Wednesday, December 30, 2009

*177. MANUEL CONDE: Kapampangan Khan of Films

THE ART OF KHAN. Manuel Pabustan Urbano Sr., better known as Manuel Conde, is recognized as one of the greatest Filipino directors of our time. He is credited for introducing Philippine movies to the world via his 1952 epic, "Genghis Khan", the film that took Venice Film Festival by storm. Rare autographed picture, ca. 1950s. Author's Collection.
When I started a career in advertising, one of the very first directors I met and worked with was Jun Urbano. It was the early ‘80s, and Jun’s reputation as topnotch director was already known in the industry, bagging plum assignments from major advertisers such as San Miguel Corporation, including the legendary Fernando Poe Jr. commercials for its beer brand. I was a fledgling copywriter for Magnolia then, and just had a series of TV ads approved for production. Jun Urbano was the one and only choice to shoot these ads. When I finally did meet him to discuss the storyboards, I was awed by the depth of his creative vision and artistic talent that obviously ran deep in his blood, being the eldest son of the famed director, Manuel Conde.

As we did more commercials together, Jun and I became fast friends. During shooting lulls, he would often talk about his father and how he was influenced by the cinema he created during the gilded age of Philippine movies. I was surprised to learn too that Manuel had Kapampangan roots, the son of an Italian mestizo, Dionisio Urbano, and Lucia Pineda, of Pabustan, San Fernando,  a Pampangueña who relocated to Daet, Camarines Norte in her teens.

It was here that Manuel was born on 9 October 1915. He was preceded by elder sisters Nena and Carmen. Lucia and Dionisio ran a zapateria and a bibingkahan to support their growing family, but they would meet early deaths, leaving their three children orphans. The siblings supported themselves by selling banana fritters in front of movie houses and that was where Manuel’s interest in movies began.

After graduating from the Camarines Norte High School, he left for Manila to enroll in geological engineering at Adamson University in 1931. He would play hooky and hang around Filippine Films and in 1935, he was signed up to work for the film outfit as an all-around production man, handling everything from spotlights to wardrobe and even doing stunt work. He also dabbled in acting, the job he came to love most. His first bit role was in the movie “Sa Tawag ng Diyos” helmed by Carlos Vander Tolosa, courtesy of a recommendation from Don Danon (stepbrother of Rosa Rosal, another half-Kapampangan actress).

Manuel ended his studies at Adamson and opted for a stable job with Marsman and Co. In 1938, he married Julita Salazar, a beautician, with whom he would have seven children, all named Manuel. The only girl in the brood was named Manuela. While with Marsman, he continued to moonlight as a performer, this time as ventriloquist with Borromeo Lou’s vaudeville troupe. He bought a dummy doll and renamed him Kiko Tolosa. Since it was difficult for the ventriloquist to say “Urbano”, he changed his last name to “Conde”, giving birth to a screen name that he would always be known for.

His foray into directing was a result of a missed opportunity, when, in 1938, he missed his boat to Java where he had been taken in to work as a mining prospector because he got drunk the night before. Director Carlos Vander Tolosa found himself an assistant director in the person of Manuel Conde, and in 1939, their film, “Giliw Ko” was released. Recognizing his worth, the producer Doña Sisang de Leon offered him his first directorial job, “Sawing Gantimpala” an LVN super production in 1940. Thus began a flourishing career as a successful director of renown.

He was well-known for his costumed fantasies for LVN, including “Ibong Adarna”, “Principe Tiñoso” and “Principeng Hindi Tumatawa”, which was based on a story by Doña Aurora Quezon. He struck out on his own in 1947 by forming his own MC Productions and came up with the very popular “Juan Tamad” series, which poked fun at the post-war Pinoy foibles. He worked with the future National Artist and good friend Carlos “Botong” Francisco in designing the look of his films. He followed his first “laffterpiece” with “Juan Daldal (Anak ni Juan Tamad)", but continued doing swashbuckling fanstasies like “Prinsipe Paris” and “Siete Infantes de Lara” in 1950 where he introduced a Mabalaqueña ingénue, Gracita Dominguez, the first wife of Dolphy.

That same year, Manuel started “Genghis Khan”, a result of his fascination with the great conqueror of Asia. He played the title role, supported by Elvira Reyes as Princess Lei Hai. Manuel shot the movie on a modest budget of P125,000, renting puny calesa horses to save money and shooting in Guadalupe for the rocky mountain scenes. It was premiered at the Times Theater in Quiapo on 7 November 1950 and turned out to be a dud, closing after 4 days. It did win the “Most Popular Motion Picture Award” in a 1951-52 poll conducted by The Herald and Manuel himself would reap a slew of acting and directorial awards, that earned him a Hollywood trip as part of his prize.

This led to a screening of Genghis Khan in Hollywood and the reaction to his film was very positive. In August 1952, the film was submitted for consideration at the Venice Film Festival. From among 780 film entries, Genghis Khan was chosen as one of 20 films to vie for awards at the prestigious film fest, a first for the Philippines. Though it did not win, Genghis Khan made waves and emerged as one of the most popular movie of the annual festival. The movie would be exhibited later in Salzburg, and in 1953, was screened at the Edinburgh Fil Festival where, once again, it thrilled audiences.

United Artists bought the film for distribution around the world, where it would later be dubbed in 16 languages and earning 17 million dollars.

Returning from his triumphant conquest of Europe, Manuel made more hits for LVN and for his own film outfit like “Ikaw Kasi”, “Handang Matodas” (starring Nestor de Villa and Nida Blanca), “Bahala Na”, “Krus na Kawayan” and “Bayanihan”. But it was his second series of Juan Tamad movies filmed from 1959-63 that would prove his mettle as an effective political and social commentator through films. The 3 Juan Tamad classics, “Juan Tamad Goes to Congress”, “Juan Tamad Goes to Society” and “Juan Tamad at Juan Masipag sa Pulitikang Walang Hanggan” entertained audiences while making critical statements about local Philippine culture, challenging traditions and taking swipe at political and laughable social practices.

Two years after his last Juan Tamad film, Manuel ran unsuccessfully for congressman of the 3rd District of Manila. In 1973, his son Jun Urbano directed him in the remake of “Siete Infantes de Lara”. He was forced out of his retirement in 1974 to direct the Lapu-Lapu episode of the NMPC-produced “Tadhana: Ito ang Lahing Pilipino”, but the historical epic meant to flag the Marcoses’ New Society was never shown to the public.

“Juan Tamad” was resurrected briefly as a TV series in 1979 and the following year, he appeared as the elder Juan Tamad to Niño Muhlach in the film “Juan Tamad Jr.”. He was inducted in the Filipino Film Directors’ Chapter of the Artists Hall of Fame for his lifetime contributions. He likewise was given the “Patnubay ng Kalinangan Award” from the Mayor of Manila in 1984. Manuel Conde, the Filipino movie great who showed the way for Filipino films to win international acclaim, passed away at age 69 on 11 August 1985.

POSTSCRIPT: After a successful stint as a commercial director, Jun Urbano reinvented himself as Mr. Shoo-Li, the Mongolian TV character from “Champoy” that was obviously inspired by Genghis Khan. Like “Juan Tamad” before him, Mr. Shoo-Li made wacky commentaries about the Philippine socio-political scene and gained nationwide popularity just like his father’s creation.

(Source: The Cinema of Manuel Conde, Nicanor Tiongson, University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2008)


LOYAL SENIORS CLASS OF 1948. Mission accomplished for this post-war batch of graduates of Holy Angel Academy. Included in this group is my mother, Estrella del Rosario, and the daughter of the school founder, Teresita Nepomuceno (Wilkerson), the class salutatorian. 1948, Author's Collection.

It is said that no Kapampangan home is complete without a Holy Angel diploma hanging somewhere on a wall. For over 75 years, the school has educated, nurtured and inspired generations of Kapampangans thirsty for knowledge, changing not just their lives, but the life of their communities as well. In an extraordinary way, Holy Angel has become larger than its walls can contain, impacting the city’s history while contributing to the advancement of affordable education in the region.

The school started as Holy Angel Academy in 1933, founded by Don Juan D. Nepomuceno (1892-1973) and Msgr. Pedro S. Santos. Don Juan’s son, Javier, had been sent to La Salle in Manila for his high school education, but homesickness drove him back home to Angeles. He enrolled at the town’s only high school—Angeles Academy—but soon found himself facing problems such as the high cost of school supplies and the daily ten centavo commute via calesa to the school.

Piqued by his son’s predicament, Don Juan realized the need for a high school (like Angeles Academy) that could provide Catholic education (like Holy Family Academy) with high academic standards (like Pampanga High School). Above and beyond this, he also envisioned a hometown school that offered affordable, accessible education, so that children need not be sent to Manila, to live away from their families, like what Javier experienced.

The Commission on Private Schools approved the application for the opening of the high school. Except the proposed names—either St. Joseph Academy or Holy Rosary Academy—which had already been taken by other schools. Fr. Santos recommended “Holy Angel”, after the town patron, which was approved. Thus Holy Angel Academy, the first Catholic school administered by laypersons was born, temporarily housed in a building on the side of the Holy Rosary Church.

The tuition fee for 1st year students was 4 pesos monthly, 5 pesos for sophomores and 6 pesos for junior and senior year level. The first students of Holy Angel were transfer students from Angeles Academy, including Javier. Ricardo Flores, former history teacher of Javier at Angeles Academy, was taken in as part of the faculty and he would later play a significant role in running the affairs of a growing school. The first teachers also included Miss Encarnacion Aranda, who multi-tasked as a physics, biology and math teacher. Don Juan taught a special Spanish course, free to all students of Holy Angel. Holy Angel Academy also offered Night School to accommodate Clark Air Base employees who wished to earn a high school diploma.

In October 1941, the school moved to its new building with its signature columns, designed by architect Marino Valdes. The coming World War forced the closure of the school, re-opening after the liberation in June 1945. The first collegiate courses—Normal (Teacher Education) and Commerce—were offered in 1948, paving the way for the institution of Holy Angel College in 1961. Twenty years later, it finally achieved a university status. In 8 March 1982, the Archbishop of San Fernando, Oscar Cruz, named Holy Angel University a Catholic University. The Commission on Higher Education cited Holy Angel as one of the top universities of the country in 2001.

In more recent years, Holy Angel University faced challenges from all fronts, including student unrest, boycotts, faculty strikes and a volcanic eruption. Through it all, Holy Angel survived and thrived, upgrading services and expanding facilities that included the organization of the Center for Kapampangan Studies (2002), the opening of the College of Nursing (2002), the inaugurations of San Francisco de Javier Building that houses a world-class theater (2007) and the new Chapel of the Holy Guardian Angel (2009). Still under construction is the multi-storey St. Joseph building, the state-of-the-art future home of the College of Arts, Science and Education and the College of Information and Computer Technology.

Among Holy Angel’s outstanding alumni are Sec. Rizalino Navarro; the Very Rev. Silvestre Lacson, OSB, the first Filipino Benedictine prior; Right Rev. Tarcisio Ma. H. Narciso, the third Filipino Abbot; and Atty. Cesar L. Villanueva, Dean, College of Law, Ateneo de Manila University. But there are also thousands of ordinary Kapampangans who benefitted in more ways than one from their Holy Angel experience.

One of them was my late mother, Estrella del Rosario. As I sort out her old photo albums, I picked out this picture, the Loyal Seniors Batch of 1948. She was among the 458 who graduated that year, the biggest number thus far, in the school’s history. There she is on the front row, the first young lady on the left, proudly clutching her diploma. She would recall her days at Holy Angel, how they would escape to the fields at the back of the school with her friends, how her sister Gloring became Miss Sophomore, stories of endless soirees and programs, all fond recollections of her youth.

Many, many years later, as senior citizens, she would attend her annual high school reunions without fail, often hosted by their batchmate and salutatorian, Mrs. Teresita Nepomuceno-Wilkerson. She was looking forward to her 2009 reunion until she was felled by a sickness from which she would not recover. The Holy Angel family tradition was continued by my four siblings who chose to go to college in the city: Mike, Susan (Commerce), Eric (Political Science) and Momel (who, after finishing Med Tech from UST, enrolled at Holy Angel for a commerce degree). I, too, remember taking up summer classes at Holy Angel, a cross-enrollee from a Baguio school, a brief but an enjoyable period of my student life.

Holy Angel University has just celebrated its Diamond Year. Through good times and bad, it has remained true to its mission of providing quality yet affordable Catholic education for all. Mindful of its founders’ precious legacy, Holy Angel University today forges on, continuing what it does best: molding minds, shaping destinies, and making history.

Monday, December 21, 2009

*175. ROSA DEL ROSARIO: A Kapampangan Flies High as the 1st "Darna"

ROSA STAGNER, known to Philippine movie fans in the 40s and 50s as superstar Rosa del Rosario, the first 'Darna' (Filipina super hero). ca. 1930s.

In the 1960s, when my homework was done, I would go to the TV room with my pillow, and settle down to watch classic movie re-runs on this program called “Mga Aninong Gumagalaw” (Moving Shadows). The black and white films that enthralled me most were the “Darna” action-fantasy series, based on the hit comic character created by Mars Ravelo. The central character was a frail little girl named Narda, who, with the help of an enchanted stone, magically transformed into a high-flying, butt-kicking female nemesis of evil—Darna!

I was fascinated by this wonder woman, a smashing figure in a sexy outfit and a winged cap, ready to defend and protect the populace from every conceivable danger—from a plague of snakes led by Valentina to petrified tree trunks, impaktas, birdwomen and alien beings. She was cool, she had spunk, a rare personification of an empowered Filipina. And who else could portray such a larger-than-life super hero than a pretty Pampangueña—Rosa del Rosario?

The pre-war Queen of the Philippine Movies was born in Bacolor, Pampanga on 15 December 1919 as Rosa Stagner, the daughter of Agustina Del Rosario and American Frank Stagner. Frank brought his growing family to Manila and it was in the bustling city where they settled. One of her children set up a dress shop business where 12 year-old Rosa would spend her idle time.

Her discovery was purely accidental. A foreign film director and her nurse dropped by the dress shop to inquire about the presence of a movie production outfit in the city. Rosa and her sister told the director about Malayan Motion Pictures, a leading Philippine cinema company at that time. Malayan was founded by Jose Nepomuceno, acknowledged today as the “Father of Philippine Movies”. The sisters volunteered to arrange an appointment with the Nepomucenos in their behalf.

When Mrs. Nepomuceno saw the Stagner girls, she was immediately taken by the budding beauty of Rosa. She immediately obtained Rosa’s permission to cast her in her very first movie—“Ligaw na Bulaklak”. The next day, Rosa was fetched by a car and driven to a location shoot to meet her co-star, Carlos Padilla, who was cast as her father. For her screen name, she took her mother’s surname and was billed as Rosa del Rosario. Her long and legendary movie career had just started.

In the next few years, Rosa del Rosario enthralled movie fans with her presence, appearing in hit after hit with debonaire leading men that included her kabalen, Lubeño Rogelio dela Rosa and Leopoldo Salcedo, the great profile. She made a number of movies with Leopoldo: the zarzuela-based Walang Sugat (1939), Kundiman ng Luha (1950) and historical bio-flick, Tandang Sora, which she considers her favorite.

Rosa also became one of the early Filipinos to break into Hollywood. She was so famous in the Philippines that when an American director came to cast an Asian for his Hollywood movie, it was Rosa whom he sought out. She appeared in the film classic, “Anna and the King of Siam” in 1939 (to be redone as the musical “The King and I”, as one of the king’s wives. She also appeared in the “The Border Bandits” and “The American Guerrila”.

But it is her role as “Darna” that is invariably associated with her—even if other actresses—Liza Moreno, Vilma Santos, Gina Parreño, Anjanette Abayari, Nanette Medved, among others-- have also essayed that part through the years. As the first “Darna”, she learned to “fly” suspended from a helicopter, doing her own stunts and choreographing her own fighting moves. She shot her physically-demanding scenes all over Manila, in Quiapo as well as in scenic Bulacan. Her famous hand-to-hand combat atop a mountain with Valentina, the Pinay medusa played by American-bred Cristina Aragon, was one pivotal and spectacular scene I will never forget--it was not just a case of good triumphant evil, but also a dramatization of beauty with a purpose!

In the late 50s, Rosa chose to move to the United States with her husband, John Samit, and her two daughters, Geraldine and Teresa. She settled in San Francisco, California where she lived for many years. She returned to the Philippines in the early ‘80s to accept the “Walang Kupas Award” (Unfading Luster Award), the ultimate recognition for movie personalities who have made their indelible marks on Philippine cinema. Rosa lived to see the role she originated, immortalized as a blockbuster TV serial, as a musical and even as a ballet show. Rosa del Rosario, the half-Kapampangan star who rose above the rest as the first Filipina superhero on the silver screen, passed away on 4 February 2006, in Modesto, California, age 87.


THE GATHERING. The Del Rosario siblings, children of Emilio del Rosario and Josefa Valdez, Felicisima Castro and Florentina Torres, pose with their families in the 1956 Del Rosario event of the year.

This picture of the large Del Rosario clan used to hang in the living room of our old Mabalacat home before it was torn down and the contents packed and stored away. My mother was sure proud of this picture as she had it framed, a reminder that she was once a genuine Angeleña, born and raised in Kuliat, until circumstances led her to live for a few years in Zaragoza, Nueva Ecija (as a companion to her priest-brother) and in Hermosa, Bataan (as a nanny to an American couple). But it was to Angeles that she would always return, comfortable around his many brothers and sisters and always proud of her Del Rosario roots.

The earliest Del Rosario in our family tree is one Anacleto del Rosario (fl. late 1790s) , who became the second husband of Maria Arcadia Henson. Maria Arcadia was the youngest child of Severino Henson, a Chinese mestizo, and Placida Paras of San Fernando; an elder brother was Mariano, the first Filipino lay Doctor of Laws and a husband of Juana Ildefonso de Miranda, daughter of the founders of Culiat, the future Angeles.

Anacleto and Maria Arcadia had 6 children, and the eldest, Pablo del Rosario married Luisa de Ocampo. From this union, seven children were born, and the fourth son, Cornelio, married a relative, Juana Henson de Ocampo. Cornelio and Juana would populate the family tree with 10 children, one of whom was Emilio del Rosario (b. 2 Sept. 1878/ d. 7 Sept. 1947), my maternal grandfather.

My Ingkung Milyu married not once, but three times, siring a family that totaled to about 20 children, including those who died in infancy. The Del Rosario kids were thus identified as products of pregnancies from the “mumunang atyan” (Josefa Valdes), “pangadwang atyan” (Felicisima Samia Castro) and “pangatlung atyan” (Florentina Torres).

Fifteen survived to adulthood and raising all of them was a supreme challenge for my Ingkung Milyu whose only source of income in the 1930s was a parcel of land in Sapa Libutad, which he tilled and planted with rice and sugar. The early deaths of his two wives (Apung Sepa and Apung Simang) further complicated matters as the children were left motherless at a young age.

My Ima only has haze memories of her mother, Apung Simang, who died of a heart ailment. She was just about 3 or 4 years old then, so she and her siblings were “loaned” to kind relatives who took care of them as if they were their own. But it is to my Ingkung’s credit that all his children grew up with a strong sense of family; when the eldest brood finished their studies and became professionals, they took over in supporting their younger half-siblings, treating them no differently, and always with love and affection. Even as adults, and with their own families, the Del Rosario siblings were always ready to lend a hand to a brother or a sister in need, be it in the form of financial help, moral guidance or a a piece of wise advice.

This particular picture, taken possibly in mid 1956, shows the Del Rosarios gathering in full force for a grand family reunion, although I remember my Ima saying that it also coincided with her older brother’s birthday-- I can’t recall who that was. In any case, here we see the Del Rosario siblings almost complete, many in their prime with careers flourishing and families established.

My five uncles, children of my Ingkung’s first marriage with Josefa Valdez are seated in the middle row, starting with the third bespectacled man from the left, Tatang Dadong, followed by Tatang Curing and a brother -in-law, Patrocinio Feliciano. Tatang Maning, Tatang Pabling and Tatang Anding complete the eldest set.

Second wife Felicisima Castro gave my Ingkung the following children: eldest son Tatang Carling (seated after T. Anding) and next to him, Tatang Ato, the youngest. Their sisters are standing on the back row. Ninth from left is Mang Susing, Mang Maring and Mang Glo. My mother, Mang Ester (or Ecteng, as she was fondly called), stands rightmost, flashing a big smile.

The final set of offsprings with Florentina Torres are likewise here, Tatang Andy, the 2nd man seated from the left, and Mang Baby, the young lady standing leftmost of the picture. Tatang Norli and Redentor are not in the picture.

Sadly, the original Del Rosario brood has diminished in number over time. The first children of the first marriage have all gone to the Great Beyond, with Tatang Maning’s passing in 1987. All missed too are the children of the second marriage—my Ima joined his siblings only this year (2009) in June. The third and last set of children remains intact, with four Del Rosarios left as keepers of the flame.

As I stare at the familiar smiling faces of my Del Rosario uncles and aunts, mothers and fathers, brothers, sisters, and cousins at this reunion 53 years ago, I am struck with a realization that what I have is more than just a souvenir photo; in my hands, I am holding tangible memories of several Del Rosario generations, some dead, some living, bound by blood and history. Each face remembered and recognized triggers a rush of fond and pleasant recollections, in a time when our cares and fears seemed a world away, when all that mattered was being one big and complete family. Long live and prosper, Del Rosarios!


ASSUMPTIONISTAS OF PAMPANGA. Alumni of Assumption Academy gather for a post-war reunion at the hallowed school grounds of the school that would be the pre-cursor of the St. Scholastica's Academy. Dated 1947.

The school that would be the predecessor of St. Scholastica’s Academy in San Fernando was founded as a parochial high school in June 1925 in the house of the Singians. The Singians were prominent Fernandinos that intermarried with the similarly extended Dayrit and Hizon clans. They generously offered their residence to the school that was known as Assumption Academy of Pampanga, under the auspices of Msgr. Prudencio David. The school was administered by Benedictine sisters and offered primary and intermediate general courses for Kapampangan students.

Five years later, the school produced its first graduates, and soon, Assumption Academy found favor among Fernandino families for its quality of education. Enrollment was brisk and in 1931, the school was relocated to its second site in Barangay Sta. Teresita (at the back of the church of San Fernando).

By 1933, the Academy was offering special courses like Music, with Piano as its field of specialty. Modern languages like Spanish, German and French were also taught. Typing and clerical subjects popular choices too, and so were the Art courses that included Painting, Drawing and Embroidery. Meanwhile, kindergarten classes continued to be open for both boys and girls. In 1938, the ownership was transferred to the Benedictine Sisters, making it the third school in the province to be ran by this order, after the Holy Family Academy of Angeles (formerly the Colegio de la Sagrada Familia) and Saint Mary’s Academy of Bacolor.

During World War II, the school was used as a military hospital, and so remained unscathed. In 1966, Assumption was renamed Saint Scholastica’s Academy and has been known by that name since. Floods in 1972 caused major damages to the school, prompting the transfer of St. Scholastica to higher ground, along McArthur Highway, where it has become one of the city’s landmarks.

Fondly called by its nickname, “St. Scho”, it counts well-known “kulasas” like Myrna Panlilio (the very first “Bb. Pilipinas” 1964), Anicia del Corro (Kapampangan language expert) and Ma. Theresa “Cherith” Dimson Dayrit-Garcia (honor graduate-turned militant killed in an NPA raid in Isabela) as among its graduates. Today, St. Scholastica’s Academy of San Fernando continues to operate and provide well-rounded education to a new generation of Kapampangan students, molding their Christian character while equipping them with knowledge and skills to meet the exciting challenges of the future.

Monday, December 14, 2009


SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME. A Kapampngan yaya holds one of the newborn twins of an American military wife stationed at Camp Stotsenburg, ca. 1924. From a private album.

Our family was a big one; we were eight in all—six boys and two girls. My paternal grandfather too, lived with us in a big house with a big yard that demanded regular cleaning and upkeep. My stay-at-home mother was an excellent cook and a thorough house cleaner, so in those departments, she was pretty much self-sufficient. But in hushing crybabies and running after unruly kids, my harassed mother needed obvious help, and so the family decided to hire ‘yayas’ for high maintenance babies, that included me.

As a baby, I had delicate health and was very fussy, and that’s how Atching Daling came into my life—my own personal nanny or simply, my “maningat”. I still have a couple of pictures of me and Atching Daling, although I can’t recall our first meeting. In one taken in Baguio, I was a 10 month old baby in her arms, looking very much like a hyperactive child who can’t keep still. I was told by my late Ima that I was a sensitive child, prone to tantrums and crying fits, and I could only imagine the stress and torture I subjected my Atsing Daling to. I must have tried her patience to the bones, for she left right after I learned to walk. But she would come back periodically to our old Mabalacat house and check on me, until grade school.

Then, as now, househelps with specialized “children” skills were sought after by large families of means. Chinese ‘amahs’ offered their services to take care of infants and toddlers, and some even worked as nursemaids. Expatriated American families stationed in Camp Stotsenburg employed not just local ‘yayas’, but also live-in Japanese and Chinese maids who traveled with them wherever they were assigned.

My father himself, had his own ‘maningat’, a thin, dark but feisty old woman he called Atsing Buru (short for Ambrosia), who looked like Aling Otik, but whom we addressed as Ati Bo. My father’s family recognized the invaluable years of service Ati Bo rendered and so she was rewarded with a home of her own at the back of our house when she got married. Even with her own two daughters to care for, Ati Bo would always be on-call, ready to assist the household in whatever capacity. When our parents had to go to Manila, Ati Bo would be asked to look after us in their absence. She would also be tasked to help in the cooking and preparation of fiesta food—stirring inuyat (molasses), wrapping bobotu (local tamales) and serving guests.

On the other hand, my Ima also had a short stint as a nanny of an American toddler, a child of a military couple based in Bataan. She hardly spoke of this phase in her life, but I am sure it prepared her for her life ahead as a mother, equipping her with skills to care for a brood of whiny children. But then, a super busy mother could only take so much.

And so, the nannies continued to come. We had Belen, our chubby yaya from Tarlac whom we sincerely loved; she was not just an excellent all-around help, but was also a nice playmate, always willing to take on the role of a captive hostage while us Cowboys roped and terrorized her. We also had a male nanny, Boy by name, the son of another househelp from my mother’s side of the family. His basic duties were to bring and fetch us from school, feed our meals and look after our toilet needs. Come playtime, he was expected to play with us, and I remember him gathering spiders and insects for our amusement. Poor Boy was also in charge of rocking our hammock to make us sleep, but more often than not, he would slumber first.

When you are young and self-absorbed, you can never fully realize how cruel life could be for some people, ‘yayas’ included. Looking back now, our ‘yayas’ led difficult lives, victims of circumstances, of poverty, trapped in an eternal cycle of debt and servitude. Boy’s three siblings for instance, were dumped in our house by their mother, forced to work for us to pay for her debt. They were only kids just like us, but instead of enjoying their childhood, they ran errands and worked odd jobs for long, lonely hours. In the case of Belen, she was uprooted from her family at a young age, out of a desperate desire to help her parents. Transplanted in Pampanga, she worked for us while battling homesickness.

It’s not too far a stretch, but somehow, my ‘yaya’ stories remind me of the same personal sacrifices that modern-day OFW domestics go through in their search for greener pastures. Each day, thousands of would be-yayas leave their own children behind to care for somebody else’s babies in strange, distant lands, sometimes, under a punishing work culture that can drive anyone to the edge.

Looking back, if only I had that kind of heightened awareness then, I would have been kinder to our house helps. I would have cried a little less, curbed my tongue and made fewer “sumbongs” (telling on adults) to my father, who was rather severe with them . But then I was just a little, bratty kid, who believed that the world should be designed me and me alone. Every now and then, I often wonder what had become of Atsing Daling, Belen and Boy and all the other househelps who spent a good part of their lives in our family’s service. I hope it’s not too late for me to say “Dakal a salamat kekongan” (Many thanks to you all) and I sincerely wish that you found the good future you have all been searching and woking hard for.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

*171. Where The Treetop Glistens: A HOME FOR THE HOLIDAYS

O CHRISTMAS TREE. O CHRISTMAS TREE. This native home is spruced up for the holidays with Christmas symbols like the ornamented Christmas tree and a Santa Claus cut-out, introduced by America, which in turn, were adapted from Europe. ca. 1920s.

One of the holiday traditions we observe is decorating the house to give it a festive look and liven up the merry season. We only started getting serious in the late 60s, when our mostly wooden house underwent a major facelift. While our house was still a far cry from those featured on the pages of Country Living, we felt it deserved a better “interior decoration”, especially for Christmas.

Before that, our holiday décor were all home-made—the lopsided parol hanging in our front window was just my brother’s industrial arts project, while I did the wall treatment. One year, I fashioned anahaw fans into the Three Kings, following the instructions from a craft magazine, to deck our living room wall. My eldest sister took care of the Christmas tree, which she always made from found objects—chicken wire, tree branches, crochet strings.

Christmas of ’71 was truly special to me because for the first time, we finally had a tinsel Christmas tree bought from Clark Field. It was a 4-foot tree with silver metal branches that you stick into a central pole. It came with a plastic angel tree topper and assorted ornaments, but the piece de resistance was the string of lights that my Father arranged around the tree, blinking , twinkling and dazzling the branches with rainbow colors. The only drawback was that the metal tree conducted electricity and once in a while, you get jolted by mild electric shocks. I think that tree lasted for years!

The many symbols of Christmas that we use to decorate our home are mostly of Western origin. The decorated tree for example, originated in Germany, where evergreens were used. This tradition found its way to America and the practice was cascaded down to its colonies and our Islands. Baguio had the advantage of having evergreen trees, but lowland Filipinos improvised by making do with what was available, oftentimes resulting in unique, reinvented trees.

I remember my sister fashioning a Christmas tree from twigs on which soapsuds were applied and allowed to dry to give it a fake “snowy” look. I also remember a year when “walis tingting” tree became the rage. Spray-painted and put in a pot, the “tree” was stringed with paper chains and decorated with old Christmas cards and palara stars. On the other hand, to make string Christmas tree, one had to trace a circle on a piece of plywood, the outline of which was marked with thumb tacks. A white gantsilyo (crochet) thread was tied to one tack, looped around a hook on the ceiling, then pulled taut to be tied on the next tack, until a conical shape was formed. Usually, before the process is completed, a paper belen (the pop-out variety available from a commercial bookstore) was set inside the circle as a centerpiece.

Jolly Old Saint Nicholas—or Santa Claus—had his beginnings in Europe. The Dutch speak of a hoary, thin man in red and white named Sinte Klass. Washington Irving create the image of the chubby, pipe-smoking gift-giver, but he gave it the size of an elf. In 1822, Dr. Clement C. Moore wrote the poem, “A Visit from Saint Nicholas” which further bolstered the popularity of this Christmas figure. It took the cartoonist Thomas Nast to define the look of Santa that we all recognize today: roly-poly, rosy-cheeked, with a long, white beard, in a costume trimmed with fur, topped by a red hat and with a bell in hand.

The figure of Santa Claus easily captivated Filipinos and eventually became part of our pop culture. I remember the Christmas motorcades that originated from Clark Field, which were always highlighted by a candy-throwing Santa Claus—actually, a fat military man dressed in a red and white costume. There have been attempts to make a Pinoy version of Santa, but the idea never took off. Santa’s European alter ego, however—Kris Kringle—gave its name to the practice of secret gift-giving, popular in many schools, also known as “manito-manito”.

In the West, the Star of Bethlehem as a design motif was used on early greeting cards as well as on trees as tree toppers. But it is here in the Philippines that the star was successfully translated into native décor that has become Pampanga’s signature: the parol. Parols for the home were simple enough—five pointed stars made from bamboo sticks wrapped in papel de japon and trimmed with palara (metallic paper). The characteristic tails were made from the same, thin strips of fine Japanese paper. When one didn’t have the time or the budget, a paper lantern from colored cartolina would do. Cartolina circles were stapled together to form a simple, boxy parol which was accented by a single tail that rustled in the wind.

The most complex and spectacular parols however are the legendary star lanterns of San Fernando—virtual psychedelia in motion. The ingenious lantern makers also introduced the innovative “dinukit a parol”—in which cardboard layers were designed to give the illusion of an ornately carved lantern. In Angeles, expert kite makers dabbled also in lantern-making, creating therare and quaint fish-shaped lanterns with movable fin and tails to captivate the crowd during a procession.

The Christmas belen tradition in the country dates back to the Spanish times. St. Francis is credited with making the first manger scene in 1224. The idea spread to other European countries, and French became instant fans, creating wooden ‘creches’ for their homes. Back here, Filipino families had little Nino Dormidos carved, sleeping infant Jesus either of wood or precious ivory. The Nino was brought out from its altar and laid on a straw-lined manger to mark the days of the Nativity. In churches nationwide, the figure of Baby Jesus is held out by the priest, to be kissed by devotees right after the Christmas Midnight Mass.

Despite trying times, people continue to go on decorating sprees during the holidays, perpetuating a tradition that goes back ages. I need only to peek out from my 14th floor office window to see sculpted belens gracing building facades. The NLEX exits are once again bursting with the kaleidoscope colors of parols for sale. Christmas trees of twigs, Santa’s lighted silhouettes, wreaths and poinsettias, tinsels and tassels—all scream “Pasku na, pasku na…nananu ko pa?”. My heart sings. The sights fill me with the joyful spirit of the Season.


Monday, November 9, 2009

*170. His High School Yearbook: VICENTE ALVAREZ DIZON

PORTRAIT OF AN ARTIST AS A HIGH SCHOOLER. Vicente Alvarez Dizon, th future art professor and world-class painter, as he appeared on his 1924 National University Yearbook, aged 19 years old.

On the last day of the annual antique and collectibles fair of Greenhills, I had expected to find only “crumbs” left by collectors and dealers, with the best pieces already picked and sold. Indeed, that was what I felt when I got into the section of the mall where the dealers had their stalls. I initially saw only old bottles, records, vintage newspapers, old coins and paper bills—which were not exactly my interest. In one stall that specialized in old books and paper items, I picked up a thin 1924 National University yearbook with a new red binding. The cover identified the previous owner as Dr. Gaudencio de los Reyes. I scanned a few pages and I thought I might find use for this yearbook one day; besides, at one hundred pesos, it was a steal. I paid for the yearbook-- my one and only purchase—and took a taxi home.

1924 NATIONAL UNIVERSITY HIGH SCHOOL YEARBOOK. Designed and illustrated by Vicente Alvarez Dizon, Class of 1924.

Inside the cab, I flipped through the pages again, this time, more carefully—and there, on page 35, I found the picture of 19 year old Vicente Alvarez Dizon (b. 5 April 1905), a noted Kapampangan painter, the artist that history almost forgot. Born in Malate of Kapampangan parents, this 1928 U.P. fine arts graduate went on to become a professor of drawing and art appreciation (a course he pioneered) at the National Teachers’ College, a position he held till 1941. He later earned a study grant at the Yale University.

A year after his college graduation, he married Maria Ines Lutgarda Henson of Angeles, whom he met while she was studying at St. Scholastica in Manila. The couple had 7 children, and two of them—Daniel and Josefina—went on to follow their father’s footsteps by becoming respected artists in their own right.

As an artist, Vicente maintained an art studio in Manila and in his Angeles residence where his customers, many American soldiers from Clark Field, would ask him to draw portraits and cards to be sent to their loved ones back in the U.S. mainland. His biggest claim to fame however winning an important art contest held at the Gallery of Science and Art at the 1939 Golden Gate Exposition in San Francisco, California. He placed first in the International Competition on Contemporary Art participated in by painters from 79 countries with his opus, “After A Day’s Toil”. What made his triumph more significant was that he bested the entries of surrealist Salvador Dali and impressionist Maurice Utrillo. Dali’s piece entitled “Enigmatic Elements in Landscape” was relegated to second place.

Vicente’s winning painting showed a Filipino family homeward bound from the fields, including a woman, two men and a boy, a dog and chickens passing by a lake fringed with lush tropical foliage and with mountains rising from the distance. The painting was exhibited worldwide and went on display at the IBM Gallery of Fine Arts.

However, his most dramatic works were done during the Japanese Occupation, secretly recording the difficult life under a repressive regime. He painted such emotional-filled works like “Strafed Civilians”, “Evacuees on the Move” and “The Fall of Intramuros”, painted in 1945, that depicted the destruction of this hallowed part of Manila. Because of his talent, he was invited to work as an artist and historical assistant at Clark Field in August 1945. The war years took a toll on his health and Vicente died on 19 October 1947. He was just 42.

The precious find that I now hold in my hands speak volumes of the young Vicente’s artistic skills as well as his life, interests and character as a teen-ager. He singlehandedly designed, laid out and illustrated the pages which he neatly signed with “V.A.Dizon ‘24”. The book listed his place of residence as “Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija”, as his father, Jose Dizon, was assigned there at that time as an agricultural inspector. His whole entry in the 1924 yearbook reads:

“A promising gentleman of Cabanatuan, the favorite ‘hijo’ of Mrs. Ylagan. The ‘Liwayway’ and the class artist, once the Vice President of the Alpha-Beta Club and the piccoloist of the National Jazz Band. Tall, handsome, graceful ‘feller’ is he of fresh nineteen. He is studious, clever, proud but not a parasite. He reads like a lightning flash and talks like a thunderbolt. He is silent but beware of his silence for he is a breaker of feminine hearts”.

Who would think that in 15 years’ time, this Kapampangan teen-ager would grow to become a world-class artist with his stunning victory in San Francisco? Yet, he was largely unsung, having died young, his repute forgotten through the years. It was only in February 2001 that his legacy was honored by the Committee on Culture with a retrospective exhibit of his works at the UP Library Art Gallery. Of him, kabalen and National Artist Galo Ocampo has this to say: “Mr. Dizon’s place in contemporary Philippine art is already known. He belongs to a field distinctly his own. He is the Filipino Kenyon Cox, preaching the gospel of art among the masses..”

Monday, November 2, 2009


RURAL HEALTH PERSONNEL AND OFFICIAL STAFF, at a get-together X'mas party in Arayat, Pampanga. 21 Dec. 1955.

When the Americans came to colonize our country, they were shocked at the state of our public health. There were no sanitary toilets, people tended to defecate everywhere, and the sewage system was non-existent. They actually believed that we were a contaminated race. The there was the tropical climate which American scientists and doctors at first believed was hazardous to the health.

Diseases like dysentery, cholera, beri-beri, malaria and parasitism plagued the country, and Pampanga was not spared. In 1902, a severe cholera hit almost all the municipalities of the province, causing thousands of deaths. Then, in 1918, dengue fever reached Pampanga, part of a global pandemic. That same year, southern Pampanga was hit by smallpox and it was said that the casualties were so great that the tolling of bells was prohibited so as not to cause further alarm.

With such grave threats, Americans went on a vigorous campaign to educate Filipinos, introducing massive public health programs to improve their personal hygiene, sanitation practices and social conduct. Through intensified disciplining of the native’s bodily custom and habit, American physicians believed that Filipinos might eventually become capable of self-rule.

Public health services initially depended on army doctors until civilians—including American teachers—came along. They organized municipal and provincial health boards that initiated such projects as “Clean-Up Week”, setting up of toilets in railroad stations and inspection of boticas and livestock. As if their work is not enough, these personnel also had to supervise vaccinations all over the province.

Americans found willing help in Kapampangan doctors and medical professionals like Dr. Francisco Liongson, a prominent Spanish-trained physician who served as a member of the provincial health board. An artesian well program was also undertaken in 1906. The creation of new sources of fresh and clean water supply resulted in the drastic drop of the incidence of cholera. Leprosy, too, was completely eradicated in the province by 1909.

When the health boards were Filipinized during the Taft years, Kapampangan doctors efficiently ran the public health service programs. In 1912, with the reorganization of the Public Health Services (the future of Department of Health), Pampanga was divided into nine sanitary districts, headed by a physician. These exponents of health finally got themselves organized in 1933 when the Pampanga Medical Association was formed through the leadership of Pampanga’s most famous surgeon, Dr. Gregorio Singian.

In 1931, Pampanga inaugurated its own modern, 2-storey, 50 bed hospital. It was well equipped with an operating room and a laboratory. Another hospital, owned by the Pampanga Sugar Mills at Del Carmen, was established exclusively for its employees. With all these advancements, the health of Kapampangans considerably improved by 1932 with an average of 20.7 deaths reported per 1,000 population—compared to 27 in 1921. Infant mortality was down to 172.5 per 1,000—one of the lowest in the country-- as opposed to 372 in 1920.

Just two years later, in 1934, the Tydings-McDuffie Act was approved, finally promising self-government to Filipinos after a transitional period of 10 years. Could our improved health and revitalized constitution had something to do with it? If that were so, then indeed, health rules!


DANTE RIVERO AND A FAMILY OF FANS. So here's the whole starstruck clan with a souvenir photo of the Kapampangan male lead of "Mga Tigre ng Sierra Cruz", shot in my granduncle's house in 1974. My gushing mom sits to the left of Rivero, while my sis Susan is the little girl peeking over his head. I am next to Susan, with glasses. Mike, my younger brother, in white shirt and khaki pants, stands to the left. Some cousins and aunts travelled all the way from Manila to meet and greet the stars--including Vilma Santos.

We live right next to my granduncle’s 1924 mansion, an old, rambling two-storey house with a period look and a photogenic façade, located in Sta. Ines. It was no wonder then that a film outfit, Lea Productions, decided to rent the uninhabited Morales mansion for two days, to serve as a shooting location for the wartime movie, “Mga Tigre ng Sierra Cruz”, in the summer of 1974. This was no ordinary movie as it starred no less than the star for all seasons, Vilma Santos, still a teener at that time, whose Kapampangan roots were in nearby Bamban, Tarlac.

Of course, our whole family was consumed with excitement—and so was the whole Mabalacat town, as word got around that indeed, Ate Vi, was coming to town! Our family was mobilized by the producers to assist in ensuring a smooth, trouble-free shoot on the day of the filming which was to take place late at night. My father was even assigned to fetch Vilma Santos from her lodge in Dau and taken to the shooting venue through our house. But the moment the shooting lights went on, scores of town people appeared from nowhere to gawk at the cinematic goings-on.

Still, being relatives and the unofficial caretaker of the house, we—and a platoon of relatives who came all the way from Manila to stargaze-- had the front seats to the shooting. Director Augusto “Totoy” Buenaventura was in command the whole time, calling take after take. One Mabalacat girl was even lucky enough to be cast as an extra in one critical scene, earning the role of a housemaid. In that dining room scene, Japanese soldiers were supposed to be having a rowdy dinner. Enter, the Pinay househelp with more dishes of food. When the soldiers get fresh on her, she drops the plate-- a signal for the guerrilla fighters to attack the enemy. Some were even directed to spring from the banggerahan for the surprise raid. I felt that scene was simply awesome!

The best part of the shoot was meeting the stars of the movie in person. I became an instant Ate Vi fan when she obliged the townpeople gathered outside the gate with a personal appearance, waving her hands to the crowd below from the balcony. The whole town just went mad. Later, with my portable cassette recorder, I even managed to interview Ate Vi, asking how she could possibly retain her composure despite her stardom. I asked a lot of showbiz questions that would put Ricky Lo to shame. I kept playing our recorded conversations for months after that, until I lost the cassette tape.

Co-starring with Vilma in the movie was another Kapampangan, Dante Rivero (aka, Luisito Mayer Jr., from Floridablanca). Unlike Ate Vi who was always game, Dante was not too accommodating, brushing my request for interview with a terse “Can I talk later?”. But he took a shine to my cousin Beng, who later asked her for a date. I was also luckless with supporting actor Ruel Vernal, who intimidated me with his height. Charito Solis, a co-starrer, was unfortunately not part of any scenes that were for shooting here.

The next shooting day mostly had action scenes and vivid on my mind was the sight of Japanese soldiers rolling down the front stairs of the house, shot at by the fighting ‘tigres’ led by Rivero. I also remember staying up so late to watch the whole proceedings, retiring only after the shooting has packed up.

When it was all over, the house and its garden were a mess, with most of the flowering plants in the garden dead and trampled. Worse, when the movie was finally shown in local theaters after months of anticipation, the house was just seen on screen for a minute or so, I could barely recognize it. Even the part of the Filipina househelp played by a local Mabalacat girl was edited out, her 15 minutes of fame down the drain. I don’t think “Mga Tigre ng Sierra Cruz” made a killing in the box office, either.

Many shootings have been held at the grand Morales mansion since then—the most recent one was undertaken by U.P. film students in March 2009. But old folks who pass by the street still point to the old mansion and refer to it as “the house where they shot the movie ‘Mga Tigre ng Sierra Cruz’ starring Vilma Santos and Dante Rivero”. The magic of that cinematic moment of over 30 years ago still is remembered, enriching the history of the house. Now that’s entertainment!

Sunday, October 25, 2009


RAFAEL "PAENG" YABUT. Kapampangan radio announcer who made a name for himself in the 50s and 60s with his program "Tayo'y Mag-Aliw". He turned his entertainment
program into a fiery social commentary, earning him raves and rants.

The Radio as a new communication medium officially came to the Philippines in 1922 when a test broadcast was made by a Mrs. Redgrave from Nichols Air Field using a 5-watt transmitter. Early broadcasting was a strictly an American affair until the 1930s when local songs and program, started to be heard from KZIB, KZRH and KZRG Stations. In this new medium, the Kapampangan voice found its place, and our kabalens who animated the airwaves became welcome presences in every home with a transistor-- disseminating news, dispensing advice, making commentaries or simply spinning music to the avid listener.

The first organized commercial radio station was founded by a former war correspondent of Mutual Broadcasting Company named Robert Stewart. Together with his Kapampangan wife, Loreto Feliciano, Robert started the Republic Brodcasting Republic Broadcasting System (RBS), DZBB, DZFF and DZXX. Loreto did the marketing for the stations, and eventually, they would also establish Channel 7 in the 1960s. Robert would become “Uncle Bob” to many Filipino kids growing up in those years, the host of the popular children’s show, “Uncle Bob’s Lucky 7 Club”.

One of the earliest to join the radio bandwagon was Angelo Castro of Tarlac. A brother of former chief justice Fred Ruiz Castro, Angelo joined Manila Broadcasting Company at Insular Life Bldg. and was known as the “Good Time King”. In 1946, he became the chief announcer of Station KZOK. Under Pres. Carlos P. Garcia, he headed the Radio Department of the Office of the Press Secretary. Angelo’s sons, Angelo Castro Jr. (husband of June Keithley) and Naldie also became announcers.

The new broadcast medium was soon being discovered by advertisers as a channel to reach the masses efficiently, quickly. Philippine Manufacturing Company (PMC) was one of the first to sponsor Tagalog variety shows like "Ilaw ng Tahanan", "Gulong ng Palad", Dr. Ramon Selga and "Aklat ng Pag-ibig". But it was Tawag ng Tanghalan (Call of the Stage) that proved to be its longest-running hit. With Kapampangan Ben Pangan as its producer, the talent show started on DZBB with Dolphy and Panchito as hosts, but when PMC decided to bring the show on the road, Dolphy begged off due to his movie commitments. Lopito and Patsy—another Kapampangan-- took over and the rest is history.

Movie stars gravitated towards the radio as the broadcast industry boomed in the 50s. Rogelio de la Rosa, already an established star, hosted the early evening program, “Kasaysayang Panghapunan”. His brother Jaime, was on Camay Theater of the Air and Pista ng Caltex at DZBB. To complete the family act, 17 year old Mike Mallari, the 17 year-old son of Africa de la Rosa became the teen DJ for “Mailbag Jukebox”. Mike went on to bigger things and was eventually appointed as information officer for Gerry Roxas, Teofisto Guingona and a secretary of Pres. Fidel V. Ramos.

Other known Kapampangan personalities with radio experience include Artemio “Temyong” Marquez who wrote radio soaps for DZBC, his most popular being “Panata ng Puso”. Minda Feliciano of San Fernando also joined Eddie Mercado and Johnny Wilson at DZFM, only to resign and travel to Europe where she would meet and marry the actor Michael Caine. In 1953, Armando Datuin was hired at DZAQ and his voice would become associated with live shows, stars and prizes. Nick David, with his “basso profundo”, rose to become a popular narrator of dramas at DZXL. Meanwhile, Mila Balatbat from Sta. Ana, who started her radio career at age 15, found great success by becoming a successful independent producer of programs (a ‘blocktimer’) heard on DZRH, DZBB, DZAQ, DZMY.

But perhaps, the most influential and bombastic radio personality ever to emerge from radio’s golden years would undoubtedly be Rafael Yabut of Candaba. Fearless “Paeng” grew up in Tondo and started as a commercial reader for blocktimer Luz Mat Castro. During the Japanese occupation, he accepted an announcing job at Star Theater along Azcarraga. After Liberation, he became a barker for “Atomic Bomb”, a seedy, honky tonk place along Rizal Avenue.

In the late 1940s, he was offered by Hal Bowie, General Manager of MBC to do a daily Tagalog program called “Tayo’y Mag-aliw” (Let’s Have Fun). But instead of just providing pure entertainment, he made stinging news commentaries and impassioned attacks against certain elements and characters in the government. As a sort of ombudsman on air, he started attacking Pres. Qurino and praising Magsaysay. His program drew not only high listenership but also friends and foes alike. Soon, many Yabut wannabes like Benny Rebueno, Ernie Kimuyog and Abraham Cruz were imitating his fiery style.

By 1957, Yabut had accumulated so much pulling power as news commentator for DZRH that he was urged to run for president in 1957 against Carlos P. Garcia. Instead, he endorsed Manuel Manahan, then shifted to Jose Yulo. Both lost. For his political meddling and editorializing, Yabut was suspended from his broadcast work, leaving behind his high-rating programs like "Ruleta Musikal", "Tatlo Lamang", "Gumising sa Pagsikat ng Araw".

To complicate matters, Yabut’s second wife filed a bigamy case against him. But his most serious brush with death was when he was ambushed by a gunman along San Marcelino St., after his tirades against Philippine Charity Sweepstakes. He recuperated, joined DZFM, a government station, but by then his credibility was in tatters. After the People Power revolution, he joined DZBB, only to be assigned the graveyard shift. Not long after that, Paeng Yabut died.

The 1960s also saw the rise of a former seminarian from Minalin as the quintessential voice of news and current events. Orly Punzalan took the bus to Manila and auditioned for DZFM as a newscaster for the Department of National Defense. He passed the auditions and got a starting salary of 30 pesos a week, working with the likes of Jose Mari Avellana, Joonee Gamboa and Tita Muñoz. Making the transition to TV, he became a booth announcer for Channel 3 where he met and married Helen Vela.

Deep-voiced Bienvenido Parungao made his presence felt with his overly dramatic signature quips: “Oh, hindeeee!” and “Hangaaal!”. He became an announcer for DZAQ in 1966, an apt host for the program,”Ginoong Mananakot”. Taking on “Ben David” as a screen name, he was cast in “Da Best Show”, “Tang-Tarang-Tang” and “Buhay Artista”. His most famous character role is playing Hudas Iscariote to the hilt.

In 1961, Cesar Nocum auditioned for DZRM and got the job, only to be pirated by ABS-CBN. For his narrative program “Mga Kasaysayan sa Likod ng Langit”, he evolved the style of Eddie Ilarde, developing it into his signature snail-paced, monotonous delivery. Thus, “Kuya Cesar” was born. Rounding up our list of Kapampangan announcers with unforgettable voices is the broadcast dean of knowledge and trivia, Ernie Baron. He differentiated himself by developing an encyclopedic knowledge of every conceivable topic under the sun. His “Knowledge Power” ruled the airwaves until his passing in 2005.

Today, Pampanga has its own regional and community stations with some programs conducted in the Kapampangan language. This bodes well for the future of Kapampangan broadcasters, whose existence have been threatened by the coming of television, MTV and now, the internet. Contemporary Kapampangan radio personalities like Perry Pangan, Rox Peña, Max Sangil and Cecile Yumul continue to inform, delight, educate and keep me company as I drive through traffic or relax at home. Now who says video killed the radio stars?

Monday, September 21, 2009


THE DOCTOR AND HIS NURSE. Dr. Pacifico L. Panlilio M.D. and his wife, Marcelina P. Nepomuceno, an early nursing degree graduate, both belonged to well-known families from Pampanga.

The Panlilios of Mexico and the Nepomucenos of Angeles are two of the most prominent and biggest families of Pampanga, populating the province with their progeny who went on to become achievers, professionals, successful businessmen, visionaries and community leaders. So when two members from these distinguished families forged a union through marriage, their future was already considered written in the stars. Indeed, the marriage of Dr. Pacifico Panlilio y Lising and Marcelina Nepomuceno y Paras consolidated their individual successes to emerge as a power couple in Kapampangan society.

Marcelina was born on 9 August 1881, the daughter of Ysabelo Nepomuceno y Henson and Juana Paras y Gomez. Ysabelo’s parents were Pio Rafael Nepomuceno and Maria Agustina Henson. When it was time for Marcelina to pursue her ‘karera’, she chose to study the relatively new course of Nursing, first offered at the Escuela de Enfermeras of the Philippine General Hospital. As part of the earliest batches of nursing graduates, Marcelina thus earned her place as a pioneering Kapampangan Florence Nightingale in the field of medical service.

It was at PGH that Marcelina met fellow Kapampangan, Pacifico or Pepe, as he was known by his nickname. A son of Juan Panlilio and Feliciana Lising of Mexico, the young Pepe was born on 30 October 1880 and attended a local school under the tutelage of Don Felix Dizon. He was then sent off to San Juan de Letran for his secondary schooling, and upon completion in 1896, he enrolled at the University of Santo Tomas then to the newly established University of the Philippines, becoming a Doctor of Medicine in 1909.

While taking his internship at the San Lazaro Hospital from 1910-11, he became a Doctor de Sanidad at Meisic, Manila. By December 1910, he was named as a health inspector and the next year, he served as a District Officer of Sibul Spring. In late 1911, he was stationed at the Dispensary of the Philippine General Hospital. Dr. Panlilio was also a member of good standing of the Manila Medical Society, the Malthusian League of London, and later joined the Masonry.

After their wedding in January of 1912, the couple decided to return to their roots and settled in Pampanga. Don Pepe had the chance to serve his town, becoming its Doctor de Sanidad from 1918-20. They divided their time between Mexico and Angeles as the couple also had some real estate property there. They would eventually raise 4 children: Josefina Guillermina, Noemi Guia, Filadelfo and Vladimir Crisostomo. The good doctor could have accomplished more, but on 9 August 1934, he passed away at the age of 54.

The widowed Marcelina and her children stayed on permanently in Angeles, living a full life and dying at the age of 78 on 16 April 1959. In the late 1960s, the children developed the property of their parents, a wedding gift from Marcelina’s uncle, Don Juan Nepomuceno. The plot of land along Jesus Street was transformed into a subdivision known as Pacimar—from Pacifico and Marcelina—whose united names lived on in this city landmark.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

*165. INYANG MALATI KU: Growing Up Kapampangan

CHILDREN ONE AND ALL. Kapampangan kids pose as serious-looking passengers on a boat in this playful souvenir shot. Ca. 1920s.

Children were a prized possession in every Kapampangan family—to be doted on, cared for and pampered. Our innocent childhood years are perhaps, the most magical—when even the world revolved around you and your needs. The arrival of a newborn baby into this world was always a cause of great excitement, tinged with anxiety. In the days when medicos were scarce and hospitals were limited to urban centers thus rendering them inaccessible, babies were delivered by an “ilut” or a local midwife who was also capable of handling other medical emergencies. The chosen sponsors for the baby must give the “ilut” a small amount of money—“para imu” (for face washing), lest the child suffers from dirty eyes (‘muri”) for the rest of his life.

Children are a prized possession in every Kapampangan family—to be doted on, cared for and pampered. Our innocent childhood years are perhaps, the most magical, when even the world has to revolve around you—until such time you reach the age of reason. But, as an infant till your toddler years, you’ll find yourself the apple of everyone’s eye. At a baby’s baptism, it is the “tegawan” (sponsors) who spend for the baptismal gown, often of expensive lace and jusi.

Babies were delicately handled and treated to lots of tender loving care. For his amusement, silver bracelet rattles were worn on his wrist or ankle. When it came to feeding time, other than mother’s milk, only the best will do, like Bear Brand (“gatas osu”) and Milkmaid. A baby from an affluent family may have a wet-nurse or a “yaya” who made sure his daily needs are met—from regular “lampin” (cloth diaper) changes to naptime rituals that involve rocking the child on a “duyan” (hammock) fashioned from an old blanket.

So favored were babies and children, that when photography came into vogue, they became natural subjects, often dolled up in sailor’s outfits or Lord Fauntleroy costumes for the camera. Little girls were dressed in ribbons and curls, and were made to pose with their favorite dolls and playthings. A requisite portrait sitting involves nude babies atop a bed, a sofa, in a bassinet or in one weird instance, seated inside a giant shell.

All the pampering came to an abrupt end when the child attains school age, usually at age seven. A period of training, learning and stern discipline followed, in an unfamiliar school setting and under the watchful eye of a teacher-mentor. Here, children learn their ABCs by rote and through memorization. Those who failed to toe the line were subjected to corporal punishments. Common modes of disciplining kids included the stick or a paddle, kneeling on “balatung” (mongo) seeds or a sharp pinch on the ear—deemed cruel and unacceptable by today’s standards.

In his free time however, he gets to be his own carefree self, building his interactive skills through social games like piko, maro, tambubung and teks. But once back in his industrial arts or home economic class, however, the growing child is exposed to more adult skills like weaving, carpentry, sewing and cooking.

At home, lessons of discipline continued. A ‘bunsu” may have his privileges, but he has to defer to his “caca” for important decisions. Following a chain of command imposed by tradition, an older sibling wielded authority over a younger “kapatad”, disciplining him when the parents were not around to do so. Suddenly, his daily life, once unhampered by rules becomes more regimented and controlled. At 5 p.m, before the Angelus, his play hours must stop and he must trudge home if he is out on the street. Disobedience meant being subjected to scare tactics--"kunan naka ning Bumbay, kanan naka ning Aswang!" (the Bumbay will come and get you, the aswang will eat you..)

Things get more stressful when children reach pre-pubescent age. For boys, undergoing circumcision (‘tule”) is a painful rite of passage that is both inevitable and inescapable. For girls, the first ‘period’ is often accompanied by a mixed feeling of fear and confusion. At this time, the child ceases to be “cute”. In fact, he ceases to be a child, and instantly, he is treated as such. He inherits his brother’s long pants while she is a given a camison to wear beneath her regular clothes. It’s just a matter of time that paraphernalias like tweezers, Gilette blades, sebo de macho, tawas and Brilliantine pomade, make their appearance on their tocador.

When that happens, the magic and innocence of childhood disappear, as a new life phase begins opens: the wonderful world of adulthood. Welcome to the real world, kids!

Monday, September 7, 2009

*164. COURT AND SPARK: The Rituals of Courtship

WHEN BOY MEETS GIRL. Lovey-dovey couple pose for a romantic souvenir photo. This must have been a post-wedding snapshot. ca. 1920s.

When a Kapampangan swain found a possible object of his affection, he had to follow a certain modus operandi to win her heart, in a way that was acceptable to the mores of the times. Indeed, if our baintau wished to keep his good standing in society and win approval, then he had to follow and meet the standards of ‘pamaglolo’ rituals.

To signify his intentions, our young man would often use a go-between, maybe an acquaintance of the girl, to pave the way for an introduction and then some. If our dalaga showed a positive response, our baintau went ahead to set up a meeting. As it was unthinkable for a girl to contrive to meet elsewhere lest she incurs parental wrath, Sunday church visits as well as community events such as fiestas, were legitimate occasions to meet and greet. Our young man sat himself a few pews away from the girl, within her eyesight, so she could cast furtive glances at him.

After the service, he would linger around the girl, behaving much like a rooster in the presence of a hen. In fact, the verb “tandic” which describes this behavior, applied also to men “who is about to fall in love and is beginning to court and woo a lady”.

Our young man could also decide to be more formal and go “mamanikan”, in which an appointment is made with the girl for a home visit. Even then, the girl was always provided with a chaperone who lurked nearby so she could eavesdrop on their conversations. To throw a nosy chaperone off, however, our dalaga would use her fan to send messages to a lovestruck visitor.
If she held a dangling fan with her right hand, it meant she already had a suitor. If she fanned herself furiously, it mean that the young man held no meaning for her. An open fan meant, “I love you like a friend”, while a closed fan indicated sincere love.

Similarly. Our young man could profess his heart’s wishes through the language of flowers. If he presented the girl with red adelfas, it meant that he has serious romantic designs. Yellow azucenas signified greatness of love. White jasmine reflected his inner goodness, while white rosals, the purity of his love.

There were other ways to woo a young woman. He could serenade her or engage the services of his friends to make “arana”, melting her heart with lyrical kundiman songs. When enough trust was built, the couple could be allowed to go dating with the consent of parents. When they went out, it was more likely that a group date, with several chaperones in tow. Dating became popular among the middle during the American occupation, with the rise of leisure centers such as bowling alleys, soda parlors and movie theaters which became favorite hang-outs of young people.

During the courtship period, a man was required to render manula services to the family of the girl—like chopping wood, filling water drums or cleaning the backyard. When he is finally given the go-signal to marry the young woman, his parents must make repairs to the house of the bride-to-be, a practice called “sulambe”. It was also customary for the suitor’s parents to ask formally for the hand of the girl by visiting her family in the home (“pamamalayai”). Preliminary wedding plans are discussed in this meeting.

The profession of love through courtship rituals can be elaborate, long and tedious, but the lovelorn Kapampangan does not seem to mind. When struck with Cupid’s arrow, he could even transform himself into a poet. Just read this “kilig-to-the-bones” love letter written by my late father to my mother, dated 21 March 1949, just weeks after meeting her in a botica where my mother worked as a sales attendant: “I unflinchingly adored you in utmost secrecy and silence until I realized but lately how much it would distress and embitter me if I won’t confide to you through concealed emotions which had long beat hard and clamored for an honest confession. I had rteid to subdue every bit of my deep passions until finally, I had to yield to the dictates of my hearts. Can you possibly forgive this soul seeking consolation through truthful revelation?”.

Now did his overly dramatic outpourings—possibly copied from a “How to Write Love Letters” book, work? Apparently they did. My mother and father got married just a month and a half later. See what love can do.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

*163. SAN FERNANDO: Pampanga's Capital City

FERNANDO'S HIDEAWAY. The capital town of San Fernando welcomes delegates to the 1924 Governors' Convention with a welcome arch and a crowd lining its main street. Dated 12 May 1924.

The bustling, busy capital city of Pampanga—San Fernando—is a young community compared to nearby Betis, Sasmuan, Bacolor, Macabebe and Arayat. It was culled from the lands belonging to Bacolor and Mexico, which, by 1754, had expanded so much in population, that the two priests in charge of the two towns, F. Lorenzo Barrela and F. Alejandro Dominguez, could hardly cope with the ministerial duties. As the population swelled, so did the crime rate and it became increasingly difficult to patrol the towns that were far apart from each other.

As a result, on 17 July, Don Josef Bersosa submitted a position to create a new middle-of-the road town, a petition granted by Gov. Gen. Pedro Manuel de Arandia. In this manner, the new town of San Fernando was established, named after the saintly King of Castile, Fernando Rey. In its early stage, San Fernando was supported by taxpayers from Bacolor and Mexico to ensure its viability, but the town prospered, eclipsing even its older neighbors.

The first church, of nipa and wood, was built in 1755. The municipal building was erected in the same year in front of the plaza. San Fernando flourished in the next two decades and even merited a visit from Gov. Gen. Jose Vargas Basco in 1785. A replacement church of sturdier materials was finished in 1808, dedicated to the Asuncion del Nuestra Señora.

Despite setbacks due to cholera outbreaks (1820), destructive earthquakes (1863) and fires (1850, 188, 1899, 1907, 1910, 1939), the burgeoning town continued to prosper. Not even the separation of Barrio Culiat (the future Angeles) in 1829 could impede its march to progress. By 1852, an expediente requesting the transfer of the provincial capitol from Bacolor to San Fernando was signed, further accentuating its importance.

The town’s infrastructures got a boost towards the end of the 19th century with the construction of two important bridges in 1889, Palawi Bridge (Bacolor link) and Paralaya Bridge (Mexico link). Three years, the San Fernando Railroad Station was inaugurated, while the Puente Colgante was completed in 1896.

The coming of the Philippine Revolution profoundly affected San Fernando’s history with the arrival of revolutionaries on 3 June 1898 who burned the Palawi Bridge. The ensuing hostilities forced the evacuation of the town even as the Spanish forces were driven away. On October 9, Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo visited San Fernando convento, which has been converted into a military headquarter. A new enemy, the Americans, loomed as the Philippine-American war began, resulting in the shelling of Sto. Tomas and the torching of the church by the forces of Gen. Antonio Luna. The Battle of San Fernando ended with the town’s fall on August 1900.

During the American Rule, the Pampanga provincial government was finally transferred from Bacolor to San Fernando on 15 August 1904. U.S. Secretary of War William Howard Taft paid a visit to the town the next year. From 1909 to 1931, San Fernando’s progress accelerated, with the building of a new public market, auxiliary railroads, berection of the San Fernando Central School, the establishments of Pampanga Sugar Development Company (PASUDECO), Pampanga Bus Company (PAMBUSCO), the installation of a telephone system and the San Fernando Light and Power Company and the opening of the Pampanga Provincial Hospital. In 1938, the first Ligligan Parul (lantern festival) was held in honor of Pres. Manuel L. Quezon, thus starting a Christmas tradition that continues till today.

World War II brought new hardships yet again for thousands of Fernandinos. The Japanese Imperial Army occupied the town in 1941 and the infamous Death March that started in Bataan, ended at the San Fernando Train Station. Liberation came in 1945, and from thereon, there was no stopping its rise to national prominence. Assumption College (1963), the Pampanga Convention Center and Sports Complex (1989) and the Paskuhan Village (1990) have become visible parts of the Fernandino landscape.

After the catastrophic 1991 Pinatubo eruption and the 1995 aftermath which inundated several barrios with ash, sand, lahar deposits and pyroclastic materials, San Fernando stood resilient and survived by celebrating its first Sinukwan Festival in 1998. The remarkable recovery earned it a Galing Pook Award for its project “Breaking Financial Barriers”. The ultimate reward was its elevation to a component city in 2001, following the ratification of R.A. 8990 sponsored by Rep. Oscar Rodriguez. Dr. Rey Aquino had the distinction of becoming the first city mayor.

Today, the city with its 34 barangays, teems with new businesses, industries and investments that bode well of the capital’s vibrant future. As a regional growth hub and the center of trade, commerce and education in the region, San Fernando and its hardy, loyal residents continue to reap their just rewards. At the rate the “Christmas Capital of the Philippines” is enjoying its economic surge, every day feels like Christmas!

Saturday, August 29, 2009

*162. DR. GREGORIO M. FERNANDEZ, Pioneering Film Director and Actor

THE DENTIST IS ALSO A DIRECTOR. Lubao-born Dr. Gregorio M. Fernandez, looking every inch a dancy in his trademark suit. A noted director, he is also known as the father of the late actor Rudy "Daboy" Fernandez. 1930s.
The internationally-recognized director Gregorio “Yoyong” Fernandez was born in Lubao, Pampanga on 25 May 1904 to Eugenio Aranita Fernandez and Maria Montemayor. Yoyong practically grew up in the town with a rich zarzuela tradition that exposed him early to the performance arts.

He spent his primary years at the Lubao Elementary School, then enrolled at the Pampanga High School (1921-25). Choosing to be a dental surgeon, he went to the Philippine Dental College. To help finance his studies, he worked at as a tax agent for the Bureau of Internal Revenue. He also started making the rounds of production companies and became an actor for Tomas Lichauco's Mayon Photoplay Corporation after auditioning in March 1928.

The movie with Mayon was never finsihed as Lichauco left for the United States. Undaunted, Yoyong auditioned next for Jose Nepomuceno and won a leading role in a 1928 film. The silent film, “Anak sa Ligaw” started his long and productive career in Philippine moviedom, both as a successful actor and an even more accomplished film director.

Yoyong still managed to make his parents happy by finishing his dentistry course in 1929 and passing the board that same year. After a short private practice in Lubao, he decided he could not resist the lure of the spotlight and went on to pursue a full time career in acting. He did not find it difficult landing his next role given the resounding success of his first film. Yoyong's next assignment was a starring role in another silent-- “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” with Sofia Lotta, under the direction Faustino Lichauco of Mayon Photoplay. The picture was never released though, so Yoyong moved on to team up with Sofia yet again in the movie version of the popular Tagalog poem of Florentino Collantes, “Ang Lumang Simbahan”.

The newbie actor shared his good fortune with his kabalen and nephew, Rogelio Regidor, whom he introduced to Jose Nepomuceno when the “father of Philippine movies” was scouting for new talents. Nepomuceno took one look at the handsome 6-footer and cast him with another Kapampangan-American mestiza, Rosa Stagner. The couple was launched in the 1929 movie hit, “Ligaw ni Bulaklak” as Rogelio de la Rosa and Rosa del Rosario.

Yoyong was a much-sought after actor in the 1930s, appearing as a dandy in the film, “Collegian Love”. As a young sajonista influenced by American ways, he wore a blazer with a hanky sticking out of his pocket, and a white buntal hat that was to become his signature look. He appeared as the hero “Dimasalang” in 1930 and followed that up with “Moro Pirates” with Nena Linda. In the next two years, he was in “Ang Lihim ni Bathala” and “Taong Demonyo”, his first talking film.

Not content with playing leading men and character roles in films, Gregorio transitioned to work behind the camera as a director. His first directorial debut was the movie, “Asahar at Kabaong” (Bridal Garland and Casket, 1937), starring Purita Santamaria, made under Philippine Films. His work was noticed by other film outfits and he steadily found freelance work, directing “Tatlong Pagkabirhen” for X’otic Films (1938), “Celia at Balagtas” and “Señorita” (1939), in which he directed his own nephew Rogelio de la Rosa, by then a big star. It was only shown shortly after World War II at the Life Theater in Quiapo.

Yoyong had an enduring and most productive career at LVN Studios, a film outfit began in 1938 by the legendary grand dame of Philippine movies, Dña. Narcisa de Leon. Dña. Sisang asked Yoyong to make a film out of the hit war drama play, “Garrison 13”, and the subsequent film version (in which he played a co-starring role to Linda Estrella) proved to be a blockbuster hit, earning an unprecedented P145,000 at Dalisay Theater alone. Yoyong became a favorite director of Dña. Sisang thereafter.

His LVN-produced films include “Dalawang Daigdig” ( as director-actor, 1946), “Miss Philippines" (1947), “Puting Bantayog” (1948), “Kampanang Ginto”, “Capas” (1949), “Candaba” (“isang kapanapanabik na pelikula na tanging si G. Fernandez lamang ang maaaring mamahala!”), "Kontrabando” (1950), “Bayan o Pag-ibig”, “Dugo sa Dugo” (1951), “Rodrigo de Villa” (a color film co-produced with Persari Films of Indonesia, 1952), “Iskwater”, “Philippine Navy”, “Dagohoy” (1953) and “Prinsipe Tiñoso”, “Singsing na Tanso” (1954).

1955 was his best year ever, directing “Dalagang Taring” and the most acclaimed movie of the year, “Higit sa Lahat”, starring Rogelio de la Rosa and Emma Alegre. It garnered 6 awards at the FAMAS, including Best Picture, Best Actor and Best Director. As the Philippine entry to the 1956 Asian Film Festival, “Higit sa Lahat” won for Yoyong a “Best Director” trophy and another “Best Actor” award for Rogelio de la Rosa. The next year, he was kept busy with the 18th anniversary offering of LVN Pictures, “Medalyang Perlas” and the classic, “Luksang Tagumpay”, which won Best Picture honors at the FAMAS.

The close of the decade saw him megging “Hukom Roldan”, “P10,000 na Pag-ibig”(1957) , “Ana Maria” and another critical hit “Malvarosa” (1958). The film won for Rebecca del Rio, a Best Supporting Actress trophy at the Asian Film Festival and a FAMAS International Prestige Award of Merit. He ended the 50s with “Ay , Pepita”, “Casa Grande” and “Panagimpan” (1959) and started the 60s with “Emily” and “Kung Ako’y Mahal Mo” and “Awit ng mga Dukha”.

In 1961, he retired in San Juan together with his family. He had eight children with his beautiful wife, Marie Paz, daughter of Bulacan governor Jose Padilla Sr. whom he married in 1936 in Lubao: Ma. Luisa (aka Merle Fernandez, bold star of the 70s), Maria Paz, Maria Isabel, Jose, Maria Teresita, Emmanuel, Rodolfo (aka the late Rudy “Daboy” Fernandez) and Mary Anne. But he came out of retirement in 1963 to direct “The Macapagal Story”, based on the life of his fellow Lubeño Pres. Diosdado P. Macapagal. He did two more movies (“Ang Nasasakdal”, 1963, “Daing” 1971) before he permanently called it quits, but not before being awarded the 1967 “Gantimpalang Gatpuno” (Mayor’s Award) as one of the 37 illustrious pioneers of Philippine Movies, on the occasion of Manila’s golden foundation day.

Dr. Gregorio M. Fernandez died in the late ‘70s and left behind a legacy of classic and multi-awarded films, visual testaments to Kapampangan creativity at its best. His son Rudy continued that tradition until his death, but the torch has been passed on to Rudy's son (with Alma Moreno, also a Kapampangan), Mark Anthony Fernandez, himself a rising star of TV and Cinema. His grandfather Yoyong must be proud.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

*161. Pampanga's Churches: OUR LADY OF THE ASSUMPTION, San Fernando

ASSUMPTIONISTA WEDDING. The Church of San Fernando was the venure for the second wedding of Dr. PJ Castro with Marita Valencia. Dated 1962.

San Fernando’s landmark, the Church of Our Lady of Assumption, has been standing on the crossroads of history for many years now, many times a witness to a country’s tumultuous quest for identity and freedom. The city of San Fernando itself started as settlement on the banks of a river, named after the saintly king of Castille, Fernando. Early in its history, San Fernando was a flourishing center of trade, and was often referred to as the “second Parian or second Escolta”, owing to its many Chinese residents. It became the capital town of the province, wresting that honor from Bacolor, but the proposal, which was approved by Madrid in 1881, only took effect on 15 August 1904, during the term of Gov. Macario Arnedo.

The first church to rise on this progressive town was started by the first Augustinian cura, Fray Sebastian Moreno in 1756, but construction of the stone-and-brick edifice was only finished by Fray Mariano Alafont in 1781.

In 1788, the parish was entrusted to the care of the native secular clergy, and the construction of a much bigger church on the present site commenced under P. Manuel Canlas. Gobernadorcillo Bernabe Pamintuan rallied the town principalia to support the church’s construction, which was finished in 1808. By then, the parish had reverted to the Augustinians’ administration.

The church, placed under the advocation of our Lady of the Assumption, stood 11 meters high and measured 70 meters long and 13 meters wide. The church interior was painted in trompe l’oeil style by Italian artists Giovanni Divellas and Cesare Alberoni, similar to that used in painting the murals San Agustin Church in Intramuros and the Church of Apalit.

Subsequent restorations were done in 1853 and 1856 respectively, under Fray Pedro Medina and Antonio Redondo, who finished the painting works on the Tuscan interior and added the signature dome. During the Philippine Revolution, the Church, the convento and the casa municipal were burned by Gen. Antonio Luna’s soldiers in early May 1899 to prevent the invading Americans to use the church as headquarters. A second conflagration decimated the Church in 1939.

Under Kapampangan religious Rufino J. Santos, the Church was rebuilt after World War II. American-educated and kabalen Fernando H. Ocampo undertook the ambitious assignment, retaining the church’s noble architecture. The round, majestic dome is still there, rising from the rotunda of the transept. It harkens back to the Baroque style with Renaissance touches. The triangular pediment is decorated with serrated forms on both sides and the hexagonal bell tower rises in four uneven levels, alternating with blind and open arched recesses. In 1950, a large portico with balusters was added, which, unfortunately, blocked the façade of the church.

San Fernando became the seat of the diocese in 1948, and later, the Archdiocese. As such, Our Lady of the Assumption Church had always been the favored venue for major Kapampangan religious events, the most memorable of which is the Canonical Coronation of the Virgen de los Remedios, the patroness of Pampanga province, in 1956.