Monday, April 22, 2024

450. BOBOTU: More Connected with Indonesian Bobotok than with Mexican Tamales


My earliest encounter with local kapangan was not with the readily available puto (both lason and kutsinta), the common kalame and suman, but with bobotu—the banana leaf-wrapped treat with a rather unusual taste and an even stranger name.

It was always made at home during the yearly fiestas of my town, prepared by Ati Bo, my dad’s former nanny who came to live with us and her family for the rest of her life.

Exposed early to the making of the bobotu, I acquired a taste for its delicate “malinamnam” mix of spicy-salty-peanutty flavors, so different from other kapangans that were mostly sweet.

A week before the fiesta, Ati Bo would recruit extra help from Arayat, her original hometown. The women would efficiently turn the back of our home into a dirty kitchen, cleaning and bringing out implements like the kawa (vat) the stone gilingan in which to ground malagkit rice to a paste (galapong), and the coconut kudkuran.

My favorite part of the process takes place on the long bangku (benches) where the bobotu was “assembled” efficiently . One lays a line of cut, fire-softened banana leaves on the bench, while another plops a dollop of the cooked bobotu mix on the wrapper with a sandok.

 She is followed by another worker who tops the mix with the right amount of rich, orange spiced sauce—made pretty much like the one used for pancit palabok. The next helper deftly arranges slivers of chicken (or sometimes ham), slices of hard-boiled eggs, and crushed peanuts on top of the sauce. The final step is steaming the leaf wrapped bobotu, but I prefer eating it some hours after, when the consistency is firmer to my liking.

Documenting bobotu makers with Bryan Koh, culinary writer

The sheer number of ingredients explains the bobotu’s distinctive taste, making it more than just a kapangan to me. It can very well be an ulam (viand) or a meal in itself. But what about the name—Bobotu? When did people start calling it “tamales”?

For as long as I can remember in the early 1960s, we only called it “bobotu”—and by no other name. I started hearing the term “tamales more frequently to our bobotu, from mostly Manila friends and outsiders. Maybe “tamales” sounds more “sosy” (classy) than bobotu, for those with more refined tastes. Even ambulant vendors have been hollering "Puto!! Tamales!" when they make the rounds of the nieghborhood. During a 2012 food research trip with Singaporean culinary writer Bryan Koh in San Fernando, Pampanga, kapangan makers there differentiated the tamales from a bobotu. Tamales, they say, is a more special version because it has more toppings!

I have also heard stories about it being a Mexican import, introduced here during the time of the galleon trade. Sure, our amigos introduced us to the avocado, the camachile, and the guava, but I still have yet to see references about “tamales” in the Philippines in written works or old documents.  I have always thought that given the use of basic ingredients, and the fact that the Asiatic region has an ancient established culture of leaf-wrapped cooking, the “bobotu” of Pampanga must be known even before the Conquest.

I can only offer a few conjectures. Could it be that the Spaniards saw the banana-wrapped bobotu and noted some similarities with the corn husk-wrapped “tamales” of Mexico, their Nueva España of central America—and began calling them as tamales (of the East) , too?

Or just maybe, it was the Mexicans themselves who saw our “bobotu”, which triggered memories of their homemade “tamales”.  Could there have been a case of reverse adaptation where the Mexicans made tamales here, substituting local ingredients, like our rice, for their corn? Did the Mexicans turn the bobotu into tamales? Or did the Filipinos turned the tamales into a new bobotu as a way of resisting what was alien to their palate?

Just a few years back, an origin story alleging how the delicacy came to be called “bobotu” circulated in the local culinary circle. In pre-women’s suffrage days (i.e. before 1937), it was said that women huddled together and voted to cook “bobotu”, while their menfolk were out casting their ballots in the town elections. The dish they cooked was reportedly, “bobotong asan”.

I heard this story few months after the folk song, “Eleksyon Ding Asan”, collected by Dr. Lino L. Dizon in San Fernando, saw print in a popular Singsing magazine.  I am inclined to believe that the overly-imaginative storyteller learned of this song, borrowed the plot about fishes involved in the electoral process, to cook this yarn of a tale.

“Bobotu” sounds Malayo-Polynesian to me, so I proceeded to locate the word and its variations in Bahasa, Javanese, Malay dictionaries and on-line translators. This led me the Javanese word “botok / bothok”,  defined as “a traditional dish made from grated coconut flesh, which has been squeezed of its coconut milk, often mixed with other ingredients such as vegetables or fish, and wrapped in banana leaf and steamed.” The key words: “coconut flesh”, “coconut milk”, “banana leaf”, “steamed”, leaped out from the page, as they are associated with preparing “bobotu”.

It goes on to describe its consistency ( “It has a soft texture like the mozzarella cheese and is usually colored white.”), cooking and serving suggestions (“To add flavor and nutrients… use additional ingredients as...tofu,..catfish,..salted fish..egg… salted egg…shrimp..minced beef”).  Like in Pampanga where we have “bobotung asan”, Indonesia, too, has “bobotok lele” , steamed banana-wrapped catfish laced with spices, tomatoes, and peppers.

Botok was so popular among the Indonesians that it has become a generic term for any dish made by wrapping various ingredients in banana leaves, then steaming them.

Now the clincher:  The plural form of “botok” is botok-botok, which, when contracted becomes another alternative name with a familiar ring-- “BOBOTOK”! Have we found bobotu’s nearest of kin?

Of course, there are telling differences too. “Bobotok” doesn’t make use of rice dough—it is in fact, served as a viand, to be eaten with rice. On the other hand, the Mexican tamale uses a masa of corn flour, while Pampanga’s uses rice flour. Tamales are filled with a mix of meats, beans and cheese, wrapped in corn husks, while bobotu is topped with achuete-based sauce, meat, eggs and nuts, wrapped in banana leaf. And, as mentioned earlier, they taste a world apart.

It is interesting to note that in South Africa, another dish inspired by “bobotok” is served in many homes where it is called “bobotie”.  According to Jakarka Post writer Theodora Hurustiati, bobotie was “first introduced by Javanese slaves, brought to South Africa through Cape Town by the Dutch East India Company in the 1600s”. Apparently, a large number of workers from Southeast Asia were recruited who practiced their cooking traditions as one Malay-speaking community. Indeed, good food, like good news, travels.

I’ve always known bobotu as bobotu, so I will always call it bobotu, not tamales--never mind if the English bard maintains that “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet”. Tamale never tasted anything like bobotu, anyway.  Bobotu originated in this part of the world, with a name that is clearly Malayo-Polynesian, not Mesoamerican. The Spanish/Mexicans may have contributed the word tamales—their sole influence-- but not the origin of a kapangan we know ever since as bobotu. We could say merely that they built on the Philippines’ leaf-wrapped cooking tradition that is aligned with the well-entrenched Asian gastronomic culture.


Bobotie's Melting Pot,

 Tamale Digest.

 Vegegable Dish: Botok.

 Anchovy Botok Recipe, Nutritious Home Cooking Menu,

Friday, September 15, 2023


FATHER AND SON Edilberto and Ricardo, died in an 1946 ambush in Bacolor, allegedly committed
by the governor's body guards. The double murder remains unsolved, Photos: June TiglaoTuazon.

Seventy seven years ago, one of the most horrifying killings in Pampanga’s crime history happened in Bacolor, resulting in the deaths of members of  one the town’s most prominent families: 62 year old EDILBERTO JOVEN and his son RICARDO, age 24. Edilberto’s brother, FRANCISCO, 55, lived to tell the tale of this brutal murder, that has remained unsolved to this day, and that a cover-up was made to protect the masterminds.

The elder Joven, an Ateneo graduate, was a pharmaceutical chemist by profession. His father was Francisco Casas Joven, brother of Ceferino C. Joven, the first Civil Governor of Pampanga in 1901. In 1906, he married Margarita Palma, who died in 1919 and left him with 5 children. That same year, he was elected mayor of Bacolor, and was elected for a 2nd term in 1922. By then, he had taken a second wife, Elena Samia, with whom her had 4 children; Ricardo or Carding, a law student,  was the eldest and only son from that union.

 After his mayoral stint, he worked for the Bureau of Internal Revenue as a drug inspector from 1924 to 1928. On the side, he joined groups like Recreativa Filantrofica, Ding Aficionados Bacolod and Ing Parnasung Capampangan for social and literary pursuits.

 In 1931, Joven re-joined politics by becoming the Provincial Board secretary, and 2 years later, during the term of Governor Pablo Angeles-David, Joven was named Assistant Director of the Pampanga Carnival of 1933 by the governor himself. His return to the political arena and party loyalty shift could have caused his untimely death and that of his son Carding.

 Joven has had a brush with violence before. In 1915,  a seemingly-sick cousin, Angel Joven, armed with a pocket knife, assaulted him while crossing the street, inflicting serious bodily injuries.

 But that fateful event in 1946 was different, as it was deadlier, and many believed, to be politically motivated for it coincided with the national elections. Joven, by 1945, was the President of the newly-formed Pampanga Democratic Alliance,  a leftist party that counts the National Peasants Union of the Hukbalahap, the Committee of Labor Organizations of the local Communist Party and the Filipino Blue Eagle Guerrillas as members, threw their support behind incumbent Sergio Osmeña’s presidential bid.

 On the distaff side was Pablo Angeles David who cast his lot on Senate Pres. Manuel Roxas of the Liberal Party. David had the unfortunate experience of being kidnapped twice by the Hukbalahaps in 1944 and 1945, by HMB Commander Silvestre Liwanag or “Kumander Bie”, that caused him so much suffering. Though he came back alive, the Japanese Kempeitai, seized him, believing he was now working for the HMB. His arrest would profoundly affect his wife Concepcion’s health, who died on Christmas Eve, 1944. It is no wonder then that as acting post-war Pampanga governor,  he took a hard stance against the Hukbalahap/HMB, driving them to the mountains and the hinterlands though intense pacification operations.

 As the Police Report recounted that on 23 April 1946, about 9:15 p.m., shots were heard coming from the direction of barrio Tinajero. When officers responded to the scene, they saw a parked jeep behind the Bacolor Elementary School. Searching further, they found the bodies of Edilberto, his son Ricardo, and Francisco, sprawled on afield some 100 meters away from the jeep. Miraculously, Francisco was alive, but barely, and he was rushed to the hospital where he was able to give a statement to the authorities, led by a certain Sgt. Pineda and the Chief of Police.

 In his account, Francisco  said that “on their way home just a few paces from the gate of Bacolor Elementary School, 3 masked men and armed with Thompson asked them to turn back their jeep where they came from. They made them walk about 100 yards into the rice fields where they were shot.” There appeared to be no motive for the killing, as the police stated at that time—2 days after the shooting--and the assailants remained unidentified.

 In October, 6 months after the killing, a certain Sgt. Ricardo Ocampo, an investigator of the 11th Military Police Co., stationed in Lubao surfaced, with a signed affidavit attesting to his knowledge of the crime and the perpetrators behind it. He identified the killers as bodyguards of the present governor, Pablo Angeles David. In his explosive revelation, he said that a day after the murder, he met with Eliong and asked him about the murder case.

 Eliong alleged to have boasted that together with Nanding, and their companion bodyguards, carried out the plan, and that he shot the father-and-son Jovens with the submachine gun that caused their instant deaths. He shot the wounded Francisco again after noticing he was feigning his death. He said he wanted to shoot all of them on their heads, but Nanding was rushing to leave the scene, so Eliong was not able to do so.

 A few days after, Ocampo said he met with Nanding in San Fernando, who was en route to Manila. Ocampo confronted him about the Joven killings, pretending to praise him for his actions. At this, Nanding told him he already knew who Ocampo’s source was—the looselipped Eliong. Nanding admitted the killing, then afterwards, exacted from Ocampo the promise to keep secret their conversations.

At the military headquarters, Ocampo saw Nanding again who approached him and advised him to tell the Gov. Angeles the source of his version of the story so that the governor himself would know what to do with Eliong.

 After talking to the other bodyguards, Ocampo came to discover and conclude that Eliong and Nanding wanted to take credit for the Joven killings, that was allegedly ordered by the governor himself. Thus, by eliminating the opposition, victory would be assured for Roxas and Liberal Party candidates in Bacolor.

Sgt. Ocampo also managed to trick Lt. Ildefonso Paredes, Detachment Commander of the 111th Military Police Co., into admitting his role in the plot, by bragging about being far better than the commander, having solved the case by himself.

 To this, Lt. Paredes allegedly retorted: “You don’t think that I know what happened? Do you believe my boys? I told you you could rely on them.” As a proof of his connivance, Lt. Paredes said that he did not go directly to the scene of the crime when summoned, but drove around different barrios to give the bodyguards more time to escape.

 Ocampo ended his narrative with a recommendation to confiscate the Thompson guns of the Gov. Angeles, fire them, have the shells examined by ballistic experts, and then compare them with the bullet shells found at the murder scene. He is certain that the tests will prove that one of the governor’s Thompsons was used in the commission of the crime.

 Despite these damning revelations pointing to the direct involvement of the governor, his bodyguards, and the collusion of the police, Sgt. Ocampo’s affidavit seemed to have been conveniently ignored. The investigation did not prosper, no arrests were ever made, and the double murder of the Jovens of Bacolor remains a cold case to this day, leaving a Joven descendant to observe: “When people in power are involved, expect a cover up. Politics then, as now, has not changed.”

 (MANY THANKS to June Joven Tiglao and Nona Joven Lim, for the photos, materials and additional information).

Ninu't Ninu Qng Kapampangan, 1936

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

448. Capt. RUFO C. ROMERO: How A Kapampangan West Pointer Became America’s Betrayer

Capt. RUFO ROMERO, convicted military spy, Kapampangan

In late November of 1940, a West Point graduate was convicted of espionage-- at that time, the first and only alumnus of the prestigious United States Military Academy to be court-martialed and charged for attempting to sell classified maps to Japan, via an intermediary. The military officer, Rufo C. Romero, also happens to be a Kapampangan, the illegitimate son of a poor woman with an unknown partner, who, some tongue wags say, was a priest.

Nevertheless, Romero grew up an intelligent child, finishing his secondary education at the Pampanga High School, class of 1926, where he was also a top Cadet Officer. However, it was at the University of the Philippines that  his brilliance showed, leading to an appointment at West Point. He graduated in 1931 with flying colors,  ranking 17th in his class—an incredible feat for a Filipino who, lumped with African-Americans, were considered as minorities.

Armed also with a civil engineering degree from the University of California, Romero seemed bound for an illustrious military career. He found love in the U.S., marrying 17 year old Lorraine Becker of Bronx, New York, before being sent back to the Philippines to serve as captain to the Philippine  Scouts.

The commander of the Philippine Scouts 14th Engineer Regiment recalls that Capt. Romero  was among the U.S. Army's most knowledgeable experts on the topography, road and trail network and defensive positions on Bataan.

Romero would also have known the value of such information to the Japanese and other foreign powers even long before the 1941 Philippine invasion ; there have been several cases in the past where confidential fortification blueprints of Corregidor and Bataan where stolen, lost,  or copied, clearly for use in military espionage. There was circumstantial evidence to suggest that Romero could very well be a spy, thus, a sting operation was hatched by the U.S. Army to entrap him.

The Army drew up a plan where a supposed Japanese-colluding Mindanao sultan was out on the market looking for such maps and classified documents. Romero, along with alleged civilian accomplices Ignacio Agbay and Mariano Cabrera, had photographed copies of Corregidor and Bataan defense maps, which the captain then attempted to sell for $25,000.

It was in this dramatic way that Romero was arrested, and court-martialed at Fort McKinley in November, 1940. By the 24th, he was found guilty of giving secret maps related to national defense to unauthorized persons, a violation of the Articles of War 96.

Professing his innocence, he volunteered to undergo any kind of brain operation that would erase his memories and recollections regarding military matters,  a last-ditch effort to save his tarnished reputation. Romero  was dishonorably discharged, lost all his pay allowances, and sentenced to 15 years of hard labor at McNeil Island Penitentiary in Washington State. His wife, Lorraine, who had connived with him, was not charged.

After Romero served his time in prison, he left the United States to build a new career in the academe back in the Philippines. He taught engineering subjects at the National University  in Sampaloc, Manila, where students remember him as an amiable professor who likes engaging people in friendly conversations. Further distancing himself from his past, he went to Africa and Spain, where his tainted reputation was relatively unknown, and found some engineering jobs.

All this time, his notorious deed led his many fellow Filipinos to ask:  what makes a man of intelligence become a spy? What drives him to become a betrayer of his country, his family, and conscience? The world will never know as Rufo C. Romero  passed away in Spain on 3 January 1985, leaving behind his wife and 3 children in the U.S., remaining quiet about this one act of treachery that changed the course of their lives.


Scott Harrison;s Espionage Page:

West Point grad convicted for attempting to sell maps of fortifications to a foreign power:

Time Magazine: The Philippines: Spy Trial, 2 December 1940

Board of Review Holdings, Opinions and Reviews,


Wednesday, August 7, 2019

447. Kapampangan-American Equestrienne ELLESSE JORDAN TZINBERG, The 1st Filipino and Southeast Asian 2018 World Cup Dressage Qualifier

A RIDE TO HISTORY. ELLESSE JORDAN TZINBERG-GUNDERSEN and her horse Triviant 2, at the 2018 World Cup Dressage Finals,Paris France, Photo: Ellesse Tzinberg FB Page.

One of the least popular sports in the Philippines is equestrianism, the art of horseback riding. It is a competitive discipline associated only with the rich, the royals and prominent old families. Ask an ordinary sports fan, and chances are, he would be hard-pressed to name even 2 or 3 Filipino equestrians. Asian Gold medallist Mikee Cojuangco would probably be top-of-mind, as she was also an actress, visible on TV and the silver screen

Fewer still are the riding grounds and equestrian facilities, mostly located in elite clubs such as the members-only Manila Polo Club. That—and the expensive 'high fashion' riding gear: the white breeches, jackets, helmets, top hats, vests , gloves and knee-high boots--- only served to highlight the exclusivity and inaccessibility of the sport.

But one Kapampangan-American broke the mold by rising from a family of modest background to become a world-class equestrienne—Ellesse Jordan Tzinberg. Last year, she accomplished the unthinkable:  she became the first Southeast Asian equestrienne and the first Filipino to qualify in the FEI (Fédération Equestre Internationale) World Cup Dressage 2018 held in Paris, France.

In an event dominated by top athletes from first-world countries like Europe and the Americas, Tzinberg, riding on her horse Triviant and representing third-world Philippines, made history just by being there—one of the qualifiers from 20 countries to make it to the World Cup Dressage finals.

The daughter of Kapampangan Agnes Samaniego Tolentino ,  and American-Australian Sennett Tzinberg, Tzinberg was born in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, on 17 December 1991. She has roots in Lubao, where her mother was born, and in Bacolor and Mabalacat, hometowns of her maternal great-grandparents.

But it was in Malaysia that Tzinberg spent her growing-up years, where, at age 6,  she started riding lessons. Her mom would often tell her stories of her own grandmother, Generosa Morales Samaniego, who played tennis and rode horses—hobbies deemed too taxing for women in those days. Could she  have inherited her ‘riding genes’ from her maternal ancestor? Certainly, it’s a possibility not to be discounted!

In Malaysia, equestrian sports has more following than in the Philippines, introduced as early as the 1800s by British colonizers. By 8, Tzinberg began competing, and later focused on the dressage events—where rider and horse go through a series of “tests”, prescribed series of movements ridden within an arena, and evaluated and scored by judges.

At 12 years old, Tzinberg became the highest ranked dressage rider in the FEI World Dressage Challenge “under 14” age group in her region in Asia. Four years later, the 16 year old earned an NCAA equestrian scholarship at Kansas State University, and moved to the U.S.

Her promising career was sidetracked by a serious car accident sustained in 2009, which required her to undergo months of rehabilitation and therapy. After making a full recovery and finishing her collegiate studies, she  went to Paris where she was serendipitously discovered as a commercial, print and runway model. For two years, she set aside her beloved sport, but in 2012, Tzinberg resumed riding.

Tzinberg took a serious step in her  career by moving to Skane, Sweden in 2014 to train under husband-and-wife team Charlotte and Rasmus Haid-Bondergaard. The next year, she made her international debut  in U25 Grand Prix level with her horse Pavarotti. Soon she was competing and winning in several international events.

She became the first Asian to ride at the 2015 Adequan Global Dressage Festival in Wellington, Florida. There, she also became the first rider to place and ribbon at the festival in the CDI Grand Prix events. Back in Europe in 2016, Tzinberg competed in more  CDI events including Hagen, Odense, and Falsterbo where she placed consistently placed among the top 5. Her biggest thrill was winning her first Grand Prix at the Everlovs Midsommer Dressage Fest in Sweden.

While campaigning all over the world, Tzinberg never lost sight of her roots. In fact, she she made it her goal to ride for the Philippines at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games. When that did not materialize, she eyed a spot in the FEI World Cup Final. She applied for a “domiciled athlete” place, and based on her excellent performance record, Tzinberg was picked to compete in the prestigious World Cup Dressage event.

When she landed in Paris in April 2018 for the competition, the Filipina trailblazer created quite a stir with the media  for her singular achievement as the first ever Southeast Asian--and Filipino--to make it through the World Cup finals. The experience led her to gush: “ It’s really incredible just to be around these riders that I looked up to my whole life and  never could have dreamt that being on the same startlist as them and going head-to-head with them—so that is really something I haven’t quite wrapped around”. 

It was thus a proud moment for Ellesse Jordan Tzinberg when she took her place in the arena with the Philippine flag displayed on her horse’s saddle pad for all the world to see.  She would place 18th overall, which was not enough for her to advance to the freestyle competition.  But, as the Fédération Equestre Internationale noted—“she would go home knowing she has made history in Paris”.

Many thanks to Agnes Sennett Tzinberg and Rey Tolentino, mother and uncle respectively of Ellesse Tzinberg, for some of her personal and professional background.

 Tzinberg Receives Second Extra Starting Place for 2018 World Cup Finals,

Ellesse Jordan Tzinberg Will Make History At the FEI World Cup Finals,by Justine Griffin, April 3, 2018,

Exclusive Dressage highlights from the FEI World Cup™ Dressage final in Paris | Equestrian World,

Saturday, March 2, 2019

446. Angeles’s Kick-Ass Olympic Taekwondo Jin: DONALD B. GEISLER III

KICK & SHOUT: Donnie Geisler, Taekwondo Jin from Angeles

Taekwondo was just an exhibition sports at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, and the token delegation of jins sent to compete did surprisingly well—with Bea Lucero and Stephen Fernandez winning a pair of Bronzes. When the Korean martial arts discipline became an official Olympic sport in 2000, a Kapampangan jin from Angeles not only made it as a member of the 4-man taekwondo team, but also marched proudly at the head of the Philippine delegation at the Stadium Australia as the country’s flag bearer.

Donald “Donnie” David Geisler III (b. 6 Oct.1978) , at 21 years old, and 6 ft. tall had come to the Olympics arena armed with sterling national and international sporting credentials. The son of German-American Donald David Geisler, and Filipina Gracia Bayonito of Bicol, he grew up in Angeles, where his father, a former army colonel who served in Clark, opted to settle down to raise his family.

At age 7, Donnie  took up a course in taekwondo offered by his elementary school.  Mentored by a Korean trainer who taught Americans in Clark, the young Geisler was a naturally-gifted athlete, and soon became skilled in the sport. Later, he would practice regularly in a taekwondo school put up by his uncle in Pulungbulu. He seriously took up further training, and joined taekwondo tournaments along the way, even while coursing through Chevalier high school and later, in college, where he made it to the school's pioneer taekwondo varsity team.

By the mid-1980s through the early 1990s,  athletes like Monsour del Rosario, Arnold Baradi and Roberto Cruz helped  promote the popularity of the sport, through their podium victories at the Asian Games, World Taekwondo Championships and the SEA Games. 

In 1996, at age 18, Donnie was sent to Barcelona, Spain to compete in the very first World Junior Taekwondo Championships. The lanky jin pulled in a surprise by winning a historic Bronze medal. Two years later, he won a pair of Silvers---first in Asia’s premiere sporting event—the Asian Games in Bangkok, and at the 1998 World Cup Taekwondo Championships in Germany.

He would win the first of three Southeast Asian Games Gold, in Brunei Darussalam in 1999. At the star of a new millennium  he won a Silver in his weight class at  the Asian Taekwondo Championships in Hong Kong. In between, he managed to finish his Arts and Letter degree in Legal Management  from the University of Santo Tomas in 1999.

With such solid accomplishments, Donnie was expected to spearhead the debut campaign of the small Philippine team and do well in Sydney. He was entered in the Individual events (Men’s Welterweight 80 kg. class). In a tightly-contested first round match against Sweden’s Roman Livaja, both jins scored 4-4, but based on superiority, the Swede prevailed.

But Donnie’s Olympic dream did not end in Sydney. He would qualify again as one of 3 Filipino jins in the next 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens, Greece—where the hallowed Games began. This time, he faced the formidable Turk, Bahri Tanrıkulu, whose sister was an Olympian medallist. Geisler made a good account of himself, and fought like a pro. But like what happened in Sydney, the match ended in a tie—9-9, and once again, based on superiority, the Turk was declared winner (he would advance to the finals to win Silver). 

As the best-scoring non-winner, Donnie was called for a repechage—for a final chance to advance to the next round. His opponent was Hichem Al-Hamdouni from Tunisia. Bad luck hounded Donnie when, in the course of the fight, he dislocated  his ankle and suffered a double tendon injury, thus putting him out of contention and ending his quest for Olympic glory.

His post-Olympics career continued in the next few years with better results. In 2001, he was at the 21st Southeast Asian Games, where he won a Silver medal. In the succeeding editions in Vietnam (2003), and the Philippines (2005), he proved his superiority in the region by winning 2 Golds in a row.  At the 2002 15th Asian Taekwondo Championships in Jordan, he added a Bronze medal to his collection. His last competition was at the 2007 FAJR Cup in Iran, where he had another Bronze finish. 

Believing that  “all work, and no play” makes for a dull life, Donnie jumped into the showbiz bandwagon and joined the Celebrity Edition of the hugely-followed Pinoy Big Brother  TV reality show in 2007, along with his actor-brother, Baron Geisler. For the next  50 days, Donnie gamely joined in the fray, accomplishing strange tasks, making strategic alliances with fellow PBB members and surviving eliminations.

Unfortunately, on the 56th day, Donnie got evicted from the PBB house, concluding his brief showbiz fling.  But he stayed long enough to meet Jen da Silva who would become his wife and mother of his daughter, Frankie.  The young father also has a son, Robbie, from a previous relationship.

Donnie continued his love for the sport by founding the Donnie Geisler Taekwondo Training Center in 2009 which coaches and teaches children of all ages—including those with special needs. The center has a branch in Sindalan, San Fernando.

The national athlete, who is also a licensed taekwondo instructor and international referee, is also a respected coach. He was a former coach of the Philippine National Team, and currently is the Head Coach of Colegio de San Agustin in Makati, and the British School in Manila. His checkered career in taekwondo may have ended but his love for the sport that have earned honors for himself and the country continues with unabated passion.

Donnie Geisler Oly FB Page:
Donnie Geisler Bio, Stats and Results/Olympics at Sports-Reference:
Donnie Geisler taekwondo interview video:

Monday, February 11, 2019

445. The Tears and Triumphs of ELIZABETH PUNSALAN, Olympic Ice Dancer, Lubao

ICE QUEEN, Elizabeth Punsalan, 5-time U.S. ice dancing champion, 2-time Olympian, has a full-blooded Kapampangan father, Dr. Ernesto Punsalan of Lubao. 

When skater Elizabeth Punsalan stepped on the ice with her partner-husband Jerrod Swallow at the Hamar Olympic Ampitheater in Lillehammer, Norway, she was a picture of poise and grace. She had done this many times before--with the eyes of the world watching, she had danced, skated--and won, despite the intense pressure of  competition.  But this time, the feeling was different. Behind Elizabeth’s seemingly calm exterior, was pain and quiet grief for her father, who, less than two weeks before, had been stabbed and killed by her own brother.

Elizabeth Punsalan (b. 9 Jan. 1971, in Syracuse, New York) was the daughter of Dr. Ernesto and Teresa Punsalan.  Her father, a surgeon, had come to America from Lubao, as a medical student. The family eventually settled in Ohio, where Dr. Punsalan began a thriving practice. Young Liz, on the other hand, was drawn to the sport of ice skating at the tender age of 7. Soon, she was competing in skating competitions, and winning ice dance contests. Early in her career, she found a partner in Christopher Rettstatt, and debuted at the 1989 U.S. Championships. They stunned the field by copping 8th place in the country’s premiere sce-skating event.

That same year, Punsalan was paired with a new 22-year old talent, Jerrod Swallow. Their chemistry was apparent from the start. Under the watchful eye of their coach, Sandy Hess, the pair began training in Colorado Springs. At the 1989 Skate America, they placed 7th, but did even better at the 1990 U.S. Championships, where they finished 5th.  They capped their ice dancing campaign when they returned the next year, finally winning their first U.S. national title.

Coming in as the pair to beat at the 1992 U.S. Championships that also served as the Olympic team qualifier,  Punsalan and Swallow finished in third place, owing to a fall that Swallow made in the free dance. Disappointed at his performance, Swallow pondered about leaving the sport, but Punsalan encouraged him to continue. They would eventually marry in 1993 and become partners for life.

The tandem changed coach in 1992, and, under the help of Igor Shpilband, they again rose to skating prominence, rivaled only by the pair of Renee Roca and Gorsha Shur, who trained alongside them. But Russian-born Gorsha still had to meet another requirement to skate for the U.S.---an American citizenship. Punsalan and Swallow  waged a letter-writing campaign to Congress to delay the granting of his citizenship, as there was only one slot reserved for the U.S. at the 1994 Winter Games.  

This unsportsmanlike behavior was unwarranted as Punsalan and Swallow were uncontested all the way to the finals.  After Roca and Sur suffered spills, the beleagured pair eventually withdrew. Punsalan and Swallow thus, earned their second national title—and an Olympic spot --and began preparing for the Lillehammer event.

But just two weeks before they were set to go to Norway, a family tragedy befell the Punsalans. On the night of February 4,  1994, Elizabeth’s father, Ernesto,  was stabbed to death while asleep at his Sheffield Lake home in Ohio.  Worst, the assailant turned out to be Elizabeth’s third brother, Ricardo, who had been plagued with mental problems. The doctor was pronounced dead on arrival at St. Joseph Hospital and Health Center in nearby Lorain. He was just 57.

Despite her sorrow, Elizabeth Punsalan decided to continue with her Olympic journey, at the urging of her family. "My father was proud of my skating achievements and would have wanted me to go on to Lillehammer," the Kapampangan-American skater said. "I will try to skate my very best there in his memory." After her father’s funeral, Punsalan and husband Swallow, immediately flew to Lillehammer  to begin their quest for an Olympic ice dancing gold.

In the rounds leading to the finals, the pair skated through their personal pain, and secured 14th place. But they would eventually dropped to 15th position when Swallow fell during a lift, sending him and Elizabeth crashing down on the ice—along with their Olympic dream.

Beaten but unbowed, the couple bounced back at the 1995 U.S. Championships, finishing as runners-up to their arch rivals, Roca and Sur. They were on a roll in 1996, 1997 and 1998 championships, when they reigned supreme by winning 3 national titles—and another chance to redeem themselves at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano. This time, the pair finished strong in 7th place in the Mixed Ice Dancing event.

The ice has not yet melted in Nagano, when, at the 1998 World Figure Skating Championships held in March in Minneapolis, Punsalan and Swallow capped their sterling ice dancing career with a 6th place finish.

After retiring from competitive ice skating, Punsalan and Swallow continued to skate in ice shows for a number of years. Punsalan became an ice dance coach at the Detroit Skating Club in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan. Once off the ice, Elizabeth also found a new interest and became an interior designer, while raising two sons, Gavin (13) and Alden (6).

When the 2019 U.S. Figuring Skating Championships unfolded in Detroit in late January, Punsalan and Swallow—five-time American champions themselves-- were there to welcome America’s best skaters to their city, which had become a prominent  international training ground for some of the greatest Olympic skaters on ice. The couple’s presence and their skating legacy would have certainly provided inspiration to the many young skaters who, just like young Elizabeth 2 decades before, have come to begin the realization of their Olympic dreams.

(POSTSCRIPT:  Younger brother, Ricky, was charged in the death of their father, but was found mentally unfit to stand trial. As of 2016, he remains in a mental health institution for at least the next two years. Punsalan’s mental health state will be reviewed again in December 2018.) 

Skating squabble plays to soap opera background, by Milton Kent, THE BALTIMORE SUN,
Why do so many international Olympic figure skaters train in Michigan?

Thursday, January 3, 2019

*444. Fil-Am Olympian ERIKA K. VON HEILAND, Ace Shuttler from Angeles City

It used to be that badminton was a lightly-regarded sport, more fit for leisure than for competition. Only a few athletes—mostly from Asian countries—ruled the sport.  It was first featured as a demonstration sport in the 1972 Munich Olympics, but it took 20 years for  it to be included as an official medal-worthy sport—at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics.

In a sport dominated by Indonesians, Malaysians, Koreans and Chinese, a Filipino-American of Kapampangan lineage,  led the U.S. Olympic Badminton team, in their quest for a podium finish for America. All eyes were on Erika Ann Kennedy Von Heiland, the 27 year-old shuttler who beat all odds to qualify for the Barcelona Olympics.

For a gruelling 18 months, she made the rounds of qualifying competitions around the world to secure a berth in the U.S. team, paying part of the tour expenses, taking out loans to finance her trip and even putting her college scholarship on the line. But, after a year and a half of competing, Von Heiland was stunned to learn that she had made it as the highest-ranked American badminton player for the Olympics.

Erika was born in Angeles City on Christmas Eve, 24 December 1965 to parents Theodore Leopoldo (Ted)  Von Heiland (b. 11 Jan. 1941/d.15 Sep. 2011) and Georgia Kennedy. She came from a pedigreed family, one of the richest in Pampanga. Her great-grandfather was Florentino Torres Pamintuan (b. 14 Mar. 1868/d. 12 Apr. 1925) who built the famous Pamintuan Mansion across the Holy Rosary Parish, for his first wife, Mancia Vergara Sandico.

The Pamintuan-Sandico union produced 5 children; the eldest daughter, Maria de la Paz Eugenia (or simply, Paz) went on to marry Leopoldo Faustino who died young. Paz married a second time to an Honolulu journalist, Frank A. Von Heiland, and they would have a daughter, Bunny, and a son TedErika’s father.

Ted graduated from Ateneo, and spent part of his married years in Angeles City, and in Manila, where his kids Frank (Chip), Debra (Babsie) , Erika and Trinity,  grew up in an extended Kapampangan household and went to school at the Colegio de San Agustin in Makati. But in 1985, he would eventually move his family to Anaheim, California  where his children completed  their education and later, pursued their own careers: Chip and Babsie  joined the military, while Erika stayed in college to take up Criminal Justice at  Arizona State University  on a badminton sport scholarship.

Erika had been fascinated with racquet sports in her younger years, taking up tennis at age 17. But when she learned that she could propel a shuttlecock up to 200 miles per hour, she felt the rush and shifted to badminton, considered as the fastest sport in the world. It is amusing to know that she once got hit in the right eye with a shuttlecock and couldn't see for a week. 

Eventually, she became so highly- skilled at the sport that in 1989, she was chosen to represent the U.S. at the 6th International Badminton Federation World Championships held in Jakarta, Indonesia (she would make the team as well, in 1991 and 1993). The next year, in 1990, Von Heiland made it as a member of the US Uber Cup Team, qualifying again in 1992, and 1996.

But it had always been the Olympics that she aspired for, a dream that was fulfilled in 1992. At the inaugural badminton games, Von Heiland competed in the Women’s Singles but her heroic efforts were thwarted by Canadian champion Denyse Julien in the first round. She ranked 33rd overall in a field that was ruled by Asians and topped by Indonesian Susi Susanti. Still, it was a good experience for Von Heiland , and vowed to come back stronger for the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

In between Olympics, she trained relentlessly, and in 1995, she represented the United States at the Pan American Games in Mar de Plata, Argentina. Von Heiland was fielded in the women’s badminton doubles (with partner Linda French) and this time, she came home with a hard-earned Bronze Medal. She and Linda even fared better at the 1995 Bermuda International Open., winning runner-up honors in women’s doubles.

The rewards of joining these high-level international badminton tournaments were finally realized when, on 8 April 1996, the United States Badminton Association announced Erika Von Heiland’s nomination to the U.S. Olympic Committee for inclusion on the 1996 U.S. Olympic Badminton Team., along with Kevin Han and doubles partner, Linda French.

At this news, Von Heiland gushed, "Competing in my first Olympics in 1992 was awesome, but going to my second Olympics on home-soil is beyond words.” The 30 year old veteran then added, "This will be a great way to end my career."

Von Heiland marched proudly as part of Team America, during the opening of the 1996 Atlanta Olympics at the Centennial Olympic Park. When the badminton games got going, she valiantly gave her best to ward off  her Taipei opponent Jeng Shwu-Zen, in the Women’s Singles, but got eliminated in the first round with a score of 2–11, 6–11. Von Heiland ranked last in a field of 33 female shuttlers. In the Women’s Doubles where she and Linda French were ranked 38th best in the world, they did slightly better, finishing in 17th place in a field of 19.

When the Atlanta Summer Games drew to a close, so did the sensational badminton career of Von Heiland. Hounded by multiple knee surgeries, she knew it was time to hang up the racquet. At 30, she was ready to enjoy her married life while hoping to begin a professional career.

She didn’t have to look far—right in Atlanta, she was offered a sales job by the Coca Cola Enterprises and rose to become the Amusement and Recreation Business Development Manager for 4 years. She tried other companies but returned to the Coca Cola Company as a Senior National Account Executive. After 7 years, she was named as Director of Community Marketing beginning in  2011 to the present.  

It’s been a long journey for this Angeleña—who, despite her prominent background chose to do things the old-fashioned way: working her way to the top through sheer hard work. perseverance and dedication,. At her prime, she was named as one of the best 100 women badminton players of the world. Erika Von Heiland was also blessed with the unique experience of living her Olympic dream not once, and now, as a successful corporate executive, she is truly on top of her game.

Erika Von Heiland:
From Badminton to Coca Cola: 5 Questions With Two-Time Olympian Erika Von Heiland Strader:
For One Woman, the USO's Coca-Cola Connection Seems Fated,
PAZ: A 20th Century Chronicle by Ma.Paz Eugenia Pamintuan y Sandico vda. de Faustino y vda. de Von Heiland,1998