Happy’s Notes from Ateneo and Ondoy.

Reposting my brother Happy Vergara’s latest note on Facebook — I thought it needed to be seen by folks who are outside Facebook, pretty much because the good news is good and the bad news is, as Happy wrote me on IM, “really really bad.”


These are going to be pretty random, with a smattering of my own thoughts, but I will try to stay as true to what I saw, or was told or heard. There is a very long list of people involved here and I can’t possible name them all. Maybe next time.
Good news first:

1. Help reached isolated places in Sta. Cruz, Laguna (two nights ago). The idea was to shoot a truck with prepared food from Enderun straight down there. More on this later.

2. Most of the donations went to Ateneo and some went to Megatent. However, we sent help to Tadlac, Laguna. Binan, Laguna and to the Red Cross feeding in Sta. Cruz and nearby towns.

3. Our contact at the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has two choppers available, along with 10 trucks and will be coordinating tomorrow with the US Navy to get goods from around metro manila to the most isolated places. This is a new development, by the way, and it’s worth noting that the “AFP contact” has been working in the backgrounds (they sent the truck with cooked food from Enderun to Sta. Cruz, Laguna for example), but has only now made direct contact with us here.

Those trucks are all deployed now and we are coordinating with a few relief goods center to make sure all trucks are maximized. The choppers, while available, cannot fly because of the current storm conditions. They will be with the US Navy tomorrow. My point is that I am personally attesting to these people, and that, in our time of greatest need, by my personal experience, they are there. There are more good people in government than they are bad.

4. To stay sane, the volunteers at Ateneo have a Best ONDOY Acronym Contest. The current winner is “ONDOY – Our Nation Depends On You”. Naks.

That’s all the good news.

Bad news:

1. The AFP sent 2 trucks to Ateneo to pick up goods for Tumana, Marikina. The people there are still in waist to chest deep water and it’s important that the goods be accompanied by soldiers to keep things orderly. The trucks too are the only vehicles able to get through. Several volunteers from Ateneo went with the AFP. There are pics in the album. THEY WILL NEED MORE HELP.

2. Sta. Cruz towns, unfortunately, are being slowed by politics. Ayoko ng magkwento pa at naiinis lang ako. But at least the food got there.

3. There are still several towns nearby — places in Malabon and Cainta — that we heard HAVE NOT BEEN REACHED by relief. One observer called it “zombieland” as people are either in shock from starvation, too weak to do anything or will grab at all the goods and volunteers. This is where we are helping send the AFP to.

4. In some towns they managed to go to, says Christelle who is with the AFP, some people will wade through chest deep water to come to their truck to get the relief goods. No rescue there. No government. That’s where we want to send your donations the most.

5. In many cases, the relief is slowed down not by politics but by the fact that there is no disaster preparedness. I suppose, that’s politics indirectly.

6. Kulang pa volunteers everywhere. Lots of relief goods remain unprocessed/unpacked in Ateneo for example. It’s a Saturday and it’s raining: where are the people? Sleeping in?


Here are Clarissa’s; they’re a little… sunnier, shall we say:

Monica and I spent the night at Ateneo as volunteers, I wanted to share this experience with all of you out there who sent their donations through us. They have an incredibly organized and efficient operation there, so rest assured that your donations went out to affected areas as soon as humanly possible.

Yesterday was the first day that Ateneo did not have enough manpower to do the packing and organizing (it was raining hard most of the day, and typhoon Pepeng was threatening Manila). A couple of hundred volunteers really is NOT ENOUGH to process mountains of bottled water, canned food, clothes, blankets, medicine and various other essentials. These are some random things I can remember at the moment:

1. New volunteers sign-up, are briefed about the lay of the land at the courts, and then herded to a holding area where “area managers” can pick them up when needed. The wait to get deployed to a task is about 20 seconds.

2. The task of putting together a “relief pack” is called “shopping,” which we found really amusing. You go to a station where plastic bags are opened (6 ppl do this) for easy carrying, then you walk those bags through a water bottle station, canned goods station, biscuits station, and rice station. At these stations another 30 or so people put stuff in your bags. Once filled you drop them off at another station where 20 people are tasked to tie up the bags. Another 20 people pick up those bags and collect them for counting.

3. Packed bags are counted out and piled up on 500-bag hills of goods, each pile has a note on top that indicates where they will go (seen were Laguna, Pateros).

4. In other areas of the courts, covered by boxes of unsorted food, were smaller operations. Teams of around 15 people each put together toiletry packs, medicine packs, blanket and clothes packs. These are aggregated into large boxes and labeled.

5. At around 10pm a HUGE (and I mean HUGE) dump truck pulls in. It is headed for Pateros and is assigned 4,000 food packs plus a lot of boxes of blankets. Two lines of volunteers are formed, each line about 40 people deep, that go from the pile to the truck. Ten students gamely climb into the inside of the truck and on the roof of the driver’s cab to complete the assembly line. Loading takes an hour. At 11pm the truck pulls out and drives off to Pateros. Those students are having the time of their lives, sincerely enjoying making a difference.

6. Sights to see: 5 year old child helping carry 2-kilo food packs onto the truck, guy in an Audi convoys truck to site, parents putting cans onto plastic bags alongside their kids, drivers and yayas working alongside their “wards”, people thanking you at every turn just for being there

7. Morale boosters: professional comedy duo on the mics providing hilarious (and clean) commentary, Krispy Kreme donuts for volunteers, Starbucks sends free coffee for volunteers, on the radio “525,600 minutes” on the radio and everyone around you singing at the top of their voices while busily packing relief goods

After a couple of hours of carrying things, we realized we didn’t have the stamina that these teenagers had. We were exhausted and yet the kids who had been there since the morning were still running around at full speed.

Smiling faces all around.

We took about 70% of the goods we purchased with your money to this operation. The rate at which donations come into the Ateneo covered courts has dropped markedly, but the number of volunteers has not. Let’s keep em coming!


Typhoon Ondoy Relief Goods to Tadlac, Los Banos, Laguna.

I thought I’d repost some photos from Happy, Clarissa and Monica’s most recent grocery run — okay, not literally theirs, because someone else did it for them this time — but once again, almost all the donations came from people on Facebook through Happy’s Paypal account.

Tadlak is a barangay in the municipality of Los Banos, my hometown, in the province of Laguna. If you Google “Tadlak” you’ll see a pretty photograph of Tadlak Lake — practically a pond, really, and barely showing up on a map next to Laguna de Bay. I think it must have been this same lake that overflowed after Ondoy came through.

There is no evacuation/relief center in Tadlac which, as Happy reminded me, is only 1 kilometer away from the main highway.

I’m reposting some of the photographs with Happy’s original captions.

Tadlak was still flooded as of yesterday.

The Tadlac Mission of a local Los Banos Church was flooded
The Tadlac Mission of a local Los Banos Church was flooded
A not so unusual scene in these parts.
A not so unusual scene in these parts.
People were sleeping by the railroad as that was the highest point in the area. No evacuation center here.
People were sleeping by the railroad as that was the highest point in the area. No evacuation center here.

Here were some of the relief goods purchased from the Facebook donations. (About half of that batch of donations went towards a grocery run for Sta. Cruz, Laguna.)

Relief goods were mosquito nets, mats and a rubber hose.
Relief goods were mosquito nets, mats and a rubber hose.
They were very happy to receive the donations. They hadn't slept well (others were providing ample food though) but they had no evacuation center. In a way, YOU DONATED ONE. Please note that the distribution was very orderly. One person at the foreground was calling out family names and checking that the distribution was even.
They were very happy to receive the donations. They hadn't slept well (others were providing ample food though) but they had no evacuation center. In a way, YOU DONATED ONE. Please note that the distribution was very orderly. One person at the foreground was calling out family names and checking that the distribution was even.
There's the tarp, mats and mosquito nets you bought. These people have been out here for days, and maybe more with the coming storm. You help keep them safe and dry. THANK YOU!!
There's the mats and mosquito nets you bought. These people have been out here for days, and maybe more with the coming storm. You help keep them safe and dry. THANK YOU!!

One of those mats, by the way, costs about $2.85 — about the same price as a tall caffe mocha at Starbucks. The mosquito net, crucial to preventing the spread of dengue fever, for starters, is a little pricier: the same price as a grande caramel macchiato.

A rubber hose to bring drinking water across from the other side of the village. He was really happy with the impromptu plumbing.
A rubber hose to bring drinking water across from the other side of the village. He was really happy with the impromptu plumbing.
This house had a tap with running water. But it was difficult to get the water from there to the tracks. With the hose you bought, they are now able to.
This house had a tap with running water. But it was difficult to get the water from there to the tracks. With the hose you bought, they are now able to.
Running water!
Running water!

Please see my previous post, which includes various links where you can donate online!


Happy, Clarissa & Monica’s Grocery Runs for Victims of Typhoon Ondoy.

The first batch of relief goods they purchased from Facebook donations
The first batch of relief goods they purchased from Facebook donations
Relief Center in Ateneo.
Relief Center in Ateneo.

I had originally posted the 9/27 note below on Facebook (see original note) — and made it viewable to “everyone”, not knowing that “everyone” did not mean people without Facebook accounts! So here it is — the most important part is the ONLINE DONATIONS section close to the bottom:


Hi folks, here’s a slightly more direct way of helping out the victims of Typhoon Andoy — my brother Happy Vergara has set up an email account just for Paypal donations (paypal [at] and has raised $1500 today from Facebook friends alone! He and his spouse Clarissa David, and her sister Monica, have been running off to the supermarket and buying the canned goods themselves and dropping them off personally at the relief center in Ateneo. Please help!

See also pictures of Happy, Clarissa and Monica in action. (Requires Facebook login.)

UPDATE (9/28: 12:30 PST): They’ve raised enough money to make a second run to the supermarket this afternoon (9/28 Manila time) and will keep returning to the supermarket to buy canned goods as long as the donations keep coming in. But we know that won’t be enough — some people are still stranded on the roofs of their houses, the flood waters aren’t all receding yet, and thousands of people are still displaced from their homes (or what’s left of them).

UPDATE (9/28, 6:00 PST): And once again, the Facebook posse has come through: my brother woke up this morning to find over $790 more in funds, bringing the total up to $3031 in 24 hours! He’ll be making a third run to the supermarket and the pharmacy today (vitamins and rehydration salts are what is needed right now).

UPDATE (9/29, 8:30 AM PST): The third batch of groceries were just purchased and delivered, and they’ve raised $4,100 — thanks to all you Facebookers!

UPDATE (9/29, 9:15 PM PST): the total is now $4,700 in 48 hours from Facebook — thanks again! Clarissa and Monica are out buying groceries again; we’ll keep you folks updated!

UPDATE (9/30, 7:00 PM PST): the total is now $5,900 — money and relief are going to to Sta. Cruz, Binan, San Pedro, Tadlak in Laguna. Thanks again!

UPDATE (10/1, 7:50 PM PST): we’ve raised $6,300! Pictures from the donations to Laguna will be posted soon.

UPDATE (10/2, 7:00 PM PST): we’ve raised $8,400 thanks to you amazing people. An increasing number of donations have been coming from people who aren’t in any of our friend networks — just people who saw them reposted on a friend of a friend’s profile, and those were only the ones I could locate on Facebook.

UPDATE (10/4, 9:00 PM PST): we’re up to $9,100, thanks to you! Please see Benjamin Pimentel’s article, “For FilAms, a ‘Happy’ Way to Help”, on



I know it’s frustrating for those of us who live away from the Philippines and can’t seem to find a way to do this securely online [EDIT: not true anymore, see below] (and not have to bother with wire transfers and check clearing, or worry that the funds may go into the wrong hands). Happy just took the initiative and set up the Paypal account. They’re not set up to give out receipts for tax deductions or anything (sorry); all we’ve been doing is sending quick thank-you notes on Facebook and tagging donors in photos of the relief goods. (But yes, I think it’s great that you can see what was purchased with your donations just a few hours afterwards, and see them being delivered to the relief centers, and no, the trio are not getting paid for any of this.)

[What I do find amazing about all this is the speed in which this all took place, not to mention the fact that an increasing amount of the Facebook donors had never even met Happy or Clarissa or Monica. My and their Facebook friends in turn reposted the original note on their profiles, and we started receiving donations from people who weren’t even friends of friends. So you see, Facebook isn’t just for inane quizzes after all!]

There are now many other places that also accept online donations:

And see even more here, at the Moongirl blog.

There’s probably a drop-off site in a city near you as well; NAFCON/Sandiwa, among others, are coordinating them.)

Whichever way you donate, it’s extremely appreciated, and a little goes a long way in the Philippines. Of the grocery items that the three have purchased:

– $1 will buy 10 juice boxes,
– $5 will buy 5 cans of tuna,
– $10 will buy 24 packs of powdered milk,
– $17 will buy a 55-pound sack of rice (more or less, we think, 100+ cups of cooked rice, which means a hundred-odd people!)

PLEASE, PLEASE HELP. (Yes, I’m shouting here.) In three villages in the city of Sta. Cruz in my home province of Laguna alone — and it’s not even the worst-hit area, unlike Metropolitan Manila which was 80% submerged — 5,000 people are still in waist-deep flood water, and reports are still coming in of entire baranggays still stranded, with no food or drinking water for the last three days. All in all, 280,000 people have been displaced from their homes.


Tooting My Own Horn.

Pinoy Capital

Pinoy Capital
The Filipino Nation in Daly City
Benito M. Vergara, Jr.

Home to 33,000 Filipino American residents, Daly City, California, located just outside of San Francisco, has been dubbed “the Pinoy Capital of the United States.” In this fascinating ethnographic study of the lives of Daly City residents, Benito Vergara shows how Daly City has become a magnet for the growing Filipino American community.

Vergara challenges rooted notions of colonialism here, addressing the immigrants’ identities, connections and loyalties. Using the lens of transnationalism, he looks at the “double lives” of both recent and established Filipino Americans. Vergara explores how first-generation Pinoys experience homesickness precisely because Daly City is filled with reminders of their homeland’s culture, like newspapers, shops and festivals. Vergara probes into the complicated, ambivalent feelings these immigrants have—toward the Philippines and the United States—and the conflicting obligations they have presented by belonging to a thriving community and yet possessing nostalgia for the homeland and people they left behind.


Pinoy Capital is a colorful and nuanced ethnographic foray into the social institutions and quotidian lives of Filipino Americans living in Daly City. Vergara is a gifted writer and his work delves closely on the affective and reciprocal relationships and practices of Filipino Americans as immigrants. This is a welcome and important study, and Vergara puts forward important and innovative assertions and arguments that will have repercussions on debates about Filipinos in the United States.”
—Martin Manalansan, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, and editor of Cultural Compass: Ethnographic Explorations of Asian America

Pinoy Capital is a landmark text—an exciting, refreshing, and critical ethnography that continues, but revitalizes, ongoing conversations regarding Filipino immigrant/transnational life in the United States. There have been very few ethnographies of this group, and I think this one not only offers a much-needed and provocative study, it complicates arguments and discussions about the specificities of Filipino immigration to the U.S. Vergara provides solid and rigorous engagement with his objects of study, and he is especially attuned to the clarities and complexities of everyday life in a particular site that is touted as a quintessential one for Filipino American settlement.”
—Rick Bonus, Associate Professor, Department of American Ethnic Studies, University of Washington

About the Author

Benito M. Vergara, Jr. is the author of Displaying Filipinos: Photography and Colonialism in Early 20th-Century Philippines. He lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area.

232 pp
3 tables 2 map(s)

paper: $25.95, Jan 09
EAN: 978-1-59213-665-0
ISBN: 1-59213-665-6

cloth: $74.50, Jan 09
EAN: 978-1-59213-664-3
ISBN: 1-59213-664-8


The Joys of Dislocation.

I read the first half of uncommonly prolific scholar Patricio N. (Jojo) Abinales’ new collection of essays on a Philippine Airlines flight from San Francisco to Manila. Unlike myself – I only had a 90-minute ride to the foothills of Mt. Makiling once I arrived at Ninoy Aquino International Airport – some of my fellow passengers had to take dusty jeepney rides to the provinces, to places driven past on the way to Baguio.

The second half of Jojo’s book I read on yet another plane – one from Manila to Tagbilaran (a place I know close to nothing about) and back – and then I’m typing this up in my childhood home in Los Banos, a town from whose everyday life I’ve been long detached.

There’s a reason I’m sharing these particular bits of information, even if it likely comes across as indulgent hand-wringing on my part. But to the Tagalog-speaking, Laguna-educated reader like myself, whose knowledge of the Philippines is embarrassingly parochial and severely restricted to Manila’s egregiously narrow cultural production, the book, as a whole, comes as a sharp and necessary rebuke. I suspect that Jojo would certainly have meant it to be one.

Entitled The Joys of Dislocation: Mindanao, Nation and Region (Anvil, 2008), these uniformly intelligent, wide-ranging essays – laced with bitingly honest wit – are superb illustrations of Jojo’s life as a scholar and a public intellectual. A collection of columns from the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Newsbreak, and UP Forum, among others, the book spans a little over ten years of Philippine political upheaval, and Jojo – both as perpetual and peripatetic outsider and uncomfortable insider – was there to chronicle the events. If anything, this compendium serves as a correction, even (or especially) to academics who generalize about the country as a whole from the Diliman Republic. (Though Jojo may sometimes need to be gently poked in the side and be reminded that UP does not equal Diliman.)

What the book is most concerned about is Mindanao, as should be clear from the book’s subtitle. (An inversion of the traditional “Luzon-Visayas-Mindanao” arrangement would have worked as well, but Jojo, himself happily afflicted by “el demonio de las comparaciones“, instead writes perceptively about Southeast Asia as a region. Abdurrahman Wahid and Lee Kuan Yew probably figure more in this book than do the miscreants in Malacañang.)

One of his primary arguments is about Mindanao’s centrality in the formation of the Filipino nation, forced into both benign and malicious neglect by Manila and its Western enablers by the middle of the 19th century. He writes, pace Warren and Reid, on the incipient “transnationalism” (my words) in Sulu and Zamboanga’s historical role as a Southeast Asian entrepôt. There is a certain repetitiveness in this initial section – the neutralization of Nur Misuari, for instance, is discussed about half a dozen times – but nevertheless the essays display a remarkable breadth.

A column on wild boar meat, for instance, becomes an opportunity for culinary nostalgia and a reflection on business relationships between Christians and Muslims. Reminiscing about his days as a nicotine fiend, Jojo writes (in a gem of an essay, “Smoking and the Pulang Silangan“) about how smoking was de rigueur for members of the kilusan – at least until he discovered that Mao actually preferred British cigarettes and not Chinese peasant cigars. But by then, his diminished lung capacity made outrunning riot policemen a little more difficult anyway.

One might think that, amidst such somber topics as the breakdown of peace talks in Mindanao, or environmental degradation, or an open letter to Hashim Salamat, that the “joys” of the title are meant sarcastically. This couldn’t be farther from the truth, as Jojo’s well-chosen zingers and bon mots alone are worth the price of admission, give or take a belly laugh or two. Abinales pulls no punches: Jose Ma. Sison, the “Filipino Ayatollah” (his words), is singled out to hilarious but deadly serious effect. In fact, one of the collection’s many pleasures is its sometimes subtly scabrous humor. (Full disclosure: I experienced Jojo’s humor first-hand, as we braved the below-zero winters and tinikling-at-gunpoint of upstate New York together. I consider him a mentor and a slightly elder brother, though he would no doubt bristle at being called “Kuya” or worse, “Tito”.)

This very frankness makes the collection a constantly stimulating read, as Jojo, in essay after essay, takes a stand and defends it. He argues, for instance, for the abolition of UP Diliman’s “intellectually deficient” Institute of Islamic Studies – arguing, rightly, for its establishment in Mindanao as it should be – and promptly kicks to the curb a reader who wrote in response, daring to defend the Institute. On the arguments about the burial of Marcos’ “putrid cadaver” in Philippine soil in 1998, Jojo writes about how over 43 percent of military salvaging in a ten-year period were from Mindanao and asks, rhetorically, “How can people ever forget what Marcos did to Filipinos, especially those far from the national center? If there is one reason to oppose Marcos’ burial in the cemetery of dead heroes, it should be the viciousness with which he unleashed state power on us.”

A lingering bitterness (nay, sorrow) at the failures of the radical Left if not its stunning lack of foresight to claim a stake in the EDSA Uprising, then its murderous purges of anti-Sison cadres in the early ’90s – is the topic of many a column. His scholarly knowledge, for instance, of different peace negotiations between communist organizations and the state throughout Southeast Asia underpins an essay called “Peace Negotiations and Peace Processes” and very likely puts Satur Ocampo and Roilo Golez (the putative subjects of his column) to shame.

For all his concern about dislocation, one wonders why there aren’t more essays about migration, or – given his current position as Professor at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies at Kyoto University – at least about his fellow Filipino countrywomen condemned to pouring drinks for Japanese businessmen. I can only hope that he is saving those essays for another volume, but this intelligent collection fits the bill for now. May it shake you out of your provincial complacency as it did mine.