Monday, January 28, 2008


MAKING BEAUTIFUL MUSIC TOGETHER. Music runs in the family of Felicidad David and Dionisia Ayson of Bacolor as evident in this photo that shows them with their children and their musical instruments they: bajo, violin, flauta and clarinet.Ca. late 1900s.

Kapampangans have an affinity to music like no other. Just listen to the soaring vocals of international star Lea Salonga (Angeles City). Or that of comedian-singer Nanette Inventor (Macabebe), Rico J. Puno (Minalin), an exponent of OPM in the late 70s, and Mon David (Sto. Tomas). Earlier, in the ‘50s and ‘60s, the golden voices of Cenon Lagman, Tawag ng Tanghalan champion, Fred Panopio, Flor de Jesus (Joni James of the Phils.) , operatic star Fides Cuyugan-Asensio and Dario Fajardo (Harry Belafonte of the Phils.) ruled the airwaves. Kapampangans today continue to illuminate both the national and global stage with their gift of music in all its genres—pop, classical, folk—from Ysagani Ybarra of Mabalacat who uses his music for his advocacies and young singer Antoinette Taus to Leventritt Gold Medallist pianist Cecile Licad and Angeles-born Conrado del Rosario, a former student of composition of Lucio San Pedro, and winner of a Young Artist Foundation Grant who now conducts and concertizes in Europe.

Our love for music is deeply rooted in our culture. A turn-of-the century American historian observes: “Music with the Filipinos holds a high place in their esteem. And it is music such as we know that particularly appeals to them…The native has an inherent passion for music, a fact which stands as a guarantee that there is more good than evil in his composition..”.

Kapampangans have always been singing their hearts out long before the Spaniards came. Our forebears sang basultos, folk songs which contained unusual, metaphorical and paradoxical themes. Goso is a song that contains a moral message, while a pamuri, like a paninta, is a paean to love. A Kapampangan peasant also sang songs that talked of the toils of his labor or kantang pang-obra. Juvenile songs like “Sisingle, sisingle, or Bulan, Bulan, balduganan mukung palang..” were sung or chanted by children at play.

When the Spaniards came and organized colonial schools, Music, along with Latin, Rhetoric and Divinity subjects, was incorporated in the curriculum. Young women were taught in both instrumental (mostly piano, harp) and vocal branches of the art. American educators kept music as a basic subject in schools. Two years after the University of the Philippines opened its College of Music in 1916, three Kapampangans enrolled in the music course. During the schoolyear 1923-1924, Kapampangan students of music numbered 6.

The flourishing of Filipinized zarzuelas or musical plays, also deepened many a Kapampangan’s love for music. Pablo Palma of Bacolor organized his own band, Orchestra Palma, that composed the music for Juan Crisostomo Soto’s “Alang Dios”. Local bands, in fact, were staples of Pampanga town fiestas, with itinerant musicians making the rounds of balens, adding their distinct sounds to the festivities. During the re-opening of the Escuela de Artes y Oficia of Bacolor in 1893, for instance, all the towns of Pampanga were required not only to build decorative arches but also to field their brass bands to welcome the Governor General and the Archbishop of Manila.

Soon, Kapampangan bands were making their presence felt in national competitions. At the 1909 Manila Carnival band competition, the 32 member-band from Angeles won First Prize for its stirring rendition of Crème de la Crème by Tobani, under the patronage and care of Don Mariano Cunanan of Mexico. Previously, the band was under the successive batons of Prof. Higino Herrera of Angeles, Jose del Prado of Manila and Lucino Buena of Baliwag, Bulacan. The band’s instruments were all imported from Paris, France. Another band of note was the Banda ’31 founded by Temang Mangio who co-founded this famous Bacolor band with husband Pepe Baltazar of Sasmuan.

Even in the dark days of our colonial past, music kept Kapampangan heroes’ spirits up. Agapito Conchu of Guagua, executed as one of the 13 Martyrs of Cavite, played the church organ and taught music in that province. And it was said that the last request of famed revolutionary Kapitan Isabelo del Rosario before his execution was for him to play his violin one last time. His wish granted, he picked up his violin and played “Danza Havanera Filipina” while tears streamed down his eyes. When the last strain of the song faded, he smashed his violin to smithereens and calmly walked to the gallows to his death in 1901. Indeed, for the Kapampangan, music is not just in his heart, but in his blood.
(11 October 2003)

Monday, January 21, 2008


HEARTH AND HOME. Future mothers go about their Home Economics class with seriousness and youthful zeal in Guagua Elementary School. Schools often had a small structure that replicated a real house complete with kitchens and rooms for reality training. Ca. late 1920s.

GARDEN OF EARTHLY DELIGHTS. Boys in an unidentified Central Luzon school tend to their vegetable plots lush with “mustasa”, watched over by their gardening teacher. Ca. 1920s.

In my elementary days, the subjects I least liked were the so-called Industrial or Vocational Arts, which required mostly manual labor and nothing else. For several years, I feigned sickness of all sorts and used my frail health as an eternal excuse not to take up “shop” where my classmates made wicker baskets that no one could use and dustpans recycled from old cooking oil cans. But in my gardening class, there was no escape. My teacher, Mr. Jose Rodrillo, reasoned that the outside air was going to be good for my lungs and so, I had no choice but to take his dreaded class. Mr. Rodrillo had a reputation of being a terror teacher, and the image of him screaming directions to us on the proper fertilization of our mustasa, pitse and okra plots as he puffed away on his cigar, remains vivid as a scary memory of my Grade 5 days!

Education under Spain did not have these subjects; instead, instruccion primera (primary schools) offered such courses such as grammar, rhetoric and poetry, Latin, Greek and good manners and hygiene. The coming of the Americans changed all that. In their first decade of rule, the superintendent of Public Instruction of the Philippines, Fred W. Atkinson (1900-1902) emphasized the need for industrial and manual education for Filipinos, perhaps imagining a new generation of Filipino greenthumbs, handymen and perfect homemakers. The Director of Education further amplified in his 1926 report: “ The aims of Industrial Education are found in the capacities and needs of the people and in the natural resources of the Islands and their backward state of development. The people possess a considerable degree of manual dexterity coupled with infinite patience, while their economic and social well-being is below that existing in many countries.”

There were 4 principal areas of Industrial Education: Household Industries, Mechanical Trade, Housekeeping and Agriculture. Thereupon, elementary schools enriched their curriculum with culinary arts, trade, farming and business. Later, this expanded to include needlework, woodwork, pottery, rope-making, ironwork, carpentry, nursing and masonry as school kids progressed to higher grades.

The Bacolor School of Arts and Trades holds the distinction as being the oldest vocational school in the Far East. It was founded in 1861 by Don Felino Gil of Porac as Escuela de Artes y Oficio, on land donated by affluent residents headed by matriarch Dña. Geronima Suarez. When the insular American government put a special emphasis on vocational training, the trade school, which was partially damaged during the last war, revitalized its program in 1909 with advanced courses in furniture and cabinet-making, blacksmithing and iron work for its two hundred students.A second trade school, located in Apalit, was similarly run by Americans. Today, the Bacolor School of Arts and Trades is known as Don Honorio Ventura College of Arts and Trades, renamed after Pampanga’s governor who hails from Bacolor town.

Agricultural training in Pampanga began under Spain with the establishment of an agricultural school in Magalang. It ceased operations in 1898, but was reconstructed and re-opened in 1917 with the help of American teacher Kilmer O. Moe and Assemblyman Andres Luciano, with funds donated by Gov. Ventura. Garden Day fairs, another American invention encouraged by Director of Education Frank Russell White (and Tarlac’s 1st American teacher) were occasions to celebrate and show off the agricultural produce of schools as well as the progress of towns, capped with mass calisthenics, sports competition and the search for Garden Day Queens. For girls, Home Economics was offered as a specialized course in elementary and high school levels. The School of Household Industries, in an effort to attract more women workers, opened 6-month ncourses in lacemaking and embroidery.

“To raise the standard of living, to improve the home and homelife, to provide better methods of doing routine work..and to provide the home with necessary household conveniences..”
Such were the goals of this major educational thrust that the Director of Education proudly proclaimed. But critics were led to observe that the tragedy of the American effort to encourage Industrial Education in local schools lies in the fact that it merely catered to selfish pro-American interests. Linens, tablecloths and lingerie—produce of many a Home Economics course—were chiefly made for American consumers. Trade schools were built in response to the American government’s need to have more buildings. Likewise, agriculture was emphasized, not just to feed Filipinos they say, but to answer America’s raw material requirements.

Today, gardening and home economics have all but disappeared in school curriculums, replaced by new practical art subjects that require simple manual skills (as in assembling pre-cut wood pieces !) and hi-tech tools rather than sprinklers, needle and thread and coping saw. After all, who needs back-breaking manual labor when life is hard enough?
(4 October 2003)

Monday, January 14, 2008

67. Pampanga's Churches: STA. MONICA CHURCH, MINALIN

SANTA MONICA CHURCH OF MINALIN. The ancient brickstone church with its impressive retablo-like façade has been standing witness for centuries to Minalin’s storied past. Here, a funeral procession is about to start. Ca. late 1950s.

Minalin boasts one of the most beautiful churches in the country—the Sta. Monica Church—which features a most unique façade, mimicking that of a giant retablo. A 1619 mural also can be found on one wall of the church, featuring naïve drawings of mysterious origins. Then again, Minalin’s past has always been replete with legends—such as the time that pieces of lumber stocked at Sta. Maria and meant for the construction of the church were carried away by floodwaters to a hilly place called Burol. This mystifying event gave the town its name—“minalis la ding dutung, minalis ya ing pisamban” (the lumber moved, and so must the church). A certain town head, Diego Tolentino, somehow erred in writing down “minalis”, and the town was referred to as Minalin ever since.

One other version though tells of a Malayan settlement headed by Kahn Bulaun, a descendant of Prince Balagtas. The place they say was famed for its beautiful women and when the Spaniards came, they described the town as “mina linda de las mujerers”. Subsequently, Chinese traders who frequented the place abbreviated the description to “Minalin”.

Minalin, as a place, was already in existence as a visita of Macabebe, as early as 1614. It was detached from its matrix in the same year but it was only in 1618 that a regular priest, P. Miguel de Saldana, was assigned to Minalin. On 31 October 1624, the parish was accepted as a vicariate with P. Martin Vargas as vicar prior. Sta. Maria, its pioneer barangay, was formed from an area of land that was ceded by the Datu of Macabebe to settlers Mendiola, Nucum, Lopez and Intal in 1638. It was named after the settlers’ wives, who were all named Maria.

There are no records as to who built the church, although it has been attributed to the work of P. Manuel Franco Tubil in 1764. One documented source cites the church’s completion before 1834. It was reconstructed at various stages: in 1854, 1877 (by P. Isidro Bernardo), 1885 and 1895 (repaired by P. Galo de la Fuente and Vicente Ruiz, respectively). The church, with Santa Monica as its titular patron (Feast Day, May 11) is 52 meters long, 13 meters wide and 11 meters high. The last Augustinian fraile to serve Minalin was P. Faustino Diez and the 1st native priest was P. Macario Panlilio.

The most notable architectural feature of the Santa Monica Church is its retablo-like façade. The main entrance and windows are bordered with a floral décor evocative of early folk altars. Corinthian columns act as support to the triangular pediment that is topped with a lantern-like kampanilya. In the early days, a lighted beacon was placed on top of the apex of the pediment to guide fishermen as they made their way from the river to the town. The structure is further complemented with a short row of balusters. The semi-circular niches hold painted stone statues of various Augustinian saints, and these are harmoniously designed to blend with the rose windows.

Flanking the church are two hexagonal 4 storey bell towers, a little squatty and low, yet solidly built. There are 4 century-old bells, dated from 1850 to 1877, dedicated to San Agustin and Sta. Monica. A low stone atrium with rare capilla posas encloses the convento. The Sta. Monica Church of Minalin stands as another sublime example of Pampanga’s religious heritage.
(27 September 2003)

Monday, January 7, 2008

66.AURELIO TOLENTINO and his Literature of Sedition

PENNING PATRIOTISM. Aurelio Tolentino’s rare copy of “Napun, Ngeni at Bukas”, Nobelang Kapampangan, (September 1914, by Limbagang Noli, Sampalok Manila). The blurb on the front page non-chalantly proclaims: Ing dramang Napun, Ngeni at Bukas yaping kesukul na ning ginawa, at miatulan king apat a kasalanang sedicion, conspiracion, rebellion at insurreccion laban king gobierno Americano”.The booklet was priced at 30 centavos.

Few Kapampangans are familiar with the life and times of Aurelio Tolentino, playwright, poet and patriot. Ask a student of local literature, and chances are, only his dramatic and controversial opus in Tagalog --“Kahapon, Ngayon at Bukas”-- will be top-of-mind. The fact is, one third of his total output (a total of 69 literary pieces known to date) were written in Kapampangan; the rest were in Tagalog and Spanish. Despite his being prolific, only a smattering of Tolentino materials are available in local libraries and schools. Which was why, when a slim 1914 work entitled “Napun, Ngeni’t Bukas” was offered to me, I quickly bought this rare Kapampanganiana without hesitation.

The man who would land in jail for being the author of a play that tended “to incite and suggest religious conspiracies against the United States”, was born in Santo Cristo, Guagua, Pampanga to Leonardo Tolentino and Petrona Valenzuela on 15 October 1868. At age 5, he was privately tutored until he was old enough to go to regular school in nearby Malolos, Bulacan at the Escuela de Latinidad run by Angelo Gimenez.

Transplanted to Manila, the young college-age Aurelio enrolled at the Colegio de San Juan de Letran and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree. His reputation as a literary savant grew as he kept on winning poetry contests one after the other. So versatile was Aurelio, that he signed up for courses as varied as Law, Philosophy and even Surveying at the University of Santo Tomas. His studies had to be cut short with the death of his father. Returning home, he landed a teaching position in the private school of Don Tomas Gamboa.

When he came back to Manila 5 years later, it was to work as an official in Tondo’s Court of First Instance under Don Francisco Polanco. This led to his meeting with Andres Bonifacio, who, together with Teodoro Plata and Ladislao Diwa, founded the Katipunan on 7 July 1892. Aurelio Tolentino had the honor of being one of the first ten pioneer members of this secret society. He was one of those seized by the Spaniards in the Revolution of 1896, and was jailed for a period of 9 months.

Tolentino’s literary genius shone forth during the American regime. He wrote everything from novels, plays, stories, essays, poems and articles—in 3 languages—mostly with nationalistic themes. His most famous play that would bring him notoriety among the colonizers was “Kahapon, Ngayon at Bukas”, first staged to a jampacked house on 14 May 1903 at the Teatro Libertad (later Zorilla). The allegorical play centered on the triumph of Inang Bayan (Philippines) against its colonizers Haring Bata (China), Halimaw (the Friars), Dilat-na-Bulag (Spain) and Bagong Sibol (U.S.). A key battle scene called for one Tagalog performer to bring down the American flag and then trample it, but the actor froze when he saw a number of Americans in the audience. Tolentino ascended the stage and did the act himself, to the horror of the Americans who saw it as an act of sacrilege against their Stars and Stripes. Arrested, charged and found guilty of “scurrilous libel’, Tolentino was promptly imprisoned.

The works of Tolentino in his mother tongue, Kapampangan, are rich and much varied. He translated classics such as the Count of Monte Cristo and Quo Vadis in Kapampangan. In 1911, he wrote “Daklat Kayanakan” (Guide to Youth), a series of didactic lyrics poems that instructed the young on how to achieve good behavior, sense of urbanity and prestige. He was also at home in zarzuelas, writing “Ing Poeta”, a comedy of errors revolving around the exploits of poet Augusto and how he won the hand of Maria, after successfully staging a merry mix-up of a play in response to Maria’s father’s challenge.

The short drama published in booklet form as shown in this article—Napun Ngeni at Bukas (Larawan ning Balen), is another one of Tolentino’s allegorical works. It is the story of Raxa Lakhan-Balen (Country) who was betrayed by Samuel ( who obviously, represents the new colonizer, Uncle Sam) and left to die in a ravine. His widow, Kalayaan (Freedom) and child Diwa (Inspiration), while keeping vigil on his grave, were taken captive by Samuel, promising material rewards like new bridges, schools and roads. In the end, Lakhan-Balen was resurrected and reconciled with Samuel, with the former, restored to his sovereignty of the country.

Aurelio Tolentino’s writings mirrored his fiery revolutionary spirit, penning words that are seemingly lyrical yet brimming with satire and laced with acerbic humor, all in the name of country and mankind. The poet, playwright and patriot passed away on 3 July 1915.
(20 September 2003)

Tuesday, January 1, 2008


MABALACAT’S OTHER MARTYR: Fr. Victor Baltanas OAR (1869-1909), was briefly assigned to Mabalacat, assisting Fr. Bueno in his ministerial duties before he met his untimely death in Escalante, Negros. Another compañero, Fr. Juan Herrero, was earlier killed in Cavite. Source: Boletin de la Provincia de San Nicolas & The Augustinian Recollects in the Philippines, by Emmanuel Luis A. Romanillos.

There has been so much focus on the gruesome murder of Fr. Gregorio Bueno, and his infamous curse on Mabalacat town that it all but overshadowed the cases of two other Mabalacat frailes who died in almost the same violent and controversial fashion. By strange coincidence, both priests served as assistants to the more well-known Fr. Bueno.

Fr. Juan Herrero was Fr. Bueno’s compañero for just a period of 5 months in 1885. From Mabalacat, he was sent off to Cavite where he became the manager of “Compania Fomento de La Agricultura”. He, together with 9 other Recollect friars, were holed up in Imus, Cavite where they were shot to death by passionate Revolutionists.

The other unfortunate victim was Fr. Victor Baltanas de la Virgen del Rosario . Fr. Baltanas was born on 17 November 1869 in Berceo, La Rioja Spain. After becoming a Recoleto on 24 October 1886, he left on board the steamer Isla de Panay, and sailed to Barcelona. He continued his journey to the Philippines, arriving in Manila on 21 October 1891. No sooner had he unpacked when he was assigned to Mabalacat in late October 1891.

He was sent to Mabalacat as a young deacon to learn, strangely enough, Tagalog basics. Indeed, an examination of extant canonical books confirmed his presence in the town, assisting Fr. Bueno in his daily ministerial grind —from administering holy oils and chrisms to performing sacramental rites. His assignment was not permanent though, and he was shuffled from Mabalacat to Manila (where he received the Holy Order of presbyterate in 1892), Palawan (1894-1895), San Nicolas priory in Intramuros (1899-1902), back to Taytay, Palawan and then finally to Valencia, Negros Oriental where he served as assistant priest to Fr. Eusebio Valderrama. Finally, in October 1907, he became the parish curate of the Roman Catholic Church of Escalante town.

It was here in Escalante town that he was hacked to death in the head by an Aglipayan assassin, Mauricio Gamao, on the night of 15 May 1909, succumbing to his wounds the next day. The murder, motivated by the schism between Aglipayans and the Roman Catholic Church involving church property, was planned in connivance with the town head, Gil Gamao—Mauricio’s relative, who was subsequently convicted by Albert E. McCabe, an American judge of the Court of the First Instance, after a 3-month trial in Bacolod. Mauricio Gamao, as well as his cohort Gil Gamao, were sentenced to life imprisonment.

Fr. Baltanas died a martyr of the faith. Fr. Francisco E. Echanojauregui, parish priest of San Carlos who immediately attended to his dead fellow Recoleto in Escalante, described him in a 1909 letter to the vicar provincial: “Americans, Spaniards and Filipinos all assure me that he was an authentic priest, a zealous curate with unblemished repute…Everyone attests to me that Fr. Victor was incapable of raising his voice, not even to his boy-servant...his life was well ordered like that of a convent..This is to say he was an excellent person, as an individual, as a parish priest and as a friar”.

The martyr of Escalante was interred in San Carlos, but his bones were exhumed in 1995 due to acts of vandalism and robbery in the cemetery. These were then kept at the Colegio de Santo Tomas-Recoletos.

Two Mabalacat frailes—Fr. Juan Herrero and Fr. Victor Baltanas thus shared the same sad fate as their superior, Fr. Gregorio Bueno, meeting their hapless deaths in the hands of Filipinos in an uncanny parallel manner-- all happening in the heat of the Revolution and a religious schism, and with influential families involved.
(13 September 2003)