Thursday, March 29, 2007


FRIDAY, SHE WALKED. Our Mater Dolorosa participates for the first time in the Viernes Santo and Salubong processions of San Rafael Parish in Mabiga, Mabalacat. Shown before the santo is Troy Castro, the writer’s nephew, who also joined and finished the 2 km.+ prusisyon.

Last 18 April, our family-owned image of Mater Dolorosa (Sorrowful Virgin) joined the Viernes Santo procession of the San Rafael Parish in Mabiga, Mabalacat for the very first time, a significant day for us. It had always been our plan to process our santo in my hometown, in thanksgiving for prayers answered in connection with my father's death. Contrary to what doctors had said-that his transition to the afterlife will be full of pain-my father slipped away quietly, painlessly in 1998. But then, our town parish of Our Lady of Grace already had its own Dolorosa as tradition dictates no duplication of images.
Now, another opportunity had come. I had no idea that in the days leading to the scheduled procession, the people spearheading the religious festivities of nearby San Rafael Parish were frantically looking for a Dolorosa image to accompany the life-size Santo Entierro (the dead Christ) of the Briones family. The comparatively new parish had previously carried out very simple Semana Santa processions with just the Sto. Entierro image in attendance.

This year however, Msgr. FlorentinoNinoyCanlas, the recently installed parish priest, was determined to have a better, more complete procession, which, at a minimum, should have images of Christ and the Blessed Virgin. Having come from Sasmuan known for its deep religious traditions, Fr. Ninoy urged his parish council to look far and wide for a suitable Dolorosa by contacting families who may have in their private homes such an image.

It so happened that Arwin Paul Lingat, an active member of the Our Lady of Grace youth group and an aide at Holy Angel’s Center for Kapampangan Studies where I am a consultant, knew of my santo. He immediately told Arnel Tapang, the indefatigable president of the San Rafael Parish Youth Ministry, who in turn, contacted me. And so, on that last week-end before Holy Thursday, I entrusted our holy image to Arnel’s care.

Our beautiful Dolorosa, a depiction of the Sorrowful Mother at the time of Christ’s death, was created for us by Mr. Francisco Vecin of Makati City, a famed maker and restorer of santos, bultos and carrozas. The works of Mang Kiko, who employs Paete and Pampanga carvers, can be found in major churches in the Philippines. Just like me, he is also a collector of antique santos, but he specializes in images associated with the Passion.

It was this interest that made me seek out the services of this modern-day santero. Three years ago, an old Paciencia image which needed restoration, came into my possession. This rare representation of the seated Christ, all bloodied and scourged, often scared my nephews and nieces when they came visiting my house. While in his talyer, I saw an exquisite, century-old Dolorosa head, with a moving, yet dignified expression of grief. All along, Mang Kiko too, was eyeing my Paciencia. Without hesitation, we agreed to swap images, and two months later, I was the proud owner of an almost life-size image of a Mater Dolorosa.

Our antique Dolorosa head is all-original, except for the new oil paint encarna. It is fitted with original glass eyes and new glass tears. The open, anguished mouth is deeply carved, a sign of great age, with individual teeth and tongue showing. Her lashes are made of doghair, while her wig is of fine jusi fiber. She was carved with such details as pierced ears to accommodate zarcillos (earrings) and neck folds, a Chinese influence. She comes with 2 sets of detachable hands, one, traditionally clasped, and the second, open and outstretched (used in Salubong ritual).

Unlike other Dolorosas with facial aureolas, our santo wears a pinukpok brass burst (resplandor) on her head, plated in gold, designed after jewelled fittings of santas in Sevilla, Spain. Her dagger-pierced heart is exposed on her breast (the usual iconography shows 7 daggers, representing her 7 sorrows). She is dressed in a white robe with flowered appliques and caped in black velvet.
On that hot, sweltering Viernes Santo afternoon, our Dolorosa stood in quiet dignity atop her lit and flowered wooden carroza (lent by the Pineda family) behind the image of Sto. Entierro, pulled by church “apostles”. The 2.5 km.+ prusisyun route wended its way from the church, spilling over to the main highway, until just before Golden Land Subd. and back. This year was a well-attended affair, with hundreds of candle-bearing devotees joining in the ritual procession. The next day—Holy Saturday--our Dolorosa, this time redressed with a mourning veil, participated in the Salubong rites that lasted till past midnight.

Indeed, the first-time participation of our treasured image did not only mark the beginning of a family panata, but also—as my friend and cultural activist Robby Tantingco aptly put it-- the start of a lifelong vocation, which is to keep our cherished religious traditions alive and to be one with the community in sharing the spirit of the Lenten season.
(26 April 2003)

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


THE PEDRO MORALES RESIDENCE, designed by the esteemed Kapampangan architect Fernando Ocampo y Hizon, one of the pioneers of Philippine modern architecture. The art deco house was once an imposing presence in Mabiga, Mabalacat and merited a write-up in the Pampanga Social Register of 1936.

Talk about being a Kapampangan “sosyal” in the prosperous pre-war 1930s.The “Pampanga Social Register”, a slim book published in 1936, documented all the names of the province’s leaders in business, in the professions and in the society, a veritable list of Pampanga’s who’s who, all members of the upper crust: sugar barons, politicos, lawyers, doctors, judges, industrialists, even gorgeous debutantes and affluent bachelor eligibles. The pages included portraits, photos of weddings en grande, brief biographical entries and even mansions of the rich and famous.

To my surprise, the list included the names of 2 of our direct relatives: Rafael Morales and Pedro Morales, accomplished brothers of my paternal grandmother Patricia Morales. Both of my granduncles were lawyers, and Rafael or Ingkung Paeng, had his spacious house constructed right next to ours in Sta. Ines after his marriage to Belen Lansangan. The San Rafael Parish in Mabiga, built on land donated by the his 2 philanthropist-daughters, is dedicated to the memory of Ingkung Paeng.

But it was the entry of my other little-known granduncle that stirred my greater interest. Other than the short profile about his person, the book also included a picture of his grand house which once dominated Mabiga’s landscape!

Pedro Morales, born 22 February 1886, was the eldest son of Quintin Morales y Tuason and Paula Guzman y Cosme, members of the town principalia. Quintin was a former teniente mayor of Poblacion and a cabeza of Sta. Ines (Note: Ever since, the Moraleses were a very political family; Quintin’s brother Valentin was a teniente mayor of Sapang Biabas. Their nephew, Dr. Miguel Morales was the 1st elected mayor of Mabalacat after the Liberation, and whose grandson, MarinoBoking” Morales, is the current mayor) . Ingkung Pedro’s other siblings included sisters Clotilde, Maria and Patricia.

As was the custom in the old days, the boys were sent off by their parents to fine schools while the girls stayed at home. Pedro and Rafael studied law at the famous Escuela de Derecho, a non-sectarian school founded by Filipino revolutionists whose vision was to give education that would produce not only lawyers but “true Filipinos”. After graduation, he practiced his profession in Mabalacat where he worked as a Notary Public. But he was also an astute businessman, becoming a successful sugar planter like his father before him. He became a stockholder of the National Life Insurance Company and Provident Insurance Company. Married to Elena Hizon of Porac, Ingkung Pedro raised 4 children: Remedios, Eliseo, Felicidad and Quintin. The couple settled in rustic Mabalacat and when it was time to build their house, they solicited the help of a relative, famed architect Fernando Ocampo, Elena’s first cousin.

Arch. Fernando Ocampo y Hizon was one of the country’s pioneers of modern architecture. His contemporaries included Juan Nakpil and Andres Luna de San Pedro (Juan Luna’s son). After earning a degree in Civil Engineering at the University of Sto. Tomas, he took up and finished architecture at the University of Pennsylvania. He further pursued advanced studies at the American Academy in Rome, then joined the firm of Ballinger and Perrot in Philadelphia in 1922.

The next year though, he returned to the Philippines and was employed in the Architecture Division of the Bureau of Public Works. In partnership with Tomas Arguelles, Ocampo formed his own archictectural firm in 1928. In 1930, he founded the U.S.T. School of Architecture and was a member of the Board Exams from 1929-1930. His contributions to Philippine architecture were honored with a Gold Medal of Merit from the Philippine Institute of Architects in 1953. In his prime, Arch. Ocampo had a list of high profile projects. His best known work is the reconstruction of the Manila Cathedral in the 1950s. He likewise restored the Cathedral of San Fernando after it was destroyed by fire in 1939. Among his commercial projects, the Arguelles Bldg. along Rizal Avenue, Cu-unjieng Bldg. in Escolta and Angela Apartments along Roxas Blvd. Stand out for their sleek art deco design.

For his cousins, Arch. Fernando Ocampo designed for a two-storey house, a sort of a modernized bahay na bato”, with the trademark art deco feel the architect favored, and which was the vogue at that time. The large, well-ventilated house itself had a frontal veranda and high French windows with frosted glass panes and sliding ventanillas underneath. The mansion was fenced in with iron grills that incorporated the couple’s initials, “M” and “H”. The landscaped garden was lush with flowering shrubs and ornamentals.

Just like his brother, Rafael, Pedro furnished his house with the latest furniture from renown House of Puyat, owned and operated by Gonzalo Puyat and sons, with offices at Rodriguez Arias St. and with a branch in Avenida, Rizal. The paint job was contracted to A.B. Villanueva and Sons. With its imposing presence, the house was a Mabalacat landmark, until the dark days of the 2nd World War. In the last stages of the war, the Japanese started bombing the Ermita district where the Morales family took refuge. While some family members evacuated to Dimasalang, Ingkung Pedro chose to remain in Indiana St., where he met his fate, a victim of the enemy’s rampage, his body never to be recovered.

In the ‘70s, the Morales house was moved by the heirs, piece by piece, to Magalang, where it was unfortunately gutted by fire and reduced to ashes. The only extant picture of the Morales house, which once stood on a Mabiga lot now occupied by the Church of the Latter Day Saints, is reproduced in the Pampanga Social Register book, a pictorial reminder of the glory days when affluent Kapampangans knew how to live it to the hilt by building houses as grand as their dreams.
(5 October 2002)

Tuesday, March 27, 2007


MUNTA TAMU CARNAVAL! Pampanga caught the “carnaval” fever in 1925 as it held its own exposition of the best in agricultural and industrial produce. Most of the towns had showcase booths like those of Macabebe and Masantol

The very 1st Manila Carnival was conceived as early as September 1907, when American Capt. George T. Langhorne proposed the holding of an event as an exercise of goodwill and to celebrate Philippine-U.S. friendship. After all, the open hostility between Filipino political leaders and the U.S. colonizers have begun to abate with the inauguration of the 1st Philippine Assembly..

Capt. Langhorne asked the Philippine Assembly for a P50,000 funding to build a hall and “exhibit half-naked Igorots and set up amusements”. Gov. Gen. James Smith , shocked at the tone of the planned carnival, asked his Secretary of Commerce, Cameron Forbes to take over. Instead of a freakshow, Forbes designed an international exposition to showcase Philippine-American progress. The government subsidy was reduced and money was raised through various means like the search for the Carnival Queen, where one voted through cash donations.

The site of the Manila Carnival was the old Wallace Field in Luneta and Bagumbayan, whose perimeters were walled up with Pampanga sawali (woven bamboo). The area was stringed with lights, arches and blue and yellow banderitas (pennants)with entrance tickets priced at 20 centavos. In the very first Carnival, two queens with their king escorts reigned: Purita Kalaw of Iloilo as Queen of the Orient and Marjorie Colton, Queen of the Occident. The fair was marked with theatrical shows, masquerade balls, band competitions, sports fests and games galore.

Big commercial businesses, provincial governments and other agencies were invited to create their carrozas or floats, as well as set up exhibit booths. Fabrica de San Miguel for instance, had a float featuring men made of beer cans. Meralco’s float included a man holding a lightning, while Clarke, a Manila soda parlor business, had a float trailed by children distributing goodies. The exhibit booth of La Fortuna Fabrica de Biscochos was singled out for its creative representation of the Goddess of Plenty holding a cornucopia of biscuits and sweets.

Among the provinces, Cavite, Bulacan and Laguna were the first to sign up for the fair. Laguna showed-off its best produce in its 250 sq. m. agricultural and industrial booths. The well-presented products included fine rice varieties, textiles, sandals, buri hats from Liliw, fish from Laguna de Bay and mineral drinks from Mahayhay. No wonder, Laguna won the best pavilion award.

Cavite’s booth was well decorated but “the exterior was not inviting”. Bulacan opted for a “palacio” (palace) theme but the presentation of products was disorderly, which included Baliwag hats, rattan chairs (silleria de bejuco) from San Miguel de Mayumo, wines and chinelas (sandals) from Malolos, narra furniture from Angat, mats from Calumpit and salakots (native hats) and bilaos (woven winnowers) from Polo. “Pearl of the South” was the visual theme of the Cebu booth, which also included a Magellan figure. Iloilo was very innovative with the use of fruits and live butterflies!

The 1st carnival was a resounding success and before long, the“carnaval” spilled over to the provinces with each one holding their own provincial, city and town fair—from as far as Cebu, Iloilo, Ormoc to Cavite, Baguio, Tayabas, Tarlac and yes, Pampanga. The 1925 Pampanga Carnival was held in Angeles, and this picture shows the agricultural booths of Macabebe and Masantol. The gaily decorated booths were topped with an eagle figure symbolic of America and stylized plows representing Kapampangan agriculture. Young men in americana cerrada (American style clothes) and straw hats and ladies in saya (native skirts) manned the booths, shaded with curtains of shell beads and accented by what looked like coconut shells. One can make out canned and bottled preserves as part of the exhibit. Could these have been Pampanga’s fabled delicacies-- pickled achara, buro (fermented rice) or taba ning talangka (crab fat)? Were the fine bentwood Thonet-inspired rattan chairs also part of the showcase?

The highlight of every provincial fair was the nomination of a Queen to compete in the national finals. In 1925, Pampanga chose a multi-titled beauty, Rosario Panganiban of Macabebe. The next year, she competed in the 1st Philippine Beauty Contest (won by Batangas’ Anita Noble) the same year that Socorro Henson of Angeles won the Carnival Queen 1926 title. The carnivals in Pampanga turned out to be a highly organized and socially-prominent affair, with the 1933 edition being chaired by no less than Hon. Justice Jose Gutierrez David.

Behind the gaiety and the remarkable success of the annual fairs lay the real motive of the Carnival, a hard, unspoken truth articulated only years later by the 1st Carnival Queen herself, Pura Villanueva-Kalaw: the carnivals were an American idea, organized, executed and animated by the same. In the end, the Carnival was nothing more than a superficial attempt to divert the Filipinos from the real issues that plagued American colonial governance, a balm intended to soothe our wounded national pride.
(28 September 2002)

Monday, March 26, 2007

14. ING TULA NING CAPAMPANGAN: Indu ning Capaldanan

VIRGEN DE LOS REMEDIOS, or Indu ning Capaldanan, as she looked after her canonical coronation on 8 September 1956. Her pilgrimages from town to town brought much spiritual comfort to a province torn by the ravages of war and the divisive elements of socialism. She is undeniably "the joy of Kapampangan people--ing tula ning Capampangan".

Two weeks ago, on 8 September 2002, the whole of Pampanga commemorated the 46th anniversary of the canonical coronation of Virgen de los Remedios (Indu ning Capaldanan) in Angeles City. The image has become the one unifying symbol of all Kapampangans under one faith, a powerful reminder of God’s infinite saving grace through the loving intercession of our Blessed Mother.

In 1952, socialism became an attractive ideology for some Kapampangans. This, coupled with the still-felt poverty and hardships caused by the recent 2nd World War divided many of our cabalens, many of whom began questioning their faith. To counter these divisive elements, then Bishop of San Fernando Cesar Ma. Guerrero D.D. founded the Cruzada de Caridad y Buen Voluntad (Crusade of Charity and Goodwill) and with the Virgen de los Remedios as its patron, began a continuous series of parish visits bringing the revered image wherever they went. The original image was housed in the church of Baliti in San Fernando, which became a parish in 1943.

The first visit was made on 15 April 1952 in Masantol town, and from thereon, the pilgrimages of the Virgin proved to be a true remedy for the ills which threatened religion and peace in the province. As a result, many rediscovered their faith and returned to the fold of the Church. In deep gratitude for the conversions and miracles, the image received the ultimate honor with a coronacion canonica (canonical coronation) in San Fernando on 8 September 1956, an event that was unrivalled in fervor and pageantry.

The most well-known names in Philippine politics and the highest officials of the Church attended the historic event starting with an 8 o’clock Mass at the San Fernando Cathedral officiated by Msgr. Andres Bituin and assisted by Msgrs. Francisco Cancio (Deacon) , Serafin Ocampo (Sub-deacon) and Pedro Punu (Predicator). At 2 p.m., the image was processioned from the Cathedral to the Capitol. Two hours later, all the church bells in Pampanga tolled to signal the solemn coronation.

The gold crown and the halo of the Virgin were donated by Dña Pacita Angeles vda. de Tayag. The precious stones which encrusted the crown (“batung brillantes”) were through the generority of the Caballeros de Colon (Knights of Columbus) along with other rich benefactors. These were blessed by the Nuncio Apostolico to the Philippines, Egidio Vagrozzi, also the Archbishop of Myra. Archbishop Pedro Santos, assisted by Pampanga’s governor Rafael Lazatin then crowned the image amidst the warm applause of the crowd.

Another Holy Mass for the newly crowned Virgin was offered by Bishop Alejandro Olalia with the Te Deum said by Msgrs. Cosme Bituin, Jesus Tizon and Felix Sicat. Senator Gil Puyat and Hon. Diosdado Macapagal of the House of Representatives exalted the Virgin with a “pawaga”. Finally, Bishop Cesar Ma. Guerrero, together with Msgrs. Bartolome Zabala and Santiago Guanlao paid homage to the queen with the Salve Regina.

The 43rd year commemoration of the coronation of Virgen de los Remedios in San Fernando on 8 September 1999 proved to be most meaningful because it was the culminating event of the Golden Jubilee celebration of the (Arch) diocese. With Archbishop Paciano B. Aniceto D.D. presiding, the festive rites were conducted at the Pampanga Sports Complex. The grateful Kapampangans present offered their thanksgiving to their beloved Indu and Sto. Cristo del Perdon for safeguarding their balen from the destructive Pinatubo eruption.

Many likenesses of the Virgen were created for enshrinement in many Kapampangan homes. We still keep in our altar a plaster image of Virgen de los Remedios with a tin halo surmounted by 12 stars. A 45-year-old framed photo of our Indu also rests on our altar, attired in blue raiments, face serene and hands folded in prayer. She may have looked Caucasian with her milk-white complexion and deep-brown flowing hair, but to millions of Pampanga devotees through the years, she is the one true Kapampangan mother of us all, the source of our deepest pride and joy.
(21 September 2002)

13. Mission and Music: P. DIEGO CERA

A LEGACY OF MUSIC: Fr. Cera’s famous Bamboo Organ, built for his Las Piñas Parish. Mabalacat was his first Philippine assignment. If the town had quality bamboos rather than balakat trees, could he have made the world’s most unique organ here in Pampanga? Circa 1925.

Padre Diego Cera de la Virgen del Carmen may be forever associated with Las Piñas where he built the world-famous Bamboo Organ, but long before he became the town’s (now a city) 1st parish priest, he served Mabalacat as a regular missionary from 1794-1797.

Born in Graus (Huesca province) in Spain on 26 July 1762 to Joaquin Cera and Francisca Badia, Diego grew up on a regular dose of music and devout spirituality. Early on, he learned the art of making organs. In 1787, he became a Recoleto (Recollect), taking his vows in the convent of Barcelona, now the Parish of Sta. Monica. True to his calling as a member of the convent of Benabarre, he left Spain between November and December 1791 to do mission work in Cadiz and then Mexico.

The talented priest then sailed to the Philippines on 6 February 1792. He immediately displayed his skill and knowledge of music upon arrival by constructing a piano forte which was sent to the Queen of Spain as a gift on 31 October 1793. The Queen reciprocated this gesture by donating a caliz, gold vinajeras and a church bell.

Settling down in his new country, P. Diego Cera found himself assigned in Mabalacat on June 1794. It was said that P. Cera was an expert in multi-tasking, playing the role of a scientist, chemist, engineer (he built roads and bridges), artist, architect, musician, community leader , agriculturist (he encouraged the use of native raw materials for dyeing) and even an urban planner on some occasions. Surely, he must have put his talents to good use in Mabalacat, but no material evidence exists of his work.

On 5 November 1795, after a little over a year of service in Mabalacat, the Archbishop of Manila posted him in Las Piñas, a town of farmers and fisherfolks. The town flourished under his guidance. First, he initiated the building of a new stone church and upon nearing completion, started work on his masterpiece in 1816, the Bamboo Organ, which was finished with the installation of the reeds in 1824. The unique organ utilized 950 bamboo pipes, buried in the sand for 6 months to make them insect-resistant.

Recollect accounts show that he actually built 2 bamboo organs, the other being sent as a gift to the Queen of Spain; however, we do not know if this particular organ survived or if this was the piano forte mentioned earlier. For the church of his order in San Nicolas, Intramuros, he constructed a grand organ with 33 stops, including one made of bamboo. An old organ at the Cathedral of Manila is also attributed to him. But his Bamboo Organ is the most renowned, indeed, a national treasure, being the only organ of its kind in the world. Restored in 1972, it is presently housed at the St. Joseph Parish where it is still played.

P. Cera served Las Piñas until 15 May 1832, when failing health forced him to give up his priestly duties. He stayed in the Philippines for 40 years, returning to Spain in 1832. Two years later, on 24 June 1834, he died at the age of 72 in the convent of San Sebastian in Manila. The good padre was described as “having a perfect knowledge of machinery, being able to play well the organs that he built; that he worked hard for his parishes and was much beloved by his people”. Mabalacat is privileged to have been home to this padre who served his people with heart and harmony.
(14 September 2002)

Sunday, March 25, 2007

12. APO IRO: Pampanga's Wonder Worker

PAMPANGA’S MIRACLE MAN. Apo Iro’s postcards such as these, were sold in front of churches like estampitas. Here, he is shown dressed as a Constantino, complete with a cassock knee socks, cape and cross.

The origins of faith healing in the Philippines go a long way back into our pre-Hispanic culture—when mediums called babaylans and catalonans called on spirits to cure illnesses and plagues of all sorts. When Christianity was introduced, faith healing prospered even more, for now there are more deities to summon, more saints to come to our succor.

Our colonizers observed that Filipino natives were a credulous lot, ready to fall on their knees before anyone with wondrous cures for their ills. “In this way”, an American reports, “ were formed the numerous bands of outlaws that for the next few years infested Tagalog provinces….the result was that there appeared several alleged sons of Gods, Virgin Mary, at least 2 Popes and a black Jesus..”.

In 1886, for instance, Julian Baltasar, a Pangasinense-Ilocano also known as Apo Laki, predicted a global deluge, retreating to Sta. Ana island with his hundreds of believers. In 1901, fanatics in Cavite Viejo went wild over a Laguna faith healer who had stones reputed to be stained with the blood of Christ. “Espiritistas”, then and now, often shared similar mystical experiences, with reported heavenly visitations, inner locutions and paranormal visions, before heeding their calling. A result of these oracular moments is the power of healing.

Such was the case of Pampanga’s very own Pedro Danganan (originally Danan) of Sapang Bato, who achieved national fame as Apo Iro, ang “manggagamot ng Pampanga.” Pedro’s parents, Alejandro Danan and Eusebia Samonte, were from Angeles and Guagua respectively. It was, however, in Barrio Pamalatan, Lubao that Pedro was born on 15 February 1917. A month later, his father would die, leaving Pedro mired in poverty and poor health.

It was for the latter reason that Pedro’s mother took her frail son on a pilgrimage to the Antipolo shrine of the Virgen de la Paz y de Buen Viaje (Our Lady of Peace and Good Voyage). While pilgrims crowded the shrine to pray to the Blessed Virgin, the unattended Pedro squeezed through the throng and forced his way up the altar where he tightly clung to the sacred image of Antipolo! While this act shocked some pilgrims, others proclaimed it a miracle, moreso when the child finally descended from the altar looking hale and healthy.

Thus began Pedro’s extraordinary transformation from a playful kid to a quiet child wont to introspection. Returning to Pampanga with health restored, he also left everyone in awe with his practice of gazing heavenward, muttering words, as if he were conversing with some deity. While playing street games, he started having visions of an ancient man with a flowing white beard, who pronounced him “blessed” and encouraged him to go on healing missions. To the amazement of many, he successfully tried his new-found gift on his mother, ridding her of her paralysis. Dropping out of school, the 12 year old Pedro, now reverently known as “Apo Iro”, embarked on a new career that would make him Pampanga’s and the country’s most celebrated healer of the pre-war years.

Active from the late 20s to the mid 1930s, his magic touch continued all the way to adulthood, healing thousands of people from as far as Ilocos and Bicol. From relieving throat pains caused by lodged fishbones to curing more serious afflictions, he healed people by the thousands – “gumagamot ng walang gamot, walang bayad” -- as one postcard caption proclaims. People would seek him before even going to doctors, unnerving medical practitioners who feared for lost business. As a result, they would often file complaints against him with the health department! One such case was filed by a known cirujano, eye doctor Carlos Simpao, resulting in Apo Iro’s imprisonment. Shortly after, Dr. Simpao started losing his eyesight which he regained only after a visit to Apo Iro, a “miracle” that fully vindicated the healer.

Apo Iro also advised the sick to strengthen their faith by lighting candles in honor of the Antipolo virgin, the icon that started it all. He was assisted in his healing ministry by his ayudante, Apo Loton. He achieved such fame that postcard images of him were sold like “estampitas” in front of churches like the Holy Rosary Parish in Angeles. The postcards show a long-haired Apo Iro, on the chubby side, with distinct feminine features, shades of the La Union visionary, Judiel Nava. He obviously enjoyed posing before the camera as seen from these staged scenes--one, in serene repose holding a cross and dressed in a knees-exposing pair of shorts and velvet cape; and the other, a composite picture of the “milagroso” on his knees before a painted Virgin Mary, much unlike contemporary Holy Communion pictures.

Enterprising neighbors cashed in on the influx of pilgrims by putting up shops that sold snacks, holy cards, candles and other Apo Iro-related souvenirs. There was even a booklet printed about his extraordinary life entitled “Buhay at Kasaysayan ni Apo Iro at ng Kanyang Mga Milagro”. Many remember the supernatural powers Apo wielded. He had the gift of foretelling the coming of rain. In one such instance, rain poured down inexplicably only on both sides of his house, leaving his neighbors wet while his yard remained totally dry. People not only waited in long queues to receive his blessings, but they also hid under the batalan while the Apo took his regular shower, hoping to catch the used bath water which they believed possessed curative powers. Apo Iro also caused religious santos like the Nazareno to animate and move; and it was also whispered about that he can make himself invisible to some.

It was said that Apo Iro’s magic touch came to an abrupt end when he succumbed to the temptation of the flesh and got married to Eufemia Camaya , much to the consternation of his followers who wanted him to remain chaste and pure. He fathered five children: Mamerto, Florencio, Corazon, Librada and Simeona. But according to surviving daughter, Simeona, her father’s powers never waned in intensity; he continued healing people by the thousands even in his married state, all for free.

The fact was, Apo Iro, like all human beings, was simply in love. Probably a bit tired from all the attention and wishing to lead a normal life, the contemplative Apo Iro retreated with his family to his old hometown in Guagua after the war. There, in between healing sessions, he peddled vegetables, blankets and other goods. His family also subsisted on the kind donations of his loyal patients who left food and gifts—never money-- at his doorstep.

The seer, who never experienced any other illnesses since childhood, also foretold his death, one day muttering –“Malapit na nakung kunan at i-uli!”--someone was about to get him and bring him home soon. When he died peacefully on 15 September 1957, strange events attended his death. Three white men visited his wake, and proclaimed to people present that the man lying in state was not dead. Apo Iro, before his demise, also gave strict orders not to have his body embalmed. Days after however, an uninformed mortician injected him with embalming fluid and when he did so, fresh blood spurted from his body. His death was covered by newspapers and his funeral procession was attended by thousands of people from all walks of life—from VIPs, government officials to neighbors, paupers and waifs—bound by a common extraordinary experience, of having been once healed and touched by Pampanga’s most acclaimed miracle man.
(7 September 2002)

Saturday, March 24, 2007


CLASS ACT: Angeles Elementary School Class of 1932 and Mabalacat Elementary School Class of 1940 pose for posterity in front of their identical Gabaldon-style buildings.

Like most average Kapampangan kids, I started school at age 6, beginning in 1963. For the next 6 years, my life would revolve in and around the confines of this big public school located next to the town’s municipio—the Mabalacat Elementary School, or M.E.S. for short. I remember the chaotic stream of squealing, crying first-graders when I attended that first day of school and recall being directed to the left wing of the massive building where I was ushered into a concrete-and-wood room with rows of 2-seater desks. Once seated, Mrs. Toribia Gomez, an oldish woman with her hair in a bun, took command of the class with a tap of a ruler on the table. I would occasionally steal glances outside the classroom, where my Mother waited.

It didn’t take long for me to adjust to my new world—this wonderful school with its well-tended garden, spacious hallways and fully-stocked library. It was easy to navigate your way around the C-shaped building. A short flight of stairs led you to the main hallway, which housed the Principal’s office, the library and the science room. The right and left wings mostly had classrooms, with the Clinic at the very end. I thought I had the best school building in the world until I was old enough to venture to Angeles, and saw, to my utter surprise, a duplicate of my school—the Angeles Elementary School. Same façade. Same open circle fence work. Same concrete steps. Same wooden doors and bulletin board. And even the same paint job! For awhile, I thought M.E.S. was transferred to Angeles, and once I entered, I would meet Mrs. Gomez again!

Of course, our schools of yesteryears did not start as grandly as it did for Mabalacat or Angeles. Private tutoring was the practice in the Spanish times. There was, for instance, a certain Apung Beltung Pile (Old Lame Beltung) who operated a “bantayan” school in San Francisco, Mabalacat, a kind of a day-care center where parents left their kids to study the 3 R’s under his tutelage. Formal education beyond the primary school level was initially reserved for Spaniards.

With the coming of the Americans, a Department of Public Instruction was established in 1900 with Mr. Fred W. Atkinson as General Superintendent. He imposed the use of English as a medium of instruction and called for the importation of American teachers to help run native schools and train local teachers. The largest and most well-known batch of teachers arrived in the Philippines on 21 August 1901 aboard the U.S.S. Thomas.

In 1907, the 1st Philippine Assembly’s first legislation was the Gabaldon Act. The proponent was Isauro Gabaldon (1875-1942) of Nueva Ecija, a member of the House of Representatives (1907-1911) and the Senate (1916-1919). The act appropriated P1 Million to construct schools all over the country. In Pampanga, Angeles and Mabalacat town were among the first beneficiaries of the Gabaldon Act. The school buildings were built strictly adhering to the architectural lay-out specified in the Gabaldon Plan, with the structure elevated on posts like a nipa hut, hence, the uniformity in style. The classrooms had typical wooden floors and open-shut swing windows of capiz (mother-of-pearl).

In the case of Mabalacat, the school building was constructed on a tract of land donated by Mrs. Rufino Angeles de Ramos , with the intercession of Atty. Francisco Siopongco. In the hallowed portals of M.E.S. we were drilled no end about fractions and conjunctions, while reading Clark-donated Dick and Jane textbooks and local titles such as my favorite “Pathways to Reading”, “Folk Tales of the Philippines” by Maximo Ramos and Camilo Osias’s “Philippine Reader” book series. Morning usually began with a Flag Ceremony in the courtyard. One inside the room, a student was picked to do a recital of Ing Balita Ngeni”—news for the day—in which everything, from the weather to the number of absent pupils, were documented in news form on the blackboard. Above the board were cheap pictures of our national heroes and at the rear was a bulletin board that displayed our art education masterpieces. I remember a native abacus in the classroom, which had wooden pots and fruits strung on wires instead of the traditional counting beads.

My years at M.E.S. were a period of juvenile independence, my first taste of freedom in fact, for I could socialize and widen my circle of friends beyond my Sta. Ines neighbors. For the first time, I was on my own, deciding for myself what merienda I should buy with my 15 centavo baon. Often, I would vacillate between the school canteen’s palitaw or Atching Tali’s special halu-halo. Sadly, that all ended by lunch, when the househelp fetched for me home.

Over 30 years after I left M.E.S., I came back to visit the school on a warm June afternoon. Actually, I just sneaked in when I saw the open iron gates. Carpenters were preparing the building for the school opening and military men were still doing finishing touches on the buildings at the back, leveled by the tragic crash of a PAF plane pilotted by Capt. Daniel Policarpio on 2 May 2002. The crash, which killed the pilot and one local teacher, put the school on the front pages of national newspapers.

I took a quick stroll around the main building, re-locating my old haunts like my first grade classroom and library. They were still there, looking much the same way I left them, caught in a time warp of some sorts. There was an overpowering feeling of nostalgia the moment I entered the library with its cabinets of dusty books, smelling of the odors, the scents of my childhood past, not unlike opening a box of Crayolas. Could my “Pathways to Reading” storybook be in one of these book cases?

Surveying the school grounds on my way out, I missed the Home Economics house where our domestic skills like cooking, sewing and basic housekeeping were honed. Gone too were the Science Room and the Industrial Arts building where we crafted dozens of dustpans recycled from empty cooking oil cans. Some familiar landmarks remain: the cast cement bust of Jose Abad Santos, the garden fields where we tended our pechays under Mr. Rodrillo’s watchful eye, and the ancient narra trees in the front yard, still standing tall after all these years, where, under their cool canopy, I and my classmates would gather together to share jokes or trade secrets, comfortable in each other’s company and foolishly wishing that our school days would never, ever end.
(31 August 2002)


CAPTION: NEGRITOS NEAR CAMP STOTSENBURG, Pampanga, Luzon Island, Philippines. Circa 1910. Could they have been one of the groups recruited to serve as trainers to thousands of U.S. soldiers at the turn of the century?

Keta pu kekami
Dakal a baluga
Mayap la pa keka
Biasa lang mamana..”
-old Kapampangan folksong

Pampanga’s first known residents, the nomadic Aetas, are a sturdy race whose history is marked by perpetual struggles against fellow man and nature. Locally known as Balugas, Negritos or in other regions as Agtas, Itas, Aytas, the Aetas belong to the Austronesian-speaking group of Southeast Asia and Oceania. One theory states that they must have entered the archipelago through the Sunda shelf during the last glacial period via Palawan. The Aetas then distributed themselves until the far north of Luzon, Zambales and Pampanga. Early eruptions of Mount Pinatubo caused them to disperse northeast of Luzon like Bicol and Sorsogon. They also spread out to Panay, Negros and northeast Mindanao.

Aetas were greatly familiar with their environs, with expert knowledge of wild food plants and protein sources. It is no wonder then that they made such effective teachers to U.S. military personnel during their survival training guide. There is even a jungle survival video, filmed in July 1967 and produced by the Air Force Jungle Survival School in Clark Air Base, that shows Aetas instructing students in the art of building tent-type animal snares, starting a fire, cooking rice using split bamboo and eating food on leaves!

But even before the Americans arrived, the leadership qualities of Aetas were apparent and valued by our colonizers as they established their settlements in Pampanga’s new frontierlands. Garagan of Mabalacat is acknowledged as the first Aeta chieftain of the town in 1768. He married Laureana Tolentino, a Christianized native, who went on to become Mabalacat’s first female cabeza de barangay.

The creation of the Comandancia Politico-Militar in 1860, where the northwestern district of the province was detached to preserve order, was instigated due to disturbances attributed to Aetas. This may be faulting the Aetas too much, as they most likely were just protecting their hunting domains-- after all, they were here first, only to be driven away as lowlanders or “unats” (straight-haired people) made incursions into their forest outposts. In any case, hundreds of nameless Aetas were also recruited to fight the Spaniards during the Revolution.

In the last World War, Kudiaro Laxamana, an Aeta tribal chief born in the foothills of Mount Pinatubo, distinguished himself by becoming a guerrilla hero for his annihilation of 50 Japanese while harboring 10 U.S. airmen. He also served as a Vice President to Alfonso, King of Negritos, who himself was made an honorary U.S. Air Force Brigadier General. Laxamana’s exploits were finally honored with a posthumous award given on 28 January 1995 in Mabalacat.

In more recent times, pre-scient Aetas are credited for first reporting the pre-eruption rumblings of Mount Pinatubo. The government, acting upon these first-hand reports, proceeded to issue warnings thus, leading 3 million people to safety. Noteworthy too, is the way the Aeta tribe has continued to cope with and survive the far-reaching effects of the Pinatubo eruption that resulted in their displacement, loss of livelihood and deep-rooted culture.

Who can forget too the two Aeta saviors of U.S. Navy Lt. Scott Washburn who went missing during a Pinatubo expedition in June 2001? Patricio Gutierrez and Rafael Pan chanced upon the missing serviceman wandering in the vicinity of Sitio Sablis in Sapang Bato, and offered him a friendly refuge.

That same year, Wida Cosme made history by becoming the first Aeta to finish law school at the Harvardian College, City of San Fernando. This accomplished graduate, now employed in the legal department of Clark Development Corporation, is working to fund her bar exam review. The remarkable feat of this woman of color is a courageous story of how a member of an indigenous race surmounted prejudice, poverty and personal difficulties to pursue a better life through education, not just for herself, but also for her people.

It is hoped that the place of Aetas in Kapampangan history will be given a kinder, fairer and a more accurate treatment beyond their skill in shooting arrows and wielding spears, as perpetuated in folk songs of yore. Theirs is a continuing saga of survival and sacrifice, of resilience and resourcefulness, deserving not just recognition, but also our respect as fellow Kapampangans.
(24 August 2002)

Thursday, March 22, 2007

9. And All the Angels & Saints: OUR SANTO TRADITION

IN HIS GRAVEN IMAGE. Wooden processional santos of the Virgin and Jesus Christ as Divine Shepherds (Divina Pastora/Divino Pastor respectively) show the high level of carving skills of Kapampangan santeros. Traditional iconography shows them carrying a lamb, in reference to the lost sheep (which represents Man), now found. Circa 1920s.

When our house in Mabalacat was renovated in the 1970s, the home altar was relocated to my bedroom. I recall a half a dozen or so statuaries enshrined in that altar, which was actually a niche atop my Mother’s antique cabinet. There was a Sacred Heart image of Christ with a broken head that has been badly re-glued, a Saint Therese of Lisieux with peeling paint, Our Lady of Lourdes and a wall plaque of Our Lady of Fatima. The centerpiece however was the 2 ft.-high plaster-cast image of Virgen de los Remedios that stared at me with unblinking glass eyes complete with eyelashes. That often gave me the creeps and so I used to cover my head with my blanket to avoid her gaze which seemed to follow me everywhere I went. Nevertheless, this early exposure to religious images must have spurred my later interest in collecting “santos”---carved religious images of Christ, the Blessed Virgin, saints and angels, of wood or ivory, from our distant colonial past.

The first Spanish missionaries who reached our islands brought with them religious statues that eventually became valuable instruments of evangelization. One such image is the Santo Niño of Cebu, the oldest santo in the country, given by Magellan in 1521 to Hara Amihan, wife of Rajah Humabon, who was converted upon seeing the wooden likeness of the Christ Child.

Soon, anitos were being replaced as objects of devotion, in favor of these more powerful santos that could be invoked for special favors or protection. San Ysidro Labrador, for instance, was the patron of laborers and farmers and his help was solicited for good harvest. San Antonio de Padua was called upon to help recover lost objects while Sta. Rita took care of desperate women with serious marital problems. But santos have their human side too, and when they failed to answer people’s prayers, they were often “punished” by their unhappy devotees by being locked inside aparadors (cabinets) or dusty kamaligs (barns).

Taking visual cues from estampitas (holy cards) and religious prints, thousands of local and Chinese carvers tried their hand in crafting santos of all shapes, sizes and medium. As proposed by Fernando Zobel de Ayala in his seminal book on santos, “Philippine Religious Imagery”, the handful of santos that have come down to us can be classified by style: Popular (products of self-taught hands, characterized by naïve or even primitive elements), Classical (santos that conformed closely to mainstream religious art and iconography) and Ornate (profusely decorated santos, often referring to ivories).

Santos were carved mostly in the round or de bulto. Others were of the mannequin types, with joints that can be posed (de gozne). Those that were made to be dressed often had nothing but a conical framework of pegs from the waist down, which was then covered with fabrics. Upon carving, the santo was primed with gesso or plaster of Paris mixture, then is painted in a process called encarnacion. There is another finishing technique called estofado, in which a layer of gold was applied on the body and then painted over. After which, intricate designs were incised, showing off the gold. This simulated the textures of rich embroidery on the clothes.

Santos were then outfitted with human hair wigs (cabelleras). It is said that the wigs of smaller ivory santos encased in glass virinas were made from the hair shorn from young novices. Abaca, jusi or piña hair also made suitable replacements. The eyes of santos were fashioned from glass (nowadays, these are made from broken fluorescent lamps or plastic bottles), made more realistic with eyelashes (made from human or dog hair). Plateros then fitted the santos with metal emblems and pieces of jewelry of tin, brass, or precious silver and gold--- from diademas (diadems), coronas (crowns), rostrillos (facial aureoles), potencias (head rays) to gargantillas (earrings) and bastones (staff or rod). The garments of ornate santos were created from fine fabrics like satin, damask or velvet stiffened with abaca lining. The robes were then elaborately and painstakingly embroidered with gold and silver metallic thread, further enhanced with sequins, gold spangles and tassels. Macabebe and San Luis ace embroiderers are known province-wide for their exquisite work in dressing up santos especially for processions.

Paete in Laguna and Quiapo, Manila were the acknowledged woodcarving centers of the country. The Sto. Entierro in the Mabalacat Parish is attributed to Aurelio Buhay of Paete town. Along Hidalgo Street in Quiapo, Maximo Vicente and Graciano Nepomuceno opened their talyeres, specializing in santos. But Pampanga santeros were no less masterful. The predominance of hardwoods and other trees suitable for carving---like narra, molave, batikuling, and even santol--- spurred our province’s artisans to further the cause of religious art. Betis was, and still is, Pampanga’s woodcarving capital. From Betis emerged several generations of master carvers, among them, the Flores family who still practice their craft alongside the furniture industry, for practical reasons. It is interesting to note that the Don Gregorio Araneta santo collection includes several outstanding santos of Pampango provenance, among them a complete Calvario scene from Bacolor, and some Stations of the Cross “relieves” (relief carving) from Betis. Mr. Araneta had a Kapampangan helper who scoured Pampanga’s decrepit churches and crumbling altars, salvaging santos in the process.

Sasmuan’s Sta. Lucia, Minalin’s Nuestra Señora de la Correa, Angeles City’s Nuestra Señora del Rosario, Masantol’s San Miguel, Baliti’s Virgen de los Remedios and Apalit’s San Pedro Apostol (Apu Iro) are perhaps the more familiar santos in Pampanga churches today. Apu Iro was in the news recently when the century-old ivory icon was nearly engulfed by a flame that razed the building in which it was kept. Just as revered though are the thousands of santos whittled from backyard trees and meant for home devotions, which today are being prized by collectors and cultural activists alike, not just for their religious significance but also for their artistic and cultural value. After hundreds of years, in all their scarred and disfigured beauty, santos are the fullest expressions of a people’s religious conviction, treasured legacies from the days when our faith was more unwavering, more profound.
( 17 August 2002)


FOR THE GOOD OF ALL HIS CHURCH: Fr. Andres Bituin (Bacolor), Fr. Nicanor Banzali (Arayat), Fr. Teodoro Tantengco (Masantol), Fr. Osmundo Aguilar (Guagua)

In my younger years, whenever I was handed a slum book for signing, I would often write under “Ambition”, the vocation of my dreams: “To be a priest”. I never knew exactly what motivating force(s) led me to decide on such a holy aspiration, considering that at age 10 or so, I was into petty domestic theft—pilfering 5 centavo coins from my Ingkung’s empty Newport cigarette pack that doubled as his coin purse, when he’s not looking. It may be because I had a Monsignor for an uncle, Fr. Manuel del Rosario, parish priest of San Roque Church in Blumentritt for over 30 years. Or it may had something to do with the visual appeal of wearing a soutana matched with a gold-embroidered chasuble and fancy headgear. Then again, it may just had come from my mother’s inescapable power of suggestion. Anyway, the closest I ever got to my dream was spending my high school at Sacred Heart Seminary, extern department. By then, my interests had shifted and my ambition irrevocably changed.

Of late, the priestly vocation has fallen into hard times what with the dwindling number of seminarians and the current attack on priests with hormones gone berserk. But in the early part of the century, to have a priest in the family meant singular esteem and distinction. Priests were generally accorded with reverence and their families looked up to with respect. Becoming a priest after all, involved years of disciplined education, rigid character formation and profound spiritual preparations under spartan conditions, making him, in effect, more than your average ordinary person.

Take the case of the country’s first Filipino priests, Pampanga’s own sons who fought adversities and suffered unjust discrimination in pursuit of their religious calling. Archbishop Diego Camacho y Avila is credited for initiating the training of Filipino aspirants for priesthood when he headed Manila’s archdiocese on 13 September 1697. Before that, only Spaniards were allowed to enter into priesthood.

Francisco Baluyot of Guagua, Pampanga broke barriers by becoming the 1st known indio priest, who, upon ordination in 1698, was assigned to the archdiocese of Cebu. Soon, more Kapampangan priests were blazing new trails: Alfonso Baluyot y Garcia, the 1st indio missionary was sent to the northern diocese of Nueva Segovia, Abra de Vigan. The 1st Filipino pastor, Blas de Sta. Rosa, became the cura of Tabuco (now Cabuyao), Laguna, after a series of competitive exams. Upon his death, he bequeathed an “obra pia” for the perpetual support of his parish. Juan Mañago became the 1st Filipino chaplain for both the royal regiment and hospitals. In September 1705, another Baluyot—Martin Baluyot Panlasigui was ordained by Bishop Andres Gonzales of Nueva Caceres, and nominated for the curacy of Abuyan, Tayabas. The same bishop had a change of heart and refused to install him to his post, even after the governor general gave his approval--clearly, a discriminatory act. Fr. Martin Baluyot assumed his post only in 1711, years after Gonzales’s death.

By the twentieth century, seminaries like San Carlos in Mandaluyong were graduating men of the cloth at a steady rate. Newly-ordained priests from this era (1910-1930s) include these young Kapampangans, who sent out real photo souvenir postcards such as these to friends, relatives, madrinos and padrinos (rich sponsors who supported the education less privileged seminarians). While conditions have considerably improved, these young priests still had to endure the physical rigors of ministering the spiritual needs of people in far-flung Pampanga barrios and sitios, often trudging dirt roads or riding horseback to reach their constituents.

The very young Rev. Fr. Andres Bituin, whose roots are in Betis, is pictured in the 1st photo. In 1956, he was a Monsignor, still serving San Guillermo parish in Bacolor, with Fr. Jose Guiao as his coadjutor. The accomplished Fr. Bituin rose to become a Vicario Forane while his younger first cousin, Rev. Fr. Cosme Bituin, became a Vicario General and parish priest of the Holy Rosary Parish in Angeles City in the 1950s.

The 2nd photo dated 12 May 1918, and sent from Guagua shows Rev. Fr. Nicanor Banzali, who served Arayat Parish for quite some time in the 1940s. By the mid 50s, the now senior priest was the cura parocco of San Miguel Arcangel Parish in Masantol with Fr. Arsenio Yusi as his coadjutor. The much-loved Fr. Teodoro Tantengco, a graduate of San Carlos Seminary, was assigned to Masantol early in his career, but by 1947, he was stationed at 287 Tayuman, Sta. Cruz, Manila. He left a lot of photographic documents that help us plot out his priestly life.The last photo shows Rev. Fr. Osmundo Aguilar, who sent this postcard from San Pedro, Makati in 1932. Fifteen years later, he was heading the parish of Guagua.

In this world of materialism, more and more young men are finding little attraction to the vocation of priesthood—even if the Church seemed to have gone easy a bit. Gone are the days when priests were never caught without their holy garb; today, you see them in casual shirts and denims, with signature sunglasses to match, ready to out-hip any young dude. In deportment, priests are more casual too--they sing on TV, dance, consort with politicos, and goodness gracious, they have their own boy bands too.

On the other hand, the respectable distance that people observed while dealing with priests have narrowed considerably; and when familiarity breeds comfort, temptation is just around the corner. Some say it is the fault of the Church, a sad consequence of bending the rules too much. Others insist that it is the severity of the rules that is causing the turmoil within the Church, which has failed to keep abreast with the times. Then there are those who maintain it is the inherent frailty of man. But if one were to re-trace the life stories of young Kapampangan priests of yore, you would find, in their years of service to God and humanity, the triumph of the spirit over the weakness of the flesh in the most trying of times.
(10 August 2002)

7. Maningning a Virgen: SASMUAN'S STA. LUCIA

MANINGNING A VIRGEN AT MARTIR: Imagen de Santa Lucia, V. y M., que se venera en la Parroquia de Sexmoan (Pampanga). From a 1907 novenario, “Santa Lucia: Macasariling patulunan ding malulula mata”, Imprenta de Santos y Bernal, Sta. Cruz, Manila.
Venite all’argine
Barchette mie
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

Days here are heavenly
Nights are pure ecstasy
Santa Lucia, Santa Lucia!

Long before Perry Como was crooning this song tribute to Sta. Lucia, the people of Sasmuan have been singing praises and prayers to this Sicilian virgin-martyr whom they have taken to their hearts as their very own. The singular devotion to their patroness must have been so widespread and profound that it merited the printing of novenarios or novena booklets. A 1907 example is poetically entitled “Novenario Qng Maningning a Virgen at Martir Santa Lucia, macasariling patulunan ding malulula mata” (Novena to the radiant virgin and martyr, St. Lucy, personal patron of those with afflictions of the eye). The 9-day novena, to be started on 5 December and to end on the saint’s feast day, 13 December, was designed to answer the requests of devotees seeking cures for various sicknesses, specifically those with vision problems (…Ya icabus no qng angang catagcuan at paquiabutna qñg alanangang pacalulu ning Dios ing nanu mang calam, macasarili ing panimanman ampon ing pangaulu na saquit; qñg uliniti patulunan yang macasarili caring mabubulag)

The invocation of St. Lucy against eye problems stemmed from her dramatic, but largely legendary life. Lucy was the daughter of noble parents. As a young virgin, she dedicated her life to helping the poor, giving up wordly goods in the process. She had quite a number of pagan admirers so she disfigured her looks by plucking out her eyes to discourage them. Miraculously, her eyes were restored to her and this started her patronage. In another instance, she was forced to work in a brothel, but she was rendered immobile; the guards could not move her. Finally, she was martyred in Syracuse, Sicily under Emperor Diocletian by having her throat cut. Lucy’s name is associated with the Latin word for light—lux—further bolstering her patronage. Sta. Lucia is one of the few female saints whose names occur in the canons of Saint Gregory, where special prayers and antiphons are recited in her honor.

The image of Sta. Lucia, enshrined at the Sasmuan Church of the same name is of wood, carved in the round or de bulto. It shows a young crowned santa, of no more than 14 years, and standing on a base, dressed in girdled robe and red mantle. She carries her traditional emblems: the palm of martyrdom on her right hand, and two eyes on a platter on her left. In other parts of the world, Sta. Lucia’s emblems include a sword, the instrument of her martyrdom and a lighted lamp, evocative of her name. Gaspar de San Agustin records in his Conquistas de las Islas Filipinas, that the image of Santa Lucia has been “venerated since long ago”. At the very onset, since the construction of the first church by Fr. Jose Duque in the latter part of the 17th century, the parish had always been placed under the advocation of the virgin saint. Stylistically, the santo has a folksy quality, and may have been carved by a local artisan in the late 18th to the early part of the 19th century.

There is a counterpart image of this Sta. Lucia in the church of Sta. Lucia, Ilocos Sur. In contrast to the one in Sasmuan, this 18th century Sta. Lucia is of the de vestir type, clothed in a dress completely filled with hundreds of silver ex votos, tiny representations of body parts in metal, affixed by devotees seeking cure for particular body ailments. The bewigged santo’s face has blackened through centuries of worship and exposure to candle fumes.

While Scandinavian countries observe St. Lucy’s Day with a quiet festival of lights, Sasmuan celebrates with an infectious, frenetic beat. During the town’s January 6 fiesta, Kuraldal, a mass rite characterized by non-stop, frenzied dancing is held, graced by the presence of Sta. Lucia. In this one big dancing party, palm-wielding townfolks, like some wild men possessed, jump, wiggle and shake as they scream out repeatedly: “Viva Sta. Lucia! Puera sakit!” Favor-seekers do not just include those with eye problems, but also barren women. Interestingly, Sta. Lucia is also invoked against other diseases like throat infections and hemmorhages (Lucia’s mother suffered from hemmorhages, cured after praying over the tomb of St. Agatha).

The veneration of the age-old image of Sta. Lucia in Sasmuan reflects the solid faith of the Kapampangan people even in the midst of adversities, steadfast in the Christian belief of divine intercession through the supplications of saints and of a God who never sleeps. So when the time comes for him to seek, so shall he find—surely and without fail-- with help from Sta. Lucia: …"nung ating pagnasan ayabut nanu mang macasarili qng Dios uli ning pamamilatan nang Santa Lucia”
(3 August 2002)