Monday, September 24, 2012


BE IT EVER SO HUMBLE. Angeles-born Msgr. Manuel V. Del Rosario and parish priest of San Roque Church of Blumentritt, Sta. Cruz, performs a house blessing for one of his parishioners. Ca. 1950s.

For many Kapampangans, a house is not a home unless it is transformed into a haven of comfort and safety, protected not just from the elements but from the malevolence of this world, where only the goodness of heart reigns. And, like all Filipinos, he takes the extra effort to ward of negative vibes, even before the blueprint is drawn. As such, building beliefs abound, which have, through the years, served as his guidelines in the construction of their dream residences.

 First, there is the issue of the house location. A house should not be erected at a dead end street, for that conjures the image of a dagger pointing its way to doorway of the house. It is preferred that houses face the east, so that when one opens the windows, he catches the first rays of the sun, a positive beginning. Carpenters contracted to build houses were often required to have their tools blessed, invoking their patron San Jose, for guidance, safety and a job well done. In Betis, the instruments of San Jose’s carpentry trade are processioned by male teens together with his image, although not on his feast day, but on the Monday after Easter Sunday.

 Master carpenters often had a say on the choice of materials to be used for house construction. Wooden posts should be perfect, devoid of nodes and holes, for it is believed that spirits lurk inside these tree parts. Before the first post is planted into the ground, religious medals and coins are dropped into the hole for divine protection. In rural areas, pig or chicken blood is smeared on house posts, a primitive custom done for the same reason.

Stairways should be oriented towards the east; floor planks should be nailed parallel to the steps of the stairs, not perpendicular. Ceiling boards and floor planks should be laid at right angles to each other, lest death overtakes the resident.

To ensure prosperity and avoid bad luck, the steps of the stairs are counted while intoning the words “Oro, plata, mata” (Gold, silver, death). The last step should end with either “Oro” or “Plata”, but never “Mata”. Again, coins are usually cemented on the bottom stair landing to attract wealth and plenty.

The most auspicious time to transfer into one’s finished house is during the time of a full moon. Tradition dictates that the first objects to be brought into the house are a religious statue and a jar of salt. Salt is sacred to many cultures and figures in many superstitious practices; its purifying and preservative qualities make the mineral a symbol of good and long life.

The house blessing itself, is a cause for major celebration. A priest is specially invited to bless the house, room by room, floor by floor, while candles are lit and prayers are said. The reverend goes around splashing Holy Water on the different sections of the house, followed by a retinue of guests and residents. At the end of the blessing, the master of the house throws coins to the guests, who scamper to pick them up. With that generous gesture comes a wish for a life of peace and prosperity under a sturdy roof, in a humble place we call home.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012


PARTAKERS OF THE WOMEN'S CLUB PROGRAM, Guagua Elementary School. Women's Clubs sprouted in schools as well as in communities, organized by Kapampangan elites mainly for social interaction and for their civic advocacies.  Dated Jan. 1931.

The selection of the first female (and second youngest) Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in the person of Maria Lourdes Sereno by Pres. Benigno Aquino Jr. underscores the great strides women have made in their chosen fields, breaking barriers and rewriting history in the process. Her acclamation as the chief magistrate of the country recalls the gender-transcending achievements of the Kapampangan woman, who have always played important roles in the local society, empowered and privileged like no other.

Long before the terms “equal rights” became battlecries of feminists, the daughters of Pampanga were already enjoying certain perks with regards to land ownership. Like their male counterparts, women inherited land from their parents which they could buy and sell should they chose to. They could retain the land even upon marriage and could bequeath these property to their children, independent of their husbands.

Indeed, even in a society where patriarchs seem to dominate, women were vice-husbands, taking on the head of the family role if the father was absent. Women shared responsibilities with their men, be it in the household or out in the farmlands, swamps and fishponds. Described by priest-historian Fray Gaspar de San Agustin as being “very brave and strong”—both masculine properties, Kapampangan women certainly were as capable as the opposite sex in the execution of their duties.

When new settlements and towns were being established, the Kapampangan women stood by her man. Mabalacat, which started as a forest clearing, may have been founded by the Negrito chief Garagan, but it was his wife, Laureana Tolentino, who became the town cabeza, the first known female head of a Pampanga municipality. Dña. Rosalia de Jesus is credited in history books as the co-founder of Culiat in 1796, the future city of Angeles, alongside her husband, Don Angel Pantaleon de Miranda. Similarly, Botolan in Zambales owes its existence to a woman, known only by the name Dña. Teresa of Mabalacat, who secured a permit in Manila to establish the town in 1819.

The earliest Filipino nuns were also Kapampangans, led by the virtuous Martha de San Bernardo, the first india to be accepted by the monastery of Sta. Clara (founded by Bl. Jeronima de la Asuncion in 1621) around 1633. The Recollect siblings, Mother Dionisia and Mother Cecilia Talangpaz are recognized as the second foundresses of a religious congregration in the Philippines. Half-Kapampangans, they trace their ancestry to the Pamintuans and Mallaris of Macabebe.

Meanwhile, the first female religious to set up an orphanage came from one of the richest families of Bacolor--Sor Asuncion Ventura. A Daughter of Charity, she used her inheritance to put up the Asilo de San Vicente de Paul in 1885. In the literary field, the first woman author was a Pampangueña from Bacolor, Dña. Luisa Gonzaga de Leon. She translated the Spanish religious work Ejercicio Cotidiano (Daily Devotion) into Kapampangan, which was published posthumously around 1844-45.

During the Philippine Revolution, Kapampangan women came in full force to aid the revolucionarios. Led by Nicolasa Dayrit, Felisa Dayrit, Felisa Hizon, Consolacion Singian, Encarnacion Singian, Marcelina Limjuco and Praxedes Fajardo, members of the Junta Patriotica de San Fernando and La Cruz Roja (Red Cross), they also sewed the flag of the Pampanga Batallion in December 1898. Female financiers of the movement included Teodora Salgado and Matea Rodriguez Sioco.

Nursing was still a new course offered at the Escuela de Enfermas of the Philippine General Hospital when Marcelina Nepomuceno (b. 9 Aug. 1881 to Ysabelo Nepomuceno and Juana Paras) enrolled with one of the earliest batches of students. She is known as the first Kapampangan Florence Nightingale. Sharing this honor is Dra. Francisca Galang, the first female Kapampangan medical doctor.

In agriculture and business, a realm often dominated by male hacenderos, the names of Dñas. Tomasa Centeno vda. De Pamintuan (Angeles), Teodora Salgado vda. De Ullman (San Fernando), Victoria Hizon vda. De Rodriguez (San Fernando), Epifania Alvendia vda. De Guanzon (Floridablanca), Donata Montemayor vda. De Vitug (Lubao) and Antonina Reyes vda. De Samson were held in esteem during the Commonwealth years. Widows all, they carried on the work of their late husbands—as sugar planters and entrepreneurs—with grit, hard work and devotion, to successful results.

 In the same period, Women’s Clubs were organized by Pampanga matrons in Angeles, Bacolor and San Fernando, which counted Americans, teachers and army wives as members, for their socio-civic pursuits. Educational opportunities expanded with the establishments of colleges and universities. From the 20s to the 40s, elite families sent their daughters to schools in Europe and America, like Paz Pamintuan (daughter of Don Florentino Pamintuan) who finished her M.D. at the Woman’s Medical College in Philadelphia in 1925. Society girl Paquita Villareal was schooled in Hongkong and Germany, while Florencia Salgado went to Paris for her Arts degree. Today, some of the pillars of education are Kapampangan women—like Dr. Barbara Yap-Angeles, founder of Angeles University Foundation in 1962.

In 1976, a Kapampangan woman--Juanita Lumanlan Nepomuceno--broke new ground by becoming Pampanga's first female governor, a position that Lilia Pineda would win 34 years later. Lest we forget, two Kapampangan women have occupied the highest position of the land as Presidents of the Philippines: Corazon Cojuangco-Aquino of Tarlac (1986-1992) and Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo of Lubao (2001-2004, re-elected 2004-2010).

All these accomplished names are proof positive that if you want the best man for the job, pick a woman. Better yet, pick a Kapampangan woman!

Monday, September 10, 2012

*309. Star for All Seasons: VILMA SANTOS of Bamban, Tarlac

 D'SENSATIONAL ATE VI. Rosa Vilma Santos, teen sensation of the 70s, now the governor of Batangas. Her father, Amado Santos hails from Bamban, Tarlac. 

My first brush with a superstar was in 1974, when I came face to face with THE Vilma Santos, who, alongside Nora Aunor, was one of the most popular teen actors of Philippine cinema. That time, she was at the top of her game both as a solo actress and the other half of the Vi and Bobot love team , a sure box-office draw of TV, Movie, Radio and even Advertising.

She had come to Mabalacat to film the war movie, “Mga Tigre ng Sierra Cruz”and several key scenes were to be filmed in my granduncle’s old house in Sta. Ines, conveniently right next to ours. That meant instant access to the production, as we were the designated caretakers of the Morales mansion. The enviable task of fetching Vilma from an undisclosed hotel to be brought to the house was assigned to my father. To get to the shooting venue without attracting the attention of the motley crowd to get a glimpse of the stars, Vilma was whisked off to our own house which had a connecting passage to my relatives’place.

For the next three days, I fell under the spell of Ate Vi—easily transforming me from a Noranian to Vilmanian. More so when, during a lull moment in the shoot, I had the gumption to talk to her (her co-star Dante Rivero refused to be interviewed!), and I even managed to put on tape our short conversation which began with her greeting ”To all the people of Mabalacat, I love you all!!”. Who wouldn’t be charmed by her sweetness? (Though I bet that was a standard line she said to ALL the people in ALL the towns she visited).

Rosa Vilma Tuazon Santos was the second to the eldest child of Amado Santos and Milagros Tuazon, born in Trozo, Tondo on 3 November 1953. The Santoses were a close-knit family from Bamban, Tarlac and Amado’s father was a well-known town physician. Vilma’s father moonlit as a bit player in movies, while an uncle, Amaury Agra, worked as a camera man at Sampaguita Pictures. It was he who tipped off the Santoses about an audition for a child to play the lead in a planned movie, entitled ”Anak, Ang Iyong Ina” in 1963.

The Santoses entered their precocious daughter in the casting call. However, Vilma mistakenly joined a line of children who were auditioning for the movie “Trudis Liit”. She found herself winning the plum role of the Trudis, the maltreated child who cried her way into the hearts of movie fans and box office stardom. Vilma was only 10. That same year, she won her first FAMAS as Best Child Actress of 1963.

 As a child superstar, she made more than 27 movies spanning the years 1963-69. Together with Roderick Paulate, Vilma even made a Hollywood war movie—“The Longest Hundred Miles”—which starred Doug Maclure, Ricardo Montalban and Acacdemy Award winner, Katharine Ross. But more was in store for Vilma when she reached her teen-age years.

It was the 70s decade when young love teams were all the rage and light romantic musicals were sure blockbusters at the tills. Pitted against the Nora Aunor-Tirso Cruz III tandem, she and former Tawag ng Tanghalan champion, Edgar Mortiz were launched as a love team. So popular was the Vi-Bot pairing that they made over 30 films in less than 5 years—an astounding number that includes ”Young Love”, “Songs and Lovers”, “My Pledge of Love”, “The Young Idols” (all released in 1970), “D’Sensations” (1971), “Don’t Ever say Goodbye” (1972), “Now and Forever” (1973) and “Biktima”(1974), to name just a few. On her own, Vi was just as sensational, assuming iconic roles as Darna and Dyesebel (1973) and jumping into the disco bandwagon with hits like ”Rock, Baby Rock”, “Good Mornings, Sunshine” and “Disco Fever”—all done in the 70s.

Her winning streak continued into the 80s, even as she celebrated a milestone in her life with her marriage to actor and model Edu Manzano in 1980. They would have a son, Luis, whom Vilma would greet weekly in her TV show, “V.I.P. (Vilma In Person)”with a what has become her byword:" Ï Love You, Lucky!”. In 1982, she won Best Actress honors from the FAMAS, Urian Awards, Film Academy of the Philippines (FAP) and the Catholic Mass Media Awards (CMMA) for the highly-acclaimed movie “Relasyon”, the first of her 3 grand slam wins. She would win more Best Actress accolades from major award-giving bodies for “Tagos ng Dugo”(1987) and “”Bakit Mahal Kita: The Dolzura Cortes Story”(1993). Her other memorable movies during this period include "Pakawalan Mo Ako" (1981), “Broken Marriage”(1983), “Sister Stella L.” (1984), “Alyas Baby Tsina”(1984), and “Pahiram ng Isang Umaga”(1989).

The start of the 90s decade saw Vilma reinventing herself by entering politics. By then, her marriage with Edu had failed but she found a new partner in Ralph Recto, grandson of statesman Claro M. Recto, whom he wed in 1992. A son, Christian, was born from that union. Under the Lakas-Kampi-CMD Party, she ran for the mayorship of Lipa and won. She would served the city for 9 long years. Vi, however, continued to make films, albeit sporadically. She was exceptional in “Bata, Bata, Paano Ka Ginawa”(1998) and simply sensational in “Anak” (2000), “Dekada”(2002) and ”In My Life”(2009). In between, she joined 2007 gubernatorial race for Batangas, which she topped convincingly. The incumbent governor moved to the Liberal Party in 2009.

From a child actress to a teen star and now, a well-loved politician, the accomplished Vilma Santos has endured—winning not just acting trophies but recognition for her work as a public servant. The winsome “Ate Vi” that I met 4 decades ago, continues to shine like a true star that she is—a star for all seasons, for all Kapampangans to be proud of.

Sunday, September 2, 2012


TRIBE AND TESTED. For many years, Aetas were a source of fascination for Americans in Stotsenburg. Often permitted to roam the military camp grounds, Aetas sold orchids, handicrafts and root crops to the American residents. They also gamely posed for souvenir pictures as seen from this rare, tinted photographs taken in the early 1930s.

 “Map ya pa ing Baluga..biasa yang mamana..”

 "Better is the Baluga, he knows how to shoot an arrow" so goes a line from the popular folk song “O Caca, o Caca”, underlining the superiority of Aetas or Negritos in the ways of the jungle, despite their kind, docile nature. For centuries, the original inhabitants of the province have displayed a strong sense of independence and a strong attachment to their ethnic culture, which may explain why they are not as integrated as the other minorities in mainstream Philippine society, attached to their small mountain communities where they are free to do as they please, as hunters and as nomads.

But through the years, the Negritos have also reached out to lowland people, demonstrating their hardiness, resilience, bravery and goodwill. In the early days of Camp Stotsenburg, Negritos descended from their mountain dwelling to peddle orchids and other air plants to Americans living in the camp. Some were even employed as house helps, learning to speak English in the process. Indeed, interesting Aeta characters have been noted by Pampanga visitors as early as the 19th century.

Historians credit a Negrito as the first head of Mabalacat town. Garangan or Caragan’s wife who went by her Christian name, Laureana Tolentino, succeeded him and made history as the first female mayor of Pampanga. On 28 February 2008, to honor the Negrito chieftain of Mabalacat, the 1st Caragan Festival was held to cap the month-long town fiesta celebration. The festival, akin to Cebu’s Sinulog, Bacolod’s MassKara and Iloilo’s Dinagyang, featured festive street dancing, colorful Baluga costumes and “uling” (charcoal) face swiping.

In 1922, Gen. Johnson Hagood took command of Camp Stotsenburg and met with Negritos up close. He found the Negritos and their lifestyle so fascinating that he even wrote about them in his memoirs, dedicating 7 pages of anecdotes about them. Gen. Hagood was most amused with the Baluga chief, “Lucas”, who once presented himself to the general arrayed as “a brigadier general in a miniature khaki uniform wearing a sword” wearing and assortment of “fantastic and humorous commendations” and medals, one of which was a Manila Carnival medal that identified Lucas as “a prize bull”.

Hagood proclaimed Lucas as “King of All Negritos”, and gave him a peace-keeping role among 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”.

A true war hero however, is Lt. Kudiaro Laxamana, an Aeta tribal chief who headed the 55-155th Squadron of the Northwest Pampanga Mountain District. He reputedly killed 50 Japanese soldiers at the height of World War II, and supposedly chopped off 17 heads with his bolo knife. He is also credited with saving the lives of Col. Gyle Merrill, the overall commander of a U.S. military contingent, and Maj. Henry Conner, of the 27th Bomb Group. After the War, Laxamana returned to civilian life and became active in fighting for the rights of Aetas. He was killed because of his advocacy in 1970 and at his death, he was given a 21-gun salute and buried at the Clark Cemetery. So well-regarded was Laxamana that he was even featured in a 1949 issue of LIFE Magazine, together with his two wives and two daughters. A major road in Clark—Kudiaro Laxamana Avenue—is named after him.

More recent Negrito newsmakers include Wida Cosme, the first Aeta law graduate who finished her law course from the Harvardian College, although she still has to pass the bar. Then there’s Arjohnel Gilbert, an Aeta boy from Marcos Village who became an online singing sensation when a video of his was posted on Youtube. Singing Justin Bieber’s song, “Baby” in front of Puregold-Clark, his video attracted thousands of views. GMA-7 News did several features of the Aeta singing wonder, who sang to people as a way to get them to buy his nose flutes.

At the 1st ASEAN Tribal Games held in Malaysia from 14-16 September 2010, Aeta Olympians from Mabalacat dominated the games. Jun Ablong, Dumlao Naval and Danilo Tecson won Golds for Treetop Archery, Archery Assault, Blow Pipe Game respectively, while Jimmy Ablong garnered a Bronze in Blow Pipe shooting. The team beat other ethnic delegates from the host country.

In the field of beauty pageantry, Renagie Gilbert became the first winner of Lagu ning Aeta (Beauty of Aeta) contest in June 2012. The seminal pageant for women of color attracted 12 contestants from Sitio Bilad, Pulang Lupa, Monicayao, Madapdap, Haduan and Calapi. Completing her court of honor were Queen Rose Maye Sibal and Loretta Quedeng.

Often facing discrimination, these Negritos found a way to overcome. Despite lack of understanding and support, they gained strength, breaking barriers and knocking down seemingly indestructible walls. In every way, our Aeta brothers have persevered—growing from a gentler race into history-making heroes.