Someone asked me how my blog and newspaper column came to be titled "Bleachers Brew". It's like this, it's an amalgam of sorts of two things: The bleachers area in the stadium/arena where I used to sit when I would watch baseball, football, and basketball games and Miles Davis' great jazz album Bitches Brew. That's how it got culled together. I originally planned on calling it "The View from the Big Chair" that is a nod to Tears For Fear's second album, Songs from the Big Chair. So there.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Slice of Heaven Part 3: Barotac Nuevo

A Slice of Heaven Part 3: Barotac Nuevo
words and pictures by rick olivares

April 18, 2009
When you talk about football in the Philippines, well there are only two places that you should consider – Metro Manila and Iloilo. Anyone who says otherwise should stick to Playstation.

In Iloilo there are several places that are known for its football: Santa Barbara, La Paz, and newcomers Aniway and Calinog. And there’s Barotac Nuevo which is a republic unto its own.

Collectively, they’ve developed a rep much like the Brazilians have when it comes to football. They’re the best bar none.

I wondered if Santa Barbara’s red water was any source of their talent. You know much like that secret drink that Bugs Bunny foisted upon the Loony Toons characters in Space Jam. Except that what makes people think the people of Santa Barbara will want to share that with their forever rival Barotac Nuevo.

They’re like Manchester United and Liverpool, France and England, AC Milan and Internazionale.

They’re fierce rivals but with a healthy respect for one another. Except it wasn’t always that way. After years of fraternization and recruitment, they keep their battles to the pitch then go about their business in a normal way.

During our third and final day, we got up at the crack of dawn to begin shooting along the highway before heading out to the plaza where there would be some players already working out.

Weekends are the most anticipated here. It brings out so many people to the plaza for football.

But wait… so why are Barotacnans so good at the game?

Well, that’s what we’re here to find out.

The walk from Aragrace to the plaza is like five minutes away. But it takes us some 20-plus minutes as we’re filming people along the highway.

By the time we get to the plaza, we see the horse that has a statue in the middle of the plaza. How many animals are honored with statues?

The only one I can think of is Balto in Central Park.

Anyways, the story goes – some say its folklore while others swear its history but whichever it is, that’s the official story everyone is stick to so chill – that a Spanish governor was distressed that his horse died. And while riding through the town of Malutac (which means muddy or swampy area in the native dialect), he saw a magnificent white horse. When he inquired about the availability of the horse, he found out that the horse, named Tamasac, was owned by a rich landowner who refused any monetary exchange for the horse.

The only thing he asked for in return is that Malutac become a municipality. The governor agreed and the town was renamed Barotac Nuevo since there was another town known as Barotac Viejo.

It cuts an imposing sight to see a football field in front of St. Anthony of Padua Church. On game days, especially big matches, the surrounding bleachers are packed. Even the top most area of the church has fans dangling rather precariously.

I didn't take interior shots of the church as there was a flurry of activity inside. Besides we were busy on the pitch. But the church looked beautiful as well.

A town fiesta here is composed of three parts: a Mass, a parade or procession, and a football match. No need for entertainment. The game is the main event.

And people know if there’s a sucky game; they don’t watch.

But football was brought to this town by the Monfort brothers who learned the game from the Augustinian priests at the Colegio de San Agustin in Iloilo City. When they returned to Barotac Nuevo, the townsfolk quickly embraced the sport. And since then, they’ve been kicking butt and taking names.

It’s 6:30am and the U17 team of Barotac is already on the pitch for a meeting with their coach and some drills. They’ll be off in a few days to compete in Bacolod.

On the opposite side of the field are the kids who taught the rudiments of the game. Even at that age, the philosophy of Barotac football is taught – one touch passing (predicated on knowing where teammates are at all times) and quick attacks. They are the Phoenix Suns of football.

Basketball sounds like a bad analogy.

But there’s no truth that there are no basketball courts here. There are several and in act, there’s an ongoing tournament here as well. It just doesn’t draw the crowds.

And there are makeshift volleyball courts in almost every field however it is football that rules.

Whether authentic or knock-offs, football jerseys are part of the garden-variety fashion here. In the three days we’ve been here, outside the basketball courts, I have yet to see anyone in a hoops tank top. And we went to SM City twice already at night.

My unofficial poll had the Barcelona and AC Milan kits as the most popular closely followed by Bayern Munich and Manchester United. Other kits I saw: Chivas America, USA, Liverpool, Galatasaray, Uruguay, Arsenal, Santos FC, Boca Juniors, Lyon, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Juventus, Newcastle United, and Korea to name a few.

We interviewed a bunch of former players and FIFA referees, and a few kids; one of them, a kid named Jed who will be a prize catch for major colleges and universities in a few years’ time (should he continue his rate of improvement and gain from a burst of height).

From there we made a trip to a nearby field where we hoped to catch a game of sinike, where kids play barefoot. Playing barefoot on a quick patch rice field isn’t easy yet these kids beat the better players from the nearby areas. I’m told that playing barefoot and on a rice field at hat is an art form and if one isn’t used to it then it’s difficult not to mention a bit painful.

Unfortunately, the rains the day before made the pitch a little unplayable and the only ones we found there was a carabao and a pair of goats. The barangay captain says we should try to come back around 2pm.

Sometimes these games have bets going up to several thousand pesos, I’m told.

Aside from the football, the other thing that has really impressed us is the hospitality and friendliness of the people here. I figure they know us to be tourists and quite a few come over to ask about our doings. Some offer advice and share anecdotes. But all have a smile and a warm handshake for us.

We had breakfast at a nearby restaurant owned by the sister of the current PFF Gen-Sec Cyrill Dofitas. Several townsfolk including some former players join us and regale us with their exploits.

It made for a fun morning eat except for the fact that I couldn’t eat several of the dishes (seafoods of which I am allergic to).

We had a few hours to kill so we went back to the hotel to catch some zzzs. I was asleep almost instantly.

Around 1230 we went back to the plaza for a quick lunch. By the time we finished, the first game between U17 Barotac was playing the wimp-ass Angelicum team. If they got their asses handed back to them by Calinog think of what Barotac would do to them.

To make things worse, Angelicum showed up with only nine players. It was another eyesore as they were destroyed 20-0. By the second half, the Barotac players were instructed to take shots only from outside the box. If they scored from within, their coach asked them to do push ups and run a few suicides. As much as it was a mismatch, it was hard to tell the players not to score.

At the half, I spoke to Angelicum’s goalkeeper who had been thoroughly embarrassed. If anything this is their coach’s fault because the kids are in such poor form and have zero strategies. The keeper rarely ventures from out from the goal line to be aggressive. When he attempts to block a shot or even parry one away he doesn’t get his body behind his hand for support and firmness. He bats the ball away flailing like a drowning man.

I felt so bad for him as the crowd would laugh and chide him.

He wasn’t even squared at all. One needs to have his feet apart with the knees bent for quick darting left or right. He just stood there like some damn pole!

Well, he did listen for he stopped the next few shots but that was like trying to stop the rain from getting through with a cardboard box.

I was actually rooting for the underdog but there was no hope for this team. Even a couple of deflections by Barotac found the back of the net.

We left after a bit to try and catch the game of sinike in the nearby rice fields but they were still empty. Another time then when we come back.

So we caught the final game in the Open Division between Barotac and CPU; both undefeated at this point.

The pressing game of the Jaro-based eleven gave the home team a lot of fits in the first 10 minutes. But Barotac’s defense held. One former player told me that they weren’t worried; their team was far superior. I wondered if they were being boastful but they actually spoke because they knew the truth – CPU couldn’t hang with these guys.

One mistake, off a corner shot by Barotac and CPU unraveled. No one contested the corner in the air for the defensive team – a cardinal mistake – and a Barotac play simply chipped in the ball as the keeper stood helplessly by.

The momentum shifted massively as CPU couldn’t get the ball past their middle third from there.

Right before the half, off another cross from outside the box, one Barotac player form the right wing blasted in – in one touch – the ball the found the back of the net with a defender all over him. The keeper didn’t even move once more. Two-nil Barotac.

The game would end 4-0. A masterful triumph of skill and teamwork.

We only had a few minutes for a quick shower if we wanted to make it to the airport in time. I re-booked an earlier flight to Manila (615pm) because I was going to attend an important business meeting.

But I was dead tired and the number of equipment we brought with us made it impossible to head for Greenbelt.

On the flight back home, I kept thinking back to the past three days of what an enriching experience it was – soaking in all he culture and history. Making new friends and getting to see first-hand what Iloilo football was all about. I had no idea of what to expect prior to coming over. I’m always like that so things don’t fall flat should they not meet expectations.

It was great and if anything, for three days, perhaps next to being with your girl, I found a slice of heaven in this part of the world.

Post-script: I’m going back by the third week of May. Ideally it should be by mid-month but I’m off to Jakarta for about a week to ten days. When we head back we’ll revisit Santa Barbara then zip off to Aniway and Calinog before going back to Barotac to catch the finals of the IFA Cup.


Here are more shots I took. Here's another of St. Anthony of Padua church against the blue skies. I just love it when subjects lend to a god backdrop of a blue sky.

This was taken outside Molly's Bar where we had breakfast and lunch (outside the sign says Friends KTV). It's beside a small river that has had the life choked out of it by all these water lilys. I saw this house at the edge of the banks and I kinda looked picturesque.

Here's a shot of the town hall which is across the plaza and the football field. I suddenyl realized that I didn't take any photos of Tamasac the horse. But Tamasac is in the town logo.

This last shot is of a bamboo walkway right before a bridge that is the border between Barotac and the next town of which I forget the name.


  1. Wow! Thank you, thank you for this very wonderful blog entry about my hometown. It was a great read! I didn't think it would be such as that coming from an outsider. Many, many, thanks! Did you have the chance to come back? I was looking for another post when you said you were coming back that May.

  2. i love this.. im proud to be barotacnon!

  3. rick, the tamasak(tamasac)story is no folklore. it really did happen around 1810-12. tamasaks owner is don simon segundo protacio he gave the horse to the gov general in exchange for separation from the town of dumangas and became the first gobernadorcillo of barotac nuevo.

  4. Janiuay sir, not Aniway...hehehe

  5. Thanks a lot.. Do come back to my hometown..Really proud to be a Barotacnon and even prouder to marry a great Football player from the Republic of Barotac Nuevo who is now a Sports Coordinator abroad because of this wonderful sport . Can I possibly share this with our fb page particularly on Azkals fan page?thanks...

    Red Gem C.P.

  6. Someone should post new pictures of the church now. It is fixed up nicer than when it was under construction in the photos. There are many markets and places to eat really good and healthy foods in Barotac Nuevo. Fresh markets with fruits and v egetables and meats, fish, etc... I never get tired of it.