Monday, February 25, 2008

73. THE OTHER BENIGNO

BENIGNO Q. AQUINO SR., (1894-1947) son of Tarlac revolutionary Servillano Aquino, father of Ninoy Aquino, was also a great wartime leader on his own. He became a district representative, assemblyman, senator, a Nacionalista campaign manager and a Secretary of Commerce and Agriculture.Early 1930s.

The Kapampangan hero-martyr, Benigno “Ninoy”Aquino Jr. is a familiar face to many Filipinos, as his smiling bespectacled likeness has been immortalized in almost everything—from postage stamps and 500 peso bills to his rebulto in Makati and in other parts of the country. Indeed, he has even given his name to our international airport. Not too many though are familiar with the achievements of his father, the senior Benigno Q. Aquino, much less his countenance, which was why I had to do a double take on this photo postcard when it was offered for sale in a recent memorabilia auction. I was told by the dealer that the subject was an “Aquino” relative, but since the autograph had faded and had become illegible, he was not quite sure as to the man’s true identity. Luck was on my side as I had just re-read Nick Joaquin’s “The Aquinos of Tarlac” a few days before. Comparing the photos of the book and the postcard, it was easy figuring out that the subjects were one and the same—same full cheeks, same profile, same chinky eyes! I had found a rare real photo postcard of our great wartime leader and Ninoy’s father, Benigno Q. Aquino Sr.!

Benigno Sr. was born in Murcia, Tarlac on 3 September 1894, one of three sons of the revolutionary general Servillano Aquino (Don Mianong) and Guadalupe Quiambao. His siblings included Gonzalo (1893) and Amando (1896). The family moved to Concepcion until 1897 when Don Mianong joined the Revolution against Spain. Benigno was sent off to Angeles to live with his aunts, Brigida and Maria who had married into the Ganzons. Later, he boarded in the school of Don Modesto Joaquin in Bacolor. When Don Mianong came home from the war with the U.S. in 1904, Benigno entered the Colegio de San Juan de Letran. An accomplished student in oratory and philosophy, the 13 year-old Benigno graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree. He then pursued law at the University of Santo Tomas, completing the course and passing the bar in 1913 at age 18.

Benigno Sr. practiced his profession in Tarlac and it was there that he met and married Maria Urquico in May 1916. Maria, one of the country’s first certified public accountants, was the youngest daughter of an affluent rice merchant and katipunero Antonio Urquico and Justa Valeriano.The couple settled in Murcia, where Benigno ran a thriving sugar business in his own hacienda, and built a reputation as “a lawyer by profession and a farmer by occupation”. They bore 4 children: Antonio, Servillano, Milagros and Erlinda.

Meanwhile, his star as a politician also began to rise. He became Tarlac’s 2nd district representative in 1919-1928. In his first year as Senator (1928-1934), he lost his wife Maria in March 1928. As a young widower, he was linked with two recent Misses Philippines: Luisa Marasigan and Pacita de los Reyes. But when it was time to re-marry, he chose a 3rd cousin who was 16 years his junior—Aurora Aquino, whom he wedded on 6 Dec. 1930. They begat 7 children: Maria Aurora, Benigno Servillano (Ninoy) Jr., Maria Gerarda, Maria Guadalupe, Agapito (Butz), Paul, Maria Teresa (Tessie).

Benigno Sr. became an Assemblyman (1935-1938) and after that stint, was appointed as Secretary of Agriculture and Commerce, where he made his mark as an ardent promoter of Philippine overseas trade, ensuring the upgrade of facilities needed for the efficient disposal of agricultural produce and establishing price control systems. His monthly salary as a secretary was donated to his favorite charities like the Hospicio de San Jose. He also became a successful campaign manager for the Nacionalista Party in 1938.

In the dark days of World War II, Benigno Aquino Sr. was among the members of the puppet Japanese government of Pres. Jose P. Laurel. With the liberation of the Philippines came his arrest and imprisonment at Tokyo’s Sugamo Prison in 1945. There, his health deteriorated and he developed a heart problem. Flown back home a year later, the emaciated Benigno Sr. was arraigned before the People’s Court and charged with treason. He was released provisionally on 11 September 1946, and returned to Concepcion to regain his health. Invigorated, he planned to re-enter politics in 1947 but then-president Manuel Roxas, a close friend, could not support him openly as he had been warned not to associate with so-called “Japanese collaborators” lest he lose the promise of precious U.S. aid for war-torn Philippines.

On 20 December 1947, Benigno Sr. attended the world bantamweight title fight between Manuel Ortiz, the Mexican champion and his kabalen, Tirso del Rosario of Tarlac at the Rizal Stadium. In the ensuing excitement of the 4th round in which Del Rosario was knocked down, Benigno Sr. suffered a fatal heart attack.

Four days later, the charge of treason against him was dismissed by the court. In an emotional eulogy delivered by distinguished statesman Claro M. Recto, he addressed the mistreated leader: “Benigno Aquino! Divine Providence, in claiming jurisdiction over you, has denied human tribunals the right to judge you. The government, in paying homage to you, has cleared you of the calumny heaped upon you without due process of law. And the nation, in associating herself with this demonstration of grief, proclaims that you have served her well…they will remember your splendid achievements and the noble example of your nationalism, virile and blameless, and they will call you a true patriot because you were always a true Filipino”.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

72. KEMATEN: A Time To Mourn

UNTIL IT’S TIME FOR YOU TO GO. A funeral procession in Betis of a prominent Kapampangan. Priests, in full regalia, often accompanied the dead to their final resting place, a practice rarely seen today. Ca. 1938.

All Saints’ Day is always a time for remembering our loved ones who have moved on to the Great Beyond. Like the thousands of people who will troop to the campo santo today, I too, will be lighting candles and offering prayers for the souls of our dear departed: my father Gerardo Jr., my paternal grandparents and my twin sisters and brother who all died in infancy and who are collectively at rest in our family plot at the old Mabalacat Municipal Cemetery.

The custom of paying homage to the dead is a universal one, practiced early in Egypt by keeping lamps burning all night for the lord of the underworld, Osiris. In Celtic Ireland, burial caves were opened so that spirits could come up for airing, and candles were lit inside to illuminate them through the night. The Philippines too, has a long tradition of burial practices that called for disposal of the dead in hollowed-out wood. In other regions, the corpse was wrapped in mats or tree bark, interred in caves or underground or kept in jars as a form of secondary burial. All these, of course, were formalized with the coming of our colonizers and it was during the rule of Spain that the 1st funeral parlor was established in the Philippines in 1883. La Funeraria was founded by Carlos March at No. 3 Plaza Goiti, Manila. The parlor offered hermetically sealed coffins imported from Europe, advanced embalming techniques, assorted epitaphs, “French-like packing” (?) and guaranteed permanent service.

The Church dictated the rituals associated with the dead and the dying. The priest was always taken to the house of the sick for confession or “Beatico”. Back then, fees were being collected by unscrupulous frailes for walking the dead to his burial ground or for ringing the church bells a certain number of times. During a funeral procession, prayers were intoned at regular intervals called “posas”. When Todos Los Santos arrived, a misa cantada was said first at the church before people flocked to the cemeteries to decorate the tombs with calla lilies, marigolds, everlasting and palung manuk flowers.

Despite the rigid rules of the Church, folk traditions in Pampanga continued to be observed. There were certain portents of death that old Kapampangan folks believed in: the appearance of a black moth, a dog digging up the ground for no apparent reason, the dreaming of a loss tooth, combing one’s hair at night. To avoid untimely deaths, one should neither position his bed towards the door nor join a picture-taking session if the number of subjects is either 3 or 13. Early Filipinos believed in the mystical number 7, representing the 7 holes of the head. Our pre-colonial ancestors thus covered their dead’s faces with a death mask cut out with 7 holes. But Kapampangans also believed that an invisible 8th hole exists at the crown of the head of certain special persons, gifting them with the power to liaise between the dead and the living.

There are certain no-no’s when a death in the family occurred. The family of the deceased were prohibited from bathing, cleaning the house or getting a haircut. If the toes of the dead curled inwards, beware of another impending death. There was also the prevalent practice of burying a rosary with the dead, but it had to be cut first lest the dead became restless. (Death is the end of our physical life, but a rosary, in a chain form, is “endless”, so it also needs to be cut).

When it was time for the dead to be buried, the coffin, as was the custom in old Mabalacat, was placed in a “lankayan”, a stretcher of bamboos, which was then carried on the shoulders of 4 persons. Children and infants were carried across the coffin to prevent hauntings by the deceased. Taking out the deathbed through the window is another sure way to ward off ghostly encounters. After the interment, 9 days of pangadi and games followed, with young and old partaking in bulaklakan or juego de prenda, karagatan, card games and bugtungan (riddle games). In San Luis, a seat for the dead was reserved at the dining table on the 3rd day after the burial. Instead of food, though, a plate of ash covered with karakarikucha leaves was served for the soul so that it would give clues on where to find some hidden treasure; only after 9 days was real food offered.

The practice of pangangaluwa, prevalent in Tagalog regions, originated from the belief that souls in purgatory need not just prayers but material things to make the transition to heaven. As such, people, impersonating souls, go from house to house, seeking for alms as they sing gosos that end with an urgent exhortation to “hurry up or the heaven’s gate will close on us”. The period of mourning ends after a year—lukas paldas—and on this day, the black clothes worn by the bereaved family are finally replaced and kept in the baul. A pa-misa and a grand salu-salo cap this day, with everyone reminiscing about the past year and of the days with their beloved departed. Tears are wiped, laughter returns. Indeed, to everything, there is a season.
(1 November 2003)

Monday, February 11, 2008

71. BORN ON THE TOP OF THE MOUNTAIN

HOME ON THE RANGE. The Zambales Mountain Range as seen from the Pampanga side. The range forms a natural border that runs through Zambales, Tarlac and Pangasinan. The Zambales range is home to Mount Pinatubo, which caused the century’s 2nd biggest volcanic eruption, awakening in June 1991 after 600 years of dormancy. Circa 1924-1926.

“I was poorly born on the top of the mountain...”, so goes a song I learned from the singing of my Mother. As Kapampangans, we grew up under the shadows of not just one but many mountains—the grand Bunduk Arayat in the east and the expansive undulating slopes in the west—the Zambales Mountain Range. When I was growing up, I knew very little of those nameless blue-grey mountains that loomed above Clark Field, paying less attention to them than the more familiar Arayat. The only time my interest was kindled was when I was in elementary school. I remember we were in our gardening classes, I must have been in Grade 5 then. Our vegetable plots were situated in an enclosed farm fronting the mountain range, so we had a commanding, unobstructed view of the landscape. We were at work on our pechay plots when a school boy stood transfixed before the mountains and shouted to us all that he could see an image of the Virgin on the flank of the mountain! This created quite a stir amongst us gullible 10 year olds. For days, I would strain my eyes on those mountains, and I swear that on a clear day, I, too, could see the faint outline of our Lady!

The Zambales mountain range forms a border that traverses the whole length of Zambales, extends into Tarlac and ends somewhere near Pangasinan’s Agno River. The mountains consist of old volcanic stocks, formed under intense heat and pressure from deep beneath the Earth’s surface, centuries ago. The mountain range is noted for its endemic tropical rainforests and flowering plants like wild orchids that number over 60 species. The mountains had no real agricultural value to Kapampangans, except for a thousand or so Aetas who were found living there in the 1900s. They were cultivating corn and bartering beeswax and rattan with lwlanders in exchange for cloth and salt.

Of course, the most famous occupant of the Zambales range is Mount Pinatubo, which awoke after 600 years of slumber in June 1991 and caused one of the biggest volcanic eruptions in modern history. (Other mountains in the range include Mt. Liwitan, Mt. Kontitik and Mt. Dalayap, whose virgin forests were mercifully spared from Pinatubo’s lahar flows).

There are no recorded documents of Pinatubo’s ancient upheavals, but there exists an oral account from the hardy Aetas, handed down from generation to generation and collected by the eminent anthropologist H. Otley Beyer in 1915. Aetas tell of a violent fight between Arayat and Pinatubo in which big boulders were heaved by the latter, levelling off the cone of Arayat. There were also accounts of earth tremors, rumbling noises, a rain of ash, hot rocks and lava flows that went on for years.

When the Americans came to build Fort Stotsenburg, they familiarized themselves with the rough terrains of the Zambales range. One of their first objectives was to scale Mount Pinatubo, which was one of the highest mountains there, almost twice the height of Arayat. This became a popular past-time for American soldiers who inexplicably nicknamed Pinatubo as “Ida’s Tit”. Camp Sanchez, a picturesque forest encampment set up along the artillery trail (also known as the China Sea Trail) that ran through the mountain borders of Pampanga and Zambales, became the starting point for the ascent of Pinatubo. Successful climbers who reached the peak could sign their names in a guest book up the mountain and certificates were given to those who reached certain designated distances. The conquistadores, as the triumphant American climbers were called, were given certain privileges for their feat, such as leaving their shirt tails out even during formal occasions.

It is interesting to note that in April 1907, a Marine Corps expedition under Maj. E. K. Cole hacked its way to Pinatubo. Accompanying the group was Warren D. Smith, a Division of Mines employee who concluded that “Mount Pinatubo is not a volcano and we saw no signs of its ever having been one, although the rock constituting it is porphyritic”. In November 1914, a Pvt. Edgar J. Eckton of the 7th Cavalry supposedly reached the apex of Mt. Pinatubo but there are half a dozen or so claimants to this feat of honor. In 1921, the first airplane flight over Mt. Pinatubo was successfully undertaken.

Years after the Pinatubo eruption, the range was blanketed with ash that gave it an eerie, snow-covered look, white and ghostly from afar. Today, the Zambales mountain range has regained much of its color and vegetation, forming a scenic backdrop once again to Pampanga’s phoenix-like rise to progress.
(26 October 2003)

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

70. PADRE MANING: The Life and Times of a Kapampangan Religious

KAPAMPANGAN MAN OF CLOTH. Fr. Manuel del Rosario y Valdez (1912-1987), age 27, shown as a young priest in his souvenir ordination picture, shortly after finishing his studies at the San Carlos Seminary. He was ordained by Manila Archbishop Michael O’Doherty. Ca. 1939.
THE CARDINAL & THE MONSIGNOR AT CLARK. Fr, Maning was a constant companion of Rufino Cardinal Santos. Sandwiched between 2 unidentified Clark Field officials are L-R: Fr, Alejandro Olalia (future Bishop of Tuguegarao), Cardinal Santos and Fr. Manuel del Rosario who are all Kapampangans Circa 1950s.

Msgr. Manuel V. del Rosario, or Padre Maning to his parishioners, was a Kapampangan priest who made his mark in Manila as the longest-serving parish priest of the San Roque Parish in Blumentritt, Sta. Cruz, ministering to the needs of the faithful for over 30 years. To me however, he was first and foremost my uncle, my Tatang Maning, half-brother of my mother, with whom I stayed, together with my younger brother and other transplanted cousins from Pampanga, in the early years of our careers in the big city of Manila.

In my case, he was a surrogate father for 2 years, and a very strict one at that. The daily use of the bathroom was limited to 10 minutes max--or else he would pound the door till we came out. Curfew was set at 10:00 p.m., after which the iron gates to the rectory were locked. Many times, I would scale the gates to get in because my graduate classes would end past that time. Inside the rectory, wearing sandos was a no-no. Oh, how I would try getting out of his way, but then I had to assist him in his daily Masses and help out in different church duties so there was no escaping his temper. Then again, it was Tatang Maning who provided us 100% support as we struggled to eke out a living in Manila, giving free shelter and food, supplementing our meager salaries with additional allowances and treating us out to fancy dinners when we needed a break from our usual pork and beans meals. When we got homesick, it was Tatang Maning who amused and entertained us, taking us out in his car for a quick spin around the city.

As a child, I knew early that Tatang Maning--from the way he was held in high esteem by my mother, aunts and uncles--was kind of special, extraordinary even. At the peak of his priestly career, Tatng Maning rubbed elbows with the rich, the influential and the famous. I have seen his albums with photos of him chummy-chummy with Pres. Diosdado Macapagal, having lunches with former First Lady Trining Roxas, opera star Conching Rosal, Ambassador Rogelio de la Rosa, diplomat Mel Mutuc and joining Cardinal Rufino J. Santos in his many travels abroad. This, indeed, was a far cry from his very humble beginnings as the 8th child of Emilio del Rosario and Josefa Valdez, in a family that would soon grow to include 19 more children!

Born on 4 July 1912, the young Maning spent his elementary days at the San Fernando Elementary School. He then took his secondary education at the Pampanga High School, graduating in 1927. Two years later, in June 1929, he entered the San Carlos Seminary. Because the family was financially challenged (his other brothers were also taking expensive courses in Medicine, Law, Dentistry and Accountancy all at the same time), it took 10 years for him to be ordained. No less than the Most Rev.Msgr. Michael O’Doherty ordained him to sacred priesthood on 26 March 1939 at the Manila Cathedral. His first assignment was as a co-adjutor of San Juan del Monte and as Chaplain of the National Mental Hospital. In October 1939, he was sent back to his home province, serving briefly as a co-adjutor in San Fernando, before being assigned in 1940 to the parishes of Balanga and then Orion, Bataan as assistant priest.

In October 1941, he was finally named as the cura parocco of Zaragosa, Nueva Ecija. My then 13-year old mother kept him company there, and she would recount how Tatang Maning would negotiate the dirt roads on horseback just to reach out to his parishioners! His efforts were rewarded 6 years later with his appointment as Sub-secretary of Finance at the Arzobispado de Manila. Concurrently, he was also the Chaplain of the La Loma Secretary.

Finally, on 15 May 1951, Tatang Maning was installed as the parish priest of San Roque Parish where he would stay on for the next 3 decades of his life. His first task was the renovation of the church, completing the project in 1952. In the next few years, he extended the church to include a rectory and a social hall. He was also instrumental in the erection of two barrio chapels in Obrero and Manuguit in 1963-64.

When Kapampangan Diosdado P. Macapagal ascended the presidency, Tatang Maning became his Spiritual Director. Likewise, he struck a deep friendship with fellow Kapampangan Cardinal Rufino J. Santos, often traveling to Europe together. When Cardinal Santos was elevated to the rank of a Cardinal in 1960, Tatang Maning was part of his entourage to Rome. In 19 April 1960, he was accorded the distinction of being named Privy Chamberlain of his Holiness, Pope John XXIII. Three years later, he was again named as Privy Chamberlain of His Holiness, Pope Paul VI. In 26 March 1964, he celebrated his Sacerdotal Silver Jubilee with a Testimonial Dinner given in his honor at the Winter Garden, Manila Hotel, an affair attended by no less than President Macapagal and the First Lady, Eva Macapagal.

Long after I have flown the Blumentritt coop and established my independence, I would still occasionally see Tatang Maning in his regular visits to Pampanga where he would make the rounds of the residences of his brothers and sisters where most are settled. By then, he was already retired, living with Imang Susing, another half-sister, in his spacious Marikina house, together with his beloved canines and a menagerie of exotic animals. Already in frail health, Tatang Maning passed away of emphysema on 25 Sept. 1987 at the Cardinal Santos Hospital. His remains were brought back to the San Roque Parish where his longtime parishioners paid their last respects.

Sometimes, when I pass by Blumentritt and see the church and its familiar grounds, I still think wistfully of Tatang Maning, my uncle priest, hoping to see a vision of him saying Mass, back hunched before the altar. I know a part of him still dwells there, in that busy Church which he loved best, where he touched the lives of thousands of people---wayfarers, devout women, beggars and vendors, babies, little children who had received the Holy Host from his hands, heroic sufferers, kindred spirits, sinners and souls unknown to him---living his Faith to the fullest in the service of the Lord.
(18 October 2003)