Thursday, March 25, 2010


.HEADS OF THE CLASS. The Class of 1969, Grade VI, Section 1, of Mabalacat Elementary School. Friends, playmates and classmates all. Class Adviser: Mrs. Eleuteria Paquia. Dated 1969.

This month, April ushers in the end of another schoolyear, marked with the usual graduations, commencement exercises, mandatory class photo sessions and farewell parties. I am reminded of my own elementary graduation back in 1969, 41 years ago to be exact, from the town’s biggest public school, Mabalacat Elementary School. I found myself leafing through my old albums where I managed to dig up this official graduation picture of the Class of ’69, my very own batch.

This was taken just hours before the graduation rites, so you could just imagine the stress of coming to the school early in your crisp, white trubenized shirt, waiting for your turn to be shot, being extra careful not to crumple your fine graduation outfit. This was taken in an old wooden wing at the back of our school, which was not exactly photogenic as one can see—but it had a series of steps on which we could conveniently stand in rows, pose for the photographer and say cheese.

We were all herded to this site by our class adviser, Mrs. Eleuteria Paquia (+), one of my favorite teachers, and our Science teacher, Mrs. Lourdes Espanta. The Top Ten graduates of the premiere Grade 6 Section 1 class had the honor of sitting in front. I could no longer remember the exact placements of my honor classmates which included, from left to right—Alice Angeles, Rosalinda Feliciano, Perpetua Romero, me (I ranked 7th), Paul Candelaria (Salutatorian), Elvira Almazar (Valedictorian), Danilo Soliman (4th), Redentor Galura (5th), Elizabeth Tuazon, and the last, Annabelle Dayrit.

I scanned the faces on this photo and I could make out one of our sergeant-at-arms Loida Dizon (second row, 3rd girl from the left). Next to Loida is Nida Castro, the girl with a mod coiffed hair. On the same row, I see Thelma Manalang (8th girl from left) who amazed me with her perfect self-taught American diction. Aurora Tulabut, the 10th girl from left, I know quite well, as she was the daughter of our tenant, Tatang Ano, who doubled as our barber.

The tiny girl on the 3rd row is Remedios Macaspac, who lived at the end of our street in Sta. Ines. Fate decreed that she was to have a short life, as she died not long after 1969, of leukemia.

On the 4th row, I see Rene Tiongquico standing at extreme right. The tallest boy on this row, fourth from right is our other sergeant-at-arms, Erie Ong, the son of the town’s chief of police. I see a lot of familiar faces in the last row; my neighbor and my uncle, Roxann Morales stands 2nd from left, while Lowell Sanguyu ( one of my rowdier classmates; his mother taught in the same school), Maurino Datu, Rodolfo Ramos and Ramon Atencion are the 4 boys right smack in the middle. Danilo Palo is the last kid on this row, one of the bigger, but soft-spoken boys in class.

The details of our graduation ceremony itself are kind of sketchy. I do remember that the overused graduation music, “Triumphal March” was played again and again till kingdom come. And I also recall you had exactly less than five minutes onstage to receive your bond paper diploma from the principal, get a handshake and smile again for the cameras. You got more stage time (like I did) if you were an honor student as it meant getting a ribbon with a handwritten (or typewritten) notation of your rank.

I would cross paths again with some of my male classmates soon after our 1969 graduation. Bapang Roxann, Danny Soliman, Rudy Ramos and Reddy Galura became my high schoolmates at Sacred Heart Seminary in Angeles City. We even attempted to do a reunion party of some sorts, a few years into high school—I think we held it at Lowell’s place—but eventually, time and distance would blur and sever our once-close relationships.

But I always had my ear on the ground for any news about my band of school friends. Forty one years down the road, with some help from technology and social networking, I have gotten news from some of them, a lot now scattered abroad with their families, children and grandchildren, living generally quiet, happy lives.

I know Reddy Galura became a successful trader in the Philippines but gave it all up to start anew in America for the sake of his bright children, continuing his business there and seeing it flourish again. “Rock” Datu left early for the U.S. and is settled in South California, an active member of a MabalaqueƱo community association there. I was also told that our salutatorian, Paul Candelaria worked in Japan for years and is now also settled in the U.S. of A.—just like Alice Angeles, Annabelle Dayrit and Erie Ong.

Like me, there are those who stayed on in the Philippines like Bapang Roxann, a longtime banker and now a director of Don Teodoro V. Santos Institute, the former Mabalacat Institute. Also a banker based in Pangasinan is Dan Palo. Lowell joined the U.S. Navy, but chose to go back to the Philippines after his U.S. stint and is now into real estate brokerage.

Our other honor graduate and one of my good friends, Danny Soliman, also lives here and I last met him and his wonderful family in the funeral of a common family friend just a few years ago—of all places. In another recent funeral wake, Nida Castro re-introduced herself to me, and I was surprised to know we were common relatives of the person lying in state. On the other hand, Froilan Galang chose to enter politics and is running as a re-electionist councilor of the town this May.

Every All Saints Day, I would sit by our family plot which was strategically located next to the cemetery gate—and here, I would scan the incoming crowd for familiar faces. This way, I have managed to renew my acquaintance with a few classmates from the past like Aurora Tulabut and Ramon Atencion, whose brother Regal, is also a friend to my other younger brothers. Through facebook, a social networking site, Loida Dizon (now Luna) managed to track me down, telling me she now lives in the U.S. with her children. We promised to meet up when she comes home this 2nd week of April 2010.

But whatever became of the rest? Where is Rene Tiongquico? Eleanor Dizon? Teresa Quiambao? Arnold Castro? Boy Pineda? Alejandro? Edgar Bondoc? Marilou? I may have forgotten their names, but not their faces. After all, in the not-so-distant past, we were more than just classmates—we were kindred souls in search of a dream yet to be fully defined--which, vaguely, was to learn, to earn our wings and fly. Together, we drew encouragement, support and inspiration from each other in that little elementary school that we walked to next to the municipio, every day, for six long years. That’s a long time to just forget and throw away.

This April, I will be seeing you again, my dear classmates, in the faces of today's fresh graduates whose aspirations and attitudes mirror our own, brimming with optimism, yet not sure exactly as to how we will reach our goals. But hopefully, just like many of us, they too shall arrive at their destination safe and sound. In the kingdom of children and in an age of innocence, the future never looked so good.

(UPDATES: Eleanor Dizon (now Perlman) found me on facebook recently and is based in TX. Rey Tolentino is in California. I met Rene Tiongquico finally in a relative's wake this August 24, 2010. Arnold Castro and Paulino "Boy" Pineda have passed away and are sadly missed. )

Monday, March 1, 2010


DING CAYANACAN STO. TOMAS-PAROBA, LUBAO, KING MILABAS A MALELDO. The youths of Sto. Tomas, Paroba, Lubao pose for a souvenir picture to celebrate their successful participation (as Pasyon readers, musicians, singers, senakulo stars, perhaps) in the traditional Holy Week rites. Dated 1931.

I have never really attempted to join all the major events of “Maleldo” (Holy Week) in all the years that I lived in my town, Mabalacat. This year, however, I secured a one week furlough from work, and I made a decision to attend the important Lenten activities lined up by our church, Our Lady of Grace, this, beyond our participation in the Holy Wednesday and Good Friday processions. After making sure that my carroza and the two family images were readied properly for the traditional lubenas ( Dolorosa for Miercoles Santo, Sta. Maria Jacobe for Viernes Santo), I hied off to Church and around town to check out our local Holy Week scene.

I had expected to see our town elders, parochial groups and the usual “manangs” to spearhead our Lenten festivities, but I was amazed to see that the youth of the town were actually at the forefront in the continuation as well as in the revival of our old and vanishing religious traditions. On the road, young “magdarames” (flagellants) with streaked hair and blond highlights, have upped the level of difficulty in their imitation of Christ, totally discarding the head coverings and exposing their faces for all the world to see. Braver and bolder, they have taken to more painful penitential stunts that include being lashed to a cross, to be yanked by their ayudantes from side to side, causing them to stumble and fall in all directions.

At the church on Maundy Thursday morning, an energetic group led by Arwin Paul Lingat was busy decorating the grand “monumento”, the altar of repose for the Blessed Sacrament, which seems to be become more elaborate every year. This year, the design is inspired by a ceremonial baldachino (baldachin); the 4-pillar canopy is topped by a crown and trimmed with cloth swags, housing an antique wooden tabernacle in which the Blessed Sacrament will later be placed. The tabernacle, resting on a revolving stand, can then be swivelled up front to face the church crowd—a clever piece of stage craft that only the young are capable of imagining!

Elsewhere, young people have also assumed the responsibility of dressing up the santos, as well as the dozen or so carrozas—arranging flowers, testing lights—to ensure a successful lubenas. Some even organize “Visita Iglesia” tours, with jeeploads of young devotees church-hopping in Pampanga towns, hoping to complete the mandatory seven church visits.

Rarely seen these days is the “Dakit Cordero” ritual—in which the “lamb of God” , usually molded from kamote or in this town, fashioned from cotton, is fetched from the house of the hermano mayor to the church, marked with a short procession. This tradition, which used to be practiced in Betis, symbolizes the imminent death of Christ—“like a lamb, He is led to a slaughterhouse”. The local Marian youth group, Children of Mary Immaculate, led the way in reviving this old tradition, marked by brief prayer services at the host’s residence and a procession to the church. The hermano’s daughter, Rose Ann Palo, had the honor of handcarrying the “cordero” , escorted by altar boys and the chosen apostoles.

After the Good Friday procession, Mabalacat youths once again made their presence felt as a band of violinists, guitarists, flutists and choir members offered musical tributes, singing “Stabat Mater Dolorosa” and other hymns in front of the images of the sorrowful Virgin and the dead Christ, while regaling their townmates with their heavenly voices.

Finally, on the day of the Resurrection, aside from the traditional angels of the Salubong or Pusu-pusu, young, nimble-toed dancers greeted the crowd with a Filipiniana folk dance number, livening up the early morning proceedings. A flag-waving dancer led the tribute to the risen Lord, and this rousing dance was reminiscent of Angono’s famous “Sayaw ng Pagbati ng Tinyenta/Bati de Bandera”.

I am sure that the sights and stories are the same in other Pampanga towns—with young Kapampangans participating in both accepted Church rituals as well as quaint folk practices that have found their places in our Church’s cultural heritage—from the theatrical senakulos of San Fernando, the Pasyon Serenata of Sta. Rita to the paso of Bacolor and the Pakbung Hudas of Minalin. In this disposable world where everything is in peril of being modified, discarded and forgotten, one can safely say that our religious traditions are in good hands; the youth will not only inherit this Kapampangan earth but also all the richness of its religious traditions.

*The Youths In the Last Holy Week