Monday, November 25, 2013

*353. Pampanga's Churches: STA. CATALINA CHURCH, Arayat

STA. CATALINA CHURCH, as it appears in 1911. The 3-level Renaissance-style facade gives it a signature look, that has earned a reputation as among Pampanga's most beautiful churches. Luther Parker Collection

The ancient town of Arayat rests on the foothills of Pampanga's mountain landmark, that has also come to be called by the same name. Its actual founding, however, is shrouded in mystery; with some sources naming either Prince Balagtas or his son, Araw--both Madjapahit Empire nobles, as the founder. But what we do know was Arayat was already a viable settlement as early as the 14th century, and 1571, it was one of the most important riverine towns of Pampanga, becoming a hub for trade and commerce.

The coming of Augustinians ushered in a brisk period of evangelization and, on 29 August 1590, Bishop Domingo Salazar approved a request to establish the first mission in the town, which was subsequently set up by Fray Juan de Valderrama. By 1600, the Arayat parish was already firmly established , under the ministry of Fray Contreras.

The early church was dedicated to Santa Catalina de Alejandria (St. Catherine of Alexandria), a 4th century virgin-martyr killed under the reign of Maxentius. Considered as one of the most important saints of the Medieval period, Sta. Catalina was also a popular Augustinian devotion.

The stone and brick structure was erected in 1753; cacnonical books indicate that the first baptism was conducted there in 1758, by a certain Fray Villalobos. The church was rebuilt by Fray Jose Torres starting in 1858. Fr. Juan Tarrero continued with the project only to become an unfortunate victim of the Philippine Revolution. It was finally finished in 1892, under the able supervision of Fr. Urbano Beduya, although several renovations continued through the first 2 decades of the 20th century.

The beautiful Sta. Catalina Church features a multi-levelled Renaissance style fachada. measures 70 meters long and 16 meters wide and stands12 meters high. It belongs to the parish of the Vicariate of Mary, Help of Christians in the Archdiocese of San Fernando. An image of its titular patron, Sta. Catalina, stands on the church portico. A separate antique image also resides in the main altar. Her  feast day is celebrated on November 25. 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


WHERE EAT'S AT. The Pampanga High School canteen, located at the school grounds, was just a modest wooden structure built to serve as an eating area for students during their recess and breaks. Ca. Late 1950s

 Who can forget the old school canteen? The sound of the bell indicating the start of recess would have us scampering towards our school canteen—that ramshackle building that sold more than refreshments and snacks for hungry students, but also provided a casual place for lively discourses, from the trivial to the sublime, while partaking of cheap spaghetti, Chiz Curls and Sunkist in tetra-packs.

 The concept of a canteen was nonexistent in my elementary years. Always, we ate our food in the classroom, bought from student vendors (recruited from the Home Economics classes) who went from room to room selling kakanins like kalame, palitaw and mochi. Otherwise, we would buy snack items from makeshift stalls around the perimeter of our school, to be eaten within the school grounds during our break time.

 It was different when I set my foot in my new high school in the city—it had a separate structure for food and refreshments. Every 9:30 a.m., all hell broke loose in the mad dash to be first in line at the canteen—the sooner you were served, the more time you can indulge in eating and socializing. 

Oh yes, it was in the canteen that various clicque were formed and friendships forged for a brief 15-20 minutes, and one’s station in the school could be gleaned from the composition of students in one table. Nerds and runts would occupy one table, and the more boisterous ones in another.

 Our school canteen was managed by the family of one student, who happened to be a classmate, and it had the basic stuff we needed to satisfy our growing appetites. Manning the fort was the loquacious Mrs. Antonio, who exuded a Mother Earth-ly aura with her matronly girth. She could not keep still at her post, making sure everyone was served efficiently, promptly.

 A typical morning merienda included such choices as spaghetti with ketchup-y sauce laced with hotdog slices (my favorite!), recado-less pancit guisado, watery sampelut, siopao, assorted sandwiches (cheese pimiento was a staple) , Chippy, Chiz Curlz –which we downed with softdrinks and orange juices in triangular cartoons—plus candies galore. The scene would be repeated come lunch time, and the canteen would be full to the rafters by noon.

I shied away from the canteen at this time, preferring to eat my packed lunch elsewhere with my best friend. Our secret break spot was at the rear of the school, under a thick canopy of bonggabilya leaves. Here, hidden by the thick foliage, we could enjoy our lunch, wrapped in banana leaves, away from the bullies whose nasty habit it was to mooch for ulam! There was not a week that I did not have porkchop or fried chicken for lunch, for some reason, I never had vegetables.

 Since the break time was a full hour, students had more time to linger—perhaps to review Physics lessons, learn a few chords from the latest issue of Jingle Magazine, character assassinate a teacher, and for the more daring ones—sneak a few puffs of smoke.

 A more serious transgression done to the canteen was the constant disappearance of plates and utensils. I remember Mrs. Antonio making a plea to our class, to please, please return the plastic yellow plates lest she gives up the canteen. I don’t know if the plates were returned, but the Antonios operated the canteen till we all finished high school.

 The sound of the bell after an hour would indicate the end of lunch, and the start of the afternoon session, which would invariably lull students to sleep, including me. The saving race would be the 3:30 pm. bell, signalling our final trip to the canteen. I would buy only a few pieces of candy like Lipps and Vi-Va by this time, preferring to save my appetite for dinner.

 I continued to be a canteen habituĂ© in my university years, even if the big canteens there were impersonal and cold. There were no Mrs. Antonios to warm you up with a smile and a “good morning”, only uniformed attendants who served then swiped your tables cleaned, then moved on to the next . The menu was more sophisticated, with fancy entries like “flying saucer”, “club sandwich”, “sloppy joe sandwiches”. But where, oh where is my “putung babi” and “sampelut”?.

 Then and now, school canteens continue to serve the same purpose for both idlers and socializers. For the latter, a canteen is a place to see and be seen, to display trophy friends, grab a bite--and attention. As for the bored and the lonely, here’s a friendly advice: ”If you have nothing to do, do it here—in your old school canteen!!”

Monday, November 11, 2013

*351. JESS LAPID: Guagua's Last Action Hero

LIPAD, LAPID, LIPAD!. Jess Lapid Sr., at the height of his career, ranked among the bigtime action stars of the 60s, led by Fernando Poe Jr. and Joseph Estrada. Photo from Philippine Free Press, Ca. 1964.

 “Divina Valencia, 
Stella Suarez, nagbu-burles” 
Sa ngalan ng pag-ibig, 
Fernando Poe’ng makisig, 
Pangalawa si Jess Lapid.” 

 In the more innocent days of the 1960s, children all over the country used to sing this ditty to the tune of the Beatles’ ”A Hard Day’s Night”, as a tribute to the local showbiz’ most-talked about stars. Divina and Stella were obvious picks as they were the leading names that paved the way for “bomba” films in the 70s. Rising star Fernando Poe, was already a name to reckon with in action films, and hot on his heels was Poe’s discovery, Jess Lapid, who was popular enough to earn a line in the lyrics of this nonsense song, which alludes to his handsome-ness, second only to Da King. Indeed, Jess Lapid’s star could have shown brighter in Philippine moviedom, had he not met an early and untimely death.

He was born, Jesus Lapid  (b. 7 Jan. 1934)  in Guagua town; an older brother, Jose, is the father and grandfather of movie stars-turned politicians Lito Lapid (now on his last term as Senator), and son Mark Lapid (former governor of Pampanga and now TIEZA Head), respectively. Jess started as an extra in his first film from Premiere Productions, “Larawan ng Pag-Ibig” in 1961. He then shifted to being a stuntman, after finding out that they earned more than extras.

He rose to become the top stuntman of Premiere, often doubling for more established stars—riding horses, falling from cliffs, getting shot at by villains. He had the good fortune for doubling for Fernando Poe Jr., and soon, the two would become fast friends.

When Poe ventured into film productions, he made Jess one of the regulars in his films, giving him roles that required real acting, rather than choreographed stunt actions. Jess rose to the occasion and proved to be a convincing character actor. He tried him out in “Pasong Diablo”, in 1961.

 It was in the FPJ Productions, “Sierra Madre” (1963) that Poe decided to give Jess the full star treatment—from a more prominent billing to major publicity exposures. But it was Jess himself who pulled it off, by turning in a sensational performance that erased all doubts about his just being a “mere stuntman”.

 It was Tagalog Ilang-Ilang Productions picked him up and eventually made him into a superstar in the movie “Kardong Kidlat” (1964) which became such a smashing success at the box office tills. At the Globe Theater where the movie was launched, a long queue of movie fans lined up around the building just get get in and watch the talk-of-the-town film.

 1964 proved to be a bright and busy year for jess, appearing in movies like “Bilis at Tapang” with Romeo Vasquez and “Deadly Brothers” with Joseph Estrada. He co-starred with Vic Vargas in “7 Kilabot ng Barilan”. In 1968, Jess appeared alongside action movie greats Fernando Poe Jr. and Joseph Estrada in “3 Hari”, an FPJ productions offering.

 As he was raking it in, he invested in his own film outfit, Jela Productions, and began producing his own movies.

 He had just wrapped up the movie “Simaron Brothers”with Jun Aristorenas, when, on the night of 13 July 1968, he was shot to death at the Lanai Nightclub after an altercation between two groups of movie personalities. Persistent reports linked the incident to another Kapampangan actress, Nancy Roman, also his leading lady. A suspect, Mario Henson, gave himself up to the police, and at least one gunman from Angeles was implicated in the crime. Jess was brought to the National Orthopedic Hospital but was pronounced dead on arrival. He was just 35 years old when he passed away.

 “Simaron Brothers”was shown post-humously at the Globe Theater, and the blurb capitalized on his sensational death by touting his last movie as a “picture that will project the living image of Jess Lapid in the hearts of millions..”.

 As a belated tribute, nephew Lito Lapid appeared as Jess Lapid in the biopic “The Jess Lapid Story”, released in 1978. He also immortalized the iconic role of Leon Guerrero, first originated by Jess in the 1968 film, “Leon Guerrero: Laban sa 7 Kilabot”"

 Of his 3 children, one went on to follow in his footsteps. His namesake, Jess Lapid Jr. also became a movie actor, and a film and fight director. He appeared in a 1980 spin-off film that made his father famous, “Ang Bagong Kardong Kidlat”. Jess Jr. capped his career with a Best Supporting Actor award for the movie “Lumayo Ka Man Sa Akin” in 1993.

 The senior Jess can very well rest happy with the thought that the Lapid name, through his son, nephew and grandnephews, continue to contribute to the lively art of film-making in the Philippines.

Monday, November 4, 2013

*350. Shine Bright Like a Diamond: THE OCAMPO JEWELLERS OF ANGELES

GEM OF A MAN. Lawyer, banker, businessman, socio-civic leader, Mr. Ricardo Ma. Ocampo of Minalin, togther with his wife, Evansuida (nee Gueco), started the well-known Ocampo's, the jewelry and watch chain store that continues to operate today.

 For over sixty years, the name OCAMPO’s was synonymous to fine jewelry and quality watches. The name needed no other descriptor as almost all Kapampangans of good taste hied off to this shop to get the best imported wristwatches and the most stylish gold pendant necklaces, wedding rings, brooches and other jewelry pieces of superb value.

From a smalltown enterprise, OCAMPO’s grew to become a large, nationally-known enterprise, with branches and extensions all around Pampanga and even in the posh malls of Manila and Makati. Pampanga’s premiere jewellery store was founded by Atty. Ricardo “Rickie” Ma. Ocampo.

He was born in the town of Minalin on 23 October 1919, the son of Santiago L. Ocampo, a noted pioneer in jewelry merchandising and owner of a chain store of local jewelry stores. Ricardo’s mother, Felipa vda. De Ocampo, on the other hand, hailed from Guagua. For his primary education, Ricardo attended the Minalin Elementary School, before moving to Guagua National Institute. He then transferred to Pampanga High School, where he graduated in 1936.

Upon completion of his secondary school, he enrolled at the University of Santo Tomas and earned his Commerce degree in 1940. He then proceeded to take up and finish Law at Francisco Law Schoo, and passed the Bar Exams in the nick of time—just before the War. Ricardo sharpened his business acumen by assuming the managership of his father’s business, “Ocampo’s for Everything”, beginning in 1945.

With his marriage to Evansuida Gueco, daughter of Lorenzo Gueco and Saturnino Ocampo, he decided to venture on his own in 1947. Settling in the hometown of his wife, the couple put up Ocampo’s Angeles, which was primarily a small jewelry shop. To this shop, they eventually added jewellery services, a gift shop, a pawn shop, and an optical department. The Ocampos became direct importers of clocks and watch parts, which proved to be their bestsellers, after their jewelry products.

 As their fortunes grew, so too their social standing. Ricardo’s financial occupation was made busier with socio-civic activities. Ricardo became President of the One and Only Club, the Jolly Youngsters Club and Selegna Club. He also headed the popular Bato-Balani Club and Kundiman Club as Governor. Likewise, he was a lifelong member of the Angeles Jaycees, the Rotary Club of San Fernando and the Holy Name Society.

 Evansuida, on the other hand, honed her skills in the art and science of jewelry by enrolling in special gemology courses. As a gemologist, she earned international recognition for her jewelry expertise. The Ocampo couple would have four children, all daughters-- Corito, Divina, Evita and Finina, who grew up studying at the local Holy Family Academy.

 By the 1950s, OCAMPO’s would have lucrative branches in Angeles, San Fernando and Guagua, which encouraged customers to “Buy with Confidence”. The company logo incorporated images of a clock face and a gem—the banner products of their business.

 The 70s were a time of expansion and diversification to respond to the imperatives of the times. OCAMPO’s added household appliances to their product line, and put up a large warehouse-shop along MacArthur Highway in Balibago, a strategic location to capture both the local and large American base market. With the prominence of malls in the late 70s and 80s, branches of OCAMPO’s sprouted in Shoemart (SM) and Ayala Commercial Center, joining other Kapampangan-owned shops like those operated by the Dayrits (Miladay’s) and Fe Sarmiento-Panlilio (Fe Panlilio Jewellers).

 Just when things were going along very well with the Ocampos, a tragedy struck the family on 28 September 1983. Ricardo, Evansuida and their then 14 year old adopted daughter, Rosemarie Pineda, were attacked by their houseboy, Eddie Malonzo, at their posh Villa Teresa all-white mansion. The couple were killed, but their daughter survived the carnage which was reported in national newspapers.

 Despite the Ocampos’s tragic deaths, their legacy lives on in their shops which continues to operate today in Angeles and in Manila. It still enjoys a loyal following especially by a generation of Kapampangans who grew up wearing Ocampo’s wedding rings, gold chain necklaces and fine wristwatches, among others.