By By Ramonfelipe A. Sarmiento
VIRAQUEÑA, VIBA! (Arin daw ang mas vivo?)
posted 29-Nov-2009  ·  
1,761 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

First of two parts

Note: For the uninitiated, this column ran for almost a year from 2006-2007. It tackled issues about Catandunganon society, culture and history. Today, it reclaims space in the Tribune but this time on a bi-monthly basis, hoping to continue contributing to that never-ending process of defining who we Catandunganons are: Sisay kita?

As a migrant to Manila, one of the things you realize is that being promdi is eternal: once a promdi, always a promdi. A reason for this, among others, is that you miss home year-round. For every turn of the seasons, for every change of month, there is always something about hometown that you long for. For the Catandunganon in Manila for example, the coming of the "ber" months creates an agonizing countdown to Christmas: there is nothing in the world like navidad in the isle of the eastern seas. But the onset of October presents its particular attraction. While asleep in some cramped boarding house in Sampaloc, you half expect to be roused in the wee hours by the singing of the aurora by penitents passing by in a procession. You get disappointed that the low hum outside is that of the early traffic and not of the rosary being said cantada, and the lights reflected on your window pane is that of frantic vehicles and not of votive candles.

But the Viracnon promdi gets some consolation. The coming of October in Manila means the start of the weekend novenario to the Imaculada. For nine Saturdays in a row you get to sing the gozos, partake of the binamban and ibos, wear out your angog to the endless patang-oras to the oldies, drink gin with Migong Awe, Manoy Husi or Pay Ipe, and exchange Viracnon intrigues, osipon and jokes. Oh, to be drowned in a flood of Viracnon talk! Then on the last day, it’s celebra (without bispera) and you get to savor humba and dinuguan. If lucky, there too are the atsara and santan (what is pista without them?), and if election time is near, the would-be candidates send lechon. There are games for the kids. Appliances are raffled out. And there is dancing of the pantomina by the ginagalangan (and the dipung-alan). Oh but where are the itinerant tsitsiria, or the occasional perya? Aw patron na daing parada?Daing Miss VIrac? But hey, it may not be the real thing, but it’s the best substitute the promdi gets to be able to enact home away from home.

The above-described undertaking is not some spontaneous measure by the promdi to ward off nostalgia for roots but the initiative of a formalized group, the hometown organization. It is a strategy of the migrant, seen all over the world, to deal with the adverse conditions faced when leaving the comfort zone of hometown to settle in other, usually far places. As such, the hometown organization takes on one or more of several objectives, namely to extend mutual protection and aid to members, provide a venue for continued connection through various forms of socialization, allow the observance of traditional culture of the place of origin, and get involved with the on-going affairs of the hometown. In short, it serves as a bridge between the new host residence and the original locality. The promdi is not one who restlessly misses home but one actively inhabits two places at the same time making him or her "translocal" and the hometown organization is one means, among many, to enact such a condition.

As for the Viracnon promdi in Manila, there is not one but two hometown organizations, the Viraqueña Club and the Virac Barrios Associations, Inc. (VIBA). The former is composed of those from the poblacion and the latter is that of the rural habitués. This division could easily be construed as a lack of unity among Viracnon migrants in the big city, a mutual snobbery of the taga-banwa and taga-baryo. But the matter between these two groups is not that simple. Being an urbanite Viracnon I had enjoyed a few of the Viraqueña Club’s affairs, and felt some discomfort and guilt at the prospect of reinforcing a discriminatory scheme against our co-Viracnons from the rural areas. But looking deeper into these groups, I come to a conclusion that the separation must not be imputed with any malicious intent. The two groups started out and developed according to varying circumstances and motivations, and operate on distinct dynamics. Unity is not always the be-all in the social sphere (oh how many crimes have been committed in the name of pagkasararo?). The important value is co-existence and fruitful interface, two things that both the Viraqueña Club and the VIBA observe. In order to fully appreciate these two organizations, one must understand their histories, organizational structures, concerns and undertakings.

The Viraqueña Club was conceived during a meeting in June 1929 at the residence of Eugenio Vargas in Wallace Field in Intramuros. By the next month, they elected the first president in the person of Cornelio Arcilla. According to a one-page history written by the late Macario Arcilla, the association was founded "to seek mutual support and protection during those trying times." Nobody can tell now how they concretized the "mutual protection" mandate, but one can imagine that it was a real concern then: the handful of them who dared venture to the big city needed to close ranks in order to survive. In the eyes of the Viracnon in the 1920’s, Manila was such a place of exile! Traveling then to Manila was a three-day ordeal and the bagong salta is faced with a strange and hostile place.

But the adversities of migrant life must have dissipated through the years as Manila became more and more abot-kamot. The "mutual protection" objective had been reduced merely to a romantic notion because much of the Viraqueña Club that anybody could remember now is not so much of a refuge for the hapless promdi but one that provides gratifying socialization. For the most part, the energies of the organization have been spent on mounting the nine-day novenario and the culminating fiesta celebration. Every now and then, they would "pass the hat" and donate relief goods to victims of typhoon calamities, or contribute to the upkeep and improvement of the parish church back home. There had been a scholarship program in the late 1980’s but it was not sustained to a significant extent. I say this without any sense of derision. The club is a venue to enact hometown camaraderie and partake of Virac "culture"; the occasional charitable impulses are a desirable add-on. The popular imagination is that the Viraqueña Club is one big padasal and party rolled into one. The Viracnon migrant has come to master the city and the club is a way to display and celebrate this achievement.

The VIBA came to life almost three decades after the Viraqueña, in 1957. It would appear that during that time, Viracnon migrants had long been formed into respective barrio associations that observed their own fiestas through novenarios and pabayle. And just as was the practice back home in Virac, these groups would depend on each other for support, especially in the pabayle which typically were fund-raising undertakings. While cooperation is the basic mode of relating between these groups, conflict would inevitably arise resulting to misunderstanding, competition, intrigues and even brawls. According to Tio Anoy Valeza, one of the pillars of the VIBA, "Kaidto kan dai pang VIBA, pag buruyong na, lintian ang suruntukan sa baylehan." This was the condition that led the founder Vicente V. Surtida to the idea of bringing all these barrio associations under one umbrella. He shared his plan to his friends Domingo Z. Vargas and Necitas S. Tacorda (Severo C. Alcantara is also acknowledged as a founder) and the rest is history.

The VIBA therefore is an association of associations. The expressed purpose was to bring the many barrio associations of Viracnon migrants together so that they can systematically and harmoniously help each other in pursuing respective objectives. Along this line, the VIBA synchronizes the schedules of the many pabayle to avoid conflict. Seed money is also lent out to enable groups to launch their undertakings. Member organizations are obliged to buy a quota of tickets for each VIBA-sanctioned fund-raising by each group. To provide venue for common undertaking of the federation, the VIBA came up with its own observance of the novenario and grand fiesta for the Imaculada, a practice adopted from the Viraqueña Club. Similarly, they would also give relief goods for victims of strong typhoons back in the hometown, and occasionally extend their share for the various needs of the parish of Virac. The VIBA even outdid the Viraqueña Club in civic involvement when in the late seventies, under the presidency of Jose Reyes, they launched the scholarship program for poor but deserving high school students. It appears then that it was the Viraqueña Club that made arog-arog to VIBA in this commendable project, and ten years late!

So what of these two hometown organizations at present? In 2007, the VIBA celebrated its golden anniversary with 22 barrio association members (there are now 43 rural barangays), almost double the original 13 in 1957. It is still going well at present. They are now about to launch a pet project, which is to build their own multi-purpose building. As for the Viraqueña Club, the last known souvenir program printed was in 1994. After that, the club went into steady decline. The crowds that used to fill up the cavernous residence and sprawling laguerta of Atty. Ulpiano Sarmiento at No. 5 Dama de Noche in New Manila during Saturdays of October and November, had been thinning out through the years. This year, the gozos would be rendered resada by Tia Luz Ignacio, 87 years old and para-poon of the Viraqueña Club padasal, together with a handful of aging loyal devotees. It will just be for a day, on the feast-day itself, as the nine-day novenario had been too much to maintain. Tia Luz tells me that she will continue the otob even if by her lonesome, but "habang kaya ko pa." In any case, the Viraqueña Club had long been a thing of the past.

For next issue, we tackle the organizational structures of both organizations and explore the reasons for the eventual demise of the Viraqueña Club and the continued tenacity of the VIBA. And since it is nearing election time, we will dwell on the question: had these groups been implicated in politics? I am sure you know the answer.

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