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.