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Master Joel's Trip to the Philippines

I recently had the great pleasure to visit the Philippines this January. I accompanied my aunt Filomena Hufana and my 96-year-old Grandmother Eudosia Juanitas. This was a long overdue trip I was putting off for years. I finally got to see the home barangay of my mother and father.Meeting the vast number of relatives was daunting. It seemed as though there was someone related to a Juanitas in every household. Not surprising as my father was 9th out of 11 children. So needless to say the family tree is tall, deep and wide. We were situated in Ipil, Barbaza, Antique on the island of Panay in central Philippines Visayas region.

Being American born I have been spoiled by the modern luxuries of home so it was definitely a culture shock to arrive in the barrio where the times are definitely behind.Only being supplied with electricity since 1987 Ipil’s population now has some of the modern amenities that we take for granted here in the states. I was surprised to see that some residences had cable TV even in the nipa huts elevated off the ground. Most of the homes lacked hot running water, flushing toilets and air conditioning. Though it took a few days I was able to assimilate to my surroundings and began to live like the natives.

The population of Ipil is estimated at about one thousand. The local industry is rice where it is grown, cultivated, processed and shipped. Some industrious families have sari-sari which are small storefront shops offering everyday necessities for the locals. As early as the cockcrows or in my case as early as 4am you could hear local street vendors selling fresh fish to fresh baked pastries door to door. The local outdoor market in Poblacion the town proper was the place to get anything you needed from bolos, butchered meats and fish to clothes, vegetables and toiletries sort of like an outdoor Costco. I could have spent hours there. I mostly bought things for my host family but it didn’t matter how much it cost because the dollar went a long way to purchase things that would last them months.

Being a coastal town Ipil is blessed with the offshore breeze. Only a short stroll away from my family lot was the South China Sea. The sea was as warm as bath water and the view was right out of an AAA travel catalog.Untouched by tourists the locals enjoy it often. About a two hour trip by car and jet boat was the beach resort island of Boracay. Off the tip of Aklan Boracay is toted as the premier vacation destination by both locals and tourists. Luckily I had a family friend who took us in. Maria’s (I’m godfather to her youngest son Alex) family owns a resort property on the island. I believe the best way to experience any locale is through the eyes of the locals. She showed us the best spots to eat as well as shop and relax. I got to enjoy a relaxing private massage on the beach followed by big bottles of Red Horse beer to pass the rest of the day away.

I had the opportunity to attend ati-atihan a religious festival in Kalibo with my niece Laila and her family. Coined the Filipino Mardi Gras there were colorful costumes, banging drums and dancing in the street. Barrios throughout the province took part in representing their local organizations in the parade through the town.

Ati-atihan celebrates the Santo Nino (child saint) with banners and musicians yelling “Hala Bira” and “Viva Kay Senor Santo Nino” We enjoyed the local fare and bought our share of souvenirs for our return home.

Back in the barrio I got to spend a day with my uncle Angel. He and his friends took me to Bugasong a few towns over to enjoy a cockfight derby. We spent most of the day gambling, drinking and eating. There were two young boys Phillip (8)and Ta (12) who were concessioners that followed me everywhere after I bought them lunch and candies. Inquisitively they asked me “Are you Badoy’s bodyguard?” I asked, “Who is Badoy?” they pointed to my uncle Angel and said “Badoy”.Not to let them down I told them “yes I was and I needed their help to do my job.” Eventually word spread and all the other kids who were working started to gravitate towards us until I had a small following.I had to buy them all off with a 5 peso tip each. Although I broke even I had a great time at the cockfight and I won’t soon forget my two friends Phillip and Ta.

Of all the relatives I meet I have to say the Yongque brothers were the most memorable. 1st cousin to my father Pacifico Gideon and Sixto Yongque were both World War II veterans in the Philippine army and fought side by side with Filipino American forces.When the U.S. surrendered in the Philippines they continued to fight on forming guerilla units that prolonged offenses against the Japanese until MacArthur returned.Well into their 80’s the Yongque brothers were so animated to see me thatyou could tell their thoughts were faster than their mouths. Having to dust off their English at times it was hard for them to communicate.But I appreciate the time I got to spend with them and the stories they had to share.

I have to thank my cousin Edgar Juanitas for the time and effort he put into showing me around and being my translator. Also thanks to the countless chickens and pigs that had to give their lives to make sure I was fed during my stay. After two weeks away form Leo, Annabelle and Jennifer it was a time to go. Though I didn’t look forward to the return flight I did look forward to being home. But as MacArthur said to the Philippines “I shall return”.