WHEN God said ‘Let there be light,’ He had named the thing before it came to be—indeed, the naming stands out as sure step to creation. Language will not be in accordance with the truth of things, as Confucius wrote, ‘if names are not correct.’
Islas de los ladrones was the not-too-savory name the nation was lashed with after natives of yore, likely the ancestors of unscrupulous government officials, filched provisions from Magellan’s fleet. It took a few more ages before the Spanish conquerors settled for a name that ascribes affinity to and dominion of their king over inhabitants of the archipelago.
After King Felipe II de Habsburg of Spain, Naples, Sicily, Portugal, England and Ireland, Philippines thus came to be.
Felipe literally translates to “love of horses.” Pump irony: the nation isn’t exactly enamored with nags, ponies, foals, stallions, and such—maybe mares, more likely, nightmares.
A likeness in bronze of Felipe II stands in a fringe park of Intramuros that has become an intransigent holdout for the horse-drawn carriage.
Horses can still take tourists on a ride through the remnants of a fortified city. In the nearby precincts of Binondo and Sta. Cruz, only elderly Chinese and a smattering of comely Chinese mestizas have taken a liking to short commutes on such a carriage, guaranteed one horse power— spare stark nostalgias for the carretela on a fade away or pretty soon we’ll be beating dead workhorses to life.
Maybe, it has dawned on the elderly and the comely that work horses are a lot earth-friendlier than, say, tricycles that spew noxious noise and lethal fumes. Maybe, tricycles are an option to be tied down to imported fossil fuels and spare parts—yeah, we have ample foreign reserves to fritter away for such show of yoked subservience.
Horses come dirt-cheap. They run on homegrown grassoline—malit, barit, zacate, kugon, talahib, mutha, kumpay. Even ipil-ipil or akasya foliage, banana peels, palm fronds, hay, and darak or rice bran are fair fodder for the equine ruminant. Most of these all-organic fuels can be had for free at a pasture or grazing land.
For ages, equine exhaust has been compliant with Clean Air Act and solid waste management statutes. Fact is, horse dung is an excellent soil conditioner for organic crops.
For sure, the metal parts of any imported motorcycle are rich in iron but aren’t exactly edible. Horse beef, on the other hand, has been the mainstay in the now famous breakfast fare, tapsilog—horse beef jerky, fried rice, sunny-side up fried egg—which originated in food stalls near the now-defunct San Lazaro Hippodrome. Even workhorses that have outlived their usefulness or suffered fractured limbs, they had to be put out of their suffering. Even in death, they serve and are, thus, served.
When the Messiah plied the Third Beatitude, “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth,” the equine trait for meekness was lost in translation. He was referring to a quaint quality of war steeds—praus, or reined power that can be unleashed. The character quality that Greeks called praus points up a taking charge of one’s life— the choices to be made are grasped fully and made with integrity.
The Year of the Horse is now on a full gallop in the year of our Lord.