Monday, December 29, 2014


RAH-RAH, RIZAL! A floral motorcade winds down on the streets of Angeles town during the 1931 celebration of Rizal Day, a national holiday.

Rizal Day, commemorating the date of death of our national hero, was a significant national holiday, held every December 30. First marked in 1898 through a decree issued by Pres. Emilio Aguinaldo in Malolos, Rizal Day started as a day of mourning in memory of the national hero.

 The first Rizal Day was celebrated in Manila with a program by Club Filipino, an organization of young Filipinos, many of whom were identified with revolutionary movement. The club held a velada in their headquarters on Calle Alix, now Legarda Street. Musical interludes and readings of Rizal’s poems were also incorporated in the program. The climax of the event was the placing of a crown of laurel on the head of a Rizal bust, performed by Trinidad Ungson.

 Rizal Day was declared an official national holiday in 1902, under the Americans. Filipinos, with their love for pomp and pageantry, transformed the affair with a fiesta atmosphere, incorporating parades that featured stately carrozas bearing likenesses of Rizal—mostly busts, replicas of his statues and portraits. Floral floats often carried allegorical muses and other historical characters, with painted slogans and memorable quotes culled from Rizal’s life works. An important part of the celebration was the selection of Rizal Day muses, of which every town seemed to have one. 

Pampanga had always had a deep association with the national hero. His visits to his friends in San Fernando and Bacolor in 1892 are well-documented. One of Rizal’s closest friends was Valentin Ventura, the uncle of Kapampangan philanthropist Honorio Ventura. It was Valentin who made the publication of El Filibusterismo possible, by shouldering its printing cost.

Angeles was one of the first towns of Pampanga to celebrate Rizal Day. In 1931, the town held a program featuring civic parades with floral motorcades, bearing children in costumes representing different professionals like nurses and doctors. Prizes were given away to the best-dressed participants. Local businesses chipped in to sponsor the event.

 The celebration of Rizal Day continued to be observed through the 30s-50s in Philippine towns, becoming simpler and more austere through the years. Today, Rizal Day has become a more formal state ceremony, marked with flag-raising, 21-gun salute and wreath-laying by the country’s chief executive. But for the small Rizalista community still flourishing in the foothills of Mount Arayat, every day is Rizal Day.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014


BELENISSIMO! The characters of Bethlehem come to life in this school production which were staple presentations in many Pampanga schools come Christmas time. Dated 1953.

 Christmas in old Guagua, like in all Catholic towns of Pampanga, is centered on the celebration of the birth of Jesus, in a decrepit stable in Bethlehem. The scene is etched in our minds this way: Jesus lying on a manger wrapped in swaddling clothes, His parents, Mary and Joseph standing watch. Around them, the Savior’s first well-wishers: shepherds and their flock, townsfolk, and the three Magis from the East. Above, an Angel hovers mid-air, proclaiming to one and all, “Gloria In Excelsis Deo!”(Glory to God in the Highest). This enduring image of the Nativity has remained with us since time immemorial, perpetuated in art and religious iconography.

Every Christmas, as late as the 1950s, the scene is replicated in many homes in Guagua, where a “belen”—a depiction of the Nativity using miniature figurines—is set up on a table, instead of the usual Christmas tree. More wealthy homes displayed marble, porcelain, wax or celluloid figurines figurines of the Baby Jesus, and all His attendant companions, housed in a constructed wooden stable, complete with real hay and grass. Modest homes were contented with cardboard replicas of these characters.

 Children would often gather around the “Belen” to gaze with wondering eyes on the scene before them. The owner of the house or a family elder would then recount the beautiful story of the Savior’s birth. Today, of course, Christmas stories would include the tales of Santa Claus, Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman! On Christmas Eve, the silent story told by the “Belen” is becomes a moving, living pageant.

An hour before midnight, a re-enactment of the Nativity story begins with the procession of the images of Birhen Maria and San Jose around the town. The procession stops at certain houses in the neighborhood, and a man, representing San Jose, starts to beg the house owner for refuge for his infanticipating wife. His pleadings are expressed in the form of a song. The house owner, enacting the role of a Galilean innkeeper, dismisses them. His refusal for accommodation is also rendered as a song.

 In the next few hours, the two images, followed by their entourage, continue to move from one house to another, where the actor’s implorings are met with the same cold treatment. They finally arrive at the Church, where a stable is found waiting for them. Here, the images are installed—the Virgin and his spouse finally find rest and a roof over their heads. Their arrival signals the beginning of a beautiful Misa Pastoral, or midnight mass, presided by the cura.

 The message of the Belen story, retold every year in Christmas pageants such as this Layunan tradition has never changed—it is one of birth and renewal, of redemption and resolution, of re-dedication to the cause of peace and goodwill. Heartfelt greetings of the Season, and sincere wishes that good health and fortune betide you and your families, throughout the coming years!!

Thursday, December 18, 2014


GIVE TOYS ON CHRISTMAS DAY. A child beams with joy amidst his collection of foreign and Philippine-made toys perfect for the holidays.

“What can I give you this Christmas?.. 
With prices up so very high--
A smile of joy and gladness,
To chase off any sadness
A gift we cannot sell or buy--
That's what I can give you this Chirstmas!"

 In this season of giving, that question, perhaps, is the one that demands a a most well-thought of answer. After all, the chunk of the well-earned Christmas bonus will most likely be appropriated to buying happiness for dear ones. For the wife, an imported vanity case containing all those important feminine paraphernalia—perfume, powder, lipstick—will be greatly appreciated. But then again, she might opt for a new living room set! For parents, a large, state-of-the-art flat TV is perfect, although medicine supplements make another ideal alternative . For a grown-up son or daughter, maybe a ticket to a Bruno Mars concert or some fashionable gifts: rubber shoes, handbags, a new watch.

 There is no guesswork, however, when it comes to choosing presents for children. Then, as now, the choice of a gift narrows down to just one---toys! A Kapampangan child and his toys are as inseparable as pen and paper, and, growing up in the 20s through the 50s, a wide assortment of toys were available to him, at prices parents could very well afford.

 Surveying Japanese bazaars and department stores in 1929, one would most likely find cheap, but attractive Philippine-made toys that were crafted “to make children understand our own Philippines better”, as one local businessman argued. The most popular were papier maché doll figures for both boys and girls. Many depict rural scenes, such as a charming dalagang bukid in a native costume astride a carabao, a squatting man roasting a lechon, and a country boy riding a horse, bearing baskets of fruits. For those with more money to spare, foreign-made toys could also be found in leading Manila stores—from motorized tin cars, airplanes and trucks, dolls made in the likeness of Hollywood stars to crying and talking doll figures that could also close and open their eyes.

 In old Guagua, however, boys and girls received Christmas toys not from fancy shops but handcrafted for the occasion by loving fathers, uncles and brothers. This folk art was still thriving in the early 1950s. A 1953 magazine account describes the toys thus: “These are the animal pull toys that were fashioned from bamboo and wire. The skeleton frame was then covered with thin, white “papel de japon”. They were mounted on 4-wheeled wooden platforms, and were so constructed that at every turn of the wheels, parts of their bodies moved and simulated an action peculiar to the animal they represented”.

 The animals chosen were often culled from the figures present at the birth of Jesus—lambs, cows, doves—as well as domesticated ones like dogs, cats, carabaos. Ingeniously made, the chickens flapped their wings, the cats played with their balls of thread, and dogs crouched and leaped as they were pulled on the town streets.

 At night, these toys were lighted inside with candles, giving them a warm glow as they were pulled by troops of children, joined by their Mass-going parents, towards the church. “It seemed”, waxed one Guagua resident recalling the scene, “as if all mankind and all the creatures of the earth were going again to the manger to worship at the feet of the Prince of Peace”.

 Time and again, it is said that “Christmas is for children”. For it is them that are dearest in the thoughts of parents, who, although kindhearted every time of the year, are doubly generous during this season. Once again, in many homes, toys—whether it be an expensive robot with a laser sword or a homemade rag doll---will shine in good proportion to the simple pleasures of little children.

Thursday, December 11, 2014


IF I HAD A HAMMER. Lubao Elementary School Shop Class for boys. 1936-1937.

 My least liked subject during my elementary days was Industrial Arts. Taught to fifth and sixth graders, industrial arts was meant to equip students with manual and vocational skills that one may find useful in a future career in woodworking, cottage industries and native crafts.

 American teachers paid attention to this non-academic subject as Pampanga’s economic activities seemed to revolve around those industries. Crafts such as buntal hat and basket weaving, pottery, blacksmithing, furniture making were known in such towns as Betis and Apalit. Which is why, when the Bacolor School of Arts and Trade made its curriculum, it included advanced courses in carpentry, furniture-making and iron works. It was just a matter of time that the subject was adopted in public elementary schools, under the name ”Industrial Arts”.

 I was a total klutz when it came to handling tools, and I couldn’t even tell a screwdriver from a can opener. So it was with much anxiety that I entered the Industrial Arts building located at the rear of the school—students simply called it “shop”. It was lined with long work tables and had cabinets full of carpentry tools, each little gadget in its own space. The teachers manning the ‘shop’ had a reputation for being ‘terrors’ so this did not help me in appreciating this subject.

But luck was on my side when I found out that our class was assigned to the more mild-mannered Mr. Dimabuyu. My parents knew him personally and they requested him to go easy on me. I had such a weak constituent that even a simple chore like pounding a hammer could trigger an asthma attack. So, for the next weeks, I was spared of carpentry work and was given drafting duties instead. I learned to draw schematic diagrams of every conceivable geometric figure known to man, using a T-square, a triangle and a ruler. I wonder if I could actually make a living out of this. After awhile, boredom set in and I started watching and helping my adept classmates with their handiworks that were becoming more interesting every day.

 The first project was a dustpan fashioned from old cooking oil cans and a piece of wood. The next was a shoe mud scraper made from soda crowns hammered onto a plank of wood. Simple enough. But the succeeding projects became even more elaborate, requiring more sophisticated tools and skills.

For the fruit tray, one had to be good not just in handling the jig saw but also in weaving rattan strips that constituted the side of the tray. The serving tray was the piece de resistance—individual bamboo tiles had to be cut and glued into place much like parquet—and then made even with a shaving plane. The surface was then hand varnished to gleaming perfection. Each finished piece had to be presented to Mr. Dimabuyu for grading.

With his critical eye, he took note of the accuracy of dovetailed pieces, the craftsmanship and the over-all aesthetics. Every flaw was met with a frown while the outstanding ones merited words of praise. In Grade 6, I felt courageous enough to take part finally in our shop class even if I was now under a terror teacher.

The first project stumped me though, a wooden animal pull toy with wheels. I simply could not handle a jigsaw, so I cheated by asking Sidring, our househelp, to do all the sawing, drilling and assembling.

Every day I would bring the pull toy, a work in progress, to the shop, sandpapering it to death so it would look like I was busy with it. I did the painting though, a no-brainer, but still I got a deduction for painting the toy dog green.

 Later, in the school year, a radical set-up was introduced for intermediate students—both boys and girls-- which took us by surprise. The role-reversal experiment called for the girls to take Industrial Arts and Gardening, and the boys to study Home Economics. We had to learn the parts of the sewing machine, do kitchen work and hawk merienda food from class-to-class. That was the worse part as the sight of boys in aprons selling kakanins always caused people to snicker. The girls, on the other hand,  were actually doing well with their bamboo-and-paper parol project.

 It was only when I began living alone that I learned to appreciate this subject now absent in most school curriculum. Industrial arts did not make a handyman out of me, but it sure did prepare me in coping with the challenges of home improvement and repair, which I think I am now capable of doing. With my basic knowledge of carpentry, I could frame pictures, install shelves, mend broken furniture—thanks to the subject I loved to hate—industrial arts!