Tuesday, September 28, 2010


KA-ARTE MO! An advertisement of "El Arte", owned and operated by academically-trained sculptor Maximino J. Jingco of Betis, touts the services of the shop. The artisans made monuments, wooden statues, mrble figures, and many more. Dated 1933.

Sculpture is an art where Kapampangans reign supreme as masters. Paete may have their manlililoks, but their works are often imbued with folk quality, while the carvers of northern highlands limit their carving to ethnic and souvenir art. Kapampangan sculptors on the other hand, are a versatile lot—sculpting everything from religious statuaries, rebultos, furniture, monuments and decoratives.

Many of the early sculptors were untrained and unschooled, most often coming from Betis, regarded as Pampanga’s old carving district. There was a lot of wood in those days, coming from logs that floated on Betis River, cut from the forests of alta Pampanga and the nearby provinces of Bataan and Zambales. The historian Mariano Henson notes: “In the matter of carving images, altars, ornaments, furnitures, the people of Betis during the 17th and 18th centuries, again are mentioned here to be masters in the art of their own time”.

It is no wonder that the 19th century works of Kapampangan sculptors and carvers were kept in Spanish museums. Some of the sculpted pieces featured in a 19th c. Madrid exhibit included a bamboo woodcarving made in Mexico, a pair of polychromed wooden busts of El Mediquillo (Medicine Man) and La Comadrona (The Midwife) from Sta. Rita, and another pair of tipos del pais figurines from the same town.

There was a demand for religious sculptors about this time, and Isabelo Tampinco filled this need. Born in Binondo but descended from Lakandula, Tampinco was the first to popularize the use of Filipiniana motifs like anahaw leaves, banana and bamboo in his carving, known today as estilo Tampinco. Considered as his obra maestra are the decorations he did for the church of San Ignacio, as well as the magnificent image of San Ignacio itself, both destroyed in the last war.

One of his workers was a talented young man from Guagua, Maximiano Jingco. Born on 6 July 1904 to Sabas and Irinea Jingco, Maximino grew up in Manila, finishing his primary schooling in Quiapo in 1914. He finished his secondary course at Manila High School in 1917. Unlike unschooled artisans, Maximino attended the University of the Philippines and enrolled in Sculpting, one of the few Kapampangans to do so (Note: Graduating from U.P. even earlier was Hipolito Lampa of Bacolor, who finished Fine Arts in 1916). In 1926, Maximino finally became a successful “graduado en Bellas Artes”.

Commercial workshops or talyers of sculptors sprouted in Quiapo, mostly catering to the santo trade. Maximino chose to specialize in secular art (non-religious) and, in 1927, he opened his own shop back home in Guagua—“El Arte, Taller de Escultura y Pintura”. A 1933 ad described his shop thus: “Iting taller a iti metung ya caring peca maragul a oficina quieti Capampangan a maliaring tatanggap qng obrang escultura antimo ding macatuqui: Monumentos, Estatuas en Madera, Marmol. Pintura, at aliua pa. (This shop is one of the largest offices in Pampanga which has the capacity to accept commissioned sculptures like the following: Monuments, Statues in wood and marble, Painting and others.) Jingco lived by his motto: “Magluid qñg capanintunan” (Long live livelihood) and his business prospered for many years.

Equally successful was the prodigious Juan Flores (b.1902) of Sta. Ursula, Betis. He started as an apprentice in the shop of Maximo Vicente, and progressed to being a restorer of santos and ecclesiastical arts for Luis Araneta and went on to help build the Betis woodcarving industry. His carvings adorn many churches, palaces and hotels here and abroad. In 1972, he even won a sculpting competition in the United States organized by the University of the California. Back home, he and his Kapampangan team helped refurbish the Malacañang Palace, carving wooden ornamentations and wooden panels for the various rooms, including the three wood and glass chandeliers in the Ceremonial Hall.

Juan Flores passed away in 1995. Happily, his torch has been passed on to contemporary mandudukits who are active to this day: Spanish-trained Willy Layug (an architecture graduate from U.P.), Boyet Flores ( a Flores descendant), Peter Garcia, Salvador Gatus and Nick Lugue of Apalit. In their hands, Kapampangan creativity lives on.

*216. ARAP-PISAMBAN: A Town’s Gathering Place

MEET 'n GREET PLACE. Our Lady of Divine Grace Church, with its wide and secure churchyard makes an ideal place of convergence for students, barkadas, sports enthusiasts, lovers and friends. It is strategically located in the center of the town, within reach of the market, schools, the municipal building and the national highway. Ca. 1968.

Our town church, Our Lady of Grace, is plain by any standards. It was built by the more austere Augustinian Recollects—and the church as I remember it back in the mid 60s—was but a high-ceilinged box, with a detached belfry and an undecorated façade—no columns, no fancy arches, no stained glass windows. It may not be as impressive as the baroque church of Betis and the cathedral of San Fernando, but it is strategically located in the heart of the town, sandwiched between the market, the municipio and the Mabalacat Elementary School.

The church’s most remarkable feature is the 'arap-pisamban', the churchyard—one of the most spacious in Pampanga. Facing the Macarthur Highway, the churchyard is big enough to contain an all-purpose court that faces a covered stage. This was once the venue for the P.T.A. Balls of the 1960s, formal, fund-raising affairs in which best-dressed Mabalaqueños danced the night away to the music of Iggy de Guzman and his Orchestra. Basketball leagues and tennis players take turns playing on this cement court, and of late, this section and its stage continues to be in use today, as the venue for the annual search for Miss Mabalacat. During Maleldo (Holy Week), on the other hand, the stage is converted into a “puni” , complete with pasyon-reading.

When I was a snotty schoolkid in short pants, however, the church grounds were something of a hallowed, almost holy place. Framed by a concrete fence topped with iron grills, the church was accessible through two side gates—one that opens to the school, and the other leading to the market; the main gate fronts the national highway. To go home from school to Sta. Ines, Poblacion or San Francisco, we always had to cut through the church yard. We would be such a noisy bunch as we trudged home with our bags and books, but the moment we passed before the church, we would shut our mouths and automatically bend one knee to the ground and kneel.

When we were feeling more prayerful, we would even stop and go inside the church where my adventurous classmates and I would climb up the stairs leading to the Calvario. There, we would touch our hankies to the huge statues of the grieving Mary, St. John and Mary Magdalene, avoiding the gaze of the crucified Christ. Donated by Don Gonzalo Tantingco and his family in the 1950s, these wooden figures are still in the church, now set on a concrete ledge, with the stairs gone. The bell tower was another place to explore but it was too risky—the sacristan always hovered nearby with an eagle eye.

We would also pay homage to the Santo Entierro—the shrouded dead Christ carved by Paete carver, Aurelio Buhay. I always had goosebumps as I wiped the Lord’s feet with my handkerchief—I thought it would wake up any moment.

Another source of wonder in the church was a small skull that once rested on an antique comoda. Local legend had it that it was the skull of a Spanish friar, but it was too small to be one. It must have been just a monkey’s skull, but as a child back then, we believed in everything!

Sundays were the best time to be in church, for the yard was a-buzz with so much activity. Peddlers of balloons, pink cotton candy, clay pots, ice drop and toys would gather around churchgoers with their wares. I was always attracted to the folk toys made from tin and I remember going home with a pair of red-painted tin horses that raced against each other when you pushed the stick attached to them. There were also those acrobat toys with moveable limbs that jumped and flipped when you squeezed the bamboo sticks on which they were strung. I don’t see those any more.

It has also been a tradition during the annual fiesta that the church grounds are rented out to stall owners as well as to carnival operators. The priest needs the extra cash, you know. As a child, I always looked forward to going back to the church grounds in the evening to ride the tsubibu and the rueda, watch the ‘Taong Gubat’ eat a live chicken and enjoy the sights and lights of the perya. My Ima loved going to the baratilyos the day after the fiesta, carting off utensils, pots and pans for the house sold at hefty discounts.

On Christmas, we would once again crowd the arap-pisamban as we attend the midnight masses, although what I really looked forward to were the mouth-watering bibingkas cooking on the clay kalang. The whole lantern-lit church yard would be packed with crowds, waiting for the Christmas lubenas, and the misa de gallo awhile later. This is the one of those times that even the expansive grounds are filled with people – families, neighbors, young and old, Christmas revelers all.

In the 1950s, the owners of a local high school, St. Anthony’s Institute, petitioned the parish to allow them to build a branch of the school within the church grounds, but the request was turned down by the Archdiocese of Manila. In later years, a decorative fountain was constructed to improve the look of the churchyard. Children would gather around it, until the day a dead man was found dunked into the fountain.

Through the years, our arap-pisamban has been an all-purpose ‘tabnuan’, a convenient meeting place of sorts-- for students to discuss their projects, for sweethearts to set their dates. Vendors congregate here to ply their wares while drivers use the space to park their cars. The youths come here to practice their ball games, enjoy a round of tennis, fly kites, frolic and gambol. This special place has seen it all: the whole cycle of life—from the baptisms of newborns, first communions of children, marriages, anniversaries, deaths and funerals. And in all these, it is comforting to know that our Lady of Grace, our Apung Gracia, keep watch over us.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

*215. RECUERDOS DE LA FAMILIA: The Rites of ‘Daun’

SUS DESCONSOLADOS AMIGOS. A crowd of relatives, friends and sympathizers attend the burial rites of a deceased in Candaba, Pampanga. He will once again be remembered on 'daun'. Nov. 1, with visits, floral, prayer and candle offerings from his family. Ca. 1920s.

The annual trek to the campo santo to honor the dead begins days or even weeks before November 1, All Saints’ Day. In reality, it should be observed the following day--All Souls’ Day--but Filipino Catholics have always marked the 1st of November as the day of ‘daun’. ‘Daun’ means an act of dedication or making an offering, and it is on this day that our deceased are remembered with gifts of flowers, prayers and visits from family members. Today, the term ‘undas’ which is of Spanish origin, is heard more often than ‘daun’ to refer to this season, and it is uncanny that ‘daun’ is almost an anagram of ‘undas’.

Who can forget the rites of ‘daun’ that begins almost always at home? Few days before the big day, our househelps would be making trips to the hardware to buy cheap water-soluble paint—Boncrex brand—that easily washes away in the rain. Even cheaper is kalburo (calcium carbide), which, when mixed with water becomes a paint substitute, but with a peculiar noxious smell. Armed with rags, grass cutters, and old palis tambu (recycled into paint brushes), they would troop to the old public cemetery to paint the puntud (tombs) of our family members, conveniently located right by the cemetery welcome arch.

Cemetery tending used to be a legitimate independent business, until private memorial parks took over. Men, women and even children were employed by families to take care of their family plots year-round and the job included weeding, watering plants and keeping the grave markers and statuaries clean. In the late 20s, freelancers could earn 50 centavos to 10 pesos a month per tomb, a decent salary in those times.

Cemeteries of old offer strange, eerie sights that often leave one reflecting on his own mortality. I remember, for example, this old tomb next to ours that was marked with a standing cement statue of what appeared to be a headless woman holding a wreath in her hands. As a youngster, I avoided going near that tomb and it was only when I was older that I learned it had a head—bowed down in an expression of profound grief. From where we sat, the statue appeared to be without a head—a pugut!

Of course, the Cementerio del Norte in Manila had more incredible and magnificent tombs to show. Here, presidents, diplomats, foreigners, heroes and other notable personages rest in massive art deco mausoleums guarded by angels, sylphs, gargoyles and other heavenly figures in cement and marble. But if these beautiful examples of mortuary art cause you to pause, the epigram on the gate of Betis Cemetery will make you ponder on life’s inevitability: “Aku ngeni, ika bukas” (My time to go, your turn tomorrow) so goes the grim reminder to all those who enter here.

Back at home, my mother would also be taking down the old picture frame of my Apu that hanged in our living room. Pictures of the dead were brought as well to the cemetery, to be placed on top of tombs, to visually identify the deceased. In the past, handmade coffins bore the names of the dead, painted on the side. Maybe they were made thus so that there’s no need to put a caption when the recuerdo de patay souvenir picture is taken! The famed coffin makers of Sto. Tomas, Pampanga could very well take a cue from this old quaint practice as part of their ‘customized’ casket design services!

To this day, memorial plaques of marble and granite—or lapidas-- are standard grave markers but the older ones that I see when I go around the semeteryu are more intricately made, some embellished with Spanish epitaphs like “Recuerdo de la Familia”, or with the more familiar D.O.M. (Deo, Optimo Maximo, or "To God, Best and Greatest"), R.I.P. (Rest in Peace) and S.L.N. (Suma Langit Nawa, although at one point, I was told that it meant “Sa Lagnat Namatay”, which gullible me believed for years!). In the 1920s through the 50s, lapidas could be ordered from talleres de escultura in Guagua and Betis or commissioned from Oriol Sculpture Works in Manila.

Then, as now, wreaths and flowers were major part of ‘daun’. For years, every end of October, my aunt from Baguio would send calla lilies by the bunches for our use. We would store these in buckets in the bathroom until they are brought out by my sister and mother on the eve of All Saints. For the next three hours, their dextrous hands would fashion memorial bouquets from these flowers, stuck on cut-up banana trunks with barbecue sticks, then supplemented with palm leaves and asparagus ferns plucked from our garden.

Memorial wreaths of old were more intricate, very similar to Mexican ones. They were created from flowers like amarrillos, zinnias, orchids, santan and chrysanthemums whose petals were often arranged to form words of condolences, as opposed to the use of ribbons today. The circular wreaths were then wrapped in clear cellophane and displayed for sale along the streets. Stands made of rattans were made to hold sprays of real flowers, but I also remember that we used plastic orchids for years as a cost-cutting measure.

Candles were no problems as they were easily available—my uncle ingeniously made candle holders from tin scraps, which he soldered together and which we used for quite awhile. Our Siopongco neighbors however had fancier lighting effects, spotlighting the Lourdes grotto that graced their family plot. To pass the day, I would go around tomb-hopping just like other children, asking for melted candle wax to be collected in a ball. We could use these later to wax our floors. Today, enterprising children collect candle wax for re-sell.

It used to be easy requesting your friendly neighborhood family priests to pray over the tombs of your deceased loved ones. You would often find them roving around the cemetery grounds, ready with their holy water bottles to bless the tombs. Of course, the in thing to do now is to put the names of the deceased in a prayer intention envelope and leave it at the parish office—with your money of course. In Betis, the custom of pa-siyam (nine day novena for the dead) is still practiced, with a twist. Prayer, flower, candle offerings and cemetery visits go on beyond Nov. 1, extending until Nov. 9, a unique tradition that speaks well of the town’s deep religiosity and love for their dearly departed.

That cannot be said of current ‘daun’ practices today, which put emphasis on crass commercialism and inappropriate revelry right inside the campo santo—the supposed holy grounds for the dead to rest. We see that on TV features every year, where people troop to the cemeteries with their food baskets and sound systems, gambling, drinking and eating the hours away to the blare of ear-splitting music.

Naturally, too, the most money is made out of the dead on the day specially set aside for them—All Saints’ Day. Never are candles and flowers so costly, never are jeeps and pedicabs so difficult to hire. Along the roads leading to the cemeteries, aside from the improvised tiendas, you can even find ‘karnabal’ rides and seedy shows, ready to fill the needs of the living on the day reserved to honor the deceased. The message of ‘daun’ may be lost on these people, but the cycle of life is certain to remind them that their time too, will come. “Aku ngeni, ika bukas”.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

*214. Rebel with a Cause: LUIS M. TARUC, Huk Supremo

AND JUSTICE FOR ALL. Huk Supremo Luis Taruc was a militant rebel leader who helped found the Huk movement in Central Luzon and became a leading fighter for peasant rights, agrarian and social reforms. His skirmishes with the government led to his imprisonment in the turbulent 50s.

A leading figure in the campaign for social justice, Luis Mangalus Taruc was born of peasant stock in San Luis on 21 June 1913. Just like his father before him ,he became a farmer. After high school in Tarlac, he enrolled at the University of Manila, but did not finish; he opted to become a tailor in San Miguel, Bulacan.

He was already deep into Marxism in 1935, forcing him to leave his haberdashery business to his wife so he could go full time with his pro-peasant advocacies. Influenced by Pedro Abad Santos of San Fernando, Taruc joined his Aguman ding Maldang Tala-pagobra (AMT, Union of Peasant Workers) and in 1938, the Partido Socialista. When the latter evolved into the Partido Komunista ng Pilipinas, Taruc became an officer of rank.

During the 2nd World War, Taruc, together with Casto Alejandrino, Felipa Culala (Kumander Dayang-Dayang) and Bernardo Poblete (Kumander Banal of Minalin), founded the Hukbalahap movement (Hukbong Laban sa Mga Hapon) in a barrio of Concepcion, Tarlac on 29 March 1942. He was chosen to lead a 30,000-strong guerrilla group against the Japanese invaders, with order to harass and attack them at every opportunity.

When the Philippines was liberated, Taruc and his group refused to surrender, as they were not recognized by the U.S. Army as real guerilla fighters. In 1946, he ran for a seat in Congress, which he won together with 6 other Communists. Charged with terrorism, he was unseated, fled to the mountains and vowed to defy the American-supported Roxas government.

In 1948, Tarc agreed to surrendered to then Pres. Elpidio Quirino. In return, Quirino was promised to grant amnesty to all surrendering Huks and reinstate Taruc as congressman. Talks collapsed with the government accusing the Huks of violating the terms of agreement. Once more, Taruc hied off to the mountains and continued his siege.

It was only in 1954, during the term of Ramon Magsaysay, that Taruc gave himself up to Benigno Aquino Jr., then a young reporter of the Daily Mirror and a secret government emissary to the rebel leader. Taruc was brought to Manila and was sentenced to 12 years in prison. After being denied clemency by Pres. Diosdado Macapagal, he was pardoned by Pres. Ferdinand Marcos in September 1968. Finally released, Taruc continued to work for social and agrarian reforms.

Taruc’s written works include “Born of the People” (1953) and “He Who Rides the Tiger” (1967). He passed away on 4 May 2005, of heart attack at the St. Luke’s Hospital at age 91. Attempts by several Huk veteran associations to discredit him as a Hukbalahap founder have not diminished Luis Taruc’s stature among the working peasant class, remaining an icon, or even a folk hero-- in the campaign against social injustice in the trying, turbulent 50s.