Thursday, June 22, 2017

*434. WITH THESE GIFTS, I THEE WED

WEDDINGS ARE MADE OF THESE. A home reception...a spread of dishes... wedding cake...and lots of gifts, complete the wedding celebration. ca. early 1950s.

The tradition of giving gifts to couples united in weddings goes back to pre-colonial times. In many ethnic groups, the practice goes even before the actual wedding rites, as in the case of Pinatubo Negritos who pay dowry to the bride’s family in the form of “bandi”—treasured property in the form of bolos, bows and arrows.

In pre-Hispanic society, after the ceremony presided by a babaylan or a tribal priest/priestess is done, a series of gift-exchanging rituals is undertaken by the man and his family to counter the possible negative responses of the bride. Such instances include her refusal to attend the wedding banquet, or even to go into her new bedroom that she would be sharing with her spouse. The bride then is plodded with gifts of gold, jewelry, rich fabrics and animals to ensure that she will fully cooperate.

Kasalans during the Spanish times were comparatively austere affairs; the giving of gifts was encouraged to help start the couple in their new journey together. The superstitious belief that sharp objects—like knives and needles—were not appropriate as wedding gifts came from the Spaniards. In the more prosperous 1920-30s, weddings became more Westernized and larger in scale. Gift-giving became even more lavish and varied, as shops and stores sprouted along Escolta and Avenida, providing more showcases of gift ideas to sponsors, relatives, and invited guests.

One of the post-wedding highlights for the newlyweds is when they open boxes and boxes of gifts to find the surprises of their lives.  For example, when Juana Arnedo,  got hitched with Felipe Buencamino around 1870, her father, Apalit gobernadorcillo Joaquin Arnedo gifted her and his new husband a grand bale a bato. The mansion was built on over a hectare of lot in Capalangan, near Sulipan, Apalit.

In 1936, after Dr. Jesus Eusebio, noted ophthalmologist  from San Fernando, married Josefina Buyson of Bacolor in fabulous rites at San Guillermo Church, Jesus’ father, Don Andres Eusebio, sent them off to honeymoon in the U.S. via luxury liner Pres. Hoover, and then to Europe, all-expenses paid.

By far, however, the wedding gifts received by Doña Consolacion Singian and Don Jose M.Torres , are incomparable in terms of variety and range, enough to furnish a house. The guest list itself consists of politicos and senators, jurists and patriots, affluent hacenderos and business mavens, and the upper tier of Kapampangan high society. After their nuptials on 28 April 1912 in San Fernando, the bride made an inventory of their gifts that she wrote in her personal journal.

From one of their godfathers, Hon. D. Florentino Torres, Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines, they received a complete set of black Vienna chairs with a marble table, a sofa and four chairs. Dna. Ramona Valenzuela de Goyena contributed more pieces of furniture with her gift of  six European chairs for dining.

Japanese-made gifts seemed to be very popular in the early decades of the 20th century as at least 9 guests gave them: D. Joaquín Longos (a very fine Japanese tea service), D. Manuel Gómez (a beautiful Japanese coffee service), Da. Juana vda. de Chuidian ( a pair of elegant and beautiful Japanese earthen jars), Srta. Belen Gómez (a dozen elegant and fine Japanese cups for coffee) , D. Joaquín Zamora, (a pair of capricious lacquered Japanese paintings). D. Vicente Gana ( a complete set of very fine Japanese tea service), D. Joaquín Herrera (elegant Japanese pillows), D. Pío Trinidad ( a pair of beautiful Japanese flowerpots),  and lastly, Fiscal of Pampanga D. Oscar Soriano (very fine and complete Japanese tea service).

The couple also received an astounding six sets of flowerpots with pedestals—led by Pampanga governor, Hon. Dr. Francisco Liongson, and Pampanga judge Hon. Julio Llorente who seemed to have bought the same “pair of elegant flower pots on pedestals” from one store. Curiously, D. José Monroy, Tomas Arguelles and Melecio Aguirre all gave “apple green pedestals with flowerpots”.  Well, at least they were color-coordinated.

Valuable silver--from tableware, coffee service, butter dishes, candy and fruit trays and decanters--were also gifted to the newlyweds. The most impressive was a silver toothpick holder  given by D. Godofredo Rodriguez. Whatever became of these silver gifts that are now antiques?

The practical D. Perfecto Gabriel must be commended for his very native gift—the only one from the bewildering assortment of European, Japanese, American, Chinese thingamajigs. Aside from a pocket watch, he gifted the Torreses an Ilocos blanket.

Today, some things never change when it comes to giving wedding presents.  There are gifts that are functional and practical,  there are many more that are recycled and inutile. The ubiquitous glass punch bowls and sets of glasses are still favorite giveaways, along with rice cookers, flat irons, towels and whistling kettles. That is why couples-to-be now have the derring-do to suggest their desired gift, explicitly written on their wedding invitations: “With all that we have, we’ve been truly blessed/ Your presence and prayers are all that we request./ But if you desire to give nonetheless/Monetary gift is one we suggest.”   With the money received...you may now treat the bride!


Monday, June 12, 2017

*433. TABLEWARE TALK

DINNER IS SERVED, Students of Domestic Arts practice the art of setting a table using china plates, glassware, cutlery and table napkins. Our pre-colonial ancestors had their own ideas of fine dining on their low, wooden table called 'dulang', filling it up with jars, plates, jugs and pots, of all sorts. ca. 1920s.

When the Spanish missionaries came to our islands in the 16th century, they found a low wooden table in practically every native home called “dulang”. It served primarily as a dining table, around which people sat to partake of the food, eaten with bare hands. Tableware was limited to a few wooden spoons, ladles, food and liquid containers. But contact and trading with Asian traders afforded natives to have quite a wide assortment of jugs and jars, plates and pans, bowls and storage containers for both “dulang” and dwelling.

 Old Pampanga homes may still have, in their kitchens, earthenware containers used for cooking or storage. Balanga was a traditional clay pot used for cooking everyday viands, while a curan—that featured a narrower mouth-- was used for cooking rice.

Storage jars of varying sizes include the gusi, a china jar that can contain anywhere from 6 to 8 gantas (1 ganta is a local unit of measure equivalent to ¼ of a cavan); next to it is the guguling, a medium size jar. Another medium size jar for holding water is the marapatayan, which is smaller than a tapayan, that can hold some 11 gallons of liquid. A large China-made jar was called tui-tui, while a lupay was the name for a small, multi-purpose earthenware jar.

 To deter ants from infesting food, the leftover ulam are kept in bowls, then placed on a shallow, water-filled vessels called lampacan. This serves as a sort of a moat, so the ants would not be able to reach the food. When storage cabinets came into use, its four legs were made to stand on lampacans, to provide the same protection.

 Kapampangans ate with gusto using their hands, as ‘cubiertos’ were still many years away from being introduced. Rice was placed on banana leaves spread on the dulang, but plates were also known from trading with the Chinese, Annamese and the Siamese who brought all kinds of pinggan (plates). A large plate was called tapac, and a porcelain plate for mustard was called suic.

 Bowls were perhaps the most common tableware found on the native table. The smallest bowl is called sulyao (sulyo, or silyo), which is perfect for a single-serving of soup. Mangcoc is bigger than a sulyao, same with another larger bowl called lampay (or lampe). A banga is a large, narrow-mouthed pitcher, while a siolan is a small flask. A tampayac is a cruet, that was used for both condiments and for ointments. People drank water from coconut half-shells, or used a communal long-handled dipper to scoop out water from a water-filled jar.

 The Spaniards, and later, the Americans are credited for upgrading our table (and table manners, by Western standards) by introducing fork and spoons, complete silver cutlery, demitasse cups, silver table adornments like toothpick holders, lace napkins, and a bewildering array of plates, saucers, cups and glassware. The legendary reception given by the Apalit Arnedos to the Grand Duke of Russia in 1891—marked with the ostentatious display of fine china, silver and table accoutrements—was a testament as to how refined, how sophisticated we had become.

 But truth be told, it takes very little to please a Kapampangan on the dinner table—remove the silver forks and spoons, take away the fancy bone china, give him a plate of sizzling sisig and unli rice---and he will roll up his sleeves and feast away with his hands, like there’s no tomorrow. As one Kapampangan with a hearty appetite declared—“Asbuk mu at gamat ing kailangan! Mangan tana!” (You need only your mouth and hands. Let's eat!)

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

*432. THE MORALESES OF MABALACAT

DON QUINTIN MORALES, was the first of the Moraleses to hold an important office in Mabalacat. he was elected teniente del barrio of Poblacion. His younger brother, Feliciano, is the great-grandfather of Mayor Marino "Boking" Morales". 

Morales is a top-of-mind name associated with the political history of Mabalacat. And of the Moraleses that have served Mabalacat in different capacities through the years, one name stands out,  not so  much for the quality of leadership but for his longevity of tenure—Mayor Marino "Boking" Morales whose 22 years in office makes him the longest-serving mayor of the Philippines.

But before Mayor Boking, there have been a few Morales forebears who have rendered their services to the municipality of Mabalacat, in different capacities. The Morales clan could trace its beginnings to the patriarch, Mariano Morales who married Agustina Tuazon, possibly in the 1830s. The Morales couple, known members of the town principalia,  begat four children, all boys—Quintin (b.1856/d. 31 Oct. 1928), Feliciano, Valentin and Simeon (b. 4 Jul, 1880/d.24 Oct. 1942).

Quintin, the eldest son, married Paula Guzman y Cosme (b.1851/d. 7 Mar 1943,  and during the Spanish times, became a teniente del barrio (or cabeza de barangay) of Poblacion, where he and his wife settled. Quintin is buried somewhere in the sacristy of the Divine Grace Church. Of the couple’s 5 children, the youngest, Atty. Rafael Morales (b. 24 Oct. 1893/d.1967), would also venture into politics—he was elected as consejal (councilor) for two terms, during the Commonwealth years, under the mayoralties of Dr. Jose T. Garcia (1932-35) and Jose Mendoza (1940-41).

Younger brother Valentin Morales was elected teniente mayor of Sapang Bato, also during the Spanish colonial period; the youngest, Simeon, and his descendants, did not seem to show any political ambitions.

Feliciano’s son with Juana Pantig, Miguel Morales, would bring the Morales political family tradition to a higher, more prominent profile. The U.S.T. medical graduate would rise from being a medico de sanidad (department health head) of Apalit to becoming the first elected mayor of Mabalacat after the Liberation (1948-1951). As chief executive, he was responsible for building the wooden Morales Bridge, which provided the vital link between Sta. Ines and Poblacion. Mayor Morales also organized the first hydroelectric power plant, later operated by the Tiglaos. He was at the forefront of a campaign against the rising Huk movement when he was assassinated in 1951.

But it was his grandson, Marino (son of Ignacio), who would set his name on record books for a much different and unusual accomplishment. First elected mayor in June 1995, Morales began his term while Mabalacat was still reeling from the Pinatubo aftermath. He managed to extend his term through legal technicalities, strange twists of luck and with much help from election law wiz, Atty Romulo Macalintal . Amazingly, Morales would be re-elected in 1998, 2001, 2004, 2007 and 2010 elections.

When Mabalacat became a component city, Morales  filed yet again another certificate of candidacy. He was qualified to run, he said, because the status of Mabalacat had changed from that of a town into a city. Once again, amidst protests, he won the May 2016 elections. But on August 2016,  the disqualification protest filed by losing candidate Pyra Lucas resulted in Comelec First Division’s granting of her petition.  This was finally affirmed on 30 May 2017 by Comelec en banc whch ruled that the First Division’s cancellation of Morales’ certificate of candidacy was valid.

It looks like the incredible political career of Boking Morales---which had withstood charges of corruption, vote-buying and ballot-burning, familial discords, several changes in marital partners, and most recently, inclusion in Duterte’s list of narco-politicians—is finally coming to an end, at least for now. But the pool of Moraleses waiting in the wings to take on his mantle is wide and deep. Possible successors include son Dwight ( a councilor); daughter Marjorie Morales-Sambo (she once declared her bid to unseat her father); and of course, his current wife Nina, whom he initially fielded in the 2016 mayoralty race.

Morales may be down, but not out—not yet. As this article is being written, he can still resort to a few legal remedies--a temporary restraining order is one. Besides, there is still the world-record of Hilmar Moore to beat—the mega-mayor of Richmond, Texas who served his town from 1949 until his death in 2012---an epic run of 63 years! If he does that, Mabalacat may as well be renamed as Morales City, Pampanga. 

Thursday, May 4, 2017

*431. MAY DAYS IN PAMPANGA

‘TWAS IN THE MERRY MONTH OF MAY. Kapampangan kids—including the children of Evangelina Hilario-Lacson and Serafin Lacson—dress up as Santacruzan characters, for the annual Maytime procession.

The merry month of May was named after Maia, the  Greek goddess of fertility, a mother figure in mythology. Thus, since the 18th century, it has come to be the month associated with the Virgin Mary, with many special devotions and religious rites taking place in May.

Kapampangans not only hold the traditional Flores de Mayo processions which celebrates the titles of the Virgin listed in the 13th century Loreto litany, but also conduct a different version of Santacruzan. Sabat Santacruzan--which dramatizes the finding of the True Cross by St. Helena-- is different in that the procession is halted several times by costumed actors who challenge the Reyna Elena in a poetic joust and engage her troop in a swordfight derived from yesteryear’s moro-moros.

Along with the Sabat Santacruzan are celebrated the various town fiestas and festivals of this province. Floridablanca, Mexico, Masantol, Sta. Rita, and San  Fernando observe the feast days of their patrons in various days of May. The Sampaguita Festival of Lubao, the Batalla of Masantol and the Pinukpukan Festival of Floridablanca all happen on this sunny month.

The first day of May also marks Labor Day, in celebration of laborers and the working class.  It brings to mind the memory of  the “grand old man of Philippine labor”—Kapampangan Felixberto Olalia Sr. (1903-1983), the first chairman of the Kilusang Mayo Uno (KMU) founded in 1980. Much earlier, he had founded the National Federation of Labor Unions, and became a champion of labor causes,  like  Crisanto Evangelista during the Commonwealth years. Olalia  and his family suffered for his work—he was imprisoned several times even in his advanced age;  his own son, KMU lawyer Rolando Olalia met a violent death in 1986, part of  supposed plot to rid the Aquino Cabinet of left-leaning members.

With May upon us, we look back at some of the past events of significance in Pampanga, which transpired on this fifth month of the year.

1 May, 1942. The execution of jurist-martyr-hero, Jose Abad Santos.
There are several conflicting dates of the hero’s death. What is known is, Abad Santos, his son Pepito, and Col. Benito Valeriano were captured by the Japanese on 11 April 1942 in Barili, Cebu. He was ordered executed by Gen. Homma and taken to Malabang, Lanao on 30 April.  Keiji Fukui, the interpreter during Abad Santos's confinement, supported by his diary notes, put 2 May 1942, 2 p.m., as the date of his death by musketry.  But the hero’s biographer, Ramón C. Aquino, claimed that May 7 was the date given by Pepito himself during his testimony at the war trials. Recently, the National Historic Commission of the Philippines, re-set the date to May 1.

1-18 May, 1910. Appearance of Halley’s Comet
Halley’s Comet made its appearance to the world, after approximately 76 years (it last appeared in 1835). People of Pampanga were struck with awe as the spectacular comet lit the skies before sunrise for 18 days.

4 May 1899. Philippine revolucionarios led by Gen. Antonio Luna burns San Fernando Church.
Not only was the church razed to the ground by revolutionary troops, but also the Casa Municipal and several houses to render them useless to the approaching American forces.

6 May, 1933. The Pampanga Carnival ends.
To celebrate the strides made by the province in the last two decades, the Pampanga Carnival Fair and Exposition--“the greatest concourse of people on the island of Luzon”—was held for 2 weeks, beginning on 22 April, 1933. The venue was the 12-hectare Capitol grounds in San Fernando. Appointed as Director General was the Hon. Jose Gutierrez David, Pampanga’s delegate to the 1934 Constitutional Assembly. More than a display of prosperity, the Carnival was also meant to be a concrete expression of local autonomy in keeping with the principles of a truly democratic government.Almost all of the 21 towns of Pampanga came to participate in the fair that was patterned after the national Manila Carnivals. The fair ended with the selection of Miss Pampanga.

7 May, 1866. Birth of Dña. Teodora Salgado, financier of the Revolution
During the Philippine Revolution, Kapampangan women came in full force to aid the revolucionarios. Not only did they activate La Cruz Roja (Red Cross) for the sick and wounded revolucionarios, but also funded the activities of local revolutionary groups.  On such generous financier was Teodora “Dorang” Salgado,  daughter of Joaquin Salgado and Filomena Basilio of San Fernando. The life of the “grand dame of San Fernando” reads like a telenovela: she was twice-widowed, thrice married, childless--yet she surmounted all these trials to emerge as Pampanga's most successful--and richest—businesswoman.

7 May, 1899. Gen. Aguinaldo moves the seat of the government to Angeles.
The revolutionary leader, coming from San Isidro, Nueva Ecija, transferred the seat of his government to Angeles. Mass was held in the town, attended by his soldiers.  Aguinaldo stayed in Angeles until July, when he moved his government to Tarlac.

12 May, 1812. The proposal to make Culiat a self-governing town is vetoed by Spanish friars.
Sixteen years after Don Ángel Pantaleón de Miranda, and wife, Doña Rosalía de Jesús, settled on a new land that grew and prospered to be Culiat, the residents proposed that their new town be given autonomy to organize its own governing body. The proposal was disapproved by friars led by Fray José Pometa.

12 May, 1962. Pres. Diosdado P. Macapagal moves the date of Independence Day from July 4 to June 12.
The United State, through the Treaty of Manila, granted  independence to the Philippines on 4 July 1946 to coincide with its own Independence Day. In 1962, Pres. Macapagal issued Presidential Proclamation No. 28, which declared June 12 a special public holiday throughout the Philippines, "... in commemoration of our people's declaration of their inherent and inalienable right to freedom and independence".  Republic Act No. 4166 formalized the date by proclaiming  June 12 as "Philippine Independence Day".

20 May, 1897. Insurrectos raid Talimunduc in Angeles.
On this day, a band of insurrectos led by a capitan from Barrio Tibo, Mabalacat raided Talimunduc (now Lourdes Sur) and recruited new members. Local officials managed to pursue and disband them, and 7 men were caught, including Crispulo Punsalana and Cornelio Manalang. They were supposed to be taken to jail in Bacolor, then the capital of the province, but they disappeared; rumors had it that they never got to their final destination and were all killed.

 21 May 1919, Major Harold Clark dies.
Major Harold Clark, the military pilot stationed in the Philippines and who gave his name to Clark Air Base, died in a seaplane crash in the Panama Canal Zone on this day.

28 May, 1870. Birth of Brig.Gen. Maximino Hizon, Pampanga’s  revolutionary hero.
This Mexico native became the caudillo of the Revolution in Pampanga who rallied Kapampangans to fight the Spaniards under Gen. Emilio Aguinaldo’s revolutionary banner. He ordered the execution of the parish priests of Mexico and San Fernando, Pampanga, and later led attacks against Americans in a foiled attempt to recapture Manila. Hizon was captured by the Americans and exiled to Guam where he died of a heart attack in 1901.

Friday, April 28, 2017

*430. FOLK SONGS OF THE KAPAMPANGAN REGION

I WANT TO TEACH THE WORLD TO SING. Kapampangans out on excursion trips usually brought their stringed instruments to make beautiful music while on the road, or while enjoying their picnic. People would sing along to add to the merriment of the moment. 

Pampanga’s musical traditions begin with folk songs and melodies. These are the first songs that you heard growing up, on your Ingkung’s knee; the lilting lullabye that Ima hummed in lulling you to sleep. These are also the songs that you sang in school, full of nonsense and made-up rhymes, songs about Atsing Rosing, Mariang Malagu and Kapitan Besyu.

They are the songs sang by peasant workers to fight off boredom and drudgery, to express pride in their labors, however humble. They are the stirring kantang Ukbu that galvanized a national movement, patriotic paeans to a country.

They are the dirgeful tunes you heard being chanted on Holy Week, the hymns and carols that you dutifully sang in church services and the frenetic beat that devotees danced to in annual kuraldals. From the plaintive serenatas of many a lovestruck swain, the sweet chords of a kundiman to the bawdy tunes that livened up many a drinking spree, these songs are a part of our race since time immemorial, wrought by anonymous wordsmiths, and handed down from generation to generation through oral tradition.

Folk songs we call them, music of the common people that says so much about how we live, love and laugh. There are various touchstones that define this kind of music.

First, the anonymity of authorship. Unlike formal poetry, where names like Crissot, Gallardo and Yuzon are associated, there are no such names to speak of in folk poetry. Because of the continuous transmission process, there are no fixed attributions and sources. Which means, the longer the transmission period, the more impossible it is to determine the originator.

Second, the language. Folk song lyrics are generated by common people who are largely untutored, with nary a care for the rigid disciplines of literature as taught in schools. They give free rein to ideas and emotions without a thought for forms, meters and aesthetics, telling stories with natural flair, earthy words and all. The lyrics are uninhibited, the language(s) raw, spontaneous and even mixed.

It is not:
Legwan king kaladua, legwan king katawan
Nung iti mikalu, sunlag ya ing legwan
Ugaling uliran, mayap a kaniwan
Selan at sampat lub, dit a pamagaral
Nung miakma iti king santing ning laman
Tunggen keng malagu, babai ninuman

But it is:
Y Mkaka kung Maria, mamuli yang tapis
Purung purung sutla, habing Camarines
Ninu ing tatalan, ninung talabitbit
I kaka kung Peping, anak ng Don Pedro

It is also:
Kabang teterak ku, lulundag, luluksu
Miyagnan ing sagakgak, pakpak ding gamat ku.
Emuku tiknangan, anggang mepagal ku
Susunga ku rugu, tutulung sipun ku..

And likewise:
One day, misan a aldo
I saw menakit ko,
A bird ayup kano
Flying susulapo

Third, folk songs are a work in progress. The Kapampangan folk song evolves by continuous alteration, as opposed to its formal literary counterpart where every word is fixed, the form precise and permanent. Folk songs are subject to versioning and customizing, in the course of their transference, a cultural process perfectly permissible to fit the needs of the times. Folk songs survive  because of effective adaptation and it is correct to sing:

Papatak, papatak
Magkanta la ring tugak
Lilintik-lilintik
Magkanta la ring itik

But it is also okay to sing:

Papatak, papatak
Magkanta la ring antak
Lilintik, lilintik
Magkanta la ring Instik!

With the ongoing cultural renaissance in Pampanga, Kapampangan folk songs are being rediscovered and enjoyed.  Folk songs are no longer just the interest of historians, musicologists and seekers of quaint entertainment, but of late, they have found favor as part of the repertoire of youth bands, mainstream singers local music icons led by Pampanga’s best known minstrel, Totoy Bato. After all, folk music has played a very important part in almost everyone’s life. Without a doubt, the folk songs we learned from our childhood, from our parents and friends have been instrumental in shaping our taste for music in all its melodious permutations. There is no better reason to start singing them again. So pick up a guitar, raise your voices, and sing your heart out!

Monday, April 17, 2017

429. KAPAMPANGANS IN HOLLYWOOD

THE KING AND HIS WIVES Rosa del Rosario portrays one of the wives of the Siamese monarch in the 1946 film, Anna and the King of Siam, portrayed by Rex Harrison. Looking on is another "wife", Evelyne de Luzuriaga.

In the 1920s, Hollywood beckoned with promises of stardom, fame and fortune to aspiring performers and actors, budding ingénues, ambitious directors and starving artists. Indeed, of the thousands who swarmed to Tinseltown to audition and answer casting calls, many were rewarded with film roles, and turning an elite few into international celebrities.

The first wave of Filipinos to arrive in Los Angeles coincided with the rise of Hollywood. They, too, were lured with the prospects of employment that the blossoming film industry offered. In 1929, Metro-Goldwin Mayer sounded out a casting call for extras for the movie “The Pagan”. Hordes of Filipinos went to audition, and many passed the 5 foot height limit set for these extras. For decades—in movies like “She” (1935, starring Randolph Scott, RKO Radio Pictures) and “The Real Glory” (1939, a Spanish-American War film starring Gary Cooper ), Filipinos were often cast in savage native-type and service-type roles, uncredited and underpaid. They would find more job security in the periphery of Hollywood as waiters, busboys, bartenders, cooks, chauffeurs and househelps.

Filipino star-wannabes would wait for the postwar 1940s before they could see one of their own claim a legitimate acting role in a Hollywood film. Kapampangan Rosa del Rosario (aka Rosa Stagner), an American-Filipina mestiza from Bacolor, was already an established star in pre-war Philippine movies when she, on a visit to the U.S., caught the eye of an American director who was casting Asians for his  movie. She won the role as one of the king’s 14 wives in the film classic, “Anna and the King of Siam” in 1946 (to be redone as the musical “The King and I” in 1954). She was unbilled, however, in this Rex Harrison starrer.  That same year, she  appeared as Celia in the “The Border Bandits”, opposite Johnny Mack Brown and in “An American Guerrilla in the Philippines”.

More than a decade later, another artist with roots in Lubao would carve her own niche in Hollywood: Ruby Neilam Salvador Arrastia aka Neile Adams, actress-singer-dancer and wife of 60s hottest Hollywood male star, Steve McQueen. She moved to the U.S. after the war where she took dancing lessons. The pert and pretty Neile found herself being cast in shows and musicals, and one of her early appearances was in “Pajama Game”, staged at the Carnegie Hall. She moved on to TV and films,  with credits in the 1952 movie, “Grubstake” and as Patsy St. Claire in “This Could Be The Night” (1957). Husband and wife appeared in a memorable episode in “Alfred Hitchcock Presents”. Separately, Neile had a recurring role in the TV series “Five Fingers” as Rita Juan in 1960, and went on to guest star in top TV shows thrugh the 60s,70s and 80s, like “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.”, “Love American Style”, “Bob Hope Show”. “The Bionic Woman”, “ The Rockford Files”, “Fantasy Island”, “Vega$” and “Hotel”. In 1986, she wrote “My Husband, My Friend”, a biography of her husband Steve, who had died of cancer in 1980. Coincidentally, Neile’s son (Chad McQueen) and grandson, Steven R. McQueen (Jeremy Gilbert in “The Vampire Diaries”), are both actors. A nephew, Enrique Iglesias, is a singer and an occasional actor.

Before being known as an international jetsetter, Angeles-born Minda Feliciano flirted with modeling and acting. In the U.S., she started auditioning for acting roles and, in 1959, won a regular slot (she played the hula-dancing receptionist, Evelyn) in the popular TV series,”Hawaiian Eye”, produced by Warner Brothers. Today, she is also well-known as Michael Caine’s-ex.

The toast of West End and Broadway, Lea Salonga, has also penetrated the U.S. showbiz industry, both as actress and singer. While still with the hit musical ‘Miss Saigon’ . she was tapped to sing key songs for such movies as “Aladdin” (1992) and  “Mulan” I and II ( 1998, 2004). She had a once-in-a lifetime experience of singing “A Whole New World” at the 1993 Oscar Awards, which went on to win Best Song. Leas was also seen on a 1995 TV film produced by Hallmark Hall of Fame, “Redwood Curtain”. The film chronicles the search of an Amerasian piano prodigy for her biological father, aVietnam veteran. Other credits include guest appearances in hit TV series “ER” , “As The World Turns” and most recently, in “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”.

Young Ethan Dizon, whose father, Eric Dizon,  traces his ancestry to the Dizons of Mabalacat, made his acting debut as a 3 year-old child actor in the CBS hit series, “How I Met Your Mother”, He then had guest roles in  “Grey's Anatomy”, and “'Til Death”. His film credits include: “Get A Job”, “Bad Words” ( with Jason Bateman), and the “The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete”, where he is best-known for playing Pete.  In 2017, he will be seen in “Spiderman: Homecoming”. A gifted artist, he was nominated for Best Actor at the NBCU Short Film Festival 2014 in "Paulie", where he played the title role.

Rico Hizon made a name for himself as an international journalist, but his credentials now include acting in a Hollywood film. In the 2016 film“I.T.” topbilled by Pierce Brosnan, the BBC correspondent portrayed himself in this nail-biting thriller directed by John Moore. Rico Hizon’s mother, Leonor Morales, is from Mabalacat.

Behind the camera, Kapampangans have also left their mark in the American entertainment industry. Leading the way is the venerable Gorge Sunga, who first joined CBS as a production supervisor of “The Judy Garland Show” in 1963, and later, “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour”. He went on to produce the hit TV shows  "Good Times," (1974)  "The Jeffersons," (1975) ,  “All in the Family” (1974)  “Three’s Company” (1976) and many other successful serials. In 1989, Sunga was elected  officer of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences.  For his commitment to diversity in television, an award in his honor was created and given yearly at the Media Access Awards. The Sungas are from Guagua, Pampanga. 

Two world-class film artists and technicians of Kapampangan descent are currently making waves in Hollywood.  Winston Quitasol, whose mother is from Pampanga, has worked on many known animated feature films like Disney’s “Big Hero 6”, where he was the senior lighting artist. He has also served as visual effects technical director and lead digital compositor in some blockbuster movies like “Ghost” (1990), his first movie project. Recent works include “SpiderMan 2”, “ Iron Man 3”, “300: Rise of an Empire” and “Frozen”.

On the other hand, animator Jess Española, from Lubao, made history when he was won the prestigious Emmy Award for his work on “The Simpsons” in 2008 ( ‘Eternal Moonshine of the Simpson Mind’ episode). The U.P. Fine Arts graduate overcame poverty (he was raised by a single mother), and working his way up, first, as an animator for Burbank Animation in Makati. He then joined Optifex which did the Hanna-Barbera cartoons (Flintstones, Scooby Doo, Jonny Quest) . Española did so well that he was sent to the U.S. mother studio in the U.S. which led to opportunities after the Manila offices downsized. Eventually, he moved to America, where Española worked at Film Roman for “King of the Hill,”, one of the primetime shows of Fox that also includes Matt Groening’s “The Simpsons”.

More recently, in the CBS TV sitcom “The Great Outdoors”, Kapampangans were treated to an episode in which the characters of actors Joel McHale and Stephen Fry,  spoke  in Kapampangan—albeit, with a thick American accent—so they could disguise their secret plan to leave young campers in the wild without their smartphones. The idea was conceived by story editor/ writer, Kristine Songco, who sought the help of her father in crafting the dialogues. The Songcos are a prominent family from Guagua.

While we have yet to see a Filipino actor conquer Hollywood with the same degree of success as China’s Anna May Wong and Jet Li;  Hong Kong’s Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan;  Japan’s George Takei and Pat Morita; Taiwan’s Ang Lee and Malaysia’s Michelle Yeoh, we are happy  to note that a few Kapampangan artists are leading the way towards the attainment  of their great Hollywood dream--always ready for anything--especially their close-ups!

Sunday, April 9, 2017

*428. Sky’s No Limit: CAPT. BEN HUR D. GOMEZ

FINDING HIS CORNER OF THE SKY. The future aviation pilot, Ben Hur Gomez y de Leon of Mabalacat,  as a young high schooler at Letran. "Benny" was named after the main character of a Hollywood movie of the same title, "Ben Hur", starring Ramon Navarro. Courtesy of Capt. Gomez.

One of the leading names in modern Philippine aviation is a Kapampangan provinciano who didn’t even finish high school but rose to become an international pilot and founder of the premiere flying school in Pampanga. Capt. Ben Hur Angel D. Gomez (b. 15 Dec. 1931) was one of 6 children of Carlos Ramiro Gomez Sr. whose mestizo looks were courtesy of his ancestor, Fray Guillermo Masnou aka Nicanor Gomez. His mother, Paz Dionisia de Leon , was the daughter of Don Jose de Leon, who owned vast tracts of lands in Mabalacat, parts of which she inherited. With their consolidated wealth, the Gomezes built a large farmstead  in Tubigan at the boundary of Stotsenburg, where their children grew up.

To the manor born, Ben Hur and his siblings led comfortable lives, in a magnificent farmhouse with large rooms and bay windows, equipped with electricity powered by a windmill, and guarded by a tall, turbanned Indian Sikh. Ponies and other animals roamed the expansive yard which also had a playground. The young Ben Hur or Benny was doted on by his adoring aunts despite his “kuneho” (rabbit)  ears.

His Papang though, introduced him early to the value of hard work and responsibility. As young as 8, Benny  helped out in the family businesses which included not only the farm, but also a gas station, a bowling alley and a bazaar. He counted money, issued receipts, prepared vouchers and distributed wages to farm hands.

Benny finished his elementary years at the Holy Family Academy in Angeles, run by German nuns. He spent a year of high school at next-door Holy Angel Academy, but his schooling was interrupted by the war. The family moved to Manila, in their Pasay home, where they waited out the end of the war years.

In 1946, as the family was sending off their Papang to the U.S., the teenager Ben saw his first DC-4 at the Manila International Airport, complete with its smartly-dressed crew. That sight inspired him to become an international pilot.

In his last high school year at Letran, Ben applied to 3 flight schools in the U.S. He chose Embry Riddle Aeronautical School, not only because it was the biggest flight school in America, but also because the school had sent him a brochure with a pretty girl in bathing suit on the cover!! There, Ben immersed himself in his commercial pilot course, and in subjects like  instrument reading, and multi-engine rating, studying 16 hours each day. By so doing, Ben completed his flight course in 18 short months, instead of 33!

When he returned to Manila, he managed to land a his first paying job at the Philippine Aviation Development as a mechanic, earning a whopping  P350  daily. He also became a part-time pilot with an hourly fee of  P50 per hour. While the pay was good, his ultimate goal was to see the world and become an international pilot.  So, when Philippine Air Lines beckoned in 1953, he said yes to a new flying job, first, as a domestic pilot, then moving up to become an international pilot with the rank of a captain, flying the Viscount, BAC 111, DC-4, DC-8, DC-10 and the Boeing 727-200 in all parts of the globe.

His association with PAL would last 38 long years, accumulating over  33,000 flying hours without a single accident. During his stint with the nation’s flag carrier, Capt. Ben also served as president of the Airline Pilots Association of the Philippines (ALPAP) for 3 full terms. He initiated many landmark reforms like improving the salary structure for international pilots and their crew. He was also named vice president for Safety and Security and Asst. Vice President for Flight Operations.

Retirement for the captain meant returning to Mabalacat to resume his life as a gentleman-farmer. In the past, even as he flew planes, he was engaged in some profitable ventures here and there—from export-selling komiks and balut to Filipino communities in Hawaii, providing school bus services, to running a gravel-and-sand business . With his entrepreneurial acumen, he learned how to grow broilers and chickens--and soon, his OMNI Farms became a steady supplier of chickens to San Miguel Foods.

Then,  in 1994,  together with former colleagues,  he took over the old Clark Aero Club and transformed it into the country’s largest aviation training institute—OMNI Aviation Corporation. Capt. Ben would grow its fleet to 25 planes that includes Cessna 172s, and the flagship twin –engine plane, Piper Seneca.At its peak, OMNI Aviation attracted pilot-students from 28 countries and had over 300 enrollees, many of whom are ace pilots today.

It has been a great journey for the former pilot who continues to look for new fields to explore and conquer—even at age 81 . His latest project is his expansive museum home in Angeles that houses his varied collections that he accumulated from his trips abroad. On display are 135 crosses and crucifixes, various tableware from Asia ( netsukes, sake cups, chopstick rests, napkin rings), European crystal ware, Delft ware, brass sculptures, Buddhas, travel souvenirs and many more. He also enjoys occasional visits from any of his 5 kids, and grandchildren; there’s always a room reserved to accommodate them.

The still-sharp and healthy Capt. Ben has also been quietly giving back through his philanthropic works—from helping build the village chapel to extending financial help to indigents and handicapped people in need. Currently, he is even taking care of an old priest, who has helped him rediscover his Catholic faith.

It’s incredible, indeed,  how Capt. Ben could cram all these achievements in a single lifetime, fulfilling all his dreams that he relentlessy pursued.  Not bad for a provinciano and a high school dropout who describes himself as a graduate of the university of hard knocks! But then, he’s never known to set limits to what he can do---not even the skies which he once flew.