Monday, January 31, 2011


MEKENI'S MININDAL. Street vendors entice passersby with their native delicacies spread out on their bilaos: ebus-wrapped suman and bobotu (tamales). Today, one can still find these 'kakanins' in market stalls around Pampanga, ready to be enjoyed anytime, anywhere. Ca. 1912.

A result of the ongoing renaissance and awakened interest in Kapampangan culture and traditions, is the resurgence in popularity of our favorite pedestrian ‘kakanins’. Once peddled by itinerant bilao-carrying vendors, our traditional kalame, tibuk-tibuk, suman, mochi, biku, cassava (kamuting dutung) cake—and many more--have become staples of local market stalls and mainstream food shops like Susie’s Cuisine, Delynn’s, Razon’s and Nathaniel’s, earning raves from foodies who even travel to the province to seek out these delectable native treats.

The character of our Kapampangan cuisine is defined by the products of our main industries-- rice, sugar, and to some extent, coconuts. It is no wonder then that most of our concoctions from the kitchen utilized these ingredients and their derivatives, resulting in filling rice-based treats with varying tones of sweetness that continue to delight us to this day.

Kalame (kalamay) is perhaps the most ubiquitous all-purpose food of Filipinos, made from malagkit (glutinous) rice, coconut and white sugar. The rice is first ground in a gilingan (stone grinder) to make galapung. This is a backbreaking chore, and I remember, it took two workers to operate our gilingan—one to “feed” the opening on top with malagkit rice, and the other to turn the grinder’s handle. I still have our stone gilingan, now family heirloom, incised with a date (1911) and the name of the original owner (Dr. Melecio Castro), my granduncle.

The basic kalame may seem easy to prepare, but it involves stirring the mixture constantly for up to four hours to achieve a smooth, sticky consistency. Kalame variations include ‘kalame ube’ wherein purple yam is added to give it a distict ube color and flavor. Rarely made these days is ‘kalame kulubasa’, in which mashed squash is used, giving the kalame a deep yellow color. The kalame is generously topped with ‘latik’, made from sugar and coconut milk extract.

Every town market it seems, has a stall hawking kalame slices served on banana leaf—it is that commonplace. It can be found in school canteens, on fiesta tables and birthday parties, and is freely given away by neighbors during. In Concepcion, Tarlac, a kalame variation made of galapung and gata is called ‘tocino’ by the locals.

Bibingka needs no introduction as it is equally popular as kalame, available all year-round, but more in demand during the Christmas season. Made from galapung, milk and gata, bibingka is cooked in clay dishes and browned with live coals placed on top and below the cooking dish. Special bibingka is made from pure galapung (no flour extenders please!) and enriched with ebun buru, keso de bola slices, dollops of butter and grated coconut.

I used to hear a folk song about the tasty brown kutsinta, which went “Puto kutsinta, malambot, masarap, malata!” (Puto kutsinta, soft, delicious and delicate). Pampanga’s kutsinta is created from the same ground malagkit rice, coconut, brown sugar and homemade lihiya (lye)--wood ash and water solution—and molded in tiny Chinese porcelain cups. Its white counterpart is the fluffy putu lasún, and I often wondered why it should be named like that, as, “lasún”, without the accent, means poison. These native delicacies are best eaten with fresh, grated coconut.

Tibuk-tibuk is another treat closely associated with Kapampangan specialty foods. I don’t think we ever called this delicate coconut milk-based dessert by its "ultra-sosy" name—“maja blanca”—we always called it tibuk-tibuk, in reference to the palpitating sound of the simmering gata (coconut milk) -sugar-carabao milk mixture as it cooked. We never added corn kernels or used cornstarch to hasten the cooking of tibuk-tibuk; instead, we allowed the mixture to thicken at its own pace, through even, constant stirring over low fire. Tibuk-tibuk is always served cold and garnished with latik—not toasted grated coconut which I often see in fancy hotels and restaurants.

Suman is cooked malagkit rice wrapped in ebus (a kind of palm leaf) strips. To give the plain, salty taste of suman more flavor, it is eaten with mangos or dipped in sugar. Suman bulagta, on the other hand, is cooked and wrapped in banana leaves, from which it acquires its greenish color. It is best eaten with latik and sprinkled with sugar. I recently visited a food shop in Tiendesitas which sold ‘haute’ sumans—laced with chocolate, macapuno, monggo and ube. The lowly, suman has finally come of age—but I still prefer mine plain and cheap, thank you.

Bobotu is another minindal favorite known to most Filipinos as “tamales”. But it does not taste anywhere near its Mexican counterpart. The mixture is prepared from giniling rice, coconut milk, sugar, salt, pepper and atsuete extract. The cooking bobotu involves many steps—after cooking the mixture in low fire with constant stirring, small portions are poured on a banana leaf, in which shredded chicken, shrimp or pork meat, egg slices, crushed peanuts and atsuete juice are added on top. The banana-wrapped bobotu is then steamed for about 20 minutes. Cabalantian in Bacolor is noted for making the tastiest bobotu in the province. Alas, some unscrupulous bobotu sellers add more banana wrappings to make the bobotu look more appetizingly plump.

Sampelut (or Ginataan to Tagalogs)—a thick sweet porridge made from gata, sugar and made chunky with slices of sagin saba, kamote, gandus, nangka and bilu-bilu (rice flour balls) can still be found offered by food stalls in rural markets, but is better made at home. I never liked sampelut because of its laxative effect, what with its high coconut content, but my sister swears by its rich, lip-smacking taste, a halo-halo of sorts but without the ice.

A visit to the local market yielded many more kakanins of my childhood, including the sticky ‘pepalto’ (palitaw), which is covered with fresh grated coconut, white sugar and anise. Less visible is the ‘mochi’-- fried dumplings filled with sweet yam or ube filling. ‘Sapin-sapin’—that multi-layered, multi-colored rice cake is, in itself, a feast for the eyes, a super sticky cake laced with ube and other flavorings. Espasol is another sweet delicacy which my Ingkung used to buy in San Fernando and Bulacan. The finger sized espasol pieces are dusted with roasted rice flour to prevent the pieces from sticking and wrapped in characteristic brown paper.

Before, I could easily find ‘maruya’ or banana fritters being sold by the side of the Sto. Rosario Church, so I think one could still find them in the city. I was less successful in my search for ‘putung babi’, pan de sal halves filled with potatos (or kamote) and minced meat, then fried in batter. They were my favorites in grade school, regularly offered by ambulant vendors.

A Kapampangan will never go hungry with the fantastic array of native delicacies available for his instant delectation. All he has to do is go out the street, locate a native peddler, and pick a kakanin from her bilao of banana-wrapped goodies. There’s always one treat there that is sure to please you—on and off the street!

Sunday, January 30, 2011

*235. Father to the Lost and the Lonely: Rev. Msgr. BENEDICTO J.E. ARROYO

HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD. The young Candaba-born Benedicto Arroyo as a high school graduate, age 17 . Future chaplain of the National Bilibid Prison and National Mental Hospital. Ca. 1934.

I remember seeing Msgr. Benedicto Arroyo at the Cardinal Santos Memorial Hospital sometime in 2004 when I visited a sick aunt. I was with my Del Rosario-Tinio relatives when we chanced upon him in the elevator. The Tinios were related to him by marriage and an uncle-priest, Msgr. Manuel del Rosario, who was a dear friend of his.

In his 80s, the portly father was still at it, in a hospital, no less, ministering to the infirmed and the sick, a calling that he embraced, and which would become the hallmark of his long career as a Filipino religious.

The good monsignor was born in Candaba on 16 August 1917, the fifth child of Dr. Esteban Sadie Arroyo and Adela G. Evangelista. His father was a University of Sto. Tomas medical graduate and he was, at one time, the presidente municipal of Candaba and a co-founder of the Arayat Sugar Central. The large Arroyo brood would grow to twelve children; aside from Benedicto, his siblings included Eduardo, Juan, William, Elena, Caridad, Socrates, Didimo, Sosimo, Aquiles, Africa and Pomposo.

Just like his brothers and sisters, Benedicto attended his primary grades at the local Candaba Elementary School. Bent on pursuing his religious vocation, he entered the San Carlos Seminary for his secondary education, and, upon completion, enrolled at the San Jose Seminary at age 17. He finsihed his priesthood at the height of the war on 20 March 1943, with the Most Rev. Michael Dougherty D.D. as his ordaining prelate.

His first assignment was as Assistant Parish Priest at Guiguinto, Bulacan (1943-46), and after which he was stationed at Tarlac, Tarlac for a year (1946-47). His next post was at the St. John the Baptist Parish in Pinaglabanan, San Juan (1947-55). The next two years of his religious life were spent ministering to the mentally sick, the physically infirmed and hardened criminals as Chaplain of the National Mental Hospital, National Orthopedic Hospital, and New Bilibid Prison, Muntinlupa.

Fr. Arroyo would prove his mettle during his term as an NBP chaplain. He celebrated Masses, heard inmates’ confessions and celebrated Christmas with his wards. He looked after the spiritual welfare of the inmates, firm in his belief that, like the parable of the prodigal son, they, too, are capable of finding their way back to God. So well-loved and effective was he, that he was promoted to Chief Chaplain and became a Penal Catholic Chaplain Coordinator in 1962. He likewise became a member of the Board of Pardon and Parole and headed the Classification Board of the National Bilibid Prison as its Chairman.

Fr. Arroyo would eventually be assigned to the Parish of San Rafael in Pasay City and become a Vicar Forane of the Vicariate of St. Raphael. Despite his many functions, he found time to become the Spiritual Director of the Maria Coronada movement as well as an esteemed member of the Archdiocesan Pastoral Council.

The monsignor also loved travelling, and his sojourns have taken him all over Europe and the United States where he has many relatives. He observed his Diamond Sacerdotal Jubilee in 2003 and spent his retirement years at Our Lady of Guadalupe Seminary. Msgr. Benedicto J.E. Arroyo passed away on 21 September 2010 at the grand age of 93. He is interred at the Manila Memorial Park in Sucat, Parañaque.

Benedictus Qui Venit In Nomine Domini
(Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord)

Thursday, January 13, 2011


A UNION OF SPIRITS. Emilio Abello Sr. with his Kapampangan wife, Elisa F. Gutierrez of Bacolor, were classmates at the University of the Philippines College of Law. The Abellos built a distinguished career in foreign service beginning with the appointment of Emilio as Philippine envoy to Washington in 1962.

Even before Diosdado P. Macapagal assumed the presidency in 1961, he had already figured out his diplomatic team to Washington. His choice to the premier post was no other than Emilio M. Abello Sr., who, together with his equally accomplished Kapampangan wife Elisa F. Gutierrez, would serve the government for many years, ably representing the country as official spokespersons and interpreters to Americans of Filipino views and decisions on foreign policy. Emilio would serve in his capacity as Philippine ambassador from February to September of 1962, but would remain involved in foreign service for more years.

Emilio Abello was born on 14 January 1906, the third of five children of Dr, Manuel Abello of Iloilo and Rosario Montilla of Negros. After finishing his elementary and high school studies from Isabela public schools, he was accepted at the University of the Philippines as a law student.

At the state university, he met Elisa, already a popular campus beauty, whose lineage was no less formidable. The daughter of Eduardo Gutierrez-David and Florencia Fajardo, Elisa came from a family of lawyers and patriots. Her grandfather was Manila-born Mateo Gutierrez-Ubaldo, who had been a member of the Provincial Council of Pampanga and one of the signers of the Philippine Constitution approved in Malolos in 1898. He had moved to Pampanga to escape Spanish oppression during the time of the Revolution. An uncle, Jose, became a Supreme Court Justice while father Eduardo, was one of the province’s constitutional delegates.

It was during their second year in college that Emilio and Elisa became engaged. They graduated together in 1929, with Emilio as Class Salutatorian. Elisa finished third, the only female in her class of 35, a batch that included a future senator (valedictorian Lorenzo Sumulong), diplomats (Raul Leuterio, Jacinto Borja), congressmen (Justiniano Montano, Angel Fernandez, Fortunato de Leon, Juan Pajo, Pedro Syquia) and judges (Federico Alikpala, Mateo Canonong). The two passed the bar that same year, with Emilio placing fifth.

Their careers started soon after with Emilio joining the Paredes, Buencamino and Yulo Law Office as assistant attorney. Elisa joined the law firm of his uncle, Jose Gutierrez-David, where her work often brought her around Pampanga, Nueva Ecija and Tarlac area. Within two years, Emilio and Elisa were married in Bacolor. They first kept house in Cabanatuan, where Elisa’s father served as a judge.

When Emilio joined the government service as assistant attorney in the Bureau of Justice, the Abellos moved to Manila in 1934. In 1937, he was promoted Assistant Solicitor General and in 1940, he became the youngest undersecretary of Justice at age 34. He later served as Executive Secretary to two presidents, Roxas and Quirino, and also taught law in several Manila universities.

Elisa, on the other hand, had to put her lawyering career aside to raise a family that would come to include five children, all boys: Manuel (a UP and Harvard law graduate), Emilio Jr. (a doctor), Jose Maria, Roberto and Eduardo. But she was kept busy with her involvement in many club endeavors, becoming a committee chairman of the Girl Scouts of the Philippines, Vice President of the Civic Assembly of Women in the Philippines, member of the National Federation of Women’s Clubs, President of ZONTA Club and Head of the Discipline of Spanish-European Language at the U.P. As an envoy’s wife, she had to organize social events and attend countless foreign service functions, meet her international counterparts while projecting the culture of the Philippines and that of her home province Pampanga, of which she was well-known for.

The Abellos enjoyed a long and remarkable career as top level diplomats (Amelito Mutuc replaced him as Ambassador in September 1962). After his ambassadorial stint, Emilio served as Chairman of Meralco in the early 70s and was elected assemblyman of the Interim Batasang Pambansa in 1978. The Don Emilio Abello Energy Efficiency Awards are given out yearly in his name. He passed away on 18 May 1982, while his widow carried on with her socio-civic interests and advocacies for the rest of her life.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

*233. Boys Next-Door Stars '66: PEPITO & RAMIL RODRIGUEZ

THE RODRIGUEZ BROTHERS. Pepito and Ramil Rodriguez, come from an old well-to-do Bacolor family with rich agricultural holdings. But the two followed a different path by entering shwobiz, finding fame in the 60s as part of the immensely popular young love team group, Stars '66.

One of the leading production outfits of the 1960s, Vera-Perez’s Sampaguita Pictures, conceived of a way to launch its stable of young stars and starlets. And so, in 1966, and with much hoopla, Sampaguita Pictures presented the group—comprising of 5 love teams, collectively known as Stars ’66. The group included such young actors and actresses as Gina Pareño, Bert Leroy Jr., Blanca Gomez, Dindo Fernando, Edgar Salcedo, Loretta Marquez, Rosemarie Sonora —and two Kapampangan brothers, Ramil and Pepito Rodriguez.

It was the tandem of Rosemarie (Susan Roces’s younger sis) and Pepito, however, that caught the fancy of young Philippine fans, catapulting the “Stars ‘66” to national popularity. The Rosemarie-Pepito tandem had started in 1964, with the “Mga Batang…” series of film hits that included “Mga Batang Artista”, “Mga Batang Bakasyonista”, “Mga Batang Turista”, “Mga Batang Milyonaryo”, and the frequently-replayed-on-TV “Mga Bata ng Lagim”.

Pepito Rodriguez was born Jose Rodriguez in 1944, one of the sons of Rene Hizon Rodriguez with Maria Rosa Moreno. The Rodriguezes are from a prominent family with roots in Bacolor. Eldest brother Rene Jr., born on 22 August 1941, also entered showbiz, taking on the screen name Ramil Rodriguez. Their other siblings were Ma. Melinda, Oscar, Celina and Antonio. Their paternal grandparents were the wealthy sugar planters and successful entrepreneurs, Don Godofredo Rodriguez and Dña Victoria Hizon-Rodriguez who eventually settled in the capital town of San Fernando.

The Rodriguezes were friends of the Vera-Perezes, which owned Sampaguita Pictures. Of the brothers, Ramil was the more reticent one when they were offered to make movies. In the end, family friendship prevailed and in 1963, Pepito joined the movie bandwagon as the boy-next-door type, in the film “Haliging Bato”. He started being noticed in light musical romances like “Dance o’ Rama”, “Jukebox Jamboree” and of course, in the aforementioned “Mga Bata..” series.

Pepito’s career continued to shine in the next few years, doing more teen-orienetd films like “Papa Um Mamaw”, “Jamboree ‘66”, “Petrang Paminta” and “Bahay Kubo, Kahit Munti”. He dabbled in drama like “Alaala ng Lumipas” (1965) , “Hinango Ka Sa Lusak” (1967), but fans seemed to like him better in lightweight romance films. When actor Ricky Belmonte entered the picture as Rosemarie’s other love interest, fans gravitated towards the more contemporary Ricky (he could sing and dance), and an alternative love team was formed, drawing a large following and leaving Pepito in an awkward situation.

After appearing in “Life Everlasting” in 1971, he dropped out of circulation, only to come back almost a decade later in the made-for-TV movie, “The Children of An Lac” as the Vietnamese Capt. Nam. He was lured to return in the 1985 drama, “Palimos na Pag-ibig”, and in the 1990 action film “Alias Baby Face”. He would permanently retire from showbiz after that, and settle in the U.S. as a successful busnessman.

On the other hand, Ramil's first film was in the 1960 movie, "Palanca". He was officially introduced in 1964's "Leron-Leron Sinta", a musical comedy starring Susan Roces and Eddie Gutierrez. As part of Stars '66, Ramil was initially paired with Loretta Marquez, but eventually acquired other leading ladies like Josephine Estrada and Liberty Ilagan.

He was a multi-facetted actor, taking on everything from comedies and musicals in the '60s ("Hi-Sosayti, Magnificent Bakya, Jamboree '66, Sitting in the Park") to light romance, action and drama flicks in the 70s ("Maraming Kulay ng Pag-ibig, Ako'y Tao, May Dugo at May Laman, Ang Daigdig ay Isang Patak na Luha"), evolving into a fine dramatic actor in the process.

In the '80s, he starred in classic like "Blusang Itim", "Magdusa Ka", (1986), "Asawa Ko, Huwag Mong Agawin", "Ibulong Mo sa Diyos" (1988). he remained active in the 1990s and found a new set of audience with his TV appearances in telenovelas like 1997's "Mula Sa Puso", "Love to Love" (2004) , "Magpakailanman" (2005) and the highly rated "Bakekang" (2006-07).

One need only to look at past movie magazines to see how popular the brothers Rodriguezes were in their time, led by the elder Ramil, who continue to light the TV screen with his occasional, but marked presence in heart-stirring dramas and Pepito who, together with Rosemarie, came to be one of the hottest, most unforgettable love teams of 60s Philippine cinema.