Latest Stories

Forever 81

Being Filipino


“BEING Filipino” ART BY GCF 2009

When I gave birth to my first son in 1953, my mother and her sisters were elated. My aunt brought a bilao of special pansit to my room at Doctors’ Hospital. My mother and her siblings opened it over the immaculate bed sheet above my feet and started eating it, happily offering me some at intervals. They never wondered whether I was in pain from my cesarean. I hated it, not because I was, but because it was so tacky.

When my uncle died in the early ’50s, his wake was held in their three-storey house in Malabon. It was open to friends and strangers alike, 24 hours, for all of three or four days. Cooked food flowed all day long. It was believed to be bad luck to clean or sweep the rooms in the house during a wake, so dirt piled up in corners and behind doors.

Important personages of the town all visited. Policemen, on duty or off, appeared for three meals, as did the caretakers of their many fishponds and relatives of the help.  It was a full-blown fiesta.

On the last day of every wake I have since attended, whether in Payatas or in Forbes Park, there was always a big celebration. Only much later did I learn that my mother and her sisters’ probinsyana ways were the honest-to-goodness Filipino celebrations of life and death, births and milestones.

Stolid Western funerals

By that time I had also learned about American ways of holding wakes. They had stiff, cheerless wakes and funerals. No one caterwauled like my female cousin, who attempted to jump into the still open grave of her father as hysterical proof of her devotion.

As little as five relatives and friends attended American wakes. There were no wreaths or endless baskets of flowers lining the walk with donors’ names prominently on their ribbons.

But it was only so much later that I began to enjoy being Filipino. It was simpler to embrace and cry than not to cry; to race to a death or a wake because all your friends would be there. It was a reunion, a social occasion. To learn, at the drop of a hat, to nibble everything from lumpiang ubod to ensaymada to lengua, lugaw and lechon without having indigestion. To send one’s savings to a needy and gravely ill friend. So when it is your turn to die, your friends will support you, too, materially or emotionally, whichever you need. They will surround your death bed so densely and lovingly you won’t have a chance to pee.

Someone may even excitedly, but mistakenly, text everyone that your soul has left your body before it really has. That should be a great death.

Julie’s ashes

After coming from the wake of Julie Desiderio Villareal, one of my grandsons, Franco, said, “Magpagpag muna tayo.”  I didn’t know what that meant.

All that pagpag connoted to me was garbage food, especially leftover chicken which the very poor scavenged, literally “dusted off,” washed and refried.

Pagpag means, Franco explained, that after coming from a dead person’s ritual, you have to take a circuitous route home.  That’s so you don’t take home particles of sorrow and “bad luck” that a death connotes. So, you stop on the way home for lunch or dinner, or even just coffee and doughnuts, or you shop first in some supermarket. You leave the malas along the way. It was apparently an age-old custom which citified me had never heard of.


But why would I want to “dust off” traces of my beloved Julie from my person? She was my balae.  She had lived away in the States for the last 10 years.  We often sent long, lively texts to each other. She did not respond to the last few ones. That was uncharacteristic because Julie loved connecting.

Much later, I learned that she had been confined in the hospital and had to undergo open heart surgery. Quadruple bypass. Julie survived the operation, but while in the recovery room she had a massive heart attack. And then another. And then she was gone.

Her children had all flown there earlier when she was first confined. Now she was “home.” During the novena I heard again those passages in the Prayers for the Dead that always made me teary-eyed: “Bring her into your paradise, where there is no more grief, or mourning, or sadness, but peace and joy with your beloved Son and the Holy Spirit, forever and ever.”

I had one last gaze at Julie’s smiling picture and the urn of her ashes. Goodbye, my friend, you had a hard life. Rest in peace. See you soon.

Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter

Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Tags: Death , Family , friendship , giving birth , Relationships , Senior

Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
  1. How to enjoy Buntod
  2. World bids Gabriel Garcia Marquez ‘Adios’
  3. How Zsa Zsa Padilla found Conrad Onglao; Sharon Cuneta played Cupid
  4. ‘Wild West’ Masbate’s pristine marine gems
  5. Kim Atienza: At home with art and design
  6. How Margie Moran-Floirendo keeps her dancer’s body
  7. Life lessons I want to teach my son
  8. Garcia Marquez left unpublished manuscript
  9. Historic Fort Bonifacio tunnel converted into a septic tank
  10. Wanted: Beauty queen with a heart that beats for the environment
  1. How Zsa Zsa Padilla found Conrad Onglao; Sharon Cuneta played Cupid
  2. Are your favorite malls open this Holy Week break?
  3. Historic Fort Bonifacio tunnel converted into a septic tank
  4. ‘Labahita a la bacalao’
  5. Miss America: Don’t suspend teen over prom invite
  6. How Margie Moran-Floirendo keeps her dancer’s body
  7. This is not just a farm
  8. President Quezon was born here–and so was Philippine surfing
  9. Levine designs womenswear with help from fiancee
  10. Clams and garlic, softshell crab risotto–not your usual seafood fare for Holy Week
  1. How Zsa Zsa Padilla found Conrad Onglao; Sharon Cuneta played Cupid
  2. Mary Jean Lastimosa is new Miss Universe Philippines
  3. Did Angara ruin Pia Wurtzbach’s chances at Bb. Pilipinas?
  4. Dominique–Gretchen and Tonyboy Cojuangco’s daughter–now an endorser
  5. Vinegar test helpful vs cervical cancer
  6. From Jeannie to mom of suicide victim
  7. San Vicente beaches hidden but not for long
  8. Borgy and Georgina are back; others are off–again
  9. Why is the lifestyle set now afraid to wear jewelry–before Kim Henares?
  10. Sen. Angara: I thought Pia Wurtzbach gave a good answer


  • Caramoan declared mining-free zone
  • Slain mayor uneasy with public display of firearms
  • Mt. Banahaw visitors down to only 3,000—DENR
  • Bicol tour offer: Almasor or Triple C
  • Bomb found in Cagayan de Oro-bound bus
  • Sports

  • ’Bye Ginebra: No heavy heart this time
  • UAAP board tackles new rules
  • Baguio climb to decide Le Tour de Filipinas
  • Pacquiao-Mayweather still a pipe dream
  • Caguioa goes on Twitter rant
  • Lifestyle

  • Entering the monkhood a rite of passage
  • Haneda International Airport: A destination on its own
  • Wanted: Beauty queen with a heart that beats for the environment
  • Kim Atienza: At home with art and design
  • Life lessons I want to teach my son
  • Entertainment

  • HEARD: Very villainy
  • HEARD: Serious job
  • Story time on the road
  • Let a hundred creative flowers bloom
  • Agents of Ambush, April 24, 2014
  • Business

  • PH banks not ready for Asean integration
  • Stocks down on profit-taking
  • Banks allowed to use ‘cloud’
  • SMIC to issue P15-B bonds
  • Honda upgrades PH plant
  • Technology

  • ‘Unlimited’ Internet promos not really limitless; lawmakers call for probe
  • Viber releases new design for iPhone, comes to Blackberry 10 for the first time
  • Engineers create a world of difference
  • Bam Aquino becomes Master Splinter’s son after Wiki hack
  • Mark Caguioa lambasts Ginebra teammates on Twitter
  • Opinion

  • Respite
  • Bucket list
  • JPII in 1981: walking a tightrope
  • It’s up to us
  • Repetition
  • Global Nation

  • 19 Ukrainians, Russians, Filipinas rescued in bar raid
  • Filipinos coming home from Mideast must obtain MERS clearance – DOH
  • US Secret Service in Manila ahead of Obama visit
  • Palace thanks Estrada for successful HK mission
  • Hong Kong accepts PH apology; sanctions also lifted