Wednesday, January 11, 2017

419. REV. FR. SIXTO M. MANALOTO: A Story of a Generous Soul

THE BENEVOLENT REVEREND. Rev. Fr. Sixto M. Manaloto, long-time cura parocco of San Bartolome Parish, Magalang, Pampanga. Signed photo given to Fr. Maximino Manuguid of Mabalacat. 1915.

The big-hearted Kapampangan religious with a reputation for his boundless generosity and his enduring passion to serve God and people was born Sixto Malino Manaloto on  6 July 1891 in Capas, Tarlac. Though Tarlac-born, Fr. Manaloto would make a lasting impression on Magaleños, serving their parish for an unprecedented period of nearly 30 years.

The young Sixto found God’s calling early in life, and at the age of 14, entered the Seminario de San Francisco Javier (the name given by the Jesuits, upon their return to the Philippines, to Colegio de San José) in 1905. In the beginning of the school year 1911-1912, Manaloto, along with seminarians Pedro Guevara, Felix Martin, Emilio de la Cruz and  Santiago Talavera, were admitted to San Carlos Seminary on Arzobispado Street beside the San Ignacio Church.

Hardly had he settled for a month in San Carlos when he and his fellow Carlistas were ordered to move back to San Francisco Javier as the Jesuit administration of San Carlos lapsed on 17 August 1911.  San Carlos would later be merged with San Francisco Javier Seminary on Padre Faura St., until the latter’s closure in 1913.

That same year, San Carlos Seminary was transferred by Manila Archbishop Jeremiah James Harty to a building in Mandaluyong, and would be put in the charge of the Paules (Vincentians) . It was here that Manaloto finished his studies in Sacred Theology and Philosophy. On 8 December 1915, feast of the Immaculate Conception, Sixto Manaloto was ordained into priesthood by Archbishop Harty himself.

Fresh from his ordination, the young prelate was sent off to Pangasinan to undertake his first assignments in the municipalities of Agno and Bani. Then , he hied off to his home province to minister in Victoria, Tarlac, and then secured assignments in Pampanga—first in Sta. Ana, and then, in 1923, in Magalang, succeeding Fr. Felipe Romero. There,  he would remain until his death.

As cura parocco of the San Bartolome Parish, Fr. Manaloto, he is known for his major restoration works on the ancient church, including the replacement of the supporting wooden columns of the lateral aisles with sturdier concrete cement posts.

He also opened a parochial school that served the youths of Magalang. Likewise, the good father sent poor, but deserving students to Manila, many of whom eventually returned as professionals and became leaders of the community. Fr. Manaloto also took  to raising foster children, a few of whom were his own nephews.  He lived to celebrate his sacerdotal silver jubilee of his ordination, with a big “boda de plata” party held in Magalang on 18 December 1940.

He died on 30 March 1952 at age 61, after serving his beloved adopted town for 29 years and 7 days. A commemorative plaque can be found in the church, which pays tribute to this magnanimous man of God and his selfless contribution to the spiritual upliftment of Magalang and its people.

Monday, January 2, 2017


TWO CROWNING GLORIES: Sisters Yvonne Berenguer-de los Reyes (Miss Philippines 1955) and  Simonette (Bb. Pilipinas 1970) both carried the country's flag at the Miss Universe Beauty Pageant, fifteen years apart. Their mother, Marietta, comes from the prominent Reyes-Berenguer-Linares family of Arayat.

In the history of Philippine beauty pageantry,  no feat is as unprecedented as what two sisters of Kapampangan lineage accomplished in 1955 and 1970 respectively.  They were both crowned as Miss Philippines, chosen to represent the country in the premiere global contest of feminine pulchritude: the Miss Universe Beauty Pageant. Thus, Yvonne and Simonette Berenguer-de los Reyes, achieved what many thought was impossible—of winning the same crown, the same title, and competing in the same international pageant—fifteen years apart!

The sisters were the daughters of Crisanto de los Reyes y Mendoza, and Marietta Berenguer y Linares of Arayat, Pampanga.  Their mother’s parents, Jose Flores Berenguer  and Simona Reyes Linares,  came from prominent families of the mountain town (Note: Renowned interior designer-decorator, Mercedes “Ched” Berenguer-Topacio  is a cousin). From their father’s side, Yvonne and Simonette count several beauties as relatives: 1929 Miss Philippine Carnival Pacita delos Reyes, 1954 Miss Philippines Blesilda Ocampo and Tingting de los Reyes.

The sisters’ impeccable  pedigree would serve them well in their quest for a beauty crown. 1955 was just the third year of the Philippine participation to the annual Miss Universe. The year before, Blesilda Mueller Ocampo,  did well in Long Beach, California, by placing in the semifinals. 

The pageant,  founded in 1952 by clothing company Pacific Mills, is considered to be the most prestigious, and most important of all beauty concourses, then, as now. Winners came home to their country to tumultuous welcome, honored as heroes, treated as royalties, and showered with privileges from their governments, like being given tax exemptions for life and immortalized in postage stamps. 

Gamin-faced Yvonne was one of the candidates who converged at the Miss Philippines finals on 12 March 1955 at the Cavalcade Hall Auditorium of United Nations Plaza. That year, Audrey Hepburn was the toast of showbiz, and Yvonne’s delicate elfin Hepburn look was not lost on the judges.  She was named Miss Philippines 1955, crowned  by her own own cousin, Bessie, with whom she shares the same paternal great-grandparents (Crisanto Mendoza de los Reyes and Dorotea Silverio).

 Yvonne’s court included Lucy del Prado (Miss Luzon),  Annie Gonzales (Miss Visayas) and Annie Corrales (Miss Mindanao). She flew to Long Beach to participate in the first-ever televised Miss Universe edition. Sweden’s  Hillevi Rombin won the title.

Right after her reign, Yvonne got married, raised a family (children Juancho, Marietta, Marco)  and established a successful ballet dancewear, shoes and accessories business --“Yvonne’s” in 1967. It grew to five specialty stores and currently, her “Yvonne’s” shops in Makati and Greenhills are still going strong.

Simonette’s own journey to the crown had a different route. She was discovered by designer Pitoy Moreno who egged her to join the 1970 Bb. Pilipinas pageant, televised for the first time that year. Frontliner candidate Aurora Pijuan could have taken it all,  but when Simonette delivered her speech in fluent Pilipino—the only candidate to do so—the tides were turned in her favor. 

In her speech (written for her by poetess Virgie Moreno, Pitoy’s sister)  she made an analogy about  the judges’ task and that of  St. Peter’s, in deciding the fates of the candidates, who were liken to seekers of a place in heaven.  With that, Simonette was crowned Binibining Pilipinas, while Aurora Pijuan won the other title of Miss Philippines (she would triumph as 1970 Miss International in Osaka).

Simonette went to Miami Beach under tremendous pressure as the reigning Miss Universe was Gloria Diaz. So, she just went ahead and enjoyed the experience.  Her roommate, Puerto Rico’s Marisol Malaret, became the eventual winner. After her reign, she continued her commerce studies at Assumption. In 1972, she became the first Baron Travel Girl , and traveled extensively around the world.

In 1977, she married football ace Butch Ferraren, had children, lived for years abroad and pursued a successful baked goods business when she returned to the Philippines. She honed her craft as a baker and sold lemon squares, ensaimadas, and cakes. Today she operates California Funnel Cakes Café in Pasay City. Monette still regularly visits Pampanga, her mother’s hometown Arayat and the Caryana Monastery in Magalang for her spiritual retreats.

Two siblings with national titles are a rarity. Almost an impossibility is having two of them win the most sought after Miss Philippines title, then vie for the same Miss Universe crown. But the delos Reyes sisters did just that in 1955 and 1970. 

It would take awhile to duplicate that feat, but in recent years, the lovely Manalo sisters of Bacolor scored a similarly impressive coup--Katherine Ann Manalo, Bianca Manalo and Nichole became the winningest family by bagging three different Binibining Pilipinas titles (World 2002, Universe 2009, Globe 2016). But that’s  another (beautiful) story!

Thursday, December 22, 2016


PARUL MASTER. Jesus Maglalang of San Fernando, poses with his award-winning parul creation, his trade since 1946. Photo taken by Pete Reyes , People Magazine. 1979.

The world-renowned Giant Lantern Festival is inextricably linked with the history of San Fernando. Ever year, come December, tens of thousands of visitors flock to the capital city to witness the annual of “Ligligan Parul”, the culminating contest to determine the year’s best lantern from a field of entries entered by all the barangays.

For hours, every one will watch transfixed, as the lanterns twinkle, dance, blink, morph into myriads of shapes in a kaleidoscope of colors, in perfect synch with a musical piece. And, every one will be certain to come away in awe at the enthralling lantern performance never seen in any part of the world, except San Fernando, dubbed as “The Christmas Capital of the Philippines”.

The “Ligligan Parul” of yore were held non-stop from morning to evening—and the lantern that remained lit after so many hours would be declared the winner. The popularity of the parul thus jumpstarted a lantern-making industry in San Fernando  in the 60s that flourishes to this day.

The full support of Fernandinos and the City Government through its local tourism office assures the continuation of this honored lantern tradition that has added much value and verve to Pampanga’s culture of festivals.

Some of these important personalities associated with “Ligligan Parul” include whole families: David and Quiwa Families (Brgy. Sta. Lucia), Garcia and Paras Families (Brgy. Dolores), Maglalang and Santos Families (Brgy. San Jose),and  Dizon, Datu, Policarpio, Limzon Families (Brgy. Del Pilar).

It is interesting to note that the Davids from Sta. Lucia, were crafting ‘paruls’ as early as the 1930s. The patriarch, the late Rodolfo Davis, is credited with inventing the rotor, which revolutionized the design and lighting mechanisms of paruls, allowing for countless color combinations and animations. David’s son-in-law, Severino, devised the first battery-powered giant lanterns in the early 1940s.

By 1958, David had perfected a new lantern design, papered with papel de japon, and now known as ‘parul sampernandu’. The flat, circular lanterns are designed with individual compartments housing a lightbulbs that light and ‘dance’ using the ingenious rotor technology devised locally.

Beginning in 1946, Jesus “Mang Suseng” Maglalang started crafting lanterns that became very popular with people outside of San Fernando. His client list included Pres. Ferdinand Marcos, Juan Ponce Enrile, Baltazar Aquino and Fernando Poe Jr.  A perennial winner in the lantern festival, Mang Suseng starts working as early as February just making his designs. Amazing, but no 2 paruls are alike, as he gets inspirations from church motifs, chandeliers, and even psychedelic art.

The Quiwas, on the other hand, pioneered the use of plastic in lanterns. Quiman Lanterns,the family business, is now led by Ernesto Quiwa, an Outstanding Fernandino Awardee in 2009, and his fifth generation parul maker sons, Arvin Francis and Eric Quiwa.

At the forefront of preserving our parul tradition is Rolando Quiambao (b. 2 Sep. 1955), a business graduate. A variety of unfulfilling jobs led him to his nephew’s parul workshop where he quickly learned the trade. Soon, he was manning his own shop, set up through a loan from DSWD’s Self-Employment Assistance-Kabuhayan Program. His business slowly, but surely took off.

Nothing could faze Quiambao who carried on with his business despite the Pinatubo aftermath and rising productions costs. He gave work to his neighbors at a time they needed it most and is recognized today for sustaining interest in the parul tradition, often with much personal sacrifice.

His painstaking efforts have been richly rewarded: his parul creations became the stars of several editions of “Ligligan Parul”, winning in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2006.  As a result, Quiambao was named Outstanding Fernandino in the field of culture and arts in 2004, topped by a 2005 Most Outstanding Kapampangan Award for the same category.

The tradition of lantern-making is alive and well the whole year-round in the capital city. We salute these  pioneering starmakers, who have made it their mission to ensure that our Christmases will remain dazzling and bright, and that our hopes will never dim—thanks to their inimitable “stars of wonder, stars of light”—the San Fernando Parul.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


COOL LIGHTS. The Meralco Tower all lit up for the annual carnival. The invention of neon and fluorescent lamps, which were more efficient than ordinary incandescent bulbs, is often attributed to Filipino Agapito Flores, whose story has since been debunked. A 1940  feature in a Kapampangan daily may shed new light on this Flores controversy.

For decades, the name of Agapito Flores, of Guiguinto, Bulacan has been associated with the invention of the first fluorescent lamp. This Agapito was said to have worked first as a machine shop apprentice, then relocated to Tondo where he took up a vocational course to become an electrician. Allegedly, Flores was granted patent in France for a fluorescent bulb which the giant General Electric Company bought for millions.

However, no records exist of such transactions involving a Filipino by that name, and there are also major discrepancies with regards to the timeline of his supposed breakthrough invention in lighting.

There were several pre-cursors of the modern-day fluorescent lamp . As early as 1856, German Heinrich Geissler performed several experiments in arc tube type lamps. This was followed in 1895 by Daniel Moore of New Jersey (first commercial arc tube), Peter Cooper Hewitt  ( patented the first low pressure mercury vapor lamp in 1901--the very first prototype of today's modern fluorescent lights), Edmund Germer (improved  the fluorescent lamp in 1927), and George E. Inman (builder of a prototype fluorescent lights fit for public use, 1934)

Obviously then, there was not just one, but many inventors of the fluorescent lamp, at various stages of its development.  Many of the patents granted them were bought by General Electric to control their use and stifle competition.

But did a Filipino really contribute to the invention of fluorescent lighting? Why is there no solid evidence about Agapito Flores that caused his story to be debunked? Yet, National scientist Dr. Benito Vergara of the Philippine Science Heritage Center, recalls that "As far as I could learn, a certain Flores presented the idea of fluorescent light to Manuel Quezon when he became president.”

A 1940 front page news from “Ing Pamitic”  a local Pampanga daily may shed some light on the issue:

FILIPINU YA PALA. Marajil eyu balu qng Filipinu ya pala in mecatuclas (inventor) caring sulung gamitin ñgeni a palaguan dang neon Light at Fluorescent Light. Deting tauli ila deng maputi salang gagamitan dana deng caraclan. Iting Filipinung inventor ya I Dr. Gabriel Del Pilar Flores a maqui dayang capitna Castila at capitna Filipinu, dapot ciudadanu Filipinu.

Ing Dr. Gabriel del Pilar Flores megaral ya king Universidad ning Sorbona, Paris, Francia. Iting Universidad metung ya karing maragul dili queti qñg yatu at metung neman caring cabalitan. Ding dacal a estudiantes a manibat caring mialiuang bansa a magaral Europa lasa carin la pupunta lalung-lalu na ring manibat caring balen ning Sur America.

Iting balita mebasa qñg metung caring bilang na ning Milwaukee Journal, America. Queta pang banua na ning 1932 geua ing amanuan dang marimlang sulu. Dapot nung e quetang 1937 ya micalat a pañgagamit qñg comerciong picabaluan a Neon Light.  Queting mesabing banua, qñg Exposicion Paris, ing bulalag qñg meto sicluban a Torre Eiffel, manibat lalam angga qñg taluctuc na micatcatanan ya caring bayung sulung geua na ning calaji tamu.

(HE IS A FILIPINO. Perhaps you don't know that a Filipino invented the widely-used lights today known as neon light and fluorescent light. The last are the ones that emit white lights used by most. This Filipino inventor is Dr. Gabriel del Pilar Flores, with both Spanish and Filipino blood, but who consider himself Filipino.

Dr. Gabriel del Pilar Flores studied at the University of Sorbonne, Paris, France. This university is one of the biggest and most renown in the world. Most students who study in Europe often enter this university, especially those who come from South American countries.

This news is based on one of the issues of Milwaukee Journal, America. It was in 1932 that this so-called “cool light” was invented. But it was in 1937 that the commercial use of neon lights became widespread. In the said year, at the Paris Exposition, the Eiffel Tower was shown to the whole world, arrayed from  bottom to top, with these new lights invented by our fellowman.)

This short article thus reveals that indeed, there was a Flores involved in the invention of the fluorescent bulb—Not Agapito---but Dr. Gabriel del Pilar Flores.  This Dr. Flores could have been the same Flores that received a French patent, as France was where he went for advanced studies. Or, he could have been a member of the team at General Electric in Britain that helped fine-tune the light bulbs. One can also check on his Sorbonne school records, or retrieve the old issue of Milwaukee Journal to find out more details about his role in the development of the product.

It has been a long time coming for this Filipino to reclaim his rightful place in the pantheon of the world’s greatest inventors. It took a local Pampanga paper to make us see the light.

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