Thursday, January 28, 2010


SPREADING THE WORD. Catechists of San Simon, Pampanga. With Fr. Francisco V. Cancio. Dated June 1949.

I was in my Grade 4 or 5 class when the teaching of catechism was introduced to students of Mabalacat Elementary School. I remember they were held once a week, on Fridays, right after our regular classes. I would often fret whenever Fridays came, as it meant staying for another hour in the classroom, to be drilled by our catechism teacher—actually, a uniformed high school student from nearby Mabalacat Institute with religious medals on her lapel—about prayers, the Sacraments and lessons from the Bible. Since I already had a couple of children’s religious books, the smart-aleck in me thought that I was already familiar with her catechism material.

I distinctly recall our catechism teacher starting her lecture with a question: “What was the sin of Adam and Eve that caused them to be driven from Eden?”. Of course, I knew the answer—I raised my hand and answered with confidence: “They ate the forbidden fruit—the apple!”. To my shock, the teacher replied that I was wrong. “Pride!”, she said, “it was pride that caused their downfall. And it’s one of the 7 Deadly Sins”. Cowed by embarrassment, I silently took my seat. In the Fridays that followed, I listened more intently, and soon, I was taking my catechism lessons more seriously.

For many Filipino children living in the colonial times, the teaching of the basic tenets of Christianity began early, using the caton, a primer on the alphabet, common prayers and religious doctrines. Catons were loosely based on Doctrina Cristiana, the first book published in the Philippines by the Imprenta de los Dominicanos de Manila and approved as a catechetical guide during the 1782 Manila Synod, under Bishop Domingo de Salazar. Catons published in different Philippine dialects, including Kapampangan.

The establishment of a formal system of education paved the way for the inclusion of catechism instruction in schools, particularly those founded by religious groups. The laity, encouraged and supported by their priests and parishes, took on the teaching of catechism in community schools as their apostolate, becoming an important force in the Church, especially from the 1930s through the post-war years.

This led to the publishing of catechism manuals, and one in Kapampangan, “Ing Canacung Catecismo”, was printed in 1938, a translation of an existing English version, “My Catechism”, by Rev. Fr. Vicente M. de la Cruz. The aims of the catechism books was outlined on the preface: “..macapariquil ya caring aduang tapuc a anac: muna, caretang arapat dane ing Mumunang Pamaquinabang iñang anac lapa, banrang ñgeni isundu at ganapanan ing pamagaral da qñg religion; at cadua, caretang aliua, bistat maragul nala, ditac lapa cabaluan qñg casalpantayanan, balang magsadia qñg carelang Mumunang Pamaquinabang” (the book is meant first, for children who have received their First Communion, so that they can continue their study of religion; and second, older ones who grew up knowing little knowledge of their faith, so they can be prepared for their First Communion).

Catechism instruction manuals followed the same structure—starting with a chapter-by-chapter presentation of the basic teachings (“Ing Dios, Miglalang Ampon Guinu”, “Ding Atlung Personas Qñg Dios, Ing Tanda ning Cruz”/ God, Our Lord and Creator, The Three Persons in God/ The Sign of the Cross, etc.), followed by a series of drill questions, with matching answers ( Q. Nanung pengacu ning Dios daptan, banacatang panuanan carin banua? A. Ing Dios peñgacu neng itubud quecatamu ing metung a Mañaclung / Q. What did God promise to do, so we can enter Heaven? A. God promised to send a Savior).

The teaching of religion as a separate subject was a requisite in the curriculum of every Christian school. To stress the importance, “Best in Religion” awards were given and held as much weight as a “Best in English” and “Best in Math” awards. Despite my assiduous studies, I never got that medal. But I did get to master my prayers: Ibpa Mi, Ing Bapu Maria, Ligaya King Ibpa, Bapu Reyna as well as recite the Rosary with its misterios, Apulung Utus ning Dios and Pitong Sakramento. In the end, by taking to heart the teachings of the Catholic Church, I was one step closer to Heaven, and in the mind of a 10 year old boy, I felt that was the better reward.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


LIGHT MY FIRE. Then, as now, smoking was a favorite Kapampangan past time. It also spawned a backyard industry in many Pampanga towns, where contracted workers rolled and wrapped cigars in lithographed paper packages such as this "La Pampanguena" brand from Angeles. ca. 1920s.

Cigar and cigarette manufacturing in our islands officially began in 1782, under the tobacco monopoly introduced by Gov. Jose Basco y Vargas. The 1st factory was located in Binondo, with space provided rent-free to the government by the Dominicans. Under the monopoly system, the government had complete control of the cultivation (only select provinces like Bulacan, Nueva Ecija and Pampanga were authorized to grow tobacco), processing and manufacturing of cigars and cigarillos. Thus began the first application of the factory system in the Philippines, where thousands of laborers, mostly women, reported to a central place of work, which were often cramped, hot and humid. Nevertheless, factories provided livelihood and the tobacco business accounted for the government’s biggest share of revenue.

When the monopoly ended 10 years later, private entrepreneurs rushed to cash in on the lucrative cigar/cigarette industry, setting up factories in Manila and nearby provinces. To protect consumers from fly-by-night operations, a cigar tax was imposed. Quality cigars were churned out by the millions by Alhambra and Tabacalera.

The cigar industry, however, failed to respond to changing consumer preferences in smoking, which was about the time the Americans arrived. When cigar production dwindled and mechanization of cigarette processing was launched, Filipinos switched to cigarettes or cigarillos. Cigarette companies like La Paz y Buenviaje produced a variety of brands, like the “Dollar” brand, capturing a whole new market of “sajonistas” altogether.

Turn-of-the-century cigarettes were often distinctively packaged in batches of 24s-30s, in wrappers with detailed graphics such as these examples of Pampanga provenance. Local entrepreneurs probably bought processed cigar leaves and engaged backyard workers to roll and wrap cigarettes in these 2-color, lithographed packages carrying assorted visual themes, often irrelevant to the product, ranging from the patriotic (pictures of heroes, Katipunan) to the mythical and romantic.

Notable example is the “Sinukuan” brand, from Plaza Sto. Tomas Pampanga, which has a truly local Kapampangan theme, showing a barebreasted Mariang Sinukuan holding a billowing flag with a range of mountains in the background. The back panel shows a Aeta workers gathering palm leaves in the middle of a tobacco plantation (!) with their leader welcoming a cigarette-smoking stranger.

A unique Betis wrapper, "La Reina Malaya" (The Malayan Queen), on the other hand, contains a nationalist verse that calls upon Filipinos to patronize Philippine-made products and not those made by our colonizers--highly seditious stuff on print!

On the other hand, “Las Dos Hermanas” brand from Bacolor is no different from the way we name small businesses even today (as in “3 Sisters Carinderia”).

The inappropriate “Ates” brand also carries the name ‘Nemecio Leonardo’, who may have been the entrepreneur, the same way “La Soledad” banners the name ‘Maria Consolacion’ of Betis. “Los Enamorados” (The Enamoured Ones) from the Fabrica de Pampanga Plaza Guagua simply defies explanation with a European boating scene that hints of a menage a trois, in the middle of the sea abloom with lotus flowers!

Today, these cigarette wrappers are being collected not just for their artistic merit, but also for their value as cultural ephemera, defining our taste for leisure and recreation under our colonizers.

Sunday, January 3, 2010


THE SMITHS GO TO ANGELES. Mr. & Mrs. Buford and Billie Smith, of Texas, with son, Eugene, on assignment at Clark Air Base. Longtime friends and tenants of our duplex apartment in Malabanias, Balibago in the 60s.

From the mid 1960s to the early 70s, Angeles, particularly Balibago, enjoyed a boom period as American servicemen poured into Clark Field by the hundreds. The Vietnam War was in full rage at that time, and the base housing facilities simply could not accommodate the overflow of incoming Americans and their families. To cash in on this growing market, many entrepreneurs went on a construction spree, developing whole subdivisions (like Severina Subdivision, Marisol Manor, Marlim Mansions, etc.), apartment complexes and houses for rent to Americans who opted to live off-base.

By chance, my father had a 650 sq. meter lot in Balibago, strategically located in Plaridel, very close to Clark. My mother, on the other hand, had another lot in Abacan, close to her brother’s large property, which had been successfully converted into a compound of apartments rented out to Americans on assignment in Clark. So, my parents joined the bandwagon of builders and had a duplex house made to American specifications on their prime properties.

The picture-perfect duplex in Plaridel was a small neat package with 2 wood floor rooms, a living room, a compact kitchen and a small front yard with flower boxes, ideal for a young family. As soon as the “For Rent” sign was put up, my father was besieged with inquiries from American servicemen—and that’s how we came to have the Smiths and their children, as tenants and eventually, as close family friends.

At home, my Kapampangan father always referred to them at home as “Ismits”, and that’s how we also knew them. From the Christmas cards they regularly sent, I learned that Mr. Smith was named “Buford”, or simply “Chuck” . Mr. Smith and wife Billie, were a tall, strapping pair, quick to smile and blessed with happy dispositions. My mother told me that Mrs. Smith had American Indian blood which accounted for her darker complexion. They were from a place in Texas called Burkburnett, which I always had trouble pronouncing. The Smiths were always invited by my parents to our family parties, and in one particular visit, I met their son, Eugene "Gene" Smith, who was about my age .

I remember that particular visit—I was about 10 or 11—because my father had asked me to keep him company and play with him while he and Ima entertained their friends. Gene was such a hyperactive child; he struck up a chat with me in rapid-fire English which I could hardly comprehend. I took out my second-hand bike and led him to my uncle’s house next door, which had a big cemented yard perfect for biking. As soon as Eugene sat on the bike, he started pedaling away like crazy, making dangerous loops and showing off some stunts. We soon attracted the attention of neighborhood kids who gawked at this boisterous American boy and his chaperone. Of course, Eugene became a sort of a trophy I could show off, and I made sure the local kids knew that, by conversing with him in my best Kapampangan English, within their hearing range. Eugene’s rowdy play came to a stop when he took the bike up a cemented incline and started to careen down at great speed, causing him to fall. Mr. Smith heard our commotion and called his scratched-up son home.

The Smiths lived in that duplex apartment for over 2 years, and every year, after Christmas, my father would help in their annual ‘spring cleaning’. All their usable discards were put in a big cardboard box and taken home. It was always exciting to open that box that held unimaginable second-hand surprises inside and us, siblings, would fight over the contents like mad. I didn’t care much for the American size clothing (my mother went agog over the knitted sweaters), but I went wild over the half-used coloring books, the slightly used toys (I remember a pair of tin wind-up motor cars), the Disney comics and the Mickey Mouse storybook that my elder brother coveted.

On special occasions like Christmas, we would get gifts—everything from American milk brands that came in waxed cartons to gift stockings stuffed with Brach’s candies, caramels plastic toys and licorice sticks. When my father had an extra dollar or two, he would ask his friend to buy a couple of items from the Clark commissary, if at all possible. Of course, he was never refused. We would get chocolates like M&Ms and Kisses, barbecue sauces, Revlon shampoo, cereals and shoestring potatos, never before seen in local stores. In one year, I got a giant box of 64 crayons that came with a built-in sharpener. Wow! I never even imagined that crayon colors such as periwinkle, sea green and gold existed, thinking at that time that this could only be possible in the U.S. of A. For while, I was smitten by the American dream.

So for a couple of years, while the Smiths stayed for their tour of duty, we had a peek of the American life, transplanted in a little duplex apartment along an unpaved road in Balibago. The Smiths even had a second son, Steven, born while on vacation in the States, but brought to the Philippines as an infant. I think Steven’s birth hastened the Smiths’ decision not to extend their stay in Clark. They flew back to the U.S. and shortly, we found another American family as tenants, the Kentalas and their six daughters.

The Smiths, resettled back in Texas, but they kept in touch every Christmas with cards, chatty letters filled with the latest family updates and pictures of the growing family, including the boys, Eugene and Steven. They kept this up without fail every year, until Mr. Smith’s retirement. One of the last letters we received was in the mid 80s, to tell us of Eugene’s forthcoming marriage to a local girl, complete with a newspaper clipping. The letters stopped coming altogether until we completely lost track of them.

But for a few short years in the turbulent ‘60s, we, the Castros and the Smiths, bridged the gaps of race, culture and creed to become true friends—Filipinos and Americans together-- with a genuine sincerity that knew no bounds.