Wednesday, December 19, 2007


CURSE & CONSEQUENCE: Is this Mabalacat’s Fr. Bueno? This faded portrait, obtained from an antique dealer, shows a portly friar in Recoleto habit. At back is scrawled in pencil, “P. Gregorio Bueno.” Circa 1890.

The history of Mabalacat town has always been associated with the popular account of how a friar, before being killed in cold blood by a band of hoodlums on orders from a head of a prominent Mabalacat family, uttered a curse, saying that Mabalacat will never prosper and thrive.

The priest in question was Padre Gregorio Bueno de la Virgen del Rosario, born in Tarazona, in the province of Aragon, Spain. As a Recollect missionary, he was first assigned in Zambales, serving the towns of Iba and Masinloc, then was moved to the convent of the Recoletos in Manila. He was then appointed as the parish priest of Mabalacat, on November 30, 1875. Mabalacat by then, was a primary “mission viva” of Upper Pampanga, an active center of mission work from which the needs of nearby visitas in Tarlac where administered. By 1897, during Fr. Bueno’s tenure, Mabalacat had a population of around 9,705 souls, a substantial figure at that period, a further affirmation of the town’s primal role in converting heathens and spreading the word of God.

Fr. Bueno was the last Recollect to serve Mabalacat, and his term of 23 years was the longest. His controversial murder on July 10, 1898 triggered much speculations and unanswered questions to this day. Over the years too, the circumstance behind his death has taken on mythic proportions, resulting in fanciful versions that range from romantic to the improbable.

It is a known but a hush-hush knowledge that the family implicated in Fr. Bueno’s death were the Tiglaos. Recently, a direct descendant of the Tiglaos—Sigfried Ranada (or Isagani Ibarra)—currently Mabalacat’s head of culture and arts, shed some light on this tale of lust, mayhem and revenge.

The common version had these spicy details: a female member of the Tiglao family went to see the parish priest to have some religious articles blest. Instead, the priest supposedly made overtures unbecoming of his habit. Insulted, the woman fled home and reported the incident to patriarch Don Marcelo Tiglao, who exacted revenge by ordering his killing. Thus began the curse—that not only affected the town’s march to progress, but also the fortunes of the Tiglaos (not to mention the rained-out graduation rites of the town’s high schools!).

Mr. Ranada pointed out that his great grandfather Marcelo, who was a municipal presidente, could not have possibly perpetrated the crime because he was scheduled to meet with Aguinaldo’s revolutionary forces at that same hour. Friends loyal to Marcelo Tiglao purportedly carried out the plot.

Over the years, the story took on several versions, one quite lurid, with enough characters to populate another Jose Rizal novel! This version had a beautiful Tiglao girl engaging in a “dangerous liaison” with the priest, a willing “dagis pisamban” (church rat) who eventually became pregnant. The girl’s family had the priest kidnapped by hoodlooms who beheaded him in nearby Capas, Tarlac. The girl supposedly delivered a baby girl who grew up into adulthood and was adopted by a local Chinese family. Still another account centered on the motive of the Tiglaos for the said murder. It was said that fr. Bueno kept a hoard of gold somewhere within the church premises which the patriarch was eyeing!

Even the curse of the padre underwent several romantic permutations. The curse uttered by the Fr. Bueno was not really meant for the town—but for the family who instigated his death. Versions had the priest cursing the patriarch either with death from an incurable disease (cancer) and/or loss of family fortune. To undo the curse, it was said, Mabalacat had to produce its own fourteen native priests!

Prof. Lino Dizon’s book, “East of Pinatubo”, includes an account of the Bueno murder, based on the historical writings of Fr. Licinio Ruiz, an Augustinian Recollect. It was reported that by 1897, the fervor of the Philippine revolution reached Pampanga and Tarlac, which resulted in the closing of some Recollect missions. Anti-Spanish sentiment was very strong at that time and even priests were not spared from reprisals: Fr. Baldomero Abadia, of nearby O’Donnell mission for one, was killed by revolutionaries.

When Filipino revolutionaries succeeded in taking Tarlac from the Spaniards, word reached Mabalacat about Spains’ surrender at the Makabulos Headquarters in San Miguel. A horde of angry, impassioned Mabalaqueño revolutionaries—incited by a prominent family of the town-- stormed the parish and dragged Fr. Bueno outside where he was humiliated in public before being charged with espionage and shot to death by a firing squad. At the time of his death, Fr. Bueno was almost 66 years old.

The late revolutionary Lt. Emilio Dominguez, a Mabalacat resident, claimed to have been given a gruesome account of Fr. Bueno’s final moments by an unnamed witness, recounted to historian Mr. Daniel Henson Dizon of Angeles. Through his window that was slightly ajar, this witness saw Fr. Bueno on a horse-drawn cart flanked by two guards. Hours later, word of his execution reached him. It was said that Fr. Bueno was forced to stand in a pit that was to be his grave, and, before being boloed to death, uttered his curse in Kapampangan.

Dramatic though the turn of events may have been, it is inconclusive if the padre’s curse has indeed come true. Mabalacat today is a designated special economic zone of Clark and there are unmistakable signs of progress: the vital linking of the town to the North Expressway via Sta. Ines, the booming of Dau, the burgeoning of prime real estate. But then again, there are horror stories to tell: the continuing plagues from Clark’s toxic waste, the devastation of the northern part of the town by Mount Pinatubo, and many more. Whether Mabalaqueños like it or not, the stigma of the curse will continue to be inextricably linked with its popular history.
( 6 September 2003)

Sunday, December 16, 2007


KASANTING DA RENG BAINTAU! Well-to-do Kapampangans during the American rule dressed in the de riguer daywear: stiff collar, tie, vest and a white Americana suit with matching white baston pants. Even the subject of this photo signed off with an Americanized name: Frank Ocampo. Dated 1924.
Our taste for fashion defines not just our individuality but also our collective cultural identity as one nation. Today, it is the unkempt , metrosexual, long-hair look that’s the hit of the season, no doubt promoted by the Taiwanese übergroup F4 and TV pre-Superman’s Tom Welling. Out on the streets, under the sweltering sun, you will meet male teens in bleached jeans, elephant pants, loose long sleeved shirts matched with a knitted bonnet or skullcap, bowling shoes and messenger bags.

Apparently, after all these years, nothing has changed in so far as assimilating fashion trends is concerned. Then, as now, youngsters looked to the West to inspire and build the contents of their wardrobe. At the height of our Hispanization, young men—especially of the mestizo and ilustrado stock—displayed their unabashed loyalty to Spain by donning European fashions that were oftentimes incompatible with the tropical heat. In the 1890s, they had opted to trade the wide Chinese-looking pants in favor of a pantalon de fina lana. On their head sat a more comfortable Bowler hat (Rizal wore one to his execution). They now also wore imported shirts which they tucked into their pants and strutted around like a peacock in their pointed leather shoes while brandishing a silver-tipped baston (swagger stick). Under the heat of the sun, they slicked their moustache to a curl with pomade and parted their hair in the middle, a trademark Cachupoy look the comedian popularized many years later.

But such fashions were to change dramatically with the coming of our new colonial masters, the Americans, who brought a whole cabinet of stylistic influences that would hasten the Americanization of our Philippine dressing tradition.

“Sajonista” was a term for Americanized Filipinos who took to the new ways like the proverbial duck to water. Initial hatred and fear of the damned Yanquis slowly changed to fond affection, especially when the policy of “benevolent assimilation” , which sounded so sincere to many Filipinos, was introduced. Youngsters didn’t just infect their speech with American twang but also adapted the fashions of “Modern Youth” and the “Young Generation”.

For the first 3 decades of American rule, the educated Kapampangan elite wore white baston pants, white shirts and a long tie with the new white Americana that had open, thin lapels (as opposed to the closed americana cerrada). For Manila school boys, only primera clase (first class) suiting materials bought from Paris Manila would do. Young Kapampangan boys, however, trooped to local tailoring shops in San Fernando to have their suits made, the popular choices being the shop of C. Hugo, the “Gentlemen’s Tailor Modernist and P.G. Tuazon Gentleman’s Tailor (“Fit and Elegance Characterize our Work”). In nearby Angeles, one could go to Cunanan’s Tailoring managed by master cutter Aproniano Cunanan, Angeles Fashion and A.D. Fajardo’s Tailoring (“Espesyalista ya qng Pamanabas at Pamiayus qng Imalan. Migcamit yang Diploma qng Sartorial Academy of the Philippines” ).

For the latest in sharp-pointed shoes, the places to visit were El 96 in Angeles, Zapateria de la Moda y Bazar of Alejo T. Roque (“Matibe, Mura at Masanting”), Zapateria Popular, Zapateria Miranda and Zapateria Moderna in San Fernando, established in 1907. Accessories like hats were sourced from Bazar L. Magat which sold varias clases sombrero del pais y extranjero (various kinds of local and imported hats).

By the 1930s, the Aguinaldo crew cut was a thing of the past. Instead, young men opted for the well-groomed Valentino look with hair parted in the middle (or left or right.), plastered with Tarzan, Tres Flores or Verbena pomade.At the start of a new decade, Kapampangans emulated the Jazz Era look popular in U.S. campuses: super -wide bell-bottomed pants worn with flannel scarves. Favorite khakis continued to be worn in the 1940s but for formal events, young men shifted to double-breasted American suits made of sharkskin, a look our glamor stars like Rogelio de la Rosa frequently sported.

Today, traditional Philippine costumes like the barong are worn only on special occasions like weddings, funerals, or during cultural shows. But it seems that our vain Kapampangan menfolk, whether attired in an Americana, a camisa chino, tie-dyed T-shirt, an Armani suit, a punky leather jacket, Banlon polyesters or even in a Bench underwear —can carry it all with confidence and aplomb, proof that when it comes to all-time porma, the Kapampangan is second to none.

Monday, December 10, 2007

62.ROGELIO DE LA ROSA: Golden Boy of Philippine Cinema

ROGELIO’s RISING STAR. Lubao’s native son rose to become the brightest male star in the Golden Age of the Philippine Cinema (1940s-50s), best known for his team-up with Carmen Rosales. After retiring from the movies, he entered politics, got elected as a Senator, ran for Presidency and became an ambassador to Sri Lanka, Cambodia and The Hague, Netherlands. He is shown in this extremely rare, autographed picture at the peak of his career, ca. late 1940s-early 1950s.

Whenever I hear the strains of the song “Maalaala Mo Kaya?” on TV resurrected as a theme song for a hit serial, I feel myself transported to the days of black and white cinema, when the most popular scenes involved young swains and provincial lassies in some idyllic barrio setting, cavorting behind trees and flirting from haystack to haystack. More often than not, these movies featured the most recognized love team of the 40s and 50s, Carmen Rosales and a handsome actor from Lubao, Rogelio de la Rosa. His star would remain on top of the showbiz firmament for over 3 decades, peaking at a period in the 1950s that has come to be known as the Golden Age of Philippine Cinema.

Rogelio was born as Regidor de la Rosa on 12 November 1916 to Feliciano de la Rosa and Rosario Lim. His siblings took quite an interest in the performing arts as younger brother Jaime (real name: Tomas) and sisters Africa and Purita were all involved in the movies in different capacities. Purita eventually became the 1st wife of Pres. Diosdado P. Macapagal, while Jaime made a name for himself as another matinee idol of note.

But it was Rogelio who undoubtedly reaped the most success in a career that spanned the years of silent films and the talkies. It was a kabalen, Gregorio Fernandez, the noted director, who introduced the strapping 6-footer to film mogul Don Jose Nepomuceno in 1929. His launch movie in 1932 was with a Filipina-European mestiza, Rosa del Rosario (the 1st high-flying Darna) , entitled Ligaw na Bulaklak. Other early works included Diwata ng Karagatan for Parlatone Hispano Family (1936) and Bituing Marikit, Sampaguita Pictures (1937).

Over the years, Rogelio worked with the most renown directors of Philippine movies—from Vicente Salumbides, Lamberto Avellana, Gregorio Fernandez, to Carlos Vander Tolosa and Susana de Guzman. The handsome actor was paired with the most beautiful leading ladies of the silver screen: Elsa Oria, Mila del Sol, (mother of Jeanne Young), Lilia Dizon (mother of Christopher de Leon), Tessie Quintana, Corazon Noble, Emma Alegre, Cecilia Lopez, Norma Blancaflor (“the girl with a perfect face”) and his most famous on-screen love interest—the reclusive Carmen Rosales. He would star with her in blockbuster films like Señorita, Colegiala and Lambingan. In real life however, Rogelio chose a fellow Kapampangan to be his wife—Lota Delgado of Angeles.

In 1939, he put up his own RDR Productions, a co-venture with Placido Mapa and J. Amado Araneta. Its initial offering was Ang Maestra, with Rosa del Rosario. The next year, he did Anong Ganda Mo with Norma Blancaflor and Caballero, with Miss Luzon of 1936, Amparo Karagdag. The war years did not stop his rising star, and, in 1949, he starred in Kampanang Ginto, a reunion movie with Carmen Rosales. Post-war, he assumed sole ownership of the production outfit and came up with Irisan, where he teamed up with his wife, Lota Delgado.

Just like today’s movies, Rogelio’s films spawned memorable theme songs that millions of star-struck fans hummed and sang along with: Sarung Banggi, Ang Tangi Kong Pag-Ibig, Katakataka, Bituing Marikit, Tayo Na Sa Antipolo and of course, Maalaala Mo Kaya?.
His most acclaimed role yet was in the 1955 movie Higit sa Lahat, directed by Gregorio Fernandez. He not only earned a Famas Best Actor Award for his role, but also won the 1956 Asian Film Fest Best Actor Award in Hong Kong. True to his roots, he starred in a Pampanga-themed movie, “Pampanggenya”, with Linda Estrella in 1956.

It was also in 1955 that he entered politics and won a seat as a Senator. He could have been our first movie star president had he continued his run for Presidency in 1961. Rogelio withdrew his candidacy to give way to his brother-in-law, Diosdado, who subsequently was elected to the highest office of the land. Nevertheless, he was rewarded with an ambassadorial position in Sri Lanka and Cambodia. His last assignment was in The Hague, Netherlands, a post he held until his death on 10 November 1986. The loss of the Philippines’ most admired and most important male star was clearly Heaven’s gain.

FILMS: Dalawang Daigdig, Garrison 13, Tagumpay (1946), Sarung Banggi (1947), Hampas ng Langit, Sword of the Avenger (filmed in Hollywood with Duncan Renaldo, released locally as Ang Vengador), 1,000 Kagandahan (1948), Kidlat sa Silangan, Kampanang Ginto (1949), 48 Oras, Tigang na Lupa, Sohrab at Rustum, Doble Cara, Prinsipe Amante (1950), Prinsipe Amante sa Rubitanya (1951), Sa Paanana ng Bundok (1953), Ikaw ang Buhay Ko , May Bukas Pang Lumipas (1954), Tangi Kong Pag-ibig, Iyong-iyo, Sonny Boy, Pandanggo ni Neneng (1955), Lydia, Pampanggenya, Apat na Kasaysayang Ginto (1956).
(23 August 2003)

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

61. Pampanga's Churches: STA. RITA DE CASIA

GENERAL COMMUNION OF THE PUBLIC SCHOOL CHILDREN. Sta. Rita Church, Sta. Rita, Pampanga. The Sta. Rita Institute General High School is housed in the next building. Fr. Felipe Diaz could be the parish priest shown in this picture with the first communicants, as this picture is dated 15 March 1947, still within his term.

The town of Santa Rita brings to mind images of delicious confections and pastries like sans rival and turrones de casuy—favorite pasalubong ideas for relatives and friends abroad. For all its reputation as the town that offers “sinfully sweet” indulgences, Sta. Rita is also a town noted for its devout spirituality, and, much like Betis, is known for producing a large number of religious priests and nuns.

The future town of Sta. Rita actually started as a clearing in a place called “Gasac”, which is now Barrio San Isidro. It was known early as Sta. Rita Baculud or Sta. Rita de Lele, in reference to its proximity to Bacolor, where townsfolk did their daily marketing via barrio Sta. Barbara. Its history is also closely linked with Porac for Sta. Rita was near the Esterillo Viejo, or Sapang Matua, a creek that originated from the Porac mountains. For a while, one priest—Fr. Pedro de San Nicolas—was assigned to serve the spiritual needs of both Porac and Sta. Rita. It was only in 1770 when Sta. Rita secured its political/spiritual independence from Porac, due largely to the efforts of Fr. Don Vicente Eustaquio Polina, a secular native priest. 1770, thus, is regarded as the town’s founding year, also coinciding with the assumption of office of Juan Balatbat, Sta. Rita’s 1st gobernadorcillo.

For its titular patroness, the town chose Santa Rita de Casia, a 15th century Augustinian saint invoked by desperate people beset with seemingly hopeless problems like troubled marriages and domestic violence. Sta. Rita was married to an ill-tempered husband who was subsequently murdered. Her two children vowed revenge, but Sta. Rita, through her intense prayers, averted her children’s criminal plot. The two fell sick and died before they could carry out their vengeance. Thus without a family, Rita joined the Augustinians but only after several unsuccessful attempts. She led a life of mortification and, in a moment of fervent prayer, received the stigmata of the Lord on her forehead.

The actual construction of the church was deferred until the late 19th century. An 1835 document asserts that a certain Don Alejandro Rodriguez, member of the town principalia, was accepted as a brother of the Augustinian Order for having been a benefactor of the church. It may be that Don Alejandro donated either land or money to initiate the building of the church.

Credit for the construction of the church of Sta. Rita as we know it today goes to the town prior, Fr. Francisco Royo who started the masonry in 1839. It was completed by Fr. Juan Merino in 1869 (one of the church’s 5 bells is inscribed with his name). Both priests were also responsible for opening roads linking Sta. Rita with Guagua and Porac.

The last Augustinian priest was Fr. Celestino Garcia who figured in the Revolution of 1898. At the height of the unrest, he was hidden by his loyal parishioners. Later, he was captured by Gen. Maximino Hizon in Bacolor. Taken prisoner, he was spirited away to Lepanto. He managed to elude his security however, and fled back south where the prominent Asingan family of Pangasinan gave him refuge. The 1st native priest was Fr. Braulio Pineda. Others who served the parish include Frs. Nicanor Banzali, Tomas Dimacali, Pablo Camilo and Genaro Sazon.

The original church measured 55 meters long by 13 meters wide. Its height was around 10 meters. The church has marked baroque influences as seen from its triangular windows, despite its solidity. Notable features include a large transept , a spacious portico and a short but squat 4-storey bell tower. Its pediment showcases a small retablo flanked by small bell towers. The Church of Sta. Rita is another fine example of the Catholic Church’s material heritage and any one who enters its portals will be glad to know that this pisamban and its walls still reverberate with the sweet memories of a proud Kapampangan town.
(16 August 2003)

Monday, November 26, 2007

60. GUIA BALMORI, Miss Philippines 1938

HER MAJESTY, QUEEN GUIA I. Miss Philippines of the 1938 Philippine Exposition, Guia Balmori was the daughter of Kapampangan local labor leader from Bacolor, Joaquin Balmori and Rosario Gonzales. She was bron in Ermita and was named after the district’s patroness, Nuestra Señora de Guia.

CONSORTING WITH A KABALEN. Guia’s handsome escort at her coronation was Ernesto “Gatas” Santos, the youngest son of Don Teodor o V. Santos and Dna. Afriquita Santos of San Fernando, Pampanga. Ernesto’s daughter is the famed ballerina, Tina Santos.

By the late 1930s, the legendary Manila Carnivals that began in 1908 would undergo more changes as their novelty and attraction began to wear off. Much earlier, the first major adjustment was the abolition of the title “Carnival Queen”, which was last awarded in 1926 to Kapampangan Socorro Henson. Henceforth, all succeeding queens were given the title “Miss Philippines” starting with the 1st National Beauty Show (or Contest) of 1926, won by Anita Noble of Batangas. In 1937, the Manila Carnival was renamed as the Philippine Exposition.

In the Philippine Exposition of 1938, a beautiful Spanish mestiza with clear Kapampangan roots stole the show by winning the Miss Philippines crown. She was Guia Balmori, one of 13 children of Rosario Gonzales and Joaquin Balmori of Bacolor. It is interesting to note that in 1927, a Bacolor belle was also in the same pageant wearing the Miss Pampanga sash, Rosario Manuel.

Joaquin Balmori was a pioneer labor leader and organizer of labor unions in the Philippines. After breaking away from the Congreso de Obrero de Filipinas, he founded “Federacion del Trabajo de Filipinas” in 1917. He outlined union rules, making resolutions against strikes and other radical movements. Likewise, he urged labor unions to charge no fees or membership dues. Joaquin had another illustrious brother who left his mark in the literary world—Jesus “Batikuling” Balmori. Jesus was a master in Spanish poetry; he not only wrote poems and books but also engaged in verbal jousts in Spanish.

The Balmoris were to relocate to Ermita, Manila, and it was here that Guia was born. She was, in fact, named after the titular patroness of the district, Nuestra Señora de Guia. Guia was taking up a secretarial course at the University of Santo Tomas when she was invited to be a contestant for Miss Philippines. As expected, her candidacy was vehemently opposed by her father who saw the beauty pageant as nothing but a frivolous exercise. Likewise, her Catholic religious mentors in school who frowned upon such contests gave her lukewarm support.

But Guia, with her fine Castilian features, sweet disposition and disarming smile, surprised them all when she beat other favored contestants for the crown. Heavily supported by newspapers, she won without spending a single centavo. She succeeded the outgoing queen Carmen Zaldarriaga as Miss Philippines of 1938. Completing her court of honor were Rosario Ferro (Miss Luzon), Belen de Guzman (Miss Mindanao) and Marina Lopez (Miss Mindanao). At her coronation, she chose the dashing son of a family friend and a fellow Kapampangan as consort—Ernesto “Gatas” Santos. Ernesto’s father was the prominent sugar baron from San Fernando, Don Teodoro Santos. Ernesto himself would be the father of an accomplished international dancer, Tina Santos, who went on to become a prima ballerina of Harkness Ballet.

Guia looked every inch a queen in her coronation gown done by then rising couturier Ramon Valera. Her prize money of P1,000 was handed to her discreetly, placed in an envelope tucked into her bouquet. Two years after her memorable reign, she married Jose Avelino Jr., the son of the Commonwealth Secretary of Public Works and later the Senate President. They were blessed with 7 children. Settled in Parañaque, Guia and her daughter operated a beauty parlor in Makati sometime in the 1980s.

It is heartening to know that in the waning years of the Carnival, a girl with Kapampangan blood lit the national stage with her outstanding beauty, wit and personality, giving Pampanga one last proud and shining moment, before the fairs drew to a permanent close a year later.

POSTSCRIPT: Guai Balmori passed away on 12 Dec. 2006, just before her 86th birthday. Four days after, her husband followed, leading a granddaughter to observe that "even in death they could not stand to be apart."

Sunday, November 18, 2007

59. Pampanga's Churches: HOLY ROSARY CHURCH, Angeles City

GET ME TO THE CHURCH ON TIME. The interior of the Sto. Rosario Church in Angeles was converted into a 2nd Division Hospital by the American troops during the Philippine Revolution. Injured American soldiers lie recuperating in bunk beds before the retablo mayor of the church. The image of the Virgin of the Most Holy Rosary can be seen in the central niche. Ca. 1900.

Perhaps the most imposing and most recognizable landmark of Angeles City is the Santo Rosario Church (Church of the Holy Rosary), with its familiar double bell towers and its ancient, symmetrical Romanesque façade, rising in sharp contrast to the modern buildings and mall that surround the peripherals of the historic district. If the walls of Sto. Rosario Church could speak, it would surely tell tales of colonial exploitation, of a town’s ascent to progress and most of all, of a people’s deep faith , unshaken by the horrors of wars, natural calamities and other tests of time.

The town on which the church would rise was known in the days of old as Kuliat (named after the kuliat plant), a part of San Fernando. First settled by husband and wife Don Angel Pantaleon de Miranda and Dña. Rosalia de Jesus, Kuliat was finally separated from San Fernando in 1829. The name was changed to Angeles, in honor of the founder, Don Angel, and also its titular patrons, Los Angeles de la Guardia (Deng Tala-ingat Angeles), under whose advocation the town was placed in 1830. It was served by a secular priest until Fr. Vicente Andres was appointed prior in 1843.

The first church of the town was made of light materials like nipa. Fr. Guillermo Masnou replaced the temporary church with one of wood in 1855. Fr. Ramon Sarrionandia started the construction of the present edifice of stone and bricks in 1860, utilizing the services of Antonio de la Camara, a Spanish architect based in Manila. The work went on for 20 years, with Fr. Juan Merino continuing the project in 1881. Manpower was provided by Filipino peasants, who worked for free, under the “polo y servicios” system, a kind of forced labor, imposed by the Spanish government. Still, the church remained unfinished, and even in that state, it was solemnly blessed and opened to the public in 1890. When Fr. Pedro Ibeas assumed his post in 1891, he inaugurated the “magnificent church, a perennial monument to the religious dedication of the townspeople of Angeles”, as described in the Augustinian Catalogo of Elviro Jorde.

Permission to finish the church was granted only after a letter of request dated 28 March 1892 was sent by the Fr. Provincial to the Archbishop of Manila, asking for authorization to complete the construction of the church. Fr. Rufino Santos put in more work in 1893 but it was only in 1897 that the Sto. Rosario Church as we know it today, was finally completed. The beautiful structure had a transept 70 meters long, 20 meters wide and 12 meters high. The recessed arch windows are encased with lattice work, a Renaissance influence. The grand entrance doors are fully and deeply carved with biblical scenes. The main altar is known for its magnificent silver work.

From 1896-1898, the back lot of the church was used as a place of execution for Filipino rebels. The last Spanish priest to serve was Fr. Baltazar Gomorra. After the Revolution was entrusted to native priests. Again, the church figured prominently in the town’s history when it was converted into a military hospital –the 2nd Division Hospital-- by the U.S. Army from August 1899 to December 1900 (perhaps, as late as 1902). The Holy Family Academy, founded by the Augustinian Sisters in 1910 and later taken by the Benedictines in 1922 was housed in the adjacent building. It served as barracks for American troops and, in the next world war, was used as Officers’ Quarters and arsenal by the Japanese Imperial military forces in early 1942.

The Santo Rosario Church continues to touch the lives of thousands of Kapampangans in bustling Angeles, where, in the midst of an expanding concrete jungle that threatens to cover every inch of the city with steel and concrete, a piece of history lives on.
(2 August 2003)

Monday, November 12, 2007


TEACH YOUR CHILDREN WELL. Student Body Teaching Force, with the Principal and Director of Arayat Institute. Schoolyear 1936-1937.

San Fernando’s venerable institution of learning, the old Pampanga High School, has been in the news lately, with headline accounts of the historic building’s imminent destruction what with all the looting and pillaging done under suspicious circumstances. Thankfully, after much controversial crusading, the cultural activists have won their battle to save the school that has produced some of the best Kapampangan minds in the country. Yet, there is another school in Pampanga that has quietly done its share in educating young Kapampangans for over half a century or so, that is as much our province’s pride as the more high profile Pampanga High School. This is the Arayat Institute of Arayat, Pampanga.

Arayat Institute was founded in 1932 by the visionary businessman Emilio A. Santos. A sugar planter, he was, at one time, the municipal president of the town, a stockholder of the Arayat Sugar Central, and a leading figure in business and finance in the province. The school was designed by Architect Vicente Pascual and was built at a cost of P7,000 on land donated by the parents of Emilio A. Santos. The landed Santos family were well known for their philanthropic work; long before the plan to erect the institute, they had been supporting the Anderson Intermediate School.

After the building’s construction, the Santoses then equipped the schools with donations of library books and laboratory equipment. In the first year of operations, the school did not offer a full 4 year course; it was only in the calendar year 1933-1934 that it established its 4th year class. The initial number of students were just 51 in High School and 40 students in Kindergarten and Grade 1 classes, all culled from the youths of Arayat, Sta. Ana and nearby Cabiao, Nueva Ecija. To attract more students, instructions were given in English and scholarships were granted to school valedictorians. The school also conducted free lessons in Spanish for all enrollees.

At the time of the school’s first year of operations, Emilio A. Santos headed the Board of Trustees as President. His brother, Canuto was a Director. Members included Dr. Esteban Medina, Dr. Emigdio C. Cruz, Donato Kabigting and Toribio Kabigting. Pioneer teachers of Arayat Institute were Alejandro Timbol (B.S.E.), Jose M. Tinio (B.A., M. Sc.,) Ana Polintan (B.S.E.) and Rufina Canlas for the Kindergarten Department.

One of the school’s most illustrious alumni is the former Executive Secretary of Pres. Diosdado P. Macapagal and ambassador to Washington, Hon. Amelito “Mel” Mutuc. Today, Arayat Institute is still in operations, continuing its tradition of providing excellent general secondary course to the youths of Pampanga, and, after 7 decades of service, it has finally taken its well deserved place among the respected private institutions in the Philippines.
(26 July 2003)

Thursday, November 8, 2007


I DO! I DO!. A souvenir wedding picture of Ramona Fernandez y Layug and Agapito de Miranda, the great-great grandson of Don Angel Pantaleon de Miranda and Rosalia de Jesus, founders of Angeles. Dated 22 July 1915.

I still have the tattered album of my parents’ 1949 wedding, containing remnants of the invitation, a newspaper announcement clipping and a half-a-dozen or so “proof-only” photos of the event (Yes, they couldn’t afford the real pictures so they kept the “proof” copies instead!) . A picture of their wedding cake also made it to the national paper—a small 3- tiered chiffon creation with a bride and groom doll topper. The rites were held at the San Miguel Cathedral and a breakfast reception followed after at the popular Riviera, 4 pesos a plate. What’s left of the bridal trousseau--satin gown, tulle veil, headdress and all-- are now framed under glass, preserved for posterity, a visual reminder of my parents’ budget wedding.

Pre-Christian weddings in the Philippines were surprisingly more elaborate and more expensive. Dowries (bigaykaya) had to be paid, gifts had to be sent out to in-laws in exchange for the bride. Pinatubo Negritos, for instance, were mandated to pay dearly for their brides, offering their “bandi”, or material property, often in the forms of bolos, bows and arrows. Celebrations would last for days, sometimes weeks, with the whole community invited to the extended feastings.

Just as colorful were the courtship (pamaglolo) rituals. Girls as young as fifteen were allowed to have gentleman callers, provided an older person –like a koya or a spinster aunt—was present to keep a sharp watch on them. Kapampangan baintau were expected to observe a respectable distance from the objects of their affection. As such, they would only get that opportunity on their way to church or perhaps, in some religious events like Flores de Mayo. When it was time to go out, only group dating was allowed, always with a tsaperon. Love letters were also exchanged, written with flowery words, using a template from a how-to book.

It was to the advantage of a someone going mamanikan to bring an inexpensive gift to a girl and her family, like food stuffs, when he goes a-calling. To prove the swain’s sincere intent and ability to support a family, a period of pamagsilbi is arranged, where free service is rendered by the man to the family—from keeping the water tapayans (clay water jugs) full, chopping kindling for firewood to running errands.

Around the turn of the century, a Filipina had to follow certain prescriptions to ensure she would bag the perfect man. She had to be pure and chaste, clean in body, too. Using cosmetics, smoking cigars and chewing betel nuts were a no-no. She had to be dainty, good in domestic and the fine arts and must know some basic nursing skills. Above all, she must be God-fearing. For a successful marriage, lovers must also be aware of certain beliefs and superstitions. One who sang before a stove, for instance, was risking marriage to a widow or widower. When scheduling weddings, the last quarter moon should be avoided lest life was cut short for the husband or wife. Siblings should also not marry within one year (sukub), or one would die. A simple explanation for this belief is that 2 weddings in one year could drain family incomes which were often derived from 2 major annual harvests.

As the wedding day approaches, the bride must endeavor to stay indoors as she would be prone to accidents. She must not fit her wedding dress or the wedding would not materialize. To avoid a sorrowful married life, pearls must not be worn as these mimic the shape of tears.

Kasalans during the Spanish times were relatively austere affairs, usually held in the early mornings. There were no bridesmaids, flower girls, no march from the door to the altar. Food was prepared at the boy’s house, then transported to the girl’s house. Even with the coming of Americans, old traditions endured, including the practice of Filipina brides of carrying orange blossoms (azahar) in their bouquets. Orange buds were also worn as crowns over their veils as the orange plant was a symbol of fertility. Grooms carried not his bride, but a sack of rice across the threshold.

In the more prosperous 1920-30s, weddings became more Westernized and larger in scale. Kapampangans, with their love for show and sass, took to the new lavish practice, with en grande weddings becoming the order of the day. Weddings involving sons and daughters of wealthy Kapampangan families were even documented in books such as the exclusive Pampanga Social Register of 1936. Even in these hard times, it is not uncommon to see Kapampangan weddings with 10 sets of sponsors, a coterie of bridesmaids with their matching ushers, a Maid (or Matron) of Honor and her Best Man, a Bible bearer, Ring Bearer, Candle Bearer, Flower Girls and a host of Secondary Sponsors. For many a lovestruck Kapampangan out to impress, a wedding is more than just a sacrament, it’s an extravaganza!

Sunday, November 4, 2007


SWEET DREAMS ARE MADE OF THESE. A sugarcane plantation in Pampanga. In her heyday, Pampanga was the no. 1 producer of sugar in the whole of Luzon and was ranked 2nd after Negros nationally. Four centrifugal sugar mills served the needs of major sugar towns such as San Fernando, Arayat, Magalang, Porac, Mabalacat, Angeles, Mexico, Apalit and Bacolor. Ca. 1920s.

My grandfather , Gerardo R. Castro Sr., earned his keep by planting sugar cane in his agricultural lands in Bundagul from the 1950s to the 70s. Like all landowners, he employed casamacs (working tenants) whom I would often see early morning , waiting patiently in the porch, awaiting orders, perhaps. I knew most of their names as I would often check out my Ingkung’s old ledgers that gave details of their personal expenses, vales and payroll information. There was Tatang Ambu, Tatang Disyu, Tatang Duman, Kong Roman and Kong Mike, our truck driver, who lived at the back of our house.

It was Kong Mike’s duty to haul sugar cane or atbu using our ancient 6-by-6 truck that was kept parked at our place. I always looked forward to the day of the harvest which was done in the months of February, March or April. Ati Bo, his wife, would then extract sugarcane juice which she cooked in a large kawa (vat), stirring patiently, continuously -- until we had inuyat—hot and sticky molasses cooled in a glass of water which we ate like candy or enjoyed with a plate of gatas damulag (carabao milk)-soaked rice.

The cultivation of sugar cane (saccharum officinarum) occupies a prominent place in the agricultural and commercial activities of Pampanga. Long before the coming of colonizers, sugar was a staple of our islands. Antonio de Pigafetta, upon arrival in the Philippines in 1521, was supposed to have been served sugar cane refreshments by Rajah Calanao, ruler of Northern Mindanao. As far back as the first decade of the 19th century, the provinces of Pampanga and Pangasinan alone produced around 7,000 tons of sugar annually, which were exported abroad through Chinese sampans and other foreign vessels. There had grown up in our province at this time, a very active commerce in sugar, which was used in the manufacture of sweets and confections.

The Spanish government gave very little attention to the production of sugar until 1849, when the king enacted a decree granting the Recoleto friars a monopoly in Negros. Later on, the defunct “Real Sociedad de Amigos del Pais” induced the government in establishing an experimental farm station on the slopes of Mount Arayat where a certain Manuel Sota taught scientific ways to improve sugar productivity.

Under the American administration, the sugar industry flourished due to unprecedented world demands. From 1910 to 1941, the growth of the sugar industry was phenomenal; from the spring of 1919 to May 1920, raw sugar was priced at a hefty 23 ½ cents per pound in New York. Average total production jumped from 395,000 short tons in the first decade of the 20th century to a record 1,652,500 tons in 1933-34. American investors rushed to set up sugar mills in the country and in Pampanga, the first such centrifugal mill--the Pampanga Sugar Mills (PASUMIL) began operations at Del Carmen, Floridablanca in 1918. Three more mills would be set up in succession: The Pampanga Sugar Development Company or PASUDECO (1921), Mabalacat Sugar Company (1921) and the Arayat Sugar Mills (1927).

Sugar canes grown in Pampanga were highly prized for their yield, sweetness and overall quality. Famous homegrown cane varieties include Encarnada de Pampanga (Pampanga Red), Morada de Pampanga (Pampanga Purple) and Hind’s Special, an extra-tall drought-resistant cane that can grow over 20 feet, first propagated in the farms of Don Carlos Gil in Porac in the mid 1920s. Hind’s Special was named after Mr. R. Renton Hind, the General Manager of Pasumil.

Pampanga was to become the biggest producer of sugar in Luzon. It ranked 2nd to Negros in national sugar production. As a result, sugar brought untold prosperity to many a Kapampangan hacendero like the Panlilios (Mexico), Pamintuans and Hensons (Angeles), Escalers (Apalit) Venturas, Valdeses and de Leons (Bacolor) and Santoses (San Fernando).

The days of our successful sugar industry came to a slowdown with the U.S. stock market crash of 1929. Sugar consumption declined, prices fell and sugar beet producers demanded the control of imported sugar. It was just a matter of time that the U.S. government introduced a quota system to limit sugar importation. Incredibly, the Philippines, a U.S. territory, suffered the biggest cut. At the country’s independence in 1946, sugar exports were subjected to full U.S. tariff. The next years saw a succession of more quota systems that dictated export allocation and administration, with sometimes unfavorable and favorable effects.

In 1965 for instance, it was to our fortune that the U.S. Sugar Act opened a bigger share of the American market to local sugarmen, enabling the country to earn a potential of $230,000,000. Marketability of new sugar was further buoyed by increasing domestic requirements, a trend that continues to this day. Today, Pampanga’s sugarlands are slowly giving way to posh subdivisions, prime real estate ventures and modern expressways, but let us not forget that once, in our not-so-distant past, our sweet harvest gave us world renown. Perhaps, in the future, Pampanga can reclaim its title as the Philippines’ “Sugar Queen”, so I can start dreaming of sticky, gooey, oh-so-sweet inuyat again!
(12 July 2003)

Sunday, October 21, 2007

55. Rolling on the River: APALIT’S APUNG IRU FIESTA

VIVA APUNG IRU! Apung Iru’s Fiesta as celebrated seventy seven years ago. As one can see, the deep-seated traditions and rites have remain unchanged through the years. Picture caption reads,”Plancha (water float) of St. Peter and some decorated bancas, Annual Festival of Apalit, Pampanga, June 28-29, 1926”.

Religious festivals revolving around a body of water are common events in countries of Asia. Water, after all, is an all-important element that has come to stand for life. In India, mass bathing is done in the holy waters of Ganges River to cleanse people of their sins. In Thailand, every full moon on the 12th lunar month (usually mid-November), the Loi Krathong festival is held, to honor Mae Khongka, the mother of waters. Under a moonlit night, flowers, candles and incense are floated on rivers all over the country to the accompaniment of prayers, songs and fireworks display.

In the Philippines, fluvial festivities are also observed with much folk revelry especially in provinces with river towns like Bocaue (Bulacan) and Peñafrancia (Bicol). But in terms of mass fervor , unabashed excitement and elaborate preparation rituals, nothing beats the celebration of the fiesta of Apalit, highlighted by a traditional river procession of its pintakasi, Saint Peter or Apung Iru, on the waters of Pampanga River.

Held every last week-end of June (28-29 this year), the fluvial rites may have begun as a primitive festival to honor the many gods of nature that our ancestors worshipped. With the coming of our Spanish colonizers, the rites could have merged with Christian elements, mutating into the distinctive folk festival that we know today. In the midst of all these is the one object of the townsfolk’s deep veneration--the age-old ivory image of the titular patron, Apung Iru, originally owned since the early 1800s by Apalit’s eminent family, the Arnedos.

The life-size image shows a seated Saint Peter, complete with papal accouterments: a gold crown, cape, ring and staff. The santo is housed in the Capalangan barrio chapel after a fire gutted the private shrine where it used to reside. The religious pageant begins with a town procession of the santo, carried by members of the Knights of Saint Peter. Then, the sacred image is brought to the river bank of Sulipan where as much as five thousand people and a flotilla of boats wait with eager frenzy for the saint’s arrival. It is here where the libad or fluvial parade begins.

Anticipation mounts as Apung Iru is transferred from a wooden boat to a processional pagoda decorated with multi-colored flowers. Swimmers fill the river to assist in the smooth conveyance of Apung Iru. With the image enthroned, the floating pagoda begins its 7-kilometer, 2-hour journey to San Simon town. From the banks of the river, throngs would acknowledge the passing Apung Iru by waving leafy branches and fronds or by making the sign of the cross. With excitement reaching fever pitch, brave souls would dunk themselves in the waters of the river, unmindful of the danger, swimming alongside the flotilla as hundreds more throw food offerings to water-drenched devotees.

It is interesting to note that in Christian Goa, India, a similar fluvial festival is observed every 29 June to honor Saints Peter and Paul and to welcome the monsoon. Fishermen from the large fishing families of Bardez taluka would lash their boats together to form rafts on which religious presentations were made. From the 17th to the 19th century, Goa was a major center for ivory; could the fine ivory used in carving the image of Apung Iru have originated from this former Portuguese colony?

Whatever, Apalit’s ancient way of paying homage to Apu Iru remains unrivalled in color and spirit, and, flavored with the Kapampangan’s zest for living and feasting, continues to be a unique, mind-boggling experience that mixes deep religiosity with riotous revelry!
(5 July 2003)

Sunday, October 14, 2007

54. Pampanga's Churches: SAN MIGUEL DE MASANTOL

NUEVA CASA PARROQUIAL DE MASANTOL. A new parochial house was built next to the church of San Miguel to serve as the parish priest’s residence with a multi-function open social hall on the groundfloor. Completed during the term of Fr. Teodoro Tantengco. Dated 27 March 1927.
Masantol town was one of the last foundations of the Augustinian missionaries in Pampanga. The town derived its name from “ma-santul”—abundant with santol (Sandoricum koetjapa Merr.)—even if today there are no substantial number of those aforementioned fruit-bearing trees here (so much like Mabalacat and its fabled balakat trees!). Popular lore however, tells of the townspeople penchant for “sinigang”, a local viand that owes its taste to souring agents like kamias or sampaluk. Local folks, however, favored santols to give their sinigang an uncommon zing. In answer to consumer demand, vendors from nearby Macabebe, Lubao, and Guagua trooped here selling baskets of santols by the thousands—hence, the town name.

It used to be that Masantol was just a barrio of Macabebe that counted only 4 puroks in its district—Bebe, Nigui, Kaingin and Bulacus. On 26 June 1877, Gregorio Bautista, Juan Lacap and Manuel Fajardo called for a separation of the said puroks from Macabebe. This was soon granted by a government decree (with a little help they say, from Fajardo, who presented two white steeds to the approving officials!) and so, on 20 March 1878, Masantol was separated from Macabebe. Two months later, the town was inaugurated as San Miguel de Masantol.

In 1886, it was the parishioners’ turn to lobby for the independence of their parish, a request granted by the governor general on 13 January 1894. The town’s pintakasi (patron saint) is San Miguel de Arcangel and his image can be found in the church erected in the last part of the 19th century by parish priests from Macabebe. The church, done in Renaissance style, was finished in 1901, during the term of Archbishop Bernardino Nozaleda. The first parish priest is P. Jose C. Mariano.

The façade of the church shows eclectic architectural forms, from the tapering arches of the semi-circular entrance door, the linear windows of the bell tower, lattice work on the windows to the Doric columns propping the belfry. There are scroll-like flourishes above doors and windows and the canopy features a balustrade.

In 1927, during the term of Fr. Teodoro Tantengco, a new casa parroquial or convento was built to serve as residence for the parish priest and for other social purposes. Five years later, in 1932, during Msgr. Bartolome Zabala’s stay, the church was refurbished inside and out, and the churchyard was cemented and defined. In the 1980s, the church was further reinforced with cement and steel.

Masantol holds the distinction of being the first town visited by Pampanga’s patroness, Virgen de los Remedios, in the days of the Cruzada de Caridad, which was organized by the 1st Bishop of San Fernando, His Excellency Cesar Ma. Guerrero. This was on 15 April 1952. To mark this event, the portrait of the Virgin was installed on the patio of the church.
(28 June 2003)

Sunday, October 7, 2007


MABALACAT TOWN BOOTH. The 21 municipalities of Pampanga competed for the best booth of the fair and each tried to outdo each other with their creative designs and structure. Most had art deco motif, the prevailing design fad in the 1930s. One of the favorite booths was the Mabalacat booth, but did not win a prize.
MISS PAMPANGA OF 1933. Corazon Hizon, a slim, raven haired beauty from San Fernando became Pampanga’s muse at the 1933 Pampanga Carnival. She was the daughter of Jose Hizon and Maria Paras. After her reign, she married Marcelino Dizon.

Pampanga’s peacetime years were a period of plenty for the province, making it the richest market outside of Manila. To celebrate the advancements made by the province in the last two decades, a provincial fair was proposed by the current administration officials led by then Pampanga Governor Pablo Angeles David. Thus, from 22 April to 6 May 1933, the Pampanga Carnival Fair and Exposition—“the greatest concourse of people on the island of Luzon”--was held at the Capitol grounds in San Fernando. Appointed as Director General was the Hon. Jose Gutierrez David, justice of the peace of San Fernando and Pampanga’s delegate to the 1934 Constitutional Assembly.

The main purpose of the Pampanga Carnival was to showcase the products, commerce and industries made by the province. In so doing, it also hoped to show the progress it has made in its other pursuits, encourage better reciprocal relations with other provinces and promote local and international tourism. More than a display of prosperity though, the Carnival was also meant to be a concrete expression of local autonomy in keeping with the principles of a truly democratic government. The proceeds of the Carnival were to be set aside for the construction of roads and schools in the province.

As such, almost all of the 21 towns of Pampanga came to participate, setting up their own booths and displays, in the grand tradition of the national Manila Carnivals. The 12-hectare Provincial Capitol was transformed into one giant fairground where “beauty and romance reigned supreme”. The grand entrance to the auditorium had an art deco motif, the prevailing design fad at that time.

Provinces from near and far were invited to participate and Bulacan, Tarlac, Nueva Ecija, Bataan, Ilocos Norte, Laguna, La Union, Tayabas, Pangasinan, Baguio and even faraway Lanao responded by sending their delegations. Schools led by the University of the Philippines, Ateneo de Manila, San Juan de Letran, U.S.T. and Pampanga High School were also represented, as well as local, national and international industries like Honolulu Iron Works, International Harvester, I. Beck, Inc., Alhambra, La Insular, Gonzalo Puyat, Erlanger and Galinger, Pampanga Sugar Mills, Angeles Electric Light and Ice Plant, San Fernando Soft Drinks, Moderna Furniture and Carbungco Restaurant. Government bureaus like the Bureau of Forestry, Commerce, Science and Plant Industry also set up their own stalls. Designated as the official photographer of the fair was the popular Juan de la Cruz Studio, managed by Kapampangan Rogerio Lagman.

Awards were presented to the winners of the best booths, products and displays. Medals were designed and executed by Crispulo Zamora, the leading metal crafts company that also made Manila Carnival medals, crowns and trophies. Notable winners included the town booths of Bacolor, (2nd prize, a geometric pavilion topped by the Villa de Bacolor crest), Guagua (2nd prize, with a façade painted with hieorglypics) , Macabebe (3rd prize, surmounted by a painting of a vendor, captioned with “Macabebe-Home of the Peddlers”), and San Luis (3rd prize, made of bamboo and decorated with buntings). Businessmen Rafael Lazatin, furniture maker Teodoro Tinio, and the Nepomucenos, owners of Angeles Electric Light and Ice Plant and Reyna Soft Drinks, were among those who earned individual 1st Prize honors. The top awards, consisting of 2 Gold Medals, were won by the Pampanga Trade School and Pampanga Agricultural School.

The much-awaited selection of Miss Pampanga 1933 provided the climax of the fair. Pampanga’s leading muses, most from socially prominent families, competed for the honor of representing the province to the Miss Philippines Contest. The contestants were feted and paraded in motorcades. In the finals, the crown went to slim and fashionable Corazon Hizon of San Fernando, the daughter of Maria Paras and Jose Hizon.

In the end, when the lights dimmed and the curtains fell on the fairgrounds, the successful staging of the 1933 Pampanga Carnival was truly a tribute to the people of Pampanga whose energy, enterprise and spirit were made manifest in their notable achievements of the peacetime years.

Sunday, September 30, 2007


A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT. The Pampanga River at Puente de Tenejeros, Bacolor town. A Filipino fisherman catches fish using a salambao net. Ca. 1900.

Water has always been the lifeblood of ancient communities. Early settlers set up homes near rivers, brooks, lakes and streams for convenient reasons. Water gave life, served as means of travel, nourished plants and spawned abundant marine produce that fed people, gave livelihood and caused whole towns to grow and flourish. Kapampangans, like the Tagalogs, thus settled by the banks of a great river too, and the riverine settlements that grew along its pampang (river bank) and its tributaries would define the Pampanga region and its people.

Rio Grande la Pampanga, as the great river of our province is called, is one of the longest rivers in the Philippines with an area of 9,520 sq. kms. snaking through Pampanga, Bulacan, Nueva Ecija and portions of Zambales, Rizal, Quezon, Tarlac and Nueva Vizcaya, The Rio Grande originates from several rivers in the southern slopes of the Southern Caraballo range, in mountains Lagsing and Mingolit opposite to the Magat River of Cagayan. It flows in a southerly direction to its mouth in Manila Bay, joining its major tributaries, Rio Chico Talavera near Mt. Arayat and the Angat River at Sulipan.

On this fabled river sailed the Malayan pioneers from the Malay Peninsula and Singarak Lake in West Sumatra, discovering dwellers along its banks. Henceforth, the inhabitants of the riverside communities were known as “taga-pangpang”, giving Pampanga its name. As a rich source of livelihood and as means of commercial transport, the great Pampanga River has become inextricably linked with the province’s economic, political and social history through centuries. It was no wonder then that our forebears considered the river as sacred, its ebbs and flows dictating the course of life along the banks and the towns beyond.

Rio Grande and Rio Chico (or Chiquito) provided wide access from south to north of Pampanga until the 18th century. Back then, travelers would find sailing the waters of the river very smooth, nothwithstanding the rainy season. One can actually go upstream in a small boat from Manila Bay to Lingayen Gulf without seeing the sea! The course starts northward via Pampanga River, to the Chico River, then rounds off the east of Arayat and along the Tarlac-Nueva Ecija boundary, up to Canarem Lake, then northwest along Tablang, Quiniblatan and Mangabol Rivers, roceeding to Tarlac River which empties downstream to Bayambang River and into Agno River which is the main tributary of Lingayen Gulf.

At the start of the Spanish colonial period, all major settled areas of the province were mainly situated in the south near the great river and along its tributaries further north. Apalit, Arayat, Bacolor, Betis, Candaba, Guagua, Lubao, Macabebe, Mexico, Porac and Sexmoan were the towns of principal importance at this time, due to their proximity to the river. Merchants from these towns would sail south in bancas and cascos towards the esteros of Quiapo, Tondo and Binondo where they would unload zacate, sugar and other local produce. Mexico’s role as a major commercial center would soon diminish when the tributary on which the town was located, was silted up; commercial traffic moved elsewhere.

Through the years, the Pampanga River has been dammed, silted up and polluted by man. And as everyone knows, the Pinatubo eruption of 1991 caused untold havoc to its tributaries. The disastrous repercussions are most felt during the rainy season, when water from the oversilted river channels and estuaries, which have risen higher than the land around it, flood whole towns and plains, a yearly encroachment that seems unstoppable.

Yet, remarkably, Rio Grande has shown an amazing ability to heal and renew itself. Today, the mother of all rivers flows smoothly still and it often comes as a surprise to the occasional water traveller that the rippling waters have remained pristine in some areas and the scenics similarly well-preserved: from the lush mangroves jutting from the river’s navel, the flock of migrant birds that have come to commune with nature to the magnificent townscapes visible from afar. What other magical sights could our forebears have seen from this river?

Sunday, September 23, 2007


DRESSED TO THRILL. These prim and proper ladies from Tarlac knew how to flash their best fashions forward, in elegant baro’t saya that have been re-styled with angel sleeves derived from Victorian gowns, stiff triangular panuelos, sayang de kola (train) and elaborately-embroidered and tasseled wrapped around tapiz.

Kapampangan teeners’ idea of japorms at the turn of the century conformed strictly to the dressing tradition set in accord with your place in society. These ladies from Tarlac obviously belonged to the upper rung with their opulent baro’t saya and matching embroidered tapiz.

European fashion in the 1870s inspired the silhouette of the Philippine saya, slightly flaring with a long train (de kola) that one could tuck in front or swish about—although this may imperil other people! An American traveller, Le Roy by name, complained of one lady who “so swished her long calico train in front of a pony that was cantering up to the club with a carromata in which two of us were seated, that we were dumped out into a muddy rice field by the wayside”.

Common sayas were made usually of brightly colored abaca, woven with striped or checked patterns. Other materials like imported brocade, velvet silk and satin were the choices of ladies de buena familia. The colors of the saya were complemented with a tapiz wrapped tightly around the waist in solids or stripes.

The baro and panuelo, on the other hand, imitated the sloping shoulders and wide “angel sleeves” popular in the Victorian period. While sinamay was the standard material, baros and panuelos of the in-crowd were cut from the finest fabrics like jusi or sheer piña, delicately embroidered with the most wondrous patterns—flowers, butterflies, abstracts, art nouveau curlicues and even whole landscapes! In later years, the panuelo was reduced to a panuelito, small enough to hang folded on one shoulder. Apparently, the panuelito was a unisex accessory--the presidential 1st son, Mikey Arroyo, wore one over his shoulder at his wedding.

The baro of these ladies were of the mid 1900s versions, as theirs show signs of being stiffened with almirol or rice starch, to show off the fullness of their sleeves, a practice in vogue at that time. Their panuelos also follow the stiff triangular pattern to frame their lovely faces.

Long-haired girls often wore tortoiseshell peinetas embellished with seed pearls and chased gold. As a finishing touch, these smart dressers donned their best jewellery—gold tamborins on alfahor chains, devotional relicarios and criolla earrings probably ordered from nearby Meycauayan. A fan, perhaps, of ivory sticks, dangled from a gold chain abaniquera, ready to be fluttered when the going got hot. Though invisible from view, these girls most possibly wore low heeled corchos, silver-trimmed zapatillas or leather shoes custom-made by Pampanga’s premier shoemaker, Zapateria Moderna in San Fernando, established by Adriano Tuazon in 1907.

Long before Kapampangan teens became preoccupied with Nikes, Reeboks, Ralph Lauren, DKNYs, Abercrombies and Calvins, their young counterparts at the turn of the century certainly had the same flair for dressing, relying more on personal style, grooming and good taste rather than on labels and signature brands.
(7 June 2003)

Monday, September 17, 2007

50. His Excellency, BISHOP CESAR MA. GUERRERO, The 1st Bishop of the Diocese of San Fernando

ES SABIO Y SANTO. His Excellency Cesar Ma. Guerrero, the 1st Archbishop of the Diocese of San Fernando together with members of the Kapampangan clergy. Some of those in the picture are: (FRONT) Frs. Licinio Valles O.S.A. (Floridablanca), Macario Punu (coadjutor, Mabt.), Alfredo Lorenzo, Bishop Cesar Ma. Guerrero. (BACK) Frs. Fernando Franco (Dau), Jose Guiao, Fidel Dabu, Benjamin Henson (Mabt.) . Taken during a major ordination rite in Floridablanca, dated 17 Dec. 1955. From the Alex R. Castro Photo Collection.

On 11 December 1948, the provinces of Central Luzon that included Bulacan, parts of Tarlac, Zambales, Nueva Ecija and Pampanga were separated by the Holy See from the Archdiocese of Manila. These civil provinces were thus elevated into the Diocese of San Fernando. Appointed as the very 1st bishop was a Manila-born religious with an impeccable lineage that counted patriots, eminent doctors, poets, artists, writers and diplomats in his family tree: His Excellency Cesar Maria Guerrero.

The future bishop was born on 26 January 1885 in Intramuros, to Don Leon Maria Guerrero, a noted botanist, and Aurora Rodriguez. He displayed his early religiosity as a child, often play-acting like a priest, complete with vestments sewn by his cousins and a basement office to which he affixed the prophetic sign “Arzobispado de Manila”. Schooled at the Ateneo de Municipal, he next pursued his A.B. and Law degrees at the pontifical University of Sto. Tomas and then stayed at the Gregorian University in Rome for 7 years where he earned his Doctorate in Sacred Theology and in Canon Law.

On 28 October 1914, he was ordained a priest and returned home for his first Philippine assignment as assistant parish priest of Binondo Church. He also had a short-lived term as a chaplain of Hospicio de San Jose. After contracting malaria in San Mateo Rizal, he was reassigned by Manila Archbishop Michael O’Doherty to Manila as his secretary.

At that time, the only other diocese was Nueva Segovia, hence a new Lingayen diocese was created in 1928. Finally taking up the bishop’s mitre, Bishop Guerrero was installed as the head of the new diocese on 22 February 1929. The bishop lived a simple life in Pangasinan, often preferring to don the Franciscan brown habit instead of the red and white vestments of a bishop. Under his leadership, he founded the Mary Help of Christians Seminary in Binmaley and revitalized the local clergy.

So outstanding were his accomplishments that on 19 December 1937, he was recalled to Manila where he was named 1st Auxiliary Bishop.. The war years that followed would cause him agony and taint his reputation. Accused of collaborating with the Japanese, he was charged before the People’s Court for treason after the war, but his case was summarily dismissed in 1946. Kapampangans would rather put the past behind, however, and, on 8 September 1949, when Bishop Guerrero was finally installed as their diocese at the San Fernando Cathedral, people came in droves to welcome him. A private mansion once owned by a prominent family was reserved for his residence.

Quickly, His Excellency initiated major projects that endeared him to the Kapampangan faithful. He established a popular devotion to the Virgen de los Remedios, Pampanga’s patroness, by holding town-to-town crusades in which the revered image was kept for 9 days in a parish and then processioned to the next, thus bridging the gap between different social classes of Kapampangans. He likewise founded a minor seminary in Guagua which was later transferred to the Apalit convento on 24 May, 1952. His Excellency also succeeded in convincing the Discalced Carmelite sisters to open a Carmelite foundation in Angeles, which he blessed in August 1956.

At the age of 72, he opted to retire but was made an assistant to the papal throne with the rank of papal count. He stayed at the old Hospicio de San Jose where he once began his ministry. The good bishop presaged his own death; he had a tombstone made inscribed with an epitaph –“Caro—dabitur—vermibus” (the flesh will be given to the worms)—two days before his fatal heart attack.

On 27 March 1961, Holy Monday, he was found unconscious in his room by his doctor-brother, Alfredo Guerrero who rushed him to the U.S.T. hospital, but to no avail. His remains were laid in state in his native Ermita Church where Rufino Cardinal Santos sang the Requiem mass. The next day, the body was transferred to San Fernando with the Pampango clergy coming in full force. After the Mass, his body was supposed to be taken to Angeles directly but thousands of Kapampangans requested to have the burial moved in the afternoon so they could accompany their beloved bishop to his final resting place.

Bishop Cesar Ma. Guerrero was interred, together with the bones of his mother Aurora, at the Carmelite Monastery grounds in Angeles, aged 76. In the words of an old Franciscan priest, the good bishop died pursuing both sanctity and wisdom, essential qualities of Christ’s priesthood-“Es sabio y santo!”.
(31 May 2003)

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

49. SANTACRUZAN: A Fair Homage to a Queen

QUEEN FOR A NIGHT. The role of Empress Helena is often reserved for the town’s pekamalagung dalaga. Here, a Kapampangan Reina Elena is dressed for the evening procession in a satin gown, cape, crown and scepter. Circa 1940s.

May is at its merriest with the double celebrations of the Santacruzan and Flores de Mayo. Flores de Mayo, which began in Bulacan around 1864, pays homage to the Virgin Mary with the whole month reserved for her sole devotion. The Santacruzan on the other hand, commemorates the Finding of the True Cross by Empress Helena, and is marked on the Christian calendar on 3 May. Somehow, the two separate celebrations have merged into one, giving the unified affair more flash and fanfare.

Tradition ascribes the Finding of the True Cross to Emperor Constantine’s mother, a Christian convert. As a token of piety, Helena had churches built, and, at an advanced age of 80, went on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. At Calvary, she had several excavations made in which 3 crosses were found. To determine the real thing, she had a dying man placed on each cross who recovered upon being touched by the authentic cross. Another story tells of her discovery of 3 nails that shone like gold. Although details of her life are vague and legendary, she was, at one time, considered one of the most important women in the world.

The proper Santacruzan not only gives tribute to Mary and the finder of the Jesus’ cross but also gives recognition to characters from both the Old and New Testament. The procession opens with boys holding ciriales, poles topped with a cross and candles. Heading the cast of charcaters is the ancient Matusalem, followed by 2 Reina Banderadas, flagbearers of the Philippine and papal standards. Toddlers carrying placards spelling out AVE MARIA precede the parade of gorgeous sagalas.

Three maidens representing the virtues of Fe, Esperanza, Caridad (Faith, Hope and Charity) come next, trailed by the Divina Pastora, with a lamb or goat. More queens make their appearance in this order: Reina Mora (the moorish queen, Reina Saba (Queen of Sheba), Infanta Judith (holding Holofernes’ decapitated head), Reina Sentenciada, Abogada and Reina Justicia.

Next in line are more pretty sagalas bearing the symbols of Christ’s passion: 3 dice on a plate, 30 pieces of silver (supot ng Hudas), St. Peter’s rooster (manuk ng San Pedro), the spear, 3 nails, INRI sign and kuronang suksuk. The major beauties of the town follow, starting with Veronica, Maria Magdalena, Maria Salome and Rosa Mistica. The last 3 queens make their grand entrance in this order: The Reina de los Flores holding a bouquet of flowers, Reina Ester, the beloved Jewish Queen of Persia holding a scepter, and finally, framed by a flowered arch—the crowned Reina Elena—a role especially reserved for the town’s loveliest belle—dressed in a magnificent flowing gown with a small crucifix in hand. Walking by her side is Principe Constantino, representing her young son, with a cape, crown and sword. The use of handsome escorts is a fairly modern concept as well as the appearance of multiple Elenas ( as in Reina Elena 1, Elena 2, etc.). Sometimes too, the Reina Elena is treated separately from an Emperatriz, although both are one and the same. Often lost or ignored in the rear-end of the procession is a figure representing San Macario, the bishop who escorted Helena to Jerusalem.

In certain parts of Pampanga, additional drama is provided in the sabat (barrier or obstacle)—when the procession is stopped dead on its tracks by an army of Moors and a battle ensues before the Christian entourage wins and the procession resumes its course. Sadly, today’s Santacruzans have lost much of their religious significance and original intent, deteriorating instead into empty made-for-tourist visual spectacles, which are nothing more than display of feminine pulchritude, pretentious fashion and other commercial excesses.
(24 May 2003)

Sunday, September 9, 2007


TOP ROW: GRACITA DOMINGUEZ of Mabalacat; this young ingenue, “bagong tuklas ng Manuel Conde Productions”, was launched in the costumed epic “Siete Infantes de Lara”. She got stellar billing in Hiwaga ng Langit (1951). Her children with comedy king Dolphy also entered showbiz, Sahlee and Rolly Quizon. GREGORIO FERNANDEZ of Lubao, started as an actor before making a successful transition to movie directing. He directed Asahar at Kabaong (1937), Señorita (1940) and Higit sa Lahat (1955), which won for him the Best Director Award at the 1956 Asian Film Festival in Hong Kong and also at the FAMAS. His descendanst include action star Rudy “Daboy” Fernandez, whose present wife and ex, are both Kapampangans (Lorna Tolentino, Alma Moreno) . PATSY. “Patsy Patsotsay”Mateo often portrayed the role of a bumbling confidante or alalay who would spew out Kapampangan lines in moments of panic. Later, she became a host (together with Lopito) of the long-running Tawag ng Tanghalan, a singing competition on TV sponsored by manufacturing giant, Procter and Gamble PMC. The contest spawned winners like Pepe Pimentel, Edgar Mortiz, Jose Yap and Nora Aunor. BOTTOM ROW: ROGELIO DE LA ROSA of Lubao, came from a very artistic family. His siblings also made a name for themselves in the movies: Jaime de la Rosa (star of Dyesebel, Aladin and Engkanto), sisters Africa (a scriptwriter) and Purita (occasional actress who became Diosdado Macapagal’s 1st wife). He married Lota Delgado, an Angeleña who also became a prominent actress in the 1950s. After retiring, he was elected to the Senate and became an ambassador to Cambodia, Sri Lanka and The Hague, Netherlands. CHUCK PEREZ of Mabalacat, comes from a showbiz family which includes director Elwood Perez. After winning Face of the Year, a modelling competition, he was launched in the action-fantasy movie “Bagwis”. Later, he tried the stage, essaying the role of Tony Javier in “Portrait of an Artist as a Filipino”.

My earliest exposure to movies was via those popular, mid-morning 1960s programs --Mga Aninong Gumagalaw or Pinilakang Tabing—which featured re-runs of black and white classics such as Darna, Anak ng Bulkan, Sawa sa Lumang Simboryo, Ang Senyorito at ang Atsay, Munting Kerubim, Bondying or Og. I leaned toward fantasy films like Dyesebel (with Edna Luna as a mermaid) and grand costumed epics like Ibong Adarna. The older members of the family favored weepy, romantic stories moreso when the movie starred Carmen Rosales and a dashing young swain named Rogelio de la Rosa. I was often told that he was Kapampangan, but that did not surprise me as I knew early on that we Kapampangans are inherently malagu and masanting!

There were no movie stars in the earliest films produced in the Philippines. Produced by foreigners, most of these were historical movies , showing scenics or events like Panorama de Manila and Fiesta de Quiapo. The 1st Filipino-made feature film however starred a legendary zarzuela queen named Atang de la Rama, who appeared in Dalagang Bukid, produced by Jose Nepomuceno in 1919. In the 1920s-40s, Filipino entrepreneurs cashed in on the growing interest on local films and began churning out pelikulas like Tatlong Humbug (featuring the 1st screen kiss and starring Elizabeth “Dimples” Cooper), Zamboanga (a Fernando Poe Sr. starrer first shown in the U.S.) and Ibong Adarna ( 1st movie in color). Even Pampanga businessmen caught the movie bug; a movie outfit was established in Angeles with Jose Ganzon directing Prinsesa sa Bundok, an initial film offering produced by Joaquin de Guzman.

Local filmdom soon saw the rise of brilliant Kapampangan talents, directors, cinematographers, writers as well as glamorous artistas who lorded the silver screen with their luminous presence. One of the earliest actors was a Lubeño named Gregorio Fernandez who successfully made the leap to directing via his 1937 debut movie Asahar at Kabaong.

Without a doubt, however, it was Rogelio de la Rosa (born Regidor de la Rosa in Lubao on 12 Nov. 1914) who made the most indelible impression in the golden years of Philippine cinema, with a career that spanned over 3 decades. The dashing 6-footer was introduced by his kabalen Gregorio Fernandez to movie mogul Jose Nepomuceno in 1929. His launch movie was 1932’s Ligaw na Bulaklak with Rosa del Rosario, but it was his pairing with Carmen Rosales that immortalized an enduring love team, appearing with her in such blockbusters as Camelia, Maalalaala Mo Kaya? , Lambingan and Colegiala. In 1955, he won Best Actor award in the 1956 Asian Film Festival in Hong Kong, for his acclaimed movie Higit sa Lahat. After retiring from the movies, he was elected as Senator in 1955 and later became an ambassador to Sri Lanka, Cambodia and The Hague, Netherlands where he died on 26 November 1986.

The list of Kapampangan movie talents in varying degrees of incandescence is endless: Actors: Vilma Santos (Bamban), Rosita Noble (Floridablanca), Letty Alonso (Lubao, wife of Mario Montenegro) , Gracita Dominguez (Mabalacat), Luis Gonzales, brothers Ramil and Pepito Rodriguez (San Fernando, Stars ’66 members) , Tony Ferrer (a Laxa from Macabebe) , Rafael Yabut, Bernard Belleza (Macabebe), Ben David, Alma Moreno (Vanessa Laxamana, Macabebe), Paquito Diaz, Liza Lorena (Elizabeth Luciano Winsett, Magalang), Lorna Tolentino, Chuck Perez (Mabalacat), Patsy, Nanette Inventor (Macabebe), Eddie del Mar (Macabebe), Jon Santos , Dante Rivero (Floridablanca), Lydia Montanez (Arayat), Hilda Koronel (Susan Reid, Angeles City), Edgar Mande (Dau), Melanie Marquez, Joey Marquez (born in Mabalacat), Maricel Morales, Judy Ann Santos, Antonette and Tom Taus (Angeles); Directors: Artemio Marquez, Elwood Perez; Writers: Racquel Nepomuceno-Villaviciencio (Angeles), Agnes de Guzman (Mabalacat); International Artists: Donita Rose, Lea Salonga.

Pampanga’s very own, Gov. Lito Lapid, was, as we all know, already a well-known action star (together with his other famous relations, Jess Lapid and Jess Lapid Jr.) before his foray in politics. His latest accomplishment was winning the Best Actor Award for the movie Lapu-Lapu from the controversial 2003 Film Academy of the Philippines. And lastly, there’s the First Son himself, Mikey Arroyo, who has put his thespic talents to good use in a number of action-comedy movies. Indeed, for political wannabees who want to fast-track their ambitions, there’s no business like showbusiness!
(17 May 2003)

Sunday, September 2, 2007


WELCOME, SOLDIER. The Golden Gate of Camp Dau, at barangay Dau. Mabalacat, flanked by two upright shells of bombs, leading to the military barracks. Circa 1ate 1938-1940.

There was a time in the 1970s when barangay Dau was even more recognizable than its mother town, eclipsing Mabalacat with its nationally famous PX business. Who would think that this town’s biggest and most populous barangay was once just a forest thicket where hardwood Dau trees (Dracontomelon Dao) grew in profusion and provided the barrio’s landmark?

Since its foundation in 1843 (Teodoro Lising is listed as its fundador), Dau’s strategic location has always been well noted by our colonizers. When Fort Stotsenburg was laid out by the Americans in 1902, a Dau access was added to the fort. Meanwhile, the Manila-Dagupan Railroad provided a rail extension from Dau into Stotsenburg, used primarily as a military railroad. A Post Exchange was also located in Dau, presaging the rise of the barangay as the country’s future PX capital.

In 1936, the same year that Dau was proclaimed a barrio of Mabalacat, then Commonwealth President Manuel L. Quezon issued a decree establishing Camp DAU as the 1st training cadre in Dau Checkpoint at Stotsenburg. The camp offered basic infantry and vocational training for five and a half months to young 20 year old Filipino males who were required to register every April starting 1936, for military service. Based on stories of retired superiors, DAU was an acronym for Division Artillery Unit, since it was the first training unit of the Philippine Army. It has been suggested that the Dau got its name from this unit, but this cannot be possible as the town name was already in existence on maps much earlier than 1936.

The camp played a significant part in the new army’s development as the better-educated trainees were sent to study artillery fundamentals under the expert guidance of the 24th Field Artillery officers. In 1938, Camp DAU was expanded to include the officers’ quarters . The camp was renamed “Camp Del Pilar” by the Philippine Army, after revolutionary hero Gen. Gregorio del Pilar.

In January 1937, training began with the arrival of 1,500 new conscripts who were put under the command of Philippine Scout and Army Officer, Gen. Fidel Segundo, a 1917 graduate of the U.S. West Point. Two decades earlier, Segundo had been the first Filipino officer assigned to Stotsenburg’s Scout artillery regiment. He had also been one of 6 elite officers picked for the pioneer school for aerial observers led by the 3rd Aero Squadron in 1920.

With the development of the Philippine Army Air Corps in full swing, the facilities of Stotsenburg took on a more prominent role. In 2000, the local government of Mabalacat proposed to develop a tourist spot inside the old site of Camp Dau at the Clark Air Base Command (CABCOM) area. A mini-park was planned as well as the restoration of a symbolic marker with the approval of the Military Shrine Commission, to honor the patriotism of thousands of young Filipino trainees who heeded the call of duty at a most auspicious time in our history.
(10 May 2003)

Monday, August 27, 2007


GOT MILK? Ambulant milk vendors or lecheros/lecheras ply the town with fresh gatas damulag dispensed from metal pitchers and earthenware jugs. Nowadays, hard-to-find carabao’s milk is packaged in ketchup bottles. Ca. 1910-1917.

My most delicious childhood memories are made of gatas damulag---smooth, creamy, fresh-from-the-farm carabao’s milk that Mother used to buy from early morning market hawkers. These were not your regular vendors, mind you, but farmers’ wives, sons and daughters, out to make an extra peso or two from the dairy produce of their own carabaos. Gatas damulag often came in recycled ketchup bottles, but in the days of yore, as seen from this vintage postcard, the milk was peddled and stored in metal pitchers and earthenware crocks or dispensed from jugs made from dry gourds. These ambulant lecheros/lecheras would station themselves strategically near the public market while others would line the main highway, waving the familiar bottles to passing motorists to attract their attention. By mid-morning, their milk-selling duties would be over.

Gatas damulag has a richer, creamier flavor than your everyday cow’s milk. Early on, it was drilled into our young minds that carabao’s milk is more nutritious than cow’s milk; it’s got less water, more total solids, more lactose. And, with a fat content that’s 50-60% higher than cow’s milk, it was guaranteed to make you fatter, faster! Of course, like all milk, it had to be heated first to be enjoyed, lest one developed stomach pains (Or worse, cholera—just like what happened to the revolutionary hero, Apolinario Mabini, who died from complications caused by drinking contaminated milk!)

No wonder, gatas damulag manifested itself in many mouth-watering ways in our diet. For breakfast, we poured it onto a heaping mound of rice which we then sprinkled with sugar. Or we ate our milk-soaked rice with fried tuyo (salted fish) or mango. Duman (green glutinous rice) season also provided us with another rare milk-and-rice tummy filler. Spoonsful of this green-colored glutinous rice was put in a cup and allowed to swell while drenched in hot carabao’s milk, a real taste delight!

We seldom drank carabao’s milk straight from a glass but an irresistible treat that was often served when I got sick was my Mother’s homemade egg nog. Milk was heated in a pan, then transferred to a tall glass. While still steaming hot, a whole egg yolk was briskly stirred into the milk. Sweetened with sugar, a glassful was enough to send me rising from my sick bed. Still another jiffy merienda idea was to dunk banana slices into a cold glass of milk for a banana shake unlike any other!

Of course, our traditional sweets are often laced with gatas damulag. San Miguel de Mayumo may have laid claim to having originated the famous pastillas de leche (milk candies), but Pampanga’s pastillas, in all their sweet, soft, munchy deliciousness, can hold their own against Bulacan versions. In the early days, pastillas were made by farming families themselves, requiring the most basic of ingredients: milk, sugar and lemon rind. The concoction is allowed to simmer in a tacho, or copper pans, thickened to a desired consistency, cut up or molded, then rolled in sugar. The sweets are then wrapped in fringed papel de japon; in Bulacan, the wrapper is exquisitely cut to include local folk motifs, an art form in itself. Or, like jalea, the pastillas mixture can be bottled. These days, pastillas come in plain brown boxes, wrapped individually in plain tissue. Magalang’s Pabalan Delicacies are renown for their delectable pastillas and are sought after as pasalubongs by local tourists and viajeros.

Snack lovers insist that carabao milk pastillas is what gives the halo-halo served at Corazon’s in Angeles and Kabigting in Arayat truly a distinctive flavor. That may indeed be true; after all, another local dessert—leche flan—utilizes the same taste and texture of gatas damulag to the fullest. Mixed with egg yolks, sugar and dalayap (lime) and steamed in oval tin molds, the resultant flan is creamy and caramel-y to the lips, with a hint of vanilla and lemon.

Nowadays it seems, one has to go farther to look for gatas damulag. But when one does finds it, it still comes in the same clear ketchup bottles--no labels, no frills—just 100% milk, as pure and unadulterated as our world back then.
(3 May 2003)

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

45. LIMBUN: The Pageantry of Processions

WALK OF FAITH. In this 1938 “limbun” of Barrio Sta. Ines in Mabalacat, the cura parocco is shown leading the procession of santos while devotees carry a palio, to serve as cover for the Blessed Sacrament. Alex R. Castro photo collection.

Religious processions, introduced over four hundred years ago by our Spanish conquistadors, were held to mark the important feast days of our Christian religious calendar. The Lenten season, Christmas and town fiestas were major causes for ceremonials, and a holy procession, with all its pomp and pageantry, was essential to these celebrations.

The first documented procession was held to commemorate the recovery of the Santo Nino at Cebu, from a fire set by local villagers as they retreated from Miguel Lopez de Legazpi’s advancing forces. It was, in fact, a very simple affair: the santo was transported on foot from the San Agustin church to the site where it was found, followed by a throng of citizens assembled by the town councilor or regidor. This was followed by a host of festivities like bullfights, dance balls and fireworks display.

Accounts abound of early processions that were characterized by opulence that matched a people’s religious fervor. A Lumban, Laguna procession in the 1600, for instance, was described by Franciscan Felix de la Huerta as featuring decorations of pure gold and diamonds from affluent residents of nearby Nagcarlan, Majayjay and Liliw. Carrozas of rattan were encrusted with more gold and precious stones while lamps that lit the parade weighed 75 pounds. The Dominican celebration of La Naval, which commemorates the 17th century Spanish-Filipino victory against the Dutch, was held with Our Lady of the Rosary as the focal point of the procession. Borne on a flower-bedecked silver carroza, the image was processioned around Intramuros and back, with barefoot penitents in attendance. The 17th century Mexican-made image of Nuestro Padre Jesus de Nazareno, the Black Nazarene of Quiapo, has His own processions conducted every January 9, with Manila’s menfolk coming in droves to bear the santo on their shoulders. Semana Santa processions of old are often the most dramatic, with a long parade of life-size santos and complex tableaus, visualizing the events of the Passion.

Pampanga has its share of processions, both simple and grand--“limbun” or “lubenas” ( a corruption of the word “novena”) as they are locally called. An early barrio of Mabalacat town was even known as “Paglimbunan”, a place for processions. Riverine towns like Apalit have their fluvial processions, and during its June town fiesta, the image of their patron, “Apo Iro”, is borne on multi-storied pagoda mounted on rafts that then traverses the river to the accompaniment of hundreds of devotees on boats. Simliar fluvial celebrations were once held on Pasig River to honor San Nicolas de Tolentino during his feast day.

The feast of La Naval is also celebrated in Angeles City , a major Pampanga religious event held every 2nd Sunday of October and half of the city’s “twin fiesta” celebrations. The image of Nuestra Sra. Del Rosario and the Christ Child is taken from the Holy Rosary Parish for the traditional annual procession. Days later, on the last Friday of October, comes “Fiesta ng Apu”, an event to honor “Apung Mamacalulu”, the Lord of the Holy Sepulchre, whose story is linked with that of Angeles’s.

In 1928, the revered icon figured in an unforgettable Holy Week procession which resulted in the santo being stolen. The root cause was the controversy between then parish priest, P. Juan Almario and the recamaderos or caretakers of the image with regards to the disbursement of alms generated by the “Apu” processions. On Good Friday, as the procession wended its way to the church, a band of men snatched the image, in connivance, they say, with the local police. A case was filed by the Catholic Church; the image was recovered, although rumors persist that this was just a replica, and that the original “Apu” is somewhere in the town of Calamba, Laguna.
The Catholic Church has simplified most of its rituals today . Masses are shorter and the shrouding of images with purple cloth on Holy Thursday is rarely done by parishes. Intonations in Latin have all but disappeared from our missals. Even church vestments are devoid of heavy gold and silver embroidery, for practical reasons. Happily, one need only to look at our “limbun” on our street, to see that there are still those who carry on the old ways, maintaining our rich religious tradition, by walking literally with God.
(12 October 2002)