Tuesday, November 24, 2015


FR. SANTIAGO BLANCO, the last Spanish Augustinian priest of Pampanga, as a young priest. He was sent to Pampanga upon his ordination in 1928 and stayed on, long after the Order let go of its parishes. H dies in Bamban in 1993. Courtesy of Monsgr. Gene Reyes. 

No other missionaries had more impact in the creation and development of provinces than the Augustinian frailes that first arrived with Miguel Lopez de Legazpi tour islands in 1565. Just 9 years later, 1575, the Provincia del Santissimo Nombre de Jesus de Filipinas was already in place to manage effectively the affairs of the missionaries in their pastoral turfs.

To their credit, the Augutinians founded 250 parishes—the most by any order, and 22 of these were in Pampanga. Some of these missions include Lubao (1572, founded by Fray Juan Gallegos), Betis (1572, Fray Fernando Pinto), Mexico (1581, with Fr. Bernardino de Quevedo and Fr. Pedro de Abuyoas as the first priests), Guagua (1590, Fray Bernardo de Quevedo), Candaba (1575, Fray Manrique) and Macabebe (1575, Fray Sebastian Molina).

 The product of their missionary zeal resulted in many achievements that contributed to the advancements of Pampanga towns. Great builders all, they designed and constructed some of the most beautiful churches in the country—Betis and its baroque decorations, Mexico and its cimborio, Bacolor—said to be the most beautiful in the province, and Lubao, the biggest of all Pampanga churches. 

From building grand churches, the Augustinians also founded th schools or escuelas—parochial centers of learning—in Bacolor, Betis, Lubao (Estudio Gramatica later Colegio de Lubao, 1596) and Candaba (Estudio Gramatica, 1596). They also became the first mentors of students, as they became more adept at the local language.

 It was the Order that put up the first Augustinian printing press in the country that published pioneering printed materials—from grammar books, dictionaries and novenas. Augustinian friars like Bacolor founder Fray Diego Ochoa, authored the first Arte, Vocabulario y Confesionario en Pampango while Macabebe’s Fray Tallada wrote the first published Kapampangan book--Vida de San Nicolas de Tolentino (1614). 

 Among the Augustinians were erudites like Fray Guillermo Masnou, who made a study and an inventory of the herbal plants in Pampanga. Fray Antonio Llanos was taken by Mount Arayat’s curious shape, its flora and fauna, and the rivers that flowed from its core, inspiring him to study Pampanga’s mythical mountain.

 As a result of their effective evangelical labors, the Augustinians were allowed some autonomy by the Vatican, with little interference from the diocesan bishops in the supervision of the fledgling churches and the administration of the sacraments. Pampanga thus became a showcase of the Augustinians’ missionary work all throughout the Spanish colonial period and beyond.

The parishes of Lubao, Betis, Sasmuan, Porac, Minalin and Sto. Tomas continued to be administered by the Augustinians well into the first half of the 1900s; the last town to go was Floridablanca, whose last Spanish parish priest was Fray Lucino Valles, founder of the St. Augustine Academy in 1951. Other chose to stay here permanently long after their order's duties were over. 

Such was the case of Fr. Santiago Blanco, a true blue Spaniard, fondly called Apung Tiago by his Kapampangan constituents. Ordained in 1928, Fr. Blanco was assigned to various towns in Pampanga, including SantoTomas, Betis and Porac. He was responsible for the repainting of the church interiors of Betis during his 1939-49 term. His next assignment was Porac where he served as parish priest and Spiritual Director from 1950-1959.

When the Augustinians let go of their last remaining parish in Pampanga, Fr. Blanco requested to be left behind. In 1963, his application to become a secular priest was granted by the Holy See. Fr. Blanco moved to the newly created Diocese of Tarlac and became an honorary Monsignor and an Episcopal Vicar.

Fr.Blanco took residence in Bamban until his passing in 1993, his lifeworks in Pampanga a testament to the unflagging Augustinian missionary heart and spirit.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

*391. LOTIS BALUYUT KEY: Her Passionate Artistry, Unlocked.

LOTIS IS THE KEY.Versatile Kapampangan-American artist parlayed her beauty beauty pageant credentials into a successful stage and film career, until she made a life-changing decision to move to the U.S. ca. 1978. 

 The career of Maria Rica Baluyut Key (aka Lotis Melisande Key) speaks volumes about her multi-facetted gifts that has served her well in diverse endeavors—including coping with the complexities of showbiz life. 

Her mother was Luz Nolasco Baluyut, a popular radio personality in the 1930s who went by the nickname “Mitzi”. The Baluyots traced their ancestry to Guagua and the Kapampangan-speaking towns of Bataan. Mitzi’s father was Jose Baluyut, a former governor from Orion, Bataan. Jose’s brother was Sotero Baluyut, Pampanga’s eminent engineer-governor from the 30s. 

Mitzi was first married to Arturo Ortiz, son of the Philippine Secretary of State who tragically died at Fort Santiago during the War. She married a second time, to Warren Bryan Key, a descendant of Francis Scott Key, lyricist of the U.S. anthem "Star Spangled Banner".

Their daughter, born in 1949, would become one of the most talented personalities of Philippine entertainment—Lotis Key. Lotis was raised in Pasay City, and her beautiful Filipina-American features were evident at an early age, which opened doors to modeling and beauty pageantry.

Her first foray was in 1967, when she was selected as Princess Royale de Quezon City. Later in the year, she competed in the 3rd edition of the Bb. Pilipinas Contest to determine the country’s delegate to the Miss Universe Beauty pageant. Just 18 and a student of St. Paul’s, she placed third in the national tilt won by Cebuana Pilar Delilah Pilapil.

 Two years after, Lotis joined the search for “Romeo and Juliet of the Philippines”, a promotion to drum up interest in the 1969 Franco Zefirelli movie. She was named “Juliet” to Victor Laurel’s Romeo. In 1971, she joined “Miss Aviation” and topped the contest too.

 While joining contests and walking fashion show ramps, Lotis was also busy making TV appearances and performing on stage as an actress. With Hilda Coronel, she was cast in “Manigong Bagong Taon” a Channel 5 New Year special, directed by Lino Brocka. On the theater circuit, she was in the play “The Crucible” where she had a daring kissing scene with veteran Vic Silayan. She was a mod nun in “Cisco”, a singing country girl in “Carousel”, and a body-baring lead in “The Prime of Miss Jean Brody” in “Carousel”.

Pretty soon, movie producers were knocking on her doors, convincing her to try the movies. After doing a bit part in the 1971 movie,”Stardoom”, she was noticed in “Ang Mahiwagang Daigdig ni Pedro Penduko” (1973).

But it was in “Dalawang Mukha ng Tagumpay” that she made her mark, earning her a FAMAS Best Supporting Actress nomination in 1974, a feat she also repeated in “ Ibigay Mo Sa Akin Ang Langit” (1975). Lotis had a starring role as a circus performer in the movie, “Lady Luck” (1975).

 Lotis became Dolphy’s favored leading lady, appearing together with the Comedy King in box-office films like Captain Barbell (1973), Fung Ku (1973), Facundo Alitaftaf (1978), Darna, Kuno? (1979), Max En Jess (1979) and Bugoy (1979). Soon, the showbiz world was a-buzz with the Lotis-Dolphy romance.

 In 1986, Lotis made a drastic decision to get away from the tiring drama of Philippine showbiz. She moved to the United States to start life anew. With her well-rounded experience, Lotis found work in theater, radio, corporate shows, TV commercial and industrial video productions as a voice talent.

She not only rediscovered her faith by becoming a Christian evangelist but she also rekindled her passion for the theater. She became a playwright, director and producer, a job that took her across the U.S. and Canada. Lotis next shifted to literary writing, resulting in two published novels, “The Song of the Tree” and “A Thing Devoted”.

 Finally coming to terms with her past, Lotis married Bambi Kabigting, a former Ateneo Blue Eagles and Crispa Redmanizer basketball ace. She and her family are settled in Minnesotta, happily living a simpler, contented life-- away from the public’s prying eyes, and far removed from the glamorous, but often-complicated world of showbiz that once hailed her as a star.