Sunday, September 30, 2007


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 23, 2007


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, September 17, 2007

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

49. SANTACRUZAN: A Fair Homage to a Queen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 9, 2007


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, September 2, 2007


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

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

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

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

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

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

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