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)

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