Wednesday, November 30, 2016


PAMPANGA COLLEGE STUDENTS. Attending an educational workshop in Baguio. 1920s.

 The Kapampangans, during the Spanish colonial period, were a favored lot, primarily for their ready assistance to Spain in their military exploits. The rewards of loyalty included the giving of privilege to children of Kapampangan principalia to study in exclusive Spanish schools in Manila.

 In the 17th century, schools such as the Colegio de San Jose and Colegio de San Felipe de San Asturias began admitting Kapampangan students. Secondary level education in Manila schools, like San Juan de Letran and Ateneo de Manila, were preferred by Pampanga’s elite in the 19th century, as they carried more prestige.

 A small number of Kapampangans went on from secondary schools to higher schools of learning for their college degrees. Local choices included University of Santo Tomas, Ateneo and the Dominican run-Letran. A few Kapampangans like Jose Alejandrino of Arayat, managed to study abroad; he went to school in the 1890s at the University of Barcelona in Madrid (along with Rizal, del Pilar and Luna) and finished chemical engineering in Belgium.

 With the coming of the Americans, education became an important concern of the colonial government. Significant reforms were instituted—three levels of education were established: . Elementary (four primary years and 3 intermediate years), Secondary (4-years of high school) and College. New schools—from vocational to business, agricultural to normal--were opened in cities and provinces. This paved the way for more educational opportunities for college-age students. Some of the most important colleges and universities were founded during the American rule.

 As Pampanga’s economy boomed, the province drew closer to the sphere of Manila and affluent Kapampangans adjusted by becoming more cosmopolitan in behavior and outlook—and a college degree became every parents’ dream for their children.

 Early on, Kapampangan showed a relatively high commitment to advanced education. Kapampangan students with teaching ambitions flocked to the Philippine Normal School when it opened in 1901. In the first decade of the founding of the University of the Philippines, a substantial number of Kapampangans enrolled in courses from Medicine, Pharmacy, Nursing, Music, Law, Education with Liberal Arts and Fine Arts.

 Beginning in 1903, students who excelled academically, were given U.S. government scholarships, and were sent to America as “pensionados”, to specialize in their fields of studies. The first batch included 3 Kapampangans—Jose Sanvictores, Miguel Nicdao, and Joe Espiritu. In the 2nd batch of 18 scholars were future justice and hero Jose Abad Santos; future Pampanga governor and civil engineer Sotero Baluyot who studied in Iowa; future solon Fabian de la Paz of Macabebe, who was enrolled at the Western Illinois State Teachers’ College; and medical student Gervacio Santos Cuyugan, who would become one of Pres. Quezon’s personal physicians.

 As more colleges and universities were established in the capital city-- University of Manila (1914), Philippine Women's University (1919), Far Eastern University (1933)—local private schools also sprouted in Pampanga which would eventually become centers for tertiary education.

Guagua National Institute (now college), founded in 1919, offered first year subjects in Junior Normal and Associate in Arts beginning in 1939-40. Holy Angel Academy (1933 now Holy Angel University) became a college in 1948 when it opened its College of Commerce 1948, followed by Liberal Arts and Education.

 In the post-war years, Republic Academy (now Republic Central Colleges) was founded by the Lazatins and became a full-fledged college in 1947 with the opening of its Normal and Education programs. Meanwhile, University of the Philippines put up its Clark Field branch in the 1950s to serve both American and Filipino students wishing to earn college diplomas.

 Assumption College (now University) opened in 1963 with initial A.B. Arts, BS Commerce, and BS Education programs. Angeles Institute of Technology (now Angeles University Foundation), which began as a technological school in 1962, would achieve university status after just 9 years of operation.

 Schools with history-- like the Bacolor School of Arts and Trade (1861) and the Magalang Farm School (1885)-- have metamorphosed into full-service universities—now known as Don Honorio Ventura Technological State University and Pampanga Agricultural State University.

 Our local colleges and universities have also become more competitive with Manila schools. Premium courses like law, medicine and its allied sciences, and highly specialized courses in engineering, are available locally. Linkages with Manila and international corporate partners have made on-the-job training abroad possible. Their graduates have also been doing well in professional board exams, with consistently high passing rates.

But in the end, easier access to education means merely a foot in the door to the future. On the part of the college student, it takes a firm hold on one's dream and the will to succeed.

Monday, November 21, 2016


TAKING CENTER STAGE. Compania Crispelita actors and singers set the mood for their performance with a rousing song number for the barrio audience of Lanang, Candaba. 1957.

Candaba, one of Pampanga’s ancient towns, represent the lowest point of Central Luzon. It is also a good distance away from the capital and commercial cities of San Fernando and Angeles, and from the 1930s to as recent as the 1950s, the town remained far removed from other Pampanga communities. Trips to Candaba were compounded by its marshy terrain, floods and the presence of Huk lairs in the area which made travelling difficult and hazardous.

 Candabaweños, despite this isolation, looked to the occasional fiestas for entertainment, as movies could only be watched in distant urban towns. In some places, the only tenuous link which they have with the stage is the obsolete moro-moro and the dying zarzuela. On this account, artistic and enterprising locals started putting up dramatic troupes, beginning in in the 1920s and which flourished till the post-war years.

 These theatrical groups or companies, went from barrio to barrio to show off their wares, a motley group of actors, musicians, directors, designers and technicians, to stage plays on makeshift stages before enraptured village crowds.

 One of the earliest groups, was the Compania Ocampo, organized in 1923 by Isaac C. Gomez and Doña Concepcion Ocampo y Limjuco of Candaba. Gomez, a prolific poet who even competed against Crissot, wrote his 5-act opus, “Sampagang Asahar”which dealt with the prevailing tenancy problems of the province. He became the resident playwright and director of the company for five years, and the group succeeded in restoring public interest in drama.

Compania Ocampo remained active in the mid 1950s, mounting regular shows often in the town plaza with komedyas and contemporary zarzuelas. Members then included Pons Amurao, Esting Tungol, Curing Mallari, Andres Balagtas, Flor Garcia, and the Manapuls. Providing healthy competition was Compania Paz, a zarzuela company founded by Judge Florentino Torres in the early 1920s.

 In 1961, the eminent writer Jose Gallardo of barrio Gulap, Candaba with Andres Balagtas revived the Compania Ocampo. After the demise of Reyes in 1967, Gallardo reorganized the theatrical group again under his own name. The Martial Law curfew imposed in 1972 made it difficult to stage evening performances, so the group was disbanded.

 In the mid 1950s, the artists of barrio Lanang, led by the noted Candaba poet Jose Pelayo, orangized themselves into a dramatic troupe known as Compania Crispelita. It soon became a village institution, with its travelling shows all around the province.

In December 1957, the company gave a command performance of their play entitled “Calbario ning Ulila” (Calvary of an orphan). The story touched the heart strings of Lanang’s drama fans, as the story was something they have seen in the group’s rehearsals, and, in many ways, actually lived—the tyranny of rich landlords, the oppression of peasants , and the final triumph of good versus evil.

 The show, directed by Agripino Suba and assisted by apuntador (prompter) Jose Pelayo, and Hugo Ocampo, drew crowds from neighboring barrios. Before an enthusiastic audience, the thespians could not, but give an inspired performance. Providing the musical background was a live band of musicians who also got their share of audience appreciation.

 “Our severest critics”, Director Suba said, “are in our own village and if we got their nod, that means we will be welcomed anywhere.

 The era of traveling theater companies is long gone, but the people of Candaba can take pride in the fact that, for a few decades, Candaba’s peripatetic theater groups broke barriers of distance and access to bring their art to their fellow Kapampangans. The era of companias may be long gone, but the legacy of performances of these Candaba artists, playwrights, poets, directors, musicians and stage hands, will always be remembered.

Drama in Candaba, The Sunday Times Magazine, 29 Dec. 1957,pp. 15-19. 

Cabusao, Romeo C. Candaba, Balayan ning Leguan. pp. 344-345. 

Zapanta-Manlapaz, Edna. Kapampangan Literarture: A Historical Survey and Anthology. Ateneo de Manila University Press, Quezon City, Manila. 1981.pp. 25-26 

Lacson, Evangelina. Kapampangan Writing: A Select Compendium and Critique. 1984

Wednesday, November 16, 2016


BLACK IS THE COLOR. Two African-American cavalry men, known as "Buffalo Soldiers" at Camp Stotsenburg, ca. 1918-20.

During the Philippine-American War that lasted from 1899-1902, the United States sent regiments of African-Americans as reinforcements to help fight the Filipino “insurrectos” led by Emilio Aguinaldo.

The 9th and 10th Cavalry that had previously fought native Americans in the last Indian Wars, earned the nickname “Buffalo Soldiers”, possibly because the soldiers’ curly hair looked similar to a buffalo’s dark mane, and their aggressiveness was likened to that of a ferocious bison. The Buffalo Soldiers later came to include the 24th and 25th Infantry, which also had all-black members.

There were over 5,000 Buffalo Soldiers that arrived in the Philippines, and hundreds were stationed in Camp Stotsenburg and in towns like Magalang, from where they got their marching orders. A few soldiers have notable experiences and stories to tell, relative to their assignment in the Philippines, and Pampanga, in particular.

 African-American soldier Richard Johnson, arrived in Stotsenburg in 1916, as a member of a medical unit of the 9th Cavalry. It was the 4th time that Corporal Johnson was sent to the Philippines; his first was as a 19-year old enlistee in 1899.

While in the camp, Johnson brought attention to the deplorable conditions there, which posed many health risks to soldiers, particularly, malaria. He also wrote about the poor living conditions of soldiers, in which he noted that married men below the rank of a staff sergeant had to build their own living quarters made of bamboo—at their own expense!

His observations paved the way for the next commanding officer of the camp to institute drastic measures to improve the “old and decrepit camp”. Johnson would have a long career in military service and would later write his memoirs about his U.S. Army life from 1899 to 1922.

 Perhaps the most written about African-American soldier was the deserter, Corporal David Fagen, of the 24th Infantry. On 17 Nov. 1899, Fagen defected to the Filipino army because he could no longer stand his sergeant’s constant harassment. He sought refuge in the areas around Mount Arayat, which were guerrilla-protected. For his dauntless courage, he was promoted to captain by Gen. Jose Alejandrino in 1900. Such was his popularity that Filipino soldiers often referred to him as “General Fagen.”

 His most daring exploit was the capture of a steam launch and its cargo of arms, while on the Pampanga River. Fagen earned notoriety in the U.S. press and was described by the New York Times as a “cunning and highly skilled guerilla officer who harassed and evaded large conventional American units.” It took a Tagalog bounty hunter, Anastacio Bartolome, to end his daring run, who delivered his severed head to American officers, after he and his men supposedly killed him while Fagen was taking a river bath.

But the Buffalo Soldier with the most fascinating story to tell, is Ernest Spokes of Chattanooga, Tennessee. To escape oppressive racism in the Deep South, Stokes volunteered for the Spanish American War.

After training at the Presidio Army Camp in San Francisco, Stokes was shipped off to the Philippines in 1898. But even in a foreign land, Spokes continued to face discrimination in the hands of his white superiors who often assigned him at the frontline. Nevertheless, he performed his duties well and became a sergeant in his unit.

 The Buffalo Soldiers formed a bond of kinship with Filipinos which incensed their Caucasian superiors, who, incidentally, referred to both groups as ‘savages”. They came to understand the cause of the Filipino fighters against the U.S. so, they refused to shoot them in their encounters.

After the war, many of these soldiers, who had come to love the people and their culture, opted to remain in the Philippines. By 1921, about 200 men of the 9th Cavalry had married Filipino women—and one of them was Ernest Stokes.

 Stokes first fell in love with a Nueva Ecijana from Peñaranda, Maria Bunag, whom he married in 1902, a union that produced three daughters-Felicia, Teodora and Dominga. The years after Maria’s death in 1917 were a sad and troubling period for the black Filipina sisters, who were abused by relatives. 

But in 1923, Stokes met the vivacious Roberta Dungca, a 16 year old illiterate girl from Angeles, where his base was located. Despite their age difference, Roberta was charmed by Stokes who spoke fluent Kapampangan (he also knew Tagalog, Spanish and a bit of Chinese). Their marriage was facilitated when Stokes was caught kissing Roberta—a no-no in the local courtship tradition.

Stokes and his young bride left for the U.S. in 1928, where they settled in West Oakland, California. Roberta raised her three stepdaughters as if they were her own. The couple would have no children of their own, but they adopted the daughter of Teodora, They also got reacquainted with former Buffalo soldiers and socialized with their Filipina wives.

 Stokes, who spent 25 years of his life in the Philippines, died in February 1936, at around age 66. Roberta would marry a second time, to Manuel Unabia. Buffalo Soldier Ernest Stokes is buried in the Presidio in San Francisco, the same place where he started his military career.

Today, a monument stands there to honor the memory of these volunteers who ventured to an “unholy war of conquest” across the seas , only to find their own hearts conquered by Filipinos whom they had sworn to fight.

(Richard Johnson): 
American Voices of World War I: Primary Source Documents, 1917-1920, By Martin Marix Evans p. 1,”Prelude to War”.
Clark Field and the U.S. Army Air Corps in the Philippines 1919-1942, Richard B. Meixsel, New Day Publishers © 2002 
(David Fagen): 
Hidden Heroism: Black Soldiers in America's Wars, By Robert B. Edgerton,”The war to Save Humanity”,p. 57. 
(Ernest Spokes): 
 The Woyingi Blog Buffalo Soldiers in the Philippines: A Filipina American Grandaughter remembers her African American Grandfather 
Voices of the Asian American and Pacific Islander Experience, Volume 1, By Sang Chi, Emily Moberg Robinson, p. 233-235 
Filipinos in the East Bay, by Evelyn Luluguisen, Lillian Galedo,p.15

Friday, November 4, 2016


LORD OF THE LANDS. Spaniard Jose Puig,  a successful owner of  a milling business and a 
 dealer of sugar milling machiinery, owned and operated the vast Hacienda Puig in Pampanga.

In the economic heyday of Pampanga brought about by its lucrative sugar industry, scoress of Kapampangan landowners raked in untold wealth from the fat of their lands. Prominent names like Mariano Pamintuan (Angeles), Jose L. De Leon, Roman Valdes (Bacolor) Augusto Gonzales, Manuel Escaler (Apalit), Jose Maria Panlilio (Mexico) , Vicente Lim-Ongco (Guagua) and Manuel Urquico were top on the list of the province’s richest and most influential hacienderos.

 Joining them were a small group of Spaniards who took residence in Pampanga in the 1800s, after the government lifted a ban against living in the provinces. They acquired lands, became agriculturists and founded viable extensive estates. (The Chinese showed no interest in land speculation, opting to engage in commerce, manufacturing and processing of products.)

 A list of landowning Spaniards from 1887-1888 included about 58 names—fewer than those in Negros, possibly because Pampanga landowners tended to hold fast to their lands, thus creating difficulties to outside investors. Many of these Spaniards also appeared to have leased their property than personally run the affairs of their land. At the turn of the 20th century and into the early years of American regime, the list of prominent Spanish sugarland owners include the following:

The Arrastias. The patriarch of the Arrastias of Lubao was,Valentin Roncal Arrastia, a Basque from Allo, Navarra, Spain, who went to the Philippines to seek his fortune. He, not only found wealth in the country, but also a Kapampangan wife—Francisca Serrano Salgado of Lubao. The couple’s consolidated properties included their vast hacienda planted with sugar and rice, as well as flourishing fish ponds that provided a luxurious life for their 9 children. Befitting their stature, the Arrastias built a magnificent residence sometime in the first two decades of the 1900s, fronting the Lubao municipio. 

The Gils.  In the 1850s, the colonial government allowed the selling of lands to Spaniards and one beneficiary was Spaniard Felino Gil. He turned his land parcel of over 530 hectares into the Hacienda Mamada de Pio. Gil was first of many generations of his family to settle in their Porac hacienda. While other Spaniards sold off their lands to natives who divided them into smaller portions. But Spanish settlers in towns like Lubao, Floridablanca and Porac retained their large estates, some as big as 1000 hectares. The Gils remained in Porac for a long time, including a nephew from Valencia, Spain-Rafael Gil.

The Puigs. Spaniard Jose Puig, who has been accumulating lands for over years, established a profitable sugar milling business and the selling of agricultural equipment back in the 1890s. He became a well-known dealer of steam mill machinery, which he also leased out to farmers. He is credited for the shift into steam milling by many Pampanga farmers. Puig remained a farmer in the province after the arrival of Americans. Other Puigs like Francisco Puig continued the landowning tradition by acquiring 51 hectares of rice and sugarlands. A daughter of Don Honorio Ventura married a Puig and settled in Barcelona.

The Toledos. By 1854, Roberto Toledo had amassed large tracts of agricultural lands in the Porac-Lubao-Floridablanca area, which he rented out. His son, Roberto Jr. managed to increase the landholdings to over 3,000 hectares. He become one of the most progressive sugar planters in Pampanga. The Toledo estate was not spared from the violence in the late 1930s that rocked Pampanga’s sugar areas, which caused landlowners to form an association to protect their interests. The Toledos and their casamacs settled for a 50 centavo increase –raising their pay to 2 pesos per ton, for every cane delivery to Pasumil.

 The Valdeses. Hacienda del Carmen was founded in Floridablanca by Capt. Basilio Valdes of the Spanish Navy, who married a Manileña mestiza, Francisca Salvador. The agricultural lands were later managed by his children, led by Benito Salvador Valdes, a doctor, who was a classmate of Jose Rizal at the Universidad Central de Madrid in 1885. During the Revolution, Valdes was imprisoned in Fort Santiago for charges of complicity. Later, Benito Salvador became the director of San Juan de Dios Hospital in 1900. With first wife, Filomena Pica, he had a son, Dr. Basilio J. Pica Valdes who became the president of Hacienda del Carmen, aside from being Quezon’s Chief of Staff and defense secretary. The place where their tenants lived and work was named Barangay Valdes.

 Other known Spanish landlords included Don Ricardo Herreros (who owned an 81 hectare sugarland), Vicente Borrero, Julian Blanco, Manuel Fernandez, Juan Landaluce, Dolores Lombera and Emilio Borrero.

 The days of those grand Spanish-owned haciendas are now long gone—the properties sold by the original owners’ descendants, subjected to land reform, or redeveloped as residential subdivisions.

Vestiges of Spanish colonial power and presence could still be seen in some parts of Pampanga—the Pio Chapel and the manor of the Gils remain in Porac looked after by caretakers, and barangay Valdes continues to thrive in Floridablanca. The fabulous Arrastia mansion has been sold and relocated to Bataan as part of the Las Casas de Acuzar heritage resort. Finally, Kapampangans could re-claim and live on their lands again.

John Larkin, The Pampangans / Sugar and the Origins of Modern Philippine Society
Sugar News 1925 ed.

Thursday, October 27, 2016


YOU BY MY SIDE, THAT'S HOW I SEE US. Dr. Jesus Eusebio, noted opthalmologist from San Fernando, and wife Josefina Buyson of Bacolor, at their fabulous wedding in 1936.

If one wants to see an occasion that best shows the Kapampangan spirit and his all-out lust for life, then one has to go to milestone celebrations of family members—debuts, birthdays, graduations, funerals, and weddings. 

In the glory days of the 1920s and 30s, thanks to the booming sugar industry that made millionaires out of sugar planters and agricultural land owners, Kapampangans could very well hold events that were also virtual displays of affluence, power, social status, pomp and splendor, with a bit of braggadocio and ostentation thrown in.

Such was what characterized the legendary wedding that united the accomplished Dr. Jesus Eusebio of San Fernando and the beautiful Josefina Buyson of Bacolor in 1936, both children of two well-landed Pampanga families.

Dr. Jesus Eusebio was the eldest son of Don Andres Eusebio,  a prominent sugar planter and businessman. The older Eusebio also sat on the board of directors of Pampanga Sugar Development Co. (PASUDECO) and San Fernando Electric Light and Power Co. (SFELAPCO). Married to Asuncion Santos, his other sons included Eugenio, Amando, and Alfonso. Jesus, who finished his Associate in Arts at Ateneo,  was already a practicing ophthalmologist when he proposed to his lovely fiancee, Josefina Buyson.

Pitang, as she was called,  was one of the children of Mariano Buyson y Lampa of Bacolor, with his wife Dña. Maria de la Paz Miranda Angeles.  She and her sisters (Carmen, Luz, Emiliana, Asuncion and Pilar) were considered socialites of the town, and they grew up all accomplished—Carmen became an ambassador while Emiliana, a lawyer. But Pitang was the star, especially during the Mancomunidad Pampangueña balls, where her elegant fashion style came to fore—she was always dressed by high society couturier, Ramon Valera.

On April 12, 1936, at the ancient San Guillermo Church of Bacolor,  Jesus and Josefina were united in matrimony by the parish priest, Padre Andres Bituin. The church was decorated with flowers especially brought in a day before by Manila’s foremost florist, Mr. Francisco Hilario.

The bride was resplendent in a wedding gown made by Pacita Longos, the most famous couturier of the era who dressed up Manila’s crème de la crème and Philippine Carnival beauties.

Her  retinue included her sister, Carmen, as her Maid of Honor. Pitang’s close friends,  Rosario Puno, Ester Lazatin, Aurora Hizon, Gloria Dizon and Maria Joven Ramirez, were her Bridesmaids.
Jesus, smartly dressed in a black tailcoat, was attended by his groomsmen, brithers Eugenio, Amando, Alfonso,  brother-in-law Antonino Buyson, and Rodolfo Hizon, future San Fernando mayor.

Standing as principal sponsors were Dña. Mercedes Paras, Dña. Bartola S. de Dizon, along with the bride’s father. Completing the entourage was Master Tomas Dizon, the ring bearer, and Corona Eusebio, flower girl.

Reception followed at the expansive residence of the Buysons in Bacolor, which was dressed up for the occasion. Music and food overflowed, with entertainment provided by Serafin Payawal and Tirso Cruz, Manila’s best big bands.

After their wedding, the couple left on the liner President  Hoover, to honeymoon  in Europe and the U.S. For days, the en grande wedding was the talk of the town, with their wedding pictures splashed on the pages of national magazines. There would be other weddings after that, involving scions and daughters of other rich Kapampangan families, but none was raved and talked about in the same breadth as the Buyson-Eusebio nuptials, held at the height of Pampanga’s age of prosperity and plenty.

Sunday, October 16, 2016


THE NATION'S FINEST. The San Fernando Police Force,provincial winner in 1965, and national champions in 1970, "Best Municipal Police Force of the Year". 

The reputation of the Philippine police force today has been tarnished with front-page news of their alleged participations in extra-judicial killings, drug deals, police brutality, extortion and corruption—the same crimes which they were supposedly sworn to fight.

Of late, even Central Luzon policemen have been revealed to be involved in shady operations. The sacking of the Pampanga CIDG head in March 2014-- for re-selling seized shabu from legitimate raids-- is proof of how serious and entrenched the problem is, happening within the ranks of our so-called protectors and defenders.

There was a time when our Kapampangan policemen were dubbed as “the nation’s finest”, with a spotless reputation for their excellence in upholding law and order in the province. Leading the way is the San Fernando Police Force, which has been winning top awards under police chief Amando R. Cruz since its recognition in 1965 as Pampanga’s best.

 In 1970, now known as the San Fernando Police Department, it first copped Best Police Force in the entire first PC Zone, which qualified them to compete for the national finals. In formal rites at Camp Crame, the San Fernando Police Dept. won the nation’s highest award for police organizations—the Municipal Police Force of the Year—garnering 93 out of 100 points.

Just as successful was the 173rd Philippine Constabulary (PC) of Angeles City, which was adjudged as the Best PC Company of the Year, thus sealing a double victory for Pampanga’s proud men in uniform.

The “fightingest police force" from San Fernando, led by Chief of Police Pablo Mañago, were cited for having no single administrative case against them; they also have the highest percentage of crimes solved. They also received merits for their military discipline and courtesy.

 On the other hand, the 173rd PC of Angeles scored an amazing 914 points out of the 1000 perfect score. This is the first award for a PC contingent coming from Pampanga, considering the questionable image of the Philippine Constabulary in the region’s NPA hotbed. The company maintained its record of discipline and courtesy, with no reports of abuses and no court-martial charges against its members.

Under Maj. Teotimo Tangonan, the 173rd Company commander, the scope of their duties cover Angeles, Mabalacat, Porac and Magalang—which are considered Pampanga’s “hotspots”, prone to Huk attacks and violence. Back then, to see how efficient Pampanga’s police organizations were in keeping law and order, people just have to go to the capital town to watch the patrolmen in action—manning traffic and keeping things under control.

It is a different story for our police force now, who are getting a beating by the bad press they get every day. It will take more than feeble image-building efforts like “Gwapulis” and police pageant and talent winners to put the sheen back on the tarnished badges of our men in uniform. “Change is coming ”, the new administration promised, so let change come from within, starting with our young police cadets. Then perhaps, we will get our “nation’s finest” back. .

Monday, October 3, 2016


BIRDS OF THE SAME FEATHER. A Kapampangan girl holds a fake dove ("pati pati"), a painted flock of which are shown flying or resting on the steps as part of the studio scenography. Our feathered friends have always been an important part of our culture, traditional beliefs, everyday livelihood and folklore. ca. 1917.

They have always been a source of jokes for my Tagalog-speaking friends—these soundalike words “ayup-hayop” and “ibon-ebon” that hold different, but related meanings. “Ibon” is the Tagalog term for “bird”, but its near-homophone –“ebun”—is but an egg in Kapampangan. Similarly, that which Tagalogs call “hayop” (animal), is a mere ‘bird’ (ayup) in Kapampangan.

 In the days of yore, however, the secondary definition of “ayop”, as noted in Bergaño’s compilation of Kapampangan words, included brute animals such as cows and carabaos, amphibians, reptiles and insects. Today, “ayup” is a word solely used for our fine-feathered friends.

 The wetlands of Candaba are famed for being bird sanctuaries, where migratory birds from other lands leave their original habitat temporarily to escape harsh weather conditions and seek food in the environs of our marshlands.

Birdwatchers from all over the Philippines and around the world have started to discover Candaba’s bird sanctuary, which is being developed as a tourist destination. A collateral event—the Ibon-Ebun (Bird-Egg) Festival is celebrated annually, from Feb. 1-2, to honor not only the town patron, the pugo (quail)-carrying San Nicolas, but also to promote eco-tourism using its varied species of birds as attraction.

 Aside from Candaba, there was a time in the 1950s when the sleepy town of San Luis came alive with birdhunters coming in droves to hunt for jack snipes, locally known as “pasdan”. The season for snipes begin in September, when the chill of the northern countries send these birds southbound, with millions finding refuge in Pampanga and Tarlac.

“Pasdans” are prized for their tasty meat, so they are avidly hunted by locals as well as hobbysts from nearby Clark Air Base. The birds often perched on trees that fringed the vast rice paddies and marshes of Pampanga; in fact, they could be found all the way to Concepcion, Tarlac. The small birds are easy to spot by their sheer number. A bigger and more colorful variety—the “pakubo”—is rarer and more elusive. In 1955, the gaming limit for “pasdan” was limited to 50 birds per person.

“Pasdans” are either grilled or cooked adobo-style, a delicacy seldom seen on Pampanga tables today. Our province was once blessed with an abundance of birds of the most bewildering assortment—we even had local names for them.

We had eagles, falcons, hawks (agila, alibasbas, balawe), parrot varieties (katala loru, abukai or Philippine cockatoo, kilakil or white parrot, kulasisi), doves and pigeons ( pati-pati, batubato, the white-eared alimukun ), sparrows (denas paking, denas costa, denas bale, maya) and swallows (layang-layang, sibad, timpapalis). There were marsh birds ( patirik-tirik, uis, dumara), pelicans (kasili, pagala), long-legged herons and egrets (tagak, tikling, kandungangu, bako).

Then, there were birds noted for their colorful and unusual plumage (kuliawan or oriole, luklak or yellow vented bulbul, kansusuit or lyre bird, pabo real or peacock, silingsilingan or pied fantail) and for the cacophony of sounds they create (pipit, siabukut or Philippine coucal, tarat, martinis).

Much of our natural environment have changed irrevocably—caused by years of thoughtless land developments and conversions, illegal logging and deforestation, and of course, global warming. The devastating effects of the Pinatubo eruption also had far-reaching effects on our bird habitats, such that these creatures are no longer familiar to today’s generations, for they are rarely heard or sighted.

Their important roles in our culture and folklore are remembered in myths of old, as in the case of that sacred blue kingfisher from the marshlands of Pampanga, whose appearance foreshadowed events of profound significance--either gainful or grim—to humankind. This revered bird was called “batala”, who gave his name to the mightiest of ancient gods—Bathala.