A Day in Intramuros

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One of the main entrances to the walled city just across the Manila City Hall and Andres Bonifacio Shrine.

Last week, I visited Intramuros, Manila to attend a talk about one of our heroes, Andres Bonifacio. I also took the chance to see the place for being a Filipino history geek, I won’t let the National History Month pass by without paying homage to this heritage site. It is like a historical pilgrimage to me; add to the fact that the cobbled pathways are not friendly for those who are fond of wearing leather shoes (I should have known better!). The Philippines was under the crown of Spain for more than 300 years and you could see how Spanish influences pervade in our culture—a prime example is this remnant of a distant past. It is such a great loss of heritage and lives when the Intramuros suffered a lot in the Second World War.

I only managed to see one-fourth of the walled city during my day visit but my eyes were on a feast. Upon entering Intramuros via Calle Victoria, I turned left to Muralla St. First major landmark to be seen is the Baluarte de San Andres (or Fort of St. Andrew). According to the site’s marker, it was built in 1603 and designed to protect the Puerta Real and reinforce the southeastern part of Intramuros. This became an open park for everyone. The Philippine National Police (PNP) has their post in this area after converting the soldiers’ barracks into their station. You could also see the main office of the Manila Bulletin and the Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) just across the street.

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A view from the fortress. Cannons were aimed at spots like this one. What was once the outskirts is now a golf course.
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Every one could walk and look back at the past, that is, a trip down the memory lane.
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Walk like a guardia civil. Be sure to wear rubber shoes to stroll leisurely in these cobbled walkways.
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Every one is welcome to take a break in this open park.
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A view from above the nearby police station.
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The Puerta Real (or the Royal Gate) is called as such because this gate is exclusively used by the Governor-General for state occasions. It is placed between the Baluarte de San Andres and Baluarte de San Diego. Cannons, barrels, and military paraphernalia are now housed in here.

Just a few walks away is the Baluarte de San Diego (or Fort of St. James). As stated in its marker, it is one of the oldest stone fortifications in Intramuros and was designed and built by a Jesuit priest, Antonio Sedeño from 1586 to 1587. The remains of the ace-of-spades-shaped bastion was first excavated during 1979 and is currently maintained as an archaeological site. Beautiful gardens and a gazebo were added below the main fort which could be rented to hold special events such as weddings and pre-nuptials.

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One of the open dungeons in Baluarte de San Diego.
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Sceneries of modern Manila complement the antiquity of the site.
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At first glance, one could mistake the heart of the fort as a well, or a catch basin. While some proposed that this structure once served as a cistern, this is believed as the base of what was once the Nuestra Señora de Guia tower.
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Looking at a different angle. The white stuff seems to be part of Intramuros’ ongoing conservation efforts.
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A window overlooking at our past. Baluarte de San Diego has beautiful gardens where private events are held at present times.
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Intramuros in the eye of a 17th-century sniper.
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One of the dungeons (?) of Baluarte de San Diego.
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A closer look.

Intramuros also had her churches during the Spanish period. Unfortunately, Intramuros suffered a lot during the Second World War and the Liberation of Manila in 1945. Along the way to the Ayuntamiento de Manila, I was able to see the San Agustin Church, which is considered to be a World Heritage site by UNESCO.

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The face of the church. Originally, the church had two bell towers but the left tower was permanently removed after a strong earthquake of 1880.
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Chinese stonecutters from Parian, the Chinatown-equivalent of Intramuros, were commissioned to help in the construction of Intramuros and its churches. Notice the Chinese fu dogs guarding at the feet of St. Augustine.
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The main door to the church. It was carved out of molave wood bearing the images of St. Augustine and his mother, St. Monica. at the bottom. Notice the pierced heart and the bishop’s hat—Augustinian symbols—in the top portion of the door. An architecture pundit would notice the baroque, if not rococo, style.
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A peek at the Manila Cathedral.

Some of the old structures in Intramuros that were damaged by the war are reconstructed and converted into museums and public places.

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A street divided by times. On the left is the Beaterio de la Compania de Jesus, which is now the Intramuros & Rizal’s Bagumbayan Lights & Sound Museum. On the right is the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila (University of the City of Manila)
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Calesa, or wooden car driven by horse, still roams the streets of Intramuros.
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King Carlos IV monument in Plaza Roma, facing the Manila Cathedral. This Spanish King provided the first batch of smallpox vaccine to the Philippines hence a statue in his honor.
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Life in the ruins.
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Ruins at Arzobispo Street.
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Intramuros by night.
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The Manila Cathedral’s exterior is illuminated by lights after sunset.
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Why travel far North in Vigan if Intramuros is just a few rides away?

Though Intramuros was the Manila of the Spaniards during the time (today’s Manila is now composed with the arrabales, or the slums, and areas in outer Intramuros), she still evokes images of the distant past. They say that heritage speaks volumes about its people and it could help to bring into our sight what is usually lost due to the noises of modern times. By looking to the past, we will see what we were once in order to know why we are what we are and what we will be. I hope to get back soon.

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My Father Who Art in Heaven

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It’s Father’s Day around the globe and people would pay homage to their fathers today. I would like to use this brief opportunity to give my father a praise that he deserves. My father taught me the practicalities of life. Without his labor and discipline, I might not be where I am today. He might not be perfect, just as I am not a perfect son, but he’s all that I need and will ever need. If the LORD wills, I hope to be like him – a father with hits and misses; nevertheless, a good father indeed. I thank God for him.

This Lord’s Day, we should give the honour ultimately to our heavenly Father. The Bible expressly and commonly speaks of God as our “Father.” In the Old Testament, God is a father to the Israelite nation (Deuteronomy 32:6; 1 Chronicles 29:10; Jeremiah 31:9; Isaiah 64:8; Proverbs 3:11-12; etc.). He called them His children (Exodus 4:22, 23; Deuteronomy 1:31; Hosea 11:1; Psalm 103:13; etc.). The New Testament addressed God the same way in many occasions; too many that it would take another blogpost to cite all of them. In this way, God reveals Himself in a language that we could understand, that is, in relation to us. He came down to our level and communicated to us in a way we can comprehend, like a father talking to his infant child. If our earthly fathers reflect our heavenly Father, then how great a loving Father our God is, for the original is way better than the copies. And, if our words only correspond to how our minds could conceive reality as God accommodates to us, how great a Father our God is in all His perfection!

In order to show this truth, I will use some analogy drawn from the life of my father.

When my father got laid off as a worker from a manufacturing company, he bought a tricycle from his post-employment benefit fund. My father worked day by day to ensure that our needs would be attended for. How much more is our heavenly Father! He knows and provides everything that we need as His children, both physically and spiritually (Matthew 6:31-33). “Those who seek the LORD lack no good thing” (Psalm 34:10). Our Lord Jesus Christ reassures us: “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life?” (Matthew 6:25-27). Since God is our Father, we will be content with what we have and confident that our needs will be satisfied because we know that it is our Father in heaven who provides. A brother of mine posted recently in Facebook this chunk of gold: we possess everything because we belong to Christ who belongs to God (1 Corinthians 3:21-23). Whatever He provides us we should use for His glory and for the care of our brothers and sisters in the faith.

During my student years (up until I found a job), my father became proud of me whenever I achieved something good. He always speaks well of me in front of his peers and relatives. He is very pleased with me. How much more is our heavenly Father! To borrow from a popular line from Timothy Keller: “because I am in Christ, the Son in whom the Father is well pleased, I am now a son in whom the Father is also well pleased.” This stops me from seeking validation—and even redemption out of my created idol—from other people’s impressions. Why would I enslave myself under the spell of others’ approval if the Heavenly Father already smiles upon me as one of His beloved sons because of His beloved Son?

Back when I was a child, my father fashioned a walking crib out of rattan wood and attached wheels to it so that I could learn to walk. I could also remember when I received a failing grade in college. He was disappointed at first but he understood and hoped that things would eventually turn out good. A father will not disown his own. From the very beginning up until now, he supports me in every step of the way. How much more is our heavenly Father! Because of God’s work without and within us, we may freely and humbly walk with Him. In our walk in this valley, we might stumble in many times and in many ways, but God will lead us by the hand like a father to his child. Even if we fail, He remains faithful. We already received the verdict in Christ, and because of His Son, God is our merciful Father. “As a father shows compassion to his children, so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him. For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust” (Psalm 103:13-14). And, He is there to support and strengthen us with His grace “for He has said ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we can confidently say, the Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5-6). There will be times when the Father will discipline us but He does so because He loves us and wants us to share in His holiness (1 Corinthians 11:32; Hebrews 12:5-11).

All of these benefits we enjoy only because of Christ. It was sin that stripped us from the loving communion of God and made us children of wrath. “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ” (Ephesians 2:3-5). In Christ, we are adopted as sons and daughters; His Father became our Father. And, by being united with Him, we receive all the love that the Father has for the Son. Because of Christ, we are made heirs to the inheritance; it is has been sealed to us by the Holy Spirit, our guarantee. The Spirit himself bears witness to our spirit that we are, indeed, children of God (Romans 8:15). See what all of that means! “Behold, what manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us, that we should be called the sons of God” (1 John 3:1).

This is our identity. We should be fully conscious of our identity. We are sons and daughters of God. Once, we belonged to the family of the devil. We were sons and daughters of disobedience. But now, we are transferred to the family of God, so we should live as sons and daughters being conformed to the image of His Son. We are now sons and daughters, just think of that! We are admitted to the presence of the Father because we are reconciled to Him through Christ. The throne is no longer veiled to us and we have an access to the Father. In times of distress and sorrow, we can cry for deliverance. We can pour out our hearts to the Father who listens. We can cast all of our anxieties to Him because He cares for us (1 Peter 5:7). Our response to these truths is to admit our total dependence to God like a child who relies entirely to his father. And since we are adopted into His family, we should care for the Father’s house. We should look out for the needs of our brothers and sisters in the faith. Share in their joys and sorrows. Care for them as if they are your blood kin. Finally, just as we aspire to be like our fathers, we should strive to be like our Father as He leads us to the path of holiness (Galatians 4; 1 Peter 1: 14-16; 1 John 3).

In Christ, We Have True Freedom

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Too many poems, hymns, and novels were written under the melody of liberty. Truly, the sound of freedom is music to the ears. Tears will be brought into the eyes and smiles will be painted in the lips of those who will hear the words of emancipation. It is sweeter than honey; it is more beautiful than the breaking of dawn. But to us who has seen the beauty of the Lord, there is nothing more magnificent than the freedom that we now possess because of Jesus Christ.

But, what are the things which belong to such freedom? I’ll give some examples from the abounding grace we found in God’s love:

1. We are free to know the truth about God. Because of Christ who became Word made flesh, we have known the Father. We, who were once “slaves to sin” (John 8:34), have seen the light and known “the truth, and the truth [has set us free]” (v. 32) because the Son has set us free (v. 36) and also, the Truth Himself (John 14:6).

2. We are free to come to God. Because of Christ who is the only-begotten Son, we are adopted as sons and daughters of God. We now enjoy the freedom to draw near to Him through prayer for we know we have a Father who listens to the cries of His children. We know with full assurance and without doubt that he will provide us with all things necessary for body and soul, and will also turn to our good whatever adversity that will come to us in this valley of tears (Heidelberg Catechism 26). “We did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but we have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” (Romans 8:15).

3. We are free from the bondage of sin and the tyranny of the devil. Because of Christ who does not have sin yet became sin for us, we are now freed from the miry pit and accusations of the Devil. Before, we were “dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world” and “once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:1-3). But because of the riches of God’s grace and His love for us, He “made us alive together with Christ” (v. 5) and through His precious blood, He redeemed and “freed us from all the power of the devil to make us his own possession” (Heidelberg Catechism 34).

4. We are free from the reign of death. Because of Christ who is the Lamb who died, death has been defeated and we are now freed from its power and condemnation (Romans 8:1-2). Our physical death is no longer a thing to be frightened of because it already has lost its might. “’Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54-57). To us who believe in Him, death now serves as an end of sinning and entrance to glory and joy in communion with God (Heidelberg Catechism 42).

5. We are free from our guilt. Because of Christ who is our High Priest who continually intercedes for us, we are free to “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:21-22) since we have confidence “to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh” (v. 19-20).

6. We are free to live a life in service to the Lord. Because of Christ who is our righteousness, we are justified in the sight of God. Christ’s perfect performance is imputed to us as if it were our own. We are freed from living out of slavish fear or constant failure. We are free to live a life, a living sacrifice, that is pleasing to His eyes. We are empowered by the Spirit to live with filial fear and joy. And even if we fail, He remains faithful. He will pick us up and bind us together to walk again in the path of holiness. Because of what our Lord did, and because we are in Him, “we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him” (Ephesians 3:12).

Indeed, now, “the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). Therefore, we should “live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God” (1 Peter 2:16).

“Love God, and do as you please.”

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“See what we are insisting upon; that the deeds of men are only discerned by the root of charity. For many things may be done that have a good appearance, and yet proceed not from the root of charity. For thorns also have flowers: some actions truly seem rough, seem savage; howbeit they are done for discipline at the bidding of charity. Once for all, then, a short precept is given thee: Love, and do what thou wilt: whether thou hold thy peace, through love hold thy peace; whether thou cry out, through love cry out; whether thou correct, through love correct; whether thou spare, through love do thou spare: let the root of love be within, of this root can nothing spring but what is good.” (Augustine of Hippo, “Seventh Homily on 1st John”)

Brief Thoughts on Gethsemane

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Today marks what is traditionally called as Good Friday. This is the day when the Lord Jesus Christ was arrested and later crucified at the cross. It fits the occasion to read the Passion narratives in the gospel accounts.

The night in the garden of Gethsemane always remains a poignant scenery to me. In Matthew 26:35, the disciples firmly resolved that they will never leave the Lord no matter what.

“Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you,” they said.

Came the crowd with swords and clubs to arrest Jesus. What did they do?

“Then all the disciples left him and fled” (v. 56b).

Consider that these men left all to follow Him yet left Him for they knew not what. I cried because I know that if I would be in that moment, I will also do the same.

It is a testimony to human weakness. There might come times when we believe we are standing firmly in our faith only to find ourselves caving in when hard circumstances meet us. We are reminded of Peter who resolved strongly yet ended up weeping bitterly at disappointment of denying the Lord. But in spite of men’s weaknesses, Christ took the cup of wrath and offered Himself as a peace offering at the cross. The Word who became like us is the same High Priest who sympathizes and knows our weaknesses. Praise be to the One who was forsaken by His people yet is the One who will never forsake His people.

Find Rest for All Our Striving

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After the Fall, we had set our minds into rebellion against God. We ran away from our original purpose and intended end. We suppress the truth in our unrighteousness. The struggle would only stop if we lay our intellectual arms down and consecrate our minds into service for the LORD:

“Once we recognize that our minds are meant to think God’s thoughts after Him, we will begin to find rest to all our striving.”

— K. Scott Oliphint

Gracious Bruises

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“We love to wander from ourselves and to be strangers at home, till God bruises us by one cross or other, and then we `begin to think’, and come home to ourselves with the prodigal (Luke 15:17). It is a very hard thing to bring a dull and an evasive heart to cry with feeling for mercy. Our hearts, like criminals, until they be beaten from all evasions, never cry for the mercy of the judge.

Again, this bruising makes us set a high price upon Christ. Then the gospel becomes the gospel indeed; then the fig leaves of morality will do us no good. And it makes us more thankful, and, from thankfulness, more fruitful in our lives; for what makes many so cold and barren, but that bruising for sin never endeared God’s grace to them.”

—Richard Sibbes, “The Bruised Reed”