Iloilo City, 21-06-2008

It was supposed to be one of those cloudy days. The sky was dark, not unusual especially that the rainy season has already begun several weeks ago. The Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA) raised a signal number one for Bicol Region and the rest of the Metropolitan Manila. The agency forecast that the eye of the typhoon with a sustained wind speed of 74kph will pass the town of Tayabas, Quezon sometime during the midday.

And things started to change.

Since PAGASA releases its forecast every six hours, the typhoon, which is as idiosyncratic as the rest of us, suddenly started to redirect its course and instead moved toward central Philippines. It battered the coast of Romblon and capsized the 23,824-ton Sulpicio Lines ferry, M/V Princess of Stars imperiling the lives of its eight hundred plus passengers. Official reports feared hundreds of dead as the scant number of survivors were rescued.

The province of Iloilo was worst hit and suffered 101 deaths; the death toll, however, will still increase dramatically as there are reported missing cases. As of press time, there is a total of 229 dead persons not counting the victims of the capsized ferry.

For a long time, Iloilo has not experienced a calamity of such enormity. According to a friend of mine, flood water rose in a unexpectedly fast rate forcing families to seek refuge on their rooftops or climb trees.

An arial view of Jaro, Iloilo City after being ravaged by Frank (Fengshen)

I lived in Iloilo City for five years of my life. One of the most beautiful cities I’ve been to where one can experience a rare coming in together of cultural dynamism, urban atmosphere, and a relaxed lifestyle. For me, it was a city that could rival Salzburg, Munich, or even Paris. Its people are one of the most intelligent, open-minded, and optimistic group I know.

While watching in Youtube.com the aftermath of the typhoon, I was wondering if Iloilo can still recover from this mess. Not surprisingly, amid the cars eaten up by flood I saw people who continued to remain hopeful. I saw smiling faces while they unload a speed boat from a truck to be used for rescue operations; I saw kids bathing under the downpours; I saw hope at its purest form. I saw ordinary Filipino who do not easily surrender from life’s adversities.

“John, are you okay there?” Asked my friend who is in Iloilo right now. “Don’t worry about us here, nagsaka na lang kami sa second floor with our things kay grabe ang baha (We placed all our things on the second floor because the water is too deep). Maski wala kami tubi kag kuryente, diri ayos lang, ginsugo ko nila kagina to buy water,hehehe, nakalab-ot ko sa Molo (Even if we don’t have water and electricity, do not worry about us here. They asked me to buy water this morning, I reached Molo). My friend stays in Jaro, a district in Iloilo which suffered worst because of its low elevation.

One thing, this experience taught man never to take his position complacently. While I was still in Iloilo, life was so good and so comfortable that in a way it’s making the people believe in false security as if nothing bad could happen. But this was proved untrue by the events these past days.

I still would want to see an Iloilo City that is as vibrant as when I left it, although maybe it will have changed by that time, but I just want to go back to that city and be infected with the hopeful disposition of the Ilonggos.

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How maong (blue jeans) survived redefinitions

I was seven years old then when my mother first bought me a pair of jeans. It was some sort of a milestone in my life since I thought then that only old men can wear maong pants. And since my mother bought me a pair, I took it like she’s welcoming me to the adult world. Mind you, I was seven years old that time. It was very cheap, I think. It never cost her more than 150 pesos; however,  a hundred fifty pesos for a pants was already expensive as far as the standard of living in our place was concerned. I knew some of my grade one classmates were envious of my luck since it was uncommon before to see grade one students wearing pants much less blue jeans.

That pair of jeans looked funny by today’s taste: it was meant to be worn as a high-waisted pants, that has ample leg room for two seven-year-olds and a very narrow hole for the feet to pass through. I remember that the brand name had the logo of Mighty Morphin Power Rangers which was the most popular kid’s series during the early 90s.

In the Philippine pop culture, maong pants used to symbolize youth rebellion, then women empowerment, and now that they have become mainstream, anybody from the lowly construction workers to the top business executives don a pair of a Made in China imitation of a Versace blue jeans or the ubiquitous red tabs of Levi’s 501.

I remember, in 2003 when I took the University of the Philippines College Admission Test (UPCAT), there was one article in the reading comprehension part that talked about the culture of blue jeans with Filipino college students, and I think that it’s also true with the rest of the world’s universities. It talked about how maong pants have evolved in terms not only in terms of the designs but also of the meanings they convey as well as the utilitarian functions of this kind of clothing.

Whereas in the earlier years of the invention of the hardy blue jeans in California that’s made of durable canvas with rivets in areas of much stress worn by gold miners, blue jeans even become a symbol of democratization of consumption. Although underlying realities still exist such as only the middle class can afford (at least in Third World countries such as the Philippines) to buy a pair of Levi’s costing more than 2,000 pesos (50 USD); nevertheless, the culture of wearing blue was still successful in creating an artificial appearance of democracy, which I think is good enough for now. Wearing them narrowed the divide that cut across the fashion taste between the rich, middle class Atenista/LaSallista market and the masa, promdi, bakya crowd.

When Filipino women started to wear maong in the middle of the last century, they have discovered freedom in the comfortable but fashionable maong. And with it came mobility, access to work, and a call for equality with men.

The functions of maong also changed. Before, the clothing apparel was limited to their use as working clothes worn of manual workers that could offer protection from deplorable working conditions, now wearing a blue jeans in the annual board meeting is not anymore as out of place as it used to be.

I bought my first pair of Levi’s pants during the latter year of my college life after working as a student assistant. Whereas before, wearing my first blue jeans meant entering a world of adults of my imagination, that act of buying pants this time that cost me several months of working as a messenger/typist/draftsman in the different offices in the university was an initiation rites for my entrance in the working class world.

Maong pants or blue jeans have come a long way. But one thing is sure, it will survive countless future redefinitions.