Monday, September 29, 2008


STUDENTS OF THOMASITE CARROLL PEABODY. The very first pupils of Maestro Americano Peabody in Mabalacat. Note the school shacks which served as classrooms at the back. Peabody also served in nearby Tarlac province. This photo postcard was personally sent by him from Cleveland, Ohio, his home state.

In my town, Mabalacat, few records exist about the existence of Spanish colonial schools. Formal education beyond the primary school level was, in the beginning, reservd for Spaniards only. Mostly, private tutoring was practiced in those times. In San Francisco, a certain Apung Beltung Pile (Old Lame Beltung) had a “bantayan” school, a kind of day-care center, where parents left their kids to study under his tutelage. Here, he mostly taught reading and writing.

With the coming of the Americans, a Department of Public Instruction was established in March 1900. Mr. Fred W. Atkinson was appointed as General Superintendent of Public Instruction and imposed two things: the use of English as a medium of instruction and the importation of American teachers to help run native schools and train local teachers. The largest and most well-known batch of teachers arrived in the Philippines on 21 August 1901 aboard the U.S.S. Thomas.

Of the 600 civilian educators that arrived, twenty five were deployed to nineteen towns of Pampanga where they labored under extreme conditions to establish a new public school system for $125 a month. Part of their job was training local teachers especially in the use of English as a medium of instruction. A teacher from Mexico, Constancia S. Bernardo, trained under the Thomasites and she may have very well been the first native teacher of English in Pampanga.

Cornell graduate William Carruth for instance, was assigned to Betis town, and later moved to Sta. Rita, San Simon and San Fernando, where he not only collected teaching materials for schools but also solved administrative problems. Luther Parker took so much interest in Pampanga history that he initiated the compilation of town histories, now known as the Luther Parker Collection. He also published an English-Kapampangan dictionary. John W. Osborne, on the other had, served as the first principal of the esteemed Pampanga High School in San Fernando.

Closer home, Thomasite Carroll Peabody, a fresh graduate of Western Reserve University in Ohio, was assigned to Mabalacat and became a school superintendent. His wife, Emma, was also a teacher. Schools had to be quickly set up to institutionalize the American educational system. The early buildings of the Mabalacat Elementary School were built on rented lands in different places: along Ligtasan Street (site of the present Venmari Resort near the Morales Bridge) and in Sta. Ines (property owned by Narcisa Lim), where a cockpit now stands.

The school as we know it today, was built on land donated by Mrs. Rufino Angeles de Ramos, through funds raised with the help of Hon. Ceferino Hilario. Like all public schools of the period, Mabalacat Elementary School adhered to the architectural lay-out specified by the Gabaldon Act, with the structure elevated on posts like a nipa hut.

The Thomasites may have come and gone, but as late as the 1960s, every Mabalacat elementary student could still feel the American influence on the educational process, thanks to nearby Clark Field. Our school used to get regular donations of used school books, and I remember reading “Dick and Jane” books profusedly illustrated in color, alongside my black and white “Pepe and Pilar” textbooks. Then there were the regular milk feeding programs sponsored by Clark, where we got to drink stateside milk for our nutrition—for free.

There was also this matronly American teacher from Clark Field, whom we knew only by the name of Mrs. Davies, who used to come and sit at the back of the classroom to observe teaching methods. In my fourth or fifth grade, it was she who administered an oral exam to determine the final placements of students in the honor roll. I remember how intimidated I was at her presence; she was big and spoke with an accent that was hard to comprehend. But I was more terrified when she quizzed me about the forms of matter, which I completely flubbed (Answer: liquid, solid and gas), so I ended up sorely as just an honorable mention.

With the current sorry state of Philippine education, the older generation formally schooled under the Americans are quick to recall and point out the quality and calibre of schooling in the 1920s and 1930s. There is truth to this observation: America indeed, placed emphasis on quality education to form good citizenzhip and to allow sharing of cultures. It is no wonder then today, the establishment of a new educational order in the Philippines, is considered as one of the most important legacies of the American colonial period.

(*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")

Sunday, September 14, 2008


AIN'T NO MOUNTAIN HIGH ENOUGH. Excursionists from Red Star Stores gather at the foot of the dormant volcano, Mt. Arayat, where the Mount Arayat National Park, established by Pres. Manuel L. Quezon in 1933, can be found. Dated 2 March 1941.

Long before the supermalls changed Pampanga’s landscape and became favorite family hang-outs, everyone’s choice destination for natural relaxation was Mount Arayat National Park. Scene of many excursions from many decades past, the park was actually conceived by Pres. Manuel L. Quezon, who, in the early 1930s, took a liking to the lush, soothing environs of the fabled mountain. After all, the accessibility of the 3,564 foot mountain and its unique geographical position offered limitless possibilities to restless urban dwellers. Spanish friars recognized the revitalizing qualities of Arayat, even setting up tiled baths in Baño to soothe their tired spirits in the medicinal spring waters.

Pres. Quezon himself led the way towards the establishment of the park by developing his own hacienda in Arayat. His Kaledian estate was where he sought refuge from the pressure of his work, often retreating there together with wife Aurora Aragon. He began transforming Arayat into a tourist area, what with places of natural interest like springs, slides, rock formations, dotting the place.

On 27 June 1933, the national park was thus established. Plans were set in motion for the park’s immediate development. Buracan Lake, for instance, a picturesque sanctuary of flora and fauna west of the mountain was looked at as a health resort. A certain section lying within the vicinity of the lake and the Quarry Reservation was to be turned into a landing field for airplanes. Also, as a wildlife reserve, all form of hunting were prohibited in the area.

The post-war years saw the park increasingly becoming popular tourist haven. Company tours and excursions from Manila and nearby provinces were regularly organized. Public utility buses included Arayat in their travel routes to take advantage of the growing number of mobile Filipino tourists.

Today, Mount Arayat National Park—even if it has degenerated into a local resort with little infrastructures— has a few attractions to offer. It boasts of a picnic site with lush greeneries, two swimming pools fed by natural spring waters, recreation halls and various plant and animal life like monkeys, civets and native birds. Run by the government, the park’s latest attraction is the Tree House, a cluster of huts and houses ideal for private gatherings. The park also is the perfect starting point to scale the mountain peak. The peak has a view deck from where one can take in the view of the plains and fields of Pampanga, including the famed Pampanga River and the Zambales mountain ranges.

In 1993, the national park was declared a tourist spot by the enactment of Republic Act 7690. Still, the park has been overshadowed by more high-profile destinations—including private resorts--considered safer and more modern. In an effort to revitalize tourism again in Arayat, Rep. Rey Aquino, in response to the has urged the House of Representatives to declare the mountain an eco-tourism haven. It is hoped that in the near future, fair Mount Arayat can reclaim once more its stature as a natural monument, whose beauty and grandeur radiates throughout the great Central Plain.

(*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")

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

*107. Pampanga's Churches: OUR LADY OF GRACE, MABALACAT

AMAZING GRACE. Virgen de Gracia Church of Mabalacat, as it appeared in 1915, dressed up for the Holy Week rites. Note the sawali walls and the pew-less interior.

Mabalacat is the only town of Pampanga that was not ministered by Augustinians. Instead, the Augustinian Recoletos—the last of the religious orders to arrive in the Philippines—were tasked to put up missions in northern Pampanga and Tarlac. Mabalacat became the focal center of missions and it soon became imperative to construct a more permanent church for the town.

Mabalacat Church was said to have been established in the year 1768, but a more realistic date would be around the early 1830s. The oldest bell in the parish is dated 1835, during the term of Fr. Jose Varela, the town’s first cura parocco. Cast by 19th c. Quiapo bell maker, Mac.(ario) E Los Angeles, the bell pre-dates those cast by the more renown Hilario Sunico. A second bell, dated 1846 is dedicated to Nuestra Señora de Grasia ( as spelled). It is certain therefore that a structure of more permanent materials must have existed earlier to house these bells.

The Estado General of 1879 reports that the parish was elevated to a vicariate status under the titular patronage of Nuestra Snra. De Guia around 1836. In November 23, 1881, in compliance with the Recollect Provincial Chapter of 1876, the Mabalacat parish was named as one of the head parishes (“priorato”) of the San Nicolas de Tolentino province, together with Sta. Cruz, Balayan in Batangas and Boac, Marinduque.

The Recoletos have always had an early devotion to the Nuestra Señora de las Gracias (Our Lady of Graces) and it is certain that they propagated this among Mabalaqueño converts. The original shrine in Guadalupe, Makati was first dedicated to her Divine Grace. The imposing image of the seated Mater Divina Gratiae in the main altar was installed during the term of Fr. Felipe Roque. In one of his visits to Rome, he beheld the a similar image in San Giovanni Rotonda (home of stigmatist saint, Fr. Pio) and was inspired to have a copy carved after the original image. The Virgin is flanked by the figures of San Joaquin and St. Ana, installed through the sponsorships of Dna. Paz vda. de Wijangco and Dna. Maningning de Naguiat respectively. The recent repainting of the images was done in 2002.

There is a slight confusion as to who the real town patroness is. February 2, the traditional date of the piestang balen, is actually the Feast of the Purification of Our Lady or Nuestra Señora de la Candelaria. There is, in fact, an old ivory image of the Virgin in the Parish, which is made to look like a Candelaria Virgin by having her hold a candle. Surprisingly, this image is not displayed on the main altar. On the other hand, the feast of our Lady of Grace is observed every June 9 (piestang patron) according to the Catholic calendar. Church records from the late 1930s show that processions were still being held in June, with a devout woman from Dau, Dña. Cecilia Samson, shouldering the expenses.

There now seems to be a practical explanation to this date change, as explained by oldtimers. In the olden days, they recount, it was very inconvenient for the people to negotiate the dirt roads just to attend church service in June—the onset of the rainy season. So, a mutual agreement was reached between the townfolks and the parish priest to move the date to February, when the weather was drier and better.

The actual construction of the Catholic church as reported in 1909 by then parish priest Fr. Teodoro Garcia to Luther Parker, began on October 2, 1904 . This was done under the guidance of Capitan Domiciano Tizon. A 1906 report of Fr. Francisco Sabada, “Nota de los Edificos Parroquiales (Yglesia y Conventos)”, Mabalacat church was classified as a 2nd class church made of mixed materials , like sawali, nipa, wood and stone (1st class churches were de mamposteria, 3rd class were of wood).

In the 1984 souvenir program of the renovation of Our Lady of Divine Grace Parish however, it is claimed that the construction began in 1912 through the initiative of Fr. Maximino Manuguid, after a fire gutted the market and other major portions of the town. It was renovated during the term of Fr. Pedro Jaime in 1938. Another bell was donated by Bibiana Lim, and the Siopongcos: Gliceria, Francisco, Candida, Marcela and Emilia on 12 October 1958. Two years later, another bell donation was made by Mrs. Pilar Siopongco de Lara on 4 April 1960, during the term of Fr. Cancio.

During the administration of Fr. Alfonso Ducut, the church was further expanded and refurbished from 17 June 1983 to December 1984 . The starting budget was a meager P11,000, although the entire job was estimated at 2.1 Million Pesos. The construction covered 2 phases, involving major reworks such as the widening of the floor area by 2.5 meters, replacement of timber posts, electrical re-wiring and the installation of stained glass panels especially ordered from Kraut Art Glass, a German-owned glass shop established 1911 in the Philippines. Its façade and its interiors were tiled , marbled, glazed and re-painted and today, the church bears little resemblance to its original yet simple architectural grandeur.

(*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, September 9, 2008


PAMPANGA LODGE NO. 48. Officials and members of Pampanga's oldest existing masonic lodge, still in existence today. Circa 1920s.
Becoming a mason is often seen as turning one’s back against religion. On the contrary, the rules of masonry stipulates that one must have a religion of his own and to believe in God to gain membership. In the York rite of the mason, the Lord’s Prayer is prayed at the opening of every session.

In the Philippines, masonry had strong patriotic beginnings. The formal organizations were among the first to throw their support for Filipino propagandists. The first lodge was founded in Manila in 1891, with membership initially limited to the elite class. The Masonic Lodge Nilad counted among its first members, at least 7 Kapampangans, including Ceferino Joven, a future governor of the province.

Masonry spread throughout the country as the reform movement gained momentum and support. It reached Pampanga through the members of the Manila lodge. Recruitment was done through the triangle system, a form of networking where a Mason invited 2 prospects to form a triangle, who in turn, formed other triangles. When a sufficient number of members were acquired in this manner, a lodge was established.

The first triangles in the province were formed through the efforts of Ruperto Laxamana (Mexico’s gobernadorcillo), Manuel Alejandrino and Spaniard Eugenio Blanco of Macabebe. Two lodges were formed to accommodate the new masons—one in San Fernando, set up by Cecilio Hilario and another in Bacolor, initiated by Francisco Joven. The original aim of Masonry in Pampanga to endorse the reformist movement was thought to have been moderated with the presence of Spaniard Blanco, who was openly anti-Philippine independence.

Even then, a number of Kapampangan masons remained steadfast to the cause. They accorded a warm welcome to fellow mason Jose Rizal when he visited Pampanga in 1892. High-profile masons in government positions were harassed like Ceferino Joven, and ousted from their offices like Ruperto Laxamana and Antonio Consunji of Mexico. Manuel Alejandrino was exiled for possessing incriminating Masonic documents. After 1892, masonry seemed to have disappeared in Pampanga, although another explanation was that it went underground.

Masonry enjoyed a limited resurgence in the late 1900s thru the1930s with the establishments of lodges such as Masonic Lodge Macawili and Pampanga Lodge No. 48. Founded in 1918, it was first comprised of 15 Kapampangan masons culled from 8 different lodges: Pedro Abad Santos (named Worshipful Master by Manuel L. Quezon), Pablo Angeles David, Lucas Babiera, Felix Bautista, Regino Gamboa, Benito Golding, Ceferino Hilario, Isidro Makabali, Pedro Malig, Saturnino Ocampo, Pacifico Panlilio, Bernardo Samson, Isabelo de Silva, Mariano Tiglao and Marcelino Bustos Zabala. “Pamikakapatad, Pamisaupan at Katutuan” (Brotherhood, Relief, Truth).

The first five members were Saturnino David, Pascual Gozun, Candido Hizon, Marciano Ordonez and Amado Pecson.On 16 July 1918,  then Grand Master Manuel L. Quezon, granted an initial dispensation to the Masons appointing his classmate Pedro Abad Santos as First Master, Isabelo De Silva  as Senior Warden and Ceferino Hilario as Junior Warden.

During the 7th Annual Communications of the Most Worshipful Grand Lodge of Free & Accepted Masons on 28 January 1919, a Charter was granted to Pampanga Lodge No. 48 thus perpetuating their mission.

Ninety years after its founding, the Pampanga Masonic Lodge No. 48 is still in existing, marking its historic 90th year founding anniversary in July 2008. It is heartening to know that this ancient fraternal tradition lives on in this 90 year-old institution, with glowing accomplishments in the community that continue to give new dimensions to the spirit of brotherhood in these modern times.

(*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")


ATTENTION! An unidentified Kapampangan military man, possibly a member of the Philippine Scouts, addressed his smart-looking photo to his lady love Celiang Pineda. Dated 14 June 1929.

Brave, loyal, daring, fierce and at times, reckless and misunderstood. Such are the characteristics of the Kapampangan as a soldier that have endured, as painted and mythicized by recorded history. Indeed, our men of the military are a breed apart, with their predecessors showing a predilection for the vocation of arms upon unwarranted provocation.

Rajah Soliman for instance, a Macabebe warrior, fought the Spaniards together with Rajah Lakandula in 1574, dying a here’s death while fighting for his people’s freedom. In 1660, the trio of Francisco Maniago, Nicolas Manuit and Agustin Pamintuan led Kapampangans in an uprising against Spain, stemming from unfair abuses in connection with the cutting of timber. Two years after, Francisco Laksamana led a 400-strong contingent to quell a Chinese revolt in Manila, killing many of them and capturing their trenches in Antipolo. And, when the British invaded Manila in 1764, a Kapampangan, Jose Manalastas engaged General Draper to a fight and stabbed him on the chest.

Much have been said about the loyalty of the Kapampangan soldier. When ordered by a superior to implement a course of action, he does so without question and without fail. When Macabebe town was besieged by revolutionists, the Spanish forces abandoned the town, except for Eugenio Blanco, a Macabebe native who was an honorary colonel of the Spanish Army. He organized a regiment of “Voluntarios Macabebes” to ward off the revolutionists and in so doing, suffered torture at the hands of his own countrymen who accused him of betraying his own people—but who was in fact, just obeying his orders.

Perhaps, it was this uncompromising loyalty of the men of Macabebe that led American military leaders to organize the first troop of 100 scouts in the said town in September 1899—the Macabebe Scouts. The troop was meant to help the American forces who were unfamiliar with the fighting conditions in the Philippines. Thus, the Macabebe scouts were used to engage the forces of General Emilio Aguinaldo, resulting in his ultimate capture.

Working with Americans became highly popular, resulting in an increase in enlistment. Thus, in this way, the Philippine Scouts under the command of Lt. A.M. Batson, was formed. The scouts participated in various campaigns throughout the country, and a large number of Kapampangan recruits were stationed at Forts McKinley, Mills and Stotsenburg—gaining a reputation as among the best soldiers in the Philippines.

Through the years, Kapampangan men in uniform have done our province and our country proud. In the days of the Revolution, we have Gen. Jose Alejandrino who became the chief commander of Central Luzon while Gen. Aguinaldo was up north. In 1934, he became the chairman of the National Defense Committee and a military adviser of Malacanang. Gen Servillano Aquino of Angeles was likewise a well known figure of the Revolution, but perhaps more well-known today as Ninoy Aquino’s grandfather. Gen. Maximino Hizon (Mexico), Gen. Francisco Makabulos (Tarlac) and Lt. Emilio Dominguez (Mabalacat) were all gallant Katipuneros who led offensives against our colonizers.

In more recent times, military notables have come to include: medical doctor Basilio Valdes (Floridablanca) who rose to become a Brigadier-General and Chief of the Police Constabulary in 1934. Lt. Gen. Gregorio M. Camiling Jr. (Bacolor) was appointed as the commanding general of the Philippine Army in 2002. Currently, the highest ranking Kapampangan in the military is Gen. Avelino Razon, head of the Philippine National Police.

(*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")

Sunday, September 7, 2008


IF THERE'S A MILL, THERE'S A WAY. The American-owned Pampanga Sugar Mills (PASUMIL), set in the sprawling fields of Del Carmen, Pampanga, was the first-ever modern centrifugal mill in the province, with a capacity that's the biggest in the country.

Between 1911 and 1921, the country’s sugar industry became the most technologically-advanced business in the Philippines—and the sugar central became the one major symbol of agricultural progress. Such mills efficiently processed sugar, with modern machines capable of extracting up to 25% more cane juice than antiquated mills. The use of centrifugals to separate sugar from molasses resulted in better sugar products comparable to the world’s best, and it was imperative to build these fabricas de azucar centrifugado if the country were to compete in the global market.

By 1921, there were only 26 of these sugar mills in operations throughout the country. One of these modern mills was the Pampanga Sugar Mills, the first in the province--established only in 1919 at Del Carmen, Floridablanca.

As early as 1917, American investors realized that advantages of having a sugar mill right in Pampanga. Before that, sugar had to be transported by railroad to Calamba, a good 120 kilometers away, where it was milled at the Calamba Sugar Central. Sugar deteriorates after the cane is cut, so the long haul to Laguna often meant diminished value for the product, which often is aggravated by poor railroad service.

Sugar investors from Hawaii, California and the Philippines pooled their funds to raise the capital, and in 1919, the new group incorporated under the name Pampanga Sugar Mills. The whole project was supported by Senate President Manuel L. Quezon, and a host of Americans led by John Switzer, the executive vice president of Pacific Commercial who secured and guaranteed milling contracts with Kapampangans.

The building of the Pampanga Sugar Mills by Honolulu Iron Works, went underway at Barrio Del Carmen in Floridablanca, under the supervision of American engineers and sugar expert R. Renton Hind, who also developed Hawaii’s sugar industry. Twenty five miles of railroad tracks were laid out to bring the harvest from the fields to the mills, and when finished, it was the largest plant of its kind in the Philippines with a rated capacity of 2,500 metric tons daily. In the first 2 years of operation, the central managed to double its output from 8,700 metric tons of raw sugar to 19,400 in 1921. In all, Pasumil cost $7 million dollars to build.

The Pampanga Sugar Mills became a force to reckon with, winning milling contracts from Pampanga and Tarlac planters. The Valdes family for instance, who built Barrio Valdes out of their extensive sugar farmlands, made use of the central’s services. Even Spanish and American planters—like the Todas, Arrastrias and Sellmans-- shifted to the American-owned PASUMIL because of its capacity to process large amounts of sugar cane in a manner most efficient. Even the Manila Railroad Company recognized the economic value of the mills, creating a 4 kilometer spur road to join the central to its mainstream tracks. In the 1950s, PASUMIL even had its own Manila office at the 2nd floor of the Chronicle Building at Aduana.

In April 1918, a second sugar mill, put up by Filipino investors and large-scale Kapampangan planters was built in San Fernando—the Pampanga Sugar Development Company (PASUDECO). As opposed to PASUMIL, it targetted smaller planters and offered them shares in the company, thus increasing their milling benefits. Backed solid by the government, PASUDECO started its operations in 1922 and it immediately attracted a large and loyal following among local planters.

Though PASUDECO today is more well known than PASUMIL, its place in Pampanga’s economic history cannot be denied. As the pioneer sugar mill in Pampanga, it set into motion the fast modernization of the province’s sugar industry. It provided the impetus for more technological breakthroughs to be introduced—like the use of tractors. Agricultural associations were also formed by landowners and planters to act as lobby groups. PASUMIL, at its peak, surpassed milling operations in other parts of the country, helping established Pampanga’s reputation as Luzon’s Sugar Queen, second only to Negros Occidental.

(*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")