Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Your Names as Ancient Filipino Texts

A friend sent me this piece on alibata or baybayin, the Philippines' ancient writing system.

In yet another demonstration of the beauty of the Internet, a few taps on my keyboard, and I found this online translator. Here's what CANVAS would look like in alibata:

I tried translating various words and found it quite fascinating. (It reminds me of the elven runes that Tolkien wrote about in Lord of the Rings.)

Try it out with your kids. It's a great way to get them introduced to or more interested in Philippine history and art.


Teaching ABCs the alibata way
by Tina Santos
Philippine Daily Inquirer. May 13, 2007

MANILA, Philippines – Raymond Cosare initially couldn't explain his fascination with the Chinese brush.

"I was just fond of collecting it but I didn't know why," he told the Inquirer.

A psychology professor at the Far Eastern University, the 38-year-old Cosare discovered the answer about seven years ago shortly after he began working as a volunteer at Bahay Nakpil-Bautista, an old house in Quiapo, Manila that has been turned into a museum for artifacts belonging to its previous owners and members of the Katipunan.

Since 2000, Cosare has been putting his brush collection to good use by teaching children, as well as the young at heart, the art of writing the baybayin, the ancient Filipino script.

He explained that baybayin is an old Tagalog word that refers to all the letters or alphabet used in writing a language. It is taken from the root word, baybáy, meaning "to spell."

Syllabic writing system

The baybayin is a syllabic writing system, which means that each letter represents a syllable instead of just a basic sound compared to the modern alphabet. There are a total of 17 characters: three vowels and 14 consonants, but when combined with the small vowel-modifying marks called kudlít, the number of characters increases to 45, Cosare

"Though it is more commonly known as alibata, it is proper to use baybayin," he stressed.

He explained that alibata was the term introduced in the early 1900s by Paul Versoza of the University of Manila. He said Versoza claimed that the term was coined from alif, ba and ta, the first three letters of the Maguindanao arrangement of the Arabic letters.

These days, while his students are on their summer break, Cosare is busy holding "baybayin classes" for curious guests who drop by Bahay Nakpil-Bautista.

His students include children and their mothers as well as local and foreign tourists, he said.

Each class, which lasts about an hour and a half, begins with Cosare talking about the history of baybayin.

"It's very informal because I don't want them to get bored, especially if it's the kids I'm talking to," he added.

But the real magic begins as soon as Cosare's eager students sit on the wooden floor of the ancient house to write their names in baybayin using a brush, paper, ink or paint.

"They write awkwardly at first but little by little, they develop confidence until their handwriting flows, and the curls they draw become so natural it's as if they've known how to do this before," he said of his students.

According to Cosare, he first encountered baybayin when he was in second year high school.

"Our Filipino teacher wrote the baybayin characters on the blackboard but she did not explain it, she just told us to copy what she was writing on the board," he said. He added that he quickly became interested in learning how to write the characters, even using these
to write letters and journals.

"I mastered baybayin because I used it to hide my deepest thoughts in my journal—my way of protecting it from my nosy siblings," he said with a laugh. "At least, they wouldn't understand what these characters stood for."

But with no one to share his newfound interest with, Cosare put aside baybayin when he got to college.

Then one day, Teresita Obusan, the ebullient curator of Bahay Nakpil-Bautista, showed him material that featured seemingly intimidating characters.

"She asked me to practice writing it and use those characters in writing 'Merry Christmas' on cards she was about to send her friends. She was surprised because I finished faster than she thought I would. That's when I told her that I've been writing baybayin since high school," Cosare recalled.

Since then, Cosare said he and Obusan have found something new to share with guests of Bahay Nakpil-Bautista, apart from giving them a tour of the house and of Quiapo.

Asked why it was significant to study something that many people has long regarded as "useless" and passe, he answered: "Baybayin is something Filipinos can really call their own. So, why don't we use it?"

Making Filipinos prouder

"But more importantly, baybayin makes Filipino people prouder of who they are," he added.

Contrary to common belief, when the Spaniards arrived in the country, they found a culture that was very different from their own, he said.

"The ability to read and write is the mark of any civilization and according to many early Spanish accounts, our ancestors had already been writing with the baybayin for at least a century. This script was just beginning to spread throughout the islands at that time," Cosare

But baybayin soon went out of style. "Perhaps practicality was the main reason," was his answer when asked why, adding that social expediency could be another.

He further explained: "Maybe Filipinos abandoned baybayin in favor of the alphabet because they found the latter easy to learn and it was a skill that helped them to get ahead in life under the Spanish regime, working in relatively prestigious jobs as clerks, scribes and

But Cosare happily noted that because of information revolution, many Filipinos are taking a new interest in their heritage and it is usually the baybayin that catches their attention first.

"Through the use of computer fonts, the baybayin is now being used in graphic designs for websites, multimedia art, jewelry, compact discs, T-shirts, and logos," he disclosed.

And for some Pinoys, it seems that baybayin has come full circle, he added. "Today, a growing number of young Filipinos are getting tattooed with baybayin characters to show their pride in their heritage."

However, he claimed that he was referring to Filipinos staying in other parts of the country.

"Malakas ang interest (There is a lot of interest). But for some, either they're not aware or they find it very Filipino. I don't know what that means but somehow too Filipino is not a very positive thing for others."

"Check the Internet and you will see that most websites about baybayin were done by Filipino-Americans, Filipino-Canadians, walang purong Pinoy," Cosare lamented.

According to him, he would be happy if baybayin is introduced in school curriculums.

"The suggestion has always been there but maybe the Department of Education has other concerns for now," he said, adding that it would be better to introduce baybayin to preschool children.

Ultimately, Cosare added, his goal is to be able to produce a book about baybayin.

"That's my next target. To reach out to more people, something that hopefully would give them a little pride, something that would work wonders for the Filipino people's sense of who they are," he added.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Job Opening

The Center for Art, New Ventures & Sustainable Development (CANVAS) is looking for a Program Manager for its business development arm, Art Ventures.

The successful applicant will be tasked to:

* Establish and implement, under the direct supervision and guidance of the Executive Director, a business development strategy and business plan for CANVAS, centered on the production, marketing and sales of downstream products based on art images in CANVAS' databank.

* Establish and implement an e-commerce strategy for CANVAS' downstream product line (limited edition prints, books, shirts and magnets).

* Manage and expand the local distribution network for CANVAS' downstream products.

* Assist in the development of other downstream products based on CANVAS' images, stories and other products.

Preferred Qualifications: College graduate, preferably with business/finance background/experience and an interest in the arts. Excellent writing and speaking skills. Computer literate. Demonstrable entrepreneurial interest. Web development skills a plus.

Monthly Compensation: P18,000.00 to P22,000.000 (depending on qualifications) plus allowances & performance incentives, including profit sharing.

This is a full time position.

If interested, please email your resume, complete with references to

For more information on CANVAS, please visit our website:

Monday, May 14, 2007

Why do Filipinos vote?

Even if the choices are so limited that most of us can't come up with 12 names to vote for Senator?

Even if we all know people are going to cheat?

Even when good people - make that good FILIPINOS - like Jesse Robredo can be disqualified without any real basis?

Even if it takes an embarrassing several weeks to really know the score?

Even if the Genuine Opposition isn't so Genuine and Team Unity isn't so United? And for that matter, despite the fact that the two aren't so different?

I think it's because it says a lot about who we are as a people - hopeful despite the signs, staunchly democratic despite our history, and game for any game (even one where the odds are stacked against us).

It's not because we really think it will make that big of a difference - although we continue to hope. It's because elections are a way for us to participate and take some measure of control (however small) over our nation's destiny.

The Inquirer today says it's in our hands. They got that right. They end the editorial by saying "It starts today, with our vote." They got that wrong.

It doesn't start (or end) with the elections. For us, this is just one more turn along the road. An important turn, to be sure. But just one of many that we've taken and will continue to take.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Pssst! Would you like a limited edition print?

We're looking for Juan... do you know where to find him?

Email us at to let us know... it can be anything - a poem, a story or an essay (no longer than 250 words, please), or even an artwork. In English or Filipino, it can be on anything - general, specific, about a place, about a person, about a feeling, about food, about growing up, or growing old... as long as it helps us understand who the Filipino is.

If we use it on this blog, we'll give you a high quality limited edition print of the late Inday Cadapan's 1995 piece entitled "OFW."

Finally, it's a shame, but we have to end on a legal point: Please note, by submitting anything to us, you will retain all intellectual property rights to your contribution. However, you also grant us a perpetual, royalty-free license to use, reproduce, modify, publish, distribute, and otherwise share in the exercise of all copyright and publicity rights to it, including incorporating it in other works, and in any media, now known or later developed, including without limitation, published books.

We reserve the right to select, edit and arrange submissions, and to remove information from our blog and/or website at any time in our sole discretion.

Thursday, May 3, 2007

A Good Provider is One Who Leaves

I heard about this great article on OFWs - the cover story of the New York Times Magazine. Unfortunately, when I went to the NY Times website, I found that the story was classified as premium content, available only to subscribers.

Not to worry - we have Google, and blogs - which gave me hope that the article would likely be available elsewhere.

My faith in the Internet was not misplaced. You can view the entire article here. :-)

Read it. Together with this Wired article, it's one of the best I've read on the subject.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

The Beauty of Manila - Just Waiting to be Noticed

From the latest issue of Time (Asia edition):

The Bold and the Beautiful
Wednesday, Apr. 25, 2007
By Lara Day/Manila

"Why does everyone love Bangkok and Havana? Even Mumbai sounds better than Manila," says Filipino conceptual artist Yason Banal over coffee in Quezon City. There isn't an immediate answer. The Third World cities he lists aren't immune to the challenges that beset the Philippine capital: all grapple with congestion, crime and corruption, and none escape the banes of poverty, heat, seediness or pollution. So perhaps it's a question of marketing. Tourists are drawn to destinations with double-pronged, p.r.-friendly pegs—saris and spices for Mumbai, cigars and salsa for Havana, markets and temples for Bangkok. Manila, with its bewildering collision of Spanish, Mexican, Malay, Chinese, American and Arabic influences, doesn't benefit from such glib categorization.

Every week in Intramuros, the old walled city in whose heart, the San Agustin Church, I was christened, tour guide Carlos Celdran peels back the city's colonial layers and shows why the texture of this city doesn't lend itself to glossy hooks. I haven't taken his tour before. In fact, today, I'm bleary after staying up to watch Cebuano reggae act Junior Kilat play saGuijo's in Makati, and as I sluggishly make my way to the Fort Bonifacio meeting point, I yearn to crawl back under the covers. But witty, hilarious Carlos jolts me into wakefulness. Interspersing trenchant facts with lively anecdotes, he hurtles through 600 years of Filipino history, and, all of a sudden, Manila begins to make sense.

"If you can't find beauty in Manila, you won't find it anywhere," he quips as we later scarf Chinese takeout in his high-ceilinged Malate apartment. I find it impossible to disagree. Manila's aesthetic isn't perfect, and that's its attraction. There's an ironic local expression that sums it up: Frankenstein. It describes an old object or concept injected with new life through fresh components—"antique" chairs bolstered by new arms and legs, jeepneys revamped with transplanted motors and fresh paint jobs (a new MTV program, Pimp My Jeepney, is in the works), to ukay-ukay, or rummage-sale, vintage clothes stitched together with modern materials and prints. To me, Frankenstein explains the city's visual style as well as its strength and resilience. Improvisation and cheerfully making do characterize the Filipino attitude toward poverty.

That poverty may be ubiquitous, but so is the energy. Teeming, corrugated-iron slums surround decaying Art Deco mansions. Lush bougainvilleas peek from behind high stone walls trimmed with barbed wire. Chapels hear confession in the middle of decadent shopping malls, and hand-painted billboards advertising movies like Brazen Women overlook vendors touting T-shirts that read JESUS OF NAZARETH. At stoplights, peddlers tap on your window proffering newspapers and Marlboro Reds, while children wave garish feather dusters and delicate lace handkerchiefs. And wherever you go, there is music, in the endless strips of "videoke" lounges, pouring forth from bars and clubs, and in the broken strains of a busker's ukulele.

I head to Quiapo, where I wade through a sea of stalls selling bootleg DVDs and used electronics, pirated porn and secondhand bridal gowns. Exotic fare abounds, but I opt for a simple treat from childhood: a bananacue, or banana speared with a skewer, caramelized in deep-fried sugar. As I savor the sweet, sticky snack, I listen to a sermon blasted from a loudspeaker by a church decorated like a pastel Easter egg; in front of me is a row of old women selling religious figurines along with herbal potions that claim to do everything from curing coughs to terminating unwanted pregnancy. Afterwards I walk to Chinatown, where merchants hawk watermelons, pearls, watches and glutinous rice cakes. Padyaks, or pedicabs, painted with names like Raymond and Alfonso are lined up for action, while a jeepney called Jeremiah 616 whizzes by in an eye-catching streak of fuchsia and peacock blue.

That's the kind of beauty Manila offers: not obvious, but undeniable once you've encountered it. My grandmother has lived here for almost nine decades, through World War II and the Marcos years. One afternoon, while stuck in traffic on Roxas Boulevard, she suddenly exclaims 'Maganda!' (Beautiful!). I look to where she is pointing: a few scraggly, nondescript bushes sit on the divide between a choking 12-lane thoroughfare. But then I look closer: at the tips of the sparsely covered branches are clusters of tiny, vivid scarlet buds. Amid this congested, often dilapidated city, they're right there, just waiting to be noticed.