Philippine Independence Day Special


For my uncle Antonio Ugalde-Verzosa, a bohemian intellectual, who introduced me to the cultural multiplicity of the 80s and influenced me to be a seeker of freedom.

By Jon Verzosa


For a dramatic, feeble junkie like me, our 113th Independence Day reminds me of former president Corazon Aquino’s death and Typhoon Ondoy rocking its calamitous hands over Manila. A point in time when being a Filipino is not at rock bottom or sitting theatrically on a corner of a videoke song. A flash of unpredicted precision of a Filipino who can manifest pride in difficulty and can beam even in the harshest of conditions.

I am a Filipino.  I was born by Filipino parents.  My roots are both Spanish and Chinese.  Well, I am saying that as how we Filipinos always claim to be being multicultural or being naturally confused, for having no fundamental culture or perhaps for being ethnically lame depending on which comes first.  My country, the Philippines, have fought for freedom and independence as far history can assemble it. I grew up learning all about my country being welcoming.  No wonder why this country was occupied by many nations before it even had its own identity.  Its name, consequently, was in honour of a Spanish king.

I guess it is clear that in the last century we have been invaded by the Chinese (who chose to open businesses here thanks to our well-known hospitality), the Americans (who made us the most English-speaking country in Asia and then, innovative as we are, messed it up by creating Taglish), the Spanish (who gave up on us eventually because we simply can’t wear their clothes in this tropical weather), you name it,  thus we belong in an epoch so transparent that it has become “multi”  in a sense and have incidentally transgressed into the idiom:  Pinoy blood clots.



How I wished I belonged in the more tribal heritage like the Igorots, the Mangyans and the Aetas for which it has been told have been the early settlers of the islands before the more popular Spanish and Chinese came to vent their flock.  I could have introduced myself as someone  whose bloodline condoned ritualized warfare and someone who actually established a plutocratic society before my current self became addicted to Emily Dickinson, cigarettes and McDonald’s . . . but no, I belonged in a generation of Filipinos who proudly acknowledged that being Filipino is being half Spanish and half Chinese.

So where do I go?

My father’s father is a Verzosa.  His family is a fourth generation full blooded Spanish who settled in Zumarraga, an island northwest of Samar after his cousins found their way up north, in Vigan, where the Verzosas flourished like ants.  I guess my grandfather’s father liked the sea and as the story went, became a fisherman turned businessmen, fled the island and went to Manila to score heights of soldierdom during the Japanese occupation in the 40s.  My grandfather was a guerrilla – a war rebel.  Will pride settle in such narrative anyway?  Big deal.

My mother’s mother is third generation Chinese.  They all grew up in the island of Leyte.  Beautiful, chubby, fair skinned beauties – my grandmother and her sisters.  They were goddesses with their silk skirts and scented fans.  They laughed timidly and talked about manananggals, bankruptcy, stealthy affairs and diabetes behind those fans coming and going to church, walking in the muddy dirt roads of Jaro, their scents swaying along the coconut trees that towered along the salog or the river, the witness to their”group-centeredness” or “group-thinking.” Their eldest, perhaps is the in-group leader who determines for the rest what is right or wrong.  Big deal.



I grew up in Manila, Vigan, Leyte and finally, in Zambales, where I spent my bantam days all throughout high school.  A huge green province in central Luzon, the home of the great Mount Pinatubo, the host to wide open black sanded beaches and noted for its very delectable mangoes.  At 23, I left the Philippines and throughout the years have lived in Saudi Arabia, Thailand and the United Arab Emirates.

So, I am a Filipino.  I guess like any other, I belong in a story – an epic of a story – among my forefathers who were both Chinese and Spanish.  A tribe of their own.  And as a quintessential Pinoy blood clot, I walked fiercely in Dubai like any other New Yorker or nap in afternoons like any other European.  I eat Indian food and I simply adore Thai cuisine.  I watch the local news every night and have read Franz Kafta and Ayn Rand back in college.  I use my feet to pick up things on the floor and I, more often than not, submit kindly to chick flicks and cry to them too.  I respect people who are older than me and yet I lash back not-so-gently with people who makes me furious.  I may have a very common Filipino attitude called rationalization but it is only because I believe in basic goodness. At times I know what I’m doing is rather improper and yet I dwell on unrestrained behaviour like “Ako’y tao lamang” (I’m but human), “Ganyan lamang ang buhay” (Life is just like that), “Bahala na” (Come what may), or “Everybody is doing it anyway” only because I believe in peace.  Also, in this age of “passing the buck”, another excuse for my shrinking personal responsibility is Filipinism, “I am not the one” and then I point my finger out but little by little, in temperate steps, I am also learning to recognize my mistakes. I am a Filipino, you know.  I know how to forgive.

I speak three major dialects fluently: Ilocano, Waray and Tagalog.  I believe in ghosts and I believe in UFOs.  I listen to Muse and Cee Lo Green but the songs of Apo Hiking Society always make me cry.  I believe in my Catholic God but sometimes I wish I was a Buddhist.  I believe in common-law marriages and yet I am PRO RH BILL.  I eat foie gras and balut.  I watch telenovelas and Helena Bonham Carter movies.  I smile ferociously towards my enemies and I will kill with glee if anyone hurts my family and the people I love.

So, how do I want to be remembered?

“I am a Filipino because I can be everything.”

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