Sunday, November 27, 2011


FELICIDADES! A postcard illustrated by artist Jorge Pineda, greets the recipient with the standard greeting of warm felicitations for a happy holiday season. Ca. 1912.

A keen observer would find it amusing that the standard “Komusta ka?” (“How are you?”, derived from the Spanish ‘Como esta’?), has been supplemented today by a variety of Americanisms (“Wazzup?” “Hi, hello!”) as well as greetings that skip formality altogether, almost prying in tone as in “Nang balita?”—what’s new with you.

Time was when our everyday greetings were expressed with respect, always punctuated by “po or pu”, a polite word which we hear often, but now speak less. “Dispu”, derived from “Dios pu”, bestows upon the person being greeted, a kind of divine respect. Hence, when one says “Benging dispu’, it means more than just “Good evening’ (“Mayap a bengi”) , but with it comes a wish for an evening blessed with God’s grace.

Traditional Kapampangan greetings always elevate the stature of the person being addressed, as in the greeting "Siklaud ku pu" (Let me kneel before you), used for our elders. This practice of humbling one’s self in the presence of another is also observed in written sentiments. A person will give his photo to another accompanied by a dedication that almost smacks of self-deprecation: “Maluca queng yampang ing matsura kung letratu keka’ (“I humbly give my ugly picture to you).

When a friend on foot is spotted walking around a neighborhood, he is invited to leave the road and refresh himself with a drink inside the house--“salangi ka pa". “Salangi” also means “to light up with a match”-- which can very well describe an honored presence "lighting up" the house?. A person taking leave should bade his kind host goodbye with “Ume na kami/ Malaus na kami”. He can only go when permission is granted. In some towns like Arayat, folks use “Magsilbi ke pa pu”—literally, “we are ready to serve”.

The all-purpose greeting “Luid ka/ Maluid ka!” is our equivalent of “Mabuhay” and is used to wish someone welcome, congratulations, good health and a prosperous life. There are specific greetings for special occasions like birthdays, however: “Masayang aldo ning kekang kebaitan!” or a simple “Masayang kebaitan keka!” are our translations of “Happy Birthday!”, but the usage of that English greeting—with the localized pronunciation “Hapi Bertdey!”, is much more pervasive nowadays.

During the Spanish colonial times, the generic greeting “Felicidades!” (Felicitations!) was widely used for such occasions as Christmas, New Year and Graduation. The greeting appeared widely on business cards of Kapampangan professionals like doctors, dentists and lawyers. Tagalogs greeted their own with “Magandang Pasko at Manigong Bagong Taon” or the more current “Masayang Pasko at Masaganang Bagong Taon”. Our counterpart is “Masayang Pasku at Masaplalang Bayung Banwa”.

When a brief phrase or two was not enough to express his sentiments, a Kapampangan would often resort to poetry, florid and profound, gushing with praise and well-wishes, as in this dedication written by an admirer to a lady friend in Sta. Rita:

Caniting malucang postal
Queca cu ngeni papabal
Carin cu naman yayampang
Ini nang tula cung dacal

Queting fiesta mung dinatang
Pagnasan cu itinang
Fiesta mu ngening dinatang
Pasayan na ngan ding sablang
Magum qng quecang camalan.

Magluid sana ing bie mu
Queting mabilug a yatu
Layun sanang nabangnan mu
Yng tulang panenayan mu

In this humble letter
To you I make known
And also to you I offer
My overflowing joy

On this your feast day (birthday) that has come
It is my wish that your feast day
Will delight all those who will come
To praise your highness.

May you live long
In this whole world
And may you find the happiness
That you have been waiting for.

Kapampangans, they say, are brash, loud and ‘mayabang’—but our traditional forms of greetings and salutations disprove all that—they are polite, respectful, sincere. I don’t hear much of “dispu” nowadays, but “opu and pu” are still there—still used by kids when addressing their elders, although in “jejemonized” form when spelled in text messages. Which is a good thing, as our regard for other people seems to diminish with the advent of new media. We are quick to post insults on facebook, lambast someone on our blogs and make careless remarks in forums. Let’s bring back the era of a polite society, so we can bring humanity back to man. Ne po?

*272. FR. JUAN HERRERO OAR: In the Crossfire of a Revolution

RECOLETO IN THE REVOLUTION. Fr. Juan Herrero OAR, a former assistant parish priest of Mabalacat, was a tragic figure in the Revolution, killed defending the Spanish flag along with 9 other fellow priests in Imus, Cavite. Picture from the Recoleto digital archives.

One tragic figure of the Revolution of 1896 was a distinguished priest of the Orden de Agustinos Recoletos, who once ministered in Mabalacat: Fr. Juan Herrero. The Recoletos were the last missionaries to arrive in the Islands, arriving only in 1606, years after the Augustinians, Dominicans, Jesuits and Franciscans have chose prime mission fields. The “Barefoot Augustinians” (to differentiate them from the shod Augustinians) created the Provincia de San Nicolas de Tolentino from what remained of the unclaimed territories which were often remote and populated with hostile tribes.

Mabalacat was one of the “final frontiers’ where the Recoletos labored to win souls for God, along with southern Tarlac, Zambales, Bataan and Cavite. Slowly, but surely, the hardy Recoletos not only succeeded in their missionary work but also managed to amass large tracts of land through generous donation which were transformed into prosperous haciendas. The Hacienda San Juan in Imus was by far, the most progressive, which included built infrastructures like bridges and canals, as parts of its assets.

The Recoletos were already firmly established in Pampanga and Tarlac when Fr. Juan Herrero OAR was called on to help the thriving mission center in Mabalacat from where Recoletos fanned out to neighboring places to evangelize. Fr. Herrero had been previously assigned in Dagami, Leyte where the conditions there had prepared him for the arduous task ahead in this northernmost Pampanga town. In 1885, he was named as a compañero or assistant priest to Fr. Gregorio Bueno de la Virgen del Rosario, who had been serving the town for quite awhile. Fr. Herrero stayed for just 5 months—from July 11 to December 10, but long enough to be facile with the Kapampangan language, a talent which earned him an amount of respect among the natives.

A major assignment awaited him on 30 April 1891 when he was named as the Prior-Administrator of the order’s hacienda in Imus, a job that he performed with exemplary zeal and efficiency. But the looming revolution would change the course of history and of the good father’s life, as Cavite started to feel more intensely the stirrings of unrest.

Anxious about their properties, the Recoletos decided to put their haciendas for sale in October 1893, an almost impossible venture in such unsettling times. The Comisario General of the Recollects in Madrid formed a dummy company called “El Fomento de la Agricultura en Filipinas”, instituted on 24 February 1894 with Fr. Juan Herrero as manager of the said company. To this fictitious company, the hacienda was ‘sold’ for 4 million pesetas.

When the flames of the Revolution reached Cavite in 1896, violent attacks against Spaniards were waged with varying degrees of success in many towns, Imus included. In the last days of September 1896, the Recoletoshacienda in Imus became the scene of a bloody siege, in which advancing Cavite revolucionarios managed to corner Spaniards— soldiers and Recoleto priests led by Fr. Juan Herrero who bravely rallied around their country’s flag.

Holed up in the hacienda without any hope of escape, Fr. Juan Herrero and 9 other Recoletos were killed in the crossfire by passionate revolutionary forces. In an eerie twist of fate, a similar drama would unfold two years later in the same Pampanga town that he once served and involving the parish priest that he once assisted. Fr. Gregorio Bueno would die in the hands of Mabalacat revolutionists upon the order of the municipal presidente, a murder that would spawn the tale of the town’s infamous curse.

Thursday, November 17, 2011


SHE'S A DOLL! A little Kapampangan girl poses with her two dolls--a large American-made baby doll with composition head, hands and feet and a smaller doll also of composition. Dolls like these were rather expensive, so they were brought out only during special occasions--or when a child gets sick and needs comforting with toys. Mid 1920s.

Boys will be boys with their tirador (slingshots), pasi (tops) and teks cards—but girls will always be inseparable from their dolls—models of people made all sorts of materials like wood, clay, leather, cloth, modern plastic, vinyl and even ivory. In fact, old folks in Macabebe and Minalin still call dolls as “garing”, in reference to their similarity to ivory-headed saint figures lavishly dressed like dolls from the Spanish times. Today, of course, they are more commonly known as ‘munika’, derived from the Spanish term for doll-- ‘muñeca’.

Throughout history, dolls were traditionally used not just as playthings but also for folk rituals around the world —like the voodoo dolls of Haiti and the Daruma dolls of Japan that were kept as lucky charms. The era of mass production saw the importation of dolls to the Philippines in the late 19th century, but practical-minded Filipinos considered them more of a luxury. Girls only got to play with them when they got sick or when they sat for their studio portraits. After use, mothers put back the dolls in their boxes and stowed in the aparador.

The earliest commercially-made dolls that reached the Philippines came from large emporiums and Escolta bazaars like La Puerta del Sol, American Bazaar, Beck’s, Brias Roxas Inc., Osaka Bazaar and H. E. Heacock. They carried American and European made dolls of bisque, parian, composition, china, leather and cloth--plus doll accessories like miniature furniture. Well-known 19th century French and German dollmakers were Bru, Jumeau, Steiner, Simon & Halbig, Heubach and Steiff. Shops in Escolta also carried Japanese cloth dolls in their own glass cases, but these were more decorative rather than for playing. American made dolls from Horsman and Ideal Novelty (maker of Shirley Temple dolls) proved to be more popular because they were readily available and affordable by the time the 20th century rolled in.

As visitors flocked to discover our Islands, enterprising Filipinos put up curio shops that sold souvenirs—from shellcraft, abaca products, capiz lamps—and dolls. "Everything Philippines and nothing else but...!" was the come-on of Manila Trading Center and Exchange along Rizal Avenue, a popular shop that sold all sorts of handmade souvenirs for eager tourists--dolls included. The first commercially produced dolls were representations of Filipinos in native costumes, with heads, hands and feet of paper mache, clay or some form of terra cotta. Hand-painted with cloth bodies, they were dressed in native costumes faithfully executed in jusi, sinamay and cotton. Later, the heads and hands were replaced with cheaper composition material, made from wood and paper pulp.

Costumed Philippine dolls continued to fascinate tourists, spawning a cottage industry that prospered modestly in the mid 1920s-30s. Ethnic dolls also seemed to have an international appeal and Baguio-made Igorota cloth dolls with painted faces and dressed in traditional woven skirts were all the rage in those peacetime years. Nationalists in the late 1920s encouraged parents to give Philippine-made dolls as Christmas gifts for kids, this in the face of more expensive, imported dolls that could cry, talk, say “Mama”, sleep, walk and even wet themselves! Philippine dolls were not only cheap, but they also catered to both young girls and boys! Popular during this time were novelty paper mache dolls representing country boys and 'dalagang bukid' with their own paper mache horses, pigs and carabaos that they could actually sit on.

Alta Crafts was the biggest dollmaker in postwar Manila, creating cloth dolls that became the benchmark of other dollmakers in the 1950s. The standing cloth dolls personified the different ethnographic groups of the Philippines, dressed in indigenous costumes. It made Igorot dolls, Ilocana dolls, Visayan dolls in patadyong and even Central Luzon dolls in balintawak. Copied by other dollmakers all over the country, these cloth dolls have become our country’s signature dolls, even finding their way in San Fernando and Angeles gift shops, avidly sought by American servicemen and their families.

Closer to home, I remember a doll that was given by an aunt to my eldest sister in the mid 50s. It was a Saucy Walker plastic doll, which underwent countless horrible ordeals in our hands. In our boisterous games, this doll was kicked, tied and hung, tossed in the air, rolled down the stairs and, with hair pulled out, defaced with crayons until the garbage dump claimed the poor thing. As the years passed, the doll was quickly forgotten and my sister eventually married, settled in the States and we all grew up and led separate lives.

One day, however, while I was having a picture framed in an art gallery, I noticed a doll sitting on a shelf with the familiar auburn hair, close-open eyes and smiling mouth. It was an exact duplicate of the doll my sister once had. One look and I knew, I just had to have it.

Fortunately, the gallery owner didn’t care much about the doll, and it took just a little cajoling and a few hundred pesos for her to part with her doll. More than just a plaything, I have come to realize that this “munika” represented a piece of our family’s past, a most happy time in our youth now gone; when the joys of childhood could be had by simply spinning a top, rolling marbles, folding paper airplanes—and, in the case of little girls—creating worlds of make-believe with their dollies!

Monday, November 14, 2011

*270. Power Couple: Dr. WENCESLAO B. VITUG & JUANITA S. ARRASTIA of Lubao

LIGHTS OF LUBAO. Dr. Wenceslao B. Vitug and Juanita S. Arrastia came from two different worlds--one, from a humble farming family, the other, from an affluent Basque Spaniards who settled in Pampanga. As a married couple, they were known for their compassionate spirit and generosity in running their vast haciendas, and in turn, were highly regarded by their loyal tenants. 16 May 19226. Photo courtesy of Cathy Engstrom).

From Lubao comes one of the town’s most celebrated couple, Dr. Wenceslao Vitug and wife Isabel Arrastia, who were best known for their extraordinary sense of community and magnanimous spirit, along with the wealth and power they wielded as successful landholders and professionals. Theirs is a story of selfless love and of enormous hearts which never cease to give and care, when others needed it most.

Wenceslaso “Beses” B. Vitug was born 28 September 1892, to Esteban and Juana Beltran. The future doctor had humble beginnings—his father was a farmer from Barrio Concepcion who went on to serve as a mayor of Lubao from 1910-13. It was his father who inculcated to the young Wenceslao the values of hard work, education and community service. After his early schooling at the Lubao Elementary School, Wenceslao graduated as Valedictorian of the Pampanga High School Class 1912. He then enrolled at the University of the Philippines as a medical student, and 6 years later, Wenceslao earned his degree in Medicine.

He trained at the Philippine General Hospital where he subsequently became a resident physician from 1918-23 and proceeded to make a name for himself as a professor of medicine at his alma mater, U.P.

In contrast, Juanita S. Arrastia was born with the proverbial silver spoon in her mouth on 8 March 1902, the middle child of Valentin Arrastia and Francisca Salgado. Valentin, originally from Allo, Navarra, a Basque region of Spain, owned a prosperous hacienda in Lubao that included fish ponds. The 10 Arrastia children all grew up in a splendid bahay na bato located right in front of the town hall.

But when it was time to seek an education, Juanita was sent off to the Colegio de Sta. Rosa where she aspired to be a nun. But fate intervened when, one day, Juanita and sister Carmen accompanied their diabetic mother to PGH for a check-up. Wenceslao’s reputation as an exceptional internist had reached Lubeños, impressing everyone—including the Francisca Arrastia. She did her best to push Juanita to ThE GoOd dOcToR—10 years her senior.

The search for the queenship for the 1926 Pampanga Carnival organized by Gov. Sotero Baluyut would provide another distraction for Juanita. Local organizers approached her mother, Francisca, to seek approval for her candidacy to the provincial fair. Her mother, in turn, referred them to Juanita’s father, Valentin Arrastia, who grumbled and showed no interest at the project. Unfazed, the organizers returned to plead with him. One day, tired of their implorings, he threw his arms in the air to dismiss them, and, walking away, exclaimed "Vanidades del mundo! (Vanities of the world!)" They took that as a yes. Juanita did not disappoint and was elected Miss Pampanga of 1926. Her King Consort was a relative—Gregorio “Yoyong” Fernandez (actor, director and future father of the late Rudy “Daboy” Fernandez).

To everyone’s surprise, the 24 year old beauty wed Wenceslao on 15 May 1926—just a few months after being named Miss Pampanga. The marriage of Juanita to a ‘commoner’ who made good was big news in Lubao, where they settled and became hacenderos themselves, noted for their compassion and kindness to tenants.

It was said that Dr. Vitug personally treated sick tenants while Juanita cared for the welfare of their families, even extending interest-free loans. To religious order, she donated acres of land on which to construct their churches and schools. She also gave away plots of lands to loyal farmhands and offerd their home in Manila to children of family and friends who wished to study in the big city.

The couple themselves were blessed with 5 children: Lourdes (Lulu), Amelia Juana (Melly) , Maria Magdalena (Nena), Antonio Jesus (Tony, a medical doctor), Luis Lamberto (died young, of bone cancer), Mario Venerando (died of aneurysm), and Roberto Nicolas (Bert).

The Vitugs would eventually settle in Manila , living long, full lives surrounded by the love of their children and grandkids. Wenceslao passed away in 7 January 1986 at age 94, while Juanita died in 8 September 1994. Their old Lubao house was acquired by an architect and had it transported to a seaside town of Bagac, in Bataan where it is now part of Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar.

(Many thanks to Cathy Gamboa-Engstrom for the picture and for the biographical sketches of Dr. and Mrs. Wenceslao Vitug, her grandparents.)