By By Ramonfelipe A. Sarmiento
VIRAQUEÑA, VIBA! (Arin daw ang mas vivo?)
posted 6-Dec-2009  ·  
1,783 views  ·   0 comments  ·  

Second of two parts

The Viracnon promdi in Manila, in order to maintain a sense of hometown in a faraway place, came up with two organizations namely the Viraqueña Club and the Virac Barrios Association, Inc. (VIBA). While the same in basic intent, the two are very different in many respects. The former is composed of Viracnons of the poblacion while the latter is that of the rural areas. The first was founded in 1929 "to provide mutual protection" and a venue to socialize, while the second in 1958 to unite the many barrio associations in Manila.

The differences in the circumstances of founding, motives and composition, translated into a variation in organizational structures. The Viraqueña Club consisted of two distinct layers of members. On top is an elite core group of about a hundred, and below is a much larger multitude of participants, the masa. If the latter is a collection of nameless and shifty mix of people, the latter is a more or less stable roster of who’s who of Viracnon’s in Manila. a line-up of those who have time, talent, motivation and resources to actively participate. It is a list of the "can afford," those who can be relied upon to regularly contribute money, people who can "pull strings" and be mobilized for the various tasks of the organization. From this core group therefore, the set of officers are chosen and the committees are constituted. Through the years, composition of this elite core group hardly varied and members simply circulated among themselves on the different positions: today’s president appears in next term’s board of advisers, and be treasurer in the next, etc.

The formal structure of the Viraqueña took after the typical centralized set of officers from the president down to the public relations officers. The difference is that there were always two sets for each position, a male and a female, taking after the practice of barrio religious councils back home in Virac (e.g. presidente and presidenta). There too were the coordinators or the cabos to take care of the nine-day novenario. And there were the large bunches of directors and advisers. Typically, an entire set of officers ran up to 76 (!) persons, unusually big for an organization with such limited scope of undertakings as the Viraqueña Club. The logic I guess was to have those in the elite core group, the reliable source of support, be socially compensated by having their names appear in souvenir programs.

The elite-masa structure of the Viraqueña Club was duly reflected in the two major affairs of the association (there were hardly any other outside these two). The most important activity was the nine-day novenario with the culminating grand fiesta. Here, both elite and masa mixed up. But the other big affair, the inaugural of a new set of officers which took place once in two years, was exclusively for the elite core group. The venue was some five-star hotel and people came only by invitation, well-coifed and attired, something that effectively screened off masa. On such an occasion, the Viracnon alta sociedad in Manila were able to show off their wares.

It appears that a hometown organization, while having the good intention of gathering together the exiled kababayans regardless of class standing, naturally selects the capable and the "can afford" among the ranks to become its elite governing class. Being such, these organizations function as a venue for the ambitious and successful promdis to demonstrate their achievements in the city. If this was true of the Viraqueña, so it is with the VIBA. The rural Viracnon promdis have their own elite set. However, the elitism is less pronounced in the VIBA where the structure can be said to be more democratic, complex and sophisticated.

But this is not because the VIBA people are more organizationally keen nor have a specific propensity for democracy. Rather, the very nature of the VIBA, its composition and reason for being, calls for its particular structural arrangement. To start with, it is important that the governing body must be a fair representation of the fact that the VIBA is an organization of organizations. Therefore, it adopted a federated system wherein the set of officers is chosen from among a 15-member board of directors who are elected by an assembly of five delegates each from member barrio associations. Such a system served well the VIBA. The stability of the VIBA depends upon continued support and confidence of member associations, and so decision-making process must be transparent and equitably participative. Furthermore, it was necessary that structures, rules and procedures are institutionally legitimized. So the VIBA took trouble of having itself registered with the SEC complete with a set of written by-laws.

In contrast, the Viraqueña Club never bothered to seek SEC recognition and remained informal in actual operation despite appearances of formality. In the words of Tia Luz Ignacio, "baging karawat-kawat man sana kami." Choosing the officers was never a big deal, it usually happened that people were simply "volunteered" into positions even in absentia just to fill in a line-up of officers. Again, it does not mean that the Viraqueña people did not have sense for democratic niceties. The club’s objectives were quite uncomplicated and unchanging, there was no need for elaborate processes. It was enough that there was the reliable and willing circle of workhorses of proven track record. Such an arrangement worked for the Viraqueña perfectly, but only so long as the same reliable people remained. But these stalwarts grew old and started quitting from active involvement. The problem was that there were not enough from the new generation to take over. As Tia Luz Ignacio admitted, what caused the Viraqueña’s eventual demise was that the young were not interested in "pursuing tradition."

I believe the reason is not so much that the young lacked a heart for tradition. What happened was that the Viraqueña Club was rendered irrelevant when it was robbed of the two mains functions which it originally fulfilled. The first function was to provide members a mechanism to partake of "home" away from home. But developments in transportation and communication technology effectively dissolved the social and cultural distance between Manila and Virac: home had become a short plane ride or a text message away. The Viraqueña Club lost its basic usefulness. The second function, quite specific to the elite core group, was to provide a venue to display success and achievement. Again, the same new-found mobility and transcendence of distances exposed the young generation to a more expansive world that made hometown too narrow a venue to gratify their need for recognition. Hometown organization therefore became less attractive to them. Without a new batch of an elite core group, the club is deprived of the necessary leadership to sustain.

In the same logic, the VIBA remains alive because it continues to pose significance in answering for present expediency. Its relevance lies in its usefulness to the barrio associations in Manila, which in turn continue to be of great importance to the affairs of respective barrio bases back home. Through them, barrio communities are able to access much-needed revenues for their upkeep and development. Here then lies a basic distinction between the VIBA and the Viraqueña Club: the former has real and practical relevance to the hometown (the barrio communities), while the latter was relevant only to its members. The VIBA therefore has that added impetus to keep on.

Last week, I came to see Tia Luz Ignacio at her residence to ask when she is going to say the novena for the Imaculada feast day. She told me that she will have to do it by herself at home because her failing health does not permit her to go places anymore. She wondered, in wistful anxiety, until when can she sustain the otob. What used to be the grandiose undertaking of an entire organization of migrants trying to recreate home, had been reduced to the lonesome performance of a vow by an aging loyal devotee in the dark confines of her bedroom. I can imagine the luxurious Sarmiento residence at Dama de Noche St. in New Manila being reduced now to decay, its spacious garden overtaken by weeds, and I am overcome with sad nostalgia. So I called up Mr. Braulio Ibayan, current president of the VIBA, to ask for details of his group’s observance of the Virac fiesta. I then bracketed December 6 on my appointment book. I will be in Masambong Sports Center in San Francisco del Monte, Quezon City starting ten o’clock in the morning to partake of the mass and novena-praying, and then of eating and drinking and the noisy fun. Just like home.

Maogmang pag-celebra ning patron sa mga taga-Virac! I pray that it shall be a rainless day: let the sabaw come abundantly inside houses on banquet tables, but not outside! Viva la Imaculada!

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