Wednesday, July 6, 2011

GMA’s Amaya: Fact or Fiction? By: James U. Sy Jr.

Part I: Overall Perspective

GMA’s new epic teleserye Amaya is a two-edged sword. It has its own merits and shortcomings and as to be expected, it received mixed reviews of both praises and criticisms. This commentary is by no means contributory to the raging network wars on cyberspace. Instead it is meant to give credit to what this teleserye means to the awareness of certain aspects of Philippine culture and at the same time, point out certain irregularities in the use, or misuse, of certain cultural and/or historical data in its storyline.

What is most commendable about the project is its effort to present the story based on cultural and historical researched data, something which is unheard of before, or at least not of this caliber. Amaya is both a milestone and a big risk for GMA. As far as is recorded and known, and as GMA advertised it, the teleserye is the first ever on Philippine TV to be explicitly based on pre-Hispanic Philippine history and culture. This makes it stand out immediate among its peer programs. Of course, the saleable programs are those centered on love stories and emotions, as Filipinos are fond of this formula as Korean telenovelas would show us. In essence, GMA is taking a big step by making something that has not been tried and done before. And it seems, they did well. The viewers just love Amaya.

As a native Ilonggo living in Region 6, I am glad and feel honored that the project Amaya took pains in presenting the rich pre-Hispanic culture of Panay, from which majority of the ancestors of the inhabitants of Negros Occidental also came from.

I am a professional and businessman, who in my free time engage in the research, study, documentation (and writing), promotion, and propagation of the various Ilonggo and other Visayan systems/styles of Arnis/Eskrima. While conducting data gathering for my book on Arnis, I traveled to several parts of the Visayas and a few in Luzon and Mindanao. I met the late prominent Ilonggo professor, historian, and author Dr. Henry Florida Funtecha, then the Director of the Center for West Visayan Studies (CWVS) at the University of the Philippines in the Visayas (UP-V). I was so inspired for his call for locals to write their own history and not to be passive to let outsiders do it for them. He believed that such history can be written nearer to its real essence if seen from the eyes of a local who has a fuller knowledge of the inner workings of the subject.

Although he himself had written several books on local Ilonggo history and culture, Dr. Funtecha stressed that much more has not been documented about the rich local traditions, culture, and history and that the work I’m working will be one of the milestones once finished because it is the only academically prepared work in its category in Western Visayas of date. If Dr. Funtecha is only alive today, I know he will be happy to see Amaya propagating Karay-a/Ilonggo culture and history.

It is a mistaken notion that the Philippines has only one culture. Since time immemorial, our archipelago was home to many different cultures. The history, culture, and language that have largely been associated with the Filipino people is that of Luzon, where our capital is located. But in reality this will vary from place to place. In Luzon itself, the Ilocanos and Igorots have their own unique cultures as compared to say, the Tagalogs. Although we have a national language, the Tagalog-based Filipino, the Philippines is home to more than a hundred languages, all except for one belonging to the Austronesian “Southern Islands” (Malayo-Polynesian) family of languages. Amaya is a big step in showing and instilling respect to this diversity of the different cultures housed in what is now known as the Republic of the Philippines.

It is my belief, as well as some of my researcher friends, that before we can be proud to be Filipino, one must first be proud of one’s own ethnic cultural heritage be it Karay-a, Ilonggo, Cebuano, Tausug, etc. Once one’s ethnic identity had been identified and appreciated, then we can join hands and say, inspite of our varied cultures, we are all Filipinos. The Philippines is home to several cultures and that is what makes Filipinos adaptable to different situations.

History is derived from either primary or secondary sources. Primary sources are those that have witnessed the event that took place or have been part of the incident being studied, i.e. written records, fossils, artifacts, and testimony from living witnesses. Secondary sources are those that are not part of the event in question, i.e. magazines, newspapers, pamphlets, typescripts, and articles written about the primary sources (Halili 5). Admittedly, Amaya is not perfect in fully depicting “accurate” historical/cultural details. This would be understandable because obviously, the makers of Amaya relied on secondary sources. While about a year was given to research the details in Amaya, it is not enough to conduct a primary sources search, which in itself is mostly reserved to the most scholarly of scholars. And it would not be practical to do so.

Whereas the makers of Amaya have consulted two UP professors, let us not forget that academicians themselves have their own fields of expertise or specialization, much as doctors and lawyers do. Some are into indigenous lifestyles, like Dra. Alicia Magos of UP-Visayas, who lived among the Panay Bukidnons and as far as I know, did the most extensive actual and live-in study of the Binukots. So consultants function best in their own field of specialization. It is my belief that the makers of Amaya had to fill in certain details which to them may remain gray areas even after consultation with noted experts.

I agree that Amaya is a good medium to educate but I take exception to what has been said during “The Making of Amaya” that all historical details used has been checked to be authentic. There are certain depictions that are not entirely true (I’ll point them out in the next parts of this article) and the average viewers may accept it as true. A distortion repeated many times ultimately becomes “the truth” and becomes hard to correct. As a researcher myself, I’ve seen this repeated over and over in the dissemination of the history of Arnis/Eskrima. If we want to study our culture and history we need to study it in earnest and with utmost dedication.

So let me give this cavet to all Amaya supporters and fans. Let us not forget that inspite of being based on actual history, Amaya is still historical fiction. History and historical fiction are two different things. Just like when we say “based on a true story,” which is not exactly the true story. GMA is prudent enough to include in their opening this line, “Mula sa original na katha para sa GMA ni Suzette Doctolero.” I don’t know if viewers have noticed this but they should see the teleserye as it is - historical fiction.

Part II: Linguistic Perspective

Renowned historian, professor, and author William Henry Scott, Ph.D., clarified in his classic work “Pre-Hispanic Source Materials for the study of Philippine History” that the only valid pre-colonial source materials for our archipelago’s storied past are archaeological finds, two medieval Chinese accounts, and a comparison of Philippine languages (Scott 139).

Of course, this is not to imply that pre-Hispanic Filipinos did not have a method of writing. Morga wrote in his Susesos en las Islas Filipinas that “almost all the natives, both men and women, write…” This has been echoed in the works of Fr. Collins, Paterno, and Retana. The sad fact is that early Filipinos wrote on barks of trees or on banana leaves, materials that do not stand the test of time (Zaide 29).

The effort of the makers of Amaya to include specific words that are indigenous to the culture depicted in its storyline is one of the reasons I hold it highly as a significant step in making Filipinos aware of their varied native cultures.

Language is a good reflection of the civilization that is using it. It is through language where emotions, abstract ideas, skills, knowledge, and tradition are transmitted by native speakers. It is a manifestation of the sophistication of a culture. The Binukots of Panay, for one, makes extensive use of chanting to transmit culture, at times reaching 33 hours, the longest recorded in our land.

When I was still in secondary school, I often hear of Hiligaynon and Cebuano being called dialects. But when I started my path to research, I found out that they were not dialects and are actually languages. A language is a system of vocal conventional signs characteristic of the interaction of one or two communities of human beings (“Language, Science of”). A language is mutually unintelligible with other people’s speech. A dialect is a regional variation of a language (Scot 33-34). Ilocano and Cebuano are both languages because their native speakers can not understand each other. However, there are languages which share cognates, i.e. words that are present in at least two languages with the same meaning, making their speakers understand each other to some extent. An example of a cognate is bangkaw which in both Cebuano and Hiligaynon means “spear” and balay which in both Hiligaynon and Pamapangeño means “house.” Boholano, on the other hand, is a dialect of the Cebuano language, characterized by its changing of the Y to J in Cebuano words.

All the native languages in the Philippines except for one belong to the Malayo-Polynesian subgroup of the Austronesian linguistic family, which is spoken from Hawaiian to Madagascar and from Easter Island to Taiwan. The Malayo-Polynesian family has over 1,200 living languages (“Philippines” 752).

The primary language used in Amaya is Tagalog, which is the basis of the national Filipino language. The series’ use of deeper Tagalog words is commendable and creates greater awareness for the classic version of the language. The effort to exclude Spanish-derived words in the series is also a big step in realism as the series is set in 15th Century pre-Hispanic Philippines. However, it is noticeable that several Spanish loan words had inadvertently found their way into the script, such as lugar (in the 7th episode), para, sobra, sigurado, etc. The production team needs to look into this closer if they wish to remain true to GMA’s ad that the Spanish loan words had been left out of the series.

For Tagalog viewers who do not speak any of the Visayan languages, it would be prudent to note that not all the words in the series are Tagalog. Many of these “new” sounding words are actually Hiligaynon and/or Kinaray-a, the two major languages out of the more than 40 languages/dialects spoken in Panay, the island from which the cultural foundation of Amaya was based from (Regalado & Ernesto 56). Hiligaynon ranks is the fourth in the 8 major languages of the Philippines according to the number of speakers (Zaide, G. & Zaide, S. 23). Hiligaynon is concentrated in Iloilo and Negros Occidental Provinces as well as in the Panaynon Provinces of Aklan, Antique, Capiz, and Guimaras and many parts of Mindanao such as Koronadal City, South Cotabato, and Sultan Kudarat. As a second language, it is spoken by Karay-a in Antique, Aklanon and Malaynon in Aklan, Cebuano in Siquijor, and Capiznon in Capiz.

Noteworthy of these Hiligaynon and/or Kinaray-a words are babaylan (shaman), bakunawa (mythical snake like creature), balay (house), bana (husband), banwa (town), baroto (small boat), bangkaw (spear), baladaw/baladao (dagger), binukot (hideen princess), bulawan (gold), coral/codal (fence), datu (chief), dungan (life force), gubat (fight/warfare), hampang (play), hanagaway (warrior), hanagaway (warrior), himalad (palm reading), husay (comb), iloy (mother), isog (brave), kalag (soul), and oripun (slave) among others.

Baladaw (baladao), Hiligaynon and old Cebuano for “dagger,” is variously rendered as balaraw in Tagalog and baraw in modern Cebuano.

Dungan has been translated in the series as “soul” and/or “willpower,” if I remember it right. Dungan is a very abstract Hiligaynon term which one will have difficulty in finding an exact English translation. The Ilonggo dungan is comparable to the Chinese chi, Japanese and Korean ki, Indian prajna, and Greek pnauma, all referring to the vital life force that energizes the body and gives it life. It is not a soul per se because one can extend it out of one’s body like in healing or injuring another person. The usual usage of the word dungan by Ilonggos is often found in the expression unahan sang dungan, in reference to two people having either a physical or verbal conflict where one could not move or say anything temporarily. In this case, one’s dungan had overpowered another’s. Unahan sang dungan is akin to what is called as aura (of the human body) in Kirlian photography. If one’s dungan is strong, it pushes another’s dungan back before it can be projected outward, thus that person is rendered motionless temporarily.

Gubat is a Hiligaynon word which means “fight.” When used as a verb, gubat becomes mangubat (the name of the evil rajah in the series) or gubaton (a real life surname of Arnis grandmasters in Bago City, Negros Occidental). Another term for “fight” in the Hiligaynon language is away, the root word of hangaway “warrior” and mangaway “to start a fight.” Angaway, one of the characters in Amaya, is a variation of hangaway.

Oripun is obviously Kinaray-a. Its Hiligaynon and old Cebuano equivalent is olipun. Note the difference in R and L. Kinaray-a is the parent language of Hiligaynon. The name Kinaray-a was derived from iraya (ilaya in Tagalog) “people living in the mountainous area.” The Kinaray-a language is spoken by the Karay-a people in interior parts of Antique Province in Panay as well as most towns in Iloilo Province and some villages in Mindanao which traces their origins to Antique. It is said that the Chinese mestizos who lived in the lowlands of Panay could not pronounce the R of Kinaray-a and ended up replacing it with L. A good example is paray to palay and turun-an to tulun-an. The term oripun is found in Dr. Scott’s work.

In the July 6 episode, malipayong adlaw was muttered twice, by Marikit and the punong babaylan. Malipayon and adlaw are Hiligaynon words for “happy” and “day” respectively. The addition of G in malipayon is obviously based on Tagalog grammar, as when we say maligayang padating “happy arrival” from the root word maligaya. The hilgaynon convention is to put a “nga” between malipayong and adlaw, i.e. malipayon nga adlaw.

It is also important to note that some of the Visayan words that have been used in Amaya were among those recorded by Antonio Pigafetta, Ferdinand Magellan’s chronicler, during their landing and stay in Cebu in 1521, and some are also cognates that are found in the Hiligaynon language. Among these old Cebuano words (modern Cebuano equivalents in parenthesis) were Abba (God), bulawan (gold), baladao (dagger - baraw), and campilan (cutlasses - kampilan) (Pigafetta). Amaya also made use of modern Cebuano words (older versions as recorded by Pigafetta in parenthesis) such as bangkao (spear - bancan), baroto (small boat - boloto ), rajah (king - raia), and ulipon (slave - bonsul) (Rubrico).

In the July 6 episode, the Cebuano word kauban was used with the meaning katuwang. Kauban can be more closely translated as kasama in Tagalog.

In at least two instances, when Datu Bugna was training the young Amaya, Cebuano counting was introduced i.e. isa, dua, tulo. Since the setting of the story is Panay, I was expecting the counting to be in Karay-a, i.e. sara, darwa, tatlo, or at least in Hiligaynon, i.e. isa, dua, tatlo.

Bagani is the word for “hero” in a language in Mindanao the name of which escapes my mind at the moment while lumad is a Cebuano word for “indigenous people.” Lumad is the same as tumandok of Hiligaynon.

During the first few episodes Bahasa Indonesia “The Indonesian Language” was used in a scene where Dian Lamitan was talking to Malay traders. In another scene where she was selling Dal Ang to Chinese merchants, the Sino traders spoke the Hokkien dialect from Southern China. During the pre-Hispanic period, Malay was a widespread medium of communication in trade. Even the earliest Spanish expeditions to the Philippines used Malay interpreters to communicate with the locals.

The different Philippine native languages had assimilated many loan words from various languages spoken by merchants who traded with pre-Hispanic Filipinos, among them Sanskrit, Chinese, Malay, and Arabic. This is best exemplified in Amaya when Bagani said to Amaya “Ikaw ang aking buwan, ang aking tala.” Buwan (buan) “moon” is the Tagalog rendition of the Malay bulan; it is also bulan in Hiligaynon (Pelmoka 52) and Cebuano. The Tagalog tala “star” was derived from the Sanskrit tara. Diwata “fairy,” raha “king” and kudyapi “guitar,” are some of the words used in Amaya that trace their origins from Sanskrit dewata, raha and kacchapi.

Another thing I’ve noted is that the pronunciation of some words is incorrect, like those in kama-kama and kataw (July 6 epissode), iloy, bugay. Obviously this comes to no surprise since the actors and actresses are not born speakers of these languages. But aside from this shortcoming, the effort to integrate these words into the storyline are noteworthy.

More can be said about the language component of the epic teleserye Amaya because linguistics is a very broad and interesting topic but due to space restrictions, I will wind up here and will consider adding some more inputs whne the time warrants.

Part III: Hoplological Perspective

Since Amaya is set at a time where piratical raiding is the norm of the day, fight scenes are therefore a major part of the script. And from a theatrical point of view, this is the icing of the cake which action enthusiasts are waiting for. Thus, it is only proper to have a hoplological commentary on the realism of these fight sequences.

Hoplology is a new science started by the late Donn F. Draeger, a high ranking Japanese Martial Arts (JMA) master, scholar, and author. Hoplology is the study of human combative behavior. The way humans fight will largely depend on their geographical location, culture, religious, philosophical, and other beliefs, technology, political climate, social structure, and a host of many others.

For example, the fight scenes in Amaya are fast paced since it is mostly fought on the seashores which are level plain. This may not be the cause when the same conflict will be fought on rocky, mountainous, and uneven terrain, on snow, or in muddy rice fields or swamps.

A good example of how religious beliefs may influence combative behavior is that the Christianized and Islamized population of the Philippines do not practice headhunting. Of the more than fifty tribes of the Philippines, five have been identified to practice headhunting, in order of their importance: the Ilongots, Kalingas, Ifugaos, Igorots, and Tinguians, all of whom are found in Luzon, particularly in the Cordillera, Sierra Madre, and Caraballo, which are situated in Ilocandia and the Cagayan valley (Anima 1).

It is noticeable in Amaya that the female oripuns do not carry weapons nor women of nobility, including the Binukots. If fact, when Datu Bugna was teaching the young Amaya how to use the kampilan it came to a surprise to both Amaya and her half sister(s) because a Binukot is not meant to be a warrior but the better half of datu or a ginoo.

Which brings us to the first point I want to raise from a hoplological perspective. As previously stated by my good friend, colleague, and fellow researcher Dr. Ned R. Nepangue, co-author with Celestino Macachor of the best selling book “Cebuano Eskrima: Beyond the Myth,” and I concur with him, the kampilan is a heavy sword, a detail made clear by the fact that even muscular men hold it with both hands. So, it would be difficult physically, if not entirely impossible, for a young lass to handle it with ease and efficiency. The kampilan was specifically designed for the male physiology. The current Director of the Center for West Visayan Studies (CWVS) at the University of the Philippines in the Visayas (UP-V) also stressed that a Binukot is a princess, not a warrior.

The statue of Lapu-Lapu in Mactan shows him holding a kampilan.

A review of history texts will reveal almost no distinguished women warriors of the pre-Hispanic Philippines. One may come across the legendary warrior princess Urduja who is said to only marry the man who can beat her in personal combat. While the legend of this princess has been taught in schools before, today many historians agree that she is an unhistorical figure.The story of Princess Urduja reportedly came from Muhammad Ibn Abdullah Ibn Batuta a.k.a. Ibn Batuta (1304-1378).

So in the spirit of accurately educating the viewing public, it should be remembered that Amaya is a historical fiction and although it is based on historical and cultural data, it has to twist certain details to make the series meatier. On the other, GMA must be prudent enough to only make justifiable claims so that the viewing public may not be confused in believing that what has been offered to them are all historically accurate.

The first fight scene of the series showed Rajah Mangubat killing a datu using only his index finger. I strongly believe that this is not a Filipino technique and concept but that of the Chinese Martial Arts (CMA), more commonly known as Dim Mak “Death Touch.” In my research of the Filipino Martial Arts (FMA), I haven’t come across such technique as part of our martial culture, unless it has been introduced from another source, in this case Chinese Kung Fu. It is also important to note that piercing the human body with just a finger is a long standing belief in the martial arts world although to date it has not been medically supported/documented.

Also during that battle scene, as well as the one where Rajah Mangubat attacked the banwa of Datu Bugna, it was depicted that the warriors were in certain formations, like the shield men and the archers. This seems to be a western military concept, like the Greek Phalanx, which I believe is not well developed in pre-colonial Philippines because the conflicts in the archipelago at that time were not large scale wars like in Europe considering that the barangays were very small units, consisting of anywhere from 30 to 100 families. And sad but true, the Spaniards were more advanced in military discipline, tactics, and technology that inspite of their few numbers managed to conquer the then fragmented Filipinos.

I have also noticed that the archers of Rajah Mangubat shoot their arrows even if their enemies were not that close enough. Under normal combative conditions, archers would wait for the charging enemies to close in before shooting.

In the difference fight scenes, action had been blurred. Understandably this is for the safety of the actors so they can do their sequences in slow motion and speed is just adjusted mechanically. However, this will diverge from the excitement that a clear fight scene would give its viewers, considering that this is the icing on the cake. This became very apparent during the fight scene between the white Goddess Pandaki and the black Goddess. In the fight between Amaya and Angaway portions of the scene were clear enough though. Angaway, in that fight, assumed a fighting stance with the weapon in the rear, which is not ideal unless one has a taming “shield.” Amaya used a kris knife, a wavy blade generally associated with Muslim warriors of Mindanao. The Panay Bukidnon, from whose Binukot Amaya was inspired, used the blades talibung and sanduko; these are the blades displayed at the Museo Iloilo, together with the bangkaw and taming.

Since the fight scenes make use of blades, it would be nice, just to be in line with GMA’s claim to authenticity, if the production crew does not show edge-to-edge sword fights that are most often characteristic of stage combat. Skillful sword fighting makes proper manipulation of the sword so there is no, or at least minimal, edge to edge contact. This phenomenon is a unique trait of edge weapons, unlike impact weapons, such as sticks.

In one scene where Rajah Mangubat was sparring, he did a side kick, a fighting technique that is obviously of Okinawan origin, not Filipino. What’s worse, the side kick is designed for empty handed combat, hence Karate “empty hands.” The body alignment and movements for empty handed and weapons (more so on blade) fighting differ. A side kick is not compatible with movements for the use of a kampilan, remembering that it is a heavy sword. Every time a person raises his leg, he needs to shift his weight to the remaining foot. Things are complicated by the added weight of the sword in the hands. And every time a kick is thrown, the executioner of the technique risks his leg being cut off. And a cut from a kampilan can do more damage than a kick can.

Marian Rivera (Amaya) is also seen doing roundhouse, crescent, and spinning kicks in a promotional video which shows her training for her fight scenes against multiple opponents. The types of kicks she were doing were obviously derived from Korean Taekwondo, another empty handed fighting art. The same argument applies.

It should be noted that the Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) are primarily weapons-based systems even if they have their own arsenal of empty handed techniques. This makes our fighting arts unique from other Asian Martial Arts which starts training empty handed and later progresses to weapons. A soldier goes to war with weapons, as the Samurai class of Japan and the knights of Europe would show us. This is no different from the hangaway of pre-Hispanic Philippines.

In the scene where Datu Bugna was training Amaya, and in his fight with Rajah Mangubat, Raymund Bagatsing explicitly picted the left bantay kamay “guard hand” that is so indispensible in most Arnis systems of our archipelago. Bagatsing is a karateka but he gives justice to the movements inherent in a weapons fight. Also in the training scene, it was accurately depicted that sticks are primarily used for practice, especially for a child.

And most importantly, I am happy that the makers of Amaya did not adopt the term Kali to refer to the fighting art of its characters. While the term Kali has grown in popularity in the US over the years, it has never been used as a traditional term for the martial arts of the Philippine archipelago. The earliest record of the term Kali was in the 20th Century, in a book written by Placido Yamabao. In comparison, Arnis was used by Francisco Balagtas in his Florante at Laura in the 1800’s and church records show the use of Escrima as late as the 1700’s. Kali is essentially a modern term passed on as an ancient term for the Filipino Martial Arts (FMA). No historical basis can be found to prove its myriad of claims.

It is also commendable for the makers of Amaya for not using either Arnis or Eskrima, inspite of the fact that they were historical terms used by the Filipinos for their fighting arts. Both Arnis and Eskrima are Spanish-derived words that would be inappropriate in a pre-Hispanic setting. Not giving a name to the pre-Hispanic Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) and just referring it by the weapon used, i.e. kampilan, is an accurate depiction, just like when an Ilonggo says “bastonon ta karon (I’ll beat you with the stick)” or when a Karay-a says “yamingon ta ka (I’ll beat you with the stick).” In this case, baston (Sp.) and yaming (Karay-a) are terms for the weapon used.

Part IV: Religious Perspective

Dr. Juana J. Pelmoka wrote that the ancestral religion of the pre-Hispanic Filipinos was not paganism. The word paganism was derived from the word pagan, which itself was derived from the Latin pagus and referred to all religions who adored a false God. Under this definition, Judaism and Islam can not be called paganism because they believe in one true God. In the same manner, ancient Filipino religion can’t be called paganism because it believed in one true God (Pelmoka 111-112). Perdon pointed out that pre-colonial Filipinos were animists (Perdon 20).

This one true supreme God is known as Bathala, Maycapal, or Bathala Maycapal by the Tagalogs, Lauon/Laon by the Visayans (writer - particularly the Ilonggos), and by other names by other ethnic groups. Bathala came from the Sanskrit bhattara (Scott 40). Of the different names for the Filipino supreme God, Bathala is the one most often found in Philippine history textbooks. Bathala has also been known to have been used by the Cebuanos and Boholanos.

Amaya chose to use the name Abba to refer to the ancient Filipino supreme God. Abba is actually another term for Bathala. Abba was also among the old Cebuano words recorded by the Spanish chronicler Antonio Pigafetta in 1521 (Pigafetta).

Although Amaya mostly used the word Abba, it also made reference to Laon. In one scene, Dian Lamitan did mention the God Laon. In another scene, during the June 29 episode, when Amaya rose from the dead, an alabay who witnessed the event muttered, “Mahal na Laon!” The Panaynons used this name and later, with reverence, was applied to what is now known as Canlaon/Kanlaon in the mountainous regions of Oriental Negros. The original name was actually Kang Raon/Laon “For Raon/Laon (Kinaray-a).” It should be noted that even up to the present day Canalaon still holds a very esoteric part of Negrense life. Many have pilgrims to Canalaon every Holy Week in search of anting-anting and other esoteric powers or to simply comply with the yearly panumpaun “vow (Hiligaynon)” for those who own such magical items.

Bathala or Abba was supposed to be the creator of the universe and all things. Thus, he was superior to all other deities (Agoncillo & Alfonso 50; Pelmoka 119). The pre-Hispanic Filipinos had other lesser deities who had limited powers and their own functions or specializations, not unlike the Greek and Roman Gods. Magwayen, the Goddess of the Other World, was featured in one of the episodes of Amaya where the lead character was crossing the spiritual river after her death.

The pre-Hispanic Filipinos also believed in the Diwata who were spirits who dwell in nature. The word Diwata was derived from the Sanskrit devata and was well known for its distribution throughout the central and southern Philippines. Both Bathala and Diwata were variously applied to Gods, spirits, omen-birds, and idols (Scott 40). Diwa, the root word of Diwata, means “God, spirit” (Luengo 18). Pandaki, the righteous babyalan diwata, fought Magwayen for Amaya’s soul.

Archaeological finds show that ancient Filipinos practiced a local form of ancestor worship, which is an influence from the Chinese (Halili 51, 58). This would come to no surprise since the pre-Hispanic Filipinos had commercial relations with Sino traders since time immemorial and archaeological excavations show that Chinese porcelains are scattered all over the archipelago. Some other cultural influences by the Chinese, which were shown in Amaya, will be discussed in a future part of this series of articles.

In his La Antigua Civilization Tagala (1887), Paterno wrote that the soul of the dead was called Nono or Anito (Paterno 148). Note that the Tagalog word for ancestor is ninuno. The Visayans called their ancestor spirits umalagad, from the root word alagad “follower.” The spirit in the kapid “twin (Hiligaynon)” snake of Amaya is an umalagad. Paterno and Agoncillo likened the ancestor spirits to the saints of the Catholic Church (Paterno 148; Agoncillo & Alfonso 50-51). The early Filipinos believed these spirits could defend them before Bathala (Leogardo 29).

The pre-Hispanic Filipinos believed in the immortality of the soul and in life after death, much like Christians do. The Visayans believed that the soul of the dead went to either Ologan for good souls and to a place of doom called Sulad for bad souls, a concept very similar to the Catholic heaven and hell. The equivalents of Ologan and Sulad in Tagalog are Kawalhatian “State of bliss” and Kasamaan “Evil” (Agoncillo & Alfonso 50; Halili 58, Zaide 24; Pelmoka 120).

Ologan (or what was termed as Saad in the series) and Sulad were depicted in Amaya with visual distinction. The scene where Amaya was riding a baroto “small boat (Hiligaynon)” with Magwayen reminds me of similar scenes in old Greek-themed movies where souls of the newly deceased aboard the boat of Charon (Kharon) cross the rivers Styx and Acheron, which divides the world of the living and the world of the dead.

Amaya correctly depicted the spiritual leader of Rajah Mangubat’s banwa as a babaylan since the setting of the story is in central Panay. Babaylan is a term used in the Visayas and according to a Tausug friend of mine, is/was also used in pre-Islamic Mindanao. The priestesses of the pre-Hispanic Filipino animistic religion were variously known in different parts of the archipelago. Among these names are/were balyan or balian, baylan (Bagobo), baglan (Ilocano and Pangasinan), catalonan/katalonan (Tagalog), dawac, mambunong, mammalian (Pampango), mangngallag, and mumbaki (“Frequently Asked Questions”). It must be noted that while these priestesses may exercise similar functions and gifted with similar powers and skills, they must have differed from their other counterparts in certain aspects due to regional necessities and culture. So the use of the term babaylan is appropriate.

The babaylan had several functions: healer (hilot, herbalist), fortuneteller and diviner, shaman, ritualist, chanter, spiritual medium, sage, keeper of oral tradition, philosopher/adviser, etc. Because of the wide scope of natural knowledge the babaylan had, she had great influence in a barangay, just as was shown in Amaya where even Rajah Mangubat could not go against the words of the head babaylan.

The babaylan of pre-Hispanic Philippines were mostly females, usually elderly, just as was depicted in Amaya, which goes to show that women in those times held a an important status. A man can become a babaylan if he acts, dresses, and speak like a woman or if he is a transvestite (Chirino; Boncan et. al 78). In later centuries male babaylans were recorded to have led revolts against Spaniards and even against the Americans.

When the Conquistadores came they forcibly uprooted the babaylans from the Filipinos’ cultural foundation as to be displaced by Christianity, a move the babaylans opposed. Our history records that a number of revolts were led by Babaylans, noteworthy of these babaylan leaders were Tamblot of Bohol (Tamblot Uprising, 1621-1622), Tapar of Oton, Iloilo (Tapar Revolt, 1663), Ponciano Elopre (nom de guerre: Dios Buhawi) of Negros, and Dionisio Magbuelas (nom de guerre: Papa Isio; a.k.a. Dionisio Seguela & Dionisio Papa y Barlucia) (?-1911) of Himamaylan, Negros Occidental (babaylan rebellion, 1896-1907) (Halili 113, 118; “Philippine Revolts Against Spain”; “A Chronology: The Ilonggo Nation”; Bauzon 37; “Papa Isio Marker Unveiled”; Cuesta). Note that these babaylan leaders were males. Another uprising, Bankaw’s Revolt in Leyte (1622), was led by the aged chieftain of Limasawa Bankaw with his sons and the native priest Pagali (Halili 113).

In essence, Amaya infused life into these religious beliefs and practices gathered from our storied past, interpret it within the framework of the storyline, and present it in pleasing visual terms so viewers can internalize it better than if it were just in plain script in history textbooks. The visual presentation definitely helps in ingraining the data into the viewers’ subconscious. The broadcast media is without a doubt a powerful tool to convey ideas. It is in this way that Amaya differs from the average soap opera on TV.



“A Chronology: The Ilonggo Nation.” About Philippines. Retrieved: 5 Jun. 2011

Agoncillo, Teofdoro A. & Oscar M. Alfonso. History of the Filipino People. Quezon City: Malaya Books, 1967.

Anima, Nid. The Headhunting Tribes of the Philippines. Quezon City: Cultural Foundation for Asia, 1985.

Boncan, Dr. Celestina P., May Dorothy dl Jose, Jerome A. Ong, John N. Ponsaran, and Dr. Grace Estela C. Mateo. Philippine Civilization: History and Government. Manila: Vibal Publishing House, Inc., 2006.

Chirino, Pedro. Relacion de las Islas Filipinas. Rome: (1604).

Cuesta, Angel Martinez. History of Negros. Manila: Historical Conservation Society, 1980.

“Frequently Asked Questions.” Center for Babaylan Studies (CFBS). Retrieved: 5 jun. 2011

Halili, Maria Christine N. Philippine History. Manila: Rex Book Store, 2004.

“Language, Science of.” The Encyclopedia Americana, International ed. Vol. 16: From Jefferson, Charles E. to Latin. New York: Americana Corporation, 1973.

Leogardo, Felicitas Tensuan, Vicente R. Leogardo, & Mr. Jacobo. A History of the Philippines. Manila: Philippine Book Company.

Luengo, Rev. Josemaria. A History of the Philippines: A Focus on the Christianization of Bohol (1521-1991). Bohol: Master Dei Publications, 1992.

Nepangue, Dr. Ned R. Phone conversation. 12 Jun. 2011.

“Papa Isio Marker Unveiled” Visayan Daily Star. 10 Nov. 2009: 14.

Paterno, Pedro M. La Antigua Civilization Tagala. Madrid: 1887.

Pelmoka, Dr. Juana J. Pre-Spanish Philippines. Caloocan City: Philippine graphic Arts, Inc., 1996.

Perdon, Renato. Footnotes in Philippine History. Sydney/Manila: The Manila Prints, 2008.

“Philippine Revolts Against Spain.” Wikipilipinas. Retrieved: 5 Jun. 2011

“Philippines.” The Encyclopedia Americana International ed. Vol. 21: Orley to Photographic Telescope. New York: Americana Corporation, 1973.

Pigafetta, Antonio. "First Voyage Around the World (1519-1522)" Document 15. Documentary Sources of Philippine History. Gregorio F. Zaide. Manila: National Bookstore, 1990. 81-210.

Regalado, Felix B. & Ernesto, Quintin B. History of Panay. Iloilo City: Central Philippine University (CPU), 1973.

Rubrico, Jessie Grace U. “Some of the Cebuano Words Recorded by Pigafetta in 1521.” Language Links.

Scott, Dr. William Henry. Pre-Hispanic Source Materials for the Study of Philippine History. Quezon City: New Day Publishers, 1984.

Zaide, Dr. Gregorio F. Philippine History for High Schools. rev. ed. Manila: The Modern Book Company. 1969.

Zaide, Dr. Gregorio F. & Zaide, Dr. Sonia M. Philippine History and Government. Quezon City: All Nations Publishing Co., Inc., 2004.

Monday, August 30, 2010

GM Leovigildo “Beldong” A. Torres: Old Timer Arnisador from Brgy. Ma-ao by: James U. Sy Jr.

Grandmaster Leovigildo “Beldong” A. Torres of Ma-ao strikes a classic Arnis pose (James U. Sy Jr./CMAS Photo).

Negros is home to countless arnisadors, each one having their own colorful life and contribution to the development and evolution of the indigenous Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) of Arnis/Eskrima in the island. Many of them have passed on and their memories only live in the oral accounts that remain with us today. This article is a biographical piece on one of the few surviving old timers from an era when Arnis was “played” with no protective armor/gear.

was born to Jacinto Seredon Torres, a farmer, and Josefa Yulo Abuyen, a housewife, on July 26, 1926 in Bo. Ma-ao, Bago City, Negros Occidental as the seventh of ten siblings. His other siblings (in this order) werer MNariano, Rosario Torres-Ovario, Edmundo, Thelma Torres-Lo, Guillermo, Rebecca Torres-Alonsagay, Esther Torres-Cruz, Hernani, and Leda Sol.

“Beldong” started his studies of Arnis under Beging Barrera in 1939 when he was 13. His main purpose in studying was for personal protection. Barrera was teaching Arnis in Ma-ao so he stops by Torres’ place twice a week and teaches him too. Barrera taught Torres for free.

From Barrera, Torres learned Espada y Daga “Sword and Dagger,” which was composed of 12 strikes and 12 defenses. Torres also studied Filipino “Judo” or kinamot as a minor subject and supplement to his weapons repertoire. They used lanite sticks during training. His training lasted for a year.

Torres graduated from the Ma-ao Elementary school but was not able to go to high school because World War II erupted.

Just like other arnisadors, Torres went on to pit his skills with other eskrimadors, either in muestrations “demonstration exchanges” or hampang “plays,” to gain more experience. He had crossed sticks with the likes of Ader, Saber Grandmaster Maeng Alvarez, Junior Cañet, Guarra Style Modern Arnis Founder/Grandmaster Estanislao “Eslao” T. Guarra, Oido de Caburata Grandmaster Abraham T. Gubaton, Juan, Fencing Grandmaster Homero Sian, Lapu-Lapu Viñas Arnis Founder/Grandmaster Jose “Joe” Viñas, and other whom GM Torres could no longer remember.

The exchanges and plays between different arnisadors was an important ingredient in the development and evolution of the local Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) of Arnis/Eskrima as the effectivity of various methods are tested, new counters are developed, and cross pollination of techniques are imminent. Styles that were effective in one locality were constantly tested in other places that had their own prominent style(s).

Of the arnisadors he had crossed sticks with, GM Torres is most in awe with the speed and skill of GM Sian. According to him, GM Sian would gather different arnisadors from bago, Silay, and other places up north and spar with them.

GM Torres was employed as the in charge for the fire truck in the mercado since 1954 up to his retirement in 1985. It was in 1957 when he started teaching Arnis to a select few people, about 6 of them members of the fire team.

GM Torres married Quiteria Treoles Tuvilla (1936-1986) and had thirteen children with her, namely Angelita Torres-Gutierrez, Jocelyn Torres-Tindero, Guillermo, Nelsie Torres-Rodrigo, Leovigildo Jr., Rosemarie Torres-Lavarro, Armelito, Leo, Leonil, Jimmy, Lemuel, Leah Torres-Arsoa, and Leocildo.

Today at 84, GM Torres is battling cancer and is being cared for by his family.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Abelardo Jagocoy Sr.: An Arnis Old Timer by: James U. Sy Jr.

Grandmaster Abelardo Jagocoy Sr. (right) demonstrates his technique to his grandson, Grandmaster Felix A. Guinabo (James U. Sy Jr./CMAS photo).

The research by the Conceptual Martial Arts Society (CMAS), Inc. in the past few years showed that many old timer arnisadors of Negros Occidental had already passed away. Nevertheless, the CMAS Documentation Team had successfully recorded the lives of several of those who are still with us, with the hopes that the new generation will take an interest in our own indigenous Filipino Martial Art (FMA) of Arnis/Eskrima and maybe, maybe, learn it from the old men who had immersed themselves in the life long practice of this Filipino martial tradition.

One of these old timers is Abelardo Baga Jagocoy Sr. At age 79, he made his first public demonstration together with his grandson, Grandmaster Felix A. Guinabo, during the 1st GSMASDA-Arjuka-CMAS Arnis Expo last August 1, 2010 at Gaisano City Bacolod Supermall in Bacolod City at the invitation of the Conceptual Martial Arts Society (CMAS), Inc. of Founders/Masters James U. Sy Jr. and Narciso “Hansy” L. Alojado. The event attracted more than 60 arnisadors/eskrimadors from Bacolod City, Bago City, Iloilo City, Murcia, and Pennsylvania, USA representing not less than 19 systems of Western Visayan Arnis/Eskrima.

Abelardo Baga Jagocoy was born to Gervacio Claridad Jagocoy of Sum-ag and Herenia Baga of Bohol on March 31, 1931 in Cansilayan, Murcia. He was the youngest among six siblings which included (in this order) Jose, Perfecto, Marianing, Maming Jagocoy-Cadigal, Petra, and him.

Jagocoy had relatives who were arnisadors, among them Francisco Salanap and Buenaventura “Tora” Salanap. Jagocoy started his studies of Arnis in 1950 under Grandmaster Federico “Peding” Abendan, a student of Grandmaster Abraham T. Gubaton, who is in turn a student of the Founder of Oido de Caburata, the late Grandmaster Antonio “Toñing” Tolosa of Minoyan, and his student, Grandmaster Jose D. Aguilar.

According to Jagocoy, GM Abendan taught him the short stick and called his art Oido. GM Abendan founded the long stickfighting art of Backhand but only did so after studying Oido under GM Gubaton. GM Abendan did not charge Jagocoy for the lessons because they were neighbors and relatives.

The art taught to Jagocoy must have been an earlier version of Oido de Caburata since GM Tolosa was continuously evolving his system up to the 1960’s. Oido de Caburata was founded in 1936.

The next teacher of Jagocoy was Jose “Joe” Mamar, who taught him the two handed stick. According to Jagocoy, Mamar was a student of GM Aguilar. It is not clear whether the long stick art taught to him was Backhand or methodo but it could not have been Original Filipino Tapado since it was only founded by the late Grandmaster Romeo “Nono” C. Mamar in 1960.

Jagocoy later exchanged ideas with other eskrimadors to gain more experience. He never taught because his purpose in studying Arnis was only for self protection. After years of silence, he started teaching his grandson, Grandmaster Felix A. Guinabo, the Founder of Trese Grabes Piga-Piga System.

Jagocoy was among those recognized and honored as Grandmaster of Arnis by the Conceptual Martial Arts Society (CMAS), Inc. and Gaisano City Bacolod Supermall during the Arnis Expo since he holds the link to an earlier version of Oido which helps show how the art had developed through the years when viewed side by side with the Oido that is practiced today.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Arnis Expo @ Gaisano Showcased Different Systems/Styles Part II: The Legacy Continues by: James U. Sy Jr.

The father and son tandem of Jerry P. Divinagracia (right) and Jio C. Divinagracia represented the Bago City-based Oido de Caburata Arnis Group (ODCA) during the 1st GSMASDA-Arjuka-CMAS Arnis Expo last August 1, 2010 at Gaisano Bacolod Supermall, Bacolod City.

Arnis Philippines Bacolod/Negros Occidental Commissioner Danilo “Danny” L. Cardinal and Grandmaster Felix A. Guinabo (2nd and 3rd from left) giving out the awards during the closing ceremonies of the 1st GSMASDA-Arjuka-CMAS Arnis Expo last August 1, 2010 at Gaisano Bacolod Supermall, Bacolod City.

The exhibition of the Guinabo Arnis and Combat Sports (GACS) started with Grandmaster Abelardo Jagocoy Sr., 81, performing the Oido he learned from Grandmaster Federico “Peding” Abendan and Joe Mamar with his grandson Grandmaster Felix A. Guinabo giving the attacks. Then GM Guinabo and Senior Instructor Joselito Guzon showed different aspects of GM Guinabo’s Trese Grabes Piga-Piga System.

Grandmaster Sotero Tario of Bago City, 79, demonstrated his own style, Oido Fencing, with a solo free form. Oido Fencing derives its power strikes from Oido de Caburata and adds to its repertoire thrusting techniques from Negrensanon Saber/Foil

The Bacolod Negros Arnis Federation International, (BNAFI), Inc. of Grandmaster Hortencio “Horten” M. Navales was represented by his sons Masters Prince and Cane Navales. The duo demonstrated abecedario, Balintawak, Batangueña, sinawali, Espada y Daga, and empty hands vs weapons.

1st Generation Inheritor/Grandmaster Benefredo “Bebing” Mamar Lobrido, 60, President of the Bago City-based Original Filipino Tapado Long Stick Fighting Association, demonstrated the higher floating direct hitting techniques of his late uncle Grandmaster Romeo “Nono” C. Mamar’s Original Filipino Tapado with Master Joeffrey S. Deriada of the Conceptual Martial Arts Society (CMAS), Inc. feeding the attacks.

Pastor Romeo N. Gumban, 56, representing the Philippine Integrated Martial Arts Academy-Filipino Tang Soo Do Association (PIMAA-FTSDA), Inc. of Grandmaster Elmer V. Montoyo, demonstrated his combative system of Dumog with roots from Antique. Pastor Gumban, with the help of Founder/Masters James U. Sy Jr. of Conceptual Martial Arts Society (CMAS), Inc., showed defenses against grabs, locks, takedowns, punches, and kicks using leverage throws, body locks, and jointlocks.

The Bago City-based Oido de Caburata Arnis Group (ODCA) came in full force with Patriarch Grandmaster Abraham T. Gubaton, 82, Chief Instructor Grandmaster Sabas T. Gubaton, 72, Masters Jonathan Gubaton and Jose “Joe” Salanap, Mary Camille and Joshelle Gubaton, and father and son Jerry P. and Jio C. Divinagracia. The Divinagracias demonstrated the basics of Oido de Caburata Arnis.

Host Guarra Style Modern Arnis of P/Sgt. (Ret.) Grandmaster Estanislao “Eslao” T. Guarra and Arjuka-Malingin of Grandmaster Isaac “Saac T. Guarra started their exhibition with Real Dennis Guarra, 8 years old, and Richard Guarra, 10 years old, doing the Arjuka-style sinawali. Filton O. Bernadas, Nevelie Flores, John Rey C. Montes, and Ceasar Ian G. Poral demonstrated the 6 stages fundamental with empty hand disarming then proceeded to two-man interactive counter-for-counter form combining strikes, locks, and throws.

Founder/Master Roy R. Flores Sr. and Senior Instructor Jussel Torres of Tribu Hangaway Philippines (THP) performed their own version of the crisscross patterns of the doble baston as well as disarmings.

Host Conceptual Martial Arts Society (CMAS), Inc. of Founders/Masters James U. Sy Jr. and Narciso “Hansy” L. Alojado demonstrated the integrated fundamentals of the Conceptual Arnis System which is a fusion of several Negrosanon systems of Arnis/Eskrima. Master Sy and Manunuon Giovanni S. Mendoza of Pennsylvania showed defensive footwork with the hands tied/sticking, basic parries and defenses and counter strikes, and disarms. Dr. Master Raymund A. Maguad, PTRP, of Murcia and Montano Mondia performed the different ofensa, defense, pangagaw, lubad, and trangkada.

ARNIS PHILS. TOURNAMENT. The Tournament section of the 1st GSMASDA-Arjuka-CMAS Arnis Expo served as a practicum for official-trainees from Arjuka-Malingin and Guarra Style Modern Arnis, who participated in the Arnis Philippines Referee and Judges Officiating Echo Seminar last July 3-4, 2010 and the follow up review last July 18, 2010, both in Bago City, as well as a tune up for the upcoming 2nd UDTA Mayor Evelio “Bing” Leonardia Arnis Cup to be held by the Universal Defensive Tactics Academy (UDTA) of Founder/Chairman Abraham “Abe” Ganzon Jr. on October 2-3, 2010, also at Gaisano City Bacolod Supermall.

Four bouts were contested under the supervision of Arnis Philippines Bacolod/Negros Occidental Commissioner Grandmaster Danilo “Danny” l. Cardinal.

All competitors were from the KaliSilat Arnis Association (KAA) of GM Cardinal except for one. Referee/Judges from Arjuka-Malingin/GSMASDA were Jonar “Open” D. Guarra, Ceasar Ian G. Poral, Windy Lou G. Poral, and Louie A. Terante.

Kei A. Gracias over Kyrle Patrick Gile. Jason Jocson over King joseph Cabiles of Tribu Hangaway. Gorge Estoque over Darwin Dajao. Jefe Pasco over Eugene Pilar.

Arnis Expo @ Gaisano Showcased Different Systems/Styles Part I: Western Visayan Arnis at Its Best by: James U. Sy Jr.

Some of the masters who graced the 1st GSMASDA-Arjuka-CMAS Arnis Expo last August 1, 2010 at Gaisano Bacolod Supermall, Bacolod City (from left): Engr. Niel T. Javellana (Uno Blanco Eskrima, Iloilo City), GM Isaac T. Guarra (Arjuka), GM Benefredo "Bebing" M. Lobrdio (Original Filipino Tapado), GM Sotero Tario (Oido Fencing), Pastor Romeo N. Gumban (Dumog), GM Abraham T. Gubaton (Oido de Caburata), Master Jose "Joe" Salanap (Oido de Caburata), GM Sabas T. Gubaton (Oido de Caburata), and Master James U. Sy Jr. (Conceptual Arnis) (CMAS Photo).

Engr. Niel T. Javellana of Iloilo City (right) demonstrating the powerful strikes of the Uno Blanco System of Eskrima from Panay with the assistance of Master Joeffrey S. Deriada of the Conceptual Martial Arts Society (CMAS), Inc. (CMAS Photo).

Grandmaster Frank Abalajon, 72, demonstrating sinawali from his Abalajon Classical Arnis (CMAS Photo).

The 1st GSMASDA-Arjuka-CMAS Arnis Expo brought together 17 Filipino Martial Arts (FMA) organizations from Western Visayas and gave them a chance to exhibit their particular systems of Arnis last August 1, 2010, 3:00-5:30 PM, at the Atrium Area, Gaisano Bacolod Supermall, Araneta St., Bacolod City.

The event was hosted by Guarra Style Modern Arnis & Self Defense Association (GSMASDA) of P/Sgt. (Ret.) Founder/Grandmaster Estanislao “Eslao” T. Guarra, Arjuka-Malingin of Founder/Grandmaster Isaac “Saac T. Guarra, and Conceptual Martial Arts Society (CMAS), Inc. of Founders/Masters James U. Sy Jr. and Narciso “Hansy” L. Alojado in cooperation with the Negros Occidental Baston Federation (NOBF), Inc., and Arnis Philippines-Bacolod/Negros Occidental Chapter, and Gaisano City Bacolod Supermall represented by Advertising Officer Nomer Q. Lobaton.

More than 60 arnisadors/eskrimadors, aged 6 to 82 years old, from Bacolod City, Bago City, Iloilo City, Murcia, and Pennsylvania, USA gave demonstrations of not less than 19 systems of Western Visayan Arnis/Eskrima as well as compete in four Labanan bouts using Arnis Philippine (ArPi), Inc. rules. Arnisadors from Cebu, Silay, and Talisay Cities were also invited but did not make it to the exposition.

Master Sy, who wrote “100 FMA Systems Practiced in Negros” for Rapid Journal, together with his group mates at Conceptual Martial Arts Society (CMAS), Inc., has always worked hard to bring together martial artists from different disciplines in harmony and to grow together. The event best exemplified this higher philosophy in the martial arts.

Mayor Evelio “Bing” R. Leonardia was invited as the Guest of Honor but was not able to come because of a prior commitment. Grandmaster Col. Atty. Marcelo “Pope” C. Jalandoon, Ph.D., the Founder and retired President of the Negros Occidental Baston Federation (NOBF), Inc., gave the inspirational speech. Other grandmasters were also given the chance to speak.

Founder/Master James U. Sy Jr. was the Event Director and did the legwork and paperwork to help GM Eslao Guarra jumpstart the Negros Occidental Baston Federation (NOBF), Inc. under his administration as president. The Arnis Expo was the first major event held since the retirement of Founder/Grandmaster Col. Atty. Marcelo “Pope” C. Jalandoon, Ph.D., as President of the NOBF and during GM Guarra’s term.

DEMONSTRATIONS. The exposition started off with Golden Kamagong Arnis Kali Eskrima Association (GKAKEA), Inc. of P/CInsp. (Ret.) Grandmaster Ibarra E. Lopez, showcasing their Pekiti Tirsia style of anyo, abecedario, blocking, disarming, and sinawali. The demo team was composed of Grandmaster Alejandro “Alex” S. Doza, Rey T. Destriza, and August Zzar L. Lopez.

Engr. Niel Javellana traveled all the way from Iloilo City to represent the Karay-a Uno Blanco Eskrima System of Engr. Grandmaster Devaney “Van” T. Fuentes. He was assisted by Master Joeffrey S. Deriada of the Conceptual Martial Arts Society (CMAS), Inc. in demonstrating the unique defenses and attacks, disarming, jointlocks, and counters fused from three Panaynon systems of Arnis with roots from Antique.

The KaliSilat Arnis Association (KAA) exhibition started with Danny John “Jan-Jan” Cardinal performing a solo baston anyo. Grandmaster Danilo “Danny” L. Cardinal and Master Guilberto C. Dajao then went through tapi-tapi, depensa ofensiva, contra baston, and daga contra daga from GM Cardinal’s Cargada Pigar Arnis System.

The UNO-R Martial Arts Society of Master Ferdinand Emmanuel Y. Gayoles, which was founded in June 2010, was represented by University of Negros Occidental-Recoletos Criminology students Aber Yamar M. Azuelo, Gerald June Daclan, and Carlos Trunio II. The trio, which composes the Core Group, integrated the various footwork, defenses, strikes, and disarms from the Lapu-Lapu Viñas Arnis System into a series of forms and paired one-step demonstrations.

Herada Pigada, the Cadiznon system of Arnis that descended from Grandmaster Benito Agui, was represented by Master Maxwell “Max” J. Maun, the nephew of the Doromal brothers and one of the few remaining practitioners of the art, with Gelkoff Calmerin, RN, Co-Founder of the Riverside Do Club. The duo went through the applications of the defenses, strikes, locks, throws, and counters of the system.

The demonstration of the Universal Defensive Tactics Academy (UDTA) began with Alrehs Carrie “Uni” V. Ganzon, 6 years old, the youngest among the performers of the event, showing various empty hand strikes with his father Founder/Chairman Abraham “Abe” Ganzon Jr. holding the punch mitts for her. The little girl also showed a few self defense techniques from the UDTA System. Founder/Chairman Ganzon demonstrated the 8 striking method combination of Ragas and Oido from the Mancesa Style of Arnis with and Rey A. Cartella.

Grandmaster Frank Abalajon, 72, demonstrated a sinawali free form which combined the 24 methodos which he teaches in his Abalajon Classical Arnis. The various striking patterns GM Abalajon showed were an amalgation of the techniques he had learned from his seven Arnis professors.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

GM Abraham T. Gubaton: The Grand Patriarch of Oido de Caburata Arnis Group (ODCA) By: James U. Sy Jr.

One of the oldest active Arnis grandmasters in Negros Island had just turned 82 recently. The Core Group of Conceptual Martial Arts Society (CMAS), Inc., had started documenting the art and life of this man way back in 2005. With this write up, it is my hope to make the public aware that this man had kept alive a uniquely Negrosanon system of Arnis which was founded in 1936. He has a lineage that goes back to the Founder of Oido de Caburata.

Abraham Tacio Gubaton was born as the second child of Mateo Bubida Gubaton and Consolacion Tacio on July 6, 1928 in Ma-ao, Bago City. His other siblings (in descending order) are Esther, Napoleon, Nathan, Elojiah “Monina,” the twins Manuel and Emmanuel, Sabas, and George. The elder Gubaton studied Arnis under the professor of Bentong Fejedero. Nathan, Abraham, the twins, and Sabas would later study Arnsi themselves.

Abraham Gubaton started studying Arnis in 1946, when he was 18, under his brother-in-law, Gimeno Tiboso, who taught him the Espada y Daga method. At that time Gubaton was employed as an encargado “caretaker” of Woodrow Araneta in Hda. Marcaban in Bo. Ma-ao, Bago City. He studied under Tiboso for 2 years. Gubaton was obliged to study Arnis because the haciendas were a melting pot of people of different characters and temperament. Conflicts were quite common then and as caretaker he is expected to resolve any situation at hand.

Gubaton went on to study with some other arnisadors, mostly using Espada y Daga method. He also studied Saber Foil from Grandmaster Claro Alvarez, who was a relative to the Yasays and Suarezes, families who are proficient in that particular form of Arnis. He learned from Alvarez sometime in 1952, 1953, or 1954, paying P120.00/month for lessons.

One event that changed his perception of the methodo style of Arnis was when Gubaton had an exchange of blows with another bastonero who was using the Oido style. After the bout he sought out Jose D. Aguilar for instructions in Oido de Caburata Arnis. During their return bout, Gubaton defeated the Arnisador who previously beat him.

Grandmaster Jose D. Aguilar was himself a former Espada y Daga exponent. He had eight or nine professors before he met and exchanged blows with Grandmaster Antonio “Toñing” Tolosa of Minoyan, Murcia, the Founder of Oido de Caburata Arnis. GM Tolosa broke Aguilar’s hand with one strike. Aguilar went on to study under GM Tolosa.

Tolosa started his studies of Espada y Daga with his kumpare Ireneo Dulman of Murcia. After he completed the course, they closed the house and had a bout. They both had welts and bruises afterwards. This made Tolosa think deeply about the efficiency of what he has learned. Then one time, an unnamed friend of his got in a fight with an unruly group of men. His friend used a caburata to fight them off.

Tolosa was impressed by what he saw and borrowed the caburata the next day and practiced with it. When he perfected it, he translated the movements of the caburata into the stick in 1936, thereby giving birth to Oido de Caburata Arnis. Oido is a Spanish word which means “by the ear” and is used in colloquial language to mean “to play without notes“ as in the case of a piano or a guitar. In Arnis parlance, Oido denotes the absence of a numbered pattern which is common with most systems of Arnis/Eskrima now taught. Caburata, of course, refers to the flexible weapon which was once used by the now defunct Philippine Constabulary (PC).

Arnisadors who are not familiar with Oido de Caburata movements find it awkward and ineffective but it is this characteristic that makes it a powerful and formidable fighting system. A caburata, being flexible, can go around blocks and this characteristic has been integrated into the stick.

Aguilar was one of the first few who GM Tolosa taught, the others being Felmo and Welmo Conanan, Jose Dulman, Pakingking, and Salos. A later batch in 1953 included Ricardo Diaz, Abraham Gubaton, Sabas Gubaton, Bonifcaio Tolosa, and Comploso Tolosa

Master Gubaton studied under GM Aguilar for three years. He invited GM Aguilar to live with his family so he had access to uninterrupted instruction. The Gubatons had a small parcel of land and livestock. All Aguilar and Gubaton did all day was practice Arnis. Later, Master Gubaton continued his studies with his uncle, the Founder himself, Grandmaster Antonio “Toñing” Tolosa for seven more years.

Oido de Caburata although founded in 1936 was in constant development. GM Gubaton narrated that since GM Tolosa’s strikes were very powerful, he had to develop effective defenses against those strikes. These defenses were developed later in the evolution of Oido de Caburata and were taught to Grandmaster Abraham T. Gubaton.

GM Gubaton started teaching Oido de Caburata in 1975. In 1977, Federico “Peding” Abendan, an uncle and student of GM Gubaton, developed the long stick fighting style Backhand, which Fr. Jerson Balitor later baptized to Hagbas bugang. The Backhand was another step in the evolution of Oido de Caburata and later also laid the foundation for Original Filipino Tapado, founded by Grandmaster Romeo “Nono” C. Mamar of Brgy. Taloc, Bago City, another powerful long stickfighting art from Bago City.

Most of Oido practitioners can trace their line back to GM Gubaton. Different interpretations and offshoots of Oido de Caburata had surfaced. According to GM Gubaton, he had taught the bunal “strikes” to outsiders but not the defenses, which he maintains for his family. I am thankful for GM Gubaton for making me understand this point during my last visit. Without the explanation it is very hard, if not impossible, to understand what he meant. He cites his brother Grandmaster Sabas T. Gubaton, the Chief Instructor of the Oido de Caburata Arnis Group (ODCA), as an example; he explained the real essence of the art to him only when he was already 65.

GM Gubaton has seven children with his wife Exaltacion, namely Grace, Jonathan, Joseph, Janet, Julius, Ferdinand, and Job. Jonathan, Ferdinand, and Job had dedicated themselves to the study of their father’s art.

The Oido de Caburata Arnis Group (ODCA) was organized in 1985 but it was in 1995 when the group got the big boost it needed when Fr. Jerson Balitor joined. Fr. Balitor, then the Parish Priest in Brgy. Ma-ao, helped the Gubaton grandmasters organize themselves and document their and their art’s history. Fr. Balitor arranged for ODCA to be featured in the documentary The Stickfighters of Buenos Aires by W.G. Productions and Art Vision which was aired over at Negros Progress Channel 17. Fr. Balitor had also helped ODCA to organize its annual General assembly. Starting 2005, the Gubatons were also featured in the local newspapers and in 2009 in Rapid Journal by the Conceptual Martial Arts Society Documentation Team.

GM Abraham Gubaton had taught many Arnisadors in their locality. Even Americans traveled to Ma-ao, just to train with him and GM Sabas. The Americans, led by couple Guro Mike and May Williams of the Martial Arts Research Institute (Boston), train with the Gubaton brothers every other year. May Williams was a native of Ma-ao and is currently the only certified Instructor of Oido de Caburata in the US.

The Gubatons had also taught Arnis to brgy. tanods on April 17-May 8, 2005 for the Brgy. Don Jorge L. Araneta Barangay Public Safety Officers (BPSO) Self Defense Training.