Thursday, December 22, 2016


PARUL MASTER. Jesus Maglalang of San Fernando, poses with his award-winning parul creation, his trade since 1946. Photo taken by Pete Reyes , People Magazine. 1979.

The world-renowned Giant Lantern Festival is inextricably linked with the history of San Fernando. Ever year, come December, tens of thousands of visitors flock to the capital city to witness the annual of “Ligligan Parul”, the culminating contest to determine the year’s best lantern from a field of entries entered by all the barangays.

For hours, every one will watch transfixed, as the lanterns twinkle, dance, blink, morph into myriads of shapes in a kaleidoscope of colors, in perfect synch with a musical piece. And, every one will be certain to come away in awe at the enthralling lantern performance never seen in any part of the world, except San Fernando, dubbed as “The Christmas Capital of the Philippines”.

The “Ligligan Parul” of yore were held non-stop from morning to evening—and the lantern that remained lit after so many hours would be declared the winner. The popularity of the parul thus jumpstarted a lantern-making industry in San Fernando  in the 60s that flourishes to this day.

The full support of Fernandinos and the City Government through its local tourism office assures the continuation of this honored lantern tradition that has added much value and verve to Pampanga’s culture of festivals.

Some of these important personalities associated with “Ligligan Parul” include whole families: David and Quiwa Families (Brgy. Sta. Lucia), Garcia and Paras Families (Brgy. Dolores), Maglalang and Santos Families (Brgy. San Jose),and  Dizon, Datu, Policarpio, Limzon Families (Brgy. Del Pilar).

It is interesting to note that the Davids from Sta. Lucia, were crafting ‘paruls’ as early as the 1930s. The patriarch, the late Rodolfo Davis, is credited with inventing the rotor, which revolutionized the design and lighting mechanisms of paruls, allowing for countless color combinations and animations. David’s son-in-law, Severino, devised the first battery-powered giant lanterns in the early 1940s.

By 1958, David had perfected a new lantern design, papered with papel de japon, and now known as ‘parul sampernandu’. The flat, circular lanterns are designed with individual compartments housing a lightbulbs that light and ‘dance’ using the ingenious rotor technology devised locally.

Beginning in 1946, Jesus “Mang Suseng” Maglalang started crafting lanterns that became very popular with people outside of San Fernando. His client list included Pres. Ferdinand Marcos, Juan Ponce Enrile, Baltazar Aquino and Fernando Poe Jr.  A perennial winner in the lantern festival, Mang Suseng starts working as early as February just making his designs. Amazing, but no 2 paruls are alike, as he gets inspirations from church motifs, chandeliers, and even psychedelic art.

The Quiwas, on the other hand, pioneered the use of plastic in lanterns. Quiman Lanterns,the family business, is now led by Ernesto Quiwa, an Outstanding Fernandino Awardee in 2009, and his fifth generation parul maker sons, Arvin Francis and Eric Quiwa.

At the forefront of preserving our parul tradition is Rolando Quiambao (b. 2 Sep. 1955), a business graduate. A variety of unfulfilling jobs led him to his nephew’s parul workshop where he quickly learned the trade. Soon, he was manning his own shop, set up through a loan from DSWD’s Self-Employment Assistance-Kabuhayan Program. His business slowly, but surely took off.

Nothing could faze Quiambao who carried on with his business despite the Pinatubo aftermath and rising productions costs. He gave work to his neighbors at a time they needed it most and is recognized today for sustaining interest in the parul tradition, often with much personal sacrifice.

His painstaking efforts have been richly rewarded: his parul creations became the stars of several editions of “Ligligan Parul”, winning in 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2006.  As a result, Quiambao was named Outstanding Fernandino in the field of culture and arts in 2004, topped by a 2005 Most Outstanding Kapampangan Award for the same category.

The tradition of lantern-making is alive and well the whole year-round in the capital city. We salute these  pioneering starmakers, who have made it their mission to ensure that our Christmases will remain dazzling and bright, and that our hopes will never dim—thanks to their inimitable “stars of wonder, stars of light”—the San Fernando Parul.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


COOL LIGHTS. The Meralco Tower all lit up for the annual carnival. The invention of neon and fluorescent lamps, which were more efficient than ordinary incandescent bulbs, is often attributed to Filipino Agapito Flores, whose story has since been debunked. A 1940  feature in a Kapampangan daily may shed new light on this Flores controversy.

For decades, the name of Agapito Flores, of Guiguinto, Bulacan has been associated with the invention of the first fluorescent lamp. This Agapito was said to have worked first as a machine shop apprentice, then relocated to Tondo where he took up a vocational course to become an electrician. Allegedly, Flores was granted patent in France for a fluorescent bulb which the giant General Electric Company bought for millions.

However, no records exist of such transactions involving a Filipino by that name, and there are also major discrepancies with regards to the timeline of his supposed breakthrough invention in lighting.

There were several pre-cursors of the modern-day fluorescent lamp . As early as 1856, German Heinrich Geissler performed several experiments in arc tube type lamps. This was followed in 1895 by Daniel Moore of New Jersey (first commercial arc tube), Peter Cooper Hewitt  ( patented the first low pressure mercury vapor lamp in 1901--the very first prototype of today's modern fluorescent lights), Edmund Germer (improved  the fluorescent lamp in 1927), and George E. Inman (builder of a prototype fluorescent lights fit for public use, 1934)

Obviously then, there was not just one, but many inventors of the fluorescent lamp, at various stages of its development.  Many of the patents granted them were bought by General Electric to control their use and stifle competition.

But did a Filipino really contribute to the invention of fluorescent lighting? Why is there no solid evidence about Agapito Flores that caused his story to be debunked? Yet, National scientist Dr. Benito Vergara of the Philippine Science Heritage Center, recalls that "As far as I could learn, a certain Flores presented the idea of fluorescent light to Manuel Quezon when he became president.”

A 1940 front page news from “Ing Pamitic”  a local Pampanga daily may shed some light on the issue:

FILIPINU YA PALA. Marajil eyu balu qng Filipinu ya pala in mecatuclas (inventor) caring sulung gamitin ñgeni a palaguan dang neon Light at Fluorescent Light. Deting tauli ila deng maputi salang gagamitan dana deng caraclan. Iting Filipinung inventor ya I Dr. Gabriel Del Pilar Flores a maqui dayang capitna Castila at capitna Filipinu, dapot ciudadanu Filipinu.

Ing Dr. Gabriel del Pilar Flores megaral ya king Universidad ning Sorbona, Paris, Francia. Iting Universidad metung ya karing maragul dili queti qñg yatu at metung neman caring cabalitan. Ding dacal a estudiantes a manibat caring mialiuang bansa a magaral Europa lasa carin la pupunta lalung-lalu na ring manibat caring balen ning Sur America.

Iting balita mebasa qñg metung caring bilang na ning Milwaukee Journal, America. Queta pang banua na ning 1932 geua ing amanuan dang marimlang sulu. Dapot nung e quetang 1937 ya micalat a pañgagamit qñg comerciong picabaluan a Neon Light.  Queting mesabing banua, qñg Exposicion Paris, ing bulalag qñg meto sicluban a Torre Eiffel, manibat lalam angga qñg taluctuc na micatcatanan ya caring bayung sulung geua na ning calaji tamu.

(HE IS A FILIPINO. Perhaps you don't know that a Filipino invented the widely-used lights today known as neon light and fluorescent light. The last are the ones that emit white lights used by most. This Filipino inventor is Dr. Gabriel del Pilar Flores, with both Spanish and Filipino blood, but who consider himself Filipino.

Dr. Gabriel del Pilar Flores studied at the University of Sorbonne, Paris, France. This university is one of the biggest and most renown in the world. Most students who study in Europe often enter this university, especially those who come from South American countries.

This news is based on one of the issues of Milwaukee Journal, America. It was in 1932 that this so-called “cool light” was invented. But it was in 1937 that the commercial use of neon lights became widespread. In the said year, at the Paris Exposition, the Eiffel Tower was shown to the whole world, arrayed from  bottom to top, with these new lights invented by our fellowman.)

This short article thus reveals that indeed, there was a Flores involved in the invention of the fluorescent bulb—Not Agapito---but Dr. Gabriel del Pilar Flores.  This Dr. Flores could have been the same Flores that received a French patent, as France was where he went for advanced studies. Or, he could have been a member of the team at General Electric in Britain that helped fine-tune the light bulbs. One can also check on his Sorbonne school records, or retrieve the old issue of Milwaukee Journal to find out more details about his role in the development of the product.

It has been a long time coming for this Filipino to reclaim his rightful place in the pantheon of the world’s greatest inventors. It took a local Pampanga paper to make us see the light.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016


PAMPANGA COLLEGE STUDENTS. Attending an educational workshop in Baguio. 1920s.

 The Kapampangans, during the Spanish colonial period, were a favored lot, primarily for their ready assistance to Spain in their military exploits. The rewards of loyalty included the giving of privilege to children of Kapampangan principalia to study in exclusive Spanish schools in Manila.

 In the 17th century, schools such as the Colegio de San Jose and Colegio de San Felipe de San Asturias began admitting Kapampangan students. Secondary level education in Manila schools, like San Juan de Letran and Ateneo de Manila, were preferred by Pampanga’s elite in the 19th century, as they carried more prestige.

 A small number of Kapampangans went on from secondary schools to higher schools of learning for their college degrees. Local choices included University of Santo Tomas, Ateneo and the Dominican run-Letran. A few Kapampangans like Jose Alejandrino of Arayat, managed to study abroad; he went to school in the 1890s at the University of Barcelona in Madrid (along with Rizal, del Pilar and Luna) and finished chemical engineering in Belgium.

 With the coming of the Americans, education became an important concern of the colonial government. Significant reforms were instituted—three levels of education were established: . Elementary (four primary years and 3 intermediate years), Secondary (4-years of high school) and College. New schools—from vocational to business, agricultural to normal--were opened in cities and provinces. This paved the way for more educational opportunities for college-age students. Some of the most important colleges and universities were founded during the American rule.

 As Pampanga’s economy boomed, the province drew closer to the sphere of Manila and affluent Kapampangans adjusted by becoming more cosmopolitan in behavior and outlook—and a college degree became every parents’ dream for their children.

 Early on, Kapampangan showed a relatively high commitment to advanced education. Kapampangan students with teaching ambitions flocked to the Philippine Normal School when it opened in 1901. In the first decade of the founding of the University of the Philippines, a substantial number of Kapampangans enrolled in courses from Medicine, Pharmacy, Nursing, Music, Law, Education with Liberal Arts and Fine Arts.

 Beginning in 1903, students who excelled academically, were given U.S. government scholarships, and were sent to America as “pensionados”, to specialize in their fields of studies. The first batch included 3 Kapampangans—Jose Sanvictores, Miguel Nicdao, and Joe Espiritu. In the 2nd batch of 18 scholars were future justice and hero Jose Abad Santos; future Pampanga governor and civil engineer Sotero Baluyot who studied in Iowa; future solon Fabian de la Paz of Macabebe, who was enrolled at the Western Illinois State Teachers’ College; and medical student Gervacio Santos Cuyugan, who would become one of Pres. Quezon’s personal physicians.

 As more colleges and universities were established in the capital city-- University of Manila (1914), Philippine Women's University (1919), Far Eastern University (1933)—local private schools also sprouted in Pampanga which would eventually become centers for tertiary education.

Guagua National Institute (now college), founded in 1919, offered first year subjects in Junior Normal and Associate in Arts beginning in 1939-40. Holy Angel Academy (1933 now Holy Angel University) became a college in 1948 when it opened its College of Commerce 1948, followed by Liberal Arts and Education.

 In the post-war years, Republic Academy (now Republic Central Colleges) was founded by the Lazatins and became a full-fledged college in 1947 with the opening of its Normal and Education programs. Meanwhile, University of the Philippines put up its Clark Field branch in the 1950s to serve both American and Filipino students wishing to earn college diplomas.

 Assumption College (now University) opened in 1963 with initial A.B. Arts, BS Commerce, and BS Education programs. Angeles Institute of Technology (now Angeles University Foundation), which began as a technological school in 1962, would achieve university status after just 9 years of operation.

 Schools with history-- like the Bacolor School of Arts and Trade (1861) and the Magalang Farm School (1885)-- have metamorphosed into full-service universities—now known as Don Honorio Ventura Technological State University and Pampanga Agricultural State University.

 Our local colleges and universities have also become more competitive with Manila schools. Premium courses like law, medicine and its allied sciences, and highly specialized courses in engineering, are available locally. Linkages with Manila and international corporate partners have made on-the-job training abroad possible. Their graduates have also been doing well in professional board exams, with consistently high passing rates.

But in the end, easier access to education means merely a foot in the door to the future. On the part of the college student, it takes a firm hold on one's dream and the will to succeed.

Monday, November 21, 2016


TAKING CENTER STAGE. Compania Crispelita actors and singers set the mood for their performance with a rousing song number for the barrio audience of Lanang, Candaba. 1957.

Candaba, one of Pampanga’s ancient towns, represent the lowest point of Central Luzon. It is also a good distance away from the capital and commercial cities of San Fernando and Angeles, and from the 1930s to as recent as the 1950s, the town remained far removed from other Pampanga communities. Trips to Candaba were compounded by its marshy terrain, floods and the presence of Huk lairs in the area which made travelling difficult and hazardous.

 Candabaweños, despite this isolation, looked to the occasional fiestas for entertainment, as movies could only be watched in distant urban towns. In some places, the only tenuous link which they have with the stage is the obsolete moro-moro and the dying zarzuela. On this account, artistic and enterprising locals started putting up dramatic troupes, beginning in in the 1920s and which flourished till the post-war years.

 These theatrical groups or companies, went from barrio to barrio to show off their wares, a motley group of actors, musicians, directors, designers and technicians, to stage plays on makeshift stages before enraptured village crowds.

 One of the earliest groups, was the Compania Ocampo, organized in 1923 by Isaac C. Gomez and Doña Concepcion Ocampo y Limjuco of Candaba. Gomez, a prolific poet who even competed against Crissot, wrote his 5-act opus, “Sampagang Asahar”which dealt with the prevailing tenancy problems of the province. He became the resident playwright and director of the company for five years, and the group succeeded in restoring public interest in drama.

Compania Ocampo remained active in the mid 1950s, mounting regular shows often in the town plaza with komedyas and contemporary zarzuelas. Members then included Pons Amurao, Esting Tungol, Curing Mallari, Andres Balagtas, Flor Garcia, and the Manapuls. Providing healthy competition was Compania Paz, a zarzuela company founded by Judge Florentino Torres in the early 1920s.

 In 1961, the eminent writer Jose Gallardo of barrio Gulap, Candaba with Andres Balagtas revived the Compania Ocampo. After the demise of Reyes in 1967, Gallardo reorganized the theatrical group again under his own name. The Martial Law curfew imposed in 1972 made it difficult to stage evening performances, so the group was disbanded.

 In the mid 1950s, the artists of barrio Lanang, led by the noted Candaba poet Jose Pelayo, orangized themselves into a dramatic troupe known as Compania Crispelita. It soon became a village institution, with its travelling shows all around the province.

In December 1957, the company gave a command performance of their play entitled “Calbario ning Ulila” (Calvary of an orphan). The story touched the heart strings of Lanang’s drama fans, as the story was something they have seen in the group’s rehearsals, and, in many ways, actually lived—the tyranny of rich landlords, the oppression of peasants , and the final triumph of good versus evil.

 The show, directed by Agripino Suba and assisted by apuntador (prompter) Jose Pelayo, and Hugo Ocampo, drew crowds from neighboring barrios. Before an enthusiastic audience, the thespians could not, but give an inspired performance. Providing the musical background was a live band of musicians who also got their share of audience appreciation.

 “Our severest critics”, Director Suba said, “are in our own village and if we got their nod, that means we will be welcomed anywhere.

 The era of traveling theater companies is long gone, but the people of Candaba can take pride in the fact that, for a few decades, Candaba’s peripatetic theater groups broke barriers of distance and access to bring their art to their fellow Kapampangans. The era of companias may be long gone, but the legacy of performances of these Candaba artists, playwrights, poets, directors, musicians and stage hands, will always be remembered.

Drama in Candaba, The Sunday Times Magazine, 29 Dec. 1957,pp. 15-19. 

Cabusao, Romeo C. Candaba, Balayan ning Leguan. pp. 344-345. 

Zapanta-Manlapaz, Edna. Kapampangan Literarture: A Historical Survey and Anthology. Ateneo de Manila University Press, Quezon City, Manila. 1981.pp. 25-26 

Lacson, Evangelina. Kapampangan Writing: A Select Compendium and Critique. 1984

Wednesday, November 16, 2016


BLACK IS THE COLOR. Two African-American cavalry men, known as "Buffalo Soldiers" at Camp Stotsenburg, ca. 1918-20.

During the Philippine-American War that lasted from 1899-1902, the United States sent regiments of African-Americans as reinforcements to help fight the Filipino “insurrectos” led by Emilio Aguinaldo.

The 9th and 10th Cavalry that had previously fought native Americans in the last Indian Wars, earned the nickname “Buffalo Soldiers”, possibly because the soldiers’ curly hair looked similar to a buffalo’s dark mane, and their aggressiveness was likened to that of a ferocious bison. The Buffalo Soldiers later came to include the 24th and 25th Infantry, which also had all-black members.

There were over 5,000 Buffalo Soldiers that arrived in the Philippines, and hundreds were stationed in Camp Stotsenburg and in towns like Magalang, from where they got their marching orders. A few soldiers have notable experiences and stories to tell, relative to their assignment in the Philippines, and Pampanga, in particular.

 African-American soldier Richard Johnson, arrived in Stotsenburg in 1916, as a member of a medical unit of the 9th Cavalry. It was the 4th time that Corporal Johnson was sent to the Philippines; his first was as a 19-year old enlistee in 1899.

While in the camp, Johnson brought attention to the deplorable conditions there, which posed many health risks to soldiers, particularly, malaria. He also wrote about the poor living conditions of soldiers, in which he noted that married men below the rank of a staff sergeant had to build their own living quarters made of bamboo—at their own expense!

His observations paved the way for the next commanding officer of the camp to institute drastic measures to improve the “old and decrepit camp”. Johnson would have a long career in military service and would later write his memoirs about his U.S. Army life from 1899 to 1922.

 Perhaps the most written about African-American soldier was the deserter, Corporal David Fagen, of the 24th Infantry. On 17 Nov. 1899, Fagen defected to the Filipino army because he could no longer stand his sergeant’s constant harassment. He sought refuge in the areas around Mount Arayat, which were guerrilla-protected. For his dauntless courage, he was promoted to captain by Gen. Jose Alejandrino in 1900. Such was his popularity that Filipino soldiers often referred to him as “General Fagen.”

 His most daring exploit was the capture of a steam launch and its cargo of arms, while on the Pampanga River. Fagen earned notoriety in the U.S. press and was described by the New York Times as a “cunning and highly skilled guerilla officer who harassed and evaded large conventional American units.” It took a Tagalog bounty hunter, Anastacio Bartolome, to end his daring run, who delivered his severed head to American officers, after he and his men supposedly killed him while Fagen was taking a river bath.

But the Buffalo Soldier with the most fascinating story to tell, is Ernest Spokes of Chattanooga, Tennessee. To escape oppressive racism in the Deep South, Stokes volunteered for the Spanish American War.

After training at the Presidio Army Camp in San Francisco, Stokes was shipped off to the Philippines in 1898. But even in a foreign land, Spokes continued to face discrimination in the hands of his white superiors who often assigned him at the frontline. Nevertheless, he performed his duties well and became a sergeant in his unit.

 The Buffalo Soldiers formed a bond of kinship with Filipinos which incensed their Caucasian superiors, who, incidentally, referred to both groups as ‘savages”. They came to understand the cause of the Filipino fighters against the U.S. so, they refused to shoot them in their encounters.

After the war, many of these soldiers, who had come to love the people and their culture, opted to remain in the Philippines. By 1921, about 200 men of the 9th Cavalry had married Filipino women—and one of them was Ernest Stokes.

 Stokes first fell in love with a Nueva Ecijana from Peñaranda, Maria Bunag, whom he married in 1902, a union that produced three daughters-Felicia, Teodora and Dominga. The years after Maria’s death in 1917 were a sad and troubling period for the black Filipina sisters, who were abused by relatives. 

But in 1923, Stokes met the vivacious Roberta Dungca, a 16 year old illiterate girl from Angeles, where his base was located. Despite their age difference, Roberta was charmed by Stokes who spoke fluent Kapampangan (he also knew Tagalog, Spanish and a bit of Chinese). Their marriage was facilitated when Stokes was caught kissing Roberta—a no-no in the local courtship tradition.

Stokes and his young bride left for the U.S. in 1928, where they settled in West Oakland, California. Roberta raised her three stepdaughters as if they were her own. The couple would have no children of their own, but they adopted the daughter of Teodora, They also got reacquainted with former Buffalo soldiers and socialized with their Filipina wives.

 Stokes, who spent 25 years of his life in the Philippines, died in February 1936, at around age 66. Roberta would marry a second time, to Manuel Unabia. Buffalo Soldier Ernest Stokes is buried in the Presidio in San Francisco, the same place where he started his military career.

Today, a monument stands there to honor the memory of these volunteers who ventured to an “unholy war of conquest” across the seas , only to find their own hearts conquered by Filipinos whom they had sworn to fight.

(Richard Johnson): 
American Voices of World War I: Primary Source Documents, 1917-1920, By Martin Marix Evans p. 1,”Prelude to War”.
Clark Field and the U.S. Army Air Corps in the Philippines 1919-1942, Richard B. Meixsel, New Day Publishers © 2002 
(David Fagen): 
Hidden Heroism: Black Soldiers in America's Wars, By Robert B. Edgerton,”The war to Save Humanity”,p. 57. 
(Ernest Spokes): 
 The Woyingi Blog Buffalo Soldiers in the Philippines: A Filipina American Grandaughter remembers her African American Grandfather 
Voices of the Asian American and Pacific Islander Experience, Volume 1, By Sang Chi, Emily Moberg Robinson, p. 233-235 
Filipinos in the East Bay, by Evelyn Luluguisen, Lillian Galedo,p.15

Friday, November 4, 2016


LORD OF THE LANDS. Spaniard Jose Puig,  a successful owner of  a milling business and a 
 dealer of sugar milling machiinery, owned and operated the vast Hacienda Puig in Pampanga.

In the economic heyday of Pampanga brought about by its lucrative sugar industry, scoress of Kapampangan landowners raked in untold wealth from the fat of their lands. Prominent names like Mariano Pamintuan (Angeles), Jose L. De Leon, Roman Valdes (Bacolor) Augusto Gonzales, Manuel Escaler (Apalit), Jose Maria Panlilio (Mexico) , Vicente Lim-Ongco (Guagua) and Manuel Urquico were top on the list of the province’s richest and most influential hacienderos.

 Joining them were a small group of Spaniards who took residence in Pampanga in the 1800s, after the government lifted a ban against living in the provinces. They acquired lands, became agriculturists and founded viable extensive estates. (The Chinese showed no interest in land speculation, opting to engage in commerce, manufacturing and processing of products.)

 A list of landowning Spaniards from 1887-1888 included about 58 names—fewer than those in Negros, possibly because Pampanga landowners tended to hold fast to their lands, thus creating difficulties to outside investors. Many of these Spaniards also appeared to have leased their property than personally run the affairs of their land. At the turn of the 20th century and into the early years of American regime, the list of prominent Spanish sugarland owners include the following:

The Arrastias. The patriarch of the Arrastias of Lubao was,Valentin Roncal Arrastia, a Basque from Allo, Navarra, Spain, who went to the Philippines to seek his fortune. He, not only found wealth in the country, but also a Kapampangan wife—Francisca Serrano Salgado of Lubao. The couple’s consolidated properties included their vast hacienda planted with sugar and rice, as well as flourishing fish ponds that provided a luxurious life for their 9 children. Befitting their stature, the Arrastias built a magnificent residence sometime in the first two decades of the 1900s, fronting the Lubao municipio. 

The Gils.  In the 1850s, the colonial government allowed the selling of lands to Spaniards and one beneficiary was Spaniard Felino Gil. He turned his land parcel of over 530 hectares into the Hacienda Mamada de Pio. Gil was first of many generations of his family to settle in their Porac hacienda. While other Spaniards sold off their lands to natives who divided them into smaller portions. But Spanish settlers in towns like Lubao, Floridablanca and Porac retained their large estates, some as big as 1000 hectares. The Gils remained in Porac for a long time, including a nephew from Valencia, Spain-Rafael Gil.

The Puigs. Spaniard Jose Puig, who has been accumulating lands for over years, established a profitable sugar milling business and the selling of agricultural equipment back in the 1890s. He became a well-known dealer of steam mill machinery, which he also leased out to farmers. He is credited for the shift into steam milling by many Pampanga farmers. Puig remained a farmer in the province after the arrival of Americans. Other Puigs like Francisco Puig continued the landowning tradition by acquiring 51 hectares of rice and sugarlands. A daughter of Don Honorio Ventura married a Puig and settled in Barcelona.

The Toledos. By 1854, Roberto Toledo had amassed large tracts of agricultural lands in the Porac-Lubao-Floridablanca area, which he rented out. His son, Roberto Jr. managed to increase the landholdings to over 3,000 hectares. He become one of the most progressive sugar planters in Pampanga. The Toledo estate was not spared from the violence in the late 1930s that rocked Pampanga’s sugar areas, which caused landlowners to form an association to protect their interests. The Toledos and their casamacs settled for a 50 centavo increase –raising their pay to 2 pesos per ton, for every cane delivery to Pasumil.

 The Valdeses. Hacienda del Carmen was founded in Floridablanca by Capt. Basilio Valdes of the Spanish Navy, who married a Manileña mestiza, Francisca Salvador. The agricultural lands were later managed by his children, led by Benito Salvador Valdes, a doctor, who was a classmate of Jose Rizal at the Universidad Central de Madrid in 1885. During the Revolution, Valdes was imprisoned in Fort Santiago for charges of complicity. Later, Benito Salvador became the director of San Juan de Dios Hospital in 1900. With first wife, Filomena Pica, he had a son, Dr. Basilio J. Pica Valdes who became the president of Hacienda del Carmen, aside from being Quezon’s Chief of Staff and defense secretary. The place where their tenants lived and work was named Barangay Valdes.

 Other known Spanish landlords included Don Ricardo Herreros (who owned an 81 hectare sugarland), Vicente Borrero, Julian Blanco, Manuel Fernandez, Juan Landaluce, Dolores Lombera and Emilio Borrero.

 The days of those grand Spanish-owned haciendas are now long gone—the properties sold by the original owners’ descendants, subjected to land reform, or redeveloped as residential subdivisions.

Vestiges of Spanish colonial power and presence could still be seen in some parts of Pampanga—the Pio Chapel and the manor of the Gils remain in Porac looked after by caretakers, and barangay Valdes continues to thrive in Floridablanca. The fabulous Arrastia mansion has been sold and relocated to Bataan as part of the Las Casas de Acuzar heritage resort. Finally, Kapampangans could re-claim and live on their lands again.

John Larkin, The Pampangans / Sugar and the Origins of Modern Philippine Society
Sugar News 1925 ed.

Thursday, October 27, 2016


YOU BY MY SIDE, THAT'S HOW I SEE US. Dr. Jesus Eusebio, noted opthalmologist from San Fernando, and wife Josefina Buyson of Bacolor, at their fabulous wedding in 1936.

If one wants to see an occasion that best shows the Kapampangan spirit and his all-out lust for life, then one has to go to milestone celebrations of family members—debuts, birthdays, graduations, funerals, and weddings. 

In the glory days of the 1920s and 30s, thanks to the booming sugar industry that made millionaires out of sugar planters and agricultural land owners, Kapampangans could very well hold events that were also virtual displays of affluence, power, social status, pomp and splendor, with a bit of braggadocio and ostentation thrown in.

Such was what characterized the legendary wedding that united the accomplished Dr. Jesus Eusebio of San Fernando and the beautiful Josefina Buyson of Bacolor in 1936, both children of two well-landed Pampanga families.

Dr. Jesus Eusebio was the eldest son of Don Andres Eusebio,  a prominent sugar planter and businessman. The older Eusebio also sat on the board of directors of Pampanga Sugar Development Co. (PASUDECO) and San Fernando Electric Light and Power Co. (SFELAPCO). Married to Asuncion Santos, his other sons included Eugenio, Amando, and Alfonso. Jesus, who finished his Associate in Arts at Ateneo,  was already a practicing ophthalmologist when he proposed to his lovely fiancee, Josefina Buyson.

Pitang, as she was called,  was one of the children of Mariano Buyson y Lampa of Bacolor, with his wife Dña. Maria de la Paz Miranda Angeles.  She and her sisters (Carmen, Luz, Emiliana, Asuncion and Pilar) were considered socialites of the town, and they grew up all accomplished—Carmen became an ambassador while Emiliana, a lawyer. But Pitang was the star, especially during the Mancomunidad Pampangueña balls, where her elegant fashion style came to fore—she was always dressed by high society couturier, Ramon Valera.

On April 12, 1936, at the ancient San Guillermo Church of Bacolor,  Jesus and Josefina were united in matrimony by the parish priest, Padre Andres Bituin. The church was decorated with flowers especially brought in a day before by Manila’s foremost florist, Mr. Francisco Hilario.

The bride was resplendent in a wedding gown made by Pacita Longos, the most famous couturier of the era who dressed up Manila’s crème de la crème and Philippine Carnival beauties.

Her  retinue included her sister, Carmen, as her Maid of Honor. Pitang’s close friends,  Rosario Puno, Ester Lazatin, Aurora Hizon, Gloria Dizon and Maria Joven Ramirez, were her Bridesmaids.
Jesus, smartly dressed in a black tailcoat, was attended by his groomsmen, brithers Eugenio, Amando, Alfonso,  brother-in-law Antonino Buyson, and Rodolfo Hizon, future San Fernando mayor.

Standing as principal sponsors were Dña. Mercedes Paras, Dña. Bartola S. de Dizon, along with the bride’s father. Completing the entourage was Master Tomas Dizon, the ring bearer, and Corona Eusebio, flower girl.

Reception followed at the expansive residence of the Buysons in Bacolor, which was dressed up for the occasion. Music and food overflowed, with entertainment provided by Serafin Payawal and Tirso Cruz, Manila’s best big bands.

After their wedding, the couple left on the liner President  Hoover, to honeymoon  in Europe and the U.S. For days, the en grande wedding was the talk of the town, with their wedding pictures splashed on the pages of national magazines. There would be other weddings after that, involving scions and daughters of other rich Kapampangan families, but none was raved and talked about in the same breadth as the Buyson-Eusebio nuptials, held at the height of Pampanga’s age of prosperity and plenty.

Sunday, October 16, 2016


THE NATION'S FINEST. The San Fernando Police Force,provincial winner in 1965, and national champions in 1970, "Best Municipal Police Force of the Year". 

The reputation of the Philippine police force today has been tarnished with front-page news of their alleged participations in extra-judicial killings, drug deals, police brutality, extortion and corruption—the same crimes which they were supposedly sworn to fight.

Of late, even Central Luzon policemen have been revealed to be involved in shady operations. The sacking of the Pampanga CIDG head in March 2014-- for re-selling seized shabu from legitimate raids-- is proof of how serious and entrenched the problem is, happening within the ranks of our so-called protectors and defenders.

There was a time when our Kapampangan policemen were dubbed as “the nation’s finest”, with a spotless reputation for their excellence in upholding law and order in the province. Leading the way is the San Fernando Police Force, which has been winning top awards under police chief Amando R. Cruz since its recognition in 1965 as Pampanga’s best.

 In 1970, now known as the San Fernando Police Department, it first copped Best Police Force in the entire first PC Zone, which qualified them to compete for the national finals. In formal rites at Camp Crame, the San Fernando Police Dept. won the nation’s highest award for police organizations—the Municipal Police Force of the Year—garnering 93 out of 100 points.

Just as successful was the 173rd Philippine Constabulary (PC) of Angeles City, which was adjudged as the Best PC Company of the Year, thus sealing a double victory for Pampanga’s proud men in uniform.

The “fightingest police force" from San Fernando, led by Chief of Police Pablo Mañago, were cited for having no single administrative case against them; they also have the highest percentage of crimes solved. They also received merits for their military discipline and courtesy.

 On the other hand, the 173rd PC of Angeles scored an amazing 914 points out of the 1000 perfect score. This is the first award for a PC contingent coming from Pampanga, considering the questionable image of the Philippine Constabulary in the region’s NPA hotbed. The company maintained its record of discipline and courtesy, with no reports of abuses and no court-martial charges against its members.

Under Maj. Teotimo Tangonan, the 173rd Company commander, the scope of their duties cover Angeles, Mabalacat, Porac and Magalang—which are considered Pampanga’s “hotspots”, prone to Huk attacks and violence. Back then, to see how efficient Pampanga’s police organizations were in keeping law and order, people just have to go to the capital town to watch the patrolmen in action—manning traffic and keeping things under control.

It is a different story for our police force now, who are getting a beating by the bad press they get every day. It will take more than feeble image-building efforts like “Gwapulis” and police pageant and talent winners to put the sheen back on the tarnished badges of our men in uniform. “Change is coming ”, the new administration promised, so let change come from within, starting with our young police cadets. Then perhaps, we will get our “nation’s finest” back. .

Monday, October 3, 2016


BIRDS OF THE SAME FEATHER. A Kapampangan girl holds a fake dove ("pati pati"), a painted flock of which are shown flying or resting on the steps as part of the studio scenography. Our feathered friends have always been an important part of our culture, traditional beliefs, everyday livelihood and folklore. ca. 1917.

They have always been a source of jokes for my Tagalog-speaking friends—these soundalike words “ayup-hayop” and “ibon-ebon” that hold different, but related meanings. “Ibon” is the Tagalog term for “bird”, but its near-homophone –“ebun”—is but an egg in Kapampangan. Similarly, that which Tagalogs call “hayop” (animal), is a mere ‘bird’ (ayup) in Kapampangan.

 In the days of yore, however, the secondary definition of “ayop”, as noted in Bergaño’s compilation of Kapampangan words, included brute animals such as cows and carabaos, amphibians, reptiles and insects. Today, “ayup” is a word solely used for our fine-feathered friends.

 The wetlands of Candaba are famed for being bird sanctuaries, where migratory birds from other lands leave their original habitat temporarily to escape harsh weather conditions and seek food in the environs of our marshlands.

Birdwatchers from all over the Philippines and around the world have started to discover Candaba’s bird sanctuary, which is being developed as a tourist destination. A collateral event—the Ibon-Ebun (Bird-Egg) Festival is celebrated annually, from Feb. 1-2, to honor not only the town patron, the pugo (quail)-carrying San Nicolas, but also to promote eco-tourism using its varied species of birds as attraction.

 Aside from Candaba, there was a time in the 1950s when the sleepy town of San Luis came alive with birdhunters coming in droves to hunt for jack snipes, locally known as “pasdan”. The season for snipes begin in September, when the chill of the northern countries send these birds southbound, with millions finding refuge in Pampanga and Tarlac.

“Pasdans” are prized for their tasty meat, so they are avidly hunted by locals as well as hobbysts from nearby Clark Air Base. The birds often perched on trees that fringed the vast rice paddies and marshes of Pampanga; in fact, they could be found all the way to Concepcion, Tarlac. The small birds are easy to spot by their sheer number. A bigger and more colorful variety—the “pakubo”—is rarer and more elusive. In 1955, the gaming limit for “pasdan” was limited to 50 birds per person.

“Pasdans” are either grilled or cooked adobo-style, a delicacy seldom seen on Pampanga tables today. Our province was once blessed with an abundance of birds of the most bewildering assortment—we even had local names for them.

We had eagles, falcons, hawks (agila, alibasbas, balawe), parrot varieties (katala loru, abukai or Philippine cockatoo, kilakil or white parrot, kulasisi), doves and pigeons ( pati-pati, batubato, the white-eared alimukun ), sparrows (denas paking, denas costa, denas bale, maya) and swallows (layang-layang, sibad, timpapalis). There were marsh birds ( patirik-tirik, uis, dumara), pelicans (kasili, pagala), long-legged herons and egrets (tagak, tikling, kandungangu, bako).

Then, there were birds noted for their colorful and unusual plumage (kuliawan or oriole, luklak or yellow vented bulbul, kansusuit or lyre bird, pabo real or peacock, silingsilingan or pied fantail) and for the cacophony of sounds they create (pipit, siabukut or Philippine coucal, tarat, martinis).

Much of our natural environment have changed irrevocably—caused by years of thoughtless land developments and conversions, illegal logging and deforestation, and of course, global warming. The devastating effects of the Pinatubo eruption also had far-reaching effects on our bird habitats, such that these creatures are no longer familiar to today’s generations, for they are rarely heard or sighted.

Their important roles in our culture and folklore are remembered in myths of old, as in the case of that sacred blue kingfisher from the marshlands of Pampanga, whose appearance foreshadowed events of profound significance--either gainful or grim—to humankind. This revered bird was called “batala”, who gave his name to the mightiest of ancient gods—Bathala.

Friday, September 23, 2016

*408. Comedy Through Word of Mouth: APENG DALDAL, San Luis, Pampanga

PUT YOUR MONEY WHERE YOUR MOUTH IS. Apeng Daldal (real name: Serafin Gabriel), left us in stitches with his distinctive oral features--and his gift of non-stop gabbing. Fan photo, 1967.

In the days of black and white TV, “Pinilakang Tabing” was a must-watch program every afternoon, for it afforded me to watch 50s’ and fairly-recent 60s movies without going to a theater.

I’ve always been partial to fantasy films, and I remember enjoying “Silveria”, “Anak ng Bulkan”, “The Magnificent Bakya” and Pomposa, Ang Kabayong Tsismosa”. 

 But the one that left the most impression was “Magic Bilao”, an improbable story about a “bilao” that functioned pretty much like a magic carpet, taking anyone who stands on the woven winnowing basket, on an unexpected, marvelous joyride.

 With Apeng Daldal as its reluctant high-flying passenger, the magic bilao helped solve a barrio crime, and saved the day for lovebirds, Dindo Fernando and Rosemarie.

To me, it was Apeng Daldal who stole the show, playing Rosemarie’s brother, Tonio—who, with his thin, gangly frame and mile-long teeth sticking out from his wide mouth, turned out to be the hero of the story. The comedian earned his screen name from his funny oral/dental features, which he used to the hilt by being a motormouth with a high-pitched voice.

 He was born as Serafin Gabriel in the town of San Luis, Pampanga on 12 October 1928. At an early age, he moved to Manila, and despite his skeletal built, found work as a Divisoria kargador. Of course, he didn’t last long, so he tried his hand at working in the bod-a-bil, from the 40s-50s. He had a comedy group called “Top Three” (along with Mar Lopez and Bebing Santos) which drew crowds at the Manila Opera House.

His stage success paved the way for a TV career, starting with the 1961 noontime show “The Big Show”, supporting Cris de Vera, Sylvia La Torre and Oscar Obligacion. Apeng Daldal’s gift of non-stop gabbing and witty ad-libbing had audiences laughing for more, and soon, he was being cast in movies.

His debut was in the Susan Roces starrer, “Libis ng Baryo” (1964), that was followed by appearances in "Bandong Pugante" and "Babaing Kidlat". Sampaguita Pictures gave him his break, third-billed in 1964 production “Magic Bilao” after Rosemarie and Dindo Fernando. The comedy-romance-fantasy formula was perfect for Apeng and the movie was the takilya buster for 1965. The same concept was used in his next flick,”Walis ni Tenteng”, that practically retained the previous stars with Blanca Gomez and Bert Leroy Jr. thrown in. Again, the movie about a skinny sweeper and his magic broom was another monster hit for Apeng.

 Apeng Daldal—now regarded in the same breadth as A-lister funnymen Chiquito and Dolphy, was rewarded with a lead role in “Maskulado”, (also in 1965), pitting his physique against the buffed leading man, Arnold Mendoza. He worked almost nonstop, completing film projects like “Tatlong Mabilis” (1965), “Mistiko Meets Mamaw” (1966), “The Pogi Dozen”(1967), ”The Son of Dyango Meets Dorango Kid” (1967) and another comedy-fantasy film, “Baticobra at Flying Salakot”(1974).

The final decades of his life were spent working in different capacities for TV, radio and films. The creative Apeng wrote scripts for various TV comedy shows like “Ayos Lang, Pare Ko” (1972) and penned the story for the film “Dobol Dribol” (1979). He was heard on radio singing novelty songs ( "Pandanggo ng Aswang", "Hoy Mamang Kaminero") , while headlining 70s-80s gag shows like “Super Laff-In”, “Trio Los Bobos” and “Cafeteria Aroma”. His last film was the Eddie Romero-directed action-fantasy, “Kamakalawa”with Christopher de Leon and Tetchie Agbayani, released in 1981.

Afflicted for years with emphysema, he passed away on 9 February 1992. He was survived by his wife Elma Modesto and 8 children. Watching Apeng Daldal’s old movies on youtube today, you can say this Kapampangan was born with a funny bone in his mouth.

My Idol Comedian, Apeng Daldal:
Apeng Daldal,

Friday, September 16, 2016


FISH BE WITH YOU. A belle and her bangus, on the way home from the pampang. Fisheries remain to be an important industry for Kapampangans living in the delta region, c.1915.

Being in the central plains of Luzon, people are sometimes surprised to know that Pampanga, too, has a fishing trade, an industry  associated with coastal places like Navotas, Malabon, and the Visayan islands.

Actually, Pampanga has an area that is heavily watered by the great Pampanga River and its tributaries. In the delta towns of Guagua, Lubao and Sasmuan, as well as in the low-lying towns of Masantol, Macabebe, San Luis and Candaba, fisheries is a source of livelihood.

Fisherfolks catch fish either by the traditional method of setting traps in the water or by building fish ponds, which are a common sight in Macabebe and Masantol, where they are diked and seeded with fingerlings.

Upon maturity, the fish are harvested by letting the waters spill out. Large fishponds also served as swimming holes and picnic sites in the 20s-30s, as they not only had picturesque locations but they also provided an unlimited number of fish for food. Unfortunately, ponds have also become contributors to the worsening of the flood situations in these areas after the silting of major estuaries caused by the Pinatubo eruption. Fishponds have also been blamed for the disappearance of mangroves since their proliferation beginning in the 1970s.

In Candaba,  depending on the season, the swamp serves a dual function. During summer, it is used as an agricultural field to plant rice, vegetables and grow watermelons. But when the wet season arrives and rainwater fill the swamp, it turns into a lake teeming with bangus (milkfish), tilapia, paro (shrimp), ema (crab) and bulig (mudfish). (Tip: the Friday Candaba Market in Clark is the go-to place for the freshest catch of fish, shrimps, crabs, eels and other crustaceans).

 “Asan” is the Kapampangan term for “fish”, but today, when people ask “Nanung asan yu?”, they also mean “What’s your food?”—whether your “ulam” (viand) be made of meat or vegetable. “Masan” is a verb meaning “to eat”, it is specific to eating cooked fish or meat, thus, “masan asan” is “eat cooked fish”. There is hardly a difference between “asan” and “ulam”, as used today, which underlines the importance of fish in the life of the Kapampangan.

 While today’s Kapampangan is familiar with fish like itu (catfish), kanduli (salmon catfish) , sapsap (ponyfish) and talangka (small crabs), our old folks knew other kinds of fish with fascinating names that may sound alien to our ears today. A goldfish was called “talangtalang”, while a “pacut” is a small crab. Another name for kanduli is “tabangongo”, a “talunasan”, an edible eel. A “palimanoc” is a ray fish, a “tag-agan”—a swordfish, and its small look-alike is called “balulungi”, 

Our contribution to the culinary world include fish-based treats that include “burung asan” (using bulig),”balo-balo” (using tilapia, gurami and shrimp), and “taba ning talangka”. We also have our delectable versions of sisig bangus, pesang bulig and rellenong bangus. During Lent, we prepare sarsiado, escabeche, suam a tulya, and seafood bringhi. In our fiestas and holidays, we serve fancy fish dishes like Pescado el Gratin, Chuletas (fish fillet), and Pescado con Mayonesa. For many Kapampangans, there’s never a day without fish on the table.

 “Nanung asan yu?”

Tuesday, September 13, 2016


TOGETHER IN ELECTRIC DREAMS. The Mabalacat Hydro-Electric Plant in Sitio Bana, Dolores Mabalacat, harnessed the power of Mascup River to generate electricity. It was founded by former municipal presidente, Marcelo Tiglao. Late 1920s. Picture courtesy of Lord Francis Musni.

On the way to my elementary school, I would pass by a white building which,  I was told was where our town electricity and ice came from. Every day, “Mabalacat Hydro-Electric Plant” would sound off its siren to mark the start, the middle, and end of day, scheduling our lives, signaling us Mabalaqueños when to go to work, take a lunch break and when to go home.

Such was the power of that hydro-electric plant, and that power would become more apparent when I got home. Even if we had only about 5 kinds of appliances that used electricity—a 10 year-old black and white TV, a 2nd hand ref, a jetmatic water pump, 3 stand fans and my father’s Victrola radio phono—we used them a lot, day in and day out. At a flick of a switch, we could turn day into night, be refreshed, amused by comedy shows, and entertained by music and news.

It’s hard to believe that generations long before us have lived without the convenience of electricity and have survived. I often wonder what that “aha” moment felt, when electricity finally came to light up their world, literally.

 It was the capital city of Manila that first saw electric light in 1878, when Ateneo student Anacleto del Rosario paraded an electric lamp during the inauguration of the Carriedo waterworks. In 1890, Thomas Houston Electric Co. installed Manila’s first electric street lights in Escolta. It was in 1892 that the very first electric company—La Electricista—was set up along Calle San Sebastian (now Hidalgo St.) and started providing electricity three years later. Meralco (Manila Electric Railroad and Light Company) would follow in 1903.

Despite its proximity to Manila, it would take two decades before Pampanga could have its own power plants that could generate electricity from such sources as coal, natural gas, oil and later, renewable energy.

 On 10 July 1923, enterprising couple Don Juan and Dña. Nena Nepomuceno opened their Angeles Light and Power Plant, a year after their ice plant venture. It cost Php 72,000 to put up, a big amount at that time, but the couple carried on with their ambitious project. It is said that when the plant engineer turned the switch on, the city was flooded with bright lights that was met with great rejoicing. The roosters crowed and the church bells pealed as children came out to play in the streets.

The plant survived the trying wartime years when electricity had to be rationed off, as well as a fire which decimated the offices in 1945 and of course, the eruption of Pinatubo in 1991. Now known as Angeles Electric Corporation after its incorporation in 1959, it is the third largest electric company in Luzon. Some portions of Mabalacat, Bacolor, and Porac are supplied by AEC.

Not long after, the San Fernando Light and Power Company was established in 1927. It partnered with AboitizPower in 2009 enabling it to supply renewable energy to its residential, commercial and industrial customers. Aside from providing services to the city of San Fernando, SFELAPCO has consumers in Floridablanca, Bacolor, Guagua, Lubao and Sto. Tomas.

Mabalacat used to have its own electric plant owned by the Tiglaos that used the run-of-the-river hydroelectric technology to generate power. In this case, the source of water flow is Mascup River which the Tiglao family owns, located in sitio Bana, Dolores. Incidentally, the family also owned a popular river resort there. Later, it was known as “Hijos de Marcelo.Tiglao Hydro-electric Plant” and it continued to operate until the Pinatubo volcanic eruption buried the river completely in 1991. In 2006, a coal-powered plant was put up in the same town, known as the APEC (Asia-Pacific Energy Corp.) Station.

Today, most of Pampanga’s electric power is distributed to towns through the Pampanga Electric Cooperative distribution centers (PELCO I, II, III).

 Technology has grown by leaps and bound in ways that we can imagine, giving us countless gadgets and gizmos like microwave ovens, computers, tablets, cellphones, electric ranges and cars, electric this-and-that. It is almost impossible now to live unplugged. Only brownouts and long power outages serve to remind us that people once lived without or had limited access to electricity. Just like in the old days, we take out our candles, draw water from hand pumps, and tune in to Ingkung’s scratchy-sounding battery-run transistor radio to find out when power will be restored!

Monday, September 5, 2016

*405. LILIA DIZON: Kapampangan Bathaluman

BOMBSHELL BATHALUMAN. Lilia Dizon , who originated  'strong Filipino women roles' on the silver screen is of Kapampangan-American descent.

Today, Lilia Dizon is known as the mother of actors Christopher, Pinky and Lara Melissa de Leon. But she, too, had her time in the spotlight; she was also an actress of note, known for portraying strong bombshell beauties on the silver screen, a sharp departure from the 'pa-sweet' and demure Filipinas whose presence predominated local movies.

She was born in 1931 as Claire Strauss, the only child of German-Jew Abraham Strauss with Kapampangan Regina Dizon. Her father left the family for the U.S. in 1940, but then the war broke, preventing him from coming back. Claire was left with her mother in the Philippines to fend for themselves in Baguio.

At the height of the Liberation, she and her mother escaped the carnage of Baguio by walking all the way to La Union. From there, they proceeded to Manila to start life anew.  At age 15, Claire started performing at the Lotus Theater as a singer. The next year, she was discovered for the movies by writer-director Susana de Guzman--and became known to a legion of movie fans as Lilia Dizon.

Her first lead role was in the 1948 film, “Kaaway ng Babae,” where she had to act like a man in a very physical role that required a lot of running, At 17, she married director and actor Gil de Leon, sixteen years her senior. She made her mark portraying strong women roles in movies like “Sandra Wong,” “Kandilerong Pilak” (Asia’s Best Actress award in 1954), and "Bathaluman” with Mario Montenegro, a role that showed her Juno-esque figure at its most beautiful.

After her 18 year-marriage ended, Lilia left for the U.S. in 1966 to join her father in California and acquired her American citizenship. She made amends with Gil before he died, and after his demise, Lilia married Antonio Abad, a match that produced 2 more children, Antoinette and Corrie.

She would resurface in 1974 to appear with son Christopher in the award-winning Brocka film, “Tinimbang Ka Ngunit Kulang” which would catapult her son to fame. She could not re-establish her career though, as her two young children left behind in the U.S. needed her care. Now divorced, the tough Kapampangan bombshell of the 50s is back to being Claire Strauss and is a doting grandma to fifteen grandchildren.

Monday, May 16, 2016


BABY LOVE. A Kapampangan baby from Sta. Rita wears a coral bracelet to ward off afflictions of unnatural causes, like "asug". Corals were believed to be imbued with divine powers.

Since the dawn of time, man has been warding off earthly perils— the elements, disease, and threats from fellow human beings—arming himself with tools, weapons and all sorts of ammunitions. But when the danger is unexplained and unusual, he seeks assistance from other worlds—the supernatural. Thus, in our recorded history, we transformed through rituals and incantations-- metals, wood, stone, cloth, barks and herbs into weapons against evil.

Urban legends recount how revolucionarios went to the battlefields protected by oracions (prayers) written on their undershirts. In recent memory, the fantastic escapes of the 50s Cavite gangster Nardong Putik (Leonardo Manecio) were attributed to the power of his anting-anting that he inherited from Santiago Ronquillo (alias Tiagong Akyat). The government threw everything it had into capturing him, but to no avail.

 Closer to home, Jose Maria Henson (1820/d.1867) of Angeles was said to possess a magic sword that can render a person immobile just by pointing the sword or throwing the sword at him.

But what about helpless babies brought out into this world? How can he protect himself from the “evil eye” of a stranger which can hex a baby’s health? “Asug” ("usug" in Tagalog) is a term for such an affliction characterized by fever, convulsion, stomach ache and colic. This unintentionally inflicted folk illness is also widely known in Caribbean countries and Mexico as “mal de ojo” It is the belief that the child’s distress can be eased by asking the stranger to rub his saliva on the baby's tummy, shoulder or forehead and other body parts before leaving the house, while muttering “pwera asug…pwera asug” several times.

In the 19th century, newborn babies were protected from maladies by having them wear coral bracelets. Corals were believed to possess divine powers. A Greek legend has it that that when Perseus beheaded Medusa, he laid the Gorgon’s bloodied head on a bed of seaweeds, turning them into corals.

 In the Middle Ages, people kept pieces of corals in their purses, as talismans against witchcraft. Because of their shape, coral branches were also thought to protect the bearer from lightning strikes. For Tibetans and American Indians, the coral was an effective protection against the evil eye, while for Christians, the coral pink color symbolized the blood of Christ.

No wonder, coral jewelry became traditional gifts to both expectant mothers (for its blood-rejuvenating property) and their newborn babies (as protective amulets). Greek mothers hung coral strands on babies’ cradles while Romans strung coral necklaces for their kids. Coral was also used to prevent teething problems, which, in the early 19th century was believed to be responsible for many infant deaths. It was incorporated into teething rings to prevent bleeding gums.

 Silver objects were popular christening gifts in early 18th century Europe, as the precious metal was believed not only to have purifying effects but also repulsed evil of supernatural origin effectively. Silver rattles, bells, whistles and teethers –many made with coral trims--were standard presents to children of wealthy families, a tradition that did not catch on in the Philippines.

Of course, while Catholic sacramentals like medals (St. Benedict, patron against contagious diseases, is a popular choice) have replaced expensive coral and silver charms, there are still a few charms to help safeguard babies’ health and wellness.

Currently available is a “kontra-asug” bracelet that mimics those rarer and more expensive coral jewelry. Made of red plastic and black plastic beads, the bracelet comes with a red cloth sachet with a cross outside, containing seeds and dried plants, which can be pinned on the baby’s shirt. The bracelet serves to prevent “asug” as well sorcery.

So next time you bring baby out, never fear! He is not just powered by his vitamins and minerals to help build his ‘resistensya’, but--according to the old folks--he has sure protection against all sorts of maledictions, thanks to a charm bracelet that even Wonder Woman would want to wear. “Pwera asug!”.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

*403. TOTS IN STOTS: Life as a Soldier’s Kid in Clark Field

CHILDREN GO WHERE I SEND THEE. A military officer and his wife, hold their Pampanga-born twin babies in front of their Stotsenburg quarters. It was a challenge to raise kids in a camp before it became an urbanized, self-contained community in the 1970s. ca. 1920s.

The expansive sawgrass-carpetted land northwest of Kuliat that soldiers of the U.S. Army claimed in 1902 and later named Fort Stotsenburg had, by the 1920s, become a liveable place with a growing reputation as a preferred assignment by military servicemen. The camp became a self-contained community with many amenities that improved immensely its social environment.

Many American officers were given the privilege to bring over their families to the Philippines and reside inside the camp, helping them ward off homesickness and boredom. In 1909, there were just about  95 dependent children of both American officers and enlisted men, but by the mid-1930s, almost all of the American officers came with their wives and children. The birth of American babies further increased the child population, posing several issues such as finding domestic helps as well as establishing a school system on-base.

There was no problem looking for nannies, as labor was plentiful and affordable. American officers’ wives not only had Chinese cooks,  gardeners, lavanderas at their employ, but also had Filipino, Japanese or Chinese nannies and nurses to look after their babies and toddlers. When the sun went down at the camp, nannies would take their wards to the Officers’ Line (now the Parade grounds) for their regular afternoon promenade, a  leisurely stroll likened to a veritable “march of nations”.

In the course of the year, a program of events was planned for the amusement and social entertainment of Stotsenburg children—ranging from birthday parties, elaborate picnics,  aircraft rides at Kindley Field, animal and pet shows, to Santa’s visit  every December. Christmas trees were shipped from the U.S. and were set up on the porches, which kids then decorated.

Schooling of kids proved to be a challenge in the early years of the camp as there were not enough students to warrant a full-time school. The post chapel, in the 1900s, served as a school house, and there was also a separate school for the children of African-American soldiers by 1922.  Tutors were employed to teach five grades in one room , including a certain Miss Edmonds who was hired after a fruitless stint at a local Filipino school.

Two schools were built inside the camp in the 1920s—the 4-room Dean C. Worcester School (1925) and the Leonard Wood School (1929) which offered instructions from Grades 1-12. The schools flourished until the early 1930s.

It was only after World War II that the base went on a school-building spree, including an array of secondary schools for dependents. In 1949, the first Clark Elementary School for grades 1-8 was constructed near the site of the  future Wurtsmith/Wagner High School site. Six sawali buildings housed Grades 9-12. Eight teachers from the U.S. arrived in June 1949 to complete the faculty.

The Clark Dependents’ School, which started in 1950, evolved into the Wurtsmith School that offered both elementary and high school level education  The new Wurtsmith Memorial High School building was opened in 1961, and was designed for “tropical teaching and learning” (it was air-conditioned). On the other hand, Wagner High School, named after the WWII pilot Lt. Col. Boyd David Wagner,  was inaugurated in October 1962.

During school breaks, parents enrolled their hyperactive kids at the Hobby Shop that taught arts and craft subjects like pottery and leather-tooling. Other air force kids favored swimming and going to the outdoor theaters to while their time away.

Sadly, many of these places closely associated with the growing up years of American children in the heyday of  Clark,  are all gone, devastated by the great eruption of Mount Pinatubo. So, too, are the children who once had a run of the place—they have moved on, with many returning home to America as adults, fathers, mothers, grandparents themselves. But for many of them, a part of their childhood remains in a once-mighty military base that became their temporary home far, far away--Pampanga’s Clark Air Base.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016


LUCAS, KING OF BALUGAS, arrayed in regal splendor, in military uniform, boots, hat, and complete with military medals, badges and a swagger stick. 1922. Photo courtesy of Mr. Jim Biven.

Our history shows that Negritos (Balugas, now used pejoratively) , like other ethnic groups, have always been marginalized since the day lowlanders took over their lands and conquistadors drove them back into the far reaches of the islands, in uncharted mountains and forests. Still others were sold into slavery.

No wonder, Negritos continued to be nomadic in their ways, unable to integrate with other Filipinos. For many years, this has helped them retain their customs and tradition, including their system of leadership.

 The American Thomasite Luther Parker, in his report on work among Pampanga Negritos in 1908, wrote about a certain “King of All Negritos of Pampanga”, by the name of Lazaro. But while the Negritos did have their own leadership system, there were no “kings” to speak of. Among the clans in their community, seniority is equated to authority. The oldest member of the clan was sought for advice, especially when tribal transgressions took place, and was looked up to as a chief.

 It was an American general who first gave a Negrito a royal title--Gen. Johnson Hagood--who took command of Camp Stotsenburg in 1922. By the time of his assignment, the Negritos had become privileged visitors of the post, silently paddling across officers’ residences, peddling orchids, ferns, animals and cultural souvenirs like bows and arrows to the foreigners. Negritos had easy access to the camp, and Americans let them be—even gamely posing with the naked natives for photos.

Gen. Hagood was also fascinated by these dark-skinned Filipinos; he even wrote many anecdotes about them, which filled up 7 pages of his published 2-volume memoirs.

 Beyond his amusement and interest, Gen. Hagood shared the belief with fellow Americans that help and protection would not come from the local government; hence, he viewed the Negritos with paternalistic concern. The one who struck most his fancy was the Baluga chief, “General Lucas”, an elderly Negrito with a dignified mien and who conducted himself with a confident air.

 Gen. Lucas once presented himself to the general arrayed as “a brigadier general in a miniature khaki uniform wielding a sword” and wearing an assortment of “fantastic and humorous commendations”, one of which was a Manila Carnival medal that identified him as “a prize bull”.

 Hagood proclaimed Gen. Lucas as “King of Balugas ”, and gave him a peace-keeping role in his region that was often beset by feuding Baluga tribes. He was elevated to kingship in the presence of hundreds of fellow tribe members and amidst great fanfare as Gen. Hagood conferred more decorations to the new king. He was given the titles "Defender of the Orchids” and the “Grand Commander of the Order of Dead Mules, Second Class”.

 Of course, the ceremonies were all done in good humor, but Gen. Lucas took his title seriously, even posing for an “official royal photo” smartly dressed in military regalia. What his fellow Negritos felt or thought of at that time can never be known, but for the next decades, they continued to become fixtures of Clark Field, with many families settling in “Baluga Village” in the 1970s. They enjoyed perks such as free medical care (the base hospital allocated a budget for them), free food from welfare groups run by the wives of American servicemen, and they could also set up stalls to sell “authentic” souvenir weapons (actually, Manila-made).

 King Lucas is now but a blur in our memory, a king of nothing with his small” kingdom” nearly gone—swallowed by Pinatubo, taken over by malls and resorts, stolen by unscrupulous land grabbers. Even the culture and traditions of his race are being obliterated and changed by modernism. Help from the government has been too long in coming. Yet, the hardiness of these simple, free-spirited Filipinos remains, but only time will tell if this is enough for their future survival.

Friday, April 1, 2016

*401. LIZA LORENA: A Luciano Star from Magalang

LIZA WITH A K. Born Elizabeth Ann Jolene Luciano Winsett, this multi-awarded actress comes from a family whose history is linked with that of Magalang town, where she was born.

 The Kapampangan beauty who rose to stardom after a series of career moves was born Elizabeth Ann Jolene Winsett y Luciano on 31 October 1949, to American George Winsett and Magaleña, Josefina Luciano.

The Lucianos—together with the Cortezes and the Suings—are recognized as founders of the town, and Elizabeth’s forebears include prominent relatives like Dons Jose and Antonio Luciano, and the lawyer Andres Luciano.

 She spent her formative years going to Catholic schools at nearby Angeles, first at Holy Family Academy and then to Holy Angel Academy. Her family, however, moved to Manila when Elizabeth turned 13, so she had to complete her high school at Our Lady of Loreto in Sampaloc.

 Soon after graduation, she was accepted as a domestic flight stewardess at Philippine Air Lines, then took a corporate job at the Philippine Tourism and Travel Association as a tour guide/receptionist. Things became even more exciting for the teener when she joined the 1966 Bb. Pilipinas Pageant and placed second to winner Clarinda Soriano.

 This exposure led to movie offers from such leading studios as Sampaguita Pictures and Nepomuceno Productions. Asked to do a script reading with director Luis Nepomuceno, Elizabeth gamely went through the audition that she thought was for a commercial. She had prepared for the reading by practicing Tagalog, a language she was not well-versed in. Elizabeth was chosen from a field of over 60 ladies, but unbeknownst to her, the reading was actually a screen test for a movie project.. destined to be a classic --“Dahil sa Isang Bulaklak”’ 

 She was given the screen name “Liza Lorena”, and immediately was cast as Esperanza in a family drama headlined by major stars Charito Solis and Ric Rodrigo, who portrayed her parents. ”Dahil sa Isang Bulaklak” was touted as the “biggest Filipino film ever in 50 years ” and the first Philippine movie in color by De Luxe. It was released in 1967 to thunderous acclaim.

 Many thought that Lorena’s star would shine brighter after such an ominous start. She, however, put her budding career on hold after her relation with matinee idol Eddie Gutierrez produced a son, Eduardo Antonio Gutierrez Jr.. Just 18, the teen-age mother risked not only losing her career but also incurring the disapproval of movie audiences. However, Lorena was determined to take care of her son—who would grow up to be the equally-accomplished actor, Tonton Gutierrez.

In later years, she would also have a daughter with Honey Boy Palanca. Lorena would rebound only in 1982, in the acclaimed Peque Gallaga-helmed classic, “Oro, Plata, Mata”. The epic period film, which told of the changing fortunes of two Negros families with the coming World War II, earned for Lorena, the Film Academy of the Philippines’ (FAP) Best Supporting Actress award. In 1986, she won another Best Supporting Actress honors, this time, from Gawad Urian for the movie “Miguelito: Batang Rebelde”. 

That same year, she was named “Best Actress” of the Manila Film festival, for “Halimaw sa Banga” and was also cited by FAMAS with a Best Supporting Actress nomination for “Pahiram ng Ligaya”. Her most recent Best Actress triumph came at the 9th Gawad Tanglaw Awards, for the movie “Presa”, completed in 2010.

 Lorena is also a staple in many popular TV series— “Pangako Sa ‘Yo” (ABS-CBN, 200) “Kung Mawawala Ka” (GMA 7, 2001-2003) , Maria Flordeluna (ABS-CBN, 2007) , "Lobo” (ABS-CBN, 2008), “Apoy Sa Dagat” (ABS-CBN, 2013), and “Akin Pa Rin ang Bukas” (GMA, 2013). In a career that spanned 4 decades, Lorena has appeared in more than 185 movies and television shows since 1967.

 Today, Lorena remains a single mother, and continues to be active in showbiz—a feat she takes pride in. One other source of pride is grandson, Carlos Philippe Winsett-Palanca, who, in 2009, placed first at the Kids Golf European Championships in Scotland.

Lorena, a Kapampangan speaker, also has remained very much in touch with her Pampanga roots—she regularly goes to her school homecomings at Holy Angel, now a University, in Angeles. She may have taken unexpected detours in the course of her life journey, but this resilient Kapampangan artist has always managed to get back on track, finding fulfillment on paths that few have chosen to travel.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016


LA ULTIMA CENA OF ANGELES CITY. Holy Week evening procession, 1950s. 
 Just a few days from now, roads in Pampanga will be crammed with a procession of both sinners and saints—magdarame or flagellants imitating the passion of Christ, and life-like figures of saints, borne on richly carved and brightly-lit carriages, followed by a retinue of candle-bearing devotees.

 Such annual Lenten scenes provide contrasting sights— penitents walking in abject misery, stripped of their clothes, covered with grime and dust, with bodies bruised and bloodied. On the same road, one will also find santos resplendent in velvet vestments, wearing their silver halos, adorned with dazzling lights and flowers.

Though starkly different, these Lenten practices stem from a common personal objective—of fulfilling a vow, a “panata”-- a solemn promise made to God—in gratitude for answered prayers and for favors still waiting for divine intercession: a plea for for miraculous healing, for cleansing of one’s sins, for repentance.

 Both practices---deep-seated in our culture—require days, weeks and even months of preparations. Both have also become highly-organized family traditions. Dressing up santos for the kwaresma (40 days of Lent) involves at least 2 or 3 generations of families, who gather on such occasions to do their share. It used to be that ladies of the house prepared and arranged the images' garments, but now, even men have become adept at dressing manikin santos. 

 The Mercados of Sasmuan, who own a Sto. Entierro in a spectacular calandra (a glass casket) , have organized themselves by assigning specific tasks to family members. One branch of the family is responsible for the upkeep of  the antique silver components of the carroza (processional carriage), while another branch is in charge of Christ’s garments.

 The closely-knit Panlilio family of San Fernando have always taken pride in caring for their Mater Dolorosa (Sorrowful Mother), a tradition that began way back in the late 19th century. Every year, scattered family members make the trip back to their ancestral “bahay na bato” to help in preparing the image’s carroza, and in dressing up the image in her black velvet gown embroidered with gold threads. The family would then earnestly pray the rosary before the life-size image of their dolorous Virgin.

 “Like many traditions,” said one descendant Criselle Panlilio-Alejandro, “the Good Friday procession involving the Mater Dolorosa is more greatly appreciated as one grows older.”

 On the other hand in old Pampanga, to be a magdarame was purely a personal choice, an individual decision based on his relationship with God. It was not uncommon to find a cross-bearing penitent, his face covered in anonymity, trodding down dirt roads all by his lonesome. If, by chance, he meets a fellow magdarame along the way, he joins him quietly in his walk of faith.

 In recent times, more and more people are drawn into this bloody rite—to include whole families--brothers, sisters, wives and friends--who accompany the penitent as they intone prayers, whipping him to inflict more pain, propping him up when tired, providing water when thirsty, and taking occasional photos for posterity.

In Mabalacat, the practice of pamagdarame is organized with clockwork efficiency—the platoon of magdarames who crowd the city streets and the churchyard on Good Friday are dressed in similar Nazareno robes, equipped with professionally-made crosses, all uniformly painted with their designated barangay chapter.

 Times may have changed, but religious traditions endure. The belief in penance and salvation remains, but to many Kapampangans steeped in the practices of their colonizers , there are divergent ways to achieve them. One, is to be unified with Christ in his sufferings, as flagellants do, in an extreme display of physical mortification. The other is to contemplate on the Passion of Christ through staged processional scenes that depict the way of his Cross, involving mourning santos.

 The gory and the glorious. The pain and the pageantry. Sinners and saints. All these merge and converge on Pampanga’s roads once a year, only on Holy Week. May our traditions remind us that we are ransomed not by perishable things—like silver or gold—but with the precious blood of Christ.


Saturday, March 12, 2016

*399. A Tireless Thomasite: DR. ADAM C. DERKUM

Division Superintendent of Schools. Dated March 13, 1925.
The American contribution to Philippine education began with the arrival of Thomasites – a band of American teachers who came to our shores in 1901, lured by a sense of adventure, prospects of employment in the exotic Far East. and a genuine will to serve and build a new nation.

Of the thousands that were sent to help establish a modern public school system were the Derkums, from Richmond, Wayne, Indiana. The Derkum family, however, traces their beginnings in Wales, before becoming Hoosiers in America. Born in 1874, Adam C. Derkum studied and graduated from the University of Southern California. He was appointed to the civil service on 30 December 1903.

On 1 March  1906,  Dr. Adam Derkum, together with his wife Agnes, were assigned to Mexico, Pampanga. Alan became a supervising teacher, while Mrs. Derkum was put in charge of the intermediate school. In the years that followed, Dr. Derkum assumed a more prominent role as a Division Superintendent of schools in Zambales and Tarlac. He acquired a driver’s license in Manila so he could be more mobile as he attended to his duties in the region, often attending commencement exercises and giving addresses and speeches.

 On 31 March 1915, for example, he was at the evening graduation ceremonies of Iba central School in Zambales, where he awarded certificates and gave an inspirational talk to the class .  "The clear and distinct singing and speaking of the small boys and girls have won my heart”, Dr. Derkum said, “I believe that Zambales will be the first English speaking division of all the divisions in the Philippine Islands. Thus, it means that the larger part of the future young leaders and assembly men will be from Zambales”.  Hi address was met with deafening applause, as expected.

In the meanwhile, fellow Thomasite Frank Russell White,  had opened the first Philippine public high school building in Tarlac on September 1902. By 1915, the Tarlac Provincial High School had incurred much damage wrought by usage and time. Dr. Derkum, who had become the Division Superintendent of Tarlac schools, had a new building erected at a new location.  Wife Agnes Derkum became a teacher at this school and was the adviser of the 1918 pioneer graduating class.

In fact, at this first annual commencement exercises of the Tarlac High held on 27 March 1918, Dr. Derkum was in attendance as a guest speaker. He was there, along with Tarlac governor Ernesto Gardiner and principal Matthew D. Ashe to award diplomas and medals to class members, led by the valedictorian, Luciano Salak.

On 1 August 1925, he accompanied Mr. George R. Summers of the General Office  on a visit to Pampanga Agricultural School in Magalang.Both spent the whole day at this school observing academic classes and inspecting the nursery gardens and students’ farm reports.

Dr. Derkum took the lead in organizing various training programs for students,  through teacher camps and educational missions held in different provinces. He also looked into the conduct and performances of teachers ( for example, the status of a certain Miss Gilmer was investigated by his office).  As part of the American effort to promote physical education and national fitness, Dr. Derkum took part in the creation of the Philippine Amateur Athletic Federation, and became one of its founding members, that also included Manuel L. Quezon, Camilo Osias, Regino R. Ylanan and Jorge R. Vargas.

On a lighter note,  Dr. Derkum found much enjoyment when he attended the week-long "Pampanga Carnival and Provincial Fair", held from 20-26 February, 1925.  All the 22 municipalities of the province—including Camp Stotsenburg—participated in this exposition began with a parade of town floats presided by a princess-elect from the same. The fair was opened to the public by Princess Floridablanca, Eloisa Wolfert, after the speeches of Dr. Derkum and Gov. Sotero Baluyut.  

The next year, Dr. Derkum was chosen as President  and Chairman of the Executive Committee tasked with organizing the 1926 Pampanga Fair and Provincial Garden Day, This was to be one of  his last major activities as division superintendent of schools. Later in the year, the Derkums---with their four Philippine-born children in tow—returned to America where they would spend rest of their lives in California, even as the results of their life works in education continue to be enjoyed by a grateful Philippine citizenry.