Sunday, April 29, 2007

24. MARIA CRISTINA GALANG: 1953 Miss Philippine International Fair

FAIREST AT THE FAIR. Maria Cristina Galang of Tarlac, Tarlac shows her winning form in this official portrait as Miss Philippines 1953 at the 1st Philippine International Fair.
From the 1930s to the 1960s, the world was caught up in the excitement of international fairs and expositions. The successful hosting of New York’s World Fair 1939-1940 inspired other countries to put up their own, as showcases of progress, goodwill and international friendship. In 1952, the Philippines joined the bandwagon, and not even the brewing war in Korea could dampen the country’s spirit as it launched the first ever Philippine International Fair. held in Manilaf from 1 feb.-30 April 1953. As in the Manila Carnivals of old, Luneta was chosen as the venue of the Fair, complete with a man-made lagoon, pavilions and booths. It was hailed in media as the "biggest event of its kind ever to be held in this country--inspiring in magnitude and significance...promising unsurpassed entertainment for old and young alike!". So important was the Fair that a commemorative stamp was even issued to mark the occasion.

The Philippine International Fair’s most attractive highlight was the coronation of Miss Philippines 1953. Rising movie stars, glamorous high society girls and beautiful delegates from chartered cities and the provinces rushed to join the competition. The early favorites were Alice Fuentes of Baguio, Antonia Tan and Violeta Villamor. A budding Mindanao was represented by a well-known socialite, Gilda Walstrom, who was romantically linked to young Ferdinand Marcos before he met his Imelda (incidentally, Imelda Romualdez was present at the pageant as 1953 Miss Manila nominee). But it was a fair convent-bred Kapampangan beauty from Tarlac, Tarlac who walked away with the Miss Philippines 1953 title, Maria Cristina Galang.

A daughter of a former governor of Tarlac, Alejandro Galang, Cristina’s victory was significant, for she was crowned by no less than the visiting 1st Miss Universe of 1952, Armi Kuusela of Finland (Armi later married rich Filipino businessman Virgilio Hilario after a much-publicized whirlwind courtship). Armi was assisted by the 1952 queen, Teresita Sanchez. Cristina’s escort was her kabalen (provincemate), the young Ninoy Aquino. The pageant committee originally wanted Cristina to join the 1953 Miss Universe in Long Beach, California, but this did not push through. Instead, a namesake, Cristina Pacheco was sent to the international competition.

Even then, Tarlac showed its gratitude to Cristina by throwing a lavish Despedida Dance at the Tarlac Trade School Court in her hometown on 5 September 1953. Tarlac’s most prominent citizens, headed by Governor and Mrs. Antonio E. Lopez and Mayor Hipolito Castañeda graced the occasion. A park was also fittingly named after her, the Maria Cristina Park, located near the provincial capitol.

Cristina acted as the official welcomer of the 1st Philippine International Fair, meeting important dignitaries, foreign visitors and lending her beautiful presence in several social events. After her duties though, Cristina pursued her academic ambitions, going to Georgian University in New Jersey for a liberal arts course and then to Fordham University in New York for her graduate studies in Sociology. In New York, she met Dr. Jose Caedo, who was then training at the Cancer Memorial Hospital. The two came back to the Philippines to get married but packed their bags again for the U.S. where Dr. Caedo finished his diplomate. Eventually, they came home a second time as Dr. Caedo was appointed Director of the G.S.I.S. Hospital.

Back home, Cristina became a university professor and took on a glamorous job as a bridal consultant. She gave these all up to devote more time to her 3 children, 2 boys and a girl, at the same time engaging in socio-civic activities way into the 1980s. Cristina thus joins an alluring bevy of Tarlac belles who have claimed the national spotlight with their beauty, brains and breeding, a list that includes Luz Besa, ( Miss Tarlac 1927), Isolina Palma (Miss Tarlac 1926) and Margarita “Tingting” de los Reyes-Cojuangco, voted as one of the 50 most beautiful women in the world by Harper’s Magazine.
(30 November 2002)

Thursday, April 26, 2007


COLEGIO DE LETRANENSES PAMPANGOS. Angeles and Mabalacat students studying in Letran pose for posterity. They are identified L-R as : Jesus Feliciano, Eustaquio Dizon (of Magalang), Mariano Timbol, Bernardo Timbol (of Angeles), Jose T. Garcia, Jose P. Dizon (of Mabalacat). Jose T. Garcia went on to become a doctor and mayor of Mabalacat.
Browsing through my late father’s old notebooks when he was a high school student of the Ateneo in the early 1940s, I was struck at the rigidity of the academic structure that one can glean from reading his daily class regimen and his completed assignments especially in now-obsolete subjects as Latin. I would imagine my poor, impatient father hunched on his desk, laboriously conjugating Latin verbs and diagramming sentences for hours, while his thoughts were on the after-school basketball game that he wanted so much to play. But then again, this was the kind of education most Kapampangan parents assiduously sought for their children: big city schooling that was far advanced by any standard and which was only available in Manila.

In the education boom of the early 20th century, families who could afford it sent sons and daughters to Manila, transforming the place into a national college town. Even earlier though, Kapampangan students were accorded special privileges by Spain, allowing them to study in exclusive Spanish schools in Manila as early as the 18th century. This was to repay the loyalty and service of Kapampangans for their help in securing war victories against invaders like the British.

For Kapampangan boys, the schools of choices included the boys-only Jesuit-run Ateneo (founded 1859 as Ateneo Municipal de Manila), which had its high school campus along Padre Faura. Colegio de San Juan de Letran, which was originally intended for the education of underprivileged Spanish children, was another popular choice for college boys. Others hied off to Jose Rizal College (1919) , San Beda College in Arlegui (1901), De La Salle College, Escuela de Derecho ( a Law School founded by Filipino revolutionaries) or to the venerable University of Sto. Tomas (1611) for their professional degrees. From U.S.T. was graduated the 1st Filipino lay doctor who is believed to be a Kapampangan, Dr. Pedro Leon de Arcega, a Chinese mestizo who may have been born in Guagua. He earned his Doctorate in Philosophy in 1785.

Girls, meanwhile, were either interned in the Assumption or sent off to Holy Ghost or St. Theresa’s College, Concordia College, Sta Rosa College or Centro Escolar. Manila schools were indeed a far cry from the single-sex religious schools of Spain. In 1908, the University of the Philippines broke the pattern of Spain’s single-sex religious schools when it was established along Padre Faura near the Jesuit Observatory. The U.P. set the standards of student lifestyle by going co-educational.

Student days in the Manila were a mix of exhilaration, culture shock and exacting academic load. To fend off homesickness, Kapampangans, like other provincial students, banded together and formed various organizations (Circulo Fernandino of U.P., Pampagueñas del Centro Escolar de Señoritas). More affluent Kapampangan parents however, had their children fetched by family drivers from Manila for the week-end. Interns like the very exclusive “Dormitory Girls” of Philippine Normal School, were forever under the watchful eye of American dorm mothers like a certain Mrs. Burton who honed these little provincial girls into English-speaking belles of Manila society. In the first decades of the 1900s, they were often invited to grace dances and social functions at the Malacanang under then Gov. Gen. William Cameron Forbes.

Students returning from Manila to their town for their summer vacation were often looked at as conquering heroes—more citified, fashionably dressed and more urbane. The Free Press described the annual March ritual of the returning provincianos in a 1929 editorial cartoon: “These are the days of the returning student—the days when he comes into his own. Behold him as he struts along Main Street of his little town or barrio, the cynosure of all eyes, the observed of all observers, a sort of collegiate Caesar….his clothes are studied, his shoes are studied….even his manner of walking, of carrying himself, are studied and aped. Is it any wonder that, under the incense of such flattery, he feels himself a superior being? Student days and joyful homecomings do not last forever. All too soon comes the stern battle of life with its trials and sorrows and tribulations. So carpe diem, and be joyful while we may”.
(23 November 2002)

Monday, April 23, 2007


MAGALANG COMMONWEALTH RITES. Pampanga’s towns celebrated the inauguration of the Commonwealth like this simple rite in Magalang. The Kapampangan’s joie de vivre was never more spirited than in the Quezon years, when our independence was but a grasp away.
Instead of granting outright independence, the American Congress chose to make the Philippines pass through a transition period of ten years, to prepare the country, in a more orderly manner, for eventual full sovereignty. On a fine clear Friday morning, the Philippine Commonwealth was inaugurated on 15 November 1935 at the Legislative Building in Manila. Manuel L. Quezon and his family, were whisked away from their Pasay home to the Legislature promptly at 7 a.m., at just about the same time that U.S. Secretary of War George H. Dern and Mr. Frank Murphy, the last Governor General and the 1st High Commissioner of the Philippine Islands were being driven out of Malacañang in a Cadillac, escorted by a cavalry of soldiers.

On the grandstand, before an audience of over a quarter of a million Filipinos, were assembled the guests of honor: U.S. Vice President John Nance Garner, Mr. and Mrs Francis Burton Harrison, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representative Joseph W. Byrns and General Douglas MacArthur, handsome in a gray double breasted suit and red-banded straw hat. Conspicuously absent (“but not missed,” as a Tribune columnist sneered) was Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo who was living in seclusion at Kawit .

VIP guests were dressed to the nines, the ladies in expensive jusi (expensive pineapple fiber fabric) with panuelo (kerchiefs) and flowing trains. Gentlemen came in vests and derby hats while others looked smart in crisp military uniforms. With everyone standing in full attention, Cebu Archbishop Gabriel Reyes opened with an invocation and at exactly 8:58 a.m., Sec. Dern, Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s personal representative, read the Washington proclamation. Immediately after, Justice Ramon Avanceña swore in Hon. Manuel L. Quezon as President of the Commonwealth of the Philippines. Sworn with Quezon were Vice President Sergio Osmeña and the 98 members of the incoming unicameral National Assembly. Pampanga was represented by assemblymen-elect Eligio Lagman (1st district) of Guagua and Jose P. Fausto (2nd district) of Sta. Ana.

Pres. Quezon displayed his fiery temper by unleashing a stream of “punyetas” (cuss words) at poor Mr. Jorge Vargas, when he could not find the pens with which to sign his oath of office. Eventually, these were found inside Pres. Quezon’s pockets. His inaugural address, which talked about the challenges and problems faced by the Commonwealth, lasted for just 20 minutes, ending with a call for “national cooperation and union… and pervading patriotism among our people as the basis of a successful solution of our problems during the Commonwealth”.

A bugle call was then sounded to indicate the start of the grand inaugural parade from Plaza Lawton. After the ceremonies, Pres. Quezon drove to Malacañang to take formal residence of the Palace, the first Filipino to do so. Columnist A.G. Dayrit wrote that “for weeks, Manila was rich with the stench of provincianos (provincial folks)”, who had come to attend the inauguration. Attention was focused on proud Moro chiefs in rainbow jackets, green turbans and tight red trousers, with kampilans and pistols at their waist. The mood in the city was bright and festive, with sports events scheduled at the Rizal Memorial, gala night at the Sta. Ana Cabaret and firework displays at the Luneta. While high-society Visayans were holding their Kahirup ball, members of the Mancomunidad Pampangueña were holding their own talk-of-the town party at some posh hotel.

The exultant spirit of the “day of days” spilled over to Pampanga. As Quezon was being sworn into office at the ceremonies attended by Americans and paid for by Filipinos at a cost of P600,000, a more austere rite was being held in Magalang, participated by local town folks. This historic picture showing a simple decorated platform set up in front of the municipal hall with Mount Arayat in the background, looming majestically as a witness, captured the restrained mood of the moment, when a nation not yet fully sovereign was still naïve enough to believe in the American promise that was too long in coming.
(16 November 2002)
(*Getting Ready)

Sunday, April 22, 2007


THE STOTSENBURG “UNLIMITED”. A Manila Railroad train makes a stop at the Fort Stotsenburg station, a 7 km. branch from Dau. This was primarily a military railroad. Circa 1910-1915.

For all the years that Spain ruled the Philippines, it had very little to show when it came to public works records. The tasks of road and bridge building were often undertaken by their missionaries. Spain’s most important project that was not Church-led was the construction of a railroad system for the island of Luzon. The Manila-Dagupan railroad was its busiest and most well-known line, linking Pampanga as well to the rest of Luzon.

The plan for a locomotive driven railroad system began on 25 June 1875, but the work on the Manila-Dagupan “Main Line North” leg began only in 1877. The concession to build was won by Edmundo Sykes, but this was later transferred to Mr. Jorge Higgins Wellfith of Manila Railway Company (MRC) Ltd., a British company.

The cornerstone of the Manila Central Station was laid on 31 July 1887 in Tutuban, Tondo and the ceremony was attended by well-heeled personalities from the government, the military and the Church, who came dressed in English finery. The Manila-Dagupan railroad was to be built in 3 sections: Manila to Bagbag, Bulacan (43 km.), Bagbag to Mabalacat (43 km.) and Mabalacat to Dagupan (106 km.), for a total of 195.39 km. The total project cost was roughly P8 million, or around P40,000 per kilometer.

Filipino laborers, favored over the Chinese imports, were employed in the construction. The Bagbag-Mabalacat stretch was finished in 2 February 1892, coinciding with the town fiesta. The Manila-Dagupan line became operational on 24 November 1892, immediately impacting the lives of thousands of Kapampangans even if it bypassed large Pampanga towns like Lubao, Guagua, Arayat and Bacolor. MRC operations were disrupted in 1898 due to the Revolution. In November of that year, the Angeles and Mabalacat stations were captured by Americans. The rehabilitation of the damaged rails became the responsibility of our new colonizers and before long, the Pampanga stations were once more in service.

The San Fernando Station was of such significance, as it was mainly used to haul agricultural freight. With the founding of the sugar central PASUDECO in 1921 and the establishments of large sugar camarines (storehouses) , the nearby station became even more important , becoming the railroad distribution point of Bacolor and the terminus for 2 branch lines. Passenger traffic stood at 26,658 people in 1920, second to Manila. Similarly, San Fernando ranked 2nd in terms of revenues (P28,549.70) after Manila, followed by Tarlac. Angeles (P12,214.57) and Mabalacat (P7,574.27) ranked 6th and 7th respectively .

With the establishment of an MRC station in Angeles, the town, with a population of just 10,000 at the turn of the 20th century, outpaced the population growth of Lubao, Pampanga’s largest town. Its location encouraged wholesale and retail trade with Bacolor and San Fernando, making transportation more efficient. The Stotsenburg branch from Dau (7 km.) was built almost at the same time as the Camp and was completed in May 1903. It was primarily a military railroad as it did not extend beyond the camp. Interestingly, the location of entertainment halls catering to U.S. servicemen in Angeles was influenced by the railroad system. In 1920, an American Mr. Hart, requested MRC to place a station at Barrio Margot within Camp Stotsenburg. Mr. Hart owned a bar there, frequented by 9th Cavalry troops to “satisfy their whims”. His request was understandably turned down.

The Mabalacat Station in San Francisco generated a lot of traffic and induced dramatic population change—from 9,101 in 1887 to 20,560 in 1939. More branches were extended as the sugar industry in Pampanga burgeoned: 9 km. Magalang branch from Dau (completed Dec. 1907), 20-km. Floridablanca branch from San Fernando to serve Guagua and Carmen, and Arayat branch also from San Fernando (completed in July 1914).

In the 1950s, MRC’s corporate name was changed to Philippine National Railways and its financial conditions remained unstable from 1957 to 1963. Typhoons damaged PNR lines severely in 1973, so that the operational lines were down to just 811 route kms. (from 1,059) the next year. The rise of the Expressways and the closure of the Tarlac-Dagupan route in 1 January 1988 signalled the end of the famous Manila-Dagupan railroad.

Today, Pampanga’s train stations are but a shadow of their glorious past. The Mabalacat Station for instance, is home to 3 squatter families, typical of the “home along the riles” neighborhood. The bricks have all fallen out, the window grills rusty, but the weatherbeaten “Mabalacat” sign hangs there still, a silent reminder that once, the noisy din of train engines, mighty symbols of industrial progress, roared our way.
(9 November 2002)

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


ALLURING ARAYAT. Pampanga’s mount of myths is still is the most visible symbol of the province, a solitary but awesome presence in the Kapampangan heartland. This postcard captures the untamed grandeur of bunduk Arayat in the first decade of the 20th century.

Ever since I can remember, Mount Arayat has been my one and only constant visual reference of Pampanga. It was the mountain of my childhood, the mountain I passed by thousands of times each morning in my daily commutes to Angeles, and in my college years -- the mountain that signalled to me “You’re almost home”, as I rode a Philippine Rabbit bus from Baguio. Indeed, the ancients considered old bunduk Alaya the navel of the earth, from which all directions, all movements of the Kapampangan universe were reckoned. Arayat was, and still is Pampanga’s most famous landmark, a twin-coned mountain that dominated our eastern landscape, rising in solitary majesty from the flatlands unlike the Zambales mountain range—although Pinatubo took a bit of the limelight away from her with its 1991 eruption.

Nevertheless, Arayat was the original, a 3,564 foot high natural wonder that inspired the many myths and stories I heard with fascination in my youth. In the turbulent 70s, I found quiet entertainment in my Classics Illustrated fairy tale comic books which recounted immortal tales of Greek gods and heroes. In my child’s mind, Arayat became my Olympus, the abode of gods and the scene of their thousand and one adventures. Early on, we thrilled to the tale of the Kapampangan sun god Sinukuan who was supposedly imprisoned in a cave sealed with a “white rock” visible on the mountain side. (The “White Rock” became a bastion for Kapampangan revolucionarios in our wars with Spain, America and the Japanese). If Olympus had Vulcan working in the bowels of the mountain, we had our own fabled Sinukuan trapped inside Arayat’s belly. On car rides to Manila, we would actually inspect the white speck on Arayat from afar, although the resolution of the legend was never clear to us. There was also a vague story about an ancient battle between Apung Pinatubu and Apung Sinukuan, with the two giant creatures engaging in a rock-throwing fight that went on for days.

Another Sinukuan also figured in a legend that will rival that of Mariang Makiling. Mariang Sinukuan, it is said, was in fact, Maria Makiling’s sister who made Arayat her home. She made the forest primeval thrive with fruit-bearing trees which she cared for daily. A person who eats the juicy fruit is liable to get lost forever in the woods.It is also claimed that one can see from atop the mountain the silhouette of Mariang Sinukuan in quiet repose.

My imagination often ran wild when it came to musings about the day when Arayat would blow its top. Would it be something like the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius which swallowed whole towns as recounted in my Classics Illustrated comic book “Last Days of Pompeii?” In actuality though, Arayat is an extinct volcano which last erupted over 500,000 years ago. But then again, the Pinatubo eruption, dormant for over 600 years, is a grim reminder of the fickleness of Mother Nature.

In the 1950s to the 1970s, Arayat took on another unflattering monicker—Huk Mountain, a lair of communist activities and a hideout for the country’s peasant rebels. But it quickly shed off this image with the establishment of tourist-friendly ecopark---the Mount Arayat National Park in Barrio San Juan Baño, which boasts of natural pools, refreshing springs, picnic areas and mountain trails. To this day, Arayat is a favorite haunt of mountaineers and campers. Within its forest sanctuary are animals like local civet or musang, wild boar, monkeys and rarely-seen birds like the delectable pasdan (snipe birds).

Like Mount Banahaw, Arayat, too, has a mystical side for it is in her foothills that Rizalistas gather every December to honor the national hero in quiet ceremonies. The cult was brought to Arayat by the late Apo or Mahal na Inang Birhen Sinukuan in 1947, acknowledged as Rizal’s female incarnation. An earlier cult leader, Felipe Salvador, who established “Santa Iglesia” in the 1890s in Apalit and who organized a peasant guerrilla warfare against the Americans, relocated his church to Arayat as well. It comes as no surprise that Leo Parungao, a former press secretary and journalist known for his paranormal research and writing is from this town.

To remind myself how beautiful Pampanga is amidst the rising concrete jungles and the crowded megamalls that are threatening to cover our landscape, I need only to drive through Clark and exit through the Mabalacat or Main Gate, look through my car window where I can have a grand view of my mountain of legend and lore, of my past and present, the enduring symbol of all things Kapampangan: Arayat!
(2 November 2002)

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


RECUERDO DE PATAY. A bereaved Kapampangan family gather one last time for a moment with their departed, a little girl named Josefina, who became God’s own angel on 27 July 1926.
In a few days’ time, we shall again be observing All Saints’ Day, or Todos Los Santos on November 1, and All Souls Day on November 2. These long-revered Christian traditions, commemorated to the hilt by Kapampangans, were actually pagan in origins. A Roman temple—the Pantheon—dedicated by Emperor Augustus to all the gods was rededicated in the 7th century by Pope Boniface IV to Mary and all the saints, hence the Feast of All Saints (the Pantheon has come to mean a Filipino and Kapampangan term for graveyard—pantiun) .

In our culture, these two feasts have somehow been merged as one, with the observance of the Faithful Departed starting after the stroke of noon on November 1. When cemeteries began being built outside of the town, transportation inconveniences led people to divide their pious duties: November 1 was devoted to grave visits while Nov. 2 was reserved for church rites.

Death came early for Filipinos in the 19th century, where the average life expectancy was about 35 years. Smallpox, cholera, TB—treatable diseases today—cut short many a Filipino’s life back then. Mortality rate was very high, moreso for babies and children. Looking at this sad picture of a little Kapampangan girl in her simple wooden casket surrounded by a grieving family, one would think hers was a cheap funeral. But dying was expensive even for the poor who had to shell out P30 pesos for burial services at the turn of the 20th century. Consider that a seamstress then earned P5 a month while a day laborer had a daily wage of 80 centavos.

Post-mortem practices included having a painting done of the dead at his deathbead. Famed Kapampangan painter Simon Flores y de la Rosa for instance, was commissioned to paint a “recuerdo de patay” portrait of a dead child dressed in a baptismal gown and peacefully lying on a couch in 1902. When photography came into fashion, souvenir snapshots such as the one shown here, were taken of the whole family with the dear departed which were then sent out as postcards to friends and relatives.

Funeraria ads in the early 20th century provide us with interesting accounts of our elaborate funeral practices prevalent at that time. For instance, a parlor owned by Mr. Feliciano Quiogue at Calle Salazar, Trozo No. 2 offered luxurious services complete with a hearse pulled by 4 horses, a metallic coffin and 4 attendants and 2 carriages for mourners, all for P85. On the other hand, Funeraria Filipina in Binondo charged only P5 for a crystal carriage pulled by a pair of Australian steed. A wooden coffin of mahogany went for a more affordable P30, the same cost as embalming. Engraved lapidas of Italian marble were available at assorted prices to suit one’s need and station in life.

In our Spanish colonial days, friars also charged “for dying consolation of religion according to the robes worn and the length of prayers offered”. A stroke of the church bell announcing the death cost from 20 centavos to P2. There were extra burial charges as when a friar was asked to accompany the dear departed to the grave. John Bancroft, a Philippine visitor, noted and wrote: “If death and funeral fees are not forthcoming, there can be no bells rung, no services held, and the body may not be permitted to rest in holy land”.

Of course, times have considerably changed and and so have memorial rituals too. These days, it is rare to find a priest who would be willing to walk and accompany the dead to their final resting places. The ritualistic “posas” or regular pauses of the funeral procession for moments of prayer accompanied by singing and music is no longer being done. And so is the wearing of black crepes on sleeves to denote death in the family, now replaced by small black plastic squares pinned on breast pockets. One thing that shows no sign of waning are our “daun” festivities at the sementeryu, marked by profuse graveyard decoration, candlelit vigils for our dead’s “kaladua”, feasting and drinking revelry for some, proof that religiosity in death is alive and well among Kapampangans.
(26 October 2002)

Monday, April 2, 2007


PADYAKIN MO, BABY: Kapampangan lads and misses try their hand at tailoring and dressmaking with their foot-powered Singer sewingmachines in a roadside class. Sewing was an important skill for most Filipinos, a source of steady income then, as now. Dated 5 May 1924.
I grew up with the constant whirr of a sewing machine almost every afternoon in our house in Mabalacat. My mother was quite handy with her electric Singer sewing machine, and for hours, she would sit in front of that trusty, well-oiled machine and sew mostly everything—from pundang ulunan (pillow cases), curtains, skirts to kiddie outfits. Her most unforgettable sartorial masterpieces were her elastic shorts creations, creatively recycled from livestock feed sacks. Back then, before the advent of plastic sacks, animal feeds came in colorful, printed fabric sacks, which were surely more eye-catching than burlap bags. The only problem was, these cheap feed sack fabrics were very coarse and stiff, and it would not take more than an hour before you start feeling the itch on your skin and you begin scratching your singit, an uncomfortable feeling that would linger even after hundreds of washings!

Our aparadors (cabinets) were full of these feed-sack shorts with prints and colors of the widest, wildest variety, and these basically comprised our childhood wardrobe. We would wear these shorts after school, on week-ends and summers and even in our Manila trips to visit my cousins . My city relatives would laugh at our one-of-a-kind short pants and our rural fashion sense would be the brunt of endless jokes. But hey, these were our mother’s fullest expressions of maternal care in the lean days of our childhood and the best testaments to her creative expertise with the needle, the scissors and her old trusty Singer.

Sewing was a way of making a living for women with deft hands at the turn of the 19th century. It was not exactly a well-paying job—a sewing woman, engaged monthly, would earn about P5.00 to P6.00, inclusive of meals in 1898 ( in comparison, a cochero or a rig driver would make P7-P12 monthly). In 1902, her average wage rose to 40 centavos a day. Filipinas found stiff competition from Chinese tailors who could take measurements without using a tape measure and create a suit of tweeds, English style, for just P12, that often came with a guarantee—“no fitee, not takee”.

Singer sewing machines came to our Islands in the mid 1800s. As of 1885, Singer had sold 602,392 sewing machines on installment payments of 10 reales (P1.25) a week. In trade cards distributed all over the country, Singer proudly proclaimed its contribution in uplifting the lives of indios in the Philippines. An 1892 advertisement card featured Filipinos at work with their sewing machine with the following back caption: “ …the Spanish inhabitants, as well as the native Indians, use and prize our “Singer” Machine, which has found its way to this Island of the Sea…”

The American system of education recognized the importance of sewing skills, integrating needlework lessons as early as in elementary schools. Here, kids learned all kinds of tai and sulsi (from Spanish tejer, to sew and zurar, to darn). Embroidery and lace-making were likewise included in Home Economics courses, alongside housekeeping and cooking instructions. In 1912, a School of Household Industries offered 6-month courses in the sewing and embroidery of linens, handkerchiefs and lingerie for the American market.

Nevertheless, many a costurera (sewer) learned her craft not through formal education but by apprenticing herself to someone who worked well with needles and thread. She did not actually design dresses, but could copy a sketch or another dress as a guide, with minor alterations. Modistas (modistes), on the other hand, were more a progressive lot, honing their skills with formal cutting, designing and sewing education. Unlike costureras who called on clients for business, modistas had shops with a caratula (trade sign); customers went to her shop for orders.

As a craft and business, dressmaking came into being in 1910 with the appearance of the country’s first fashion couturiers. Pacita Longos was a pioneer in this field, designing and creating gowns for high society, beauty queens and dressing polticians’ wives and the country’s elite. Fashion schools sprang like mushrooms, often featuring stylish names like Mme. Kollerman’s School of Fashion in Quiapo. And, in the provinces, sewing classes were offered in humble shops and talyeres, as this vintage picture shows. Here, Kapampangan would-be modistas and sastres, practice various sewing skills from cutting, pattern-making and actual dress construction under the watchful eye of a teacher, and with lots of help from their Singers. Then as now, making a living has never been sew easy with one machine that touted itself as “…in the Philippines, as in every other part of the world, one of the foremost factors of civilization..”
(19 October 2002)