Sunday, June 24, 2007

37. SOCORRO HENSON: When Kapampangan Beauty Was In Flower

QUEEN OF THE MANILA CARNIVAL 1926. Socorro Henson,of Culiat (Angeles) aged 19, as she appeared in her official coronation picture, which had a Hindu-Arabic theme. She wore a sari gown, a rhinestone crown with a panache of pearls and rode an elephant to her proclamation night. Her King Consort is Vicente Rufino.

Philippine-American relations was at its most cordial in the early 1900s. To mark this harmonious period, a national fair was proposed. Thus was created the 1st Manila Carnival of 1908—2 weeks of revelry, parades, exhibits, sports competitions and crowd-drawing shows, held in February, at the old Wallace Field in Luneta.

Highlighting the Carnival was the crowning of the Carnival Queen, whose selection was based on ballots bought and cast in her favor through private subscription campaigns. As such, candidates often came from affluent backgrounds, like Pura Villanueva of Molo, Iloilo-the future Mrs. Teodoro Kalaw--who holds the distinction of being the first Carnival Queen of 1908. For many winners, the title was a passport to fame, fortune and social prominence. 1920 Queen Trinidad de Leon of Bulacan eventually married Manuel Roxas, while 1922’s Virginia Llamas married her escort, Carlos P. Romulo. Maria Kalaw, 1931 Queen and Pura’s daughter, went on to become a successful senator.

In 1926, the Manila Carnival committee decided to open another Miss Philippines Contest (won by Anita Noble of Batangas), but the luster of the original Carnival crown never dimmed. That year, a Kapampangan beauty reigned supreme: Queen Socorro I.

Socorro Henson, born 29 August 1907, was the eldest of 10 children of Jose Bartolome Henson of Angeles and Encarnacion Martinez Borcena, a Spanish mestiza from Manila. Her pharmacist-father, despite strong Pampanga roots, relocated to Manila, where he ran a thriving drugstore business. Along Solana Street, Intramuros where the Hensons resided, Socorro lived a very comfortable life, spending her high school years at the Assumption and later at the College of the Holy Ghost, for her college education. Her brothers, on the other hand, went to Ateneo and San Juan de Letran.

Socorro had a quiet kind of beauty and her complexion, as recalled by younger brother Col. Antonio Henson, was so translucent that you could see delicate traces of her veins. No wonder then that at the age of 19, in a glittering Hindu-Arabic themed pageant, Socorro was chosen Carnival Queen of 1926. Another kabalen (provincemate), Magalang beauty Lourdes Luciano, could have given her a stiff competition, had she not withdrawn her candidacy. Socorro thus claimed the crown unopposed; she holds the distinction of being the first Pampangueña to win a national beauty title. It is said that her patrician bearing captivated the judges and made many a head turn.

Her grateful and proud neighbors festooned the streets of Intramuros with colored buntings to celebrate her victory. At her coronation, she was resplendent in a beaded sari gown with a magnificent crown topped by a foot-long panache. The stately queen, seated on a howdah, was borne by a real elephant in her ceremonial evening parade. Her King Consort was Vicente Rufino. But another escort from her court caught her eye: Francisco Limjap y Escolar, of the influential and socially affluent Limjap clan from Manila. (Interesting to note that his brother, Perico, also took another Carnival Queen for his wife-- Neny Apacible who reigned in 1923).

Socorro and Francisco were married on 26 January 1928. Marriage did not deter her from completing her Home Economics degree at the Holy Ghost College. She bore four children: Francisco Jr.,, Baby, Josefina and Ginny. The older Francisco died on 8 October 1975. A few months later, on 26 February 1976, Socorro, the last of the original Carnival Queens, succumbed to cancer of the throat.

It can be said that long before the national triumphs of Pampanga-born binibinis and mutyas like Myrna Panlilio, Malou Apostol, Violeta Naluz, Melanie Marquez, Abbygale Arenas, Maricel Morales, Marilyn Maristela, Darlene Carbungco and Carla Gay Balingit, there was one original beauty who thrilled and captivated a whole nation 75 years ago, leaving a legacy of Kapampangan pulchritude at its most beautiful.
(1 March 2003)

Monday, June 18, 2007

36. CLARK FIELD: Pampanga's Piece of America

AMERICA’S FIELD OF DREAMS. Mount Arayat’s silhouette forms an imposing backdrop for Fort Stotsenburg as it appeared around 1915- 1917, a signal to 4 generations of American military that they are nearing the camp, whether arriving by rail, road or plane.

I grew up with a view of Clark Field or Clark Air Base as some sort of a terra incognita, a forbidden territory reserved for an exclusive few, Americans and their dependents. People spoke of a commissary with endless rows of the crispiest apples and peaches, overflowing Pacex milk, Hershey’s chocolates, macadamia nuts and Frito-Lay’s potato chips—alien food that tasted so delicious in my mind, even by name alone. There was a certain scent that these goodies exuded, an aroma that I had come to associate with going “stateside”. Neighbors also told stories about fancy restaurants like Top Hat and Coconut Grove, of Olympic-size swimming pools with gleaming white tiles at the Officers’ Club, and of visits by international celebrities like Xavier Cugat and Bob Hope.

And so it came as a surprise when, in high school, I was chosen to go to Clark under the sponsorship of Wagner High, to tour the arts-and-crafts and hobby shop of the school. I was thrilled no end as I and my select group were driven past the wire fence, straight to our “little America”, to gawk at the gleaming classrooms and state-of-the-art facilities while practicing my stilted Kapampangan English with white Americans my age. I came away foolishly impressed by the American dream, and for some time, relished the thought of a Philippine statehood as espoused by Romeo Cabangbang.

In its heyday, Clark Field, once America’s largest military installation in Asia, extended from Angeles to large portions of Mabalacat. Even today, there are entry gates in Balibago, Mabalacat and Dau that serve as access points to this re-configured airbase. Clark Field’s pre-cursor—Fort Stotsenburg—was laid out as early as 1902, near a village in Kuliat. Abundant with hay, it was the perfect place for the horses of the 5th Cavalry units to rest. The Cavalry was part of a contingent that was sent to the Philippines to quell the Philippine Insurrection ( in a more politically correct term, the Philippine-American War). Before that, the units were stationed in another part of the town where their horses died after feeding on local sawgrass. Over the next 2 decades, Stotsenburg became home to over half of the U.S. Army’s cavalry (e.g. 7th of the Bighorn fame and the 9th Cavalry’s Buffalo Soldiers) and field artillery units. (Edmund L Gruber, a unit lieutenant assigned to Stotsenburg in 1908 composed a march on which the famous “Caisson Song” was based: “Over hill, over dale, as we hit the dusty trail…and those caissons go rolling along”.

The camp was named after John M. Stotsenburg, Captain, 6th U.S. Cavalry and Colonel, 1st Nebraska Volunteers, who was killed in action near Quinga, Bulacan in 1899. In 1903, Fort Stotsenburg was declared an official military reservation by then President Theodore Roosevelt. In 1908, a move was made to expand the size of the military reservation and Roosevelt signed a U.S. War Dept. Order 85 on 18 May, which proposed the extension of the camp to include the west end of Barrio Dolores in Mabalacat. This increased the size to 156,204 acres, which was subsequently and significantly reduced to 131,00 acres under the Military Bases Agreement of 1979.

The camp was oftentimes described as “a lonely, dreary waste for years”. One correspondent for the Army and Navy Journal noted that the wooden houses in the post were “unpainted and unsightly”, likening Stotsenburg to “an old lumber or mining camp”. Malaria stalked the troops in the camp and the area was jokingly referred to as “death valley”. Maj. Gen. Leonard Wood, however, was the camp’s biggest supporter. He enthused about “Stotsenburg’s usefulness for training the (Philippine) garrison’s mobile army”. He added that the camp’s sandy soil would provide the army with “a very ample maneuver ground…a splendid ground for large bodies of troops”.

Life for Americans at Stotsenburg became more bearable as the years passed. Brig. Gen. Johnson Hagood, who commanded the post in the 1920s, sought to improve living conditions by embarking on a brisk construction program. By 1922, Stotsenburg acquired “33 new houses, nurses’ quarters, new post meat market and a new sewer system”. Schools, like Wood and Dean C. Worcester School, were established in the 1930s to educate children of American as well as Filipino officers. Sports facilities sprouted too: from a “brand new swimming pool supplied by clear water from the high slopes of Mt. Pinatubo” to bowling alleys, tennis and volleyball courts, polo field and golf courses. Tea dances, song fests, picnics, annual carnivals and sewing clubs were organized to fend off loneliness and boredom.

On the other hand, Clark Field was the name of a flying strip that was in existence before the end of World War II. This was soon merged with Stotsenburg, and renamed Clark Air Base, in honor of young pilot Maj. Harold M. Clark of the U.S. Army Signal Corps, a Manila-schooled Minnesotan who had died in a seaplane crash in Panama in 1919 during a flying assignment.

In the years that followed, Clark Air Base played significant roles in the Korean and Vietnam Wars, at the same time impacting profoundly the lives and fortunes of the people of Angeles and Mabalacat, building a long relationship with the communities that was periodically marked with ambivalent feelings of love and loathing. Today, anyone and everyone can enter Clark Field, to shop, to picnic or whatever. After having routinely driven countless of times through this once-forbidden land, Clark Field has lost much of its mystique to me, but never its hallowed history.
(22 February 2003)

Tuesday, June 12, 2007


WELCOME TO MY INNER CIRCLE. Members of the exclusive Circulo Fernandino from the University of the Philippines gather for a souvenir shot. Social clubs often had young members only from elite Kapampangan families or de buena familia. Dated 19 May 1925.

Perhaps, the closest that our family came to being “sosy” (high society) was during the annual Mabalacat Parents-Teachers’ Ball held at the tennis court of the Mabalacat Parish grounds. This formal affair supposedly brought together the town’s upper crust in an evening of music and dance, but what I could not explain was why it had to be held in an open tennis/basketball court and not in some fancy Angeles hotel. I remember receiving the white invitations, bound by colored ribbons with each page bearing the names of family sponsors and donors. I would quickly scan each page, searching for my parents’ names. On that one special night, Mabalaqueños would spruce themselves up, dress in their best finery and troop to the court lit with strings of light. There, to the big band music of Iggy Pop and his Orchestra, the town’s most beautiful people – dripping with Ocampo’s jewellery and sporting bouffant hairdo’s, donned their satin gowns and Toppers’ americana—danced their cares away till the wee morning hours.

Social clubs in the Philippines were an American invention, becoming a phenomenon in provinces and towns as the native upper class increased its wealth and stature during this particular colonial regime. These clubs represented a major breakthrough for affluent Filipinos as Spain forbade the organizations of such native clubs except those with the blessing of the Church. Politically harmless, these exclusive organizations were mostly social in nature, occasions for meeting the town’s most eligible swains or sizing up next-door dalagas (ladies). Other Kapampangan clubs however, went beyond these traditional sosyalans by mounting communal projects like theatrical shows and patriotic events.

In Lubao, the La Sociedad Hormiga de Hierro (The Iron Ant Society) sponsored glamorous balls, helped plan Rizal Day programs and handled receptions for dignitaries like Assemblyman Monico Mercado and Governor-General William Cameron Forbes. The club scene flourished in Pampanga towns with the organization of associations like La Gente Alegre de San Fernando (The Merry Folks), Circulo Juvenil Candabeño (Candaba Youth Group) and La Compania Sabina de Bacolor (The Sabine Society). Soon, province-wide social clubs also emerged like the Fraternidad de Pampanga, established in 1908. Their activities were often held at the San Fernando High School grounds.

Under a more permissive society, clubs soon became avenues for making business connections, creating familial alliances and showcasing one’s new-found wealth and stature. Leading Kapampangan newspapers avidly covered the social beat, and in the 1920s, this pre-occupation for provincial group organizations reached its zenith. Macabebe had its Young Generation, Angeles its Kundiman and San Fernando added Circulo Fernandino to its list of exclusive groups. Women’s clubs sprouted from Bacolor to Angeles, which expanded to include American army wives and teachers. While the Visayans had their Kahirup balls, members of the San Fernando-based Mancomunidad Pampangueña--an offshoot of Circulo Fernandino—were sponsoring lavish rigodon de honor dances at the Manila Hotel in the 1930s.

Revived after the war, Mancomunidad Pampangueña-- managed to sustain its activities way into the 1960s. By then, the texture of the club activities had changed considerably, with non-Kapampangans invited to the affair and with food and refreshment provided by Manila caterers. Even the dances and music of old have given way to modern steps and beat. True, while today, vestiges of the old social clubs appear every now and then in the guise of elitist high-society theme parties, nothing could match those peacetime days of the 20s and 30s, when the Kapampangan club scene, populated by men and women with a real passion for living, was as lively as the spirit of a nation at the threshold of freedom.
(15 February 2003)

Thursday, June 7, 2007


WHAT’S COOKING? “Ding recetang atipun ning malating librong iti yang mituru keka yu king pamaglutung manyaman”..from Mumunang Amanu, LIBRO KING PAMAGLUTU, Salese at Isinadia ning Fercrusa Publishing Co., Agosto 1934. Alex R. Castro Collection.
Kapampangans have a solid reputation for being great cooks, a skill that is learned through early exposure to mother’s kitchen secrets, honed through rigid hands-on training and refined to perfection through daily application of age-old treasured recipes. After a while, a Kapampangan kusinera’s feel for food becomes almost instinctive, with flavors blended wonderfully with just the right pinch of salt and simmered at a precisely calculated time. So it came as a surprise when I unearthed this old, tattered 1934 cookbook, with step-by-step formal instructions on how to prepare different kinds of ulam, specifically written for young Pampangueñas who aspire to become ideal homemakers by cooking up the perfect meal, right down to the perfect dessert.

This book, with the rather generic title “Libru King Pamaglutu” (literally, cook book) obviously aimed to expand the culinary knowledge of the Kapampangan by focusing on select recipes culled from here and abroad: “Pinili karing dakal a libro at pahayagan king pamaglutu king amanung Tagalog, Ingles at Kastila”, so the subtitle proclaims.

A quick glance at the book’s content offers us a glimpse into the cooking practices at that time. The preface starts with “Apulung Utus Kareng Mamangan” , a sort of 10 commandments on table etiquette! Examples: “ E yu durusug bandang gulut ing silya nung makalukluk na ka “.(Don’t push your chair back when already seated). “E yu lalabulan ing nasi ban parimlan”(Don’t blow the rice to cool it).

After this rather preachy page come the different chapters on the techniques of concocting the most delectable “sopas, caldo at arroz”. There are recipes for Arroz a la Valenciana, Sopas a Mike ating Manuk at Payungpayungan, Caldo Chino, Sopas a la Berkshire and strangely enough, for Mantekilyang Chicos at Kamatis! (buttered chicos with tomatoes). Lessons in “pamangawang salsa, ensalada at atsara” follow next, with fancy names as Ensaladang Waldorf, Ensaladang Zanahoria a la Inglesa and Atsarang Remolacha. To think these are just hodgepodge of everyday gule!

The entries on meats, poultry and fishes showcase local and international cooking at its finest: Morkong Manuk, Pepitoria, Cahuela Chilena, Sukiyaking Hapon, Arros con Bacalao, among others. There are exotic-sounding ingredients, some in Spanish, like kesiap (fish sauce), clavo de comer, perejil (parsley), sangki, kanel, aceitunas (olives), zanahoria (carrots) and biskotso de cañas (sugar biscuits--could these be like graham crackers?).

Melt-in-the mouth desserts constitute the next chapter, again, a mind-boggling variety from the East and West: Mamun, Flan de Naranja, Tocino del Cielo, Doughnut Kastila, and Betty’s Cookies (who in the world is she?) There are tips for making haleas or jams, marmeladas (marmalades) plus candied fruits. Baking instructions do not include ideal oven temperature. Upon mixing all the necessary ingredients, the student is directed to simply plunk down the pastry into the oven—“Ilutu king orno” or “Ibalik pasibayu king orno anggang e lare” (return to the oven until color changes).

However, it was the content of the Kapulung Pangkat (Chapter 10) that amused me as the chapter contained household tips that really had nothing to do with cooking. Under the heading “Kabaluan King Pamibalebale” (Household Knowledge) are easy, practical solutions to common household challenges, money and effort-saving suggestions for the wise homemaker. There is an entry on “Pamaglako Kalawang King Imalan” or removing rust from fabrics : Itulid king danum a bubukal at saka dinan yung piga ning dalayap…(pour boiling water and squeeze a lemon on the problem spot). Need to rid your house of fleas and bedbugs? : “Kuma kong 2 onza ning estafisagria (pulbos), iti ing pulis king siwang a miki suldut. Kalabas ning aduang aldo, mate ngan ing animal aren..” (Rub in 2 oz. of powder in between the slats where bedbugs hide; after 2 days they will all be dead and gone). Hair-conscious people need not worry because there is a way to put black back into your hair: “ban tuling ing maputing buak”—Pabukal kong matapang a tsa at iti ing ikuskus yu mayap king buak abak at gatpanapun (To blacken hair--boil strong tea and rub well on your hair, every morning and afternoon). The tips go on to include emergency procedures to relieve hiccoughs (Nung Sisikut Kayu), nosebleeds and chapped lips and ways to clean aluminum, marble, steel and other metals.

One can easily dismiss “Librung King Pamaglutu” as nothing more than a second-rate, trying hard outdated cookbook with its bewildering content that’s as mixed-up as chop suey. But today, with the advent of self-timed toasters, food processors , instant mixes and microwave dinners, fewer Kapampangans of the next generation are bound to experience the real thrill of authentic cooking and the excitement of the wait --for a bubbling tibuk-tibok to thicken, for crispy kamaru to crackle, and for favorite bibingkas to turn golden.
(8 February 2003)

*The Kapampangan Kitchen

Sunday, June 3, 2007


HER CROWNING GLORY. Her Majesty Queen Grace I, Miss Mabalacat of 1950, paved the way for future Mabalacat belles who have made it big in national and international pageants like Digna Ramos (Bb. Pilipinas runner-up 1977), Marilyn Maristela (Mutya ng Pilipinas 1996) and Gizelle Viray (Miss Phil-Canada North America 2nd Runner-Up).

May is the traditional fiesta month, but for Mabalaqueños, festivities begin right after January—February 1-2, to be exact. The town fiesta is commemorated on the day of the Purification of our Lady, also known as Candlemas. There is a slight confusion over the real titular patron of the town, as the main altar of the church features not the Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria ( represented iconically as a standing, candle-holding Virgin with the Child Jesus) but Nuestra Señora de la Divina Gracia (Our Lady of the Divine Grace). The latter representation shows a seated Virgin on a throne with the Child Jesus on Her lap, hands raised in blessing. Cura parocco Fr. Felipe Roque, who was responsible for refurbishing the altars of the church in the 1950s, was said to have been inspired by a similar image venerated in the Capuchin Church of San Giovanni Rotondo in Foggia, Italy, the town where Padre Pio lived and died. An almost identical image also can be seen in a church in Popayan, Mexico. This particular devotion to the Nuestra Señora de la Gracia was propagated early by the Augustinians in Guadalupe, Makati City.

Documents exist though indicating that the Mabalacat parish was elevated to the Vicariate of Nuestra Señora de Guia—a very popular Recollect devotion—in 1836. One of the broken bells in the belfry however is dated 1846, bearing the inscription “Nuestra Señora de Grasia”, adding to the mystery. As if this is not complicated enough, the feast of Our Lady of Grace is listed on the 9th of June according to the Catholic calendar. There now seems to be a practical explanation for this date change as explained by oldtimers. They recount that in the old days, it was very inconvenient for people to travel through dirt roads to attend church service in June—the onset of the rainy season. A mutual agreement was reached between the town people and the parish priest to move the fiesta date to February 2, when the weather was better.

Mabalacat’s town fiesta is shared by parishes in Tondo, Paco and Silang, Cavite, where processions, High Masses and blessings of candles are held in Our Lady’s honor. Townsfolk are often encouraged to light a blessed candle on this day to boost morale in case of emergencies.

The fiestas of yore in Mabalacat, as in almost all Kapampangan towns, were celebrated with trademark pomp and religious pageantry. Days before the fiesta, carnival fairs took over the parish grounds, featuring a wild assortments of freakshows (as in Babaing Lawin, 7 Dwende, etc.), ferris wheel and bumpy roller coaster rides, betu-betu, karerang dagis and other games galore and baratillos (bargain stalls). In houses all over town, doors were flung open and food flowed freely for both drop-in visitors and even uninvited guests.

The fiesta morning was highlighted by a religious procession of Our Lady, plus marching brass bands accompanying the parade of town beauties along bunting-festooned streets. Fifty three years ago, Miss Gracia Hipolito captivated the judges with her winsome smile and personality to win the title of Miss Mabalacat 1950. Her Majesty, Queen Grace I, as her pretty picture proudly proclaims, wore a rhinestone-studded crown and sequinned satin gown with fancy butterfly wings at her coronation. Then, as now, Misses Mabalacat were expected to turn into social butterflies as part of their royal responsibilities, even for just the duration of the two-day fiesta!


(1 February 2003)