po okay lang na pumalpak tayo? It is in the process of failure na nakikilala natin an gating sarili – our limitations and thresholds, how we respond to challenges and setbacks. Sa ating pagkakamali nakikita natin kung sino ba talaga tayo – gusto ba talaga natin ang babaeng bumasted sa atin or lalaking nakipag-break? Pangarap ba talaga nating maging engineer? It is in our failures and disappointments where we can clearly define who we are, what drives us, and with such clarity comes conviction; conviction leads to purpose; purpose to creativity.

Allow me to emphasize on two points: clarity and creativity. In such a time where information, and the world at large is at our fingertips, easily accessible, clarity is never more needed. Kailangan po nating ng kalinawagan sa maraming bagay – ano ang ating paniniwala, beliefs? What things do we considered most important sa ating buhay? What things would we consider non-negotiable? I am not only referring to religious beliefs here, but how we relate to other people. Ano ang inyong paninindigan sa usapin ng korupsyon sa local at national government, sa romantic relationships, sa marriage, sa environment? Ano para sa inyo ang mas mahalaga, and how would you rank them – money, security, your family now, your future family, and so on?

Disappointments allow us to refine our convictions and beliefs. Mas lalo natin nakikita where we draw the line in these world where it is quite easy to dabble in the greys. Kung titignan, parang madaling sabihin at maniwala na pwedeng “optional” ang paggawa ng matuwid, na “flexible” ang definition ng tama.

If clarity allows us to be resolute in our convictions, creativity challenges us to find ways to exercise it. Sa sitwasyong ito, I am using the word creativity to refer to the word’s purest definition, the act of making manifest ideas and ideals. Pagbibigay buhay sa ating kaisipan. When we create, we give ourselves the opportunity to express our thoughts and beliefs, to communicate and commune with other people around us. In creation, we form relationships and communities.

The next four or five years will be an avenue for you to achieve clarity and exercise your creativity. While in college, you will be tasked to move beyond your comfort zones and think as involved adults. You will be challenged to define your skills, and create new ones. Di ba nga isa sa madalas na binibigkas ng nakakatatanda, “Nasa college ka na, matanda ka na?” Education, kung pag-aaralan po natin ang kanyang root work, is an exercise of bringing forth what is within – ang natatangi ninyong kakayahan to become productive, responsible, creative, and collaborative.

Enjoy your college years then. Embrace to good and the bad. Be prepare to grow, to experience something new. Expect to be surprised, by something good and bad. Try to learn as many skills as possible. If you fail, don’t be too hard with yourself, but at the same time, don’t be too complacent at maging byline ninyo ay “Pwede na”. Sikapin pa ring maging best version of yourself habang nag-aaral kayo.

At the same time, remember that learning is not confined within the 4 walls of your school. Sa aking paglalakbay, marami akong nakilalang tao na maituturing na mas matalino at may alam pa kaysa sa ibang taong may doctoral degrees. I believe I learned more in the mountains of Bukidnon, sharing coffee with elders of indigenous people there than in some of my college classes.

I was asked to be here to inspire you to pursue and finish your chosen career in the tertiary level. Instead, let me inspire you to discover yourself while you’re earning your degree. Kilalanin ninyo ang inyong mga sarili at inyong realidad habang nag-aaral kayo patungo sa isang propesyon. Alamin ninyo ang inyo pangarap at adhikain, at hanapan ninyo ng paaran para maabot ninyo ang mga iyon.

Nais ko rin sanang magbigay sa inyo ng paalala habang ako’y nandito sa inyong harapan. Lahat po tayo ay graduate mula sa isang government educational institution. Ang pangalan po ng ating paaralan ay Tarlac State University Laboratory High School. Pera ng bayan, buwis na binayaran ng ating mga magulang, kapatid, kapitbahay, ang tumulong para tayo’y makapagtapos. Kung gayon, it is then our responsibility, our moral debt, to pay such blessing forward. Paano ang ating pangarap at adhikain sa buhay makakatulong sa ating bayan? It is our task to serve the public, in any way possible.

Baka ini-isip ninyo na ang aking talumpati ay isang confessional. Yes, this is a confessional and summation of the 14 years that has passed. This is also a tribute to an institution that helped me. Alam po nating lahat na may mga bagay na magbabago in the next few years. Things are in transition. The graduating class, are obviously, heading to different colleges and universities where they will spend four or five years earning a degree. Most of the Lab School teachers will transition to teaching collegiate classes after Lab School. Our school, will be closing its doors in a few years. Allow me then, to turn this confessional to a tribute. A tribute to the teachers who passed through its halls, who engaged the minds of the students who came in every June. Maraming salamat po sa inyong walang sawang dedikasyon sa aming edukasyon. This is also a tribute to every graduate who studied in Lab School, in all its forms. Consciously or not, you all left a mark in the halls of Lab School history. Ang inyong mga yapak ay maririnig sa hallway ng main building, sa S-building, sa canteen, mga alaala ng mga kabataang nahinog sa institusyong ito. And this is a tribute to the parents ng bawat alumni, for trusting the institution the big task of educating our society.

My task today is to challenge you to become the best version of your self – someone guided by your dreams and aspirations, unafraid of the trials and challenges that would definitely come your way. My task today is to remind you that we all have a purpose that would serve the needs of our society. My task today is to show you that failure and disappointment is not the end of the road in your pursuit of dreams. My task today is to be living example of individuals who are still dreaming, and are still striving to achieve it. I hope you’ll be inspired by us previous graduates, and even exceed our examples and expectations. Maraming salamat po, at muli, congratulations.


Lonely Hearts Club

I read somewhere that there is a difference between falling in love for real, and falling in love while you’re lonely.


The real deal consumes you, lifts you up.

The other one leaves you feeing half-full, and half-empty.


I am not saying that I love you, or I fell for you.

I am saying that I am lonely,

And being with you,

No matter how full it made me feel,

Still left me empty.


I am lonely.

Being with you made it worst.


What’s in a Name

My parents gave me a unique name. Following traditions during that time, I was named after my mother and my grandmothers. In some cases, this would result to having three given names. But my mother was creative, and she combined the name of my grandmothers, creating a new, unique one. My name is May Francelline (Francisca + Marcelina).

My entire life, I’ve only used two nicknames – May and France. My family calls me May. Its short, not too difficult to write or speak. Its easy to remember. In every class during my elementary years, there is bound to be another girl with May in her given name, and there were instances where the teacher has to point to which May she is calling. You can imagine a girl named May to be sweet, wearing braids, kind, delicate. I had short hair then, with scars in my legs because I keep running around and tripping with my clumsy feet, with asthma and lots of allergies. Not a cute girl, not by a long shot (but I did have my dimples, which rarely pops out because I was too thin, like a Mongol pencil).

When I went to university, I decided to change my identity. College was a period of experimenting with freedom, independence, sophistication (or my idea of sophistication and culture then) and free thinking. I decided to call myself France. Francelline is too long, too unique. I would stand out too much if I go with Francelline. France, I feel, can be both masculine or feminine. France would asks questions, and won’t feel stupid asking questions, even the ones that she feels are stupid and obvious questions. France wont say No to new experiences, like watching movies in cinemas everyday for a week, or spending hours playing in video game parks. It’s more exciting in contrast to boring May. I feel France would have a twinkle in her eye and an inviting grin, while May would just have her dimples to prevent people from running her over.

I’ve been France for the past 14 years. Most of my firsts happened while I am France – my first boyfriend and its resulting heart break; failing exams and grade; first overnight concert; first overseas trip. First job, pay check, rent money. Drinking too much and waking up drunk. The times I felt accomplished and broken, I was France. The times I felt innocent, and naively still believing in Santa Claus, I was May then.

Most people assume that I was born on the month of May, or my parents had a fetish for France and French culture based on my name. Depending on my mood, I would correct them, or let them create fantasies on my name.

May is a month – a specific time, a period. It is ephemeral, but has constancy. You know that after 365 days, the smells and sounds of May has come again. France, on the other hand, is a place. It is solid, but its contours changes as it interacts with people, nature, with the beliefs and practices people build.

This captures the daily struggle I have with myself. I do not wish for chains to bind me, but I long for structures to guide me. I love deeply and constantly, both in my friends, family and interests, but once I am bored, I walk away with no regrets. I am both proud and ashamed of my scars, the souvenirs life has etched in my body and heart. It is both a medal and a shield, an accounting of the things I risked for life, both won and lost. As I struggle to define myself, I feel torn between May and France.

So, am I a time or a place? Can I be both ephemeral, free, and solidly rooted? How can I be both May and France?

May Traditional dance ba sa Alemanya?

Isa sa mga activities namin ay paggawa ng workshop traditional dance. The idea is to reflect through movement a slice of reality, something that is inspired by the given / surroundings that you observed. It was funny but a “theme” emerged per day; something that the participants (and myself at that specific time and date) are/were drawn to.

Here are some of the realities that the participants observed and reported in the workshop:

Monday, Theme: Karlsruhe in different Seasons

Workshop 1: Spring in Karlsruhe

Spring is a beautiful time in Karlsruhe. Flowers are constantly growing and blooming, and butterflies are everywhere, saying hello from one flower to the next.

Workshop 2: Black Forest, Disco Remix

The best time to visit the Black Forest is in autumn. Trees are majestic then; they are big and colourful, and sways with the wind. Fields in the forest feels endless.

Tuesday, Theme: Young People in Karlsruhe

Workshop 1: Danya

How do we make friends? Through meeting strangers, and opening ourselves and becoming friends. We connect to more and more people, creating our community.

Workshop 2: Travel Dance

In Karlsruhe, people walk. Or ride a bike. Or travel via tram.

Wednesday, Drumline Theme: Young People in Karlsruhe (changed from dance to drumming because there were a lot of participants, and we didnt have enough space to dance)

Workshop 1: Transportation

This is what we hear while traveling around the city – our footsteps, the tram moving forward, the slide of the tire on the road.

Workshop 2: Pizza Flowers:

What are the things we enjoy the most? Slices of pizza, seeing flowers, reading books.


Masaya ding mag-laro ng pass the message, Schuelertage style!

Like a child, walking on water

This weekend, I rode a wave for the first time.

I’ve always loved the seas. I grew up looking forward to seeing a big body of water. Growing up in a land-locked province, I was always excited for the summer season to hit – there is always the possibility of going to Mama’s home town. This means being near a beach, and possibly, possibly! going to the beach. We earlier rode passenger ferries to take us to Bohol, and I always feel powerful in a ship – we are cutting across waters, somewhat walking on top, never sinking (which isn’t always the case, but that is another story).

It took me awhile to summon the courage to try bodyboarding. I sometimes fear very deep waters, since I can not “stretch” my body to be both above water and still grounded on solid ground. But these slight twitches hasn’t stopped me from riding smaller boats, or ride a jet ski, or snorkel, or jumping of a 25ft ledge/mini-fall to hit a 35ft deep pool. Scuba diving is still in my bucket list. And I want to surf.

I finally summoned the guts to try it this weekend. The waves were perfect, big enough to push you towards the shore, but not big enough for me to feel overwhelmed. There weren’t many people at Ambay; hindi ko naramdaman na tatawanan nila ako kung mahulog ako sa board. At dahil kami lang ni Darlene ang nandun, kayang-kaya naming i-bully/support ang isa’t isa na subukan mag-board, kahit once lang. But the best confidence builder were Ate Leah and Kuya Paul, who were such nice people and allowed us to try it kahit na wala sa weekend program ang boarding.

Kuya Paul was patient enough to explain, and show, how to hold the board, find your wave, waddle (appropriate for me) towards the waves you want to ride, and basically control your board. Observer mode muna habang pinanonood syang sumakay. Once I finally tried it, I held on to my board, and surrendered to the wave coming to get me.


It was exhilarating! The wave felt smooth and silky, and pushed you towards the shore. If you have body issues (ang bigat ko! Hindi ako matutulak ng alon dahil sa bigat ko!), mawawala yan habang tinutulak ka ng alon. Admittedly, there are several times na nahulog ako sa board, at gumulong-gulong sa tubig habang may bagong alon na kumain sa akin, I didn’t feel panicked, or scared; I felt challenged to do it again, and do it right.

Riding the board for the first time made me remember that feeling of strength. Na, yup, pwedeng lumakad sa tubig, at hindi ko kailangan ng malaking barko (instrumento) para gawin iyon. It made me realise that in moments of frenzy, grief, obstacles, and other challenges, you just need to hold on to your board (whatever that you hold important and can ground you), and let the waves push you to safety.

Babalik ako ulit ng Ambay. Sasakay ulit ako ng board. Surfing will surely happen, soon.

Wave riding

Spent our weekend in our favourite, isang-kembot-lang-nasa-langit-na beach resort, Ambay Beach Resort in Botolan, Zambales. Like our last two trips, Ambay is a our little slice of heaven.

Madaming bago sa Ambay. Kuya Rolly is in a creative frenzy. The artist in him is excited with all the driftwood na binibigay ng dagat. He converted some driftwood into a table for two, perfect for dating couples na gustong kumain habang natatanaw ang dagat. He refurbished some old chairs with donated woven abaca mats, and designed mirrors with found wood, seeds and stones. Madami pa syang planong gawin sa mga driftwood, talahib at bato na nakikita niya around Ambay.

Food is always superb. Ambay is one place na hindi mahirap maghanap ng pagkain for vegetarians. Sa susunod, kitchen volunteers na talaga kami ni Darlene. We need to add to our vegetarian cooking skills.

Ambay prepared a program of knitting and yoga for the weekend, pero, ang lakas ng tawag ng tubig. At ang hirit nya sa amin ni Darlene, boarding! We had our first experience of boarding. Ang sarap sumakay sa alon! Ang sarap ding panoorin sila Kuya Paul, Kuya Edil na nagbo-boarding. Sanay na sanay sa silang sumakay ng alon. Given how much we love the waters, and some of our water shortcomings (hindi kami strong swimmers ni Darlene), sabi namin, “Ah, basta! Mag-boarding tayo! We will learn how to do it. Sasakay din tayo sa alon!”

May sinabi si Kuya Paul while he was teaching me na I can consider my big lesson for the week. Sabi nya, “Piliin mo rin yung alon na sasakyan mo. Tapos pagparating na, dapat ready ka na.”

Totoo, sometimes, we need to go with the flow. Na sometimes, it is better not to go against the current. Or we need to let life direct you where you need to be. Pero, may element of choice ka pa rin. Aling alon ang sasamahan mo? Ito na ba ito? Is the wave too big or too small for me? Am I in the right position to ride this? Will my timing be off or spot on? You can never do away with choices. The unraveling of your story, or in this particular case, your ride, will only happen once you’ve made a definite choice.

So in short, masaya at makabuluhan ang Ambay stop. I will definitely be back again, and soon. The waves are waiting for me.


The Search for the Self is the Search for the Sacred: Identities, Sacredness, and Indigenous Spiritual Beliefs and Practices

Last year, I was asked to share my thoughts on sacredness and spirituality as encountered by contemporary Filipino youth. Giving some thought and reflecting on my encounters with various IP youth, I’ve come up with this presentation. Sharing it now to address an itch – to write again, and share it with the wider world. 

I would like to thank De La Salle University and our organizers for providing this opportunity to share and discuss observations, thoughts, and perceptions of young Filipinos on sacredness and spirituality. As one of the young myself, such discussions could further provide us textures and points of view as we develop our core beliefs on self and spirituality; also, this is also opportunity for us to, in a sense, explain ourselves to our parents and mentors.

Just to build some context on the ideas I’ll be sharing: the views I’ll be discussing are derived from my personal explorations on spirituality and sacredness, a learning journey that I’ve been actively pursuing for the past 20-odd years; ideas culled from conversations with young Filipinos all-over the country who share the same questing and questioning; and perspectives shared and observed from the young members of cultural communities I’ve interacted with, primarily the Talaandig Indigenous Community[1] of Lantapan, Bukidnon.

My presentation would focus on how some young Filipinos are shaping their spiritual beliefs and practices through a convergence of religious structures, perspectives formed through their socialization, with focus on wholeness and interconnectedness, a quality of the indigenous peoples’ spiritual worldview.[2] Similarly, it can be observed that indigenous spiritual practices can be experienced not only with members of the Indigenous communities in our country, but also amongst a few Filipinos who have embraced a more non-traditional expression of their spirituality and faith. It is with the embrace of what is present and what is forgotten and remembered that these young Filipinos are defining and re-shaping their sense of self today.

Like the majority of the Filipino people, I was born and raised a Roman Catholic. I came from a family that is conservative in religious practice – Sunday masses, intimate relationship with our parish priests, catechism classes, and the observance of different sacraments. I also received an education from a catholic school run by nuns. Suffice to say, I represent the socialization experience of a typical, middle to upper-middle class young Filipino.

My sense of self was formed from these experiences. In my slightly younger years, I defined myself religious, not spiritual. If further asked, I would say a religious person would be an individual who goes to church, observed the 10 Commandments, and fears God. How I viewed spirituality and sacredness was grounded on Roman Catholic dogma and traditions. The structures and rituals of the Church is something that I am familiar and comfortable with.

Not a lot of Filipinos can differentiate religion from spirituality. If asked for their spiritual beliefs, a typical Filipino would either say, “I’m Christian, a Catholic, a Baptist, or a Muslim.” Spiritual beliefs are explained via religious affiliation, which provides shortcuts to what your beliefs are.

In that sense, identity is defined not by the individual’s values and actions, but rather through membership in societal structures. It is where you belong, not what you’re beliefs and practices are that defined you. This assumes uniformity – that all members of an institution share the same core beliefs and practices.

But this is not necessarily the case. In my experience, not a lot of Catholics I know share the same beliefs, or express their beliefs in a similar fashion. One’s understanding of the Church dogma may differ from the other. The differentiation is most obvious in the youth today, who is not only exposed to more information about different faiths and their expressions, but who were also brought up to be more questioning, more open to explore their individual beliefs.

How do indigenous spiritual beliefs and practices apply to this scenario?

Of the 123 ethno linguistic groups in the country, 110 are classified as indigenous cultural community or indigenous peoples. For our discussion’s purposes, we are defining IPs as communities who’ve successfully resisted political, economic, cultural, and spiritual colonization.[3] Despite the large number of their grouping, indigenous communities only account for 15 to 19% of Philippine population[4]. Although some of these groups have slowly integrated to mainstream society through the embrace of Christianized and westernized culture[5], there still exist communities who continue their traditional practices and beliefs.

Spirituality is an important component for the indigenous communities. For the IPs, spirituality is not expressed in dogma, or structures, or hierarchies. Similar to how they view and construct socio-political structures, spirituality and its forms are non-hierarchical, participative, and rooted in consensual values and mechanisms. The focus is on wholeness and interconnectedness. A survey of indigenous communities in the country would point to some common qualities:

1)                      Strong emphasis on the relationship of Man with Nature (Ugnayan ng Tao sa Kalikasan). Man is part of nature, not only a steward and consumer of Nature and its resources. Similar to Sheldrake’s field theory, we share what we are with Nature and Nature shared what it is with us;

2)                      God(s) are manifested in Nature; they have specific nature manifestations, and spirits can direct nature. IPs define spirits either through their environmental characteristics (diyos / diyosa ng tubig, kabundukan, lupa, etc) or as deities or supra-natural beings (diwata). Dead ancestors also become part of the Spiritual world and can be one with the gods and the deities;

3)                      The manifestations of these gods and spirits are sacred. Natural resources that embody environmental gods are sacred. Experiences and symbolisms that evoke and connote gods and spirits are considered sacred. The act of communication with these spirits is sacred, and;

4)                      Spiritual practice is defined by the intimate and balanced relationship with the gods as manifested through Nature and the Other (kalikasan at kapwa). Blessings are sought when Nature is accessed in their daily activities like farming or building a house. Spiritual guidance is also needed when there is conflict or celebrations, like weddings and births.

Given such perspective, each action is seen as having a correspondent spiritual effect, or causation. Illness can either be punishment for displeasing the spirits, and abundance as blessings because the spirits are pleased with Man’s actions. Because the physical and spiritual world is seen as intricately connected, the intention in each action, or what we aspire to achieve, is what is relevant. What is intentional is considered spiritual. And all intentional acts (whether attributed to the gods or to your fellow man) is sacred.

Indigenous spirituality demands a heightened sense of consciousness – we pray not because it is what we were taught but because we seek communion with the spirits. What a lot of young Filipinos discovered is this intentional consciousness is what elevates the structures and mechanisms they’re most familiar with that became habitual and lost some of its essence.

This is not an appropriation of other people’s culture, rather an opportunity to further understand one’s socialization and enrich one’s sense of self.

Such enrichment can be seen in:

1)                      Medicine. Some young doctors include alternative or traditional Pinoy healing arts to their practice. The practice of hilot, or traditional massage, is about balancing the energies in one’s body, as it is the body that relates to Nature and the spirits. Pre-colonization Filipino physio-spiritual doctors, who practice arbularyo, use indigenous fauna to heal illnesses. Most households still practice this traditional medical practice, and more medicines and health supplements in the market today are based in this practice.[6]

2)                      Music. It can be heard in the repertoire of artists who include ritual chants and rhythms, as well as nature sounds, to their discography. Mainstream artists who enrich their discography with traditional music include Joey Ayala, Bayang Barrios, Grace Nono, Pinikpikan, Kadangyan, and others. There are IP musicians who are also creating their name in the music scene, like Waway Saway at and Kadugo Band (musicians from the Talaandig community of Bukidnon), Baba Mitra (singer of Kadangyan, of Cordilleran extraction), Kawangis ng Tribu (Palaw’an IP musicians), and so forth.

3)                      It can also be seen in the paintings, sculptures and installations of artists who include healing motifs, traditional symbols, even baybayin syllabary, to their work. A number of the Baguio Artists Guild membership includes traditional motifs in their paintings (also as a reflection of their cultural heritage and ethnic extraction). The Baybayin network here in Manila not only re-introduces the ancient script to students to promote the appreciation of the Baybayin syllabary, but also explores Baybayin’s healing modality possibilities[7].

4)                      Dance. The Baybayin slyllabary was also turned into a dance form, reflecting the movements of each syllable, similar to eurhythmy of the Anthroposophical Movement. Pi Villaraza is a healer and culture worker who developed Inner Dance, believed to be similar to the movements of the ancient babaylans from the Visayas Region and also believed to contain healing properties. He is now based in Bahay Kalipay in Palawan, doing workshops on inner dance and other healing modalities.

5)                      Application in Sustainable Development Work. Culture and peace workers now include rituals to consecrate their development work. This is most common amongst interfaith groups doing work in Mindanao. This practice can also be seen amongst the membership of the Peacebuilders Community, some of which are Manila-based. There are also Babaylan researchers who are part of the academe, and other culture creatives working in various development initiatives around the country.

Young IPs still learn and perform their spiritual practices. Spiritual leaders are being cultivated and developed amongst the young. In the Talaandig community, the shamans are one of the most accessible elders in the community, sharing their experiences, thoughts, and beliefs with the young Talaandig, even young non-IP visitors to the community. Young Talaandig artists use their spiritual beliefs as themes in their soil paintings. Children as young as 4 years old learn their traditional rhythms and how to play their musical instruments. Such skill is used to converse with their spirits, like offering morning prayers or blessings for community gatherings. Although the youth cannot fully lead community rituals yet (or they can at the risk of consequences from the spirits), their participation in rituals are necessary. Spiritual practice is understood as a practice of their culture.

The search for the self is the search for the sacred, and vis-a-vis, the search for a spiritual identity is an intrinsic part on the formation of self amongst Filipino youth. In my journey, similar to the journeys of several young Filipinos, I’ve discovered that the dogma and rituals I’ve learned in the Roman Catholic Church develops more meaning when viewed from a wholeness perspective. Conservative Catholics might point out to conflicts between Catholic faith with the animistic polytheistic spiritual practices of the indigenous communities, but such fusion allows me to developed a more humanistic, grounded spiritual consciousness.

What is sacred for young Filipinos today? For the culturally aware and conscious young Filipino, what is spiritual and sacred are the intentions carried out with their daily actions. As they say, practice without faith, is both empty and false. As indigenous spirituality is rooted on relationships, what is considered alien to the mainstream society might, in the future, become a vital component of Filipino spirituality and practice.

[1] The Talaandig Indigenous Peoples are one of the seven (7) indigenous communities based in Bukidnon, Mindanao. They are primarily based in the Kitanglad Mountain Ranges. They are one of the more organized indigenous communities, having an active Elder Community, a successful School of Living Traditions, and continuous interaction with non-IP and IP communities around the country. As a community, they actively participate in discourse in promotion of IP culture, fight for IP rights, and participate in Mindanao peace building efforts.

[2] My observation is that contemporary young Filipinos are forming their spiritual identities coming from their socialization, the religious practice they grew up with, merged with new perspectives derived from their own questioning and exploration. In a sense, young Filipinos are “Catholics / Christian / Methodist, etc + another spirituality”. This scenario does not conflict with their original faith but rather complement their own understanding of God, Divinity, spirituality, and sacredness.

[3] This definition is also congruent to how IP’s define themselves as well. Self-ascription is important to the IPs; it is an extension of their right to self-determination. In the Indigenous Peoples Rights Act, an indigenous community is a group of people identified by self-ascription and ascription by others, and have continuously lived as organized community on communally bounded and defined territory, and have, under claims of ownership since time immemorial, occupied, possessed, and utilized such territories, sharing common bonds of language, customs, traditions, and other distinctive cultural traits. IPs has also, through resistance to political, social, and cultural inroads of colonization, become historically differentiated from the majority of Filipinos. IPs likewise include peoples who are regarded as indigenous on account of their descent from the populations which inhabited the country at the time of colonization or the establishment of present state boundaries and who retain some or all of their own social, economic, cultural, and political institutions, but who may have been displaced from their traditional domains or who may have resettled outside their ancestral domains.

[4] Percentage of Filipinos considered IP vary depending of data source (government agency data – NSO, NCIP, etc; local and international NGOs and IOs – UNDP, UNESCO, etc). What is consistent though, is the steady decline of their numbers. Of the IP population, 61% are Mindanao-based, 33% are from Luzon, and 6% are distributed in Visayas.

[5] This is the scenario for most of the Cordillera IP groups, where Christianization transpired during the American colonization. In addition to Catholic missionaries (of all nationalities), Protestant evangelists are also heading to the mountains of Visayas and Mindanao bringing news of evangelization and community development.

[6] Dr. Moon Maglaya of Kidapawan, Cotabato, is an anthroposophical doctor who practices community medicine. Her clinic is one of the pioneers in fusing anthroposophical medicine with indigenous medical practices.

[7] A research done by Bonifacio Comandante together with UPLB researchers explored the effect of Baybayin symbols to the growth of mongo beans. There are psycho-spiritual art therapy sessions in Manila which includes Baybayin writing in their modules.

wide blues

in the process of healing,

i go back to the Earth to fuel my spirit.

wide skies and open waters bring me back to life.

i welcome thee, o Goddess of water.

nourish my bleeding heart and broken spirit.

Allow me to be whole again. Image