Tuesday, May 27, 2008

*85. INGKUNG DANDO, Zarzuela Star

DRAMA KING. Mabalacat zarzuela actors and actresses in a Kapampangan production of Rizal's "Noli Me Tangere". My grandfather, Gerardo Razon Castro, wearing a derby hat, was cast in a leading role as Crisostomo Ibarra with A. Malig as his love interest, Maria Clara. Circa 1915. From the photo collection of Mr. Daniel Henson Dizon, Angeles City.

We are a family of nervous wrecks, and we shun being in the limelight even for just 5 seconds. Performing in public was never our strong point. At reunions, our family would recede in the background when it was time for those mandatory clan presentations. My Dad would never be caught dead with a microphone, unless he is pumped up with whiskey. In my elementary school days, when I was chosen to recite a poem on the occasion of United Nations’ Day, my knees shook so badly, I flubbed my lines and left the stage with bowed head. Only Big Sis took to the spotlight, winning singing contests in high school--only because she was such a popular campus figure and could get away warbling a song like Vilma Santos.

So it came as a total surprise when I learned from my Auntie Elsie, that my grandfather—Gerado Razon Castro (b. 3 Oct. 1894/d.30 Dec. 1968) or Ingkung Dando—was a stage actor. “He had such a good speaking voice”, my aunt remembered, “and he could recite Kapampangan verses with facility and conviction. He had stage presence! And it’s said in his younger days, he bagged the role of Rizal in a zarzuela…”.

Of course, coming from his No. 1 fan, I took her rave reviews with a grain of salt. I was old enough to remember Ingkung, and certainly, he did not have the classic matinee look required of a performer. Fair complexioned, he was short, had chinky eyes, but I do know he had great sartorial style, cutting a mean figure in his white pants, straw hat and baston whenever he went to Church. I thought my father—his son—was the looker in the family.

Also, I never heard Ingkung recite a poem or sing a song. I doubt if he could carry a tune, although he would entertain us by putting us on his knee and sing..”Kikinaking..kikinaking..”. Oh yes, he’s a good whistler too, which he would often do to summon the breeze, when the day was hot and sweltering. But performing as a lead star in a zarzuela? Unthinkable!

Until a casual visit to the home of local historian Daniel Henson Dizon, a relative, yielded a picture that had me jumping up and down. It was a circa 1915 group picture of a zarzuela repertory in Mabalacat. I instantly recognized Ingkung as he was right smack in the middle of the photo, with a derby hat. He looked exactly like the old portrait we have of him, now lost, that used to hang in our living room.

Tatang Dan quickly filled me in on what he knew about the zarzuela photo from his personal collection. It was a Kapampangan zarzuela, based on the novel of our national hero, Noli Me Tangere, that was mounted by the people in the picture—all Mabalacat residents. The lead performers were Gerardo Castro as Crisostomo Ibarra, A. Malig as Maria Clara and Mariano de la Cruz as Pilosofo Tacio. As there were no local theaters then, the play was staged on platforms constructed near the San Felipe Bridge. The play was directed by J. L. Mendoza.

Could this zarzuela have been based on Juan Elias de Guzman’s translated opus? De Guzman, a Mabalacat resident, is acknowledged as the first known writer in Spanish and Pampango. He translated Jose Rizal's Noli Me Tangere in Kapampangan after the hero's death. When Juan Elias died, it was said that Rizal's portrait fell from the wall at the precise moment of his death . He was the first to be interred in the Municipal Cemetery of Mabalacat, constructed in 1907.

But back to the zarzuela photo. Another surprise awaited me. On the back of the photo were written the individual names of the performers and the roles that they essayed, a chosen list that included : J.L. Mendoza (Director General), S. de la Cruz (Director del Drama), M. de la Cruz (Pilosofo Tacio y Director de Ecsena),Gerardo Razon Castro (Crisostomo Ibarra), A. Malig (Maria Clara), Emilio Dominguez (Padre Salvi), A. de la Cruz (Elias), A. Mendoza (Capitan Pablo), A. Dominguez (Teniente Guevarra), Laureano Angeles (Maestro de Escuela), B. Castro (Padre Damaso), S. Castro (Capitan Tiago), L. Castro (Capitan General), Montoya (Sacristan Mayor), Francisco Siopongco (Alcalde), N. Castro (Padre Dominico), Dizon (El Tulisan), A. de la Cruz (Asistente General), F. Sablay (Directora de Musica)

A zarzuela star at age 21—that’s my Ingkung! I wonder, did he belt a song like a Broadway star? Did ladies swoon whenever he entered the stage? Was he given acting awards? What did critics say of his thespic skills, was the show praised or panned? With so many Castros in the cast, could they have been relatives? Is acting really in the blood?

I would probably never find out, but with thoughts of Ingkung Dando as the ultimate zarzuela idol to warm me, I am now ready to put my stage fright behind--and break a leg!

(*NOTE: Feature titles with asterisks represent other writings of the author that appeared in other publications and are not included in the original book, "Views from the Pampang & Other Scenes")

Monday, May 19, 2008

*84. JAIME DE LA ROSA: Brother Act

HIS STAR ALSO RISES. Jaime de la Rosa, matinee idol of the '50s, younger brother of Rogelio de la Rosa, and a member of Lubao's most accomplished family of stage and movie performers who achieved national prominence.

Philippine moviedom was at its brightest in the ‘40s and ‘50s with the luminous presence of one talented family of from Lubao: the de la Rosas. While Golden boy Rogelio de la Rosa and character actress Africa de la Rosa had a headstart in establishing their film careers, it was not long that another brother joined the acting bandwagon and started making his own mark in movies that are now regarded as truly Pinoy classics.

Just like his siblings, Jaime de la Rosa was born in Lubao in 1920. Acting was in the family’s blood: aside from the aforementioned Rogelio and Africa, a sister, Purita, dabbled briefly in the movies too—until ill health and a rising politico named Diosdado Macapagal put a stop to a budding acting career. Then there was an uncle, Gregorio Fernandez, a noted director who had been instrumental in putting Rogelio’s road to stardom. With his debonair looks, Jaime too, was destined to take center stage and follow his own star.

Jaime was studying Law when the silver screen beckoned. Not yet out of his teens, he was first featured in the Eastern Pictures movie, Anak ng Lansangan (Children of the Streets) in 1939, using the screen name Tommy de la Rosa. Making his strong presence felt, he was cast successively in 3 movies as a supporting actor: Cadena de Amor, Bawal na Pag-ibig (Forbidden Love) and Kahapon Lamang (Only Yesterday). Before the war began, he was seen in a musical, Ibong Sawi (Ill-fated Bird).

This sudden halt to Jaime’s career did not dampen his spirit. He took time to marry his childhood sweetheart, Beatriz Ocampo Santos with whom he would have three daughters: Betty, Cherry and Rowena. He settled his family in Sampaloc, then invested in prime property in Horseshoe Village a favorite residential village of movie stars) and later, in San Mateo, Rizal.

After the war, Jaime resumed acting, starring with his own brother, Rogelio, in the war movie Garrison 13. Soon, he was starring in lead roles alongside the most famous actresses of his time. With Norma Blancaflor, he did the fantasy movie, Aladin. In the musical Ikaw ay Akin (You are Mine), he warbled with Rebecca Gonzales. He was with Mila del Sol in Romansa, Norma Blancaflor in Tanikalang Papel (Paper Chain), Delia Razon in Shalimar, Rosa Rosal in Biglang Yaman (Instant Riches), Nida Blanca in Korea and Charito Solis in Nina Bonita.

But two roles were set to etch Jaime’s image in the hearts and minds of movie fans forever. He was cast in the 1st ever Darna movie, starring Rosa del Rosario, as the lead’s love interest. And, in 1953, he was Fredo, the human lover of the fabled mermaid beauty, Dyesebel, played by the unforgettable Edna Luna.

The ‘50s decade can be considered as Jaime’s heyday, with a string of solo starrers and hit movies like Satur (sci-fi movie) , Galawgaw (a role identified with Nida Blanca) , Hamak na Dakila (A Scorned Great), Anak ng Pulubi (A Beggar’s Child) , Taong Paniki (Bat People) , Kabalyerong Itim (Black Cavalier), Medalyong Perlas (Pearl Medallion) and Faithful. In 1956, Jaime was nominated for the Best Actor FAMAS award his gritty performance in the movie Kumander 13. (Trivia: The term FAMAS, considered as the Philippines’ Oscars, was coined by Jaime himself, a Filipinized version of the word “Fame”).

When television was introduced in the Philippines, Jaime became one of the new medium’s pioneers, hosting ABS-CBN’s Caltex Star Caravan. He put his knowledge to good use by directing TV shows and acting as program consultant, even providing his services as a liaison officer for the Australian movie, The Year of Living Dangerously, in 1982.

All the while, Jaime never forgot his Kapampangan roots. As daughter Cherry recalled, her father had a sweet tooth and relished Pampanago dishes like buro (fermented rice) and kamaru (mole crickets). And, just like his brother, Jaime could not resist entering the world of politics. He served as a councilor of Manila and eventually became the city’s Vice Mayor. He died in service, on 18 September 1996, and, in every sense of the word, a true Kapampangan idol.

(*NOTE: Feature titles with asterisks represent other writings of the author that appeared in other publications and are not included in the original book, "Views from the Pampang & Other Scenes")

Tuesday, May 13, 2008


ARTE DE LA LENGUA PAMPANGA. The 3rd edition of Fr. Diego Bergano's breakthrough work on Kapampangan grammar, published by the University of Sto. Tomas in 1916.

In 1594, the Archbishop of Manila issued a royal decree allowing missionaries to focus their linguistic efforts on 3 or 4 languages to be able to work efficiently with the natives. At that time, the Augustinians were doing mission work among Tagalogs, Ilocanos, Hiligaynons, Cebuanos—and the Kapampangans. Many religious became very proficient with their languages and those who mastered the languages started to write books as guides for others: Arte (Grammar), Vocabulario (Dictionary) and the Doctrina (Catechism).

There is strong evidence to suggest that the 1st Augustinian printing press was set up in Lubao, Pampanga as noted by chronicler Fr. Gaspar de San Agustin, author of “Conquistas de las Islas Filipinas”, who wrote…”for a long time, there was in it (Lubao) a school of grammar and rhetoric, and there was too, a good printing press bought from Japan”. This press was moved according to the needs of the religious, printing everything from novenas, lives of saints to grammar books.

In Macabebe, Fr. Francisco Coronel authored “Artes y Reglas de la Lengua Pampanga” (1617) which was based on the 3-volume grammar-vocabulary book by Fr. Diego de Ochoa. Later, Fr. Alvaro de Benavente completed “Arte y Vocabulario de la lengua Pampanga”, which remained in manuscript form.

The first real Pampango grammar book would come out of the press over a century later, by the erudite priest Fr. Diego Bergano. Born in 1690 in Palencia, Spain, Fr. Bergano was ordained at the monastery of Badaya in 1710. Eight years later, he secured his first Philippine assignment. After arduously studying the Kapampangan language for 3 years in San Agustin, Intramuros. He was appointed parish priest of Mexico town (1725) and Bacolor (1737-1747). He rose to become an examinador sinodal and prior of San Agustin in 1731 and became prior provincial-elect in 1734.

Fr. Bergano’s best known work is the breakthrough “Arte de la Lengua Pampanga”, which came out of the Jesuit press in 1729. This book was so well-written and received so much attention that a 2nd edition was published in 1736 from the Franciscan press in Sampaloc. The 3rd edition was published by the University of Sto. Tomas in 1916. The pioneering volume covered the rules of Kapampangan grammar, ranging from proper declensions, voices and moods, conjugations and word usages.

The dedicated priest also authored “Vocabulario de Pampango en Romance y Diccionario de Romance en Pampango” (Pampango-Spanish/Spanish-Pampango Dictionary), with the help of Juan de Zuniga, a member of Mexico’s principalia class. Fr. Bergano easily mastered the complexities of Kapampangan, right down to the precise syntax. His works on the language were considered to be the finest, prompting Fr. Casimiro Diaz to comment “..the work came out so perfect, that there is nothing more to say or criticize..”.

(*NOTE: Feature titles with asterisks represent other writings of the author that appeared in other publications and are not included in the original book, "Views from the Pampang & Other Scenes")

Monday, May 5, 2008


DAU"S DAYS. Post-war fiesta celebration of Dau presaged a future of business booms and commercial success, thanks to nearby Clark Field and the enterprising spirit of its people.

There was a time in the '70s when barangay Dau was even more recognizable than its mother town, Mabalacat. Who would think that this town's biggest and most populous barangay, bustling with commercial possibilities, was once just a forest thicket, where hardwood Dau trees (Sc. Name: Dracontomelon dao) grew in profusion and provided the barrio’s landmark?

Teodoro Lising is listed as the fundador of Dau in the year 1843. Dau became a barrio in 1936 by virtue of Presidential Proclamation no. 1. That same year, President Manuel L. Quezon issued a decree establishing the first training cadre in Dau Checkpoint at Fort Stotsenburg 1. Camp DAU, as became the venue for training hundreds and thousands of 20-year old Filipinos who were required to render military service starting in 1936. Training began the next year under the command of Philippine Scout and Army Officer General Fidel Segundo, from the U.S. West Point Class 1917. Segundo had been the 1st Filipino officer assigned to Stotsenburg’s Scout artillery regiment twenty years earlier.

Based on stories of retired superiors, DAU was an acronym for Division Artillery Unit, since it was the first artillery training unit of the Philippine Army. It has been suggested that barangay Dau got its name from this unit, but this cannot be possible, as the name “Dau” has been appearing on maps earlier than 1936. The camp's Post Exchange was also set up in Dau, which presaged the rise in stature of the barrio as the country's PX capital in the 70s.

With the relaxation of Clark rules, PX goods flowed out of the base in abundance, to be resold later in stores and shops that quickly sprouted like mushrooms along MacArthur Highway. Farmlands were flattened and idle lots were cleared to give way to hole-in-the-wall stalls that sold never-before-tasted goodies and luxuries seen only on American glossies.

All of a sudden, Pringles in canisters, Hanes T-Shirts, PACEX Milk and ice cream, Dove soaps and PikNik shoestring potatoes were all the rage. Everybody joined the PX bandwagon and soon, a commercial area of sorts rose in Dau, the biggest of which is the Marina Arcade owned by the Moraleses. Even houses nearby turned their garages into stalls, selling not just brand new items but also second-hand, American leaving goods---from lamps, toys, plumbing fixtures to whole dining room showcases.

With the construction of the North Expressway that linked Dau to Manila, the great American experience became just a short ride away. Week-ends found hordes of Manilenos shopping for imported shampoos, Playboy magazines, rubber shoes, cookies, bedsheets, army fatigues and lawn mowers in Dau, rummaging through second-hand shops for bargains and finds retrieved, rescued and sometimes stolen from the base.

For a lot of Dau folks, the 70s were the heydey of PX business, a get rich-quick period that enabled a lot of them to earn sizeable fortunes in just a few years, never mind if the practice was not exactly legal. Dau thrived and throbbed with heady excitement as symbols of American pop culture--McDonald's, Donut King, Shakey's, Kentucky Fried Chicken-- made their appearance at the mouth of the Dau exit.

No martial law, no anti-American demos, and not even fire, which razed the commercial strip a couple of times, could dampen the tempo of business. Dau was so popular and prosperous in those days, it overshadowed the slow progress of Mabalacat town proper.

The reversal of fortune began with the departure of American servicemen facilitated by the Pinatubo eruption of 1991. Business took a turn for the worse when PX Clubs opened at Clark--the first being the Royal PX Club--which extended PX shopping privileges to every Mabalacat resident.

From Dau, the shopping traffic shifted to Clark where big PX outlets offered fresher, cheaper, more varied merchandise set in American-size warehouses.There simply was no match to the competition, forcing PX proprietors in Dau to cry foul. An enterprising few expanded their merchandise to include both Bangkok and local goods, while still others simply gave up and closed shop.

Since then, the face of Dau's PX business has changed a whole lot. At the height of the Pinatubo eruption, even whole doors, hospital beds, architectural pieces and medical apparatus found their way in Dau shops. Now, more shops are carrying more traditional boutique items, but in the process, they are also losing their unique points of attraction which once lured thousands to their doors.

Dau's golden PX age may have gone, but with the unwavering spirit of enterprise demonstrated by its hard-working people, the barangay continues to forge to the future, firmly entrenched as Mabalacat's premier and undisputed commercial center.

(*NOTE: Feature titles with asterisks represent other writings of the author that appeared in other publications and are not included in the original book, "Views from the Pampang & Other Scenes")