Thursday, June 18, 2015

*383. THE JETSET LIFE OF MINDA FELICIANO

LA DOLCE MINDA. Minda Feliciano had a reputation for living the life fantastic--traipsing the world and hobnobbing with the rich, the famous and the powerful--befitting her celebrity status. Photo from 1968.

Certainly, for many society girls in the heady 60s, Minda Feliciano’s life was an enviable one. At a young age, she travelled the world in search of adventure, and in so doing, found many of her dreams fulfilled---to get an acting break on a hit U.S. TV series, to rub elbows with the rich, the royalty and the famous, and best of all, to find the greatest loves of her life in two continents!

But in a special way, Minda was destined for this kind of life, early on. She was the daughter of Manuel Valdez Feliciano, a district engineer, and Amparo Santana of Batanes. Born as Arminda Feliciano on June 1, 1931, her town of origin is sometimes listed as either Angeles or Guagua. That may be due to the peripatetic career of her father, who was assigned in different provinces like Bataan, Nueva Ecija and Surigao.

But what was sure was that Minda went to high school at the Holy Angel Academy (now University) in Angeles. In her 20s, the charming Minda went on to try her luck at modeling and acting. This paved the way for her to travel the world to search for better career opportunities.

In the U.S., she started auditioning for acting roles and, in 1959, won a regular slot (she played the hula-dancing receptionist, Evelyn) in the popular TV series,”Hawaiian Eye”, produced by Warner Brothers. In 1962, her partnership with Russ Hemenway resulted in the birth of her only child, Brent, but they would split shortly.

Minda never ran out of admirers though, and one who squired her ardently was the prominent publisher and author, Leo Guild, 20 years her senior. It was with Guild that she eventually chose to settle down in 1967. The glamorous Minda held court at her posh Beverly Hills residence, which was even outfitted with a heated swimming pool. However, the marriage ended in a divorce in 1970.

Minda went back to her socializing and hobnobbing with fellow celebrities that led to her meeting with British actor Michael Caine. Caine would become her one great love. He had already starred in a few well-received movies ("Alfie", "Gambit") when Minda swept him off his feet. She became her travelling companion when he filmed on locations worldwide. The two were soon engaged, but somehow, things didn’t fall into place and the couple parted ways. Michael would marry the exotic beauty, Shakira Baksh in 1973 , win 2 Oscars and be knighted in 2002.

 Briefly in the early 1990s, Minda was linked to debonair crooner, Tony Bennett, who made a hit out of the song, “I Left My Heart in San Francisco”. She would fly and join him in his intermational concerts that took him from Las Vegas to Tokyo and London. But at that time, Bennett was more focused on resurrecting his career so Minda quietly slipped out of his life.

A few years later, Minda would form a more lasting relationship with Norman John McClintock Lonsdale, a true English blue blood descended from the Duke of Wellington, the nemesis of Bonaparte at the famous Battle of Waterloo. He had been a favorite escort of Princess Margaret. Lonsdale eschewed the life of a royal and pursued a successful TV career. He was already a widower with 3 children when Minda came into his life. Romance bloomed and they were wed in 1997.

In the Lonsdales’ sprawling Oxfordshire estate,the couple entertained film star friends like Joan Collins, Peter Sellers, Britt Ekland and Roger Moore. Minda and Norman would be together for 12 happy years; he would die in 2009, of cancer. All throughout his illness, Minda stood by to nurse and care for his man, until the end.

Today, Minda has made United Kingdom her home, spending her time tending to the lush rose gardens of her ivy-covered house along the scenic Thames River. Her high-flying days have given way to a quieter, more sedate life, but Minda Feliciano’s joie de vivre has not waned a bit. And that’s so…Kapampangan!

Sunday, June 7, 2015

*382. KAPAMPANGAN OLYMPIANS

THE RACE IS ON! An inter-scholastic meet hosted by the Pampanga High School features running sprints participated in  by would-be Olympic tracksters from different Central Luzon schools. ca. mid 1920s. Personal Collection.

 The 28th Southeast Asian Games currently going on in Singapore recalls to mind the great feats of many Kapampangans who helped carry the Philippine colors on the world sports arena. Ever since a Negrito named Basilio won the pole-climbing event at the 1904 Anthropology Days Competition—an athletic competition affiliated with the 1904 Summer Olympic Games held in St. Louis, there has been no stopping to Kapampangans’ quest for  victory in the world’s premiere sports competition.

 The country’s official participation in the modern day Olympics began in 1924, when the Philippines sent a token representative, track athlete David Nepomuceno. It was only in 1928 that the country made its presence felt  when Ilocano Teofilo Yldefonso, medalled in breast stroke swimming. 

The first known Kapampangan to participate in the Olympics was Fortunato Yambao (b.16 Oct. 1912/d.23 Jun. 1970), of Sta. Lucia, Masantol, a member of the Philippine basketball team at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Adolph Hitler had used this event to prove the superiority of the Aryan race, only to be silenced by stunning victories of black American track star, Jesse Owens. Asia too, had reason to celebrate, for that year, Yambao and his squad lifted the Philippines to 5th place, the highest placement ever achieved by our national basketball team, with a record of 4 wins, 1 loss—against the Americans.

 At the 1960 Rome Olympics, two Kapampangan basketeers were part of the national team: Carlos Velasco Badion of Lubao and Edgardo Luciano Ocampo of Magalang. Carlos or “Charlie” Badion (b. 16 Aug. 1935 /d. 20 Jun. 2002) had actually represented the country at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, with the team finishing strong in 7th place. His teammates included the basketball legend Caloy Loyzaga and Kurt Bachman.

Badion also grabbed Gold at the 1958 Asian Games and took part in the 1959 FIBA World Cup, where the Philippines finished 8th. In his heyday, he originated the so-called “bicycle drive”and “jack-knife lay-up” , basketball moves that young athletes emulated. Badion was named “Mr. Basketball”, appeared in a movie and was crowned as the Most Valuable Player by the Asian Basketball Conference (ABC).

 Equally illustrious was the basketball career of Edgardo “Ed” Ocampo (b. 5 Oct. 1938)/d. 1999), who represented the Philippines in a record 3 Olympics—1960 (Rome), 1968 (Mexico) and 1972 (Munich). The versatile Ocampo was originally a member of the Philippine football team when basketball beckoned. Ocampo was hailed as Asia’s Best Guard, and, like Badion, was voted as “Mr. Basketball” by the Philippine Sports Association.

 While Ocampo was playing his basketball matches in Munich, a young Holy Angel student was gunning for a medal at the skeet-shooting match. Melchor Yap didn’t win any, but made Pampanga proud for his barrier-breaking feat--joining the ranks of the world’s best hotshots.

On the distaff side, the first Winter Olympics was held in 1924, in Chamonix, France. At two editions---Nagano (1994) and Lillehammer (1998), a skater with Kapampangan blood represented the United States in Ice Dancing. Elizabeth Punsalan (b. 9 Jan. 1971) was the daughter of Dr. Ernesto Punsalan of Lubao and who had come to America as a medical student. Together with partner, Jerrod Swallow, Punsalan qualified for the 1994 Winter Olympics after placing first at the U.S. Nationals. Two weeks before she was set to go to Nagano, her mentally-troubled brother, Ricardo, stabbed their father dead. This affected her performance, and the couple placed 15th overall. Punsalan bounced back in the next Olympics, finishing in a creditable 7th place.

 Another Kapampangan athlete who made it to the Olympics as part of Team America was the badminton ace, Erika Von Heiland (b. 24 Dec. 1965). Born in Angeles City, Erika’s father was Theodore Pamintuan Von Heiland, the son of Paz Sandico Pamintuan with second husband Frank Von Heiland. Her great grandfather was Don Florentino Torres Pamintuan, an affluent citizen of the town and builder of the still-extant Pamintuan mansion. At age 27, Erika qualified in two Olympics in Barcelona (1992) and Atlanta (1996), playing in both singles and the doubles events.

 In the next Olympics in Sydney (2000), another Angeleño marched proud as our country’s bet in the sports of taekwondo. Welterweight Donald Geisler (b. 6 Oct. 1978), of German-American-Filipino descent, had previously won a silver medal at the 1996 Asian Games; he was just 18. After the Olympiad, Geisler continued his winning streak, garnering medals at the regional Southeast Asian Games—a Silver in 2001, and a Gold in 2003. This paved the way for his return to the 2004 Athens Olympics where he reached the quarterfinals. The next year, he struck gold again at the 2005 SEA Games.

 As sportsmen, these select Kapampangan Olympians have lived their ultimate dream of competing for medals against the best athletes of the world. But in their quest for medals, they have come to learn that it not just the winning that matters, but in finding out the best within themselves, a rewarding experience that feels every bit golden.

(7 June 2015)

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

*381. Piece of Cake: KAPAMPANGANS' SWEET TOOTH



My parents’ little wedding cake was baked and decorated by an unknown bakeshop, but it was pretty enough to be featured in a cooking section of a 1949 magazine. Our love affair with sweet treats spans everything from local kakanins to European and American-style cakes and pastries, that Kapampangan bakers have also come to master. 

 When my father and mother got married in 1949, their reception featured a nicely baked and decorated wedding cake. It was all white and trimmed with sprays of sugared flowers, topped with toy figures of the bride and groom. Though just a modest-size cake, it looked so exquisite, worthy enough to be featured in a lifestyle section of a newspaper. My mother clipped that article and pasted it on her wedding album, alongside their cake-eating photos. We had that album for years, until it fell into tatters—including the magazine clipping.


Thank God, I still have the cake photos to remember that “sweetest”day of my parents’ lives. Kapampangans have always had a taste for sweets—thanks to our robust sugar industry. From our clay ovens and open hearths, our lolos and lolas cooked “kakanins’ that were all-sugar based—kalame, tibuk-tibuk, mochi, pastillas, bibingka. Later,”hurnos”or ovens of clay or bricks were introduced, that enabled Filipinos to do some baking—pan de sals, panecitos, araro (arrowroot) cookies, saniculas.

 During the American Period, especially in the 20s and 30s, well-off Kapampangan families sent their daughters abroad to learn new skills in fashion,couture, and of course, culinary arts. The era also introduced her to new contraptions for the kitchen—the modern oven—which further helped her to create an assortment of confection: soft mamons, fluffy ensaimadas, and cakes of all kinds, following American and European recipes. With their baking wizardry, many of these women even became entrepreneurial.

 One such grand dame was widow Salud Dayrit Santos (b. 7 Feb. 1883/d.1970), who became an expert in whipping up international dishes under the tutelage of Paris-educated Rosario Hizon-Ocampo. But “”Imang Salud” took most pride in her pastries made to perfection: Petit Fours, Empanaditas, Nougatine, Mazapan de Pili.

 But it was her ‘’ensaimadas’’ that were to die for. She baked them with care, slathered with Brun butter, and dusted with grated queso de bola. Her rich-tasting creations were soon snapped up by friends and neighbors. Today, Imang Salud’s granddaughter, Meliza Santos, is carrying on the tradition, baking ensaimadas using her apu’s heirloom recipe. Branded with her name, Imang Salud Ensaimadas are today, sold in select places like the Legazpi Weekend Market.

 Ocampo-Lansang Delicacies in Sta. Rita, is another homegrown business—modest by standards—but very popular in the Kapampangan region, all because of its two products—turrones de casuy and sans rival. It was started in 1920 by Felisa Lansang, who learn to make the sweet treat from a recipe learned from Spanish Dominican nuns.

 At least two Hizons are credited for building successful business based pon their baking know-how. The Hizon’s Cakes & Pastries on Bocobo Street in Ermita, Manila was founded by Inocencia Hizon, a widowed single mother who worked as a department store clerk at Aguinaldo’s, Escolta.

 Family lore has it that the now-famous ensaymada recipe was given to her by an anonymous woman. Inocencia baked dozens of ensaymadas using the recipe, and engaged the help of her sister to peddle the pastries in offices, which, to her surprise, were all sold-out. This encouraged her to put up a bakeshop which she named simply as “Hizon’s”, on Raon St.

 Today, Hizon’s has branches in Pasay, Greenhills and Makati, run by daughter Milagros Ramos Roasa. The shop is also famous for its taisans, apple pies and ube cakes, but the ensaymada remains a sentimental favorite.

 Amalia Hizon of Mexico, together with husband Renato Mercado, put up a little cake shop called Red Ribbon that drew praises for its cakes and pastries. They put up the first shop in 1978 along Timog Ave. in Quezon City. In a matter of years, the cake shop gained a substantial following, and in 1984, it opened a U.S. outlet. It was no wonder then that Jollibee Food Corp. acquired the business in 2005. 

Another name to reckon with in the field of baking and pastry arts is Emelita Basilia Wong-Galang. The exigencies of an early marriage prompted her to study cooking, taking lessons from her mother-in-law and heeding the kitchen wisdom of her Chinese-born father, a former chef in Malacañang who had operated the much-patronized Royal Bakery in Angeles City.

 In 1980, Galang put up the first culinary school in Northern Luzon—the Emelita W. Galang Culinary Arts Studio Inc., which today, offers such courses as cake decorating, chocolate artistry and other confectionary arts.

Of course, Kapampangan cookery is also part of her school’s curriculum. Whether you are craving for a puto or petit fours, mochi or meringue, sanikulas or sans rival, pan de sal or pound cake-- the versatile Kapampangan woman of the house can make them all, to your heart’s delight. With her deep and extensive kitchen background…even baking is a piece of cake!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

*380. Snack ‘n Roll: APUNG GARI’S BAKERY AND KIOSK

MERYENDA TAMU. A short stop at Apung Gari Bakery promises to be a "filling" experience, what with its array of breads, pies and shirt order dishes like pancit luglug, arroz caldo and Magnolia ice cream, all at affordable prices. ca. 1955.

San Fernando’s favorite bakeshop at the Assumpta Building, along the busy Abad Santos St., barrio St. Rosario, was put up by an enterprising couple, Jesusa “Susing” Quiambao and husband Jose “Pitong” Valencia, in 1955. The two named it after Susing’s mother, Margarita Quiambao. “Apung Gari”, who had a reputation as a good cook, had managed San Fernando’s most popular bakery during the post-Liberation—“La Satisfacion”. When she reached her 50s, her daughter and son-in-law decided to take over the reins of the business and relaunched it as “Apung Gari Bakery and Kiosk”.

 One cannot miss the spacious and spanking new bread and snack house, as the store name --“Apung Gari Bakery and Kiosk”—was emblazoned atop the building, visible at a distance. Hanging signboards outside indicated the name of the establishment and the proprietor—“Jesusa Q. Valencia—General Merchant, Importer””. “Apung Gari” sported the prevalent midcentury look, with large glass cabinets encasing their tempting hot pan de sal, biscocho, cheese bread, monay, pandecito and puto seco. There were also glass jars full of candies, tira-tira being a favorite of school children.

Fixed stools upholstered with vinyl lined a sleek, curved island where one could sit and enjoy some snack, diner style. Shelves neatly displayed rows and rows of canned pineapple juice, evaporated milk, bottled catsup, which could be pulled out anytime there is an order.

 For fifty centavos, the 1955 menu offered Pancit Luglug (a best-seller), Arroz con Caldo, Chicken Mami, Magnolia Ice Cream and Ice Cream Sundae. Halo-halo, Lumpiang Prito, Magnolia Milk and assorted cakes and cookies could be had for forty centavos. Lumpiang fresca (fresh lumpia) was the cheapest on the list at thirty centavos.

Other options include different sandwiches and pies. Students from Assumption and nearby schools, government workers and store employees frequented “Apung Gari” for over six decades. To cater to varied tastes, the menu was expanded to include sotanghon (dry or with soup), pancit guisado and goto. It even extended its services to include oven-cooking (“pa-ornu”) of lechon and liempo.

 When the Valencia couple passed away, members of the family continued the business, which thrived, thanks to its strong, loyal customers. It was sold to the Santiago family by the Valencia family around 2007, but the new owners retained the name owing to the pulling power of its name, that evokes simple, but tasty food and good times. The name recently was changed to FBS Bakeshop and Kiosk, and time will tell if the same affinity for the one and only “Apung Gari” will rub off on the newly-named bakeshop.

Friday, March 6, 2015

*379. MERRILL’S MARAUDERS: Shooting a Hollywood Movie in Clark

SHOOTING STARS. A lobby card showing the stars of the movie "Merrill's Marauders", led by actor Jeff Chandler. The movie was mostly shot around the environs near Clark, as the terrain simulated that of Burma, where the story took place. 1961.

 One of the most daring exploits during World War II was when Brig. General Frank D. Merrill led 3,000 American volunteers of his 5307th Composite Unit behind Japanese lines across Burma to Myitkyina, battling the enemies successfully, even beyond their limits.

 Warner Brothers thought that the heroism of the “Merrill’s Marauders”, as the men were called, would make a good Hollywood movie, and so in 1961, it assembled a stellar cast headed by Jeff Chandler (as Brig. Gen. Frank D. Merrill) , Ty Hardin (2nd Lt. Lee Stockton), Peter Brown ( as Bullseye), Will Hutchins (as Chowhound) and Andrew Duggan (Capt. Kolodny, M.D.), and headed off for the Philippines in April 1961 to start the movie production.

 Producer Milton Sperling chose to film his Technicolor production in the Philippines partly because of the similarity of its terrain to that of Burma. Besides, there were the added advantages of the availability of technical facilities in Manila and the comparative lack of language barrier which would make filming easier, smoother. Also, the starstruck U.S. Army’s Special Forces and the Philippine Armed Forces were ready to extend their assistance. Two Filipino actors were also chosen to appear in the movie--Luz Valdez, who as a Burmese girl practically had no speaking lines, and Pancho Magalona, in a minor role.

 Clark Air Force Base in Angeles town proved to be the perfect production headquarters for the cast and crew, as the required rugged jungles, mountainous terrains and were just behind the military base. A February 1962 issue of Screen Stories, a Hollywood movie magazine reported the behind-the-scene stories: “While on march in the jungles, the film company lived in camps with no comforts.

Diminutive Negrito tribesmen were employed as bush beaters to drive off predatory beasts and snakes. No sprayed glycerine was necessary to make the actors “sweat’ for the camera, for the merciless jungle sun beat down on their steel helmets. Filming scenes in foxholes found such unwelcome visitors as lizards, land crabs, and all kinds of bugs and snakes. For scenes in which they waded through swamps, they were invariably covered with leeches.”

 Hundreds of Americans from Clark volunteered as extras for the large-scale battle scenes. After their strenuous rehearsals on the first day, thirty percent failed to come back for more. The movie war was too tough!

 To make matters worse, Chandler suffered a slipped disc while playing baseball with U.S. servicemen while taking a break on the set at Clark, exacerbating a previous back condition. He insisted on postponing hospitalization in order to remain with his fellow actors until the picture finished. Director Samuel Fuller respected Chandler’s loyalty, but he arranged treatment of the agonizingly painful back injury.

 His co-stars Ty Hardin and Peter Brown, on the other had, had the time of their lives in Angeles. They learned about dating olive-skinned beauties the hard way. Brown mused, “A Filipino girl is always accompanied by a chaperon, and the only way to make a date is to gift the father’s best friend with several jugs of native joy water”.

 When the filming wrapped up, Before the cast of the movie put on a show at the Silver Wing Theater, on the base, for the U.S. servicemen and their families. Chandler sang ballads. Hardin, Brown and Duggan left their audience in stitches by playing absent-minded cowboys in a satire on TV Westerns. The Hollywood stars endeared themselves to the Negritos when they adopted a 55 year old, 3-foot tall native. He was thrilled when they presented him with a Mickey Mouse wristwatch.

Almost bursting with pride, he exclaimed: “Now I am the richest man in my village. In trade for this watch ,I can get myself several wives!”. The cast returned to Hollywood where everything went back to normal for most of the actors. Chandler, whose back condition had taken a turn for the worse, was hospitalized on May 13 at Culver City Hospital. A surgery was performed but an artery was damaged, leading to his death on 17 June 1961.

Chandler did not live to see the 1962 premiere of “Merrill’s Marauders” , but it certainly would have made him happy to know that the film became a critical and commercial success, thanks in part to the support of many Filipinos and Americans in Clark Air Force Base.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

*378. KAPAMPANGANS AND THEIR PAPAL ENCOUNTERS

POPE PIUS XII MEETS KAPAMPANGANS IN ROME. A pilgrim group, composed of some Kapampangan prelates, holds a rare audience with the Pope at the Vatican in 1953. Among those in the photo are Frs. Manuel V. Del Rosario and Fr. Jose de la Cruz. 

 For four days in January (15-19), “Pope Francis Fever” gripped the country, as the 266th Vicar of Christ made a pastoral visit to our country—specifically to meet Typhoon Yolanda victims-- arriving here to a rapturous welcome seen nowhere else in the world. Everyone, it seems, was out on the road, hoping to get a chance encounter with the good Pope. But luckier still were the few chosen to participate in the official activities of the papal visit, both directly and indirectly.

 In the past, a smattering of Kapampangans have had meetings with the Holy Father. The foremost Kapampangan religious figure, Rufino Cardinal Santos, for example, received his red hat from Pope John Paul XXIII, who, between 1961-62 set a precedent by naming more princes of the Church to a record high total of 87 cardinals. Cardinal Santos’s retinue in Rome included his aide Msgr. Manuel V. Del Rosario of Angeles. At the installation of the new cardinal on 28 March 1960, a VIP kabalen was seated on the front row—Vice President Diosdado Macapagal of Lubao.

 The first ever papal visit to the Philippines by a supreme pontiff on 27 November 1970 afforded more Filipinos the chance to see Pope Paul VI. Again, Cardinal Santos was at the forefront of arranging this fateful visit, marred by an attempted assassination of the Holy Father’ by a knife-wielding Bolivian painter.

 Such close encounters with the Pope, however, were reserved for the more exalted figures of the Philippine church and state. The two Philippine visits of the charismatic Pope John Paul II saw a loosening of the protocol, making the Holy Father more accessible to all. This tradition has also been embraced by the current pope, Pope Francis, the pope of many firsts. As a result, in his 2015 visit, many kabalens had this once-in-a lifetime opportunity to leave their marks in the historic event, through their personal involvements in key programs of the papal visit, that continues to be the talk of the nation.

 Our Kapampangan president, Benigno Aquino III, led the way in welcoming the Pope the day after his arrival at the Malacañang. His address, however, did away with the niceties associated with the usual warm Philippine greetings, and instead, proceeded to make references to the failings of the past administration, and the indifference of the clergy to point out political sins. Sure, the president pointed out the roles of Cardinal Sin and the rising star that is Cardinal Tagle, but this did not do much to dry P'noy’s wet blanket welcome. Even the joke about the Pope being a “security nightmare” for the Philippines was not funny. Observers and columnists had a field day calling the president ‘s action ”inappropriate”, “boorish” and that he “missed his day in history”.

 On a more positive note, an acclaimed Kapampangan ecclesiastical artist, Wilfredo Tadeo Layug, was commissioned by the Archdiocese of Palo to carve a Filipiniana Marian image that took centerstage at the papal mass at Tacloban on January 17.

 Millions at the venue and on TV watched as Pope Francis venerated the image briefly, a beautiful 7-foot work of art, showing the Blessed Virgin carrying the Christ Child, his little hand extended to 3 children caught in the storm. The crucified likeness of Christ seen at the Leyte event was also carved by the master artist. (It is also interesting to note that the granite top of the altar table was made by a shop in Angeles City). Layug also created the central crucifix for the papal mass at the Quirino grandstand in Luneta.

As if these contributions were not enough, Layug also gifted Pope Francis with a smaller Marian image carved from wooden debris salvaged from the Palo Cathedral that was devastated by the super typhoon.

 The Kapampangan language was heard three times on separate occasions in the course of the pope’s visit: at the Encounter with Families at Mall of Asia, at the liturgical services at the University of Santo Tomas and at the concluding papal mass at the Quirino Grandstand. Young Kapampangan Bien Carlo Manuntag of San Fernando, read the Prayer of the Faithful in Kapampangan , heard by the Pope himself, and by millions of devotees in Luneta.

 Some 100 Kapampangan families were invited to join the Encounter with Families at the Mall of Asia, and among the lucky ones chosen to participate in the unprecedented event were the Magtoto (San Fernando), Tony Santiago (Porac) and Savina de la Cruz (Arayat) families.

 Finally, in the Tacloban leg of the papal visit, it was a Kapampangan pilot who flew Pope Francis out of the typhoon-threatened town. Capt. Roland Narciso of Angeles also advised the papal retinue of the danger posed by the typhoon, which led to the shortened visit. Capt. Narciso, member of the PMA Class of 1995, was the chief pilot who safely flew the Pope back to Manila, in a PAL Airbus A320 plane.

 Meeting the pope in one’s lifetime was once a remote possibility, but now the dream has been made real for Kapampangans blessed to have seen Pope Francis up close, whom the world sees as truly a “people’s pope”. As one papal fan gushed, “to stand by next to the Pope, is the next best thing to standing next to Jesus!”

Monday, December 29, 2014

*377. RIZAL DAY IN PAMPANGA

RAH-RAH, RIZAL! A floral motorcade winds down on the streets of Angeles town during the 1931 celebration of Rizal Day, a national holiday.

Rizal Day, commemorating the date of death of our national hero, was a significant national holiday, held every December 30. First marked in 1898 through a decree issued by Pres. Emilio Aguinaldo in Malolos, Rizal Day started as a day of mourning in memory of the national hero.

 The first Rizal Day was celebrated in Manila with a program by Club Filipino, an organization of young Filipinos, many of whom were identified with revolutionary movement. The club held a velada in their headquarters on Calle Alix, now Legarda Street. Musical interludes and readings of Rizal’s poems were also incorporated in the program. The climax of the event was the placing of a crown of laurel on the head of a Rizal bust, performed by Trinidad Ungson.

 Rizal Day was declared an official national holiday in 1902, under the Americans. Filipinos, with their love for pomp and pageantry, transformed the affair with a fiesta atmosphere, incorporating parades that featured stately carrozas bearing likenesses of Rizal—mostly busts, replicas of his statues and portraits. Floral floats often carried allegorical muses and other historical characters, with painted slogans and memorable quotes culled from Rizal’s life works. An important part of the celebration was the selection of Rizal Day muses, of which every town seemed to have one. 

Pampanga had always had a deep association with the national hero. His visits to his friends in San Fernando and Bacolor in 1892 are well-documented. One of Rizal’s closest friends was Valentin Ventura, the uncle of Kapampangan philanthropist Honorio Ventura. It was Valentin who made the publication of El Filibusterismo possible, by shouldering its printing cost.

Angeles was one of the first towns of Pampanga to celebrate Rizal Day. In 1931, the town held a program featuring civic parades with floral motorcades, bearing children in costumes representing different professionals like nurses and doctors. Prizes were given away to the best-dressed participants. Local businesses chipped in to sponsor the event.

 The celebration of Rizal Day continued to be observed through the 30s-50s in Philippine towns, becoming simpler and more austere through the years. Today, Rizal Day has become a more formal state ceremony, marked with flag-raising, 21-gun salute and wreath-laying by the country’s chief executive. But for the small Rizalista community still flourishing in the foothills of Mount Arayat, every day is Rizal Day.