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 SeƱora.

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!

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