Monday, November 26, 2007

60. GUIA BALMORI, Miss Philippines 1938

HER MAJESTY, QUEEN GUIA I. Miss Philippines of the 1938 Philippine Exposition, Guia Balmori was the daughter of Kapampangan local labor leader from Bacolor, Joaquin Balmori and Rosario Gonzales. She was bron in Ermita and was named after the district’s patroness, Nuestra Señora de Guia.

CONSORTING WITH A KABALEN. Guia’s handsome escort at her coronation was Ernesto “Gatas” Santos, the youngest son of Don Teodor o V. Santos and Dna. Afriquita Santos of San Fernando, Pampanga. Ernesto’s daughter is the famed ballerina, Tina Santos.

By the late 1930s, the legendary Manila Carnivals that began in 1908 would undergo more changes as their novelty and attraction began to wear off. Much earlier, the first major adjustment was the abolition of the title “Carnival Queen”, which was last awarded in 1926 to Kapampangan Socorro Henson. Henceforth, all succeeding queens were given the title “Miss Philippines” starting with the 1st National Beauty Show (or Contest) of 1926, won by Anita Noble of Batangas. In 1937, the Manila Carnival was renamed as the Philippine Exposition.

In the Philippine Exposition of 1938, a beautiful Spanish mestiza with clear Kapampangan roots stole the show by winning the Miss Philippines crown. She was Guia Balmori, one of 13 children of Rosario Gonzales and Joaquin Balmori of Bacolor. It is interesting to note that in 1927, a Bacolor belle was also in the same pageant wearing the Miss Pampanga sash, Rosario Manuel.

Joaquin Balmori was a pioneer labor leader and organizer of labor unions in the Philippines. After breaking away from the Congreso de Obrero de Filipinas, he founded “Federacion del Trabajo de Filipinas” in 1917. He outlined union rules, making resolutions against strikes and other radical movements. Likewise, he urged labor unions to charge no fees or membership dues. Joaquin had another illustrious brother who left his mark in the literary world—Jesus “Batikuling” Balmori. Jesus was a master in Spanish poetry; he not only wrote poems and books but also engaged in verbal jousts in Spanish.

The Balmoris were to relocate to Ermita, Manila, and it was here that Guia was born. She was, in fact, named after the titular patroness of the district, Nuestra Señora de Guia. Guia was taking up a secretarial course at the University of Santo Tomas when she was invited to be a contestant for Miss Philippines. As expected, her candidacy was vehemently opposed by her father who saw the beauty pageant as nothing but a frivolous exercise. Likewise, her Catholic religious mentors in school who frowned upon such contests gave her lukewarm support.

But Guia, with her fine Castilian features, sweet disposition and disarming smile, surprised them all when she beat other favored contestants for the crown. Heavily supported by newspapers, she won without spending a single centavo. She succeeded the outgoing queen Carmen Zaldarriaga as Miss Philippines of 1938. Completing her court of honor were Rosario Ferro (Miss Luzon), Belen de Guzman (Miss Mindanao) and Marina Lopez (Miss Mindanao). At her coronation, she chose the dashing son of a family friend and a fellow Kapampangan as consort—Ernesto “Gatas” Santos. Ernesto’s father was the prominent sugar baron from San Fernando, Don Teodoro Santos. Ernesto himself would be the father of an accomplished international dancer, Tina Santos, who went on to become a prima ballerina of Harkness Ballet.

Guia looked every inch a queen in her coronation gown done by then rising couturier Ramon Valera. Her prize money of P1,000 was handed to her discreetly, placed in an envelope tucked into her bouquet. Two years after her memorable reign, she married Jose Avelino Jr., the son of the Commonwealth Secretary of Public Works and later the Senate President. They were blessed with 7 children. Settled in Parañaque, Guia and her daughter operated a beauty parlor in Makati sometime in the 1980s.

It is heartening to know that in the waning years of the Carnival, a girl with Kapampangan blood lit the national stage with her outstanding beauty, wit and personality, giving Pampanga one last proud and shining moment, before the fairs drew to a permanent close a year later.

POSTSCRIPT: Guai Balmori passed away on 12 Dec. 2006, just before her 86th birthday. Four days after, her husband followed, leading a granddaughter to observe that "even in death they could not stand to be apart."

Sunday, November 18, 2007

59. Pampanga's Churches: HOLY ROSARY CHURCH, Angeles City

GET ME TO THE CHURCH ON TIME. The interior of the Sto. Rosario Church in Angeles was converted into a 2nd Division Hospital by the American troops during the Philippine Revolution. Injured American soldiers lie recuperating in bunk beds before the retablo mayor of the church. The image of the Virgin of the Most Holy Rosary can be seen in the central niche. Ca. 1900.

Perhaps the most imposing and most recognizable landmark of Angeles City is the Santo Rosario Church (Church of the Holy Rosary), with its familiar double bell towers and its ancient, symmetrical Romanesque façade, rising in sharp contrast to the modern buildings and mall that surround the peripherals of the historic district. If the walls of Sto. Rosario Church could speak, it would surely tell tales of colonial exploitation, of a town’s ascent to progress and most of all, of a people’s deep faith , unshaken by the horrors of wars, natural calamities and other tests of time.

The town on which the church would rise was known in the days of old as Kuliat (named after the kuliat plant), a part of San Fernando. First settled by husband and wife Don Angel Pantaleon de Miranda and Dña. Rosalia de Jesus, Kuliat was finally separated from San Fernando in 1829. The name was changed to Angeles, in honor of the founder, Don Angel, and also its titular patrons, Los Angeles de la Guardia (Deng Tala-ingat Angeles), under whose advocation the town was placed in 1830. It was served by a secular priest until Fr. Vicente Andres was appointed prior in 1843.

The first church of the town was made of light materials like nipa. Fr. Guillermo Masnou replaced the temporary church with one of wood in 1855. Fr. Ramon Sarrionandia started the construction of the present edifice of stone and bricks in 1860, utilizing the services of Antonio de la Camara, a Spanish architect based in Manila. The work went on for 20 years, with Fr. Juan Merino continuing the project in 1881. Manpower was provided by Filipino peasants, who worked for free, under the “polo y servicios” system, a kind of forced labor, imposed by the Spanish government. Still, the church remained unfinished, and even in that state, it was solemnly blessed and opened to the public in 1890. When Fr. Pedro Ibeas assumed his post in 1891, he inaugurated the “magnificent church, a perennial monument to the religious dedication of the townspeople of Angeles”, as described in the Augustinian Catalogo of Elviro Jorde.

Permission to finish the church was granted only after a letter of request dated 28 March 1892 was sent by the Fr. Provincial to the Archbishop of Manila, asking for authorization to complete the construction of the church. Fr. Rufino Santos put in more work in 1893 but it was only in 1897 that the Sto. Rosario Church as we know it today, was finally completed. The beautiful structure had a transept 70 meters long, 20 meters wide and 12 meters high. The recessed arch windows are encased with lattice work, a Renaissance influence. The grand entrance doors are fully and deeply carved with biblical scenes. The main altar is known for its magnificent silver work.

From 1896-1898, the back lot of the church was used as a place of execution for Filipino rebels. The last Spanish priest to serve was Fr. Baltazar Gomorra. After the Revolution was entrusted to native priests. Again, the church figured prominently in the town’s history when it was converted into a military hospital –the 2nd Division Hospital-- by the U.S. Army from August 1899 to December 1900 (perhaps, as late as 1902). The Holy Family Academy, founded by the Augustinian Sisters in 1910 and later taken by the Benedictines in 1922 was housed in the adjacent building. It served as barracks for American troops and, in the next world war, was used as Officers’ Quarters and arsenal by the Japanese Imperial military forces in early 1942.

The Santo Rosario Church continues to touch the lives of thousands of Kapampangans in bustling Angeles, where, in the midst of an expanding concrete jungle that threatens to cover every inch of the city with steel and concrete, a piece of history lives on.
(2 August 2003)

Monday, November 12, 2007


TEACH YOUR CHILDREN WELL. Student Body Teaching Force, with the Principal and Director of Arayat Institute. Schoolyear 1936-1937.

San Fernando’s venerable institution of learning, the old Pampanga High School, has been in the news lately, with headline accounts of the historic building’s imminent destruction what with all the looting and pillaging done under suspicious circumstances. Thankfully, after much controversial crusading, the cultural activists have won their battle to save the school that has produced some of the best Kapampangan minds in the country. Yet, there is another school in Pampanga that has quietly done its share in educating young Kapampangans for over half a century or so, that is as much our province’s pride as the more high profile Pampanga High School. This is the Arayat Institute of Arayat, Pampanga.

Arayat Institute was founded in 1932 by the visionary businessman Emilio A. Santos. A sugar planter, he was, at one time, the municipal president of the town, a stockholder of the Arayat Sugar Central, and a leading figure in business and finance in the province. The school was designed by Architect Vicente Pascual and was built at a cost of P7,000 on land donated by the parents of Emilio A. Santos. The landed Santos family were well known for their philanthropic work; long before the plan to erect the institute, they had been supporting the Anderson Intermediate School.

After the building’s construction, the Santoses then equipped the schools with donations of library books and laboratory equipment. In the first year of operations, the school did not offer a full 4 year course; it was only in the calendar year 1933-1934 that it established its 4th year class. The initial number of students were just 51 in High School and 40 students in Kindergarten and Grade 1 classes, all culled from the youths of Arayat, Sta. Ana and nearby Cabiao, Nueva Ecija. To attract more students, instructions were given in English and scholarships were granted to school valedictorians. The school also conducted free lessons in Spanish for all enrollees.

At the time of the school’s first year of operations, Emilio A. Santos headed the Board of Trustees as President. His brother, Canuto was a Director. Members included Dr. Esteban Medina, Dr. Emigdio C. Cruz, Donato Kabigting and Toribio Kabigting. Pioneer teachers of Arayat Institute were Alejandro Timbol (B.S.E.), Jose M. Tinio (B.A., M. Sc.,) Ana Polintan (B.S.E.) and Rufina Canlas for the Kindergarten Department.

One of the school’s most illustrious alumni is the former Executive Secretary of Pres. Diosdado P. Macapagal and ambassador to Washington, Hon. Amelito “Mel” Mutuc. Today, Arayat Institute is still in operations, continuing its tradition of providing excellent general secondary course to the youths of Pampanga, and, after 7 decades of service, it has finally taken its well deserved place among the respected private institutions in the Philippines.
(26 July 2003)

Thursday, November 8, 2007


I DO! I DO!. A souvenir wedding picture of Ramona Fernandez y Layug and Agapito de Miranda, the great-great grandson of Don Angel Pantaleon de Miranda and Rosalia de Jesus, founders of Angeles. Dated 22 July 1915.

I still have the tattered album of my parents’ 1949 wedding, containing remnants of the invitation, a newspaper announcement clipping and a half-a-dozen or so “proof-only” photos of the event (Yes, they couldn’t afford the real pictures so they kept the “proof” copies instead!) . A picture of their wedding cake also made it to the national paper—a small 3- tiered chiffon creation with a bride and groom doll topper. The rites were held at the San Miguel Cathedral and a breakfast reception followed after at the popular Riviera, 4 pesos a plate. What’s left of the bridal trousseau--satin gown, tulle veil, headdress and all-- are now framed under glass, preserved for posterity, a visual reminder of my parents’ budget wedding.

Pre-Christian weddings in the Philippines were surprisingly more elaborate and more expensive. Dowries (bigaykaya) had to be paid, gifts had to be sent out to in-laws in exchange for the bride. Pinatubo Negritos, for instance, were mandated to pay dearly for their brides, offering their “bandi”, or material property, often in the forms of bolos, bows and arrows. Celebrations would last for days, sometimes weeks, with the whole community invited to the extended feastings.

Just as colorful were the courtship (pamaglolo) rituals. Girls as young as fifteen were allowed to have gentleman callers, provided an older person –like a koya or a spinster aunt—was present to keep a sharp watch on them. Kapampangan baintau were expected to observe a respectable distance from the objects of their affection. As such, they would only get that opportunity on their way to church or perhaps, in some religious events like Flores de Mayo. When it was time to go out, only group dating was allowed, always with a tsaperon. Love letters were also exchanged, written with flowery words, using a template from a how-to book.

It was to the advantage of a someone going mamanikan to bring an inexpensive gift to a girl and her family, like food stuffs, when he goes a-calling. To prove the swain’s sincere intent and ability to support a family, a period of pamagsilbi is arranged, where free service is rendered by the man to the family—from keeping the water tapayans (clay water jugs) full, chopping kindling for firewood to running errands.

Around the turn of the century, a Filipina had to follow certain prescriptions to ensure she would bag the perfect man. She had to be pure and chaste, clean in body, too. Using cosmetics, smoking cigars and chewing betel nuts were a no-no. She had to be dainty, good in domestic and the fine arts and must know some basic nursing skills. Above all, she must be God-fearing. For a successful marriage, lovers must also be aware of certain beliefs and superstitions. One who sang before a stove, for instance, was risking marriage to a widow or widower. When scheduling weddings, the last quarter moon should be avoided lest life was cut short for the husband or wife. Siblings should also not marry within one year (sukub), or one would die. A simple explanation for this belief is that 2 weddings in one year could drain family incomes which were often derived from 2 major annual harvests.

As the wedding day approaches, the bride must endeavor to stay indoors as she would be prone to accidents. She must not fit her wedding dress or the wedding would not materialize. To avoid a sorrowful married life, pearls must not be worn as these mimic the shape of tears.

Kasalans during the Spanish times were relatively austere affairs, usually held in the early mornings. There were no bridesmaids, flower girls, no march from the door to the altar. Food was prepared at the boy’s house, then transported to the girl’s house. Even with the coming of Americans, old traditions endured, including the practice of Filipina brides of carrying orange blossoms (azahar) in their bouquets. Orange buds were also worn as crowns over their veils as the orange plant was a symbol of fertility. Grooms carried not his bride, but a sack of rice across the threshold.

In the more prosperous 1920-30s, weddings became more Westernized and larger in scale. Kapampangans, with their love for show and sass, took to the new lavish practice, with en grande weddings becoming the order of the day. Weddings involving sons and daughters of wealthy Kapampangan families were even documented in books such as the exclusive Pampanga Social Register of 1936. Even in these hard times, it is not uncommon to see Kapampangan weddings with 10 sets of sponsors, a coterie of bridesmaids with their matching ushers, a Maid (or Matron) of Honor and her Best Man, a Bible bearer, Ring Bearer, Candle Bearer, Flower Girls and a host of Secondary Sponsors. For many a lovestruck Kapampangan out to impress, a wedding is more than just a sacrament, it’s an extravaganza!

Sunday, November 4, 2007


SWEET DREAMS ARE MADE OF THESE. A sugarcane plantation in Pampanga. In her heyday, Pampanga was the no. 1 producer of sugar in the whole of Luzon and was ranked 2nd after Negros nationally. Four centrifugal sugar mills served the needs of major sugar towns such as San Fernando, Arayat, Magalang, Porac, Mabalacat, Angeles, Mexico, Apalit and Bacolor. Ca. 1920s.

My grandfather , Gerardo R. Castro Sr., earned his keep by planting sugar cane in his agricultural lands in Bundagul from the 1950s to the 70s. Like all landowners, he employed casamacs (working tenants) whom I would often see early morning , waiting patiently in the porch, awaiting orders, perhaps. I knew most of their names as I would often check out my Ingkung’s old ledgers that gave details of their personal expenses, vales and payroll information. There was Tatang Ambu, Tatang Disyu, Tatang Duman, Kong Roman and Kong Mike, our truck driver, who lived at the back of our house.

It was Kong Mike’s duty to haul sugar cane or atbu using our ancient 6-by-6 truck that was kept parked at our place. I always looked forward to the day of the harvest which was done in the months of February, March or April. Ati Bo, his wife, would then extract sugarcane juice which she cooked in a large kawa (vat), stirring patiently, continuously -- until we had inuyat—hot and sticky molasses cooled in a glass of water which we ate like candy or enjoyed with a plate of gatas damulag (carabao milk)-soaked rice.

The cultivation of sugar cane (saccharum officinarum) occupies a prominent place in the agricultural and commercial activities of Pampanga. Long before the coming of colonizers, sugar was a staple of our islands. Antonio de Pigafetta, upon arrival in the Philippines in 1521, was supposed to have been served sugar cane refreshments by Rajah Calanao, ruler of Northern Mindanao. As far back as the first decade of the 19th century, the provinces of Pampanga and Pangasinan alone produced around 7,000 tons of sugar annually, which were exported abroad through Chinese sampans and other foreign vessels. There had grown up in our province at this time, a very active commerce in sugar, which was used in the manufacture of sweets and confections.

The Spanish government gave very little attention to the production of sugar until 1849, when the king enacted a decree granting the Recoleto friars a monopoly in Negros. Later on, the defunct “Real Sociedad de Amigos del Pais” induced the government in establishing an experimental farm station on the slopes of Mount Arayat where a certain Manuel Sota taught scientific ways to improve sugar productivity.

Under the American administration, the sugar industry flourished due to unprecedented world demands. From 1910 to 1941, the growth of the sugar industry was phenomenal; from the spring of 1919 to May 1920, raw sugar was priced at a hefty 23 ½ cents per pound in New York. Average total production jumped from 395,000 short tons in the first decade of the 20th century to a record 1,652,500 tons in 1933-34. American investors rushed to set up sugar mills in the country and in Pampanga, the first such centrifugal mill--the Pampanga Sugar Mills (PASUMIL) began operations at Del Carmen, Floridablanca in 1918. Three more mills would be set up in succession: The Pampanga Sugar Development Company or PASUDECO (1921), Mabalacat Sugar Company (1921) and the Arayat Sugar Mills (1927).

Sugar canes grown in Pampanga were highly prized for their yield, sweetness and overall quality. Famous homegrown cane varieties include Encarnada de Pampanga (Pampanga Red), Morada de Pampanga (Pampanga Purple) and Hind’s Special, an extra-tall drought-resistant cane that can grow over 20 feet, first propagated in the farms of Don Carlos Gil in Porac in the mid 1920s. Hind’s Special was named after Mr. R. Renton Hind, the General Manager of Pasumil.

Pampanga was to become the biggest producer of sugar in Luzon. It ranked 2nd to Negros in national sugar production. As a result, sugar brought untold prosperity to many a Kapampangan hacendero like the Panlilios (Mexico), Pamintuans and Hensons (Angeles), Escalers (Apalit) Venturas, Valdeses and de Leons (Bacolor) and Santoses (San Fernando).

The days of our successful sugar industry came to a slowdown with the U.S. stock market crash of 1929. Sugar consumption declined, prices fell and sugar beet producers demanded the control of imported sugar. It was just a matter of time that the U.S. government introduced a quota system to limit sugar importation. Incredibly, the Philippines, a U.S. territory, suffered the biggest cut. At the country’s independence in 1946, sugar exports were subjected to full U.S. tariff. The next years saw a succession of more quota systems that dictated export allocation and administration, with sometimes unfavorable and favorable effects.

In 1965 for instance, it was to our fortune that the U.S. Sugar Act opened a bigger share of the American market to local sugarmen, enabling the country to earn a potential of $230,000,000. Marketability of new sugar was further buoyed by increasing domestic requirements, a trend that continues to this day. Today, Pampanga’s sugarlands are slowly giving way to posh subdivisions, prime real estate ventures and modern expressways, but let us not forget that once, in our not-so-distant past, our sweet harvest gave us world renown. Perhaps, in the future, Pampanga can reclaim its title as the Philippines’ “Sugar Queen”, so I can start dreaming of sticky, gooey, oh-so-sweet inuyat again!
(12 July 2003)