Erlando Almaez-Ayuste Finds Solace and Strength in His Volunteered Spiritual Undertakings

Erlando Almaez- Ayuste Finds Solace and Strength

In His Volunteered Spiritual Undertakings

By Apolinario Villalobos


Orly, as his friends call him has been living along F. Torres in Sta. Cruz district of Manila for more than 50 years. He used to occupy a small studio-type apartment on the second floor of an old building that unfortunately got razed more than 20 years ago. The incident made him sleep on the sidewalk for several months until a friend took him in temporarily while waiting for the vacancy in another old building. He moved on to the new studio room and with a found makeshift table, sold coffee and costume jewelries that he assembled out of beads from broken ones that friends give him or he buys from junk collectors. The owner of the small building allowed him the use of the studio room for free but the electricity and water are on his account.


The portion of the street along which he lives is where one can find sellers and buyers of second-hand cellphones, watches and jewelries. F. Torres is stretched parallel to Arranque St, the famous “thieve’s market”. At five in the afternoon a short portion of the street teems with the curious and ambulant “merchants”. To them, Orly sells coffee, and from some of them he buys broken jewelries. The earning is meager, just enough to buy him three meals a day and replenishment for sachets of coffee and small bags of sugar for his business.


The first time I saw him, I thought he was some kind of an office worker who just dropped by the place to buy cheap jewelry or cellphone. He was then attired in a collared shirt which was neatly tucked giving him a sleek countenance. The next time I saw him, he was in walking shorts that exposed the varicose veins in his legs. And, as it was early in the morning, before 8AM, he was washing a couple of shirts in the makeshift lavatory in front of the slim table where his coffee mugs and some plates were stacked. As he was aloof, I did not bother to talk to him while ordering a mug of coffee.


As I felt that his life could be colorful, I kept on observing him, until after several mugs of coffee and days of dropping by, he sort of trusted me with a modest smile. That broke the ice. During our talks, I led him to open up and share his experiences when he was just a stranger in Manila. According to him, he arrived in Manila from Tacloban during the 60’s when Ramon Magsaysay was the president of the country. He initially worked as a houseboy. He did his best to save out of his earnings so that in no time, he was able to get a small room and supported himself by selling snacks and coffee on the sidewalk.


I was surprised to learn that despite his meager formal education, as he finished only Grade Five, he is able to speak a sprinkling of German, though with fluency of Spanish and English. He told me that he is a fast learner and a voracious reader. Another surprise is that he can read musical scores despite the lack of a basic music education.  He plays the piano and organ but admits that he needs musical sheets to guide him. He learned to read music during the early years of his membership in the Sta. Cruz parish choir, as he was then, fond of observing their pianist. In this regard, he has been singing with the Sta. Cruz parish choir for more than twenty years now.

Orly’s sister, Lydia lives in Masangkay with her own family, and which is not far from F. Torres where he lives. Today at 77, he dreams of owning a piano so that he can put to life the melodies that have been bugging his mind. He dreams of translating them into musical scores. I told him to go on dreaming for this blessing, as it is free anyway…for who knows, some day, we might meet a musician who got tired of his Weinstein that needs just a simple retuning of strings.


Every time I drink at least two mugs of Orly’s coffee, I wonder if others can muster life just like he does sans bank account or just a few pesos stashed away, and only with a few decent shirts and pair of pants to wear on Sundays for his scheduled singing with the choir in honor of the Nuestra Seἧora del Pilar. That’s Orly …strong and gutsy guy, who at 77 sings and plays the piano for the glory of the Blessed Mother!



The Charisma of Pope Francis and the Euphoria of the Filipinos

The Charisma of Pope Francis

And the Euphoria of the Filipinos

By Apolinario Villalobos

The electrifying impact of Pope Francis’ historic visit to the Philippines is such that it will never be forgotten, especially, with the attestation of the Vatican’s spokesperson that it is the biggest event among the papal visits to any country. The euphoric feeling of the Filipinos borders on justifiable fanaticism. The warm reception accorded the shepherd of the Catholic Church defied the onslaught of nature when he said the Mass in Tacloban which was punctuated with incessant rain and strong wind, and in Manila which was heavily drenched with the steady bone-drenching downpour.

The bad weather did not melt the devotion of the Filipinos as they waited even for the fleeting moment to have a glance of the pope along the routes of his entourage. Wheelchaired PWDs patiently waited under the shield of thin plastic sheets. Mothers risked the health and safety of their children. And, elderlies did not utter any complaint as they waited for the pope with their wobbling legs.

For once, the rich and the poor trekked side by side, to Luneta for the concluding Mass, under the rain. The selfie addicts heeded the call not to click their camera during the Mass. The six million pilgrims gave resonating replies as one solid flock, to whatever call was made by the moderator of the occasion. For the first time, perhaps, hosts were passed on by pilgrims from the hand of the priests during the Communion. Putting to action the call of the pope for compassion, some pilgrims gave their raincoat to mothers and children.

The concluding Mass became some sort of a commitment ceremony during which Archbishop Tagle, speaking for the Filipinos, made a promise to go with him to the wherever his mission will bring him. And, in response, the pope asked the Filipinos to carry on the light of faith and devotion wherever they may go.

The pope played his role as Christ’s spokesperson during his visit, with a resounding success. He was a picture of humility since the first day of his arrival. And, his request that ceremonies do away with pomposity, was followed to the last letter. No colorful streamers from government officials and politicians that scream greetings dotted his routes. Most, importantly, the Filipinos behaved appropriately.

The Overzealous Devotion to the Black Nazarene

The Overzealous Devotion to the Black Nazarene

By Apolinario Villalobos

Every year, I partially witness the transfer of the image of the Black Nazarene from Luneta to Quiapo Church. Partial because I just stay along Taft Avenue and follow until the procession reaches the Jones Bridge, then I go the other way towards the direction of Quiapo Church where a multitude of devotees are waiting.

As during the previous years, the Quiapo church authorities try their best to rectify the belief of the devotees that the January 9 is the fiesta of Quiapo which is wrong. The fiesta of Quiapo is June 24, as the district’s patron saint is St. John the Baptist. January 9 is the commemoration of the transfer of the image of the Black Nazarene from Intramuros to Quiapo, and not a fiesta.

Observable as usual, is the overzealous praying to the image which the church authorities are trying to discourage by explaining that it is not Jesus, but just his representation, hence, an image, so that such act is idolatrous. Devotees are also advised not to bring their children to the occasion. Also, those living along the route of the procession should refrain from holding drinking sprees on the street, thinking that the occasion is a “fiesta”. And worse, they also hold piῆata games using earthen pots, resulting to the scattering of potsherds all over the streets which are along the route of the procession of barefooted devotees. Unfortunately, all those calls are unheeded.

The kissing ritual and wiping of the image with hand towels on which is printed the face of the Black Nazarene are also among the overzealous acts of the devotees. The kissing ritual is held at the Luneta Grandstand and the wiping of the image is done along the route of the procession during which many wonder how the towels can be thrown back to their owners afterwards by members of the Hijos de Nazareno who are protecting the image which is firmly perched on the “andas”.

This year, a “miracle” can eventually bolster the faith of the devotees to the Black Nazarene. A long- distressed mother is reunited with his mentally-handicapped son, after so many years of separation. It is as if her son is pushed to her side during the melee that ensued. The mother almost failed to recognize her son whose features are slightly changed. But her maternal instinct told her that it is her son. Radio field reporters eagerly picked up the story with eagerness, and which overshadowed the death of a member of the “Hijos” due to a stroke that resulted from over exhaustion.

The Black Nazarene is among the most popular images with millions of devotees in the Philippines, most of whom are concentrated in Manila and its suburbs. What distract the high-strung devotion are those who act as if possessed if they notice cameras focused to them, as well as, the Jesus personifiers, complete with crown of “thorns”, and who meld themselves in the sea of ardent devotees.

Before I left the procession, I asked one “devotee” whose breath strongly smells of liquor, the reason for his devotion. To my question, he answered that he is asking the Black Nazarene to give him a chance in winning the lottery, even just for once….

The Greatness of Love…for Emma Tronco

The Greatness of Love

 …for Emma Tronco

(Translation in prose of tula “Kadakilaan ng Pag-ibig”,  just in case her daughter

shall ask what the Filipino verses mean)


By Apolinario Villalobos



From the depth of our heart, love pours forth, so full of mystery, a feeling that is beyond comprehension at times. It even urged God to create mankind, first with Adam, then Eve, and when they committed the First Sin, all that God did was just drove them out of paradise…all because of the love that He still harbored for them.


The greatness of love is such that it is inestimable. It cannot be put to test, weighed and measured when doubted. Its greatness is such that it cannot be controlled by conditions that some lovers carelessly utter due to sheer selfishness and insecurity.


As long as they live, the pledge that lovers whisper to each other, as though in prayer, and finally at the altar witnessed by the priest, parents and the rest of their loved ones… should be founded on trust for each other, until they draw their last breath.


The bond of love, blessed by God should be nurtured to become stronger, and must not be broken in the face of whatever misfortune.





Ruth of the Bible…and her filial piety

Ruth of the Bible

…and her filial piety

By Apolinario Villalobos


A friend, who lives on the other side of world, Canada, and with whom I communicate only through the internet, unabashedly expressed her devotion to her departed husband whom she described with all words that were perhaps available in her mind while she was blogging the message for me. Another friend, posted on her timeline their faded nuptial photo with accompanying message that she will never change, short of saying, she will go on loving him, in a way… as if she was face to face with her husband. Another story is that of a former neighbor in Paranaque who worked as a beerhouse dancer in order to earn for the needs of her ailing mother-in-law, as her husband was killed in a traffic accident. She did not have even a single child by her husband, despite which, she persisted in taking care of her widowed, sickly and old mother-in-law. All of those made me try to recall a story in the Bible about a woman who practically founded her life on love and devotion. Finally, I remember the woman in the Bible …Ruth.


Ruth was a Moabite, a clan which God wanted eradicated from the face of the earth when He guided the Israelites to the Promised Land. But most importantly, Ruth’s blood flowed in the veins of Jesus Christ. Here’s why…tracing to Perez, who belonged to one of the tribes of Israel, thus, “Perez was the father of Hezron, Hezron was the father of Ram, Ram was the father of Amminadab, Amminadab was the father of Nahshon, Nahshon was the father of Salmon, Salmon was the father of Boaz, Boaz was the father of Jesse, and Jesse became the father of David.” (Ruth 4: 18-22). Jesus Christ belongs to the House of David.


What I am trying to point out here is, despite Ruth’s being a pagan, she was so devoted to her mother-in-law, Naomi, that she stayed with her despite the tragedies the befell her. First to die was her husband, Elimelech, then her sons, Mahlon and Chilion. They belonged to the clan of Ephrathites from Bethlehem of Judah. The death of her two sons who married Moabite women triggered her decision to go back to Bethlehem, as they were living that time on the plateau of Moab. But the devotion of Ruth, one of the daughters-in- law to her mother-in-law was such that she did not abandon her. Instead, she did her best in showing how she was able to meld with the family of her husband.  Being pretty and young, she could have married again when her husband died. She felt that she was needed by her aging mother-in-law, so that she persisted in being with her despite her effort to practically drive her back to her own people.


Back in Bethlehem, Ruth showed her diligence, reaping grains in season, and fortunate enough to have done it in the fields of Boaz, the kin of her husband. By virtue of the Jews’ practices during that time on inheritance of properties, Boaz was able to marry her. And as the story went, she provided a link in the Redeemer’s lineage.


The world today is full of temptations. For the weak woman, succumbing to any of them could just be easy and most often is even made justifiable by loose alibis. Matrimony that requires not only devotion of the couple to each other, the in-laws, and later on, their own children could crumble easily in the face of temptations. Legal separations are rampant, paving the way for the eventual divorce for those who can afford it. This can happen if selfishness will prevail, add to that the call of the carnal desire. It needs therefore, an extraordinary emotional stability and spiritual strength for a woman to become another Ruth. Blessed, therefore, are those women who personify her in this world that throbs with sins. The greatest reward of Ruth for her filial piety is her being mentioned every time the lineage of Jesus Christ is traced back to His ancestors, this despite her being a pagan. Her story shows that one need be a professed Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, etc., to become pious. Ironically, some non-believers are more pious in their acts than those who profess their strong attachment to established religions.