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.

*160. Movies in My Mind: ANGELES MOVIE HOUSES

FIFTIES' FILM HOUSES. Devry Theater celebrated the Twin Fiestas of Angeles by showing twin movies: "War of the Worlds" (Sci-Fi) and "Shane" (Western). From a 1953 Anegels Fiesta Program.

I remember the first time I watched a movie in Angeles. I was about 12 or 13, early 1970s, when an elder sister and I fell in line at the Rizal Theater to watch Lino Brocka’s hit movie, “Haydee” starring half-Kapampangan Hilda Koronel and Ed Finlan. It was not exactly my first time in a moviehouse; I think I was about 8 when I went to watch “The Young Ones” at Pines Theater, but the experience left no impression on me as Cliff Richard’s music just did not appeal to an 8 year old.

But this time around, it was different—never mind my friends’ warnings of bedbug infestations or the shenanigans going on inside the darkened room. All I felt was this sense of thrill that descended upon me as Haydee and Darwin Clark appeared larger than life on the giant screen in technicolor, no less, talking and singing in a voice, so crisp and clear. For two hours or so, I was transported to a world of make-believe, enthralled and entertained by actors who lived, loved, laughed and cried, just like us.

But before the movie theater, there was the stage. And on the stage were the zarzuelas. Credit goes to the Kapampangan theater for introducing zarzuelas written in the vernaculars and for integrating Filipino topics, situations and characters into the story: quarreling man and wife, strict parents, disobedient children, dalagang mahinhin, binatang matikas, servants and masters, dons and doñas.

Angeles was quick to jump on the zarzuela bandwagon. In 1898, a modest theater was built on the property of Don Modesto Quiason on Miranda Street, exclusively for the performance arts. Everything-- from a comedia (Gonzalo de Cordova played by Martin Gonzalez Bravo of Guagua), a ventriloquist show starring two-voiced Pregolini to thespic performances of local artists Petra Pili and Monico Resurreccion and to acrobatics of Antonieta Circus—were presented on centerstage.

With such rich materials for theater, there is an interesting opinion that the zarzuela paved the way for silent movies. Although film was introduced in the country as early as 1897, it took a long time for the new medium to find popular appeal. To start with, there was not enough electricity in the provinces to run the projectors. When silent movies finally came, the theater-oriented Filipinos could not accept a performance where characters kept moving around without saying a word.

But by 1918, the silent movies had steadily spread to electrified communities. One such place is Pampanga, which almost lost its theater tradition with the influx of the electrical wonder. Soon, even enterprising Kapampangans dabbled in film productions. In the early 1930s, the first motion picture production in Angeles was pioneered by Don Jose Guanzon, who directed the silent movie, “Prinsesa sa Bundok”. With the coming of films came the movie houses, which were built with screens on which the moving images came to life before a paying audience.

It was just right after the war that commercial movie houses were put up to provide escapist entertainment to Kapampangans who wanted to put behind the horrors and hardships caused by the recent global upheaval. Early movie houses include the Eden Theater, which was erected on the site of the big fire which burned the market and residential houses in Jan. 12, 1895. On 16 November 1946, Cine Paraiso started its operations along Miranda Extension. Later, Paraiso became Lita Theater. Less than a year later, Marte Theater was inaugurated on 24 May 1947. Crowd favorites were American-produced movies, and it was not uncommon to show two films back-to-back as a way to celebrate the twin fiestas of Angeles.

The Tablante family of Angeles operated a number of theaters along Rizal Street that became 1950s fixtures: Devry Theater (later to become Imperial, then Elite), City, RTG and PAT Theater. Family Theater , along J. Gonzales Blvd. was outstanding in its acoustics and its distinctive post-moderne architecture.

The rise of movies-on-video in the 1980s signaled the decline in the patronage of movie houses in Angeles. Soon, everyone could watch a hit movie just by renting a betamax or VHS copy—without the inconvenience of lining up or being bitten by bedbugs. Movie tapes gave way to the even more accessible DVDs, further hastening the demise of movie theaters. The limitless possibilities of telecommunications and internet—you can post videos on youTube and shoot ‘mobisodes’ or mini-movies using mobile phones—all but sealed the fate of the future of movie houses.

A recent scan of a Pampanga telephone directory did not even have the name of a single Angeles movie house on its list. Many movie houses have closed, torn down or have fallen into disarray, like the once famous Family Theater, which, for the longest time, became the home of several squatter families. The theater made news in 2008 when it became the location of a movie directed by Cannes award winner, Brillante Mendoza, a Kapampangan. The controversial film, entitled “Serbis”, tackles the lives of people engaged in the sex trade, conducted inside a movie house.

Just like a drama movie, the stories of our cine houses do not always have happy endings.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


HOST WITH THE MOST. A Kapampangan boy, Julian Gonzalez, poses for his First Communion picture, drssed in tradition white shirt and pants and a ribbon tied to his arm. A painted backdrop completes the heavenly scene. Ca. 1920s.

One of the rites of passage a young Christian has to undergo is receiving his First Holy Communion upon reaching the age of discernment and reason. With all its rigid preparations and choreographed ceremonials, the prospect of receiving the Eucharist can give a 7 year old kid many anxious, sleepless nights. After all, in the Philippines, this sacrament is as important as Baptism—but as an infant, you are not expected to “perform”—people will still dote on you should you cry through the whole proceedings.

As a First Communicant, expectations are high—you can’t possibly fail the school, your catechism teacher and your parents who have all connived to ensure your successful participation in the sacramental life of the Catholic church. To prepare us to focus on this big event, I remember our catechism teacher herding us—a giggly bunch of kids—to the Mabalacat Church for Mass. We also received lessons on how to make a sincere and proper Confession, a requisite of the First Communion. We were taught to reflect on our sins, write them if necessary, sorting the venial from the mortal (but what serious calumny could a 7 year old be capable of? Is giggling during Mass a major offense?).

Back when there were few Catholic schools to spearhead Holy Communions, the event was mostly a parish affair. Parents had to register their children, who then will go through some training of sorts, to prepare him for the big day. Emphasis was put on the pre-ritual trappings. Parents and their teachers had to make certain the children knew their basic prayers, to be recited as an act of Penance for confessed sins.

They were also taught how to approach the confession box and knee properly. It is a no-no to peer through the mesh screen of the confesario. Some children were instructed to hold an open handkerchief over the screen so as not to see the face of the priest directly. The standard opening lines are then uttered, the confession is made and the corresponding penance is prescribed.

The act of receiving the Sacred Host was also exact and precise. At a signal, communicants line up and kneel solemnly before the communion railing with clasped hands. After the “Amen” response, one sticks out his tongue, keeping it flat and extended as possible, on which the kind father plays the Host. A paten held by an altar boy is ready to collect any fallen wafer. One then bows his head, makes the sign of the cross and continue to kneel in prayer. (Today, of course, most modern churches have no communion railings and communicants just stand in line and have the option to receive communion by hand).

Of equal importance was the clothing tradition associated with Holy Communion. White was de riguer color, and male first communicants in the 1920s, had to wear a hite long sleeved shirt with their immaculate white pants. I wearing shirt pants, white knee-high socks had to be worn with matching white shoes. A ceremonial white bow with fringed ends is tied to the right arm. On the other hand, white dressed girls wore a veil attached to the headdress of flowers, symbolizing the tablecloth used at the Last Supper.

First communicants mark their special day with giveaway commercial estampitas with commemorative inscriptions. In turn, they are given small gifts like prayer books, rosaries, small images, card relics and more holy pictures. For posterity, pictures are taken by the town photographers. For mass communions, all participants pose before the church with their cura parocco and ‘guardian angels” (played by older kids), in their pristine white outfits.

Individual photos are much preferred by families. Standard poses include either a standing or a kneeling communicant on a prie dieu, holding a sacramental candle, a rolled-up Communion certificate or a prayer book. A crucifix or a religious image may appear also in the picture. For a more dramatic effect, religious figures ( painted Jesus Christ holding a host, angels, the Blessed Mother) are incorporated in the picture with the communicant.

As far as I know, the fuss was all worth it. After my first Holy Communion, I remember being a good boy for about two weeks. Then the ruckus started again. Anybody can tell you that for a 7-year old, it’s a bit hard to have a spirit that’s willing, and a head that’s stubborn. “Bless me Father, for I have sinned again..”

Sunday, August 16, 2009

*158. Shall We Dance?: TERAK KAPAMPANGAN

TAKE THE LEAD. A folk dance presentation by San Simon Elementary children nattily dressed in Maria Clara costumes and barong tagalog. Ca. 1930s.

One of the most horrifying experiences to happen to a student with two left feet is to be picked as one of the folk dancers in a high school day presentation. I not only remember the moment of selection, but also the title of the dance—it was a strangely-named dance called “Pandanggo Buraweño". Thank God, we didn’t have to wear funny costumes like the “Manlalatik” dancers and their ‘coconut bras’ or use unwieldy props like the sticks for “Sakuting”. It was just a simple dance that we practiced after school hours, and our performance was just as simple and forgettable.

Our Philippine dance tradition started long before the Spaniards reached our shores. When Magellan arrived in Cebu, chronicler Antonio de Pigafetta took note of the song-and-dance entertainment provided by the natives. Ritualistic dances such as those done by babaylans and the hunting dances of ethnic tribes are raw expressions of the Filipino soul.

Indeed, there were dances for just about everything—birth, courtship, wedding, religion, death—and the coming of colonizers further enriched the choreography of our dances. From Spain came the jota, pandanggo and habanera while the French contributed the rigodon and the minuete (minuet). In Ilocos, a dance called Ba-Ingles was obviously adapted from Americans.

Kapampangans with their nimble feet and love for music and rhythms have also taken to dancing early on. Our few signature dances have not reached the level of national awareness the way the “tinikling”, “singkil” and even the fairly new “itik-itik” have, which had the benefit of being performed by professional troupes the world over----not yet, anyway. But with the recent exposures of our local festivals on television, Pampanga’s dances are becoming hit attractions.

No other Philippine dance is as frenetic as the kuraldal, a dance originally performed in Sasmuan on Dec. 13 to honor its patron, Santa Lucia. They say it’s Pampanga’s counterpart of the Obando fertility dance—in kuraldal, people dance not only for good health, but barren women also ask for babies. But kuraldal is wilder, characterized by swaying and jumping to the beat of kuraldal music. People dance non-stop, and the infectious beat can sometimes have a hypnotic effect on the participants, who enter a trance-like state while dancing for hours. The kuraldal practice has also spilled over to other Pampanga towns like Betis, in which the 24 handpicked participants are expected to teach the dance to their children.

The origin of kuraldal is not really known; it may have originated from tribal dances that eventually melded into Christian rites. Or the Augustinian missionaries may have introduced it as part of their para-liturgical rituals in bringing the faith from inside the church to the outside community.

Another dance performed in Pampanga is “katlu”, which is also known in nearby Bulacan and Nueva Ecija. When hardworking lads came to help the rural lasses pound their palay on the mortar (asung) and pestle (alung), a new dance was born, with couples moving to the beat of pounding rice. “Katlu” was quickly transformed into a courtship dance ritual.

Then there’s the “sapatya”, originally presented by farmers during the harvest season. Characterized by graceful steps and hand movements, it is believed to have been derived from the Spanish, “zapateado”, or shod with shoes. Sapatya has evolved into many versions, and there is one, performed in Bacolor on the Pasig-Potrero river, where ladies, wearing buri hats, dance precariously on a bangka. In Porac, the dancing of sapatya is accompanied by the singing of pulosa, further living up the moment.

Dancing has come a long way since, and through the years, the influence of global pop culture has changed the way we move on the dancefloor. Through the years, we have waltzed, tangoed, boogied, jerked, shimmied, elephant walked, salsa-ed, and spaghetti-ed our way to fun, fitness and frenzy. That is all very good, but once in a while, when your twinkletoes are in the mood to learn something new—try learning something old. Like the kuraldal. Or the sapatya. Or katlu. It’s a step towards perpetuating our rich tradition for the next generation to appreciate. I can’t think of a better move.

Let’s dance to that!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


POOL PARTY. A cool bath in a Magalang swimming resort was everyone's idea of a week-end leisure activity during the peacetime era. Dated 6 November 1938.

For hyperactive youngsters growing up in the 70s, our idea of weekend leisure was simple enough. All we needed was a swimming hole to do our water sports, and Saturdays often found the family driving to Abacan in nearby Balibago, with our picnic baskets and towels to the Del Rosario Swimming Pool for an hour or two of free swimming. Imang Perling and Tatang Dadong, my mother’s elder brother, happened to own and operate the pool located in their residential compound. Later, a more modern resort, Yap Park opened in Dau, but then we had to pay entrance fees, and so we got stuck swimming at good old Del Rosario for quite awhile.

In the 30s, before the rise of man-made resorts and water parks, Kapampangans spent their leisure hours in places with natural scenic sites and resources. Mount Arayat had always been a favorite haunt, a virtual paradise with rich greeneries natural springs with pristine waters channeled into pools for swimming. When it was transformed into a national park, more amenities were added, making it the province’s top tourist destination.

The areas behind Clark, especially the Pinatubo side, had been explored by American military officers early in their stay in Pampanga, so much so that by the mid-1920s, horse and foot trails, streams and swimming holes had already been identified for use by the adventurous Americans and their families. Magalang, by its sheer proximity to Arayat had its share of natural swimming pools and dipping holes.

In Porac, the Dara and Miyamit Falls were frequent destinations of local excursionists. The wide waterfalls had strong, powerful currents that flowed into a deep basin, perfect for swimming. The highlands had meandering trails and lush environs that offered quiet respite from the madding crowd. In Mabalacat, Mascup River, owned by the Tiglaos, was the choice of local bathers, what with its pristine waters, giant sized boulders and rock walls defining the area.

Mount Pinatubo’s eruption have completely altered these natural wonders, resulting in the obliteration of Mascup River. The falls in Porac are no longer what they used to be, and natives claim that the basin is much shallower even if the water still flows vigorously. But even then, the Dara and Miyamit Falls continue to inspire awe and wonder and are very much part pf Porac’s tourist attractions to this day.

If people had extra money for bus fare, then the Sibul Springs in San Miguel, Bulacan was another excellent excursion choice. The springs, which, like those of Arayat emanated from the mountain, were believed to have medicinal and revitalizing values, ideal for the weary weekday worker. There were other scenic spots conveniently located nearby, like the mysterious Madlum Caves and the Madlum River. Sibul Springs was also a top destination of newlyweds and sweethearts, as there was a chapel within the area, a perfect venue for weddings. Pres. Manuel L. Quezon and his family frequented Sibul Springs and so did other important personalities like the Roxases.

Post-war prosperity saw the beginnings of contemporary resorts, and in Angeles, the pebble-paved Paradise Swimming Pool became a favorite get-together place of young students and their friends. By the 1950s, to service the leisure needs of a growing American populace, new subdivisions always included a swimming pool and a clubhouse in their blueprint.

Then, as now, the Kapampangan leisure seeker is easy to please. One day, he is on a bird tour of the famous Candaba swamps, the next he is relaxing in a factory site-turned-leisure park in Calibutbut with a mini-zoo to match. Whether taking a dip at the Pinatubo crater lake or playing golf at Mimosa, the Kapampangan sure knows how to enjoy himself, taking delight and finding his own adventure, regardless if his playground is natural or man-made.

Monday, August 10, 2009


M.E.S. GRADE III CLASS OF 1939-1940. Students pose for their class picture on the steps of the Gabaldon-style Mabalacat Elementary School.

For many generations of Mabalaqueños, the school to go to for one’s primary education was the Mabalacat Elementary School which was conveniently located right next to the municipio and by the side of the church. It was in the expansive grounds of this school that I learned my ABC’s, as did all my siblings and my father before us, mentored by a succession of teachers steeped in the modern American way of education.

Before the Americans though, primary level education in Mabalacat was available only to a chosen few. Private tutoring was the practice of the day. In San Francisco, a certain Apung Beltung Pile (Old Lame Beltung) had a “bantayan” school, a kind of day-care center, where parents left their kids to study under his tutelage. Here, he mostly taught reading and writing.

With the coming of the Americans, a Department of Public Instruction was established in March 1900. Mr. Fred W. Atkinson was appointed as General Superintendent of Public Instruction and imposed two things: the use of English as a medium of instruction and the importation of American teachers to help run native schools and train local teachers. The largest and most well-known batch of teachers arrived in the Philippines on 21 August 1901 aboard the U.S.S. Thomas. A Thomasite from this ship, Mr. Carroll Peabody, a fresh graduate of Western Reserve University in Ohio, was assigned to Mabalacat and became a school superintendent. His wife, Emma, was also a teacher. Schools had to be quickly set up to institutionalize the American educational system.

The early buildings of the Mabalacat Elementary School were built on rented lands in different places: along Ligtasan Street (site of the present Venmari Resort near the Morales Bridge) and in Sta. Ines (property owned by Narcisa Lim), where a cockpit now stands.

In 1907, the 1st Philippine Assembly’s first legislation was the Gabaldon Act, with Isauro Gabaldon of Nueva Ecija. As its proponent, the act appropriated P1 Million to construct schools all over the country. On a tract of land donated by Mrs. Rufino Angeles de Ramos and with the intercession of Atty. Francisco Siopongco Sr., the Mabalacat Elementary School was constructed from funds acquired through the efforts of Hon. Ceferino Hilario. Like the elementary school in Angeles, M.E.S. was built strictly adhering to the architectural lay-out specified in the Gabaldon Plan--with the structure elevated on posts like a nipa hut—hence, the uniformity in style.

The school was damaged during the last World War and after the local government applied for relief with the Philippine War Damage Commission, a P20,000 war damage fund was issued to cover the repair of two buildings. The school expansion continued way until the 1960s with the addition of a stage, a P.E. field and more classrooms. In 2 May 2002, however, a Philippine Air Force F5 jet exploded in mid-air and plowed into the school, hitting one of the buildings and leveling 11 classrooms. The crash killed the pilot, Capt. Daniel Policarpio and injured at least 16 people including teacher Jess Rivera (who later succumbed to his injuries) and Emilio de la Cruz, the school janitor.

Last time I was at M.E.S. as we called our alma mater, I was happy to see that the school has been beautifully preserved, right down to the tree-lined lawn that was the site of our many early morning flag raising ceremonies. This time though, the school looked smaller to my adult eye, but it has certainly not diminished the great respect and gratitude I have for this institution that has become an indelible part of the education and character formation of thousands of accomplished Mabalaqueños.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

*155. ZOILO GALANG, Kapampangan Encylopedist

ZOILO GALANG. Filipino encyclopedist and the 1st English-language Filipino novelist.

When I was a student, it was my most ardent desire to own an encyclopedia set. In our school library, I would spend hours poring over the pages of an encyclopedia, delighting in the wealth of facts, photos, charts and colorful illustrations that accompanied each entry as I did my special assignment. But sadly, I could never bring a volume home. I remember also the feeling of envy whenever I visited the homes of my cousins who owned volumes of “The Book of Knowledge”, kept in glass-covered cabinet case. Though I could borrow them—one book a a time—I knew I could never own a similar set, given our financial situation at that time.

Then, to my great surprise, in my second year high school, I received from my parents, a brand new 12-volume Collier’s Encyclopedia set, beautifully bound in black and red, and lettered in gold. What a thrill it was to hold a book in my hands, the latest 1969 edition to be exact, crammed with so much information from A-Z, and sure to satisfy the bookworm in me with endless hours of reading pleasure. My father bought the Colliers’ on installment, paying 50 pesos monthly for a year, a hefty sum that certainly jumbled the family budget. I recognized this big sacrifice by promising to take care of my Colliers’, wrapping them in plastic and storing them in a newly-built open cabinet in my room where they would remain at all times, when not in use.

While the British have their “Encyclopedia Brittanica” and the Americans have their “Encyclopedia Americana”, the Philippines, too, has its own encyclopedia thanks to a Kapampangan who single-handedly produced the 10-volume set first published in 1934.

Zoilo Galang was born in Bacolor on 27 June 1895 and his young life was spent in that bucolic town, famed for its writers and artists. He went to school at the Bacolor Elementary School and then went to Manila to study at the Escuela de Derecho, the country’s eminent law school where he graduated in 1919. A self-starter, he learned typing and stenography in English and Spanish all by himself. Attracted to the English language, he took special courses at the University of the Philippines in 1925, then went to Columbia University for further studies in Literature.

He was soon writing books of fiction, biography and philosophy, and his output was prodigious. His early poems saw print on the Kapampangan paper, “E Mangabiran". He authored “A Child of Sorrow”, the first English novel written by a Filipino. This was later made into a movie in 1930. Other notable works include "Nadia", "For Dreams Must Die", "Springtime", "Leaders of the Philippines", "Glimpses of the World", "Life and Success", "Master of Destiny", "Unisophy" and "Barrio Life".

But his greatest opus undoubtedly is the Encyclopedia of the Philippines, which began as a 10 volume set when first printed. Galang himself, edited and wrote entries for the book set which covered Philippine literature, biography, commerce and industry, art, education, religion, government, science, history and builders of the new Philippines. The Encyclopedia of the Philippines came with a general information and index.

A second edition, destroyed by fire, was published in 1948. So positive was the response to Galang’s work that the encyclopedia project was expanded to 20 volumes in a later 1949 printing. There has been no new printing since 1958.

The age of internet has definitely made information search easier than looking up an encyclopedia’s bibliography. An engine search like google and a click are all it takes. Then there’s the Wikipedia, with information content contributed by readers. Online, one can not only add, update and correct information but also post a variety of visual references. At the rapid rate information is changing, printed encyclopedias may just become obsolete in the future. But whatever, I will always treasure my old encyclopedia books, still complete and intact after all these 40 odd years, a valued part of my education, in a time when books were held dear by the hand and not read on screens.