Friday, September 23, 2016

*408. Comedy Through Word of Mouth: APENG DALDAL, San Luis, Pampanga

PUT YOUR MONEY WHERE YOUR MOUTH IS. Apeng Daldal (real name: Serafin Gabriel), left us in stitches with his distinctive oral features--and his gift of non-stop gabbing. Fan photo, 1967.

In the days of black and white TV, “Pinilakang Tabing” was a must-watch program every afternoon, for it afforded me to watch 50s’ and fairly-recent 60s movies without going to a theater.

I’ve always been partial to fantasy films, and I remember enjoying “Silveria”, “Anak ng Bulkan”, “The Magnificent Bakya” and Pomposa, Ang Kabayong Tsismosa”. 

 But the one that left the most impression was “Magic Bilao”, an improbable story about a “bilao” that functioned pretty much like a magic carpet, taking anyone who stands on the woven winnowing basket, on an unexpected, marvelous joyride.

 With Apeng Daldal as its reluctant high-flying passenger, the magic bilao helped solve a barrio crime, and saved the day for lovebirds, Dindo Fernando and Rosemarie.

To me, it was Apeng Daldal who stole the show, playing Rosemarie’s brother, Tonio—who, with his thin, gangly frame and mile-long teeth sticking out from his wide mouth, turned out to be the hero of the story. The comedian earned his screen name from his funny oral/dental features, which he used to the hilt by being a motormouth with a high-pitched voice.

 He was born as Serafin Gabriel in the town of San Luis, Pampanga on 12 October 1928. At an early age, he moved to Manila, and despite his skeletal built, found work as a Divisoria kargador. Of course, he didn’t last long, so he tried his hand at working in the bod-a-bil, from the 40s-50s. He had a comedy group called “Top Three” (along with Mar Lopez and Bebing Santos) which drew crowds at the Manila Opera House.

His stage success paved the way for a TV career, starting with the 1961 noontime show “The Big Show”, supporting Cris de Vera, Sylvia La Torre and Oscar Obligacion. Apeng Daldal’s gift of non-stop gabbing and witty ad-libbing had audiences laughing for more, and soon, he was being cast in movies.

His debut was in the Susan Roces starrer, “Libis ng Baryo” (1964), that was followed by appearances in "Bandong Pugante" and "Babaing Kidlat". Sampaguita Pictures gave him his break, third-billed in 1964 production “Magic Bilao” after Rosemarie and Dindo Fernando. The comedy-romance-fantasy formula was perfect for Apeng and the movie was the takilya buster for 1965. The same concept was used in his next flick,”Walis ni Tenteng”, that practically retained the previous stars with Blanca Gomez and Bert Leroy Jr. thrown in. Again, the movie about a skinny sweeper and his magic broom was another monster hit for Apeng.

 Apeng Daldal—now regarded in the same breadth as A-lister funnymen Chiquito and Dolphy, was rewarded with a lead role in “Maskulado”, (also in 1965), pitting his physique against the buffed leading man, Arnold Mendoza. He worked almost nonstop, completing film projects like “Tatlong Mabilis” (1965), “Mistiko Meets Mamaw” (1966), “The Pogi Dozen”(1967), ”The Son of Dyango Meets Dorango Kid” (1967) and another comedy-fantasy film, “Baticobra at Flying Salakot”(1974).

The final decades of his life were spent working in different capacities for TV, radio and films. The creative Apeng wrote scripts for various TV comedy shows like “Ayos Lang, Pare Ko” (1972) and penned the story for the film “Dobol Dribol” (1979). He was heard on radio singing novelty songs ( "Pandanggo ng Aswang", "Hoy Mamang Kaminero") , while headlining 70s-80s gag shows like “Super Laff-In”, “Trio Los Bobos” and “Cafeteria Aroma”. His last film was the Eddie Romero-directed action-fantasy, “Kamakalawa”with Christopher de Leon and Tetchie Agbayani, released in 1981.

Afflicted for years with emphysema, he passed away on 9 February 1992. He was survived by his wife Elma Modesto and 8 children. Watching Apeng Daldal’s old movies on youtube today, you can say this Kapampangan was born with a funny bone in his mouth.

My Idol Comedian, Apeng Daldal:
Apeng Daldal,

Friday, September 16, 2016


FISH BE WITH YOU. A belle and her bangus, on the way home from the pampang. Fisheries remain to be an important industry for Kapampangans living in the delta region, c.1915.

Being in the central plains of Luzon, people are sometimes surprised to know that Pampanga, too, has a fishing trade, an industry  associated with coastal places like Navotas, Malabon, and the Visayan islands.

Actually, Pampanga has an area that is heavily watered by the great Pampanga River and its tributaries. In the delta towns of Guagua, Lubao and Sasmuan, as well as in the low-lying towns of Masantol, Macabebe, San Luis and Candaba, fisheries is a source of livelihood.

Fisherfolks catch fish either by the traditional method of setting traps in the water or by building fish ponds, which are a common sight in Macabebe and Masantol, where they are diked and seeded with fingerlings.

Upon maturity, the fish are harvested by letting the waters spill out. Large fishponds also served as swimming holes and picnic sites in the 20s-30s, as they not only had picturesque locations but they also provided an unlimited number of fish for food. Unfortunately, ponds have also become contributors to the worsening of the flood situations in these areas after the silting of major estuaries caused by the Pinatubo eruption. Fishponds have also been blamed for the disappearance of mangroves since their proliferation beginning in the 1970s.

In Candaba,  depending on the season, the swamp serves a dual function. During summer, it is used as an agricultural field to plant rice, vegetables and grow watermelons. But when the wet season arrives and rainwater fill the swamp, it turns into a lake teeming with bangus (milkfish), tilapia, paro (shrimp), ema (crab) and bulig (mudfish). (Tip: the Friday Candaba Market in Clark is the go-to place for the freshest catch of fish, shrimps, crabs, eels and other crustaceans).

 “Asan” is the Kapampangan term for “fish”, but today, when people ask “Nanung asan yu?”, they also mean “What’s your food?”—whether your “ulam” (viand) be made of meat or vegetable. “Masan” is a verb meaning “to eat”, it is specific to eating cooked fish or meat, thus, “masan asan” is “eat cooked fish”. There is hardly a difference between “asan” and “ulam”, as used today, which underlines the importance of fish in the life of the Kapampangan.

 While today’s Kapampangan is familiar with fish like itu (catfish), kanduli (salmon catfish) , sapsap (ponyfish) and talangka (small crabs), our old folks knew other kinds of fish with fascinating names that may sound alien to our ears today. A goldfish was called “talangtalang”, while a “pacut” is a small crab. Another name for kanduli is “tabangongo”, a “talunasan”, an edible eel. A “palimanoc” is a ray fish, a “tag-agan”—a swordfish, and its small look-alike is called “balulungi”, 

Our contribution to the culinary world include fish-based treats that include “burung asan” (using bulig),”balo-balo” (using tilapia, gurami and shrimp), and “taba ning talangka”. We also have our delectable versions of sisig bangus, pesang bulig and rellenong bangus. During Lent, we prepare sarsiado, escabeche, suam a tulya, and seafood bringhi. In our fiestas and holidays, we serve fancy fish dishes like Pescado el Gratin, Chuletas (fish fillet), and Pescado con Mayonesa. For many Kapampangans, there’s never a day without fish on the table.

 “Nanung asan yu?”

Tuesday, September 13, 2016


TOGETHER IN ELECTRIC DREAMS. The Mabalacat Hydro-Electric Plant in Sitio Bana, Dolores Mabalacat, harnessed the power of Mascup River to generate electricity. It was founded by former municipal presidente, Marcelo Tiglao. Late 1920s. Picture courtesy of Lord Francis Musni.

On the way to my elementary school, I would pass by a white building which,  I was told was where our town electricity and ice came from. Every day, “Mabalacat Hydro-Electric Plant” would sound off its siren to mark the start, the middle, and end of day, scheduling our lives, signaling us Mabalaqueños when to go to work, take a lunch break and when to go home.

Such was the power of that hydro-electric plant, and that power would become more apparent when I got home. Even if we had only about 5 kinds of appliances that used electricity—a 10 year-old black and white TV, a 2nd hand ref, a jetmatic water pump, 3 stand fans and my father’s Victrola radio phono—we used them a lot, day in and day out. At a flick of a switch, we could turn day into night, be refreshed, amused by comedy shows, and entertained by music and news.

It’s hard to believe that generations long before us have lived without the convenience of electricity and have survived. I often wonder what that “aha” moment felt, when electricity finally came to light up their world, literally.

 It was the capital city of Manila that first saw electric light in 1878, when Ateneo student Anacleto del Rosario paraded an electric lamp during the inauguration of the Carriedo waterworks. In 1890, Thomas Houston Electric Co. installed Manila’s first electric street lights in Escolta. It was in 1892 that the very first electric company—La Electricista—was set up along Calle San Sebastian (now Hidalgo St.) and started providing electricity three years later. Meralco (Manila Electric Railroad and Light Company) would follow in 1903.

Despite its proximity to Manila, it would take two decades before Pampanga could have its own power plants that could generate electricity from such sources as coal, natural gas, oil and later, renewable energy.

 On 10 July 1923, enterprising couple Don Juan and Dña. Nena Nepomuceno opened their Angeles Light and Power Plant, a year after their ice plant venture. It cost Php 72,000 to put up, a big amount at that time, but the couple carried on with their ambitious project. It is said that when the plant engineer turned the switch on, the city was flooded with bright lights that was met with great rejoicing. The roosters crowed and the church bells pealed as children came out to play in the streets.

The plant survived the trying wartime years when electricity had to be rationed off, as well as a fire which decimated the offices in 1945 and of course, the eruption of Pinatubo in 1991. Now known as Angeles Electric Corporation after its incorporation in 1959, it is the third largest electric company in Luzon. Some portions of Mabalacat, Bacolor, and Porac are supplied by AEC.

Not long after, the San Fernando Light and Power Company was established in 1927. It partnered with AboitizPower in 2009 enabling it to supply renewable energy to its residential, commercial and industrial customers. Aside from providing services to the city of San Fernando, SFELAPCO has consumers in Floridablanca, Bacolor, Guagua, Lubao and Sto. Tomas.

Mabalacat used to have its own electric plant owned by the Tiglaos that used the run-of-the-river hydroelectric technology to generate power. In this case, the source of water flow is Mascup River which the Tiglao family owns, located in sitio Bana, Dolores. Incidentally, the family also owned a popular river resort there. Later, it was known as “Hijos de Marcelo.Tiglao Hydro-electric Plant” and it continued to operate until the Pinatubo volcanic eruption buried the river completely in 1991. In 2006, a coal-powered plant was put up in the same town, known as the APEC (Asia-Pacific Energy Corp.) Station.

Today, most of Pampanga’s electric power is distributed to towns through the Pampanga Electric Cooperative distribution centers (PELCO I, II, III).

 Technology has grown by leaps and bound in ways that we can imagine, giving us countless gadgets and gizmos like microwave ovens, computers, tablets, cellphones, electric ranges and cars, electric this-and-that. It is almost impossible now to live unplugged. Only brownouts and long power outages serve to remind us that people once lived without or had limited access to electricity. Just like in the old days, we take out our candles, draw water from hand pumps, and tune in to Ingkung’s scratchy-sounding battery-run transistor radio to find out when power will be restored!

Monday, September 5, 2016

*405. LILIA DIZON: Kapampangan Bathaluman

BOMBSHELL BATHALUMAN. Lilia Dizon , who originated  'strong Filipino women roles' on the silver screen is of Kapampangan-American descent.

Today, Lilia Dizon is known as the mother of actors Christopher, Pinky and Lara Melissa de Leon. But she, too, had her time in the spotlight; she was also an actress of note, known for portraying strong bombshell beauties on the silver screen, a sharp departure from the 'pa-sweet' and demure Filipinas whose presence predominated local movies.

She was born in 1931 as Claire Strauss, the only child of German-Jew Abraham Strauss with Kapampangan Regina Dizon. Her father left the family for the U.S. in 1940, but then the war broke, preventing him from coming back. Claire was left with her mother in the Philippines to fend for themselves in Baguio.

At the height of the Liberation, she and her mother escaped the carnage of Baguio by walking all the way to La Union. From there, they proceeded to Manila to start life anew.  At age 15, Claire started performing at the Lotus Theater as a singer. The next year, she was discovered for the movies by writer-director Susana de Guzman--and became known to a legion of movie fans as Lilia Dizon.

Her first lead role was in the 1948 film, “Kaaway ng Babae,” where she had to act like a man in a very physical role that required a lot of running, At 17, she married director and actor Gil de Leon, sixteen years her senior. She made her mark portraying strong women roles in movies like “Sandra Wong,” “Kandilerong Pilak” (Asia’s Best Actress award in 1954), and "Bathaluman” with Mario Montenegro, a role that showed her Juno-esque figure at its most beautiful.

After her 18 year-marriage ended, Lilia left for the U.S. in 1966 to join her father in California and acquired her American citizenship. She made amends with Gil before he died, and after his demise, Lilia married Antonio Abad, a match that produced 2 more children, Antoinette and Corrie.

She would resurface in 1974 to appear with son Christopher in the award-winning Brocka film, “Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang” which would catapult her son to fame. She could not re-establish her career though, as her two young children left behind in the U.S. needed her care. Now divorced, the tough Kapampangan bombshell of the 50s is back to being Claire Strauss and is a doting grandma to fifteen grandchildren.

Monday, May 16, 2016


BABY LOVE. A Kapampangan baby from Sta. Rita wears a coral bracelet to ward off afflictions of unnatural causes, like "asug". Corals were believed to be imbued with divine powers.

Since the dawn of time, man has been warding off earthly perils— the elements, disease, and threats from fellow human beings—arming himself with tools, weapons and all sorts of ammunitions. But when the danger is unexplained and unusual, he seeks assistance from other worlds—the supernatural. Thus, in our recorded history, we transformed through rituals and incantations-- metals, wood, stone, cloth, barks and herbs into weapons against evil.

Urban legends recount how revolucionarios went to the battlefields protected by oracions (prayers) written on their undershirts. In recent memory, the fantastic escapes of the 50s Cavite gangster Nardong Putik (Leonardo Manecio) were attributed to the power of his anting-anting that he inherited from Santiago Ronquillo (alias Tiagong Akyat). The government threw everything it had into capturing him, but to no avail.

 Closer to home, Jose Maria Henson (1820/d.1867) of Angeles was said to possess a magic sword that can render a person immobile just by pointing the sword or throwing the sword at him.

But what about helpless babies brought out into this world? How can he protect himself from the “evil eye” of a stranger which can hex a baby’s health? “Asug” ("usug" in Tagalog) is a term for such an affliction characterized by fever, convulsion, stomach ache and colic. This unintentionally inflicted folk illness is also widely known in Caribbean countries and Mexico as “mal de ojo” It is the belief that the child’s distress can be eased by asking the stranger to rub his saliva on the baby's tummy, shoulder or forehead and other body parts before leaving the house, while muttering “pwera asug…pwera asug” several times.

In the 19th century, newborn babies were protected from maladies by having them wear coral bracelets. Corals were believed to possess divine powers. A Greek legend has it that that when Perseus beheaded Medusa, he laid the Gorgon’s bloodied head on a bed of seaweeds, turning them into corals.

 In the Middle Ages, people kept pieces of corals in their purses, as talismans against witchcraft. Because of their shape, coral branches were also thought to protect the bearer from lightning strikes. For Tibetans and American Indians, the coral was an effective protection against the evil eye, while for Christians, the coral pink color symbolized the blood of Christ.

No wonder, coral jewelry became traditional gifts to both expectant mothers (for its blood-rejuvenating property) and their newborn babies (as protective amulets). Greek mothers hung coral strands on babies’ cradles while Romans strung coral necklaces for their kids. Coral was also used to prevent teething problems, which, in the early 19th century was believed to be responsible for many infant deaths. It was incorporated into teething rings to prevent bleeding gums.

 Silver objects were popular christening gifts in early 18th century Europe, as the precious metal was believed not only to have purifying effects but also repulsed evil of supernatural origin effectively. Silver rattles, bells, whistles and teethers –many made with coral trims--were standard presents to children of wealthy families, a tradition that did not catch on in the Philippines.

Of course, while Catholic sacramentals like medals (St. Benedict, patron against contagious diseases, is a popular choice) have replaced expensive coral and silver charms, there are still a few charms to help safeguard babies’ health and wellness.

Currently available is a “kontra-asug” bracelet that mimics those rarer and more expensive coral jewelry. Made of red plastic and black plastic beads, the bracelet comes with a red cloth sachet with a cross outside, containing seeds and dried plants, which can be pinned on the baby’s shirt. The bracelet serves to prevent “asug” as well sorcery.

So next time you bring baby out, never fear! He is not just powered by his vitamins and minerals to help build his ‘resistensya’, but--according to the old folks--he has sure protection against all sorts of maledictions, thanks to a charm bracelet that even Wonder Woman would want to wear. “Pwera asug!”.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

*403. TOTS IN STOTS: Life as a Soldier’s Kid in Clark Field

CHILDREN GO WHERE I SEND THEE. A military officer and his wife, hold their Pampanga-born twin babies in front of their Stotsenburg quarters. It was a challenge to raise kids in a camp before it became an urbanized, self-contained community in the 1970s. ca. 1920s.

The expansive sawgrass-carpetted land northwest of Kuliat that soldiers of the U.S. Army claimed in 1902 and later named Fort Stotsenburg had, by the 1920s, become a liveable place with a growing reputation as a preferred assignment by military servicemen. The camp became a self-contained community with many amenities that improved immensely its social environment.

Many American officers were given the privilege to bring over their families to the Philippines and reside inside the camp, helping them ward off homesickness and boredom. In 1909, there were just about  95 dependent children of both American officers and enlisted men, but by the mid-1930s, almost all of the American officers came with their wives and children. The birth of American babies further increased the child population, posing several issues such as finding domestic helps as well as establishing a school system on-base.

There was no problem looking for nannies, as labor was plentiful and affordable. American officers’ wives not only had Chinese cooks,  gardeners, lavanderas at their employ, but also had Filipino, Japanese or Chinese nannies and nurses to look after their babies and toddlers. When the sun went down at the camp, nannies would take their wards to the Officers’ Line (now the Parade grounds) for their regular afternoon promenade, a  leisurely stroll likened to a veritable “march of nations”.

In the course of the year, a program of events was planned for the amusement and social entertainment of Stotsenburg children—ranging from birthday parties, elaborate picnics,  aircraft rides at Kindley Field, animal and pet shows, to Santa’s visit  every December. Christmas trees were shipped from the U.S. and were set up on the porches, which kids then decorated.

Schooling of kids proved to be a challenge in the early years of the camp as there were not enough students to warrant a full-time school. The post chapel, in the 1900s, served as a school house, and there was also a separate school for the children of African-American soldiers by 1922.  Tutors were employed to teach five grades in one room , including a certain Miss Edmonds who was hired after a fruitless stint at a local Filipino school.

Two schools were built inside the camp in the 1920s—the 4-room Dean C. Worcester School (1925) and the Leonard Wood School (1929) which offered instructions from Grades 1-12. The schools flourished until the early 1930s.

It was only after World War II that the base went on a school-building spree, including an array of secondary schools for dependents. In 1949, the first Clark Elementary School for grades 1-8 was constructed near the site of the  future Wurtsmith/Wagner High School site. Six sawali buildings housed Grades 9-12. Eight teachers from the U.S. arrived in June 1949 to complete the faculty.

The Clark Dependents’ School, which started in 1950, evolved into the Wurtsmith School that offered both elementary and high school level education  The new Wurtsmith Memorial High School building was opened in 1961, and was designed for “tropical teaching and learning” (it was air-conditioned). On the other hand, Wagner High School, named after the WWII pilot Lt. Col. Boyd David Wagner,  was inaugurated in October 1962.

During school breaks, parents enrolled their hyperactive kids at the Hobby Shop that taught arts and craft subjects like pottery and leather-tooling. Other air force kids favored swimming and going to the outdoor theaters to while their time away.

Sadly, many of these places closely associated with the growing up years of American children in the heyday of  Clark,  are all gone, devastated by the great eruption of Mount Pinatubo. So, too, are the children who once had a run of the place—they have moved on, with many returning home to America as adults, fathers, mothers, grandparents themselves. But for many of them, a part of their childhood remains in a once-mighty military base that became their temporary home far, far away--Pampanga’s Clark Air Base.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


LUCAS, KING OF BALUGAS, arrayed in regal splendor, in military uniform, boots, hat, and complete with military medals, badges and a swagger stick. 1922. Photo courtesy of Mr. Jim Biven.

Our history shows that Negritos (Balugas, now used pejoratively) , like other ethnic groups, have always been marginalized since the day lowlanders took over their lands and conquistadors drove them back into the far reaches of the islands, in uncharted mountains and forests. Still others were sold into slavery.

No wonder, Negritos continued to be nomadic in their ways, unable to integrate with other Filipinos. For many years, this has helped them retain their customs and tradition, including their system of leadership.

 The American Thomasite Luther Parker, in his report on work among Pampanga Negritos in 1908, wrote about a certain “King of All Negritos of Pampanga”, by the name of Lazaro. But while the Negritos did have their own leadership system, there were no “kings” to speak of. Among the clans in their community, seniority is equated to authority. The oldest member of the clan was sought for advice, especially when tribal transgressions took place, and was looked up to as a chief.

 It was an American general who first gave a Negrito a royal title--Gen. Johnson Hagood--who took command of Camp Stotsenburg in 1922. By the time of his assignment, the Negritos had become privileged visitors of the post, silently paddling across officers’ residences, peddling orchids, ferns, animals and cultural souvenirs like bows and arrows to the foreigners. Negritos had easy access to the camp, and Americans let them be—even gamely posing with the naked natives for photos.

Gen. Hagood was also fascinated by these dark-skinned Filipinos; he even wrote many anecdotes about them, which filled up 7 pages of his published 2-volume memoirs.

 Beyond his amusement and interest, Gen. Hagood shared the belief with fellow Americans that help and protection would not come from the local government; hence, he viewed the Negritos with paternalistic concern. The one who struck most his fancy was the Baluga chief, “General Lucas”, an elderly Negrito with a dignified mien and who conducted himself with a confident air.

 Gen. Lucas once presented himself to the general arrayed as “a brigadier general in a miniature khaki uniform wielding a sword” and wearing an assortment of “fantastic and humorous commendations”, one of which was a Manila Carnival medal that identified him as “a prize bull”.

 Hagood proclaimed Gen. Lucas as “King of Balugas ”, and gave him a peace-keeping role in his region that was often beset by feuding Baluga tribes. He was elevated to kingship in the presence of hundreds of fellow tribe members and amidst great fanfare as Gen. Hagood conferred more decorations to the new king. He was given the titles "Defender of the Orchids” and the “Grand Commander of the Order of Dead Mules, Second Class”.

 Of course, the ceremonies were all done in good humor, but Gen. Lucas took his title seriously, even posing for an “official royal photo” smartly dressed in military regalia. What his fellow Negritos felt or thought of at that time can never be known, but for the next decades, they continued to become fixtures of Clark Field, with many families settling in “Baluga Village” in the 1970s. They enjoyed perks such as free medical care (the base hospital allocated a budget for them), free food from welfare groups run by the wives of American servicemen, and they could also set up stalls to sell “authentic” souvenir weapons (actually, Manila-made).

 King Lucas is now but a blur in our memory, a king of nothing with his small” kingdom” nearly gone—swallowed by Pinatubo, taken over by malls and resorts, stolen by unscrupulous land grabbers. Even the culture and traditions of his race are being obliterated and changed by modernism. Help from the government has been too long in coming. Yet, the hardiness of these simple, free-spirited Filipinos remains, but only time will tell if this is enough for their future survival.