FIVE years ago, Patis Tesoro encouraged Ronnie Alejandro and Mike Santos to write a book on Ilonggos. The thought crossed the minds of both writers but never really got down to writing it until about 2 years ago in a trip together with Merle Esteban Villacorta in Russia, they talked nonchalantly about the Negrenses. Again, on a particular visit to Iloilo with Patis, she said that she will hook him up with the people both in Iloilo and Negros. It is sad that Ronnie succumbed to cancer before seeing the realization of the book ESTILO ILONGGO. However, Mike although in limbo of how to finish this endeavor, he had all the support and assistance and the book was launched in Manila, Iloilo and here in Bacolod in the home of Gloria Esteban.
In a conversation with Mike, I asked what moved him to carry on and his reply was that he has always been awed and curious about us Ilonggos. He has heard of the Kahirup balls and was is familiar with some Negrenses like Tita Sonia Gamboa who is married to his Tito Horacio Santos of the Prudential bank group who is the elder brother of his Mom Alicia. Tita Sonia always struck him as having so much flair and meeting Lola Elisa, the mother, was even more awe inspiring who ballroomed her way through her nineties. He always wanted to know of what genre we are made of.
Mike is from Navotas and Bulacan. They are a simple and hardworking lot. I told him that we Ilonggos also work hard but we play hard too. Well, to him, they were just programmed to work and unlike Ilonggos, there are no grand parties to celebrate milestones or have Masinadyahon parties where everyone comes dressed to the nines.
Ronnie and Mike went to work with the book and the more they researched, the mystic of the Ilonggos dazzled them more. He was amazed of how 2 spinster sisters came up with the Panaderia de Molo and how the story of the “manug-libod” of Silay. I didn’t know this but from him I learned that the “majongeras” did not want to stand from the square table for fear of the reversal of swerte so thus merienda was preprepared. While this spoke of affluence, it also has the charm of how these delicacies were peddled around town and balanced on the heads by the manug-libod. The story of Lola Dicang (Enrica Alunana Lizares) inspired him so because she was of the make of his lolas in Navotas and Malabon, who were structured with demands of waking hours and meal times and the discipline of work but unlike his lolas, there were no big band parties for visiting from dignitaries or banquets hosted for presidents or heads of Church which Lola Dicang hosted in her home.
He spoke of the santol dulce of Tana Dicang and I added that these jams were made because daily when there were fruits from her orchard that were not sold in the market, at the end of the day, she would summon all the ladies in the house to come together and make jams out of them. Nothing was ever wasted or allowed to spoil. He learned from her that life can be a party only if one is hard working, industrious, resourceful and most importantly frugal.
I told him that there are dissimilarities though between the Ilongos of Iloilo and Negros. While he agreed that indeed the Iloilo folks are not as lavish as the Negrenses, Doña Paz Laguda loved a particular type of peasant soup and Tana Dicang’s favorite fish was abo, which is likewise considered of a humble variety. While the Negrenses are believed to party hard, there is the Ruby Anniversary of Geny Lopez which can be hyperbolic in proportions with champagne flowing from the fountains and entertainment par excellence. So the two polars are actually two heads of the same coin.
Mike believes that the world has become so globalized that we Filipinos have forgotten what is intrinsically ours. We gravitate to pop and hiphop and have replaced our beautiful lullabies. The recipes of our grandmothers are now passé and fast food is the order of the day. But most tragic is that the virtues and values of the generations that have passed have been replaced by a new age type of morality that has shelved what is good and decent.
Although the book was originally supposed to be a book on Ilonggo recipes, it evolved into a coffee table book that explored the mystic and charm of the Ilonggos. With history and culture, life and lifestyle and food magnificently blended, it is a book worthy to be passed on to our children and our children’s children. Mike said that he wrote this book not for Ilonggos but for the many like him who have been intrigued by us!!! It will show the contributions of the Ilonggos in the Philippine community and how the gentle and genteel lifestlye plus melodious cadence of our dialect has affected and effected the Filipino society.
Asking him now if the mystic is gone because he knows the very recesses of our being, he begs to disagree. His study and his book only validate what makes us distinct and special!!! Estilo Ilongo is available at P3200. Limited edition of a thousand copies is on sale and going fast!!! You must get a copy!!! It is after all about us!!!