Monday, April 30, 2012


EL ANGEL CUSTODIO. The heirloom image of the Nepomucenos, descendants of the founders of Angeles. It was commissioned in 1830, and now reposes at the central niche of the main altar of the Holy Angel University. Picture courtesy of the Center for Kapampangan Studies..

Most families reserve a special place in their homes for their images of faith---from a simple bedside table, a mesa altar, or a carved glass-panelled urna for a “santa”, an “Apung Guinu” or a “Santo Niño”. This goes to show how treasured santos are, handmade expressions of our faith, and venerated since the time of the Spanish conquest.

Kapampangan families often had images carved in wood or precious ivories by accomplished artisans of the province, lavishing them with respect, material gifts and money for their care and upkeep. A “kamadero” (caretaker) was often assigned to look for the image’s needs and safekeeping. This is especially true during the seasons of Lent, Christmas and fiestas, when the rites of the church revolve around these faces of divinities—to be prayed to, to be dressed and carried out in processions.

A number of antique images from prominent Kapampangan families still exist today, exceptional not just for their ancient beauty, but also for their history. In Mexico, the center of veneration is an ivory image of Santa Monica, the town’s patrona. It belonged to Capitan Francisco Liwanag and Doña Anastacia David Hizon, one of the wealthiest families of Mexico. The couple, though, were childless, and so the image was entrusted to a niece, Maria Hizon de Leon. But Maria would die young, but before her demise, she managed to pass on the image to her sister, Trinidad. The income from a parcel of rice land located at San Pedro, Kamuning, Mexico was allocated for the santa’s use. The current caretaker of the image is Trinidad’s granddaughter, Luz Dayrit Rodriguez.

Apalit’s most well-known santo is that of San Pedro, called endearingly by the name “Apu Iru”. The lifesize image, dating from the 2nd quarter of the 19th century, is made of expensive ivory. The seated santo shows St. Peter as a Supreme Pontiff, in papal robes. In 2002, a fire razed its shrine, destroying the saint's original accessories —gold and silver keys, tiara, pectoral cross and emerald ring. But the image remained unscathed, and this fortuitous event was hailed as a miracle by residents. During its annual June fiesta, a fluvial procession is held on Pampanga River, where the image, borne on decorated pagoda, is escorted by a fleet of boats carrying rowdy revelers.

The Apu Iru image is associated with the old Arnedo family, having been passed on to Dña Maria Espiritu de Arnedo, wife of Macario Arnedo y Sioco, who brought Apung Iru to Capalangan. To ensure that the cult is perpetuated, a corporation known as St. Peter’s Mission was put up by the Espiritu-Arnedo-Gonzalez-Ballesteros-Sazon families, which designates an official caretaker of the image (Augusto “Toto” Gonzalez III is the current kamadero).

Angeleños take pride in their own “Apung Mamacalulu”, or the Lord of Mercy, depicting the image of the dead Christ. It was commissioned by Fr. Macario Paras between 1828-1838, carved by an artisan named Buenaventura. It figured in at least two important events in Angeles town—the first, in 1897, when a religious farmer named Roman Payumu was arrested by Spanish infantrymen for taking part in the Revolution. Ordered executed on the spot, Roman, a loyal cargador of the Apu during His processions—invoked the name of the Lord of Mercy for salvation. His ropes that bound him came loose, allowing him to run and escape his captors--a miracle, attributed to the good Apu.

On Good Friday in 1928, the image of Apu was snatched by its kamadero, Eriberto Navarro while it was being processed. Acting for his aunt, Alvara Fajardo, a Paras heiress, Navarro claimed ownership of the image. A court case between the Church and the heirs followed, a case resolved only by the Supreme Court which returned the image to the Church. The authenticity of the returned image was in question for years, as the heirs had a second duplicate Apu image made, and which generated more following in their private Chapel than the one in the main Church.

Also in Angeles is the image of the titular town patron--El Angel Custodio-- commissioned and finished in the year 1830 by the town founder, Don Angel Pantaleon de Miranda. After the death of Don Angel, the image of the Holy Angel was taken by his son-in-law, Don Mariano Henson (ca. 1798-1848, Doctor of Laws, married to Juana Ildefonsa de Miranda), who passed it on to Maria Agustina Henson (1828-1905), who later married Pio Rafael Nepomuceno (1817-1858 ). The image was handed down to son Juan Gualberto Nepomuceno (1852-1923), who, in turn passed it on to son Juan D. Nepomuceno (1892-1973), founder of Holy Angel Academy. It was this image, it was said, that inspired Juan to name the school "Holy Angel", now the biggest university of Central Luzon. Don Juan’s daughter, Teresita N. Wilkerson took care of the image after his father’s death; it now rests in the central niche of the university's Gothic-style chapel, finished in 2010 by noted carver, Willy Layug.

The closely-knit Panlilios of San Fernando are the owners of a processional Mater Dolorosa, the ivory image of the sorrowful Virgin since the 1800s. Considered miraculous, the Dolorosa is credited for saving the life of Luis Dayrit Panlilio in 1954. He was preparing the carroza of the Dolorosa when he was asked by his father-in-law to go with him to check their sugar plantation. They were about to leave when the electrician came running to report that the batteries of the carroza were not working, which was a surprise as Luis had checked them before lunch. His father-in-law went without him and en route to the sugar fields, he was ambushed by the Huks. Luis lived to be 91 years old.

Mabalacat is the home to a smaller-than-lifesize Sto. Entierro, (or locally named Apung Mamacalulu), a depiction of the dead Christ lying in state. Believed to have come from overseas, Mexico, it was first owned by Don Juan Rivera, considered as the town’s most affluent resident at that time. A descendant, Leonila Rivera Serrano, is the current owner. When the Serranos moved residence, the image was shuttled back and forth between Manila and Mabalacat.

Caretaker Mrs. Baby Sacay, tells us that in the 1960s, three women came to the Poblacion chapel where the image was housed. One of the women had a recurring dream in which Christ begged her to remove 7 sheets of clothing covering His face as they were causing him to suffocate. In the same dream, the woman noted that the feet of Christ, unlike other representations, were not crossed. When the group examined the image, it was indeed shrouded with 7 layers of satin, and both feet were uncrossed—just like in the woman’s dream!. Mrs. Sacay also remembers the day several Blue Ladies of Imelda Marcos came to make an offer to replace the antique treasure with a new one. She politely refused, and then proceeded to put locks all over her house.

Santos stories abound too about the antique images of the Dolorosa of Guagua (owned by the heirs of Don Guillermo Limson), the Sto. Entierro of Sta. Rita (of (the Ynfante-Velez family), the Sto. Entierro of Bacolor (its calandra was exhumed from lahar in 1995 and restored to full glory by Tom Joven) and the Manalangin/ Agony in the Garden of Arayat, which features an angel dressed in short pants. The pampering and care lavished on images may appear excessive to some, but to Kapampangan Catholics, the kind God on whom their faith rests and who has given them so much –blessings, protection, salvation from sickness, tragedies and natural disasters--deserve nothing less.

Monday, April 9, 2012

*290. ELIAS LAXA: Guagua’s Master Painter of Philippine Vignettes

THE ART OF LAXA. Elia Laxa, Guagua's foremost painter of Philippine vignettes was well-known for his seascapes inspired by idyllic scenes from his beloved river town. Ca. 1960s.

The Philippine art scene is made richer and livelier with the creative contributions of Kapampangan artists through the years. Macabebe leads the way by producing a National Artist in 1981, Vicente Silva Manansala, whose cubist art and social realism themes inspired by memories of his early Pampanga memories, captivated the country’s imagination. Benedicto Cabrera, from Sasmuan, would find fame as the Bencab who painted Filipiniana and colonial-themed paintings. Bacolor has Vicente Alvarez Dizon who bested Salvador Dali in a 1939 art competition, while Mexico has Jose Bumanlag David.

The river town of Guagua is not without its own homegrown artists who, though not as publicized and as well-known as their counterparts, command quite attention and respect from patrons in the art circle. The most successful perhaps is the artist Elias Laxa, whose seaside and landscapes have come to be recognized as valuable vignettes of Philippine scenes.

Laxa was born in 1904 in the fishing barrio called Banka in Guagua, Pampanga. A the age of 16, he left for Manila, but it was only at the relatively advance age of 25 that he enrolled at the U.P. College of Fine Arts. There, he studied under Fernando Amorsolo and graduated in 1933. Like what they say about starving artists, Laxa took on odd jobs, including sign painting for Escolta shops. He plunged into serious painting only after the War, supporting himself by giving private art lessons. An early supporter was a kabalen—Emilio Aguilar “Abe” Cruz, the artist-writer from Magalang.

His signature works are his color-splashed seascapes, inspired by his humble background, being the son of a fisherman. In fact, he also became a fisherman in his youth. These circumstances helped develop his love for the sea, which showed so well in his paintings. But he could also paint other subjects—calesas on narrow alleys, market women, old colonial churches, --done in colorful, swift-strokes. The art critic Alfredo R. Roces wrote of his works, “His art is every bit like a fragment of a street with cracked sidewalks, tilted signs and moving calesas, or it is a piece of the sea, with a beach and a vast expanse of sea and sky. He seems bent, in canvas after canvas, in capturing a fleeting moment when light has made edges soft and feathery, just a few minutes before the pinkish-grey sky breaks into actual dawn..Laxa seems bent on pursuing these mysteries of nature relentlessly”.

Laxa started reaping awards starting in 1949 with an honorable mention from the Art Association of the Philippines competition. He duplicated that feat the next year at the same contest.

In 1952, Laxa held his first one man show at the gallery of noted painter, Miguel Galvez. He held solo exhibits at the Philamlife lobby and at Gallery One in San Juan. It was through his art that he managed to support his large family that consisted of 9 children, who earned degrees in engineering, architecture and education. Just like his low-keyed persona, Laxa lived modestly, residing in a “home along the riles”—a house beside the railroad tracks on Antipolo St., in Manila.

His dream to travel and exhibit abroad came true when he was given the opportunity to fly to Hawaii in 1964 and show off his representation artworks, not to mention his technical proficiency, his artistic sensibilities and his warm, imaginative personality. It was in Hawaii that he found a measure of artistic success. Art connoisseurs started to take note of his soulful works, particularly his seascapes that were to be his forte. He would travel back and forth from Hawaii to the Philippines, to paint, to exhibit and to rediscover his Guagua roots that so exuberantly inspired his works.

He and his family would relocate to Hawaii, the island state that would embrace him and his art. Underrated no more, Laxa would spend the rest of his days here, until his passing in 1990, surrounded by his extended family, children and grandchildren, some of whom would also become artists like him, thus perpetuating the Laxa artistic tradition.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

*289. JIMMY NAVARRO: Radio’s Mr. Melody of the 50s

HEY, MR. MELODY! Jimmy Navarro, the radio star of many PMC-sponsored musicales, is part-Kapampangan, with a mother from Bacolor. He found fame as the other half of the singing duo "Jimmy and Priscilla" in the mid 50s.

Of the personalities that emerged from the highly popular radio musicales of the 1950s sponsored by corporate brands like Lux, Gloco, Tide and Perla Soap, none were more well-known than “Jimmy and Priscilla”, whose pleasing combination of melody ranked as the best loved duo of Philippine tunes on the local airwaves.

Priscilla was born Presentacion Bataclan in Malate, and she would find early fame at age 14 as the “Kolynos Girl”, the toothpaste-sponsored singing belle who captivated audiences of KZRM programs that included “Kolynos Hour”, “Cashmere Bouquet with Bimbo Danao” and “Klim”. She was already married for over 6 years to Bernardo Aristorenas when she staged a comeback n the early ‘50s, as the other half of the singing tandem “Jimmy and Priscilla”.

Jimmy Navarro was actually younger than Priscilla, and his entertainment career started only after the Liberation. He was born Jaime Navarro to Fortunata Lorenzo of Bacolor, Pampanga and Santiago Mason Navarro of La Union. His parents were not musically inclined, so it came as a surprise that Jimmy, at age 12, sang publicly for the first time, a vernacular song entitled “Paraluman”.

At age 15, he got his first taste of singing for the radio audience on the “Search For Talent” program on KZRH located at the Heacock Building in Escolta. The much-followed program was produced by Levi Mat. Castro whose family members were into singing, performing, directing, producing and scriptwriting for the airwaves. That preliminary taste of success prompted Jimmy to talk to his folks out of continuing his education. Instead of enrolling a local college as his parents wished, the talented teen accepted an offer from Luz Mat. Castro to sing for her.

But radio didn’t readily accept Jimmy with welcoming arms. There were times when he was off the air for two months. But even with expiring contracts, he practiced his singing, voice, diction and dramatics daily. Still, no projects came and dejected, he momentarily put on hold his radio dreams to join the Army.

Jimmy was a buck sergeant when the War broke out. He saw action in Bataan, and when the province fell, he joined the Luzon Guerrilla Army Force which waged underground assaults in Pangasinan.

With the closing of the War, Jimmy found himself a singing job at the Liberator’s Club, which mostly had G.I.’s as customers. His audience soon thinned out due to regular discharges, so he auditioned and got accepted as a member of Francisco Gomez’s radio troupe at DZRH, called “The Malayan Stars”. Gomez spotlighted him on two of his daily programs: “Sunrise” and “Sundowners”. Coached by Moning Almario, Jimmy furthered his radio career on DZRH, doing solos and duets for Luz Mat. Castro’s “Sampaguita Radio Stars”, the Mabuhay Musical Club and many other radio groups.

His biggest break came when he clicked in Ira Davis’s PMC-sponsored “PMC Perla”. The Philippine Manufacturing Company then was a corporate giant affiliated with the Procter & Gamble Company of the U.S., known for selling their many brands like Camay, Purico, Vicks and Perla--through the radio. PMC’s most successful program was “Tawag ng Tanghalan”, a talent search program that started on radio before moving to TV in 1958. A long-term contract followed plus starring roles in a succession of musical programs produced and promoted by PMC. Jimmy made discs with Bataan Records (“Kung Batid Mo Lamang”) and also sang songs for the movies.

When the all-Filipino musicale “Vicks Variety Show” was launched, Jimmy and Priscilla’s divergent career paths converged with the creation of the singing duo—Jimmy and Priscilla. Their pleasing voices and rich harmonies would gain them a bigger radio fan base, peaking in the mid 50s. Backed by Leopoldo Silos and his Vicks Variety Orchestra, Jimmy and Priscilla sang kundimans, balitaws and melodies that reflected every shade of the ways of Filipino life.

Jimmy Navarro’s fine singing voice continued to be heard over the radio through the 60s, as well as on the new TV medium occasionally. He married a fellow radio voice talent named Nelda Lopez , who as Nelda Navarro, became a well-known personality in the TV-Radio circuit. Their daughter is the singer-activist Leah Navarro, who became a popular singer during the 70s decade of Original Pilipino Music.

Monday, April 2, 2012

*288. The Seminary Years of REV. FR. TEODORO S. TANTENGCO

THE CHOSEN. Teodoro Tantengco of Angeles was one of 12 seminarians who started their priestly studies at the San Carlos Seminary beginning in 1908. Eight years later, he was ordained as a priest. He was the long-time cura parocco of San Simon.

In 1908, twelve new seminarians entered the august halls of the Conciliar San Carlos, the first diocesan seminary founded in the Philippines. That time, the seminary was located along Arzobispo Street in Intramuros, beside the new San Ignacio Church. Three years earlier, the American Archbishop Jeremiah Harty had turned over the administration of the premiere seminary in the country to the Jesuits.

Of the 12 seminaristas, two were full-blooded Kapampangans and both from the town of Angeles—Felipe de Guzman and Teodoro Tantengco y Sanchez. Teodoro had entered just two months ahead of Felipe, on 1 July 1908. San Carlos had quite a substantial number of Kapampangan seminaristas enrolled even in those years, coming fromsuch towns as Betis (Victoriano Basco, Mariano Sunglao, Alberto Roque, Mateo Vitug); Sta. Rita (Anacleto David, Pablo Camilo, Eusebio Guanlao, Mariano Trifon Carlos, Prudencio David); Macabebe (Brigido Panlilio, Atanacio Hernandez, Maximo Manuguid, Pedro Jaime); Bacolor (Rodolfo Fajardo, Tomas Dimacali, Vicente Neri); Porac (Mariano Santos); Angeles (Pablo Tablante); Guagua (Laureano de los Reyes) and Candaba (Lucas de Ocampo).

Seminary life was conducted under the watchful eye of the Rector, Fr. Pio Pi and the Minister, Fr. Mariano Juan. Teodoro and his classmates were drilled in Liturgy, Music, English and Ascetics. Moral Theology and Philosophy were taught at santo Tomas while other courses like Math, Greek, French and even Gregorian Chants were also offered. Discipline was exact; some form of corporal punishment were meted out for acts of disobedience—like being put on silence and making public retractions of some kind.

Out of the classrooms, the Carlistas were employed in the Cathedral services and liturgical events, like in the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Pius X as a priest. The seminaristas assisted in the altar services at the mass officiated at the Manila Cathedral. Similarly, the class were mobilized to attend to Archbishop Michael Kelly from Sydney, Australia who had come to Manila for a short visit.

In 1909, Teodoro was present at the consecration of Bishop Dennis Dougherty’s successor, Bishop Carroll, as the Bishop of Vigan. The class also performed preaching duties at the Bilibid Prison and at the San Lazaro Hospital, where the Carlistas ministered to the needs of the patients.

There was no rest during their vacation as Teodoro took classes in Latin, English and Tagalog, even as the superiors organized trips to Sta. Rita, Angeles, Dolores, Porac and Guagua. There were all-day picnics and excursions in Cainta, Cavite, Malabon, San Pedro Makati, Sta. Ana and at the hacienda of a certain Captain Narciso in Orani. Regular “dias de campo” were scheduled in Pasay and Malabon, where the youths swam, played with their bands and refreshed themselves with tuba, melons and ‘agua fresca’.

On 10 April 1910, the Carlistas took part in a historic church event which saw the establishment of four dioceses by Pius X—Calbayog, Lipa, Tuguegarao and Zamboanga. The seminarians were in full attendance to mark this important occasion for the Philippine church. The next year, the seminaristas were allowed to attend the Manila Carnival from Feb. 21-28 at Luneta, where they thrilled to the sight of the aerial acrobatics performed by American pilot Mars.

Teodoro and his classmates were taken by surprise on 17 August 1911, when they received orders from Archbishop Harty to transfer all San Carlos seminarians to the Seminario de San Francisco Javier (the old Colegio de San Jose) located along Padre Faura St. Teodoro was one of 30 seminarians who moved to San Javier, a merger-transfer that would last for 2 years, until the seminary closed in 1913.

With the termination of the Jesuit administration, the seminarians made their final move to a refurbished building in Mandaluyong, which was constructed by Augustinians in 1716 and abandoned in 1900. The Vincentian fathers (Congregation of the Mission) took over the management of the new site of Seminario de San Carlos.

It was here that Teodoro Tantengco, finished his priestly studies which culminated in his ordination in 1916. He was assigned immediately back to his home province in Pampanga, first as assistant priest of Masantol, then as the cura parocco of San Simon which he served for many fruitful years. In 1947, he was in Tayuman, Sta. Cruz.

The accomplished and well-loved priest passed away in San Fernando in 1954. A nephew, Betis-born Teodulfo Tantengco followed in his footsteps, enrolling in his uncle’s alma mater and, after ordination, served various parishes like Arayat and Dau, Mabalacat, Pampanga until his death in 1999.