Saturday, February 6, 2016


Graduation photo of  Mateo Castro, youngest son of my grandfather, Gerardo. 1957
(Last year, a cousin of mine, knowing my interest in our family history, turned over some documents from my aunt’s possession. Among these were my grandfather’s 1968 medical records from San Juan de Dios Hospital, which revealed a dreadful illness—colon cancer. Also included was this letter from my Ingkung’s  son, Mateo Castro, then 31 years old,  married wth 2 kids and settled in Baguio. 

 “Tatang Matt” was my Ingkung Dando’s youngest of 4 living children, 10 years younger than his next coya. Frail and sickly as a child, he was doted on, favoured if you will, and always had his own way. After graduation, he left Pampanga and hied off to Baguio to pursue a career as a university professor, and never left. Tatang Matt may have been far away from the crisis happening in our Pampanga home, but far removed—he was not, as this letter to his seriously-sick father shows. 

Learning that his father was scheduled for a critical operation, Tatang Matt sent him this letter, mostly in Kapampangan, expressing his urgent request that he make a confession and receive communion before surgery. His deep concern for his father could be sensed from his firm insistence and implorings to heed his wish. It was to be the last—and most important favour that my Ingkung granted his bunso, for just a month after, he succumbed to complications from his illness.)


62 Bokawkan Road
Baguio City
November 14, 1968

 Dearest Father:

Mig long-distance cami cang atching Elsie uling angga ngeni e cami pa tinanggap call; emi balu nung capilan ca ma-opera ania minaus na cami. Queng ma-opera ca, carin na cami muling maca auto. Queng Lunes, mibuclat na ing clasi mi; pero maniauad cung leave of absence cabang ma-opera ca. 

Pagawa cune ing deed of sale na nitang lote Mabiga; pepacana queng P3,000.00, ban canita ditac mu ing bayaran cu quing registration. Paqui-firma mu niamo ban canita adala nalang Auring ding papeles at apa-register que.

 Bayu ca sana pa-opera buri cu mangumpisal ca at mag-comunion. Sinabi cu cang atching Elsie queng long distance quing panintun nacang pari a buri mung pipagcumpisalan. Masanting ing macasadia ca; talagang macanian at cailangan itamu ngan macasadia tamu nung nanu man ing maliari.

Panusignan mucu sana; iyan mu ing aduan cu queca. Enapa canu sinabing Atching Elsie queca pota eca bisa; ania acu na ing sasabi quening sulat cu. Cabud manaquit lang pari a capad mu, ilabas muna iyan at nung maliari, magcomunion ca aldo-aldo anggang datang ing aldo mung operacion. Siguradung atin lang capilia queng hospital; o caya atdanan dacang communion queng cuarto mu. 

Masalese cami queni. Cabud asigurado yu ing aldo ning quecang operation, canita nacami datang maca auto.

Yanamu, mapgpasican ca bang canita milabas na ing operacion mu.


(POSTSCRIPT: Mateo "Tatang Matt" Castro y Razon passed away on 13 May 1997)

Thursday, January 21, 2016


MIPMU KA KING GRACIA. The ivory image of the Virgin carrying the Child Jesus, is displayed on the feast day of the Purification, February 2. The image is made to hold a candle on this day. Photo:Jude Belnas.

Mabalacat, formerly my town—and now a city—will celebrate its annual fiesta from February 1-2. All the festivities will revolve around our parish church, Our Lady of Divine Grace, which had its beginnings in the year 1768, although a more realistic date is around early 1830s. The Estado General of 1879 reports that the parish was elevated to a vicariate status under the titular patronage of  Nuestra Snra. De Guia most probably in 1836 .

There is a slight confusion as to who the real town patroness is. February 2, the traditional date of the town fiesta (piestang balen), is actually the Feast of the Purification of Our Lady or Nuestra Señora de Candelaria (also the patroness of the towns of Silang in Cavite and Jaro, Iloilo, where an ancient stone image of the Candelaria is venerated by the residents). There is, in fact, an old ivory image of the Virgin in the Parish, which is made to look iconographically like the Virgen de Candelaria by having her hold a candle. Surprisingly, this image is not displayed on the main altar.

However, a bell in the church tower dated 1846, has an inscription indicating that the church is dedicated to “Nuestra Señora de Grasia”( as spelled).  The Augustinians have always had an early devotion to the Nuestra Señora de las Gracias (Our Lady of Graces) and it is sure that they propagated this devotion among  Mabalaqueño converts; they had first established an original shrine in Guadalupe, which also shares our city’s fiesta date.

To add to the confusion, the feast of our Lady of Grace is observed every June 9 (piestang patron) according to the Catholic calendar. As late as 1930s, church records show that processions to our Lady of Grace were still being held in June, the expenses shouldered by a devout woman from Dau, Dña. Cecilia Samson.

There now seems to be a practical explanation to this date change, as explained by oldtimers. In the olden days, they recount, it was very inconvenient for the townsfolk to negotiate the dirt roads just to attend church service during June—the onset of the rainy season. So, a mutual agreement was reached between the townsfolk and the parish priest to move the date to February, when the weather was drier and better.

February 2 marks the date of the Purification or the Feast of Candlemas, to mark the obedience of Mary to the Mosaic law and the meeting of Her Child Jesus with the old man Simeon. By this event, Mary is known under the title Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria and is depicted as cradling the Child Jesus while holding a candle. The day is observed with the blessing and distribution of candles to be carried lighted in procession, a symbolic representation of the truth proclaimed in the Canticle of Simon: Our Lord is the “Light for the revelation of the Gentiles”.

The image of Our Lady of Divine Grace enshrined in the main altar was adapted by Fr. Felipe Roque  from a similar image venerated in the Capuchin Church of San Giovanni Rotonda, Foggia, Italy (home of the famous stigmatist-saint Padre Pio) which he had previously visited. There is a twin image in Popayan, Mexico with the same title and representation. Traditional iconography shows the Blessed Mother seated on a throne with the Infant Jesus on her lap, arms raised in blessing.

The title “Our Lady of Grace” today  is interchangeably used with  Our Lady of the Miraculous Medal, as seen  in a vision by St. Catherine Labouré in 1830. A pre-war photo of the church interior shows a standing statue Mary in the main altar, circumscribed by 12 stars and topped by a large “M”,  consistent with the iconography of “Virgen de la Medalla Milagrosa”.

No matter the many titles, devout Mabalaqueños will always refer to their beloved Mary as “Apung Gracia”, who, through all these years, has showered their homes and their families with blessings and graces, while under the mantle of her protection.

Masayang piyesta  kabalen!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016


A CASE OF BACK-STABBING.. The cold-blooded murder of Constancia Pineda was perpetrated by her neighbor and supposed-friend, Avelina Teodoro of San Fernando. Both were just 16 years old. Inspite of her youth, Avelina was meted out a life sentence. From Graphic Magazine, Dec. 1929.

Poring over the files of some of the most sensational crimes of the past decades, I could not help but notice the involvement of Kapampangans in several high-profile cases—both as victims and perpetrators. I was horrified at the 1964 kidnapping of Maryknoller Cosette Tanjuaquio of Guagua in the hands of Orador Pingol and Nomer Jingco, who hid her in a pit for 83 days, and appalled at the still- unsolved "chop-chop" murder of Lucial Lalu of Candaba. Then there’s Jaime Jose, son of a prominent Kapampangan doctor, who was electrocuted in 1972 along with 2 others, for the crime committed against actress Maggie dela Riva’s virtue.

 Going back even further, I dug up a 1929 news report of a gruesome murder committed by a Kapampangan. It was shocking enough that the offender was a woman, but worse still that she was but a girl of 16!

 The full account on a December issue of Graphic Magazine reads as follows:

Sixteen year old Avelina Teodoro, of San Fernando, self-confessed murderer of her classmate, Constancia Pineda, also 16 years old, broke down when the sentence sending her to prison for life was read to her. Last September, Constancia’s body was found on the grounds of the Arayat Elementary School, pierced with a score of knife wounds. 

After some difficulties in the tracing of the murderer, the fingerprints on the body and the blood stains on Avelina’s clothing and books point out to the author of the crime. At first, Avelina denied the crime, pointing to Hilario Lugtu as the murderer, but confronted with the clues discovered, she confessed to the crime.

 What drove Avelina to kill her classmate? What was the motive? Was she really capable of murder? 

There were so many information gaps in the news report that I did more sleuthing and searching for facts about the 86 year-old case. Surely, all the characters of the case have passed on, but my curiosity had to be satiated.

 An online search yielded a transcript of an appeal filed by the defendant-appellant Avelina Toedoro with the Supreme Court on 12 August 1930. The documentation carried details of the crime, as the court reviewed the sentence imposed by the Court of First Instance of Pampanga on Avelina-- life imprisonment, plus P1,000 indemnity to the deceased's heirs for the crime of murder.

 It appeared that Avelina had indeed a grudge against Constancia—she had been spreading shameful rumors about her, and opening her letters without her permission. This, Avelina confided to Hilario Lugtu. Avelina alleged that Lugtu told her that “he will take care of Constancia”. Lugtu also asked Avelina to take Constancia and take the road along the closed Anderson Intermediate School. It was inside the toilet of the school that Constancia’s body was found with 37 stab wounds on her body. 

Two witnesses however, provided unimpeachable eyewitness accounts to the events leading to the murder. The first, Crisanto Reyes, testified that on 19 September 1929, appellant Avelina borrowed his single-edge penknife, which matched the size of the wounds on Constancia’s body. The same knife was later found in the possession of Avelina.

 More damaging was the testimony of witness Maximo Bundoc, who saw Avelina and Constancia on the day of the murder. He heard “the smaller girl” Constancia saying “In this world there's no devil like one's neighbor." This, she repeated to Avelina, “the bigger girl”. Complaining of a stomach ache, Avelina convinced Constancia to go inside the water closet of the school. It was the last time Bundoc saw the “small girl” alive , for the next day, her body would be discovered.

 This testimony of Bundoc corroborated the defendant Avelina;s admission that herself was in company with the victim on the occasion of the crime. It was likewise shown that a finger of the defendant's left hand had become stained with Constancia's blood, and thus her notebook had also been stained. Avelina was also seen walking hurriedly away from the crime scene, and when she was arrested by the Chief of Police Mutuc, bloodstains were noted on dress.

 The Supreme Court upheld the decision of the lower court without modifications, for the crime of murder. It also upheld the imposed penalty of medium degreeuse the culprit was a woman—life imprisonment. The judgment appealed from was affirmed, with the costs of both instances against poor Avelina.

 Thus ended the sad, sorry tale of the young Kapampangan murderess, Avelina Teodoro, who tried to get away with murder, but got life behind bars instead.

Monday, December 7, 2015


CHOO-CHOO TRAIN, A-CHUGGING DOWN THE TRACK. Passengers at the Dau Station in Mabalacat, wait to board a a train to Magalang, via a spur railroad track. ca. early 1920s.

 Pampanga’s historic train stations have been in the news lately, most recently with the announcement that the old Angeles Station along Villanueva St. will be fully restored by 2016 through the generosity of a local benefactor. Much earlier, the heritage-conscious city government of San Fernando rebuilt their very own San Fernando Train Station located at the Brgy. Sto. Niño, with the assistance of the Tourism Insfrastructure and Enterprise Zone Authority (TIEZA). Since then, the train station has become a must-see tourism landmark.

 The train stations of Angeles and San Fernando, along with those of Apalit, Sto. Tomas and Mabalacat, were part of the second portion of the Manila railroad line inaugurated on 22-23 February 1892 by Governor-General Eulogio Despujol and Manila Archbishop Bernardo Nozaleda . The province was thus connected to Manila and Bulacan through these “iron horses” that eventually were expanded all the way to Dagupan.

 By the 1920s and 30s, under the American regime, the Manila Railroad Co. had a flourishing transport business that promised safe travels on air-conditioned coaches at low-express charges. Connecting trips to Baguio were arranged through the Benguet Auto Lines at Damortis—for only Php 14.33, one way (1929 rate).

 Both San Fernando and Angeles stations hold special historical significance for Filipinos. San Fernando was where Dr.Jose Rizal debarked on 27 June 1892 for a quick visit of the town; it was where he also boarded a train to continue his trip to Bacolor.

The stations also figured prominently in the infamous Death March of World War II. The railway station in San Fernando was the end point of the march of Filipino and American soldiers. Here, on April 1942, they were loaded on trains that took them to Camp O’Donnel, Tarlac.

 On April 10, the packed trains reached the town of Angeles where patriotic residents were on hand to surreptitiously hand out food, water, sugar, medicines, milk, cigars and other provisions to the hungry and weary soldiers. Brave Angeleños showed their support by keeping pace with the trains up to Dau Station, some 4 kilometers away.

 After the War, the lines of the Manila Railroad Co. were rehabilitated and its major services restored. The trains were modernized, their steam engines replaced by diesel. By the mid 50s, one could enjoy all the cozy comforts and convenience of the railway from its clean berths to delightful meals either in the coach or in the dining car.

 I remember that as late as the 1960s, my father used to save on his car trips by taking the train at the Mabalacat Station near the Clark entrance, to visit my aunt in Manila. He would get off at the final stop in Tutuban, and just take a jeep to Herran, where my aunt resided. Sure, it took longer, but it was more cost-efficient, and definitely more scenic!

 Today, the Mabalacat Station still stands but the dilapidated structure is now home to informal settlers. Hopefully, the local government will find merit in restoring the station, in the same way that San Fernando has successfully rebuilt theirs and declared by the National Historical Institute as an “Important Cultural Property”.

Soon, Angeles, with the help of businessman Reghis Romero II, will have theirs too—complete with a glass-enclosed museum, an operational miniature railway, and a park. By saving these stations, we would also be saving a part of our national railway history

Tuesday, November 24, 2015


FR. SANTIAGO BLANCO, the last Spanish Augustinian priest of Pampanga, as a young priest. He was sent to Pampanga upon his ordination in 1928 and stayed on, long after the Order let go of its parishes. H dies in Bamban in 1993. Courtesy of Monsgr. Gene Reyes. 

No other missionaries had more impact in the creation and development of provinces than the Augustinian frailes that first arrived with Miguel Lopez de Legazpi tour islands in 1565. Just 9 years later, 1575, the Provincia del Santissimo Nombre de Jesus de Filipinas was already in place to manage effectively the affairs of the missionaries in their pastoral turfs.

To their credit, the Augutinians founded 250 parishes—the most by any order, and 22 of these were in Pampanga. Some of these missions include Lubao (1572, founded by Fray Juan Gallegos), Betis (1572, Fray Fernando Pinto), Mexico (1581, with Fr. Bernardino de Quevedo and Fr. Pedro de Abuyoas as the first priests), Guagua (1590, Fray Bernardo de Quevedo), Candaba (1575, Fray Manrique) and Macabebe (1575, Fray Sebastian Molina).

 The product of their missionary zeal resulted in many achievements that contributed to the advancements of Pampanga towns. Great builders all, they designed and constructed some of the most beautiful churches in the country—Betis and its baroque decorations, Mexico and its cimborio, Bacolor—said to be the most beautiful in the province, and Lubao, the biggest of all Pampanga churches. 

From building grand churches, the Augustinians also founded th schools or escuelas—parochial centers of learning—in Bacolor, Betis, Lubao (Estudio Gramatica later Colegio de Lubao, 1596) and Candaba (Estudio Gramatica, 1596). They also became the first mentors of students, as they became more adept at the local language.

 It was the Order that put up the first Augustinian printing press in the country that published pioneering printed materials—from grammar books, dictionaries and novenas. Augustinian friars like Bacolor founder Fray Diego Ochoa, authored the first Arte, Vocabulario y Confesionario en Pampango while Macabebe’s Fray Tallada wrote the first published Kapampangan book--Vida de San Nicolas de Tolentino (1614). 

 Among the Augustinians were erudites like Fray Guillermo Masnou, who made a study and an inventory of the herbal plants in Pampanga. Fray Antonio Llanos was taken by Mount Arayat’s curious shape, its flora and fauna, and the rivers that flowed from its core, inspiring him to study Pampanga’s mythical mountain.

 As a result of their effective evangelical labors, the Augustinians were allowed some autonomy by the Vatican, with little interference from the diocesan bishops in the supervision of the fledgling churches and the administration of the sacraments. Pampanga thus became a showcase of the Augustinians’ missionary work all throughout the Spanish colonial period and beyond.

The parishes of Lubao, Betis, Sasmuan, Porac, Minalin and Sto. Tomas continued to be administered by the Augustinians well into the first half of the 1900s; the last town to go was Floridablanca, whose last Spanish parish priest was Fray Lucino Valles, founder of the St. Augustine Academy in 1951. Other chose to stay here permanently long after their order's duties were over. 

Such was the case of Fr. Santiago Blanco, a true blue Spaniard, fondly called Apung Tiago by his Kapampangan constituents. Ordained in 1928, Fr. Blanco was assigned to various towns in Pampanga, including SantoTomas, Betis and Porac. He was responsible for the repainting of the church interiors of Betis during his 1939-49 term. His next assignment was Porac where he served as parish priest and Spiritual Director from 1950-1959.

When the Augustinians let go of their last remaining parish in Pampanga, Fr. Blanco requested to be left behind. In 1963, his application to become a secular priest was granted by the Holy See. Fr. Blanco moved to the newly created Diocese of Tarlac and became an honorary Monsignor and an Episcopal Vicar.

Fr.Blanco took residence in Bamban until his passing in 1993, his lifeworks in Pampanga a testament to the unflagging Augustinian missionary heart and spirit.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

*391. LOTIS BALUYOT KEY: Her Passionate Artistry, Unlocked.

LOTIS IS THE KEY.Versatile Kapampangan-American artist parlayed her beauty beauty pageant credentials into a successful stage and film career, until she made a life-changing decision to move to the U.S. ca. 1978. 

 The career of Maria Rica Baluyot Key (aka Lotis Melisande Key) speaks volumes about her multi-facetted gifts that has served her well in diverse endeavors—including coping with the complexities of showbiz life. 

Her mother was Luz Nolasco Baluyot, a popular radio personality in the 1930s who went by the nickname “Mitzi”. The Baluyots traced their ancestry to Guagua and the Kapampangan-speaking towns of Bataan. Mitzi’s father was Jose Baluyot, a former governor from Orion, Bataan. Jose’s brother was Sotero Baluyot, Pampanga’s eminent engineer-governor from the 30s. 

Mitzi was first married to Arturo Ortiz, son of the Philippine Secretary of State who tragically died at Fort Santiago during the War. She married a second time, to Warren Bryan Key, a descendant of Francis Scott Key, lyricist of the U.S. anthem "Star Spangled Banner".

Their daughter, born in 1949, would become one of the most talented personalities of Philippine entertainment—Lotis Key. Lotis was raised in Pasay City, and her beautiful Filipina-American features were evident at an early age, which opened doors to modeling and beauty pageantry.

Her first foray was in 1967, when she was selected as Princess Royale de Quezon City. Later in the year, she competed in the 3rd edition of the Bb. Pilipinas Contest to determine the country’s delegate to the Miss Universe Beauty pageant. Just 18 and a student of St. Paul’s, she placed third in the national tilt won by Cebuana Pilar Delilah Pilapil.

 Two years after, Lotis joined the search for “Romeo and Juliet of the Philippines”, a promotion to drum up interest in the 1969 Franco Zefirelli movie. She was named “Juliet” to Victor Laurel’s Romeo. In 1971, she joined “Miss Aviation” and topped the contest too.

 While joining contests and walking fashion show ramps, Lotis was also busy making TV appearances and performing on stage as an actress. With Hilda Coronel, she was cast in “Manigong Bagong Taon” a Channel 5 New Year special, directed by Lino Brocka. On the theater circuit, she was in the play “The Crucible” where she had a daring kissing scene with veteran Vic Silayan. She was a mod nun in “Cisco”, a singing country girl in “Carousel”, and a body-baring lead in “The Prime of Miss Jean Brody” in “Carousel”.

Pretty soon, movie producers were knocking on her doors, convincing her to try the movies. After doing a bit part in the 1971 movie,”Stardoom”, she was noticed in “Ang Mahiwagang Daigdig ni Pedro Penduko” (1973).

But it was in “Dalawang Mukha ng Tagumpay” that she made her mark, earning her a FAMAS Best Supporting Actress nomination in 1974, a feat she also repeated in “ Ibigay Mo Sa Akin Ang Langit” (1975). Lotis had a starring role as a circus performer in the movie, “Lady Luck” (1975).

 Lotis became Dolphy’s favored leading lady, appearing together with the Comedy King in box-office films like Captain Barbell (1973), Fung Ku (1973), Facundo Alitaftaf (1978), Darna, Kuno? (1979), Max En Jess (1979) and Bugoy (1979). Soon, the showbiz world was a-buzz with the Lotis-Dolphy romance.

 In 1986, Lotis made a drastic decision to get away from the tiring drama of Philippine showbiz. She moved to the United States to start life anew. With her well-rounded experience, Lotis found work in theater, radio, corporate shows, TV commercial and industrial video productions as a voice talent.

She not only rediscovered her faith by becoming a Christian evangelist but she also rekindled her passion for the theater. She became a playwright, director and producer, a job that took her across the U.S. and Canada. Lotis next shifted to literary writing, resulting in two published novels, “The Song of the Tree” and “A Thing Devoted”.

 Finally coming to terms with her past, Lotis married Bambi Kabigting, a former Ateneo Blue Eagles and Crispa Redmanizer basketball ace. She and her family are settled in Minnesotta, happily living a simpler, contented life-- away from the public’s prying eyes, and far removed from the glamorous, but often-complicated world of showbiz that once hailed her as a star.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015


A LEADING ACTOR TO LEAD THE COUNTRY. Rogelio de la Rosa...but is he qualified? ca. early 1960s.

The Philippine Presidency, it is said, has occupational hazards that could kill. After all, three of our presidents have died at work. Yet, then, as now—the position remains as the ultimate aspiration of all Filipino political leaders, for the immense power that the office brings and glory it represents. The 1961 Presidential Elections put to fore the qualifications of the aspirants—the first, the incumbent president Carlos P. Garcia (Nacionalista), the second—the incumbent vice president Diosdado Macapagal (Liberal), and the third, a movie star-turned-senator, Rogelio de la Rosa, an Independent. 

It was easy to deride Rogelio “Roger” de la Rosa for his being just an ”artista” , viewed in the light of the silver screen as a leading man, which he was, some twenty years ago. The son of Feliciano de la Rosa and Rosario Lim, he was born on 12 November 1916 in Barrio san Jose de Gumi in Lubao, Pampanga. His paternal grandfather , Francisco de la Rosa, was a Spanish surveyor, while his grandmother, Marciana Dariano was an Ilocana from La Union. Everyone knew too, that the 45 year old presidential bet had been at political odds with Diosdado, his own brother-in-law. (Macapagal was married to Purita, Rogelio's sister, who died during the war).

 Dela Rosa’s first and only political experience was when he ran for the Senate of the Liberal Party and won—heavily supported by fan votes. Because of his background, he was looked at as “non-intellectual” (he went to Lubao Institute and finished Liberal Arts from Far Eastern University) . His followers, however, were quick to point out that even Magsaysay was a “non-intellectual”; he, like Dela Rosa has a practical grasp of problems and disdains convoluted, belabored discussions. As for his fans, it could not be denied that they are certainly an articulate and potent force to reckon with--part of the common “masa”. 

Moreover, during the last war, when many politicians were collaborating with the Japanese-sponsored government, Dela Rosa was working as a fighter of the underground army; this he repeated when he volunteered to go to Korea to join hands with the United Nations peacekeeping forces there. As Magsaysay’s labor adviser, Dela Rosa was valued for his troubleshooting skills in resolving agrarian and rural improvement issues.

 As Senator-elect who topped the polls with 2 million votes, Dela Rosa also had an enviable record, sponsoring a law to condemn the illegal appropriation of public streams and rivers by rich fishpond owners. He was known for making on-the-spot visits to the backwoods to as a way of showing deep concern for the common tao’s problems. It is interesting to note that Dela Rosa’s campaign seal shows a salakot with a pair of bakya (wooden shoes) , underlining his pro-masa approach.

 To this day, many believe that Dela Rosa could have been an apt leader for the country in 1961 with his social and political thinking that tends towards egalitarianism. If he had not given way to Macapagal, he could have, they say, ended the heavy-handed domination of politicians, by his institution of a regime that was truly mass-based, ethical, competent and honest. Then he would have also been irrefutably—the world’s most handsome President!